Rodney doesn’t go back to the coffee shop for a while, he gets snowed under at work and it’s difficult to spend time doing nothing. Then he gets a call on his cell phone during a class and when he listens to the voice mail later he almost faints. It’s Sheppard.
“Hey, McKay. Sheppard here – if you’re not doing anything at the weekend, come up to the house and watch the game with me. There’s nothing better than college football, McKay. Give my assistant a ring on this number, and she’ll give you directions to the house. See you then, I hope.”
McKay plays the message again and again before it really sinks in – John Sheppard called him – and manages to call the assistant. Her name’s Marcy; and she gives Rodney directions to an address that he just knows has got to be well over five million. He looks forward to the weekend (and football!) for the first time since he can remember.
John answers the door in sweats and a baggy t-shirt, second beer of the day clutched firmly in hand. McKay, bless him, is standing on the door step wearing what looks like his best suit (despite it being creased to hell) and clutching a six pack of Molson’s and a rather wilted bunch of flowers.
“Hi,” John manages, trying not to grin too wide. McKay is quite possibly the dorkiest guy he’s ever met.
“You have guard dogs,” McKay says, his eyes are very wide, and very blue.
“Yes, yes I do,” he says, and gestures McKay into the house.
McKay is pleasingly awed by the house – mansion, really – and John enjoys showing him around. Normally, he finds the excess all a little crass – why does one family need three living rooms, after all? But the look on McKay’s face when he sees the sun-drenched courtyard is almost worth the seven million Alexis spent on the place.
“Where are the kids?” McKay asks, as they explore room after room and it becomes apparent the children aren’t home.
“Alexis has a break from filming – she’s taken them to her Mom’s for a week ,” John tells him quickly. “What do you think of the house?” he asks, resolutely changing the subject.
“It’s… amazing,” McKay whispers, as they wander through the sun room and out onto the terrace.
“Yeah,” John smiles, watching McKay’s face. “It was built for Clark B. Millikan, you know?”
“Really?” McKay asks, turning to stare at John. “That’s uh… weird…” he adds, trailing off.
That didn’t really have the impact John was looking for. “Yeah,” he says, sipping his beer. “I thought that was pretty cool when I found out – I started studying aeronautics at college…”
“Started?” McKay asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Never finished,” John tells him with a shrug of his shoulders. He’s worked very hard at making that not matter, over the years – by the look on McKay’s face he still isn’t managing it very well. “Anyway, it was designed by Neff, to Millikan’s specifications – I like to think that’s why there are so many big windows, why there’s a courtyard. It explains all the space, you know? I figured he would have liked to have been able to see the sky, even when he was indoors.”
McKay’s staring up at the sky as John speaks – the clear blue sky stretching out over the San Gabriel Mountains – he looks distant and a little sad; John trails off and just watches him for a moment.
“Clark B. Millikan lived in his father’s shadow,” McKay says, quietly. “He was excellent, but not brilliant. His father… now his father was a real physicist – he won a Nobel Prize, you know?” John watches as McKay smiles to himself, still contemplating the sky. “I was going to do that…” he shakes his head a little, as if remembering where he is, and looks at John. “He studied cosmic rays, he was years ahead of his time, and Clark got stuck advising government committees!”
John isn’t quite sure why McKa’s starting to sound a little strangled, but it’s pretty apparent that the subject of the house and its previous owners isn’t turning out to be as good a subject as John had first thought. To distract them both, he reaches out and taps his beer against McKay’s heavier Molson’s bottle.
“Look down,” he says, and then turns to walk towards the wall that blocks in the terrace, looking down onto Pasadena.
John will never ever tire of this view.
Pasadena is stretched out below them – the house sits high on a knoll above the city, and the views are panoramic. John knows that if he climbed up onto the roof, he would be able to turn in a circle and see California stretched out around him in three hundred and sixty beautiful degrees. He imagines that’s what flying must feel like – to be surrounded by blue sky. He’s always found the thought of trying that too painful though, and has made himself be happy with the terrace. It isn’t hard; looking out he can see the Valley, the golf course, the mountains, and the city nestled below them. He can pick out the library at CalTech – can just imagine McKay stomping around there. He takes a breath as he feels Rodney stop beside him, setting his Molson’s down on the wall, barely breathing he’s so quiet.
“What do you think?” John says, quietly, respecting McKay’s mood.
“I’ve never seen anything more amazing,” McKay tells him, and John feels a flash of pride that something he owns (at least partly) can impress someone as brilliant as McKay, so much.
“You can see the Rose Bowl,” John says, and points with his beer. “Game’ll be starting soon,”
“Yeah,” McKay answers, still staring. “You know, I wouldn’t mind being like Clark B. Millikan – not if I got to own a house like this.”
John isn’t quite sure he gets what McKay means, but the sentiment is obvious by the tone of McKay’s voice and the set of his shoulders. “You’re not living in anyone’s shadow, McKay,” he says, quietly.
“No, maybe not,” McKay tells him. “Not anymore,” he adds, turning to John with a smile on his face. “So, are you going to torture me with football now?”
“College football,” John corrects, grinning.
McKay settles into the game with the minimum of bitching and John is quietly impressed. They’re in the den – which is the smallest room, with the oldest couch, and the worst TV, but the most comfortable by far. The house might be impressive, but it wasn’t built for comfort, or cosiness. John’s broken out the popcorn, and they’re sharing it between them – he hasn’t felt this relaxed in months, probably years.
It isn’t a conscious decision, but the next time McKay tries to interrupt play by launching into another tirade about why American Football isn’t a real sport, John reaches out and grips him by the back of the neck and shuts him up by kissing him – hard.
“What?” McKay asks, blinking when John lets him go.
“Watch the game, McKay,” John tells him, smirking a little at the look on McKay’s face, his hand still gripping the back of his neck.
“It’s weird, watching it on TV when I know I could see it from your terrace,” McKay admits, looking abashed.
“I’ll take you – one day we’ll go to a game at the Rose Bowl. Maybe we’ll go to the parade together,” he adds, a soft smile curving his lips. McKay, in turn, smiles, and then looks nervous again.
“I don’t… you said… your wife,” he says, very quietly. He looks distressed, and John feels guilty suddenly.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” John tells him, though the sick feeling in his stomach is evidence enough that he is.
“What about your kids?” McKay asks him, though his hand is creeping across John’s thigh.
“They aren’t here,” John whispers, leaning forwards again – he can see McKay’s resolve crumbling, and he wants those broad hands to touch bare skin. It’s been too long since he was touched.
“Jesus, my mother always said you have to watch the quiet ones,” McKay mutters, but before John can question him on which of them he’s talking about McKay pulls him in and kisses him hard, all devouring lips and teeth. John hasn’t been kissed like that in a long time, and he has to pull away before he’s ready, just to draw breath.
“Will you come upstairs with me?” he asks, murmurs it against McKay’s lips, sharing sweet kisses, back and forth.
“Sure, yes, of course – do I look stupid?”
They come together easily, too easily probably, and revel in the freedom afforded by John’s lifestyle. Even when Alexis comes home, they have a lot of time to spend together. Jacob and Jessie are both at school, and whilst Amy isn’t attending kindergarten, her afternoon naps often seem to coincide with Rodney’s free periods. It isn’t hard, to sneak around. Rodney manages to sleep over sometimes, when Alexis is guaranteed to be out of state and Jacob’s off with friends. He meets the girls at Halloween (is impressed with their intelligence), is introduced as ‘Daddy’s friend’, and he’s happy with that – for now. For now, Rodney feels loved, and is refusing to feel like ‘the other woman’.
Alexis has been away most of November, leaving them both with a false sense of security – but when John doesn’t turn up for an evening out on December 4th, Rodney gets nervous. He calls John’s cell, then he calls the house. He considers calling Jerry, that man-mountain of a minder, but thinks better of it and leaves a message on John’s cell instead.
There’s nothing for a week, and then Rodney gets a text message whilst he’s teaching a class. It’s John, asking if he can come over tonight. John hasn’t been to Rodney’s before, and Rodney hesitates a little before answering – it isn’t that he’s embarrassed by his home; it’s that it would fit in John’s main living room, with room to spare. He shakes it off though, and replies with a request for John to pick up dinner on his way – the least he can do, after a week of silence.
He wishes he hadn’t asked when he sees John standing at his front door that evening. He’s pale, looks tired, and is clutching a bag of Chinese take-out like it’s a lifeline.
“Hey,” Rodney says, frowning and pulling John through the door before kissing him gently, the take-out squishing a little between them.
“I told her I want a divorce,” John mutters, half way through a kiss, and then tenses up as if he’s only just realised what he’s said.
Rodney leans back and just looks at him. “Seriously?” he asks, eyebrows drawing together.
“I’ve had the papers locked in my desk drawer for months,” John lets out, all in a rush.
“So why now?” Rodney asks him, leading him from the small foyer into the living room and guiding him down onto the couch – John looks a little like he’d stumble and fall if Rodney let go of him now. He wrestles the take-out bag away from John, and drops it on the floor, forgets it already at the sight of John’s ashen face. “John?” he whispers. “What happened?”
“I hit her, once,” John whispers, frowning at his hands. “A few years ago. I didn’t mean to – I really didn’t, I just… I don’t know, I was so angry at her. I’ve been so angry at her for so long. I’ve wasted sixteen years of my life,” John whispers, and Rodney’s eyes drop to where John’s hands are fidgeting in his lap. John’s wearing jeans; he never wears jeans when Alexis is in town.
“John?” Rodney asks again, worried now, as he takes John’s hand and squeezes it. “Tell me what’s wrong, please?”
John just shudders a little and seems to curl in on himself. “Did I ever tell you how Alex and I met?” he asks eventually, his voice so quiet and broken that Rodney has to shift closer and wrap both arms around his shoulders.
“No,” he says, and if he’s honest with himself, he doesn’t want to know now.
“I took a year out, before college – I wanted to spend a year surfing before I went to the Academy. I met her then.”
“Academy?” Rodney asks, surprised. When he looks down, all he can see is John’s ruffled hair.
“I wanted to fly,” John whispers, as if that explains everything. “I just wanted to fly.”
Rodney frowns and pulls John closer, relaxing a little when he feels John’s arms slide around his waist.
“Why didn’t you?” he asks, though he thinks he knows the answer.
“Alex was studying English; she was already in her second year when we met. I started college in the fall, and then we found out she was pregnant…” John goes quiet for a moment, and Rodney searches for something to say.
“English majors, huh?” is all he can come up with, but John huffs a laugh anyway.
“Yeah,” he whispers back. “He’s not mine,” he says suddenly, his voice muffled by Rodney’s shoulder. “She told me last week. I gave up college, I gave up flying… I gave up my life Rodney, and he isn’t even mine. She lied to me – she’s lied to me for so long.”
“God,” Rodney whispers, clutching John a little tighter as he shudders in his arms, willing to pretend that John isn’t crying, even as he pets his hair. “So you’re going to leave?” he asks eventually, trying to shift so that John eases his grip on his shirt – he only bought it this afternoon after all.
John nods. “I’m going to try,” he says, and Rodney frowns.
“Why haven’t you just walked away?” Rodney asks him. “Why didn’t you just take a whack of money and walk away?”
John smothers a laugh then, and it sounds as if he’s struggling not to choke. “From Alex? You don’t understand Rodney – it’s taken me years of squirreling to get what I’ve got. I’ve never had access to the money. I’ve had nothing, all these years, absolutely nothing. She wouldn’t let me earn anything. Every time I… I worked; I worked so hard when I was a kid, so we could get married, so I could support her and Jake. Then she just… took that all away, the minute she started making money… She buys my underwear, Rodney.”
He sits up then, struggles to get out of the circle of Rodney’s arms, and collapse against the side of the couch – he’s trembling a little and Rodney reaches a hand out to touch his leg gently.
“Okay, just calm down…” he starts.
“Calm down? Calm down?!” John hisses, turning to glare at Rodney. “She’s going to leave me, she’s going to drag the kids through the papers – and I’ll have fuck all, nothing. I won’t be able to support my own kids.”
“The girls will be fine, John – they want their Dad, not the money.”
“Jake does, he wants the money,” John snarls. “That’s all he wants, he’s his mother’s son through and through.”
“Well, you don’t have to see him anymore,” Rodney tries, wondering just what happened to his idea of an evening of hot makeup sex.
John turns, looking miserable and kind of… betrayed? “He’s still my son, Rodney. I've brought him up, even if he's not mine biologically. I want to be able to provide for him, even if he is a little shit.”
“But she’s earnt all her money whilst you’ve been together!” Rodney says, seizing on something he read in the paper once. “What’s more, you’ve been bringing up the kids – surely you’re entitled to at least half of it!”
John blinks, looking very young, and very lonely. “Really?”
Rodney nods, confident now, reaching out and pulling John back to him. “I’m pretty sure it’s California state law.”
“Oh, I thought I’d have to give her child support or something…”
Rodney chuckles quietly, kissing the top of John’s head. “Child support? John, she earned twenty million on her last picture.”
“Yeah…” John murmurs.
When they’re getting ready for bed, with John sliding under the sheets before Rodney’s finished brushing his teeth, Rodney has a thought.
“Hey,” he says, crawling in next to John and tugging the pillow down so they can share it. “What about the girls, how do you know they’re yours?”
“Look at them…” John whispers, already half asleep.
“Yeah, but… they could be the products of liaisons with someone with the same stupid hair as you…”
John laughs quietly, twisting his head to look Rodney in the eye. “All right, look at Alex. Can you really imagine her having sex, at all? When Jessie was conceived… that was the first time we’d had sex in five years. When Amy was conceived,” he carries on, louder, interrupting Rodney’s sounds of astonishment. “that was the first time we’d had sex since Jessie was born, and we haven’t slept together since Amy was born. Alex doesn’t like sex, at least not with me.”
“You hadn’t had sex for three years before we… really?!” Rodney squeaks, scarcely believing it. “But… but you’re hot!”
“Rodney, focus,” John insists, but he’s smiling.
“Yes yes, all right. You’re married to the most famous woman in Hollywood. Your son isn’t actually your son, despite the fact that he was the reason you stayed with Evil Alex for those ten years in between kids, quit the degree, and shut yourself away in the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen. Oh, and you’ve Only Had Sex Twice in Six Years!” he finishes, and watches in astonishment as John laughs.
“When you put it like that…”
“It’s not funny,” Rodney whispers, drawing John close and running a hand over John’s shoulder. “It isn’t funny at all – this is your life, John…”
“It’s okay,” John whispers back, serious again. “It’s okay now, you see? It’s okay, because you’re here.”
Rodney smiles, nods, and draws John in for a kiss, determined to show John what he’s been missing all these years.
John Sheppard isn’t your average guy. He’s beautiful, intelligent, kind – Rodney can’t understand why Alexis would want to lie to him, to make him miserable, this wonderful man. He's propped on his elbow in bed, watching John sleep. Peaceful and relaxed (at last), John looks younger than his thirty-six years. Rodney reaches out his hand and traces John’s cheek gently; watching him smile in his sleep and turn into Rodney’s touch.
“Hmm, hello,” he murmurs, lifting his hand and running it down Rodney’s arm, soothing him. They’ve been sharing a bed on and off for a little over two months, and already John is familiar with Rodney’s middle of the night anxiety attacks. “You okay?” he whispers, eyes still closed, obviously trying to hang on to sleep.
“I’m fine,” Rodney whispers back. “You’re still here,” he adds, as he settles down and curls himself around John – he’d genuinely expected John to disappear at some point in the middle of the night. Instead, he can bury his face against John’s chest, smiling to himself, content. He tickles his fingers over John’s ribs, feels John smile against his hair, and then strokes his hand over John’s back.
“Ow,” John whispers suddenly, flinching away from him.
“What?” Rodney asked, tightening his grip.
John turns, hiding his face in the pillow, and that, more than anything else, makes Rodney sit up and look at him.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, frowning down at the miserable shape huddled under the sheets.
“Nothing,” John answers, after a moment of silence. “I just pulled a muscle the other day. Here, come here,” he says, reaching for Rodney again, curling their bodies together and trying to soothe Rodney into silence.
It takes hours for Rodney to settle, laying stiffly in John’s arms, remembering hidden pains, screams, and the thud of fist against flesh.
It isn’t until the morning, when John is getting dressed, that Rodney notices the perfect, fist-sized bruise over John’s left kidney. The sight of it makes Rodney feel a little sick, and he has to look away and hold his breath for a moment, even though John pulls his sweater down quickly and doesn’t even notice he saw.
When John goes home, to sort some things out, Rodney spends the rest of the day confused and on edge, remembering how John hit Rodney that time, what the cops said about his temper, remembering what John said about hitting Alexis… wondering if it’s happened again, if John’s done it more times than he’s admitted.
When Rodney’s cell phone rings that evening, he doesn’t answer
It's three weeks (nearly Christmas) and innumerable unanswered phone calls before Rodney sees John again. He bumps into him, in the very same coffee shop he met him in, and he feels faint at the sight. John’s lost weight – his hair is too long and looks unwashed, his handsome face is covered in a good week’s worth of stubble, and marred by an ugly, familiar looking bruise across his cheek and eye.
“Hi,” John mutters, huddled in a thick coat that looks far too big, clutching a takeout coffee cup to his chest, and looking spooked.
“Hello,” Rodney manages, his voice sounding thick and terrified. “I… I’m sorry, I didn’t…”
“No,” John smiles, and it’s sad, his eyes look a different colour – less green, greyer, like the miserable December sky. “No, it’s my fault.”
“Don’t be silly,” Rodney tells him quickly, feeling his heart skip a little at the thought that maybe he was wrong, maybe whatever they’d had could be rescued, fixed. “I was just… confused, worried. It’s just; there are things, things in my past that you don’t…that I can’t…”
John lifts his hand, obviously intending to place it on Rodney’s arm, but Rodney flinches so hard that his arm shoots out and knocks John’s coffee all over both of them. “Don’t,” Rodney shouts, his voice strangled – not even noticing the coffee seeping into his pants.
“I don’t understand,” John says, looking concerned, and frightened. Rodney can’t believe the way this handsome man seems to have just shrunk away into someone who looks so… scared.
Rodney doesn’t get the chance to answer before they’re interrupted by a talk blond kid walking up behind John – Jacob. Rodney stares, he doesn’t hear John speaking to him, he’s staring at the way Jacob’s nose is swollen, obviously broken.
“Oh God,” he breathes.
“Rodney,” John’s saying, even as he’s placing his coffee cup down and trying to catch hold of Rodney’s arm, even as Rodney backs off. “Look,” he’s saying, but Rodney isn’t listening, he can’t hear him – just the rush of his own thoughts. He’d been right. John lied. John had been playing him all along. Rodney let his guard down, Rodney fell in love – and now his heart was breaking.
He knocks a newspaper stand over on his way out, and when he glances back, a woman with dark hair has joined John and Jacob, two little girls trailing behind her.
Rodney receives a package on Christmas Day, a FedEx packet containing one ticket to the Rose Bowl. Despite wanting to tear it into small pieces and burn it, Rodney pins it to the notice board in his kitchen and spends the rest of the day staring at it.
Rodney hears nothing else until the 28th of December, when he’s woken at 1am by the ‘phone ringing.
It’s the hospital
John isn’t really aware of much after the police arrive. Once the blows stop, and he realises he doesn’t have to protect himself anymore, he goes lax, trying to keep breathing evenly in the hope that it’ll help the pain. It doesn’t, and he drifts on the way to the hospital, unable to keep it together any longer.
When Rodney races into the emergency room and sees John’s battered body, he gasps. John’s face is swollen and bloody, his eye is black and his lip is split. He looks miserable and in pain, and is obviously confused by what is apparently a mild concussion – the stitches in his scalp make Rodney think it’s more serious than the doctors are letting on.
“You came,” John murmurs, and his speech is slurred.
Rodney just nods; there was never any question.
“What have you done to yourself?” he whispers, sliding into the seat at John’s bedside, lifting his hand and squeezing it gently. John closes his eyes and moans a little – his fingers are swollen too.
“Not me,” John mumbles, quietly. “It was her. Alex. She did this…”
“I know,” Rodney whispers. “I know, I’m so sorry,” he whispers. The police had told him everything.
John nods, winces a little, and opens his eyes to look at Rodney. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you – that I let you get the wrong impression. Jake, he broke his nose playing football…”
“I know,” Rodney whispers again, feeling sick to his stomach that he had assumed John would hit his son. Whatever Alexis had lied about, Jake wasn’t to blame, and Rodney hated himself for imagining John would hurt his child. John wasn’t McKay senior – Rodney had muttered that to himself over and over again on the way to the hospital. John was not McKay senior; Rodney had let past experiences cloud his opinions, his interpretations.
“It was wonderful; being with you, spending time with you… just pretending none of it was happening for a while. I’m sorry,” John mutters, and Rodney has to drop his head, kiss the corner of John’s mouth.
“I should have noticed. I should have said something…” he breathes against John’s temple.
“Things got better for a little while…” John interrupts, as if he hasn’t heard Rodney at all. "Tonight, I gave her the papers, I told her about you. She was suspicious, after the other week at the coffee shop. But I told her, I told her I love you… that I still want the divorce, and she did… this.”
“Oh,” Rodney murmurs, staring.
“Jake called 911; the police pulled Alex off me…” John’s staring at the ceiling now, it doesn’t look like he’s seeing anything but memories. “She… they’ve got my medical notes. Before, when I got arrested, I was covered in bruises: she’s going to be charged. There’s history there, Rodney.” He turns his head and looks at Rodney again, finally – they're the grey colour again. Rodney wants to see the green.
“I can see that now,” Rodney whispers, lifting his hand and stroking John’s face gently. John turns his head and kisses Rodney's palm. “You really want me to be your next of kin?” Rodney asks, leaning down and kissing his forehead – it seems to be the only bit of unmarred skin.
“If you’ll have me,” John answers, a smile tugging at his lips. “If you’ll have me.”
On the first of January, Rodney’s sitting in his seat at the Rose Bowl, alone. John never turned up for the parade, but Rodney has been nursing a vague hope that he’ll make it for the game.
That hope is slowly dying.
He doesn’t really know why he believed John when he said it was love – why he let himself fall like that, again.
When the game starts, Rodney gives in and orders a beer. He drops his wallet, fumbling a twenty out with numb fingers, and when he looks up, John is standing in front of him. His face is still battered, there are stitches on his cheek and a bandage taped above one eye, but he’s smiling and holding two beers.
“Hey…” he says, looking nervous – so very unlike John Sheppard.
“Hello,” Rodney answers, not able to move, let alone stand up. “I, uh, didn’t think you were coming…”
“I wasn’t going to, but I wanted to see you.”
“Yeah?” Rodney asks, before there’s a shout from behind them and John slips into his seat, handing Rodney a beer – it’s warm and tastes like horse piss, but Rodney swallows half of it before he can bear to look at John again.
“Yeah,” John whispers in his ear and smiles as he squeezes Rodney’s knee. “How’s the game?” he asks, settling back into his seat.
“Good,” Rodney tells him, grinning. “Really good.”