It didn't go like this:
John felt Rodney slump against him, both of them slow and heavy-limbed with sweet i'eth wine. He tore his gaze from the dancers spinning wildly around the fire and looked at Rodney, who smiled up at him, eyes glassy. Tipsy from the wine, blood pounding in his ears as he wondered if he were really doing this, John smiled back, and then ducked his head to place a swift, sweet kiss against Rodney's lips.
"Ugh, this stuff is worse than treacle," Rodney said, pulling a face at the taste of the i'eth wine.
"And yet you are well on your way to finishing your second glass," Teyla pointed out.
John snorted. It was probably more like three, by now -- John was on 5S duty ("Seriously, someone should stay sober," Elizabeth had decided, years ago), and Rodney had snagged John's mostly full cup when his own refill hadn't been immediately forthcoming.
"Too bad you can't have the chulluk," Ronon said, waving a glazed leg of the bird at Rodney. " 'S good. Tangy," he said with a grin.
"Yes, as is the bread," Rodney grumbled, taking another sip of wine. "And those mashed root things, and that ridiculous custard."
"And by 'ridiculous', you mean 'delicious', right?" John asked, taking a bite of the dessert in question. It was kind of like flan, dripping with a syrupy caramel-colored sauce, but it had a distinctly orange-y flavor. Rodney glared at him. "Buck up, McKay, we'll be back by late-shift dinner, you're not gonna starve. Just watch the spinny dancing."
"They are going awfully fast, aren't they?" Rodney rested his chin in his hand. "That can't be healthy." He reached out, groping for his wine glass without looking away, and almost knocked it over into Teyla's dish.
She caught it, just in time, and pushed it into Rodney's fumbling hand while doing that thing with her eyebrows that meant she was rolling her eyes on the inside. "Councilors Arndt and Theben went out of their way to make us feel welcome at this festival. We might refrain from breaking their dinnerware, in thanks."
"Yeah, party-crashing's probably not the best way to go around building alliances," John said. Not like anyone would really notice them, sitting at their little table wedged in at the periphery of pavilion. John was reminded of the kids' table at his Nan's house, the few holidays they'd had with her. "This Tith Hana'h is a pretty big deal for them, huh?"
Teyla nodded. "Coming once every four cycles, yes. We traded with the Anovi only infrequently when I was young. I did not get into the habit of marking their calendar."
"We should keep track of all this stuff," Ronon said. "Make a database or something. Sensors can only tell us what season it is."
"But not that it's a national holiday," John said.
Ronon nodded. "Besides," he said, past a mouthful of chulluk, "this is kind of . . . "
"Embarrassing?" John asked. There was a loud slurp from his left, and the three of them turned to see that Rodney had discovered the perfect way to prop his cup so that he could drink from it without moving his head from his hands.
"All right," John said, pushing to his feet. "C'mon, let's get going. I'll go make our goodbyes to the Councilors." He nodded to the few state leaders who hadn't joined in the dancing yet. "And you can get a head start on staggering back to the gate," he said, clapping Rodney on the back.
Rodney swayed, still staring at the dancers. "So much spinning," he said. He closed his eyes for a minute, pressing his palms flat on the wooden table. "Too much spinning."
Then he pitched sideways in his seat and threw up on John's boots.
Teyla took over thank-you duty ("There is nothing in the story of Tith Hana'h about vomit being a propitious omen," she said, deadpan), so John was left to stagger back to the gate with Rodney's arm slung over his shoulder. Ronon was on Rodney's other side, too busy laughing his ass off to help.
"John?" Rodney asked. He let his head loll onto his shoulder, and John could feel some of Rodney's hair tickling at his own neck. "You know what? This is -- this is just so great, this team stuff, and with you, and I really--"
John brought his free hand up to Rodney's cheek and gently pushed his head over to the other shoulder. "That's nice, buddy, but how 'bout you breathe downwind?"
It didn't go like this, either:
"So you must be pretty broken up about it," John said. He sat next to Rodney on the bed, just to provide a friendly shoulder to lean on. Nothing untoward.
"About breaking up?" Rodney asked. Then there was a hand on John's leg, and Rodney was leaning in close. "Actually, I think I'm ready to try something new."
John hit the chimes outside Rodney's door. Rodney had been bragging for a week about the radio frequency modifications he'd developed for his racecar, and John had expected to meet up with him down at the obstacle course over half an hour ago. "What gives, McKay?" he said as the door opened.
"What? Oh, shit, that was tonight, wasn't it?" Rodney was just sitting at his desk chair, facing out into the room, but he made no move to get up. "Uh, come on in, I guess."
The door slid shut behind him. "What's up?"
Rodney blew out a long breath. "Jennifer and I broke up," he said. He sat back in his chair, rolling a little on the wheels and staring in the general direction of the floor.
"Oh, crap," John said. "That sucks." His stomach felt like it was trying to crawl up his ribcage, which was a little weird. Even weirder was the way Rodney was just . . . sitting. When watching Rodney watch the ground got too awkward, John said, "I didn't know you guys were having problems."
"We weren't," Rodney said. "Not fights, anyway. We just," he sighed, "we want different things, I guess."
"She wants to go back to Earth?"
That got Rodney to break away from his contemplation of the floor. "Are you crazy? Jennifer wouldn't abandon her patients, and she feels responsible for pretty much everyone in this galaxy, especially with this new retrovirus." He shook his head. "No, there's no way she'd go back."
"And you're not--" John stopped himself.
"Friends with someone moronic enough to ask me if I'm leaving? No," he said pointedly.
"'Course not," John said. Rodney nodded, once, and it looked like he was drifting back into a thousand-yard stare, which was really unsettling, so John asked, "Babies?"
"The different things you wanted," John said, and wow, there was a reason he didn't do this. "Was it babies? Or, um, domestic stuff?"
"No," Rodney said slowly, using the same calm-but-wary tone he'd used to coax some deranged cat-thing out of a tree on P19-624. That hadn't ended well; John didn't have high hopes for this, either. "It wasn't about . . . babies." He held up a finger. "Or 'domestic stuff'."
"Is there someone else?" He should really shut up now.
"Wh-- no, what is wrong with you? We were together for over a year, I haven't even thought about anyone else!" Rodney looked down at his hands. "We really tried. Both of us did. And it was really clear that trying wasn't enough." He paused. "I didn't make her happy anymore."
John swallowed. He was pretty sure he'd made Nancy happy when he signed the divorce papers, but before that, it had been a while. A long, excruciating, stilted while. "And you can't be happy with someone who's not happy with you."
"No," Rodney agreed quietly.
Then John was back to standing awkwardly in the doorway while Rodney sat morosely in the middle of the room. He thought for a moment how nice it would be to have an analog clock, the steady ticking of something to break up the silence. "So, what --" he started.
Rodney cut him off. "Is this really your plan? To keep asking me stupid questions so I don't dwell on things?" Rodney shook his head. "I'm going to have to think about all of this at some point. Come to terms with what was probably my last best chance at -- something."
""Eh," John shrugged. That was one approach.
Rodney snorted. "You're even worse at this than I am."
"Probably," John agreed. He'd given up on finding a long-term someone years ago. (No you haven't, said an irritating little voice that he tried to ignore.) If Rodney did too, well, he wouldn't mind having some company as a crotchety old bachelor. (Sure.)
"So what's your solution, then? Watch some kind of stultifying sport?"
"We could go hit some balls off the pier," John offered. They'd never progressed from video golf to the real thing, but he kept hope alive.
"Oh, something mindless, futile and wasteful?" Rodney paused for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, okay."
John grinned as Rodney levered himself out of his chair. "You bring the beer, I'll get the clubs."
"What, I have to provide the alcohol for my own sorrows-drowning?" he asked, even as he shuffled over to his closet and pulled out a six-pack. He joined John at the door. "Some friend you are."
John just bumped shoulders with him and waved the door open.
It also didn't go like this:
He opened his eyes slowly, blinking at the bright infirmary lights, his head swimming. "What --" he croaked.
"Hey, hey, don't try to talk, here --" someone, Rodney, was pushing a straw to his lips. "You've been out for, for a really long time." He took the cup away, caught the trickle of water from the corner of John's mouth with his thumb. "You were . . . god, John," Rodney said, stroking his cheek gently. "I thought I'd lost you." And then he felt breath hot on his face, and Rodney was kissing him.
John heard the whole story, later, from several different people: how, when they were checking out the abandoned mines on M26-3K4, there had been an unanticipated earthquake (and Rodney had been pissed at the geologists for that); how John had pushed Ronon out of the way of a falling beam (and Ronon had been pissed at John for that); how he'd been buried under tons of rock and dirt for several hours until the excavation unit could dig him out (and by all accounts that part had gone as well as possible, but everyone was still pissed, on principle). He'd heard how he'd been about as close to dying as he'd ever been.
He'd heard it all, but he couldn't remember any of it himself, and that freaked him right the fuck out.
Sure, he had flashes, snippets of memory, a sense impression or a few words, but nothing coherent. He remembered:
- coming over the crest of a hill on M26-3K4 and seeing the mine opening at the base of the mountain in front of them, and nothing of the planet after that -
- a sharp, tearing pain -
- someone fitting a mask over his face, maybe, but Keller swore he didn't wake up at all before his surgery, couldn't possibly have -
- waking up the first time, not knowing who or where he was, trying to take a swing at the face that loomed over him only to find he was too weak to move his arms, and slipping back under, terrified -
- someone shouting, out in the hall or under the mountain or somewhere very far away -
- waking up again and having just enough time to register Teyla standing there, hands by her sides and a safe distance back, before a wave of pain crashed on him and pulled him back under -
- Marie changing the bandages over his sutures, pushing the lank, grimy hair off his forehead -
- jolting awake when someone rolled a supply trolley down the hall, heart racing as the floor trembled -
And then he woke up for the third (sixth? twentieth?) time, and memories started to stick. Consciousness was still pretty much a haze of pain and thirst and did he mention pain, but it was punctuated with regular vitals checks by the nurses, neuro exams courtesy of Keller, and fly-by updates from Woolsey and Lorne. His team seemed to be there, in whole or in part, pretty much constantly, providing a concerned hum in the background of the agonizing wait between morphine doses.
Eventually, the pain lessened, the fog cleared, and he began having actual conversations. Teyla told him how the negotiations with the Siina were going (the ore from M26-3K4 would have been useful, but they were willing to forego it, what with the mountain being a collapsed death trap and all), and promised to bring Torren by as soon as John felt up to it.
Ronon gave his assessment of the Marines' survival skills, after running groups of them through a training course he'd designed specially (the soldiers' average eval was 'needs improvement', but a few of them rated an 'okay', which John figured meant that they could probably survive for a week in the wilderness with nothing but a boot knife).
Rodney, after he stopped looking at John like he might break or be crushed to death any minute, alternated between updating him on the science team's progress and goading him about not getting better faster (sometimes he combined them, along the lines of 'oh, the giant laser is amazing, it's a shame you can't come see it yourself, a description really doesn't do it justice').
Finally, he was cleared to leave the infirmary. "No strenuous physical activity, Colonel, and that includes climbing a flight of stairs," Keller said. "We'll do another evaluation at the end of the week and see about maybe getting you cleared for extremely light duty."
She had her 'I'm really fucking serious' face on, which was just one level removed from 'Okay, I'm getting the restraints', so John nodded and promised not to lift anything heavier than a book for the next seven days. He'd make Rodney carry his tray in the mess, or something.
Rodney stopped by just as John was finishing up the buttons on his (real clothes!) uniform shirt. "Hey, what's this, you're making a break for it?"
"Nope," John said, "I'm a free man. Get to go back to my own quarters, sleep in my own bed." He grinned at Rodney. "It's gonna be great."
Rodney raised an eyebrow. "But first, a shower?"
"What are you trying to say, Rodney?"
"That you smell," Rodney said. He wrinkled his nose. "It's pretty terrible, to be honest."
"Thanks," John said, picking up his bag of meds from the tray table. "I hadn't noticed."
"Hmm. I suppose it's something you become acclimated to," Rodney said as they left the infirmary and headed slowly for the transporter. "If you're not getting regular breaks for breathable air."
John shook his head, gently, because everything was still a little tender. "Nah, I think it's 'cause my mouth tastes like the inside of a latrine after Prune Appreciation Day. It's kind of distracting."
"Eugh," Rodney replied, "That was needlessly graphic, thank you." The transporter doors slid open. "So, soap, toothpaste, sleep? The shave can probably wait until you're more alert," he added, eyeing John's generous neck-beard.
"Not that I don't appreciate the hygiene tips," he said, yawning as he stepped into the transporter, "but I'm gonna --"
"No, right, of course, you look tired." Rodney frowned, "You look really tired, actually, are you sure you're okay to be by yourself? Do you still need to be woken up every three hours? No, of course not. Jennifer wouldn't release you if that were necessary." Rodney stopped to take a breath; John just watched him, amused by the babble. "Sorry," Rodney said. "I just -- you looked weird, okay? Still and pale and possibly with a chunk of your skull missing, and then you wouldn't wake up, and your hair's flat." Rodney frowned at him. "It's disconcerting."
"Sorry, buddy," John said. Most of his hair was covered by bandages, if not shaved off entirely, but he got Rodney's point. "Hey, it's dinner time in a couple of hours, right? Could you bring me a tray? I'm on orders not to exert myself."
"Oh, I like this, I'm getting co-opted into indentured servitude, aren't I?" Rodney asked, but there was no bite in his voice. If anything, he sounded a little relieved. "Go away now, you're falling asleep on your feet. I'll see you later." John hit the controls for his hallway and the doors slid closed, but not before Rodney could add, "And if you're not clean by then, I'm spraying you with air freshener."
It really didn't go like this:
"We don't really have a choice, do we?" Rodney asked, shuffling closer. The Tintano chief rattled his spear and gestured insistently toward their pants.
"Doesn't look like it," John said as he worked his buckle open.
"So who are these people, again?" John asked.
Across the conference room table, Teyla said, "The Tintano. According to Keras, they serve as the central node for a system of trade alliances that also operates as an information exchange. I remember hearing rumors of such a system a long time ago, but never knew the specifics."
John leaned back in his chair. "Why is this the first we're hearing of them?"
"They operate in secret, to the extent that it's possible. The Tintano keep the network dormant during times of relative peace. It was originally designed as a response to periods of intense activity by the Wraith, when extraneous gate travel is unwise, and the normal trading and visiting patterns among planets are disrupted." Teyla cleared her throat. "They preserve the integrity of the network by facilitating communications between two groups, rather than disclosing the full addresses of every known member. In order to enter into contact with the Tintano, one must be recommended to them by another party."
"A distributed information network supported by a reputation economy," Woolsey mused. "It's an elegant solution."
"So we had to wait for someone to vouch for us," John said.
Ronon snorted. "And it took this long?"
"Yes, yes," Rodney said, "We need better PR, but -- "
"We could just finish off the Wraith. That'd send our numbers way up," John pointed out.
"You think?" Rodney asked. "That's my point. Will these People of the Glorified Phone Book be any use to our frankly magnificent plan? I don't think I need to remind anyone that it involves spaceships and a massive laser."
"They do maintain a vast collection of information about many peoples, including some we have never encountered," Teyla said. "It is possible that they could help us make contact with groups willing to commit resources or personnel to the fight." She tilted her head. "Of course, they may refuse to divulge any information at all, until they are more assured of our good faith."
"Well," John said, smacking the table as he stood up, "We'll never know unless we check 'em out."
Their rendezvous had been pre-arranged for the next day, on a planet that was marked as uninhabited in the Ancients' database, and with the caveat that neither side bring weapons to the meeting. It felt a little bit like walking into a trap, but Teyla had confirmed with Keras that they could leave a small, armed party by the gate in case of trouble (and that the Tintano would likely do the same).
"Really, no weapons?" Ronon asked as they walked across the salt flats surrounding the gate to the small, temporary pavilion where the meeting would take place.
"They are quite adamant about it, yes," Teyla said, shielding her eyes against the blazing sun. "Keras said that the Tintano will erase from their records the address of any party that violates that trust. For smaller or more isolated groups, this can have a devastating effect on their ability to contact anyone else."
Ronon stopped and sighed, pushing his hand into his pants and pulling out a six-inch knife that must have been strapped to his thigh. "Be right back," he said, loping off toward the contingent of Marines milling around the gate.
"What--" Rodney sputtered. He turned to John. "That's like you keeping grenades in your pocket. No sense of self preservation!"
"Says the man regularly dousing his lap in low-dose radiation," John said, clapping him on the shoulder. He squinted in the light. "Hey look, a welcoming party."
Three people approached them, all short-ish with very dark skin. "Hello," said the woman in the middle. "My name is Ohanne, and these are my associates. You are the party from Atlantis."
John nodded, though it hadn't really been a question. "We heard you're the people to talk to for, well, for a lot of things, it seems."
"We shall see. Come, join us under the shade." Ohanne gestured toward the shelter a dozen yards away.
Her two companions started toward it, and Teyla moved to follow. John touched Rodney's elbow. "Go on," he said in a low voice, "I think I'm supposed to hang back for a minute." Rodney looked a little dubious, but joined the others. "So, what do we need to do?" he asked.
"We must assess the situation, of course," said Ohanne.
Ronon jogged up next to them, and John inclined his head toward the pavilion, where Rodney was already gesturing insistently. Ronon nodded and continued on. "And what will this 'assessment' entail?" John asked.
Ohanne looked at him with a slight frown on her face. "We will listen to you describe your problem," she said slowly. "Then, we will consider our resources and evaluate whether they meet your needs. Do you typically take a different approach?" She nodded encouragingly, like a teacher with a somewhat dim student.
"No, that sounds good," John said. He smiled back weakly. "Wasn't sure if you wanted to get to know us better first." He looked over at the shelter, where Ronon had joined the others. Things appeared to be going smoothly -- Rodney looked a little wound up, but in the good-excited way.
"Ah, yes," Ohanne said. "I am sure that, as we discuss the issues you raise today, we will come to understand each other better. And we have already made several inquiries about your people with our other contacts."
"Sure, yeah. And if we have questions about you?"
"You can always ask," Ohanne replied pleasantly. "Though we are not very likely to answer." They turned toward the pavilion, but Ohanne paused. "Although I did have one question."
"Yes?" John asked, meeting Rodney's eyes as he gestured impatiently for them to come over to the shelter.
"That man, the pale one -- your scientist?" Ohanne asked. "You seem to have a special regard for him."
"Oh. Um, uh no, I mean, we're--"
Ohanne held up a hand. "The specifics do not concern me. I merely wish to confirm that no one will be . . . preoccupied during our discussions. I doubt either of our parties has much time to spare on personal distractions."
John sighed inwardly. Maybe the others were managing to make a good impression.
Or even like this:
"It worked!" Rodney crowed, "It completely and utterly annihilated them! All of them! It worked, itworked, did you see that?" Rodney turned to him, his eyes sparkling as the debris of the very last hive ship in the galaxy floated past the view screen.
All around them, people were cheering and hugging and Ah, fuck it John thought as he pulled Rodney in for a kiss. He deserved some celebration.
The General Hammond survived the battle, which was a relief -- neither John nor Colonel Carter wanted to be responsible for putting that particular ship out of commission, and they had mounted a ridiculously big laser onto the hull. Though the ship made it through in one piece (which was more than could be said for the hives: "Blown to smithereens," Rodney had confirmed over the comm while John rounded up his F-302s for one last pass checking for stray darts), it was still pretty beaten up, and Rodney stayed aboard to bicker with Sam over the best way to reconfigure the navigation system until they could get the Hammond to Atlantis for repairs.
John caught a lift back to the city with the Daedalus, which had fared somewhat better through the battle. Woolsey was waiting for them with more good news: Ronon's ground forces had successfully neutralized the remaining cloning facilities in a large-scale coordinated attack; Teyla's gamble at mustering an army from dozens of worlds had paid off.
It took the better part of the day to get the senior staff convened for the official debriefing. The Hammond limped down to the west pier a few hours after Ronon and Teyla's shuttle returned, and Keller had to be pried away from the infirmary, where they were getting fresh batches of injured people as quickly as the ships could beam them down.
"Well," Woolsey said, looking around the table. "That seems to have gone rather well." He adjusted his glasses as everyone around the table beamed at each other. "What do we have to discuss?"
As it turned out, a lot of things: Sam and Caldwell both needed supplies for ship repairs; John was going to have to sort out which of the Travelers' equipment demands were legit; Teyla had some ideas for preserving wartime alliances that needed immediate implementation; Keller needed people who could identify the injured and the dead for their allies; Rodney wondered if everyone understood just how amazing his giant laser had been.
When Ronon, who was just as wired as the rest of them, started snoring theatrically in the second hour of the logistical nightmare, Woolsey called the meeting and sent them all off to get some rest. Feeling jittery and kind of aimless, John followed Rodney out onto a westward-facing balcony.
"Ugh, this is awful," Rodney said, looking out over the ocean.
"Yeah, sunsets are the worst," John said. He leaned on the railing, watched the waves hitting against the side of the city, and wondered what the hell they were supposed to do now.
Rodney sat down, slowly and groaning all the way, and then lay back on the ground. "Not that," he said, folding his hands on his chest. "I'm way too keyed up to sleep, and I'm also utterly exhausted. I try to rest," he demonstrated by shutting his eyes, "but then all I can think is, 'Hey!'" He popped them back open and looked up at John with a smile, "'We did it!'"
John dropped down beside him. "Got a body that's spent, but a brain that won't quit, huh?"
"Well, it sounds vaguely insulting when you put it like that, but yes." He drummed his fingers lightly on his chest. "At some point it'll wear off, though, and then," he laughed, his voice taking on a singsong tone, "Oh, then I will be able to rest easy, knowing that we did it. With my giant laser." This last bit was accompanied by a few twirly finger moves.
"Yeah, we did," John agreed. They grinned at each other for a moment, and John could feel words bubbling up, knew he was too tired to stop them, so he looked out at the water. "And now we can do pretty much anything. " He paused for a minute. "The city, for one -- it doesn't have to be a battle station anymore. We can actually get around to exploring the entire thing, dig into the databases and see what other deathtraps disguised as science experiments the Ancients left lying around for us."
He frowned. "As long as we don't get pushback from Earth. They can't want Atlantis back in the Milky Way, not after what happened last time. I don't know." He fiddled with his bootlace. "We'll think of something. But we get to have a future, you know? We can start living like . . . like there's actually something to plan for. Like it's worth it to go after things we really want."
John looked up at the sky. "Is any of this making sense to you?" he asked quietly. When he got no response, he looked down again.
Beside him, Rodney was sleeping peacefully.
It might have gone like this:
"Hey, can you remember to get more powdered milk at the commissary when you're down there next, we're almost out and oh my god." Rodney looked up from the laundry he was folding, eyes wide and staring. "I just realized something."
"What, that we're living together and basically married, but without the sweaty funtime parts?" John asked.
"Yeah," Rodney said, nodding vigorously. "We should do something about that."
He found Rodney tucked away in a corner in the mess, scribbling on a tablet with one hand and eating a muffin with the other. "Whatcha working on?"
"Modifications for the Amazing Laser of Victory," he said, licking his finger. "We revolutionized the field of laser studies in at least thirty-eight different ways building that thing, and I've finally got some time to work on other applications for it."
"Nice," he said. He sat down across from Rodney. "We finally finished the security sweeps in the new residential section, and Woolsey's signed off on it."
"Oh, those will go fast once people hear about how nice the bathrooms are." Rodney got a dreamy look on his face. "King-sized jacuzzi tubs."
John grinned. "Not everyone has your tub fetish, Rodney. Senior staff does get first dibs, but that won't last for long, so we should figure out what we want to do."
"Wait, 'we'?" Rodney asked. "You mean, like, together?"
"Yeah, check it out," John said, unrolling some of the floor plans the Marines had sketched out. "This place looks really cool, the main room has a 120-degree view, wraparound balcony, prime transporter location."
"But, together?" Rodney asked again. "As in, living together? You and me."
"Well, yeah, I mean, we could have separate -- would have separate rooms, of course, I just thought," John frowned. "What's the big deal?"
"Oh, gee, I don't know," Rodney said. "For starters, how about how incredibly awkward it would be to bring a girl home to the place you share with your roommate. They didn't go for it in college, I doubt it'll go over well in my forties!"
John rubbed the back of his neck. "Huh. Hadn't thought of that."
"How does something like that slip your mind?"
"Maybe you haven't noticed," he said, "but I haven't exactly been filling up my dance card lately."
"And you're okay with that?" John shrugged. "Oh my god, you're actually okay with that. How could you possibly -- " Rodney balled up his fists in frustration. "It's such a waste!"
"You, with the -- " Rodney gestured at him, "All of it, every single thing someone could want, and you're not using it, no one gets to enjoy it."
"You think someone should be enjoying me," John said, eyebrows up to his hairline.
"I don't know, look, you're missing the point!"
"That you want us to live together, and then I'll try to bring someone home but instead she'll get weirded out and leave I'll be . . . frustrated, and it'll end just like it did in grad school, with me and my roommate helping each oth-- oh," Rodney stopped, eyes bugging out. "Oh, god. I didn't mean to --" He stood up, grabbing his tablet. "I, I should go," he said, and then slipped out of the mess before John could process what just happened.
He stared at the table for a while, watching Rodney's crumpled-up muffin wrapper slowly unfold. So Rodney and his roommate had, what -- traded handjobs? Blowjobs? More? John shifted in his seat. The idea was unsettling, or no, more like unnerving, because he could imagine how it might've happened, could picture it clearly: he'd seen Rodney when he was all worked up about something, knew how he set his shoulders and thrust his chin out when he was feeling stubborn or, or frustrated. Hell, John had stared him down when he was like that, countless times, gotten up in his space and loomed as much as an extra inch would let him, and it would've been so easy to just --
Well, shit. And then he'd gone and suggested they shack up together. What had he been thinking? Not much, about a lot of things, that was obvious. He'd just noticed the tub, and the view, and thought about how easy it would be to set up a mini-fridge on that balcony so their beer would always be cold. (And the deal he'd made with himself twenty-five years ago, in order to get out of his father's house and into the sky, had turned out really fucking well, thanks, and feeling comfortable in your own skin was overrated, anyway.)
He groaned and wondered whether banging his head repeatedly on the table would help. Before he could test it, Teyla walked up, holding a tray with enough food on it that she was either eating for two again or taking lunch to Kanaan and Torren. "John?" she asked. "You look upset."
"Nah, I'm fine," he said, waving a hand at her.
"I sincerely doubt that." Teyla sat down. "What is wrong?"
"I don't even know," he said, running a hand through his hair. "Oh, what the hell. Lemme ask you something. What do you think of me and McKay?"
Teyla blinked. "As . . . friends? Coworkers?" She smirked. "Child care providers? As you know, I have a number of opinions of your capacity for that particular role."
"No, sorry -- I meant, like how we are with each other."
"I've noticed that the two of you share a very deep friendship, certainly." She pressed her lips together, considering. "And that neither of you is particularly adept at expressing your feelings unless you anticipate something dire happening in the near future. And even then . . . ."
John chewed on his lip. "But you've never thought that there might be, you know, something more?" he asked eventually.
"Honestly, John, I haven't given it much thought." Teyla shrugged. "I learned a long time ago that there is often little to be gained from meddling in your friends' affairs."
"Yeah, but -- it's there, right?" Maybe he was crazy. Maybe he was completely misinterpreting years of a solid friendship because he was just so screwed up. "I'm not just imagining things?"
Teyla reached across the table and placed her hand on his wrist. "John. Do you want there to be something more between you and Rodney?"
John flinched, reflexively looking around the mostly empty mess. "I don't know, Teyla," he said, keeping his voice low, even though he could technically be as out-and-proud as he wanted, thanks to the latest UCMJ revision. "But it would make the fact that I basically just asked him to move in with me this morning make a hell of a lot more sense."
"John." Teyla gave him a hard look. "Are you trying to manufacture situations to push the two of you together, so that you can avoid discussing your emotions with him?"
". . . No?" That just sounded ridiculous. And would've required way more foresight.
Teyla rolled her eyes and stood up. "Talk to him, John." She smiled at him, only a little pityingly. "I understand that it's a disquieting prospect, but really, the two of you are the only ones who will be able to sort this out."
Damn, he thought, as Teyla gathered up her tray, I was afraid of that.
But really, it went like this:
"So we should probably talk," Rodney said, standing in the doorway to John's quarters.
It had been a day and a half since he'd last seen Rodney; he'd left the mess hall fully intending to take Teyla's advice, at least until he started running through potential conversations in his head and convinced himself it could only end in him slipping into some kind of catatonic state. After that, it seemed like the best course of action was to lay low in his room. Rodney, the bastard, had found him.
"Hey," he said, going for nonchalance. He was sitting on his bed, flipping through a magazine, totally cool.
"Hey? Hey?" Rodney stepped forward and the doors closed behind him. "I pour my heart out to you, spend days thinking you're, you're revoking our friendship, and when I finally man up and come find you, all I get is a 'hey'?"
"That was pouring your heart out?" John asked, tossing his magazine on the bed. "And it hasn't been days. Twenty-four hours, maybe." Somehow in his imaginings, he'd forgotten that Rodney would actually, you know, participate in the conversation. This, he could do.
"Pfff, technicalities," Rodney said. "The point is, I spent that time thinking that my best friend was -- repulsed by me, and you didn't do anything about it!"
"Wait, repulsed? You're the one who stormed out of the mess. I just sat there." John folded his hands behind his head. Score one, Sheppard.
"No, you don't get points for inertia!" Rodney was pacing now. "And what was I supposed to think? There you were, ready to start decorating your platonic ideal of an apartment, and I can't keep myself from gaying up your asexual retirement plan."
"Hold up," John said, sitting up. His boots clunked on the floor. "Asexual? Where did that come from?"
"You said you weren't interested in," Rodney paused to break out the air quotes, "'filling up your dance card'."
"By bringing women home, no."
"Exactly- wait, what?" He turned to stare at John. "You plan on going to their place, or . . . what?"
John felt an echo-y sensation in his stomach. He stood up, but it didn't help. "I don't plan -- okay, I didn't plan any of this -- it wouldn't be about going to someone's place, or bringing them to mine. That's kind of the point of sharing a place."
"With me?" Rodney asked.
John shrugged a shoulder. "Yeah."
"No!" Rodney exclaimed, and John's stomach bottomed out. "No! You do not just wake up one day and think, 'Huh, maybe I'm gay. That'll solve all my problems!'"
John grit his teeth. "Well, for one thing, yeah, I did do exactly that, but it was thirty-some-odd years ago. And no, it didn't exactly solve any problems."
"But for that to be true, you would've realized well before you joined the military and would have basically had to . . . to . . . be horribly repressing yourself all this time, oh my god, it is true." Rodney looked at him, amazed. "That is seriously screwed up, but it explains a lot."
"Hey," John said. "This coming from the man who spent years of his life telling everyone he met that his type was 'blonde and busty'. Denial much?"
"That's just for women, and it's only a general guideline, anyway." Rodney sniffed primly. "I'll have you know that, based on my albeit limited experience with men, my type is dark-haired and lanky. And, um. Smart. So," he said, and gestured vaguely in John's direction.
"Well then," John said, feeling his face heat.
Rodney gave a short nod, and the two of them stood there blinking at each other for a few moments. "What were we talking about again?" Rodney asked eventually.
John plopped back down on the bed. "I'm supposed to be talking to you about how I feel. Argh," he said, dropping onto his back and running a hand over his face. "I don't think this is what Teyla had in mind."
Rodney came over and sat on the bed next to him. "Teyla coached you?" he asked, leaning over him. "I don't think she did a very good job."
"Apparently I'm supposed to be able to handle this on my own," John said. Rodney chuckled. "I know! That's what I said! But I guess she has better things to do than write up a script for me. And zero interest in playing yenta."
"What nerve," Rodney said. He patted John on the shoulder. "C'mon, sit up. Let's hear this."
John groaned and pushed himself back up. "Fine," he said, tucking one leg up on the bed. He cleared his throat, looking down at the blanket on his bed. "I think I have . . . feelings. You know. For you. Rodney."
Rodney snorted. "Thank you, for the clarification there. But really, that's your best shot? You 'think' you might have ill-defined 'feelings' of some sort? What exactly am I supposed to do with that?" He was smiling now, and had scooted closer at some point.
"Be a total dick, apparently," John said, and tried leaning in a little closer himself.
"Yeah, but you like that."
He could feel Rodney's breath on his face. "Mildly offensive sweet-talk, nice," John said, but he was pretty much distracted by Rodney's lips.
Rodney smiled. "Canadians get a free pass on that kind of thing, didn't you know?
"Yeah, it's in our constitu-"
John couldn't take the proximity any more, so he leaned in and pressed his lips to Rodney's. It was strange, almost more so than he could handle, but then he brought his hand up to Rodney's neck, felt Rodney's pulse fluttering wildly under his skin, and realized it wasn't strange so much as fantastic.
They broke apart, and Rodney's eyes were wide. "You --" he started, and John licked his lower lip, waiting for Rodney to finish, but Rodney just groaned and dragged him back in. John tried the licking thing again, and wow, it felt good to kiss someone who was kissing back so enthusiastically. Rodney got his hand up in John's hair, which made them both moan a little, and then Rodney's tongue was in his mouth, and John's brain went offline for a while.
Eventually, they had to stop for air, and John tried to adjust himself surreptitiously as he caught his breath.
"Okay, I should probably go," Rodney said, and before John could focus enough to even think about getting concerned, he added, "because if we don't stop now, we probably won't stop until we run right into whatever lurking issues two incredibly screwed up people like us almost certainly have. And we've probably reached our limit for talking about things like adults for the night, right?"
"Yeah, okay," John nodded. "But I should still call dibs on that apartment, right?"
"You're damn right," Rodney said. "I'm not sharing that tub with anyone. Um," Rodney laughed faintly, "Present company excluded? Man, this is weird. Good weird," he added, nudging John's leg with his knee. "Very, very good weird."
"You're good weird," John countered, nudging him back. Rodney rolled his eyes. "But yeah, it'll take some getting used to." He stood up, tugging on Rodney's sleeve. "C'mon, lets go get something to eat."
"Ooh, let me swing by the labs and get my laptop," Rodney said as they headed out the door. "I came up with another idea for my Laser Par Excellence that'll knock your socks off."
"You're never going to shut up about that thing, are you?" John asked, but Rodney was already off and running with his explanation. Maybe we could come up with a house rule. No laser talk in bed. Then again, John thought as he watched Rodney describe the exciting new way he'd found to blow something up, Maybe not.