“Look,” Rodney said. “I don’t think you understand how important this is. Fourth is the only period during the day when the Chemistry labs aren’t teeming with idiots who don’t know what to do with a pair of tongs, let alone how to calculate the titration curve of an acid-base solution. I can’t just let that kind of opportunity pass me by!”
“That’s very moving,” Coach Sumner allowed. “However, you are required to attend this class in order to pass it, and you are required to pass this class in order to graduate. And, considering your attendance record so far this semester, I’m afraid neither of those things seem to be an option at the moment.”
Rodney grimaced, staring down at his shoes in dismay.
“Isn’t there – isn’t there something you can do? Because, really, this is very important, I could be up for a Nobel in a few years, and my research–”
“Well,” Sumner interrupted. He tapped his chin pensively, and Rodney could swear he saw the ghost of a truly evil, truly nerve wracking smirk. He figured out why when Sumner said, “There is one thing…”
“This is ridiculous,” Rodney huffed.
His back ached already from lugging various pieces of equipment out of the track shed on the field – who knew you needed so much stuff for a sport that consisted solely of people running – and the back of his pants were wet where he’d landed on his ass slipping on a patch of wet grass near the bleachers. At eight o’clock in the morning on a Saturday. Not even a blissfully empty Chemistry lab was worth this. Hell, not even a blissfully empty Chemistry lab stockpiled with dangerous substances and all the premium Hawaiian coffee in the world was worth this.
“Hey.” Someone tapped him on the shoulder, startling him into dropping the hurdles in his hands on his foot. He turned around, ready to -
“Um, hi,” he mumbled, staring.
The boy standing in front of him smiled and ducked his head bashfully, toe scuffing at the dewy turf. “Hey,” he said again, “sorry to bother you, but you seemed like you knew where you were going. Can you tell me how to get to the gym entrance?”
“Oh, uh.” Rodney fumbled with the hurdles, pushing them off his feet awkwardly and pointing towards the far building. “If you follow the path around the corner there, the door should still be open. Big and, um, black. Can’t miss it.” The boy nodded, and Rodney was struck with the not-unfamiliar urge to keep talking. He tried to bite the inside of his cheek, because he did not want to look like a loser in front of this kid he’d never met before who didn’t seem to hate him on sight, but his mouth, like always, had other plans. “So, are you new? Only, I’ve never seen you around and most people who come to school on Saturday mornings already know where the gym door is. Isn’t it an atrocious hour? I’m not entirely sure why I’m here, except that I’m going to fail PE if I’m not because Coach Sumner is really sadistic, have you met him yet? He hates me, I think. I could be doing valuable things with my time like advancing the world of physics, but no, I have to put up hurdles.”
Oh my god, Rodney thought desperately, shut up.
The boy only blinked, looking completely unruffled, and held out his hand for Rodney to shake. “I’m John Sheppard,” he said. “Just moved here from Colorado.”
“Just Rodney?” John asked.
“No, uh, McKay. Rodney McKay.” They shook hands for another moment, until Rodney realized that he was supposed to let go. “Oh, right. Sorry. You should probably get to practice, you’re almost late and Coach Sumner is pretty strict about that sort of thing.”
John nodded and stepped back, grinning as he threw a lazy three-fingered salute Rodney’s way. “See you around, McKay.”
Rodney watched him disappear behind the brick building, a little flustered and bemused, then went about gathering the remaining hurdles up and laying them out on the track.
The thing of it was, Rodney saw who John was chumming it up with during practice – all the most popular guys, the prettiest girls. He figured that once John had time to realize who exactly Rodney was in terms of social status, he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with Rodney ever again. Most kids in the popular clique stuck together, and to be seen with a geek like Rodney was almost tantamount to social suicide.
Which was why he was so surprised when John found him in the cafeteria on Monday, sliding into the booth across from him with a tray in each hand and a rucksack thrown over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” Rodney hissed.
John arched an eyebrow and looked down at his tray pointedly. “Eating?” When Rodney made a spitting, furious sound like a cat, John continued, “What? The rest of the place is filled up. You can stand me for half an hour.”
“It’s not – it’s not that,” Rodney said, because John had to know, “but what if your friends see?”
John looked genuinely curious when he asked, “What friends?” his nails digging into the skin of a banana and prying it open. He bit a hunk out of the top and set it back down on his tray, already going for his plastic container of pasta and meatballs.
Momentarily diverted, Rodney said, “How can you possibly eat that much? I can’t even eat that much.”
“I burn a lot of energy,” John answered, or at least that was what Rodney thought he had answered, because John’s mouth was full of food and it came out more like, “Ah urh nala aff nlergy,” and, really, it was all very unflattering.
“Maybe you should swallow,” Rodney advised dubiously.
The rest of the period went on in very much the same vein, except sometimes John paused in his mad quest to fill his bottomless pit of a stomach in order to comment on the weather or the school’s paint job or Rodney’s math homework – which was wrong, by the way, you forgot the exponent.
By the time John was done with his food and piling up the garbage onto one tray to throw out, Rodney felt as if his world view might have been irrevocably shattered. Boys with clear skin and a nice smile were almost never smart or dorky enough that they could easily banter back and forth about mathematical principles. And the small percentage that were wouldn’t have even given Rodney a second glance.
“Come on,” John said, grabbing Rodney by the elbow and hauling him to his feet, “bell’s gonna ring.”
The weirdness factor increased by ten when John sat next to him in their shared AP Chemistry course and got a nine out of ten on the pop quiz. Rodney, of course, scored a perfect ten; but then again, he thought charitably, not everyone could have his incredible brains.
While they were packing up their things after the passing time bell rang, John bumped his shoulder against Rodney’s and asked, “Are you making an appearance at practice today?”
“I, yeah,” Rodney said. He swallowed and shifted his backpack on his shoulders clumsily. “I’ll be there.”
“Cool, see you there.” John smiled and patted Rodney on the arm, easy, like they were already best buddies. Rodney found himself helplessly smiling back. “Oh, and hey, do you have a sweatshirt in your locker or something that I could borrow? It’s supposed to be pretty chilly out later.”
And so when the end ninth period rolled around and all the other students were heading home or to the gym, Rodney found himself pulling his orange fleece off in the middle of the hallway and handing it to John, who just gave him that big grin again and stuffed his messy head through the top. The sleeves were a little long on him, so his fingers only peeked out past the hem, and, well, no two ways about it – John was wiry and thin and the fleece made him look even scrawnier than he actually was, but Rodney couldn’t squash the strange flutter in his chest.
“Just don’t get it dirty,” Rodney said belatedly. “It’s my favorite.”
John tilted his head, eyeing Rodney with a curious mix of amusement and exasperation. “I’ll be careful, Rodney.”
“Good…good. See that you are,” Rodney mumbled.
John ran sprints normally – the 200m or 400m most of the time, judging from Saturday morning’s performance. He was fast and spry and he could put on the speed better than anyone else on the team as long as he got to collapse on his back in the grass afterwards. The first few times Coach Sumner put him on middle distance during Monday’s practice, almost double what he usually ran, he forgot to limit himself and ran near to full out the entire way so that by the end he was a wheezing, sweating mess leaning on the bleachers in front of Rodney to get his breath back.
Rodney was tempted to call him an idiot and fuss, but John didn’t look like he could string two words together, let alone pay attention to Rodney’s concerned insults. Instead, he left John to his leaning and popped back inside to grab a water bottle out of the vending machine; the open look of gratitude John gave him was well worth the outrageous dollar fifty.
“What was my time?” John asked finally.
“1:53.40,” Rodney recited dutifully, glancing down at the stop watch. “That’s good, isn’t it?”
All of the people who’d clamored around John to make sure he was okay took a collective step backwards.
“Say the time again, McKay,” Coach Sumner demanded in an odd, tremulous voice. Rodney did. “That’s only ten seconds higher than the junior world record!” He looked like maybe he would’ve burst out into giddy laughter if he had even one small fraction less control.
“Oh my god, Shep!” one of the blonde girls squealed.
A tall guy (wearing smaller shorts than Rodney had ever seen a man wear in public) slugged John on the shoulder. “Would you look at that, I guess we’re going to get somewhere in competition this year!”
Coach Sumner broke in, markedly more composed than he had been a few moments ago, but still practically glowing, “We might very well get to district championships.”
At that, a roar of approval went up, and Rodney lost John in the crowd of ecstatic, gleefully jumping teammates; they didn’t see each other again until John snuck up behind Rodney while he was putting the hurdles away in the shed and whispered, “Shhh, I’m not here.”
“Jesus Chr - mriph!” Rodney yelped around John’s hand.
“Shh!” John said again, more urgently. “They might hear you!”
“Who might – hhrmf –”
Outside, there was the approaching sound of distinctly female giggling. Rodney’s eyes went wide and accusing over John’s hand.
“Do you think he’ll say yes if I ask him?” one voice inquired anxiously.
“You asked Brent out last year and you weren’t even nervous, and he’s, like, the most popular boy in the senior class,” another answered incredulously. “How is this any different?”
“I don’t know, Barb, he’s just – he’s…” A long pause. “He’s all mysterious – shut up! Stop laughing! You know it’s true – and you saw him run. Plus, like, he’s been hanging around with that weird kid. Who turns down Taylor to go sit with a geek during lunch?”
“John Sheppard, apparently.”
“Exactly. I don’t know, I’m just sort of curious, I guess. It was easy with Brent, I knew what he’d say, you know?”
The voices drifted off, the muffled, crackling sound of sneakers on gravel fading, and, very slowly, John’s hand dropped away.
They were both silent for a moment. Then, Rodney barked, “Were you hiding from her? Are you insane? You’re insane, that’s the only explanation for why you were hiding from Crystal Higgins – who, by the way, wanted to ask you out.”
“Shut up, Rodney,” John said.
Rodney ignored him, flailing an arm in the general direction of the shed’s door. “I mean, I guess you can’t be smart and pretty all the time, but that’s just – that’s way past dumb, on into mentally challenged. What were you thinking? She’s one of the most popular girls in school for a reason, you know.” Rodney frowned and straightened up, tipping his chin back expectantly. “Well? Aren’t you going to go after her now that I’ve shown you the error of your ways?”
John was barely visible in the dim light, but it didn’t take seeing it to know that his face was twisting with exasperation. “No, Rodney, I’m not.”
“Why not?” Rodney asked, honestly baffled. “Are you – do you have a girlfriend or something?” He hadn’t thought of that before, but now he wondered why it had taken him so long. Of course John had a girlfriend – either back in Colorado, or some older, sly thing he’d met in town.
“No, Rodney, I don’t,” John said evenly, and, wow, that was really getting annoying.
“You make no sense!” Rodney blurted, flapping his arms. “You make absolutely no –”
John’s lips came down on his without warning and Rodney lost whatever he was going to say to John’s sweet, slightly clumsy mouth. It wasn’t the most skilled kiss ever – even Rodney with his somewhat limited experience could tell that – but it was John, who had, according to Crystal Higgins, turned down the chance to sit with the cool kids; John, who could pull off a neon orange fleece two sizes too big for him easily, but couldn’t chew without scrunching his nose up.
“McKay,” John whispered. They were so close he barely had to move to nudge Rodney’s cheek with his nose. “Stop thinking.”
Rodney mumbled a shaky, “Yes, yes, okay,” and pressed his lips to John’s again, tentatively. It was better this time – so much better that Rodney had to curl his fingers around John’s hips and hold on to anchor himself just in case his body forgot about gravity and tried to drift off. And, oh god, that was John’s tongue sliding over his lower lip.
When they broke apart, Rodney was breathless; that didn’t stop him from saying, “Wow, that was…”
He didn’t elaborate, and if the focused, hungry look on John’s face was any indication, he didn’t exactly need to. It was a little unnerving to have all that intensity concentrated on him, but when John dipped down to mouth experimentally at his jaw – well, Rodney figured he could live with it, and happily tipped his head to the side so John had better access.
Jeannie spotted the hickey on his neck with frightening precision almost before Rodney had fully stepped through the door, and then proceeded to heckle him mercilessly for it until Rodney unceremoniously picked her up by the back of her shirt – fueled by pure, righteous big brother fury – and threw her out of his room. Once she was gone, he leaned back against the wall and put his hands over his face, just breathing.
He could still feel John’s warm hand on the back of his neck, the slight scratch of nails along the edge of his hair when they’d accidentally figured out that John liked his lower lip bitten. His mouth felt bruised and tender, obvious, and he couldn’t help but reach up and press his thumb to it wonderingly.
Suddenly, the prospect of sitting down to write up his Chemistry lab was extremely unsavory.
The next day Rodney woke up five minutes after his first class had already started and only barely managed to huff into second period study hall before the bell rang for third. He suffered through the shocked lecture from the covering professor, flushed bright red with the effort of keeping quiet. There was no reason to make an already horrible day longer by adding detention.
He was thinking dark thoughts about Murphy and heading to fifth when a hand locked around his bicep and hauled him into a supply closet.
“I hate this day,” he complained, then the familiar shock of messy hair registered. He barely had a second to get out, “John –” before an equally familiar mouth was slanting over his and swallowing the rest of his words.
Not that he minded.
John already knew the way to suck at Rodney’s upper lip to make him moan, which didn’t surprise Rodney in the least. John kissed like he was figuring things out, making each tilt of Rodney’s head or hitch of his breath fit into a mental box that he could take out later and analyze until it clicked into whatever weird equation John had in his head that governed kissing Rodney McKay.
“Come out with me on Friday,” John murmured, and Rodney barely had the breath to agree, but John must have gotten the point, because they were kissing again, and it felt like satisfaction.
Even though he got in trouble for skipping sixth and seventh, and he forgot to answer to his name three times in Calculus, the tender spot of skin just below the collar of his shirt made it all worth it. Well, that, and imagining all the things John and he might do after track practice.
That week, John clocked in consistently at just around ten seconds over the world record. His stamina was getting better with every day, and by Thursday afternoon, he didn’t even spend five minutes recovering after the first run before he was ready for another sprint.
For Rodney’s part, he found himself (guiltily) starting to enjoy it all. Watching John run was captivating: the pump of those sturdy legs, the sweat that shined along the vulnerable back of John’s neck, the blank, blissful expression on John’s face when he built up enough speed at the end of a sprint to jump straight over a kid lying down to stretch his hamstrings. And afterwards, when John found him, still sweaty and exhilarated, a strange heat in his eyes that sent a shiver skittering down Rodney’s spine every time – Rodney couldn’t hate anything that made John look like that.
Friday was the track team’s day off, so after the last bell rang, Rodney gathered his books up and stuffed everything he didn’t need willy-nilly into his locker without looking to see if it was organized right, then rushed off to meet John in front of the library.
“In a hurry?” John asked, grinning, when he caught sight of Rodney.
“Yes, yes, very funny,” Rodney huffed.
John peered around the empty corridor and then stole a quick kiss. “You ready?”
Blushing bright red, Rodney stuttered, “S-sure, yeah.”
They ambled down the block at a slow pace, walking close enough that their hips bumped and the backs of their hands touched occasionally, light, maddening brushes of John’s skin that had Rodney twitchy and not a little distracted, even though John was talking about differential equations and that was usually enough to have Rodney’s undivided attention.
Four blocks into their walk, he finally broke, twisting his fingers in John’s shirtsleeve and dragging him behind a tree. Their mouths bumped gracelessly, and then John got with the program and pressed Rodney back until the tree bark was imprinting itself on the skin of Rodney’s bare forearms and John’s teeth were set in Rodney’s lower lip.
When they stumbled back out onto the sidewalk, their clothes were rumpled and sloppy and Rodney had a new red mark right behind his left ear. He didn’t stop grinning for fifteen minutes.
“So, it’s not much,” John said as he tugged Rodney into the pizza parlor, “but I figure everyone loves pizza, right? You’d have to be crazy not to.”
He didn’t sound nervous at all, but Rodney was quick to learn, and he already knew what the tense line of John’s shoulders meant. It was more than a little flattering to realize John – seemingly unflappable John – cared enough about what he thought to worry. Touched, Rodney curled his fingers in the hem of John’s shirt and rested his knuckles against the small of John’s back, guiding him unobtrusively towards the front counter; even though John most likely knew where he was going, he didn’t seem to mind.
Placing their order was a bit of a fiasco. Rodney took fifteen minutes to decide between pepperoni, meatball, and chicken parmesan toppings, and then (to the incredulous annoyance of those waiting in line behind them and John’s badly disguised amusement) chose a chicken roll.
“You’re something else, Rodney,” John chuckled.
Rodney slid into his seat across from John, careful to avoid the patch of sticky yellow on the table. “Was that supposed to be a dig?” he asked archly. He nearly jumped out of his skin when something bumped his foot, and then he registered the wide grin on John’s face.
“No, just a friendly observation.”
Rodney tried to cover his blush by taking a sip of Dr Pepper, but he was mostly unsuccessful if the look on John’s face was anything to go by.
Once they were finished eating, John prodded Rodney in the shin with the toe of his sneaker until Rodney gave up his garbage and let John throw it away for him, and then they set off down the boardwalk at a slow amble, holding their bellies.
“No one ever warns you about Italian food,” Rodney groaned. “They tell you, ‘oh, watch out for that Chinese food, the rice expands!’ but they never say, ‘beware the dough!’ do they? Ugh.”
“Mnrf,” John agreed unhappily.
They leaned against the wooden banister to let their stomachs settle, John with his elbows on the wide top, chin resting in both his hands to watch the gulls glide off over the water, Rodney comfortably settled next to him facing the other direction. There was a chilly wind coming off the ocean, cool enough to have Rodney shivering and cursing himself for thinking he wouldn’t need a jacket that morning.
A tentative hand curved around Rodney’s hip, pulling him closer to John, and Rodney’s heart tripped over itself.
“Oh,” he said, a little high pitched. “That’s –”
“Shut up, Rodney,” John said warmly, tucking them against each other like they’d done it a million times before. It was surprisingly easy to relax against John’s side and let the calm, repetitive whoosh of the waves tumbling over themselves against the wooden beams of the boardwalk lull him into complacency.
What seemed like ages later, John finally stirred and turned to give Rodney a gentle nudge with his knuckles. “My feet are starting to hurt. Is there any place around here that sells ice cream?”
“Are you insane?” Rodney asked, genuinely concerned. “It’s cold! Why do you want ice cream?”
John nudged him again and murmured, “Aw, come on, Rodney, you’re no fun. I’ll warm you up after, I promise.”
After a long moment during which Rodney contemplated this very seriously, he said, “Down at the end of the boardwalk, it should still be open this time of year.”
“That’s the spirit,” John said cheerfully, and they set off down the moisture-muted, wooden path together, surreptitiously linking fingers.
The small ice cream store at the end of the boardwalk was named Frozen Cup, and it had an air about it that said it had been there for many, many generations, and would still be there when your grandkids were raising their own tykes. Many of the other shops on the boardwalk had changed almost yearly – tripping from a clothes boutique to a bakery to a hair salon to a souvenir store, one after the other – but for as long as Rodney could remember, Frozen Cup had been right there on the corner, that place everybody knew, the place that kids and adults alike would flock to in some vain attempt to beat the summer’s heat.
The inside of the shop smelled sweet when they stepped inside, like fresh-baked waffle cones and sugar-sweetened milk. “Wow,” John said softly, glancing around. Rodney had to agree, even jaded as he was to the sight.
They ordered two scoops each and ended up eating more of each other’s than their own; Rodney guiltily admitted that he hadn’t remembered he didn’t like strawberry; John happily spooned up the entire scoop and rolled his ball of vanilla across the tops of their cones like some mostly-melted kind of meatball.
Rodney tried not to make any Lady and the Tramp comparisons.
After, huddling unabashedly together for warmth, they walked back to Rodney’s house, and John kissed Rodney right there on the stoop with only the shadows of coming night to keep them hidden.
Weeks passed. On Fridays, they took turns dragging each other to various places in town, and, although Rodney had reluctantly put his foot down about skipping classes to make out, they did manage to catch each other every day for lunch and often walked home together after practice. Once, Rodney even made the mistake of inviting John over for dinner, and Jeannie hadn’t let up all night. Only John’s warm hand tightening and relaxing on his knee under the table kept him from committing murder. His parents were, thankfully, oblivious, and only offered John more instant mashed potatoes.
It all seemed so normal that Rodney was actually shocked when he realized he’d only known John for a little over two months.
John had casually mentioned that he was hanging out with some people from the track team the next Saturday after practice, so Rodney begged off and stayed home to tinker with his new laptop. It didn’t occur to him that John had dropped the tidbit into conversation for a specific reason until just after dark, when he heard the distinct plink of something colliding with his window.
Even then, it took him a few minutes to recognize the sound was actually something he should be paying attention to: John, standing in his driveway wearing the orange fleece he’d never given back, holding a handful of gravel up to his chest and combing through it for the biggest pieces.
Rodney threw open the window, already halfway through yelling, “What the hell are you doing, you lunatic? You could break my window!” and sticking his upper body out to better glare down at John.
“Jesus, Rodney, took you long enough,” John called back, unperturbed. “I’ve only been trying to get your attention for fifteen minutes. What have you even been doing? I thought you were coming out with us today.”
Rodney’s stomach absolutely did not flip over in twelve-year-old girlish delight. He tamped down on a ridiculous grin. “You’ve been trying to get my attention?”
“Duh. Come down here.” John tugged sweetly at the hem of his sleeve, unraveling a bit of string. “And bring a sweatshirt or something for yourself; it’s kind of chilly out. Oh, and a blanket. And some junk food or whatever. Do you have any of those cool drink pouches you bring for lunch?”
“Are you kidnapping me?” Rodney asked, uncertain.
John smiled charmingly and said, “Just for a little while.”
By the time they finally snuck out of Rodney’s house, they were both laden down with blankets and bags of chips and cans of soda, and John’s pockets made strange crinkling noises whenever he moved. (“Is that a pack of goldfish in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” Rodney joked bravely.) Defying all natural laws, they managed to get both of them, plus all of the stuff they were carrying, onto John’s rusty blue bike.
“You’re not gonna lose control and send us into a ditch, right?” Rodney asked, clinging to John’s waist. “Because we don’t have any protective gear at all and if I end up with permanent brain damage, it’ll be entirely your fault, and can you really live with that kind of price on your head?”
John grinned at Rodney over his shoulder and promised, “I’ll be careful.”
The first downhill breakaway they came to, though, John leaned forward hard and started peddling faster and faster, until they were careening past the street signs so swiftly they were all a great big blur of green and white.
Rodney clung harder, squinched his eyes tightly closed, and screamed.
“I hate you so much,” he muttered later, getting off the bike and wobbling to a stop against the nearest lamppost when his legs couldn’t carry him any further. Pointedly, he added, “Fiery suns.”
John laughed, flushed with happiness and wind, and wrapped his arms around Rodney’s body, pulling him into a kiss that was just like speeding down that hill – exhilarating and loud and surprising; something Rodney hadn’t ever expected he’d actually like, yet, inexplicably, did. It didn’t last long, but when they pulled apart, Rodney was panting.
He managed, “Okay, maybe hate’s a little strong,” and glanced around to get his bearings, and also to distract himself from the wet, tempting curve of John’s lower lip. Slowly, he realized where they were.
“So, how about some star gazing?” John said impishly, holding out the blanket.
“You’re so lucky you’re cute,” Rodney grumbled, but couldn’t help a small smile as he watched John gather up the rest of the snacks, chain his bike to a wooden pole, and slip off his shoes so his feet could sink into the sand.
Rodney covered his mouth with a hand when John wiggled his toes, grinning like it was the best thing ever.
Once John was finished appreciating the fine grain of the sand against the soles of his feet – or at least satisfied for a few minutes – they took their supplies and walked down the sandy path towards the water Rodney could hear breaking against the shore. As far as he could tell, there wasn’t anyone else with them on the beach; most people were probably saner than his boyfriend and at home, wearing three sweaters or wrapping themselves in blankets.
John chose a completely unremarkable spot high up on the sand where the wind coming off the cool water wasn’t as harsh and the sand wasn’t mixed with broken sea shells and rocks, plunking down the bag of snacks and immediately reeling Rodney in for a quick kiss.
“Why didn’t you come out with us today?” he murmured, and Rodney thought, really, that was just unfair.
He shifted. “I didn’t know I was invited.” At John’s flat look, he burst out defensively, “And it’s not like I really belong there, anyway!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Rodney snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. “They’re your people: pretty and athletic and popular. How does a scrawny little geek like me fit in?”
“My people?” John asked slowly.
Rodney wisely backed up a step, glancing out at the ocean and wondering if John would make it quick. When he snuck a look at John’s face, he was surprised to find him looking less ‘murderous’ and more ‘genuinely confused’.
“Rodney,” he said, “you’re my people.”
“Oh, uh,” said Rodney. “That’s…well, really I’m not a people – that’s grammatical nonsense –”
“Shut up,” John advised kindly, grinning as he pulled Rodney down on the blanket and maneuvered him around until they were leaning against each other, Rodney’s shoulder touching the middle of John’s chest, the stash of food settled between their hips.
Unexpectedly, Rodney felt the press of John’s lips against his temple.
“All right, team,” Coach Sumner said, in a voice that sounded distinctly military. None of the students stopped talking, but the coach plowed on, pacing between the bleachers and where the sod in the center of the track began. “We only have three more meets left before the season ends, so tomorrow’s a big deal, people. If we don’t make the top five in at least four events, we’re out of the district championship, and –”
“– Shame and disgrace, blah, blah. Think you can do it, Shep?” one of the boys interrupted, elbowing John in the side.
Unperturbed, John just grinned and said, “Are you sure you should be worrying about me, Moreno? You were wheezing pretty bad back there trying to keep up.”
The laughing crowd broke up, most of the girls sneaking looks back at John, who was happily leaning against the bleachers’ railing to wait for Rodney as he packed up his books and put his ridiculously fuzzy ear muffs on.
“You’re not going to change?” he asked absently, adjusting them.
In answer, John snaked his arm through the fencing and pulled Rodney closer to him by his unused belt loops. “Nah,” he said, voice low and near and sending a delicious shiver down Rodney’s spine, “I know you like it when I’m sweaty.”
“Perv,” Rodney said, breathlessly affectionate, and leaned down to give John a fast, hot kiss that had more teeth than tongue. “Go get your stuff – and put a sweatshirt on before you catch pneumonia. I’ll meet you by the vending machines.”
The first meet Rodney had seen John run in was at once exhilarating and terrifying.
Of course, it came as no surprise that John was fiercely competitive, and Rodney was easily swept up in his exuberance, cheering himself hoarse from the sidelines during John’s heat, despite the fact that he didn’t, technically, have to be there at all. The terrifying part came into play when Rodney realized, yes, John really was going to wear those tiny shorts the entire time, and, yes, Rodney was going to have to sit next to him on the bus back to the school with that sweaty, bare thigh pressed against his, completely unable to do anything about it except squirm. John had seemed to find it all incredibly amusing, sneaking his hand between their hips and rubbing his fingers over the skin between the waistband of Rodney’s jeans and his hoodie specifically to watch Rodney shiver.
“You want me to die, don’t you? You wear those things on purpose, just to torture me,” Rodney had complained at one point. It didn’t really have the bite to it that it should have, though, because John was settled over him, one elbow on either side of his shoulders, and John’s lips were busy exploring the new skin revealed by Rodney’s half-undone button down shirt.
By the fourth meet, Rodney could sit next to John without fearing for his blood pressure, but it was a close thing, and he still had to wait until the bus was mostly empty before he stood up.
“Did you see that guy’s face when I passed him?” John was crowing when he tuned back in. Those infuriating, knowing fingers were still tucked into the waistband of his pants, brushing his hip, but John went blithely on like it was nothing. “First place, Rodney. Can you believe it? We’re going to districts!”
He was still red with wind burn, beaming.
Rodney couldn’t help but lean over to give him a slow kiss, despite the fact that there was still someone making their way towards the stairs.
John’s smile grew impossibly wider, if a little more nervous, and his voice was almost a whisper when he asked, “You wanna come over tonight? My parents are…they’re out of town.”
“Oh,” Rodney said. “I – yes. That would be nice. Really nice.”
The driver cleared her throat pointedly from the front of the bus, glaring at them in her mirror, and John grinned wildly, ignoring her, pushing Rodney down until his head was against metal and they were shielded by the high seatback in front of them. The kiss was just as wild and enthusiastic, and Rodney dimly reflected – in the small corner of his mind that wasn’t entirely taken up by John’s mouth on his – that the bus driver could probably hear them.
It broke far too soon, in Rodney’s frustrated opinion, but then John was dropping a quick kiss on his cheek and saying, “Be there by six, we’ll order pizza or something.”
Rodney’s stomach did a few interesting loops, and then promptly found its way into his throat.
John met him at the door without a shirt on, and didn’t waste any time pulling Rodney inside by the front of his jacket.
They stumbled into the living room and landed on the couch with a muffled oomph, but John didn’t seem to mind Rodney’s weight on top of him, and Rodney certainly wasn’t complaining about the feel of John’s smooth skin under his fingers.
He might have been nervous except that John’s mouth was wet and hot and familiar, and every time he managed to balance himself on the back of the couch and bend his head to kiss and nip at John’s chest, he was rewarded with sweet, bitten-off moans. He had no idea how long it went on, but eventually John pulled him up by the back of his neck and kissed him hard, mumbling, “Do you – do you want to?” and Rodney’s brain may have shorted out for a second before he moaned, “Yes, god, of course I want – how should –”
They awkwardly shifted around until they were turned on their sides facing each other. Their pants got pushed out of the way, Rodney’s shirt thrown somewhere across the room in John’s haste to get to skin. Suddenly, all of Rodney’s worries slammed back into him, and he had to bury his face against John’s neck before he did something stupid like hyperventilate.
John shifted slightly, one arm going around his waist to comfort him – and it was an innocent gesture, probably, but the way he’d moved had their cocks sliding together.
“John,” Rodney whispered.
John kissed the side of his face. “Again?”
They built up a slow, stilted rhythm, panting hotly against each other’s necks, stealing kisses when they could spare the breath for it. Rodney hadn’t expected it, but John was loud – even louder when Rodney boldly slung his leg over John’s hip and pulled him closer, grinding their hips together a little faster.
John came first, muffling himself against Rodney’s bare shoulder, teeth set deep enough that Rodney knew he was going to have a spectacular bruise for days, and that was enough to have him tumbling after.
Neither of them moved for a few minutes afterwards, despite the sticky mess gluing their stomachs together. Then, John tilted his head down and gave Rodney a kiss with soft, trembling lips.
“That was awesome,” he whispered conspiratorially.
“It was.” Rodney nudged John’s pink cheek with his nose, grinning back. “And now…I believe you promised me pizza, Sheppard. Pay up.”
“I see how it is,” John sighed, and went to get up.
Rodney hooked an arm around John’s neck, pulling John back down on top of himself. “Pizza’s not that important. Nevermind.”
The day of the district championship, Rodney rubbed John’s neck while he threw up most of the huge pasta dinner he’d had the night before at the team bonding, and didn’t say anything about stinky breath when John slumped into his chest and let Rodney hold him up.
“What if I do bad?” John asked softly.
“Badly,” Rodney corrected almost absently, stroking John’s hair away from his forehead. “And even if you do – which I’m not saying you will, because you’re a vastly superior runner and –”
“Rodney,” John said tiredly.
“Even if you do,” Rodney said, “no one will blame you. It’s not just you on this team, remember?”
Despite his nervousness, John looked serious and contained when he stepped out onto the track and got into the inner lane’s stirrups. The team was rowdy and loud, singing something that didn’t rhyme, had no melody, and wasn’t exactly in any one key, but which nonetheless made Rodney feel a little mushy.
The race itself was a blur of school colors and red-faced boys. John managed to keep the lead for most of the time, his lane an obvious advantage, until just at the end when one of the other boys broke away and tried to pass him. The crowd on the bleachers went even wilder, but the teams were quiet, holding their collective breath.
Overcome, Rodney screamed, “GO JOHN!”
Half the team turned to stare at him incredulously, but Rodney only had eyes for the figure that had suddenly put on a burst of speed to pass the finish line first.