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Tanzaku Stars

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Been around the world
The universe too
I’ve been around flying, baby
It’s nothing I wouldn’t do
Tanzaku stars
Lasso the moon
And be standing there beside you right
When the storm comes through
Army of One, Coldplay

****

Being the smartest kid at school had made him the butt of jokes and pranks by those intimidated by his brilliance. They hated that he knew all the answers to the teacher's questions, that he only ever got less than a top marking in one subject, Phys. Ed. Yet for all of his intellect, Meredith was naive enough to fall for the mean-spirited pranks time and time again. By High School, with teenage hormones flooding through him, he learned that having a crush on both a girl in his Algebra club and also on one of the school's top ice hockey players was a serious mistake. Brent led him on then humiliated him in the showers in front of half his peers, who'd all been in on the joke, and April Bingham gave him Mono.

He winced at the memory. April had only kissed him to be kind after he was humiliated by Brent, and Mono meant weeks off school at a time when he needed to be away to lick his wounds, so he actually looked back on that memory with a certain fondness. Plus it was a good kiss. His first kiss, and after the humiliation with Brent, he built a wall around that particular desire for his own gender and focused on girls just like April: cute and blond-haired.

He never went back to that school, accepting an early scholarship to NorthWestern University, and he stopped using his first name, the source of some of the jokes, introducing himself as Rodney. Overall it was better but possibly because that month off school while recovering from Mono had toughened him. He grew a thicker skin and no longer held back from showing his disdain at the stupidity of others. He would force them to see him as their equal - or as their better - learning quickly there was no safe word in the cutthroat world of Academia. Whenever he felt even the slightest twinge of interest in some insanely hot guy chipping away at that wall inside his head, Rodney convinced himself he was madly in crush over some equally hot blond girl with perfect curves instead. Admittedly that had led to a few slaps around the face for inappropriate remarks and one accusation of stalking - completely unfounded as they lived in the same student housing block on campus. It took him a while to figure out it was her way of gaining sympathy for a move to better student accommodation.

He had to admire her devious mind even though he gained an unjust reputation from the incident. Water off a duck's back, he thought.

Samantha Carter made the perfect distraction from all those hot military guys in uniform; beautiful and incredibly smart, and though in later years he would admit he envied her ability to see science through the eyes of an artist, he still held firm to the belief that she could be too hasty and careless with her work. If she hadn't dismantled the protocols then Teal'c would never have become caught in the Stargate buffer, not that General Hammond cared, seeing Carter as some 'golden child'. Years on Atlantis, facing danger from various sources had shown him that sometimes he had to take a risk, had to trade meticulous attention to detail for expediency when lives were on the line. Sometimes, like Arcturus, it blew up in his face and other times, like on Taranis, he saved hundreds of lives... or just one.

Pegasus changed him. Atlantis changed him.

John changed him.

He finally had the girl, beautiful and smart Jennifer Keller, and as he faced that seemingly perfect future, staring out across San Francisco bay with his arm wrapped around her shoulders, he made the mistake of glancing along the balcony to where John stood alone. The wall inside his head cracked from top to bottom, crumbling to dust, and he knew in that moment he was standing beside the wrong person. He'd traveled to another galaxy, walked on alien worlds, and given everything he had to keep John standing by his side through high times and low. John must have sensed his eyes upon him for he looked across and their eyes held, and Rodney saw all the vulnerability and want cleverly concealed behind John's own walls; an instant of recognition of a kindred spirit and an awareness that John had walked through proverbial fire to save him more than once, to earn the right to be the one standing beside him. In that moment he understood poetry, understood every love song, and wanted to write down his deepest wish and hang it on a star for all to see. For John to see.

Jennifer pulled away, sensing the sudden change in him. He glanced down at her and saw her looking between him and John.

"Rodney?"

He gave her a sickly smile, desperate and so glad when others chose that moment to end this moment of camaraderie and go back to their duties. Rodney felt terrible when he allowed Jennifer to walk away troubled with her question unanswered, leaving him alone with John. Or perhaps that was the answer she was seeking. The silence stretched.

"John?"

He watched as John visibly steeled himself before meeting Rodney partway along the balcony. They stopped and stared out across the bay to watch the sunlight reflecting off the Golden Gate bridge, hands clenched on the railing. He felt John tense when he placed his hand on top of John's, but after a moment John seemed to relax, shoulder pressing solidly, easily, against Rodney's as they continued staring out across the Pacific Ocean to the distant shoreline.

Rodney thought he'd lost all his innocence many years ago, the victim of pranks and of one humiliation too many to bear, but as John turned his hand and entwined his fingers with Rodney's, he felt like a kid again with all those wondrous opportunities lying ahead of him, blazing brightly. Brent and his cruelty no longer existed as if erased from time and space, and the illusion of all those crushes, including his one on Jennifer, fell away to reveal themselves as a pale imitation of the true love he'd denied for himself... and John.

When his radio crackled in his ear with Radek calling him back to his duties towards the City, Rodney shared a wan smile with John.

He wasn't aware he was still holding John's hand as they walked back inside, making a silent declaration from both of them, until he saw the happy, indulgent smiles on a dozen faces.

END