How could he possibly have known that a seemingly throwaway comment would have such significant consequences?
Except, of course, when the comment alluded to something that he’d been keeping to himself for years – something that he’d been so careful never to let slip. He should have known better, but it was too late now; the secret was out and he’d blown it. Just like that.
‘It’s like being back in high school,’ he’d said, words slurring together as he’d shouted above the pounding of the drums. ‘Like in the locker room – with all the casual nudity and overt displays of hyper masculinity and, and…’ He’d waved a wildly swinging arm towards the group of naked dancers of RHB-614 – all young men, adorned in ritual body paint, chanting and waving spears – and had nearly overbalanced in the process. ‘I didn’t get stuffed into lockers though.’ He’d grinned at Teyla who was patiently trying to steer him to a nearby pile of furs on the outskirts of the fire pit, despite his feet not wanting to cooperate. ‘Not after those stupid jocks found out just what kind of revenge ‘Rodney McNerd the Science Turd’ could make in chem class anyway.’ John’s eyebrows had done their amused, twisty thing at that, and his lips had curved up in the way that always made Rodney’s heart do something disgustingly like the heroine’s in a Victorian romantic novel. He’d sighed, staring at John, his guard down. ‘Some things don’t change though – even after all these years, I’m still in love with the captain of the football team…’
It had been one of those stupid things that slip out when you’re under the influence of yet another tribal, ritual narcotic during yet another meet and greet on yet another alien world. It could have happened to anybody; anybody could have accidentally outed themselves to the long-standing and oblivious object of their affections – and blurted out a hated nickname in the process. (There was no way that John would let that one go; the Meredith thing had been bad enough. Although Rodney would welcome the teasing, if it meant that John was still speaking to him.) Of course, not everyone was hopelessly and secretly in love with the military commander of a top-secret base in another galaxy. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ may have gone the way of the dodo, but the American military wasn’t the most progressive of institutions. Admittedly, John wasn’t a standard by-the-book military drone, and the hair alone was enough of a finger to ‘The Man’ to prove that John wasn’t your average jarhead (and even now, Rodney could hear John whining, ‘Jarheads are marines, Rod-ney – I’m air force’, in that irritating and completely not adorable way of his.) But the point was that - despite the hair, and the leaning, and the fact that Rodney knew that John wasn’t some judgmental homophobe – John was still military and carried a gun. Of course, Rodney carried a gun at times, too – on missions – but that was besides the point and…
Rodney stopped and leaned against a bulkhead, the smooth, cool walls of Atlantis a reassuring presence at his back as he put his head between his knees and pulled in a few deep breaths. This was ridiculous; he was a grown man and way past having panic attacks in the corridor. Yes, he’d outed himself to John and yes, John had given him a look that Rodney – even after all of their years of friendship – couldn’t decipher, but it didn’t automatically mean that John hated him. Rodney was sober now, and logically he knew that John wasn’t that kind of man. And if only Rodney hadn’t chosen the precise moment of his unintentional ‘by the way, I’m gay and kind of in love with you’ revelation to have a wholly inconvenient and life threatening allergic reaction to the stupid tribal, ritual narcotic then perhaps he would already know what John’s reaction to said revelation was. Perhaps he could have tried some damage limitation and laughed it off, instead of collapsing, frothing at the mouth and being carried back to the jumper slung over Ronon’s shoulder for an emergency medical evac.
He sighed heavily and straightened up. Of course his backstabbing immune system had let him down yet again, and so instead here he was, sneaking to his quarters after a hasty escape from the infirmary. He’d had a sticky moment when he’d heard John asking after him, but he’d managed to hot-foot it out of there while Keller explained that Rodney was being kept in overnight for observation.
He felt fine; there was no need for observation. More importantly, he didn’t want his first post-revelation meeting with John to be anywhere as public as the infirmary. Hearing that John ‘didn’t think of Rodney in that way’ but would (hopefully) ‘still want to stay friends’ wasn’t something Rodney wanted played out for a potential audience. Even worse, he didn’t want to see that awkward, sorry smile as John patted his shoulder and then turned away with a cheerily false, ‘See ya later, buddy’. Escaping now would only mean a small reprieve – John would track him down soon enough – but if he could get to the cover of his quarters then he could avoid that conversation for a few more hours, at least.
Checking the hallway, he hurried on, breathing more easily now as he neared safety. Perhaps he could just pretend that the whole thing had never happened – John Sheppard was not a man who enjoyed discussing anything even remotely related to feelings, and he’d probably jump at the chance. Yes, plausible deniability – sort of, anyway – that was the way forward. Rodney would have to be extra vigilant in future, of course, but he’d kept his feelings for John to himself for years now, and he could do it again – he’d just have to watch out for any more stupid tribal, ritual narcotics.
Nodding to himself, he turned the final corner – only to come to a stumbling stop: John was standing by Rodney’s door.
“Rodney. Keller’s looking for you. Something about twenty-four hours observation and you not having a medical degree?”
The casual tone was forced, but Rodney grabbed at the conversational lifeline – anything that wasn’t that conversation. “As if,” he snorted, trying to sound normal. “And anyway, I’m fine – far too busy to loll about in the infirmary, thank you, Colonel. I’ve got a backlog of work to catch up on; this place falls to pieces without me, and so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just be getting on.” Rodney took a step forward, hoping that John would play along, but John didn’t move.
Rodney knew that if he looked, he’d see that twisty, little furrow on John’s brow that meant he was uncomfortable. He sighed: so they weren’t doing the plausible deniability thing then. “It’s okay, John. We don’t have to do this. I know what you’re going to say.”
“No,” John interrupted. He looked like he was having even more difficulty than usual with voicing his feelings. “It’s just… I need to know – did you mean it?”
Rodney felt his cheeks heat, but he nodded. Better to just get it over with. “Yes, I did. But it’s okay. I know you aren’t – that you don’t feel that way and that’s o-”
John cut him off again, a hesitant smile softening his face. “No. It’s just – yeah. I do. I mean – me, too.”
Rodney swallowed the platitude on his tongue. “What? You mean you’re…” He stopped and gave John a hard look, hardly daring to hope. “What exactly do you mean? What ‘me, too’?”
John ducked his head and smiled, a little shyly. “I mean yeah – me, too.”
“You mean that you’re in love with the captain of the football team?” Rodney asked, more sharply than he’d intended. Hope was growing inside him, his heart beginning to race, but he had to be sure.
“No,” John laughed, his long body relaxing as he reached for Rodney and drew him closer. “With you, you idiot.”
“Oh.” The world tipped as John’s warmth enveloped Rodney from lips to toes. Oh…
And perhaps John might even forget about the McNerd thing, too…