The year Rodney first came to Westchester, as a precocious twelve-year-old filled with proto-teenage arrogance, Daniel was fifteen. They made an unlikely pair, even in a school full of unlikely people: Rodney was loud and obnoxious, always bustling and shockingly unable to stay either tidy or clean from one hour to the next; Daniel was quiet and studious, the class bookworm, knew all the ropes and every item in the library, book or otherwise.
He's always meant to ask the Professor if he roomed them together for a reason, but somehow when he's visiting, he always forgets.
He'd had one or two room-mates in the seven years before Rodney. Jake was pretty cool, and his dreams had been fun to explore until he'd burned that huge smoking green hole in the carpet and they'd moved him to a more acid-proof room down the hall. Duncan had been okay, too, but practically mute, and Daniel had never managed to even figure out his mutation: he'd only stayed a few months before his parents came back for him.
Daniel's parents never came back for him.
By fifteen, that was even sort of okay - aside from the occasional occupant of the other bed, he'd pretty much had his own room for all that time, and littered it with seven years of impedimenta - books, notebooks, fossils from weekend trips to the Museum of Natural History, the remains of art history projects he'd liked enough to keep, a pile of dictionaries inherited from his dad and the few curios he'd been left by his mom that never moved from that one dusty corner of his desk. Rodney didn't come with much, just a suitcase or two, and he fit with surprising simplicity into Daniel's life. Yeah, he was loud and rude and incredibly untidy, but he did have a certain sense of desperate possessiveness about his own things, and Daniel counted a year or more before one of Rodney's books ended up on his side of the room.
Once he found the right frequency to tune out most of the Rodney-babble, even having someone chatter in his ear every night wasn't so bad. Rodney was at least as intelligent as he was and had three years to catch up, and there was surprisingly little difference between physics and history when they really got into it.
That, and Rodney's mutation was really cool.
"I hate it," Rodney said petulantly, the first time he mentioned it. "I didn't want to come here. They thought it would be better for me, after the whole nuclear reactor incident." He cocked his head at Daniel and frowned. "What are you in for, anyway?"
"I read dreams," he said, and Rodney blinked.
"What, like - tell people what they mean?"
He shook his head. "No, like, I read people's minds. Like the Professor. But only when I'm asleep, though. And when they're asleep, so I only see their dreams, really."
"Weird," Rodney said, snorting. "At least yours is-"
"Yeah, invisible," he said, and Rodney looked at him like he was crazy.
"Better that than the CIA hauling you off somewhere for six hours just because you made a nuclear reactor that actually worked," and Daniel wasn't sure that it was, actually, but Rodney's face was a broken scowl at the memory. "It wasn't meant to actually work," he said, quieter, and Daniel felt a pang of something for the helpless softness that crept into his voice, pushing the arrogance out. "How did you, you know. How did it happen? Your first time?"
Daniel was sure Rodney's story must be more interesting than his, but no one ever asked him those things - not Daniel, the normal-looking geek who couldn't do anything much exciting except for read twelve languages - so he told Rodney about that first time, how he'd fallen asleep at a dig in Alexandria and woken up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, afraid he was drowning and crying in fluent Egyptian Arabic until his parents came running.
That dream is still sharp now, as sharp as it was the first time and then again when he told it: the solid pressure of water over his head, bubbles in front of his eyes, salt water stinging, too much resistance to his flailing hands - dark brown adult hands and a body that felt big and strange to a five-year-old. He never met the local guide who gifted him the nightmare; doesn't know the face that belongs to the body and probably wouldn't remember it anyway, he's dreamt so many different people in his life.
But Rodney actually seemed to find the whole idea interesting - find him interesting, even, and Daniel spent quite a while trying to figure that out.
Daniel always imagined that mutant sex ed might be more interesting than it was for normal kids. It disappointed him later to figure out that they'd only added on extra genetics classes - that, and the added amusement and humiliation of taking the class in the place you all knew you'd probably end up doing the practical.
They missed out the same stuff, too, which he found out a lot later and disappointed him more than the other part. That's another thing he always wants to ask the Professor and somehow never gets to asking.
He was nineteen when he moved out of the mansion for the first time. He left everything in the room for Rodney to take care of: he'd gotten moderately more tidy over the years, and Daniel was fairly sure he'd gotten less fastidious about being able to find things, himself, to the point where packing up seemed like a pointless endeavour, the nature of student halls being what they were.
He moved back after his last semester ended: the room was just the way he'd left it, with the exception of a new tower of astrophysics texts now serving as Rodney's beside table. That, and Jake lying bare-chested on Rodney's bed.
"Hey," he said, and Jake grinned at him, and Rodney said, "are you okay with this," meaning Daniel had better be and somehow managing to get a reminder of all the times Daniel had made him put up with Melissa in there as well even without saying it.
Daniel just said, "of course I am, it's fine, don't be stupid," and meant it and didn't say anything about the guy he'd finished with just after exams, and wondered if Jake had figured out the acid thing yet, and that was that.
Jake and Rodney lasted until a few months before Daniel moved out the second time. Graduate school was stretching out in front of him and anyway, no one had to be a genius to notice the new crop of students was that much larger again this year. He was halfway through packing when Rodney barged in, fresh from the TA session that had kept him out while Daniel packed up the bookshelf and thus deferred most of the more violent arguments for long distance calls later on.
"It's cold in Chicago."
Daniel didn't look up. There wasn't any point. "Yes, Rodney."
"You'll hate it. You'll want to come right home."
"What's that girl's name anyway, Sandra?"
"Sarah," he said. "And don't be like that."
"You're going to pass as one of them," Rodney said bluntly.
He sighed and packed his mother's twelfth dynasty crude household idol of Ra carefully into an open box. "Well, since I'm awake, I don't really have any choice in that."
"Sure you do. You could have dated me when I made the offer. And while we're on the subject, you know, why you didn't is honestly beyond my understanding."
"Tempting," he said dryly. "And I wasn't talking about that, anyway."
"Well, I was." Rodney sighed in that way he had that spoke of stupidity and his lack of ability to deal with it. "I know you're like me, Daniel. You like guys, and yet you just keep on ignoring it. With that brain and those eyelashes you could cut a swathe through the gay scene a mile wide." He flopped back against the bed. "I really hate to see talent go to waste when there's so little of it actually around."
"I like my relationships to mean something, whatever gender," he said mildly. "Sarah-"
"Fine, have it your own way. Go and be normal. You'll be bored out of your skull within a month."
He wondered why a guy like Rodney with a brain the size of Canada had to be so blinkered. "I'll write you."
He got the first letter a week later, in his cramped apartment, when most of his own notebooks were still taped up in boxes: Rodney wished him well, told him he was being stupid (again) and demanded the return of his copy of Arcadia, which Daniel promptly dug out and put on the empty bookshelf.
He never intended to work for the military. Partly he blamed Rodney: all those bizarre twists of physics late at night - Rodney dreamt equations, it was crazy - made the pyramids as landing pads for ancient spaceships seem not all that implausible when he started to look at it. And once he started looking at it, he couldn't look away, because he was curious and always had thought Schroedinger would just be a good name for a cat, and he was either right or wrong, sane or had lost it, and he wanted to know.
Strange or normal, and he wanted to know that too. He just wasn't sure which was which.
When the Stargate landed in his lap, when Jack came into his life - when Sha're came into his life and turned it all around, the military life didn't seem like such a big price to pay, at the time.
Rodney took six months to forgive him for pretending to be dead, and two months after that to forgive him having the gall to come back and tell the tale. By the third time, he was down to a scathing letter and two weeks of moody silence as penance, which usually gave him time to ease back into the world again before having to deal with full scale Doctor Rodney McKay.
He's never really been forgiven for getting married without mentioning it, no matter how often he tells the story, or how much he tries to explain Abydos to Rodney, but at least Rodney's good enough not to rib him for it any more.
If it hadn't been for Sha're, he thinks now, perhaps it wouldn't have taken this long for it to come up, or for someone to mostly figure it out. As it is, now, the moment arrives when they're sitting around a camp fire the same way they do on half their usual missions; 'usual' being the ones that fit nicely in between the imminent death, hostile aliens and varied other wonders of the universe. It's always a good change of pace not to have something waiting to kill them, in Daniel's book.
Teal'c has the watch, Jack's stoking the fire, and the question's just hit him out of the blue from out of Jack's laconic evening conversation, and he doesn't really know what to do but try and answer it.
"Well, I'm the civilian," he says. "Frankly, Jack, it's none of the SGC's business."
"It's our business," Jack says. He pokes at the fire with the stick he's been abusing since they sat down. "We shoulda brought s'mores."
"Hey, what's not to like about s'mores?" Jack shrugs. "Because, I'm interested."
"You're not going to tell me yours," he points out. "What happened to don't ask, don't tell?"
"Oh, please." That eye roll is the same one he gets when Jack thinks he's avoiding the point. Jack O'Neill isn't as obtuse as most people think: Daniel's shared enough tents and enough nights and enough dreams with him to know that by now. "Look, Carter's not asking, and I'm not telling her."
He shakes his head. "That's some thin ice you're skating on there, Jack."
"Yeah, well. I can't skate for beans anyway."
"I know I usually need a couple of people to hold me up," Sam says, shooting him a look. He smiles.
"Well, I guess, there was a guy or two, back in college-"
"Ah, the old college argument."
"No," he says, firmly. He hates that 'flexible college student' mantle, hated it even when he was one. It not only skips over the point of defining his sexuality, broad though it is; it belittles it, to reduce that part of him to youthful whim and not acknowledge the years of growing up that went into figuring it all out, defining himself. "No, no, no argument. I figured out I was bisexual a long time before that."
Jack ignores his defensiveness completely, gets a triumphant little grin on his lips and leans back, looking over at Sam. "See? I told you."
"What?" Okay, he didn't expect girlish screams or a fist in his face, but he also wasn't quite expecting that as a reaction. "Jack?"
"You didn't think I'd figure it out, Daniel?"
Actually no, he nearly says. The truth is he's so used to the military way of doing things, the blind eyes turned everywhere he looks, that he's fallen out of practice at making himself think about it the way he used to. Rodney made him think, he remembers. About everything - about the universe, about life, about himself. He's just never noticed that Jack and Sam can do the same.
Jack's grinning, looking at Sam, and says, "Well, well. What are the odds?"
Sam's lips quirk up in a smile. "Actually, sir, statistically speaking-"
"Ah." Jack points a finger at her. She grins.
He smiles, looks between them, and he doesn't need to ask or to tell out loud. They get it. And he, he gets them, and suddenly he doesn't feel quite so invisible any more, in any sense of the word. He wonders what Rodney's going to say to this.
The letter arrives a week after he gets round to mentioning it, and the answer is, about god damned time.