The only thing good about Rodney's new job (besides the fact that he has a job at all, considering the explosion at Doranda Enterprises) is the diner he discovered on his third attempt to find a route to get him to work in under forty minutes during rush hour.
It's a classic New York diner in the wilds of Wisconsin, on the corner of two not particularly busy streets in a dying town of twenty thousand. He stops because he's finally figured out that the only way to beat rush hour traffic is to leave before it starts, and if he goes in to work this early, there's nothing to do but stare at the chalkboard and think about how much he wishes his life was different.
It's got a surprisingly large menu, carefully written out on a huge chalkboard hanging over the window where the short order cooks put your food up. They've got all the grease he can eat in all his favorite ways, and he sits down at the counter, figuring out how many days it'll take him to order everything on the menu and decide what he likes best.
"What can I get for you?" the perky waitress asks, and he looks up at a cute-as-a-button blonde with a twinkle in her eye that speaks of lots and lots of trouble. "Orange juice?"
He knew she was going to be trouble. He glares. "Allergic to citrus," he says, and she clucks her tongue. "Too bad. Milk? Or are you lactose intolerant too?"
"Laura," a grizzled old man behind the cash register says, and she raises an eyebrow at him before turning back to Rodney.
"What would you like, sir?" she asks, but even with the sir it sounds like an insult.
"Coffee," he says, and waits for her to turn away before adding, "and a better waitress."
She pours him a cup and stands with one hip cocked and the coffee pot too close to his cup for him to pick it up with any degree of comfort. "Have you decided what you want?"
He likes the feel of the place; it's almost like being back home, and it smells good, and there's a guy with some of the worst bedhead he's seen smirking at him from behind plates of french toast, eggs benedict, and bacon, so he decides to try to make it work with Laura, the questionable waitress. "What's good here?"
"Everything's good here," bedhead says, and smirks at him some more.
"I like the western omelet," she says, "but if you don't like vegetables and aren't worried about the heart attack you'll have this afternoon, there's the Home Run."
Rodney glances at the board and sees that the Home Run is three eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns (cooked in butter, Rodney's sure), and buttered toast. Rodney's arteries are hardening just thinking about it. "I think the Belgian Waffle is enough of an indulgence for today, thanks."
"Oooh, big spender," bedhead says, and Rodney lifts his coffee cup in greeting.
"You should see how I tip."
Rodney does tip generously, if the service is good. Despite their rocky start, Laura is a good waitress, keeping the coffee hot and bringing his order over the second it comes up. She seems to have taken a liking to him and offers him a cupful of extra strawberries. "Those are from John," she says, and tips her head toward the cook with the ridiculous hair.
"Thanks," Rodney says sincerely, since the waffle itself is a little dry and not particularly good. The strawberries are ripe and lush, though, and Rodney doesn't notice until after his third class that his lips are stained red.
The next morning Laura pours him a cup of coffee the moment he steps in the door. "Funny meeting you here," she says, setting the cup down in front of him when he picks the same stool as the day before. "Need some time to look?"
Rodney glances up at the chalkboard and back down at her. "Let's go for the western omelet." She beams at him, and when she moves away to tend to the old guy on the last stool, he sees John tip his head in greeting.
"Morning," Rodney says, and John quirks his mouth up in a half-smile.
Rodney's never liked teaching; not only are people idiots, kids are even worse most of the time because they're utterly ignorant idiots. They have no idea how much they don't know. Sometimes they're surprising, but mostly they're just annoying and lousy at thinking around corners, at any kind of problem solving at all. If you don't hand it to them on a platter, or in a study guide, or in a handy chart to memorize –
"Something on your mind?" John asks, surprising Rodney out of his reverie because his voice is coming from the stool next to him. He's got a plain white mug full of coffee that's roughly half cream. "You seem a little distracted."
"Work," Rodney says honestly. "Something I'd rather not think about any more if I can help it."
"Maybe you should consider a new job," John says. "If you hate yours so much."
"Oh really, Mr. Fry Cook, what would you suggest?"
John shrugs. "What do you like to do?"
"Solve problems," Rodney says immediately, though the answer surprises him. He looks over at John, who seems nonplussed.
"What, like, train A is heading east at a hundred miles an hour and train B is heading west at sixty miles an hour, that sort of thing?"
"Not really," Rodney says, "those are too simplistic for me." He backpedals a bit when John's normally smirky face looks slightly annoyed. "More... real-world problems."
"Oh," John says, sucking down a few swallows of coffee. "Like how to end war?"
"Please," says Rodney. "Problems that aren't based on the fact that humans are just apes in nice suits. Math, physics, chemistry, that sort of thing."
"Oh!" John says, his eyes lighting up. "Like why I can't cook a perfect over-easy egg."
"Oh for pete's sake," Rodney says, but he spends the rest of the day trying to figure out the optimal temperature, cooking surface, and time to cook an over-easy egg.
Rodney goes to the grocery store after class, picking up five dozen eggs, a couple of skillets, a griddle pan, butter, non-stick spray, lard, Crisco, and various types of oil.
He spends the entire evening cooking eggs, except for the half-hour when he has to run back to the store for another couple dozen.
He hasn't perfected the over-easy egg yet, but he has definitely has the recipe. He just hadn't realized there was skill involved. He hates things he has to practice.
He goes to bed around three a.m., and when he drags his ass in to the diner the next morning, Laura gives him two mugs of coffee straight off. She's really grown on him.
"Look like shit, McKay," she says sweetly, and hovers nearby with the coffee pot.
"I was up late," he answers, downing the first cup of coffee and setting the mug down with an ahh. "Working on a project."
He hasn't worked on a project so hard he lost time since Doranda; it feels surprisingly good.
"I thought you were a teacher," she says, and fills up his first mug as he nurses his second.
"Not by choice," Rodney says darkly.
"O... kay," she says, smiling brightly and heading back to the kitchen.
She comes back out with fresh raspberries and cream, something Rodney got them to add to the menu just for him. Somehow this little diner gets the best berries in the whole city (and he's looked). Their vegetables are only so-so, but the berries are glorious.
He lets the first spoonful rest on his tongue, crushing the raspberries and letting the flavor sink into his taste buds. After that he wolfs them down. He'd forgotten how hungry he gets when he stays up late.
"What do you want today," John asks as he leans down to meet Rodney's eyes through the window. "Eggs benny? Western omelet?"
"Eggs over easy," Rodney says, and gets off his stool. O'Neill shoves his stool aside to let Rodney into the back, and he gets his first glimpse of the kitchen. It's big, actually, with two huge griddle surfaces and two eight-burner gas stoves. The griddle is right in front of the window, which explains why John's around more when Rodney orders pancakes or scrambled eggs. There's another guy cooking furiously, back and forth between the griddle to John's right and the stove across the way. Rodney hadn't realized how full the diner is; he always feels like he's the only customer.
"Evan Lorne," John says, pointing at the guy frantically cooking six eggs, a pan full of bacon, and keeping an eye on two huge pancakes on the griddle.
"Rodney McKay," Rodney says, and Evan nods at him while plating the bacon and eggs.
"Nice to meet ya."
John laughs and sweeps his arm toward his griddle. "My griddle is your griddle."
Rodney looks around at the cookware and doesn't see a non-stick pan anywhere. "All cast iron, really?"
John looks confused. "Yes? I don't know, I don't own the place."
"O'Neill," Rodney yells, and O'Neill pokes his head into the kitchen, leaning so hard Rodney can't believe he hasn't fallen off his stool.
"Where's the rest of your cookware?"
"What you see is what you get, McKay."
Rodney groans and flips open his cell phone.
"I'm not feeling well," Rodney says when the department secretary answers, and he thanks Evan's inability to do three things at once as the fumes from the burnt pancakes make him cough into the phone.
John gives Rodney a hastily prepared egg sandwich before he heads out the door to buy several non-stick skillets. The secretary didn't give him a hard time (why should she, he only has office hours on Tuesdays – thank the university for TAs that teach lab sessions), and he doesn't stay on the line when she puts him on hold for the department head. He and Elizabeth have butted heads enough that he doesn't want to have to fake sick for her. Besides, it's paid time off – he can take a mental health day if he wants.
By the time he gets back to the diner, the morning breakfast rush is in full swing and someone's taken his stool. There's one on the end, right next to O'Neill and the cash register, and one between Ed, the homeless guy who comes in because everyone in the joint has a soft spot, and a businesswoman wearing a tailored suit and conservative heels and sucking down java like she's trying to break the Guinness record for most coffee drunk in under a minute.
He hands the skillets to O'Neill, who throws them at Evan and John. Only one hits the floor with a clang, which is pretty impressive, consider O'Neill's still sitting on his stool. Rodney wonders if he's glued to it. Sidling himself onto the open stool down the way, he says, "Morning, Ed," just as Laura comes by with the coffeepot, filling businesswoman's cup and his own, and warming Ed up.
"Thank you," the woman says, and Rodney turns to look at the businesswoman with renewed interest. She has a beautifully smooth voice and interesting accent.
"Morning," he says, picking up his cup and gulping half of it in a two swallows. When he looks back at the businesswoman, she seems impressed. "Rodney McKay," he says, setting the mug down and holding out his hand.
"Teyla Emmagen," she says, and her eyes crinkle up when she smiles. She is easily the most beautiful woman he's met in his entire life, and not even remotely his type. One look at her calves tells him she can probably break him in half if she wants to. "I haven't seen you in the diner before," she says before downing her entire cup of coffee in four swallows and nodding to Laura.
"I'm usually in early," Rodney says, "but I'm taking the day off."
"And spending it in a diner?" Teyla asks, with a not-quite-surprised tone of voice and too-innocent wide-eyed look.
"Yes, actually," Rodney says, laughing. "I'm going to teach that idiot how to cook an over-easy egg." He nods at John, who grins at him and goes back to shuffling around the kitchen.
Teyla leans in conspiratorially. "That seems impossible. He is very bad with eggs."
Rodney knows. John can make a mean omelet, but he's horrible at just about anything else egg-based. And Evan is lousy at anything that requires syrup. His waffles are dry and his pancakes are always either underdone or burnt. The only thing they can both get right is bacon.
"I've perfected the technique," Rodney says, leaning in so their foreheads are nearly touching. "It'll take some practice, but I have confidence even bedhead over there can master it."
Speak of the devil, John pops into view for a moment, delivering three plates of eggs and pancakes and rings the bell, even though Laura's standing there waiting for them. He glances at Rodney and the briefest flicker of a scowl passes over his face before it settles back into its habitual smooth blankness.
"I would like to see that, if you don't mind an audience," Teyla says, and when Rodney turns to look at her, he realizes how much closer he is than he should be to someone he's just met. "And if I were a betting woman, I'd probably put my money on John being utterly unable to cook any type of egg dish that doesn't include cheese or vegetables."
"Oh," Rodney says, and straightens up, grabbing his coffee and putting it in front of himself like a shield. "Of course, if you have time. You look..." He glances at her outfit again. "...busy."
She laughs, a wonderful sound that ends in a gorgeous smile, and Rodney's heart sinks as he figures she and John, if not a couple already, are probably headed that way in short order. Not that he has any claim on John, of course not, but he's been hoping the special treatment isn't just because Rodney keeps coming back even though the food is only mediocre.
"I don't have an appointment until noon, actually," she answers. "I just didn't want to go home after my Tae Kwon Do class."
Rodney's barely finished demonstrating the flip before Evan grabs a skillet and butters it up. John's smiling at him indulgently and waits while he gives it a try. Evan's egg spreads all over the place when he cracks it, and Rodney knows from experience that's going to make it impossible to flip, so he takes a step back and lets Teyla stick her head in a little farther to watch.
John sidles over and nudges him with an exceptionally pointy elbow. "How long'd it take you to figure this out?"
Rodney shrugs, hoping he looks cool and nonchalant, and not like standing this close to John is making his heart beat so loud he's sure everyone in the kitchen can hear it. "Last night." He's a terrible liar, even half-truths, so he adds, "Took me seven dozen eggs and ten hours."
John turns to him, eyebrows high in disbelief, but before he can say anything, Evan attempts his flip and ends up wearing it all over his shirt.
"Nice try, kiddo," John says, clapping Rodney on the shoulder and grabbing a skillet himself. "Watch the master."
Teyla snorts, such a strange sound coming out of a petite and well-dressed woman that Rodney laughs too. Evan comes over to stand next to Rodney and whispers, "So, do you think you could figure out why our hollandaise doesn't ever set up right?" and Rodney groans and puts a hand to his forehead as John does a beautiful flip that belongs on the cooking channel – right until the yolk breaks and spreads all over his pan.
Rodney fixes most of their big problems over the next two weeks; hollandaise was easy compared to figuring out what kept going wrong with their pancakes (Evan had the griddle too high). He's almost a regular in the kitchen at this point, and O'Neill snarks at him about picking up a second job.
He can't, though, because midterms are coming up and his students are all failing, straight down the line. He hates teaching and he hates the students, but if he flunks them all, he'll be the one out of a job.
He can't even trust his TA to help them study because a pop quiz given during their lab time proves that the TA is even dumber than the students. He dumps the TA – can't fire him, because he was assigned to Rodney, and he can't get a new TA until next year – so now he's stuck teaching his labs as well as his classes.
John comes out from behind the counter to visit with him more days than not, and Rodney finds that his food is better for it (as long as he doesn't order pancakes).
They chat about TV, mostly, or what John wants Rodney to figure out next, or sometimes the chemistry behind why things work or don't work. Rodney doesn't talk about his job, and John doesn't talk about much of anything, and that works out for Rodney, because he's not sure he wants to know why John is doing nothing with his life beyond cooking at a greasy spoon.
John's eyebrows go up in surprise and they turn around on their stools to see the owner of the squeaky high voice.
"Jinto," Rodney says. Jinto is one of his favorite students – not quite as stupid as the rest of the class, and for some reason, he seems to like Rodney. "What are you doing here?"
Jinto grins and holds up his backpack. "Pulled an all-nighter. Two finals today, and then study group starts at ten for your class. We're meeting in the back room." He jerks his head toward the back of the diner.
"Back room?" Rodney asks, getting off his stool. Jinto keeps chatting with John as Rodney wanders toward the back of the diner. He's never been back there, and when he gets past the second to last booth, he clears a post that reveals an archway to a whole room of tables in the back. There are mostly students back here with carafes of coffee and their noses in books.
He stumbles back toward the front of the diner, and gets back to his stool as John's shaking Jinto's hand. "Later," Jinto says, heading out the door, throwing a couple of bills on O'Neill's counter on the way out.
Rodney wakes up from his office-hours nap flailing, knocking over his (thankfully empty) coffee cup as he pulls the papers off his face.
Roughly half the class had jumped at the chance to do an extra credit paper. Some of them are even interesting, since he hadn't really thought about how chemistry might affect musical instruments or the causes of bioluminescence in jellyfish. The sixth paper on sports medicine had been enough to honestly put him to sleep, though, and it's stuck to his cheek for his trouble.
He stacks the papers on his desk and grabs his marshmallowy jacket. He's late to the study session, and he wants to buy a round of coffee for the students who are dedicated enough to pull an all-nighter for his midterm.
When he gets to Charlie's at eight-thirty, walking into the diner is like being transported to another planet. There's no O'Neill at the cash register – no one at all, actually, and isn't that weird – and the booths are filled with high school and college kids, all staring at him like he's walked into the ladies' room.
He grits his teeth and walks toward the back room, stopping just before the door as he hears John's raucous laugh. "Nice, but no," he says, and rattles off the molecular mole balance equation.
"Can I help you?" someone asks, and Rodney turns to see a young man with several plates on his arms. He backs up and the waiter delivers the plates of floppy sandwiches and greasy fries to the teenagers in the booth before turning back to him with a fake smile.
"Oh, um," Rodney says, and before he can answer, John is at his side, slinging an arm over his shoulders.
"Rodney," he says, with a nod that sends the waiter heading back to the kitchen. "Another carafe of coffee, Chuck," John calls after him.
"I wasn't planning on –"
"Helping your students study?" John asks, pulling him into the room. There are twelve students, roughly half of whom look starry-eyed with wonder and half of whom look like deer in headlights. "I'm sure they appreciate your concern for their grades."
They spend the rest of the evening going over the material in his meticulously crafted study guide, John translating to pedestrian English when Rodney's detailed explanations get him blank looks. Nearly every time John explains something, Rodney can see the lightbulbs go on as if they're thought bubbles over the students' heads.
They work until three-thirty, and the kids look even more bleary-eyed than Rodney, so he sends them home for some sleep. He's even more impressed when they set up a calling tree to make sure everyone will get up in time to get to the test. He's tempted to ask one of them to call him.
"Don't worry, Rodney, I've got your back," John says, putting his arm around Rodney and maneuvering him out the door.
Rodney stares at his car for a while, wondering if it's safe for him to drive home. He's wrung out in a way that's wholly unfamiliar; working on cutting edge research makes him antsy, even when he's going on forty-eight hours without sleep. Teaching makes every hour he spends feel like a week doing hard labor.
"I don't think you should drive," John says, steering him away from his car. "I live a couple blocks away, why don't you come to my place and crash for a couple of hours?"
Rodney knows he should say no, even if he can't drive home. He can grab a couple of hours in his car – he only has to make it through a three hour final and then he can go home and collapse.
"Okay," Rodney says.
Rodney manages the three block walk fairly gracefully until he gets to the two flights of stairs that lead up to John's apartment.
"Maybe I'll just curl up here in the hallway," he says, glancing at the floor, and wondering if three hours of sleep on the hardwood would be worse than climbing two flights of stairs when his legs feel like Jell-O.
"Come on," John says, yanking on Rodney's arm. "It's not that far. I'll give you a prize when you make it to the top."
Like Pavlov's dog with a bell, Rodney starts climbing the stairs. His mother gave him treats whenever he spent time teaching Jeannie what he'd learned in school that day. He might have done it anyway, because Jeannie is brighter than all the morons he's ever gone to school with, but the chocolate chip cookies and banana pudding and dreamsicles didn't hurt.
By the time he's listing off his favorite deserts in his head – apple pie, jelly doughnuts, Nanaimo bars – he's at the top of the stairs and John is jogging up behind him, looking surprised.
"I had no idea you were so easily convinced," John says, and Rodney turns to ask him what kind of prizes he has in this bachelor pad, already thinking of ice cream, but before he can get the words out, John's kissing him, a little sloppy and a lot earnest, and Rodney's eyes slide shut automatically. This is the best prize in the entire world, way better than New York Superfudge Chunk.
Rodney wakes up from a dream of being tickled by furry animals to find his cell phone buzzing in his pocket. He answers it without looking, flipping it open and saying, "McKay."
"Really?" John's nasally voice comes across the line. "We're on a last name basis now?"
"It's how I answer my phone, you idiot, I used to get called in the middle of the night all the time."
"Really," John says again, and Rodney wants to strangle him until he erases that word from his vocabulary. "Well, it's not the middle of the night. If you get up now, I'll make you breakfast before your test. If you're not in the diner in half an hour, I'll call you again, and you'll be running to get there before your students."
"Thanks," Rodney mumbles, not sure what else to say. He stretches and looks around. The plaid couch is more comfortable than he would have guessed, and remembering last night, he thinks, shit, I fell asleep?! The last memory he has is of making out with John, spread out comfortably on the ugly plaid monstrosity.
"Towels in the linen closet outside the bathroom, if you want a shower," John says, and he hears Laura's whistle in the background loud and clear.
"Thanks," he answers, hanging up before John can say anything more embarrassing.
Taking a shower with John's soap and shampoo and shaving cream and then putting his clothes on from last night doesn't seem like a bad idea until he shows up at the diner and Laura sniffs him and turns around to wink at John.
He scarfs down the Belgian waffle with strawberries and waves at John as he runs out the door to attempt to get to his midterm at a respectable hour. He skids into the auditorium at seven fifty-six, and there are seventy or so kids chatting and comparing notes in the seats. They glance at him and go back to their conversations, except for Jinto.
Jinto squints at him, gets out of his seat and comes down to the podium. "Dr. McKay," he says quietly, under the current of noise from the rest of the students, "are you wearing the same clothes as last night?" Rodney glances down at the kid, horrified that he even noticed. Jinto doesn't stop there. "And why do you smell like mango?"
Rodney rolls his eyes and hands Jinto the stack of blue books. "Hand these out," he says, grabbing the tests out of his briefcase and tapping them once on the podium.
"You got lucky," Jinto whispers, and of course that would be when the chatter dies down. "Was it John?"
The whole class is staring at him now, the twelve students from the study group last night with a more knowing look than the rest of them. He ignores the looks as he hands out tests.
"You have three hours to complete the test," he says, reveling in sounding like every asshole professor he's ever had, "and you must show your work."
He sets the timer on his watch. He's never been on this side of a test before. Even when he was a TA, his time was spent doing research locked in a lab somewhere. They were smart enough to keep him away from the other students.
He grabs a seat in the front row and rereads his test, annoyed by the three typos he finds, and then rereads the two interesting extra credit papers. After that, there's nothing left for him to do but twiddle his thumbs and wait for someone to finish. He pulls out his phone and texts John.
So bored. Save me from three-hour-long midterms.
His phone clatters loudly on the wooden arm of the chair when he gets John's answer, so he immediately turns the sound off before checking for John's message.
Little busy here. Do you know how do you make quiche?
Rodney has no idea how to make quiche, and he doesn't have any way to research it either, so he answers with No idea, sorry.
John texts back with That's your distraction, Rodney. Figure it out.
Rodney fumes even as he makes a list of ingredients and cookware. He doesn't know the first thing about cooking, except for the handful of things he's taught John and Evan, and asking him to figure out something as strange as quiche without any way to look things up is just plain mean.
By the time he's got his best-guess shopping list made out, Jinto's at the front of the room, handing Rodney his three blue books. Rodney glances at his watch; seventy-two minutes left.
He nods at Jinto and takes the books. "Have a good weekend," he says as Jinto sprints for the door.
"I'm sure I'll see you at the diner," Jinto throws over his shoulder, and Rodney glares at the students who turn around while the door drifts slowly shut.
Teyla's at the counter when he gets into Charlie's at half past eleven. He sees her when he goes in for lunch sometimes, and she smiles broadly at him and indicates the stool to her right. "Rodney."
"Teyla," he says, grabbing the coffee cup Laura poured for him the minute he walked in the door. "It's been a while."
"Quarterly tax time," Teyla says, and Rodney chokes on his coffee.
"You're an accountant?" he nearly yells. He didn't know what he thought she did for a living, but CPA hadn't even made the list.
"Is that surprising?" Teyla asks, raising her mug to get Laura's attention. "I like numbers."
Rodney trips over himself trying to backtrack and luckily John swoops in before he can permanently wedge his foot into his mouth.
"He's a little low on sleep," John says, patting Rodney on the back.
"I bet," Laura says, but John ignores her. Rodney rolls his eyes in her general direction.
"Helped some of his students study last night," John says, like a proud father. "How'd they do?"
"Fine," Rodney says, shrugging. "One imbecile stayed ten minutes late and handed me five blue books, like that'd impress me."
Teyla grins at him and punches him on the shoulder. "Maybe you should get some rest," she says with her molasses voice, and Rodney can barely process the incongruence as he rubs his sore arm.
"Too wired now," he says. "Besides, I have to figure out how to make quiche."
"Oh!" Teyla says, glancing up at John. "You didn't tell him!"
"Tell me what?" Rodney demands, and Teyla looks away from them both.
"Her mom used to make a really amazing quiche," John says, giving Teyla a squeeze. "But she passed a couple of years ago, and Teyla's never been able to figure out the recipe."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Rodney says, looking anywhere but at Teyla. "That sucks."
"Thank you," Teyla says kindly, and pulls over a napkin from the stack Laura habitually places in front of Rodney and starts writing. "This is all I can remember of the recipe, and I'm not sure I am remembering the number of eggs correctly."
They put their heads together over the napkin and decide to meet at Rodney's place that weekend to try their hand at quiche.
For the rest of the week, Rodney researches quiche and tries to fit Teyla's recipe around the ones he can find in cookbooks and online, but none of them seem to have half as much cheese as her recipe. He buys eight different cheeses to test, since the only one she was sure about was the parmesan.
Rodney's glad he's gotten used to getting up with the sun because John knocks on his door at the ridiculous hour of seven o'clock.
"Good morning," Rodney says, hating the cheerfulness he hears in his own voice.
"Morning," John says, putting a hand on Rodney's ribs and leaning in for a lingering kiss. "Thought I'd catch you still in your PJs."
"I get up at six every day," Rodney grouses.
John grins and ruffles Rodney's hair. "You just seem like a guy who sleeps in on weekends." He steps around Rodney into the apartment and whistles. "Nice place."
Rodney's never been one to worry about stuff very much, but the clear difference between John's small but homey townhouse and Rodney's loft-style condo makes him a little uncomfortable. So does his loveseat, come to think of it, and he wonders what John's eyesore of a couch would look like in front of his 46 inch TV.
"So I guess you don't really have to give me the nickel tour," John says, looking around the open floor plan.
"Bathroom's the first door," Rodney says, indicating the pair of doors under the loft. "Second is the laundry."
"Great," John says, moseying over to the kitchen, where Rodney's got all his supplies set out. He's got four different pans, eight different cheeses and six dozen eggs sitting alongside several different types of mushroom, pepper, and onion.
"You know," John says, picking up a hunk of Gruyere and breathing it in. "I bet Teyla's a late sleeper."
Rodney's not quite sure what John's getting at – or maybe he doesn't quite believe it, but he stutters out the truth before he can think of some suave way to invite John upstairs. "I was going to try a couple before anyone got here."
"And have all the fun yourself? Believe me," John says, catching Rodney's arm and heading for the stairs, "you want to see Teyla try and cook. Pure entertainment."
"But," Rodney says, glancing at the butcher block with the bright green peppers and gleaming cookware.
"No buts," John says, and then laughs like a twelve-year-old. "Not that kind of but, anyway."
"Oh, shut up," Rodney says, but follows John's lead up the stairs and onto his huge featherbed. He keeps swallowing the words that want to come out, trying to keep his nervous babble to a minimum for once. He manages to keep his big mouth shut until John kisses him. It's a soft, warm kiss, and he pulls the down blanket over them, curling up along Rodney's side.
Rodney blinks a few times, about to say but I'm not tired. When he opens his mouth, though, he yawns widely, and he gives up, rolling over and letting John sling an arm over his rib cage.
The doorbell is so loud that Rodney wakes up with his heart racing, trying to get out of bed and failing miserably, tangling himself hopelessly in the covers. "Coming!" he calls, trying to pull his arms out of the twisty mess of the blanket.
John is still lying on the bed, blinking blearily at him. "John," Rodney says, wishing he had a hand free so that he could snap at him. "John!"
"Oh, Teyla, right," John says, instantly awake. He bounds off the bed and down the steps and Rodney hates down comforters with the fire of a thousand suns right now. He works himself out of the suffocating blanket and shoves it off, hurrying downstairs to greet Teyla.
John's already pointing out the bathroom when he gets to the first floor, and they turn to stare at him when he reaches the bottom step. "What?" he says, looking around. He's still fully dressed, okay, a little rumpled, but…
"Your face," Teyla says, and politely laughs behind her hand.
Rodney stops in the bathroom and it only takes the quickest glance to see the crinkled sheet lines on his face. It is criminally unfair.
"I thought we were trying to make a quiche," Rodney says, and Teyla controls herself as best she can while John sniggers behind her.
"Asshole," Rodney says, cracking the first of many, many eggs.
The day goes by impossibly quickly, and they mix up quiche after quiche, sending the decent ones off to Rodney's neighbors (Teyla insists; Rodney insists she tell them they're from the old lady in the condo next to his).
It takes four tries to figure out a recipe Teyla says tastes just like her mother's, and it takes a few more to figure out that by putting it in a springform pan, they can pop it out and plate it as soon as it cools off, and if they cook it in a water bath, the texture is creamy smooth, not thick and scrambled-egg-like.
"Thank you," Teyla says, their crowning achievement and a hand-written copy of the recipe in hand. "I can't tell you how much it means to me."
Rodney shuffles his feet and shrugs. "It was nothing."
John squeezes his shoulder and puts an arm around Teyla. "Rodney means 'you're welcome,'" he says, ushering her to the door. "Come on, I'll walk you to your car."
Rodney shuts the door behind them and stares at the wide open emptiness of his huge condo for a moment before tackling the mountain of dishes in his sink.
Charlie's puts Teyla's quiche on the menu on Mondays, and Rodney doesn't go a week without it. He comes by for lunch most Thursdays and the three of them hang around and shoot the shit until Rodney needs to teach his afternoon lab section.
This Thursday, they've got a promo photographer coming in to shoot the morning lab, and Elizabeth's told him to 'do something interesting.' Since Halloween's coming up, Rodney goes straight for dry ice. It's simplistic beyond what even his basic chemistry class should be doing (and seriously, he hopes that teaching all of the non-major chemistry classes was a fluke of scheduling and not something having to do with seniority or tenure, or he might have to spork his eyes out next semester) but it'll look good in photographs and the students will get a kick out of it.
He buys fifty pounds of dry ice as well as dish soap, food coloring, and a ton of glow-in-the-dark lightsticks and brings it all to lab that morning. He pulls out beakers and glass containers in every shape and size (and borrows some from neighboring labs) and puts them all on the back counter.
The photographer – a giant who looks like he models for romance novel covers – comes by while he's setting up and dumps two huge bags of equipment on Rodney's desk.
"Ronon Dex," he says, coming over and sticking his hand out. Rodney's a little afraid to shake the hand that connects to those biceps, but he does it anyway.
"Rodney McKay," Rodney answers. "And if you could keep your camera facing the students, that'd be terrific."
Ronon laughs. "We'll see. Dr. Weir said she wanted a lot of faculty involvement pictures. Looks good on the brochures."
Rodney snorts. "I'm sure they don't want my face on those brochures."
"Well, why don't you sign a waiver just in case." Ronon hands him a stack of forms, and Rodney sighs.
"If I don't sign, you can't use my picture, right?"
"I wouldn't want to go into a performance review with Dr. Weir if I hadn't signed the release form," Ronon says, and Rodney scowls.
"Fine," he says, scribbling his name on one of the forms and handing it to Ronon. Ronon takes it and writes plaid button down, blue eyes, short brown hair on the top.
"Really?" Rodney asks, and Ronon laughs again. Rodney's a little concerned for the guy's intelligence at this rate. He's clearly too good-natured to have even half a brain.
"I'm not going to forget you," he says, grinning, "but it'll be easier for my assistants to pick you out in photos." He hands waivers to the three early birds who always show up early for lab and makes the same type of notes on their sheets when they turn them in.
When the whole class is settled, so fascinated by Ronon that they miss the set-up in the back of the room, Rodney stands and claps his hands together.
"Get in teams of four or five," he says. There are eighteen people in this lab; four teams are plenty for this challenge. The kids shuffle around a little, though they were already sitting by their friends for the most part. Jinto slides over to sit with a group of three shy girls since his group has six people already.
"Great," Rodney says, and opens the lid on the one cooler in the front of the room. A nice thick fog rolls out over the top, rolling out across the floor. "Dry ice," he says, "which is one of the best ways to illustrate what property?"
"Sublimation," Jinto answers immediately.
Rodney nods. "Five points to Gryffindor." He waves his hand at the back of the room. "Supplies in back. The team that builds the coolest dry ice structure gets a free pass on the next pop quiz. You have ninety minutes."
The kids scramble out of their seats, grabbing at the glassware and lightsticks. The next few minutes of class are spent sketching and planning while Ronon wanders the room like a cat on the prowl, clicking away.
Rodney sits at his desk, watching the teams finish their planning and start organizing whatever supplies they could grab. Jinto was smart and grabbed the entire cooler of ice from the front of the room, while the rest of the teams are stuck sharing the pair of coolers that were in the back.
There's a fair amount of experimentation going on; none of the teams seem to know what the dish soap will do, and watching the bubbles get out of hand and spill all over their desks cracks Rodney up.
Jinto's team has a brilliant idea for a champagne-fountain-type effect that could really knock the socks off the other three teams, if he can get it to work; Rodney doesn't doubt him, but it's a massive undertaking, and like dominoes, means everything has to be in exactly the right place and fall exactly as it's supposed to.
Rodney does his Elizabeth-ordered-duty and spends time looking over the shoulders of all the teams, suggestion things here or there, and for one group, yelling at them to avoid what would have probably caused an explosion with glass shards everywhere. He shudders, remembering once again why he hates students.
Once he's imparted his wisdom (or extreme displeasure) to all four groups, he heads back up to his desk to wait out the rest of the building process. He watches Ronon for a while, seeing if he can figure out what kind of shots he's getting. They're college kids; their youth and energy makes them generally attractive, and he expects there will be plenty of material for Elizabeth to choose from.
Ronon keeps snapping pictures for a few more minutes before he comes over to pull up a chair next to Rodney.
"That's it?" Rodney asks.
"Nah," Ronon answers, though he's setting his camera on top of its case. "Thought I'd stick around for the show. That glass pyramid looks interesting. Besides, I can get some video."
"Video? Now there's video too?"
Ronon grins toothily. "For the website," he says, and grabs up his camera. He flips through a bunch of pictures of the class hunched over their notebooks to a video of a girl sketching. She's one of Jinto's friends, Ashleigh, maybe, or Amy?
"She's good," Ronon says. "Good eye."
Rodney wouldn't know a good sketch if it bit him in the ass. He rolls his eyes. "No video of me, okay?"
"Sure thing," Ronon says, and for some reason, Rodney doesn't believe him.
At the end of ninety minutes, there are three intriguing sculptures and one lab table that's a complete and utter mess. He hadn't expected anything out of that group (the one he had privately named Slytherin) except a mess and maybe an explosion, so the fact that there's only a mess means Rodney is ahead of the game. It also means that they're going to stay and clean up everyone's messes for their lack of initiative. Rodney tries not to laugh evilly at their little awww!s at discovering their clean-up chores, but he can't help a chuckle at their expense.
Jinto's group of friends has made a haunted castle, and Rodney tries to remember if they're all art students or something. The castle is an amazing feat of architecture, but there's not that much dry ice, and it's mostly used as an accent to pop-up ghosts that are clearly made by the girl he thinks Jinto is crushing on.
The next group (Hufflepuffs, Rodney can't help thinking) has every possible combination of ingredients in an utterly boring display. They get points for being thorough, but there is absolutely nothing to catch the eye.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Jinto says when it's his team's turn, opening his arms wide like the ringleader of a circus, "if you would gather round the table, we would like to welcome you to the greatest show in the chem labs."
He nods at one of the shy girls – Mandy, Rodney thinks, but he knows he's probably wrong – and she turns out the lights. The other two girls are holding blacklights that illuminate the water in the top level of the fountain, making it fluorescent and eerie. Rodney had seen Jinto breaking out his highlighters early on, but he hadn't put together what they were going to use it for.
Jinto steps up with several dry ice pellets in his gloved hands, and puts them in the cylinder at the top of the stack. Rodney and the rest of the class are spellbound as they watch a huge bubble form over the top of the cylinder. The carbon dioxide makes it bigger and bigger until it finally breaks, pulling a delighted roar out of the class.
The bubbles spill over then, filling the four cylinders of the second level, and each of them develops one of the large carbon dioxide bubbles too – but in addition to being fluorescent, they're colored blue, green, yellow, and red. The team outdid themselves, Rodney thinks, as the second-tier bubbles pop and flow down to the cylinders of the third tier, which have no dry ice, and basically serve as catch-alls for the messy liquid.
The whole class claps wildly, Rodney included, and Mandy turns the lights on just before Ronon sets down his camera to put two fingers in his mouth and whistle.
"I think we have our winner," Rodney says, holding up Jinto's arm. "For most inventive use of blacklight, team Gryffindor gets the prize."
The class breaks up, most of the students packing up and heading out with smug looks as they watch the lazy team cleaning up the mess. Jinto and his team help, and Rodney decides to double the value of the next pop quiz to make it worth their while.
Eventually Rodney lets them all go, sorting the glassware to be returned to its respective classrooms and putting the rest of the dry ice in the freezer. Ronon and Jinto stick around to help him, and Rodney feels strangely indebted to them.
"Lunch is on me," he says, shaking Ronon's hand again. "You didn't have to help with the clean up."
"Charlie's?" Jinto asks, nudging Ronon and stage-whispering, "His boyfriend works there."
Rodney rolls his eyes and only refrains from slapping Jinto upside the head by extreme self-control and the threat of a lawsuit.
Teyla and Ronon hit it off like gangbusters, chatting about martial arts and owning your own business, and Rodney suggests they move to a booth while they wait for John to finish up his shift. He's supposed to be done at one, but more and more O'Neill just waves him away at noon as long as there's no crowd. There's never a crowd for the lunch menu, and that's utterly understandable as the sandwiches are tasteless and limp and the French fries are ninety percent grease and always under-salted.
Rodney picks at his onion rings – every once in a while they are edible, but not today – and watches Jinto slurp down his shake. John comes out from the kitchen just as Jinto's packing up, and they do some complicated hand gesture in greeting that makes Rodney want to roll his eyes.
"See you tomorrow, Dr. McKay," Jinto says, waving. "Nice meeting you, Ms. Emmagen and Mr. Dex."
"Nice meeting you as well, Jinto," Teyla says with a wide grin. She waits for him to clear earshot before saying, "He is a charming young man."
"Yes, yes," Rodney says, yanking John down next to him. "Adorable."
John pinches his cheek. "You're adorable," he says, and Rodney swats his hand away. For all of Jinto's boyfriend talk, he's not sure what to make of John. They see each nearly other every day, and Rodney asks him out at least once a week – it's always Rodney asking, and it's always the movies except that one trip to the observatory in Appleton. They make out a lot, and Rodney really likes the making out (especially in the back of the theater, he finds, and who knew that was his thing), but he's wondering why John never agrees to do anything on Sundays, and why things never get past making out. By his estimation, they've been dating for five weeks, and had twelve or thirteen make-out sessions. He can't tell if that's just where this relationship is going to linger, or if John is waiting for him to be more forward, or –
"I know!" John's says, clearly excited. His eyes are practically gleaming. "And on Lambeau turf, no less. We're going to slaughter them."
Ronon and Teyla are both grinning hugely, and if Rodney hadn't been startled out of his daydreaming at that moment, he wonders if John and Ronon wouldn't have chest-bumped across the table.
Ronon gives him a knowing look. "When'd you move here?" he asks, and Rodney's mouth drops open. He can feel it trying to form words, but absolutely nothing is traveling from his brain to his vocal chords, so he closes his mouth back up.
"Not a Packer fan," John says, patting Rodney's hand as if he had just made some strange social faux pas.
"Packer fan?" Rodney says, and Teyla giggles. "What is a Packer and why would I be a fan?"
Ronon guffaws and John looks at Rodney with indulgent affection and kisses his temple. "Those green jerseys you see everywhere?" Rodney nods. He's seen sports paraphernalia before; living in New York means there's a plethora of teams to choose from. He can't even discern which one is which sport.
"The Green Bay Packers," Teyla explains. "They're the home team – and you best not say anything out loud if you don't know what sport they play."
Football, Rodney realizes. That explains the Sundays. Suddenly he feels a lot better about this. "Why didn't you say?" Rodney asks. "Hello, 46 inch HDTV in my living room and enough space for the entire diner!"
Laura's head turns at Rodney's proclamation. "Game day at McKay's!" she hollers, and the whole diner goes up in a shout.
That afternoon, Rodney gets a text from a number he doesn't recognize.
U haz grill?, the mysterious text asks.
He deletes the message and goes back to watching the four lab teams make an utter mess of their tables with dry ice. No lazy students this session; word must have gotten around.
His phone buzzes in his pocket as he gets another text from the same unknown number.
He looks at the number; it's 920 area code, so clearly someone from around here. He can't imagine who would be texting him. He decides to call the number and see.
"Hello?" a vaguely familiar voice says.
"Who is this, and why are you texting me poorly spelled messages?" Rodney asks, irritated. He hears an ominous silence behind him and turns around to find the whole class staring at him.
"It's Evan. Lorne. From the diner?"
"Oh, right," Rodney says, waving his hand at his students dismissively. "What do you want?"
"I was wondering if you had a grill. I thought I'd bring ribs on Sunday."
Rodney thinks about four inches of snow that's sitting on top of his grill. "You do realize it's November? That we've had three snows already and it's technically not even winter yet?"
Friday morning over breakfast, John tells Rodney that the game is going to be pot luck, that everyone will be bringing their dishes to pass. "Katie makes this amazing pumpkin cheesecake," he says, with half-lidded eyes. Rodney can practically see the drool. "She brings them in sometimes, they're so good."
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Well, I don't know what I'm supposed to make. I can only do quiche and pancakes and over-easy eggs with hollandaise sauce."
"So provide drinks. Beer and soda and I don't know. Coffee or something."
Rodney blinks. That, he can do. He flips open his cell phone and dials Jinto.
"Hello?" Jinto asks, sounding sleepy. "Dr. McKay?"
"I will give you a pass for bringing something to the pot luck on Sunday if you will buy the beer and soda and carry it up the three flights of stairs to my house." It's a fair deal, Rodney thinks. "Oh, wait. Are you old enough to buy beer?"
"Yes, Dr. McKay," Jinto says, and yawns right into the phone. "Can we discuss this later? Like noonish?"
"Fine. Stop by my office hours this afternoon."
"Okay," Jinto says, and hangs up. Rodney wouldn't be surprised if he fell asleep on his phone and turned it off. He'll have to remember to call Jinto this afternoon and see if he remembers any of the conversation.
"Evan wants to use my grill," Rodney says to John, raising his voice a little since John went back to the grill. "In November!"
"Oh, hey," Laura says, "if you'll have your grill on, I'll bring brats. The butcher shop down the road has the best homemade brats."
"Brats?" Rodney asks, and Laura's grin turns devilish. "Maybe I don't want to know."
"Sausage," Laura explains. "Like hot dogs but a million times better."
Rodney has no idea how something like hot dogs could be any kind of good, but he doesn't seem to have any choice in the matter. At least Katie's bringing cheesecake.
Jinto brings the drinks over on Saturday and Rodney stores them on his deck, hoping it doesn't dip below zero overnight. It's not supposed to, but Rodney finds that Wisconsin weather often doesn't do what it's supposed to.
Rodney wanders around his apartment, the excitement about spending a Sunday with John, even in the company of the entire diner, making him pace. He's had someone in to clean, rearranged the furniture for optimal positions in front of the TV. No one but John and Teyla will know that he bought a huge, overstuffed chair and a half to add to his couch and loveseat and no one, hopefully not even John, will realize that it's so the two of them can be cozy for the parts of the game where John isn't jumping out of his seat every five seconds. Rodney doesn't actually know if John's that sort of sports enthusiast, but he has his suspicions.
The doorbell doesn't just interrupt his thoughts, it demolishes them. He really has to fix that problem.
He debates not answering; the only person who stops by unannounced is the old lady next door, to thank him for the quiche with cookies and brownies. The cookies are usually hard enough to be doorstops and Rodney hasn't chanced the brownies yet. His stomach turns over just thinking about them.
The doorbell rings again, followed by three quick knocks, and Rodney nearly trips in his hurry to get to the door. That's not the lady next door, that's –
"John," Rodney says, hoping that John doesn't notice the way his pulse is thumping away so loud he can hear the blood rushing in his ears. John thrusts a pan of ingredients at him and picks a duffel bag off the floor. He looks annoyed in the extreme. "John?" Rodney asks, worried, because his heart did a back flip when he saw the duffel bag, but now he thinks that maybe he's going to be buried under the snow on his deck and not found until spring thaw.
"I'm fine," John says, but the way his voice cuts through the apartment says otherwise. "Just stuck in traffic. I never take the highway but it was late and I thought it'd be a breeze… There was an accident." John blows out a breath and rubs his hands through his hair. "It was really annoying," he says, finally wandering over to Rodney and giving him a one-armed hug and a peck on the cheek. "Tell me you have something that alleviates annoyance."
"Well," Rodney says, setting the pan and random ingredients on the counter. "There's cooking, which, with you, is always an adventure, or," he glances over at his short stack of Blu-rays, "there's The Fast and the Furious, Die Hard, Point Break –"
"Point Break?" John asks incredulously. "How does that even fit in the same sentence?"
"Shut up," Rodney says. "I like it."
"And you call my taste suspect," John says. "Let me see what else you've got." He crosses the room and drops cross-legged onto the floor in front of the TV. He laughs to himself several times as he shifts through the pile of movies and Rodney has a fair idea of what he owns that would cause that, but it's not until John pulls out Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that he thinks they might actually have their first fight about action films.
"If you say one bad word about that movie," Rodney says, hoping to head things off at the pass.
John holds his hands up in surrender, Crouching Tiger in one hand and Point Break in the other. "I like it! Jeez, Rodney, touchy about your movie choices much?"
Rodney sniffs. "Well, you can never be too careful. That movie has beautiful cinematography."
John laughs so hard he beats his chest to catch his breath. "Rodney, you are an original. Let's put in Point Break while we make the brownies, and we can watch the other one when they're done."
The brownies are a lie. They're from a box. Four boxes, actually, and the pan of ingredients is actually two stacked pans, eggs, oil, and pecans.
"No one likes nuts on their brownies," Rodney says, and John clucks his tongue.
"I like nuts on brownies," he says.
"Fuck," Rodney says. "We're never going to agree on anything."
"Compromise is a fine art," John says, sprinkling the nuts over one of the pans. "See how I'm letting you watch Point Break and not making fun of you?"
Rodney scowls, but takes both pans of brownies and puts them in the preheated oven. He sets the timer for fifty minutes and shuts the lights off in the kitchen area. John's already settled on the couch, sprawled all over the leather monstrosity, one of Rodney's two afghans (the only things Jeannie's ever knit in her life) behind his head.
"C'mere," John says, half-heartedly holding one arm up. "I need a distraction from Keanu Reeves."
Rodney sits next to John on the couch, half of an ass cheek pressing in to John's hip and fighting for room. He leans down to kiss John gently and John holds onto him, kissing him until his arms start to twitch with the effort of holding himself up. "Wait," he says, trying to scoot in along John's body, his ass hanging off the couch. "My arms," he says, groaning.
"Just put your weight on me, jeez," John says, yanking him down. They're badly misaligned, John's hip jutting into Rodney's dick, and that is not going to help his self-control one bit. Rodney throws a leg between John's and shifts himself over, but now they're perfectly aligned, and he can feel John's erection snugged in right next to his.
"Fuck," Rodney whispers, and he can't help tilting his hips down, putting a little pressure on.
"Fuuuuuuck," John answers, and pulls Rodney down for a kiss.
Rodney lets his weight settle on John's chest, giving his arms a rest and listening to see if John's breathing is strained. It's hard to tell though, because John's grabbing Rodney's hips and pressing up into him, and Rodney can feel his eyes roll back into his head as his zipper rubs up and down his dick.
Rodney can't possibly concentrate on kissing with this going on, and John's mouth has fallen open anyway, so he lets his head drop, grabbing on to John's clavicle with his teeth. He bites gently, at least until John whimpers and lifts them both off the couch with his hips.
The shift of his jeans over his dick and the feel of John's hitchy breath stirring his hair makes Rodney nearly crazy. He's learned to focus on one thing with John – and he can't decide if he wants it to be biting or his clavicle.
He decides on the clavicle and bites his way along the bone, right down to John's throat, and damn it's tough not to want to lick and suck and do all kinds of things to it that make John groan, but he heads back out toward John's shoulder, tiny bites that make John's hips go crazy and make Rodney feel like if he can just keep this up, maybe they'll get to orgasms, and that would be one up on everything they've done so far.
They're jolted out of their messing around by the buzzer on the oven. It scares the crap out of Rodney; he starts and looks up at the offending appliance with irritation. The part of him that wants to continue biting John until he comes protests loudly at how he's pushing himself up onto his knees and pulling their faces apart. John whines a little too, but Rodney is firm.
"Brownies," he says, and while the chocolate craving may not beat the John craving, the chocolate craving combined with the desire not to burn down his house trumps it pretty handily. "We can come back to this – and with chocolate breath."
"Yeah, okay," John agrees, and shoves Rodney away, squirming out from underneath him. He heads over to the kitchen, walking a little stiffly, Rodney's proud to notice, and grabs the pot holders Rodney set out next to the stove. "Toothpicks?" he asks, and it takes Rodney a second to remember where they are.
"Second drawer on the right," he says, making his way over to the island. John pulls out one batch, tests it, and then the other. He pulls the one with nuts out and sets it on top of the stove, but shoves the nutless brownies back in the oven. "Another couple of minutes," John says, the toothpick sticking out of his mouth. Rodney leans over to set the timer on the stove as John hops up onto the counter.
"Unsanitary!" Rodney snaps, smacking him on the thigh. "People are going to eat off of there tomorrow."
"We'll wash it before they come over," John says, shrugging. "Besides, it's not like I'm naked."
Rodney groans. He's never been one to initiate rooms or furniture before, but with John he might consider it. He comes around the island, pressing John's legs apart and standing between them. It's utterly awkward, and there's nothing either of them can reach without some extreme contortionism, so Rodney gives up and starts to load the dishwasher.
"I don't mean to be forward," Rodney says, keeping his eyes on the dishes as he rinses them off and stacks them carefully, "but I think if you're planning on spending the night, I'm going to need an orgasm at some point, so you should tell me right now if I need to go take care of things in the bathroom."
John laughs and the horrendous buzzer sounds again, and Rodney's left without a definitive answer until John pulls him into a kiss and says, "We'll think of something," which is even less of a definitive answer and should probably make Rodney nervous but really doesn't.
John cuts out the tiniest corner of the nutty brownie pan; Rodney would feel guilty with the huge piece he's cut for himself except he's been smelling these for an hour and it's been pure torture waiting for them to cool enough to eat.
They watch the end of Point Break and John judiciously takes a bite of Rodney's brownie to stave off Rodney's irritation at his laughter. Rodney stuffs the rest of his brownie in his mouth all at once (he grew up with Jeannie and knows exactly how to keep someone from eating all your stuff) and takes several minutes trying to chew and swallow it all.
John takes advantage of Rodney's mouth being full by making blatantly incorrect statements and raising his eyebrows like he knows Rodney would be slinging insults at his intelligence if his mouth wasn't glued shut.
They make out for a while after they put Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in, but something onscreen catches Rodney's attention and they end up watching it, curled together on the couch and holding hands. When they drag their asses up to bed at one in the morning, Rodney can barely keep his eyes open, and stays awake just long enough to flop on his stomach and pull John close, his arm around John's waist so he knows he's not going anywhere.
Rodney wakes up to the light streaming in and an empty bed. He can hear John puttering around the kitchen, and he groans as he thinks that he's had John in his bed twice and done nothing but curl up around him and sleep.
He brushes his teeth – it was a mistake to have gone to bed without doing it last night – and pulls on his jeans before heading downstairs. John is humming while he cooks pancakes, and Rodney pauses on the stairs long enough to catch his breath from the surprising surge of affection.
"Pancakes?" he asks, coming up behind John and wrapping his arms around his stomach.
John shrugs. "Nothing I make is that great, I figured pancakes would do."
"Hey," Rodney says, backing off and leaning against the counter. "You're not a bad cook."
John shrugs again, but he doesn't meet Rodney's eyes. "I know I am, Rodney, I don't care. It's just a crappy little diner in buttfuck Wisconsin."
"But," Rodney asks before he can shut it down. They've never talked about this, though Rodney's curiousity has nearly eaten his brain some days. John is slippery, he doesn't talk about anything, and Rodney likes that, because then he doesn't have to talk about anything, and there's a lot he doesn't want to talk about.
"But what?" John turns to look at him, a challenge in his eyes.
Rodney sighs. He can't get out of it now. "But why are you working as a cook if you don't like it?"
He can almost hear John's comeback of "Why are you working as a teacher if you don't like it?" but John just goes back to the pancakes, flipping the three silver dollar ones easily. They look fluffier than the ones from the diner and Rodney wants to ask about the recipe, but he thinks if he can wait John out he may be able to crack through his shell.
John plates the pancakes, passes them to Rodney, and hands over the bottle of maple syrup he's heated up in a pan of hot water. He waits for Rodney to pour the syrup, cut a piece and put it in his mouth.
"I went to school at UCLA," John starts, and Rodney keeps chewing. That's John, non-verbal, but able to get across what he wants you to do. "I was surfing on the side at first, but eventually I started doing it professionally. I was good at it."
Rodney desperately wants to know more about UCLA. Where was John from originally? Why UCLA? What was his major, what were his dreams? But it will all have to wait, that's another story, and one that's probably months away. He cuts another piece of pancake and dunks it in the excess syrup. These are better than the ones John makes at the diner.
John flips the three in the pan and finally gets back to his story. "I blew out my knee after my second major competition."
John looks pointedly at Rodney's plate and Rodney takes another bite of pancakes. John smiles and pats the pancakes in the pan with the spatula. "I went back to school. It was boring, but I stuck it out for a couple of months, until my uncle called. He was the only person in my family still talking to me after I left for college."
Questions pile up in the back of Rodney's throat again and he takes another bite of pancakes before his mouth betrays him.
"He had brain cancer."
Ouch, Rodney thinks. He never went home after he left; he feels guilty about leaving Jeannie to deal with their parents, but he was nothing more than a nuisance to them, and they were no more than a hindrance to him. He returned for his mother's funeral, but not for his father's. Not when the man wouldn't even look at him, not the entire weekend he was there, not even when they put his mother's body in the ground.
John plates up, slathering on the butter and pouring a ridiculous amount of syrup over the top of the stack. He digs in, hurrying through a couple of mouthfuls while Rodney's lost in thought. He sets his plate down and finally looks Rodney in the eyes.
"By the time I got here, he had deteriorated pretty far. The only thing he looked forward to was going to Charlie's for breakfast. O'Neill greeted him every day, just the same, like he didn't even notice that someone was pushing him in a wheelchair. Sumner cooked his favorite meals, Sam served them with lots of stuff he wasn't supposed to be eating, and everyone in the diner said hi as I wheeled him down the aisle to his favorite booth."
Rodney's only got one bite left; he hopes there's not much more to this story or he'll have to find something else to stuff in his mouth to head off the questions he can't help wanting to ask.
"He died four and half weeks after I got there. We spent two and a half weeks going to the diner, and once he was bedridden, the diner came to us. Mostly it was O'Neill, but sometimes Sumner or Sam stopped by with the food. My uncle couldn't eat it anymore, but they brought it and sat with him for a while, and they were a hell of a lot more like family than anyone…" John pauses, staring down at his pancakes for a second before continuing, "…than anyone. Even actual family."
John picks up his plate and starts eating like the world's about to end and he needs one last meal. Rodney's not sure if that signals the conversation is over or if it's Q and A time, or what.
"I blew up a lab at my last job," he says. It's probably not as personal as nursing an uncle through brain cancer, but it's his biggest unspoken… thing… and it's the best he has to offer. "I mean, I didn't, but they think I did. Like I would be so stupid as to store Styrene improperly and then completely forget about it until it's old enough to be unstable. No one in my lab would be that stupid. But, my lab, my blame." That part, at least, he understands.
John's looking at him evenly, utterly impossible to read.
"No one was killed," Rodney adds, hoping it counts for something. He grabs John's empty plate and stacks it with his own, setting them in the sink. "No one would take me after that. I only got this job because their HR people were too stupid to Google me."
John's silent, not that it's any indication of his thoughts. Rodney continues to clean up, wondering if he should talk about Elizabeth and her willingness to take him on despite what she'd read about him.
"I think," John says, grabbing the plates out of Rodney's hands and stacking them in the dishwasher, "that we should think about making something for the game. Something awesome."
"You made brownies," Rodney says, "and I bought beer. Besides, you're a lousy cook and I don't know how to make anything."
John roots through Rodney's cabinets and brings out a box of sugary cereal, his Hershey bars, some butter, and some marshmallows. "You know what this makes?"
"Diabetes?" Rodney asks.
The spend the next half an hour making something John calls s'mores and something Rodney calls cheating even worse than making brownies from a box. They trade off, seeing who can score the most distracting touch, the only rule that no touching of actual genitalia is allowed. It's not said out loud, of course, but Rodney understands it as if John had announced it with a megaphone.
It starts innocently, with John placing a feather-light kiss on the back of Rodney's neck and Rodney rubbing his cheek against John's shoulder blade. The touches get hotter and the kisses wetter until Rodney nips at John's lower lip and John stumbles back into a counter – then things turn nasty.
John gives him a titty twister that results in marshmallows rolling all over the counter, and Rodney would be pissed off except that the way his shirt rubs against that nipple sets his teeth on edge in all the good ways. He knows John's ticklish with a really light touch, so he slides two fingers starting just under his waistband and skims them up John's spine. John's shoulders come up around his ears and he drops the pan he's buttering on the floor.
John gets trickier after that, though palming Rodney's ass doesn't actually cause a kitchen accident; it just causes Rodney to get hard enough to be uncomfortable, even in just his boxers. John smirks, and Rodney goes straight for his clavicle, a nice hard bite. It was a crap tactical move – John isn't even doing anything for Rodney to distract him from – except that John's next play is putting his hands on Rodney's hips and bringing him in close until their dicks snug in against each other. Suddenly there's a replay of last night, vertical instead of horizontal, and no damn zippers keeping Rodney from grinding his cock against John's and –
The doorbell kicks Rodney's already-racing heart into overdrive. John lets go of him and takes a step back, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Shit," he says, when he catches a glimpse of the clock on the stove. "Ten-thirty? How the hell did it get to be so late?"
He rushes over to the door before Rodney can even engage his mouth to say you're not exactly dressed for company. John pulls the door open as Rodney's rushing up behind him.
"Evan," John says warmly, and Rodney skids to a halt next to him, scowling at the smug smile on Evan's face.
"Teyla said you were late sleepers."
"That's slander," Rodney gripes, but John just laughs and helps Evan with his gigantic cooler.
Evan's only barely started playing with Rodney's grill when Laura rings his doorbell. She has Katie and Marie in tow, and together, they have the trifecta of desserts. Katie brought her pumpkin cheesecake, Marie brought a caramel apple pie, and Laura brought homemade spicy ganache truffles. Rodney's pretty sure he'll stay far away from anything Laura makes, ever.
The counter starts to fill up with all kinds of tasty food by eleven, and Rodney has to send Jinto out for plates and flatware as he realizes he's woefully short. Teyla sheepishly brings in a store-bought vegetable tray and a story about how she spent three days trying to make coleslaw and couldn't actually get it to taste like anything.
Ronon brings in four flavors of chicken wings, and Rodney's stomach growls loudly at the smell. "Where did you learn how to make chicken wings?" Rodney asks, and Ronon shrugs.
"Picked it up somewhere."
Rodney would argue but the night cook comes in right then, a weird, white-blonde skinny guy named Todd, who Rodney's only ever seen the night Jinto's study group met, and who has a bizarre sense of humor. "Mediterranean couscous salad," he says, putting a huge bowl with what looks like a random assortment of fruits, vegetables, and grains on the counter. "It's vegan."
"Are you vegan?" Teyla asks, seeming genuinely interested.
When Todd nods, Rodney can't help himself. "Why would you work in a place that specializes in animal products?"
Todd laughs, a creepy throaty laugh. "I like the atmosphere."
A couple of people laugh nervously with him, but most of those at the counter look vaguely confused. Rodney looks around for John, who is nowhere to be seen, and panics when he realizes he is the person who is supposed to do something to make things less uncomfortable. Thankfully, Evan comes in with his ribs and his naturally bellowy voice, and the chatters ramps up again, so Rodney sneaks away to look for John.
He finds John coming out of the shower, toweling his hair in nothing more than his jeans. He doesn't notice Rodney standing at the top of the stairs, so Rodney watches for a while, soaking in John's bare feet and back, the muscles bunching as he rubs his head down. He stares long enough that he's concerned about getting caught, but he's not sure he can get back down the steps without John noticing.
He turns around, trying to remember which stair creaks when John says, "Rodney?" and he knows he's caught.
"Hi," he says, turning back around. "I was just…" John pulls a black t-shirt over his head and Rodney can feel his dick sit up and pay attention. Luckily, John's grinning when his head pops out of the t-shirt.
"It's fine," he says, "I'm sorry I didn't ask about using your shower."
"Whatever," Rodney says, coming up the stairs to give John a kiss and take the towel off the bed. "You can use whatever you like."
John laughs and kisses Rodney as he passes by. "Come on – game starts in half an hour, and I plan to have a belly full of ribs by then."
Rodney piles a plate high with ribs and chicken wings and some of Todd's weird salady thing (grapes and cauliflower and curry all in one dish?) and nabs the chair and a half. He plows through ribs that nearly fall off the bone, devours chicken wings in all four flavors, and uses the salad to put out the fire in his mouth from the super-hot habanero wings. It takes a while to get his taste buds back, but when he does, he realizes that the couscous is actually quite tasty.
John's taken a seat on the couch, listening to the pre-game something or other – a bunch of guys at a desk talking gibberish and statistics. They keep mentioning one of the players but Rodney doesn't recognize him from the Packer line-up he memorized from NFL.com last week.
"Who is Favre?" he asks, and the room goes deathly silent. John doesn't even do the patronizing shoulder squeeze.
"We talked about this," John says. "I told you not to mention him."
"No, you didn't," Rodney says, but before John can get anything out of his wide-open-in-outrage-mouth, the doorbell rings again. Rodney grabs his plate and gets up to answer it, feeling the eyes of the entire room follow him into the kitchen. It'd take too much effort for them to keep watching him as he opens the door, apparently, because a heated discussion is going on in his absence.
O'Neill is on the other side of the door, hands in his pockets and waiting patiently for Rodney to invite him in. "Glad you could make it," Rodney says, and O'Neill claps him on the shoulder as he hands off his coat.
"How about a beer?" he asks, and a cheer goes up as he enters the living room. Rodney steams as he takes up the chair and a half and kicks his booted feet up on the ottoman.
"Comfy?" Rodney asks, handing over the Budweiser. No way he's going to hand over one of his private stash of microbrews to the guy that didn't bring a dish to pass and stole Rodney's seat.
"Perfect, thanks," O'Neill says, with a grin so fake it puts John's slick charm to shame.
There are people in uniform on the field now, so Rodney sits next to John on the arm of the couch. He's determined not to say another word, and it's surprisingly easy because he has absolutely no idea what is going on with the game.
It's hysterical to watch because the whole room will lean forward at once, and either stand up and cheer, if something goes right, or plop back in their seats if the play fizzles. It takes Rodney about ten minutes to figure out what constitutes a good play – a caught ball, almost every time, a run if the guy running makes it out of the pack, and any time a penalty gets called on the other team. He has no idea what the penalties are, the names make no sense at all.
He figures out the down system by the end of the first quarter, with no help from John. John starts talking about ten yards and four downs and then another play happens and he's out of his seat, screaming at the guy with the ball to run faster. When he sits back down, he weaves his fingers into Rodney's but forgets all about his aborted explanation. Rodney figures it out from the two sentences anyway, it's not like its rocket science. Four tries to make it ten yards? It seems like it should be ludicrously simple, but the opposing team, at least, doesn't seem to do it very often, even with the unmentionable Favre guy throwing the football so hard it looks like he could throw it halfway to the East Coast.
By the end of the first half, Rodney's thrown himself into the rhythm of the game. Ronon and John take turns explaining the plays and the players, and by the time the half rolls around, he's shouting at the screen with the best of them and squirming his way onto the stuffed couch, wrestling with John for who actually gets to sit down and who's half in the other one's lap.
"A natural Packer fan," Teyla says as the guys at the desk come back on the TV, and smacking him on the arm. He shies away from her as much as he can without causing offense. Her last punch gave him a bruise that lasted nearly a week.
The crowd of people shifts back to the kitchen, grazing on the food that's left and chatting about the first half. "Two sacks!" John crows, and he and Ronon actually do chest-bump. It's more of a chest-to-belly bump, and Rodney shakes his head and continues to eat the couscous straight from the bowl.
When they return to the living room for the second half, everyone's shifted; O'Neill apparently decided to forgo seconds to get a seat on the couch, and Laura, Aiden, and Jinto joined him. Rodney's happy to have his chair and a half back, but nothing he does works to get John to join him. He'll come over and sit on the arm of the chair for a while and then get up to prowl behind the couch with Ronon. His face is cloudy as he watches the game, so Rodney gives up and tries to pay attention to the football. Evan takes up residence on the ottoman in front of Rodney, so Rodney just sits forward on the chair and goes with it.
The Packers had gone into the second half with a comfortable ten-point lead. Six minutes into the third quarter and they're tied. "Don't let him do the short pass!" John whines, and Ronon throws up his hands as the other team's receiver runs the ball in for a touchdown.
The back half of the game is much less jovial than the first half. The first half was joking and beer and side talk, but this half is tense posture and long silences, and someone growling ominously (Rodney puts his money on Todd, but Laura's wearing a pretty frightening grimace, too).
Rodney glances meaningfully at John every few plays; if he has to sit through something that's going to give him tension headaches, he wants to be able to sit with John, at the very least. John doesn't notice, but Ronon eventually does, nudging John and lifting his chin in Rodney's direction. John looks torn for a brief moment, but he joins Rodney almost immediately, perching on the arm of the chair and a half and keeping a hand on Rodney's arm with an iron grip. It's close enough, Rodney figures, and when the Packers grab the lead with both hands in the beginning of the fourth quarter, Rodney takes the chance to topple John into the chair with him.
The Packers have a fourteen point lead at the two minute warning, so Rodney figures they've got it in the bag. As far as he can tell, it takes a minimum of four minutes to get the ball downfield enough to even think about a touchdown. There's no way the Vikings can score two in two minutes.
It seems everyone else in the room disagrees as they are all sitting on the edge of their seats, staring at the TV like it might bite them.
"The king of the late-game comeback," one of the announcers says. "Packer fans know very well what Favre can do in the last minutes of a game."
Rodney squeezes John, trying to get his attention, but John shoves him off, trying to untangle himself and sit up, and it's not fun-wrestling-time, it's serious get-off-me-right-now maneuvers. Rodney lets go and practically pushes John out of the chair. John returns to pacing behind the couch, stopping when the teams line up for a play.
"He's going for a pass, you know he is. It's second down, he always goes for a pass," Ronon intones, the slight monotone to his voice sounding oddly like defeat.
The Viking quarterback passes the ball, a straight shot directly into his receiver's arms, and the receiver turns and runs it right back into the end zone. Rodney's mouth drops open – nothing in the game has moved that fast before. He wouldn't believe it except for the instant replay they're showing of the dead-on pass and the short run into the end zone. Rodney blinks.
There's fifty-six seconds on the clock, and Rodney is nearly certain there's no way for them to get another touchdown unless they get really lucky and the Packers fuck up. That is until their kicker fumbles the kick – apparently on purpose, since no one in the room is cheering. They're all yelling at the Packers to get in there, to grab the ball before the whole thing ends in tragedy.
There's a pile-up on the thirty-two yard line, and everyone in the room seems to be holding their breath, waiting to find out the result of who is holding the ball under all that. It turns out it's the Packers, and there's much spontaneous hugging and dancing – Rodney narrowly misses what he's sure would be a crushing embrace from Evan by retreating further into the chair. He waits for people to file out of the TV area and back into the kitchen where Marie and Katie are dishing up desserts, and something in his chest loosens when John offers him a hand up and kisses him with all the delight of someone who's won the sports lottery.
Rodney grabs a piece of pie and a brownie and even tries one of Laura's spicy ganach balls – there's a joke in there somewhere, he's sure of it – and the gang stands around the island eating pumpkin cheesecake and caramel apple pie and talking about the coolest plays and most awesome players and occasionally there's a general howl of delight.
People slowly head out, some taking their leftovers and others leaving them, and Rodney has no idea what he's going to do with the rest of Marie's caramel apple pie. Maybe try to figure out how to make it, because the crumble on top is the most delicious thing he's ever had in his life.
When there're only a few people left (four besides him and John, not that he's counting), John pulls out a deck of cards. "Sheepshead?" he asks, looking around. Ronon, Teyla, and Evan all shrug and grab a seat at the dining room table. O'Neill looks over the assembled crowd and asks, "What are we playing for?"
John elbows him. "Nickels, and you know it. And none of that crack and recrack bullshit."
Rodney blinks. He's already learned one foreign language today, is John really expecting him to pick up some strange card game too?
"Sit with me," John says, patting the empty seat next to the head of the table, where he's comfortable shuffling cards. "I'll teach you to play before we steal all your change."
Everyone else is emptying their pockets onto the table, easily several dollars worth of change. Evan's got a neat stack of quarters, Ronon, a whole pile of silver change, and Teyla picks out a handful from her purse. O'Neill puts his hands behind his head and leans his chair back until it's resting on two legs. John shakes his head. "That kind of intimidation doesn't work on me," he says, and Rodney notices he doesn't have a pile of change in front of him either. He has no idea what that might signal.
John writes out a cheat sheet for Rodney and lets him watch a round. He asks a couple of questions as he goes, but they irritate everyone who's playing so he stops after the second one. There's a lot of trash talk in the beginning, but once they deal him in, things mellow into something more friendly. He's had to cash out two dollar bills already, so he figures everyone else at the table (with the exception of Evan, whose stack of quarters is steadily dwindling) has got to be ahead.
"How long have you been a photographer?" O'Neill asks Ronon.
Ronon looks surprised – something Rodney's certainly never seen on his face before. "Since I was a kid," he answers, throwing a ten of spades on the pile in the middle of the table. "I've always had an eye for things, paying attention to things other people don't notice."
Rodney knows that's the truth. Ronon showed him the proofs of his class photos before giving them to Elizabeth, and there are several shots of Rodney that make him look like an honest-to-god teacher, even though he's never felt like one. There's a nice one of him and Jinto that Ronon gave them both a copy of.
"How long have you owned the diner?" Ronon asks, and John sucks in a breath. Rodney and Teyla turn to look at him, but O'Neill answers Ronon straight out.
"Too long." He grabs a quarter and passes it along his knuckles, slowly. "I've been trying to train someone up to take it over," he glances at John and gives him a not-at-all subtle eyebrow, "but some people can't take a hint."
John's shuffling the cards again, and now all eyes are on him. He starts dealing, but no one picks up their cards. He glances up, finally, and says, "What? You all know I'm the last person capable enough to run a business. And I can't even cook!"
O'Neill shrugs, casually. "Too bad."
They send everyone packing around nine, O'Neill with a couple heaping plates of food and Evan with as much food as he can pack into his cooler now that the ribs are gone. It leaves Rodney with a decently full fridge and an overly-full stomach.
John helps him clean up but they're uncomfortably quiet. Rodney's got a million questions that he doesn't know if he can ask, or if he really wants the answers to. "John," Rodney says finally, as he's wiping down the counter, "you really don't want to take over Charlie's?"
John's back is to Rodney and he stays very still for a moment. "No," he answers, turning around and grabbing Rodney's belt loops. "And I don't want to talk about it, either."
He pulls Rodney in by the belt loops, winding his hands around to Rodney's ass to hold him in place. "I believe you mentioned something about orgasms."
Rodney gapes at John for half a second. He has no idea how to read the come on, and no way to know if it's a real offer or a diversion tactic.
"It's kind of late," Rodney says, kicking himself as John's hands retreat from his ass. "Don't you have to get up early for work?"
"Sure," John says, his face shutting down into the blank look Rodney knows far too well. "I'll just head out."
Rodney doesn't stop him.
Rodney debates not going into the diner the next morning; he doesn't know what he'll do if John decides he's not worth the hassle, or even if he just tells Laura and Evan that Rodney's an asshole (he doesn't feel like an asshole, exactly, though he feels distinctly like he's at least partially in the wrong, and that never works out for him), or if John tells O'Neill and O'Neill won't even let him in the door.
He decides to brave it, though, because he and John have gotten through a couple of uncomfortable spots before, and despite the glacial pace of their physical relationship, he and John seem to fit in some way that he's never felt before, and it's a little like having your security blanket on a death-defying rollercoaster ride.
O'Neill looks surprised when he walks in the door, so the warning bells go off. He's a little angry that John thought he'd stay away from the diner because of one little disagreement, but it's not like he hadn't worked out a thousand different possible scenarios in his head.
O'Neill gets off his chair and glances through the glass door to the steps and sidewalk beyond the diner. "You alone?" he asks, and that throws Rodney for a loop.
"Yes?" Rodney says, glancing down the counter to where Laura is staring at him, coffeepot held awkwardly in midair, halfway to pouring Ed's coffee. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Evan comes around the corner from the kitchen. "Sheppard called in sick," Evan says, glaring at Rodney. "We assumed…"
"You assumed what?" Rodney challenges, meeting their eyes in turn.
"We assumed you two had a late night," Laura says, coming to join them.
"Shoo," says O'Neill, and Evan and Laura make themselves scarce. "McKay, why don't you pull up a stool."
Rodney sits obediently, and Laura slides him a cup of coffee down the counter. He sniffs it suspiciously, but once the smell is in his nose, he can't help drinking it, possible poisoning be damned.
"John's family 'round here," O'Neill says. "He told you that, right?"
Rodney nods. "His uncle's brain cancer."
"Yeah, Jim was a good friend and a good man. He left his house to John. Nice little place, three-apartment house. Two to rent, one for John, tidy little income." O'Neill shrugs. "I don't think John's very good at not working. Runs in that family, from what I gather."
"So you offered him a job as a fry cook?" Rodney can't keep the disbelief out of his voice.
"This diner was my dad's," O'Neill says. "Opened it the year I had my boy, Charlie."
"I didn't know you had kids," Rodney says, and the hard look in O'Neill's eyes makes him wish he hadn't stated the obvious.
"I don't," O'Neill says, and Rodney absolutely does not ask the obvious question. O'Neill stares at him until he picks up his coffee to have something else to concentrate on. "I was going to sell the diner, not too long after Jim died. Then I took John on, and thought I might be able to pass it down to family after all."
Rodney chances a look at O'Neill and he's happy to see fondness and exasperation on his face. "He turned the place around. We started getting regular customers. He's the one that got us Laura. And Evan. And Aiden and Katie and Todd. He's got a natural way with people."
Rodney nods, waiting for the punch line.
"I thought he'd pick up the grill after a while, but it's been six years and the only reason he can make an over-easy egg is because you taught him." Rodney ducks his head and stares down into the coffee cup.
"He's the man for the job and you're the man for him," O'Neill says, and Rodney blinks up at him. "So please don't fuck up my retirement. Go work things out – and try to get him to see reason, while you're at it."
It's the weirdest pep talk Rodney's ever gotten, and he has a strange urge to say, "yes, sir," but he downs the rest of his coffee and slams the mug down on the counter instead. "See you tomorrow, O'Neill."
Rodney knocks on John's door three times, and then three more times, and then he just starts pounding the crap out of the door and yelling. It's quarter to seven on a weekday; he doesn't care about waking up the neighbors, but he is worried John's left his apartment already.
There's barking from somewhere downstairs; some annoying small dog that Rodney doesn't remember from his previous visits. "John, I'll wake up the whole building if you don't let me in."
He hears the chain being removed and the deadbolt turning, but the door doesn't open. There isn't another lock (at least John's doesn't seem like the type to use the pointless one on the doorknob) but Rodney's suddenly sure that John's going to jump him and eat his brains or suck his blood or mumble sports statistics at him. He turns the knob and pushes the door open, and John is standing with his back to Rodney, staring out the dining room window. He's in boxers and a t-shirt, and the slump of his shoulders makes him look tired.
"What do you want, Rodney?" John asks, and that's not tired, it's defeated.
"I'd like to have a conversation with you to your face, for starters," Rodney says. John turns around, sour puss and all, and Rodney has to stem the urge to run over and kiss the grumpy right off of him. "Better," Rodney says.
"Fine, say your piece," John says, sitting down hard at his dining room table.
Rodney crosses the room and sits down too, making note that John looks even rougher up close, with purple bags under his eyes. "So, you think this is over?" Rodney asks, and nothing changes in the way John looks. Asking the question made Rodney's heart dive for the floor so clearly they've got different ideas about what's going on here. "I hate you for making me the person who talks about this stuff, by the way," Rodney says, and that gets a reaction.
"Oh really," John says. "Because I was the one who talked about "this stuff" first."
"Your uncle?" Rodney says. "That's not what we're talking about here! We're talking about us, our –" fuuuuuuck, Rodney thinks, "– our relationship."
John stares at him petulantly.
"Yeah, you think I didn't notice you were suddenly all about orgasms when I wanted to talk to you about O'Neill's offer?" Rodney's even angrier about that in the cold light of day, and he wants to shake the stupid out of John. "I don't want you to have sex until you want to, and that doesn't include as a distraction from talking about stuff that makes you uncomfortable."
John mumbles something, looking sheepish. "What?" Rodney asks. "Damn it, John, we're grownups. The sooner we talk about this the sooner the conversation is over."
"I said, it's not that I don't want to." John puts his head in his hands and stares down at the table. "I like figuring stuff out about you, as soon as we have sex that part is gone. I just wanted to make it last."
It takes a second to process that. On the one hand, Rodney's glad there's nothing more serious going on. On the other… "You're a moron," Rodney says. "I don't mind going slow. If you're worried about it, I'll save my best tricks for later. Much later. And I would have been with you one hundred percent until you offered sex as a distraction."
John picks at a crack in the table. "If we were already having sex, it would've worked."
"Yes, but we weren't, and you're still a moron." Rodney sits back in his chair, slinging one arm over the back and talking with his hands. "There are any number of things we can do before penetration, and plenty with our clothes still on, even. I think we've got enough material to last us for a while, as long as you stop trying to bribe me with it."
John looks up cautiously at that. Rodney grins; this is so easy compared to every scenario he'd cooked up in his overactive brain that he can't help it. "Come here, you idiot."
John scrambles out of the chair and onto Rodney's lap so fast it makes Rodney's head spin. John presses small sucking kisses on his neck, and Rodney just holds him there, John's rib cage in his hands, John's mouth on his neck and Rodney getting hard in his khakis. He turns his head, trying to capture John's mouth but John pulls away. "I need to brush," he says, climbing off Rodney. "And shave."
"Don't worry about the shaving," Rodney says, and John grins at him.
"Then, make yourself comfortable," John says, raising an eyebrow at Rodney's pants. "I'll be back in a minute."
Rodney kicks off his shoes and spreads out on the couch. By the time he's got the cushions arranged satisfactorily, John's back, frowning down at him. "You call that comfortable?"
"I call this a good place to start," Rodney says, catching John's wrist and pulling him over. "You can hold yourself up for a change. You've got more arm muscles than me anyway."
John laughs his embarrassing bray of a laugh, and carefully arranges himself over Rodney, lowering his body in the world's slowest push-up. "Come on," Rodney says, straining his neck to meet John for a kiss.
They make out for a while, Rodney surprisingly comfortable though he doesn't like the taste of John's toothpaste and knows John weighs a ton. It takes his scrambled brain too long to realize that John's holding himself up so he doesn't have any hands free, but once he does, he worms his hands free to grab John's hips, pulling him down to make their groins meet. He tilts his hips down, and John's dick slides up his khakis and it's good for Rodney, but it makes John groan and throw his head back.
John takes over, rubbing himself on Rodney slowly at first and then more and more desperately with a face of intense concentration. Rodney's fascinated, doing nothing more than watching John as he rubs off. It's good, there's pressure on his dick and it's enjoyable, but nowhere near as interesting as watching John start to lose control.
John's boxers are skewed on his hips and Rodney can see the very tip of John's cock peeking out at the end of each thrust, and he's torn between watching John's face and watching his dick play peekaboo.
John stiffens suddenly, and then he's coming, and Rodney's watches with fascination as John comes all over the place. He has John's come on his pants. Somehow, it's both hot and gross.
"Sorry," John says, trying to scrape it off. "If you'd taken your pants off –"
"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Rodney says, pressing up into John's hand. "Just, right there, right –"
And then there's come inside his pants too, and he has to write them off as a total loss. "Come here," he says, pulling John down and getting the mess all over him.
They lay there for a while and Rodney starts to get sleepy, which is a bad idea since he has a lecture in an hour and he's already missed his office hours. He shoves at John. "Gotta go."
"No," John says, slightly more childish sounding that Rodney cares to think about. "Call in sick."
Rodney's never been sick a day in his life that wasn't due to his allergies, and it has always irked him to call in, even when he enjoys the days he's taken off. "I shouldn't." He really shouldn't. Elizabeth didn't call him on his last sick day, but she gave him the stink-eye for a week afterward, and he hadn't even had to cancel any classes for that one.
"Fine," John says, "but I want a lunch date. Somewhere that's not Charlie's."
Rodney accepts, wrapping his arms around John for an awkward hug. "While I've got you here," he says, and he can feel John tense up in his arms, "I was just wondering why you don't want to take over the diner."
"A mediocre cook making mediocre food," John says, shaking his head.
"Were you at the Packer game?" Rodney asks. "Every person in your diner has at least one amazing recipe. If we collect all those, take out the lost causes and fix the rest, we will be all set."
"We?" John asks, lifting his head up to look down at Rodney. "As in, you and me?"
Rodney shrugs. "Why not? I like figuring out how to make stuff, Evan's a decent cook, and a little birdie told me you're good with people."
"I can't take that from Jack," John says. "It's too much."
Rodney looks John right in the eyes. "You don't want to accept a gift?" he asks, just to make sure he's got it right. John frowns, confused and frustrated and that probably means Rodney's hit it right on the head.
"Well that's easy," Rodney says. "We'll buy the place. I'll handle the kitchen and you handle the people. And the money."
"Not all the money," John answers. "We can hire Teyla to do the taxes."
"Okay," Rodney agrees. "And we can hire Ronon can do our new menus and build us a website."
"What are we going to call the place?" John asks.
"How about Flash in the Pan?"
Radek squeezes his way into the diner, past the line of people standing at the cash register. There's a mop-haired surfer guy charming every single person checking out with a smirky grin and smarmy comments. Radek ignores him and concentrates on finding the manager's office. He can't quite believe Rodney decided to buy a diner in Wisconsin, but he'd called Elizabeth to check, and she'd corroborated his story.
"Can I help you?" a pretty blonde waitress asks. "You look lost."
"Laura," the guy at the cash register warns.
"I am looking for Dr. Rodney McKay," Radek says, and he squints as he sees the cook in the window snap his head to stare at him.
"Radek?" the cook says, and Radek peers behind the plates to see Rodney's blue eyes staring back at him.
"Take over," Rodney says to someone behind him, and leaves Radek's view. He reappears by the cash register and Radek waits patiently while he leans in to whisper in the cash register guy's ear. Cash register guy's smile softens when he looks at Rodney, and Radek thinks he may have come all this way for nothing.
"Radek," Rodney says, taking a mug of coffee from the waitress. "Long time no see."
Radek nods, putting his hands in his pockets. "I had to come see for myself."
Rodney waves his arms around. "This is it," he says, sounding like a proud father. "We redecorated the place ourselves."
It's black and white and red, with various bits of musical paraphernalia decorating the white walls. In the back of the room, there's a gigantic juke box with a mural behind it made of records. It's quite a showpiece.
"It is very nice," Radek says with a sinking feeling.
"So what brings you to Wisconsin?" Rodney asks, smiling like the cat that ate the canary. Radek hates it when Rodney's got the upper hand.
"Well," Radek starts, not deciding how hard he wants to sell this. "You may have heard that there was an industrial spy caught by the Genii corporation a few weeks ago."
Rodney shrugs, momentarily distracted as he snaps his fingers at the waitress and points to Radek. She brings him a mug and fills them both up. Radek takes a sip; it's by far better than any restaurant coffee he's had in years.
"Well, when interrogated, he admitted to several other things, including blowing up your lab."
Before Radek had walked in the front door, he would have expected Rodney McKay to gloat about how right he was and what a loss it had been to Doranda Enterprises (which was sadly true; they hadn't had a hit drug since he left), but now that he's seen Rodney in this place, he's not sure what to expect.
"Glad to hear my name has been cleared," Rodney says, calmly. He smiles at Radek, and Radek gives it one last try.
"So you will come back then?"
Rodney glances around the diner, catching the eye of the guy at the register. "You know what's really good today? Marie's cherry pie. Let me get you some."