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A Theory of Parallels

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Rodney opens the door just enough to glare through and snarls, “What do you want?” It’s not a very good snarl—his voice isn’t deep enough, and he sounds more like a whiny teenager (which he technically is, but: not important) than anything worth fearing. The main thing is the volume of hostility behind it, and he’s got lots of that. Enough to make the person on the other side of the door take a step back, although admittedly, that might be because he hasn’t brushed his teeth in a day and a half.

But despite Rodney’s best I will kill you slowly look, the guy doesn’t do more than put down his duffel bag and extend a hand. He’s kind of skinny and needs a haircut, and can’t possibly be on the football team, which is the best Rodney can say of him at the moment, given that he woke Rodney out of a much-needed nap and has the audacity to look like he doesn’t realize what he’s done.

“Um. Room 307. You’re Rodney McKay, right? I’m John Sheppard, your new roommate.” It’s been a shitty, shitty week, and most of that’s due to Rodney’s shitty ex-roommate, so he feels perfectly justified in shutting the door in the guy’s—John’s—face. “Hey!”

Ignoring the aggrieved yelp, Rodney picks his way through the disaster zone which is his room in the wake of said shitty ex-roommate, and goes back to bed. He’s almost finished mummifying himself when there’s the scratch and click of the door being unlocked and opened.

“You know, they gave me a key when they—oh.” Rodney peels the covers a little so he can see John, who’s staring at the mess with open dismay. “Please tell me your last roommate went on a bender and you just haven’t gotten around to cleaning up.”

“My last roommate went on a bender and I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up,” Rodney says as snottily as he can manage, and sits up, pulling the sheets entirely off the bed as he does so.

“Wait, really?”



And then Rodney has the surreal experience of watching his new roommate spend the next two hours cleaning the room. He tries at first to ignore John, burying his face in the mattress and pretending that he is in fact a mummy, because while it would suck to have his brain removed through his nose, at least he wouldn’t have to put up with idiots anymore. But John keeps poking him and asking questions like “Is it okay if I throw away this half-eaten sandwich?” and “Are these smiley-face boxers yours?” and “Do you have a hammer so I can put the shelves back in the bookcase?”

So in the end Rodney gives in and starts ordering John around, because obviously the guy is an idiot who needs to be told what to do—although he has an annoying habit of talking back and being sarcastic.

Eventually the floor is visible again, bed and bookcase and desks reassembled, Rodney’s clothes stuffed back in the dresser where they belong (“What, you aren’t going to fold them?” “Fold them yourself—I’m not a maid service.”), and everything more or less where it was before the shitty ex-roommate decided to trash the place. John’s collapsed on the other bed, seemingly oblivious of how unhygienic the bare mattress has to be, and Rodney should probably thank him for cleaning up what was someone else’s mess.

But he can’t quite bring himself to say the words, because he’s still a little angry about having another roommate forced on him so soon after the last one. Instead, he leans against the door frame and stares at John for a while.

“So, you want to go get pizza or something?” he says eventually, like John’s a friend or something, and John sits up with a sigh, scrubbing a hand through his already ridiculously crazy hair.

“Sure. Pepperoni or mushroom?”



They wind up at Orello’s, because Deenie’s banned Rodney two weeks into the semester for talking too loudly and in too much detail about health code, and John claims that everything at the Pizza Pit tastes like asbestos. Which is clearly ridiculous, and Rodney tells him why in great detail, but John refuses to recant. So there they are in Orello’s, at a somewhat grungy table for two, staring at each other. Or glowering, in Rodney’s case. John just looks tired, slumped down over the table like his spine is actually a slinky.

“You’re a physics major, right?” he says eventually.

“Yes, and what of it?” Rodney snaps, because he’s tired of getting blank looks whenever he talks about what he studies. He should be used to it, has been dealing with an increasingly disinterested world for years, but it still stings.

“Nothing—just noticed you had a lot of books on the subject. Was trying to be friendly.” John’s got his head on the table now, and if the pizza doesn’t come soon, Rodney will probably wind up eating it by himself, because John’s eyes keep sliding shut.

Really, John has no way of knowing that that’s Rodney’s sore spot, that he spent his childhood being told he should ‘be more friendly’, that it’s been the end of more conversations than Rodney wants to remember. Rodney knows this, just as he knows that it’s not John’s fault Rodney’s got yet another roommate, but he just can’t do this yet again—

And he tells John so in a carefully modulated voice (because he doesn’t want to get banned from Odello’s too), using words of few syllables, like he’s explaining something to the neighbor’s dog (after fifth grade, Jeannie started leaving the room whenever he tried to tell her about anything, and his parents had never been willing to listen), pausing only briefly when the pizza finally arrives. But the odd thing is that John’s still wearing a look of sleepy but amiable interest, even when Rodney, in increasing desperation to get the whole ‘what are you, a robot?’ part of the evening out of the way, starts throwing around actual math.

“That’s Maxwell, isn’t it?” John says after one particularly long string of variables and constants, and then yawns like a cat, tongue curling a little and eyes closed. And because it is, Rodney can’t help but fall a little bit in love with John Sheppard. Or would, if, you know, they weren’t both guys and going to be living together (because that could get kind of awkward) and John didn’t have hair like he’d stuck a finger in an electric outlet.

So he pays the waitress, grabs John’s wrist, and drags him out, informing him about the consequences of sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping habits as they go (never mind that Rodney’s been known to pull all-nighters in front of the department’s supercomputers—that’s for science). And John just follows, making mm hm noises as appropriate, with creases at the corners of his eyes and a soft-edged smile Rodney’s never seen on anyone under the age of twenty-eight. It’s a little disconcerting.

When they finally get to the dorm, Rodney has to steer John up the stairs, because if left to his own devices, John will happily spend twenty minutes leaning over the railing, staring at the floor however many dozen yards below. And if the guy gets like this every time he’s sleep-deprived or whatever, Rodney doesn’t see how he’s managed to survive this long into the semester. Or he doesn’t until the RA walks past, and John’s suddenly fully upright and coherent, even if the topic of discussion is the primeness of prime numbers, which is ridiculous, even for a math major (which John apparently is).

Once the RA’s gone, John lapses back into dreaminess, although the talk about numbers continues, and Rodney can’t help but be a little impressed—both by John’s ability to juggle insanely large numbers in his head like they’re three and four, and by the way he actually talks about the numbers. He should sound either insane or cracked, but there’s a note in his voice that Rodney’s heard in his own while talking about particles and waves and the mysteries of matter.

By the time they reach their room, John’s fallen silent again, and when confronted with his bed, he simply kicks his shoes off and curls up under a blanket—no pillow, no sheets. Rodney watches him sleep for a while, half in fascination, half because a little part of him still wants to dislike the guy, but can’t. Eventually he follows John’s example, although he takes the time to brush his teeth first and change out of his jeans.

He’d never admit it to anyone, but it’s easier to fall asleep when there’s someone else in the room, breathing softly.