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Title: when you know you were born to fly
Author: justbreathe80
Recipient: sugarsbadhabit
Pairing: John/Rodney
Rating: NC-17
Summary: "Ladies and gentleman, welcome aboard Atlantis Air flight number 1641. This is Captain Sheppard on the flight deck. I'll be flying you to San Francisco today, with First Officer Dex on my right. Approximate flight time this afternoon is six hours and thirty four minutes. The weather in the Bay Area is partly cloudy with some fog, and fifty four degrees. We're expecting a smooth flight, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight to San Francisco."
Author's notes: Thanks to my two fabulous betas, who know who they are, and who talked me down off the ledge. I confess to a knowledge of being an airline pilot that is limited to internet research. If anyone's curious, this is John's apartment in Berkeley and this is Rodney's hotel.

*

"Ladies and gentleman, welcome aboard Atlantis Air flight number 1641. This is Captain Sheppard on the flight deck. I'll be flying you to San Francisco today, with First Officer Dex on my right. Approximate flight time this afternoon is six hours and thirty four minutes. The weather in the Bay Area is partly cloudy with some fog, and fifty four degrees. We're expecting a smooth flight, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight to San Francisco."

When John took his finger off of the PA system, Ronon was smirking. Just like he always was after John made his welcome announcement, like he was supposed to be anything but soothing and follow the same damn script every time. "What?" John said, glaring at Ronon while Ronon chuckled and checked the instruments one more time. John was listening as the instructions for runway position and order for take off came in, but he was only half-focusing.

He made this same flight, Logan to SFO, and the return trip, twice a week. They were San Francisco-based, so he kept an apartment in Berkeley for three or four days a week and a standing reservation for a hotel in Cambridge for the in between times. He could fly this route with his eyes closed, but he'd never tell any of the passengers that he was tempted to try.

John waited while the crew seated all of the passengers and ran through the safety procedure. "All set," Teyla called in, after she closed the cabin door, and then she pulled the cockpit door shut behind her with a wry smile.

They taxied out and were fourth in line for take off - running about ten minutes behind already, but it was Logan after all and there wasn't much to do about it. He'd make up as much of the time as he could in the air, push it a little, even with the wind against him.

A United plane went up, then Air Canada, and then he was waiting just behind the American Airlines Airbus A330. John spent over ten years in the cockpits of F-16s and helicopters and even though the Boeing 767 just couldn't compare for sheer style, he was grateful every goddamn time he got behind the controls and waited to take the plane up, that he got to do this almost every day, as long as he wanted to. Take her up to 40,000 feet and just let her go.

"All set, buddy?" John asked Ronon, just like every single time they'd done this together, going on four years now. Ronon grinned and nodded.

"Cleared for take off," John said over the intercom, and turned the corner to get ready to go, sending the large but sleek sea-blue plane full throttle down the runway until the air caught underneath the wings and they were up, up, up.




"We've reached our cruising altitude of forty thousand feet. It's looking pretty good up here now, but I'm getting reports of some rough patches up not too far from here, so I'm going to leave on the fasten seatbelt sign until I'm sure we're clear of it. Please stay in your seats until I turn it off."

It was a clear day at that point, and John could see upstate New York, the wide open spread of the Lake Erie below them. They were headed due west and would start to turn just a little south pretty soon. John leaned back and let Ronon take over for a few minutes. Ronon didn't say anything when John handed over the controls, just grunted and kept his eyes out the front window of the cockpit. John closed his eyes for a moment, stretching his arms up over his head and unbuttoning the top two buttons of his too-stiff white shirt.

He was about to take over again when the phone from the passenger cabin started to ring. "Sheppard," John said after picking it up.

"Hello, John," Teyla's voice was even, although she didn't really sound her normal self. They'd been flying this route together since John was a made a captain five years ago, and she even lived two floors down from him in his apartment building. He wouldn't call them best friends, but he knew Teyla as well as he knew anyone.

"What's up, Teyla?"

"Well, I hate to bother you, but we have a very irritated first class passenger who may, if he continues as he is, cause Laura to punch him in the face."

"Okay..." John said, curious. Laura packed a mean right hook.

"Chuck is with her, and Carson's coming up as soon as he serves his last few drinks, but it does not look good."

"What's he so pissed off about?" John asked.

"The chicken piccata, apparently. He has accused us of trying to murder him, and he is making the other passengers nervous."

John sighed. He really hated getting involved in what happened with the passengers - half the time he tried not to think about the fact that he was responsible for over two hundred people for thirty-five hundred miles on a regular basis. It wasn't that he didn't take it seriously, but it was sometimes a burden that rested heavy across his shoulders.

"Okay, fine, fine. I'm coming back."

"Thank you," Teyla said crisply, and hung up the phone.

John hung up the phone and Ronon glanced over. "Problem in the cabin?"

"Disgruntled passenger - something about death by chicken piccata. You okay up here?" John quickly buttoned his shirt back up.

"Got it," Ronon said, waving him off.

John unlocked the cockpit door and walked out into the beverage service area before the first class section. He could see clear through to the coach seats, and just seeing all of those people packed tightly together like sardines made him feel claustrophobic and a little panicky.

At first, John wasn't sure how he'd know who Teyla was talking about, but then he caught sight of Laura's smooth, red hair, pulled back into a bun, and he could hear a man talking loudly, working up a real good head of steam. Chuck and Carson were standing in the aisle, looking at Laura's clenched fists in worry.

"Okay," John said, stepping in just to Laura's left and shooting what he hoped was a reassuring smile at the young woman sitting on the angry man's right. "What seems to be the trouble here?"

"The trouble is that I'm going to kick this guy's ass," Laura hissed, thankfully not loud enough for anyone else to hear, as she turned around and walked off down the aisle.

"The trouble," said the man, his hands waving, "is that your stewardesses are trying to kill me."

"You know, I think the politically correct and gender neutral term is 'flight attendant.' Chuck and Carson here might take offense to being called stewardesses."

"Whatever," the man said, and his face was just getting redder and redder as he crossed his arms over his chest. "That doesn't change the fact that I almost died."

John smirked. "Right, yes, I heard something about death by chicken piccata. I happen to think the chicken piccata is pretty good, by airplane standards."

"Yes, well, you would think that if you don't have a deadly citrus allergy. I know that you are supposedly not brain dead and you're responsible for getting me to San Francisco in one piece, Captain Sheppard, but I have to give a lecture at Berkeley tonight and the most impressionable minds of a generation should not be deprived of my brilliance because your 'flight attendants'," and, wow, the guy even did the air quotes and everything, "can't be bothered to pay attention to my dietary specifications."

"Wow." He didn't even know where to start with that rant. "I think you might be right. They must have been trying to off you. Maybe the crew secretly works for Caltech or MIT or something, and wants to take you out?"

"Ha ha," Rodney said, glaring at John and huffing. "And besides, I work at MIT anyway."

"Well, there goes that theory. Listen," John said, waiting for the guy to supply his name.

"Dr. Rodney McKay."

"Listen, Rodney, why don't I just have Carson here bring you a citrus-free meal, and I'll make sure he takes care of you for the rest of the flight if you stop freaking out the rest of my passengers and let me get back to flying my plane before we crash into Lake Michigan or something."

The woman next to Rodney gasped at the word "crash," and John grimaced. "Sorry, I was just kidding. No crashing, no way." He turned back to Rodney. "Okay? We have a deal?"

Rodney looked deflated. "Fine. But see if I fly this airline ever again."

"I'm sure we'd all miss you, Rodney, but Laura might really punch you the next time." Rodney didn't respond, but just looked out of the window. "Carson, can you take care of Dr. McKay here?"

"Absolutely," Carson said, smiling at Rodney and making Rodney roll his eyes. "Anything he needs."

John took one more look at Rodney's tense profile, his slightly askew jacket, his thinning brown hair and blue eyes, before heading back up to the cockpit and shutting the door behind him.




It was a smooth ride the rest of the way into SFO, and the only other time John heard a peep from the passenger cabin was when Teyla handed their dinners through the door with a smile. She gave them both chicken piccata, and John didn't think he'd ever be able to eat any chicken piccata again without thinking of a very irritated and almost murdered Dr. Rodney McKay, of Berkeley and MIT. He chuckled as he took a bite.

"What are you laughing at?" Ronon grumbled as he stuffed what John swore was half of a chicken breast in his mouth. John could never figure out how Ronon didn't end up without half of his dinner on the controls.

"Nothing, just the pissed off first class passenger I just subdued. He's allergic to citrus and accused Laura of trying to murder him."

"Did she punch him?" Ronon asked, almost eagerly.

"Nah," John said, taking a sip of his water. "I got there before she threw one."

"That's too bad."

Two hours later, John was taking them in for a nice, smooth landing, tapping the landing gear softly down on the runway and putting on the anti-thrusters. They taxied into the gate and John let out a deep breath, his heart beating strong and fast, just like it always did at this point, as the jetway was secured and Teyla opened the cabin door. He stood up and stretched out his legs, along with Ronon, and smiled as the passengers filed off.

When Rodney McKay walked by, John smiled sweetly and mock saluted him. "Hope to see you again soon, Dr. McKay."

"Try not to kill me the next time," Rodney said, his voice as close to cheery as John bet it ever got, his hand raised in a wave that managed to be more sarcastic then anything he ever could have said.




John had two days off before his return trip to Boston, and he was, gratefully, headed to his apartment to sit on his couch to watch TiVoed Raiders games from last season and drink beer. In sweatpants, preferably. He said goodbye to Laura, Chuck, and Carson at the gate. Ronon and Teyla were headed out to dinner, so he departed from them at the baggage claim.

He walked outside, rolling his suitcase behind him, and pulled his arms around himself against the cool, late afternoon breeze. There were a few people in front of him waiting for cabs, and normally, he'd just take the BART and enjoy the hour or so ride to Berkeley, but he was exhausted, and all he wanted to do was get home as fast as possible.

The line dwindled, and John was next when he heard someone clear their throat next to him. When he turned his head, there was the very not-dead Rodney McKay, looking a little sheepish. "Hey, Rodney," John said.

"Hello, Captain - Christ, that sounds stupid, oh Captain, my Captain! - don't you have a real name?"

"John Sheppard," and John stuck out his hand like they'd never met before. Rodney was slow on the uptake, but he took John's hand in his own, which was larger than it looked and soft, and shook it.

"Listen," Rodney said, strained, "I just wanted to say that I realize, in retrospect, that perhaps acted a little irrationally on the plane before."

"A little?" John said, raising his eyebrow.

"Okay, a lot, but it's a very severe allergy and thank god I noticed."

"Um, apology accepted?"

"Thank you," Rodney said firmly. John felt like he had whiplash, and he rubbed at the burgeoning headache between his eyes. He decided to change the subject.

"You headed to Berkeley now?" John wasn't sure why he was doing what he was doing, other than the fact that he couldn't seem to stop himself, and Rodney was the most interesting thing he'd encountered in longer than he could remember.

"Yes - I'm staying at The Claremont, on Ashby."

"Do you want to share a cab? I live a few blocks from there. I could save you the wait in the line."

Rodney looked puzzled. "You want to share a cab with me?"

"Sure, why the hell not?" John said, shrugging, as another yellow car pulled up to the curb. "Come on."

Rodney hung back for second while John tossed his bag into the trunk, like he was waiting for John to change his mind, before stepping forward and putting his bag next to John's in the trunk.




The cab ride was surprisingly pleasant, quiet until they started to cross the Bay Bridge, the sun setting dramatically over the city, and then John asked, "So, what do you do at Berkeley?"

Rodney pulled his coat tighter around himself. "I'm a visiting lecturer in astrophysics. I come out here once or twice a week and give a grad lecture, and then fly back. Truth is, Berkeley's been trying to woo me away from MIT for, well, ever, and I think they're close to making me a pretty lucrative offer for a tenured faculty position."

"You going to take if they do?"

"Yes - I mean, I think so. It's Berkeley, after all, and teaching here would be just one more thing in my Nobel Prize column, but I've been at MIT for a while and they don't really make me teach all that often, so I must admit having a soft spot for them in general. I keep figuring that I'll just make the decision when they make the offer. Twelve hours of flight time from Boston to San Francisco and back means a lot of time to contemplate one's existence."

"Yeah." John nodded, until he caught Rodney's wide eyed look, "I mean, not that I ever do anything but focus one hundred percent on flying the plane when I'm up there." The truth was, John could focus one hundred percent on flying, but he still did his best thinking at forty thousand feet, and with the clouds underneath him.

Rodney snorted. "Sure. Oh," and Rodney was gesturing to the cab driver, "this is my stop."

"I'll just get out here too," John said, not minding walking the few blocks to Kittredge from Ashby. They both stepped onto the sidewalk and John suddenly didn't know what to do with his hands, so he grabbed his suitcase out of the trunk and gripped the handle tightly.

"So," Rodney said, pushing his laptop case higher up on his shoulder to keep it from slipping off. "Thanks for sharing the cab. And I am sorry, about the chicken and the murder thing."

"Not a problem - I'm sure I'll see you around, at least until you get that offer." John shifted his weight and pulling out the retractable handle of the suitcase so that he could roll it along to his building.

Rodney nodded. "Oh, yes. Atlantis gives me the best frequent flyer miles, so I'm sure that I won't actually defect over the whole incident."

"Good to know I'll still have a job." John chuckled and saluted at Rodney again. "See you around, Dr. McKay." And then John turned around and left Rodney standing on the sidewalk in front of his overpriced hotel, rolling his suitcase along the city streets in the afternoon sunshine, the ground steady underneath his feet.




John did spend the next forty eight hours happily munching chips and drinking beer on his couch, ordering a couple of large pizzas when the chips just weren't cutting it anymore. Teyla came up for a few hours on Wednesday morning, in what looked like workout clothes, to yell at the Raiders and their really incredible ineptitude along with him. Man, she could yell. Then, she smoothly stood up from the couch and told him she'd see him later, as she left, probably to go down to the gym on the corner and beat the shit out of the heavy bag.

Thursday came around way too fast, and John took his last morning in Berkeley - before sleeping on rented sheets in a decent-but-still-not-home hotel in Cambridge for two nights - to run through the streets as the sun came up over the bay and the city across. He ran until he couldn't feel his legs, until the sun was high and warm, even though it was only March, and then he went home and showered and dressed carefully in the black pants and white shirt, clipping the wings on before grabbing his jacket and hat and going downstairs to hail a cab.

Teyla was standing down on the corner in front of their building, wearing her own uniform and looking relaxed, like she'd been on a spa vacation instead of working out for two straight days. "Good morning, John," she said evenly, gathering her hair up into a ponytail. "I called a cab - it should be here in a minute."

It was mid-day Thursday, but that didn't seem to make a damn bit of difference at SFO, even as he and Teyla and Ronon (who they'd picked up at the door of the terminal) skipped ahead of the security line and made their way quickly to the gate.

John scanned the passengers sitting at the gate when he walked up to board the plane, and then smiled at Laura as he walked down the jetway.




John knew that a lot of guys flew commercial because they liked the people - they liked being able to say hi to Midwestern families and their screaming brats and help little old ladies and all that. John flew commercial because, after getting unceremoniously booted out on his ass by the United States Air Force, he didn't know what the fuck else to do. He was grateful that they'd discharged him honorably so that he could at least get work, but he spent the first two years as a flight instructor for Atlantis Air longing so hard for the unrestrained power of a fighter jet beneath him that it almost made him cry.

Now, John was just grateful that someone paid him to take a Boeing 767 up in the air four times a week and fly thirty five hundred miles, because the alternative wasn't something he was willing to face. But there was still a part of him that absolutely hated the part where he had to smile and greet the passengers and pretend like this was his first choice.

"Good afternoon," he said to a woman who had to be at least ninety five, as Chuck helped her out of the wheelchair and into the first row of coach. "Welcome aboard."

Then, the rest of the passengers started to file in. "Well, well," John said, feeling the smile spread across his face almost in spite of himself. "If it isn't the infamous Dr. Rodney McKay."

Rodney sighed and barely missed taking Chuck out with his carry-on. "Yes, you're so funny, Sheppard."

"How was Berkeley? Any word yet?"

"Not yet, but I have a meeting with the dean next trip out, so that might be it."

"Well, I'll keep my fingers crossed for you, Rodney."

Rodney waved him off. "Yes, yes, well, make sure you uncross them so you can fly my damn plane."

John laughed as Rodney situated himself in the first row of first class, a flurry of suitcase and overcoat and laptop that John couldn't help but stare at with something like awe. Or maybe shock, he wasn't sure. Finally, Rodney huffed and stuffed a pillow behind his head before raising his arm to get Laura's attention.

"Oh dear sweet Jesus, not again," Laura said, her voice pitched low in that 'quiet enough for only flight attendants and pilots to hear' tone. "I never thought I'd want to go back to working with the coach passengers, but this guy makes me want to."

"He's just - particular?" John grinned and Laura just rolled her eyes, pouring Rodney's coffee and then walking away. John stood and smiled, and kept it plastered on, while the rest of the eager families and weary business travelers filed on, one after another.




The flight was good; he caught a great tailwind and got them into Logan an almost unimaginable forty minutes early. The landing was sweet and smooth, and he was grinning so hard as they taxied that Ronon rolled his eyes and sighed beside him.

John made his way off the plane after the passengers deplaned, missing most of the first class passengers by the time he finished talking to Radek in the control tower. He said goodbye to the flight attendants, and to Ronon and Teyla, who always seemed to have friends to spend time with in Boston.

Honestly, John felt largely indifferent about Boston. He'd spent a little over three years living there when he was getting his master's at MIT, and about a third or so of the last five years, but he'd never loved it the way he loved California, or San Francisco, or Berkeley. He'd just lived there, or used to, or did some of the time.

Most of the time he spent in Boston was in the same hotel he'd always stayed in, not too far from the airport, but close enough to the T in case he ever wanted to go out into the city. He always got a room that faced the city, the Zakim Bridge to the north, and that usually did it for him. He ordered pizza and Chinese and Thai and sometimes sushi, and did what he did at his apartment, except it didn't feel the same.

John always took the Silver Line to the Red Line to the hotel, and tonight was no exception. He waited until the train pulled up, the wind rushing onto his face, hand gripping the suitcase handle tightly, like it could fly away, just like that. The car was nearly empty - it was after eleven on a Thursday, after all - and he sat down in the nearest seat, pulling a well-worn paperback out of the front pocket of his suitcase and settling in.

He could hear the rustling of someone sitting down near him, and he raised his head just enough to glance over a couple of seats over and see Rodney McKay sitting there, a suitcase and laptop and briefcase taking up the floor and the seat next to him, thumbing intently through a stack of papers in his hands.

"Hey, Rodney," John said, noticing that they were alone in the car. He stuffed his book back into the suitcase and zipped it shut. "Are you stalking me?"

Rodney looked up, startled - he clearly hadn't noticed that John was the other person there, either. "Maybe you're stalking me."

John laughed, leaning forward, his hands on the scratchy knees of his uniform pants. "No, you're definitely stalking me. Is thirty five hundred miles not enough to spend together, Dr. McKay?"

"I am not stalking you." Rodney's tone was precise and indignant. "I live in Cambridge."

"Really? I never pictured you as a Cambridge kind of guy. Do you live in Kendall?"

"On the Cambridge side of Davis, actually, there's good coffee - what do you know about Cambridge anyway?" Rodney said suspiciously.

John shrugged. "I lived in Cambridge for a couple of years - right off Harvard Square - while I was at MIT." And it was hilarious, watching Rodney almost sputter, as he realized that the guy who ferried him back and forth across the country must have an actual brain, if he'd studied at Rodney's place of employment.

"You went to MIT?" Rodney said incredulously.

"Yup," John answered, sitting back against the worthless attempt at cushioning a hard, plastic subway seat. "I got my master's there - well, more like three and a half years of doctoral work, but the master's is what I have to show for it. Applied math."

John just sat and waiting, appreciating greatly the seconds that passed while Rodney's mouth gaped open and he grasped for a response. "Why'd you stop after three and a half years?"

"Bosnia - I was deployed. Air Force. And then I just couldn't stand the idea of being grounded again, so I stayed active after that." John paused, then added, "For a while, anyway."

"You gave up math for the military?"

"I know, it's hard to believe," John said, keeping half an ear out for when they reached South Station.

Rodney put the papers down on top of his coat. "How come you didn't finish? I mean, you clearly aren't Air Force anymore, so why not do the semester or so of course work and write the damn paper?"

"I like flying," he said simply, knowing that it wasn't going to make any sense to Rodney at all. Hell, he'd asked these same questions to himself when he'd washed out seven years before, seriously contemplating a return to the safe embrace of theoretical mathematics, but he couldn't stomach being out of the air anymore. So he'd applied for the Atlantis job instead, and never looked back. "Do you always ask so many questions?"

And sure enough, Rodney rolled his eyes. "I think you are too stupid to fly me cross country twice a week, even in spite of the math," he said snidely, which just made John smile more.

"That's too bad, Rodney," John said, getting to his feet and gathering his coat as the Courthouse stop was announced. He turned to Rodney, who was still sprawled over what seemed like half of the subway car. "Coming?"




They rode the rest of the way to Kendall in companionable silence, John already halfway in his head to taking off his uniform and sprawling across the white hotel sheets for the rest of the night. He stood up as the train raced underground, closer to the Charles River. "This is my stop," John said, tugging his jacket back into place and pulling up the handle of his bag.

"Oh, okay," Rodney said, starting to put away his own things.

"You flying back on Saturday?"

"Yes," Rodney replied, and John moved to the door.

"Well, see you in a couple of days, McKay."

The train started to slow, the screech of the brakes loud in the tunnel as they passed through. "Wait - John - " Rodney burst out, and John turned to look at him, raising his eyebrow. Rodney looked a little flustered, his cheeks flushed. "Do you have plans, tomorrow, maybe for lunch?" The train was slowing down even further.

John considered it for a minute. He'd never even talked to a passenger off of the plane before, and yes, he saw Rodney more than he saw anyone other than his crew, in all honesty. And what would it hurt to have a meal with the guy while they were in the same city? "Nope," John said, watching Rodney's smile spread across his face, the doors about to open any second. He yanked his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. "Give me your number, I'll call you and then you'll have my number."

Rodney recited the digits and John punched them into his cell phone, then glanced at him one last time, taking in Rodney's pleased expression, before stepping out of the train into the deserted station.




Rodney called at 11:30. John had slept until nine and then gone out for a run along the Charles, with the traffic of Memorial Drive streaming past him, the weather bright and clear and cold, showing off a glittering Boston across the water. He'd stayed out a long time, not wanting to stop, enjoying the cool air and sun. He almost stumbled back into the hotel, making it back just in time to hear his cell ringing on the bedside table.

"Hello?" he said, still a little out of breath.

"Hello, John?" Rodney's voice sounded a little bit different on the phone

"Hey, Rodney, how's it going?" John wiped his face with a hand towel from the bathroom.

"I'm okay," Rodney said. "Have you been running a marathon or something? You're panting in my ear."

John laughed. "Uh, well, I just ran ten miles, so not quite a marathon."

"I should have known that you'd be a runner," Rodney muttered, then cleared his throat. "Anyway, are you still up for lunch? Do you like sushi?"

"Yeah, sushi sounds good," John answered, smiling in spite of himself.

And that's how he ended up at Takemura in Harvard Square, after a quick shower and two stops on the T. He had lived four blocks from where they were sitting, over ten years ago, and now they were sharing edamame and spicy tuna rolls, John listening to Rodney talk about how students at MIT really should be smarter, and how he'd just published a paper on theoretical wormhole dynamics. He asked John what his dissertation work had been on, and John started to launch into a discussion of number theory that no one he'd ever met would have been able to follow. When John was done, Rodney looked at him, stunned. "You did your work with Carlson, right?" John nodded, stealing a piece of yellowtail off Rodney's plate. "You should come by and talk to him when you're in town. Your - this - it's really good, John, even after ten years."

John blushed and ducked his head a bit. "I'm not really interested, Rodney. I like my job."

Rodney shook his head, throwing his napkin down on the table with a sigh. "Well, then, if you're sure. Although, I might ask you to take a look at some equations - maybe in all that free time you have while keeping us up in the air?" He smiled smugly at John across the ruins of their lunch.

"I only need one hand to operate the plane," John shot back.

After, they wandered slowly, like some weird kind of dance, back out onto JFK and toward Harvard, back to the T. John was smiling - it had been etched on his face since he met Rodney on the street above the T two hours before. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spent this long not at work with anyone other than Teyla. It was really nice, even though - and maybe because - Rodney was annoying and picky and rude and got mad at John for not doing math anymore, even though they'd only known each other for four days.

"Well, thank you," Rodney said, shifting his bag - which John was sure was full of papers and at least one laptop - on his shoulder. John pushed his hands into the pocket of his jeans. It was unseasonably warm for late March, and he thought his down jacket might be too much, because he was sweating a little. "It's nice to have lunch with someone who, well - who isn't a professor."

"Um, I think that's a compliment?" Rodney nodded emphatically, and John continued, "Thanks for asking me. I don't go out much in Boston - I usually hit the room service and the TV pretty hard when I'm here."

Then, Rodney glanced down at his watch, his eyes going wide. "Oh, crap - sorry, it's just - I have, uh - a class in a half an hour. We should probably go."

John had this sudden urge to stay, to walk around and remember being twenty three again - high on math that was just inside his grasp and the prospect of some kind of flight. He wanted to go to the Co-op and sit among books for three hours, like he used to do when he was in grad school, and eat soup at Pho Pasteur until he almost burst. "I'm going to stay," he said, and Rodney nodded. "Thanks again."

"You're welcome." Rodney stuck out his hand, and John reached out and took it. Rodney was looking at him, his head cocked to one side and his mouth crooked, and John couldn't figure out what it meant, but he figured out that he'd been standing in the middle of Harvard Square holding Rodney McKay's hand for a little longer than was considered normal. He widened his eyes, and Rodney picked his head back up and pulled away, a little slowly. "Um, right," Rodney said, reaching into his pocket for his Charlie Ticket, "so, see you Saturday?"

"See you Saturday, Rodney," John said, and watched as Rodney, in a flurry of papers and coat and bag, took off down the stairs.




John stood in the front of the plane, greeting passengers, just like always. He felt exhausted, like the ridiculous amount of sleep he'd managed to get the last couple of nights in the now-familiar hotel room never happened at all. He was ready for the next seven hours to be over, ready to be back in the familiar comfort of his apartment, with his TV and his couch and his stuff.

Although, if he thought about it, his exhaustion might be coming from the fact that, in the thirty-six hours since he saw Rodney for lunch, he'd run by McNair at MIT a truly embarrassing number of times, making the relatively short loop from the hotel through campus and back, and finally giving up after it was more than dark. And before he could run into his old advisor outside of Building 2.

The flight was almost completely sold out, and had that packed feeling that just made John want to flee for the cockpit and stay there forever. A quick check to his watch told him that there were about fifteen minutes left until their scheduled take-off. A quick glance into the first class section showed an empty seat, right in the second row, but no Rodney in sight. John turned to head back to his seat to do his pre-flight checks, and before he could ask Teyla to close the cockpit door, he heard what couldn't be anything but Rodney, huffing and puffing, swearing and apologizing, as he said hello to Teyla and Laura. John glanced back to catch Rodney's eye as Rodney threw himself down unceremoniously into his seat, managing to get more than one angry glare from the blond woman next to him. Rodney was stuffing papers into the back of the seat in front of him, and looked up just as the cockpit door was swinging shut.

The corner of Rodney's mouth was turned up, and John couldn't help but smile back.




John didn't see Rodney leave the plane after they landed at SFO - John was stuck talking to the engineering guys for a half an hour about a strange sound he'd heard during what was a truly rough pass over the Rockies. He prided himself on smooth flights, but there wasn't anything he could do this time; it even got a little worse after he climbed an extra five thousand feet to try to get out of the turbulence.

He finally dragged himself, pissed off and frustrated and exhausted, to the shuttle, ready to get on the BART and get home. He was waiting for the AirTrain, loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt when he heard someone clear their throat. When he looked up, Rodney was standing there, looking a bit disheveled and tired too and really, really good. His overflowing laptop bag was perched on his shoulder, his suit jacket over this arm and John wanted to reach over and loosen his tie too.

"Hey," Rodney said, smiling tiredly. "Quite the flight, huh?"

"Ugh," John groaned, rolling his eyes, "don't even get me started. That sucked." He held out the handle of his suitcase, and Rodney rolled his eyes, but took it anyway so that John could take off his own jacket, roll up his sleeves. When he was done, John reached over and grabbed the handle, his fingers brushing the back of Rodney's hand as Rodney let go.

Rodney shrugged, but he was still smiling. "Yes, well," and Rodney held up two fingers, like a peace sign, "Laura was kind enough to make sure that I had two glasses of scotch, so I don't remember much." John grinned back. That explained the slightly goofy edge to Rodney's smile.

"So," John said, following Rodney into the shuttle, trying to pretend the other people filing in and out around them didn't exist. "Big meeting with the dean soon, right?"

"What?" Rodney looked a little surprised, but pulled together quickly as he gripped the metal bar, his suitcase between his legs. "I mean, yes, I - it's tomorrow. At 10:30."

John nodded. "Well, good luck."

"Thanks. I'm about ninety-nine percent sure that it's going to go exactly like I expect it to. Mercer has all but told me the position is mine, but there's always getting the approval of the provost and everything, and you can never be sure in academia, although Mercer knows when not to pass up an opportunity to snag someone like me away from MIT." Rodney took a deep breath, cutting off the stream of babble. "I'm tired of being bicoastal. And, no offense, but I won't miss the flying."

John was happy for Rodney - it sounded like this was something he really wanted, and how was it that he went from talking Rodney down so that one of the flight attendants wouldn't punch him in the face, to caring whether or not Rodney would be there, in row two of first-class, every time he took off. That he cared if Rodney got the job he wanted.

"None taken," he said, smiling back at Rodney, feeling the tired skin pull tight around his eyes. "I'll miss you pissing off my crew, though."

"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed as the shuttle pulled up to the ground transportation area, and John didn't even say anything, didn't know what to say, as he followed Rodney outside, and followed him into a cab bound for Berkeley.




"John."

John registered the soft sound of someone's voice, just before he felt the heat of a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. The hand was warm, and he reached up to cover it with his own. John blinked his eyes open slowly and focused on Rodney's face, which was very close to his own. "What?" he said groggily, reluctantly dropping his hand from Rodney's, which was hot and felt like it was almost burning through John's wrinkled uniform shirt.

"Um, we're at your apartment," Rodney said softly, snatching his hand back like he was the one being burned, and looking down at where his hands were now clasped in his lap.

John looked at him, puzzled, then turned to see the water wall of Library Gardens out of his window. "How did you know where I lived?"

"Well," and Rodney still wasn't making eye contact, "I maybe looked in your wallet? At your driver's license?" John narrowed his eyes, and Rodney kept right on going. "It's just, you looked exhausted and you fell asleep almost before we pulled out of the airport, and I figured you wouldn't want to wake up at my hotel and have to walk, so I thought it was the polite thing to do."

John smiled, shifting slowly up from his slump on the seat. His back was killing him. "It's fine," he said softly, rubbing one hand over his hair.

Rodney looked up at John, nodding. "Okay."

"Well," John said, finally getting his hand on the door handle, shaking a little to clear the sleep from his eyes. The sun was just starting to set outside, with the streetlights starting to turn on, flickering to life, all around them. "It's been real, McKay. And, hey, good luck with your meeting."

"Thanks," Rodney said, smiling almost shyly, which didn't seem like him at all. John smiled back and then turned to open the door. Just as he lifted his foot to set it on the dirty concrete of the sidewalk, he felt the same hand from before clutch his arm, holding him back. He turned back to face Rodney, but Rodney didn't let go. His blue eyes were pinning John back against the dirty, cracking black vinyl seat, and John had a million words on the tip of his tongue. Things like yes and I want and my apartment's right here. He hadn't looked forward to anything but flying in years the way he looked forward to seeing Rodney every few days on his plane, in a random cab, on the T, in a sushi restaurant in Harvard Square. Rodney made him want to actually go into Building 2 for the first time in almost fifteen years, to discover all over again the math that had never been as good as planes. John had spent his whole life choosing one thing over another: the Air Force over his dad, his career over who he really was, flying over math. Flying over everything. Rodney made him want to have it all, made him want to write his dissertation and fly fighter jets and never leave this cab, at this moment.

"Rodney," he pleaded, not sure what he would follow it with but hoping that Rodney might let him off the hook for figuring it out.

Instead, Rodney tugged him a bit closer, fingers closed hot around John's bicep, his cheeks flushed but his mouth set in a hard, determined line. "I - do you - I have to - "

"I have to go," John said, interrupting, willing Rodney to let him go before Rodney did something stupid. "I'll see you in a couple of days, okay?"

Rodney didn't let go for a few more long moments while he studied John like he was a painting on the wall at the MFA, like he was the most complicated and perplexing mathematical proof at MIT. Then, Rodney dropped his hand, closing his eyes and sighing. "Yes, okay," he said, turning to face the back of the driver's head. "See you then."

John didn't look back as he got out of the cab, removed his small suitcase from the trunk, and only let himself watch the taxi roll away from the curb.

part two

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