Summary: Reconciled with Rodney after Doranda, John dreams of things past, present, and to come. All centered text is from Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself'. ~6000 words
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Title, Author and link to Original Story: A Non-Denominational Holiday Mission Report by smittywing.
A/N: Thanks to dogeared and siriaeve for marvelous beta duties!
Extoller of armies and those that sleep in each others' arms.
There are arms around him. Some portion of his mind holds fast to the fact; to the welcome dip of the mattress beneath his and Rodney's weight; to the solace of touch after months of misunderstanding, separation, silence, and drift.
Anchored by relief, some part of him flies.
It's been months since his dreams have felt this weightless – transparent as glass, salt-spray light. Doranda – destruction, a solar system turned to ash by Rodney's arrogance (I can compensate, just give me a minute) his own blind trust (it's the Ancients' calculations that were wrong, not his) – turned in dreams to ash beneath his feet, ground down into dirt by careless footsteps, heavy as lead, clinging to his boots.
But now he soars, forgiveness extended, the clumsy acts of recent hours (Rodney's voice, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry; his own words whispered into a kiss; why, why, what are you even talking about?) etched on his skin in bruises and sweat (did you bring me a present?; the look of surprise on Rodney's face as he came; it is Christmas, after all; the thud of his own heart in his ears).
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.
"Mmmmph," John murmurs, burrowing further under his covers. The pillowcase beneath his cheek has yellow and red airplanes printed onto the fabric, swooping between clusters of buoyant white clouds.
He whimpers unhappily and opens one eye, blinks at his mother as she brushes his unruly hair back from his forehead.
"G'morning, sleepyhead," she smiles. "It's Christmas."
"C'ismass?" he repeats, rubbing his eye with a balled up hand.
She nods conspiratorially. "Maybe Santa Claus came," she whispers.
He pulls in a breath, waking up a little more. "P'sents!" He fumbles into a sitting position, throwing back his blankets. "Is'er p'sents?" He grabs for his stuffed monkey, the dilapidated, much-loved companion of his three whole years.
"Why don't we go see?" his mom asks, grinning, holding out her hand as John slides to his feet.
John takes it and pads beside her, Monkey tucked firmly under his arm.
He likes this house – it's bigger than the one before, and his room is upstairs, which makes him feel even more grown up than when he got his brand new bed. There are trees outside, and his dad has promised to build him a swing when the snow melts, and they've already gone sledding down really big hills. The stairs have a banister and when John's taller, he'll slide down it, he's thought about it lots, and they have a driveway which means when his legs are longer he can maybe have a bicycle.
They pause at the top of the stairs, and John manages an excited little "oh!" before he starts to scramble down.
The living room is beautiful – there's a tree in the corner, covered in lights, and holly on the mantelpiece, green and red. The stockings that were empty when John went to bed are lumpy now, full of secrets, and there are brightly-wrapped packages all over the floor.
"San'a came, San'a came," John chants, squeezing Monkey with his left hand and the banister railings with his left. "San'a came with p'esents!" He reaches the bottom of the stairs and runs at his father, who scoops him into his arms and lifts him up, blows a raspberry on his belly where his shirt doesn't meet his pants, and laughs when John squeals, grinning at the world from as high as he can get.
"Excited?" his dad asks, settling John on his shoulders. "Tallest boy in the world!"
And John lifts his arms, Monkey in his hand, to show how very tall he can be.
My course runs below the soundings of plummets.
Without his mother, the world seems a paler, less substantial thing, filled with silence and robbed of sense. But he does what she would have done – cuts down a tree, drags it to the house, sets it in the tree-stand and fixes it there despite the hundred tiny pine-needle scratches that mark his arms. The tradition feels empty, a ridiculous thing to pit against the midnight loss he feels, but his mother never let circumstance change things, and now it's his turn, cradling ornaments in his hands, draping garland on the tree.
Despite the length of his bony arms, he can't reach the highest branches. He catches sight of himself in the mantle mirror as he drags a chair across the room – sharp elbows and pointed ears, a shock of hair as unruly as his thoughts, ten years old and tired beyond the words he knows. He picks up the star his mother loved, sets it in place at the tree's very top, jumps from the chair to the floor with a satisfying thud.
There've been far worse Christmas trees – in their breezeblock apartment in central Illinois; in the California townhouse where the roof sprang a leak on December 24th. But as John surveys the crooked, tangled mess of lights, the scattered baubles, the macaroni art, he knows this tree lacks the beauty his mom hoarded somehow in the palms of her hands, the barest touch of her fingertips. He's not sure what you do to make things shine the way she did.
Someone clears their throat in the kitchen doorway. John turns, sees his father watching, eyes too bright.
"Good job," his dad says, words clipped the way they always are these days, then he's passing by to go upstairs.
This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.
John lies on the roof of his aunt's house, listening to the distant murmur of family members doing what family members do at Christmas – drink, fight, whisper, laugh. He doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to lie against aging tiles, still too warm from a day spent under the Nevada sun. It's night now, but the air's still wrong, even with the shiver of cold threaded through each breath of wind. It's night, he's in Nevada, and no one's noticed how long he's been absent from the bedlam below.
There's a scrabble and thump from inside the attic, and a head pops out of the window that's slotted into the roof. "You're a sorry fuck," says a voice, and his cousin's boyfriend climbs out, balancing one foot against the gutter to steady himself before he crawls across the roof and sits down at John's side.
John thinks anyone who'd date his cousin has some balls talking about being sorry, and raises an eyebrow in measured disdain. "What are you doing?"
Darren – no, Dan, that's his name – glances his way. "Why d'you reckon I'd want to spend time with your family when you don't?"
"I don't know, maybe 'cause your girlfriend's down there?" John asks.
Dan snorts. "She's not my girlfriend."
John turns his head, frowns. "She's not?"
"Nah." Dan rummages in the pocket of his varsity sweatshirt, pulls out a pack of cigarettes. "I just needed someplace to be, and we figured no questions if she said I was – you know." He waves a hand, slumps back beside John, brushing an elbow against his side. "Nice view."
John looks back up at the stars sweeping overhead. "Yeah." He doesn't want to talk, and even if he did, his brain's preoccupied with figuring out why anyone would make up a story in order come to one of these Christmases, or pretend to date his cousin, the airhead junior who once liked books and now likes boys. It's also taking some mental effort to ignore the soft, strange heat in his belly that's been bothering him lately – heat that flared again when Dan jammed an elbow into his ribs.
Dan shakes out a cigarette, offers the pack to John. "Want one?"
John snorts softly. "Right."
They fall silent for a while, almost long enough for John to forget Dan's sacked out beside him; long enough to imagine flight, space, stars, speed; being plastered to his seat by thrust and torque, fighting gravity's jealous grasp. He jumps when Dan touches the back of his hand, heart thumping wildly. "Shit," he mutters. "I wasn't expecting – "
"What?" Dan asks, and he's leaning up on one elbow, an unlit cigarette between his lips.
The warmth in John's stomach ratchets up a notch and the parts of his body that are only supposed to be interested in girls start taking notice. John eyes Dan, his dirt-blond hair and brick-red sweatshirt; the feeble, first stubble that grazes the edge of his jaw.
"What?" Dan asks, but doesn't move.
John swallows. His dad'll be furious. It doesn't bear thinking about. He's not – he's not –
"Stop thinking so much," Dan says low, a hint of a challenge in his voice, just enough to make John flush with something close to anger and not pull back when Dan's lips touch his. He gasps and Dan goes still, a hair's breadth from John's waiting mouth, the cigarette gone, and John spares a moment to think they maybe ought to look for it. But then Dan wets his lips and John leans in, curious and clumsy, lacking in finesse despite all the time he spent kissing Megan Gleason last summer, and he hits the corner of Dan's mocking smile, adjusts and knocks their teeth together, growls with annoyance and grabs Dan's arm to steady himself, kiss him right.
When Dan sighs right into his mouth he's gone, gone, lost and utterly, irredeemably fucked.
I see that the elementary laws never apologize
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)
John stills with his backpack still in his hand, front door swinging closed behind him, shutting out December's chill. "Yes, sir?"
"Come in here, please."
Setting down his backpack by the hall table, John ambles to his father's study. "Hi, Dad."
His father looks up. "I called Senator Henderson's office today."
John marshals a pleasant smile to his face. "I hope he's well?"
Jake Sheppard's eyes flash with anger. "He sends his regards for the holidays."
John holds his gaze, doesn't flinch.
"He tells me you haven't made a formal request for his support." Jake waits. "For admission to the Academy," he adds when John says nothing.
"There are nine days left until the deadline for nominations," Jake grits out. "Do you expect the Senator to work on this over his Christmas vacation?"
"Then do you mind explaining what in hell you're thinking?" Jake yells.
John doesn't react. "I've been accepted to MIT. Early action," he says simply.
"MIT?" Jake rounds the desk. "Academy not good enough for you, son?"
"I decided that I'd rather – "
"Or is it just too much work for you?" Jake asks, fury in every syllable. "Just platitude, was it, your wanting to fly?"
"No, sir," John says, shifting his feet a little restlessly, anger starting to lick at his spine. "I just want to go to college first, then go into – "
"So the route I took – that's lacking, hmm?"
John clenches his jaw, stays silent.
"Two generations of airmen before you, five generations of military service, and you think you know better than any of us how to succeed."
"MIT's a better fit for me," John murmurs low. "I can study physics, math, engineering – "
"And what is it that you imagine the Academy does?" Jake asks bitterly. "Teach hop-scotch and cake-baking?"
John grinds his teeth.
"Of course they'd expect you out of bed in a morning," Jake says, pacing a circle around his son. "Demand athletic excellence as well as academic prowess. Expect you to show proper respect to your elders, work long hours, push yourself to your limits." He pauses in front of John. "I can see how that wouldn't appeal."
"Dad – "
Jake shakes his head and his lip curls. "Get out of my sight."
John looks at him, anger churning slick in the pit of his belly. "Sir."
"You'll fuck up MIT, just like you'll fuck up everything else in your life," Jake Sheppard mutters toward his son's back.
John pauses in the doorway and turns his head toward his father. "Like father, like son," he says icily, and walks away.
All these I feel or am.
John sits on the edge of his bunk, the flap to his tent snapping in the evening breeze. He's showered, eaten, sauntered briefly through the rec. tent, walked back and forth between the Post Exchange and the gym. For one surreal moment he'd considered trying to call back home, but then realized he had no one in particular to call. He'd squinted into the sunset for a while, tried to find the beauty that made other people weak at the knees, but all he could think of were the sight-lines it obscured, the blind spots it created, and he scuffed his boots in the sand, turned his steps toward his tent.
There's a photo in his hand – four faces grinning up at him, one his own, hair askew and dirt collected in the laugh lines beside his eyes. Buck's on his left, toasting whomever's behind the camera with a beer; Dex and Mitch are on his right, Dex's head in Mitch's chokehold. Everyone's laughing, tired and wild-eyed, but at least in that moment they're all breathing.
He blinks slowly, looks up toward the tent-flap where Doltzen's slouching, eyebrow raised. "Yeah."
John frowns. "Starting?"
"The – " Doltzen laughs feebly. "Thing. Holiday thing. You know, with the – "
John smiles unconvincingly, just for a second. "Be right there."
Doltzen hesitates. "I heard about Dex. Mitch." He frowns. "Sorry."
"So I'll see you over there?"
"Yeah. Soon as – "
"Sure." Doltzen jerks a thumb over his shoulder. "So I'll just – " And he disappears through the flap, out into the chill of the fast approaching night.
John looks at the photo, thumbs the already tattered top-left corner, and stuffs it into a pocket before he stands.
O suns - O grass of graves - O perpetual transfers and promotions
He remembers thinking Antarctica, hey, total isolation, perfect place to hunker down, serve out a disgrace, get really good at Sudoku if push comes to shove. Forget about Dex and Mitch and Holland. Finish Crime and Punishment. Forget, forget, forget.
Somewhere, he thinks, someone who knows about MacTown at Christmas is laughing at him long and hard.
He likes it out here when he can avoid the hordes. He gets to fly, simple jaunts from A to B, nothing to watch for but petulant weather – no aging Scuds, no RPGs. Snow to the horizon, ice on the runway, and wind that fights him with predictable force – it's a last-resort pleasure to think of nothing but his chopper, to clock his flight-hours and tumble home, tired.
But the Heavy Shop Party isn't something you miss unless you're looking for your CO to raise an eyebrow and swap your flight time for sessions with a shrink, so he tramps to the dining hall, feigns interest in the turkey, slides into a chair at a table with people he almost knows, adopts the persona he's perfected – careful smile, pleasant laugh, meaningless small talk. He's content enough – sufficiently alive to notice the nip of cold at his fingertips when he leaves that night; to stare at the blanket of stars above him and prefer it to an Arlington bunk; to miss people who are never coming back so hard that everything freezes inside as well as out.
Then he's back to himself, burying it deep, and it's only Antarctica, a slab of ice and a job he does, and he's happy with that, God bless us, every one.
Not doubt, not decease shall dare to lay finger upon you,
I have embraced you, and henceforth possess you to myself
John watches as Teyla and Aiden duck into their tent, surrendering to a Christmas Eve spent on a planet millions of miles from where the celebration has meaning, seeking out sleep beneath the shifting boughs of summer-green trees.
Rodney sucks loudly on the web of skin between his forefinger and thumb. "That was much better than what I had to eat last Christmas," he offers, throwing his empty MRE package on the fire.
John lifts an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Pickled fish," Rodney says, looking vaguely pained. "Siberian cuisine's not exactly . . ."
"Ew," John says with feeling.
"Yeah." Rodney sighs, tilting his head back to look at the canopy of leaves above them. "You?"
"Antarctica. Pretty good food. Bunch of people there on Christmas."
John shrugs. "Thousand or so."
"Huh." Rodney stares back at the fire. "Who'd've though that . . ." He trails off, turns his head as John's touches his cheek, presses his face gently into the curve of John's hand. "Um – hi."
John lifts one side of his mouth into a crooked smile. "Hi." He brushes his thumb against Rodney's cheek. "S'Christmas."
"Somewhere, yes, absolutely, not exactly here, but well, I don't suppose that's actually relevant since we can observe the tradition wherever we are, given the right circumstances and. Yes," Rodney manages.
"Should be mistletoe."
"Please," Rodney snorts softly. "Mistletoe's just a ridiculous tradition based upon the principles of – oh . . ."
John's found lots of ways to keep Rodney quiet in the past several months, but this is the best – hesitant lips parting beneath his own, a hand shifting to fist in his jacket, a tilt of his head and a pleased hum as Rodney nudges an uncertain kiss back to meet the one John's spinning, breath unsteady, jaw rough. "You were saying?" John asks, pulling away a fraction.
"Um?" Rodney wets his lips, blinks and wets them again. "I – really?" And he leans back in, touching his tongue to John's upper lip, sliding a hand up into John's disheveled hair. "Okay, yes, I'd like – yes," he murmurs, and John presses back, hand sliding the length of Rodney's torso, fingertips grazing the small of his back beneath the waistband of his BDU pants. The kiss grows warmer, lazy and slow, and Rodney shifts restlessly, kisses with a hunger that makes John kiss back, sweet and hard. "You're supposed to be on watch," Rodney whispers when John plants kisses the length of his throat.
"Yeah, I figure I'll just – stay out here," John says, "while you sleep."
Rodney groans. "Oh my god, you would, wouldn't you, wind me up within an inch of my life then contract a fit of duty, send me off to fuck my own hand . . ."
John smiles, blinking lazily, fingers drifting slowly from Rodney's back. "I didn't say that," he murmurs, touch skating up the inside of Rodney's thigh.
"Nnnnngh," Rodney manages, breathing hard. "Oh, you bastard."
John drags his fingers up the front of Rodney's pants. "You seem to like it," he says happily, thumbing Rodney through layers of fabric.
"Major – Shepp – John," Rodney pants, his other hand fisting in John's sleeve.
"Shhhh," John whispers, nudging his lips to Rodney's ear while his fingers continue to tease. "Wouldn't want to wake the others."
Rodney jerks and presses his face into John's shoulder, muffling his whimper. "So much hate."
John laughs softly, nosing a kiss into Rodney's hair, squeezing him gently through his pants, letting Rodney rock into the curve of his hand. It's intoxicating, the solid length of him flush against John's palm, the shivers that travel his spine at every touch, the restless open-close grasp of his fingers, the heat of his breath, the scattershot press of quiet gasps and pleas. He comes without a sound, happily ruined by John's lazy touch, slumping against him, wrecked and stained. "God," he manages.
Thoroughly, quietly happy, John smiles.
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
He wakes with a start, alone and disoriented, his quarters full of sunlight filtered through blinds. For a second the dizzy ebullience of his dreams fades into cold, slick fear – what day is it? did they, did he, was it all just in his head – then (thank god) Rodney's there, naked and uncertain, standing in the bathroom doorway. "I should – " he gestures as if suggesting he should go.
"No," John rumbles, hoarse and drowsy. He extends a hand. "Rodney."
"Everyone's awake by now," Rodney says, twisting his fingers. "They'll – someone might . . ."
John shakes his head. "Here," he gruffs.
Rodney wets his lips. "Are you sure?"
"Dumbass," John growls, and that seems to do the trick – Rodney's expression softens into something exasperated, something fond, and he pads back across the room, sunlight and shadow, slips back beneath the sheets and presses up against John's side.
"We don't have to do this," he whispers.
"Do what?" John mumbles, burrowing closer, drifting already. Rodney's warm, solid, hairy and broad. He's missed this.
"The couple thing – is this a couple thing? I mean – the staying over. The . . . potential for accidentally outing ourselves because we can't help the fact that – " He sighs, relaxing a fraction as he exhales. "This is really nice."
John lifts his head, frowning, stares at Rodney's face. "Shut up," he says finally, and kisses him without finesse, lips closing sloppily, wetly over Rodney's before he slumps back against the pillow and pushes his face into Rodney's neck.
Rodney shifts, skims a hand up his back. "Ridiculous," he sniffs, and he's probably aiming for something like disapproval, but he only sounds relieved.
"Mmmmm," John manages, and gives up his tenuous hold on wakefulness, anchored happily by the tiniest pressure of Rodney's fingertips against his shoulder blade.
Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring, and the diameter of eighty thousand miles,
Speeding with tail'd meteors, throwing fire-balls like the rest
"Dart at two o'clock!"
"I see him, McKay. How about you just focus on that program and – "
"Fine, fine, but far be it from me to point out this has a far better chance of being successful if you don't get us killed."
John pulls the 'jumper into a sharp turn. "Aw, c'mon, Rodney – have I gotten you killed yet?"
Rodney throws him a filthy look. "It's not as though you haven't tried."
John slams on the mental brakes and slows the 'jumper to an almost-halt, lets the Wraith dart on their tail scream wildly overhead. John grins – they never see it coming; oldest trick in the book. Accelerating with an easy thought, he speeds after his quarry, dispatches a drone to slam neatly into the back of the ship. "We have a kill."
"Yes, yes, I'm very impressed," Rodney says dryly, working feverishly over his tablet. "Now if you can just do that with the, oh, I don't know, several dozen other Wraith ships that want us to die?" He mutters a calculation to himself, entering commands. "This is so not how I imagined spending Christmas."
John plunges the 'jumper into a steep dive. "I'm thinking the Wraith aren't much for celebrating the birth of Christ."
"Yes, well, neither am I, I just want pudding," Rodney snaps. "And, oh, to live for another few years?"
"So get on with it. I'm just the pretty sideshow, remember? You're the one who can get us back down there in time for turkey."
"Right, right, because the mess cooks have been busy roasting fake birds instead of goggling at the massive light show that comes whenever the Wraith show up and try to bomb us when our ZPM is critically low," Rodney yells.
John crooks an eyebrow. "Does yelling help you work faster?" he asks, pulling out of the dive and sending a drone at another dart, dodging fire from a third.
"Have we just met?" Rodney asks, fingers flying. "Okay ready, in three, two, one . . ." He pushes a button on his tablet and peers out of the window. "Did it work?"
John glances at the HUD. "No one's firing on us. That's an improvement." He guides the 'jumper into a graceful turn, back toward the Wraith fleet in orbit above the planet. "Huh."
"Oh my god, it worked," Rodney breathes, staring wide-eyed at the stationary, drifting Wraith vessels. "They're completely disabled."
John glances at him. "What, you thought it wouldn't?"
"Well, I had some doubts, yes," Rodney mumbles. He meets John's gaze. "What? Oh, forgive me, Lieutenant Colonel Pop Culture, for imagining that a plan gleaned from Independence Day might have some flaws!"
"Hey, it was a good plan in a good movie," John says, his face purposefully blank.
"It was ridiculous! They were working with a Mac against an entirely alien system! On what planet would they have established compatibility sufficient to upload a virus?"
John shrugs. "I bet we could find a planet like that if we looked hard enough."
"I – you – god – " Rodney manages, flailing his arms and throwing his tablet into one of the rear cockpit chairs. "Infuriating . . . hirsute . . . completely incomprehensible . . . hurtling-toward-fifty . . . fly-boy who . . ." He reaches for John with both hands, framing his face before he kisses him hard. "You make me insane."
John grins, pleased. "Aw, you're just saying that 'cause it's Christmas." He kisses Rodney's nose, then wraps a hand around the back of his neck and pulls him in to nose at his balding forehead. "Wanna blow up some Wraith?"
"Ooooh, yes please," Rodney says, and sits back in his chair, happily thinking 'on' at drones and smashing Wraith cruisers to pieces.
They walk beside each other, as they always have, elbows grazing with each careless swing of their arms. The Athosian settlement sprawls in the distance, an amalgam of traditional tents and newer buildings, permanence coming slowly to a people used to the Wraith. "I – brought them presents," Rodney says suddenly, almost embarrassed.
John smiles, cocks an eyebrow. "You did?"
"Yes, well, I know it's not their celebration but – " Rodney lifts his chin. "I made them some things.
John smacks him gently on the shoulder. "You've gone soft, McKay."
"I have – not – exactly," Rodney says with a scowl. "I just think that perhaps they'll get some enjoyment out of some suitably educational pieces that could – " He squares his shoulders. "Okay, so what if I have?"
John grins affectionately. "Nothing," he drawls.
Rodney doesn't quite succeed in stifling a smile. "Old man."
John snorts. "Not quite," he points out.
There's a commotion at the edge of the village, and a handful of excited voices rise above the usual throng. John spots Ronon standing by the welcome stones, figures the disturbance in the grass between here and there has to be his kids. Sure enough, one by one, he spots three dark heads stumbling across what's near-as-dammit prairie, shrieking and calling his and Rodney's names with what breath they have to spare. He grins, bends down, and scoops the eldest into his arms as soon as she's near. "Charin Emmagen," he say, grinning. "You got too damn big."
The little girl laughs delightedly and kisses his face. "We missed you." She turns and leans toward Rodney, kissing him too. "Too long 'way!"
Rodney smiles awkwardly, uncertain but pleased. John lifts an eyebrow and Rodney starts, steps back, sets his jaw then steps forward again, plucking Charin out of John's arms and settling her tentatively on his hip. "You'll, uh – just have to tell us everything?" he offers.
"That'll take a long time," she replies seriously.
"Well, we're staying all week," he says, and blinks in dismay as she shrieks in his ear.
"ALL WEEK! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" she screams, wriggling with joy and squeezing her arms around his neck.
"Yes, yes," he says, looking stunned but amused, patting her on the back. "I'm very excited too."
John laughs and pretends not to see the other two kids who are catching up with their sister, preferring instead to surrender to their ambush, falling to his back in the grass, conquered by childish squeals. "You got me, you got me," he groans as Melena and Aden clamber all over him.
"We WINS," Aden grins, waggling one of John's ears.
John laughs. "I guess you do, buddy." He grabs the little boy and tickles him wildly until he's reduced to a giggling heap. Melena sits on John's leg, looking on happily. "And how's my warrior?" John asks her, reaching to touch her cheek.
"Still not talking, huh?"
She nods again.
"Fair enough." He maneuvers both of the kids into his arms and struggles up to his feet. "Jesus, you're getting big, both of you."
Rodney snorts. "Or you're getting feeble."
"Shut it, McKay."
Charin laughs as if that's the funniest thing she's ever heard. "Mama wouldn't like that talk."
Rodney hums. "Your mother has said worse, believe me," he offers.
Charin's eyes grow wide. "Tell me!"
"I think not."
"Rodneeeeeeeey," she whines.
"Did she learn that from you?" he asks John as they start walking back to the village. He raises a hand to return Ronon's wave.
John laughs as Aden continues to play with his ear. "Just passing on my wisdom to the generations," he says blithely.
"If that's all the wisdom you can manage," Rodney observes, "far be it from me to interfere."
John snorts softly, and with his arms full of kids he can't nudge Rodney's shoulder, so he kicks at his calf instead. "Happy Christmas," he grins over the head Melena's laid on his shoulder.
Rodney smiles back ruefully. "Yes, yes, you too," he concedes.
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart
"There ought to be snow," Rodney murmurs drowsily.
"Snow. Winter. Christmas. Should be snow."
It's summer on Tintek. The breeze from the mountains is cool, transforming heat into temperate comfort, and sprawled beneath the heavy blooms of a Ginash tree, their world is bounded by the scents of June. John thinks of the Christmases he spent in Nevada and Haiti; of Bosnia, Antarctica, and Illinois. "Did you always have snow?" he asks, fingers tracing idle patterns through Rodney's hair.
"Hmmm," Rodney says. "Almost always."
"You miss it? Earth?"
Rodney rolls to look at him, setting his chin on John's hip where his cheek had been. He shakes his head. "No."
"Me either." It's a strange realization – strange because there's surely no wonder in Pegasus being home after this many years. John almost smiles, touching his fingertips to Rodney's jaw. He hitches a shoulder. "My best Christmases have all been – "
"Yeah," John breathes. They're older now, with a wash of seasons shared between them, and John can trace the passage of years in the lines on Rodney's face, the silver in his hair. Rodney's gaze never falters, and John wonders when they grew so used to one another that they stopped feeling the nervous need to look away. There are words for this sort of feeling, words he's heard others say, words he once said to one-night-stands and convenient women because he had it all wrong before Rodney. But now everything's locked in his throat, and his joints might ache when the weather turns cold, and his scars might number with the freckles on his shoulders, but he's still not old enough to know how to say what he feels. "I – "
Rodney smiles, shakes his head in understanding. "I know," he whispers.
And John weaves the fingers of their free hands together, closes his eyes; gives rueful, mental thanks to Elizabeth for forcing them to take time away; lets gratitude sink into his bones now that there's peace enough in the galaxy for regular days off, now that sick days are elective, the stuff of colds and stomach aches instead of forcible bed rest after war. He squeezes Rodney's hand, stirs when he feels Rodney slide fingers beneath his shirt. "Hmmm?" he asks.
"Shhhh," Rodney murmurs, pressing a kiss to John's sun-warmed skin. "Let me."
And John opens his eyes to soft pink blossoms and shimmering leaves, glimpses of pale-blue sky that seem the color of silence, and sighs softly beneath the touch of Rodney's lips and the chase of his breath – sweetly, unexpectedly at peace.
When they wake a second time it's to a day they can't hide from any longer, not if the constant buzz of their radios is anything to go by, everyone asking where they are. They offer platitudes, agree to show their faces; shower together, clumsy and slow; dress in companionable silence, Rodney stealing one of John's shirts. While Rodney huffs about how much he misses his last pair of jeans – tragically lost in a laundry incident no one likes to speak of – John picks up the Santa hat lying at the foot of the bed, runs his thumb over the embroidered letters that say 'Doctor McKay.'
"Of all the things to take away from the way we celebrate Christmas, this was the one Teyla grabbed hold of?" Rodney says with a put-upon sigh, taking the hat out of John's hand and sticking it on his head.
John smiles his half-smile, thinking of the Athosian gifts they'd each been given, the generosity tied up in each ridiculous hat. "I know," he said. "But hey, you gotta go with what you're given, right?" He crosses the room, picks up his own hat, jams it on his head.
Rodney narrows his eyes. "Oh come on. It's a Santa hat. You can't possibly wear it rakishly."
John waggles an eyebrow.
Rodney rolls his eyes, appalled, crosses the room and boldly slides his hands into John's back pockets. "No one is allowed to take photos of us today," he murmurs, touching the tip of his nose to John's.
"No one?" John asks.
Rodney flexes his fingers. "We look ridiculous."
John hitches a shoulder. "Don't you wanna remember this when we're old?"
Rodney opens his mouth, no doubt to say something eloquent and biting, but the impulse gets derailed along the way. "Old?" he says, blinking.
"Yeah. I mean, I thought we might – you know. If you wanted. Be old."
"I could be – old," Rodney manages, flushing.
"I could be old too," John nods.
"Cool," John smiles, and if this is any reliable predictor of his future (this Christmas present, these close-wound limbs, these restless headsets and pressing responsibilities, these stumbling heartbeats and ridiculous hats), he'll be happy, he thinks, exhausted and happy, bickering his way to some genius retirement, an earth-bound expression of everything he's ever found in flight.