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The first email comes a month after, an unexpected surprise in the weekly databurst.

 

Hi John,

I thought about beginning this email ‘Dear John,’ but that doesn’t really set the right tone, does it?

I just wanted to write and say thank you again. For being a gracious host and for showing me the video. You probably already know, but Mer and I have been emailing each other. It’s been nice to reconnect. Mer is still his infuriating, stubborn self, but these last few years have changed him too. It’s good to get to know my brother again. 

I don’t think we would have gotten here without you. 

Look out for my big brother.

Best,

Jeannie

 

John types a quick response back, something friendly and perfunctory and puts Jeannie Miller out of his mind. There are wraith and Genii and trade agreements to worry about, and Jeannie is just being polite, he thinks. 

Then, over a month later, the second email arrives, more unexpected and baffling than the first.

 

Hi John,

Hope you’re doing alright and coping with whatever this week’s crisis might be. Obviously Mer doesn’t give away any specifics in his emails, but I know things have been crazy for you guys (understatement!).

Mer mentioned that you like golf and that you’ve got a head for math (ok, his words were ‘surprisingly not incompetent’), and I saw this article in the Journal of Everyday Physics and thought you might be interested. It’s about the calculus behind Tiger Woods’ win at the PGA. Some interesting stuff!

Kaleb and I took Maddie to try out minigolf for the first time last month. Predictably, she was about as good as any 4 year old would be, but she had a blast. Guess golf skills don’t run in the McKay or Miller bloodlines.

Hope you enjoy it!

Best,

Jeannie

 

It takes John over a week to reply, and by then he’s missed the cutoff for the next data burst, so the email won’t reach Jeannie for another week after. John enjoys the article, but he isn’t sure what to make of the email or how he’s meant to respond to it. For a fleeting moment, John wonders if maybe McKay was right to be concerned, if maybe Jeannie is flirting with him.

Only John has flirted with enough people in this world, and others, to know that bringing up your husband and child isn’t the way most women try to begin an illicit, inter-galaxy, affair.

So he writes back something innocuous, some of his thoughts on the math in the article, a small anecdote about the time he hid inside the windmill on the putt-putt golf course when he was 6. He curved his body so the balls would sail straight past him; his mother didn’t find him for an hour. 

He makes the story sound funny and light - a childhood caper from a mischievous little boy. He doesn’t say that he had hidden because his father was returning home from a business trip that night.

He rereads his email half a dozen times, making sure it sounds as innocent and friendly as he intends it to be. The last thing John needs is McKay on his ass for flirting with his recently un-estranged, married sister.

Jeannie writes back in time for the next data burst, telling him that Madison has just started preschool and that her favorite activities are naptime and tumbling. John can relate. She also tells him a story about the time Rodney tried to run away from home at age 8, with just a backpack filled with a change of underwear, two sandwiches, some water, a tube of sunscreen, an epi-pen, and a copy of the Silmarillion .

Jeannie was only a baby at the time - this is a second hand retelling - but John wonders if she too is keeping her story funny and light.  

The email exchanges continue, and if John is being honest, it’s nice to have someone on Earth to write to. He doesn’t have any family or friends back home, and he likes having someone remind him of the mundanity of life on Earth. It’s nice to be reminded who he’s saving the galaxy for. 

John shoves the creeping feeling of guilt aside and doesn’t look too deeply at why he feels like he’s doing something wrong. It’s probably the sin of omission more than anything else; he feels weird about hiding this from McKay, but even weirder about the thought of confessing to him that he’s been writing to his sister for months now.

It’s the 8th email that fully convinces John that whatever is happening here, it isn’t romantic. He reads about the stomach bug that Madison has caught from her new classmates, that she then passed on to Jeannie and Kaleb. Jeannie goes into great and lurid detail about a myriad of bodily functions, and John doesn’t know if he will ever look at the Miller family or lentil stew the same way again.

---

Jeannie’s favorite subjects are, in no particular order, math, Madison, recapping Law & Order episodes, the crazy parents in her PTA, and Rodney. She talks about her brother a lot, and John gets the feeling she’s trying to make up for lost time, make sense of their past and future relationship.

She tells him stories about their childhood, mostly about Rodney, but they don’t have the slightly mean, teasing edges that the ones she told on Atlantis did. She talks about how Rodney was 15 when he went to university, how even at 7 she could tell her big brother was scared, how he tried to never show it. She tells John about the time she cried because Danielle Torquin didn’t invite her to her 10th birthday party, how Rodney took her to the ice rink and taught her how to skate instead.

Jeannie writes about her first seizure, how Rodney checked out every book and journal about epilepsy in the local university library. After she was released from the hospital, he took her to the playground every day for a month, sitting on a bench and watching her shriek and run and play, his attention focused entirely on her, undivided. He slept in her room for weeks afterwards, not moving even when their parents tried to take his place. 

Jeannie tells him about the math sets their father used to give them, how he made them race to complete the problems first. It was meant to be a game, she thinks. By the time she was 8, Jeannie was beating Rodney at certain types of calculus, although Rodney always was faster at anything with a practical physics application. 

Jeannie hasn’t taught Madison more than addition and subtraction yet.

John’s favorite subjects are, in a very particular order, sports, aircrafts, 80s action films, and comic books. Unfortunately, Jeannie is primarily a hockey fan, prefers romcoms, and insists that comics were always more Rodney’s thing. They manage a few interesting discussions on the physics behind some new fighter jets the Air Force is testing; John is touched when Jeannie sends him scores and draft picks from his favorite football team.

John mostly writes about life in Atlantis, in a very general, non-classified information sort of way. He tells Jeannie about Teyla training the Marines in banto sticks - he thinks she’ll like knowing that Teyla brought a sergeant to his knees in under 10 seconds. The new recruits don’t call her ‘that alien chick’ anymore. He tries to describe Ronon’s confusion at the Batman films (“But why does he wear that stupid outfit? I thought penguins were Earth animals?”).

He writes about Rodney the most. He thinks Jeannie will enjoy hearing about her brother, hearing about his everyday triumphs; he suspects Rodney mostly writes to Jeannie about his research accomplishments. Sometimes, John is left with the impression that he and Jeannie have two halves of the same puzzle, that they are trying to fit the pieces together to give themselves a more complete picture of Rodney McKay.

 

Jeannie,

Thanks again for the play by play of last week’s game. If I didn’t suspect you were just paraphrasing the sports column in the Tribune, I’d tell you not to go through so much trouble. Although I still think you should give football a try! Lots of physics and logic if you’re paying close enough attention. Use it to teach Maddie math, maybe.

I managed to drag Rodney out of the lab the other day, for a trip off base. We could’ve sent another team, but I don’t think he’d seen the sun for the past 96 hours, and I figured he could use the exercise. He was a big hit with the local kids, and after he stopped bitching about their grubby hands on his equipment, I think he actually had a good time trying to explain to them how it all works. We’ll make a doting uncle out of him yet.

Trip was a success, though Teyla had to do some smoothing over when Rodney managed to insult not only the local mayor, but also his wife and sister (to Rodney’s credit, they were one and the same. Enough said.).

I hope Maddie’s recital goes well - she looks stinking cute in that ballerina outfit.

John

 

Hi John,

The recital was an adorable wreck - none of them could really remember the dance and one of Maddie’s classmates threw up from nerves right at the start. Still, they were all absolutely precious and Maddie only fell down once, so I count that as a success.

On first blush, Mer is sort of terrible with kids, but they always love him anyways. Maddie won’t stop asking when her Uncle Mer is coming back to visit. I think kids know it’s all bluster. It’s a shame adults don’t always get the same message.

Mer was always so patient with me as a kid. He taught me all of the constellations and helped me with geography homework. Sometimes he’d even play pretend with me, when I had a bad day at school, even though he must have been busy with his undergrad research. You know, he even told me in his last email that he wants kids one day. Never tell him I said this, but I actually think he’d make a good dad.

I’ve realized I don’t know much about your family - do you have siblings? Where did you grow up?

Take care of yourself and take care of my brother.

Love,

Jeannie

 

Jeannie does this a lot - asks John about himself. Mostly she just asks about what he does for fun, how work is going, his thoughts on books he's read and movies he’s seen recently. Sometimes she goes for more personal questions. She’s not being overly invasive, and it isn’t her fault that she doesn’t know that John very firmly does not discuss his family. He dodges her questions, revealing just enough without revealing anything, and, to her credit, she never pushes.

She also begins signing off her emails with Love. John doesn’t know what to make of that.

 

Hi John,

You should’ve seen the snow we got here this weekend! The weather station is saying it was at least a meter, and from the amount of shoveling Kaleb and I have been doing, I believe them. 

Crazy Kathy from the PTA tried to insist that the district shouldn’t have called a snow day. I swear that woman lives to suck the joy out of childhood. Thankfully no one ever listens to her anyways, and Maddie had a great time going sledding. We might get her in some skis next year! 

Have you ever been skiing? Or maybe from what Mer says, snowboarding would be more your sport? You’d be welcome to join us next time you’re on leave, if there’s snow. Mer used to be shockingly good at cross country skiing, although I don’t think he’s done it in a decade. Could be fun!

Speaking of my dear brother, as you know his birthday is coming up. I’m already sending a care package in the next shipment, but I wondered if you wanted me to pick up anything for you to give him? I imagine shopping isn’t the easiest where you are.

Let me know!

The weather is really too cold for much else, so I might make a start on digitizing some home movies this week. Play your cards right and you could get to see Meredith in his award-winning Sears Drama Festival performance.

Love, 

Jeannie

 

John actually hadn’t realized Rodney’s birthday was coming up, but then again he’s pretty sure Rodney doesn’t either. Both men spend too much time in Pegasus to pay close attention to an Earth calendar, and besides, Rodney isn’t the type to make a big deal of the day.

Still, John thinks, maybe he should take Jeannie up on the offer. He and Rodney have never really done birthdays, let alone presents, only that isn’t entirely true. Around what John later realized was the Atlantis equivalent of his birthday last year, Rodney had presented him with a 23% increase to the jumpers’ firing range and a 4% speed boost. And later that day, Rodney used his team movie night choice to watch Die Hard, even though John was certain he thought the film was asinine. He figures that’s probably the most McKay birthday gift you could ask for.

 

Jeannie,

Not much of a snowboarder, I’m afraid. Surfing is more my thing.

Thanks for the offer - it would be great if you could send a gift. I’ll make sure to transfer you some money next time we’re back. Seems like my credit card is expired. I have an idea. I’ve attached what I’m looking for - let me know if you can find it.

Thanks again,

John

 

John pointedly does not mention the winters his family went skiing, or the lodge they still own in Aspen.

---

Rodney is quiet when he unwraps the Complete Works of Tolkien. The volumes are indulgently large, given that they were just transported across galaxies, and John is certain that Rodney already has most of the books in digital format already. But the illustrations are gorgeous, and John thinks that Rodney’s quiet, sentimental side will enjoy the similarities between these books and his own adventures. He’ll never say, but Rodney reminds him a bit of Bilbo, perhaps more competent, but a reluctant hero nonetheless and capable of the most surprising displays of bravery.

Rodney’s eyes widen and a blinding grin stretches across his face. 

“Where did you- how did you even know?” he asks.

John just shrugs.

 

Jeannie,

The gift went down great - thanks again. Rodney also loved your present, although I’m worried that the scientists might stage a coup when they realize he has his own secret coffee stash. 

Thanks for throwing in some swedish fish for me. It’s just about the only candy I like that Rodney won’t immediately steal. 

Good luck with the bake sale this week - I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your cookies outsell Kathy’s brownies. Say hi to Kaleb and Maddie for me.

John

---

John’s luck runs out on what he thinks is a Thursday, the day after their most recent databurst.

They’re in the mess, Rodney rambling on about some new device that he thinks might be the ancient equivalent of a boombox, in between large bites of his not-turkey sandwich. John, Teyla, and Ronon are nodding along, Teyla and John making polite sounds of agreement, in the midst of what is essentially a McKay monologue.

“We really should start a central music library here. We have one for movies and tv and books already. And no, I’m not looking for your entire Johnny Cash collection, Colonel, I was thinking more along the lines of some refined classical music, maybe some Brahms or Rachmaninoff. Oh! I just got Jeannie’s latest email. She’s enrolled Madison in piano lessons. If she has an ounce of the talent I had at her age… of course my piano teacher said I have no-”

“Yeah, I heard. I bet Maddie will be a natural,” John interrupts, hoping to stave off another diatribe on Rodney’s music career that wasn’t. It’s a story that makes him unsettlingly angry, and he doesn’t think it’s just because he’s heard Rodney tell it two dozen times.

Rodney narrows his eyes. Shit, John thinks.

“You heard? Just where would you have heard that my niece is taking piano lessons. Jeannie just told me in her last email.”

John knows for a fact that Madison has been in piano classes for a few months now. He thinks Jeannie has put off telling Rodney, because it’s still a sore point.

“Uhhh…” John wills his brain to work, wills his mouth to speak or at least stop making the dumb wheeze it seems to be making now. “You must have told me yesterday.”

“I didn’t see you yesterday. I was out running jumper diagnostics all day.”

“Well... Jeannie and I might have exchanged a few emails.”

“You what?!” Mckay’s voice has gone up an octave and John thinks he really underestimated how poorly this conversation would go.

“Emails, McKay. You know, they’re not just for research or bitching out your minions. I hear sometimes people use them to just chat.”

“Just chat- what on- I can’t believe this! I really can’t. As if you Kirking your way across this galaxy isn’t enough, now you have to have my sister too? She’s married, Sheppard! You’re doing this to torture me.”

“I do not understand what the problem is. John is exchanging messages with Jeannie?” Teyla’s even voice breaks in, attempting to head Rodney off before he goes completely on the warpath. Ronon just looks on in amusement. When they’re not running for their lives, John is pretty sure Ronon actually enjoys watching him and McKay fight.

“The problem,” McKay spits, “is that Sheppard has apparently been flirting with my baby sister from across the galaxy!”

“We’re not flirting, McKay.” John keeps his voice low, even, but with a slight edge. It’s the same voice he uses with angry locals who like to whip out their bows and arrows every time someone comes through the Stargate. “We just keep in touch. It’s friendly.”

“And why, pray tell, is my sister ‘keeping in touch’ with you? She’s not emailing Teyla, is she?”

It’s a good question, one that John has mostly put out of his mind, but it still niggles.

“I am afraid I have not had any correspondence from Jeannie.” Teyla sounds truly sorry about this, although John is certain it has more to do with the fight and less to do with her fondness for McKay’s sister.

“Oh for god’s sake, Rodney. We mostly talk about you! She likes to know how you’re doing!”

The words come out before John can stop them, and he knows he’s said the wrong thing. He hasn’t forgotten how hurt Rodney was by Jeannie and the team talking about him before, and he still feels a flash in his gut, hot shame for laughing at stories of Rodney’s childhood bullying. He knows McKay assumes the worst, that Jeannie and John are laughing about him behind his back. It burns knowing how justified that assumption is. He can’t find the words to explain that they aren’t - that there’s been some fundamental shift in the way they relate to Rodney through each other.

“Great. That’s just great.” Rodney’s mouth thins to a slash across his face, his expression shut down. “As much as I know you love to make fun of me, which, if I was a soft scientist, I might speculate has more to do with your jealousy over my intellect and less to do with my own personal failings, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that you refrain from doing so with my sister!”

McKay turns to leave, slamming his tray down at the bussing station. John can’t help but feel guilty, even though he is certain he’s done nothing wrong, not really, this time. The reproachful looks from Teyla, and even Ronon, do not help.

 

Jeannie,

Things are really busy here, and I don’t think I’ll have time to write much for a while. No need to worry, there’s no major emergencies, at least no more than usual. Just busy.

John

 

John feels like an asshole, knows he owes Jeannie more of an explanation, but he doesn’t know how to explain without making McKay sound like a paranoid jerk. Which he is, but also that’s not quite fair. He just can’t bear the thought of Jeannie being mad at Rodney on his behalf.

She doesn’t write back, and John wonders if Rodney has gone off on her too. He doesn’t ask. After one short, stuttered conversation in which John agrees to never email Jeannie again, they mostly slip back into their normal routine - team nights, drawn out chess tournaments, snarking on missions. If Rodney seems a bit more walled off, a bit pricklier, well John hopes it will pass, the next looming crisis restoring things to their natural balance.

--- 

It turns out the next looming crisis is a group of 10,000 year old Ancients reclaiming Atlantis. Within 48 hours, John is back on Earth, wondering when it stopped feeling like home.

When McKay comes to his quarters two months later, John has largely forgotten about the fight about Jeannie. They’ve defeated the replicators, retaken the city and John has gotten away with disobeying a direct order without so much as a black mark on his record. Life could be worse. 

So when McKay comes barging in on a quiet Tuesday-ish evening, John assumes he has gotten his days confused again.

“Rodney. Movie night’s tomorrow.”

McKay looks tentative, sheepish. John has seen this look before, after Project Arcturus, and for a wild moment John assumes McKay has finally managed to blow up 6/6ths of a solar system.

“I know. Can I come in? I just wanted to talk to you.” 

John and Rodney don’t talk. Sure, John thinks, they bicker, they snipe, they yell, they joke. But they don’t just talk. He feels a little sick.

“I saw Jeannie when we were back on Earth,” Rodney starts, and for a temporary moment, John is confused. 

“Ok… and? Everything alright?”

“Hm? Oh yes, yes, fine. Madison is waging a war of hearts and minds to convince them to get a dog and Kaleb has started to make his own tempeh, but yes they’re all fine. Jeannie and I spoke and I guess I owe you an apology.” Everything clicks.

“What, you finally believe I wasn’t trying to get in your sister’s pants from two galaxies away?” John’s sarcasm is almost rote at this point - he isn’t even that mad about it anymore. It’s hard to stay mad at someone who willingly joins you on a suicide mission to rescue the city you love.

Rodney rolls his eyes.    

“It seems there may have been a misunderstanding…”

“I don’t think I misunderstood anything, Rodney. She was just being friendly,” John says.

“Ah ah ah,” Rodney is snapping his fingers, eyes sparkling with delight, an expression usually reserved for some sort of scientific reveal. 

“Not on your part, on Jeannie’s. She made some… assumptions… about our relationship, and well that’s not to say that I wasn’t flattered… but really it was all a bit ridiculous… and anyways she’s terribly embarrassed.” Rodney looks triumphant, like he can’t believe his good fortune of being on the other side of someone else’s social mishap, let alone his sister’s - the same sister who supposedly got all the ‘people genes’ in the family.

“Explain, Rodney. Full sentences would be nice,” John growls.

“Oh that’s rich coming from you Colonel Caveman.” John gestures his hands, trying to move Rodney along. “Well you see it’s like this. Jeannie thought we were dating; she was just trying to get to know her future brother-in-law.” 

McKay is smug and John is certain he is standing there like the slack jawed yokels Rodney is always complaining about. Of all of the reasons he would have thought Jeannie was emailing him, well this one never even crossed his mind.

“She thought we were dating?” John’s voice is strangled, his palms damp.

“According to her, she got a vibe, ” Rodney practically spits, “while she was here. And apparently I talk about you more than anyone else in my emails. Which is ridiculous, because I also talk about Teyla and Ronon and Zelenka and Carson and Elizabeth, but I obviously can’t write about a lot of our work and missions and you and I are friends and we spend a lot of time together. So obviously I would have more things to say about you. And, uh, apparently, you talk about me too.”

“I thought she wanted to hear about her brother! Why didn’t she say anything?”

“Jeannie may not be quite as brilliant as me, but she isn’t stupid. She knows all of our emails are cleared by SGC - she was protecting you.”

“I can’t believe she thought we were dating,” John groans. The thought is just so outlandish, so unbelievable, his brain can’t quite seem to process full thoughts. He gets about as far as someone thinking he and Dr. M. Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD are in a serious relationship and his thoughts short circuit, bringing him back to the beginning.

“Yes, well I cleared things up there. She was really very rude about it, said she should have realized you were out of my league. According to Jeannie, you were the hottest person I’d ever dated.”

John’s brain finally starts catching up with the conversation, filling in the unspoken gaps, questions forming before he can stop them.

“Wait a minute. Why did Jeannie think you’d be dating a man?” John isn’t supposed to ask, he knows, only Rodney isn’t military, isn’t even American, and actually he can ask anything he wants.

Rodney shrugs, his smug outrage replaced by awkwardness.

“Because I have before. That’s not going to be a problem is it? I know the American military has some truly backward, puritanical ideas about its involvement with its members' private lives, but I have to say, I never pegged you for a bigot, Colonel. Don’t worry, I assured Jeannie that you are a 100%, pure-blooded, heterosexual male.”

“Oh-” John falters. “That’s fine. I mean, you being gay and all. It’s fine. With me.”

“Not gay, Sheppard, bisexual. We do exist.” Rodney is eyeing John warily, arms crossed in front of himself, posture hunched. It’s defensive and John wonders how many times he has had this conversation, how many times he has come out, only to shove himself right back into the closet. Rodney only ever talks about women, his galaxy-wide crush on Samantha Carter is a fundamental fact of the Stargate Program. Now John wonders if he hasn’t been misdirecting them all for years.

“I’m… er… not.” John doesn’t know what he’s doing, why he’s doing it. It’s fine, he can ask Rodney, but he certainly isn’t supposed to be telling him.

“What, Sheppard? Bi? I know, I told Jeannie.” Rodney sounds exasperated now, John can feel the frustration layered over each breath of words. He thinks it’s probably as good of a defense as any.

“Um no. 100% heterosexual. That is.” John has never had this conversation, not once. Not with his Freshman year lab partner, or his neighbor at the Academy, or the men in bars on shore leave, or any of the handful of fellow officers he’s had in quiet, hurried corners. He doesn’t know why he’s saying it now, except that he needs Rodney to understand, needs him to feel safe, needs him to know that John is not one of the bullies who made him eat lunch with his underwear on his head.

“Oh… well then.” Rodney’s arms drop, and for a panicked moment, John worries he’s about to try to hug him. But Rodney stays rooted in place, and the silence settles between them, not quite comfortable, but no longer as tense.

After a minute that seems to last 500 seconds, Rodney gestures, flailing his hand in a way that centers John, brings him back to his body.

“I- uh- I should go. But um… good talk. And, John? Feel free to email Jeannie again. She likes hearing from you. She says you don’t complain about her PTA stories.”  

---

John had meant to write Jeannie, he really had, only he just couldn’t find the words to start.

 

Jeannie,

Hope it’s ok for me to email, even though I’m not sleeping with your brother.

 

Jeannie,

You know what they say... when you assume… Hope you haven’t already told Maddie to call me Uncle John.

 

Jeannie,

I know Rodney told you I was straight, but that’s not, strictly speaking, true.

 

So John doesn’t write, but he isn’t too surprised when an email from Jeannie pops up in his inbox, a couple of weeks later.

 

Hi John,

I hope you’re doing ok and are settling back in ok.

Mer explained everything - I really can’t apologize enough. Can I claim temporary insanity? There was, after all, quite a lot going on when I last visited. Obviously I made some bad assumptions, which really, looking back, were so ridiculous I don’t know why I ever believed them. I guess I just thought the pressure of your jobs and all?

I hope you aren’t too offended and I hope we can still keep in touch, even if you might not be joining us on the next family ski trip. Although you would definitely still be welcome!

I just like writing to you, and hearing about your life there. It’s good to know someone is keeping an eye on Mer - I am glad he has such good friends

Look after yourself and write back, if you’d like.

Best,

Jeannie

PS - We took Maddie to a local football game last month and she loved it. Well I think she mostly loved the soda and popcorn we bought in the stands, and maybe the cheerleaders, but she wants to join a kids flag football team now. I thought you might enjoy knowing that.

 

Jeannie,

It’s nice to hear from you. Rodney explained everything - no harm, no foul. 

I told you Maddie would like football! I bet she’d be great on a team too - all that ballet practice should give her a bit of grace when it comes to dodging tackles. Or flag stealing, I guess. 

Life here is getting back to normal. We’ve been introducing Teyla and Ronon to Star Trek, although as you may expect, they have some problems with the way things are depicted there. At least now they get all of Rodney’s Captain Kirk jokes. Rodney thought we should have started them on The Next Generation, but I still think the original series was the way to go. Teyla’s quite fond of Uhura, although she isn’t too happy about all the other female characters.

Say hi to Kaleb and Maddie for me, and if Maddie needs any football pointers, let me know.

John

 

John rereads his email a few times, adding and subtracting references to Rodney until it feels just right. It’s ridiculous, because they’ve already set the record straight, literally, but he doesn’t want to talk about Rodney too much. Still, he thinks too little will also be suspicious - why wouldn’t he talk about her brother?

Jeannie is also slightly less forthcoming, at first. She writes mostly about Kaleb and Maddie, tells John about Kaleb’s mishaps with freshman English students and Maddie’s attempts to capture the tooth fairy. She tells fewer stories about her childhood. John isn’t sure if she is avoiding the subject of her brother, or if they have found themselves on less intimate footing these days.

Then, one Wednesday, tucked in amongst various personnel requests, policy briefs and mission reports from the SGC, John receives an email from Jeannie.

 

Hi John,

It’s just after 3am here - I’ve been dealing with some insomnia recently. Kaleb thinks it’s anxiety about Maddie starting kindergarten in the fall. It’s still months away, but we just confirmed her spot at the school and it all feels so real now. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself when she goes. I’ve been thinking about having another baby, ever since we met Rod, but I always told myself I would finish my PhD when Maddie started school. I want to be a good role model. But I also want her to understand her mother can be a good role model staying at home and raising a family. Loving Maddie has been the easiest and hardest thing I have ever done, and every day I am certain I am screwing her up more and more.

Anyways, it’s 3am, and I’m trying to keep my mind off of my impending panic attack and midlife crisis. I’ve been going through some more old home videos, and I just found this one. I don’t think Mer would want to see it, but I just had to share it with someone else who might understand. Just look at his face at the end.

Take care of yourself and take care of my brother.

Love, 

Jeannie

 

Before he can stop himself, John opens the video. It’s grainy, and starts with a pan of what looks like a school auditorium. There’s a lot of shaggy, feathered hair, and way too much denim. On the stage, there’s one lone piano and a small boy sits at it.

The camera zooms in, and John’s breath catches. The boy is slight, with curling blond hair, but there’s no mistaking those slanted lips, that broad nose, those blue eyes, dulled by 1970s quality film. The audience applauds, and John pauses the film, taking in his surroundings. He is in his office, for once, the door open. Lorne is outside at his desk, also checking his emails, oblivious to the contents of John’s computer screen.

On instinct, John thinks the door shut. This feels private, intimate, a secret he should not be privy to. He feels guilty watching this; he knows Rodney would hate that John has seen this, but it isn’t enough to stop him now that he’s started.

He presses play.

Rodney begins, tentatively, his fingers lightly stroking the keys. John doesn’t know much about classical music, he doesn’t recognize the piece, although it isn’t wholly unfamiliar either. It strikes him as the sort of thing he might have heard at one of his father’s fancy dinner parties growing up.

John may be more of a Merle Haggard than Mozart kind of guy, but even he can tell that Rodney is talented. The piece seems difficult, but Rodney’s slight fingers are racing across keys, and he’s hitting every note. He can admit that Rodney doesn’t seem to be channeling much passion into the piece - his brow is furrowed in concentration, a look John has seen on his face a dozen times this week alone, and his playing is precise, surgical. But if John closes his eyes, he hears plenty of feeling in the music, sweeping highs, and quiet, soft interludes.

The piece draws to a close, and the crowd claps again, mostly polite and restrained, although he can hear a shrieking little girl yell “Go Meredith!” next to the camera. He remembers Jeannie’s message and pays close attention, as the video zooms into Rodney on stage. He’s still sat at the piano, unmoving, even as the applause stutters to a halt. But his face, god, his face, John thinks. There’s such unabashed joy. His smile is wide and toothy and his eyes are shining. John is certain he has never seen Rodney this happy, not in three years of friendship, not even when Rodney’s been cradling a ZPM like a newborn. 

On screen, Rodney closes his eyes for a brief moment, and it might just be a bit of static, a speck of dust on an old Betamax tape, but John swears he sees a tear run down Rodney’s face.

---

After that, John sees Rodney in four dimensions.

When Rodney berates the new kitchen staff for not properly labelling the allergens in the vinaigrette, John sees 9 year old Rodney, gasping for air, in anaphylactic shock after Miles Henderson slipped orange juice into his punch at a school fair.

When Rodney tries to chat up the chief scientist on MP-625, fumbling through compliments on her hair and insults on her math, John sees 16 year old Rodney, too mature and smart for the classmates he left behind in high school, far too young and emotionally stunted for his fellow college students.

When Rodney gloats that his calculations were right where Zelenka’s were wrong, John sees 14 year old Rodney desperately competing with his baby sister for his father’s regard, brain whipping through equations, the joys of math stripped bare.

John can’t stop seeing it.

On P7-216, Ronon is shot at by Tirran soldiers, angry that Rodney refused to help with the chemical weapons they intended to use on neighboring Birne. Ronon still manages to manhandle McKay through the gate, sustaining a bullet to the shoulder and a concussion from one particularly scrappy soldier, who hit him with the butt of his rifle. 

When the team comes to visit Ronon in the infirmary, Rodney berates him for his stupid bravery, claims he had everything under control, and calls Ronon a brain-dead caveman. John returns later in the evening to find Rodney slumped in the chair next to Ronon’s bed, head bent at an impossible angle, snoring lightly.

All John can see is 13 year old Rodney, sleeping on the floor of Jeannie’s bedroom, trying his hardest to keep his little sister safe and well. 

---

It’s team movie nights that last too long, just John and Rodney left guffawing at Adam West’s Batman at 2am, long after Teyla and Ronon have gone to sleep. It’s chess games and video games and weird, overly competitive contests over who can stack the most pudding cups in the mess. It’s test-flying the puddle jumpers and exploring new bits of the city in their never-ending quest to find an ancient equivalent of a video arcade. It’s breakfast, dinner and lunch and sometimes elevensies and shared and swapped MREs on damp planets that remind John of Vancouver.

Before John can even stop to think about it, Rodney is in every crevice of his life, his huffs, his laughs, even his sneezes, as much a part of John’s soundscape as the beating of his own heart.

So he shouldn’t be surprised, but because this is John, he still is, when Rodney turns to him and says, “You know, as much as it pains me to say it, maybe Jeannie was right.”

“About what?” John asks.

“About us.”

It’s not that late by Atlantis standards, just past 23:00, but the lab is empty save Rodney and John.

John looks up from the golf simulator they’ve been playing and widens his eyes.

“Just hear me out. We spend all of our time together, we eat our meals together, we give each other gifts. We’ve been each other’s medical proxies since the second month on Atlantis. I lend you my Doctor Who DVDs. I don’t lend anyone my Doctor Who DVDs. Jeannie was right - for all intents and purposes, you and I are a couple. We’ve basically been dating for 3 years now.”

“Buddy, I think you’re forgetting a key part of relationships. You know, the-” John gestures with his hands, raises his eyebrows, but Rodney just stares blankly back.

“What- the sex?” 

John snorts.

“I was going to say the romance, but sure, that works too.”

“I fixed the Orion for you! Don’t tell me you aren’t romanced by big weapons and things that go boom.”

“And we lost the Orion in battle pretty much immediately after. I didn’t even get to really pilot it!”

“Well that’s hardly my fault-”

“I don’t really think fixing a warship that saved our hides and protected the rest of the expedition really counts, McKay.”

Rodney fixes him with a stubborn glare.

“Fine. How about the time I faced down that lone wraith and shot him point blank.” Rodney’s voice was raised, his fingers ticking off as he spoke. “Or when I got hopped up on wraith enzyme to save you from Ford! Or when I walked into a cave filled with iratus bugs to try to stop you from going full Gregor Samsa! I’m not you, John, I don’t just throw myself in harm’s way for anyone. I’m not brave like that.”

Rodney stares at John defiantly. 

“Don’t say that. You are. I know you are” John’s voice is quiet, intent. 

“And that’s another thing. You believe in me, John. You believe in me in a way no one else has. You trust me, even when I don’t deserve it. I can’t describe it - it’s just. It’s just when you look at me, I feel like you’re really seeing me, you know.” Rodney’s eyes are wide, searching and bare.

And the thing is, John does know. He knows in every pore, deep in every scar, in his shattered and mended bones, that he sees more of Rodney than anyone else in Atlantis, maybe anyone else in the Milky Way. Years of observing, rounded out by bits and scraps hoarded from Jeannie have given John insight into Rodney’s mind and soul that he thinks Rodney probably doesn’t even have.

Rodney can’t help but fill the silence that drags on.

“And after both of us came out in perhaps the most spectacularly emotionally stunted way possible, well I just kept thinking why not. I mean it’s brilliant! We both actually like spending time together, we’re both attracted to men, I’m definitely attracted to you, and I know you look at my ass when I bend over to fix things, don’t pretend you don’t, so I can assume you find at least some parts of me alluring… So,” Rodney pauses, and looks at John, expectant and as brave as he has ever been, “what do you think?”

John really hasn’t given it much thought, only that’s a bald-faced lie he tells himself to help him work and sleep and hang out with Rodney without losing his damned mind. 

Because really, John thinks about Rodney all the time. He watches him, he writes to Jeannie about him. He takes the blue jello in the mess, even though red is his favorite. He reads books on chess strategy, just to see the annoyed crinkle between Rodney’s eyebrows when John drawls “checkmate”. John has had a crush since Rodney asked him to push him off a balcony and he’s had a full blown infatuation since Jeannie began writing. 

And suddenly, John is done thinking, done watching and writing and listening. 

Rodney’s lips are chapped, but just a little moist under his own, and so so good. John anchors himself, feeling firm biceps under his hands, the drag of stubble against his chin. And then Rodney’s hands are in his hair and his mouth is opening under John’s and all of John’s focus narrows to the warm heat of Rodney’s tongue in his mouth, surprisingly tentative and delicate, but just as sharp and clever as John imagined it might be.

With a groan, John pulls away, his breath heavy. 

“Maybe your sister is the smart one.” And before Rodney can even begin to protest, John pulls him right back in, absorbing his complaints and diatribes in the press of his lips.

---

Jeannie,

Please tell Maddie thank you for the 4th of July card. Rodney nearly had a stroke when he saw it, accused me of brainwashing your daughter with American nationalism, and called me a fascist. It’s up on my desk - Rodney rants for about 5 minutes every time he sees it. 

Everything is going well here, although we did recently visit a village with Rodney’s face plastered all over it… long story. I’ve attached a couple photos of some of the more flattering paintings. It certainly hasn’t helped his ego.

I know Rodney has already written, but I also wanted to just say thank you. We wouldn’t have gotten to where we are without you. And yes, you were right and we were wrong. 

I’ve convinced Elizabeth that Rodney and I are both due some leave over the holidays this year… I was thinking I could take you up on your ski trip offer? I never said, but I’m actually ok on skis. My family used to go a lot when I was younger. It would be nice to see you and Maddie and Kaleb.

Say hi to them from me, and wish Maddie luck with her first football practice.

Love,

John