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As McKay puttered around in front of him, John had one of those stark moments of insight, which left his stomach feeling like it was tying itself into knots. One day, he realized, he was going to have to man up. He was going to have to tell McKay how he felt, and then maybe take a crack at making this a normal relationship, instead of the kind where he dreamt about being in a relationship with McKay and where McKay was completely oblivious to that. One day, they might even go on an actual date, just the two of them, without Teyla or Ronon lurking in the background, and definitely without him first having to rescue McKay from whichever scientist du jour he was seeing. Then, if things went well, one date might lead to more, maybe to dates that would end with touching or, if he got really lucky, with someone putting out.

Of course, one day, maybe pigs would fly! With the ATA gene and geniuses like McKay floating around, that idea wasn't completely out of left field.

But, John reminded himself viciously, those days weren't here yet. And only his peace and his sanity were in danger of flying right then, right out of his fucking mind. Because today, he'd done what any sane guy, who was secretly in love with his unattainable male friend, would have done: he'd pasted on a fake smile instead of putting a stop to this nonsense. Now, he had to pay for it.

"What about this one?" McKay held up tie number five. This tie had colourful little patterns, which could easily pass for constellations from a distance.

After a long pause, John decided: "That's definitely the one," adding several nods to be extra convincing. He didn't say, *That's exactly the kind of dorky tie I hope you'll wear on our first date,* but he kept thinking that. Very loudly.

"Really?" McKay didn't sound convinced.

"Really. Go with that one." He gave himself a quick thumbs up for making the words sound supportive and warm, and not at all like jealousy was carving away at his insides. But none of that seemed to register with McKay, who was still giving off those doubting vibes. "Jesus, Rodney!" he tried not to snap, although a part of him just wanted to yell that at least he knew what the fuck he was doing. "Look, trust me on this, okay? She'll love it!"

"Well, of course she will," McKay told him rather pompously, as if that had ever been in doubt. "She has great taste; she's having dinner with me, right?"

Suddenly, he had a jealous-shaped hole inside him to go along with the knots in his stomach. All day long, his hands had been itching to punch something, because McKay was going on another date. And why it was bugging him more than it usually did, he had no clue. It wasn't as though McKay had never dated anyone before. McKay went on plenty of dates. *Six dates, to be exact, in the last three months,* his mind helpfully supplied the statistics. From the way it then went on to supply names and faces, apparently his mind had it in for him today.

A problem McKay also seemed to have, if he was reading the anxious look from McKay correctly.

He could almost see the ghosts of dates past dance across McKay's face while McKay relived old failures, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. None of which filled him with the relief he'd thought he would feel about McKay not finding a girlfriend. If anyone had asked him before today, he would categorically have picked that as an answer, not this hollowed out sensation twisting at the pit of his stomach.

It made him shuffle his feet, and rub at the back of his neck, and want to deny that he'd done anything wrong; but, he couldn't. Deep down, he knew he could have done more to help, instead of clinging to his fears that McKay would find someone—fears that perhaps were justified, but still fears nonetheless. It wasn't McKay's fault that the person supposed to protect him had fallen in love with him, or that he'd pinned his hopes of happiness to McKay's broad shoulders. If anything, the fault lay with him. He'd let his personal gripes get in the way. Which was not what real friends did, no matter how much they hated their friends' dating choices.

Watching McKay vacillate between pointing the finger and beating himself up, he realized he still had some way to go if he wanted to be a good friend for once. A helpful one. An honest, considerate one, instead of the cock-blocking asshole, who had a tendency to show up whenever some attractive woman paid an interest in McKay. And since there was no time like the present:

"Lose the scarf," John muttered.

"What?" McKay looked completely baffled. "But that's my lucky . . .. I always take that with me. You can't—"

"It's summer, Rodney," he said over McKay's sputtering. "Oh, and while we're at it, don't mention the scar on your back ever. I don't care what Zelenka told you, it's not cool. And, no," he held one finger up to stop any further protests, "chicks do not dig that kind of thing."

McKay sputtered some more, but seemed ready to accept the facts such as they were.

"Also, never use the word 'dig' again," John added, because when it came to teasing McKay, he hadn't quite managed to get his asshole twin under control.

"You think you're so funny, don't you?" McKay snapped, chin up and chest puffed out, classic signs of a McKay snit in the making. But he could see McKay's eyes sparkling and his lips twitching up at the corners; and it made something warm spread slowly through his chest.

The scarf promptly got retired with little fanfare—

          "I still think it makes a statement," McKay insisted.

          "Yeah, the wrong one," John told him.

Then, on went the dorky date tie; and the warmth in his chest receded on a wave of panic so steep it dwarfed the panic he'd felt earlier when McKay had bounced up to him, flushed with excitement, to announce that he had a hot date tonight.

This time, it had nothing to do with Rodney's date being Diana Marchant: a blonde physicist, who had large breasts and a PhD in Physics, for Christ's sake. It also had nothing to do with his fear that this woman ticked every box on McKay's list for a perfect partner. Or that one day he was going to wake up and find McKay married to someone that wasn't him, with kids that weren't theirs—all of which were perfectly valid things to panic about, in his opinion. No, it was because, for reasons best known to genius physicists, McKay had decided to look him over for a change. And usually whenever McKay got this close, he almost always ended up saying or doing something completely humiliating.

"Sheppard, what the hell is this?" McKay complained.

At his raised eyebrow, McKay started fussing over his collar, first straightening it then patting it down until apparently it had passed inspection. After that, he actually had to bite back a whimper when McKay leant in to, oh God, sniff him?

"Hmm," McKay sighed, "that's nice! Are you wearing cologne?"

"Yeah," John rasped, heart pounding. He'd used it specially because he knew McKay liked this brand, but somehow he managed to stop himself from blurting that out. "You smell nice too," slipped out instead, which made him want to kick himself despite the delighted smile McKay gave in response.

"Thank-you," McKay told him, laying both hands on his shoulders and squeezing gently.

John ducked his head, fighting the urge to run. Somewhere between the touching and the sniffing, he'd come up with a theory that if he didn't move, McKay, like some predators in the wild, would get bored and just wander off. But McKay seemed perfectly happy to stand there brushing imaginary specks of lint off his collar, then slowly down his arms.

And it had to be some sort of reflex, John thought desperately. Because McKay was mumbling something now about Armani and Cacharel, still grooming him, still standing so fucking close; and he knew McKay wouldn't be cruel enough to torture him like this deliberately.

"Rodney," he whispered, almost pleading now. "Rodney, your date—" he didn't know what else to say, since his possum stillness plan clearly wasn't working. "Rodney, come on! RODNEY!"

"What?" McKay suddenly stopped touching him. "Oh right, of course," McKay cleared his throat, stepping back a few paces. "Yes, we should probably go, if we don't want to be late!"

John turned away then to get himself together, but he was shaken and shaking and breathing very hard. Having Rodney touch him like that, with such casual intimacy . . .. For a moment, it had felt like they were the ones getting ready to go out—together, as a couple. And his stomach lurched all over again, twisting with that hollowed out feeling.

He had to stop doing this to himself, he realized. One day, very soon, he was going to stop. Just, not today.

***

As usual, McKay's date ended in disaster. Diana liked the tie, but she hated McKay's views on what he called the softer sciences and wasn't afraid to tell him. By the main course, she'd also told McKay never to call her again; and why some people expected Prince Charming not to have any human flaws, John really didn't know.

After dodging a few insults himself, he brought McKay over to the team's table, sat him down and commiserated with him on another romance gone wrong.

He had a smile on his face while McKay made his way through Teyla's dessert then tried to steal his and Ronon's as well. Between them, they had beers, they had music, and he had McKay next to him. It was as perfect as things could get on a stealth non-date date. And if he was honest, beyond wanting to have McKay all to himself one day, he had no real complaints about how the evening turned out.

 

The End.