What bothered Rodney the most was that he couldn’t explain it. Couldn’t will it away with the massive power of his mind, couldn’t jab himself in the arm and wake up back in a world that actually made sense.
He couldn’t explain it, because there was absolutely no probable scientific basis for it, and under normal circumstances that alone would be reason enough for a scathing, vocal dismissal of the entire shithole theory – which, all right, yes, had happened. And he honestly didn’t regret it, either, despite the – oh god, please - hallucinating remains of a night spent drinking Radek’s stash of vodka in his basement, because the fact that Kavanagh had originally come up with the asinine idea was another blind strike against it, even if Rodney hadn’t already known it was impossible and ass-backwards.
Except the impossible result of the ass-backwards theory was looming over him, dressed in what smelled like freshly cured cow skins and more hair than Rodney could ever hope to grow. Sixteen was a little young to give up on the thick, luxurious mane he’d been counting on sprouting at any minute, but he realized there was really nothing - not even great hair - that could make him as attractive as the, wow, really insanely hot figment of his hung-over imagination standing at the foot of his bed, eating what looked like his sister’s froot loops.
“Oh my god,” Rodney croaked, wincing at the reverb rattling around in his abused skull. His eyes started watering and he scrubbed a palm over them, pressing into a socket and willing his brain to stop pounding the techno bass-line for The Safety Dance.
The guy grunted. “Nice place.”
“Please.” Rodney’s voice was weak but desperate, fingers flicking in a lame attempt to will the man far, far away.
A groan wafted up from the vicinity of the floor, followed by a thick burr of, “Dear god, someone kill me.” Carson. His mom would freak when she found out he hadn’t made it home the night before.
And then Radek literally bounced into the room, clothes rumpled and hair on end and smile so wide it nearly split his face. He thumped the strange man on the arm with his fist and pushed up his glasses. “This is amazing, yes?” Radek had a ridiculously high tolerance for alcohol. It never stopped being annoying.
Rodney struggled up into a sitting position and gave him a bleary glare. “If you tell me whatever the hell we did last night with the,” he gestured towards his new and most prized possession, “created this…” He gestured some more.
“Handsome man?” Radek provided helpfully, still grinning. “We made him. On your,” he mimed typing, “computer.”
Rodney glared harder, and if his head wasn’t threatening to implode, he would’ve growled something coherent at him.
“My brain,” Carson moaned. “Your voices are eating my brain.”
“You made me,” the guy echoed Radek, face eerily devoid of emotion.
“No. No, no,” Rodney would’ve wagged his head to emphasize his vehemence if he didn’t suspect it’d snap right off. “Did Kavanagh pay you? Oh my god, you aren’t some sort of gigolo, are you?”
“Oh come on, look at him,” Rodney snapped. He had a beard, for god’s sake. “How old are you?”
He shrugged. “Fourteen hours?”
Carson’s head popped up over the edge of the bed, short hair plastered to his forehead, eyes puffy and bloodshot. “What time’sit?”
“Your mother’s going to kill you,” Rodney said off-handedly, still staring at the stranger. There was something honestly familiar about him, actually. Something vague in his wide-legged stance, the open-throated tunic… “What the hell are you wearing?”
“Is traditional Satedan warrior dress,” Radek said smugly, then dropped an open magazine onto Rodney’s lap.
“Traditional Satedan…” Rodney trailed off, gaping in horror at the sci-fi rag draped over his bed, a colorful markered sketch of Ronon Dex, Intergalactic Hero in the war against the evil Space Vampires, gun drawn and eyes narrowed with dangerous intent on the big-breasted alien bimbo of the moment who, in this particular episode, just accidentally revealed herself as a spy. Christ. They were in such deep shit.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much Kavanagh cannot know about this. Seriously,” Rodney shoveled another forkful of eggs into his mouth, “we’d never live it down. You,” he jabbed his fork at Ronon, “need a disguise. Shave the beard.”
Ronon scowled at him, big hand running over his jaw. “No.”
“No,” Ronon growled again.
“Are you stupid?” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course you are. You’re a fictional character.”
“Do not be mean, Rodney,” Radek chastened, sliding a plateful of greasy bacon and eggs in front of Carson.
The Scottish boy was pasty, nearly green, cheek mashed onto the cool countertop, one hand curled loosely around a mug of coffee, and he sent Radek a dispassionate glance. “D’you want me to throw up again?” he mumbled.
“Look,” Rodney said, fisting the rolled up sci-fi rag in a hand and poking Ronon in the chest, “you can keep the hair,” because, wow, hair, “but the clothes and the mustache and the,” he flicked the magazine up to swat his chin, ignoring Ronon’s warning growl, “have got to go. And you’re like, what, twenty-six? Carson,” he elbowed the boy in the shoulder, “how old’s Dex supposed to be?”
Carson rolled his head, squinching his eyes tight. “Twenty-three.”
“Why the hell would a twenty-three year old be hanging out with us? How do we know him? Where’s he from?” At the lack of response, Rodney went on sharply, “These are the sort of questions we’ll have to field, people. Think!”
“Where’s he going to stay?” Carson asked, voice muffled.
“Where…?” Rodney cocked his head to the side. “Huh. Well, for now he can stay here. Mom and Dad won’t be back ‘til Monday, but we’re going to have to bribe Jeannie into keeping her trap shut about it.”
“Might I suggest a modest donation to Mr. Bo Piggles,” Jeannie declared breezily as she tripped into the kitchen, referring to her overstuffed piggybank.
Younger sisters were so totally inconvenient. “Twenty dollars. Small bills,” Rodney offered succinctly. The worst mistake was trying to quibble. Or show fear.
“You’re the best brother ever,” Jeannie said, grinning. She pressed a quick kiss to his cheek, then turned to Radek, all business. “Who’s Your Daddy’s a shoe-in on the third lap this weekend.”
Radek pressed his lips together, expression thoughtful. “Was raining.”
“He’s a mudder.” Jeannie ran a turtle racing ring. She was clearly insane, of course, but also sort of brilliant.
Before Radek could give her a proper answer, though, and most likely five bucks to place on Who’s Your Daddy – which was so very obviously a sucker bet - the doorbell rang, and Jeannie took off like a shot, shouting, “I’ll get it,” over her shoulder. A few seconds later, she yelled even louder, “It’s John!”
“Great. Sheppard,” Rodney muttered, pushing his empty plate away. Not that he didn’t like the guy. A lot. He was no Samantha Carter, of course, but his habit of wearing too-small tees and the same worn gray pants over and over again certainly did a lot for his libido. Though, truthfully, Rodney’d been known to get hot for toast. And he’d unapologetically jerked off staring at his computer a time or two. Or three. So, yes. John Sheppard was theoretically doable in his social sphere, but John Sheppard was also a notorious flirt, and deliberately – in Rodney’s suspicious opinion - failing calculus and that was just.... unacceptable.
“Hey, fellas,” John greeted, strolling in, mouth quirked up and hands stuffed in his pockets. “Rough night?”
Carson, eyes still closed, flipped him off.
“You’re early,” Rodney groused.
John’s grin slid into a mock-frown. “Just impatient for your company, McKay. What is it? Five of?” He shrugged off his book bag and dropped into the chair beside Carson. Giving Ronon a curious look, he asked, “Who’re you?”
“He’s, ah…” Rodney rubbed his temple with the flat of his palm, and then he swore to himself, for the good of all mankind, to never ever drink again, because the next words out of his mouth were, “He’s my boyfriend. From Canada.”
Two sets of incredulous eyes pinned him, Radek’s wide as saucers and John’s narrowed in blatant disbelief.
Ronon just kind of grunted around a mouthful of eggs he’d stolen off Carson’s plate. Carson drew an arm over his reclined head with a groan, and Jeannie, hovering in the doorway on antsy feet, giggled.
“Rodney,” John drawled slowly. “He’s got a beard.”
Rodney tilted his chin up. “He’s shaving it off.”
“Ronon.” He grinned sharply and kicked Radek in the shins.
“Ow! What was that for?”
Rodney folded his arms over his chest. “What was what for?” He’d been aiming for Ronon, though, so he lashed out again, nearly breaking his toes on the solid length of the man’s leg. He grit his teeth on an internal yelp, and Ronon had the gall to arch one fuzzy eyebrow at him in response.
“How come you’ve never mentioned him before?” John asked, hazel eyes still narrowed speculatively.
Rodney gave him an over-bright smile. “Because he’s far too old for me.”
“He is,” John echoed.
“Completely. He’s twenty-three.”
“Twenty…” John pulled a face. “That’s actually kinda disgusting, McKay. Look, I’ll, uh, wait for you in the den, all right?” He got to his feet and tugged Jeannie’s sleeve on his way past. “Come on, Kiddo, you can keep me entertained ‘til your brother’s ready.”
Radek hissed, “Boyfriend?” just as soon as John was out of sight.
“It was the first thing that popped into my mind,” Rodney shot back, slumping down in his chair. No more alcohol. Ever. “This is all your fault.”
“Mine?” Radek bristled. “Did I force vodka down your throat? No. Did I start ridiculous game of bullshit? No. You, my friend,” he tossed back an invisible shot, “were on mission to get so drunk you forget. Remember? Samantha?”
“Now I do.” Rodney scowled at him. AP Physics had been a disaster the day before. Samantha’s brilliance was a large part of her appeal, of course, but Rodney would’ve preferred not to have been rejected, corrected and the cause of an arguably major lab explosion all at once.
Though if Sam had said yes to a movie, he probably wouldn’t have minded the assigned detentions every afternoon for the rest of his school career. And now that he thought about it - now that the burning humiliation was a mere vague throb instead of the blunt traumatic pain it’d been the night before - it was actually kind of cool. She always acted like he didn’t exist outside of Physics class, so at least he’d made a fairly large impression.
Also. “This could be good,” he said slowly.
Radek shook his head. “Is bad idea.”
“No,” he snapped his fingers. “No, really, this might just be perfect. There’s no way Sam won’t notice me now. I mean, who could miss Ronon?”
“She will notice that you are mostly gay,” Radek pointed out reasonably.
“Maybe she’ll even be a little jealous,” Rodney went on, warming up to the idea. Sam would totally regret not getting into his pants while she had the chance.
“Guys,” Carson said, lifting his head carefully off of the table and cradling it gingerly between his hands, “I really have to get home.”
Having swiped Carson’s plate clean with a piece of toast, Ronon mumbled through his chewing, “So I have to pretend to date you? Are we having sex?”
Rodney choked. “Uh, what…” He turned to Radek. “What sort of brain did we download for this guy?”
“Standard.” Radek shrugged. “He can drive, too.”
“Hallelujah,” Carson slurred. “Please.”
“I have to tutor Sheppard.” He jabbed a finger at Ronon. “And you can’t leave the house like that.”
Ronon stood up slowly, utilizing the fabulous looming capabilities he’d showcased earlier in Rodney’s bedroom. “You’re really starting to get annoying, McKay.”
“Hey! I created you. I’m thinking a little blind loyalty is in order here.” Rodney tilted his head thoughtfully. “And possibly gifts.”
Ronon’s fists clenched and unclenched spasmodically, a low growl rumbling up out of his throat, and for the first time Rodney thought he might – might - have pushed him too far. Briefly, he contemplated ducking underneath the table.
But then the air rippled and Rodney’s ears popped and he was blinking back pinpricks of tears, and Ronon was standing in front of the table, clad in the same Intergalactic Hero leather pants as before, except he was clean-shaven, his honey skin smooth over the hard angle of his jaw and cheekbones, dimples winking as he bared his teeth at Rodney. The yellowed tunic that’d barely covered his chest was gone, too, and instead he was sporting a plain black tee underneath the sort of trench coat Rodney’s dad would probably wear. It worked, though.
Rodney swallowed dryly. “Okay, yeah, um. Is anyone else freaked out?”
Carson grumbled, “Hallucinations are a possible side effect to consumin’ large quantities of alcohol. I might still be drunk.”
“You aren’t still drunk,” Rodney snapped, then glared at Ronon. “And you know what? I don’t care how you did that. I don’t care because you,” he waved a hand, gesture encompassing Ronon’s long form, “are not logically possible. You’re a scientific anomaly, and I don’t like anomalies that have no possible calculative basis, so I’m just going to ignore your sudden shocking magical abilities until I can figure out how the hell you got out of my computer to begin with.”
Radek slipped off his glasses and rubbed them with the hem of his shirt. “Was electrical storm. I am sure of it.”
“You can’t make something from nothing,” Rodney pointed out.
“And yet we did.” Radek beamed at him.
“All right, shoo.” Rodney flapped them out of the kitchen, disgruntled. “Take Carson home and then just… go to the mall or something.” Digging his dad’s keys out of the cabinet in the hall, he passed them over to Radek with what he hoped were promises of death in his eyes should even a scratch befall Jim McKay’s prized Volvo.
It was really hard to intimidate the Czech, though. The only thing that ever truly shook his composure was being anywhere near Lizzie Weir, who always seemed to suck the coherence right out of him with her strategically sweet smiles.
Rodney liked Lizzie. She worked for dominance in situations much the same way he did, only she usually used sugar instead of acid. More dissimilar than not, actually, since Rodney’d rather stab himself in the groin than be nice, manipulative motive or not, to the mass of brain-dead idiots that passed for the student body at Atlantis High, but he was still impressed with her abilities.
He shut the door on Ronon and his friends with a sigh, then spun around and stalked off towards the den.
There was no doubt that John Sheppard was distracting.
For starters, he did this… thing with his pencil; slim, agile fingers walking it along his knuckles with absent rapidity. And his mouth, god. Bent over the coffee table, he alternated lightly biting into his bottom lip and peeking his tongue out in slow swipes, wetting and re-wetting what he’d recently chewed pink.
Rodney watched him out of the corner of his eye, torn between fascination and being pissed off that he’d read the same paragraph five times and still had no idea what it said.
“Aren’t you done yet?” he groused. He knew for a fact that John was very, very smart – it was laughably easy to jimmy the lock on the cabinet reserved for school transcripts, and Rodney wasn’t about to leave his academic future in the hands of the moronic administration staff that kept confusing him with Ron MacAfee, a thick-skulled senior with little to no communication skills above grunts.
And after he went through the trouble of sneaking into the principal’s office, he wasn’t going to just look up himself. So he read that Radek was getting embarrassingly good grades in gym – seriously? – and that Samantha’s GPA was a measly two points above his, and that Carson was failing Lit from what Rodney knew was a deep-seated fear of being forced to write iambic pentameter, and that John was all-around intelligent, with abnormally high marks even if his attendance was shoddy and despite the obvious hours spent on moussing his hair up into impossible angles.
Barring his calculus grade, of course, which Rodney, as previously mentioned, suspected was stupidly deliberate.
John sent him a sideways glance, mouth curled up slyly. “Almost.”
He twisted his body, a slow stretch, and Rodney tightened his grip on his book, watching John’s shirt ride up, revealing tan skin and the bottom curve of a rib. John was skinny, and Rodney knew he only reluctantly ran track at this father’s insistence, leaving his body sharp and spare, muscles delineated more by extreme lack of fat than any actual mass.
Then John tossed the pencil aside with a bright, “Done,” and fell back on the couch, slouching into the cushions. He eyed Rodney with amusement, his infamous gray pants baggy from repeated wear, pulled down at the hips from shifting positions, the tight band of his underwear exposed as it stretched across his lower abdomen.
Rodney cleared his throat.
“So,” John splayed a long-fingered hand over his belly, pinky brushing his waistband and subtly bunching his shirt, “you wanna make out?”
Rodney jerked, eyes rounding. “What?”
John grinned winningly at him.
“Are you seriously flirting with me?” Rodney snapped, because Jesus. John knew exactly what Rodney thought about his indiscriminate coquettishness. He wouldn’t touch the boy with a barge pole.
“No,” John drawled, and was that a slight arching of his back? “Flirting hasn’t been working. I thought I’d try the direct route.”
“I have a boyfriend,” Rodney bit out.
“McKay,” John said patiently, tilting his head to the side, “there’s no way that guy is really your boyfriend.”
John arched a brow.
“No, honestly,” Rodney pressed.
“Ooookay,” he drew out, but he obviously still didn’t believe him. “No making out then.”
He sort of pouted and fluttered his lashes and Rodney, at that exact moment, wanted to jump him. Like, badly. And where the hell had that come from?
He manfully refrained, though, since what he really wanted was Samantha, and John Sheppard and his enormous poof of hair and bony hips were only going to complicate things. Plus, he probably had all sorts of diseases. God, just the week before Rodney’d caught him in the hall outside woodshop with his tongue down Chaya Sar’s throat, and that skank was easier to spread than margarine. Rodney’s fingers bit into his thighs.
“Are you all right?” John asked.
“Yes,” he said tightly. “I just can’t believe you would—”
“Hey, I asked. It’s not like I attacked you or anything.” He managed to look lazy and affronted at the same time.
Rodney snorted. “Please.” Although he’d acquired more than a few enemies over the years, most of his peers were terrified of his intellect and sharp tongue, and he was solid enough to stave off any would-be bullies. John may’ve been… scrappy, but Rodney doubted he’d even be able to hold him down if he tried. And no. No, Rodney did not get any sort of thrill out of that thought at all, and if he had, well. It really didn’t take much to get him going.
John shrugged and slipped his books away, zipping up his pack without looking at Rodney, and generally giving off a wounded air. With a sigh, he sent Rodney a small, wry smile and got to his feet. “Look, you’ve been great, but I think I’ve got it down now, so…” He trailed off and rocked back on his heels, head bowed, and for some insane reason Rodney’s heart dropped and clenched and twisted, and he spat out, “Don’t be stupid.”
“Um.” John lifted his head and swiped his tongue over his bottom lip.
“I’ve got detention until the end of time, though.” He waved a hand, slightly jittery. “Tuesday. I’ll, uh, stop by your house so you don’t have to hang around.”
“You don’t have to—”
“Shut up. I’m being gracious here, and I’ve been told that’s nearly impossible, so,” he clapped his book shut and pushed off the couch, “get out and maybe, you know,” he wrinkled his nose in distaste, “try to keep it in your pants, eh?”
John blinked. “Keep it in my… Are you kidding?”
“No.” Rodney gave him light shove towards the den doorway, and John gave him an are-you-completely-insane? arch of his eyebrows – which Rodney ignored, of course – and then John was gone and Rodney was finally alone, left wondering how his life could get any weirder.
Radek was diabolical; Rodney knew this. It was, in fact, the main reason they were friends. Many people took in Radek’s accent and owlish eyes and messy hair and grossly underestimated the danger he presented. Those people didn’t last long in AP Physics. And, apparently, third period gym.
When he showed up with Ronon again, wearing his favorite blue shirt and a wide, close-mouthed smile, Rodney knew no good would come of it.
“Come, you must get dressed,” Radek urged, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Rodney glanced down at his sweats. “I am dressed.”
“No, no, we are going out.” His grin got sharper. “Bates is having party.”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Rodney pulled a face. “And we’re suddenly pals with Bates, why?” Bates was a kiss-up and a slacker simultaneously, reminiscent of Sheppard. Except Bates actually was terminally stupid.
Radek shrugged, but his eyes were twinkling evilly. “We saw him at mall. He invited Ronon.”
Ronon looked up from picking his nails with… was that a dagger? Where the hell did he get a knife from? Rodney’s parents would pitch a fit if any of the cutlery went missing.
“Oh, of course.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to go,” he groused, then snapped at Ronon, “Are you heading for a rumble? Put that thing away before you—”
“Accidentally slit your throat?” Ronon finished for him, and Rodney could tell he was only half-joking, the ingrate. But Ronon tucked the dagger away - in his hair - and Radek pushed Rodney towards the stairs.
“Go. Go get changed. We are picking Carson up in half hour.”
“Like he’ll be able to even see daylight until he’s twenty-five,” Rodney scoffed.
“It will be no problem,” Radek rejoined smoothly, and Rodney realized there was no way Radek was going to leave him alone, so he scowled over his shoulder at him and then stomped up the steps to exchange his sweats for some jeans.
“Guys, go away. Please,” Carson hissed desperately.
Rodney glared at Radek. “So now what?” he asked mockingly. “Are we going to kidnap him?”
Carson’s eyes got huge and he shook his head emphatically. “Guys, seriously, you can’t. My mum—”
“We can handle her,” Radek said brightly, pushing past him and into the house. Ronon shrugged and followed, and Rodney pressed his lips together and awkwardly patted Carson’s shoulder.
“You can’t, oh god, you can’t,” Carson wailed, trailing after them. “I’m already grounded ‘til summer.”
For the most part, Carson got on famously with his mother - who was, in Rodney’s learned opinion, an overbearing, small-minded bore that needed to find a hobby healthier than obsessing over her son. But Carson had been kind of a loner before Radek and Rodney had adopted him, and she practically loathed them both for taking away her little boy. Even if she never actually said so much to their faces.
Mrs. Beckett was at the stove in the kitchen, and she gave them an all-encompassing glare as they trooped into the room. “What are you boys doing here? Go on, out.” She shooed them with a spoon. “Carson will see you at school on Monday.” She didn’t sound particularly happy about that, and Rodney wondered, not for the first time, how Carson ever managed to avoid being home-schooled by the harridan and all the horror that would’ve entailed.
“We were hoping Carson would join us tonight,” Radek said, pushing his glasses up his nose.
“Absolutely not. I think last night was a prime example of your detrimental influence on my son.” Her eyes hardened on Rodney - she always blamed him over Radek - then slid over to Ronon, who was pawing through a basket of fruit on the counter. “Who are you?”
Ronon bit into an apple. “I’m from Canada.”
Mrs. Beckett grabbed the fruit out of his hands with a mean growl. “Out.”
Carson shifted nervously from foot to foot in the doorway. “Radek, please—”
“I think Carson should come with us,” Radek insisted.
“Oh you do, do you?” She narrowed her eyes dangerously.
“Mum, it’s all right, they’re leav—”
“Ronon,” Radek cut in brightly, “would you please help?”
Ronon snagged another green apple from the table, biting into it and chewing absently. He leaned negligently against the counter. “You should probably let him go,” he advised gruffly.
The whole thing was getting a little ridiculous. Carson was sputtering, bright red, and Rodney was just about ready to pull Radek bodily from the room when Ronon flicked his trench coat open wider, flashing something that looked exactly like the gun he handled when he was busy being an Intergalactic Hero, the gun that could open a hole the size of his head in an alien’s torso.
Mrs. Beckett fumbled back a step, hand groping for the phone.
“Wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Ronon said, and then he tossed Radek the half-eaten apple and drew out his weapon, pointing it directly at Mrs. Beckett while Carson whimpered and Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose.
Radek looked like he was having the time of his life.
Everyone seemed frozen for just about five seconds, and then Rodney snapped, “Oh for god’s sake, let’s just get out of here.”
Ronon sent him a wolfish grin, and Rodney rolled his eyes.
In the car, Carson huddled in a miserable ball next to Rodney on the backseat, muttering under his breath. “I hate you all. Mother’s never going to forgive me for this.”
“Relax,” Ronon said, flicking a glance in the rearview mirror. “She won’t remember anything.”
Rodney snorted. “She’d probably be a lot better off forgetting she even had a son. Give her something else to worry about. And you can’t be upset yet, Carson.” He tipped his head back against the seat. “You haven’t heard where we’re going.”
“Where’re we going?” Carson asked warily.
Carson groaned and covered his eyes.
Rodney could hear the party before they reached the house, the pulsing electronica and shrill laughter tripping down the flagstones of the front walk, and he winced, reminded of the blinding headache he’d woken up with that morning. But he squared his shoulders, and the four of them stepped inside the already half-ajar door, directly into the path of one very, very drunk Aiden Ford.
“McKay,” he slurred happily, slinging an arm around his neck. “McKay, I totally missed you.” Ford had transferred schools over the summer, having moved three towns over, but he was a frequent – often affectionate - visitor.
“You just saw me last weekend, you idiot,” Rodney growled, trying unsuccessfully to duck out of his hold. But he knew from experience that the only surefire way of getting rid of the kid was to find someone else he could hang onto, so he grabbed Carson’s arm and pulled him forward. “And you didn’t miss me, you missed Carson.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. Carson, dude, I totally missed you. Like, more than McKay even.” Ford lurched forward, catching Carson off guard with a sloppy bear hug.
Rodney sent Carson a smart, “Have fun!” and sidled away as fast as he could.
Fifteen minutes later, he was settled on a sofa with a cup of warm piss masquerading as beer cradled in his hands, watching with half-hearted amusement as Radek bopped a bit in place to the blaring cacophonic music, while Ronon stood impassively next to him, like some sort of gigantic watchdog.
“Comfortable?” Breath warmed his cheek and Rodney pulled away, turning to glare up at John leaning against the back of the couch. Judging by the waistband peeking up over the rim, he was sporting the same worn pants as before – really, how often did he wash them? - only he’d paired them with a different too-tight shirt; dull green, faded silkscreened walrus on his chest, someone’s souvenir from a sojourn in Tacoma.
He looked very fetching, all and all, and Rodney had never in his entire life used the word ‘fetching’ in that exact context, during internal musings or out loud, so he grimaced and acknowledged John with a brisk, “Sheppard,” then settled back into the cushions. He sipped at his beer, and wasn’t surprised in the least when John leapt the back of the couch and sprawled out next to him. Wordlessly, he handed over his cup.
“So, not to be rude, McKay,” John drawled, “but what are you doing here?”
Rodney tossed him a disgruntled look. “Bates invited Ronon.”
John nodded, took a gulp of beer and rubbed a palm absently over his thigh. “What’s his deal, anyway?” he asked finally. “And why does he seem like—”
“He’d eat anyone who looked at Radek wrong?” he finished for him, because, yeah. Ronon had an unholy, bloodthirsty gleam in his eyes as he surveyed the room, but gave Radek nothing but fond glances. Very, very disturbing. “Strangely enough, I think you’re the only one who’s bothered to ask those questions.”
Rodney rolled the truth around in his mouth, pondered letting it slip out – because really, what were the odds that John would even believe him? - but then Sam came into view across the room; beautiful Samantha with her short, shiny blonde hair, a black and pink headband stretched across her forehead, and, well. She was dressed in her usual jeans and loose, brightly-colored t-shirt, but having her primly covered up all the time left a lot for him to fantasize about. Rodney wasn’t normally big on using his imagination, but he always made exceptions for Sam.
Janet caught his eye and waved at him with a small smile. An actual nice smile, too, since she was pretty much the only one of Samantha’s friends who didn’t think he was a total arrogant prick. He wasn’t sure why, though. He’d never tried very hard to hide the fact that he honestly was one.
Rodney heaved a wistful sigh. And then John snapped his fingers annoyingly in front of his face, and he slapped them away with a glare. “What?”
“You were starting to drool.” John smirked.
“Was not,” Rodney protested, but he reflexively swiped a palm over his chin.
John chuckled and shook his head. “Jack and Teal’c are never gonna let you near her, and even if they did, she’d—”
“Crush me with her immense intellect; yes, I know,” he finished for him.
John arched a brow. “Actually, I was thinking she’d take you down with a swift roundhouse kick to the head.” At Rodney’s incredulous look, he shrugged. “She’s in my gym class.”
Scowling, Rodney snatched his cup back and drained it in one long swallow.
“Why’re we hiding in the bathroom?” John asked, words slurring together only a tiny little bit.
Rodney’s fingers tightened around the small bones of John’s wrist as he pressed his ear up to the door. “Do you hear them? Oh my god, I can hear them breathing! Do you hear that?” he demanded, tugging John closer and slipping his other palm over the side of his really very fluffy head and practically slamming it against the door, and god. He really hadn’t meant to grope Samantha. He’d sort of fallen onto her, and John might’ve even pushed him, he wasn’t quite sure, but either way it was nothing for anyone to get upset about!
“Ow,” John pouted.
“Do you—oh, wait.” Rodney forced a laugh, thin and high. “Just me. Breathing. Everything’s fine. Fine, yes, what did you say?”
John’s eyes widened. “Ow?”
“No, no, before that,” he flailed, releasing him and shifting away, “back when you were still half-sober and Teal’c wasn’t trying to kill us. Me.” At John’s blank stare – and, wow, the dumb look was just as hot as that sated gleam he got in his eyes after finishing up one of Rodney’s killer practice problems, and honestly. Other than John’s blatant slut issues, why the hell hadn’t Rodney taken full advantage of John’s invitation earlier? Was he insane? – Rodney gave a half-hearted huff, and said, “You know what? Never mind. Let’s just.” And then he was crowding John up against the sink, and John’s eyes flared from dull to yes, please, now, and Rodney realized he was probably more than a little lit himself.
“Hi,” John said, squirming as Rodney’s hips met his, and Rodney threaded fingers through his shock of dark, spiky strands and murmured, “You really do have tremendously stupid hair.”
“Gee, thanks, Rodney,” John drawled, a slight roll to his eyes, but his hand was rubbing the soft curve of his jaw, and Rodney had a moment to ponder how it was all very languorous, with half-lidded glances and slow movements, and heavy, unhurried pressure, when it probably should have been frantic and fast and desperate – he was sixteen, and admittedly had little to no self-control when it came to sex. Rodney was definitely blaming the alcohol. But then John’s fingers firmed on his chin, and he uncurled from the slight slouch he’d adopted against the sink and Rodney stopped… pretty much everything when their lips touched.
Stopped breathing, stopped moving. And John pulled back with a small moue and poked his stomach.
“Rodney?” he asked, expression strangely hesitant, and Rodney unfroze in a flurry of arm waving.
“I’m not drunk enough to explain this, this,” he flapped his hands between them and John dropped his gaze to his crotch, smiling slyly before catching Rodney’s arms and shoving him back against the door.
“Rodney,” John breathed, face very close to his, hazel eyes surprisingly clear. “I’ve kissed a lot of people—”
“Oh god, you have a disease, don’t you?” Rodney accused, horrified. “Herpes? Syphilis? Tongue fungus?”
John’s jaw visibly tightened. “I don’t have a disease, McKay,” he half-growled, and the sound went straight to Rodney’s groin because, dear god, John had him pinned, and how was he possibly strong enough to do that?
There was a sudden pounding at the door, and Rodney bucked forward, spurred into twisting out of John’s grasp.
“You still in there?” a voice called out, accompanied by a rattle and click of the handle being jostled.
“Go away, Lorne,” John said tightly, stalking Rodney as he backed away.
Rodney held up his hands, contemplating jumping in the shower and slamming the glass pane closed behind him, but then Lorne went on, sounding slightly awed and a lot amused, “You have to see this, man. The Czech kid’s finally snapped,” and he paused in the middle of the small room.
“Radek?” He dove for the door and fumbled the lock open before John could make even a token protest.
Lorne was grinning like a loon when they stepped out. “Oh, wow. McKay, John?” He laughed and punched John in the arm, then tilted his shorn head towards the stairs. “Come on. Davey and Beckett are trying to disarm him.”
“Disarm?” Rodney asked faintly.
“Breathe, McKay,” John said, smoothing a big circle on his back, “I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for—” His words were cut off by a searing electronic screech, and then the house shook, ceiling dust raining down, cracks chasing each other across the walls as they pitched sideways, and panicked shouts echoed up the stairwell.
“Was fake,” Radek said for the four-hundredth time. “Ronon showed me. Was fake. Made,” he cocked his thumb and forefinger, siren-like stuttering whines slipping out of his mouth, “noises.”
Ronon took a mammoth bite of his cheeseburger. “You needed it to be real.”
“I destroyed Bates’ house!” he exclaimed, disbelief threaded throughout his tone.
Ford giggled from his boneless slump in the middle of the circular booth.
“They needed to take you seriously,” Ronon offered in a muffled voice, one side of his mouth puffed up like a squirrel’s as he chewed.
Radek tugged on the ends of his hair. “I am lethal with volley ball. There is no need for laser weapons! Anyone with brain is respectful of me,” he said indignantly, accent more pronounced from frustration.
Rodney stuffed some fries into his mouth. “It was kind of cool, though,” he said, and John sent him a shiny-eyed grin of agreement. There was a hole you could step through in Bates’ living room. It was awesome. “From the specs, I didn’t think it had that much fire-power.”
Ronon shrugged. “Doesn’t, normally. Party was getting a little boring.”
“I destroyed Bates’ house,” Radek repeated, slower and at a thankfully lower decibel than before.
John grinned at him. “That you did.”
“And it was,” a pleased glow bloomed across his cheeks, “cool?”
“Way cool.” John nodded, stretching an arm along the back of the seat behind Rodney, brushing a slim-fingered hand over his shoulder, and Rodney batted it away, ducking his touch, because he’d had five cups of coffee in the late-night dive of a diner, and his mind was clear of, if not the inappropriate thoughts themselves, at least the compulsion to give in to them.
He jostled Carson’s feet across from him by accident and the Scot’s head popped up, blinking rapidly, hands braced on the vinyl seat where he’d been pretty much passed out. “I wasna—wha? Wha? Mum?” he slurred, and Ford giggled again.
“Dude,” Ford slapped his arm, and Carson dropped back down along the bench with a whoosh and a whispering groan, “you’re so drunk.”
“McKay,” came a dark growl, and the ragged group glanced up collectively at the huge guy standing at the end of their booth.
Rodney’s fingers clutched the edge of the table. “Uh…”
“Teal’c, hey,” John said brightly, then murmured to Rodney out of the side of his mouth, “No sudden moves.”
Teal’c arched an eyebrow at him, half-inclining his head, but otherwise ignored John and zeroed in on Rodney with disturbing intensity.
Oh god. He was so dead.
“McKay, O’Neill wishes to speak with you.”
Rodney just stared, disbelief plain. Did the guy honestly think he was going anywhere with him? “Right, yes, and where would this little conversation take place? The bathroom?” At Teal’c’s impassive expression, Rodney leant into the formica tabletop and snapped, “Oh, you have got to be kidding me! Who does he think he is? The Fonz? Please,” he waved a hand, turning away with a sneering, “I respectfully decline.”
“Movements! No fast movements!” John admonished in what Rodney thought was a completely unwarranted, ‘code red!’ tone, but then Rodney found himself being hauled bodily from the booth, the front of his shirt curled in Teal’c’s massive fists, and he really, really regretted insisting on the outside seat in deference to the mightily drunk, high-possibility-of-hurling Bobbsey twins wedged in the middle of the wrap-around booth.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ronon get to his feet, parting his legs in his patented Intergalactic Hero stance, flicking his trench coat back to reveal the holster strapped to his thigh. “Let him go,” he growled.
Teal’c eyed him carefully, and then slowly released his hold on Rodney’s shirt, shifting to face Ronon. “Who are you?”
Ronon’s eyes narrowed. “I’m his boyfriend.”
“Oh, please. You aren’t my boyfriend.” He may’ve started it, but in retrospect the concept was so completely ridiculous there was no way he was going to endorse that farce in public. “If anything you’re Radek’s boyfriend, but I’d keep that quiet around Lizzie if I were you.”
Radek choked on an unintelligible protest, but a spark of amusement twitched across Ronon’s mouth.
John beamed at him, a closemouthed curve of his lips, radiating satisfaction, and Rodney gave him a quelling glare.
“You aren’t my boyfriend either,” he said, jabbing a finger at him, then he rocked back on his heels and smiled grimly up at Teal’c. “Ronon keeps knives in his hair.”
After a moment of hesitation, Teal’c nodded. “I will inform O’Neill of this development,” he said, then strode purposefully away.
“Quick, let’s get out of here before they send Danny over to talk us all to death,” John said, sliding out of the booth and standing entirely too close to Rodney, lean body warm along his back.
“You have a serious problem with respecting my personal space,” Rodney groused, crossing his arms over his chest, but he didn’t step away.
They all ended up at Rodney’s house, because Carson was in no condition to go home, nobody wanted to drive the forty-five minutes it’d take to get to Ford’s place, and Radek practically lived there anyway. John lived one street over and had his skateboard, but he trooped in after them without asking, and Rodney didn’t put up much of a fuss about it because Jeannie was still awake, and John was always really good at charming her into keeping her mouth shut without resorting to bribes. She already had all of Rodney’s allowance for the month.
And even though Rodney was technically more sober than buzzed by then, and staunchly refused to touch the bottle Radek dug out of his never-ending store of vodka he kept under Rodney’s bed – since Rodney’s mom never ever bothered to check, and Radek’s parents were a little fanatical about cleanliness - he would swear until his dying day it was an alcohol induced blackout that found him snuggled up under his covers with John the next morning.
It’d had nothing to do with John’s affectionate, blurry nuzzling and wet eyes and salt-damp, flushed skin, because he did not remember any of that.
John’s eyelids slit open, sticky lashes pulling apart slowly as he focused on Rodney. And Rodney levered himself up above him, resting his weight on one elbow and tugging the blankets up over their heads, cocooning them from the rest of the room’s hopefully still passed-out occupants.
They were both fully dressed, and Rodney wasn’t sure if he was relieved or embarrassed about that, but John’s mouth was curled up in a lazy smirk, and Rodney slid a palm over his heart as he bent down, not particularly caring that his breath was dry and tasted like beef jerky, though he’d be willing to bet John’s was just as bad.
And then John murmured in a voice so low Rodney almost missed it, “I’m failing Calculus for you.”
Rodney blinked. “What?”
“Jesus, McKay,” he said softly, laughter bubbling under the words, “I’m failing Calc. and I could’ve tested out of the class. I’ve been trying to get your attention for months.”
It was one thing to have suspicions and quite another to have it laid out in front of him, confirmed. “I feel I have every right to mock your common sense right now. You were failing on purpose? For me?” It was like stupid times ten, and Rodney wanted nothing to do with something that horrendously ill-planned, no matter how oddly flattering it was.
John seemed to take exception to his tone, and shifted, peeling back from his side. “I really thought you knew,” he hissed.
“How could I have known?” Rodney demanded.
“Rodney,” John took a deep breath, giving Rodney a censorious look, “you were giving me problems that we hadn’t touched yet in class, half of them weren’t even explained in the textbook, and did I ever get any wrong?”
“You—” Rodney paused, cocked his head. “Uh, no. No, you’re actually good at problem solving, aren’t you?” he asked, a speculative, questioning edge to his tone.
John’s smirk was back. “I can do them in my head.”
Rodney’s eyes went wide, and his, “Really?” was almost a squeak.
“Yep.” John nodded slowly.
“I.” Rodney’s mouth open and closed mutely. Finally, he bit out, “I can’t believe you! You’ve been trying to get my attention for months? And you’re only just bringing up your amazingly sexy math capabilities, and somehow you thought failing was the way into my pan… Wait. Wait, that’s what,” Rodney’s eyes lit up, and he snapped his fingers. “That’s what you said!”
John’s brow wrinkled. “What?”
The whole lead-up to the tipsy almost-grope in the bathroom was suddenly amazingly clear. “At the party. You were hogging all the chips, and I wouldn’t let you dance, and you griped about trying to get my attention for months, and then…” he pinned him with narrowed eyes, “you pushed me into Sam.”
“No, I didn’t,” John shot back hastily.
“You so did! You almost got me killed!”
“It was an accident,” he amended, but his eyes were shifty and Rodney didn’t believe him for a split-second.
“It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t anywhere near an accident. Oh my god, you were jealous, weren’t you?” Rodney accused, curling his fingers into his shirt and pushing their noses together, eyes narrowed with intent. “I didn’t think it was possible, but you’re even more socially retarded than Carson.”
John gave a half-growl, half-laugh, and he burrowed a hand in Rodney’s hair, other slipping up his shoulder to cradle his neck, pulling him past that small, tiny space that Rodney hadn’t yet passed, although he’d been thinking very hard about passing - and Rodney was totally trusting John’s word about the tongue fungus thing - but he’d been so very right. Both their mouths tasted like warmed dog carcasses and really old potatoes, and John’s slick tongue over his teeth only half made up for it.
He broke away, gasping. “Oh god. That was really bad.”
John chuckled, hooking a leg around the back of Rodney’s calf. “Oh, yeah. Terrible.”
“Seriously,” Rodney breathed, collapsing into him, resting his head next to John’s on the pillow. “And if you ever touch Chaya again, I’ll have you killed. I promise you.” He nodded, nose brushing John’s ear. “It will be very, very painful and messy.”
“Who’d pull that off?” John’s voice was husky, thick with smug amusement. “Your Intergalactic Hero?”
Rodney rolled away and off John, grimacing up at the ceiling. “So you remember that,” he said, because at some point during the night, Radek had babbled the whole weird thing, and dug out the reams of notes they’d filched off of Kavanagh.
“I’ll have to congratulate Kavanagh on his stunning success,” John said cheekily.
Rodney’s mouth curved down in a lopsided frown, turning to glare at him. “We swore an oath of silence.”
“We did?” John asked, rife with patently faux guilelessness.
“You used your pinky finger.”
“My pinky is a dirty, rotten liar.”
“John,” Rodney growled warningly.
John waggled his eyebrows, and his hair was completely flat on one side and his face was creased with pillow marks and there was a crusty white line running from one corner of his mouth and down under his lower lip, and honestly it was all very adorable and endearing.
Rodney was in so much trouble.
An almost inhuman groan floated up from the floor next to them.
“Aiden. Aiden, geroff me,” Carson moaned.
And then there was an oddly melodious, “Good morning,” and John and Rodney froze, giving each other wide-eyed looks.
“You don’t think—?”
Cautiously, Rodney tugged the sheet down so they could peek out. Ronon was lounging in the doorway next to a smugly grinning Radek – surprise, surprise – and a young, smooth-skinned, mid-drift baring woman with dark eyes and a serenely amused smile curving her lips, and she looked disturbing like Teyla Emmagan, Intergalactic Heroine, of Lethal Fighting Sticks and Abnormally Strong Thighs fame.
“Oh god,” Rodney groaned, slapping a hand over his face. “Oh my god, I think I actually remember doing this.” He needed new friends. He needed to move to Idaho. He bet their fries were delicious.
John just laughed.