"So that's it then." Rodney looked at his wife, knowing it wasn't a question.
"I think so, yes," Jennifer said. "Unless you disagree. If you think there's a chance we could work this out without … becoming one of those couples …"
"No, you were right. You are right. This is for the best."
He really meant that. He wasn't happy about it of course. They hadn't come to a point where they hated each other so much that a divorce was something to be celebrated. In fact, they didn't hate each other at all. This was the reason they were going to separate. To save their friendship as Jennifer had said.
He remembered how they'd hit it off after he'd contacted her to research viruses for his latest novel. She'd liked his wit and intelligence, and she'd been surprisingly tolerant of his lack of people skills. He'd enjoyed her company, her humor, and her matter-of-factness when it came to discussing diseases. On top of that, she was pretty and had a beautiful smile that lit up everything around her.
They'd become friends, and when she'd signaled that she was open for more, he'd taken the chance. After two months of maintaining a long distance relationship, either flying or driving down to Seattle on weekends and sometimes during the week, he'd had enough and proposed to her.
She'd been surprised—shocked really—but she'd said yes, and they'd gotten married and bought a nice house not too far from the UW Medical Center, all within six months of meeting.
It wasn't that they'd married without knowing each other. There hadn't been a rude awakening after moving in together. Instead, it had been little things that crept into their relationship, like his late night bursts of creativity or his behavior in public, which she was a little less tolerant of when directed at her colleagues. She never made a scene about those things, but there was gentle nudging in the right direction—only after a year, it had become a little less gentle and more like a regular part of their lives.
Any attempts by him to change—or by her to just accept that he wouldn't—ultimately failed. Eventually Jennifer had told him that she loved him too much to let them continue down a road where they would become frustrated with each other for things that were simply part of their nature.
"Do you remember how we were when we were just friends?" she'd asked. "I want that back." She'd sounded wistful.
They'd decided to take a break for a month and think it over. He'd moved into Carson's guest room for that time, and while he'd missed her—Carson could be tedious in high doses—Rodney had to admit that the times he and Jennifer did see each other were better. It wasn't quite the same as before their marriage, of course, but he could feel that things were easier between them. It was as if some pressure had been lifted from their shoulders.
He'd known there was no way back from their decision when last week during lunch, he pointed out to the server that he could have finished another chapter on his latest book in the time they'd been waiting and all Jennifer had done was roll her eyes and smile instead of getting uncomfortable and ready to admonish him.
"We never should have gotten married," he acknowledged to her now.
"No, I— Yes, probably. I don't regret that we tried this. We're good together. Just not as a married couple. Not all good friends make good lovers. Not that the sex was bad," she quickly amended.
He smiled. "I know what you mean," he said.
There was a comfortable silence between them; then Jennifer came closer, and he wrapped her in his arms, exhaling in relief because as far as ending relationships went, this was by far the best he'd ever had. He pulled away and stroked her hair before kissing her forehead.
"I'll call Elizabeth." Then something occurred to him. "Do we have to get separate lawyers now? How does this work?"
"No. You call Elizabeth. I won't need a lawyer. We both have our incomes and there are no kids. We can make this a clean break. Except the house. I'll probably want to stay."
"Of course," he said. It only made sense since he could work from anywhere.
"I'll buy you out."
"Jennifer, you don't have to—"
"I want to," she insisted. "It's only fair."
He nodded. He really didn't need the money, but he also knew she could afford it, so he let it go.
"You could move into the guest room until you find something. Are you going back to Vancouver?"
He hadn't really thought about that. He wasn't looking forward to telling Jeannie about the divorce. "I don't know. Maybe not."
"You'll stay in Seattle?" she asked hopefully.
"Maybe I can find something on the coast," he said.
She grinned. "That would be great for you. Not too far south though. You won't become a California beach bum or something, will you?"
He snorted. "Yes, because it's the sand in the never-to-be-named places and the danger of drowning that I like about the coast," he said sarcastically.
"No, not too far south," he said. "I want to be close to you and Jeannie." Not too close though. Living in Seattle had shown him that a hundred and forty miles between him and his sister was definitely preferable to a hundred and forty meters. "Oh, and Hannibal," he added. Jennifer's cat and he had developed a mutual understanding and respect.
"He misses you," Jennifer said.
"He misses no one," he said decisively.
"I'll miss you," Jennifer said.
"You won't have to. I'll be around. And I'll miss you too," he said, acknowledging that even though they both knew it was best this way, it didn't mean they didn't wish it could have turned out differently.
"You'll stay with Carson?" she asked.
"Yes, living in the guest room would be strange."
"He doesn't mind?"
"He better not! He claims to be my friend and agent. Honestly, this is much harder on me than on him. I'll start looking for a place to live right away."
John played with the napkin to avoid doing what he knew he had to do. The success of this strategy was predictable.
"What do you really want to tell me, John?" Teyla asked in that way of hers that was gentle but commanding.
He looked up at her and forced a smile on his face. "I've got a job offer."
"That is wonderful news! Not that there was any question about it. You are far too talented not to find a suitable job."
John looked at his cup of tea. He never knew how to react to such compliments. Although in this case avoiding Teyla's gaze wasn't so much due to her compliment but the absolute inevitability of her next question.
"It's called the Star Gate. Their current chef wants to retire and the owner approached me," he told her.
"Star Gate? I have never heard of it."
"It's up north on the coast," he explained, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
She frowned. "It does not overlook Golden Gate? I thought the name—"
"No, the name is … actually, I have no idea, maybe an actual gate or something. I'll ask the owner when I meet him in person."
Teyla looked at him; then her eyes narrowed. "How far up north is this restaurant?"
Here we go, John thought and sighed inwardly. "It's a little coastal town called Atlantis Shores. It's up in … uh … Washington."
"Washington," she repeated tonelessly. "The one that is three hundred miles north."
"Yes, exactly," he said quickly. "As opposed to the one that's two and a half thousand miles to the East. Now that would be far."
She didn't smile. She simply clenched her jaw and stared at him. "John," she eventually said.
He dropped his gaze, unable to look at her.
"I understand that you are hurt," she began, and he wanted to just shrink away and die rather than have this conversation, but there was no getting out of it. "But surely running away to another state is not necessary. I still cannot believe that Marcus had the audacity not to quit, but then I never would have believed he would—" She stopped, presumably for his benefit. John was grateful. If he never heard that name again he'd be happy. "San Francisco is big enough for you to never run into him again. He is not worth uprooting your entire life!" she finished angrily.
John knew that it wasn't directed at him. She was upset on his behalf, and it was one of the reasons he loved her. But this wasn't about Marcus. At least not just about him. "I just want to get away from here."
"I … I can understand that. You have been … unfortunate, at least in certain aspects of your life, but what about your home and your friends?"
He was quiet for a moment. "Sometimes it feels as if you're my only friend."
"That is not— I am sorry you feel that way. I had no idea."
"It's okay. It's nothing bad. It just means that right now I feel like the only thing worth staying for is you."
"I can accept that." She nodded. "But does it have to be quite so far? Why not Santa Cruz for instance?"
He didn't quite know how to explain. He felt the need to get far enough away so he could be sure that nothing of his old life came with him, except for her friendship. She would accuse him of running away. The problem was she would be right. "I need to make a clean break," he settled on saying. "Although, I'll count on you to visit. And I'll still need a lawyer."
"John, I am not licensed to practice in Washington," she said with a sad smile.
"I can change that for you. That is not the problem."
"I know," he said. "I just can't …" continue living like this was what he wanted to say. He wanted to forget every relationship he'd ever had and concentrate on nothing but his job with a bit of surfing thrown in. He wanted never to be hurt again. Of course, he couldn't tell her that. She would tell him things that he didn't want to hear. She would remind him that being in a relationship was always a risk and if you made sure nothing in life could hurt you, then it wasn't really a life anymore. Right now, he didn't care. And he trusted that eventually, when he was ready—probably even before—she would tell him all those things. "I just want to turn a new leaf and start over," he said.
"So, Atlantis Shores, you said." She put on a smile for him, and he returned it.
"Yes, it's a small town with a nice beach, and I've found a great little beach house. Actually, it's not so little, but I can afford it. I'm going to check it out when I see the owner of the Star Gate."
"Mister McKay, I must say you look even better in real life than on the cover of your books!"
Rodney didn't even have to say anything. His look of disdain was sufficient to convey both "Are you for real?" and "Don't insult my intelligence by trying that again."
The smile on Ms. Conway's perfectly made up face shrank and froze. "Why don't we go ahead and take a look at the property?"
"Yes, why don't we?" he answered bitingly.
Her smile remained frozen in place, but her eyes turned completely cold. "It's a beautiful lot and the house is modern and well-kept. The previous owners only used it for their vacations. You'll love it."
"Why don't you let me decide that?" It was said casually, because even though he couldn't stand Ms. Conway, the house actually looked as good as it did in the photos, which was a bit surprising.
They took the few steps up to the front door, which Ms. Conway unlocked and opened with a grand gesture. She looked expectantly at Rodney.
Rodney went inside. He'd seen the layout of the house, of course, as well as the photos, and again, they were quite accurate. The first floor consisted of one large open room that included the kitchen, dining, and living area and led out to the deck. Beyond that was the beach. It would have been quite spectacular for someone who was easily impressed or loved the idea of opening up the glass doors and stepping out into the sun.
Rodney, however, didn't have much use for any of it—a kitchen, dining or living room. What he really wanted was a great place to work. He walked straight past the expensive looking couch and the big screen TV to a corner of the room that looked as if it could be a perfect spot for his desk.
Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see Ms. Conway looking a bit confused by his interest in an empty spot when the room had so much else to offer. "All the equipment is high end. The kitchen would be fit—" She stopped when he lifted his finger.
He looked out the large windows at the beach and closed his eyes.
"The view is breathtaking, isn't it?" she asked, from behind him.
He sighed. "I'm not really all that interested in the view," he said, turning to her.
For a second she lost her composure and looked at him as if he was insane. But she managed not to say anything to that effect, which was too bad because it might have made her appear almost human. "I see," she said politely although it was patently obvious that she didn't.
"The sound," he explained. "I find it inspiring when I write."
"Ah," she said, smiling brightly because obviously now she was back on track, dealing with a non-crazy customer. "Yes, the waves crashing. Many people find it very soothing."
He refrained from telling her that he'd just said he found it inspiring and not soothing. He didn't think she'd know the meaning of the word inspiration if it bit her in the ass. "I believe the bedroom and study are on the second floor."
"Bedrooms," she corrected him. "There are two with king size beds and two additional rooms that could be used as smaller bedrooms as well as a generous amount of free space."
"Yes, though I don't see what I would want with four bedrooms."
"One could serve as a guest room and the others for the children," she said sweetly.
"Which I don't have. Didn't it say so in the biography that you looked up on the internet?"
She gave him a quick glare before resuming in her charming demeanor, "I am aware that you have no children, but you have recently married. Even if you don't plan to have children at the moment, it's always good to be prepared, isn't it?"
"Certainly. That biography was out of date. Unless fourteen months is 'recent' to you. Also, I'm getting a divorce, which is why I'm looking for a new home."
"Why don't we go upstairs," she said through clenched teeth.
Rodney grinned, following her up the stairs. He loved riling up people like her. He hated fake people. That's why he'd always stuck with Carson as his agent and avoided the parties he got invited to as a semi-celebrity.
"The master bedroom—"
"Yes, yes, I recall the layout and I'm sure it's just as beautiful as the photos," he interrupted her, walking down the hall where it opened up to the full width of the house. Large glass windows covered the wall and gave another spectacular view of the beach. Before she could disturb him again, he threw over his shoulder, "Could you please be quiet for a minute."
He heard her little huff, but she acquiesced. Rodney closed his eyes again and listened to the sounds of the water as it rushed ashore and back. He smiled. This was what he'd been looking for. He turned around. "Okay."
She nodded. "Now, let us take a look at the beach, so you can experience the … inspiring sounds up close."
"That won't be necessary. I won't be working outside," he informed her.
"Yes, but you'll surely want to see the beach. It's wonderful at any time of year but especially in summer! You can swim, surf or take a walk. I'm certain you will spend a lot of time outside once you've seen how beautiful it is."
"I'm not fond of being in the water, and sand has a habit of ending up in places it shouldn't. So you see why I'm pretty certain I won't be spending a lot of time outside."
He could see that she had to force herself not to shout "Then why the hell do you buy a beach house if you hate the beach!" She took a calming breath. "We can still go upstairs to the roof. It's a flat top that can be used for parties. But let me guess—you aren't planning on having any parties."
He snapped his fingers and pointed at her. Now they understood each other.
"Fine, Mr. McKay," she said curtly. "Then I don't think there's anything else I can show you."
"I agree. And it won't be necessary because I like it."
"You like it," she repeated tonelessly.
"That's wonderful," she said, happy again. "I can have the paperwork ready today."
"Yes. Except I want to check with my soon-to-be ex-wife first. It is very likely she will keep our house, but she hadn't fully decided yet. And of course, I want to have the house checked independently to see if it is as well maintained as you claim."
"Of course," she said with a sour smile.
The first thing John saw when he arrived in the rental car was the monstrous gate beyond which the terrace of the restaurant lay. So that was the gate in Star Gate. He only hoped the restaurant itself didn't turn out to be the star. Though maybe the room was star shaped. That could actually be interesting.
John climbed out of the car and stretched to relieve the kink in his back from the drive. "Mr. Sheppard?" John recognized the voice from the phone. It belonged to Mr. Woolsey, the owner of the Star Gate restaurant and the Star Gate Central hotel. He was dressed in a suit and looked very proper but also eager. "Richard Woolsey, I'm so happy to finally meet you."
John just nodded in acknowledgment and they shook hands.
Mr. Woolsey opened up a smaller door next to the gate and they entered. John couldn't help but look at the gate.
"It's very impressive, isn't it? The one at the hotel is even larger," Woolsey said proudly. John only smiled politely. Impressive was one way to put it. "The gate will of course be opened for our guests. We have about two hours until then. I'd like to show you around in the meantime and discuss how you could help give the Star Gate some new impetus. I've also asked the maître d' to join us. His role here is really much broader than that. Since I spend most of my time at the hotel, he takes care of almost everything here at the Star Gate, except any executive decisions. The kitchen will be yours, of course, but he is responsible for everything that happens outside of the kitchen. Ah, and there he is. In his regular clothes no less!"
John wondered what that was supposed to mean. Then he turned to the direction Woolsey was looking.
You saw all kinds of people in San Francisco, certainly more so than Atlantis Shores, John would bet. But this guy would turn people's heads even there—some because they were intimidated and some because they were attracted.
"Let me introduce Mr. Ronon Dex. Ronon, this is the new chef I told you about, Mr. John Sheppard."
Ronon just looked at him dispassionately. He didn't hold out his hand in greeting, so John just nodded at him. They sized each other up for a moment. It wasn't the usual kind of looks John got—either checking him out or looks of envy. It was more of a quick assessment. John couldn't see from Dex's face which conclusions he reached from the look.
For his part, John didn't really know what to think. With his long dreadlocks and tattoos and dressed in leather, the guy didn't look like a stereotypical maître d' in a—relatively—fancy restaurant. But then, John couldn't imagine Woolsey hiring the guy if he didn't know how to do his job. At least Dex didn't seem to be on the chatty side, which John appreciated. They'd probably be able to work together, and that was what mattered.
"Let's go inside," Woolsey said. "You have seen the gate, now it's time to see the stars."
Out of the corner of his eye, John could see Ronon roll his eyes. It made John smile as he followed Woolsey.
The "star" portion of the Star Gate was a mixture of a night sky theme on all the walls and a rather impressive glass ceiling that covered the dining area. "Nice," John commented.
"At night it is truly breathtaking," Woolsey said with a dreamy sigh.
John refrained from saying that he hoped it wasn't literally breathtaking though Ronon might have found it amusing. At the moment, he seemed rather bored. He remained bored as Woolsey showed John around the kitchen.
The equipment wasn't the newest, but John could see that it had been taken care of very well. Woolsey began to talk about the current chef of the Star Gate. He was a friend of John's mentor in San Francisco, which was how Woolsey had heard of him in the first place.
"I don't want to replace the whole menu at once," Woolsey explained. "We have many regulars and they have their favorites, so I thought the best approach would be to ease into it with new ideas on a regular basis to get a feeling for what works." He looked a bit nervous as he asked.
John nodded. "Okay." He wasn't one of those chefs who wouldn't cook someone else's recipes. He was going to make the menu his own over time, but that didn't mean he couldn't appreciate the nice things others came up with before him. One of his favorite recipes was still his mother's blueberry muffins. He made them whenever she visited him.
Woolsey smiled and seemed relieved. "That's wonderful. Why don't we go over the menu then? I'd love to hear your suggestions."
"Will he cook?" Ronon interrupted them.
"Uhm …" Woolsey said, turning to John.
"Sure, I could whip something up for you," John said easily.
Woolsey looked a bit horrified at how he'd phrased that, but Ronon looked challenging.
John said goodbye and left the restaurant just in time to meet Ms. Conway, the realtor who would show him the wonderful beach house on offer. He was in a good mood.
Woolsey had been overflowing with enthusiasm for his little dish. It had been kind of embarrassing. Ronon on the other hand had simply said, "I like it." For some reason, that had meant a lot more to him than all of Woolsey's compliments combined.
In any case, he'd accepted the job, beginning as soon as possible. Which John hoped to mean within two weeks. He'd called up the company who was taking care of the beach house and made some independent inquiries, and it all seemed to look very good. The house was furnished and not too far from the restaurant. It was fairly expensive, but John was lucky enough not to have to look too closely at the price. He'd lived rather modestly in San Francisco and had managed to put aside quite a bit of money from both his regular income and the money he got as half owner of the family company, that his brother managed since their father's death.
"Mr. Sheppard." Ms. Conway was perfectly coiffed and had a wide, fake smile plastered on her face as she greeted him. He disliked her on sight and returned a smile at least as fake as hers.
"Ms. Conway. I can't wait to see the house."
"And you won't regret it," she promised with a practiced cheerfulness.
He followed her Mercedes in his rental car a few miles up north along the coast. The houses were beginning to dwindle down until there were only trees and beach. A bit after that, Ms. Conway slowed down, and they took a turn into a path leading up to the house that he'd seen in the ad.
It looked pretty much as advertised, except the weather today wasn't quite as spectacular. It was rather windy, but John liked that. It was great weather to surf.
Ms. Conway showed him around, and John went along impatiently because he wasn't all that interested in the interior. It all looked very sleek, maybe a bit too much so for his taste, but he wasn't going to be picky.
"Could we go out and take a look at the beach?" he asked when she wanted to lead him up the stairs to the second floor.
"Of course," she said brightly.
She began to talk about the outdoor activities that were possible throughout the year, but it sounded very much like the tourist information he'd seen for Atlantis Shores, so he tuned her out.
The ocean was rough today. Maybe it was a bit too windy to surf, but that was okay. If he'd wanted to be able to surf anytime, he'd have chosen someplace else. He liked just being outside near the ocean enough. There was something liberating about seeing nothing but water as far as the eyes could reach.
"I'll take it," he announced, turning around.
She stopped abruptly. "Really? I mean, I can understand. It is beautiful."
"When can I move in?" he asked.
"Well, to be honest, there is another prospective buyer," she said.
"I see," he said. He wasn't sure if it was just sales tactics. He really wanted the house, but he didn't like it when people thought they could just screw him over—in business or in personal relationships.
"He's still in town. I'll just call him if you'll allow."
John nodded. How much was this house, the beach, and the solitude it afforded worth to him?
"That is outrageous!" Rodney yelled into the phone. "I as good as made a deal this morning. You can't just sell it to someone else."
"Which is why I'm calling you now. To give you a chance to make a higher offer."
Rodney wished he could reach through the phone and strangle her. He could imagine how smug she looked right now. There was the sound of waves crashing in the background. Or he could drown her. Suddenly, it occurred to him that she was probably at the house right now with the other person who was going to steal his house. "I'm coming over."
"What? No, you can't—"
Rodney hung up, picked up his jacket and keys, and dashed out the door. Maybe he could talk this over with the other prospective buyer. He could be good at getting what he wanted with the right sort of person. That would be the easily intimidated, non-confrontational kind of person or those who actually listened to reason alone and who were, unfortunately, few and far between. With everyone else, his people skills failed miserably. Maybe he would be lucky today.
The drive from Star Gate Central to the beach house took only a few minutes and Rodney tried to calculate in his head how much he was willing to pay for peace and quiet and inspiration. It was hard, however, not to be distracted by his anger at Ms. Conway.
She was waiting for him when he came down the path, obviously trying to keep him from meeting the other buyer.
"Mr. McKay, I really must insist—"
"I would just like to talk to them," Rodney said, trying to rein in his temper. "If it's just someone who'd like a third or fourth 'home' to vacation, maybe they'd be willing to look elsewhere."
She looked at him murderously. "That is not how it works, Mr. McKay."
"Of course, it's all just about money. Please don't pretend that this house is a bargain. You and I both know that the owners—and I suppose you—are getting a good deal here. There's no need for you to be greedy. Besides, I already accepted. I only asked for a bit of time to confirm that my wife will keep our old house."
"Meaning you had in fact not accepted," she corrected him.
He glared at her. A guy suddenly came up behind her. "Hey," he said.
Ms. Conway turned around. "Don't worry. I'm going to deal with Mr. McKay."
"That's okay. So you're the other person who'd like to buy the house?"
Rodney looked at Ms. Conway. "See? He doesn't mind talking to me. Why don't you leave us alone for a moment and let us deal with this."
She gaped, but he ignored her and walked a few steps away from her towards the house.
The guy looked at Ms. Conway for a second, then followed him.
"Okay, look. I'm getting divorced and want to be able to concentrate on my new book. This house is ideal for me," Rodney said, before the guy had even come to a stop in front of him.
"I just got a new job here and I love the beach, so this is ideal for me."
"Okay, fine, but there must be dozens of beach properties here. This whole city was designed for that. Why don't you just take one of those other houses."
"I would like to be away from other people," the other guy said.
"Okay, that … I can actually understand that, but I absolutely need to be away from people. Every time I'm disturbed, it disrupts the flow of my writing," Rodney explained.
"Then why don't you just buy a place somewhere in the mountains?"
"Because I find the sound of the ocean inspiring. It's like— You wouldn't understand it." People tended to look at him like he was crazy whenever he told them.
"Try me," the guy said patiently.
"Okay, fine. I like how the sound of waves makes me think that the world is alive. I write science fiction stories and this element of there being 'more than meets the eye' around us is something that I want to feel while I'm writing."
The guy frowned. He looked over to the house and the ocean and just listened for a moment. "Yes. Yes, I can see what you mean. Hear."
Rodney was a bit surprised. "That's … Well, in any case, then you know why I really want this house."
The guy looked thoughtful. "I understand why you'd want it, but you're a writer. So you could write anywhere you like, couldn't you? I can only drive so far to my job, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time at home, but the time that I do spend here, I want to be able to relax. I'm sorry."
He did seem to be genuinely sorry. And Rodney could understand why he wanted the house. "So it'll be the highest bidder, I guess."
"I wish we could both get it, but …"
Rodney interrupted. "Wait. Maybe we could. I'm alone. I don't need the whole house, and you didn't sound like you had a family. Maybe we could split up the property and build two smaller condos."
"I was going to move in next week," the guy said apologetically.
"Yeah, that wouldn't work. And I can't crash with Carson forever. Dammit," Rodney said, more to himself than to the guy.
"You said you don't need a lot of space?" the guy asked.
"Yes. I just need a place to sleep and to work really. Why?" Rodney asked. If there were any way he could have the house without giving Ms. Conway any more money than necessary, he'd gladly take it.
"Well, I don't need much space either, and I'm hardly at home. I work late and sleep long, and I'll likely spend most of my free time at the beach, so maybe we could simply share the place."
"If it's not an investment for you. It seems the problem here is mostly the living arrangements, right?" the guy added.
"Yes, I … uhm, I suppose that would work. But how would the ownership work? I mean—"
"We can have our lawyers deal with the details, but we could both pay half and own half and if one of us wants to move out the other gets first option to buy out either at the current price or at market price. Maintenance could be shared, repairs depending on if it's a shared room or not. I'm sure there's a way to figure this out." The guy visibly seemed to warm to the idea.
Rodney liked it too. He just wasn't sure if he really wanted to live with a stranger. There was generally a low tolerance between him and other people—on both sides. "I've been told I can be a bit … difficult."
"No kidding," the guy said with a smirk.
Rodney gave him an affronted look. He'd really been on his pretty much best behavior for now.
"I heard enough of your conversation with Ms. Conway to get a bit of insight, I think." He leaned in conspiratorially. "And I fully approve," he added with a grin.
Rodney took a closer look at him. The guy was casually dressed with hair that stood up weirdly, and he was not unattractive, if you were into guys, he supposed. "I don't want to be a prude or anything, but I frequently work at night, and I think I would find it disruptive if you brought home … conquests every night. Not that there's anything wrong with it."
The guy's face fell, and he pulled back so fast that Rodney almost regretted saying anything. But there was no point in playing nice and then being driven crazy within the first week. "That won't be a problem," the guy said in a detached voice.
Rodney could tell that he'd hit a nerve. "Okay. For me too, I think. At least for now. I'm also not much for one-night-stands, so if I were to date, it would be … dating."
"This doesn't have to be forever. I just want to be able to move here as quickly as possible. We can both be on the lookout for something more suitable," the guy said.
He seemed more distant now. Rodney missed his grin. It had been pretty infectious. "Won't Ms. Conway be glad that we worked this out without her help," he said.
The guy smiled.
"I'm Rodney McKay, by the way."
"John Sheppard," the guy said, holding out his hand.
Rodney smiled and took it.
John didn't have much to pack. Since the beach house was fully furnished, he only needed his personal things. He was going to sell the rest. Maybe the next person who rented this room would take the furniture.
The little room had been his temporary refuge after breaking up with Steve and moving out of their shared apartment. Temporary had become three years, but John was glad he'd never given in to Marcus' suggestions to move in together.
John didn't really know why his ex had wanted them to live together in the first place, considering. Then again, it probably wouldn't have made a difference to Marcus whether he slept with other guys in his own apartment or theirs. John could still remember the disbelief in Marcus' face and the actual hurt in his voice. "John, you can't possibly care about that!" As if it was entirely unreasonable of John to expect his boyfriend not to screw around behind his back.
Somewhere deep inside, John must have known that his relationship with Marcus was too good to be true.
Relationships had always been a struggle for John. Either the guy somehow wanted John to be different or his job would interfere. Steve had frustratingly called it a "long distance relationship even when we're living together."
He frequently worked until midnight, sometimes even later. By the time he'd returned home from work, Steve, having a nine-to-five job, would already be asleep. When John had woken up, Steve would've been long gone, already on his way to work. He had Mondays off, but Steve had to work, which left only weekend mornings and Monday evenings for them to spend together.
Having only so little time for each other made the pressure to make it worth it even worse, and John was already bad at relationships as it was. It had been a bitter ending, like practically all his relationships before Steve.
John hadn't wanted to enter another relationship after Steve. Not unless he could be certain the same thing wouldn't happen all over again.
Marcus had swept in, working the early shift in John's restaurant, and had badgered John for a date until John had given in, mostly to shut him up. But it had been easy with Marcus. He'd always been lighthearted, never felt demanding. It seemed so easy to laze around on weekend mornings with him.
Of course, John supposed that the other guys Marcus had slept with the rest of the time had made waiting for John that much easier.
In the end, his split with Marcus had been one of the cleaner breakups in his life. For once, John didn't have to wonder what he could have done differently or whether he simply hadn't tried hard enough to make it work.
It also showed him in an unmistakable way that he should take a time-out from relationships.
Atlantis Shores was the right place for that.
It had been hard for him in San Francisco, where he knew too many people who introduced him to single guys that were smart, funny and hot and seemed worth going out with. Maybe he was just too weak. He could hear his mother's voice, saying, "You'll find the right person, John. Sometimes it takes a bit longer."
He hadn't told her yet about Marcus or Atlantis Shores. He didn't want to face that before he was in Atlantis Shores in his new house.
"And drive carefully! I don't care if it takes five hours instead of three. Just get it there exactly as it is now," Rodney bellowed as he stepped away from the van and the moving people he'd hired for the move to Atlantis Shores. The driver just looked at him calmly for a moment before Rodney made a shooing motion and he drove off.
Rodney sighed. The most important things—his desk, chair, and bookcases—were taken care of. Now, there was only one thing left. Goodbye.
Jennifer was waiting by his car. "They'll be fine. If the guy can stay calm facing you, he can deal with traffic."
Rodney gave her a quick glare.
She smiled. "I'm sure you'll still want to leave as soon as possible to be there before them."
"And you'll have to go to work," he pointed out. There was no point in sitting in his ex-house for a bit longer. He'd lived here for a year, but he hadn't really grown very attached to it. Once he'd gotten his study packed, it hadn't felt like home at all anymore.
"I could have taken the day off, gone with you," she offered again.
"No, it's really okay. God knows how long it will take for us to get the stuff on the second floor in one piece. You can visit when I'm settled."
"All right. I'll call you this afternoon to see if you—and your 'working environment'—arrived in one piece. And to check that your roommate isn't an ax murderer after all."
They'd joked about that when he'd told her he was going to share the house with someone. "Of course, he could wait for a day or two or even a few weeks to make me feel safe, and one morning I'll wake up in the cellar, bound to the boiler."
She laughed. "Maybe you should try out a new genre."
"Well, I could make it the engine room. I'm sure there are cellars with boilers in the living facilities on Radogyp."
They both smiled, and there was a comfortable silence between them.
It was strange. Signing the divorce papers hadn't made him feel loss or anything else really. It was just a piece of paper. It didn't change who they were and what they were to each other: good friends. And they'd stay good friends even if they went back to calling each other on the phone with infrequent visits.
It was still a goodbye though. Not goodbye from her, but from this way of life. He'd been living by himself for most of his life and that had been the greatest change in the year of their marriage. Now he'd go back to living by himself. Even if he was sharing the house with someone else, that was a technicality. He wouldn't be living with Sheppard, like he had with Jennifer.
Rodney wasn't sure yet how he felt about it. Part of him liked the freedom of being alone, but it was good to have someone coming home to him every night and to be waiting for someone.
Well, maybe he'd find that someone someday. Until then, at least he had the perfect place to live alone.
John was accompanied to the airport by Teyla and her family. As they approached the security check point, he picked up Torren and told him, "Your Uncle John is going to fly to his new home. Well, actually, not to my new home. I'll have to drive from there to my new home."
"Tuck," Torren said.
"No, not a truck. Just a normal rental car." Torren turned in the direction of the parking lot. "Yeah, like those." John nodded.
"But what this means is that we're going to have to say goodbye now. Can you say 'Goodbye, Uncle John'?"
"G'bye, Unc' John," Torren said. Then he puckered up his mouth and John offered his cheek so that Torren could kiss it.
"I'm going to miss you," he said, kissing Torren's cheek in return. He turned to Kanaan and gave him a quick hug, turning Torren over to him in the process. Then he turned to Teyla.
Teyla wasn't the kind of person who cried at goodbyes—or much at all really. She was tougher than he was, and he'd miss her strength among many other things. He'd have to make sure they visited each other as often as possible.
"Have a safe trip," she said. "And call me when you get there, so that I know you're okay."
He was tempted to say, "Yes, Mom," but only grinned and said, "I will."
They looked at each other for a long moment. They'd known each other for seven years, seen each other at their best and their worst. This would be the beginning of a new era of their friendship, but he hoped that it wouldn't diminish it in any way. He might be starting a new life, but Teyla would always be a part of it.
They hugged each other, and John closed his eyes and folded her into his arms tightly for a moment, wishing he'd never have to let go. Then they parted, and his flight was called again. "I should go," he said. "I'll call you."
He walked away, looking back to see her smiling at him while Kanaan and Torren waved goodbye.
He took that image with him, filling his mind with it, while he boarded the plane and until it took off. Then his thoughts turned to his new home and his new life. He got out the book by McKay that he'd managed to get in the airport bookstore. It was called "Other Side" and apparently about a group of space explorers, based on a planet that was not Earth.
John really wasn't into science fiction. Normal life was strange enough to him. But he understood that it was a popular genre and McKay seemed to be a well-known author in that field. When he'd asked at the store if they knew of one Rodney McKay, the young man had given him a look as if he'd grown two heads. Then he'd led him to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section where there had been numerous titles by McKay.
The young man had started to go into an explanation of which of McKay's books he liked best and why, but John had cut him off because he didn't have the time. He'd only asked which book could be recommended to someone who was new to McKay's work and had ended up with the one in his hands, which was the first of a series of books dealing with those space explorers.
John opened the book to the inside of the back cover for author information, and the first thing he noticed was McKay's photo. He looked rather striking. It was a black and white shot, and McKay's expression was quite serious but also … kind of sexy. John didn't suppose it was meant to look that way. Attractive had probably been what they'd been going for, and he supposed it was that, yet there was something in McKay's eyes that was challenging. It was too bad that the black and white photo meant you couldn't see McKay's blue eyes.
Yes, he'd noticed the eyes. It was hard not to, the way they'd glowed when he and McKay had come to the agreement which meant they could tell Ms. Conway that she wouldn't be able to extract any unnecessary money out of them. It was hard not to like that. Really, as introductions went, the way he'd heard McKay shouting at Ms. Conway even through the phone had been a good one.
John had enjoyed even the short time they'd talked face-to-face. He was usually indifferent to people when he first met them because he'd met too many people like Ms. Conway in his life, especially back at the parties his Dad used to throw. People who'd say one thing to your face and another behind your back. There was being polite, and then there was the fake schmoozing people engaged in for their own interests.
McKay didn't seem to be prone to either, and it was something John could appreciate. At least now, in retrospect. John hadn't been prepared for McKay to ask about his sex life. Well, he hadn't really asked. It was a simple, practical thing John knew intellectually, but at the time, his first thought had been, "Does it say on my head 'for fucking only'?" That thought had hit a bit too close to home. He guessed that McKay hadn't actually meant that. He had probably just wanted to make sure they knew where they stood. Maybe he'd had bad experiences with a roommate before. Maybe he simply thought John looked like the kind of guy who could get a lot of one-night-stands. He wouldn't be the first.
John had been told more than once, "You can get anyone you want." He'd always shrugged it off because he didn't think that was true for anyone. It certainly wasn't true for him. Part of it was that he didn't even know what he wanted. He only knew that he didn't want things to be like they'd been in his previous relationships. As far as what it took to make things work for him, that was still a complete mystery.
Not that it was of concern to him right now. He wasn't going to date anyone any time soon. He was looking forward to giving the Star Gate the 'John Sheppard Touch' and spending the rest of his time in peace at the beach. Maybe he could take up playing guitar. And he could always read.
He opened up the book to its first page.
Rodney wasn't a big fan of driving. He'd always lived in a city with decent public transport, but Atlantis Shores was neither Vancouver nor Seattle. The downside to the peace and quiet of living a little more remotely was that he would have to use his car to run his errands.
He was aware that some people loved to drive. For him it required just enough concentration that he couldn't really think, and otherwise it was boring to him. He let his mind drift to his new home.
It was almost too beautiful. The stylish interior decoration and furniture was entirely wasted on him. For his work, he had his own desk and chair—which would hopefully arrive in one piece—and he didn't really care about the rest. Except for the mattress in his bedroom and that could be easily replaced if necessary.
Strangely, it seemed to be similar for Sheppard. They'd both chosen the house not so much for itself but for its location. It seemed that the old phrase "location, location, location" was correct in their case.
He wondered why Sheppard had chosen their new home after living in San Francisco for apparently most of his adult life. Elizabeth had told him that Sheppard had income both as a chef and as an heir to a company that Rodney had vaguely heard of. It seemed that if he'd wanted to live on a quiet beach, he could have done so for years.
Maybe he'd just had enough of San Francisco. Perhaps he'd only stayed there because of a relationship. Sheppard hadn't mentioned an ex-wife, but then it wasn't something people would necessarily talk about, and Rodney had to admit that breaking up was usually more painful than it had been for him and Jennifer.
Plus, there was Sheppard's reaction when he'd asked about the one-night-stands. Rodney really hadn't meant to be rude—even though people frequently accused him of having no manners. It had seemed worth pointing out at the time and Sheppard's response put his mind at rest.
Rodney wondered what in particular would cause such a reaction. Divorce or a breakup could be one explanation. Oh God. He hoped that Sheppard wasn't a widower. He could see how the suggestion that Sheppard would jump into bed with the next best person would be insensitive in that case.
Thankfully, Rodney's question hadn't caused Sheppard to immediately retract his offer.
Well, actually, if it had caused that, it would have been good too. If Sheppard couldn't take an insensitive remark, then sharing a house with Rodney was probably not going to work, even if they hardly saw each other.
Rodney still wasn't sure how that was going to work out. He was going to be at home most of the time when he was working on his new book. Of course, with the size of the house, that didn't necessarily mean they'd do any more than run into each other in the hall every now and then. It would be like your next-door neighbor more than being roommates.
Not that Rodney would have a problem with that. He'd survived sharing a dorm room with the roommate from hell, and that had been a room approximately the size of the largest bathroom in the beach house. After that, this would be a piece of cake. The only potential problem was that Rodney wasn't willing to put up with as much as he did when he was a relatively poor student.
But Sheppard seemed to be easy-going. Ms. Conway had given him a look of deep betrayal when Rodney had informed her of their decision. So apparently, he'd been able to get along with her better than Rodney—which wasn't saying much, naturally.
Rodney didn't know why Sheppard had offered to share the house in the first place. From what he'd heard from Elizabeth, he could have outbid Rodney. Maybe he'd been as loath as Rodney to give Ms. Conway a better commission for the deal she'd made. Or he honestly didn't care because he really was going to spend most of his time at work or at the beach.
Well, Rodney would find out soon enough. Sheppard had said he'd arrive later that day.
It was getting late when John finally made his way to the beach house. He didn't bother with the two large suitcases for the moment and went in directly to what was his new home instead.
When he opened the front door, the sight of the beautiful open area of the first floor greeted him—except it looked like a library had exploded on the stairs.
"McKay?" he asked.
He heard a shuffle and a curse; then he saw McKay looking down from the top of the stairs, holding a couple of books. "Sheppard," he said, making his way down.
"Did we get raided already?" John asked jokingly.
McKay made a sour face as he stopped on the last few steps, standing between books. "I had furniture of one room that needed to be transported and they still managed to mess it up."
John looked around. Books were strewn on the stairs and next to it where they'd fallen through the railing. "What happened?"
"Incompetence happened! One would think that two burly guys could carry a simple box upstairs in a way that wouldn't make the bottom fall out, but apparently that's too much to ask of a company that specializes on doing exactly that."
John contemplated saying it was hardly the company's fault if McKay chose a box that couldn't hold the books but thought better of it. He also wondered what kind of box it had been. From the number of books lying around, it had to have been the size of a fridge. But he could see that McKay was frustrated enough. He was eyeing the mess around them and then dropped the books in his hand on a pile next to the stairs and sighed. His mouth had a very peculiar downward slant on the left side of his face. John had never quite seen anything like it. It was kind of endearing. "Can I help?" he offered.
McKay looked at him. "Can you turn back time?"
John had to give that a thought. Going back to before he'd dated Marcus or Steve or Paul or Daryl? "I wish," he said with feeling.
"Don't we all," McKay said. He went down the last few steps and stood beside John. "If you wanted to, you could try and help sort them. There should be …" his brow furrowed as he thought, "I don't really know. There's botany, architecture, astronomy, medical books, aircraft engineering, culture, history, mainly of the days of exploration, and possibly more. If it looks like it fits to a theme, just stick it together on a pile. I'll have to go over it anyway."
"What about this?" John asked, picking up another sci-fi novel that wasn't by McKay. It was by someone named Kavanagh.
McKay snatched it away and looked at the back cover with disgust on his face. "Oh this. This is to remind me of why I write. If I didn't, people would have to resort to reading drivel like this."
"Ah, you're keeping up with the competition," John guessed.
"Competition?!" McKay's incredulous face made John smile inwardly. It was too funny to get a rise out of him. "As if! Kavanagh wouldn't be competition for a first grader, much less me. There are a few popular writers who are not completely incompetent, probably, but the inaccuracies in their books make me shudder. There's one person who's possibly got some merit, maybe. Sam Carter's books are not quite bad. She's very popular with sci-fi fans." Judging from McKay's face, John guessed he was jealous of her success but would hate to admit it.
"So the … drivel goes on an extra pile as well?" John asked.
"Yes, sorted by author, then chronologically unless it's a series. In that case, chronologically for the content of the series." John gave him a look. "Just by author will be fine," McKay amended.
John couldn't help smiling. McKay bent down to start with the first couple of books, and John noticed his very nice ass. He shook the thought off because he'd better not start thinking in that direction. Anyway, they had a lot of work ahead of them.
John started on the opposite side of the pile from McKay. There were books about plants of all kinds, with quite nice illustrations. He stacked them on the botany pile.
They'd worked in silence for a while when McKay suddenly said, "You know, actually I don't."
John looked up from an interesting book about the early days of flying. "You don't what?"
"Don't wish I could turn back time. I mean, yes, obviously for stupid things like this. But in the grand scheme of things, I don't think I would do anything different."
John tried to think what it must feel like to lead such a life. He couldn't even imagine it.
"I mean, I wasn't always like this and I'd have reasons enough for regret I guess, but at some point I realized that I can't try to make things right for everyone. Take my family. My father wanted me to be an astrophysicist," McKay told him. John thought that was a mighty high goal to live up to. His dad's aspirations for John seemed tame in comparison. "My mother wanted me to be an artist, a musician to be precise, though I suppose painter would have been okay, too," McKay went on without stopping the sorting of his books. "I thought writing scientifically accurate—as much as you can anyway—science fiction novels would be a good compromise. Of course, in the end, I disappointed them both."
John tried not to think of his own father. They'd never really been able to patch things up before his death. On his deathbed, he'd told John that he was sorry and that he loved him, but John had only wished he could have said it much sooner. "I'm sorry," he said to McKay now.
"No, it's really their problem, not mine. Well, was. They're both dead now. Then there's my sister. She always wanted me to have a family. She was so relieved when I finally got married," McKay paused for a moment. "See, that's another thing I don't regret. It didn't work out with Jennifer, but I don't regret that we tried it. And the divorce is not the end of our relationship. We really just downgraded it again from partners to friends." He thought about it for a moment. "It's not even downgrading. It's upgrading. We're much better friends than lovers. Not that the sex was bad or anything."
John could only wonder for a minute if McKay was going to continue. He certainly didn't seem to have a problem with talking about his personal life.
"It's just that being friends worked out great for us," McKay continued, "but when we got married it was … different. When you're friends, you spend your time together and enjoy it, but when you're living together, you're also together when you're not together. I mean, I work from home, and I tend to work in bursts. When I get into that zone, I try to take advantage of it, no matter what time. I eat at my desk and only get up to go to the bathroom. Or take my honeymoon. I told you about how I find the sound of the ocean inspiring, right?" John quickly nodded but he wasn't sure McKay noticed before he went on. "I've never really spent time at the beach. I don't like the sand and the sun and the possibility of drowning in water that's filled with god knows what, so there was no point. But for our honeymoon we went to Hawaii because Jennifer had always wanted to go there. I figured we wouldn't be spending too much time outside, if you know what I mean. That turned out to be true, but only because I was writing most of the time. It was a revelation. Some of my best work was done there." He suddenly stopped and sprinted up the stairs.
John wondered if he should follow, but then McKay came back down, a book in his hand.
"This is the book I wrote there. I've never been prouder of anything else."
John took the book. Not that he could really see much of the quality at a glance. He opened it up and read the dedication. For Jennifer. He looked at McKay, but he seemed to be far away in his thoughts, probably on a beach in Hawaii. Or rather, the hotel room at the beach.
McKay snapped back into the present. "You don't have to read it, of course," he said, flushing a bit. He took the book from John's hands again.
"I actually bought one of your books for the flight. Uhm, 'Other Side'?" John wasn't quite certain about the title anymore.
"Oh god, yes. Not the best one by a long shot. But the first of my most popular series. It's an adequate introduction to that universe."
"I haven't finished it," John admitted sheepishly. "It was a short flight," he tried to explain. "And I'm not really into science fiction," he added because he felt he should be honest.
"That's okay. A lot of people aren't."
"It's just that … well, different planets and space ships. It's all pretty out there." It sounded lame even to John.
"Why?" McKay simply asked. "I mean it's not set on Earth, but when you get down to it, it's still about humans—in my case at least—dealing with life. Instead of fighting a war against another country, it's against aliens. You still have conflicts in trying situations, people dealing with loneliness and fear and disappointment and victory."
All of those things sounded frighteningly familiar. "Well, to be honest, I don't really read about those in normal—well, non-science-fiction either. I prefer something lighter."
"Well, I've been told my books have a good sense of humor. But as I said, I won't force you to read them. I just sometimes get frustrated by people who take science fiction as something that's completely removed from reality. The setting might be, but if it's a good book—in my opinion—it will feel very real to the reader. I hate the phrase genre fiction, because it's not like a guy battling his own demons in Kansas is that much different from another guy doing the same in space."
John could see McKay's frustration, and he felt bad about it. However, he didn't really know how to make it better. "For what it's worth, I don't have great taste in literature anyway. I mean, I've …" he hesitated to admit this, "possibly read a romance novel or two that my mother left after visiting me."
McKay gave him a look. To John's surprise, he didn't make fun of him. "See, that's what I mean. You feel bad about reading romance, because you're told that you should. But the truth is, so many people buy those books or science fiction because they get something out of it. It makes them feel for the characters and it touches them in some way. Now that right there is art."
"You read romance novels too?" John felt slightly less bad about that guilty little secret of his.
"God, no! I mean, it's just not my thing. I resent that we're supposed to look for that one person in the world to make us whole as if we're somehow deficient without our 'soulmate.'"
John screwed up his face. He had wished—and deep down probably still did wish—for the right person for him, but the word 'soulmate' sounded almost like mockery to him. Either that or it was just very depressing.
"Look at my sister. She's happily married, has a cute, smart little girl and a baby boy, and they all live in this perfect little house. The problem is that she wants exactly the same for me. I would be lying if I said I didn't want to have the life she has—at least in part—but I'm not going to be able to force it. And I'm not really unhappy right now. I used to think I had to try to have a family. I nearly got married to a nice, but completely unsuitable woman because of that. And I'm glad I realized what a mistake that was before I broke her heart. To be honest, I think I still broke her heart a bit, but marriage and subsequent divorce, possibly with kids, would have been so much worse. No, it was much better to wait for Jennifer, which was at least a realistic possibility. And Jeannie had better give me credit for that! When I finally get around to telling her, that is …" he added weakly.
"And Jeannie would be your—"
"You haven't told her about the divorce?" John asked. He had been too much of a coward to tell his own mother about recent events so far, but McKay's divorce seemed to have been the poster child of friendly breakups.
"I wanted to wait until it's final, so she wouldn't try to talk me out of it."
John's eyebrows rose. "She'd do that?" He couldn't for the life of him imagine his own brother getting involved like that in his relationships. Dave just seemed to accept them as they were and John would never ask for, nor want more.
"She only means well," McKay sighed.
"They all do," John said, thinking of his mother and, to a lesser degree, Teyla.
McKay gave him a questioning look. John felt that he had to say something. McKay had pretty much told him everything about his whole life in the last half hour. John, on the other hand, had only revealed that he read romance novels on occasion. "Uhm, I haven't told my mother yet that I've moved here."
"You too, huh," McKay said. He sounded a bit pleased by that. "It's just a move though?" he asked then, definitely curious.
John squirmed. He hated talking about his private life. And while he liked McKay, much more than he generally liked people he'd only just met, he didn't really want to discuss Marcus with him. "There was also a breakup, not as nice as you and Jennifer. I don't want to talk about it, and my mom's the kind of person who won't let things go that she thinks are important."
"You'll have to tell her eventually, the next time she visits—and leaves more romance novels for you," McKay added with a smirk.
John glared at him. "And you'll have to tell your sister," he then pointed out with a sweet smile.
"Touché. We better continue or this will never get done."
John's smile turned into a genuine one as they continued to work in comfortable silence.
"Okay, that's enough," Rodney said in reaction to his growling stomach. "I should have eaten hours ago. I mean seriously, I have hypoglycemia. I could pass out," he added for good measure. He didn't want Sheppard to think he was just greedy. It was a medical condition.
"Yeah, I'm hungry too," Sheppard said, dusting off his pants and getting up. "I can cook us something."
Rodney perked up at that. Then his face fell. "There isn't anything in the fridge."
"Oh." Sheppard looked a bit sad about that too.
"But I wanted to check out the restaurants that deliver food anyway." The sooner Rodney knew what was available, the better.
"Are there any?" Sheppard joked.
"There better be! I plan to stock up on canned goods, but I still like to have some choices."
"Are you joking?" Sheppard asked, looking unsure.
"Well, a bit. I don't like to cook. I'm not very good at it, and it takes time and patience and …"
"You're not the patient kind," Sheppard guessed, with a half-smile on his face.
"Plus, it seems like a waste of my time when I can pay professionals to do it. Everybody wins. Where would you be if everyone cooked for themselves all the time?"
Sheppard laughed. It sounded a bit weird, but it felt good to hear him laugh. Like he should do it more often. Rodney wasn't sure where that thought came from. "You're right," Sheppard said, still grinning. "But I hope you don't mind if we'll still have something in the fridge. Or, you know, things that have a shelf life of less than a year."
"That'll be fine," Rodney said generously. "I don't know if you cook a lot in your free time. Is it like 'Oh dear, I do this all day at work, so don't ask me to do it at home' or do you like to cook any time?"
"Well, I'm not sure about any time, but I don't mind cooking at home when I have the time. Besides, you can always just cook something simple. It doesn't always take patience," Sheppard said with a smirk.
Rodney harrumphed. "You're not trying to tell me I should learn to cook, are you?" he asked.
"Nooo," Sheppard said, drawing the word out. "You don't make me read your books, and I won't make you cook. Or eat what I cook for that matter."
"Oh, eating's fine. I'm good with eating," Rodney quickly said. "Not that I'd want to impose." Jennifer had pointed out that he could be a bit self-centered on occasion.
"You wouldn't," Sheppard said. He got a far away look for a moment. "It's been a while since I cooked for more than just myself." He quickly looked away after saying it.
There was an awkward silence. "Uhm," Rodney began. "The food stuff … How are we going to handle this? Should we have separate shelves or put labels on stuff?" He'd done that at university. It had worked moderately well.
"I don't think that'll be necessary," Sheppard drawled. "I like to have a well stocked fridge—as much as it makes sense for one person—and if you see something you like, you're welcome to it."
"Good," Rodney said. "Same goes for me."
"I'll keep that in mind for when I have a craving for canned ravioli," Sheppard said, his eyes twinkling.
Rodney wasn't fazed. He wasn't ashamed of his eating habits. For someone with a desk job, he was in decent shape. And not everyone was a chef. "We still have to find a restaurant now though. I haven't stocked up yet."
"Too bad," Sheppard joked.
"Wait, I think I have—" Rodney got out a battered brochure he'd found in the hotel lobby on his last visit. "Aha! There's at least one restaurant that delivers," he said, getting out his cell phone.
"Oh, that reminds me. I have to make a call." Sheppard got out his own phone and turned around.
"What should I order for you?" Rodney asked, before he could dial.
"What do they have?" Sheppard asked. After a second, in which Rodney opened the brochure, he added, "Never mind. Just get me something." Then he was out the front door.
Rodney quickly ordered what they advertised as their specialty. Then he wondered whom Sheppard was calling. He'd just had a bad breakup, so that was out, and it probably wasn't his mother either because he was afraid to tell her about the breakup and moving away from San Francisco. Hmm. Rodney peeked out of one of the windows. It would probably be impolite to join Sheppard when he was still on the phone.
After another moment, Sheppard hung up. Rodney waited for a bit, but since Sheppard didn't move, Rodney simply went out as well.
It was a beautiful night even though the wind was a bit cold. He turned around to take a look at their new home.
"Quite a sight," Sheppard said from behind, walking forward to stand next to him.
"We'd have to switch on the lights in the bedrooms for full effect." The large glass windows would make it look quite spectacular. "Which reminds me that we haven't quite agreed on the living arrangements. I kind of, uhm, took over the southern side. It's just that it has more space for my desk," Rodney rambled. "You haven't even seen my desk. Maybe we can check it out while we wait for dinner?"
"After you." Sheppard gestured towards the door.
Rodney went back in and straight up the stairs to where his study was situated. It wasn't located in a separate room but rather the southern side of the generous open area with the huge windows facing out to the beach. He'd placed his desk directly in front of one of the windows. The bookcases were arranged close by. A few books that had made it to the second floor lay in piles, so it didn't look too bad.
Sheppard stared, looking slightly shocked.
"I know it's not quite … blending in," Rodney said. Most of the house was furnished in white, befitting a stereotypical beach house, and modern. His bookcases had all different color wood stains and his desk was a handsome, old-fashioned roll top made of rosewood.
Sheppard shook his head. "No, it's okay. I think right now this is the only part of the house that looks like someone actually lives there."
Rodney looked at it, and he could see what Sheppard meant. The desk was a bit battered, and there was some paperwork on it. It might not fit into the house's modern theme, but to Rodney it made it his home, and Sheppard apparently saw that. "Thanks," Rodney said, feeling strangely relieved by Sheppard's reaction.
Sheppard stepped closer to the desk, and after a second, Rodney realized that he was taking a closer look at the Aurora Award that he'd put on the little end table next to his desk.
"A Canadian Award?" Sheppard guessed.
"As the maple leaf subtly implies. I won it three years ago."
"That's right. You're Canadian," Sheppard said, as if it had slipped his mind.
"You are aware that Canada's border begins about eighty miles north of here?" Sheppard looked surprised. "Vancouver Island," Rodney clarified. "In any case, it's a lot closer than California."
"You're right." Sheppard frowned. "So, do you have a green card? You were only married for a year." Then his eyes widened. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business really."
"No problem. If I don't want to talk about something, I just won't. Although there's not much. Unless you want to hear childhood stories. Remind me to ask you to leave the house when my sister comes to visit."
"And to answer your question," Rodney said. "I actually have an EB1, a green card as a priority worker."
"Nice," Sheppard said.
"It is rather convenient," Rodney agreed. He turned away from his study area. "So, since I took this side for my desk, I figured it would make sense if I took the southern bedroom as well. They're both the same size anyway. You even get the master bathroom. Though it's the only one that has a bath tub, so if possible I'd like to use it every now and then."
"You can have it," Sheppard said.
"I mean the … 'master' bathroom. I prefer showers, so I can take the smaller one."
"Are you sure? It would be closer to your bedroom," Rodney pointed out.
Sheppard gave him a look. "I like to jog a few miles in the morning. I don't think thirty feet will kill me."
So Sheppard was one of those athletic people. He did look pretty muscular for someone on the skinny side. He wasn't thin or anything, but his waist was kind of narrow. Not that Rodney cared in particular about Sheppard's looks. "Okay, that's settled then. I don't think I'll be using the extra room on my side, so if you—"
"Yeah, me neither," Sheppard said, before Rodney could offer it.
"So, we have plenty of room for guests. My sister and her family will probably come at some point and Carson—he's my agent and a good friend—and of course Jennifer." Rodney looked expectantly at Sheppard. He wasn't good at subtle.
"Uhm," Sheppard said. "My mother will visit at some point, maybe my brother and his family and definitely Teyla."
"Your lawyer?" Rodney asked.
"She's more than my lawyer. She's a friend," Sheppard said emphatically.
Rodney felt like he'd put his foot in it. "That's great," he said lamely. "And you're right, Elizabeth might come by too."
There was an awkward silence.
"Maybe we should head back downstairs, see if the food is coming," Sheppard suggested, and Rodney gladly took the offer.
They headed back downstairs, where there were still quite a few books left to be sorted. He'd have to go through the piles too and carry them upstairs. Rodney made an unhappy face.
"I can help you," Sheppard said with a gentle smile. "My work doesn't start until the end of next week."
Rodney smiled back and just like that, things were right between them again.
John was awakened by the sun shining brightly through the huge windows in his bedroom. He hadn't bothered to shut the blinds the night before, looking at the night sky and the shadows of the trees instead.
The warm light permeated right through to the bones. It was impossible not to feel good with such a morning welcome. Right then and there, he decided he'd continue to sleep like this and let the sun wake him every morning.
He got up, eager to take a look at the ocean. The whole house had floor to ceiling windows that offered an unobstructed view of the beach while keeping observers safe from the elements. It looked windy today too, judging from the waves and trees, but John didn't mind.
He smiled as he turned to quickly go to the bathroom before going jogging on the beach. He took a few steps towards the bathroom next to his room when he remembered his discussion with McKay. Changing directions, he went into the bathroom next to McKay's room. He wondered if McKay was still sleeping. He'd been at his desk when John had brought up his suitcases and gone to bed. And he had warned John that he worked at all times if inspiration struck.
Either way, McKay wasn't going to join him jogging. He'd made it very clear that the only thing about the beach that he was interested in was the sound. John had to grin to himself. It seemed like such a bizarre thing, buying a beach house when you hated the beach, but when he looked at it the way McKay did, it made perfect sense. John actually did get it. He might not be a writer, but he understood how the environment could change the way a person worked. When he'd first stood in the kitchen of a restaurant, he'd already spent years and years of cooking at home. But being in a place that was built to serve food for dozens of people a night was a whole different world.
John stepped outside onto the deck and took a deep breath. He could taste the salt of the ocean in the fresh wind. Looking north and south, he decided to go south towards the town. This would be against the wind and meant that he'd have a following wind on the way back.
For a while, John ran and didn't think at all. He just let the impressions of the coast flow over him: the sound of the waves and the wind, the strip of sand that divided the vast blue sea and the green bushes and trees. This place was really ideal to unwind. There were places like this near San Francisco, but you had to drive miles out to get there.
He had to force himself not to think of San Francisco. This was his home now. And there was something exciting about coming to a new place where you could still discover everything even if there wasn't all that much to discover. At this point, he could see the first houses on the outskirts of Atlantis Shores at a distance.
John kept up a good pace even when the wind picked up. He had to push, but it felt great to struggle against the force of nature. The beach was perfect, but the wind somehow made it real. He had to laugh thinking about McKay again. McKay was very much like that. He was a force of nature, perfect in many ways, but still real in the ways that he wasn't.
They'd talked about all kinds of things during last night's dinner. At one point, the discussion had turned to comics. McKay had asked him why he enjoyed super heroes but not science fiction when clearly both were not "based in reality." John had been able to hear the air quotes in that. He'd struggled to answer, to justify why it was different, until McKay had grinned and John had realized he'd just been teasing. They'd talked about comics and film adaptations and TV shows, and John had asked if there were movies of McKay's books. McKay had answered haughtily, "As if I would let them ruin my creations."
McKay's ego was enormous, but he was also very smart and quite funny. John thought that if he were into science fiction, he'd probably love McKay's books. He definitely loved McKay's attitude. There was an honesty about him that appealed greatly to John. It had been awhile since he could really geek out with someone. Teyla's taste in entertainment went more towards the arts and theater. Anyone else that he could have an earnest discussion about Batman villains with had never made it past being acquaintances for one reason or another.
John didn't know if he and McKay would really be friends, but being roommates forced them to spend a certain amount of time together or at least provided frequent opportunities to do so. If last night's dinner was any indication, he'd enjoy those moments in between work and being alone.
He was glad that he'd gone with his gut instinct that day when they'd first met. He'd wanted the house, yes, and not to go into an unnecessary bidding war, but there'd been something about McKay that had told him they'd work out together like this. Now John only hoped it would stay that way. McKay certainly had his share of eccentricities or just simple differences to how John led his life. Food being one of them.
John stopped, suddenly remembering that they had nothing in the fridge or cabinets. That wouldn't do. Such a great morning had to be continued with a good breakfast. Plus, he had to give McKay a taste of what it could be like to eat fresh food.
He grinned and turned around, heading home, the wind pushing him from behind.
"What the …" Rodney mumbled and blinked.
Through his blurring eyes, he saw stripes of brightness covering his face and spreading throughout the whole room. Oh damn, he hadn't shut the blinds properly last night. He turned to look at alarm clock. Eight thirty. Which meant he'd had his seven hours of beauty sleep and should probably get up.
He made his way out of bed and stepped to the window, hesitating for a second before fully opening the blinds. The sun was so bright, he had to squeeze his eyes shut.
The sunlight made him feel warm and not necessarily in a bad way, but he hadn't had his coffee yet, so this was a case of too much too soon. He walked sleepily to the bathroom, realizing only when he saw Sheppard's stuff on the sink that he'd taken the wrong bathroom.
He hoped Sheppard would forgive him. Speaking of which … Rodney stepped out of the bathroom, listening for a second, but he didn't hear Sheppard. Instead, he was only greeted by the sound of the wind and waves outside. He smiled. It had been the right decision to buy this house. He couldn't wait to start writing.
First, he had to get a coffee though. Sheppard was probably out jogging. Rodney wouldn't have minded eating breakfast with him. Dinner had been nice. Which suddenly reminded him that the only food they had in the house were a few leftovers from yesterday. He really needed to go shopping.
He did have coffee though. He'd even unpacked the machine last night, knowing it would be a necessity first thing in the morning.
When he headed downstairs, he saw that Sheppard was not out jogging. He had just been very quiet, reading a newspaper in front of an amply filled breakfast table. Rodney stopped in his tracks. The whole scene looked as if it was out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Okay, Sheppard's hair didn't fit, nor the furniture. Maybe more a high-gloss magazine, detailing the lives of the rich and famous for those who only wished they could live like that.
Rodney had that life right in front of him. The breakfast hadn't been touched. Sheppard must have waited for him. And that smell, was that …? Coffee. Really, the scene couldn't be any more perfect. With a spring in his step, Rodney continued down the stairs. The noise made Sheppard look up, and when he saw Rodney, a wide smile appeared on his face.
Rodney found himself responding in kind and almost stumbled on a step. His heart skipped a beat, and suddenly he was reminded of Jennifer, of how she'd smiled when she saw him in the early days in their relationship. He didn't know when exactly it had stopped or if he'd just stopped noticing it.
It didn't matter. He and Jennifer had done the best they could by becoming just friends again. This was his life now, and it was a lovely and unexpected surprise to be sharing it with someone who liked Rodney so much they smiled like that when they saw him. That John had made him coffee and breakfast on top of that was downright blissful.
"I didn't want to wake you," Sheppard said. "Buns are in the oven to keep them warm."
Rodney made his way down to him, unable to really grasp the scene. "You baked?!"
Sheppard snorted. "No. But when I got a small selection of things for breakfast, I also found some pre-made, oven-ready buns. I don't know how good they are, thought I'd give it a try."
"This is a small selection?" Rodney asked, looking at the cheeses and cold cuts. There was also strawberry jam and honey.
"Well, it's no buffet, and I haven't fried anything."
"I think I'll survive without bacon and eggs and four other variants of honey," Rodney said, not knowing where to start. Although, no. Coffee, of course.
Sheppard laughed. "I'll keep those for later then. Oh, right," he said, when Rodney picked up a cup. "I saw that you have a coffee maker and coffee, so I figured I'd brew a pot. Since it seems to rank before any other kind of food." He said the last with a smirk.
"I need a little kick in the morning. And no, jogging doesn't seem like a good alternative. Hmmmm." Rodney sighed at the smell of the coffee and took his first sip.
"I wasn't suggesting anything," Sheppard said, watching in amusement.
Rodney took a deep breath. Now he was awake.
Sheppard got up to retrieve the buns from the oven, and Rodney surveyed the table. "So is this a normal thing for you? Or just because you're still on vacation?"
"I like to have a good breakfast. Lunch and dinner are usually a rush. At breakfast I can indulge. But it's not always quite as much. I just wasn't sure what you'd like." Sheppard looked at him as if waiting for him to make a decision.
"It all looks good to me," Rodney said. He wasn't a connoisseur. "So I guess I'll just have to try it all."
The smile on Sheppard's face looked very pleased.
Rodney felt … He couldn't really place it. But it felt good to sit here with Sheppard. It felt like the beginning of something that could be great.
Operation "Show McKay the joys of good food" had been quite a success. He'd told John that he wasn't picky—he even liked airplane food—but he'd definitely enjoyed John's offerings for breakfast. Not enough to join John when he went to check out the local shops and markets, but John could live with that. McKay probably would have been bored to death anyway.
Atlantis Shores didn't have much in the way of farms, but there was a fishing harbor, and he was told that there was a larger market over in Dagan, fifteen miles away. He was going to check that out another day though. He'd promised to help McKay with the rest of his books later that day.
John bought only prawns for dinner and stocked up on essentials, but it was enough to make McKay stare wide-eyed when he came out and saw the trunk.
"This is not your restaurant, in case you forgot."
John gave him a look. "I haven't. These are just the basics. Things that everyone has in their kitchen."
McKay suspiciously looked at the rice John had bought. "Doesn't this usually come in little packets that you put in the microwave?"
John raised an eyebrow.
"I was just kidding," McKay said as he poked his head into the trunk of the car. "I thought we already had pots and pans."
"That's a rice cooker," John explained.
"Now you are joking," McKay said, looking at it like he'd never seen one before.
"The four varieties of honey are on the passenger seat," John said with a smirk, going inside.
"Okay, now you're really joking," McKay said, but when he looked over his shoulder, John could see he was checking. He laughed. McKay glared at him. "You can be glad you plied me with that breakfast this morning."
"If you'll get them inside, I can ply you with prawns this evening," John said. He put away the cheese, eggs and flour.
McKay followed him back in, looking very happy, rice and prawns in his hands. "I think I'll miss this when you start working."
John smiled. He considered offering to teach McKay, but he knew he'd be rebuffed. "You could come to the restaurant."
"I'll certainly check it out. Does it also have a night sky theme, like the hotel?"
"Yes, and a glass ceiling. And at the entrance there's a huge—"
"Gate." McKay nodded. "Well, as long as the food is good."
"Which of course it will be," John said, going out again to get the rest of his purchases. He didn't have McKay's ego, but he was good at what he did and didn't like if it was questioned even vaguely.
"Naturally," McKay agreed, following him out. "So what are you making for lunch if the prawns are for dinner?"
For someone who claimed not to care about food, he was very eager. John turned to him. "What would you like?"
"Wait. I just say what I want, and you'll cook it?" McKay asked hopefully.
"Try me," John said, one corner of his mouth curving up.
"I, uhm … You know what? Just surprise me. As long as there's no lemon in it, I'm sure I'll love it."
John wouldn't have needed the reminder. McKay had made it loud and clear that he was deathly allergic to citrus. And John had no intention of harming McKay. "One citrus-free surprise lunch coming up," he said, lifting the potatoes out of the trunk.
Rodney sighed as he got up again. He didn't understand why they couldn't include a list of books in the series in chronological order with every novel—especially ones like this. Simpson was a decent enough writer, but truth be told, Rodney couldn't remember anything about her books other than what was on the blurb on the back. So he had to check the chronological order on the internet.
After finding it, he placed the book in its correct place on the Simpson pile. He looked around to see that they'd really made good progress. Sheppard had worked fast, and better yet, he seemed smart enough to grasp Rodney's purpose for the book in a short time. Rodney had checked two of the piles he'd made, and while they weren't ordered 100% the way they'd been before, the new order made sense to Rodney, and he didn't feel the need to change anything. Which was a bit of a surprise because he could be particular about those things.
As it was, most of the formerly unordered mess was now arranged in stacks of books that just needed to be placed in the shelves. Sheppard looked up and followed his gaze around the room. "We're almost done," he said.
"Yep," Rodney agreed.
"It's good we have no kids or animals to worry about," Sheppard added with a smirk.
Rodney's face fell in horror, just imagining Madison, Christopher and Hannibal let loose on the stacks of books. "Thank god Hannibal doesn't like to travel. But my nephew is just getting to the dangerous age. Madison could probably be told to stay away. Though with all the running kids seem to like to do, you never know. She might see it as a great obstacle course."
Sheppard laughed. "Your sister's kids?" he asked.
"Hannibal is Jennifer's cat, but yes, Madison and Christopher are my sister's kids. Hers and her husband's," Rodney added with a little sigh. Kaleb wasn't a bad guy or anything, but … "He teaches English at a high school," Rodney explained at Sheppard's look.
One corner of Sheppard's mouth turned up. "Yeah, I can see how that's disappointing," he said sarcastically.
Rodney glared at him. Of course, she could have done a whole lot worse, but still. "You know what they say. Those who can't do, teach."
"Don't knock teaching," Sheppard said. "My mother taught me to cook, and look what came of that. I never would have done it without her."
Rodney tried to imagine a young Sheppard puttering away in the kitchen following his mother's instructions. It was kind of cute. And it was interesting that she'd influenced him so much. Though it left Rodney curious. "What would you have been if it hadn't been for her?" he asked.
Sheppard seemed to think it over. "A pilot maybe. Or a pro surfer."
"You're that good?"
"Not really," Sheppard admitted. "But it sounds cool," he said with a grin.
Rodney snorted. He could easily imagine Sheppard on a beach with a surfboard. "It does. But pilot? Somehow, I get that fifties image of smiling guys in uniforms who flirt with stewardesses. Doesn't seem like you."
"I think they're called flight attendants these days. And no, not a pilot like that. Smaller, faster machines," Sheppard explained with a glow in his eyes.
"Where would you be able to fly those?" Rodney asked.
"Don't know," Sheppard said with a shrug, but he looked down at the pile of books that still needed sorting. "Air Force," he added. "Though probably not," he said quietly, almost to himself.
Rodney could see that there was a story behind that. He was about to ask even though Sheppard didn't particularly look like he wanted to talk about it when his phone rang. Rodney checked the display. It was Carson.
He picked up and said, "Yes, I'm alive," by way of greeting.
"I know. I think I would have been informed if you weren't," Carson answered without a beat.
"Not if I'm dead and buried in the dunes behind the house," Rodney answered. At Sheppard's look he mouthed, "My agent." Sheppard nodded with a wry smile and went to continue sorting the books.
"Since you can talk, I assume you're not," Carson said a bit exasperated. "How is your roommate?"
"He cooked," Rodney answered, then grinned and added, because he couldn't help himself, "He's a way better house mate than you."
"Give him more than a day. You could still turn him into an ax murderer," Carson said dryly.
Rodney made a face. "Very funny. Listen, we still have to clean up the mess that the idiot moving people made. So did you just want to check if I'm alive or did you call for a reason?"
"Yes, I have a reason," Carson said patiently. "I've had a request for an interview."
"Who?" Rodney asked.
"Peter Grodin from The Atlantis Shores Gazette would like to talk to you."
A local newspaper? That meant they probably wanted to talk about how Rodney liked their quaint little town. "The only thing I've seen of Atlantis Shores so far is one hotel and my house, and I don't really think there's much more worth seeing. What am I supposed to tell them? 'I'm looking forward to never having to meet any of your readers'?"
"Please don't. Just tell them you haven't had a chance to check out the town and that you like the atmosphere to work there. Talk about your books. You like that." Rodney snorted. Carson knew him well enough. "Grodin sounds like an okay guy," Carson added, because he knew Rodney hated talking to idiots. Not that Rodney expected much from someone who wrote for The Atlantis Shores Gazette.
"When?" he asked with a sigh. He didn't really like giving interviews, but it was part of the gig, and Carson was usually good at weeding out the really annoying people.
"Uhm, today," Carson said.
"They'd like to put it in the Sunday issue tomorrow to introduce their new prominent resident," Carson said. Rodney could hear the smile in his voice. "He would like to come by at three."
"That's in half an hour! Tell him half past," Rodney said, hanging up before waiting for an answer. Great. Now they needed to hurry to finish this up. And he should shower and get into some better clothes, he supposed.
He looked at Sheppard who was watching him. "Uh, I've got an interview, and my agent would like me to do it. It's for The Atlantis Shores Gazette or whatever it's called. He'll be here—"
"In an hour," Sheppard finished for him, nodding.
"Yeah," Rodney said. "I'm sorry, but we'll have to make this quick. You can start carrying them up and putting them on the shelves once we're done with the rest. The fiction goes on the right, spanning about a third of the width, the rest in any way you see fit." He quickly took a bunch from the rest of the books and placed them on the appropriate stacks.
"Do you want to check these first?" Sheppard asked, pointing at the stacks he'd ordered so far.
"No," Rodney said. "I trust you."
They exchanged a look, and there was something in Sheppard's eyes, almost as if he wanted to thank Rodney. Then he lowered his head, and they both went back to work.
John was putting the last of the books into the bookcase when Rodney came out of the bathroom. He was wearing dark gray slacks and a simple blue shirt. He looked good. Really good. John gulped.
"Is this okay?" Rodney asked, fiddling with his hair where it was thinning. "Jennifer bought these for me, and I think these were the ones that she said went well together." He sounded unsure.
"It's okay," John said quickly. He was pretty sure McKay wouldn't appreciate anything more than that. Besides, John had no idea where this feeling was coming from, and he was not going to go there. He finished off with the last of the books. "I'm done."
"That's great," Rodney said, checking the shelves. "I really don't know how to thank you. It would have taken forever without your help. I'd invite you for dinner, but since you said you'd cook … maybe another time."
"It's okay," John said immediately. He knew that McKay didn't mean to ask him out on a date, but John suddenly thought of that and other things he hadn't planned to think about again any time soon.
McKay was, thankfully, oblivious. He took a look at his watch. "The Atlantis Shores Gazette guy will be here any moment now. I'm not sure how long he'll stay. I'll kick him out before dinner, but before that … Would you prefer if we talked upstairs or would you mind if we sit down on the couch?"
"Either way is fine with me. Actually, I need to go into town," John said, remembering a good reason to flee.
"More food? I don't think there's any space left in the cupboards," McKay teased.
"I think there's still some space left for your cans," John countered with a grin. "And no, what I want to get doesn't fit in the cupboard."
"What then?" McKay sounded intrigued.
"To continue feeding you, I'll need a ride."
McKay frowned. "What's that outside then? I distinctly remember carrying about a ton of food from what I assumed was your car."
"It's a rental. My last car broke down a year ago, and I never got around to replacing it. It wasn't necessary in San Francisco, but here …" John trailed off.
"Yes," McKay nodded. "That would be a problem. Do you need someone to drive you there?"
"Well, I have to see if I can find one first." Plus, he didn't want to go car shopping with McKay. They'd already been more domestic the last day than John had expected, and he needed to get away from McKay for a bit and collect his thoughts. "If I do find something, we can get it together tomorrow. I have no idea if they'll have what I want in town. I'm not even sure what I want yet. Maybe a motorcycle," he mused aloud.
McKay looked horrified. "You realize that motorcyclists are far more likely to have a fatal accident."
John was both annoyed and kind of touched by that statement. "You sound like my mother," he said fondly.
"Well, it's good to know she has some common sense. I hope it means there's a chance you got it from her," McKay huffed. It almost seemed as if he took it as a personal insult that John would consider getting such a dangerous vehicle.
"I'll probably stick with a car. For both of your sakes," John said, amused.
McKay made a face. "If you die, who inherits your half of the house?" he asked.
There were two car dealerships in Atlantis Shores. John drove to the further one first, giving him a bit more time to think.
When he'd offered to share the beach house with McKay, John had simply thought they'd get along fine in a practical arrangement. After the last day, he thought that maybe they could even become something like friends.
However, he hadn't expected what had happened just now.
When McKay had come out of the bathroom, freshly showered and dressed up … it had felt like those first moments in a relationship when a date went so well that you knew you wanted to take the guy home or when a conversation with an acquaintance suddenly had that spark that meant you wanted to see him again.
It had felt like the promise of more, and that was something that John definitely couldn't afford.
He'd been here in this new town and new house for only a day, but he had a feeling that it could become a home for him. However, for that to happen he needed to feel safe, and that meant not having to face even the possibility of another breakup.
He couldn't even understand why the superficial attraction when he'd noticed McKay's eyes or ass suddenly turned into something that felt anything but superficial.
Although it probably didn't matter. It shouldn't matter, because he wasn't going to give in to those feelings. He hardly knew McKay, even if it felt like they'd known each other forever. Plus, John had managed not to fall for straight guys in the past, and he had no reason to believe McKay wasn't straight.
Really, there were many reasons not to go there even in his mind. It had been just a single moment after all.
John tried to concentrate on that. For the most part, being with McKay had felt like being with a friend, and that was the kind of relationship that he wanted. They didn't have to just share their house as strangers. Living together would be fine, and it would be nice to have a friend in Atlantis Shores.
It shouldn't turn into more, though, because that was when trouble always started. It was as simple as that.
John drove on, thinking about dinner with McKay and how he'd helped carrying in the food John had bought. It brought a smile to his face.
Yes, friendship was definitely okay. Everything else would only be a risk to the new life that had hardly begun for him.
Peter Grodin, Rodney found out quickly, had done his homework. He quickly summarized what he'd researched about Rodney and planned to put in the article. Thankfully, this allowed them to move beyond inane questions like "How did you become a writer?" and "Which is the favorite of your books?"
In fact, the first real question Grodin asked was, "At a convention last year you said that you find the sound of the ocean inspiring. I assume this is what brought you here to our town. Could you try to explain why you find it inspiring?"
Rodney was somewhat impressed that he'd tracked down that obscure quote. He wasn't aware that it had been mentioned in any of the articles about the convention. He usually didn't try to explain, but after the good experience with Sheppard and since Grodin seemed really interested, Rodney decided to gave it a try.
Grodin accepted his answer, continuing to ask about how he tried to convey the feeling of worlds being alive in his books. They delved into an interesting discussion about writing and completely forgot the time. Rodney only realized they'd been talking for almost two hours when the door opened and Sheppard stepped in.
Rodney got up, and Grodin turned to the door and stood as well.
"I'm back," Sheppard said. "Just go on. I'll make dinner. Don't mind me." He went towards the kitchen, and Rodney turned to Grodin who looked curious.
"Uh, that's John Sheppard," Rodney said, waving towards the kitchen.
Sheppard turned back around and came closer, giving Grodin a little smile. They shook hands. "You're from The Atlantis Shores Gazette."
"Yes, Peter Grodin. We wanted to include an article about possibly the most well-known new member of our community," he said with a smile that said those weren't his words. "I asked the editor if I could do it." He waited for a second before adding, more carefully. "And you are?"
Sheppard gave him a long look. Rodney had the feeling they were communicating something he didn't get. "He's my roommate. We both wanted the house and decided to simply share for the time being," John finally said.
"Ah," Grodin said, but the tone said he really didn't understand.
"Sheppard's the new chef at the Star Gate; he'll be starting at the end of the week. Maybe you'd like to write about that too."
"Oh, you're the one who's replacing Hobson? Actually, we do plan to cover that. Mr. Woolsey said there'd be a special opening next month."
"Yes, he's mentioned that," Sheppard said. "I think he wants to give me some time first. Probably making sure I work out before he tells the press all about me."
Grodin snorted. "Probably," he agreed. "My colleague Laura Cadman will cover that event. I think she's already talked to Hobson about what his plans are for his retirement. Though I suppose she'll want to talk to him again, possibly together with you, the passing of the torch and all that."
"Right," Rodney interrupted them, feeling a bit neglected. He was the one being interviewed after all. "We wouldn't want to keep Sheppard from cooking," he said pointedly.
Grodin obediently turned back to him. "I think I only have a few more questions." They sat down again. "I enjoy talking about writing, but there are a few things I was asked to include in the article," he said, making it almost sound like an advance apology. He got out a notepad and turned to a specific page. "Why did you choose our town as your new home?"
"I wanted a beach house that was remote but not too far from Seattle and Vancouver. I also wanted to move as soon as possible, and this house fit all requirements."
"What do you like most about Atlantis Shores?" Grodin asked, not pressing for more.
Rodney made a face. Then he obediently recited what Carson had told him. "I haven't had a chance to take a look at it."
"I'm sure you can't wait," Grodin said dryly.
"Oh, yes," Rodney said sarcastically. "What exactly is the big tourist attraction?"
"There is the 'Old Townhall,' built in 1965, and a little 'museum' with some Native American Art that doesn't actually originate from here, at least not directly here. Then there's a rock near the central harbor that's vaguely egg shaped called Mount Egg. Some people like to take pictures there."
Rodney had to smile as Grodin listed it off completely deadpan. "Will people try to put a plaque on my house?" Rodney asked just as dryly.
"I'll be sure to mention you enjoy the peace and quiet. Though I would expect the Mayor offering to give you the Golden Key to the city before the next election."
"Oh joy," Rodney said flatly. He could hear Sheppard snort in the kitchen where he was puttering around. "I'm sure you'll get to shake a lot of hands for pictures at the reopening," Rodney called over.
"It's not actually an opening since we never closed," Sheppard shot back.
Rodney turned his attention back to Grodin. "Feel free not to answer the next one," Grodin said, making Rodney groan inwardly. He'd done enough interviews to know that there was an endless array of idiotic questions, including what it was like to be Canadian, as if they were a different species, and what it took to be a successful writer, because clearly that one could be answered in thirty seconds and it was simply that nobody had bothered to reveal the secret until now. "Is there anything you'd like to say about your divorce beyond what was in the press release?"
This stumped Rodney. He hadn't expected it, and he hadn't given any interviews since then. "Uhm."
"This came from Laura," Grodin added. "She thinks asking about completely private things is both appropriate and necessary because it's what the people actually read, even if they don't like to admit it."
Rodney looked over to Sheppard who had stopped doing what he did, making an uncomfortable face. "That interview with her will be fun, huh?" Rodney called over to him.
Sheppard glared. "Keep that up, and I won't cook for you again," he said, getting back to preparing their dinner.
"At least you have a warning," Rodney said.
"As I said, I can just tell her you have nothing to add to the press release. The last question is—"
"No, it's okay. I just didn't expect it. I don't mind talking about my divorce, there's just not much to tell. My wife and I split up amicably. We're still good friends. We got divorced because we realized we work better as friends than as a couple. We have no regrets. Sometimes people are just meant to be friends." He looked over to Sheppard, who'd stopped again, looking at Rodney in a way that he couldn't decipher. They held their gazes for a moment, and when Rodney turned to Grodin, he saw him watching them avidly. "So, your last question?"
Grodin blinked. "Yes, my last question is: Do you think you'll draw inspiration from the town and its inhabitants? In other words, are we likely to see something of our little town on the ocean in one of your next books?"
"And the person who asked this has read how many of my books?" Rodney asked, because writing about quaint little towns was about as far as you could get from the usual settings he created.
"I'm sorry," Grodin said, meaning it.
"It's not your fault," Rodney admitted. "What do you think they want to hear?"
"They'd probably be excited about the possibility of being in a book."
"Well, then tell them that even though my books tend to be about space and more inhospitable planets, you never know. They should keep their eyes open."
Grodin smiled. "I will. I think you can expect a few sales from this, and I already know the library has ordered a few more copies of your books. I expect they'll ask you to give a reading at some point."
Rodney looked over to Sheppard and found him, as he'd expected, with a smirk on his face.
The days until he started at the Star Gate went by fast. John properly unpacked the few things he'd brought along, moving an empty bookcase from one of the unused rooms to his bedroom with McKay's grudgingly offered help.
"So where are the romance novels?" Rodney had asked teasingly when John had started putting his cookbooks and other books that were more or less related to cooking into the bookcase.
"Well hidden," John had answered. "Why? Are you interested in reading them?"
McKay had lifted his hands in surrender and backed away. "Nope. Just asking. I'll continue working," he'd said and fled.
John's laughter had floated after him.
McKay had worked most of the time over the last few days. Sometimes he'd come downstairs, looking elated or grumpy, and John had either listened to why he was happy or what was going wrong. Not that he understood most of what McKay was saying. McKay had never really explained what his book was about, and John hadn't asked. He'd gathered bits and pieces, but truthfully, he didn't really think that McKay wanted to discuss it. He seemed like he just needed to share either his happiness or let off some steam, and John could listen and nod quite well without understanding the details.
He also still cooked for them, and on most days they shared all their meals. McKay had skipped only one breakfast. On that day, he'd come down before noon, bleary-eyed, but looking satisfied. McKay had made good on his promise—or was it threat—and bought a few cans. John had looked at him in mock betrayal, but McKay had insisted he'd need to survive once John started working.
John had looked for a car again when he'd gone to the market in Dagan, but he hadn't found anything to his liking. At least not a car. The market was okay. The selection wasn't quite as big as in San Francisco, but the quality was good, and he chatted with some of the farmers, buying things to try them out.
McKay was a good test subject because he was not at all shy about voicing his distaste with something. John wasn't sure if his mother had ever had told him to stay quiet when you didn't have anything good to say or if McKay just didn't care. He supposed he might find out when McKay's sister visited.
McKay had come down one day, shouting into the phone in his hand, looking very annoyed. Apparently, Jeannie had found out about the divorce from Jennifer and wasn't happy to say the least. McKay had defended himself and refused to give her his new address for a good five minutes before finally giving in but with an explicit order not to come visit him before he had finished the first draft of his book.
After the call, he'd slumped down at the kitchen island, looking miserable. John had patted his shoulder in sympathy and gotten him what was left of the dessert from the evening before.
Meanwhile, John still hadn't called his mother. He kept delaying the inevitable by trying out new ideas with some of the produce he'd gotten from the market, going jogging or driving into town to get something that he didn't really need but told himself absolutely couldn't wait. Eventually, he ran out of things to buy, it was raining outside, and he'd cooked enough for the next two days.
He still hadn't found a new car though. He supposed this was as good a day as any to drive all the way to Olympia, where he surely could find something suitable and could finally get rid of the rental.
It rained all the way to Olympia, turning the world around him a dull gray. He didn't mind rain once in a while, but the consistency was a bit of a downer. Combined with the knowledge that he'd have to call his mother soon and face her disappointment, he was feeling rather morose by the time he arrived. There didn't seem to be a car that he liked in all of Olympia, and by the fifth dealer, he had to admit that it was him and not the cars. He sat down in a café, but the coffee was bitter and the piece of cake artificial and too sugary. He finished neither and sat back down in his rental, contemplating what to do.
On a whim, he called their new number at the beach house. If nothing else he should let McKay know that he was probably going to be later than he'd thought.
"Yes?" McKay sounded annoyed.
"It's Sheppard. Did I interrupt you?"
"Yes, but at this point that might be a good thing. I wanted to go raid your cupboards anyway. Do you have chocolate or anything else that will give me chemically induced happiness?"
John had to smile. He already felt better. "Nope, no chocolate. At least none that you can eat. I've got couverture chocolate, but—"
John smiled into the phone. "It has a higher cocoa butter content, processed especially for cooking. I could use it to make chocolate covered pears for dinner."
"Not as good as the real thing but certainly better than nothing. Where are you? Still in Olympia?"
"Uhm, yes. Couldn't find a car. I don't think I'm really in the mood to get one," John admitted.
"Hmmm," McKay said.
"I know. I could just buy some cheap piece of junk—"
"No, no, that's not what I meant. Listen, I have my car, and it's not like I'll use it very much …" McKay said.
"I … I'd need it every day to get to work and back. Maybe even more if I can get home between shifts," John pointed out because, as much as he'd like not having to deal with a car right now, this would be quite a big favor.
"So? I wouldn't need it at all for now, except to run errands. Which you could do for me in return for using the car. It's a win-win situation."
"And if you do need it, I could always ask someone to pick me up or just take a taxi."
"As I said, until my book is finished, I don't expect to need it."
"Okay," John said, feeling a bit of a weight move off his chest. He wasn't even sure why the car bothered him so much. Maybe because still using the rental showed that he hadn't quite arrived yet in his new home. "Thank you," he said.
McKay didn't say anything to that, instead asking, "So, does this mean you can come back to make dinner?"
John smiled again. "Yes," he said. "Well … I can return the rental now, but I'll have to see how I can get back home. I could take a taxi, but maybe there is a bus line—"
"Nonsense," McKay interrupted him. "I'm about to stab my laptop anyway. It'll be good to get away from it for a while. Where should I pick you up?"
John thought fondly of McKay glaring at the screen of his computer. He could only hope that McKay would calm down by the time he arrived or it would be a long drive home. Although, truth be told, he didn't mind McKay's rants. In fact, they frequently made John smile. It always amused him how McKay talked about his characters and plot lines as if they were alive.
Calmed down or not, John realized, it would be an entertaining ride home with McKay.
Rodney spent the drive to Olympia listening to classical music and enjoying the chance to get away from his obstinate characters for a bit. He found Sheppard outside the car rental, looking like a wet poodle, though his hair still stuck up in places.
He opened the door and let him in. "Why on Earth didn't you wait inside?"
"I did for a while, but then I got bored," Sheppard said, running his hand through his wet hair.
"I don't have a towel. There's a blanket in the back, but you'll probably just have wool in your hair afterwards."
"It's okay," Sheppard said easily. He was in a better mood than when he'd left. He'd seemed a bit down after lunch.
"I just don't want you to catch a cold and be sick for your first day at work."
Sheppard got out a tissue and dried his face and hair as well as he could. "Happy now, Mom?"
"I'll take that as a compliment," Rodney huffed.
"You should," Sheppard said, putting on his seatbelt as Rodney drove off. He settled in his seat. "She's always looking out for me, and I love her for it," Sheppard said, sounding far away.
"You still haven't called her, huh?" Rodney asked in sympathy. The call with Jeannie had been bad. Not that they weren't already prone to fighting normally, but usually it wasn't quite such a shouting match. He did love her, really, she could just drive him completely mad at times.
"I will. Tonight," Sheppard said quietly after a moment.
They remained silent for a while as Rodney navigated his way out of the city. The rain hadn't let up, and Rodney listened to it hitting the windshield when Sheppard suddenly stirred and asked, "So, how's the book coming along."
Rodney groaned and glared at Sheppard.
John heated something up for dinner, using the couverture to make chocolate sauce for the pickled pears he'd bought at the market. McKay had talked nonstop about how his characters were being annoying, and John had listened with only half an ear, but nodded along. At one point, he had asked a simple question, and McKay had looked at him and said, "Well, obviously, because he would never have expected it." John had nodded, accepting the answer, but McKay had thought about it further and suddenly questioned himself. By the end of the ride he'd been enthusiastic again, storming upstairs to get some notes down while John made dinner.
They were both relaxed at dinner, McKay having resolved his problems for the moment and John having made his peace with the fact that he'd have to finally tell his mother. He watched McKay eat with enthusiasm, practically moaning over the dessert.
"You like it?" John asked teasingly.
"I want to bathe in it!" After a moment, McKay made a face. "Okay, not literally, but you get what I mean."
John laughed. "I got it the first time. Although there's special chocolate paint for use on bodies. It's only vaguely chocolate-like, but …"
McKay gave him a speculative look. "I see you make cooking a lifestyle."
"I didn't say I ever used it. Only that it exists," John said, just a bit flirty. Before McKay could ask, he turned more serious and said, "I should call my mother."
"Okay," McKay said. "I'll take care of the dishes."
John picked up the cordless phone and went outside on the deck. It had stopped raining at some point, but it was still pretty cool. He went back inside to get a sweater.
McKay watched him when he came back down the stairs, eyes full of sympathy. "I'll go back to writing," he said. It almost sounded as if he wanted to say, 'You know where to find me, if you need me.' Which was a nice thought. John wasn't sure if he'd take him up on it. It really depended on how the talk with his mother went.
"Beatrice Sheppard," she answered after two rings.
"Hey Mom," John said.
"John." She sounded happy as always to hear from him. "Have you taken the day off? You're not sick, are you, honey?"
"I'm fine," John said. Of course, she would notice that he usually didn't call this time of day. "And yeah, I have a few days off. I'll start work tomorrow, actually."
"Start?" she asked.
John rubbed the back of his neck, knowing that the moment of truth had come. "Yeah, I'm not in San Francisco. I moved to a little town in Washington. I got a job at a local restaurant called the Star Gate."
There was a long moment of silence. "What happened?"
John could hear it in his mother's voice. She was trying to gather all the information before she made a call on the situation. She was rational first and then passionate. "I just wanted a change of scenery."
"John," she said, the 'Don't lie to your mother' implied in that one syllable.
"Marcus has been sleeping around," he admitted.
There was another silence. "I would say he didn't deserve you," she said evenly, "and that you should be glad to be rid of him, but we both know it wouldn't help even if it's true."
John smiled. His mother really was practical first and foremost. "I'm okay," he said. And he did feel okay, right here, right now, looking out at the beach after a good meal with an interesting, funny guy who wasn't going to break his heart because they were just friends.
"Right, because moving three hundred miles away is something you do every day," his mother pointed out, not unkindly.
There was that, John had to admit. "I wanted a fresh start," he said, hoping she'd realize that he couldn't argue over this right now.
"Uhuh," she said. "So let me guess. You've rented a house on a beach as far away from civilization as you could find, determined to live like a hermit for the next half year."
"That's not true at all, except for the house on the beach and the civilization. And yes, I had planned to hole myself up here, but actually I'm living with someone. Well, we're sharing the house we bought."
"You bought a house with someone?" Beatrice asked, surprised.
"No, it's not like that," John quickly corrected her. "He was another potential buyer, and instead of getting into a bidding war, we simply decided to share. I don't expect this to be forever. I just wanted to get away from San Francisco as soon as possible, and the Star Gate looked good and the house was perfect …" he trailed off.
"So this guy you're living with—"
"Is straight, as far as I can tell, and recently divorced. He writes sci-fi novels. Rodney McKay, I don't know if you've heard of him."
"It sounds vaguely familiar. I'll ask Charlie. She likes that kind of stuff."
There was another silence. His mother sighed. He felt bad about doing this to her. He knew that she worried about him and wanted to fuss, but was forcing herself not to.
"Are you feeling better at least?" she eventually asked.
"Yes," he said emphatically. "It's beautiful here. The view of the beach is fantastic. I'm looking out at the sun setting over the ocean. It's like vacation, only that I get to see this every day. You'll love it."
"Oh, all right. I'll give you a month," she said.
He snorted. "And if I make it that long, you'll visit?"
"I will," she said. "I hope you have a guest room. How old is that new friend of yours?"
"Around my age," John said. "Why do you ask?"
"With your father being gone … a woman gets lonely."
"God, Mom," John whined. "I did not need to hear that."
She chuckled. "Send me a photo of that ocean view."
"And call me when you start your new job. I want to hear all about it."
"Will do," he said obediently. "Thank you," he added.
"Well, yes. It's not as if any of my kids or grandkids will actually listen to me. So what am I to do?" she asked theatrically.
John laughed. "Love you," he said.
"I love you too, John," she said before hanging up.
John looked out at the ocean, smiling widely. It had gone a lot better than he'd expected. But then his mother was like that. She always seemed to know when to push and when to let him go. He got out his cell phone and switched it to the photo function, turning his back to the beach and holding out the phone so that he could take a photo of himself with the ocean in the background.
It was grainy as hell, but she could see his smile and would get an idea of what the real thing would look like.
He ran upstairs, taking two steps at a time. Behind him he heard McKay ask, "Whoa, what's the hurry?" but John ignored him and got his laptop out of his bedroom.
He brought it out, walking over to McKay's desk. "I want to send my mother a photo. I'll need to set up the wireless."
"Hey, you have a computer. An ancient one, even," McKay quipped.
John gave him a glare, setting it down next to McKay's new looking laptop and booted it up. "Wait, I need to get a cable to connect to the phone."
"Cable?" McKay said, then shook his head. "You don't even have a password!" he shouted after John.
John came back with the cable and connected the phone to the computer while McKay set up the wireless. He transferred the photo over and saw McKay looking at it curiously.
"You look very happy," he commented.
"It went better than your call for sure," John said, loading up his email program.
"Well, it would be hard to top that. My sister and I have made arguing an art form."
"She said she'd visit in a month," John said, typing a small note, adding his address and landline number before attaching the image.
"Jeannie?!" McKay asked.
John gave him a look.
"Oh, your mom. That's great. Wait, we should probably think about getting a real bed then. They have inflatable ones."
"You've been watching late night infomercials when you try to avoid writing, huh?" John asked, one corner of his mouth turned up.
McKay shifted. "Ah, maybe?"
"My mom's not sleeping on an inflatable bed. I could live with a convertible couch though." He sent off the email.
"Hmm, we should go shopping at some point. I don't think Jennifer will stay overnight this weekend, but Jeannie will insist on coming once I'm finished with the first draft."
John thought about that for a moment. "We do have two rooms. I guess we could each buy something for our own free room."
"Oh, yes, of course. I wasn't … I mean, we wouldn't be buying furniture together," McKay said, turning slightly red. It was sort of cute.
"Thanks for setting this up," John said, lifting the laptop.
"No problem. Don't do anything illegal, and I would feel better if you set up a password. Do you even know what a firewall is?" Rodney asked anxiously.
John set the laptop back down. "Why don't I leave this here and let you do what you think is best?"
"That's a sensible idea," McKay said, looking relieved.
"Don't look at my bookmarks!" John said. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but a guy's porn was sacred. Plus, he didn't know how McKay would react to the gay thing. He didn't think it would be bad, but curious could be just as annoying.
McKay lifted his hands. "Not interested in recipe sites … or anything else."
"Well, good then. I'm going to go over my notes for tomorrow. Good night."
"Good night. I'll let you know when I'm done with this," McKay said, pointing at the laptop.
"Thanks," John said, sprinting downstairs to turn everything off for the night.
The first thing Rodney did once Sheppard disappeared into his room was start a scan for viruses and malware on his laptop. While the scan ran, he turned back to his own laptop.
The notes he'd made today were extremely helpful. He'd been struggling with this passage for a while and now he finally knew why. All because of Sheppard.
Not that Rodney thought Sheppard had done it on purpose. He wasn't even sure Sheppard was listening all that closely when he talked about his book, because he never complained even though Rodney often talked about things that wouldn't make sense to anyone who wasn't inside his head, but that one particular question that he'd asked had really hit the nail on the head in terms of cracking his problem.
It did mean that he'd have to make some revisions earlier in the draft, but it would make later developments easier because then they would really make sense. Rodney was still giddy about it. Writing could be heaven and hell and the last days, the only bright spots had been when Sheppard had called him to eat.
In a way, Rodney wasn't even surprised that it had been Sheppard who had solved this problem for him. Like when sorting Rodney's books, Sheppard seemed to have an innate ability to get Rodney and what he needed. He seemed to always pop up when Rodney was ready to throw his laptop through the huge window and when Rodney was having a good run at it, Sheppard didn't disturb him.
Of course, it might have been a mere coincidence. Either way, Rodney felt blessed by it, and why Sheppard could ask exactly the right thing when Rodney needed it the most was ultimately not as important as the fact that he had done it and Rodney was finally back on track.
Perusing his notes, he started rewriting an earlier chapter. When he sat back and stretched his arms, he wasn't quite done, but he'd gotten the basics down. The details would have to come at a later point.
Looking at Sheppard's laptop, he saw the scan was done. Surprisingly there were no infections on his machine. Maybe Sheppard didn't actually use it for all that much. Rodney still set up some basic safety measures.
Sheppard's desktop background image was of a beach but not their beach. Now that they lived at one, Rodney figured it would be fitting to have an image of that instead. Then he thought of the grainy picture Sheppard had sent his mother. The guy needed a proper camera.
Rodney thought of his own that he took along on research trips. He should get it out, not just for Sheppard but also for Jeannie. Sending her some photos of the new house might hold her over until he could, in good conscience, allow her and her family to visit. Mentally going through his belongings, he remembered that he had put the camera in one of the boxes that weren't necessary for immediate use. They should be in what would be the guest room.
Suddenly he flushed again, thinking about buying furniture and how Sheppard had to point out that they wouldn't buy anything together.
It was just so … easy to imagine it.
Rodney's relationship with his roommates had ranged from mutual indifference to tenuous cease-fire in a war zone. Things had been better with Jennifer, but looking back, even there it had taken some time to get to that point.
It had never been as bad as with his roommates at university, but they both had to adjust to living with someone else when they'd been alone for quite a while. These adjustments included the most basic things like trying to find the time to eat together. It had been worth it in the end for the most part, but it had taken time. With Sheppard, things had just slid into place seemingly the moment Sheppard had stepped into the door.
It could very well be that this time he didn't have to adjust from living alone to living with someone else. In fact, that was probably it. Still, Rodney counted himself lucky with Sheppard. Being used to it or not, Rodney was sure that he wouldn't feel as comfortable with just anyone. He had enough self-awareness to know that living with him could be … challenging, but so far, Sheppard hadn't displayed any signs of discomfort with Rodney.
Instead, he cooked for him and let him rant. It reminded Rodney of Jennifer though she'd never pampered him like this—not that Sheppard would once he started working. Still, it was definitely more than he'd originally thought when he'd believed they'd really only share the house in the strictest sense of the word.
Right now, it felt like they shared a home. And even though technically he didn't know all that much about Sheppard, he felt a familiarity with him as if they'd known each other for years and would continue like this forever.
When McKay came downstairs the next day, he looked surprised to see John. "I thought you'd be at work," he said.
"I will be in an hour," John said.
"Ah, okay," McKay said, quickly turning his attention to breakfast. After he'd gotten his first sip of coffee, he asked, "And you didn't want to go in early on your first day?"
"You mean to prepare?"
McKay nodded around a mouthful of toast.
"Actually, that's today. Hobson will be there to show me around. So technically, it's not really the first day for me. Today's the preparation. Tomorrow I'm on my own. Unless I need help. Hobson already said he'd come back again, but I don't think that will be necessary."
"Don't need the old guy hanging around, huh?" McKay guessed.
"It's not that. I don't know him personally, but the chef I learned from in San Francisco does, and from what I heard, I'll like him. I just don't want to bother him longer than necessary." That and he didn't want word to get back that he hadn't managed this on his own. John fidgeted with his toast, not putting it in his mouth.
"Nervous?" McKay asked, giving him a sidelong glance.
"No," John said quickly. After a moment, he amended, "Maybe a bit."
McKay smiled widely at him, some crumbs sticking between his teeth. "You'll do fine. I don't claim to know a lot about food, but I know what I like, and I definitely like what you cook."
"Except the sweet-sour sauce," John said with a wince, remembering that particular disaster. The sauce had been neither sweet nor sour, but rather, as McKay had put it, 'kinda meh.'
"Well, that was one little slip-up. And at the restaurant, you could still stop it from being served," McKay pointed out. "The rest was perfect."
"Thanks," John mumbled. He never knew how to take compliments, but McKay's was so heartfelt John couldn't help but feel better. He really didn't have a reason to be nervous.
Meeting James Hobson, chef of the Star Gate for the last twenty years, was humbling. The man was good-natured, polite and displayed a quiet authority that John could only envy. He called John "son", and John felt honored by it and couldn't help the "sir" that came out of his mouth when he addressed Hobson. Unlike with his father, where it had been a way to piss him off, with Hobson he used it as a sign of respect.
His respect was so great that he flushed when Hobson mentioned all the good things he'd heard from John's mentor, adding, "And he's breaking the heart of every guy coming close." It was something his old mentor was fond of saying, and Hobson said it with a gentle smile, making it impossible for John to be uncomfortable about it. He hadn't planned on hiding that he was gay anyway, even if he didn't intend to have a relationship any time soon.
Hobson showed him around and gave a running commentary on what was happening in the kitchen. The staff worked like a well-oiled machine. Aidan Ford was his sous-chef, though strictly the Star Gate wasn't large enough to require one. He was supposedly over twenty, but to John he looked like a kid. He had a wide smile and was bursting with energy and love for cooking. John found it best to just get out of the way when he stormed past, and Hobson assured him that was for the best.
Hobson told John about the various things that he looked out for in the ingredients and preparation of specific dishes. He mentioned a few foibles of some of the staff that he should keep an eye on, but he also mentioned what they were especially good at.
At some point, John had to get out a piece of paper and put down notes because he didn't think he would remember it all. Hobson just smiled fondly at him, and John felt even younger, but he continued taking notes.
When things settled down a bit after the main lunch hours, Ronon came to interrupt them.
John had been a bit surprised by his appearance today. He'd pulled his dreadlocks back in a tight ponytail, and he wore a black suit and white shirt combo with a tie that somehow managed not to seem stiff but rather fashionable. He looked like a Hollywood star and almost too casual for his position except he carried it with such an authority that he might as well have owned the place.
Since John had spent most of his time in the kitchen, he hadn't seen much of Ronon, but what he had seen was enough to tell him that this appearance of authority was not just for show. Ronon knew how to make people do something with just a sharp look, and he used it to keep everything in order, which was an absolute necessity.
In short, John had been impressed. Right now, Ronon entered with a bouquet of flowers and a questioning look. "For you," he simply said.
John flushed, taking the flowers, looking for a card. "May this be the first of many challenging, fulfilling, happy days. Love, Teyla." John smiled. Since everyone was looking at him, he said, "They're from a friend."
Ronon and Hobson exchanged a look, and Ford grinned at him.
"I'd like to give her a quick call and thank her," John said, question implied.
"Go ahead, son," Hobson said. "It'll be calm for the next two hours. You can take your time."
"Thank you, sir, I won't be that long."
He stepped into a small back area, next to the containers and dialed Teyla's number.
"They arrived on time," Teyla said by way of greeting.
"You really didn't have to do that," John said.
"What did you say when I told you the same thing on my first day of work?"
"That I wanted to do it," he said, remembering. "Thank you," he added.
"You are very welcome. How has it gone so far?"
"I have big shoes to fill, that's for sure," John said, sighing.
"You have nothing to be afraid of, John. You know that," she said.
"Yes, I know. I just somehow have visions of people asking why their favorite dish is suddenly missing that hint of rosemary."
"They will have new favorite dishes once you start," Teyla assured him.
"Well, I have at least one fan in Atlantis Shores," John said.
"Woolsey?" Teyla asked.
"I meant McKay. Though, yes, Woolsey too, I suppose, though I get a feeling if people complain he'll drop me like a hot potato. Which would be understandable."
"He will not fire you," Teyla said in that way that meant she was slowly running out of patience. "And I knew you meant your new friend. Just think of McKay as the generic guest of the Star Gate."
"But he hasn't even eaten here once as far as I can tell," John said with a hint of a whine.
"John. You will march back in there and tell them about your vision of the Star Gate, and they will love it." It sounded suspiciously like an order. And, as usual, Teyla was right.
"Yes, Ma'am," he said with a smile.
"Take care," she said.
"You too, and Kanaan and Torren."
"I will let them know. Bye," she said and hung up.
John took a deep breath, then tried to clear his thoughts and recall the ideas he'd come up with in the last couple of days and went in to share them with the others.
At seven o'clock, Rodney stretched and leaned back in his chair, satisfied that he'd done the best day's work on the book yet. Now that things had finally come together, the words were just flowing out of him.
But his brain had reached a point where he knew he was done for the day and needed to relax. Also, he needed to eat.
For lunch, he'd gone downstairs and found some leftovers. For a second, he'd considered eating them as they were, but he could imagine Sheppard's reaction to that, so he'd heated them up instead. The stuff was still great a day later.
Now for dinner, Rodney could move on to the next leftover dish, but the idea of sitting downstairs alone wasn't inviting. He'd been in a hurry to get back to work at lunch, but now that he was done for the day, he could take his time. However, he realized that doing that alone was only half the fun.
He'd missed Sheppard during the day. Not in the sense that he'd thought of him constantly, but when he'd gone downstairs to get a drink or looked out of the window, he was reminded that Sheppard wasn't there. He'd somehow gotten used to seeing him downstairs reading on the deck or walking along the beach.
Sheppard had said that he could check the restaurant out. Rodney didn't necessarily think he'd meant on his very first day—or not even that, since the old chef was still there today—but he also hadn't said he shouldn't come. Plus, Rodney had to eat something, and he might as well check how Sheppard was doing.
Remembering that Sheppard had taken his car to work, Rodney called a taxi.
It only occurred to him on the way to the Star Gate that he might not be dressed properly. He was wearing simple khaki pants and a shirt. He didn't look sloppy, but he certainly wouldn't pass the "no suit, no tie, no service" test.
He still got out of the taxi, hoping that the Star Gate wasn't quite as fancy in that regard. He'd stayed at the Star Gate Central, and Rodney would categorize it as "mid-class but wanting to be more." As he stepped through the huge gate—the same in design as the one that adorned the Star Gate Central—he was glad to realize that he wasn't the only one not wearing a suit. There were a few people dining outside, some of them dressed in the same casual attire as Rodney.
Inside the Star Gate, Rodney took in the star motif that was hard to overlook. He waited until the couple before him was taken to a table, then waited for the maître d' to return.
He was very tall and looked commanding when he asked, "Good evening, sir. What is the name on your reservation?"
"I don't actually have … Uhm, I'm with Sheppard," Rodney decided on saying. When the maître d' stared at him without so much as blinking, he added, "The new chef? He started today. John Sheppard?"
Suddenly he was gripped by the panic that it was all an elaborate lie and Sheppard really was an ax murderer who could simply cook sinful dishes, but then the maître d' said, "One moment, please," and looked past him, a hint of a smile on his face. He stepped past Rodney, greeting the couple that had come in after him by name and led them into the restaurant.
Rodney wondered if he'd made a mistake. Even if Sheppard worked here—and really, the ax murderer theory was very probably hyperbole—it didn't necessarily mean that he wanted to use up favors the very first day, and the restaurant seemed pretty full. Rodney didn't want to take anyone else's reservation or force Sheppard to ask for it.
He was about to tell the maître d' to just forget about it, when John suddenly came out, wearing an honest to God cooking uniform, hat and all. He looked a bit harried but very happy to see Rodney.
"Thank you, Ronon," he said to the maître d', then to Rodney, "Come with me." Rodney followed him, and once they were out of earshot of Ronon, he added, "We could probably find a table for you, but I don't want to get on Ronon's bad side the first day, plus it'll be more interesting in the kitchen. I don't have much time though," Sheppard warned, and then they stepped into something like a different world.
Where the main area of the restaurant exuded the atmosphere of a peaceful night, the kitchen was a hectic place of constant motion, sounds and activity. Rodney had to jump out of the way twice before Sheppard had safely led him to a table in the corner.
"Just wait here for a moment," Sheppard said, and then he was gone.
Rodney watched in fascination as the staff moved like a swarm, seemingly independent but still as if they belonged to one living organism. Then, in the midst of it all—figuratively because they were at the far end of the kitchen—he saw Sheppard and an older man, who had to be Hobson, talking.
Sheppard talked animatedly, something that Rodney had begun to associate with him talking about cooking. Hobson listened and replied, and John answered, causing Hobson to smile with something like pride in his eyes. John's face lit up. He looked so pleased that Rodney couldn't help smiling himself.
Rodney let his eyes and mind wander, just soaking in the atmosphere of the kitchen. He had to think of the headquarters on Radogyp. This would probably be what it felt like during a crisis. And if this was one of his novels, Sheppard had to be the hero, laid-back but still real, very competent but maybe not always confident in his own abilities. Tall, dark and handsome too, a cliché that Rodney had to admit he'd fallen into with his actual hero. Although nobody had complained about it, so he figured he'd given Tom Austin enough layers to be a real person instead of a cardboard cutout.
He tried to imagine Sheppard as a hero in space, but he couldn't quite make it work. For all that John liked to gaze at the distance, he seemed ultimately Earth-bound to Rodney. Although space could be interpreted in so many different ways. For some, it might be freedom; for others, escape; and, for yet others, both.
His stomach started to rumble, and Rodney looked at one of the huge clocks on the wall and realized that he hadn't eaten in seven hours. He tried to look for Sheppard, but he couldn't spot him for the moment. Maybe he could simply ask one of the people for the menu. They could just serve him here. He'd even pay.
Before Rodney could decide who looked the least busy of everyone, Sheppard appeared at his side, placing a plate, a glass and cutlery in front of him. "Let me know what you think. You're the first one to try this."
Rodney looked up at him. John looked expectant and a bit nervous. Rodney picked up the fork and took a bite. After a second, he closed his eyes and moaned in satisfaction. He recognized the taste of this—at least the basis—as something that Sheppard had tried a few days ago. It had been great then, but it was perfection now. He said as much to John.
John flushed but smiled delightedly, sharing a look with Hobson who had waited nearby and now gave John a fond look.
At around half past nine, Sheppard had warned him that it would be a while yet and that he should take the car back home, but Rodney had said he wasn't going back to work anyway, and he'd rather stay and watch if he wasn't disturbing anyone.
He let his mind drift off as he waited, thinking about his book and nothing in particular. At some point, Sheppard brought him dessert, which was just as good as the main dish. This time, Hobson looked amused when Rodney let another moan speak for his feelings on the dish.
As the night got longer, some of the staff left, each saying goodbye to Hobson, some of them hugging him. Rodney figured the great retirement party must have been the day before because after so many years, he certainly deserved a bigger goodbye. Or maybe that party was still to come.
Eventually, Ronon came in, telling them he would close up shop. Rodney watched as he approached Hobson, wondering if he'd be one of the shaking hands guys, a pat on the shoulder guy or one of the huggers. It turned out he was one of the latter and quite spectacularly too.
Ronon pulled Hobson into his arms and lifted him as if he was a small child. Rodney was slightly alarmed on Hobson's behalf and seeking out John with his eyes, he could see that he felt the same. They exchanged a look of surprise which turned into amusement, and then they both looked back to Ronon who gently set Hobson back down.
"I won't disappear," Hobson promised him.
"But it won't be the same," Ronon said roughly, and Rodney could hear the emotion in his gruff voice, the one that said he would miss Hobson.
Shortly after that, the last of the staff left too, and John turned to Rodney, looking a bit guilty.
"It's okay, go ahead and talk … shop," Rodney said.
Sheppard smiled gratefully and went back to talking with Hobson.
Rodney must have dozed off at some point because suddenly he found himself being shaken awake.
"We can leave now," Sheppard said. "I'm sorry it took so long."
"That's okay," Rodney said, stretching his arms, eyes searching for the clock. It was nearly two o'clock.
"I'm sorry I kept him from you for so long," Hobson added apologetically.
John flushed at that, but Rodney waved it off. "So, we're ready to go?"
"I'll just show John how to lock everything up. Usually that's something Aidan would do. So he won't be this long every day," Hobson explained. At John's look, he said to him, "Unless you prefer it that way of course."
They locked up the back door, switched everything off and exited through a side door. Outside, John fidgeted when Hobson handed over the keys.
"I don't really know how to thank you," he eventually managed to get out.
"You do a good job and that will be thanks enough," Hobson said. "And I know you will do a good job, son" he added, putting a hand on John's shoulder.
"Thank you, sir," John said solemnly.
"Oh please, do call me James. I may be retired now, but I don't feel that old."
"Of course, James," Sheppard said, though it sounded a bit artificial. Rodney figured he was just a bit star-struck by the older chef and couldn't quite bring himself to address him as an equal.
Hobson snorted. "And I meant what I said. You can call me anytime or drop by. Bring your boyfriend," he said with a look at Rodney. "We could cook for him."
Rodney gaped. Boyfriend?! When had they mentioned or even just hinted that they were boyfriends? Or maybe it was that they hadn't said that they weren't, and that was apparently enough to make Hobson draw his own conclusions. Rodney realized he wasn't offended by the idea. Still … boyfriend? Sheppard looked at him and seeing Rodney's reaction, stuttered out, "He's not my boyfriend. We just share the beach house."
Hobson looked from Sheppard to Rodney and back, and Rodney had no idea what he saw there, but he just gave John a little smile and said, "Very well. You can still bring him. He works great as your personal taster." Turning to Rodney, he added, "And I dare say you enjoy it."
Rodney flushed. He liked to eat, and he really loved Sheppard's stuff.
"I won't keep you any longer," Hobson said. "Goodnight," he said with a nod towards Rodney, then he turned to John. "Goodnight, John. You'll do wonderful things, believe me."
John managed only to nod, and then Hobson left them alone.
They just stood like that for a while before Sheppard got out of his stupor, and they walked to the car. By unspoken agreement, Sheppard drove, and for the first minute, neither of them spoke.
Rodney could only guess how John felt. He didn't know Hobson, but it was painfully obvious how much John respected him, and Rodney could feel the pride emanate from John at his words.
It was completely dark outside, and Rodney noticed just how late it was when he yawned.
"I'm really sorry," Sheppard said, turning to him. "I would have left earlier, but there's so much I can learn from him. You know that old saying, 'he's forgotten more than you'll ever learn'? That's what it's like to talk to him. He started cooking at the Blue Bay Room in 1959. Can you even imagine what it must have been like?"
Rodney couldn't. Mainly because he didn't even have the slightest idea what the Blue Bay Room was. But as Sheppard started talking about some of the things that Hobson had told him, Rodney realized that it wasn't important because he didn't need to know anything about it to get what it meant to Sheppard.
There was awe in his voice and a glow in his eyes whenever he turned to look at Rodney. A smile played on his lips constantly, as if he couldn't believe how lucky he was.
No, Rodney didn't have to understand a word to look at John and see how happy this day had made him. Seeing it made Rodney happy as well. He simply let the words flow over him, feeling more content than he'd been for quite a while, knowing that this had been one of the special days in life for both of them.
When they arrived at their home a few minutes later, Rodney almost felt regretful because he knew this meant the day was over. John hesitated as well, and for a moment, they sat in the car silently.
John broke their inertia, opened their car doors, and Rodney followed him inside. They went up the stairs, Rodney closely behind John, and at the top of the stairs, they turned to stand, looking at each other.
They didn't say anything for a moment, and suddenly Rodney thought of Hobson's assumption again that they were a couple. It could easily be explained by Rodney's behavior, showing up and waiting for him did seem like a thing a partner would do, but right now, it felt to Rodney as if it was more than that, as if there was something inherent in their relationship that shouted out "more than just friends."
Rodney certainly felt it in the air, and he was a bit confused by all of these feelings John seemed to stir up inside of him. While he'd experimented with his sexuality in college, he hadn't really felt this particular kind of tension.
John swallowed. "I'll go make some more notes. You can take the bathroom first. Goodnight."
Rodney nodded, feeling regret when John turned and walked to his room. He stepped into their bathroom—theirs because after the third time Rodney had gotten it wrong, he'd given up and just moved all his stuff here along with Sheppard's—and got ready for bed. His mind stayed on John, however, not anything in particular, but the kind of feelings he evoked in Rodney. Calm, contentment, satisfaction, excitement, companionship, compassion. Thinking about how they'd stood just a minute ago, he added passion to that, though he wasn't ready to qualify that yet. There was a mile to go between attraction and … other things, and this day had been so full of different kinds of feelings that he didn't think he could add any more to it.
He left the bathroom and walked to his room but couldn't quite bring himself to enter without seeing Sheppard one more time. He took the few steps to the other bedroom and knocked. He heard some noise, then the door was opened.
Sheppard only looked at him.
"I just … I just wanted to say goodnight," Rodney brought out, forcing himself not to reach out.
"It was a good day," John said. He got a faraway look, and a smile crept onto his face again.
It wasn't about him, Rodney knew, but that was okay. "Yes, it was."
"Goodnight, Rodney," Sheppard said, eyes and attention now clearly on Rodney.
Rodney didn't think he'd ever called him by his first name before. And it occurred to him that he'd stopped thinking of him as just Sheppard too. "Goodnight, John," he said.
They just looked at each other for a long moment, and Rodney could feel the promise of possibilities in the air around him, as yet unnamed and unthought-of. Then he took a step back, and John slowly closed the door, smiling at him until it was completely shut, and Rodney could only turn around and go to his bed, alone.
John slept like a baby. He was still on yesterday's high when he got up. It wasn't much later than when he usually got up, which meant that he could go for a run in the beautiful weather.
Rodney wasn't awake yet, but that was to be expected after he'd kept him up so late the night before. John smiled, thinking about the previous day. He jogged down the stairs and straight out onto the beach. He didn't know if he could ever live in a place again where this wasn't possible.
Life was extremely good to him right now. He had to admit to himself that he hadn't expected that. Coming to Atlantis Shores had been a means to escape from an old life that wasn't bad but that felt like he had reached a dead end. Out here, he felt like he could breathe again after sitting in smog for a long time.
Most importantly, he felt good about what he was doing. Speaking to Hobson—he couldn't bring himself to even think of him as James—had been amazing. It was as if the man had cooking in the very fiber of his being. John couldn't really explain why he revered the man so much because technically he wasn't inexperienced himself. At this point, he'd been cooking professionally for over fifteen years.
Perhaps the differences in the way they'd started could explain why John admired Hobson so much. Hobson had begun working in a real kitchen when he was practically still a boy. John, on the other hand, had been a late starter. He had mulled over what to study and eventually decided on aeronautical engineering, the dream of flying still on the forefront of his mind. But the more he thought about his future and about the realities of it, he realized that he specifically wanted to fly the high end machines, the little jets that only the military had access to and was allowed to fly.
He could have signed up for ROTC. He had thought—and still thought, though it was only academic at this point—that he would have made a good Air Force officer, beyond being a pilot. But after two years of studying aeronautical engineering, he had admitted to himself that he couldn't pay the sacrifice and hide that he was gay. He'd come out to his parents as a teenager, but it had been wrought with mixed emotions, his mother accepting, his father … not so much.
If it wasn't for his mother, John figured he'd eventually have left home and never come back. As it was, Patrick Sheppard had managed not to be openly hostile for the most part, but still, he'd always let John know that he disapproved of his sexual orientation.
John had gone through phases to deal with it. One had been flaunting it by bringing home boys and insinuating he was sleeping with them when he wasn't. It had been payback for every time his father had tried to set him up with a nice girl. "Just give it a try, John. You don't know what you're missing."
It had been harder when John had actually had a real boyfriend. Seeing the discomfort and even disgust on his father's face had hurt more than he could bear. He would never admit it to anyone, but when he'd broken up with his first boyfriend, it had been because of his father.
He had stopped speaking to his father for a while after that, even though he'd known how much it saddened his mother. She'd always been on John's side, and she'd always admonished her husband when she witnessed his behavior though mostly his father had been smart enough not to do it in front of her. They'd both tried to hurt each other without hurting Beatrice, but eventually John had realized that hurting someone else because he hurt you first didn't really make you feel any better.
He'd tried not to talk about his boyfriends with his father after that, keeping conversation polite. His father in turn had stopped introducing women to him and never asked about his relationships. That had been the status quo when he had studied aeronautical engineering. Having experienced how hard it was to keep that part of his life from someone who actually knew, John had admitted to himself that he wouldn't be able to do the same with every person who was part of his professional life. The sacrifice would have been too great.
He'd gone to business school after that, figuring he might as well learn something for the family business he was going to inherit. But he'd felt like a stranger in a land that was all too familiar from the business "parties" his father threw every now and then. It hadn't been what he wanted his life to be like, and everyone had known that Dave was going to study business as well and do a better job at it than John. There hadn't really been a point to doing this one year ahead of Dave. The family business would end up under Dave's leadership anyway, and truthfully, John had been quite happy with that prospect.
When he'd come home and told his parents he'd quit again, he'd had a huge fight with his father. He'd asked John if he planned to ever finish anything, and strangely, John had felt wonderful about that fight. Probably because it was the first fight they'd had where John knew that his father was right.
Later, he'd sat in the kitchen with his mother, confessing that he had no idea what to do with his life. She'd looked at him and asked, "If you could do anything in the world, what would you want to do?"
His first thought had been of flying, of course, but the reality was that he couldn't do that—not the way he wanted. He'd tried to think of something else, something to do with the moments in his life that made him feel good, and all of a sudden the words, "To cook," had come out of his mouth.
He'd been more surprised than his mother because cooking was a hobby. He liked to do it, but it was absurd to think of it as his future. He hadn't even known why he'd come up with it. But really, sitting in the kitchen with his mother, thinking about the hours they'd spent together, learning and having fun, creating, John had known exactly why he'd thought of it. Cooking with his mother had always made him feel safe and accomplished. It had made him feel loved.
It had still taken his mother's encouragement because John had insisted that loving to cook and doing it for a living were two entirely different things. His mother wouldn't let him give up, though. Instead, she called an old friend, a chef in San Francisco, and arranged for John to help out at his kitchen for a week. She then asked John to go there and at least see what it was like, before he rejected the possibility out of hand.
So he'd packed his bags again and stepped into a professional kitchen for the first time. That week had been more than enough to make John realize that this was what he was going to do for the rest of his life.
Yesterday, he'd felt like that again, like seeing a future full of learning and creating, of art and nurturing. He didn't think he'd ever really lost the passion for cooking, but being with a master was another level of inspiration. Spending the day—cooking—with Hobson had been pretty much perfect.
Then McKay had come in, the proverbial icing on the cake.
John had figured that he'd come visit at some point, but he hadn't expected him quite so soon. It had been a pleasant surprise to find him so eager on John's very first day. Having McKay with him had made him feel like being in his mother's kitchen again.
And, strangely enough, Rodney had reminded him of his mother. Not so much her, but the feelings she evoked. It was wonderful to have someone who cared about him and supported him unconditionally. At this point, there was no doubt that they were friends.
By the end of the evening, it had felt like even more. Having Rodney sit there, waiting for him, so tired that he dozed off, had deeply touched John. It was like he was John's partner, and John could understand why Hobson had made that assumption. Rodney had been surprised of course as only someone who'd never considered the possibility would be.
John was okay with that. He still didn't want to jump into another relationship. He was perfectly content as Rodney's friend even if he knew he was attracted to Rodney in a way that wasn't just friendly. Last night in the car and before going to bed, he'd wanted to reach out and pull Rodney into his arms. He hadn't though, because he didn't know how Rodney would take it and because John feared it might not have stayed at a simple hug.
Rodney was probably straight, even though John had gotten the feeling that if he'd kissed Rodney last night, the kiss would have been welcome. McKay seemed to have a crush on him, but John thought it was maybe just the food that he loved so much or simply the fact that he wasn't used to being taken care of.
He didn't know for sure, of course, but John had the feeling that nobody had ever spoiled Rodney rotten. What Rodney had told him about his family seemed to confirm this. His ex-wife might have been different, but the emphasis that Rodney put on their friendship made John doubt that. He didn't believe that even in that relationship Rodney had gotten to experience the feeling of being loved so much that the other person would do anything to make him happy.
The thought made John incredibly sad, because as bad as his relationships had ended, the thing that had made some of them so hard had been that he'd been loved so much that he'd been worth fighting for. He'd loved them too, though he still wondered at times if it hadn't been enough. But even if it had never been perfect, he was lucky enough to have experienced love at all. It was a good feeling that he loved to give himself.
He didn't even want anything in return because that was when it got complicated. Right now, he was perfectly happy pampering Rodney when he could. In fact, it felt great to be able to take care of someone without the baggage of expectations that had always made relationships difficult for John.
Rodney had heard John leave his room and go downstairs, but he'd stayed in bed.
The previous night had been magical, and he felt weirdly unwilling to get out of bed, fearing he'd have to face the harsh light of day. He hadn't bothered to pull down the blinds so he was bathed in sunlight, but it only warmed him superficially.
Writing yesterday had been wonderful. There was nothing more satisfying than getting words on paper—figuratively speaking—that hit just the right notes.
Seeing John, dinner, the drive home and saying goodnight had been wonderful in its own way. It had also been scary and confusing. The problem—if you wanted to call it that—was that now that Rodney had to realize that they were definitely more than just sharing the beach house, now that he knew he had something in John, he also knew that he could lose it.
He knew that he could be overly pessimistic though he chose to see it as realistic. The truth was, even though he'd managed to maintain some relationships—friendships, not romantic attachments—it always involved a certain amount of distance. A healthy distance between his sister and him had turned out to be a very good thing. Carson and he had driven each other crazy when he'd stayed with him while Jennifer and he had reconsidered their relationship. Then, of course, there was Jennifer, who was a good friend, but who—wisely—chose to put the physical distance back between them to keep their friendship.
He didn't have a problem with any of this, because in all instances it had been the right decision to be a bit further apart. The problem was that he didn't want this to happen with John. They'd lived together for just over a week, and already it seemed to Rodney like something he couldn't do without. And that thought scared him.
His relationship with Jennifer had developed quickly, but his feelings for John seemed to deepen even more quickly. With Jennifer, it had been an opportunity that he'd gladly taken. With John, it was like an invisible force that he couldn't understand but felt taking over everything.
There was no logical reason for John to have become so important to him so quickly. Rodney could be self-centered at times, and he didn't necessarily think it was a bad thing, but yesterday, John's smile, John's contentment about something that didn't have anything to do with Rodney, had been enough to make Rodney feel content and happy too.
Friendship hadn't felt like this to him before. He'd had moments where he'd been happy for his friends, but it hadn't been like this, where someone else's happiness made him happy.
Then there was his attraction to John. It confused the hell out of him, because his past encounters with men had all been superficial and John was the exact opposite, somehow deep inside of him.
Rodney flushed, thinking about how he'd phrased that in his head. He'd wanted to kiss John yesterday. He might not have been fully aware of it, but now that he thought about much more than kissing, it was hard to deny it. He'd never been fucked by a guy, and the idea of John doing that with him was both arousing and nerve-wracking.
Confusing too, of course, because he had no idea why this one person could evoke such a kaleidoscope of feelings in him. He hadn't even known he was capable of all these emotions. It was hard to believe it was all real.
He looked out of the window, wondering if there was an easy way to figure out what exactly he was feeling. Then, maybe he could get to the probably much more difficult part of trying to figure out what John was feeling.
His cell phone rang, and he wondered if it was Carson, who somehow knew that he was lying in his bed instead of writing. It wasn't. It was Jennifer, calling to remind him that she was coming to visit.
Rodney had completely forgotten about that. Still, he said, "I know," because technically he had known. He'd just not been aware at that moment.
Jennifer snorted and told him that she was already on her way and would be there in an hour.
Rodney figured that meant he had to get up and face the real world.
For a second, Rodney considered dressing in a special way, but Jennifer was just a friend coming by, so he didn't pick anything in particular. He started writing while he waited for John to come back from jogging.
"Oh, you're awake?" he said, when he came up the stairs and saw Rodney.
Rodney's eyes wandered down John's body. He was positive it wasn't the first time he'd seen John sweaty after running, but then that had been before he'd thought about getting sweaty with him. "Uhm, yes, thought I'd get a bit of work done before Jennifer arrives."
"Right. Did you have breakfast already?" John asked, hand already on the handle of the bathroom door.
"No, I waited for you," Rodney said. They'd always had breakfast together. He didn't see why John would assume he wouldn't today.
"Okay," John said, giving Rodney a little smile. "I'll just have a quick shower."
Rodney nodded and turned back to his computer, trying not to imagine that shower too vividly.
Breakfast was more silent than usual, but it wasn't uncomfortable. John still looked like he was floating on a cloud of contentment, and Rodney kept looking at him, trying to figure out what he wanted John to be in his life. When they cleared the table, and John left to go to work, Rodney was still none the wiser, knowing only one thing for sure. That he wanted John in his life.
Since Jennifer was due in a short while, Rodney didn't bother to go back to writing after breakfast. Rodney spent most of his time at his desk, so there wasn't really anything to clean up. The kitchen area was John's realm and always very tidy. They had a cleaning service that came three days a week to take care of the rest.
Looking around, he had to admit it was quite striking—if you weren't like Rodney who couldn't be bothered with such superficial things, at least when it came to interior design. He knew Jennifer was different in that regard, and trying to see it with her eyes, he knew she'd like it.
When the bell rang a minute later, Rodney opened the door to greet Jennifer.
"I have to say, this is much more impressive than I had expected," she said, smiling, then hugged Rodney.
Rodney returned the hug. "It's good to see you."
"It's good to see this," Jennifer teased him, stepping inside and looking at the living and dining area and the kitchen. She took a few steps towards the door to the deck. "Wow."
Rodney smiled, pleased that she liked it so much.
"I can see why you didn't want to let this slip through your fingers. Although, it couldn't have been the view for you, huh?"
"I like the view," Rodney clarified. "I just haven't really gone outside."
Jennifer rolled her eyes. "Pearls before swine," she muttered.
"Well, Sheppard does it enough for both of us. He takes frequent walks—well, took, I don't think he has the time now that he's working again—and he goes for a run along the beach every morning."
"Is he running now?" Jennifer asked.
"No. He's already at the restaurant. They open at eleven."
"Ah, too bad. I can't wait to meet the man who manages to please Rodney McKay. You haven't complained about him once."
Rodney felt himself flush. He was glad that Jennifer had already turned around to check out the rest of the house. They went upstairs, and she smiled when he showed her his working area. "It looks just like at home."
"It is," Rodney agreed. He showed her his bedroom, telling her that Sheppard's had the same layout because he wasn't sure if John would be okay with Jennifer taking a look at it.
When they came to their bathroom, Jennifer noticed both their stuff on the counter. "Didn't you say there was another bathroom?"
Rodney knew that he turned a deep shade of red. It was stupid, too, because the sharing of the bathroom didn't even have anything to do with that thing he had for John.
Jennifer's eyes widened. "Rodney?!"
"It's nothing." Rodney waved his arms. "Sheppard offered me the master bathroom with the tub, but I always took this one, so we just both use this one now. It doesn't mean anything."
"Maybe not, but the look on your face definitely means something," Jennifer said all too knowingly.
"We're not … I mean there's nothing going on between us," Rodney said truthfully.
Jennifer looked at him for a long moment. Her look certainly didn't help his persistent flush. "But you want something to go on." It wasn't a question. She also wasn't teasing him. She looked very serious now.
"I don't know. I'm …" Rodney struggled to explain. Maybe this was a good chance to talk this over with someone. Someone who wasn't him, but who knew him very well. "I'm not sure," he confessed.
She just looked at him again for a while, before putting her hand on his shoulder and saying, "Well, then let's go downstairs on that beautiful deck of yours, and you tell me how exactly you're not sure if you're falling for another guy."
John tried not to be too obvious about the way he kept watching for Ronon to come in and signal Rodney's arrival with his ex-wife. Rodney had mentioned he wanted to introduce her to his haute cuisine, and John had offered to reserve a table for them.
He was curious to finally meet the woman who divorced Rodney McKay to stay friends with him. Rodney had talked quite a bit about her, but John's image of her seemed to shift depending on mood and what he perceived about Rodney. One thing that he'd found harder and harder to understand was why it had been necessary for them to split up to stay friends.
After one week with Rodney, he hadn't noticed any habits of his that were so annoying that he couldn't live with them. His desk was in a perpetual state of organized chaos, but he managed not to mess up the rest of the house and was otherwise pretty easy to be around. Yet, Jennifer somehow hadn't been able to keep living with Rodney without risking their friendship.
It was half past one when Ronon popped his head into the kitchen and nodded at him. John quickly followed him out. He'd asked Ronon to reserve a table that could be seen from the hall to the kitchen. John stood and watched for a moment.
They were seated with Rodney's back towards him so he had a clear view of Jennifer. John hadn't consciously imagined what she looked like, but he must have thought something because he was definitely surprised now.
Jennifer Keller was a bit prettier than he must have thought and a lot younger. He recalled Rodney telling him that she was the head of her department, but she looked like she was hardly out of medical school. Either she looked years younger than she was or she was some kind of medical wunderkind.
"So, are you planning on going to their table or just watching your boyfriend with his ex?"
Startled, John had totally forgotten about Ronon. "I'll say hello after they've eaten," he said, moving away before they could see him. He didn't quite know what to think about Rodney's ex and the fact that he'd apparently imagined her to be unlike the reality turned out. He knew it was unfair to judge her by her looks, but it was hard for him to imagine that they'd ever lived together happily though he knew they had for almost a year and they had seemed quite comfortable just now from the little John had been able to see.
He turned to return to the kitchen when it occurred to him what else Ronon had said. "He's not my boyfriend," he clarified.
Ronon just looked him and then shrugged, before returning to his own spot in the entrance area.
When they'd gotten to dessert and things in the kitchen were calming down a bit, John went out to greet them. Jennifer's gaze wandered up and down his body before he had even arrived at their table. It was a bit disconcerting, and it made Rodney turn around too. He was flushing slightly, and John could only wonder what they'd just talked about and what Rodney had told Jennifer about him, for that matter.
Rodney got up from the half-round bench they sat on. "Jennifer, this is John Sheppard."
Jennifer stood as well and extended her hand. "It's good to finally meet you," she said, and again, he felt as if she was sizing him up.
"Jennifer Keller, my ex-wife," Rodney added as if John might have forgotten. He looked a bit nervous. John didn't have the faintest idea why he would be.
"Yes," he said. "It's good to meet you too. Rodney talks a lot about you."
"And Rodney talks a lot about you," Jennifer said, looking over to Rodney, whose gaze dropped to the ground.
Somehow, John didn't like that reaction, didn't like that Jennifer caused it. "I hope you liked the food," he said, hoping that this subject was more to Rodney's liking.
Predictably, Rodney looked up again, a wide smile forming on his face. "It was wonderful as always. I swear you know better what I like than I do myself."
John smiled indulgently at Rodney. He loved Rodney's enthusiasm about his cooking and how openly he showed it. Rodney looked over to Jennifer, then flushed and looked down again, still smiling though. John looked over to Jennifer and noticed her expression change, unsure of what she'd been communicating with Rodney.
He only knew that he wasn't part of it, which was natural since they'd known each other for much longer than John and Rodney had, but it still annoyed him a bit. He was jealous, he realized, of what they'd had. More than that, he finally figured out why he'd been bothered by how they'd broken up: Needing to leave Rodney to stay friends with him held the implication that something was wrong with Rodney, and John strongly disagreed with that.
"It was really great," Jennifer said sincerely.
John had to blink and mentally regroup because, really, she was a nice, smart, pretty, young woman. That she had chosen to divorce Rodney—by mutual agreement at that—didn't mean she was a bad person. He was being completely irrational, and he had to stop, if not for her sake, then for Rodney, who clearly still liked her a lot and intended to have her as a big part of his life. Even if he shared that life with John now.
"Thank you," John said sincerely.
Rodney and Jennifer shared another look, and John tried to keep the jealousy down.
"After what Rodney told me about you, I really wanted to meet you, and I know that we'll see each other often in the future. If not for Rodney, I'll definitely have to come back for the house," she joked, making Rodney glare at her.
John had to smile. He had to appreciate someone who knew the joys of riling up Rodney. More than that, he knew that he shouldn't be jealous—for various reasons. "And you'll always be welcome," John said, knowing he could speak for both of them. She was a good friend of Rodney's, and he knew that good friends were important. Thinking of how much Teyla meant to him and looking at Jennifer, he realized that it was actually quite commendable that she'd valued her friendship with Rodney enough to fight for it even at the cost of their marriage.
Jennifer smiled at him. "You'll probably have to return to the kitchen, but I hope we'll get the chance to get to know each other better at some point."
John nodded. "I'm sure we will. I hope you enjoy the dessert." After a second, he added with a twinkle in his eye, "Let Rodney pay for you. He already dined and dashed yesterday."
Rodney's mouth opened in affront, and John and Jennifer grinned at each other.
"I'll see you tonight," John added. Then he couldn't resist and put a finger under Rodney's chin, closing his mouth. He knew it was a rather intimate gesture, even as a joke, but part of him wanted to do that, especially in front of her. He looked towards Jennifer for her reaction, but she didn't seem surprised at all.
Before she could make a comment or Rodney could come up with a suitable comeback, John turned and left them alone.
Rodney didn't even go back upstairs after Jennifer left, knowing he was far too keyed up to write. He couldn't possibly do what he had as good as agreed to do. Could he?
The talk with Jennifer had been enlightening—at least for her. They'd sat down, and he'd simply told her about the week with John: the sorting of the books, the food, geeking out together, the drive back home and that magical day. Jennifer hadn't said a word through it all, had just listened and nodded every now and then.
At the end of his rambling, Rodney had waited for Jennifer to speak. He'd waited for a while, unable to interpret her expression. She'd looked the same as when she was discussing a particularly difficult case at work.
Eventually, she'd given him a teasing smile that held just a hint of sadness. "I can't say it's flattering that you're falling in love with someone else just weeks after we split up, but—" She'd stopped, seeing his gaping mouth.
Rodney had felt something like panic at the words "in love," which was quite ridiculous because what else had he been considering when he thought about kissing John and that there was more to their relationship than friendship? Regardless, it had been a shock to hear it put into words by someone else.
Jennifer had snorted. "Never change," she'd said fondly, cupping his cheek for a moment before pulling back her hand as if she'd realized that it wasn't appropriate any longer. Part of him had wanted to tell her that it was okay, that she should feel free to touch him like that, but another part had thought of John being there, and the idea that he'd see such an intimate gesture was uncomfortable to Rodney.
Taking things one step further, he'd tried to imagine the reverse scenario: John cupping his face while Jennifer was present. He'd realized that, while it might be a bit embarrassing, it wouldn't feel like he shouldn't be doing it in front of her.
"Oh wow," he'd said, more to himself than to her. "I think you might be right."
"I'm always right," she'd teased. Then she'd sobered up. "Is that … a problem? I mean, you never mentioned being bisexual or past boyfriends, so is this new or …?"
"Kind of," he'd said, and then he'd tried to explain how he'd experimented when he was younger and had occasional encounters with guys after that. "But I've never been in a relationship with a guy," he'd concluded.
"There's a first time for everything," she'd said.
"We'll see about that. I have no idea if Sheppard is even into guys. I can't for the life of me remember if he ever said that his last relationship was a woman or if he didn't mention it. I know he didn't say it was a man because I'm sure I would have remembered that."
"Well, there's a simple way to find out," Jennifer had said, sounding quite cheerful.
"Ask him," he'd said. "Except that he doesn't like to talk about it."
"Ask him out," she'd clarified.
They'd spent some time arguing, debating whether that was a good move. Finally, Rodney had told her to wait until she met John, and they'd agreed to talk about what she'd been up to and resume the discussion after lunch.
After lunch had turned into a very short talk.
"Oh, he's into you," Jennifer had said in a tone that brooked no argument. She'd sounded as if thinking otherwise would be ridiculous.
Rodney had still tried to argue. "What makes you say that? He was just friendly."
"He was gazing at you with a dopey smile on his face while you talked about his food, and that thing at the end with the chin? There might be guys who do that casually with other guys, but I really don't think he's one of them. I think he wanted to mark his territory in front of me, actually."
Rodney had stared at her after that analysis, unable to come up with any counter arguments.
"Just go for it," she'd said. "In the highly unlikely case that he isn't gay or bi or doesn't want to date you, I don't think he'll make a fuss of it. You said he was cool when the previous chef suggested you were a couple. It might be embarrassing for a moment, but you can tell him you just wanted to try it, no harm, no foul. You really have nothing to lose."
"I, uhm … I guess you're right."
They'd talked about other things after that and had taken a walk on the beach, leaving Rodney griping about sand in his shoes afterward while Jennifer had stood and laughed.
She'd left after that, hugging Rodney tightly and wishing him, "Good luck."
Now he was sitting on the couch, excitement and fear warring inside of him. He tried not to think about it, but when that predictably failed, he tried to think of the best way to approach John. He'd never asked a man out on a date before, and it wasn't as if he'd been very good at it with women either.
John wasn't sure if Rodney would still be up when he came home, though he thought there was a chance he was still writing. What John hadn't expected was to find Rodney on the couch, TV turned off.
"Hey," he said. "Did Jennifer just leave?"
"No, she's been gone for a few hours," Rodney said, getting up from the couch.
Something was definitely up. Rodney looked nervous and avoided meeting John's eyes. "Is something wrong?" John asked, throat tightening up at the thought that maybe they'd reconciled and Rodney would move back to Seattle or, worse, wanted John to move out.
"No," Rodney said. "Well, no, not wrong. How was your day?"
John's eyebrows rose at the change of the subject. He knew that couldn't be the end of it. "It was good," he said, stepping closer to Rodney.
"Good," Rodney said. "You have Monday off, right? I thought maybe … maybe we could go somewhere. I should probably check out whatever they pretend are tourist attractions for when my sister comes around."
John nodded, frowning now, because he had no idea where Rodney was going with this. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asked.
"Yes, yes," Rodney said, but didn't meet John's eye. "Look, I was wondering if … uh. How … Where do you take a chef for dinner? Would it be bad form to go to a rival restaurant?"
He looked so confused for a moment that John had to laugh. "We do eat out, and no, it's not bad form. An artist can still look at other art. Inspiration is good."
"Ah, great, so … maybe we could check out one of the other restaurants on Monday?" Rodney asked.
"Sure," John said. He still wasn't sure what was up with Rodney, but he was smiling and relaxing now, so things seemed to be fine. "We could take a look at Mount Egg, and there's a seafood restaurant on Main Street that looks nice."
"As long as they keep the lemons away. Choking to death would be a bad way to end a date," Rodney said, making a grimace.
John froze. He couldn't have heard that right. "A date?" he asked weakly.
"Yes, I … Didn't I just ask you out on a date? And you said yes?" Rodney asked.
"You said we should go into town and eat something," John said numbly. He was very sure that he would have noticed if there'd been talk of dating.
"I said 'take you out'. That's an invitation. I mean, I've never asked a guy out, but surely the vocabulary isn't entirely different."
At that point, Rodney's words and the whole situation crashed down on John, and he took a step back. He hadn't expected this. One of the reasons had been that he hadn't thought Rodney was bisexual. The fact that he'd never asked out a guy before only confirmed that. It just reinforced John's first instinct that Rodney was infatuated with him because John fed him and spoiled him and had been indulging in his own little crush on Rodney.
It was all fine and well for a bit of flirting, but the idea of trying to build a relationship on that was not just ridiculous but seriously terrifying. His previous relationships had ended badly enough without this kind of baggage. To assume that he and Rodney could work out despite that was insane. Either way, he was too happy right now to start something that was so likely to crash and burn in the worst way. He'd promised himself not to make the same mistake again. Starting a relationship with Rodney would be opening up doors to everything that had once made his life hellish and driven him to leave his old life behind. He wasn't going to risk the new life that had only just begun.
"Listen, I'm sorry," was the only thing John had to say, before Rodney looked away and crossed his arms in front of him.
"I get it," Rodney said. "I mean the chin thing … Jennifer's not that good at reading people. I know you just like it when I talk about how amazing your food is. I had no real reason to believe that you're not straight, so yes, that's okay. I wasn't sure about it in the first place. Jennifer said I should go for it. No harm done, right?" he finished, looking up at John with a bit of trepidation.
John tried to take in all of Rodney's rambling words, not really making sense of everything but getting the gist. He also knew that this was probably the point where he should tell Rodney that he was gay, but John just needed to look at Rodney now to know how it would end. Rodney would look at him with those big, blue, hurting eyes, telling him that he understood that John liked guys, just not him. Then John wouldn't be able to leave it at that, and he wasn't sure if he could tell Rodney that he really liked him but didn't want to date him—even if the reasons sounded good, at least to him.
Thankfully, Rodney made it easy for him. He'd said he hadn't planned to do this anyway, which he meant he wouldn't be crushed about this turn of events or at least was willing to pretend that he wasn't. His eyes told a slightly different story, but John was willing to play along because, as much as he liked Rodney or maybe because he liked Rodney so much, he couldn't start something with him at this point in his life.
"No harm done," he agreed.
Rodney smiled, relieved. "That's good. We could still go to Mount Egg and that restaurant. As friends. I mean I really … I wasn't even sure … I just," he flushed, "really like you, and this is unusual for me. I just enjoy spending time with you, and you're funny and smart and hot though obviously as friend that doesn't— Guy love! We could have that, right? Completely non-sexual guy love." Rodney had turned a deep shade of red by the time he finished.
John couldn't take it any longer. Rodney was just so adorable. He pulled him into a hug and whispered into the side of his head, "Guy love it is," before ruffling his hair and letting go.
They looked at each other for a moment, and John wasn't sure how he should feel. He knew he'd made the right decision. He wasn't ready for a relationship right now, and he wasn't sure if Rodney would ever be ready for a relationship with a man or was just fooling himself. It was better this way. Still, he allowed himself one second to imagine what it would feel like to pull Rodney's face close and move their lips together.
It was the right decision, but that didn't mean he had no regrets.
Rodney was both disappointed and relieved. The disappointment was simple enough. It was never nice to be turned down, even if it was just a first date and they'd still be friends.
On the other hand, he was relieved because despite Jennifer's certainty that he felt something for John, and even though Rodney himself had to admit that John could come to mean—and in some ways already did mean—more to him than even his more serious relationships with women in the past, there had been a certain amount of trepidation on his part.
Rodney had no experience with relationships with men, and he didn't like the prospect of finding new pitfalls to navigate when relationships in general had never been his forte.
He knew every relationship brought the risk of failure. No matter how well two people were suited for each other—and he still thought that he and John could have worked out really well—there was a chance that things would end, and in most cases they ended not nearly as well as he and Jennifer had.
If he had broken up with John, chances were that one of them would have had to move out, and that was something that Rodney certainly didn't want, now that he'd found a life that he really enjoyed, sharing it with someone in a way that worked.
No, it was a good thing overall that this hadn't panned out. It was okay that Sheppard was straight. He hadn't even been weird about the whole thing, and they'd agreed to do a little sight-seeing the following Monday.
Life was good the way it was. They'd continue as friends, and if Rodney at some point met a hot, smart woman—or man, who knew?—he could start dating again. Of course, first he would finish his book. Not tonight though.
Things still weren't awkward between them the next day, and Rodney was relieved that their easy friendship was intact. John asked about his writing, and they made plans for the next day. John promised to cook lunch for them before they'd take a look at Mount Egg and have dinner at the restaurant John had mentioned.
Rodney wrote the whole day, making a sandwich for lunch. He thought longingly of John's food but decided against going to the Star Gate because, even though he was quite wealthy, buying the house had put a dent on his bank account, and he simply couldn't afford to eat out every single day.
At half past two, John surprised him with a dish from the restaurant.
"For dinner," John said. "Just heat it up in the oven for a bit, and you're good to go."
Rodney couldn't resist and tried to steal a bit, but John slapped his hands. "Dinner, I said. You did eat lunch, didn't you?"
"Yes. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself," Rodney said with a pout.
"Should I stop bringing dinner then?" John asked teasingly.
"Then be a good boy. I might have something for dessert too."
John had to leave again at half past four. At seven, Rodney heated up the plate of food, and it was great as always, although he missed eating with John.
He continued writing after dinner until he felt his brain slow down. He shut off the computer then and decided to turn in early. Maybe he could even join John on his trip to the market the next morning. He knew John would be shocked, and the idea was appealing enough for Rodney to fall asleep with a smile on his face.
Going to the market was an interesting experience for Rodney. He didn't claim to understand half the differences in the various produces that John pointed out to him, and despite the coffee, he still didn't feel quite awake. John, on the other hand, was wide awake and in a very good mood. He'd been delighted when Rodney had offered to join him, and Rodney had found himself pleased with making John happy.
John jotted down notes as they went, collected business cards and bought a few things. There was an easy camaraderie between him and Rodney as they bantered about fresh produce versus canned goods and made observations about the people and things they saw.
It was good, Rodney thought. This was good. A friendship that made him feel comfortable and appreciated. He really didn't need anything more. He thought that he probably didn't even want anything more.
That thought was put slightly into perspective when they arrived home.
They were in the process of carrying in what they'd bought when Rodney noticed someone at the glass door on their deck. He shrieked and nearly dropped his bags. John rushed in to see what was going on, then turned to Rodney and gave him a look. "It's Ronon. You met him at the restaurant. Twice," he pointed out, leaving to open the door.
"Well, I didn't know that somehow made it normal for him to suddenly stand there practically in our home," Rodney muttered, recognizing Ronon, now in his running attire with his hair hanging loosely.
John was already on his way to open the door for him, and Rodney carried the bag to the kitchen island. He turned to see John chatting with Ronon, and when John brought in the bags, he asked Rodney, "Would you mind putting these away? I'm going for a run with Ronon, and then we can have breakfast."
Rodney knew he had no rational reason to say no, so he nodded, and John ran off with Ronon, looking quite pleased and leaving Rodney feeling bereft.
Friendship was good in theory. But Rodney had a feeling that if it was all he wanted, he wouldn't be feeling this kind of jealousy.
Going for a run with Ronon was great. It was nice not having to run alone and still have some peace and quiet. Since Ronon didn't talk that much, he made for a good running companion. When John had already run further than he usually did and they were nearing the fringes of the town, Ronon let him off the hook with a snort saying, "You should head back now or you won't make it."
John wanted to protest that he was fine but figured he was too out of breath to make it convincing. Ronon evidently did this every day, faster and farther than John. He usually went south, but if he went north the distance was just enough for Ronon to reach their beach house.
"Do you want to drop by again tomorrow?" John asked. He liked Ronon. Running with him was a bit embarrassing but also very motivating.
"Okay," Ronon said, taking off easily with a burst of speed. John watched him with envy and allowed himself to rest for a few more seconds before heading back to Rodney.
When he arrived, he was more tired than he'd ever felt before after a run, but it wasn't necessarily a bad ache. He went upstairs to take a shower, finding Rodney looking at him with a displeased expression for a second, before his face closed off.
"Should I start setting up the breakfast table?" Rodney asked.
"Yeah, I'll be just a minute."
"Ronon's not with you?" Rodney asked, and there was definitely an undertone there.
John didn't really know what to say to him though. "No, he's probably home by now. He goes running every morning too. He'll drop by again tomorrow to pick me up."
"I see," Rodney said, looking unhappy.
John wasn't sure if he should feel flattered or annoyed by what felt like completely unfounded jealousy on Rodney's part. Both probably. "I'll make you something great for lunch," he promised, because it was a sure fire way to make Rodney smile.
Rodney went to write after breakfast. The meal had been nice even though Rodney had been a bit stiff at the beginning when he asked about how running with Ronon had been.
John decided to read for a bit afterwards, then started to cook lunch early, using the extra time to make something special. Rodney came down once, and John allowed him to taste it, holding up the spoon and smiling at Rodney's pleased noises. A bit of the sauce was trickling down the side of Rodney's mouth, and John was tempted to lick it off. He was quite shocked by the thought because he thought he'd gotten it into his own head that his friendship with Rodney was enough.
"You have some …" he said, pointing at Rodney's mouth. Rodney tried to wipe it away but only made it worse, so that John got a tissue and helped him clean it up. They were standing very close together, and Rodney looked at him through his long eyelashes. John tried not to notice the tension between them.
Finally, John broke eye contact and took a step back. He walked to the fridge and pretended to get something that he didn't really need. It bought him enough time for Rodney to say, "I'll head back upstairs. Call me when it's done!"
Rodney loved lunch and wasn't shy about letting John know. By this point, John embraced the compliments, knowing they were heartfelt.
They headed down to Mount Egg after lunch.
"That's it?!" Rodney asked when they arrived, making a nearby family, that had just taken photos, stare at them, clearly scandalized by his words.
John had to grin. He could certainly relate because the rock wasn't particularly big and only egg-shaped in the vaguest sense. He got out his phone. "Hey, do you wanna climb up? We can take a photo with you on it." He laughed when Rodney looked predictably aghast at the idea.
"If you want to climb up there, be my guest, but don't expect me to watch. Speaking of photos, didn't you want to take some for your mother? I have a camera, and my sister will be asking for some too when she speaks to me again, so we could head back and do a little photo session of our expensive home."
So they drove back home after just a minute at Mount Egg, although John noted that the pier was very nice and Rodney said, "Yeah, at night it might actually be worth a real look."
John suggested they could come back after dinner.
At home, Rodney found his camera relatively quickly and began ordering John around, telling him to move to different spots around the house and to pose in certain ways in the photos for his mother. John stuck out his tongue a lot but did as he was told since he knew his mother would appreciate new photos of him.
They went outside to take some shots, and he went to stand looking at the ocean when Rodney asked him to. The weather was a bit cloudy today, but it was still a beautiful sight. They could take another batch of photos another time. He turned around to tell Rodney, only to find the flash going off in his face. The camera was pointed at him, and Rodney had snapped a shot.
"I thought your mother might appreciate a close up," Rodney said, flushing and turning to go back inside.
John didn't know what to say and followed him.
Rodney worked for a bit after that, and John watched a game that he'd prerecorded until the sun was slowly setting. Rodney took a few more photos of the sunset, and John persuaded him to hand the camera over, so that he could take a shot of Rodney though by that time, it was mostly just his silhouette.
Afterwards, they put on their jackets and drove to the restaurant, staying in comfortable silence on the way.
Dinner was good, though not as good as it would have been at the Star Gate.
"Naturally," Rodney said, grinning.
They talked about this and that. Rodney asked when John's mother was going to visit, and John told him he wasn't sure but that Teyla was coming with her family the next week. That's when they realized the guest rooms still needed furniture and decided to go shopping one of the mornings during the week.
There were silences every now and then during the dinner, in which John wondered if Rodney thought about how this could have been a date. He certainly thought about it, knowing that it felt like a date more than it should. He needed to watch himself if he didn't want things to get out of hand, so he repeatedly reminded himself how good his life with Rodney as a friend was.
They walked the two blocks to the pier, enjoying the beautiful night. The weather had cleared up, and they could see the entire night sky. The pier was all lit up when they first saw it, prompting Rodney to say, "Wow, who would have thought?"
John bumped his shoulder and smiled at him as they walked down the pier, talking about stars and Rodney's book and Rodney's sister before returning to the car and finally heading home.
Inside at the top of the stairs, Rodney said, "That was nice."
"We should do it again," John agreed. He wanted to lean down and kiss Rodney. Not even necessarily to start something but because it felt like the appropriate way to end the evening. He knew that it wasn't, though, so instead he put his hand on Rodney's arm and squeezed it, before heading to the bathroom, saying, "Goodnight" over his shoulder.
Rodney made great progress on his book over the next few days. They went and bought two different sofa beds, giving them enough space for Teyla, Jeannie and their families.
Rodney went ahead and sent some pictures of the house to Jeannie, apologizing for not telling her sooner about his divorce but insisting that she couldn't come down until after the book was done. He did invite her to stay longer when they eventually visited, and he felt that was as generous as he needed to be.
Life with John continued to be great, even though Rodney kept having moments like the one on their not-date when he felt a tension between them beyond friendship. They were flirty at times too. Rodney tried to chalk it up to John just being a flirty kind of person, but that hadn't been his experience when they'd gone out together, so he wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
Those moments weren't bad or even awkward, so Rodney didn't worry, didn't even think about them all that much. But, sometimes at night or when he masturbated in the shower in the morning, he did think of John and if maybe he was just as confused about being attracted to a guy as Rodney had been at first. He wondered if maybe John felt something between them too but simply wasn't ready to give this a try.
Teyla visited the next week with her family, and Rodney could sense the history they shared. He talked to Kanaan for a bit while John went for a long walk with Teyla, but he eventually retreated upstairs to write, watching Kanaan and Torren play in the sand whenever he looked outside.
John cooked a relatively simple lunch for them. But for dinner, to which Ronon was invited as well, John had planned a veritable feast. There was so much food to get ready that he actually asked Rodney to help prepare it. Instead of feeling insulted being used as kitchen help, Rodney felt proud.
It was a very enjoyable, long evening. Teyla talked a bit about things she and John had done before she'd reconnected with Kanaan, whom she'd grown up with, and Rodney learned that Ronon had been a police officer before coming to Atlantis Shores to start over. There was more to that story, Rodney could tell, but neither he nor anyone else asked because it was clear that Ronon didn't particularly want to share the details.
Kanaan took Torren to bed after that, and Teyla and Ronon went outside on the deck while John and Rodney prepared the dessert. It was delicious as always, and Rodney couldn't help the moans of pleasure even if everyone turned to him and stared, making both him and John flush.
"It's very good," he said, cheeks still flushing red.
Teyla just laughed, making her look younger and even more beautiful. Kanaan put an arm around her and kissed her. Ronon watched them with a bittersweet expression on his face. Rodney turned and found John looking at him before he dropped his gaze. Rodney reached out to lightly touch John's hand for a moment, pulling away again before it could turn into something more than just a gesture, into a request that might be turned down.
Rodney usually didn't make the same mistake twice. He didn't intend to do anything that might result in a second rejection until he had reason to believe that things had changed for John.
Ronon said goodbye around midnight, and Kanaan turned in as well. The three of them sat on the deck for a while in silence, but Rodney had the feeling they weren't talking because of him and decided to go to bed as well, giving them a chance to talk some more.
He said goodnight and went upstairs.
"So," John said.
"What?" Teyla asked innocently.
John turned to give her a look. "Now you can say what you want to say."
"You mean that I cannot remember seeing you so at ease with another person? Or that you are only hurting yourself, not to mention Rodney, by pretending that you do not want this?"
John looked away. "I'm not pretending I don't want this," he said. Because he knew he wanted it. He had to force himself not to reach out to Rodney at times.
"That makes it even worse. I know there is nothing I can tell you because you will not listen," she said, sounding sad.
"I always listen," John disagreed. "I just don't necessarily do what you want me to do."
Teyla turned to him. "What I want you to do is be happy," she said.
"But I am happy," John said automatically. It had become his mantra over the last week whenever he'd felt that pull inside of him whenever he saw a smile or felt a touch from Rodney.
"You might be now, but what about the future?" she asked.
"There's no reason why things can't stay like they are," John said, not quite meeting her eyes. That was something he had chosen not to think about, but he had a feeling his willful ignorance would soon come to an abrupt end.
"Does Rodney intend to remain your friend and not to enter a new relationship, just as you seem to be determined to do? Or can you honestly say that it would not matter to you if Rodney began dating someone?" Teyla asked, putting into words the very fears he'd successfully avoided so far.
"It's too soon," he said, side stepping her question and falling back to his old defense when he couldn't argue with what she'd said.
"Too soon since what? When was the last time you even thought about Marcus?" she asked.
John couldn't recall. This wasn't about Marcus, and they both knew it. "I'm happy the way things are right now," he said, even if he knew it couldn't remain like this forever.
"I believe you, John," she acquiesced. "But sooner or later, you'll have to let Rodney know how you feel, or you'll lose him. How long do you want to wait? How long do you think you'll need? Three months? Half a year? A year? Five years? One day you'll turn around, and Rodney won't be waiting for you any longer."
John didn't want to accept this harsh picture of reality she was painting. "I've only known him for two weeks," he protested weakly.
"I know, John. But we both know that is not the reason you are waiting. If you just wanted to get to know him better, I would say take your time and make sure this is something that will work, but have you taken a look at the two of you? You are already finishing each other's sentences! In the kitchen, I do not think either of you had to even look to know where you would find the hand of the other. Sometimes it only takes an hour to know that this is the right person. Your hour has long been up, and now you are just making excuses," she said, not unkindly.
John swallowed. He wanted to be angry with her for putting so much pressure on him, but in the end, she wasn't even telling him what to do. She was just saying the truth as she saw it. And she was right. Despite knowing that, he still couldn't jump into this with open arms. "I'm afraid," he admitted. "There are so many ways for us to screw this up."
Teyla snorted. John looked a bit surprised and offended, but she smiled. "John, there are always ways to screw things up. Do you think I never think about how things might turn wrong between Kanaan and me?"
"Well, I do. I do not think it will happen, and I will always do everything in my power not to let it happen, but I am not naive enough to believe it is not possible. Could things go wrong between you and Rodney? Absolutely, but that is the nature of life, and it cannot be a measure for us to decide what to take on in life."
"He's never even been with a guy before," John said, because this was something that seriously nagged at him whenever he admitted to himself that he wanted more.
"I see," Teyla said. "For what it is worth, I do not doubt the sincerity of Rodney's feelings for you. He made the first step and asked you out. If you tell me that he has not been with another man before, I think that proves even more how sure of his feelings he must be because he must have thought about it carefully before recognizing that he was having feelings for a man when this was outside of his previous experience."
Teyla did have a point, but it didn't make him any less anxious.
"I know how you feel," she continued. "You know that I had my own fears before starting a relationship with Kanaan and before having Torren. It is natural to be afraid sometimes, but you cannot let it paralyze you." She reached out and took John's hand in hers. "I know it is hard for you, especially after what you have gone through, but you will simply have to trust Rodney."
John sighed. Trust. That might be the crux of the matter. It wasn't so much that he didn't trust Rodney. It was that if Rodney disappointed him, John wasn't sure if he could ever trust anyone again. He didn't think he was ready to give Rodney, or anyone, that much power over him. Not when what they had was so good, and they had met only two weeks ago. No matter what Teyla said—and he didn't disagree with her on knowing what he felt for Rodney and that he wanted to be with him—he needed to give himself more time to be able to trust Rodney with his heart and to trust himself that taking that last step was the right decision.
The next week went by similarly as the one before. Rodney was quite content with his progress on his book. He could tell Carson to relax and let Jeannie know tentatively that she might be able to visit in two months. That should give him enough time to finish and polish it up enough to relax for a second. Then he'd send it over to Radek who would tear it apart and send him the pieces to be put back together in a better way. Rodney had to admit it worked out quite well though he genuinely hated Radek for those first moments when he got back a manuscript full of notes and corrections.
Life with John seemed to settle into a pattern. They would spend time together, having fun, teasing each other, and occasionally flirting, but Rodney had learned to accept that whatever the reasons for John to flirt, he didn't intend to let it become more. It was fair enough he supposed since John had told him as much when Rodney had asked him out on a date.
And it was okay.
He told himself that he was happy. Besides, he was busy writing anyway. There was just a small part of him that couldn't help but ask what his excuse would be once he finished his first draft. Then he'd have all day with nothing but thinking about every time John laughed with him or gave him a look that turned Rodney inside out in ways that a friend wouldn't.
"So, you decided to go out with McKay?" Ronon asked, not even slowing down on their now daily morning run.
John managed not to stumble and fall, though it was a close thing. "What?"
"You and McKay. Are you going to date him?" Ronon clarified.
"I told you he's not my boyfriend," John told him.
"I know, but you're gay, and you like him. And he likes you."
"That …" John didn't know what to say. Ronon didn't talk much usually, and so far it hadn't been about something as private as this. John didn't really want to talk about it, especially since he hadn't been entirely successful in getting Teyla's words out of his head. "I've only just moved here," John said, hoping it would be an answer.
Apparently not. "So, I've just settled in, and I don't want to … upset things so soon," John said.
"You're afraid things won't work out," Ronon guessed.
"It's been known to happen," John said evasively.
Ronon seemed to consider that. "You should take your time if you need it," he said eventually.
John was pleasantly surprised by that answer. "That's what I've been trying to tell Teyla," he said, relieved that someone understood him.
Ronon grinned. "She wants you to date McKay?"
John considered whether he should answer, but he trusted Ronon. "She wants me to be happy. But I am right now."
They continued to run in silence, and John thought it was the end of that conversation. He was feeling a bit better about himself, when Ronon said, "I'm not. I'm content, but not happy. Doesn't mean I'm ready for a relationship, though."
John stopped for a second, not knowing what to make of that admission. Was John himself content but not happy? For Ronon, there seemed to be an important distinction—and a personal history. He sprinted to catch up with Ronon. "Why?" he asked.
"Need more time," Ronon said with a shrug, eyes straight ahead.
John suddenly had a very bad feeling. He almost didn't want to know, but he still asked, "What happened?"
Ronon kept running, not turning to John for a while before saying, "My wife was killed."
John stopped for a second, too stunned to continue, before he went on. He didn't know what to say. "I'm so sorry," was the only thing he could come up with.
Ronon gave him a curt nod, still looking ahead as they ran.
John felt the insignificance of his own problems compared to what had happened to Ronon. He wondered about the circumstances of the death of Ronon's wife and when it had happened. He must have been quite young when they'd married. Maybe high school sweethearts. John tried to imagine what Ronon had been like before this happened, if he maybe had been a chatty young man before.
"So, why do you need the time?" Ronon interrupted his thoughts.
John took this to mean that he didn't want to talk about himself, which he could understand. He didn't know how to answer Ronon's question though. He could tell him about Marcus, but he knew that his reluctance to date Rodney wasn't about Marcus. He didn't think Rodney would ever cheat on him.
He could tell him about Steve, Daryl, or Paul, but the truth was, John didn't think it would end like any of them either. He still couldn't shake the fear that it would end, and that was what was keeping him from following Teyla's advice.
"I just do," he said to Ronon, knowing it sounded lame, but it was the best he could do.
Rodney was still making great headway on his novel by John's next day off. Things were going so well, that he allowed himself half a day off too. As they were having breakfast and making plans for the afternoon, the door bell rang.
They looked at each other. Neither of them was expecting anyone. When John opened the door, it was a tall, well-dressed woman, who said, "Well, here we are. You couldn't possibly have chosen something more remote?"
"It's good to know at least you still recognize me," she said sarcastically. Then she smiled and pulled her son into her arms. He flailed a bit helplessly for a second, then returned the hug. Rodney had to smile, coming closer to meet her.
When she pulled back, she turned to Rodney, eyes sparkling with intelligence and curiosity. John had talked about her a bit, and Rodney was intrigued to finally meet the woman. He could see the family resemblance though it wasn't striking. The features worked a bit better on John, not to say she wasn't beautiful in her own way. Not that it really mattered if John's mother was good-looking or not.
"You must be Rodney McKay," she said, stretching out her hand. "I'm Beatrice Sheppard. Please, call me Trixie even though I know John hates it."
Rodney took her hand while John spluttered, "I do not hate it."
"He thinks that a woman of my stature—and probably age—shouldn't call herself by such a name."
"I would never presume to tell you what to do," John said, shifting from foot to foot.
Rodney smiled. He already liked her.
Trixie talked about her son and the house like John talked about cooking. It was all enthusiasm and obvious love and John flushed more than once, especially when she reached out to pinch his cheek. Rodney suspected it was for the sole reason of teasing him.
She talked about how she spent her day, and even though she had to be over sixty-five, she still seemed to perform some functions for the family company and was generally very busy.
"You will never believe who I met the other day," she said. "Oliver Petrie. He's married with four children and has taken over his father's candy store. Can you believe it?"
John suddenly looked uncomfortable and exchanged a look with his mother that Rodney didn't understand. Some unspoken communication seemed to happen, and eventually John said, "He was … he was my boyfriend in high school. He hates kids."
Rodney supposed that the latter was why Trixie had been so incredulous about what had become of him, but Rodney really only parsed the first. "Boyfriend," he repeated.
He wasn't completely surprised that John was into guys, what with their flirting and everything. In fact, it was almost a light bulb moment because finally the tension between them made sense, and Rodney was glad to realize he had in fact not imagined it.
But another part of him wasn't happy at all. He was angry that all this time John had let him believe he was straight when very clearly he wasn't. Casual encounters he could have chalked up to the same kind of category that Rodney himself had put them in but not someone you'd call your boyfriend in high-school.
"Yeah," John admitted. "I'm … I'm gay. I don't think I mentioned it."
Now Rodney was really angry. John wasn't just into guys, he was only into guys, and he was apparently well aware that he hadn't told Rodney when he should have, making this not a lie of omission but just a lie. "No, you didn't mention it. Not even when you turned me down and I thought you were straight and that was the reason. God, if that wasn't the reason then I don't … This is me, right? You might be attracted to me, but you wouldn't want to date me," Rodney realized. And that hurt. But it still wasn't as bad as John being too much of a coward to tell him the truth.
"No, see, this is exactly why I didn't want to tell you I was gay," John said, looking over to his mother a bit helplessly.
"This is probably the point where I should be tactful and offer to go for a walk," Trixie said.
"Uhm," John said.
But Rodney crossed his arms resolutely, saying, "No, you can stay. I have no problem with your son being gay and not wanting to be in a relationship with me." That was maybe an exaggeration because he hated that John didn't want him enough to make it something serious, but that wasn't the point he was trying to make. "He's not the first one nor will he be the last. I don't even have a problem with you still flirting with me," he continued, turning to John. "I just wish you would have felt comfortable enough with me to just tell me the truth."
"But that's not the truth," John said. "I don't not want to be in a relationship with you, I just don't want to be in a relationship period. I'm happy right now. My last relationship, or make that all of my relationships, have ended badly." He looked at his mother, and she gave him a comforting look and put her hand on his wrist, squeezing it for a moment, before getting up and going outside onto the deck, leaving them alone.
Rodney was fascinated to see it. His own relationship with his mother had been so impersonal when it came to things like that. Then he refocused on what John was saying.
"Marcus … Marcus cheated on me, okay. And that wasn't the worst end of a relationship I had, so I came here to take a break from that old life. I like what I have right now—with you—and I just …" He stopped, looking away for a second. "I don't want to lose it," he said quietly.
Rodney recalled their first meeting, how John had closed up like a clam when Rodney had essentially asked if he was going to sleep around. Now he understood. He didn't know what the other bad breakups entailed, but he believed that they had to have been bad to make John give up on relationships altogether, at least for now.
Rodney also noted that John had essentially admitted that he did have feelings for him, which was a relief because now at least he knew for sure that he wasn't alone in this. Even if John wasn't yet ready for more.
"I'm sorry," Rodney said, because he genuinely was, even if he was still angry. He'd been lucky with Jennifer.
John didn't say anything. He looked at the ground for a long while until he lifted his gaze to meet Rodney's eyes.
Rodney saw helplessness in John's eyes, but he knew that there was nothing he could do, that John wasn't ready to accept what he had to offer.
"I've brought blueberries." They both looked up to see that Trixie had come back in. "Why don't you go bake us some muffins?" she suggested to John. "Maybe you'd even let your old mother help you."
That made John smile weakly.
Rodney watched him stand up and join her, and once they were in the kitchen, he decided to go upstairs and give them some time alone.
When they called him down for lunch, John looked better and more relaxed. Rodney had hoped that cooking and the presence of his mother would have that effect on him. He'd calmed down himself a bit. It still stung that John hadn't told him sooner that he was gay, but in hindsight, he could understand how it would have been difficult for John to explain to him that he liked Rodney but didn't want to date him without expounding on why, which would entail discussing his previous relationships, something John had been understandably reluctant to do.
They kept the conversation light over lunch. Trixie talked about how John's brother and his family were doing, and she asked about Rodney's family.
After lunch, John told her he was going the market to shop for dinner and asked if she wanted to join him. To both of their surprises, she declined and said she'd like to spend some time with Rodney if neither of them minded.
John looked at Rodney, and Rodney stuttered out, "Yeah, sure," and that was how he found himself alone with Trixie.
"He's sorry, you know," she told him once John had left. "He's just very good at bottling things up, and sometimes he doesn't realize just how much he's not saying."
"It's okay. I mean, I wish he would have said something sooner, but I can understand why he wouldn't want to—at least about his past relationships."
"He's had bad luck in the past. I really don't understand it because he's a wonderful person—and I don't think that's just my bias as a mother. He deserves someone who loves him much more than the others were willing to. As for Marcus …" she shook her head, making a disgusted face.
"He must have been an idiot," Rodney said. It was nonsensical to him to have someone like John and cheat on him.
"To put it mildly. I'd use different words, but then John would be shocked even if he's not here, and I don't want to destroy his image of me even by proxy," she said, sounding exasperated.
Rodney had to grin. "He's very fond of you."
"He better be, considering what I have to put up with!" Trixie said, but then she winked at Rodney. "You know he's very fond of you too," she added.
"I'd thought as much," Rodney admitted, dropping his gaze. He was still grateful to hear it from her. She didn't say anything until Rodney looked back up to find her watching him with intent eyes.
"John said you've never been in a relationship with another man," she said neutrally.
Rodney was a bit surprised that John would tell her that. "Yes," he confirmed.
"It is a bit unusual to be completely unaware of such feelings up into your forties," she said carefully, and suddenly Rodney got it.
"Oh no. It's not like that. I've had sex with guys!" he said. Then he turned beet-red, realizing what he'd said.
Trixie started to laugh in a way that sounded like John. "So being attracted to men …" she prompted.
"I've felt attraction, and I've enjoyed the … uhm … encounters I've had with men, but it was never a relationship, nor did I ever want a relationship with a man."
"But you do want one with John," she said.
"Yes, I do," Rodney said without hesitation. "Your son is … unlike anyone I've ever met. I've never felt like this before. When I'm with him … I'm a happier person than when he's away," he admitted.
Trixie smiled at him. "That's how I feel about him too," she said and suddenly came closer and pulled Rodney into her arms. "And I've been waiting for my son to find someone like that."
John wasn't sure what to expect when he returned, but he was still somewhat pleased to see his mother and Rodney outside playing chess. He and Rodney had done this a couple of times, and it had become quite competitive, which made him feel sorry for Rodney because he didn't stand a chance against his mother. Sorry or not, he had to grin at the idea of his mother wiping the floor with Rodney and Rodney's expression when he lost.
They looked up when he came in, and he said, "Keep playing, I have to store all of this."
He took his time and resorted some of the things until he heard his mother's voice smugly announcing, "Checkmate!"
John stood up to look at Rodney's expression, which turned from unbelieving to pissed off to grudging acceptance. He looked up to catch John watching and glared at him, calling, "You've got a lot to learn from your mother," but John just grinned at him.
He and his mother took a walk on the beach after that.
"I've talked to Teyla," she said.
Which made sense. "Is that why you've come?"
"Well, I was planning on visiting anyway, but I might have waited another week or two. But now I see that you won't be going back to San Francisco anytime soon."
"I wasn't planning to, no," John said.
"I'm not going to tell you what to do," Beatrice said.
"Are you sure?" he couldn't help saying, a smile on his face.
His mother gave him a quick glare. Then she turned serious and said, "I know you think you need time, but I want you to consider what exactly you're waiting for. Is it the new environment? Your job? This town?" she asked, gesturing around them.
John didn't say anything.
"Or are you waiting for the moment when you can be sure that you and Rodney will live happily ever after?"
"Mom," he said, knowing that that moment would never come.
"I can't begin to say how sorry I am how your relationships in the past have ended, you must know that," she continued. "And I'm sorry for the role that I played in how you must feel—"
"What? What are you talking about?" He was genuinely confused now.
"I've always tried to be supportive of you and your relationships. I've tried to make you feel that you deserve your chance at happiness, but I know that your father never quite managed the same."
"Mom, it's okay," John said, because he couldn't take her feeling bad about the mistakes of his father when she had been the one who'd gotten him through late adolescence and early adulthood.
"No, it's not!" she said emphatically. "Believe me, I've asked myself if I did enough, if I shouldn't have done more to support you."
"What more could you have done?" he asked.
"I could have left your father," she said matter-of-factly.
John gaped. That she had even considered that at any point in her life was astonishing to him. He shook his head. "No, Mom. You shouldn't have. Do you really think he would have been more accepting if you'd left him over it?"
"No, but you would have known that he was wrong and that I didn't for one moment think it was okay how he treated you."
John just watched her for a long moment. He didn't know what to say. So he just pulled her into his arms. "I did know," he whispered, his throat tight. "I always knew because you always made sure that I knew. It took dying for Dad to be able to tell me."
"He was a stubborn son of a bitch," his mother said, and John had to laugh although he still felt choked up.
"Got that from him," he admitted ruefully when he pulled away.
"You're not as bad though, I hope. Don't wait until there's nothing left but regret," she said.
He knew they were back to talking about Rodney now. "I don't know what I'll do if it …" He couldn't even finish that sentence.
"You'll move on and start again, that's what you'll do," Beatrice said without missing a beat.
"Just like that," he said.
"I'm not saying it will be easy. Truthfully, I hope it won't come to that. I'm more than ready for you to settle down with a man who deserves you."
John snorted. "So am I, I think." He just wasn't sure if he'd found him yet.
"Look on the bright side. Your brother has already given me grandkids, so there's not even that pressure on you."
He laughed. Then it softened into a smile. "You think Rodney is that man?"
"I've only known him for a few hours, but if he loves you half as much as I think he does, then yes."
"I wish I was as sure as you. I know that he likes me—"
"He more than likes you," Beatrice interrupted him. "He's never felt this way before. He told me that himself. You're the first man he wants more than sex with."
John's eyes widened. It wasn't just to have his mother talk about sex—which he really didn't need—but that she talked about sex with Rodney too. Most importantly though, Rodney had apparently sex with guys after all. "He said he's never dated another man," John mumbled.
"Yes, but he wants to date you," his mother said.
"No, I meant that—"
"I know," she stopped him. "If that was what you were afraid of, you don't have to be. I don't doubt his intentions towards you, and I'm your mother."
John couldn't say anything. When he'd tried to imagine dating Rodney, there'd always been this fear creeping up inside of him. Looking at it more closely now, he realized that the fear had been that Rodney's feelings weren't quite real.
He'd been afraid that one day Rodney would wake up and realize that while he loved John as a friend, he didn't desire John because he was straight after all.
Now that he knew that Rodney had actually had sex with guys, he could suddenly imagine their life together as friends and lovers. Partners. He felt, for the first time, that he could trust that their relationship wouldn't inevitably end in disaster.
He knew there were still no guarantees that things would work out between him and Rodney. They both seemed to have a spotty history of relationships and were difficult each in their own way.
Yet, somehow, when he thought about their time together in the last month and then envisioned their future, he no longer thought that staying friends was all that he wanted or that the risk was too high.
So often in the last month he'd thought about reaching out and pulling Rodney close, of touching him, kissing him.
Now he knew that the real risk was waiting for a moment that would never come and giving it up before he even had a chance to have it.
He'd waited long enough. From now on being content with Rodney by his side wasn't going to be enough. He wanted to make them both happy.
Rodney saw them coming back from the beach. He'd gone upstairs to write for a while, thoughts drifting to his conversation with Trixie every now and then. He was happy to have her approval, but in the end, it wasn't enough that she liked him. It was up to John to give them a chance.
He wasn't sure if they wanted to continue to talk alone, so he didn't go downstairs.
Trixie came upstairs alone a moment later.
"I'm going to take a rest," she said, coming to stand by Rodney's desk.
"Everything okay?" he asked, slightly worried.
"It's called 'getting old'," she said with a smirk. "You'll learn soon enough. But to answer your question, yes, everything is okay. In fact, I think you'll find it's more than okay," she said with a quick grin.
Before Rodney could ask what she meant, she'd already turned around and walked towards her guest room.
Rodney frowned and decided to check on John.
He found him downstairs in the kitchen, preparing dinner and humming to himself. "You're in a good mood," Rodney pointed out.
John turned to him, smiling widely. "I've been talking to my mother," he said. "It cleared a few things up for me."
Rodney felt his heart skip a beat. After John's admission this morning, he'd resigned himself to the fact that he'd have to wait for however long it took for John to be willing to give them a chance. But maybe it wouldn't be nearly as long as he thought? "Such as?" he asked carefully.
"Oh, this and that," John said, his voice melodious, bordering on giddy.
"John," Rodney said, because he couldn't wait for another second.
"I don't suppose you can wait until after dinner," John said, smiling fondly at Rodney.
"Wait for what!" Rodney demanded, no longer able to hide his impatience.
"This," John said. He gave Rodney an intense look and dropped the food to the counter.
When he pulled Rodney close, Rodney sucked in a breath. John leaned forward, almost close enough for their lips to touch. Rodney's heart was beating wildly in his chest. Could this be the moment he'd been waiting for what seemed like forever?
"Do you remember when you asked me out on a date?" John whispered.
Rodney nodded, slowly moving his hands up John's arms and around his neck. He could feel John's arms tighten around him bringing their bodies flush together.
"Ask me again."
Rodney did by closing the distance between them. A shudder went through him when their lips met in a kiss. It was like lightning, electrifying his whole body. He opened up his mouth, hands running through John's hair, needing to feel all of John that he hadn't been allowed to touch before. Their bodies moved against each other, causing a spinetingeling friction that made him moan. There was so much that he wanted to do with John: touching, seeing, experiencing. And he wanted to keep kissing him because kissing John felt better than anything else ever had. It was wet and breathless and wonderful. It was being in love and being loved, and to Rodney, it felt like the last few weeks had only been the prologue.
Now his new life could really begin.