by jenn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Codes: McKay, McKay/Sheppard, Carter, O'Neill, AU, pre-Atlantis
Spoilers: none specific, Rising if you squint and check through a quantum mirror
Summary: Five semi-related scenes from a life. This is what Rodney left behind.
Author Notes: Lethal schmoop. I'm so serious here. *Melodramatic* schmoop at that, since it's been a while and well, I can. This is like me on a string of romance novels and LKBVs. And sugar. And caffeine. And *chocolate*.
It could be considered the prequel to The Stranger's Always You and succeeding snippets. And by considered to be, I mean, it really is. Tag for Strangerverse is here.
Thanks to svmadelyn and celli for going over this and nodding appropriately when I explained my inner melodramatist had taken control, offering suggestions and making corrections and adding lines. rageprufrock for one section she double checked for me, since I was worried.
Special thanks to aurora_84 and catmoran for the specific request that started--well, a hell of a lot shorter than this. I'll try the others soon. I just didn't see this one--well, growing.
The New Order Sucks, Or, Five Reasons Why Rodney's Not Moving On Very Fast
John's asleep when he gets home, spread across half the bed, laptop on standby beneath one lax hand.
It's like this every night, which makes Rodney wonder why it annoys him tonight, shoving his bag onto the desk, trying not to take it personally that yet again, John forgot to lock the doors and left his socks on the floor. There's a puddle in the bathroom he doesn't want to think about too hard, because that can't go anywhere productive.
Living with a fellow scientist, Rodney reflects, isn't all it's cracked up to be.
"Rodney?" John stirs, lifting his head briefly, blinking into the lights Rodney heartlessly turned on when he came in the room. Yawning, John rolls onto his back, stretching as unselfconsciously as their cat, long bare arms and messy hair in his eyes. Rodney bites back the urge to tell John to get a haircut already.
Then the wide hazel eyes fix on him and Rodney stops, forgetting to breathe. "Hey."
Rodney shakes himself out of it, unpacking his laptop, his notes, the smell of chicken stir-fry drifting into the room where Rodney set it to reheat on the stove.
"Made dinner," John says sleepily, rolling onto his side and closing the laptop before tucking an arm under his head. "Finished packing."
"Yeah." Turning around, Rodney avoids looking directly at John or he'll forget why he's pissed. Sometimes, he suspects John trades on his looks more than he says he does, and sometimes, Rodney's sure of it. Like now, a disheveled mess on an unmade bed, and Rodney has a horrified second of wondering what John had done now, and what kind of damage control Rodney will be doing in the morning before they make the attempt to open the wormhole to Atlantis.
Then he remembers, remembers why he's pissed, remembers why he's home, and fights not to slam something, like a drawer. Or John's head.
"You're home early," John offers, and Rodney, toeing off his shoes, turns around. John's sitting up.
"I'm not spending my last night on earth sleeping in my lab." Though he's never telling John he'd woken up sandwiched between his laptop and an Ancient coffeepot. Self-consciously, he rubs at one cheek, wondering if the lines are still visible. "You left early."
John shrugs. "Last night. If we make it, I figured they deserved a night to remember." Rolling off the bed, John pushes Rodney's hands aside, unbuttoning Rodney's shirt. Worried hazel eyes peer into his for a moment before he slides the shirt down, trapping Rodney's wrists. "Huh. Angry I sent everyone home?"
This close, it's hard to remember why that pissed him off. "I'm still head of--"
"And I'm still the best judge of what my people can cope with," John says reasonably. Then, with the kind of elaborate casualness that Rodney's learned to associate with John being anything but, "I tried to find you, but you were still meeting with Carter."
"Oh my God," Rodney says, starting to step back, but John's got him trapped against the wall. "I am not having an affair with Sam just to piss you off. If I ever have an affair with Sam, it will be because I'm madly in love with her and want to have babies. Lots and lots of brilliant blonde babies."
John's eyes narrow. "Oh please. You hate kids. It would totally be to piss me off."
Rodney thinks it's scary, how well John knows him. "To ensure that the earth's next generation isn't filled with complete morons--"
"That'd come from her." John smirks slightly, then shakes his head, stepping back. "Did you--oh, already heating."
"Didn't you eat?" John forgets to eat when a plate was in front of him, so it's not exactly a surprise. "I will never understand how you can cook and forget to *eat it afterward*."
And he doesn't. Stretching, Rodney watches John scratch idly beneath his t-shirt before smirking, wandering off to the kitchen, and right, here's another reason Rodney likes John. Rodney's pretty sure left to his own devices, he'd never eat this well.
Changing into a t-shirt and sweatpants, worn soft and clinging from years of care, Rodney comes into the kitchen in time to watch John finish setting out plates, looking so terribly domestic Rodney half-wishes John would just quit his job and do nothing but stay home and look this good.
"Brownies," he says instead, and gets a hand slapped. "Quit that."
"Kinky." Rodney starts worrying, though, when two salads emerge from the refrigerator, and there's a good chance that he saw at least one pie before John closed the refrigerator door. Off to the left is a covered dish that Rodney, with a sinking feeling, suspects is cookies.
It's never a good thing when John Sheppard goes on a baking spree. Bears growl and snakes hiss. John releases pent up stress in extreme sports, quasi-legal joyrides in military aircraft, and strangely, baked goods.
In retrospect, Rodney would have dismissed everyone home if he'd thought about it. "I'm not mad."
John stares at him over the top of what looks like curried broccoli. Christ. *Curried broccoli*. "Have you considered the fact that once we go through the wormhole, you're going to lose your personal cook?" John says, deceptively placid, and no, Rodney hasn't. This could be the last decent meal he ever *has*. He takes double helpings.
John picks, like he usually does, getting up halfway through to get more water, staring at the chicken like it personally betrayed him by sleeping with Sam. Rodney's looking at the pie thoughtfully when John starts clearing the table with vivid, uncertain energy, like a hyperactive kid just denied his Ritalin. Getting his own plate, Rodney loads the dishwasher, knowing John will come back and rearrange everything anyway. The split in domestic tasks has a reason for existing, not least of which is because Rodney has no bond with Cuisinart appliances and John can't use a washing machine to save his life.
John turns off the water but doesn't move.
"It'll work." Taking a deep breath, Rodney thinks of the mailbox and the red raised flag outside. He's pretty sure he knows how John spent his last night. Reaching out, he takes the last plate from John and fists a hand in John's shirt. "Come on," he says, pulling, and John from the kitchen, passing the living room Rodney had cleaned this morning, still smelling faintly of wood oil, the neatly packed boxes that Jeannie will pick up for them tomorrow, long after they're gone.
They won't sleep tonight, but Rodney figures that the quadruple calculation checks can wait for morning, pushing John up against the door of their bedroom and leaning up enough to brush a slow kiss against John's tight mouth. "Hey," he murmurs, when John looks away, stiff and unhappy.
"One way trip," John says, and Rodney closes his eyes, leaning into John's shoulder.
"I trust *you*," John says, hands reluctantly cupping Rodney's hips. "I just--"
John's a control freak of the first order. Rodney gets that. He does. He wonders what it says about them both that he's considered the *easy* one. Running his hands up beneath John's shirt, he leans in for another kiss, this one warmer, John beginning to smile when Rodney uses his fingers to rub lines into his ribs, making him giggle when he digs in.
"How'd you get home?" Rodney asks, running his teeth slowly over John's shoulder; it occurs to him that he drove their car, and John sent his hideously expensive car to live with one of his former Omega colleagues, with a coded and completely fabricated report of the Atlantis project buried in the onboard computer. Rodney wonders vaguely what they'll make of John's creativity.
He's not sure what he makes of it, to be honest.
"Jack," John whispers, head tilted back against the door. Rodney stops, thinking about it.
John smirks. "Apache. I'm a natural." The hazel eyes are bright, filling with light and laughter. The hands on Rodney's hips tighten possessively.
Rodney draws back a little, squinting up at John's smile. "You always come back from those looking more disheveled than flying would strictly--"
"I'm not having an affair with General O'Neill just to piss you off," John parrots.
"No, he'd just take advantage of you while you're in a flying high," Rodney accuses, making John laugh. Both long arms wrap around him, and they hit the bed almost by accident, Rodney landing on his back and John on one knee.
"Yes, that's reasonable," John says solemnly. "Because while flying a helicopter with nuclear capabilities, I would totally go, God, blow me Jack, please."
Rodney squints suspiciously, and wonders suddenly if Sam and O'Neill ever compare notes. It's a very real possibility. "You call him Jack?"
"Only in bed."
"Why did I marry you again?" Rodney rolls John onto his back. Long and lean and too thin from missed meals and lost sleep, but still as breathtaking as the day they met, half Rodney's life ago, happy in the way that Rodney knows is for him alone.
Their apartment's packed up, their house in Jeannie's care, their cat a thousand miles away. Rodney's leaving his computers and his Playstation and his Antiques Digest, and John's leaving Cuisinart and base jumping and his plasma TV. They picked their official personal items and hid the rest wherever they could find space. Their uniforms are waiting at the SGC in neat expedition duffle bags.
The only thing they'll take from this room tomorrow is themselves, and Rodney stares down at John, taking him in for a second, lounging on their rumpled sheets, wedding ring glinting on his left hand, and thinks of the life they're leaving behind.
"You want to go, don't you?" Rodney says, sitting back on his heels. John blinks, staring at him for a moment, smile fading, then sits up.
"I think six months is plenty of time to decide what I do and don't want," John says slowly, like he's speaking to Sam, which is kind of funny and kind of annoying all at once.
"I just--" Rodney stops himself from waving a hand--John will start doing it too, completely unconsciously, and that can only end in someone with a black eye and no pre-expedition sex. Settling back, he watches John watch him, the real question bubbling to the surface of his mind "You wanted to--" He stops as John's chin lifts sharply. Some things they don't talk about, a delineated space fenced in by John's easy smile and shuttered eyes. "You didn't want to join the SGC and you still did it when I asked."
John shrugs, reaching for Rodney's hand, fingers drawing slowly between his. "That was different."
John shrugs. "Omega wasn't what I thought it was."
"God, if you throw up…" John warns, when Rodney ducks into the bathroom and makes for the toilet.
"I have the fucking *flu*, Sheppard!" Rodney yells, slamming the stall closed and just making it. Though he admits, grudgingly, between dry heaves, that John might have a point. Ten seconds after saying "I do", it looks questionable for one of the two main participants to sprint for the bathroom.
"This could only happen to me," John says from outside the stall door, sounding mournful. "It's like a curse. I was sick at your defense--"
"Hello, vomited on my new suit, jackass," Rodney snarls. "Let me tell you how much they *loved* that--"
"You were sick when you introduced me and Jeannie--and hey, also great fun to meet your prospective in-laws without a *shirt*--"
"Oh my God, I hate you, shut up shut up shut up shutupshutup" Rodney says, wiping his mouth and collapsing against the toilet bowl in utter misery. Somewhere out there, Sam and O'Neill are laughing themselves, hopefully into instantaneous strokes, because John's right. This could only happen to them. "Get me some--" The doors open and John crowds his way inside, a soft washcloth so cool and wet that Rodney forgives John the fact that the cat howled through the entire ceremony. Burying his face in it, he lets himself enjoy John's gentle fingers on his forehead, in his hair, the brace of his body, shifting enough for John to be his full body pillow. Dear God. Flu. Of course.
"Jack's spiking the punch," John says, arms closing around him. The washcloth moves over his face in slow, gentle strokes, and Rodney leans into every deliberate touch, absorbing the warmth of John's body.
"Trying to get you drunk to have his way with you," Rodney says without heat. "At our wedding too. Classy."
"I'm sure that's the plan," John says soothingly, rubbing a hand down Rodney's arm. "I won't drink a drop."
Rodney cracks open an eye when the nausea seems to have receded enough for him to breathe. "I will never understand how you can hate Sam and still follow Jack around like a puppy."
John snorts something, but the truth is, Rodney does wonder. It's more than their mutual bond over Omega, too, but sometimes, watching John and Jack wander off to fly some deathtrap and shoot targets, he thinks he gets it too well.
Reaching down, he threads his fingers through John's, then stops short at the feel of body warm metal, the soft clink of their rings together. Breath catching, he makes himself straighten, look down at their joined fingers, then closes his eyes for a second.
Just this second. "So we're married."
"According to all the laws of God and Canada," John says lightly, but the washcloth trembles a little on the next stroke, arm tightening. "Maybe Carter will keep her hands to herself now. Feel better?"
Rodney's not sure how he feels right now. "Married."
"You bought the rings. I just showed up and looked pretty, per orders." And God did John look pretty, Rodney reflects, and makes a concerted effort, bracing one hand on the toilet seat and turning to face John. The hazel eyes are dark with worry and something else, something that pulls at Rodney's heart, temporarily drowning out the nausea beneath something huge and suffocating and possibly deadly.
Like he's been waiting and didn't even know it, a held breath that lets out with a shock like touching a live wire. "John--"
John's breath catches, reaching up with one hand to flick the lock on the door closed before pushing Rodney back against the opposite side of the stall, straddling his lap. Leaning down, John's mouth brushes his, light as a feather, then a tongue slowly traces the seam of his lips.
"I just--" Rodney makes an aborted motion toward the toilet, but John just takes the opportunity, pushing inside, and Rodney stops caring about questionable tastes when John presses up against him, hands cupping his face, kissing like he'll give a dissertation on the results later.
This is also them, he thinks as John's mouth bites along his jaw, finding the pulse point with tongue and teeth, sucking once, hard, enough for Rodney to feel it all the way to his cock, jerking up beneath the weight of John's body. They have a party outside, and a hotel room upstairs, with a nice, large bed, perfect for highly athletic and interesting sexual activities, but that's not here and that's not now. Reaching down, Rodney rubs a slow circle into the front of John's pants, feeling teeth for his efforts, and vaguely thinks it'll be worth it to have a hickey if only to see the look on O'Neill's face. Or Sam's, for that matter.
"John," Rodney murmurs, fumbling at the button of his pants--God, no button in history has ever been so tiny and so *difficult*--dragging down the zipper and breathing out at the relief, the way John's fingers tangle with his, drawing him into cool hotel air, feeling the graze of John's wedding ring with another tiny, heat inducing shock. Jesus. Who knew marriage was this hot?
"Yeah," John says, sounding breathless. Fumbling his own pants open, he shifts closer, pressing their cocks together. "Fuck yes."
"Bed upstairs." Like there's any chance he's moving now. Curving his fingers around the back of John's head, he drags him down for another kiss, licking his mouth open wide and sweet, bucking up into their joined hands, feeling the brush of John's ring with every stroke.
"Whatever." John's forehead pressed to his, shared panted breath, *watching* them together with fantastic overhead lighting and surrounded by toilets. It feels weirdly inevitable. Rodney has a second to wonder what they'll do if anyone tries to come in here and then decides that considering their guest list, they're probably safe enough. Tightening his fingers on John's neck, he breathes through each slow, precise stroke, feeling sweat start to prickle up on his skin beneath his shirt.
John moves into each stroke, mumbling something that could be endearments (doubtful, Rodney's recorded and listened before) or formulas (scarily plausible; John's idea of sex talk leaves a lot to be desired sometimes), but he hears his name, soft and wondering at the end, as John stiffens, going still and silent as he comes, warm and messy on their hands.
John leans against him for a second, boneless and warm and utterly *unmoving*, trapping Rodney's cock a second before orgasm, and oh dear God, he might love John but he's got about five seconds before Rodney kills him if he doesn't--
"Just a sec," John breathes against his neck, nipping once, then locking his fingers through Rodney's and moving them out of the way, shifting back and ducking, warm and wet and oh God, John John John--
He tightens his grip, feeling John relax around him, throat hot and tight, so perfect from years of practice that Rodney's coming before he can finish a breath, making a sound that would humiliate him forever if anyone but John heard it, riding the slowing pressure, aftershocks that John eases him through with a soft tongue, until finally, he's shaking and dazed as John pulls away, licking his lips with a smile that takes his breath away.
"Now we're married," John says, leaning forward for a slow, slick kiss, the taste of them both on John's tongue.
And when Rodney shoves John away to lunge for the toilet, he can hear John's smile in the way he laughs.
Sam's probably the brightest person he's ever met, but that doesn't change the fact that she can be *beyond* dense.
"Look," she says, for the fifth time, over the fifth cup of coffee. "If Dr. Sheppard doesn't want to join, I understand. That doesn’t mean--"
"It does." You make certain compromises in a relationship. One of them is to not completely piss off your life partner by, say, joining the military, even in a civilian capacity. Especially when you, perhaps, made life a little difficult when said partner had wanted to join the Air Force himself.
Rodney flicks the memory away, focusing on Sam's bright blue eyes. Their first meeting, John had taken one look at the uniform and hated her on sight. It did not bode well that Sam took John's less than sunny disposition as a personal insult to herself, the SGC, and the entire military industrial complex.
Life was easier, Rodney thinks longingly, finishing his cup of coffee and wishing he'd added rum, when the only thing he'd dealt with were terrifying little doctoral students showing up at their door offering John sexual favors on a semi-routine basis.
"Rodney," she says, her hand reaching out to cover his. "I understand that John's--difficult about the Air Force."
You have no idea, Rodney thinks, getting up to get the coffee pot and just bring it to the table. You really, really have no idea.
"But this is an amazing opportunity for you both. Your work together--"
"Is absolutely mindblowing, considering we were working off data that's so amazingly wrong it's a miracle we got anything right," Rodney answers bitterly. "And you're right, it's an amazing opportunity." Pouring them both another cup, Rodney sits back, watching Sam watch him. "And I didn't let you in here to turn you down."
Sam straightens. "You want something."
"John heads his department. And don't tell me you have anyone more qualified--he broke Goa'uld code when he didn't even know it was alien. He's the best mathematician in the field and probably the only one who can integrate all those new Asgard protocols that have been crashing your systems. He needs free rein to do his job. And we both know he won't answer to anyone else."
Sam nods warily. She'd been prepared for that. "Hiring is still at the discretion of the SGC."
"John has final approval."
Sam nods again and Rodney starts to breathe again, making a mental note to thank God that John had felt a deep need to explore the Alps for two weeks after resigning from Omega. Rodney's just glad that John hadn't noticed the GPS concealed in his backpack.
"And you?" Sam's head tilts thoughtfully.
"What you offered originally, with the added stipulation--I want on the senior staff meetings." When Sam opens her mouth, Rodney waves it aside. "None of these terms are negotiable, and you wouldn't be here if you thought you could do better. I want to pick my staff and I want the ability to hire and fire at will, pended for SGC approval of my choices."
"Still against research only field work?" she asks, and Rodney shakes his head.
"No off-planet." John had been pretty inflexible on that. Though now being free of Omega, there's always a chance he'll reverse his stance. Especially when he realizes off-world could mean very large, very fast *ships* that go very great distances. Smirking to himself, he takes a drink of coffee.
From the look on her face, this is pretty much exactly what the SGC had already decided would be their price. "I think Hammond will be reasonable," she says, leaning her head on one hand. "Maybe you could convince your boyfriend I'm not trying to get into your pants? I can add it to the contract."
Rodney snorts and pours them both another cup. "Good luck with that."
"Where is Dr. Sheppard, by the way?" she asks. He hadn't missed her wary look when she came up, scanning the room like a soldier searching for guerrillas to drop down on her at a moment's notice. Knowing John, it wouldn't have been that far out of the realm of possibility, either.
"Traveling," Rodney says, which is John-and-Rodney code for sulking at great length and expense. Rodney's still not sure what happened--frankly, it's probably safer not to know--but John had walked away from the first job he'd ever loved without a backward glance. There'd been dramatic paper burning and hard drive destruction and some broken dishes, the upshot of which was that they went shopping for new dishes and John considered the offer from SGC without acting like Rodney was participating in a major crime against humanity in even considering it.
Sam turns her coffee cup delicately between tanned fingers, looking thoughtful. "Omega," she says, and Rodney frowns. "You realize that made him a security risk. Still is, in fact."
Rodney sighs. "Whatever they were doing--"
"I have *reports* of what they were doing, and their work with the NID--"
"John pulled out," Rodney bites out. "He never broke a single law, and you wouldn't have even made the offer in the first place if you thought John was involved in--"
"I know that! Christ, Rodney, breathe. It's not an accusation. We want something else."
Rodney stares at her, waiting. Breathing out, Sam sits back, running a restless hand through her hair. "We need to know what they know."
Rodney thinks of John's path of post-employment destruction and winces. "John won't--"
"Jack will want to talk to him about it," she says, too quickly. "Just be prepared for that. A group that focuses on people with the Ancient gene--and don't tell me John didn't figure out early on exactly why they wanted him so badly--"
"And who somehow still manages to get confidential SGC reports no matter how many leaks we find--Rodney, they're dangerous. And not just to the program."
That, Rodney knows, too. Sighing, he puts down his cup. "John cut his ties to them. He won't give them information, but I don't know if he'll give it to the SGC, either. He wouldn't even tell me."
Sam nods. "I understand." And she probably does, he thinks, relaxing into his chair. This could have gone so much worse. "So I take it you're free for the evening?"
Rodney tries not to copy John's eyebrow thing but finds himself doing it anyway. He supposes he deserves it, for getting John hooked on old episodes of Battlestar Galactica. "This isn't going to convince him you're not after my genetic material, you know."
Sam smiles brightly. "From what I understand, you get amazing sex after every one of our meetings. You're complaining?"
Rodney snorts. It's true. "Right. Thai okay?" Standing up, Rodney cleans up quickly. "Now, you were going to tell me how you got your degree from the back of a cereal box right? Really? Because that would explain so *much*--"
Sam shakes her head. "I'm really looking forward to working with you, Dr. McKay," Sam says sweetly. "Just wait until your security clearance goes through." With a little, unmilitary hop, she turns innocent eyes on him, and Rodney wonders how on earth John can hate someone like this so much. "And you find out just how wrong you really are."
"Son of a fucking *bitch*, John. When were you going to bring this up? Before or after the semester starts when you remember, oops, I can't finish my degree, I need to go *join a war*--"
He can't hear John through the door, but pressing a hand to the wood, he thinks can feel him on the other side. Closing his eyes, he tries to calm down, but he can't get over it, the clawing nausea eating him away from the inside out, spilling fast and filthy between them. He means every word. That's the worst part.
Leaning against the door, Rodney closes his eyes. "Fuck you, John. Fuck *you*."
From the other side of the door, Rodney thinks he hears movement, but he can't be sure. "Fucking answer the question. And hey, tell me when you decided that it would be fun to go straight and leave me all at once? Pick up a pretty freshman and found out the other side--"
"Jesus *fuck* Rodney!" Something hits the door. Rodney suspects its the toothbrush holder. "It's the Air Force. Christ, if you don't cut this drama shit out--"
"Oh, you haven't even *begun* to hear drama, you piece of *shit*!" Slamming one hand into the door, Rodney forgets that their walls are paper thin and at least ten people they have to see tomorrow can probably hear every word. "Air fucking Force. That place that's not too hot for officers with a boyfriend back home? How were you going to tell me? Email? Had fun, liked your ass, moving on now? That's what you did with your girlfriend when you were twenty, wasn't it? No," and Rodney knows he's gone to new levels of utter asshole and can't stop himself, "you just let her *walk in*--"
"I didn't see you complaining when it was you I was leaving her for," John shoots back, sounding hoarse and faintly sick. Rodney bites down, trying to control the urge to break the lock, but there's probably nothing more humiliating than breaking into your own bathroom to drag out your soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, who just threw you over for a uniform. "And I'm not *leaving you*--"
"You don't *have to*. Do you think I'm sticking around for a guy who I can't even be seen in public with? How desperate do you think I am?"
Inside the bathroom, it goes eerily silent, and Rodney finds his hand on the doorknob, the stillness inside almost overriding sense. Sure, utter humiliation in explaining what had happened, but John's a lot of things, but quiet's never been one of them.
The silence stretches.
"You don't mean that."
Rodney closes his eyes, leaning his forehead into the cool wood. "I don't think I can live like that." Not with being John's secret. Not with losing everything they've done, losing *John*; he's not stupid. John goes to the Air Force, it's as good as a deathwatch. "John. Come the fuck out of there."
"Tell me you didn't mean that." Still eerily calm. Rodney rattles the doorknob, unease pushing through the rage that's blinded him since he found the mail, the letters, the birth certificate, and the physical and the way John Sheppard had, somehow, managed to keep a secret so well that Rodney'd had no idea.
It scares him, suddenly and terribly--he could live with it, if it's what John wants this badly. Live his life in a series of fast-forwards and pauses, between John leaving and John coming back, be his secret. He *could*, and that's the worst part of all. It makes him want to hurt John, break him a little for making Rodney care this much, have this much, and then take it all away.
"I mean it," Rodney says into the wood. "You can't have it both ways."
The door comes open so suddenly that Rodney's caught off balance. John catches him, almost impersonally, shoving him back out before walking past him, and Rodney gets a glimpse of his face and looks away before he sees too much.
Following John into the tiny living room, Rodney watches John standing perfectly still by the couch.
"You're lying." His voice is almost too low to hear. "You wouldn't--not for--not for just this."
"There's no just," Rodney answers, equally low. "This is a fucking life decision. Your military requires you not to fuck a guy. Surprise, I'm a guy. Color me a little offended that you're not seeing the problem here. I thought you were brighter than that."
He thinks, if he listens, he can almost hear John breathing. "Rodney--"
"I'm not living my life in a closet because you just can't stand the thought of not signing up for condoned mass murder. It's not happening." And he doesn't *mean* it, he doesn't think he means it, he *can't* mean it, but Christ, he sounds like he does, like he believes it, like there's any circumstance on earth that could make him let John go. "You could do anything. You could be *anything*. And you want--you want *this*?"
"Rodney--" John stops short, turning around, and Rodney gets a good look at his eyes, hollowed out and liquid dark, and he has to look away. "This is what I've wanted since I was--for as long as--" Breathing out, John leans into the couch, awkward and washed pale in the dark of the living room. "You know that. You've--you've always known that."
Rodney knows. He's watched John watch the skies for six years, seen him study engines and aerodynamics like a religion, followed him to his father's bases to watch the helicopters and planes take off and land. There's nothing here he didn't know at the beginning, except that he didn't know anything at all, not really, not when John could be signed up tomorrow, walk out of his life with a jaunty wave and a promise to return that he might not be able to keep. That maybe someday, when the strain's too much, he won't want to keep.
"You can't--" Rodney almost stops, almost gives in, because he can't stand this, can't stand John looking at him like that, like he's taken away everything he's ever wanted and *broke* it, like--
"Since I was old enough to know what the fucking sky *is*, Rodney!" John shouts back. "I've wanted this all my life. Would you give up your doctorate if I asked you to?"
"You're asking me to give up *you*!" His chest is tight; breathing's harsh and painful and he wants more than anything else not to have seen this, not today, not ever.
"And you get tired of having to hide and the separations and you crawl into the bed of someone convenient, someone *easy*," Rodney spits out. "Someone you can show off to your military buddies--or maybe she's like Megan and willing to look the other way, and you think I'd ever be *okay* with that?"
Rodney can barely believe he's saying this, the words pouring out too fast to stop, and he'd never realized how much that scared him. Maybe he could learn to live with having John on those terms, too, and that was something he'd never wanted to know about himself.
John flinches like Rodney hit him. He probably just did. "Jesus. I promised--"
"No. We're not doing this. I'm not doing this. I don't want to. Not even for you."
And he can see it; he never wanted to, never wants to again, but he sees it, sees the second that John breaks, sitting on the arm of the couch like all his strings have been cut, staring at the floor. The dark's kinder than Rodney deserves; if he's going to do that to someone, he should have to see it, all of it.
Leaning into the wall, Rodney sinks down onto the floor, the unnatural quiet of an interrupted fight settling over them awkwardly. He can't look away from John, makes himself wait for John to stand up and walk out, pack up whatever he can take in one bag, vanish into a recruitment office and the last thing Rodney will remember is telling him that Rodney's feelings, like John's father's, came with conditions.
He has no idea how long he sits there, watching John, watching the living room shadows spread and retreat with the moon, John finally shifting onto the couch, head back, face lost in the dark of the living room.
Then John says, "Okay."
Rodney blinks to see the first rays of sun spilling into the living room. He hadn't even noticed it was morning.
John stands up, flipping on the living room light, going past him into their bedroom. Stumbling to his feet, Rodney opens his mouth and starts to take back every word.
Except John isn't packing. The neat stack of papers that would change their lives are gathered into a pile, carried out and Rodney watches numbly as John dumps them into the trash. Rodney's chest is too tight to take it in, but John's picking up the phone, turning enough to give Rodney a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "I--I have some phone calls to make," he says, and his voice is so steady, it's like nothing happened. "I'll be a while."
"Right." Stepping backward, Rodney watches John turn his back, leaning into the kitchen counter, palm flat on the scarred grey-white surface, and realizes who the first call will be to.
Rodney's almost got the door closed when he hears John say, "Hi, Dad. There's something I need to tell you."
Rodney starts when John gets up, crawling across the narrow dorm bed, trying to ignore pointed knees and the entire experience of consciousness. It's been a fucking *long* week.
"Where are you going?" Rodney says, catching the back of John's boxers when John manages to get a leg to the floor. He's allowed to do that, he's pretty sure. John slept with him. Granted, riding a high from way too much caffeine, but it counts. And he hasn't run away yet. A huge plus.
Unless this is running away. Which would suck.
"Left something in my room," he answers on a yawn. Rodney opens his eyes; John's a sight worth seeing when he first wakes up, hair an even more spectacular mess than usual, sleepy-eyed, pink and warm from sleep. Rodney honestly doesn't understand why more people don't simply throw themselves at John between classes. He's a walking invitation to something illegal, Rodney knows it.
"You have stuff left in your room?" At some point, Rodney's roommate had vanished, though Rodney can't remember if it was before or after John never bothered to leave after coming over during the dead days. Squinting across the room, Rodney can see books piled on the floor around the desks, scattered clothes of various questionable origin, John's terrible porn collection, Rodney's even more terrible porn, and what looks like four week old Chinese. A small mountain of soda cans. Pizza boxes. He wonders if they just hallucinated leaving this room at some point.
"No," John says. Yawning, he settles over Rodney's thighs, one foot still on the floor. "Maybe."
"You don't have any classes today," Rodney answers, and pushes him back onto the bed. "You're hallucinating finals again." Which is what you get when you mainline enough no-doze and jolt that you start seeing yourself in eleven dimensions without resorting to string theory. Not that Rodney did any better, but is he still hallucinating? No.
"Did I pass?"
Rodney snorts and settles on John's bony shoulder. "No, you failed everything. I've decided to keep you anyway for your aesthetic value." Throwing a leg over John in case he wanders out of bed to figure out if he can fly, Rodney retucks the blanket around his ass. "God, I hate these beds."
A few long, blissful seconds pass, then he feels John stiffen abruptly, bringing Rodney completely awake. Well, fuck. There goes the caffeine high. "Rodney?" John says, and Rodney doesn't even breathe for a second. Then he sighs, moving closer. "Right."
"I'm hoping that means, 'I will be calling my girlfriend and breaking it off', not, 'hey, huge gay mistake'. There's no way I will take that well."
John lifts his head, looking irritated. "Thanks for the faith, asshole."
Rodney tries not to grin. "Who took off whose clothes here?"
John sits up, still frowning, but he can't quite pull off pissed when he keeps rubbing at his eyes. "I'll call her," he grumbles, then stares around the room. "Did I finish my--"
"You got an A," Rodney says. "Williams let me see the tests."
"It's so creepy that I'm sleeping with my physics tutor," John says sadly. "Creepy and wrong."
"Yes, I remember you saying that earlier," Rodney agrees. Maybe they're both still a little high. "Also, your schedule was changed while you were sleeping off a caffeine hangover."
"To be fair," Rodney says, crossing his arms behind his head, "it was Williams who went and put you in next semester's class. I just nodded when he asked if you were ready for something more challenging than babystepping your way through the sophomore level physics."
John stares at him. "When I was high, did I say something stupid like, sure I'll date you. Because I have no idea what you're actually *like*."
"Yes," Rodney answers smugly and pulls John down on top of him. A two year crush, careful study, seventy five hours of tutoring, and vicious strategizing, all paid off with amazing sex. He's sure it was amazing, even if he can only remember parts of it. He's just that freaking cool. John's still frowning, but his body's pliant against Rodney's. "You also said you loved me and wanted to move in with me and clean my room."
"You are so making shit up," John says, but he gets a knee between Rodney's and smirks. "And your room is a pigsty."
"It's half your stuff," Rodney points out.
John leans down for a bitter morning kiss, too warm and a little sour, but Rodney doesn't mind. Much. When he pulls away, though, there's a look on John's face that reminds Rodney that John wasn't the only one popping no-doze like M & Ms. "Did you--were you reciting poetry to me last night?"
A fragment of memory tries to work itself free. Rodney squashes it mercilessly. "No."
"Sappho?" John says curiously, damn all lit classes and Rodney's photographic memory anyway. "Or was it Byron?"
"I hate you." John grins and kisses him, once, hard, before shaking his head. "A lot."
"So you keep saying," John says, and Rodney hears a knock on the door. Ignoring it, he pulls the sheet from between them, pushing John onto his back and straddling the narrow hips, settling to look at the bare expanses of tan skin, dark hair, soft, swollen mouth. John stretches deliberately, arms above his head, every dirty fantasy of Rodney's teenage life in living color. The knocking comes again, and John turns his head casually toward it. "Someone there?"
"It's the day after finals," Rodney says, leaning down, cupping John's face to get his full attention. "They'll go away."
"Mmm." John's got the best mouth, and God does he know how to use it. Rodney brushes a hand through John's hair, silky against his fingers, reaching for John's hand, fingers sliding willingly through his.
He barely hears the door open, because he always locks his door, always, but apparently he didn't last night, and the stuttered sound of steps brings his head up sharply, with a kind of inevitability, to see Megan standing there, bright red and horrified, dark hair still wet from an early morning shower. John's slower to respond, turning dream-slow, staring at Megan with his most shuttered expression.
"Sorry," she says, stumbling backward. "I was--I was looking for John, but--"
John breathes out hard enough for Rodney to feel it against his chest. Rodney waits for him to pull away, but he should have known better; John never hides from anything except himself. "I'm sorry," he says quietly, and Rodney belatedly realizes that he could be kind and stop fondling Megan's soon to be ex boyfriend in front of her. "I was going to call you--"
"That would have been great," she says, voice too high. "That makes it--that makes it better, right? F-fuck that, John. You--you--" she stumbles over a garbled something, then backs up a step. "I--I--" Then she's gone, leaving the door open to the dorm and at least ten passing by students who try to get a look inside without meaning to. Rodney's known for his swift and terrible vengeance, after all.
Getting up, he closes the door to a gawking onlooker. John sits up, pulling his knees to his chest, watching Rodney cross the room with a kind of thoughtful intensity that reminds Rodney he's never figured out three quarters of what John's actually thinking.
"She's going to talk," Rodney says, because it's a new thought, that the son of an Air Force general may not want to be outed on campus quite so--spectacularly.
"No, she won't," John says, and sighs, laying back down. "I'll talk to her."
Rodney frowns. "How do you know?"
John's head turns on the pillow. "That's why I dated her," and Rodney takes a second to think about John's pretty, talented mouth wrapped around his cock, and thinks of Megan's horror but no surprise, not really.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Rodney stares at John until John looks at him. "You won't--I can't--"
"I don't need to anymore," John says, then sits up, crawling the space between them, settling on Rodney's thighs like they'd been doing this every day since they met and not just since last night. Rodney sees nothing but complete sincerity in the hazel eyes that stare down into his.
"I mean it," he hears himself say, and John nods slowly. "If you ever--" He never knew. He's John's tutor and his best friend, and he never before last night knew that John-- "If you--"
"I *won't*," John says, sounding irritated now. Leaning closer, he smiles, soft and sincere and Rodney doesn't think even John can lie when he looks like that. "Not to you."
Rodney wants to believe him so much that he can barely breathe through it. "We need to talk--" And loses his train of thought when John's hand slides into his boxers. "God," he says instead.
John's teeth close over his ear. "Later."
Rodney thinks he can live with that.