"'Nother beer?" the bartender asked, reaching for the empty glass.
John shook his head as he pulled his wallet out again and thumbed through the bills in it. "Bottle of Jameson's," he said, slapping a stack of money on the bar. Then he thought about it and added a few more bills. "Gold."
The bartender didn't even blink. That was one thing John really loved about bartenders -- they knew to keep quiet and keep the liquor coming when you were trying to drown your blues in eighty proof.
When the bottle came, John filled his glass with a feeling of purpose. The first swallow made him wince, but he kept going, because he was not nearly drunk enough yet. The second one made him cough. He'd never been much of a whiskey drinker.
The gaggle of women to John's left giggled in synch again, watching him wipe his eyes. They'd been inching closer all night, and the dark-haired one in the tight yellow t-shirt had smiled at him on her way to the jukebox. Her jeans were cut so low he could see the crack of her ass.
He grinned at them, and they giggled again.
He was feeling generous in his misery, so the next time the bartender came by, John flagged him down and paid for a round, which brought the girls over en masse to lean into his personal space and coo over his ears.
After a few minutes of generic bar talk, most of the girls formed a tight conversational knot around the topic of bikini waxing--which John actually would have listened to with more than a little interest, if they'd let him--and he was essentially alone with the one in the yellow shirt.
Her hair was very shiny and her eyes were very sparkly. She was shiny and sparkly, and John was reasonably sure that wasn't just the Jameson's.
"Are you here by yourself?" she asked, though there was no way she didn't know he was. He'd been sitting alone at the bar since she'd come in with her friends. Since long before that, actually.
John nodded. "Yep. All alone." Drinking all by himself because he and Rodney were over. Boom. No warning. Done.
Last night he'd been on top of Rodney, hurtling toward a mind-blowing orgasm, when Rodney had dug his fingers into John's shoulder and said, "God, I love ..."
Whatever else Rodney had been about to say got cut off by a hitch of breath and a low moan as he came.
John had frozen and then he'd panicked, and he'd totally forgotten to think about making it last, which had led to the strangest orgasm of his life because he'd barely noticed it for all the freaking out.
Afterwards, it had been utterly quiet in the room and Rodney had looked at him and smiled that sleepy after-sex smile, and all John could think was "Oh, please, not yet." He was not ready for the love topic, because that was the point where all his past relationships had ended, and he wasn't ready for this one to be over.
So he'd slid over to his side of the bed and Rodney had turned off the light and John had stared at the wall and tried to figure out what the hell to do now.
He'd slept badly, and when he'd gotten up, Rodney was gone, no note or anything, and that awful feeling from the night before had come back. Things were all screwed up now. He hadn't said anything back and now Rodney was mad and he probably didn't want to waste any more time on John if John didn't have feelings for him, and oh God, he was about to get dumped.
Then he'd started to get a little pissed off, because everything had been going fine until Rodney decided to bring the stupid love word into it. John hated feeling pressured and he hated feeling cornered and ... well, he didn't actually feel pressured and cornered yet, but he knew that was coming, because that was what always followed the love word.
He'd hung around the apartment until lunch time, and Rodney hadn't called or shown up, so he'd taken the motorcycle (which he'd bought two Earth trips ago, and kept at Rodney's -- much to Rodney's dismay, and emphatic insistence that it could only lead to John becoming a vegetable) out for a long ride, and tortured himself with imagining all the various ways this thing with Rodney was going to end.
They were all equally horrible, except the one where Rodney ended up with someone else on Atlantis, someone who wasn't military and didn't have to hide things and wouldn't mind the love word. That one was devastating.
By eight pm, Rodney still wasn't home, and John couldn't take the waiting anymore. He wasn't going to just sit around and wait for Rodney to break up with him.
There'd been nothing else to do but get the hell out.
The girl in yellow stepped a little closer, jolting him out of his depressing thoughts. Her smile looked slightly frozen, and John wondered guiltily just how long he'd left her standing there while his mind drifted.
"But I've got plenty of company now," he said, wincing at just how lame that sounded as he gestured with his glass, taking in the group.
The girl nodded and her smile came back in force. "My name's Aimiee," she said. Even before she spelled it, John knew it was going to have way more letters than it should, because girls who looked like her always spelled their names weird, and they always wanted you to know it.
"John," he offered, which sounded strange when he said it, because no one really called him that. Even Rodney still called him "Colonel" or "Sheppard" most of the time, and it seemed oddly personal to tell a stranger his name. "Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," he added. "United States Air Force."
Her face lit up predictably at that, and it was nice to see it still worked. He'd had a fair amount of luck with women in the past, before his now-defunct thing with Rodney, which had come out of left field because he didn't even like guys. Not ever. He'd always liked women, but it wasn't like he liked Rodney because he was a guy. He liked Rodney, period, and it didn't matter that he was a guy.
Well, it had mattered at first, when it had all seemed strange and little freaky. But then he'd figured out that Rodney liked him back, and somehow in there sex involving two dicks instead of one had gone from a vaguely disconcerting possibility to the best thing ever.
In the end, it turned out to not be freaky at all, because hanging out with Rodney that way wasn't much different from hanging out as friends, except it required a lot more lube. And sometimes when he looked at Rodney he felt sort of ... melty inside. Like a candy bar that had been left on the dashboard in the middle of summer. Which was something he'd never admit to another living soul, but it felt good when it happened, and he liked it, so it wasn't scary.
Not as scary as that stupid love word, anyway.
"Do you live around here?" Aimiee asked, taking another sip of her beer, and John realized they'd probably just had another awkward silence. Spending so much time with Rodney tended to make him forget it normally took more than expressive eyebrow maneuvers to hold up his end of a conversation. And what had she asked him?
"I asked if you live around here," she said, smiling sweetly.
Ouch. Another sore subject.
"You kept your apartment?" he'd asked Rodney the first time they'd come back, incredulous.
"Of course I did. Where was I going to stay when I came home?" Rodney had said, and John had just shaken his head, because of course Rodney hadn't doubted his ability to find a way to get them back home eventually.
No one seemed to think it was odd that he stayed at Rodney's place when they were on Earth, which meant they were either fooling everyone really well or they weren't fooling anyone at all. John always looked forward to Earth leave, because it meant video game tournaments, and sex whenever they wanted, and sleeping in the same bed all night, and Rodney grabbing his ass every time he bent over to put on his shoes.
Mostly he liked doing Earth things with Rodney, like eating fast food and going to movies and buying groceries and sharing a bathroom. All that stuff they didn't get to do on Atlantis. All that stuff they'd never do again.
But he couldn't tell Aimiee any of that, and the alternative was telling her that he didn't actually live in this galaxy, so he just said, "Yes," even though it wasn't really true anymore.
Once he'd made up his mind to take off, he'd started gathering his stuff up, but his clothes wouldn't fit in his bag, because somewhere along the line he'd started leaving more than just the bike at Rodney's. And when he sat down and looked at the DVDs and the video games, he couldn't remember what was his and what wasn't, and that was when he realized he wasn't just crashing at Rodney's place, they were living together. They'd bought the XBox together, and the Alien Quadrilogy, and Rodney's bookshelf was now equal parts crappy spy thrillers and astrophysics journals.
Jesus Christ, they'd even bought sheets last week. Sheets they owned together.
The snowboarding video game was his, he'd told himself, feeling shaken. That he knew for sure.
In the end, he hadn't really taken much. His duffel, a banker's box with no lid, and one of those flimsy plastic shopping bags, full of clothes and books and DVDs and the snowboarding game, even though he had no way to play it, because he'd left the system behind. He'd had to leave his bike, too, but he figured he'd worry about that next Earth trip. Or maybe just buy a new one.
He'd thrown his stuff in the SGC loaner and left his house key on the counter and somehow ended up here, because he had no place to go, and only a vague plan of getting a hotel room at some point. And even though he'd been feeling so pressured and so cornered, he hadn't felt relieved it was over.
Five or six beers and a couple glasses of whiskey later, he still wasn't relieved, but he'd always been a mellow drunk, and right now he needed all the mellow he could work up, because the next few weeks promised to be hell.
That was what happened when you slept with co-workers. With teammates. God, how had he been so stupid? He had no excuse, except that it was Rodney, and a lot of what happened with Rodney tended to be out of John's control.
Someone jostled his drink as the girls moved as one, and suddenly Aimiee was standing between his knees. Her teeth were very, very white and she was probably way too young to be hitting on a guy his age. John felt himself wobble on the barstool a little.
There was some rule, though, about never asking a woman her age or her weight, and John knew he'd had too much alcohol to successfully navigate those conversational waters with any subtlety. He settled for asking her what she did for a living, and all his suspicions were confirmed when she said, "Oh, I'm still in college."
"Oh, God. I'm so old," he said, proving his lack of subtlety.
"You can't be that old," she replied, rolling her eyes a way that was eerily reminiscent of Rodney.
"I'm old." Old and dumped. And not nearly drunk enough to deal well with either.
"Well, I think you're cute," she said. Rodney thought he was cute, too, and John used it to get away with a lot of stuff. Had used it. Whatever.
Before John's thoughts could wander down that depressing path again, Aimee asked him if he liked baseball. She turned out to be the kind of fan who went to Arizona for spring training. John wasn't that into baseball, but he was happy to let her chatter at him while he smiled and nodded and worked at keeping his glass full.
This was familiar to him, a voice in his ear that didn't require much from him but a pulse, and after a few minutes he realized he was sort of enjoying it. She was really funny and sarcastic, and when she moved on to verbally skewering one of her college professors, John thought Rodney would maybe even like her, if he could ever lower himself to acknowledge the existence of a fashion major.
Aimiee was explaining all the ways her scumbag professor was probably sorry he'd ever met her when her friends started gathering their purses all at once, like there'd been some silent signal. John had seen a TV show once about how elephants communicated with sound waves humans couldn't even hear. Maybe it was like that. He was thinking about the elephants when Aimiee turned around and told her friends to go without her. They all looked at him and giggled again, and he felt a moment of terror, because he knew what was happening, but they were gone before he could figure out how to stop them.
They left the bar in a squealing rush and he was abruptly alone with Aimiee, who thought she would be going home with him.
She was pretty and sparkly, but she was in college. He was old enough to be her father. Which was something that probably wouldn't have mattered to him a few years ago, but at some point young + pretty + willing had stopped being his bare minimum, and he hadn't really noticed that until now.
He needed another drink.
As he slopped more whiskey into his glass, Aimiee put her hand on his leg and leaned in a little more. She smelled like perfume, and it made John's noise itch. Rodney never smelled like anything but Rodney, because he claimed he was allergic to all colognes and aftershaves. John didn't really mind, because he thought Rodney was a pretty good smell.
"So ...is your place nearby?" she asked, her hand sliding a little further up his thigh. He took a fortifying gulp and tried to come up with something to say, like "You misunderstood," or "I'm pathetic and you should leave me here like the loser I am."
Before he could utter a word, a familiar voice said, "Believe me, this is a spectacular waste of your time."
Aimiee took a step back, perfectly shaped eyebrows rising in surprise.
John spun around on the stool to find Rodney standing there, arms crossed over his chest, chin in the air, mouth a tight, crooked line. Even though John was still really mad at Rodney for dumping him, he felt an unmistakable and annoying rush of happiness to see him standing there. They hadn't even been broken up for a whole day yet, but he'd really, really missed him.
But he wasn't going to let that show, so he glared at him and asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," Rodney said, his disdain for John's inability to recognize the obvious made clear with every word. "What are you doing here?"
John ignored the question, because it didn't take someone as smart as Rodney to figure out he was here to get drunk. "How did you find me?"
"GPS. You're in a government car, remember?"
John nodded slowly, and thought about what it meant, exactly, that Rodney could track him down anywhere in the world in that car. He decided that called for more whiskey.
While he was pouring himself another healthy dose, Aimiee looked Rodney up and down and asked, "Who are you?"
"He's my boyfriend," John said, out loud for the first time ever in his life, and looked up from his drink to find Rodney and Aimiee staring at him with matching round-mouthed looks of surprise, like twin goldfish.
Rodney recovered first and began looking around frantically, as if expecting to see Caldwell lurking behind a potted plant with a tape recorder. Then he noticed the look on Aimiee's face and promptly got offended. "Oh, don't look so shocked. I know he's really hot, but if you knew how smart I am --"
"He was my boyfriend, anyway," John corrected.
"What do you mean was?" Rodney demanded.
John ignored him. "We had a fight and he dumped me."
"What?" Rodney said.
"Wow," Aimiee said.
"Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. When was this?" Rodney seemed intent on talking to John, even though John was clearly talking to Aimiee, who seemed much more sympathetic to his plight, and was not glaring at him.
"He got mad because I wouldn't tell him I love him, and we had a fight, and he broke up with me, and now I'm here getting drunk."
"Oh, my God." Rodney was holding his head in his hands, like he was in pain. "You have completely lost your mind. Or had it sucked out of your pretty head by riding that stupid motorcycle without a helmet." When he looked up, he spoke slowly and carefully, as if John were extremely dim-witted. "There was no fight. I was not mad. I have not dumped you. Also, I don't recall asking you if you love me."
That was technically true. Rodney hadn't actually asked. But. "You kind of did. Last night when we were --"
"Ahgahgahgah!" said Rodney, making dramatic throat-slashing gestures and looking around for potted plants again.
"--when we were ... hanging out," John finished, in his best stage whisper, which seemed to bring Rodney down a DEFCON level or two. "You said, 'I love ...'"
Rodney opened his mouth, lifted a finger in the air and ... paused.
"See?" John pointed at him triumphantly.
"No, I don't see, actually," Rodney said, the lifted finger becoming a clenched fist at his side. "Last week I told you I love nachos, and that didn't make you go insane."
"Nachos are not me."
"Yes, obviously," Rodney said, looking ever more annoyed. "But I was saying I loved ..." he glanced uncomfortably at Aimiee, who was watching the conversation with a little more interest than was probably appropriate, "... you know. The thing. That we were doing at the time." He made a hand gesture that implied some sort of sex act, or maybe that he needed to use the restroom.
"And then you looked at me!"
"I look at you all the time!"
"Not like that!"
"I don't know. And then you went to sleep!"
Aimiee, who was looking back and forth between them like she was at Wimbledon, leaned against the bar and got comfortable, clearly planning to see this through to the end.
Rodney pressed a hand to his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut, a gesture normally reserved for math errors and Cheeto shortages. "So let me get this straight: I told you l like having sex with you, and then I looked at you, and then I fell asleep. And that was somehow a fight?"
"Based on those criteria, we've had a fight every night for the past three weeks."
"Oh, now you're just being willfully dense," John said.
"Oh, no. No!" Rodney practically shouted, waving his arms around in indignation. "You do not get to say that. I say that. You do not get to say that."
"You took off this morning, and then you didn't come home. You were mad," John insisted.
"I was not mad! There was no fight!"
"Then why did you leave?"
Rodney took a deep breath, probably readying his lungs for the next wave of sarcasm. "After we, uh," his eyes flicked to Aimiee again, "hung out last night, I went to sleep. And then I got up this morning and went to," another glance at Aimiee, "um, work and then you were supposed to meet me at the pizza place and you didn't and then I thought you were dead because you weren't anywhere and now I find you here picking up some floozy --"
"Hey!" Aimiee interjected.
To John's surprise, Rodney actually took a moment to look contrite. "Ah, well, I'm sure you're a perfectly nice person --" he said awkwardly, and John got that melty feeling, because for some reason he'd always found awkward Rodney incredibly endearing.
Aimiee was clearly immune to the charms of an awkward Rodney. "I didn't know he had a boyfriend. He didn't tell me."
"He's not supposed to. That's the point."
"He could have said something. I asked him if he was alone. That was his cue to tell me about you," Aimiee countered. And then she said, "So back off, buddy," and poked Rodney in the chest with her finger.
Suddenly, John was the one looking around for potted plants, because he was feeling a desperate urge to dive for cover.
"Ow!" Rodney's jaw dropped and he hurried to rub his chest, as if there was a chance she'd done actual damage to his person. "You don't have to assault me! What kind of psycho bunny boilers do you attract?" he asked John.
Aimiee jumped in before John could answer, and the fight was on.
"Where do you get off --"
"Oh, please. You probably aren't even old enough to remember that movie --"
"Old enough to be here, young enough to still have all my hair!"
"Too bad you can't say the same for your pants!"
Somewhere on his mental horizon was the thought that he should probably do something, but John's alcohol-soaked brain had finally gotten around to absorbing what Rodney had said before he got poked. They hadn't had a fight. He'd just gone to work. And then ... pizza?
"We were supposed to meet for pizza?"
Rodney and Aimiee quit insulting each other long enough to look over at him, and John thought maybe he'd broken it up just in time, because they looked like they were seconds away from hair-pulling.
"Yes," Rodney said, making a show of being patient. "I told you this. I was going in to work and then you were meeting me for dinner. Which you didn't. And you owe me seventeen dollars for my cab fare over here, by the way."
Oh, shit. It was all coming back to him now. He'd been so busy freaking out he'd totally forgotten all of that. He vaguely remembered Rodney telling him he was going to have to spend a day at the SGC later in the week, but he'd just been pretending to listen so Rodney would shut up and blow him.
Okay, this was kind of bad, but it wasn't his fault. Rodney should have known better than to tell him important things while they were naked. Or getting naked. Or thinking about getting naked.
Post-It notes. They needed to invest in lots of Post-It notes.
"Why didn't you remind me? I would have gone with you." Which seemed like a reasonable question, but even as he said it, he knew he'd just made things worse. Rodney gave him an irritated look, and John suddenly had a really bad feeling ...
"Because you were going to stay home and load the flash drives --" Rodney's expression suddenly shifted from irritated to horrified. "Oh, God. You did load the flash drives, didn't you? We only have two days left before we --" another look at Aimiee, "-- before we leave town."
John was pretty sure all the cuteness in the world wasn't going to save him now. He'd totally forgotten about the flash drives. And if Rodney had to spend the next year with no sci-fi television, everyone was going to be miserable.
"Oh, my God! You forgot?" Rodney shrieked, finally surrendering the high ground and giving in to hysteria.
"I thought we were having a fight," John said meekly, because it was the only thing he had to fall back on, and he was sticking with it.
Rodney looked grim, the way he did when he could still save the day, but it would be a near-run thing. "Okay, we need to leave now. Give me the keys," he said, pointing at them and snapping his fingers impatiently. He obviously felt there was no time to waste in getting home to the flash drives.
John thought that was the best idea he'd heard all day. Maybe the best thing he'd heard since last night, when Rodney had said, "Oh, God, put it in, put it in."
Aimiee said, "Guys ...?"
Rodney shot her a look that said she was not nearly as important as his TV crisis, and reached around her to take the car keys off the bar.
She twisted a strand of hair around her finger, looking a little embarrassed. "I, um, don't have a ride home. My friends left without me."
It took Rodney exactly half a second to put it all together. He turned on John. "You were going to go home with her?" Rodney's face was shocked and hurt, and John felt terrible.
"God, no!" he blurted, and then Aimiee's hurt face matched Rodney's and he felt terrible about that, too, but he felt way more terrible about hurting Rodney, and then guilty for not feeling more terrible about hurting Aimiee, and so much for being a mellow drunk. He was turning flat-out maudlin.
"I wasn't going to go home with you," John said to her. "I should have said something sooner. I'm really sorry." And he really was. He felt like an asshole. She was being pretty nice about this whole thing, and he actually liked her a lot, even though he was old enough to be her father and she didn't smell as good as Rodney.
Much to John's relief, she rallied quickly. "Your loss," she said with a shrug. "Give me a ride home and we'll call it even." She grabbed her bag and headed for the door. Rodney didn't look happy about the turn of events, but he took the keys and came grumbling along behind them.
Things went from bad to worse when they got outside and Rodney spotted John's belongings in the back seat of the car, which sent him into another snit.
"Ohmygod, you took all your stuff?" he shouted over the roof of the car as John fumbled with the door handle.
"I can't believe you took all your stuff!" he said again, once they were all inside the car. "You were leaving me!"
"Yeah, but it made me feel really crappy," John said, and Rodney glared at him a little more before he relented and said, "Well, good." He looked so put out that John couldn't help himself. He leaned over and kissed him.
Aimiee, who was squeezed into the back seat with the banker's box on her lap, giggled and said, "Oh my God, you guys are so cute."
Then Rodney sneezed and gave Aimiee an accusing look. "Are you wearing perfume?"
John thought it was going to be (even more) all downhill from there, but once they got on the road, Rodney and Aimiee bonded over allergies, trading anaphylactic horror stories. John felt slightly vindicated to see Rodney appreciating Aimiee's biting commentary on the idiocy of your average human. He leaned against the door and snuck looks over at Rodney, because he was waving his free hand around while he drove, his thumb bent in that Rodney way that always made John want to take off all his clothes.
When Aimiee got out of the car, she gave John a kiss on the cheek. Rodney looked over at what John knew was a big, doofy grin, and rolled his eyes.
"She thinks I'm cute," John told him as they drove away, just in case Rodney didn't know.
"Yes, I could tell. That's why you almost went home with her." Rodney sounded just as snappy as always, but the way the corner of his mouth was tilted down even more than usual said he was upset about it.
"I wasn't going to go home with her."
"Sure you weren't. She's gorgeous and she wanted to fuck you, but you were going to turn her down."
John settled back against the door and closed his eyes. "She doesn't make me feel melty."
"You are so drunk."
John waved Rodney's words away without opening his eyes. Just because he was drunk didn't mean it wasn't true.
Back home, Rodney refused to help him carry any of his stuff back into the house, even when the shopping bag ripped open and spilled underwear and movies all over the hallway.
When John finally stumbled through the door, arms overflowing, kicking the snowboarding game over the threshold, Rodney zeroed in on the copy of Blade Runner and snatched it away, giving John a look that could only be described as murderous before he marched over and put it back in the rack.
After John brushed his teeth, Rodney stood over him and made him drink glass after glass of water until John started feeling queasy. "Is this hangover prevention or water torture?" John groused, clutching his stomach. Rodney's smile was either highly evil, or John was becoming slightly paranoid. He probably would have foisted another glass on him, except he finally noticed John was turning green and gave up.
"If you decide you need to puke during the night, don't do it on me," Rodney warned as they got into bed, which John felt was a little uncharitable, given the water thing, and he said so. Rodney told him to shut up.
A few seconds later, Rodney sat back up and turned the light off, because they always forgot you couldn't do that kind of thing with your brain here on Earth, and at last it was dark and John could settle into his usual spot on Rodney's shoulder. He felt like he was drifting on a sea of alcohol-induced mellow and Rodney smell, and it was really nice, and he was glad they weren't fighting anymore.
Rodney had insisted all the way home that there had been no fight and John had misunderstood, but that didn't make any of it feel less real to John. He still thought they should have make-up sex, but he wasn't going to push his luck tonight. He'd give it a go in the morning, after Rodney had had some time to forget about the Blade Runner thing.
He wasn't sure Rodney believed him, but he really wouldn't have gone home with Aimiee. The prospect of sex with her wasn't nearly as appealing as being curled up under the blankets with Rodney, sleepy and warm--and dangerously full of water, but even that was tolerable.
Being home was familiar and nice, and it was incredibly comforting to be back. There was no panic and no pressure, just relief that he hadn't been dumped. And a determination to never, ever let Rodney break up with him again, even accidentally. Even over the love thing. If Rodney wanted to say it, then that was okay, because John hadn't even remembered to worry about it for the last hour or so. It was kind of like when this whole thing had started and he had expected to feel weird about it, but actually hadn't once they got going, and --
Maybe all the booze had finally shut down the fight or flight center in his brain long enough for logic to take the podium. Or maybe he was just really slow on the uptake.
"I do, you know," he said to Rodney's armpit.
Rodney was very quiet for a few seconds. Then he kissed John's hair and said, "I know," and John didn't even mind that there was totally an unspoken "you moron" on the end.
Then Rodney didn't say anything else, so John poked him. Then he still didn't say anything, so John poked him again, and finally Rodney said, "Yes, fine. Me, too."
John said, "See? That wasn't so hard." And then he hung on for dear life as Rodney tried to push him out of the bed.
Director's Cut B.S.
He even liked shopping with Rodney, even though Rodney always insisted on stopping at the pet store to look at the kittens, which made John feel like he was dating an eight-year-old girl.
I liked it, but decided it had to go, because the "girl" thing is too over-used at this point. Still, Rodney + kittens = dead from cute. *imagines*
Also, my mother is entirely to blame for this story, because she insists on completey defeating the purpose of having Sirius satellite radio (120 channels!) by *never* taking it off the classic country channel. And I got one line stuck in my head, and it was all over for poor John and Rodney.
Ain't no woman gonna change the way I think
I think I'll just stay here and drink.
That's Merle Haggard. I bet John likes him, too.