Pairing: McKay/Sheppard, McKay/Keller
Spoilers: Through 'Brain Storm'
Summary: A love story.
John sighed and turned to sit on the couch. "You ever hear me talk about women like that?" Rodney was quiet for a long moment. Then, "No. You never talk about them at all."
Author's note: This story would be languishing in google docs if not for the valiant ass-kicking beta skills of shaenie. Also, Bluespirit, I hope this is something very like what you asked for, if not precisely like. Happy Holidays.
"...And then, after I saved her life, she kissed me!" Rodney was sprawled across John's bed like a teenage girl with the latest issue of Tiger Beat. John half-turned away and kept folding his laundry.
"Wow," he managed, trying to sound as disinterested as possible. "That's great, buddy." A t-shirt crumpled in his hands as Rodney went on, oblivious.
"I know! And the timing was perfect, because not only were we on two weeks of leave on earth, but there were three more weeks aboard the Daedalus, to, um, you know." He broke off, lifting up on one elbow and flushing a little. "Seal the deal."
John felt his eyes go wide, then narrow as he risked a cutting glance over at Rodney. "Did you just say 'seal the deal'?"
"Um," Rodney said, his cheeks rapidly progressing from mildly flushed to beet red. "Yes?"
"Geez, Rodney," he heard himself whine. "You think Keller'd really like to know you said something like that?"
"No?" Rodney flopped back down on his back. "Look, I don't know how I'm supposed to act. I haven't had a real girlfriend who actually likes me in years, and I've never really had, you know, a guy friend to even talk about it with when I did, so..." He trailed off, still staring at the ceiling.
John made himself continue folding. "So you thought you'd talk about her in frat-boy terms because I'm a guy. Right, McKay."
"Well, I just said I don't know!" Rodney replied hotly, folding his arms in a defensive position while still on his back, which was totally ridiculous and also? Apparently John's kryptonite. He had to stop himself from smiling goofily over at Rodney, because, God help him, it was fucking cute when he got all huffy.
He sighed and turned to sit on the couch, pairing socks up with their mates. "You ever hear me talk about women like that?"
Rodney was quiet for a long moment. Then, "No. You never talk about them at all."
"Exactly," John replied, throwing a pair of socks vaguely in the direction of his dresser. "Because it's private." ...And also because there hadn't really been any women in longer than John cared to admit. Hell, getting tied up and interrogated by Larrin had been the hottest female-related activity he'd had in years, and he'd kept all his clothes on.
It sure as hell beat out sitting around on the mainland and talking about chlorophyll, for crying out loud. Chlorophyll.
"So," Rodney said, and his voice was different, kind of awkward. "So, you're telling me you're 'sealing the deal' with all kinds of women and you're not telling me?" John turned his head to look at Rodney, fumbling the socks, but Rodney was still looking away, one corner of his mouth turned down.
John shrugged, wanting out of this conversation now. "If I were, it would be private information between me and her. Them. Whatever."
Rodney sat up abruptly. "Fine. No, that's- that's fine." He stood and moved to the door with quick, jerky movements, and John stood with him, socks dangling from one hand. "I guess I'll keep my good news to myself from now on, Colonel."
"Hey- Rodney- No, I mean," John said, but he couldn't keep the relief out of his voice. "I'm," he cleared his throat. "I'm happy you're happy."
Rodney blinked, his hand hovering over the door control. "I- I am. Um. Happy. Very." But his shoulders were slumped, and he waved the door open half-heartedly. "I'll see you at dinner?"
John cast around the room for something, anything to say to make this conversation not have happened. Coming up with nothing, he hitched one shoulder and felt like an asshole. "Yeah, buddy. See you then."
Rodney gave him a perfunctory nod, meeting his eyes briefly, and left.
John threw his socks across the room and fell on top of his laundry. "Goddamn it."
It was around the time that John had found himself sitting cross-legged on the floor in Rodney's quarters, putting the finishing touches on the most awesome remote control car ever, that he realized he was in even bigger trouble than he'd thought he was.
Rodney had been bent over one of the home-made remote controls, the casing off so he could test the circuits and boost their range a ridiculous amount ("What's the point of racing them around all that empty space on the East Pier if we have to run after them, Sheppard?"), and his brow was furrowed and he was muttering to himself and he was all hunched over, which made him look more like a schizophrenic Quasimodo than John's often-inexplicably-hot best friend. Seriously, it had been, like, five years, and John had long since admitted to himself that what he'd thought was an inconvenient and perplexingly persistent crush ran a lot deeper than that. He'd also admitted to himself that there was nothing to be done about it.
Rodney shifted, sat up, his back cracking. "Ow," he muttered cursorily. He started to put the casing back on the remote. "So. Are you finished painting flames on yours?"
John brandished his car. "Flaming."
Rodney snorted. "Nice. Do you have time for a test run?"
"Nah. Told Lorne I'd meet him in my office to go over some paperwork at 1900."
"Oh." Crestfallen, Rodney turned back to the casing, and John felt like an ass. "Well," Rodney ventured, "I guess I'll just radio Jennifer. See if she's had dinner."
A white-hot stab of jealousy turned John's stomach to lead. He spent a lot of time, these days, feeling like the third wheel in a relationship that hadn't even got off the ground yet. Between lunch dates, and dinner dates, and other random dates that were dates in everything but words, Rodney'd been pulling away from him, Teyla, Ronon, everybody, in favor of spending time with Keller. John was pretty damn sure Rodney hadn't even got to first base yet; hell, he'd hardly even stepped up to the plate. With any luck, he'd hover in the dugout indefinitely, long enough for Ronon to manage to hit the ball right out of the park.
...Okay, that metaphor wasn't really working out for him.
John wasn't in denial. He knew what denial felt like, how he acted when he was trying like hell to act like what was happening wasn't happening at all. When his marriage was ending, he'd thrown himself into his work, taking on the near-suicidal assignments that no one else wanted to touch, anything to take him away from Nancy's silent judgment and eventual infidelity. Instead, he found himself seeking Rodney out even more, just to hang out or watch crappy sci-fi, or build godforsaken remote controlled cars with him, clutching sand.
Rodney loved Keller. Jennifer. Whatever. And she liked him back.
John should have felt happy for him. Rodney was his friend, probably the best friend he'd had in years, maybe ever. He should have been thrilled.
He hated it. He knew he did, and he knew why.
He had plastered a smile on his face and risked a pat on Rodney's shoulder as he got up. "I've got some free time on Tuesday night. East Pier, 2100?"
Rodney hadn't looked up from his work, the pink tip of his tongue sticking out as he screwed the casing in place. "It's a date," he had replied absently.
John had nodded and left.
It wasn't a date. Not at all.
But that was before Michael, before the alien AI, before John sought Rodney out to talk about what had happened to him on the mainland, or maybe just drink himself into forgetting out on the pier, and found that Rodney was with Keller.
He had Ronon beat him up for real instead. It was almost as good.
The day after Rodney's awkward confession about nailing Keller on the Daedalus (did that mean they'd, like, joined the Hyperspace Club or something? God.), John got distracted while sparring and managed to let Teyla practically bash his head in with a bantos stick. In the infirmary, Keller looked at his pupils and did about seven scans of his brain, all the while making small talk about visiting her dad in Wisconsin. John nodded carefully so as not to jar his head and made the appropriate noises in the right places and wished desperately to be anywhere else in the galaxy. That empty planet the council had wanted to send he and his team was looking mighty tempting right about now.
"...Well," Keller said, turning the scanner off, "I don't know how you've managed to escape permanent damage yet again, but it looks like you got lucky, Colonel." She turned and walked to the glass medication cabinet and unlocked it. "These should help with the headache. I'm taking you off duty for the rest of the day, and I want you to rest, okay?"
John barely managed not to roll his eyes, only because he knew it would hurt like a bitch. "I need to orient the new arrivals from the Daedalus this afternoon," he said, hearing how his voice sounded clipped, formal. He took the bottle of pills and stared at the label in lieu of looking at Rodney's pretty girlfriend. "I don't have time to be laid up."
"Maybe you should have thought of that before you let Teyla knock you around, then," Keller replied, and John glanced at her sidelong to see her lips compressed in a no-nonsense line. "And when I say 'rest' I mean go to your quarters and lie down. Don't push yourself by reading or pestering Rodney into playing with your cars or whatever it is you do together in your free time."
Stung, John sat up straight and looked Keller in the eye. "I don't pester Rodney into anything." Before he even knew he was going to say it, he went on, "And seems to me that his free time is spent elsewhere these days anyway." Yep, definitely a mild concussion.
Keller's cheeks went red and she looked at her hands. "Yeah, well." Abruptly, she looked up, looked John right in the eye. "Got a problem with that?"
John's jaw clenched. Yes. "No."
Keller blinked, her eyes narrowing. "Do you and I have anything to talk about, Colonel? Because from where I'm standing it seems like we do."
John shook his head, his grip in danger of crushing the bottle of pills. He stood and left the infirmary, feeling her gaze burning into the back of his head.
The door chime chirped and John groaned through the haze of his monster headache. "Go away." The chime went off again, and through the door he heard Rodney say, "John?" John sat up gingerly and unlocked the door with a thought. "Come in."
The piercing light from the hallway made him close his eyes and he hissed in a breath. "What?"
"Oh, um." Rodney stepped in and John closed the door behind him. "I was just. I heard you got hit in the head, and I wanted to see how you were. If you, um. Needed anything?"
"I got hit in the head, Rodney. It hurts." John slumped to the side and laid his head on his pillow, his feet still on the floor. "Just need to sleep it off."
"Right," Rodney said, and instead of leaving, he turned John's desk chair so it faced the bed and sat in it, resting tense hands on his knees. "So, I was thinking." He paused, blinking rapidly, and John's sluggish brain tried to fathom what the fuck Rodney was on about.
"You were thinking. Imagine that." He closed his eyes, willing this day, this week, this year to be over with.
"Yes. I-" He stopped again, and John risked one open eye to look at him. Rodney looked anxious. When he opened his mouth to speak again, John shut his eye, somehow already knowing what was coming. "I happened to stop by the infirmary earlier, um, as I do. And Jennifer told me about the conversation you and she had when you were there, or, rather, the non-conversation, which is puzzling. It's not so much puzzling that you had a non-conversation, because you're probably the most skilled person in two galaxies at not having conversations, but the subject was, to me, um. Puzzling." John heard him shift in his seat. "Jennifer didn't seem all that puzzled, though. More, um. Frustrated?"
John lay there, breathing in, out, and trying not to panic or throw up or something. Rodney fidgeted. "Really," John said after a silence that even to him seemed interminable.
"Yeah." He heard Rodney shift again, heard his knees crack, and opened his eye again to see that Rodney had slipped off the chair to sit in the floor, directly in John's line of sight. He propped his arms on the edge of the bed and rested his chin there, his eyes darting over John's face, his expression really kind of miserable. "I don't really know how to ask this, so I'm just going to ask it and trust that you're sufficiently immobilized so as to not break my nose or something." He swallowed. "Are you mad at me because I'm spending more time with her than I am with you?" Directly after asking the question, he hid everything but his eyes behind his forearms, as if John was going to rise up and thwap him on the back of the head or something.
John sighed. "No." Hurt, yes. Something close to really fucking devastated, absolutely. Mad? Not really.
Rodney shot him a disbelieving glare over his crossed wrists. "I think you're lying," he said, his voice muffled.
John huffed another sigh and pulled his legs onto the bed, curling up and feeling pathetic. "Do we have to talk about this right now?" he whined.
"Talk about what?"
John groaned. Rodney was like a freaking iratus bug sometimes. He got hold of something and he never let go. He had John pinned, and even with one eye closed he couldn't look away, couldn't really hide. "Nothing," he said.
"Nothing," Rodney repeated. "So, it was nothing that led you to get snippy with Jennifer about where I spend my free time when she was just, you know, doing her job by trying to keep you from feeling like shit for a week instead of a day?" His eyebrows quirked up in a pale imitation of innocence, and John wanted nothing more than to manhandle him onto the bed just so he could wrap around him and kiss that look right off his face.
Which was his problem in the first place.
"You never complained when I spent time with Katie," Rodney continued, "so I don't see what the problem is."
John struggled to keep his voice level, his gaze steady. "I don't have a problem."
"Believe me, I have a 20-kilobyte word processing document on my laptop entitled 'John Sheppard's Problems.'" Rodney huffed a laugh. "It's got footnotes."
John smiled despite himself. "You're one to talk."
"All my problems stem from the fact that my genius is woefully under-appreciated and taken for granted by you lot of ingrates," Rodney said, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "You, on the other hand... I wouldn't be surprised if they found a manuscript for a book among Heightmeyer's things after she died: The Man Who Couldn't Emote: A Case Study."
John glared at Rodney with one eye. "You got a point?"
"Yes," Rodney said, the index finger of one hand waggling once in John's direction. "The point is, I know you."
"You know me."
"I do. And I know that if there's anything going on with you, I'm going to have to pry it out of you with a crowbar. So to speak." He shrugged one shoulder. "I'm not leaving."
John shifted experimentally and winced. Rodney winced, too, and had the good grace to look a little ashamed that he basically had John cornered when he was down for the count. John cleared his throat and tried to seem coherent. "Since when are you all sensitive to, you know. Stuff."
"I'm not," Rodney said, glancing down to the coverlet and picking at it with one blunt fingernail. "To tell the truth, I have trouble even being sensitive to Jennifer's stuff, and she's my, you know."
"Your girlfriend," John ground out.
"Yeah," Rodney said, his voice soft, his eyes still fixed on John's blanket.
"But you're sensitive to my stuff," John said, and tried to ignore the flare of nervous heat in his gut.
Rodney's eyes flickered back to his, and he nodded. "I guess so."
John just looked at him for a long time, and Rodney stared back, strangely still. Finally, he heaved a breath. "So, you're not mad because I'm spending time with her. I don't think you're really mad that I divulged personal details to you when I first got back. So, what's going on?"
John bit the inside of his cheek and tasted blood. "Rodney." Rodney quirked his eyebrows again and John fought the urge to just tell the truth. "I can't talk to you about this."
Rodney's hands clenched in the blanket, but he was otherwise still. Listening. "You can't?"
"No," John replied, pulling back. "I can't. I'm sorry."
Rodney sat there for a few moments; John watched him with one bleary eye, saw the gears turning in Rodney's head, and didn't know whether to cheer or run away.
"Okay. I'm just gonna-" Rodney hooked a thumb over his shoulder and left.
John turned over in bed and regretted it instantly.
Oh, yeah. He was definitely screwed now.
It took three months for Keller to realize it wasn't going to work out the way she and Rodney wanted it to.
They'd rocketed through the honeymoon phase right into Old-Married-Couple-dom within about a week; they were bickering at Christmas and fighting for real by New Year's. John had been the recipient of several late-night com-calls resulting in beer on the pier with Rodney bemoaning his social inadequacies and praising Keller's patience until John had had to run to the gym and have a few rounds with the punching bag every night in order to be in any shape at all to sleep. Whatever Rodney'd been looking for that night in John's quarters hadn't moved him to give up his chance at hetero normalcy quite yet.
But Rodney watched John, and John watched Rodney while pretending that he didn't notice that Rodney was watching him, and Keller watched them both.
John was starting to wonder if he needed to learn semaphores or something. He wasn't exactly the poster-boy for healthy communication, but at this point he'd learn any language that would help him decipher what the hell was going on.
The night Keller broke it off, the whole base knew within the hour. John cleared his schedule. He sat on his bed, reading a comic book and fidgeting, telling himself that when Rodney walked through the door, he was going to do it. Say it. Whatever.
Rodney didn't show.
Rodney didn't show for two weeks.
Granted, in those two weeks they'd had three separate insurgencies, a run-in with Todd, a vicious bout of stomach flu throughout the entire base, Torren learning to crawl, Ladon Radim coming by to renegotiate seven separate trade agreements, and turkey dinner in the mess, but that wasn't any busier than normal, John thought. So, he hunkered down in his room in his off time and tried not to think about the fact that Rodney had no reason not to stop by and the only time John ever saw him was when one of them was either coming or going in the control room. John swallowed his frustration, his naked hurt, and resisted the urge to email Rodney with the latest internet meme about what exotic foods you've eaten in your lifetime, or take his remote control car and ram it into Rodney's door until he opened up.
No sense busting up a perfectly good car.
Rodney radioed him on second Thursday, after dinner.
John hit his earpiece, tried not to sound too eager. "Yeah?"
Rodney paused, and John held his breath. "C-could you come to my quarters if you have time? I had something I wanted to show you."
John shrugged at the empty room, feeling a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. "Now?"
"Yes, now, do you think I'm wallowing in spare time?" Rodney's voice came over the comm as caustic, impatient.
John grinned. "Be right there."
Rodney's quarters were dim, and John almost tripped on a spare pair of pants on his way in. "You know, if you kept your space a little cleaner, maybe people would stop by once in a while," he heard himself drawl, on autopilot.
"Whoever said I wanted people to stop by?" Rodney said from the direction of the bathroom.
"Well, I'm stopping by, so."
"But you're here already," Rodney said, stepping into the main living space. The lights went up a little, and John could see the late-day stubble on his jaw, the focused gleam of his eyes. "Therefore, you don't mind my dirty trousers on the floor."
John shrugged his acquiescence. "So, what did you want to show me?"
Rodney's eyes darted left to right and back again, and he shifted on his feet. "Nothing? I mean." He gestured elaborately and then just stopped, his hands limp at his sides. "No, definitely nothing."
"Rodney..." John stepped further into the room and heard the door shut behind him. "What the hell?"
"Okay, so," Rodney started to pace back and forth, and a ball of nervous energy lodged itself at the base of John's spine. "You said you couldn't talk to me about whatever it is that's bothering you, and I spent a lot of time considering your wording because you didn't say you didn't want to talk to me, you said you couldn't, which means that you do want to talk to me but either you're not letting yourself or something outside of you isn't letting you. Now, considering your less-than-healthy respect for rules imposed upon you from outside yourself, I can only conclude that you're operating out of-- of stoicism or privacy or a total inability to talk about anything important, ever." He took a breath and glanced over at John, who was frozen in place, sure that his face was showing everything. "And, given your obvious jealousy regarding Jennifer and the way you act all the time, you know, um, well you know how you act I think, yes?"
John nodded stiffly. Rodney's mildly terrified expression cleared and he stopped pacing, stopped talking, to stare at John, eyes wide and unblinking. When he opened his mouth to speak, nothing came out at first. Then-- "You know how you act?"
John nodded again.
Rodney stepped over a pile of disassembled motherboards and shuffled to a stop a few feet from John. "You look at me. Did you always look at me?"
Biting his lip, John signaled another affirmative. He watched Rodney's chest hitch and felt his eyes go wide.
"That's-- that's very interesting," Rodney said, moving still closer. "Because I didn't notice that you were looking until relatively recently and I think it's safe to say that my noticing at an earlier date would have saved everyone quite a bit of effort and, and. Angst."
"Angst?" John asked, hating the way his voice cracked on the A.
"What?" Rodney said, shuffling right into John's personal space. "You think you're the only one?"
John's eyes slid closed as Rodney's hand encircled his wrist. "I did, yeah."
Rodney bent near until John felt one lip touch his. His eyes slitted open, and he met Rodney's gaze full-on, his hands coming to rest on Rodney's hips. "John," Rodney breathed, and John shuddered.
"We don't have to talk about this ever again, but I want to ask you a question. Can I?" With every syllable, Rodney's lower lip brushed John's, and John twisted his hands in Rodney's t-shirt.
Rodney pulled back a scant inch. "Are you in love with me?"
John swallowed, nodded, struggled to keep his eyes open, direct. "Yeah."
Rodney swallowed and John somehow managed not to bend his head to nip at his Adam's apple. "For a while?"
Before he even knew he was going to say it, John blurted, "For years and years."
"Jesus Christ," Rodney hissed, and John really should have seen it coming when Rodney slammed him up against his closed door and kissed him, all trace of hesitation gone in favor of wet mouths and curling tongues. Rodney kissed John like he'd thought about it, like he'd considered the angle of his head, the bright rasp of stubble, the fingertips resting too-light at the small of John's back. John writhed a little, trying to get closer, and Rodney sucked in a breath through his nose, pulled back only to bite at John's neck. John jumped, twining both arms around Rodney tight, and tried not to hump his leg too obviously.
"Rodney," he managed after about fifteen minutes of having his mouth 100% occupied by Rodney's. "How long?"
Rodney grabbed his hips and shoved against him, their now-bare chests pressed together tight. "Ten inches," Rodney replied, and slipped down John's body, his mouth dragging over the surfaces and planes of John's torso, to untie his boots.
John kind of forgot what he was asking after that.
"Uh," John said, staring up at the ceiling of Rodney's quarters in total fucked-out bliss.
Beside him, Rodney snorted and poked him in the side. "Nice. You're welcome, and you get to do the laundry since you made most of the mess."
"Okay," John said, shrugging one shoulder. He had made a mess, all over himself, all over the sheets, all over Rodney, and even on part of the wall behind the bed.
It was awesome.
"You know," Rodney said, turning on his side to curl around John, "I should probably thank Jennifer once she gets over wanting to kill me with a scalpel."
John turned his head to bury his nose in Rodney's wispy hair. "How come?"
"She told me you were jealous of her in the first place. I never would have seen it." His arm tightened around John. "After I saw it, I couldn't stop seeing it. I think it was over between me and her after that. Neither of us would admit it."
"I'm--" John broke off, unsure how to even say what he wanted to say. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to mess it up for you." He shifted, slipped one foot to the floor, and contemplated a quick exit. "If you need time--"
"Time?!" Rodney lifted his head off John's shoulder to stare at him, incredulous. John flushed. "Do you know how much time we've wasted already? Years, John. Don't be stupid." He grabbed the covers off the end of the bed and wrapped them both in them like a burrito. "You're stuck with me."
John swallowed and grinned up at the ceiling. "Years, huh?"
Rodney poked him in the nipple. "Shut up."
"Nope," John said, and grabbed at the offending finger. "You just admitted that you've had a hard-on for me for years. You're sensitive to my stuff and everything."
"Yes, so?" Rodney grumbled. "Nice language, by the way, frat-boy."
John shrugged again and pulled Rodney closer. "Nothing. Go to sleep."
Rodney's eyelashes brushed John's shoulder as he closed his eyes, and John lay there listening to him breathe, feeling lucky.
He was gonna have to get Jennifer Keller something really nice for her birthday. In about five years or so.