Work Header

Maximum Blond

Work Text:

The first thing McKay thought when he saw John Sheppard was, “Oh, my God – blond.”

Rodney was standing on the other side of the door outside the class room Dr. Caldwell used like a torture device on advanced mathematics students from ten to eleven forty AM, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Caldwell and he were supposed to meet to talk about Rodney’s master’s thesis, which, he was pleased to note, was going well (better than “well,” actually – more like “could totally change physics as humanity knew them”) but Caldwell’s lecture was running late. Fifteen minutes and thirty nine seconds late. Rodney knew by just how many seconds because his watch read in hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds. He was serious about no one wasting his time.

Hence, Rodney was there in the doorway, checking his watch and sighing loudly, tapping his foot, when he swept a glance over Caldwell’s captive audience through the window pane in the door, when he saw something that gave him pause. It was a lanky guy dressed like an emo refugee from a Fall Out Boy music video in the third row.

His limbs were sprawled out under and across his desk (those stupidly small desks they had in the Mercer Building), his chin on his fist, elbow on the corner of the tabletop, staring at Rodney from beneath his eyelashes. Rodney flushed from collar to hairline, a jolt of nervous attraction running from heart to groin.

The guy was good looking – better than good looking, actually – he was really, really hot, which made it doubly unusual that he didn’t just glance away after a moment when he noticed that Rodney had detected him. The guy’s face was long, nose a little knobby, his lips full and reddened, and his dark, well-shaped eyebrows arched over almost almond shaped eyes Rodney would bet hard money were a really nice color. His body was all lean muscle and half hidden promise in a black T-shirt, with – of all ridiculous images – a silver foil panda bear emblazoned on the chest, that was poorly tucked into a pair of distressed blue jeans. He had a thick, black band around his wrist and a pair of seriously serious black boots, laces wound around the ankle twice. His tan complexion implied strongly that he was naturally brunet (as did the stubble shadowing his jaw), but his tufted and unruly hair was bleached moon blond.

Even at age twenty, Rodney could recognize it as youthful folly – like a tattoo or dreadlocks come by in Jamaica or (god forbid) some domestic, beer-reeking place on the Florida coast during spring break – something that seemed like a good idea at the time and with a high blood alcohol count, but just totally wasn’t in any way. Even after it had grown out, the pictures would remain as a specter of bad decisions past. This shade of blond was practically a cry for help. It was blond-blond, maximum blond, why-the-hell-didn’t-someone-stop-him? blond. It wasn’t like Rodney hadn’t made his own mistakes – in his sophomore year, he’d sported a goatee until the girl in the apartment across the hall told him candidly that it looked like misplaced pubic fuzz – and he had been told, on occasion, that he could take a little effort not to look so rumpled or possibly just refrain from pulling clothes out of the hamper because they weren’t that dirty yet.

The funny thing was that the guy didn’t seem to care or notice how weird, lunatical, and too blond his hair was. He was idly tapping the end of a pen on the edge of his desk and shooting alarmingly obvious glances Rodney’s way. He had all this crazy, spiky blond hair and he was maybe, possibly, definitely flirting. God, Rodney hoped he was flirting because he’d been wrong before.

And tragically blond or no, this guy’s full, pink lips and those long legs had Rodney’s mind playing a loop of every guy on guy porn he’d ever downloaded at two AM in the morning when Cinemax wasn’t scratching that particular itch. The guy arched one eyebrow, which looked a hell of a lot like a question, and Rodney openly gaped. He regretted, too late, the three short hours of sleep he’d managed between the library, laptop, and meeting Caldwell, because he really wasn’t prepared for this and any longer and his X-rated thoughts would get obvious to casual bystanders despite his best wishes. He was still gaping a minute later when the guy got up and lazily pulled his books across the desk into the crook of his elbow.

Then Rodney was watching as the guy was walking up the aisle to the front of the class room, his head bobbing listlessly from side to side. It wasn’t just him, Rodney realized belatedly, but everyone in the class was standing up and filing to Caldwell’s desk with dazed and resentful expressions to collect their graded homework (graded homework that Rodney had graded, actually). So Rodney had about three minutes to manufacture cool (a feat he hadn’t mastered in twenty years) before the Sex Bomb was coming straight at him, a look more amused than seduced, but (Rodney hoped anyway) interested.

And at five feet away, this guy looked even better than he had at forty feet. He was a billboard, letters ten feet tall, saying, “Hey, genius, I like the way you’re put together.” The message short-circuited Rodney’s sleep deprived brain and by the time the guy was standing in front of him in the doorway, all Rodney could command his dry tongue to manage was a strangled, “Uh, hey.”

“Right back at you,” the guy drawled, his eyebrows furling in what kind of looked like confusion.

Rodney knew that it was time for him to answer, to say something utterly brilliant and winning but all he could think of was: “I’m the smartest man in six continents; I’m working on changing science as we know it.” Not only did the line rarely (as in never) work for him, it was only so much of a conversation starter. Luckily, his mouth was too dry to say anything damaging to their nascent relationship. If he’d had more sleep, he could manage some of that charming smugness everyone who’d refused to date him couldn’t get enough of, but his mind was completely fried.

Before he could do anything else potentially mortifying, a voice rose from the end of the corridor and an attractive, athletic young man ran up, looking like an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement. He had smooth, impeccable dark skin, bright eyes, and a brilliant, boyish smile. “Hey, Sheppard! I heard you were over here!”

The guy (of course, right, his name was Sheppard) inclined his head to look at Abercrombie over Rodney’s shoulder, bobbing up on the balls of his feet. “Hey, Aiden.”

Rodney groaned inwardly, marginalizing his presence against the wall, because this Aiden guy was such a frat boy with his Aeropostale t-shirt and his deck shoes and Rodney’s chances with Sheppard just plummeted from amazing to nonexistent so fast his head spun (or maybe that was the fact that he hadn’t eaten in ten hours and he was borderline hypoglycemic).

“You heard right,” Sheppard lazily said, willingly being jostled by this jock, this stupidly good looking cover boy. “What’s up?”

Rodney studiously examined the trim around the door and he thought – that drawl, lanky body, his face, crazy blond hair, frat friends and Calc II course didn’t make any sense together, and this guy had to be one of the biggest mash-up mix-ups in the history of mankind. Since when did frat boys and (here he was hoping) sexually as yet determined emo guys with bleach kits get along together?

“Are we still on?” Aiden asked. “Lorne texted me to say he wasn’t coming.”

“Oh yeah. Sure, we’re on. Definitely.” Sheppard scruffed the platinum blond hair on his nape and asked, “What was it we were doing again?”

Aiden smiled widely and shook his head. “You said we could get some lunch after your class.” He frowned. “Unless you’re busy…?”

“Oh, that’s right!” Sheppard clapped a hand against his forehead. “No, no, I did say that.” He gave the guy a lopsided grin. “It’s a date.”

Rodney watched, fascinated, as the Abercrombie & Fitch ad pulled Sheppard aside and urgently whispered to him. Was it his imagination, or was Sheppard’s subsequent grin all soft and flirty? Rodney’s attraction ratcheted up a notch as he tried not to be obvious about watching out of the corner of his eye as Sheppard shook his head affectionately and grinned at the other man.

As Rodney’s luck had it, just then, Caldwell chose to appear at the door, looking gruff and matter of fact as usual. And if ever there was a man who looked less like a professor with double doctorates in quantum physics and mathematics, Rodney hadn’t seen him, because as far as he knew, Caldwell was the one whose appearance was most unexpected. He looked like he’d be busy being a lumberjack in the American northwest region (Oregon possibly). “McKay, you’re early,” he said. Before Rodney had a chance to respond, Caldwell pushed a large stack of homework against Rodney’s chest. “Take these. I need them graded ASAP.” That being said, he turned and started out toward his office at a clip.

Rodney had the good grace (and the experience) to grab the papers before they fluttered to the ground. He could hear Caldwell’s decisive footfalls receding in the distance. Rodney had time enough to spare one more glance at Sheppard and started, finding Sheppard’s hazel eyes on him. He managed to quirk a half smile as he juggled the papers into a semblance of order. Then he realized that if he didn’t hurry, Caldwell really would leave him (and worse than that, bitch at him for being so slow when Rodney did show up in his office). So he turned tail and hurried after him.

* * * *

In the two weeks following their first meeting, Rodney saw Sheppard five more times around campus. Every time he saw him, there was a new guy at his side – a hulking, muscular giant with dreadlocks, a clean cut sporty type with dimples, and (this was the most disturbing of all) an older gray haired guy in Air Force dress blues. McKay was getting the dismaying notion that Sheppard might be, like, dating the entirety of the male populace on campus (unless he wasn’t). More dismaying than that was that the notion did nothing to dampen Rodney’s interest.

The really frustrating part was that he’d been so certain that Sheppard had been flirting with him and it was just totally unfair if it had only been a manwhore bat signal Sheppard trained on the world, in general.

The very sad fact was that, despite how it had seemed when they’d met each other’s eyes in the Mercer Building, out of the many times they’d seen each other, Sheppard had come over to say Hey to Rodney exactly zero times. And maybe Rodney had been wrong about it in the first place and the (what did they call it in crappy romantic comedies?) spark he’d imagined between them was more like a fizzle or perhaps just an optical illusion on Rodney’s part. And, god, that would so, so suck because there was something about Sheppard that was quirky and fascinating, aside from the obvious hotness.

But Sheppard seemed to solely hang around guys (and girls for that matter) who looked like they did all their laundry on their rippling abs as method of saving money, and that made their brief flirtation seem all the more like some high flown fancy – one of the many, many fantasies Rodney indulged in. And Rodney had to admit that he wasn’t getting much sleep lately. He was lucky that was the extent of his misguided notions.

Come on, Rodney thought irritably, did the unwashed gym rat masses not notice the goofy grin, the totally freaky fashion-no hairdo? He must be totally on crack. Or there had to be a catch. Maybe Sheppard just looked smarter and cuter and weirder than he was because, from what Rodney had experienced in his twenty years on the planet, brains were not the solid gold turn on they should be to most people in the stupidly good looking set.

For curiosity’s sake, he opened Caldwell’s grade book while Caldwell was making some sophomore cry in the hall outside his tiny, inhumanely small office. Somehow, it would all be easier to take if Sheppard was as dumb as his grin suggested. Rodney leafed through the pages, looking for Sheppard’s class and found it, Calc II (Caldwell kept an impressively orderly ledger). He scanned the page for Sheppard’s name. They were a little into the second half of the semester and Caldwell’s class had dwindled to six students so it was easy to find one name out of the small group.

Sheppard, as in John Sheppard. John Sheppard was the only Sheppard in Caldwell’s class. Mentally celebrating the effortlessness of the discovery, Rodney ran his finger down the column beneath his name. Rodney’s jaw dropped and he moaned in dismay.

Sheppard, John, whatever he called himself, was acing the course – he was passing with flying colors. His grades were ridiculously above average, which meant, in the very least, that Sheppard wasn’t stupid – he could perform simple and some not-so-simple math. If Rodney was honest with himself, he could admit that this was very, very not-so-simple math that eight-tenths of the population hadn’t yet mastered (and in most cases, never wanted to). Luckily, Rodney had no problems deceiving himself.

But, god, how amazing was it that Sheppard was hot and brilliant and, more exciting than that, mathematically gifted? He was the whole package, which actually sounded mostly mythical, because Rodney had not believed that the whole package existed with the sole exception of Samantha Carter, who was a year ahead of him and immune to Rodney’s charm. It was kind of amazing and kind of tragic, because there was no way a guy like that would succumb to Rodney’s wiles. And Rodney had always hoped that the smart, hot guys would go for smart, adequate looking guys, despite their disparate levels of hotness.

Rodney was ruminating on that when Caldwell said, “What are you doing?” at his back.

Rodney’s eyebrows shot up and he slammed the book shut. He whirled around to face Caldwell in the doorway. Given the ridiculously small confines of the office, he had about three feet of workable space between them and Caldwell was practically peering over his shoulder by just standing in the doorway. Caldwell’s eyes were narrowed and the light off the bald dome of his head especially projected menace.

“What?” Rodney asked guiltily, his voice a little shrill. He regarded the professor with a studiously blank expression. “Um…nothing?” he asked, holding great hope that Caldwell would actually believe him.

Caldwell pointedly glared at the grade book beneath Rodney’s hand and moved past him into the tiny space with a curt, “Move.” He looked over the contents of the desktop.

Rodney shuffled back, marginalizing himself against the back wall as Caldwell satisfied himself that Rodney hadn’t done anything to his records. As intimidated as Rodney was by the man (which he definitely way), Rodney rolled his eyes and mentally intoned, Jeez. Like Rodney didn’t grade a good number of homework assignments, quizzes, and tests for him already – what did Caldwell think he’d actually do with the ledger that he couldn’t have done with the actual course work?

Then Caldwell’s shoulders relaxed and he shot a far less suspicious (but still fairly annoyed) look over his shoulder at Rodney. “Take a seat.” He practically had to crawl over his desk to get behind it (the office really was stupidly small) and he sat down in his chair, sprawling out in that insufferably arrogant (and dismayingly commanding) way of his. “How’s the work going with you and Radek?” he asked. “Are you making progress?”

Rodney grimaced, sitting down in the chair across from him. “What’s your definition of ‘progress’?” He waved his hands at Caldwell’s narrowing gaze. “No, no, we’re finishing. We’re doing it.”

“I have to admit that as skeptical as I was of your hypothesis, your work has been solid so far.”

More than an hour later, Rodney was leaving Caldwell’s closet slash office, his brain gummy with too much talking and, worse than that, Caldwell’s persistent skepticism. He slammed straight into an obnoxious (not to mention inconvenient), organic road block. The road block in question was a blur of black jeans/black shirt/black boots/blond hair that created a narrow wall of solid weight.

“Oh, would you watch where you’re going?” Rodney was snapping before he realized who said impediment was. The moment his eyes focused, he realized that it was John Sheppard. John’s strong, knobby hands were on Rodney’s arms for a second before and after impact, but they dropped to hook in his pockets at Rodney’s sharp complaint. For the second time that day, Rodney’s face perfectly conveyed his dismay. Great.

“Well, excuse me,” John drawled sarcastically. “Sorry to get in your way.”

Rodney groped for something to say and came up empty handed. “Um,” he mumbled, “yes, well….” John cocked his head as he stared at Rodney with a disparaging look. “Perhaps I…I could have possibly, maybe….” And now Rodney’s was down shifting into his standby setting of arrogance, his chin tilting higher by the second.

“Oh, yeah?” Sheppard asked, eyeing him suspiciously. (And, jeez, why was everyone always eyeing Rodney suspiciously?)

Rodney’s face was on fire. “Maybe I was possibly somewhat, though definitely less so, at fault.” He wasn’t sure if John snorted or chuckled.

“You think so?” John asked.

“Yes, possibly,” Rodney admitted, even if his face said cast iron stubbornness.

The corners of John’s hazel eyes softened. “Well, if you say so.” He readjusted the strap of his book bag.

With the conflict resolved, Rodney scoured his mind for some way to segue into conversation but his mind was blank as a newly fallen sheet of snow. He couldn’t think of anything and he was saved by Caldwell’s voice suddenly calling for John.

At Caldwell’s summons, John shot a smile (possibly also sarcastic) in Rodney’s direction and went right as Rodney moved in the same direction. At an impasse, Rodney grimaced hopelessly and John knit his brows in curiosity. They tried it again and ended up going in the same direction again. “Ugh.” Rodney gestured for John to go on and John said, “No, you.”

Rodney paused for just long enough that John got the wrong idea and thought that Rodney was insisting John go first. After executing a little dance wherein John moved in one direction and Rodney went in the other, they finally managed to navigate the tight corridor. As they successfully passed each other, Rodney’s rueful gaze dropped to the surfing company logo on John’s t-shirt. John’s open hand brushed over Rodney’s side as they passed.

Rodney jumped half a foot and went slack jawed, paralyzed by shock, mind reduced to rubble by the fleeting sensation of Sheppard’s hand on his body. He hadn’t imagined that, at least. He was bowled over by the insane, unbelievable confirmation of his previous notion of two-way flirtation. His eyes darted to Sheppard’s form and found him already in Caldwell’s office, slouched low in the uncomfortable chair in front of Caldwell’s desk.

Caldwell was back in the doorway, his narrowed eyes on Rodney. “Weren’t you leaving?” he demanded.

Rodney gaped, flushing deep pink. Behind Caldwell, John was knitting his fingers on his stomach, one gawky black boot crossed over the other knee, looking at Rodney with peaked eyebrows and mild curiosity. Not a minute ago, he’d gratuitously placed his hand on Rodney’s side.

Rodney’s enormous intellect was no match for such a wanton display of flirtation. All circuits were blown. “Leaving,” he choked out in a high voice and walked rapidly away.

* * * *

Even if he was tapped by the hair-raising events of the day, he still had work to do. He went home and buckled down to get his head in the game. For six hours after that, Rodney worked on his master’s thesis with Radek Zelenka, he of hair even more bizarre than John Sheppard’s bleached un-coif. They argued, tentatively agreed, argued on the details, and then went ahead with Rodney’s plans (except for the times they didn’t). And when he was supposed to be getting his regular four hours sleep, Rodney formulated tentative plans to seduce Sheppard.

He would meet Sheppard by supposed coincidence outside of his Calc II classroom and somehow the conversation would get around to how Rodney had actually been the one who’d graded the midterm and, wait – no, that might actually sound like bribery for sexual favors (or, good lord, even extortion for sexual favors). But then he hadn’t actually imparted on John the fact that he was technically the smartest man on six continents (damn that nine year old kid in Taiwan). Maybe that line would get a better reception from John Sheppard… As soon as he thought it, he remembered Sheppard’s skeptical expression, all “What, are you crazy?” hazel eyes and “I’m actually concerned that you are,” twist on the corners of his mouth.

Once upon a time, it had worked for him when he’d offered his services as a tutor (for about a week and a half). But Caldwell might eviscerate him if he took on work outside his regularly scheduled serfdom. And besides, it looked like John was doing better in that class than Rodney had, so it didn’t look like Sheppard needed a tutor.

Rodney settled in the arm chair on the far side of the living room and pretended to pay attention as Radek nattered on. Actually, what if it did work? What if John was the type of student whose motto was “Better safe than sorry” – he might actually want a cheap (possibly free) tutor with access to test keys, and – nope, that was getting in that gray bribery area again.

Before the end of one fantasy and the beginning of a dream, Rodney imagined John agreeing wholeheartedly that since Rodney was the smartest man on the planet and inarguably sexy, it absolutely made sense for them to commence with the sex-making, circumventing all the awkward go betweens and transitions in their newly forming relationship. It made for amazing dreams. When he woke up the next morning, he was hard as hell and invigorated by a fresh feeling of confidence.

Sheppard felt him up. Rodney had it on repeat in his brain box and he was sure he had it right – that he wasn’t imagining it. Sheppard had intentionally felt him up. The blond box of contradictions was totally hot for him and he wanted Rodney’s not-so-muscular body. It was a wonderful revelation.

Rodney had always known there would be people who would look beyond his admittedly acerbic tongue and sometimes dorky demeanor, his lack of general fashion sense, and appreciate him for his brilliant mind. Now, apparently, it was not just some vague conception, but a solid fact, and it was not some random person but a superhot math major with seriously experimental hair.

Rodney took ages in the shower, conjuring images of a wanton, adventurous (possibly even kinky) Sheppard he might have great hope of actually experiencing.

How to get the ball rolling was really the question. Rodney wasn’t much for first moves – in fact, it sort of made him sick with apprehension to conceive of making them – but Sheppard was flirtatious and interested and already gratuitously experienced (which McKay still wasn’t all that crazy about). Rodney told himself that he could count on someone like Sheppard to make the first move. Rodney resolved to make himself appear available, open to advances and, more than anything else, totally ingenious. He looked into his mirror over the sink and thought about whether or not stubble was a good look for him. He tilted his square jaw up and around and thought, no, he’d shave. He only needed to be told once about the goatee (and that was progress).

He picked out his favorite shirt, the worn and faded one with the Batman crest across the chest, that pair of cargo pants that …well, actually, he didn’t have a deeper reason for that decision (pants were pants), and his stand by sneakers. Maybe he might run into Sheppard by chance. It had been several hours, nineteen hours to be exact, and if John felt him up when he was pissed (which he’d inarguably been at the occasion of their last meeting) then what would Sheppard do when he wasn’t pissed? Though, on second thought, maybe Rodney should aim for pissed off. Feeling up was good. He wasn’t complaining if that was on the itinerary.

As Rodney left his apartment and locked the front door behind him, he heard the soft sound of shoe soles on the carpet. He turned his head and saw Carson Beckett walking down the corridor with a woeful expression and two hands on his forehead, every ginger step announcing an obvious hangover. “Hello!” Rodney cheerfully shot his hand up in greeting.

Carson flinched. “Rodney, it’s still early! Could you stand to be a bit quieter?” he cringed.

“Late night last night?” Rodney asked, in part for the sake of politeness and in part because it was morbidly fascinating how many nights were late nights for Carson (so far, every night). Plus, the med student had the weirdest habit of hooking up with the most absurdly hot people. On one hand, Rodney was (naturally) envious and on the other, bald faced amazement.

“I meant a bit quieter than that,” Carson complained and tentatively rattled his key in the door. Every apartment in the place might as well have come with a guarantee that the keys would stick the first time, every time. Carson twisted them and the keys dropped to the floor. “Oh, bugger.” For a moment, Carson just peered at them with a dejected look on his face. Clearly, his day was as poor as Rodney’s was wonderful.

“Well, I’ll be going,” Rodney announced.

“Aye, Rodney, that’s fine,” Carson replied absently as he gingerly bent to retrieve his keys from the floor at his foot.

“I have to check out some books from the library,” Rodney said, nodding. “Then, possibly some lunch at the White Castle.”

Carson moaned lowly and clutched at his stomach. “Could you not mention food, Rodney?” he asked impatiently.

“Nauseous?” Rodney asked helpfully. “They have stuff for that. At the drug store – open twenty four hours, which, unless I’m mistaken, covers right now.”

Carson glowered at him as he stood up, looking gray and nauseous. “Yes, Rodney, and it doesn’t help for you to keep mentioning it either.” It was about as temperamental as Carson ever got and even then, it was more impatience than actual vehemence. With that, the other man went inside and shut the door behind him.

Oh well, Rodney thought cheerfully. He turned and headed out.

* * * *

Disaster struck outside of Marshall Hall, where Rodney saw John practically necking with some freak from the science department (Rodney knew the guy and he was a weirdo). They might as well have been exchanging little black lace emo valentines and promising to listen to My Chemical Romance together or whatever Sheppard thought was cool and awesome and whatever.

Technically, they were just talking on the steps, but it was clear what was going on even to casual bystanders. John was braying with laughter, and the weirdo was talking in a low, deep voice, his mouth twisted in a creepy smile.

Rodney was appalled. And disgusted. Mostly appalled. He almost managed to duck behind a tree for cover but before he could move decisively in that direction, Sheppard glanced over and caught his eyes. For one or two horribly awkward seconds, Rodney couldn’t look away. Then Sheppard spread his hand at chest level in a lazy salute, and Rodney jerkily nodded, his face heating up. The short trek across the lawn to the library was one of the longest, most painfully awkward experiences of his life. He went in to cry all over his books. He was totally wrong about everything forever. That wasn’t a feeling he was used to.

He wanted to stew in his humiliation alone, per always, but when he wasn’t working with Zelenka, he was catching sight of Sheppard’s terrible blond hair all over the place. He saw it in the library in the math section (which was just totally unfair because intelligence was Rodney’s pet turn on), on Beecher Lawn (while John played – dear God, the cliché – hacky sack with the Abercrombie & Fitch Guy), departing from Caldwell’s office or lectures and, on one nerve racking occasion, through the window of Bob’s Burgers as said math major was eating a burger at a table across from a Sporty Guy with an annoyingly fresh face and dimples. The horror.

Fate was against him, which was saying something, because he wasn’t remotely fatalistic. But even Sam Carter seemed to be more dismayed to see him than usual when he ran into her in the mathematics building – possibly even more than the fourth time he’d asked her out (and she’d honestly seemed like she was considering suggesting he embark on therapy that time – even if she hadn’t actually suggested it). This new development confirmed that his life was misery.

He saw John a grand total of fifteen times in two weeks. It was hard not to notice him with his weird outdated Billy Idol blondness and all that tufted white blond hair sticking out everywhere (which were technically the same thing). That and the fact that Sheppard’s slouching, jelly jointed amble was recognizable from five hundred yards away. Seriously, he walked like hula dancing was his major and his major was his life.

Rodney jacked off to Sheppard’s image approximately eighteen times during those two weeks because it wasn’t like Sheppard was saving it in reality so he might as well give it up to Rodney (possibly the last man on campus he hadn’t slept with) in his imagination. Even if jerking off about real people was kind of weird and doing it, he felt totally pathetic and the whole thing was completely predictable.

Sheppard and he could both calculate the confirmation of it, using variables to represent Rodney’s pitiful love life, his poor history, and his bad luck, more variables to represent for Sheppard’s attractiveness (a value raised to the exponent x), and his dorky, infectious smile, and his horrible hairdo. Rodney McKay absolutely did not have a crush. He refused to believe that he had a crush. He avoided having them when it was at all possible and that was almost always. The last crush he’d had was on Wendy Walsh, that tall girl from his English class who had a full mouth of braces and who’d towered over him in his freshman year in high school (and she could play a hell of a game of chess, even if she castled her king almost every time).

Rodney tried to push the whole Sheppard thing to the absolute back of his mind. But the more he resolved himself to put the matter out of his mind, the more Sheppard seemed to crop up. Standing in the math part of the nonfiction section on the first level of the library, Rodney’s ears pricked up at what sounded like Sheppard’s voice at the circulation desk. He peered through the gap in the bookshelf to surreptitiously spy the unfolding scene.

He found that he was absolutely right – it was Sheppard, and Sheppard was talking to Elizabeth Weir, the new librarian, about Groundhog Day (was he moving on to the female librarians now that he’d worked his way through the male everyone else?) and there was no way Rodney was into someone who could like a movie that bad. He couldn’t begin to imagine cuddling up with Sheppard on his crappy sofa, watching crappy nineties movies and eating fairly delicious popcorn. Except that it sounded kind of appealing when he really thought about it. And if that started sounding appealing, Rodney really was totally losing his mind.

By the end of the week, Rodney didn’t know what to do with himself. This was another reason he hated crushing – he always scrutinized everything with the attention of an overly ambitious microscope. By the time Friday rolled around, he was nowhere closer to figuring out Sheppard and wasn’t sure if he should be this invested anymore. But then, as weird as it made him look, it wasn’t like he meant to run into Sheppard everywhere and in between (in fact, he could say that Sheppard was the weird one for showing up unexpectedly everywhere Rodney went). And while Rodney might have been able to ignore the platinum haired non-blond, he was forced to think of Sheppard every time Sheppard thrust himself back into Rodney’s day.

As if his ultimately awkward existence wasn’t enough, all his clothes were dirty again. He woke up to the bleary sight of his hamper overflowing in the corner of his bedroom like some kind of creature from Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse with a problem yacking up all over the place. He contemplated stealing one of Radek’s shirts for about five minutes, but changed his mind because Radek’s clothes were on the teensy side of the spectrum of smallness and he didn’t feel like wrestling one of those articles of doll clothes over his own not-that-big body (his shoulders were broad, damn it). Finally, Rodney broke down and went to the grimy quarter operated Laundromat wedged between Steve’s Pizzeria and Bob’s Burgers.

On his way over, Rodney half hoped and half dreaded running into Sheppard. But the walk across campus proved disappointingly Sheppard-free. He could see through the window of the Laundromat (in the areas that weren’t obscured by large paintings of happy blue bubbles and somewhat smaller red text reading, 1 Load 1 Dollar, and 1 Hour Laundry) that there was thankfully nearly no one inside. He could recognize Carson Beckett’s hair from behind – unless Rodney was mistaken and that was an extremely large rooster in front of the washers.

Rodney went in and dumped his drawstring bag of clothes on the washer nearest his neighbor. Carson jumped a foot (figuratively) at the loud, clanging thump. “Give it up, Carson. I think it would take industrial grade washers designed by the engineers responsible for the Hoover Dam to wash your dirty laundry,” Rodney teased by way of greeting. “And shouldn’t you be returning all those pairs of panties? Or at least throwing them out? Unless there’s something you want to tell me.”

Carson rolled his eyes. “And good day to you, too, Rodney.”

“What’s good about it?” Rodney scoffed absently. He looked around the Laundromat, half expecting to see Sheppard opening the front door or eating at the Falafel Hut across the street, but the only other occupants were a couple (neither of them imitating half of Cruella DeVille’s head, so that ruled out Sheppard) by the opposite wall. “Where is everyone today, anyway? This campus is a ghost town. Was there a massive bacterial outbreak I didn’t hear about?”

Carson furrowed his brow. “I think we both would have heard of that, Rodney.” He peered out the window, “It doesn’t look particularly deserted to me. Do you really mean everyone or are you just talking about someone or ones in particular?”

Now Rodney started, shooting a wide-eyed stare at his neighbor. What did Carson know? Did he know Rodney was nursing a hell of a crush on a guy he hadn’t really met yet? Or was it just one of those bizarre, unerringly accurate guesses?

Either way, now that he’d done crazy eyes at Carson, Carson’s forehead creased with worry. “Are you feeling all right, Rodney?” he asked.

“What?” Rodney sputtered. “Yes. I’m not looking for anyone. ‘Someone in particular’? I think I would have mentioned that, Carson. What’s with the ninth degree?” he asked nervously. But then, really, wasn’t Carson the perfect person to ask about Sheppard? Carson knew everyone. He was sure to know John Sheppard as well. However, nervousness welled up in the pit of Rodney’s stomach at the prospect of asking Carson about him. On second thought, wouldn’t it be weird to ask about Sheppard? And what if Sheppard really, really wasn’t interested (as Rodney suspected)? Rodney would look stupid if he asked about the blond dynamo and then never brought it up again. Or would he look stupid? Luckily, Carson spoke before Rodney had a chance to.

“All right.” He shook his head, perplexed by Rodney’s actions. “Speaking of social interactions, which, clearly Rodney, you’ve been lacking as of late….”

“Ha,” Rodney replied dryly.

“I know. It was funny. I happen to know of a party being held near campus.”

Rodney cringed. “Seriously?” He hated parties. They were always a slow moving parade made up of drunken asses and bad decisions, the whole procession reeking of beer and pretzels and cigarette butts. And one time, a girl threw up on his shoes just when he’d thought they were really hitting it off and he was contemplating asking her out the following Friday. “A party?” he asked skeptically. “What kind?” He didn’t mind the Science Club meetings most of the time (when they didn’t devolve into a fist fight) and the meetings of the local MENSA chapter were livable (when they also didn’t devolve into a fist fight).

“Ack, Rodney! Does it matter?” Carson chided. “It’s a good opportunity for you to get out and socialize. Radek and I agree that you could use some down time.” Carson was wearing his patented worrier expression.

And this was turning out to be a lot like most of the conversations Rodney had with his kid sister. Blah blah blah, why don’t you go party? I want you to have the happiness that I, a fourteen year old girl, have found by happily going steady. You should be putting yourself out there, Mer. A party is a great opportunity to meet new people. Jeannie could say all that crap because she’d never been to a college mixer (or here was hoping anyway). Rodney pretended to be very busy shoving armfuls of dirty laundry into the washing machine and cursing about forgetting his detergent at home.

“Here,” Carson sighed, handing Rodney his box of soap flakes.

“Ah.” Rodney scrutinized the scoop and wondered how much he should put in – if he used too much, the detergent made his skin itch, but then…it was seriously dirty laundry. He was dismayed to find out that busying his hands made Carson no less inclined to natter on.

“A couple of good friends of mine are throwing it. They’re a good group. I know Ronon from the medical school. He’s a good lad, if a bit strange. You should at least consider going, Rodney, it’ll be fun for you. When’s the last time you went out, anyway?” Carson asked.

Rodney made a face. “I go out all the time,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I’m out now. I went out yesterday to McDonalds. The day before that, I went out to the library and Kinko’s. Even now, I’m considering going out to Captain D’s.”

Carson rolled his eyes. “I mean really went out,” he said in a tone of exasperation.

It wasn’t like Rodney really needed to go out. He was really busy lately, he wasn’t just avoiding socialization because he enjoyed being alone (well, there was that, too). The closer it came to submitting his master’s thesis for review, the more nervous he became about actually finishing it. He and Radek had sacrificed most of their social lives and possibly a few years of their physical lives in the endeavor so far and they were getting close to completing it. It was coming down to the wire and they were watching the clock and everything was coming together when it wasn’t falling apart. It wasn’t like attending a party at some hovel right off of campus with a hammock on the front porch and possibly a small crop of marijuana in the backyard would help get the work done any faster. But then again…maybe his recent fixation and possible crush feelings might have had something to do with the stress he was under.

“I don’t know,” Rodney protested anyway. “There are always a bunch of loud cavemen at those things, testing the boundaries of the least one’s brain can function whilst remaining in the category of sentient beings. If I wanted to be bored to tears I could stay at home and watch CSPAN on basic cable.” He let the door of the washer clang shut and fed quarters into the slot. The couple nearby looked annoyed by the intrusion of loud noises into their flirtation.

Carson knit his brow and shut the front of his dryer. “That’s not true. They’re nice people, Rodney,” he admonished (like always), shaking change out onto his open palm. “You should actually go.”

Rodney grimaced. Sometimes Carson’s taste in friends and those life forms he considered decent material went right past awful and into the territory where his judgment was actively worrisome. “Yes, well, I’ll have to check my planner,” Rodney sniffed. He might be jerking off to Sheppard right then. He hadn’t pinned down any particular plans aside from working tirelessly, eating fast food or microwave tacos, and watching cable TV.

Carson shook his head and sighed. “I’m giving you the address,” he said, pulling out a pen. He scribbled an address on the upper left hand corner of the magazine he had open on the next washer and tore that part of the page off. “It’s on the corner of Carroll and Langston, near the fraternities. You know where it is. It’s easy to find and it’s not much of a walk from your apartment.”

Rodney looked down at the address with an air of reticence and skepticism. “Eh. I don’t think so,” he said. “I have a lot going on right now.”

“And just why not? You can’t have work to do, Rodney – Radek texted me today to tell me he’d come along tonight.”

Rodney shot a look at the other man. “Radek did that?” he demanded. What the hell? Radek hadn’t said a word to him about it. “When did he text you?”

“A few minutes before you showed up.” Carson shook his head. “I’m surprised you’re not more excited to go. It’s about time you’ve had a break, don’t you think?” Maybe it was symptomatic of his medical training, or maybe the medical calling was a result of it, but Carson did the most spot on impression of a concerned mother hen a twenty year old man had attempted.

Rodney stubbornly resisted the impulse to give in and maintained his ambivalent response. He departed from the Laundromat about two hours later with a bag of clean, warm laundry in his arms and Carson Beckett still inside, finishing the rinse cycle. Rodney really wasn’t planning on going. Even if Radek was taking a break, that didn’t mean Rodney needed to. He’d just stay in – actually, it might be nice to have some time on his own. Ever since he moved in with Zelenka, they were living in each other’s pockets, and he didn’t need to tell the Czech exchange student that he had some more annoying habits (even if he did actually inform Zelenka about all of them). He resolved to spend the night indulging in cable TV and Ho Hos.

But the closer it came to night fall, the more Rodney thought Carson (and Radek and maybe even Jeannie) might be right. It might actually be a good idea to go. He’d been slavishly working on his thesis and enduring Sheppard’s stalking and terrible, impossible-to-ignore blondness for what felt like ages. Maybe Rodney really should take a break – he was more than a little certain he deserved it.

Rodney critically evaluated the newly laundered clothes riotously spread out on his bed and thought about what to throw on – what was most appropriate for a party. If he spruced up enough, he might even catch the discerning eye of another student and get lucky (even if that possibility was extremely unlikely). Rodney thought he looked pretty good in his brown and blue plaid button up shirt and tan cargo pants. The clean shaven look had failed him before with Sheppard, and besides, it wasn’t like he cared too much about what the rest of the world thought about his looks and it wasn’t that likely he actually would catch someone’s eye, so he didn’t bother shaving his stubble. He pushed his feet into his worn sneakers and grabbed his keys on his way out the door.

* * * *

The party was at a house close enough to his apartment for Rodney to walk there in ten minutes but by the time he arrived, there were twenty cars parked illegally up and down the narrow street. The sound of music (bizarre whale song indie stuff Rodney didn’t recognize) poured out through the open windows and doors. And on the porch, Rodney could see a dozen party goers, drinking and loudly conversing. It was one of those parties. Rodney ruefully thought about the MENSA meetings with free food and drinks, where everyone had an IQ over 130. He adjusted his collar and crossed the yard.

The front door was open, the screen door closed, and when Rodney went to go in, Teyla Emmagan showed up on the other side to open it for him. She was one of Rodney’s closer friends and the woman he had tutored in math the year before. She rounded the corner of what looked like the kitchen and gave him a brilliant smile. “Rodney, Carson said that you may come,” she said warmly. “Please come in.” She sounded a little breathless and sauced. She leaned close as Rodney stepped forward and said clearly, “We are having a very good time.” The scent of liquor wafted off her skin. From where Rodney was standing, he could nearly see down her shirt, but really only got the standard cleavage.

“Okay,” Rodney said because she was making him a little nervous with her crazy. He wasn’t sure she actually lived there or if she’d just nominated herself door opener and guest greeter. “That’s reassuring. As long as everyone is entertaining themselves.”

Teyla nodded like her head was loose on her shoulders. “Yes,” she agreed. “Drinks are in the kitchen.” Her brows descended and she said (like it was the greatest thing in the world), “John brought a keg.”

Rodney’s stomach sank. “Oh, really?” he asked, dismayed. There was that name again.

“Oh, yes,” Teyla said rapturously and clapped him on the back with a little more force than necessary. “Please make yourself at home. I have a yoga mat in the bed room, if you would like to borrow it.” Rodney just nodded tentatively, steadying himself after the clap on the back, and went inside as Teyla peered around him to say hello to the new faces on the porch.

Rodney grimaced, rubbing at the pain in his back and trying not to panic because what were the chances that the John who had tormented him for weeks with his thoughtless hot and cold spells and sexual carousing could be the same John who brought a keg to a party (possibly) hosted by the very woman Rodney had tutored in sophomore year (and fantasized about a little thereafter)? There were coincidences and there were….

The beaded curtain partitioning the living room and the deeper recesses of the house clattered and Sheppard stumbled out, body bent beneath the weight of the Dreadlocks Guy’s arm. Rodney openly gawked, because – in public, really? Was Sheppard totally morally bankrupt? Not to mention that it was unbelievably unfair – Rodney was (maybe not literally but figuratively) dozens of times more intelligent than that neo-Rastafarian Neanderthal!

Sheppard was grinning, groaning beneath the caveman’s weight and shoving back at him. “Easy now. Come on. Steady, big guy.”

Rodney would have scowled if he wasn’t busy showing all of his back molars. (Big guy? What the hell was that? It wasn’t sexy so much as bizarrely outdated. Except that he was sure he’d find it sexy when he’d mulled over it long enough. And also, black clothes again, when he was almost certainly walking? He’d totally get hit by a car or something.)

Then Sheppard swayed back beneath the guy’s arm and nearly fell over a side table onto the couch and the three people sitting on it. One of the girls on the sofa grabbed the lamp precariously balanced on the edge of the tabletop and shot a sharp look up at the clumsy oafs. Neither of the oafs in question noticed. “Hey, you’ve gotta do your part here, Ronon!” Sheppard called out. Rodney thought his voice sounded a little slurred and his hair was a little crumpled on one side (but that might have been the manhandling he was either doing or getting). He looked like he’d gotten into the same stuff Teyla had, but then he always looked borderline boneless.

Then Rodney really did scowl, crossing his arms over his chest, because this was just typical. Sheppard glanced up and caught Rodney’s eyes as Teyla came over, nestling her small body beneath the behemoth’s other arm. “He cannot hold his liquor,” she chuckled.

Rodney wasn’t disappointed at all when Sheppard looked back at the others, raising his brows and laboring unsteadily beneath Ronon’s weight. “Says you! I think you might just have too much of a tolerance!”

Teyla laughed freely. “Perhaps,” she conceded magnanimously. Rodney thought she just wasn’t paying attention to what John had said and was just agreeing with anything anyone said. It figured she’d be an extremely peaceful drunk – the only time Rodney had seen her really pissed off was the fourth time he’d really reamed her for screwing up her logarithmic functions.

Sheppard met Rodney’s eyes again, caught under Ronon’s arm and in Teyla’s gleeful conversation. Rodney frowned and stalked off to find some food.

* * * *

What he hated about these house parties was the complete lack of decent party food. In the kitchen there was a big blue bowl of Cheetos, a big red bowl of nachos, and a medium green bowl of pretzels. That was it. No tacos. No burgers. No funnel cake. It seemed that earlier that night, Teyla had grilled shish kebabs on the back porch but by the time Rodney had shown up, the shish kebabs were long gone, leaving only the lingering, savory scent of grilled meat and a greasy platter in the kitchen sink. Rodney sniffed, peering down at the paltry offerings arranged on a card table in the kitchen. With an ambivalent sigh, he overturned the pretzels onto a napkin and filled the (now empty) green bowl with Cheetos. Through the open window, he could see beer pong set up on a ping pong table beneath a makeshift canopy crafted out of blue tarp and he rolled his eyes. The college crowd was a mess of cavemen.

He wandered out thirty minutes and four beers later, his face hot and his balance compromised, the bowl of Cheetos tucked into his elbow. He was alarmed to find himself confronted with the sight of Radek Zelenka deep in conversation with John Sheppard. Radek must have shown up even later than he had because this was the first time Rodney had seen him. Zelenka was on the couch and John was perched on the arm of the sofa. They looked like they were having a hell of a time. They were laughing an awful lot.

And what the hell? Did everyone in his personal circle know Sheppard but him?

“McKay!” Zelenka called out to him when he caught sight of him. His shoulders were still shaking with laughter. “Have you met Sheppard? He is a very funny man.” Beside him, Sheppard’s smile was nothing if not relaxed.

Rodney looked accusingly from the platinum menace to Zelenka. “Yes,” he snapped. “Kind of,” he conceded. “Not really.” Oh, woe.

John gave him a cool smile, still unselfconscious of his lunatic blondness. Then, to Rodney’s horror, Sheppard knit his hands over his knees, leaned closer to Zelenka and spoke confidentially to the Czech in his native tongue. Zelenka’s eyebrows crept up his forehead and he glanced Rodney’s way, clearly surprised. He replied in a low, dismissive tone, gesturing vaguely. And was that Czech for ‘terrible’ – the only word Rodney had learned in the years they’d been rooming together? On the arm of the chair, John nodded his head, sneaking a glance in Rodney’s direction.

It was utterly appalling how clearly they were talking about him, taking turns glancing at him between exchanges. Rodney did not have to endure this multilingual cabal of exclusionariness. He could plainly see where he wasn’t wanted, so he threw them both a look of loathing before flouncing out in as masculine a way as possible.

“He’s a strange kind of guy, isn’t he?” Rodney heard John saying as the screen door shut behind him.

“It is true,” Zelenka’s faint voice agreed, “very strange.”

Out on the porch, Teyla and Ronon were practically mating, crowded into the hammock with Ronon’s shirt rucked up and Teyla’s sarong all wrong (which Rodney couldn’t even appreciate in his unhappy state of mind). Even Carson Beckett was engaged in clear, though rather matronly, drunken flirtation with a black haired, hawk eyed girl. “Oh my god,” Rodney rapped out. “Get a room!” It only served to remind Rodney that everyone was having sex but him.

He was at the front door of his apartment building before he realized he still had Teyla’s (or whoever’s) green bowl in his arms.

* * * *

It became apparent over the next few days that not only was John Sheppard everywhere, he knew everyone. That included everyone Rodney knew. Furthermore, everyone seemed to like him. A lot of the professors liked him. Most of the students liked him. All of the women liked him, as well as most of the men. It was possible that Samantha Carter liked him (but then, aside from Rodney, she liked most everyone). Even one of the professor’s kids, the crappily named superbrat Harmony, liked him. John Sheppard was stealing Rodney’s time and his brain and his social life (not that Rodney had ever had the social life but he could’ve had the social life, and if he’d had it then John would presently be stealing it).

Rodney was pretty sure he’d never noticed him before Sheppard started flirting. It was unfair. It was all his stupid, tufty blond hair’s fault. It was a little scary and a lot easy to imagine in his lap.

Of course, Sheppard also noticed Rodney, too, or at least he seemed to notice him. Every time they saw each other in the halls or on the green or in the library, Sheppard would bobble his head, or lift his hand to wave (other hand planted on his hip), or say “Hey” and Rodney would flush deeply and nod back, or awkwardly twitch, or reply, “Yes, um…same.” And every time Rodney saw John, he was still peroxide blond, still freakishly, preternaturally adorable. Still annoyingly, dismayingly uninterested in him.

Rodney was absolutely wrong. John Sheppard would never make a move on him. He wasn’t even sure John wanted to.

Radek Zelenka rooted through Rodney’s desk, looking for a bright blue dry erase marker while they were taking a break from arguing over equations and what was clearly physically impossible, regardless of what unusual ideas Radek had about wormhole theory. It was ten o’clock in the evening and they were in the cramped living room of their shared apartment, the dull, yellow light from the desk lamp haloing Zelenka’s wild, curly hair and reflecting off his small, round glasses. “John Sheppard was asking about you,” he noted, as though Rodney had asked – which, of course, he hadn’t.

Rodney snapped to attention, his stomach fluttered nervously. He grimaced and tried to play it natural (which would usually mean more grimacing). “Oh?” He knit his brows, using his sleeve to wipe out some nonsense Radek put up on the dry erase board in the corner. “What about?” he asked.

“I don’t know that. I suggest you ask him yourself. What is this?” Radek demanded, pointed at the board.

“Wait,” Rodney interrupted. “When were you hanging out with Sheppard?”

Radek impatiently pushed his glasses up. “We are taking the same class. Intermediate guitar. He’s quite good, actually.” Of course that made sense (the part about sharing a class and their apparent knowing each other and chatting with each other), except that Radek had never mentioned Sheppard before. But then, that made sense, too, because they rarely mentioned anyone they met in their classes unless it was to share instances of blinding, mind searing stupidity and Sheppard was one of the brightest bulbs in the box (even if it would be easier for Rodney to put him out of his mind if he weren’t).

“And, what? You have nothing else to do but talk about me?” Rodney demanded. But, god, that sounded awesome – unless it was bad, if it was bad, he wasn’t happy.

Radek rolled his eyes. “Must you be the center of all conversations?” he asked exasperatedly. “Your name came up, I am reporting such. That is all I will say. Anything further, you must ask him yourself.”

Rodney glared at him halfheartedly. “Fine, fine. You were saying?” He gestured at up the quadrant of the board that had previous interested Radek, though he had a decent idea what Radek was going to say.

“This,” Radek said, thrusting a finger at the white board, “I do not like. What have you done with what was written here?”

Rodney scowled, back on track. “What did I do? I erased it! What else would I do with it?”

“Why did you erase it? It was a perfectly legitimate equation!”

“Oh, please!” Rodney replied stridently. “What you had up there was a total nonstarter!” Then Radek turned on him irritably, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, and the break was over and it was time to fight again.

“Nonstarter?” Radek fumed then cursed him in Czech.

“I know what that means,” Rodney snapped. “When it is clearly a cognate of idiot, it’s not some mystery!”

“Fine! If you’d like, I can call you idiot in English.”

Rodney glared at him. “Oh, that’s mature!”

Bilingual arguments, equations, English cognates aside – John Sheppard may or may not have flirted with him and it was possible that he hadn’t felt Rodney up so much as brushed his side by accident, but John Sheppard had definitely asked about him. He’d asked about him and it wasn’t in a bad way (or Radek wouldn’t have mentioned it at all). Rodney tried to figure out if that was a good sign or just more of the same. He busily scribbled on the board, his mind following two parallel tracks.

For ten minutes after midnight, he was pretty sure John Sheppard loved him from afar. He weighed the pros and cons of pursuing a relationship with an extremely hot, much too blond, confirmed nymphomaniac (never mind that he hadn’t actually confirmed it). Around twelve fifteen, he remembered that their love was doomed to fail, dashed on the rocks of infidelity (Sheppard’s, not his). It was enough to rob him of hope and plunge him into despair (or at least disappointment).

At six thirty seven, he deposited his leaden body, face first, in the cushions of his tan weave sofa, one leg off the edge, the toe of his foot on the floor. He grumbled and flopped over onto his side, fumbling, one-handed, for the eraser on the coffee table behind him. He turned his head and looked over at where Zelenka sat nearby to tell him they should keep going. He found Radek slouched in the arm chair with his hands folded over his stomach and his head bowed, dead to the world. Rodney should have heard him snoring, but the sound hadn’t penetrated his weariness.

Rodney groaned inarticulately but loudly, lobbing the nearest object at him. The chalkboard eraser sailed over Radek’s unconscious head and flumped against the wall, leaving a smudge of dry erase marker. Oh well, there was such thing as egg shell touch up paint (not that it was likely they’d end up using it when they did move out). Rodney dropped his face back into the pillow and closed his eyes. His mumbling voice trailed off into the warm, soft sounds of contentment and trailed off entirely as he fell asleep.

He woke up a little after ten AM, the bright rays of sunlight coming in through the window assaulting his aching, bloodshot eyes. He made a garbled sound that might have interested any single turkeys in the area and blearily blinked at Zelenka standing in front of the dry erase board, looking up at the equations with one hand on his hip and the other ruffling his curly hair. Rodney knew from three years of sharing the same space that that was Radek’s pose when he was cultivating good, solid, useful ideas, but Rodney was too tired to care.

Radek half turned at the sound of Rodney’s warble, his face gray with sleep deprivation but otherwise alert. “Oh, Rodney, you’re awake,” he greeted him. “I’ve been thinking about our equation. I think that we have been going about it in the completely wrong way—” Rodney moaned and shoved his face under a pillow, “—or we could talk about it later,” Radek sighed. Rodney could hear Radek rolling his eyes from his tone alone.

For one fleeting moment, Rodney felt guilty for shirking his responsibility to the project and his fantastic ideas but then he was mercifully unconscious again, pulled under by salacious dreams of his as-yet paramour. For a figment of his imagination, Sheppard was awfully lippy and extremely blond.

By the time Rodney woke up again, it was four PM and the sun was drooping low in the sky, its rays slanting across the lawn outside and limning the edge of the brick building across the street. Zelenka was snoring softly in the arm chair by the white board, his glasses drooping off the end of his nose and a cup of cold coffee balanced precariously on his thigh. Rodney felt more refreshed than he had since freshman year, fuzzy with the pleasant memory of his dreams.

He got up and stretched his arms above his head, yawning expansively. Who would have imagined that the cushions of his ratty couch could trump the comfort of the mattress he’d splurged on? He’d have to keep it to himself or everyone he knew would start expecting him to stop complaining and, at that point in his career, his genius needed as much nurturing as possible so he wasn’t about to jeopardize any sympathy that came his way.

He walked over and maneuvered the neglected cup of coffee out from under Radek’s limp hand and sniffed at it, contemplating taking a swig. The aroma of coffee was no longer in the air and his chances of scoring some hot coffee were low. He took a sip of and set it down, cringing at cold, burnt coffee. Scanning the apartment, his mouth curved upward, pleased with his surroundings.

He had enough time before a late meeting with Caldwell to come up with a revolutionary concept regarding his work with Zelenka (first, he had to erase all of Radek’s misguided little scrawling – well, almost all – and on second thought, he thought Radek might actually have something to go on there in the corner of the board). Then he could leisurely pull on a t-shirt and slacks, and head off across campus in the brisk, early evening air, inflated with his amazing ideas and his fulfilling work and surprisingly satisfactory fantasies of Sheppard. He could feel a new page turning over in the great book that was the Life of McKay. He opened his apartment door and felt confident that he could meet any challenge that lay ahead.

What happened was that he stepped off the musty, always dimly lit elevator on the third floor of the Brightman Building, still grinning his lopsided smile and holding his newest notebook under his elbow, when he caught sight of Sheppard lounging outside Caldwell’s door, his hands hooked in his pockets, a remarkably, longingly attractive swath of black clothes and bleached blond hair.

McKay stopped short and almost stumbled, his face blanking and flushing with surprise because how could he have conceivably been prepared for the sight of John Sheppard standing in the cramped hallway, leaning up against the wall and looking at nothing in particular? Not after a long night of thinking about him.

He slowed to a snail’s pace and, as Sheppard looked up at him with that easy going gaze, Rodney cursed and pretended to remember that he needed something from the pocket of his pants. What the hell was he doing? The only thing he had in his pocket was a crumpled Burger King receipt that somehow made it through the dryer. Flushed from his collar bone to his scalp, he murmured aloud a snatch of mathematical theory before burying his face in his notebook as he did his best to pretend to write it down. He could feel Sheppard’s gaze like a lead weight as Rodney appraised pages of his neat handwriting, feeling like an idiot for looking over things he’d worked on a month ago that now felt like decades back.

“Hmm,” he muttered, lifting his chin as he closed the notebook. “No, I think I was right the first time. Everything looks in order.” Their eyes met and Rodney’s mouth thinned in an unhappy frown. Because he just made it worse the more he tried to correct it and he looked like a lunatic with obsessive compulsive disorder where it applied to math but not to ironing his button ups. “It’s…just checking my formulas,” he stated unnecessarily.

John looked up at him, his hazel eyes bright beneath his dark brows and under his blond hair. “Okay,” he drawled, clearly confused by Rodney’s bizarreness. “He’s busy in there.”

“Who?” Rodney asked.

“Caldwell,” Sheppard said, pointing.

The pale overheads blanched McKay’s skin as he raised his chin higher and lifted his eyebrows miserably. “Yes,” he said lingeringly. “Of course.” He was defeated.

Sheppard leaned up against the opposite wall and Rodney reprised his efforts to look ingenious and superior – he put more into it than he had since he was in the seventh grade. The hallway was too narrow and the ceiling was too short and Sheppard was taking up all of the allotted allowance for posturing, leaving absolutely no room for Rodney to affect a look of importance at all.

His thoughts were along those lines when Sheppard spoke up. “It’s McKay, right?” he asked. His bottom lip was pushed out even if the rest of his face wasn’t pouting.

Rodney noticed the aviator sunglasses hooked on Sheppard’s t-shirt. He lifted his eyebrows. “Um, yes?” he replied. “Rodney McKay, genius, graduate student.”

Sheppard arched an eyebrow. “Oh, that McKay.”

Rodney’s heart flip-flopped, his spirits lifting considerably. “You’ve heard of me?” he asked hopefully.

Sheppard’s brows knit incredulously. “No.” His tone was like a swat to the head, like Rodney should’ve known better. It figured.

“Oh.” Rodney’s face clearly conveyed his disappointment and one side of Sheppard’s mouth rose.

Still smiling, Sheppard glanced past McKay at Caldwell’s door where the edge of Caldwell’s desk was visible. The sound of voices issued from inside. John pitched one shoulder up, sliding down the wall, sidling closer to Rodney. He pursed his lips, affecting a cool, disinterested moue as he looked up at Rodney. His eyes were bright green under his eyelashes. Rodney’s heart missed a beat. “You’re Caldwell’s assistant, right?” John asked. The pitch of his voice was lower, confidential.

“Yes, I am,” Rodney said, confused about why Sheppard was asking and why he was asking so lowly. Was he after a test key or something? Rodney was forty three percent sure he wouldn’t give one out for the chance at a date.

John pushed his hands into his pockets and nodded his head. “Cause I’ve heard that Caldwell’s cancelling his classes for the rest of the day, so he’s probably not going to take forever with us today.”

“Where did you hear that?” Rodney asked.

“I saw him earlier in the hall.”

“Oh.” Rodney drooped. He probably should have checked his e-mail before he left the house. “What are you seeing him for?” Extra help, he hoped? Maybe John needed a tutor with whom he could work late into the evening, as lines began to blur and John started seeing Rodney for all the good characteristics he possessed. Like if Lady and the Tramp bonded over spaghetti and tangents with polar coordinates.

“I turned in an extra credit quiz,” John replied.

“Hmm,” Rodney said. And, yeah, that figured since it was totally unexpected that Sheppard would be all gung-ho about studying.

“Actually, since neither of us has anything to do after this, do you maybe want to cut out and get some pizza?” Sheppard casually tilted his platinum head, plumping his lower lip and shrugging his shoulders like it was absolutely no big deal.

Rodney’s chest constricted uncomfortably, his mind racing seven steps ahead before he reined it in. “You and me?” he asked in a thin, dubious voice. His mind flashed back on the Abercrombie & Fitch guy, the old Military guy and Dreads, and a feeling of undulation curled in his chest. There was no way, unless there was, that Sheppard was asking him out. Or was he? Jeez, he hoped he was.

Sheppard hooked his hand in his pocket, gesturing with the other as he shrugged. “Why not?” he asked. He lifted his eyebrows in mild skepticism. “What? Have you got something better to do?”

Rodney’s eyes slid to Caldwell’s door and he paused for about a millisecond, thinking of excuses that turned into thoughts of Sheppard under him on his couch. He pitched his eyebrows up. “Um…no?” he answered like it was a question.

All of a sudden, one side Sheppard’s mouth curved up in an amazingly goofy grin. “Cool,” he said. “Then Steve’s?”

“Yes, that’s…absolutely.” Rodney swallowed and attempted to remain vertical as he nodded his head. His blood sugar had to be low. “Is this a date?” he realized he was saying as he was saying it.

“Uh….” John colored.

“Oh, I mean, no! That’s – obviously it’s not. I’m not—”

“Yes,” Sheppard said slowly, “I’m asking you out.” His neck and the tips of his ears were becoming florid.

Rodney gaped at him. He didn’t know what to say. He might have messed around about it, but this was shocking. He was completely unprepared for it. “Um, yes then?” he asked. “I will…do that, go out. With you…to pizza.” John’s smile was amazing (even if his ears were red and it was more of a smirk).

Like a mechanism had moved in a machine, Caldwell released the student in his office and she came outside, mumbling an apology as she passed between them, her dark-haired head low over the math book clutched to her chest. Rodney and John glanced at her as she passed. A moment later, Caldwell appeared in the doorway. He looked at them disinterestedly. “Oh, you’re both here. Come in. I have your quiz.” He turned and went into his office, where he shuffled through the papers on his desk. “My brother’s wife went into labor five hours ago and I’m heading out to Colorado now, so I won’t be able to see you today, either of you, at any great length.”

John smirked at Rodney and Rodney blinked. “Yes? I mean, no, no, that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine.” And, actually, he was okay with it. He found that he didn’t mind the inconvenience at all.

Caldwell nodded, not bothering to look back at them. “I assume that you’ll pass that on to Radek as well, Rodney. Here, I have your graded quiz, John,” he said, turning and handing John a folded piece of paper. Rodney could see the fraction 20/20 in red ink through the page. “See you both on Tuesday.”

Rodney’s head was spinning. This was progressing way faster than he’d thought it would.

“Thanks,” John said, opening the paper and glancing briefly over the sheet.

Caldwell looked from one to the other. “Is that it? Do you need anything else?” he asked.

“Um…,” Rodney glanced at John who shrugged his shoulders, “congratulations?” he asked.

Caldwell nodded. “Thank you.” It was always kind of amazing how imposing the man was – even when he had no reason to be and wasn’t really aiming for it.

“Well,” John said, “if that’s it, we’re going to be going. Thanks again.” He nodded to Caldwell as he walked out and, after a moment, Rodney spared Caldwell one last nervous glance before stammering and following John out and down the hall.

* * * *

All Rodney thought as they took the lift to the first floor was, “Oh, my God – we’re totally dating.”

They were practically a couple. They were two dates from picking out china patterns. They were four dates from adopting a cat together. Rodney was dating a totally hot math genius with freaky blond hair and said math genius hottie was totally into him, despite his possible (oh, God, Rodney hoped) supersluttiness and penchant for muscular, athletic, masculine guys (he hoped not). His heart was full and expansive and incredibly distracting as they walked across the campus to the pizzeria. He really wanted to text Zelenka and gloat about it. It didn’t matter that Zelenka probably wouldn’t have the adequate level of appreciation for Rodney’s acquisition of a new hot boyfriend.

By the time they got to Steve’s, it was coming on night fall – the air cool and crisp against Rodney’s overheated skin. Sheppard looked incredible in the lamp light and the sun light and any light, and Rodney kept glancing at him as they walked and talked about Star Wars and Ghostbusters and paper airplanes (jeez, Sheppard was weird). When they got there, Sheppard held the glass door open and gave him another straight up awesome smirk that was equal parts dorky and gorgeous and cool. “You go on first.”

Rodney had to appreciate the gentlemanly gesture even as he rolled his eyes and sarcastically replied, “Because it’s brains before beauty?”

Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “What? You’re going to hold the door for me?”

“Oh, you wish!” Rodney loudly scoffed and went in ahead of him then he became confused because, seriously, was Sheppard calling him hot? Was he just screwing around? Was Rodney acting too easy? (Maybe he should mention that he was the smartest man in six continents.)

Their bodies nearly brushed as Rodney walked through the door. As he glanced over his shoulder, he caught Sheppard’s eyes scanning over his body and his jaw dropped. “Oh my god!” he exclaimed.

Sheppard’s hazel eyes met Rodney’s, poorly feigning indifference. “What?” he asked innocently.

Rodney leaned closer. “Were you just totally checking me out?” he asked him quietly.

If Sheppard minded, he didn’t show it. His eyes passed over the interior of the pizzeria as he shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied. “I was just being polite, McKay. You should try it some time.”

He passed McKay and Rodney tracked him with his eyes, affecting a disbelieving look. “Oh, that’s what they call it these days?” he quipped. Sheppard walked up and assumed a place in line at the counter, pointedly ignoring him and after a moment, Rodney had to hurry over to catch up.

“One medium pie, anchovies,” the non-blond stated flatly as Rodney came up to his side in the line. His eyes were on the sign board over the counter, reading the menu and bobbing his head from side to side. “How about it?” The interior of the kitchen was visible through the wide window behind the cashier. Inside the kitchen, there had to be ten guys in there, making pizzas. The place was pretty packed, which explained why it always took nearly two hours for delivery on a Friday night despite the fact that it was maybe three blocks from Rodney’s apartment building.

“Anchovies?” Rodney demanded. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Gross. I am not eating anchovy pizza. It’s practically inhuman. I think it’s expressly forbidden in a paragraph in the Geneva Convention.”

“I’m always serious,” Sheppard said, making a hurt face.

The line moved up and Rodney and John walked over to the counter. Rodney cast a glance at the disinterested cashier but either way, she wasn’t helping. “Oh, whatever,” he mumbled. “I still refuse to consume anchovies.”

Sheppard shrugged with his entire lanky frame. “Okay, then,” he conceded, “how about a Hawaiian pizza? Ham and pineapple.”

McKay made a face. “Oh, come on, that’s….” Actually it sounded okay to him, but he figured he should play a little hard to get or Sheppard would never respect him.

“What, then?” Sheppard asked him innocently. “Canadian bacon?”

McKay rolled his eyes. “Oh, ha.” Sheppard ducked his head and grinned. “Fine,” Rodney answered finally, “we can get the Hawaiian, extra ham, light on the pineapple. Thin crust.” He moved back, his faded gray sneakers scuffing on the harlequin-tiled floor. He nearly bumped into the girl behind him. He halfheartedly apologized and settled against the barricade beside John, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched him order.

Sheppard half turned toward him and furrowed his eyebrows. “Rodney,” he drawled, “where’s your half of the tab?”

“My half of the tab?” Rodney snorted, shaking his head. He gave a lopsided smile as he shook his head. His expression was imperious and confident. “You asked – you pay.”

“You know, that really sucks, McKay,” Sheppard pouted. He turned back to the counter and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. It had little silver foil skulls all over it. McKay thought it was possibly the ugliest wallet he’d ever seen. “You heard the man,” Sheppard told the cashier. “A medium Hawaiian pizza, light on pineapple, extra ham, and can we get a pitcher of, what d’you have here? Pepsi? A pitcher of Pepsi for the table.”

The cashier repeated the order and asked for John’s name before opening the cash register drawer and taking two slightly crumpled notes from Sheppard’s hand. “We’ll call you when the order’s up,” she said, counting down the change in John’s hand. With that transaction over, John might as well have been transparent, because she was focused elsewhere entirely – this had to be the first time Rodney had ever seen someone so unaffected by Sheppard’s charms. “Can I help you?” she asked the girl behind them.

“So?” Rodney asked. He pitched his brows up and nodded to the bank of tables against the right wall of the establishment.

There weren’t limitless choices of tables. There was a table by the wall under a large, sloppy mural of a chef in a white uniform taking a steaming pepperoni pizza from a brick oven. The cook in the mural had a tall white hat on his head and a moustache like the Swedish Chef (Rodney noticed that the stove in the picture was stone and the ones in the open kitchen were made of metal but clichés probably sold more pizzas anyway).

“Bad news,” John said, nodding at the mural, “for any chickens in the establishment.”

Rodney made a face. “Good god, was that a Muppets joke?” he asked incredulously.

John grinned. “Wanna sit there?” he asked, pointing to the table by the window (it was one of the only other empty places, including the tables outside).

Rodney shrugged. “Sure,” he said, following the other man. He had to admit part of the appeal of a table by the window was the view of Sheppard’s backside he was afforded on the way over.

John placed a pitcher of soda on the table and slouched in one of the red metal chairs. For some reason, Rodney’s heart decided right then was a great time to start really hammering. “No anchovies,” John said like it was a woeful complaint.

Rodney took the bait. “God, no. No anchovies. Green peppers are fine, I can live with foccacia and sundried tomatoes. I’ve even been known to consume ground beef on my pizza. But I don’t know why they even continue to sell anchovies. Who eats them anyway?”

“I like anchovies. I eat them.”

“You probably like shrimp tacos, too.”

“Maybe you just like bland food,” John suggested cheekily. “You have the taste buds of a ninety year old woman trapped in the body of a twenty year old man.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Actually, I do like mild food,” he admitted.

John shook his head. “And you like Star Trek better than Star Wars,” he pouted, pointing at him.

“You haven’t seen enough of the original series to judge,” Rodney retorted. “Star Trek is a classic.”

John sniffed dismissively. “I’m more of a Han Solo kind of guy myself,” he said.

“What kind of guy is that?” Rodney asked doubtfully.

John smirked. He shrugged one shoulder. “Cool, maybe a little morally ambiguous, a risk taker….”

“I think you just described Maverick from Top Gun,” Rodney groaned.

“I like that movie, too.”

Rodney smiled. “And your hero is probably Tony Hawk.”

Actually, it’s Evel Knievel,” John corrected, smiling.

“That figures. All evidence points to your being a lunatic. Batman.”

“What about Batman?” John asked.

“My hero, growing up, was Batman,” Rodney said. “He’s a real hero in the traditional sense of the word, and he uses his wits to combat wrong doing rather than relying on brute strength.”

“And he has a Batmobile,” John added sagely.

Rodney grimaced. “That part would be the part you’d notice.”

John grinned at him. “It was kind of cool in the movie.”

“Don’t get me started on the movies. I adhere to the original series, more than any other canon.”

John guffawed then glanced over as the waitress called out John’s name, order up. “Y’know, I think it’s kind of funny you say you like Batman best,” he said, standing up.

“What’s funny about it?” Rodney asked.

John shrugged. “If you ask me, you’re way more like the Human Torch,” he said as he turned and walked away.

Rodney balked. The Human Torch? But then…wow, being compared to practically any comic book hero was pretty awesome. Sure, he was more about DC than Marvel, but still…it had to be one of the coolest things anyone had ever said about him. His chest warmed when he say John coming back over, balancing a pie, two plates, and a handful of napkins.

“They didn’t have any crushed red pepper up there.”

“Who eats crushed pepper on a Hawaiian pizza?”

John shook his head. “I do, Rodney.”

“You do realize that the sugar in the pineapple and the Pepsi would only serve to intensify the heat of the pepper?” Rodney asked. “What, do you want third degree burns on your tongue?”

“Danger’s my middle name, McKay,” John said, showing him the flat of his tongue, “I live for danger. My mouth’s made of cast iron.”

Rodney rolled his eyes and grinned. He took the plate John offered him and tentatively picked up a slice. “Jeez, this is hot!”

“Fresh from the oven,” John said as he poured himself a drink.

The pizza was pretty good – even if Rodney was always kind of halfway on Hawaiian pizza and he was too used to eating at Steve’s for it to taste like anything but “that place close by that’s still open all hours of the night.” John spent the entire time talking about Tetris and V and Back to the Future (a terrible movie that John predictably liked). And Rodney couldn’t help but think that John was a lovable lunatic with terrible taste in movies and bizarre tastes in everything that wasn’t movies. For some reason, their disagreements made the conversation more entertaining and Rodney started to get the feeling that maybe this was what he’d been doing all along – that he’d been trying to find someone who would conform to his expectations, when it was so much easier if it was okay that they didn’t agree about everything. For instance, like when John claimed that Johnny Cash was the best musician in the twentieth century, when, seriously, there was no way Rodney was agreeing with that sentiment.

“Johnny Cash?” Rodney snorted as he took a drink of his Pepsi. “What next? Tammy Wynette? Do you also watch ancient reruns of the Grand Ole Opry?”

“Hey! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” John protested. “Johnny Cash is the best.”

“Johnny Cash? The Man in Black? When you say the best, that’s compared to what?” Rodney asked incredulously, “A cat in season competing against dueling banjos? Thanks but no thanks – I think I’ll pass on the nineteen fifties classic country.”

John’s hazel eyes narrowed marginally. “That’s funny…because I thought that one of the tenets of the scientific method was to utilize impartial experimentation to prove your hypothesis but you sound pretty biased there, McKay.” The corner of his mouth twitched in a smile. “But, hey, I’m just a math major, so what do I know about the scientific method?”

Rodney rolled his eyes good naturedly. “I’ll keep in mind that this is coming from the man who thinks that pizza is better with anchovies on it.”

John shrugged and picked up another slice of pizza from the pan. “I know what I like, McKay. And I’m not sure you’d appreciate it if I suddenly changed my mind about my preferences.” As he spoke, the toe of his boot nudged Rodney’s calf under the table.

Rodney started, looking down at John’s foot as it flirted with his gray low tops. His face flushed with a sudden suffusion of heat and color. He shot a look at John but John appeared amazingly low key, taking a bite of his Hawaiian pizza. “Um, yes – no, I mean, no, I-I don’t think I would,” Rodney stammered, sweeping a startled glance around the pizzeria. Despite the full flush in his face and John’s boot, hooked around the back of Rodney’s calf, no one else seemed to notice. No one was even looking their way.

John gave Rodney a lopsided smirk. “I didn’t think so either,” he said smugly. He took another bite of his pizza then dropped his napkin on his plate. He took one last drink of his Pepsi. “So…do you want to go back to your place?” he asked. His voice was a little lower when he suggested it and the timber went straight to Rodney’s groin.

Rodney’s eyes flashed wide open. “My place?” he echoed dumbly.

“Unless you don’t want to.” The funny thing was that John didn’t sound teasing when he said it. He looked, if anything, a tiny bit pink and nervous.

Rodney swallowed, struggling with what he was supposed to say. He cursed that he’d never in his life been smooth. “No, no. I, um, I thought you’d never ask.”

John furled his brows. “If you were waiting, why didn’t you ask me?”

“I was being polite,” Rodney balked.

John made a face. “NoYou? Polite?”

Rodney sniffed. “I am capable of it,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“Then…are you done?” John asked. His hands were planted on the arms of his chair like he was waiting for the word so he could jump up and start the walk back.

Rodney’s heart resumed its previous hammering. His blue eyes swept over the table, he looked at their watered down drinks and discarded napkins, granules of parmesan cheese sprinkled on the tabletop. There was still half a slice of pizza left on John’s plate, half hidden by the crumpled napkin. They were inarguably done. “Yes, of course. Definitely.”

John grinned and they took their dishes over to the bus bins. Rodney wondered what he was getting himself into. This was really moving unbelievably quickly now (90 miles per hour and higher, Mach Five, warp speed), considering how slowly it had developed over the preceding weeks. John held the door for Rodney again when they went out into the cool evening air. By then, it was already dark. Rodney glanced down at his watch and crunched on three Altoids if nothing else because he was getting nervous and he was wondering what he should be doing with his hands and his mouth. John glanced at him with a funny expression Rodney refused to admit he couldn’t get enough of.

The walk back to McKay’s place felt way longer and way shorter than it ever had before. Rodney was convinced everyone they passed on the sidewalk knew exactly what they were up to (he was surprised there wasn’t audible whispering) and he didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or proud of himself for going out with a guy like Sheppard. It took ten minutes, all in all, to traverse the campus at a brisk pace. Then they were in the lobby, looking at the signage on the elevator that read, Out of Order, and Rodney was groaning.

“Ugh, typical,” Rodney groused. John bumped his shoulder as he moved over to the stairwell door.

“Over here?” John asked.

“That is the way up every third day, yes.” Which was to say that every third day, the elevator was out of order and Rodney – and all the other tenants – were forced to reacquaint themselves with the stairs. He pushed the stairwell door open with a sigh and let John in.

He followed John up one flight of stairs then took the lead. He didn’t know whether to rush or hang back and conserve his energy or even if they would be doing anything at all. In the end, he decided that rushing was probably best. He was breathless by the time they left the stairwell and ended up in the hallway leading to his door. “Oh my god, I hate stairs,” Rodney bitched and huffed, “when I move out of this hell hole, I’m not climbing another stair in my life.”

John laughed behind him. “I like the view anyway.”

Rodney fixed a brief scowl on the other man. “It’s no laughing matter. It legitimately sucks. Try to put yourself in my position and think of how you’d feel if you moved in on the fifth floor somewhere and found out the elevator was out of order every other day?”

John shrugged. “Actually, I’m in Alpha Phi Omega, so stairs aren’t an issue. It’s only two stories.”

“Oh my god,” Rodney exclaimed. “You really are a frat boy.”

John pouted. “Come on. What’s that supposed to mean?”

Rodney pointed at him. “I, and everyone else, hope that it means you share a shower with six different guys and help each other wash your backs and rub your soapy, muscular anatomy against each other. That you get drunk at regular intervals and explore your sexuality together through the ancient art of the lap dance. And that your tamer parties feature women who wear Lucite heels but no tops. And basically everything else I’ve learned from porn and Comedy Central.”

John arched an eyebrow. “I can guarantee you that none of that’s going on. I’d know about it if it was.”

“Oh,” Rodney frowned, “hmm. That’s too bad.” He ignored John’s sour moue and pulled his keys out in front of his door. He fitted his key into the lock and hoped against hope that Zelenka was out for the evening – maybe on a date even, and if he was, Rodney fervently hoped Zelenka got lucky if only for him to wait until morning to come back.

It was more frustrating than usual the way the key jammed hopelessly in the lock as Rodney tried to turn it. He glanced over his shoulder at Sheppard and his stomach twisted apprehensively. He felt a little drunk from the unexpected turn of events.

“Are you – I mean, we’re really doing this, right?” he asked in a rush, against his best intentions to stay mum. As soon as he said it, his face heated up. John looked at him curiously and Rodney hurried to explain. “I mean, you are sure – you’re not, like…?” But what did he mean anyway? How could he explain it without looking like a loser with bizarre hang ups and stupidly low self esteem? “I’m not saying I’m not quite the catch. I realize that I have my strengths – greater strengths in greater numbers, in fact, than most, you know, people – but also, just, you know, that as I know my strengths, I am aware that my, jeez, how do you say this? That my allure can be-be lost on—”

“Lesser mortals?” John teased.

Rodney made a face, still fiddling with the key in the tumbler. “You know what I’m saying. You pointed it out yourself earlier today outside of Caldwell’s office – oh my god, tell me I’m not doing this on our first date. You’re not supposed to realize that I have flaws until the fourth or fifth date, and even then—”

“I thought it was kind of obvious, actually.” John knocked his shoulder at the dismayed, annoyed expression on McKay’s face. “Lighten up, McKay, I’m kidding. I know you have flaws, Rodney, believe me – I’m in the math department, I’ve heard all about them.”

“Great!” Rodney groused. “It’s Samantha Carter, isn’t it? I had a feeling she’s been talking about me—”

“You’re arrogant, you’re obsessive, you’re hyper critical, you’re hotheaded, stubborn, I said arrogant before but it actually bears mentioning again—”

“Bad with people,” Rodney muttered.

“—bad with people, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have your strong points, too. Like you said,” John leaned back against the wall, his collarbone and neck getting red, “you know your bad sides and you know your good sides. And they’re obvious to everyone else, too.”

“My flaws?” Rodney asked incredulously.

John rolled his eyes. “I know what I’m getting into,” he complained. “Can you just let me in? Jeez, you’re not a dragon or a vampire or a banshee. I think I can handle your crappier personality traits.”

“Oh.” Rodney really didn’t know what to say. “That’s, um, right.” Of course his insecurities sounded stupid when John said it like that. He just kind of wasn’t used to people thinking he was okay the way he was. Like his strengths, his flaws came in greater numbers than with most people.

John smiled. “Are you going to get this thing open or do we need to call a locksmith?”

Rodney grimaced and turned the key harder and, thank god, finally the key turned in the lock. He opened the door wide and walked in, glancing over his shoulder. “Um, do you,” god, how did people do this anyway? “want a cup of coffee, tea? Redbull? A doughnut? I have Ho Hos.”

John shook his head. “Which one’s your room?” he asked, stepping into the small living room. He narrowed his eyes at the white board dominating one corner of the room, squinting to make out the equations.

“Ah.” Rodney pointed.

John didn’t turn to look at him. “Hey, what is this stuff?” he asked, nodding at the white board.

Rodney glanced at it. “Oh, we’re – Radek and I are trying to prove that travel through wormholes is possible.”

John’s laugh was a gust of breath. “Wow, that’s the subject of your master’s thesis? You really don’t take the easy way out, huh?” he asked.

Rodney frowned. “No.”

When John turned to face him, his features were radiant and mischievous. “It’s pretty hot that you’re a genius, you know that?” he asked.

Rodney gaped wordlessly at John. And, um…no, his mind was a ringing, empty expanse. Actually, he had hoped, but known? Yeah, no. “I’m, um, glad that you think so,” he answered after a moment. He looked at John and he was nervous again. He was acutely aware of his entire body and everywhere that John could be touching it (god, he hoped he’d touch it everywhere). John was smiling as he glanced down at Rodney’s plaid shirt. Rodney took a step closer. “We’re, um…” He didn’t even know what he was going to say. “I’m a little nervous,” he blurted out.

“Has it been a while for you?” John asked. His hands were hooked in his pockets.

Actually, that was a hell of a way of saying it – because the reality was more like Rodney had had half a dozen near misses and an extremely clumsy first time when he was eighteen while he was on winter break in Canada during his senior year at MIT. He wasn’t even sure his first time counted since the girl in question had pushed him off in the middle of the act and hustled him out the door of her dorm room before Rodney had a chance to come. He still counted it tentatively as his first time in the case the next time was a long time coming.

“Yes, right, that’s it,” Rodney agreed thinly. “It’s been a while.” He was certain his face was on fire. There was no way anything could be that hot without combusting. It was a scientific fact.

John narrowed his eyes curiously at Rodney before sidling closer. “Okay,” he said cautiously. He put his hand on Rodney’s arm. They both watched as he slid it up to Rodney’s shoulder. “How about we just start out with a kiss?” he asked.

The question made Rodney’s body resonate with the hard, steady beat of his heart. “Of course,” Rodney said faintly, “absolutely.”

John’s hand cupped the back of Rodney’s neck and the hair on Rodney’s arms was on end, electrified. The moment it took for John’s mouth to touch Rodney’s was the longest in his life. Rodney thought he’d burst into flames or explode from impatience. Then John’s lips descended softly on his own. They were unbelievably soft – wonderfully, unexpectedly soft as they moved slowly against Rodney’s mouth. The pressure of his lips expressed about a hundred, separate, ineffable longings Rodney had experienced. He’d never felt so brilliant in his life. Rodney swallowed his nervousness and let his lips linger on John’s.

For everything Rodney had ever thought about John’s flirting or possible stable of boyfriends, John’s mouth was surprisingly uncertain, his hands still light where they were on Rodney’s shoulder and arm. Then John firmed his kiss and threaded a hand through Rodney’s hair on his nape, stroking Rodney’s overheated skin. He tilted his head up and let Rodney’s mouth trail over his chin and his jaw line, guiding Rodney’s actions by turning his face up and to the right and offering up his skin. His stubble was rough on Rodney’s lips as he kissed John’s jaw. John’s mouth was already reddened, agape as he turned his face back to meet Rodney’s mouth.

“Wasn’t so hard,” John said breathlessly after a moment.

Rodney shook his head, his mouth finding John’s again. “No,” he agreed. “Easy,” he said as he kissed John’s lips. His mouth, his chin, and his cheeks were tingling from the scratchiness of John’s stubble. And, yeah, nothing was easier than kissing. He felt like he could keep doing it forever. He dropped his hands to John’s waist and John’s hands crept over his shoulders. “Nothing easier.”

For a while, they just leisurely kissed, mouths opening and closing, feeling each other out. After a minute, the sticky taste of Pepsi and peppermints on their tongues subsided and it was just the taste of John and Rodney. Rodney’s fingertips courted the heated skin of John’s torso under his shirt. The sound of John’s deep, even breathing was pure, heady excitement. Rodney only felt this soaring feeling of possibility when he was considering quantum physics.

“How about another one?” John asked when they pulled back.

“Of course. Absolutely,” Rodney said again.

John marched them backward and they leaned up against the back of the sofa, John’s arms around Rodney’s neck and Rodney’s hands creeping under the thin black fabric of John’s t-shirt. John pulled back enough to kiss Rodney’s shoulder and Rodney responded by kissing John’s neck – the place where John’s tan skin was dark with a flush.

John pulled Rodney against him by his belt, running his mouth from Rodney’s shoulder to the underside of his jaw, mouthing over the shadowed curve of Rodney’s chin. He nipped Rodney’s earlobe and Rodney moaned out loud. When John moved his legs, the inside of his knee kissed the outside of Rodney’s knee and, god, that was sexy. He leaned back and pushed the flat of his hand over Rodney’s chest, pushing the heel of his palm over Rodney’s hardened nipple.

“Oh,” Rodney gasped.

“What? Too hard?” John asked breathlessly.

“I like it, I like it – just…just keep doing that.”

John smiled and started working the buttons on Rodney’s shirt open. “Awesome.” He pulled one shoulder of Rodney’s shirt down and leaned over, tongue laving at the hardened nipple.

“God, that’s—” Rodney couldn’t continue and he ended in a whine. He pushed his chest up for John to kiss and nip at. “Oh god.” He lost track of his hands, but felt John’s smooth skin under them. He felt the bumps of John’s vertebrae at the base of John’s spine. John pushed his hips into Rodney’s and Rodney could feel the hard press of John’s erection through his blue jeans. Rodney cupped John’s ass with one hand, pushing John’s hips closer.

“Jesus, that’s a hell of a kiss,” John panted.

“God, I know.”

“Is it all right if I just…?” John pressed a hand flat to Rodney’s crotch.

“Jesus christ, yes, keep doing that. Keep touching there.” Rodney felt John’s smile against the side of his neck, then on his lips.

“Copy that.” God, even the outdated trucker talk was worth it. John cupped Rodney through his pants and stroked his shaft through the fabric, the sure motions of his fingers setting off a cascade of sensation through Rodney’s entire body. This was so much more than what Rodney had imagined. It was so much better than getting himself off in the shower with his right hand, a bar of soap, and his imagination.

Rodney flexed his hips and moaned, rutting against John’s open hand, and John pressed back into Rodney’s palm, his heavy breath fanning across Rodney’s collar bone. The feeling of John pulling down his zipper was overblown, magnified by a hundred because of what the action meant. He imagined John’s hands on him and could nearly feel it. His entire body shook.

“Can I?” John asked.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Rodney urged, “do it. Please do it.”

John pulled back, getting a couple inches of space between them, and pushed his hand under the elastic band of Rodney’s boxer shorts. Rodney started, a jolt running up his spine. His hips jerked forward as John ran his hand up and down his dick. “I want to blow you,” John said into the side of Rodney’s neck. “Are we go on that?”

Rodney swallowed convulsively, his hands twitching on John’s waist. “Jesus. Oh god, yes. Definitely.” He could hear the high pitch of his own voice through the ringing in his ears but his rough breathing threatened to drown it out. “Definitely, definitely,” he repeated just to make sure John heard. “That’s definitely okay with me. Blow away. Just, actually, if you’ll just let me...let me do you after.” He was fifteen percent sure he’d like to do that – at least he had in his fantasies and it seemed like he should do it if John was going to do it. That was about as far as he could go because his brain was completely off line and anything further might require critical thinking.

John grinned. He pushed Rodney back against the sofa and slid down to his knees, his hands still clasped on Rodney’s woven belt. “I think it’s doable,” he said. Then he pulled and Rodney’s belt snaked through the belt loops and landed on the floor behind him, the buckle clattering on the floor.

Rodney tried to stay perfectly still, which was impossible with John so close to his open fly. John’s hands, curved on the backs of his thighs, described John’s intentions. At least Rodney hoped that was what John was intending to do.

“Relax,” John said. Then he pulled Rodney’s pants down, leaving just the boxers up.

Rodney shuddered, whining in his throat, as John’s mouth opened against Rodney through the fabric of his shorts. It was voluptuous, moist heat through thin fabric, way too much and too sudden, and Rodney fisted his hand on John’s shirt without thinking. “Shit, sorry,” he apologized shakily, smoothing his hand over John’s black t-shirt clad shoulder. And holy shit, he was talking to the top of Sheppard’s white blond head as Sheppard’s tongue described infinite loops against the underside of Rodney’s penis, and that sight gave him a serious case of vertigo. He had to grip the sofa to remain upright.

“No problem,” John said. He dropped his wallet on the ground and fished out a condom from between dollar bills. His left hand still bracketed Rodney’s dick while the right picked up the condom. He held one corner between his teeth and ripped the top off in one neat motion.

Rodney held his breath and watched as John eased the waistband of his boxer shorts down, stripping the wet fabric from the flushed, full head of his penis and his swollen length. Rodney had to swallow to prevent himself from making an embarrassing sound as John rolled the rubber over him. The method only partially worked and Rodney still whimpered as John stroked the condom down. “Oh-oh fuck.”

“Not just yet, buddy,” John replied breathlessly.

Rodney saw John’s pink tongue, sliding up the underside of his cock, then his mouth firm and full against the head. He held his breath, his whole frame shaking as John took him in his mouth. One long swallow, and Rodney knew he’d come. He felt it. He was too strung out on John’s mouth and tongue already. God, he was going to be embarrassingly fast.

John made a soft sound around him, and even if it was meant to be reassuring, it sounded way too much like John just loved having him in his mouth (and that was just mind blowing and hot), and Rodney moaned in reply. His tongue prodded against him and even if Rodney didn’t have a lot to judge this by, John had to be the best head on the planet, because Rodney was going to fall apart with no regrets and that was saying something.

Rodney pushed tentatively into the heat of John’s mouth and whined. He was so close, stupidly close, he thought, he was going to go off. He wouldn’t last. He bit his tongue and John built a rhythm, murmuring softly and rolling his right shoulder. Rodney ventured a brief glance and saw John’s hand on his own length, John’s hips moving as he thrusting up into his fist.

“Oh god!” Rodney gasped. “Oh, I-I think I love you-!” His body locked up immediately, muscles tight and straining as he realized his mistake. He started, looking down with dazed blue eyes as John pulled back, shooting a look up at him. Rodney was mortified. John was looking up at him, his green eyes confused and his dark eyebrows furled. “Wait. Too…too soon?” Rodney asked anxiously. “I—”

Rodney,” John interrupted.

“Oh, okay,” Rodney whined, “I didn’t mean that. I meant that I love your body. I….”

John sighed, his exhalation fanning on Rodney’s member. “Rodney, why don’t you shut up and let me suck your cock?”

Rodney dropped his head back gratefully, the tension draining from his rigid frame. “Oh christ, yes!” he eagerly agreed. “Do that. I agree. I agree completely.”

John shook his head and took Rodney in his mouth, going harder and faster this time than he had before. Rodney’s muscles bunched, his hips twitching. He wanted it to last but John pulled him along, relentlessly closer. Then it was dawning through Rodney’s body and Rodney’s hand was in John’s hair, then he was crying out as he spilled, coming in the rubber and imagining he was coming in John’s mouth.

“Oh,” he whispered. Because that was nothing at all like his first time in Canada. That was nothing like anything that had ever happened to him before. His whole body was limp and used up. He was tingling and numb and over sensitized. He came to himself a moment later because no matter how hot John’s mouth had been, the temperature in the apartment was significantly cooler, and his bare ass was getting cold.

John was still rasping, kneeling on the floor in front of him. One tan hand was on Rodney’s softening member and the other was working on his own cock. It was the most effective turn on, totally irresistible, the best thing Rodney had ever seen in person (or maybe at all).

“Couch,” Rodney croaked, peeling the rubber off his softening penis. He thought about just tossing it on the ground because he seriously did not want to leave this spot, but there were some things no one should do in their own apartment.

John looked up, his expression surprised and put off, as Rodney nearly tripped on his pants as he went to the kitchen to throw the condom out. “What?” he asked.

“Couch, couch,” Rodney repeated on his way back into the living room, pointing and pulling up his pants (though, yeah, he could do without the wet boxer shorts, really).

John got up and grabbed Rodney’s wrist as Rodney was passing, his mouth suddenly hot and wet on Rodney’s own. John licked into his mouth, a sound of frustration low in his throat, pushing forward. “God, Rodney, that was awesome.” Somehow Rodney didn’t think John was referring to him throwing out his garbage.

“Uh, good.” Rodney guessed he was forgiven for the weirdness earlier, but given that their entire relationship so far was built on weirdness, he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised by that. “Here,” he said, swatting John’s hand away. John covered Rodney’s jaw with kisses as Rodney covered John’s dick with his palm.

“God, yeah, just like that. Keep going,” John rasped out. His voice dropped lower, dragging over the low catch of his breath.

“Couch,” Rodney said again. “Lay down. God.”

“Just ‘John’ will do,” John had the presence of mind to reply.

Rodney chuckled, exasperated. “You are such a smart ass.”

“You like it,” John reminded him, towing Rodney closer by his shoulders, keeping Rodney’s hand flat against him. John leaned back into the couch cushions by degrees, levering himself lower by just enough that Rodney could keep touching him. He was quiet and breathy, tensing and relaxing by turns under Rodney’s frame.

Rodney’s blue eyes dropped to John’s hips, fascinated by the sight of the weeping head of John’s member pushing over and over into the tight, slick circle of Rodney’s fist. “Did you…?” Rodney nervously wetted his lips. His dick twinged with renewed interest. “You, um, did you want me to…to reciprocate?” he asked.

And, seriously, who the hell wouldn’t want to get blown after doing it themselves? Now that the moment had arrived, Rodney was having second thoughts. Fantasy was a far cry from reality and while he’d jerked off to the idea of another guy’s dick in his mouth, stroking his lips and filling him up, Rodney wasn’t actually sure he’d be any good at it in actual practice (even if, in a general sense, he excelled at pretty much anything he put his mind to). Rodney squared his shoulders and his forehead creased. If John wanted him to do it, he was going to give it the old college try.

“Jeez, Rodney. Come on. Don’t ask. I don’t care. Anything.” John’s adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. His hand dropped onto Rodney’s and guided Rodney’s fist, breathing hard and reedy as he thrust up into Rodney’s hand. “Do anything,” he repeated

“Um.” Rodney swallowed, too, mesmerized by the pink flush in John’s face and across his collar bones. It was seriously sexy. Experimentally, he flicked his tongue against the hollow of John’s clavicle and was satisfied by the catch in John’s breath.

“Fuck,” John wheezed. He whined in his throat. “Rodney.”

Rodney visually traced the curve of John’s throat and the red O of John’s mouth. He dropped his head to delicately lick the underside of John’s jaw. John tightened up under him, pushing harder into their laced hands, the sound of his groan low and gravel.

“What do you want?” Rodney asked. Again, his dick twitched in his boxers, because he could do this all night. It would be fantastic. And he could clearly imagine a reality in which he asked John exactly what John wanted and John panted and squirmed and divulged every detail to him.

“Fuck, Rodney, just keep – Jesus!” John dug his heels into the couch, his body bowing. His chest kissed Rodney’s as he whined, “Rodney.” And he shuddered as he came. Every muscle in his body tensed and twitched, suspended and tight, then he went limp. His breath was hot and fast against Rodney’s throat.

“Do you…?” Rodney didn’t know how to ask if John wanted to lie down in the bedroom or even if John would be staying at all. And this was the real part where Rodney was a disaster in regard to interpersonal relationships – he didn’t know what the boundaries were and how fast and hard he should push and what comfort levels were.

John’s green eyes opened and focused on him, the mussed strands of his bleached hair pushed across his forehead and spiked up against the couch cushion beneath his head. God, he was fucking adorable. “How about a drink of water and we go from there?” he asked.

A wide grin flashed across Rodney’s face. “Sure, of course.”

* * * *

At nine AM Saturday morning, the sun shone brightly through the window and lit up Rodney’s rumpled bed. Rodney could hear the sound of dishes clinking and Radek grumbling as he moved about in the kitchen from outside the bedroom, in the greater apartment. John’s white blond head was heavy against Rodney’s shoulder and his dark stubble was scratchy against Rodney’s bare chest. John stretched out, his muscles stretching out against Rodney’s lax limbs. Rodney shifted in response to John’s shifting, and he looked down at the top of John’s head. The corners of his mouth twitched up.

“Your roots are coming in,” Rodney told him.

Sheppard put a hand in his hair, carding through the platinum strands with rough fingers. “Damn it, again?” he asked.

“Just how often do you dye it? If you keep it up, the peroxide will fry your brain.”

“Thanks for the advice, mom.”

“And my god, the light refracting off your white hair is fucking blinding. I’m going to shut the blinds. I’m going to have to.”

“McKay,” John warned.

“What? It’s just true. Your insane hair is literally hurting my eyes.”

John sighed and rolled over onto his back so that he could look into Rodney’s face. Rodney could see from his expression that John was trouble. They hadn’t yet explored the unfathomable depths of trouble that John Sheppard was. “Well, if you’d like, I can take my hair back to my place, Rodney,” John suggested sweetly.

“Let’s not go to those extremes yet.”

“You’re totally obnoxious,” John said, smiling.

Rodney snorted. “Unfortunately, I think it’s one of the qualities you actually like about me.”

“Dream on.”

Rodney watched as John yawned, stretching out, and a thought occurred to him. John’s stable of boyfriends? Was he part of it now, an initiate? Would he have to share John’s attention with twenty or thirty other suitors with ripped abs and low SAT scores? Where did he rank among the others? Was John’s boyfriend satisfaction level high or low with him? John hadn’t complained the night before. “I want Fridays,” Rodney said decisively.

“Now what’re you talking about, McKay?” John asked, peering up at him.

“If I must share you with a harem of boyfriends, I insist on being your standby plan for Friday nights.”

John’s forehead creased. “What are you talking about? What harem of boyfriends?” he asked.

Rodney gave a smart nod. “Yes, the harem. Your harem. Whatever.”

John made a face at him. “Are we even speaking the same language?” he asked.

“Look, I want Saturdays at the least. And I refuse to engage in any threesomes. They’re awkward. And sticky.”

John shook his head. “I’m not sure I want to know what you’re talking about,” he said suspiciously. “I’m a math major, does that sound like I have a harem of guys at my beck and call?”

Rodney stared at John. He paused for a moment and then another and just to be safe, he paused for another moment after that. “Um, now that you mention it, I guess it does sound a little strange.”

“No, that’s a lot strange,” John said, shaking his head. “Even if it’s a cool idea.”

“Wait.” Rodney gestured wildly with his one free hand, the other hand still trapped under John. “You’re telling me that you really aren’t going out with a heavy rotation of guys?” Maybe he should give up that theory, because from the way John was looking at him, John might as well have an irritation meter with a spastic needle over his head.


Wow, that was absolutely unexpected, easily more unexpected than – well, a little less unexpected than John’s invitation to dinner, actually. “Then the guy who looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch ad?”

“Who?” John asked.

“What was his name? I think it was Abel?”

“Aiden?” John asked. “You thought I was going out with Aiden? He’s eighteen. He’s like my kid brother.”

Rodney didn’t bother answering and just went on, “Then the Sporty Guy with Dimples? Are they…wait, are they like fraternity brothers or something?”

“I think that that might be the single correct assumption you’ve made,” John said.

“And the Giant with Dreadlocks—“

“You know, I don’t know if that’s an insult or a compliment.”

“Then that guy – he’s just a friend?” Rodney continued.

“Yeah, Rodney. We go skateboarding together,” and, yes, that also sounded pretty accurate, “and paintball shooting.” That also sounded scarily accurate.

“But what about that old Air Force guy? Why were you hanging out with him?” Rodney asked.

“Jack?” John’s cheeks colored. “Yeah, actually, that guy’s a friend of my dad’s.”

“He’s a friend of your dad’s?” Rodney asked. That wasn’t making it any clearer actually. The most attention Rodney got from his parents’ friends was a disinterested wave and the query, How are your classes? For all they knew, the classes they inquired about could be seventh grade Physical Education.

“Yeah,” John said, sounding embarrassed. He roughed a hand over the back of his neck. “He’s trying to recruit me for the AF,” he explained.

Rodney started, looking into John’s face. “Wait, you’re not thinking about enlisting?” he asked incredulously.

John made a face. “Rodney, I just applied to grad school. I’m a little busy right now. Maybe later, but I’m a little tied up right now.”

“Oh, good. Because with your skills as a mathematician and my gift for theoretical science, we could prove greatly mutually beneficial to one another’s work.”

“Didn’t we just prove mutually beneficial to each other last night?” John asked skeptically.

“Yes, that. That wasn’t just like a onetime thing, right?” Rodney asked impatiently. “Because I have a lot of ideas and I think we could both benefit from an arrangement to continue seeing each other – for dates, actually—”John squinted his eyes dubiously at Rodney, “I’m serious,” Rodney protested.

“You know, I think we should be getting to bed,” John teased, closing his eyes.

“At, what?” Rodney checked his watch, “Nine twenty one? Oh my god, are you ducking the question? Are you loving and leaving me?” Rodney’s face heated up, shocked beyond the pale.

John rolled his eyes. “Rodney,” he whined.

“Oh my god! You are, aren’t you?” He pushed himself up into a sitting position because there was no way, absolutely no way, he was being loved and left lying down (if that even made sense anyway).

“Jeez!” John rolled over and smashed his face into the pillow. The tip of his ear and the side of his cheek was bright red. “I don’t do a lot of loving and leaving, okay?” he asked. “Let’s leave it at that.”

Rodney’s heart throbbed. He wasn’t sure he should feel such a thrill of relief. “Then that…? Last night?” he asked. “That wasn’t just…you know? A one night stand?”

“You’re really weird,” John exclaimed, his voice muffled by the pillow. Rodney could see the tip of his ear and the flushed color of the back of John’s neck. “I like weird stuff,” John muttered.

A wave of warmth spread through Rodney’s body. His chest was bright red.

“We can try the thing you said out.”

“The boyfriends thing?” Rodney asked.

John cringed with his whole body (Rodney wasn’t even sure how he managed that). He pushed himself up on his elbows to look Rodney in the face. His whole face was hot and flushed. “And we’re not calling it that,” he warned, waggling a finger in Rodney’s direction.

Rodney scoffed. “Fine,” he said, rolling his eyes, “lovers, significant others, whatever.”

If it was possible, John went brighter red. “And we’re not calling it that, either!” he exclaimed.

“Same difference to me,” Rodney said dismissively. “This is excellent. Best semester ever.”

John stared at Rodney for a moment without speaking, shaking his head at Rodney’s self-satisfied grin. After a minute, John bumped his shoulder into Rodney’s. “You’re lucky I have a thing for brilliant scientists,” he drawled.

Rodney smiled back at him. “You’re lucky I have a thing for blonds.”