John hated starting in a new school. He hated trying to fit in when everyone else was already sorted into one clique or another. He hated trying to make new friends while still dealing with the loss of good friends in his former school. At least he had a few things going for him, knowing he could pass as a jock - one of the cool kids.
His problem started when he turned up at Tesla High on the first day only to discover this was one high school that turned everything on its head. Here the jocks were the outsiders, and anyone with a GPA below 3.5 was considered a dumbass, a norm. He watched as the very small number of norms huddled together, terrified of the highly intelligent nerds and geeks who strutted around the corridors with heads held high, postulating theories that were way above the heads of normal kids.
John found his locker and pushed his backpack inside, guessing he wouldn't need his football as an ice breaker. When he closed the door he found a tall, skinny kid with a big nose and a mop of dark, curly hair smirking at him.
"Not seen you around here before," the guy stated.
"Nathan Stark. 5.0 GPA."
John raised both eyebrows at the strange greeting. For this particular school 5.0 was a perfect GPA. Much to his father's annoyance, John had tended to downplay his intellectual accomplishments in former schools in order to fit in, and he felt a rebellious urge to do so again now.
"John Sheppard. 2.8," he stated, making him an average student even though his true GPA was actually far higher.
Nathan's lips twisted in disdain. "Really."
John watched him saunter away, seeing a little clique gather around Nathan like a bunch of sycophants. Some of them threw strange looks at him over their shoulders and he knew he'd just made things harder on himself. He shrugged because he doubted he'd be at Tesla High for long anyway as his dad was only planning to stay in Eureka for six months at most, having won a Government contract to install something into some big Tech company in the town. His older brother, Dave, had managed to avoid all this upheaval this time around as he'd just started his first year at Harvard.
John blinked as another skinny guy with a crooked smile, curly blond hair, and keen blue eyes appraised him.
"Who says I lied?"
The guy shrugged. "I hacked your files, Sheppard. You have a 3.5 GPA. Not as high as mine... or Nathan's, obviously." The guy smiled and held out a hand. "Rodney McKay."
There was something different about Rodney, some vibe that made him like McKay, and for the rest of his time in Eureka, Rodney became his best friend. So when the time came to leave, John actually wished he could stay longer despite Nathan trying to make his life a misery.
On that last evening, lying on John's bed as they worked through a particularly gruesome mathematical equation, John was surprised when Rodney leaned over and kissed him. It was messy and uncoordinated, bumping his nose, and Rodney jumped off the bed nervously wringing his hands afterwards.
"I'm... I don't know what made me... I'm sorry. I shouldn't-"
He flinched when John reached for him, as if expecting to be punched out, but instead John leaned in and kissed him back. Not so messy but still so uncoordinated, so new to both of them.
John's father chose that moment to arrive home and all he and Rodney had time for was a quick, final goodbye.
John never expected to see Rodney again even though they promised to keep in touch. Years passed and John's rebellion against his father eventually led to him joining the U.S. Air Force, gaining a black mark on his record and exile to Antarctica. When his amazement at the holographic solar system spinning above his head faded, he finally took note of the orange-clad scientist standing above him - Rodney McKay. He was no longer the skinny, curly mopped kid that John recalled from Tesla High, and John knew he had changed too especially as Rodney showed no recognition.
Five years later, having saved Earth from a Superhive filled with hungry Wraith, and almost getting killed in the process, John stood on the balcony looking across San Francisco bay at the Golden Gate Bridge long after the others had gone back inside. He heard the door open and smiled wryly as Rodney came up to stand beside him. Over these five years he had watched Rodney first with Katie and now Jennifer, forcefully pushing back memories of those two awkward kisses all those years ago.
"Jennifer is just a friend," Rodney stated out of the blue. "We thought there was something between us at first but... But I gave my heart to a skinny dork with floppy dark hair and a rebellious streak back in high school. And no matter how hard I've tried, I've never forgotten-."
John turned abruptly, grabbing Rodney by his biceps.
"I didn't think you remembered me."
Rodney gave him an incredulous look. "What? The hottest, coolest guy I ever knew?" He frowned at the contradictory terms.
The kiss from Rodney took him by surprise yet again, but this time it did not have the awkwardness of youth and inexperience. This time it was perfect, and John melted against Rodney, wishing he'd taken this chance years earlier.
Hours later as they lay curled against each other, finally together in every way that mattered, John smirked.
"So, did you ever get one over on Nathan?"
"No," Rodney replied with a soft sigh, but then his lips twitched, eyes gleaming. "But last I heard he took over as Director of Global Dynamics and met his match with the arrival of a hot, new Sheriff. GPA 2.8."
John laughed at the thought of the high and mighty, super intelligent Nathan Stark falling for a norm. It was poetic justice. It made him recall all the good memories he had of Eureka, and how he and Rodney had first met all those years ago, and first kissed.
"Maybe we should go visit Eureka while we're back on Earth," John murmured.
"Yeah, maybe we should."