Rodney is standing at a banquet table eating a carrot stick, having heroically bypassed the brie en croute and the deviled egg, when Cadman and her newly minted husband come swooping into the ballroom. He takes a sip of his seltzer water, eyes the tiny cheeseburgers, and chooses a cherry tomato instead, skipping the dip with what feels like a physical pain.
He always skips the good stuff now, since the second heart attack. Eats the boring food, puts in forty-five plodding minutes on the treadmill every morning, and sees his cardiologist every three months like clockwork. It's paying off, even though it feels like a monk's life.
He'd been oddly pleased to get the invitation to Cadman's wedding, though a little confused as to why she'd invited him, of all people. He skipped the ceremony, of course, and timed his arrival at the reception to coincide with the food. A bunch of other Atlantis people—Radek, Lorne, Sam, even Chuck—have clustered around the bar, but free food trumps niceties in Rodney's world. They'll still be here long after the hors d'oeuvres are gone.
Chuck spots him and waves him over. Rodney acts like he doesn't understand and waves back instead--yes, hello, nice to see you--and goes back to the vegetable tray. The radishes are cut into dainty little flowers, but he doesn't bother with them. No matter how pretty they are, they'll still taste like spicy dirt.
He nearly chokes on a piece of broccoli when he hears John's familiar voice behind him, calling his name with what Rodney could swear is pleasant surprise. He turns around to find John standing practically on top of him, and is quickly swept up in an awkward manly hug, the kind where you shake hands and pummel each other on the back at the same time. It's so completely shocking Rodney can't even process it for a second. Even when he almost died (any of the many times--pick one), the most he ever got out of John was a concerned grimace and an awkward pat on the arm.
"Good to see you, buddy," John says, and he even sounds like he means it, and his hand is still on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney looks at it. John's hand gives him a squeeze before gliding down his arm, squeezing again at the wrist before it lets go. "Really good."
"Yes, well," Rodney says, and flicks his fingers in the direction of Mr. & Mrs. Cadman, as if that explains everything. It gives him a second to get his mental feet back under him after the shock of having John turn up like the proverbial ghost. How did Cadman even find him?
"You look…great," John says, his eyes wandering all over before settling on Rodney's face, and he reaches up and squeezes Rodney's shoulder again. He's gotten a lot more touchy-feely. "Really great."
"Thinner, you mean," Rodney says testily, because he gets that a lot from people he hasn't seen in a long time. Why does everyone expect him to be fat now? "Heart attack," he adds, by way of explanation, and then when John's eyes widen in horror, "Just a little one. Well, the first one was little. The second one—"
"Jesus Christ, Rodney," John says, and he looks genuinely upset.
Rodney shrugs. "Well, my life is very stressful."
They stare at each other for a second, neither saying what they are thinking: life isn't nearly as stressful now as it had been, before they were forced to abandon Atlantis. Life isn't nearly as good, either, at least for Rodney.
"I live here now," Rodney says, because thinking about Atlantis hurts. "In D.C."
John brightens. "Yeah? Me, too. Well, I'm looking for a place." He points at his suit. "I retired."
"Ah, finally joined the club," Rodney says. "Cushy Pentagon consulting job?"
John looks really good, too, Rodney thinks, as John nods and laughs. Putting on a suit makes Rodney feel like he's wearing a box, but John looks great in them. He's wearing his usual black suit, perfectly tailored to fit him, with an expensive tie loosened just enough.
He hasn't changed much. Maybe a little more gray in his hair and his five o'clock shadow, maybe a few more lines on his face, but he looks tanned and oddly relaxed.
Before they can say more, a frighteningly handsome blond man in his own expensive suit--blue, this time--comes up behind John, carrying a drink in each hand. John turns, sensing him before he sees him, and takes the glass that's offered. "Thanks."
"Sure," the guy says, and then rests his free hand on the small of John's back and takes a sip of his own drink. John actually looks slightly embarrassed, but then turns strangely defiant when he looks at Rodney and says, "This is Rodney McKay. Rodney, this is Dirk."
"Oh! Rodney!" Dirk says, and stops feeling John up long enough to enthusiastically shake Rodney's hand and give him an appraising look, top to bottom. "John talks about you all the time."
"Oh, does he?" Rodney asks, feeling suddenly bitchy. "Because he hasn't talked to me in years."
"Hey," John says, but Dirk is already backing smoothly away. "I'll leave you two to catch up," Dirk says, and his eyes catch John's for a second before he disappears into the growing throng of guests.
Rodney watches Dirk's retreating back, feeling like he's somehow entered the Twilight Zone: John has a boyfriend. And he brought him to Cadman's wedding.
"What was that about?" John hisses, leaning in, turning so no one else can see his face.
"I have no idea what you mean," Rodney says, and picks up a little quiche. It's bacon and cheddar cheese, two things he loves, two things he's given up, except for emergencies. It's the most delicious thing he's had in months.
"Fine," John says. "Whatever." And he walks away as Rodney reaches for a Reuben sandwich the size of a quarter.
They're all seated at the same table—of course they are—and it's a good thing Rodney's already decimated the hors d'oeuvres selection, because he has precious little enthusiasm for the actual meal. He'd checked the box for the chicken when he RSVP'd, but now he wishes he'd said fuck it and ordered the prime rib.
The Atlantis people seem delighted to be together again, laughing and teasing and passing around pictures of spouses and kids and--in Chuck's case—a pot-bellied pig. No one seems surprised by the revelation that John dates guys. Maybe they already knew. Maybe they thought Rodney already knew. Maybe they're just better than Rodney at faking nonchalance.
"It's nice to finally have a chance to catch up," Sam says, though “catching up” seems like a far too innocuous term for it, in Rodney’s estimation. They’re like a pack of velociraptors, ganging up on each person in turn, singling one poor soul out for several minutes of tortured questioning about their private life before moving on to the next victim.
John and Dirk are clearly the star attraction at the table, and their interrogation lasts the longest of all. Dirk answers most of the questions, while John pushes his food across his plate and looks like he doesn't give a shit, which means he's dying of discomfort.
Rodney feigns his own indifference while the others fling questions, but in reality he's taking in every tidbit about the last four years of John's life: John was living in Pensacola (asked by Chuck), which is where he met Dirk (asked by Sam), though Dirk actually lives in Boston (this is volunteered). Dirk is just visiting for the weekend (Radek), and waiting for John to ask him to move to D.C. (unsaid; Rodney figures this out on his own).
It turns out Dirk is a former model, and his last name is—Rodney nearly chokes on his green beans—Dimple.
How John can look at himself in the mirror every morning, Rodney will never know.
Dirk is twenty years younger than John, listens to opera, has no interest in sports, only likes movies with subtitles, and doesn't watch television.
He doesn't watch television.
Rodney briefly wonders what the hell Dirk and John talk about, before he stupidly realizes they probably spend a lot of their time doing things that don't involve talking, unless John's been nursing a hidden love for all things boring. It goes without saying that Dirk, who is twenty-five years and one cravat away from being Mr. Howell, has no interest in comic books or video games or radio-controlled car races. Leave it to John to do the rent boy thing so spectacularly backwards.
Still, they've been together almost a year (Sam again), and John wouldn't bring someone to something like this unless he were serious about him, would he? He’s so fiercely private about his personal life that it took him a year to tell Rodney he had a brother, and another year to tell him his brother's name. And the only other people he ever seemed to confide in live in another galaxy, which is either really convenient or really brilliant, depending on how self-aware you think John Sheppard is.
When focus turns to the topic of John buying a house in D.C., John changes the subject through a teeth-baring smile, and Dirk studies the ice cubes in his glass. Rodney hacks at his stupid chicken with a butter knife and snarls at the waiter to bring him something sharper, maybe a hatchet.
Thank God for Radek, who happens to love opera, and is thrilled to have someone to talk to about it who won’t be bored into a coma in five minutes. He and Dirk dive into incomprehensible conversation while the rest of the table moves on to poor Chuck and why he isn’t married yet. (Rodney suspects it's because of the pig that lives in his house.)
Rodney is the last to be interrogated, and he responds with short, terse answers about his private life, and a long, detailed monologue about his professional accomplishments (duh). John doesn’t ask him any questions, but he watches Rodney the whole time, and at one point leans over and says something to Dirk, who smiles at Rodney. Rodney wants to claw his face off.
Eventually the dinner plates are whisked away and the Cadmans begin plodding through their first dance. At the table, the conversation moves into the “hilarious anecdotes” stage, each one carefully edited to avoid the classified parts, for Dirk's sake.
Dirk rests his arm across the back of John's chair and ignores his slice of wedding cake (he doesn’t eat cake either??). His teeth are white and even, and his hair is thick and perfectly tousled. Even his voice is attractive, even his pinky fingers. He's like a Greek god. A really, really boring Greek god.
His stomach is probably flat, his ass is probably hard as a rock, and his dick is probably the size of a baseball bat. Rodney hates him with an intensity usually reserved for nanites, and people who believe the Grand Canyon is only 4,000 years old.
John is smirking at Rodney from across the table, and when he glares back, angry and miserable, John raises his glass and his eyebrow, and Rodney remembers when they used to do this, and it meant they were silently mocking someone.
It's not very funny now, when it feels like John is mocking him.
The next day, Rodney does sixty minutes on the treadmill, feeling guilty about the way he went completely off the rails at the hors d'oeuvres table. Breakfast is dry wheat toast, a banana, and black coffee (decaf, and he still can’t believe he drinks it voluntarily). No fat, no salt, no flavor. Technically, Rodney is allowed to eat fat and salt in moderation, but it’s turned out that moderation is not his strong suit, and when he falls off the wagon, he falls hard (witness the numerous quiche). Avoiding temptation completely is the only way to make it work. His cholesterol is really good.
He's not sure where the morning goes, but he hasn't even turned on his computer or finished his morning pot of coffee before it's time for lunch, which is turkey on the same wheat bread. Mustard is a poor substitute for mayonnaise, and carrot sticks an even poorer substitute for potato chips. He'd give his left arm for a Pringle, or a beer to wash down the handful of pills he carefully picks out of the giant organizer on the kitchen counter.
This is the worst part of falling off the wagon: the difficult days after when he wants to stay off the wagon, because the cravings it awakens are no joke. He has to re-adjust all over again, and everything tastes even more depressing than usual. He'll probably dream about brie for weeks.
The afternoon is spent wandering restlessly around his apartment and staring blankly at a magazine he suspects he's already read. He's not really sure where most of that time goes, either. His mind keeps circling back to John, and to Dirk. He doesn't want to think about them, but he can't decide what else to think about, so he keeps trying to not think about them all day, and never does anything else.
That night, he makes himself yet another healthy meal he's barely interested in, but at least this time he gets dessert: a fat-free pudding cup.
He eats his dinner on the couch in front of a TV re-run. He has four different video game consoles, none of which he's touched in months, and a pile of DVDs he's never watched. He's in between jobs right now, listlessly poking away at a journal article he may or may not finish, and not doing much of anything else except trying to stay alive, one piece of steamed broccoli at a time.
But he sometimes wonders, how long does he want to live like this?
The day after that, Rodney's cell phone rings, and he looks at it and swears: J SHEPPARD. He taps the screen and says, "How the hell did you get my number?"
"Radek gave it to me. Wanna get a beer?"
"Great. You know where the Cedar Door is?"
"Okay, see you there in about an hour."
"I'm busy," Rodney says, but John's already hung up, and he isn't really busy at all anymore, not like he used to be when he saved the universe six times a month, so an hour later he throws himself into a booth at the back of the bar and glares at John and says, "You're buying."
John's smile almost shorts out Rodney's pacemaker.
It's achingly familiar, having a drink with John and talking about stupid stuff, though in the past it had been on a seemingly endless pier in an alien city, and the drinks had been whatever they could scrounge up. John still has terrible taste in beer, but Rodney doesn't have a leg to stand on anymore, he realizes, as he decides to splurge and get a light beer instead of his usual seltzer. John is really bad for Rodney's diet.
This new version of John is also annoyingly chatty, and for some reason wants to know all about Rodney's heart problems, so Rodney doesn't spare any details: the bypasses, the stents, the pig arteries, the numerous medications. He manages to stop short of showing off his scars, though he knows John would probably think they're pretty cool.
"I knew you had high blood pressure, but…wow," John says. His eyes are round as saucers.
"The genetic lottery is a bitch," Rodney says, and takes a drink from the beer he refuses to feel guilty about. "My mother's side is littered with heart attacks. And also double-jointed toes, but I didn't get those."
"Huh," John says. Rodney isn't sure if that's in response to the heart problems or the toes. He's not eager to continue discussing either, so he changes the subject.
John brings up Teyla and Torren and Ronon first, which is more than a little surprising. The John he used to know would rather be set on fire than talk about something that has to be as bittersweet and painful for him as it is for Rodney. What happened to the manly code of silence?
He starts telling Rodney about the time he and Ronon and Teyla had to pretend to be psychically linked when they were off-world on a free day (because Sheppard's team always ran into trouble, even when they were basically shopping). Rodney's heard the story a dozen times, but John takes such obvious joy in telling it that he lets him go, mind drifting. He knows all the places where he's supposed to laugh.
Rodney tries not to think about the three of them too often, still out there somewhere in Pegasus, but he has a handful of photos, the existence of which is highly illegal and totally against SGC regulations, of Ronon and Teyla. He keeps them in a box on the floor of his closet. Also in the box is a flash drive that contains a 30-second clip, highly encrypted, of Torren taking some of his first steps, grinning like a loon as he flails headlong into Teyla's waiting arms, to thunderous applause from all three onlookers.
He doesn't tell John about the box. His own code of silence.
When things start getting too maudlin, John switches gears to the road trip he took over the summer, and tells Rodney all about his visits to the Corn Palace and the Grand Canyon and the Alamo. John declares these places to be cool, awesome, and totally cool, respectively.
Rodney notices all the singular pronouns and can't help but ask, "Dirk didn't go?"
"Uh, no," John says, peering at the circle of condensation next to his beer glass. "He's not really into that kind of stuff."
Dirk, Rodney thinks, is completely out of his fucking mind to set someone who looks like John loose with a convertible and a credit card for two entire months. Rodney would have gone to every vegetable shrine and geographical anomaly in the entire country if John wanted him to. He's not above ironically loving a tourist trap.
John must sense Rodney's disapproval, because he adds, "He was going to Wimbledon anyway, so it worked out."
"He likes tennis?" A sport they'd spent no small amount of time mocking over the years? The little white shorts? The headbands? The way the spectators' heads bob from side to side? Rodney is appalled.
Before he can get any good sarcasm in, John retaliates by asking about Jennifer. This isn't a conversation anymore, Rodney realizes; it's a boxing match.
He gives him the update anyway, just to prove he's not flinching: lives in Wisconsin, married, two kids. John totally stumps him by asking if the kids are boys or girls. "One of each," Rodney randomly decides, and John laughs at him for so blatantly making shit up.
Rodney can't resist pointing out the obvious: "Of course, you would know all this if you'd just responded to any of my numerous emails." The address had stopped working completely after a year, bouncing Rodney's increasingly snide and lonely emails right back to him. He'd continued to send them for months, out of spite.
"Well, things were weird," John says, eyes fixed on the neon Heineken sign in the window.
That is the stupidest, vaguest excuse for being a shitty friend Rodney's ever heard, and he's not going to accept it. "You disappeared," he says. Four years of radio silence, like he'd never come back through the gate with them at all.
"I just thought...you know." John ducks his head and chews on his lip. "Clean break."
That actually hurts, because Rodney hadn't thought there had to be a break at all, much less a clean one. He was dumped, he realizes. Like a spring break romance--once they weren't stuck in the same place anymore, John didn't want to have anything to do with him. They were...they were situational friends.
And now here John is, and he wants to pick up like nothing ever happened, like he didn't discard Rodney--discard all of them, really--like an old newspaper. And Rodney will probably let him get away with it.
"Probably" turns into "absolutely" when John looks up at him through his eyelashes and says, "Hey, Rodney, you know what's really cool about the Grand Canyon?"
And because Rodney's a sucker, he says, "What?" and John says, "It's only 4,000 years old."
John somehow invites himself over for dinner the next night, and Rodney almost feels bad for him. No one in their right mind would want to come to Rodney's place for dinner. The food sucks.
John continues his assault on Rodney's carefully calibrated food regimen by bringing a bottle of wine. He wanders around the place for a few minutes while Rodney’s in the kitchen, checking out the DVD collection, exclaiming excitedly over the video games. He wants to play for a while after dinner--any game, he doesn't care--but Rodney's not feeling enthused. He pictures them slouched on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, and it seems like it will be weird now, now that he knows about…well, everything.
Then he tells himself he's being stupid. He spent several years very carefully not thinking about John as a possible romantic target, and he can certainly continue to do that now. It was probably best he didn't know back then, anyway. Too distracting.
Not that John, sitting with an arm across the back of the couch, shirt open at the throat, isn't incredibly distracting now. Rodney makes himself look away. John is...well, he isn't a married man, but he's taken. Off limits. And there's a crappy dinner to cook.
They talk about stupid stuff while Rodney cooks and John hovers around and mainly gets in the way. When it's all done they've got an unimpressive feast of baked chicken, brown rice and steamed vegetables; there's nothing else in Rodney's fridge. He hopes John likes fat-free pudding.
"I warned you," Rodney says, as he picks disinterestedly at his own plate. When he was in college, he dated a very cute girl who, despite being otherwise extremely intelligent, was a vegan. He remembers how dull eating together was, and how he'd stop on the way home and get a cheesesteak, or a hot fudge sundae. It had been doomed from the start. The difference now is that Rodney can't eat the good stuff later. This is all he gets.
"Actually, I'm living in a hotel right now, so sometimes I just eat out of the vending machines," John says. "This is okay." Not a ringing endorsement, but Rodney isn't going to worry about it. This was John's idea in the first place, he reminds himself, as he wistfully pictures a dinner of Doritos and peanut butter cups.
It turns out John works with Cadman’s newly acquired husband, who is the son of the general who got John the consulting job, small world blah blah blah. Rodney doesn’t ask if John would have bothered to get in touch if it weren’t for that little coincidence. He’s aggravated enough already.
John talks about some houses he's looked at, and about how a lot of people have horrible taste when it comes to decorating a home. There's a townhouse not far from Rodney's apartment that's not too hideous. "It has a big back yard," John says. "I could get a dog. Maybe Dirk…" He trails off and eats a forkful of carrots.
Dirk, Rodney thinks meanly, probably doesn't like dogs either. He probably hates all animals, even kittens. He's not planning to ask, but somehow he says the words anyway: "Are you going to ask him to move to D.C.?"
"I think...probably," John says, and it sounds like he just made up his mind this minute. Then he frowns and says, "Or...I dunno."
It would be a huge mistake, Rodney thinks. Dirk is gorgeous, and they look fantastic together, and the sex is probably mind-blowing, but they have almost nothing in common. Still, he supposes, other people have made relationships work on less. Opposites attract, right?
And it's none of his business. John has made sure nothing in his life was Rodney's business for the last four years, so Rodney's not going to start handing out unsolicited advice now.
"I'm sure he can find plenty of boring things to do in D.C," Rodney says. "Dusty old antiques and opera fan clubs or whatever." It's the closest he can get to endorsing the idea.
John tilts his head and studies Rodney across the table. "Why do you hate him?"
"You know I'm allergic to stupidity."
"He's not stupid," John says mildly.
"Please," Rodney says. "He's never seen even one of the Batman movies. Not even the good ones."
"I'm not sure that's a sign of stupidity," John says, still not the least bit aggravated. He looks more like he's about to laugh. "Hey, have you seen Torchwood? Captain Jack?" He wiggles his eyebrows.
Rodney can’t help but roll his eyes. So predictable. "I suppose he's your new idol."
"Oh, I don't want to be him, " John says meaningfully, and Rodney honestly can't believe they're having this conversation. Seventy-two hours ago he thought John was straight as a ruler.
John misinterprets Rodney's disbelief. "What? He's totally my type," he insists.
"Not really,” Rodney says sullenly. “He's actually interesting." And that's what finally uses up the last of John's good humor.
He sets his fork down none-too-gently and leans back in his chair. "What the hell is your problem?" he asks, and Rodney should be ashamed at how much he enjoys the fact that he's finally gotten a reaction other than doofy smiles and good cheer. He'd always been good at pushing John's buttons before, even when he didn't really mean to, and he'd been afraid he'd lost his touch.
"This chicken tastes like shoe leather," Rodney says, stabbing a piece with his fork.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it."
"I know what you meant, and it is my problem." Rodney pushes his plate away. "My problem is I can't have anything I want. I can't have Cheetos or barbecued ribs or chocolate pie or ice cream or pizza. I go through life every day and all I see is everything I can't have. I hate it and it makes me crabby, so I'm really sorry if my misery is an inconvenience for you."
His tantrum doesn't put John off at all, or evoke the slightest bit of pity. "And it's keeping you alive, so you know what? Suck it up and stop whining about it. It's called life, Rodney."
And it's probably because John is right, and Rodney knows he's being a whiner, that he gets so defensive. Is it too much to ask for a little goddamn sympathy? “Oh, that's right," he says, slapping his forehead. "How stupid of me to think the guy who eats candy for dinner would know what deprivation is like."
"I know exactly what it's like," John says, and Rodney's about to protest, because John's always been able to eat whatever he wanted with no ill effects, but something about the way he says it, the way he’s weirdly calm and matter-of-fact, makes him reconsider. And Rodney suddenly gets it.
Dirk is a Big Mac. He's a chocolate shake, a glazed donut, a pizza with extra cheese. After years of going without, of living on a subsistence diet of what was good for him--of what he was allowed--John is indulging. Rodney, who ate his weight in bacon and cheddar quiche a couple days ago, can hardly hold it against him.
"I guess you do," Rodney says, grudgingly, and then almost laughs out loud at the comical shock on John's face. It's not often Rodney admits John has a point.
And even though it makes Rodney insanely jealous--there, he admitted it--he wants John to have Dirk, after all these long years of not letting himself have much of anything. Maybe John and Dirk don't have much in common, maybe if they live in the same house for five minutes they won't be able to stand each other, but John deserves a chance to try. He deserves a chance to have something for himself, for once.
He wants John to have something, anything, that makes him happy. And if Dirk the opera-loving supermodel makes John happy, then so be it.
Maybe it's payback that makes Rodney ask the next question, but it might also be pathetic desperation, "Why didn't you tell me?"
John doesn't try to play dumb; he knows exactly what Rodney is talking about. He looks down at his plate and shrugs a shoulder. "I couldn't tell anyone."
"I'm not anyone," Rodney says, stung.
"No," John says, carefully straightening his fork so it lines up with his knife. "I guess you aren't."
"You guess? We were friends! We spent all our spare time together. We bled on each other. We were in each other's dreams!" You talked a man into killing himself for me, he wants to say, but even he knows better. "You didn't trust me?"
"Trust wasn't the issue," John says, finally looking at him, but before Rodney can find out what the hell that means, John asks, "What difference would it have made?"
It's not sarcastic--he sounds genuinely curious.
"Not one damn bit," Rodney says, with enough of an edge to make John's eyebrows do that confused furrow thing. He's being an asshole, and he realizes it. Last week he didn't give a shit what John was doing, or who he was dating, and he spent all those years in Atlantis very carefully not being interested in John that way, so why can't he let it go now?
Because back then he didn’t know it was possible. Because now, for the rest of his life, he'll always know it was possible. Except that John didn't want it.
They stare at each other. The apartment is utterly silent, except for the soft hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. It's ridiculous, like an overly-dramatic scene in a bad movie. Rodney feels deflated and tired, and he doesn't want to talk about this anymore.
"It doesn't matter now. Just--" he waves a hand "--go be happy with Dirk. Buy a nice house, get a dog, adopt a baby, whatever." John's looking slightly terrified by the mere mention of that much domesticity. Rodney adds, "Just promise me you'll make him watch a Batman movie now and then. Maybe the Nolan ones."
His bad attempt at levity works, or at least John is willing to pretend it does, because he laughs and says, "Nah, that's what I have you for."
He's joking, but it's the truth--the absolute, gut-punch truth--and the false front Rodney had worked up is demolished in an instant. Is this his future? John and Dirk living happily ever after a couple blocks away, and Rodney the superhero movie buddy eating steamed vegetables by himself? Just him and that stupid box on the floor of his closet, a sick old man clinging to the past?
He can't do it. There's no way he can take it. He'll move. He'll change his name. He'll build his own fucking stargate if he has to, if that's what it takes to get away from this miserable stupid existence that's his life now.
This is worse, Rodney thinks, than not seeing John at all. He suddenly wishes he'd never gone to Cadman's wedding. He would have been happier never seeing John again for the rest of his life.
A clean break. John was right, after all.
"Don’t forget I control the remote," he says weakly, after the silence has dragged on too long. He stands up and his chair scrapes on the floor and nearly tips over backwards.
He grabs his plate and turns for the kitchen, but there's no escaping the fact that John knows something's off. He's leaning back in his chair, studying Rodney in that squinty way that always means he’s working through a problem in his head, turning it around like a Rubik’s cube until all the parts line up.
And the parts line up frighteningly fast. Rodney sees it on his face, and wants to die of humiliation. John says, "Rodney?" in a weirdly knowing voice, but Rodney stomps into the kitchen and angrily scrapes his plate into the garbage disposal. He'd done an excellent job of hiding his feelings for all those years, he thinks bitterly. He'd only needed to keep it up for a few hours more in order to avoid total humiliation.
When he turns around, John's standing next to the table, napkin clutched in one hand. "Rodney, I want to know. If I'd told you? What would you have said?"
"It doesn't matter," Rodney says.
"It matters," John says through gritted teeth, and throws his napkin on the floor.
"Hey!" Rodney says, oddly outraged over the napkin--John's throwing things in his house!--but he doesn't have time to get too bent out of shape, because John's coming at him so fast and so quietly; Rodney had forgotten that about him. He grabs Rodney by the arms, fingers digging into his biceps. His mouth is right there and Rodney's knees nearly buckle. Oh, fuck, not another one, he thinks, but his heart keeps beating somehow, though he's still not sure he'll survive this.
He can feel John's breath, warm against his face, that's how close he is, and John says in a rough voice, "All you have to do is say it, Rodney."
It doesn't hardly seem possible that John means--but, clean break, and Rodney knows what that's like; it's a hell of a lot easier to never have Big Macs at all than it is to eat them in moderation, and holy shit Rodney's the goddamn Big Mac.
He has been for years, and he didn't have a clue.
He talks about you all the time, Dirk had said. Rodney had been too insulted by what he thought was empty flattery to contemplate what it would mean if it were true. It doesn't seem possible--it's completely unbelievable, really--but he can have it, if he wants it. He can tell John the truth, and it will change everything.
It will change everything. For him, for John, and for Dirk. The feeling of elation, the relief, leaves him in a cold rush.
It would be a horribly selfish thing to shake up everyone's lives like that. And John doesn't deserve to get stuck with Rodney, who lives on boring food and can't let himself get too stressed out or excited. He deserves to be with a hot young thing like Dirk, who can fuck him blind every night and four times on Sundays, and eat ice cream with him afterward. Dirk, who clearly cares about John, and is hoping he'll be asked to move to D.C.
He pictures John at Cadman's wedding, relaxed and open. He's happy. Years of famine, finally over. Is it fair to ask him to give that up just because Rodney never got the chance to fuck him?
Rodney closes his eyes, because he can't bear to look at John when he does this, and takes a step back. John lets him go.
When he opens his eyes, John is in the living room, his back to Rodney, hands on his hips. He stands that way for a long, terrible time, until Rodney thinks he can't take another second of it. When John finally moves, he doesn't say anything or even look up. Just quietly puts on his jacket and walks out the door.
Rodney can't help it: he goes to the window. John appears on the stoop below and stands on the steps for a moment, shoulders slumped. Rodney watches, transfixed, as John goes down one step, then another, before he turns and looks back at the door. He doesn't look happy at all, now.
Rodney feels like his heart really is breaking this time. It's a fragile, disfigured thing, held together with man-made parts, and it's betrayed him, hobbled him, made him give up so many things he loves, but that's nothing compared to the misery it's causing him now. As John turns and walks down the sidewalk, Rodney has never wanted to be more selfish in his entire life.
He'll never see John again, not after this. Rodney knows him well enough to see that coming a mile away. Ten minutes ago, that would have been a relief. Confronted with the reality of it, it’s nearly unbearable.
Everything, past and present and future, hangs in the balance, and this is more terrifying than any life or death situation he's faced with John at his side.
John hasn't been at his side, Rodney realizes, and that's what's been so wrong with his life for the last four years. That's what he's been missing.
Now that he knows that, how will he ever be able to forget it? How will he ever be able to open his eyes every morning and face another day knowing exactly what he wants is exactly what he can't have?
On the heels of this is the sudden realization that John probably felt like this for years, long before they came back to Earth. How did he live like this? How did he live like this and never say a word? John’s an idiot. A stupid, stubborn idiot. If he had only said—
Rodney McKay is not an idiot.
He races into the kitchen and then back to the window, fumbling with his cell phone, hitting the wrong buttons and then the right ones. On the sidewalk, John reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, stopping in his tracks when he checks the display. He bring it up to his ear, and Rodney hears the street sounds coming over the connection, but John doesn't say anything, just turns and looks up at the window.
The glass is cold under Rodney's hand. He leans his forehead against the window and stares down at John, motionless in the dark, face tipped up, waiting.
John is the one thing Rodney can't give up, heart be damned.
Rodney takes a breath, and feels his ugly heart beat a steady rhythm. His voice barely works, but he still manages to get the words out: "I'm saying it."