The knocking was loud and impatient, and John knew who was on the other side before he even opened the door.
“Finally,” Rodney snapped. “And, more importantly - what the hell are you doing here?”
“Shouldn’t that be my question?” John drawled, quirking an eyebrow at Rodney who was standing on the porch, red faced and irritated, with a bulging laptop bag over one shoulder and an equally over-stuffed suitcase at his feet. “Nice to see you, too, Rodney, and I’m here on vacation - thanks for asking.”
“Vacation?” Rodney huffed and pushed past John into the house, leaving his suitcase on the step.
John sighed and picked it up, closing the door after him. He did briefly think about being on the other side of the door and making a run for it – but Rodney would only catch up with him again if he did.
“You call this a vacation?” Rodney carried on without pausing. “Holed up like some survivalist freak in the backwoods of Montana? Dear God, you’re not storing your urine are you?”
Storing his urine? Jesus, Rodney’s head could be a scary place sometimes. “I’m, like, five minutes from the highway, McKay. There’s a Target in the next town over and this place has cable. It’s hardly Ruby Ridge.”
“Well, whatever.” Rodney waved John’s words away and stalked into the living room, clearly expecting John to follow – which, of course, he did. “The important thing is that I get back from Minnesota to find that my best friend has disappeared without so much as a note or a ‘So long, Rodney’!” Rodney had put his hands on his hips and, though the stance was aggressive, there was a hint of vulnerability in his eyes.
And that there. That was why John had left. He just couldn’t trust himself anymore.
“Jeez, Rodney. It’s just a vacation,” he deflected. “It’s not like I’ve been kidnapped or anything.”
“Oh, really? Well, here’s a news flash, Colonel. Most people tend to, I don’t know, mention that they’re planning on taking some time off? Maybe flick through some brochures or engage other people in a little idle chit-chat about a great place to get a mojito. They don’t just vanish into thin air with no word and without taking their cell phone!”
John ducked his head. He should’ve known that wouldn’t stop Rodney.
“Oh, yes,” Rodney steam-rollered on. “I found that in your quarters after the fifteenth missed call and me hacking a military satellite to triangulate the position of the GPS locator!”
John shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “I just wanted a little peace and quiet, okay? With having just helped save the galaxy and all.” He added a pout for good measure, hoping for a distraction while Rodney went off about forty-year-old lieutenant colonels and their propensity for behaving like teenage girls. Unfortunately, this was the one time it didn’t work.
“Oh, and is that why you also gave strict instructions not to reveal your whereabouts to anyone, not even, say, your best friend?”
“‘Reveal my whereabouts’?” John rolled his eyes. “This isn’t Mission Impossible, Rodney. I’m not on a damned NOC list.”
“Oh no? I was two seconds away from hacking the SGC to get a trace on your subcutaneous transmitter! Fortunately, it was easier just to hack Woolsey’s personnel files – do you know that he uses his dog’s name as a password? I mean, really? I’m surprised it’s not ‘password’ - and find your request for leave and contact details. Why didn’t you just tell me, John?”
The last was said more quietly, and John had to look away, defenceless against the bruised look that was back in Rodney’s eyes. There was no way that he could tell Rodney the truth – that he’d run away because he was a coward.
Rodney had gone to Minnesota with Keller to visit Keller’s father, and John had had a pretty good idea that it was going to be the whole ‘meet the folks’ thing prior to Rodney popping the question. And John just hadn’t wanted – couldn’t - be the one that Rodney came running to when he got back to the city, face stretched with that big, stupidly crooked smile and eyes dancing with happiness. He hadn’t wanted to hear Rodney – voice bright and clipped with excitement - telling him that he’d proposed and how Keller had said yes, and that they were going to get married… and how John had finally lost Rodney forever.
Not that Rodney would know that last part, of course, because Rodney had never actually been John’s. No, John had just had a ridiculous crush – and maybe Rodney was right about that teenage girl thing – that had grown and grown, transforming and evolving over the years, until it was a bone-deep ache that never went away. And yeah, he and Rodney were friends; like Rodney said - they were best friends. And that had been enough – almost. He’d almost been happy with that. Well, he’d sucked it up and hadn’t been completely miserable, anyway. But Rodney marrying Keller would change everything. It would finally snuff out that tiny last gasp of hope that had refused to be extinguished, even after all these years. The hope that said that, one day, Rodney might just get his head out of his ass for long enough between girlfriends to see what was right in front of him. John - who loved him. Completely, and exactly as he was.
The whole ‘happily ever after’ thing had never been anything but wishful thinking though, and, deep down, John had known that it was never going to happen. But it had felt nice to have that little spark of hope. And now Rodney was going to tell him all about Minnesota and the up-coming wedding – and Christ, Rodney would probably want him to be his best man - and he could feel that last little glimmer dying inside him.
Rodney sounded concerned, and John quickly pasted on a smile – and hoped to God that Rodney wouldn’t see through it. “Sorry, buddy. My bad.” He waved Rodney over to the couch. “How about I get us a beer?” And because he was obviously a total masochist. “And you can tell me all about Minnesota. Or should I be getting out the champagne instead?” Not that he had any – but, hey, it was the thought.
Rodney’s face went blank and he sat down. “Not much to tell. Long story short - it was a nightmare. Jennifer and I broke up and so, no – beer is just fine, thanks.”
John was proud of the way he kept the shock from showing on his face. And the relief. He couldn’t help it – he hated himself for it, but he couldn’t help it. He was relieved, damn it.
“Hey, buddy. I’m sorry.” And he was – sorry that Rodney was going to be upset. Sorry that Rodney’s dreams had fallen down around him again. “I’ll go get that beer.”
He walked into the kitchen and rested his forehead against the cool, smooth metal of the fridge door for a second, catching his breath, and then grabbed two bottles and headed back, dropping down onto the other end of the couch. He handed Rodney a bottle.
“Thanks.” Rodney took a long swallow and then lay his head back against the cushions with a long sigh.
“You wanna talk about it?” John asked, fiddling with the label on his beer and praying that the answer would be no.
“Not much to say,” Rodney said flatly. “The visit showed up a lot of ways that we weren’t compatible.” And that sounded like something he was repeating back.
“Actually, you know what?” Rodney turned to John, and he had that look on his face; the one that said he’d finally found the solution to some tricky problem or equation. It was pure Rodney; equal parts excitement and satisfaction, with a little bit of smugness for good measure. “It turns out that it’s not. It was probably the best thing that could have happened really.”
“Huh?” John decided he deserved a free pass on the eloquence thing, as it would’ve been just as incomprehensible if Rodney had said that he was actually from Mars or had a third eye. Or that he didn’t like coffee. Something completely weird like that, anyway.
Rodney nodded. “I thought that I wanted to marry Jennifer and spend the rest of my life with her, but we’re just not right for each other. This trip made me see what things would be like between us - when there aren’t wraith or alien spores or whatever disaster of the week is threatening to kill us. I think we both realised that without the threat of danger, we didn’t actually have that much in common – or even that much to say to one another.” Rodney took a long swallow of beer. “Then there’s the fact that Jennifer wants to stay on Earth, and I can’t wait for the IOA to stop dragging its moronic heels and let us fly our city home.”
“Sorry,” John said again – because, really, what else could he say?
“No. It’s better this way. We’d have only made each other miserable, and I respect and like Jennifer too much for that. And the whole thing made me realise that I want something more – something different for me, too. I don’t want to settle for a relationship that ultimately makes me unhappy, just so I can be with someone.” Rodney suddenly looked a little twitchy. “I can’t say I’m not upset that we split up.” The nervousness faded, and he thrust his chin out, determined and stubborn. It was something that John had seen a thousand times, and he couldn’t help the little flare of warmth that twisted inside his chest. “But do you know what upset me more?” John felt the intensity of Rodney’s stare holding him fast. “It was coming back to Atlantis to find that my best friend had run out on me without a second thought!”
“Look, Rodney. I already explained -”
Rodney cut him off. “And that got me thinking. I had a lot of time to think actually; like during the times when I was calling your cell – all fifteen times, I might add! – and you weren’t picking up. Then waiting for you not to reply to the thirty-two emails that I sent.”
“Yeah. About that… I didn’t bring my laptop, either,” John said sheepishly.
“Yes, thank you, Colonel State-The-Obvious. I worked that out – it was in your quarters along with your abandoned cell phone!” Rodney snapped. “But, anyway, it gave me some time to think and to start to figure something out.”
John tried to look supportive, in a vague, ‘hey, want another beer?’ kind of way but inside he was starting to panic. What the hell did Rodney think he’d figured out? Had he somehow given himself away, and Rodney had come to have some homophobic freak out on him? Jesus! Rodney hadn’t found the gay porn on his laptop and put two and two together, had he? It wasn’t his fault that it all starred guys with blue eyes and broad shoulders.
“I began to wonder why I was more upset about losing you than losing Jennifer.”
“You haven’t lost me, Rodney. It’s just a vacation,” John sighed at Rodney’s dramatics.
“It felt that way to me, John,” Rodney said intently. “I got back, and you were gone and there was no word. Like you hadn’t even thought about how I might feel. Like I didn’t matter.”
Christ! Talk about off the mark. Rodney was the whole reason that John was here in the first place. “Look, Rodney…”
“And it made me realise something,” Rodney went on as if he hadn’t heard. “I didn’t like that feeling. It felt worse than the whole break up with Jennifer and that just seemed wrong somehow – I mean, I should be more upset about breaking up with my girlfriend, right? That was until I took a step back – metaphorically speaking.”
“A metaphorical step back?” John said weakly.
“Yes. I took a step back, away from everything that I thought I knew about our friendship and my feelings for you, and that’s when it hit me.” Rodney grew quiet, putting the beer down on the end table and twisting around to face John. “I came to a conclusion; one that, I must admit, was quite surprising – but I went over the evidence again and again and it was the same every time.” He took a deep breath. “John, if our lives during the past five years have taught me anything, it’s that you never know what’s around the corner or when you may die a horrible, life-sucking death.”
John raised an eyebrow. And Rodney said that he stated the obvious?
“Anyway,” Rodney continued, and the chin tilt was back in full force. “I realised a few things about us – about our friendship and what it means to me. And I’ve come to see that I’ve been missing something. I’m not really very good at reading people.” Rodney gave a wan smile, and John had to smile back. “So, I’m not exactly sure how you’ll react to this but, I hope, it will be favourable.”
Okay, Rodney was getting more and more formal. This didn’t look good.
“John. I…ah, I’ve come to realise that my feelings for you have changed and… um, that is…” Rodney stopped, suddenly looking awkward and unsure. “Oh, to hell with it!” And just like that Rodney was pressed up against him, hands framing John’s face and… he was kissing him. Rodney was kissing him! Warm, soft – really soft – lips pushing against John’s and…
John pulled away. “Rodney? What the fuck?” Because as much as he wanted this – had wanted it for years – there was no way this could mean the same to Rodney as it did to him. Not the way that he needed it to, anyway.
“I’m sorry!” Rodney moved back and sat against the arm of the couch. “I had it all planned out – I have index cards – and I was going to explain it all and make you understand but then it sounded so… Look, can we still be friends? Just chalk this up to a momentary lapse in judgment and forget it ever happened?”
John’s head was spinning. “Is that what this was? A lapse in judgement?”
“No,” Rodney said quietly. “Just the opposite, in fact. I told you that I’ve been thinking about this since I got back. I really want this – us… you. But I can see that you don’t feel the same way and, so…”
John’s chest felt like it was going to explode, pain and denial and years of wanting threatening to tear him wide open. “I do want this, Rodney,” he said softly, forcing the words past numb lips, and Rodney’s face lit up. “But I can’t be some rebound fuck while you get over your latest girlfriend.” He couldn’t. It would kill him.
“No! Oh, God, no. You’re not – you could never be.” Rodney looked broken. “Never that. In fact, on reflection, I actually think that everyone else has been on the rebound from you.”
“What?” That didn’t make any sense. He and Rodney had never even been together.
“Back when we first met, I wanted you, but I didn’t know if you were gay – what with the whole ‘every woman in the galaxy throwing themselves at you’ thing – or maybe bi like me. But even if you were, there was no way you’d look at me.”
“Rodney.” Jesus, there was just something so damn heart-breaking about that – on a whole load of levels.
“And then as we got to know each other and became friends – well, I couldn’t risk losing that. Not for something that probably wouldn’t last. Let’s face it, if you did hook up with me you’d soon move on to something better.”
“Jesus, Rodney…” John literally had no words for how wrong Rodney was. “So, what changed? Why now?”
“Because I finally realised that what I wanted – what I felt for you – was the real thing and that I needed to do something about it. I didn’t want to live a life of regrets wondering what might have been. I may not be brave and selflessly heroic like you, but I decided it was time to do something. I had to try, at least.”
Rodney really had no idea. He’d stepped up, fearful and fearless, and gone for what he wanted in a way that John never could. “Rodney. God damn it – you are so wrong.”
Rodney’s face crumpled a little, and John could see that he’d misunderstood. “No, I mean. I’m not brave. I…” Christ! Just this once, he wished he could say what he meant, what he was feeling, but it was all twisted up inside him, and he couldn’t get it out. Maybe he just needed to follow Rodney’s lead and show him – the man was a genius, after all. “You know something, Rodney? For once, you are so, so wrong.”
John leaned closer, slow and careful, and saw the light bulb moment when Rodney finally got it, and then he smiled… and pressed his lips to the hopeful twist of Rodney’s mouth.