1. Rodney remembers the first time he met John Sheppard.
Rodney was flown to Antarctica from Area 51 because Dr Jackson was on the verge of some linguistic breakthrough that would shake the foundations of the whole Stargate program. Rodney personally thought Jackson's soft-science presence indicated the SGC was grasping at straws, and he'd been resisting the move to the Ancient outpost in Antarctica because what, after all, was there? Cold, ice, and a chair. He had it on authority from Carson that the chair wasn't even comfortable. Zelenka's bitter, grousing e-mails from the outpost and Rodney's brilliant replies should have been enough. But no.
When Rodney arrived, he was given barely a day to recover from jet-lag before being flown to the outpost site. Cam Mitchell greeted him like an old friend, despite having personally destroyed tons of alien tech that Rodney would have given up coffee to study. Mitchell swept Rodney past Carter and into the chair room, which was full of whiteboards and computer workstations on wheeled carts. Jackson was busy whining at an irate-looking General O'Neill in one corner; Rodney hoped he got his budget cut.
Mitchell put a hand on Rodney's shoulder and said, "Hey, John," to the man hunched over the nearest computer. The man straightened and turned, and Rodney was struck by three things. John was wearing the same uniform as Mitchell; his very unmilitary hair jabbed up in cowlicks; and his unattractive glasses had both pretentious tinted lenses and thick black frames. He looked like a refugee from a Devo video. Rodney might have given him points for that if he'd looked like he had a sense of irony, but John just leaned a hip against the workstation and raised his eyebrows. Mitchell went through the introductions with the ease of someone raised from birth to good manners. Rodney found himself shaking John's outstretched hand automatically and getting on a first-name basis.
"Yeah, I met John when I was in the hospital," Mitchell said. John rolled his eyes, and Rodney suspected the story had been told so many times that it was worn smooth. "Sam gave me this Ancient dohickey and told me to test as many people as I could while I was getting back on my feet. The second John picked it up it glowed like crazy. So instead of flying a desk he's been playing with gateships and Jackson's magic chair."
John waved at the chair. "Want to see where we are in the universe?" he said, bouncing a little on his heels as if aware of and pleased by how annoying he was.
By the end of the afternoon Rodney had decided to hate John, mostly because Mitchell was buddies with him and Zelenka wanted him to turn things on and O'Neill talked golf with him and Carter touched John when she talked to him. Everyone acted as if John was special. Rodney wasn't falling for it.
2. Rodney remembers the first time he took John flying.
Jackson took all the credit for finding Atlantis, of course, but Rodney didn't bitch much. He was going, Jackson was needed on Earth. Rodney felt an almost guilty pang at the thought of John getting left behind; for some reason, the more he expounded on his hatred, the more John seemed to think that they were friends. But Elizabeth liked John's gene, and she was in charge of the expedition. Every argument Colonel Sumner made about John being unfit, a liability, and unreliable was turned down.
Even Atlantis, Rodney was horrified to discover, thought John was the greatest thing ever. Rodney kept getting flashbacks to that day his parents had brought Jeannie home from the hospital and he'd realized he'd been displaced forever in their hearts.
"Look," Rodney said to John one day when the universe was not trying to kill them, and Rodney was trying to learn how to fly a jumper. "I am an arrogant person with a huge ego and a plethora of irritating foibles that need to be catered to. I'd like you a lot better if I didn't feel that you were constantly upstaging me."
"Trust me," John said, "I'd like me better, too." He was pinching the bridge of his nose and had the airsick bag handy.
"How did you even get into the Air Force?" Rodney muttered, pulling the jumper up sharply and hoping John hadn't seen the trees he was avoiding.
"Easy there," John snapped, calling up the HUD and giving Rodney a mini-lecture on trusting his instruments. Again. Rodney tuned him out and wished for the millionth time that the gene therapy had worked on Cadman. Rodney was not happy being forced into the role of his team's designated driver. He wished that Sumner hadn't had to shoot Ford. And while he was wanting impossible things, another ZPM would be nice.
Rodney levelled out and set the jumper back onto the course over the mainland towards Atlantis. In his head he heard John's voice telling him to fly straight and keep a light hand on the controls.
Back in the jumper bay, John paused getting out and slid a hand over the warm hull of the jumper, glancing at Rodney. "I flew helicopters," he said. "In Afghanistan. A friend of mine ruined his career disobeying orders to rescue me when I was shot down, Mitchell pulled strings to get me out of the hospital and into the SCG, and Sumner's got me training people to fly spaceships. I know I'm lucky." He shrugged, and grudgingly added, "I'd still love to fly one of these myself," with a jerk of his head that looked like self-mockery.
Rodney huffed in a breath and crossed his arms. "So you only hang out with me because you're not in my debt. No wonder I hate you."
John grinned and started walking away, with a hitch to his shoulder that meant Rodney was expected to follow. "I only pretend to be friends with you so I can borrow your Dr Who DVDs," he said, leaning towards Rodney conspiratorially. Rodney called him an asshole, and John told him to hurry up, he only had forty minutes for lunch before Markham and Stackhouse showed up for their flying lessons.
3. Rodney remembers when he stopped hating John.
After the mindfuck on the planet of mist creatures, Rodney had a huge fight with John. Later, he didn't remember what the fight was about, but he remembered telling John in lurid detail all the things about him that he despised.
Rodney hated John's glasses, he hated the beep of John's pillbox timer and the way John swallowed his meds dry without grimacing, he hated the way Zelenka was always saying "oh, actually, I'll just get Major Sheppard to do it", and he hated the way John looked so wanting whenever Rodney talked about off-world missions or flying the jumpers through space.
"Okay," John had said, finally, interrupting. "Fine. I get it. Okay." His shoulders had been hunched in as he walked away.
Rodney assumed that John would go straight to his sycophants to be petted and assuaged, but Cadman told him a few days later that John was spending his previously Rodney-time on the firing range.
"Subtle," Rodney had said, and Cadman said anytime he wanted to talk about his messy breakup she'd listen. She could keep a secret, she added, and when Rodney scowled at her she leaned over the table and said, Don't ask, don't tell.
"You think we were sleeping together?" Rodney half-shouted.
Cadman settled back in her chair and gave him an insouciant and suggestive roll of her shoulders. "Sheppard's pretty hot, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Sheppard's spoiled rotten." He let his tone fall into mockery of everyone he worked with. "Are you tired, John? Did you eat, John? Why don't you sit down here, John? John, do you think you could possibly blah blah blah." He chopped a hand through the air. "Like he was going to break."
Cadman's eyebrows lifted, and she gave Rodney an opaque look. "You're jealous because people treat Major Sheppard like that?" Rodney opened his mouth, and Cadman stared hard, as if daring him. "Wow, Rodney. Just -- wow."
Cadman was completely wrong, Rodney knew, but he spent the next few weeks trying to find the precise phrasing that summed up his feelings towards John. And then there was the whole business with the storm, and Kolya invading Atlantis and taking Elizabeth and Rodney hostage. Rodney realized he'd never have the chance to tell Cadman off because he was statistically more likely to be dead than to be dry in his near future.
John managed to defend Atlantis all by himself until Sumner and Cadman made it back from the mainland with a jumperful of Athosian allies. By then Kolya had gone from not knowing who John was to spitting Major Sheppard over the radio as if it were a curse.
In the end, Kolya had his sidearm to Elizabeth's head and John had a P90 trained on the both of them. John was wearing his glasses, but Rodney knew they didn't stop his eyes from jerking. He could tell by the way the green dot of the laser sight danced from Elizabeth to Kolya and back again just how bad John's vision was.
"You're not going anywhere," John said. "I will shoot if you don't let her go."
Kolya's mouth twisted, more of a snarl than a laugh. "Go ahead. Sign her death sentence." His arm tightened around Elizabeth's throat. "My people wouldn't have let a -- " he spat something out in Genii -- "like you live."
"They kept me because I'm crazy," John said. The way John looked, murderous and merciless, made Rodney believe him. John tightened his grip on the P90, stared down the sight, and Kolya jerked backwards with blood blossoming through his jacket, letting Elizabeth stumble free as he fell back through the gate.
"Nice shooting, sir," John said, lowering his weapon. Sumner stepped out of the shadows.
"Nice distraction." Sumner slapped John on the shoulder and went to help Elizabeth up.
"Wait, that was Sumner?" Rodney said, voice still pitched too high from terror.
"Well, I would have shot Elizabeth," John said. He looked tired, his mouth taut and his hands half-curled loose at his sides. He took a few steps towards the stairs and then yanked his glasses off and flung them hard across the gateroom. "Goddamn it."
"Where's Carson?" Rodney said by way of distraction, as he was fairly sure John would loathe any attempt at consolation. "I think I need stitches. I think I'm going into shock. I feel clammy and my heart's racing."
He expected John to snap that he was clammy because he was sopping wet, but John didn't say anything. Rodney looked back, and then shouted for Sumner because John was frozen where he stood, seizing. Usually John's seizures were short; he would suddenly stop in the middle of what he was doing for the space of a few breaths and restart without any awareness that he'd lost time. But this was full-body shaking, like from what Rodney remembered of Jeannie's epilepsy before it was under control. John's eyes were blank and his mouth open. Rodney thought, as he got his arms around John to keep him from pitching over, that of course stress had to be a trigger. The stress and fear and anger that John had pushed down to save them all.
Sometime between helping Sumner drag John up to the control room and John waking up in the infirmary, Rodney conceded that he might like John, just a little, after all.
4. Rodney remembers the first time he kissed John.
Rodney's third attempt to make things up to John by inviting him to team video nights ended in another refusal, and Rodney got angry.
"You don't make it easy for me," Rodney snapped, shoving away his empty lunch tray in annoyance.
John shrugged. "I don't see the point. You won. Everybody knows I'm too fucked up to do my job and I'm just here as a genetic charity case. An evening of you lording that over me isn't my idea of fun."
"Listen," Rodney said, leaning over the mess table to glare right into John's eyes. John's glasses had been taped where the earpiece had broken, and they were slightly crooked. "I'm trying to apologize for being a dick and I'm trying to do something friendly, with you, as a friend. What do you want from me?"
John angled his head so that he could stare at Rodney without his eyes jumping all over the place. "What do you want with me?"
Rodney threw his arms out. "You saved my life. And it's been lonely without you. We used to do stuff together."
John looked down, and then up again. "Look," he said, his voice a low, hoarse rasp. "I liked you a bit more than a friend should like a friend. I'm sorry. I think on some level you knew, and. I'm sorry."
"Oh," Rodney said. "Okay."
John's mouth compressed to a thin line, and he got up from the table with swift, jerky motions, turning his back on Rodney as soon as he could.
Rodney spent the next five hours making plans and writing everything he wanted to say into code.
He used Atlantis' security systems to watch John go to dinner in the mess hall with his team and leave half an hour later, heading straight for his quarters. Rodney intercepted him and steered him towards the transporter with a curt, "Come with me."
John said, "What?" and stared at Rodney in something like resignation.
Rodney slapped the directional map harder than was necessary. "You drive me nuts," he said as the doors opened onto the jumper bay. "Jumper four," and he pointed, even though John knew the jumpers better than anyone else.
"What do you want me to do?" John asked. "And why do I have to do it now?"
"Because this is something I just did, and you're going to like it."
John muttered something under his breath, but he opened up the jumper and followed Rodney in.
"Sit," Rodney said, and then grabbed at John as he headed for the copilot's seat. "No. You're flying."
John's face shut down cold. "I can't even get a driver's license any more. I can't fly."
"Because cars and helicopters are too dumb to interface with your brain," Rodney said. Watching John struggle between hope and the desire to defend helicopters' honor was amusing. "The jumper has been programmed to tell when you're having a seizure. It'll switch to copilot automatically." He grinned at John's expression. "Haven't you always wanted to see for yourself what this baby can do?"
"Han Solo you're not," John said, sitting and touching the controls. "If my eyes start shaking badly, I get motion sickness."
"Duh," Rodney said. "Then you can go in the back and lie down. But I think you'll be a lot calmer when you're not playing drivers' ed teacher to incompetent morons."
"Don't put yourself down that way," John said, and brought the jumper up to the hover point where the automatic launch protocol kicked in.
"To infinity and beyond," Rodney said, not even trying to hide his smugness as he sat down and watched John manoeuvre the jumper up and over the spires of Atlantis while lying through his teeth to flight over the radio. The HUD reconfigured itself as Rodney watched, adapting to whatever John needed.
John made the jumper do some things that Rodney would have sworn were impossible, said, "Sweet" with both satisfaction and reverence, and then took Rodney's suggestion of popping up to a geosynchronous orbit over Atlantis.
"This is -- " John said, and waved a hand out at the stars and the luminous curve of the planet. "I don't know what to say."
Rodney shrugged and got up, cracking his shoulders; inertial dampners or no, he still tensed during aerial acrobatics. "Don't say anything, no one finds out, and we can do this whenever you want."
John swallowed. "I'd like that."
"We could start dating," Rodney went on, and sat down on the arm of John's chair, figuring it wouldn't hurt to be obvious. "I don't think you're my type, but I've pretty much been wrong about you all along. Um. I may have been conflating you with some issues I have with my sister."
"Ew," John said, moving back so he could glower up at Rodney.
"Not those kinds of issues," Rodney said, and smacked John in the head before he remembered that maybe that was insensitive.
John grabbed his hand as he was snatching it back. He pressed Rodney's fingers down against his scalp, sliding them back so Rodney could feel every bump and ridge of pieced-together bone. Rodney realized with a blink that John's hair was probably cut to camouflage his dented skull, and he remembered John saying once, off-hand, I died in Afghanistan a couple of times.
"When you say dating," John asked. "You date guys?"
Rodney almost missed the question, distracted by his bemusement with John's hair. "Hm? Yes?"
"I don't," John said. Rodney didn't know what his face must have revealed, because John corrected himself with a quick shake of his head. "I haven't. Usually it's just -- " and he cut himself off.
"Sex?" Rodney filled in. John tipped his head. "I won't expect you to put out until the third date."
"You wish," John said.
Rodney leaned down and kissed him, his hand curled around the back of John's head. The angle was horribly awkward, but John twisted around and got a knee under him, his hands sliding up beneath Rodney's jacket to settle on his waist. Rodney liked that John kissed with his eyes closed, and he liked the way John's mouth opened for him, soft with a slight danger of teeth.
"This is such a bad idea," John said, resting his forehead against Rodney's Athosian-style.
"I know," Rodney said, and kissed him again. This time John's roaming hands strayed down, fingertips brushing down under the waistband of Rodney's trousers, one hand sliding into his back pocket. "So's letting you fly this thing, but we didn't crash."
"I flew to the stars," John said, voice hoarse with wonder. "I've always wanted to do that."
"Three dates," Rodney said, stroking his knuckles down over John's jawline. John leaned into the touch, cat-like, and said, okay.
5. John doesn't remember the first time he kissed Rodney.
It's an ongoing argument. John says he remembers birthdays and anniversaries, and ought to be cut some slack; Rodney says that this is evidence that John isn't a romantic.
"I remember the first time I kissed you," he argues. "In space, surrounded by stars. That's the way to do a memorable first kiss." He has perfect memories of some other kisses, of course: kissing John after a super-Wraith shot him, John kissing him goodbye before flying a nuclear bomb into a hive ship, John sulking for a week because Cadman made Rodney kiss Carson, kissing John when he was still blue and scaly. Atlantis is like a magnet for weird kisses.
"Give me a do-over," John suggests finally, with a sly smile.
Rodney invariably grumbles, but gives in and indulges John.
"Don't forget this time," he says when John's left him breathless and light-headed and warm down to his toes.
"I won't," John assures him, but he invariably does. Rodney insists that after the hundredth first kiss, he's going to charge John money. John just smiles, secretively, happily.