Fading Skies

Chapter 13

XXXXXX

Lt. Brawson was gone for six months. Much to his and Rodney and John's relief, John's prediction had been accurate and their potential combat mission turned into a pretty calm peacekeeping mission.

Still, they saw their fair share of skirmishes and Brawson came home with some shadows in his eyes that hadn't been there before. But true to their word, John and Rodney dutifully sat by the phone waiting for him to call—with Rodney impressing John with the speed at which he could calculate time differences and accurately predict when Brawson would be calling— and helped him readjust to civilian life without forgetting that he was a soldier.

The summer after Brawson came back home, John got offered tenure and Jeannie came down with Caleb and Madison to visit for the weekend as celebration.

The summer was also when they got a new professor added to the physics department, a new guy from Princeton who came highly recommended despite the fact that he was only two years older than John.

John noticed the new guy before Rodney did, partially because he always tried to get to know the people in the physics department. This was so he'd know who he had to go apologize to about Rodney saying such and such in order for Rodney to get the funding he wanted for such and such.

His name was Dr. Mike Landon and he wasn't only smart, but he had a great sense of humor, was athletic and gorgeous.

Much worse than that was the fact that the guy had a crush on Rodney from the minute he laid eyes on him.

John noticed it the second they got introduced. Usually people's eyes only lingered on Rodney when he was jabbering about some brilliant theory, not when he was bitching about crappy coffee offered at faculty meetings. Landon had laughed at Rodney's bitching and agreed with him.

John immediately understood that the guy was only trying to engage Rodney in more conversation and didn't give a shit about the coffee, but Rodney was completely oblivious.

And he continued being oblivious.

John had never before hated being in a different department from his partner, which prevented him from always being able to stay between Mike Landon and Rodney.

Mike Landon's teaching schedule and lab schedule always seemed to match Rodney's and he would often show up at Rodney's office, claiming to have some free time and offering to take half of the crowd waiting for help from Rodney to his own office.

They spent hours of time together at the labs, working together, arguing and eating lunch at the same time so they could continue their hand waving arguments while scribbling equations on napkins.

Whenever John would show up at the labs, Landon would give him a strained smile, greet him and then pretend that John wasn't even there. Whenever Rodney would move over to John to bitch about useless grad students or to ask to borrow some paper, Landon would quickly grab Rodney's sleeve and tug him back, offering sympathy and magically conjured up paper.

John knew he was being a jealous idiot and that he had known this would happen for years. He just didn't think Rodney would keep him dangling like this.

He had always known that Rodney would find his better, healthier version of John somewhere. A version whose body and mind weren't damaged by war.

He wanted to get in Landon's face and fight for what was his, but he knew that was not only ridiculous but it wasn't fair to Rodney. How the hell could a cripple measure up to someone like Ladon? Besides, he had always sworn to himself that he would let Rodney go if he found somebody better.

That night, he didn't go up to the lab but instead went home with Cat lying on his lap. He warmed up some leftovers and set the table for dinner and then wheeled himself over to the window, mentally preparing himself to have this conversation without crying.

Hours later, he heard somebody frantically running in the foyer outside and then the scratching of a key trying to unlock a door too quickly. The door was flung open and Rodney fell inside.

"John?" Rodney gasped out, staring wildly around and finally spying him by the window. "Where the hell were you? You didn't come to the lab and you weren't in your office and you scared the shit out me!"

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry? I thought you passed out in class and had to be taken to the hospital and that nobody had told me!"

"I didn't want to be in the way in the lab so I came home."

"In the way? You have your own table set up in there, moron. It's been your table for years."

Rodney took off his jacket, threw it onto the couch and dumped his papers onto a nearby chair before collapsing at the table, still glaring at John and stabbing at his pasta.

It was only after a few bites that Rodney realized John hadn't put a plate out for himself.

"Why aren't you eating? Get over here."

"I'm not hungry."

"Fine, then eat some crackers and cheese or something. I picked up a new packages yesterday."

"It's okay."

Rodney swallowed and waved the fork at him. "No, it's not okay, idiot. Schedule, remember? Geez, after all this time you'd think that you had it down. Go get yourself some crackers and cheese."

John kept staring out the window. "You won't have to worry about the schedule anymore after this, will you? Must be a relief, huh? No more schedules, no more doing all the laundry, no more sleeping on a bed pad."

Rodney snorted. "Yeah, and the day after your legs start working again, I'm going to get a hot tub installed right beside the table and I'll be allowed to do research without having to teach morons and there won't be any more war anywhere in the world."

"Rodney, I'm serious. If you want to go, you can go. I get it."

"What the hell are you talking about? Would you come and eat?"

John sighed. "Please don't make this any more difficult than it is, okay? If you want to keep the apartment then I'll need some time to find another place somewhere. If you're okay with it, I'd really like it if I got to keep some of the automated things and the siever. I can pay you for them if you want. And I'm thinking that the fairest thing to do would be to do a joint custody thing for Cat."

Rodney was staring at him while John fidgeted by the window. "Sheppard, are you drunk? Because I swear, if you went to the biology beer garden with Kelly, you're sleeping on the couch for a week. You know what the doctor says about you drinking lots of alcohol."

"I'm not drunk."

"Then what the hell is the matter with you?"

"I told you already—"

"You haven't told me shit! You keep repeating some crap about wanting the siever but I still don't have a clue what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about Mike Landon."

Rodney raised an eyebrow. "Who?"

"Mike Landon, Rodney. Dr. Mike Landon."

"Yeah, I heard you the first time. I still don't know who the hell you're talking about. You know me and names."

John clenched his jaw. Why the hell was Rodney making this harder than it had to be?

"The new physics prof in your department, Rodney! The one who's crazy about you! The one who wants me out of the picture as fast as possible!"

Rodney frowned. "Are you talking about the blond guy? I thought he was straight. Huh."

John slammed his fist onto his armrest. "No, not the blond guy, McKay! The brunette, the hot, brilliant, crazy about you brunette!"

Rodney's expression brightened. "The one with the glasses? If he has a crush on me then I can so move in on his lab time! He's had that Friday night slot for weeks!"

"He doesn't wear glasses, McKay! He's the brunette who argues with you 24 hours a day, helps your students during your office hours, hands you a tissue every time you sneeze and gives you his pickles off his sandwich and finds any excuse in the world to be around you all day."

Rodney frowned. If John didn't know Rodney as well, he would think that Rodney were playing him, but Rodney was honestly trying to think of the person John was talking about.

Finally, the light seemed to go on. "Are you talking about that new guy from Princeton?"

Finally. "Yes, Rodney."

"I thought he wasn't getting here until January."

John stared at him while Rodney stared back, having forgotten about his dinner. "So you're saying he's already here?"

"Yes, McKay. Damn it! He's been here for weeks and flirting with you."

"Really? Damn! You see what being in a long term relationship does to me? I'm completely oblivious to people flirting with me." Rodney smirked, obviously pleased with himself. He was about to turn back to his dinner when he saw John staring at him sadly.

"What?"

John didn't say anything. Rodney sighed. "John, I swear, I never flirted with the guy. I mean, you know me, I don't flirt, period. I just laugh at inappropriate times, drool and spray food on people's faces. And have you been seeing any of those things happening with—with whoever the hell you're talking about?"

"Rodney, it's not about that."

"Then what the hell is it?"

"Mike Landon is perfect for you. He's smart, funny, he really likes you, you two seem to get along well—"

"Good for him. I've already got somebody's who's smart, funny, really likes me and who I get along with."

"He's not in chair." John said it so quietly that he wasn't sure Rodney had heard. But moments later, he heard a chair being pushed back and then Rodney knelt before him, looking up at him.

"No, he's not and I couldn't care less. He's not you and that's all the matters to me."

"But—"

"No buts. I have never been here because I've been waiting for the healthier version to walk up, John. I love you. I don't know what else to say and I'm tired of you not believing me. If I didn't want to be here, with you, then I wouldn't be. I wouldn't have waited, I wouldn't have stayed in that hospital and I wouldn't have been here with you for all these years. If I were looking for someone better, don't you think I would have noticed somebody like Sam Brumby?"

"His name is Mike Landon, Rodney."

"Whatever. You see? You only told me your name once and, granted, it's John and easy to remember, but I remembered your full name from the second you told me, didn't I? I'm betting I've been introduced to this guy a dozen times and I don't even remember meeting him. You know why? Because I'm not interested. I have everything I want right here and that's not going to change."

And for the first time, John actually found himself daring to believe Rodney.

XXXXXX

Sept. 10th 2000 fell on a Sunday that year. John called up Kelly on Saturday and asked her to please take Rodney to the cafeteria and to sit at a very specific table. She asked him what the hell he was up to and he asked her to please not ask any questions and just do it and she would find out soon enough.

That night he wheeled himself over to the library and asked the librarian to find him two very specific books.

On Sunday morning, he pretended to be absorbed in marking and barely glanced up when Rodney walked out, saying he was going to eat lunch with Kelly who for some stupid reason wanted to eat in the overcrowded cafeteria.

He gave Rodney a good head start and then followed him, holding those two textbooks in the side pocket of his chair.

He reached the cafeteria and immediately spied Rodney and Kelly sitting at that specific table amongst a sea of other students. Kelly was casually looking around and when she saw him, she raised her eyebrows, wanting answers, but got up and went to go get something like John had asked her to. Rodney barely glanced up, munching on fries and reading a journal.

John wheeled himself up to the table. "Hey, is this seat taken?"

Rodney glanced up, looking mildly irritated before seeing who it was. "Yes, idiot. That's Kelly's seat and you know it."

John briefly closed his eyes. "That's not your line, McKay."

"What? Do you want a fry?"

"No, I don't want a fry, Rodney! You're ruining it!"

Rodney looked completely confused. "What the hell are you talking about?"

John stared at him. "It's Sept. 10th, Rodney."

"What's Sept. 10th?"

"It's been our unofficial anniversary for fifteen years."

"What?"

"Exactly fifteen years ago today, I came up to you at this table and asked if this seat was taken."

Rodney stared at him. "Fifteen years? We've been together for fifteen years?"

John smiled. "Yup. Fifteen years today."

They stared at each other for a moment before John wheeled himself back a few steps.

"If we're going to do this properly, then we have to start again."

"Do what again?"

"You know what. Just don't mess up your lines this time."

John wheeled himself back a bit more and then wheeled himself back up to the table, giving Rodney that same come-hither smirk he had fifteen years ago. There had been less lines around his face back then, but it still had the ability to make Rodney weak in the knees.

"Hey, is this seat taken?"

"Not really."

"Cool. Mind if I sit? It's kinda crowded in here."

Rodney shrugged, struggling to hide his smile. "Sure."

John shoved Kelly's chair out a bit and then hoisted himself into it. Rodney nearly burst out laughing. "John, you don't have to be that damn authentic."

"Shut up, McKay. Your lines, remember?" Then he tossed his two textbooks onto the table.

Rodney's eyes nearly fell out of his head. "You—"

"Lines, McKay. Lines."

Controlling himself, Rodney stuck another fry into his mouth and pretended to look over the two books even though he knew what they were.

"You're taking Calc and English?"

"Kinda. Shakespearian lit."

"Who the hell would take lit voluntarily?"

"It's kinda cool. Here. Look at this." John reached over and flipped King Lear open to the same page he had fifteen years ago.

Rodney glanced at it, expecting to see the same highlighted passage of rubbish he had rolled his eyes at and John had crowed about.

Instead, there was a white piece of paper stuck amongst the pages. On it was written:

Will you marry me?

Rodney froze. For a moment, he thought somebody else had left that in there and he was about to crack a joke about it, but then he recognized John's writing and could see him grinning nervously at him.

Rodney stared at him. "You're serious?"

"I wouldn't have asked otherwise."

"You're really, really serious?"

"You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, Rodney, and you're the best thing that ever will happen to me. I don't want or need anybody else. I'm just sorry it took me fifteen damn years to feel secure enough to ask."

Rodney was still staring at him, tears brimming in his eyes.

John poked him slightly. "So? What do you say? You wanna marry me?"

With a laugh and a sob, Rodney yanked John over to himself. "Of course I do, you idiot!"

"So, just for clarification, that's a yes, right?"

"Yes, it's a yes!"

They were both laughing and crying, John sitting on Rodney's lap, making out like the teenagers they used to be and oblivious to the cheering, clapping and hooting going on around them and Kelly standing there, crying harder than both of them, calling them both morons for taking so damn long.

XXXXXX

They got married a month later. They borrowed some suits from some of Kelly's friends and caught a cab to take all three of them over to the courthouse. Jeannie, Caleb and Madison flew down and met them at the courthouse too.

Civil unions had been legal in California since 1998 so very few people stared at them as they waited in the hallway, Rodney bitching about the steepness of the ramp outside and John fiddling with his tie, always forgetting how to tie the things.

It was a small, private affair just like they had wanted it to be. Jeannie and Kelly were their witnesses and Caleb played best man for both of them and Madison insisted on being the flower girl, even though they weren't in a church and didn't have any flower petals. Rodney took a bowl of candy off the receptionists desk, emptied it over her keyboard and tore up some post its and handed it to Madison, telling her to go nuts and throw them anywhere she wanted.

They had both written their own vows, even though Kelly and Jeannie had helped them out. John thought he would feel more nervous once they got started, but to his surprise, it all just felt normal. Madison grinned and threw colorful pieces of paper all over the floor, Kelly was leaning against the wall, smirking at him and remarking that now he was really officially off the market, and Rodney nearly had a stroke when he was asked for their rings and he realized he didn't have any.

Then John grinned and reached into his own pocket and pulled out two metal chains. Rodney stared at them with wide eyes, instantly recognizing the small rectangles rimmed with black silencers.

John quietly handed Rodney one chain. His eyes still wide, Rodney quietly read the two tags. John had split up his tags and put one on each of their chains. The only thing he had changed on his own tags was adding 'McKay' after his last name. The other tag on each chain was one with Rodney's name on it with 'Sheppard' written after his last name.

Rodney looked like he might start crying so John loudly cleared his throat and asked if it was okay that they used tags instead of rings. Everybody in the room gave him slightly amused looks, but nobody minded.

Using the tags seemed more fitting than rings for the two of them.

They handed over their completed paperwork, said their vows and their I Do's, slipped their dog tag chains over each other's heads and then they were pronounced civil partners for life.

They all drove back to their apartment, wanting to have a little celebration before the Millers had to go back up to Canada.

To their surprise, Lt. Brawson was sitting on their front steps, waiting for them. He jumped up, hugged them both, remarked that Rodney looked better with tags on than he himself did, and then declared that they all had a party to get to.

Ignoring John and Rodney's questions and protests, Lt. Brawson spun John's chair around and started marching down the sidewalk towards the science buildings, the Millers and Kelly grinning behind them, denying having any knowledge of a party of any kind.

When they got to the math and physics building, they saw a huge crowd of people including their students, their colleagues, the dean, the president, the staff from the physiotherapy center and dozens of ROTC cadets and officers. An enormous banner had been hung between the buildings, congratulating the two of them.

Lt. Brawson grinned, clapped them both on the back and handed them both overflowing cups of beer and thus, one of the largest physics/math beer gardens ever thrown at their university began.

Rodney had barely taken a sip of his beer before Mike Landon came up to both of them, giving Rodney a sorrowful look and John a strained smile.

"Congratulations, Sheppard."

John smirked. "Thank you, Landon."

Rodney's eyes suddenly widened. "You're Brumby?"

"Excuse me?"

"Landon, Rodney. His name is Mike Landon."

"Whatever. We seriously have to discuss the nauseating amount of time you spend around me, because I'm married now and that means I'm off the market."

Still bitching about it, Rodney pulled Landon over to the pizza, not seeing the point to missing good food while ranting.

John found that being in a chair was damn advantageous at a party, since people seemed to come up to him without him having to navigate through the crowds and risk flattening some toes. He took a few sips of his beer and then handed it to Caleb, telling him he didn't want to start married life sleeping on the couch. Caleb laughed, said he totally understood and drained his cup for him.

He had no idea how many people came up to him and congratulated him. They were all smiling and all happy for them.

At one point, John heard a "Captain Sheppard!" from behind him. Force of habit made him straighten up immediately. He was shocked when a smiling General Renton stepped up from behind him.

"Sir," John nodded in greeting, feeling uneasy and being silently grateful that he had put his new tags back underneath his shirt. It was one thing to find out that one of your former cadets had been blatantly breaking military regulations and it was another to throw a party celebrating the fact. He mentally berated himself for not making Rodney put his own tags under his shirt.

"I hear congratulations are in order."

"Uhm, thank you, sir?"

The General smiled down at him. "You're a hell of a soldier, Sheppard. I'm damn glad you came back home."

"Sir, let me explain. Uhm, Rodney and I, we weren't, I mean, uhm—"

"Captain, do I look like an idiot? I'm bound by the same idiotic regulations that bound you. Just because I couldn't openly discuss your relationship with you didn't mean I didn't know and didn't mean I disapproved. You are a hell of a soldier and who you choose to share a bed with doesn't change that."

John smiled. "Thank you, sir. That means a lot." He frowned slightly. "Won't the brass be upset that you're here now, sir?"

The General smiled. "Captain, none of us military folk are really here right now, understood?"

John laughed. "Completely, sir."

Renton stuck his hand out and shook John's hand. "So, if you could please tell your significant other to stop glaring at me every time he passes by, I would appreciate it. I have permanent holes burned between my shoulder blades from fifteen years of glaring."

"I will, sir."

"Congratulations again, Captain."

"Thank you, sir."

Another cadet ran up to them, saluted and handed the General another beer.

"Seeing how you're not really here sir, there's also some nonexistent pizza over there."

"Is there? Splendid. Lead the way to the nonexistent pizza, Cadet."

"Yes, sir."

XXXXXX

"Would you put some sunscreen on?"

"I'm fine, Rodney."

"Oh, I'm sorry, do you want to openly invite cancer to move in?"

Laughing, John stretched out a hand and felt Rodney slap the sunscreen tube into it. Snapping it open, he put some on his face and arms and then lay back on the grass, loving the feel of the sun on his face.

Cat lay sprawled out on his chest, fast asleep and purring like a jet engine.

Rodney sat back on his lawn chair, his feet up on John's unused one and pulled his laptop back onto his lap and resumed typing.

Hearing a distance whirring above him, John looked up, scanning the blue sky and quickly saw the helicopter churning through the skies, the blades whipping through the air.

For one moment, a fierce longing swept through him.

Rodney had stopped typing and was fingering his tags. John had tried unsuccessfully to try to get Rodney to wear his tags inside his shirt, since he kept getting them caught in everything and nearly strangled himself a few times, but he refused to listen to him, wanting to 'flaunt the physical proof that he had bagged the hottest Air Force pilot in existence'.

"You miss it, don't you?"

"War?"

"No. Flying."

John sighed. "Yeah. I always will."

Rodney lowered his screen and John could feel him staring at him.

"I told you, if I could give you my legs, I would."

"I don't need your legs, Rodney."

"Really?"

"Really." He craned his neck and grinned up at his husband. "I'm damn happy with my life on the ground."

Rodney smiled. "I told you we'd make something special out of it, didn't I?"

"Yep, you did. And you were right."

Rodney snorted. "Of course I was right. I'm always right. After all this time, it's about time you start accepting that as an irrefutable fact."

John laughed, as the sound of the helicopter faded away.

Crossing his arms behind his head, he went back to dozing in the sun, listening to Rodney resume his typing.