There’s a man picking the lock to the apartment next to his. Rodney hesitates on his doorstep, debating whether to go back inside and call the police or let things be. He hasn’t left his apartment in at least a week and can’t be sure this isn’t just a new tenant. On the other hand, if it is a burglar, Rodney has just interrupted his break-in attempt. He clutches his garbage bag in one hand, ready to use it as a weapon if necessary.
The man swears as his attempt to unlock the door fails, and he sits back on his heels. The picks he was using are still jammed into the lock holes. The man rubs his arms and Rodney feels a small sliver of sympathy. It’s chilly out, with winter fast approaching, and the guy has no jacket.
“Um,” Rodney says, clearing his throat. The guy turns his head sharply to look at him, looking coiled and ready to spring. Like Rodney’s the one acting suspicious and this guy needs to be on guard.
“Can I help you?” The man asks pleasantly, like it isn’t 11 p.m. on a Wednesday and he’s been caught trying to break-in. Rodney edges closer to his door. The guy is unfairly good-looking, with dark hair, full lips, and a lean body. His t-shirt is thin and black and just this side of tight. Rodney can see his nipples through the shirt.
“If you’re locked out, you should call the super,” Rodney advises.
The man nods thoughtfully. “Makes sense. Except I’ve left my cell in my apartment, with my keys.”
Rodney isn’t sure what to say to that, so he nods uncomfortably. He’s torn between staying where he is, near the relative safety of his apartment, or continuing to take the garbage out. Rodney is wearing only a light jacket, and the chill is starting to sneak past the thin barrier and sink in. Silence settles between them, with Rodney shifting from foot to foot while the stranger stares at him. Their breath plumes out in front of them. A car drives through the parking lot below.
“Can I borrow your cell?” The guy says finally, full lips curled up into an amused smile. He tilts his head, looking friendly and harmless.
“I don’t have the super’s number programmed in it,” Rodney replies. “I could try to track down the number, I have it somewhere in the apartment.” Rodney hasn’t needed it - the apartments are well maintained and the super swings by every month or so to check in.
“Don’t need it. I have Ronon’s number memorized,” the man says reassuringly.
“You have the super’s number memorized?” Rodney asked doubtfully. That seemed a strange thing to do. Was this guy one of those people who spied on his neighbors and tattled on their every move?
“We go way back,” the man said.
“Okay,” Rodney says. A particularly strong gust of wind has them both shaking with the cold. The man hunches down on himself, looking pathetic. Rodney gives in with a sigh. He holds his hand out in a gesture asking for a moment, and opens his apartment door. He backs into his place, unwilling to take his eyes off the possible-burglar, one hand still clutching his garbage. Rodney closes the door firmly behind him and sets the garbage by the door, grateful for his habit of double-bagging. He’d hate to have to waste more time on cleaning when there is work to be done.
His cell phone is on the desk by his computer, right where he left it. After a quick detour to his bedroom, Rodney grabs the garbage bag again and eases his door open. He peeks out cautiously, half expecting the man to be lurking outside his door, ready to rush him. The other half hopes he’s gone, that he really was a burglar who has been scared off.
The man has moved from kneeling to sitting, legs pulled up close to his chest, arms tucked in. Rodney sets the trash on the ground at his feet and tosses his orange fleece the stranger’s way. The man deftly catches it, blinking at it blankly for a moment. He sends Rodney a bright, grateful smile then, which disappears into the fleece as he puts it on. Rodney waits until he’s entangled inside it before getting close enough to set his phone on the ground near him, and is back by his apartment door by the time the man has the fleece completely on.
“Thanks,” the man says, smoothing one hand down his fleece-covered chest. “Nice and warm.”
Rodney grunts. It’s truly unfair that the man can pull off the bright orange color, while Rodney had to endure comparisons to traffic cones. He crosses his arms over his chest and waits impatiently while the man dials.
“Ronon,” the guy greets, “It’s John. I’ve locked myself out of my apartment.”
Rodney hears laughter coming from the phone, and a familiar, deep voice says something. Rodney relaxes. That’s definitely his super’s voice. John rolls his eyes at whatever Dex is saying, fighting a smile.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re hilarious. Can you come let me in, or do I have to sleep on my stoop until you can bring yourself to come up here?” John pauses to listen, then sends Rodney a quick glance. “I’m using my neighbor’s cell to call. Guy my age, good-looking, looks like a professor.”
Rodney’s eyes widen and his cheeks warm at being described as good-looking. He ducks his head and pushes his glasses further up his nose. It’s been a long time since anybody has expressed appreciation for Rodney’s…anything, and it takes him a moment to regain his footing. By that time, John has gotten to his feet and is approaching Rodney, cell phone in hand. Rodney lifts his chin, trying to appear unaffected by John’s description.
“Thanks for letting me use this,” John says, handing the phone over. Their fingertips brush, the smallest amount of pressure, and then John’s tucking his hands into the fleece, trying to warm them.
“You’re welcome,” Rodney says. “I assume Dex is on his way?”
“Should be here in five,” John confirms, bobbing his head. A silence falls between them again, much less tense than the one before. Rodney fidgets with his phone, turning it over in his hands. After a minute, the silence becomes too much, and Rodney searches for something to say.
“So, um, where are you from?”
John shrugs. “Here and there. I’ve moved from base to base.”
“What branch of the military were you?” Rodney asks. He can see the military influence now, in the confident way John carried himself, the sharp eyes. He slouched terribly against the wall of Rodney’s apartment, but even so there was an awareness about him.
“Air Force,” John answers. His lips turn down and his eyes go vague. Rodney gives him a moment to think, to remember, but the unhappy tilt to his mouth and the quiet of the night leave him bored.
“I work for them,” Rodney says abruptly. “I telecommute.”
John raises his eyebrows. “What exactly do you do? You don’t strike me as a soldier.”
Rodney snorts. “Not hardly. I have Ph.D’s in astrophysics and engineering. I am the smartest man you’ll ever meet.”
John looks amused. “No doubt. Can I get your name, or should I just call you doctor?”
Call me anytime, Rodney thinks, but says, “Rodney. Doctor Rodney McKay.”
John smiles. “It’s nice to meet you, Rodney.”
“Yes, well, likewise. Uh, John.”
John shakes his head. “I haven’t introduced myself, have I? John Sheppard.” He holds out a hand for Rodney to shake. His hand is cold but his grip is firm. Rodney holds on a bit longer than is proper, keeping his eyes on John’s. Down below, Ronon’s vehicle turns into the parking lot, stirring the fallen leaves. Rodney leans down and grabs his trash.
“It was nice meeting you,” he tells John.
“See you around,” John says, giving him a nod. “Thanks for the assistance.”
Rodney passes Dex on the way down, who claps his shoulder with more force than necessary. He gives Rodney a surprisingly warm smile while Rodney grumbles about nearly getting knocked off his feet, which would no doubt result in serious back injury. Dex only laughs his complaints off as he takes the stairs up two at a time.
Just before he’s out of earshot, Rodney hears Ronon ask, “Were you picking the lock?”
He shakes his head, amused.
The bus had just turned the corner onto his street when John runs up, pink cheeked and not at all out of breath. Rodney had seen him running early in the mornings but it still seemed unfair that he could run so far without any struggle at all. Rodney hunches over his oversized travel mug and reminds himself that he has far better things to do than run. Running was for survival, not fun.
“Hey, Rodney,” John greets, moving to stand next to him as the bus pulls in, stopping with a high-pitched whine that always had Rodney worrying over his hearing. John bounces on his feet, ready to go. Rodney feels like taking a nap just looking at him.
“Break into any more apartments?” Rodney asks instead of replying. He takes a long drink from his mug, ready for the caffeine to finally kick in.
“Just my own,” John says easily, still grinning. He was just as attractive as Rodney remembered him being - he’d really been hoping it had been poor lighting and the late hour. Rodney never seemed to present himself well in front of pretty people, and he had to live next to this one.
The doors to the bus open with a loud bang. Rodney gestures for John to go first, hoping that letting John sit down first will mean Rodney can take a seat somewhere away from him. It is too early for pretty men, especially friendly ones. It was too early for anything but caffeine intake and earnest wishes for unconsciousness. John bounds up the stairs, hands already digging in his pockets for change. He stops abruptly on the third step and Rodney nearly walks face first into his ass, which - while nice - was not the sort of activity he engaged in public. He jerks back and almost drops his travel mug. A scowl forms on his face.
“What the hell are you doing?” He hisses, cradling his cup to his chest.
John twists to look at him, brow furrowed. “I don’t have any money on me.”
Rodney blinked. “Where were you going to go that didn’t require money?”
When John opens his mouth to reply, Rodney waves his hand. “No, shut up, I don’t care. Go sit down, I’ve got this one.”
“Hey, no, I couldn’t ask you -”
“Who’s asking? I’m telling,” Rodney snaps. “Sit down. You’re holding us up and I’m getting cold!”
It takes but a moment to dig out the appropriate amount of bus fare. The bored bus driver waits while he digs it out, blinking his droopy eyes. Once the fares are paid, he slams the doors shut and pulls away before Rodney has sat down. Rodney stumbles at the sudden jerk forward, but manages to get into his seat without falling. A little bit of coffee has sloshed out of the drinking hole of his mug, and he tries to suck it up, determined that no drop goes to waste.
Rodney has a thirty minute wait before his stop, so he pulls out his tablet to get some extra work done. Though Rodney telecommutes to work every day, he makes a point of showing up in person for the actual presentations of his research. He likes to make sure everything is in order, that the presentation will go off without a hitch, and to browbeat his more idiotic underlings for their more outlandish ideas. Honestly, Rodney looks forward to Presentation Day every month. Before he can get too into his work, someone is leaning over the back of the seat in front of him, their eyes boring into him.
“What now?” Rodney asks sharply.
“Just wanted to thank you for what you did. I’ll pay you back, I promise.” John leans forward, looking earnest. His smile is small and warm. He smells good, something clean and masculine. Rodney tries not to breathe deeply.
“No need,” Rodney responds shortly. “It was only a few dollars.”
“I’m a man who pays his debts,” John insists.
Rodney rolls his eyes. “Save your money for your next bus fare.”
“Maybe I can repay you some other way?”
Rodney, who had gone back to fiddling with his tablet, jerks his head up to meet John’s eyes. John looks earnest and serious and very pretty - there’s no hint at all of flirting, no lip biting or sly smile. No hint at all that John recognizes how his words could be taken. Rodney pretends the burn of disappointment in his gut is really annoyance. His eyes narrow.
“I know a way,” he says. John leans a little closer, ready to listen. He tilts his head, the weak sunlight falling on his absurdly pointy ears. “You can leave me alone.”
“Aw, Rodney,” John whines. He leans back and Rodney feels like he can breathe again. “There’s no need to be like that.”
“Mornings,” Rodney says repressively, “are for coffee and contemplation.”
John holds out his hands in a surrendering gesture. Despite Rodney’s morning crankiness, John doesn’t seem to put off by it. He shrugs his shoulders and sends Rodney another small smile.
“Let me know if you need anything,” he says, and then he’s turning around and sitting down. Rodney catches a glimpse of a half-filled sudoku puzzle as he’s getting up to leave, and it’s definitely surprise that has him responding to John’s wave goodbye with a wave of his own. Surprise, not attraction.
By the time Rodney gets home, caffeinated and cheerful, there’s a little sign with the words don’t poke the bear written in black sharpie taped to his door. Rodney tears it down with a snort and keeps it in the top drawer of his dresser.
The news had been calling for rain all week, the days dreary and overcast. Rodney could never understand those people who swore they could feel a storm coming, but this time he could almost smell the rain moving in. He had hoped to be home by now, safe and warm, but his bus had gotten stuck in rush hour traffic, and Rodney had realized it’d be faster for him to exit and walk home. He regrets exiting the bus now - the temperature is above freezing, but not by much, and the dark clouds make the day look like it’s late at night, not early evening.
Rodney curses when the first raindrop hit his nose. The drizzle was only the beginning, with a downpour expected to start any time, and Rodney curses again as his clothes begin to feel damp. Looking around frantically, Rodney spots his local convenience store. He hurries over, taking care not to step into any growing puddles, hunching his shoulders against the rain. The cold, wet feeling of the rain falling on his head and neck make him feel more cold, and he thinks longingly of his apartment...
He shoulders the glass door open, ignoring the tinkling of the bell, and breathes a sigh of relief. He nods to the bored looking teenager behind the counter and turns down one of the aisles. He walks past the cold medication, the antibiotic ointment, and turns the corner. He slides to a halt, his wet shoes slipping on the tile floor, and stares in disbelief at the little rack tucked into the corner of the store. There are no more umbrellas. Outside, the rain picks up, drumming against the windows.
“Tell me you have more umbrellas in the back,” Rodney demands, stomping to the register. The bored looking teen looks surprised, straightening up from his slouch. He blinks large, limpid brown eyes.
“Sorry, sir,” the teen says, scratching at his terrible chin hair. “We’ve sold all we got.”
Rodney stares at him, hoping the kid will go, ‘Just kidding!’ and pull out the last umbrella. Rodney would even take one of a hideous color, at this point. The kid stares back, looking uncomfortable at the scrutiny. He offers a weak smile.
Rodney sighs. He presses his fingers into his eyes and nods forlornly. He wants to yell, to rant, but what good would it do? The dreary day has left him feeling tired and cold, and no amount of yelling is going to magic up another umbrella. He’s going to have to go back into the rain and just hope he doesn’t catch pneumonia.
“I’ll take a double chocolate muffin,” Rodney mutters, and slaps a five dollar bill on the counter. He desperately wants coffee, but like hell will he subject his taste buds to the cheap shit they serve here. Rodney’s already going to be suffering from the rain; why make it worse?
Armed with his chocolate muffin, Rodney exits the store. Leaning against the brick building, safely under the entrance awning, Rodney unwraps his muffin and eats it bleakly. He watches the cars go by, splashing water onto the sidewalk. Rodney drops his wrappers into the dirty trash bin outside the store and takes a deep breath. It’s really coming down now, the sound of rain drowning out everything around. Squaring his shoulders, Rodney is just about to step out from the protective awning when someone touches his shoulder.
Rodney will deny the scream, but he does jump away, toward the store entrance doors. His heart pounding, adrenaline rushing through him, he stares at John, who is looking dry and apologetic. His umbrella rests at his side now that he’s under the awning.
“Sorry,” John says ruefully.
“Oh my god,” Rodney said. “Are you following me?”
“Yes Rodney,” John rolls his eyes, “I followed you to the nearest convenience store. I didn’t come here for my own reasons at all.”
Rodney huffed indignantly, one hand still pressed to his chest. To Rodney’s surprise, John moves closer and grabs his elbow. Rodney notes how much he likes the look of John’s long fingers on his arm even as he’s guided to lean against the wall of the store. Already Rodney’s breathing is evening out, his heart slowing, but he appreciates the concern. John leans against the wall next to him, letting him settle. The silence is comfortable, the sound of rain soothing. More than ever, Rodney longs for his bed. He shoots a glance at John, taking in the long, lean line of his chest as he stands, hip cocked out. John would look good wrapped up in his sheets, Rodney thinks.
“Thanks,” Rodney says, clearing his throat.
“You doing okay?”
Rodney nods. “I’ll be fine. Well, except for the cold I’m sure to catch, standing out in the rain, but that can’t be helped at this point.”
John’s full lips quirk. “What are you doing out in the rain, anyway?”
“Trying to get home from work,” Rodney replies gloomily. “I mostly work from home, but every now and then my so called co-workers need some hands-on help. My bus was caught in traffic so I got off, and...well, here I am.”
“Here you are,” John repeats. Rodney waits for him to excuse himself, to continue his walk home. Just because Rodney is trapped outside a store doesn’t mean John has to stay; their apartment complex is only several blocks away. But John just stands there patiently, smiling at Rodney. He looks to be in no rush at all. Finally, Rodney can take the silence and the looking no more.
“That’s a nice umbrella you’ve got there,” Rodney says casually.
“Iron Man,” John describes proudly. Rodney can see the design for himself, thank you. He opens his mouth to say so, but John sends him a little glance. “I like ‘em smart.”
“Oh?” Rodney squeaks. “Well, uh, good.”
John smiles at him, eyes crinkling with good humor. Rodney smiles back, the dour mood from just moments before disappearing. It may be cold and rainy, but it looks like he has a chance with John after all.
“Are you heading home?” At John’s nod, Rodney continued eagerly, “Can I walk with you?”
“My umbrellas big enough for two,” John agrees, angling the umbrella away and snapping the button open. The umbrella opens, flinging droplets of water everywhere. Rodney wants to say that he hadn’t meant to invite himself to make use of John’s umbrella, but...well, he hates being wet, and it gives him the perfect excuse to walk close to John.
Their shoulders bump as they step out from under the awning and cut through the parking lot. The rain is loud as it hits the umbrella and Rodney feels adrift, like he and John are the only ones around, the tiny space they’re sharing intimate and hidden from prying eyes. He sends little glances John’s way, wracking his mind for a topic of conversation. Rodney isn’t good at small talk, but he wants to continue conversing with John. Unfortunately, their apartment complex is coming up fast.
“Kirk or Picard?” Rodney blurts out finally, desperate. John looks startled, blinking wide eyes at him. He snorts with laughter a moment later, shaking his head. Rodney’s ears burn with embarrassment. He lifts his chin defiantly. Star Trek is well known even among regular people, he’s sure. He thinks.
“Kirk,” John says finally. “He wasn’t afraid to break rules for important causes. He was smart, well-read, and definitely had something going on with Spock.”
“Oh, please,” Rodney snorts, waving a hand. “Spock -”
“Spock’s Pon Farr was cured by rolling around in the dirt with Kirk,” John countered. “Lots of touching and grabbing.”
Rodney pauses for a moment. “Okay, I’ll give you that one. That’s pretty gay.”
“I knew you’d see things my way,” John drawled.
“Don’t get used to it,” Rodney warned airily, but he was turning his head, hiding a grin. They have reached their apartments by now, and despite his wet pants and damp jacket, he had a good time walking home with John. Rodney sends him a bright, grateful smile as he pats his pockets, looking for his keys.
“Thanks for sharing your umbrella.” And the company, brief though it had had been.
Was it just him or did John look disappointed?
“Any time,” John nods, fiddling with his own keys. Now was Rodney’s chance to invite John over later in the evening, maybe for a late dinner. They could order pizza and watch some Star Trek. It surprises him, how much he wants that. He opens his mouth to ask, hope beating in his chest, when John’s phone rings, some twangy country song filling the awkward air between them. John checks the ID and raises his eyebrows.
“Teyla?” He answered. “Are you okay?”
He listens for a moment, eyes wide. He ruffles his hair and takes two steps toward his front door. With a sigh, Rodney turns to unlock his own.
“I’ll be right there. No, I’m at my apartment right now, I can be there in twenty minutes.”
Rodney closed the door on John’s conversation with his girlfriend. Looks like he’ll be having a frozen dinner, tonight. Alone.
Rodney’s coffee maker is one of the most important items in his apartment, third only to his cat and his laptop. His perpetual late nights and early mornings have him relying on coffee to keep him going, at least until his brain kicks in and he settles in to work. He spends an exorbitant amount of money on his coffee maker for top of the line products, and expects to get his money’s worth despite its often use.
To say Rodney feels dismay when he wakes one morning to find his coffee maker sluggish and uncooperative doesn’t cover it. Rodney bangs on the top of the coffee maker, muttering imprecations under his breath . After fiddling with it for some time - including taking off panels and poking at the wires inside - Rodney sits at his kitchen table, staring forlornly at his dead coffee maker.
“Coffee,” he mutters longingly. A surge of irritation has him rising from his seat and stomping to his bedroom. He settles his ratty blue robe around him and slips his feet into his slippers, which lay forgotten by the side of the bed. He detours to the kitchen to snatch up the coffee maker before stomping over to his front door. He unlocks it with a jerk and yanks it open. It’s cold outside, with a light dusting of snow. Irritation has him wound up enough that he ignores the icy tendrils sneaking past his robe and makes his way down the stairs to the ground floor.
With a grunt, he heaves the coffee maker into the large dumpster, taking great satisfaction in the loud bang it makes as it hits the side. With a huff, Rodney spins around and heads back upstairs. He’s just stepping off the last step when John’s front door opens and he steps out. His athletic clothes look too light for the cold weather, though at least he has a hat covering his pointy ears. In his gloves hands he holds a leash, at the end of which is a dog Rodney has never seen before.
John brightens when he see’s Rodney and gives him a once over. He raises an eyebrow. Rodney lifts his chin in response, crossing his arms over his chest.
“My coffee maker is dead,” he says shortly.
“Okay,” John replies, drawing the word out dubiously. “And you felt the need to go outside dressed in your pajamas because…?”
“I had to throw it out,” Rodney grumbles. “Now I have to go buy a new one.”
“You could just use mine,” John invites.
Rodney stares at him for so long his eyes sting. John blinks at him, looking increasingly uncomfortable. Beside him, his dog’s tail wags. He strains at the leash, hoping for attention. John pats his head absently.
“Only if I can bring my own coffee beans,” Rodney says finally.
“The ones I have aren’t good enough?” John asks, turning to unlock his door and let them back in. The dog whines but follows his master obediently enough. Rodney follows far more reluctantly, but the lure of coffee is too great. He wishes his brain was firing on all cylinders; he isn’t sure he’s ready to interact with John when his brain-to-mouth filter is gasping for caffeine. John’s apartment is sparsely decorated. A worn, comfortable looking couch rests against one wall of the living room, with a small table in front of it. Hanging from the wall opposite is a large, flat-screen television. Underneath the television is a long, squat bookcase filled to the brim with books.
Along with being empty of decorations, the room is almost worryingly clean. There’s no clutter of magazines or papers and the kitchen sink has only one coffee cup sitting inside. Other than appliances, there’s nothing on the kitchen counters. You could almost believe no one lived here at all.
Rodney stops in the doorway. “If you drink Folgers or anything along those lines, then no. Your coffee is deficient in quality.”
“Ah,” John tosses an amused glance Rodney’s way. “A coffee snob. I should have known.”
Rodney sniffs haughtily. “Yes, you should have.”
“Luckily for you, I’ve had enough cheap coffee to last me a lifetime. I know how to indulge.” John reaches to open a cupboard, giving Rodney a perfect view of his ass. His running clothes are certainly well fitting, Rodney notices. In the back, at least, they leave little to the imagination. Rodney’s cheeks pink as he remembers nearly walking face first into that ass at the bus stop. He closes his eyes. He reminds himself that John has a girlfriend and isn’t interested.
When Rodney opens his eyes, John is right there, empty mug in hand. Rodney ignores his question and points to the coffee cup.
“Is that the biggest mug you have?”
John snorts, but he goes to get a bigger mug. Rodney settles in at the table. The moment his ass hits the seat, John’s dog is pushing his big head under Rodney’s hand, resting his muzzle on Rodney’s lap. He freezes, but the dog’s big brown eyes stare up at him pleadingly, and Rodney is only so strong. He pets the dog with long, slow strokes, stopping every now and then to scratch. The dog’s eyes close with bliss.
“He’ll never leave you alone now,” John grins. Rodney shrugs, but a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. When John sets his steaming mug in front of him, the coffee wins out, and Rodney turns his attention to taking in every drop. He hums his appreciation, cradling the cup between two hands.
“Good stuff,” he murmurs, eyes half closed.
“Yeah,” John agrees, voice scratchy. He clears his throat and calls for the dog. “Shadow, c’mere.”
The dog is by John’s side instantly, tail wagging, tongue lolling. Rodney watches him pet Shadow for a moment, taking in John’s fond smile and light chatter. The dog stares up at John like he is the only important thing in the world. It’s cute. Rodney wonders how Shadow and Newton would get along, and is halfway through thinking of a way to safely introduce the two when he realizes he’s getting ahead of himself. He blames it on the lack of caffeine and drains his cup.
“Thank you for the coffee,” Rodney says gratefully. He feels capable of taking the bus to the store to buy a new one, now. And maybe stop off at the car dealership to price cars, if he’s going to be out and about anyway.
“There’s more in there,” John offers, gesturing with one hand. Rodney hesitates.
“I interrupted your run,” he says finally.
“It’s fine,” John says quickly. “I don’t mind.”
“But Shadow might,” Rodney points out. The dog’s ears perk up at Rodney saying his name. His tail thumps against the floor.
“He can wait,” John says easily.
“If you’re sure…” Rodney trails off hopefully.
John smiles crookedly. “Sure I’m sure.”
Rodney happily gets another cup while John explains this interesting science fiction show he’s been watching, Farscape. “It’s about a man who is shot through a wormhole and has to survive in space. It’s pretty cool.”
“Never heard of it,” Rodney encouraged. He spends most of his time rewatching old favorites rather than taking the time to seek out new stuff.
“Neither had I, until recently. But it’s a fun way to pass the time. The main character looks like a co-worker of mine,” John adds. “I’ve been teasing him about having a side job as an actor.”
“What is it you do?” Rodney asks, surprised to realize he doesn’t know.
“Fly,” John says, a wealth of emotion in his tone. “Couple of buddies and I got together, got our own business.”
Though they live in a city, the surrounding areas are beautiful, full of nature and other things Rodney didn’t particularly care about. It attracted all kinds of tourism, which made Rodney glad he didn’t often have to leave his apartment. John seemed enthusiastic though, face lighting up, making wide gestures as he explained the tours they gave, the jet John bought through unspecified means, perfect for giving charter flights.
“What’s your business called?” Rodney asks. He was getting hungry, with thoughts of muffins dancing in his head. He’d have to leave before his blood sugar dipped too low. He wanted to ask John to come with, but his dog needed walking.
“Stargate,” John responds. “You know, like a gate to the stars.”
“Poetic,” Rodney acknowledges. Rodney enjoyed his work for the Air Force, but he didn’t have much to do with stars these days. He twists his empty cup between his hands, still warm from the coffee. Despite the pressing need for food, he is reluctant to leave. He enjoyed John’s company, and it helped that the man was easy on the eyes and seemed to like Rodney.
Shadow whines just then, pawing at the front door and then twisting in a circle. He looks at John, pawing again, and John laughs.
“Looks like times up,” he notes. When he goes to stand, Rodney does too. He rinses the coffee cup out and leaves it in the sink next to John’s. It’s only when Rodney is stepping outside that he realizes he’s been lounging in John’s kitchen in an old shirt, pajama pants, and his ratty robe. He feels his face flush as he pulls his robe closed against the chill. Rodney distracts himself with a goodbye pat for Shadow, the dog’s dark fur soft and warm against his palms.
“Thank you for the coffee,” Rodney smiles. “Next time it’ll be my turn.”
“Sounds good,” John agrees. “You just let me know when.”
“Tomorrow morning?” Rodney asks hopefully. Perhaps if they do it often enough, it could turn into a thing. Rodney’s never had a thing with someone before. Most of his friendships are with fellow scientists and never really included normal activities like hanging out. It is mostly arguing and bad take-out, late at night in the labs. This feels different than anything he’d done with Radek, even if they had also discussed science fiction on occasion.
John gave it some thought while Rodney’s heart pounded foolishly. Taken, Rodney reminds himself, though his traitorous heart doesn’t seem to care.
“Yeah, I can swing it.” John bobs his head, smiling goofily. For someone so cool, he seems like a big dork at times. Rodney likes it. He likes lots of things about John.
“Cool,” Rodney responds, his own smiling spreading until his cheeks hurt. He waves goodbye as John leads Shadow down the stairs, feeling oddly energized for only having two cups of coffee. Newton lay spread out on the couch, taking a nap.
Rodney leans down to scratch at his ears and whisper, “I have a friend.”
Rodney has forgotten how nice it is to have his own vehicle. No more working around a bus schedule, sharing space with the smelly or the nosy, and no more long, circuitous routes to where he needs to go. It’s also much easier to grocery shop, since he’s no longer limited to what he can carry in one go. Rodney surveys his full back seat, hands on his hips, with a smile of satisfaction. He eyes the bag of Cheetos sticking out of the top of one grocery bag, debating whether to wait until home or have it open in the passenger seat for snacking. He’s about to grab the bag - it’s his car, he can do what he wants - when he hears what sounds like an argument brewing.
Rodney peeks over the top of his car for the source of the loud voices. His eyes widen and his mouth drops open when he spots John arguing with with one of those religious guys, those ones that stand on corners and preach about God and hellfire. There aren’t many to be found here, given the liberal views of the majority of the population, but Rodney had seen his fair share in bigger cities such as New York.
Rodney hesitates for only a moment before slamming his car door and making his way over there. A small crowd of gawkers are gathering, muttering between themselves about stepping in. Rodney shoulders his way through and stops between the crowd and John.
“John,” Rodney finds himself saying, uncertain whether he means to ask John to step back or to let him know that Rodney has his back. John turns his head slightly but doesn’t take his eyes off the screaming man.
“Abomination!” the man is shouting. “Your soul will burn in the eternal fires of hell for your unnatural perversions!”
“If I burn in hell,” John snaps, “It will have nothing to do with sleeping with men.”
Rodney feels a flare of mixed emotions at that - hope that it means what Rodney thinks it does, disappointment that John is involved with someone, a surge of protectiveness he doesn’t know what to do with. Rodney steps to John’s side, making sure to keep space between them in case John needs to move, to dodge a punch or a kick. The street corner preacher is red in the face, the veins in his neck sticking out with the volume of his screaming. Before him, John looks cool, the only indication of his anger the narrow eyes and flaring nostrils. Rodney’s not ashamed to admit it’s hot as well, this fierce calm. Rodney could almost see him wearing field gear and a thigh holster.
“How dare you stand there, unrepentant, and try to trick others into accepting your filth,” the man hisses.
“How dare you tell a young boy he’s going to hell for liking other boys!” John snarls. He takes a step forward. His cheeks are beginning to flush with anger. The preacher takes a step back, perhaps noticing for the first time the almost palpable vibe of danger John is giving off. Rodney’s stomach tightens with nerves.
“I was trying to save him,” the man argues.
“You were teaching him a lifetime of self-hate,” John spat. “You were harming him.”
The preacher opens and closes his mouth. “I am showing him the light of heaven.”
“Keep it inside your church,” John says. “If you have one.”
He spins on his heels and stomps away. The crowd parts for him nervously.
“You’re a goddamned bigot,” Rodney sneers at the man, who gasps in offense. He pushes his way through the crowd in the direction John had gone . When he finally catches up, John says nothing and refuses to look at him. When it looks as though John is heading for the bus stop, Rodney grabs his shirt, tugging him until John slows and turns to look at him. Rodney’s a little out of breath from the brisk pace, but gives John a smile through his pants.
“I have a car,” he gestures vaguely toward the grocery store, “I’ll give you a ride home.”
“I’m not good company right now,” John says through clenched teeth.
Rodney shrugs. “You don’t have to be. I just want to make sure you get home in one piece."
John gives him an unreadable look but turns back to walk with Rodney back to his compact car. Rodney notices the crowd has dispersed and the angry religious nut isn’t at the street corner any longer - something to be grateful for. He’s noticed fliers for LGBT friendly churches, and even if Rodney didn’t believe in some higher power, he was glad people had a place to turn if they wanted.
Rodney forgoes the Cheetos in the back seat with a mournful look, climbing in and starting the car. He turns on the seat warmers, the car long gone cold while he shopped. John is practically vibrating in place next to him for the whole ride, staring out the window, glaring at the world. Uncertain what to say, Rodney stares out the front window, reading the bumper stickers on the car in front of him. The seconds tick by as he waits for the light to turn green.
“My family is...I come from...a picture of my family is probably next to the dictionary definition of the term WASPs.” John says finally.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” Rodney hurries to say, though he’s thrilled John is sharing something of himself. He seems so closed off much of the time. Warm and funny, but a little distant. Rodney never would have guessed he came from an upper class family - he neither dressed nor acted like what Rodney imagined those people to be. He sneaks a glance at John’s threadbare jeans and faded hoodie under his winter jacket.
“No, I know,” John replies. “I just...heard that speech for a lot of my teenage years. Homosexuality, damnation, hellfire.”
“I see,” Rodney says.
“Messes you up,” John continues softly. He’s no longer glaring at the world outside Rodney’s car window. He looks rather deflated now - tired. Worn down. He rubs his hands up and down his leg as though trying to soothe the muscles into relaxing. Rodney wants to take his hand and make promises he can’t keep.
“I imagine joining the military didn’t help with the, uh, accepting of yourself,” Rodney says tentatively. John snorts and shakes his head. The light turns green and Rodney looks both ways before going.
“Not really, but it got me the hell out of my father’s house,” he says, slumping down into his seat.
“Pissed him off too,” Rodney adds, certain of this.
John laughs. “A Sheppard boy joining the poor man’s army? He was livid.”
“My father caught me kissing a boy from my math club,” Rodney shared. “He simply walked away. I think at that point I was already such a disappointment this was just one more thing to blame my mother about.”
John grimaces. “That sucks, buddy.”
Rodney shrugs. “It’s just the way it was. I had already figured out they didn’t care much for me, so it wasn’t like I was really bothered.” Not long-term, at least.
Thankfully, a parking space was open near the stairs leading up to their apartments. Though people were supposed to use their assigned space, not everyone followed the rule. Rodney’s space had gone unused for so long it was no wonder neighbors had taken to parking there. Rodney shut the car off and unbuckled. He turned to John, ready to ask him to join Rodney for dinner, but stopped.
John was sitting forward, peering through the window to their floor. A slow, pleased smile spread across his face. He scrambled to unbuckle his seatbelt. Bewildered, Rodney opened his own door and climbed out. John beamed at him from across the car hood.
“Teyla’s here and she brought Torren,” he says, and then he’s taking the stairs two at a time, calling out a greeting at the woman who was standing in his open apartment doorway. Rodney takes the stairs at a more careful pace, reluctant to meet the woman who had a claim on John. He didn’t begrudge John some happiness of course, Rodney wasn’t that petty. But hope is difficult to let go of, even when Rodney was staring into the proof that John’s affections lie elsewhere.
The woman was breathtaking, with dark skin and warm eyes. She was short but fit and moved with a confidence that Rodney envied. He finds himself tongue tied in the face of her bright, warm smile and stutters out an introduction. He shoots a look at John, eyes wide, and knows he is turning pink. John’s smile was crooked and fond.
“Torren is inside,” Teyla tells John, and he hurries inside. He stops to take off his shoes, hopping on one foot and then the other, too excited to sit down and take them off. Shadow circles him, tail wagging, and follows him deeper into the apartment. From outside, Rodney can hear him speaking in soft, even tones. He’s surprised when Teyla takes him by the arm and guides him inside, shutting out the cold. He eagerly accepts the cup of coffee Teyla offers. It’s hard to remain resentful when facing her. There’s something about Teyla that is calming.
“Torren is my son,” she tells Rodney. “This is the first time John has seen him since the night of his birth.”
“Oh, um, congratulations,” Rodney says. If she just gave birth but John is only seeing him now - John didn’t seem the type not to visit his own kid. Unless it wasn’t - but of course John would still date a single mother, he seemed like a good guy in that respect. Even if it wasn’t John’s, wouldn’t he still visit? It didn’t make any sense. Rodney’s head spun.
“Thank you,” Teyla replies. She smiles. “He is considered something of a miracle to Kanaan and I.”
“Kanaan…?” Rodney asks.
“My beloved,” Teyla explains. “He had been undercover for some time and circumstances made my pregnancy a difficult one.”
“You’re married?” Rodney asked, surprised.
“No,” Teyla said firmly. “We are together but not formally. Neither of us feel the need for such a ceremony to say what we already know.”
“Right,” Rodney says weakly. He sought refuge from the weirdness in his coffee. Teyla was definitely unlike any woman he’d ever met. He turned to peek into the living room, where John sat on his couch, a baby cradled in his arms. John was making goofy faces at the baby, Shadow at his feet, and Rodney doesn’t realize he’s smiling until he sees Teyla’s answering smile. Rodney ducks his head, embarrassed.
“John has been alone for some time,” Teyla says abruptly. She gives him a look full of meaning. Rodney stares back blankly. “It is good that he has found a companion.”
“Me?” Rodney asks, taken back. “Oh, we aren’t. Uh. I thought he was with you.”
Teyla bursts into laughter. Her teeth are bright against her skin and her eyes dance with merriment. Shadow jumps to his feet and comes over to investigate. John spares them only a quick, questioning glance. Teyla pats his head, still chuckling, and Shadow dances, tongue lolling. When he comes to Rodney, he also leans down to pet the dog, feeling humiliated. Shadow licks Rodney’s face, and while he would normally find it disgusting, it’s a welcome distraction.
“Forgive me,” Teyla says breathily. “I mean no offense. John and I have been friends for many years. It would be like dating a family member.”
Rodney pouts a little. “You’re both beautiful and John looked so happy when he took that call from you that time.” The night of the birth, he realizes now. It only makes sense, that beautiful people would end up together.
“John has been looking much happier lately,” Teyla says, leaning forward as though sharing a secret. She sends him another meaningful look. “He has spoken of you quite often.”
Rodney’s lips form a silent ‘o’ as he turns to stare at John. Excitement lights up his nerves, along with a generous portion of anticipation self-consciousness. John seems oblivious, totally enamored with the small baby waving its little fists around. He turns back to Teyla, beaming. She smiles back warmly, and reaches out to rest her hand over his.
He hopes to get some time alone with John that night, but Teyla had visited to pick John up, to bring him back with her to watch Torren while she and Kanaan get much needed sleep - something they had agreed to several days before. Rodney would offer to accompany him but thinks it would be weird, and Teyla’s visibly flagging as the minutes tick by, stalling Rodney’s selfish suggestion they postpone it for one night before it gets past his lips.
John insists they leave before it gets dark, cutting their time short, but Teyla squeezes his hand and John pats his back, standing far into Rodney’s personal space. He smells good, though Rodney can’t name the scent, and looks even better, smiling at him from up close. Then the moments over and John is whistling for Shadow. He locks the door behind them, and then Rodney’s waving goodnight. Once they’re out of sight, he bounces on his toes, does a little jig as he unlocks his door, humming a little ditty - john is singleee and looking my waaay - and nearly trips over Newton in the dark.
Rodney trudges back into his apartment, shoulders slumped. He doesn’t stop to knock the snow off his shoes on the doormat, just makes his way to his couch and falls onto it, face first. The soft material of the couch warms against his face as he breathes into it. He’s half expecting the familiar weight of Newton to land on his back, for his cat to curl up on top of him and go to sleep. When it doesn’t happen, he moans despondently and rolls over.
He should eat. Rodney isn’t sure when the last time he had a solid meal was, and now would be the worst time for his hypoglycemia to act up. Food, a shower to warm himself up, and then he’ll head back out into the snow to look for Newton, to put up more fliers. Rodney makes sure his cell phone is tucked into his pants pocket before he pushes himself off the couch and makes his way to the kitchen, trailing melting snow as he goes.
Rodney feels better after downing a big plate of spaghetti, the fork clinking against the plate as he shovels food in. He’s slowly warming up now that he’s out of the wind and the snow, his toes regaining some feeling. Rodney grimaces at the feeling of wet socks and hopes all that walking won’t result in blisters forming.
His cell phone remains silent.
Rodney puts the leftovers in a tupperware container and sticks it in the fridge. He mechanically cleans the dishes, worry and despair making the spaghetti settle heavily in his stomach. Rodney has just decided that the shower can wait, that he needs to be outside looking for poor Newton, when he’s startled by a loud sound.
Rodney’s hands immediately go to his cell phone. It isn’t until he has it pulled out, the screen lit up, that he realizes it wasn’t the phone ringing, but someone knocking insistently on his door. Shaking his head, the burn of tantalizing hope disappearing in smoke, Rodney goes to answer the door, ready to send whoever it is away, hopefully in tears. He’s in no mood for door to door salesmen.
The person knocks again, with more force, and Rodney grumbles as he makes his way over. He’s already glaring, mouth open to lambaste whoever is on the other side of the door, when he’s confronted with a face full of cat. It takes a moment for Rodney’s brain to catch up with what his eyes are seeing: John, grinning madly and holding Newton out at eye level.
Rodney scoops his cat up with a gasp and cradles him to his chest. His poor cat’s feet are cold and wet, and Newton meows pitifully. Rodney buries his face in Newton’s fur and retreats to his couch, leaving the door open for John to come in.
When John settles onto the couch beside him, Rodney says, without lifting his head from Newton’s fur, “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” John says, still smiling. Newton wriggles his way out of Rodney’s grasp and jumps to the floor. He makes his “food, now” noise, and Rodney reacts like the trained servant he is. John follows him into the kitchen and watches as Rodney sets food, refills the water bowl with fresh water. Rodney pets Newton a couple times as the cat eats, then leaves him to it.
Rodney goes straight to John and, without hesitation, leans into give him a firm kiss. John makes a muffled noise of surprise first, and then he’s opening his mouth, deepening the kiss. Rodney pulls him closer by the belt loops of his jeans while John rests his hands on Rodney’s hips. The kisses are wet, the touch of John’s tongue against his own a thrill, making Rodney shake, making him moan. When John pulls away, their lips cling before parting. John rests his forehead against Rodney’s, breathing heavily.
“Not the thank you I had in mind,” John murmurs, “but I’ll take it.”
Rodney’s lips curl into a smile. “What did you have in mind?”
“Well,” John drawls, “I was thinking maybe a date.”
“We can go on a date,” Rodney says lightly. “I like dates. Especially if there’s food.”
John chuckles and puts some distance between their faces, though his hands remain on Rodney’s hips. “Teyla, Ronon, and I are having a get-together this weekend. Wanna go?”
“As a first date?” Rodney raises an eyebrow. “I was hoping for something a little more intimate.”
“Rodney, it’s only Thursday. We have plenty of time to get a first date in there.”
Rodney gives it some thought. He’d suggest right now, but Newton has only just been returned and Rodney doesn’t want to leave him alone. Would it be too forward to have their first date here, in Rodney’s home? Though…
“Actually, upon reexamining our previous, uh, run-ins, I think we could count this as a third date.”
John scrunches his face up. It’s hilarious. “What?”
Rodney pulled away to gesture as he explained. “Think about it! You walked me home from the convenience store, sharing your umbrella in a totally romantic way. Then there was that time my coffee maker died and you invited me into your apartment -”
“I’m not sure that counts,” John protested.
“John,” Rodney says slowly, “If those count as dates, then this is our third date.”
“Okay?” John replies, drawing the word out dubiously.
Rodney smiles crookedly. “What do you say we stay in for this date?”
John gives him a slow once over and bites his bottom lip. The heated look he gives him let's Rodney know that he’s finally caught on.
For the first time in five years, Rodney calls in to work the next day.
Newton gets the whole couch to himself.