Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: callmeri said she enjoyed stories where John and Rodney meet prior to the events of "Rising." This is a little bit of a different take on that, but I hope you enjoy it anyway, mezzo! Implied alternate universe character death. ~6300 words. Thank you so much to busaikko and sholio who came in at a moment's notice and aided invaluably with betas and encouragement.
Summary: How John and Rodney meet, and how they don't.
Universe the First, in which John doesn't go to Atlantis
Meredith Rodney McKay learns a lot of things his first day at school, just like his mother says he will.
When Mrs. Park has them paint rainbows without explaining what a real one is made of, he learns teachers have surprisingly little intellectual curiosity. When no one will listen to his own thoughts on rainbow composition, he learns the students aren't any better. And when giggles erupt each time he gets called on, he learns his parents have given him a girl's name.
On his second day, he makes a friend.
His name is John Sheppard. He was absent the first day and doesn't seem thrilled to be there now, sulking in the corner with an angry furrow to his dark eyebrows instead of participating in Story Hour. Meredith considers this the first sign of intelligence he's seen at school.
John doesn't talk much, but in the following days confirms Meredith's initial estimation of his intellect—despite the fact that John is actually repeating kindergarten. Three days in Mrs. Park's class has given Meredith a horror of children who can't grasp basic things like the alphabet and counting, but John clearly isn't one of those. It's obvious to Meredith that John knows everything the class is learning—he's just too bored to be bothered. Meredith can sympathize.
As far as Meredith can tell, Mrs. Park hasn't ever tried to get John to do any work, and it only takes about a week before she gives up on Meredith too, leaving him and John to spend their days in a corner of the classroom. Meredith has a math book he stole from one of the Grade Four kids, and John has an endless series of model planes.
John is American—his family's spending a year in Canada while his dad works on some "deal" John can't explain. He has a little brother who's always doing bad things and blaming them on John—Meredith is glad he made up his mind a long time ago to be an only child. John knows the name of every model plane he brings to school, and he wants to be a soldier when he grows up. Meredith tells John he's going to be an astronaut when he gets older, unless he figures out how to give himself superpowers, in which case he's going to fight crime. John says he wants to do that with him after he's done being a soldier.
For a kid who spent the first week of kindergarten slouching wordlessly, John talks kind of a lot now. One day Meredith gets sick of hearing about the armament on an F-18 and shoves the Grade Four math book at John. John just says huh, and seems to have a natural understanding of long division. After that, Rodney makes John do pages out of the math book every day.
Working together, they get through the rest of the book in another three weeks. Then a Grade Five book appears out of thin air and they work on that. Meredith thinks John's too smart to be a soldier. John argues with him at first, but as they get deeper into the math he must start to agree because the toy airplanes come to school less and less. Meredith—who is now Rodney, since John said he should just change his name if he doesn't like it—is glad. Now he and John can be astronauts together. Or superheroes, whichever happens first.
At the end of May they finish a Grade Six math book, and John moves back to America. Rodney cries, which he hasn't done since he was a baby. His mother actually takes him out for ice cream, but that doesn't help for long. Rodney decides not to make another friend—it feels too bad when they're gone.
Years later—when Rodney is too excited to sleep in his tiny Antarctic quarters—he goes through all the new physics publications before finally pulling open a mathematics journal he'd liberated from one of the labs on a whim. He's supposed to be resting—in the morning they're going through the gate to Atlantis—Atlantis!—but of course that's impossible.
He's only half-paying attention when he realizes he's been staring at an author's name for the last thirty seconds. He doesn't recognize it at first, then it all comes flooding back—the planes, the math, the superhero powers. John Sheppard's bio says he's a past winner of the Cole Prize in number theory and a professor somewhere in California. Rodney doesn't really keep up in pure mathematics—it isn't a surprise he hasn't come across him before now.
Rodney hasn't thought about those days in years, but now he feels a pleasant flush of remembrance. Those were good times, he understands now. Being friends with John was the only bright spot in his social career until April Bingham let him touch one of her boobs in Grade Nine.
He's glad John has done well for himself, and has stuck with math, instead of joining the military like he'd wanted way back then, which would have been a waste of a brilliant mind. Judging from his bio, his area of research is one that's unlikely to lead to the SGC. That's a shame—Rodney would have liked to see him again. If he ever makes it back to Earth (he's leaving Earth!), maybe he'll look him up.
Universe the Second, in which Rodney doesn't go to Atlantis
At thirteen, John is all knees and elbows, too skinny for even the eighth grade football team at Gardner Academy. Which doesn't get him out of playing sports—his father's determined he'll have a varsity sport when he goes to Exeter next year. If not football, then lacrosse, which is just starting up a fall league at Gardner, lucky him. John decides he'll spend some weekends hanging around school "practicing." In a few weeks he can limp home, faking an injury, and that will hopefully be that—for a while at least.
The only drawback to the plan is that now it's a Saturday and he has to find something to do with himself between the hours of eleven and four. He's at school, since that's where William dropped him off and where he'll be expecting to pick him up later. He stays away from the sports fields, and while he's at it, he figures he might as well be all cloak-and-dagger about the whole thing and stay away from the library too, in case someone sees him there.
So he's just sort of lurking in the South Quad when he hears piano music coming from one of the practice rooms that face the open area. It's classical, faster and angrier than the stuff he hears at home. He sits down on the grass to listen for a while.
John took two semesters of Music Appreciation last year—it was either that or Drama—so he ought to recognize the composer, but he hasn't got a clue. It's all percussive crashes and harsh scales, but it fits together somehow. Whoever's playing is really good—even John can tell that—and he feels something loosen in his chest as he lets the almost dissonant chords wash over him.
John's feeling kind of good now, better than he has all day, so after a while he gets up and peeks into the little window all the quad-facing practice rooms have. It's that kid McDonald—no McKay—the one that's at Gardner on some kind of scholarship. John doesn't really know him—he's in all those brainy advanced classes John goes out of his way to avoid—but he sees him walk by sometimes. John thinks he's supposed to be Canadian or something.
He's hunched over the keyboard now, really pounding on it. His back's to John and he gets a small thrill in his stomach at the way McKay's hands soar like missiles from the treble to the bass notes. That's a little weird, and John is just about to get out of there when the music abruptly stops.
Shit. McKay suddenly twists around and looks at him through the window, starting to turn all red like he's embarrassed—like he's been caught doing something he shouldn't. Maybe he doesn't have permission to use the practice room or something.
John feels kind of bad about interrupting, but McKay's already seen him and John still has four hours to kill, so he figures what-the-hell and pulls the outside door open. He saunters into the practice room thinking he might tease McKay a little about sneaking into school just to play the piano, then get him to play some more for him. Maybe he knows some Zeppelin.
McKay's eyes are huge, and he's talking before John even makes it all the way into the room. "I'm sorry you had to hear that, but it's your own fault for sneaking around like a second-rate ninja."
Ninja? That's pretty cool. "What were you playing?"
"Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. You're John Sheppard." He says it almost accusingly, eyes narrowed.
John is, so he has to agree. "Yup. And you're McKay." He racks his brain, but can't remember the kid's first name. "You're pretty good."
McKay snorts. "I'm a 'fine, clinical player.'"
He's obviously quoting. From the sound of it, John guesses it was some kind of insult. He shrugs. "I liked it."
McKay rolls his eyes. "You liked it. Great. That'll fill up the concert halls. No point in quitting now."
John grins. For some reason he can't quite figure out, he gets a kick out of how easy it is to wind McKay up and watch his blue eyes go all squinty and his mouth turn down in the corner. "Play some more."
"Is there something wrong with your hearing? I said I was quitting the piano."
"Right now?" John hadn't thought he meant he was done forever.
"Yes, right now. Consider yourself the lucky audience of Rodney McKay's final performance."
Rodney. That's his name. And wow, he's really tightly wound. It's kind of funny. John smiles again.
Rodney frowns, but doesn't say anything. It's starting to get awkward, which John really isn't in the mood for, so he shrugs. "Well, if you're not actually that good..."
Rodney sputters, which was what John hoped he'd do. Then he looks torn, which John hadn't been expecting. Then he rolls his eyes, which is the best reaction of all, and begins playing again.
After that, it becomes a regular thing. John shows up sometime before lunch on Saturdays. There isn't another chair, so John sits on the piano bench next to Rodney, and Rodney plays. Beethoven, Debussy, Mozart. (One time he rolls his eyes so hard John thinks they might get stuck, but picks out Ring of Fire when John asks.) He tells John about the fancy private teacher he goes to, who's the world's biggest idiot as far as John is concerned, and was either lying or jealous when he said Rodney didn't have the "art" to make it as a concert pianist. It's important to him that Rodney knows that—John stumbles over the words, trying to get it out. Rodney just gets weirdly quiet and says, "No, no, it wouldn't bother me if it wasn't true."
John has never really liked piano music before and truthfully he's not sure he does now, but he likes the way Rodney plays. There's an intensity in his face, and his hair flops around all over the place. After a while his neck starts to get damp with sweat—the front part, just above his collar. Sometimes John has a weird impulse to wipe it away with his thumb.
Rodney seems to think John is one of the cool kids, which isn't even close to the truth, but John feels cool around Rodney, somehow. He's not awkward and self-conscious, the way he is around so many of the Gardner kids. And he's not angry, or embarrassed, which is how he divides his time at home. For the first time John feels almost good in his skin, not like he's fumbling over his feet, or his words. It's nice.
It helps that Rodney is probably the most uncool kid John has ever met. He's a science nerd, for one thing. Once he quits the piano for good—and he's going to, he says, as soon as John stops showing up to pester him on Saturdays—he's going to concentrate on becoming a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. He loves science fiction—his favorite is Heinlein, same as John's—and he claims to have once cleared two-hundred Pac-Man screens. Someday maybe John can drag him to an arcade and make him prove it.
John starts to look forward to Saturdays—he practically bounces to the car in his eagerness to get to school. His father tells him not to harass William, but John can tell he's pleased at John's new attitude. He's even started making noises about coming to a game, one of these days. John's almost forgotten he's supposed to have been playing lacrosse all this time, but it doesn't matter. His father's always too busy to go to John's school functions, even on the rare occasions he remembers he wanted to.
John tells Rodney about it, expecting him to find it funny. He thinks he and John can share a laugh at how John is fooling his dad—like they're in on it together, partners in crime—but Rodney looks at him seriously. "Maybe you should stop coming here, John. If you're going to get in trouble."
John feels like someone's kicked him in the stomach. He's about to say something about how he thought Rodney liked to see him on Saturdays—how he thought Rodney liked him, like they were friends or something. It's going to be horrible and embarrassing, and he can't seem to stop himself. But then he sees Rodney biting his lip a little, like he's worried about John. John's not sure if anyone's ever looked at him like that, and all the hot, angry words leave him, replaced by a softer warmth he doesn't know what to do with. "Just play something," he says finally, surprised how thick his voice sounds. Rodney stares at him a minute longer, still biting his lip, then starts to play.
John's heard this piece before. It's Liszt, he remembers, showy and complicated the way Rodney prefers, but it sounds different than the last time he heard Rodney play it. All this practicing must be paying off, because Rodney is amazing. The music climbs to high crescendos then swoops back down and does it all over again. John feels like he's flying, like he can't catch his breath. Fast light notes crash over him, then lower darker tones, making him dizzy. He doesn't know what "art" is, not really, but this has to be it. Fuck the teacher who told Rodney different.
Rodney finishes, then just sits there, blinking a little, like he's not sure where he is. John feels something huge swell up in his chest and suddenly he's leaning forward on the piano bench and pushing his lips against Rodney's like a kiss. Is it a kiss? Rodney presses back, for just a second, and John feels like he's flying all over again.
But it can't be a kiss, not really, because they're both guys. John doesn't feel that way about Rodney. Does he? Wouldn't he know if he did?
John pulls back and Rodney is looking at him, eyes wide in confusion, breath coming in short stabs. Part of John wants to do it again, and part of him wants to run away. He thinks of what his father would say if he found out about this—any of it—and it's like his body takes control of his actions without any conscious choice. Before he knows what he's doing he can feel himself flashing Rodney a quick smile and backing out of the room. He doesn't even say good-bye.
John doesn't go back to the practice room the next Saturday, or the Saturday after that. Then the semester's almost over and John figures maybe Rodney's not even practicing anymore. Maybe he quit, after all, like he always said he was going to. John doesn't really believe that, but it might be true.
He barely sees Rodney at all during spring semester—only passing him sometimes in the halls and looking away—and then the year's over. In the fall John goes to Exeter. He hears Rodney went to some special music school, so all that practicing must have been worth something in the end. Anyway, he never sees him again.
During his second year in command of Atlantis, Mr. Woolsey institutes a regular Friday dinner for senior staff. He holds them in his quarters, and John is surprised to find they're actually kind of fun. There's wine, from Richard's personal reserve, and muted lighting. The staff even manages to have some good conversation, and it's what passes for a social life for most of them.
For someone so uptight, Richard makes an effort to keep the atmosphere pleasant and relaxed. He always puts on music from his excellent, though limited, collection-soft jazz sometimes, classical a bit more often. One CD seems to make the rotation more regularly than the others—or maybe it just seems that way to John since he knows it so well, though he never shares that fact with Woolsey, or anyone else.
The recording always makes him think of Rodney, of course. The memories stopped being painful a long time ago, and John can look back on the boy he was then and forgive him for being an idiot. He thinks Rodney must have forgiven him too, now that he's become the famous pianist he always wanted to be. He's sure Rodney doesn't hate him, at least, and remembers him more generously than John deserves.
Because John has read the liner notes of the CD Mr. Woolsey has just put on to play—the first of Rodney McKay's many albums. He has his own copy back in his quarters. On the last page, just below the acknowledgements, there's a small dedication. John's read it more times than he'd ever admit.
To J.S., who helped me find my art.
Universe the Third, in which no one goes to Atlantis
"Do you think everything happens for a reason?"
Rodney's jaw drops open so fast it almost hurts, and he turns to gape at John. To his credit, he looks embarrassed. The color rises in his cheeks like he thinks that was an incredibly stupid question to ask. Which it was.
They're on their backs on the floor of John's huge room, stretched out on the ridiculously soft beige plush carpet John's parents have everywhere, watching John's model airplanes sway above them in the breeze from the open window. No one's home but the housekeeper, and she lets them keep the door closed, so they have privacy—a good thing if John is going to start talking like a crazy person.
Lying next to him John looks like a regular high school kid, not a raving lunatic, but he still seems like there's something he's determined to say. He takes a breath and closes his eyes . "I mean," he says finally. "Do you think we were... always supposed to meet? Like we were..." He turns his head, mumbling the rest into the carpet.
John mumbles again.
"What?" Rodney asks louder.
"Meant to be!" John turns his head toward him, the words exploding out of his mouth. "I was asking you if you thought we were always meant to meet each other. Like—I don't know. Destiny."
Rodney snorts. "Yes, because eighty years of quantum mechanics has made me believe in a deterministic universe. What the hell is wrong with you?"
John sits up, and now he looks pissed instead of embarrassed. "I was trying to be romantic, asshole."
Oh. Rodney sits up too. Is that something they're supposed to do? He sure hopes not—Rodney wouldn't have a clue how to even begin. John is Rodney's first boyfriend, and he hasn't figured this stuff out yet. He thinks. "Can we just make out? That's kind of romantic, right?"
For a minute John looks like he still wants to be angry, but then he grins suddenly and tackles Rodney into the carpet. He crawls on top of him and sticks his tongue far enough down his throat to lick his tonsils, and oh yeah, this is more like it.
They kiss and kiss, and rub against each other a little—they haven't ever done much more than that, but that's more than Rodney's ever done with anyone else. It's great—Rodney could seriously do this all day. There's nothing else in the world right now but John, and his lips, and his warm skin that gives off little prickles of electricity wherever their bare arms touch. Rodney is totally in the moment, absolutely not thinking about anything else in the whole—
"Nitrogen!" Rodney sits up so fast he bangs his teeth into John's chin. "Oww."
"What?" John sits up, rubbing his chin where Rodney hit it. He looks dazed, like he's just been making out—like he's just been making out and it was awesome—and Rodney feels a little rush of pride before he catches hold of his thought again.
"Nitrogen. We can use nitrogen to cool the superconductor."
"Rodney," John whines, and it should not be cute, except pretty much everything about him is these days. That's a distraction Rodney never considered when he singled him out from the pack four months ago in Mr. Lawson's AP Physics.
Rodney had needed a partner for the Science Fair—ridiculous, but apparently a requirement. If he was forced to pick someone, he thought he might as well choose a person he could work with—someone who could go beyond the simple Newtonian mechanics that were bogging down half the class. John was quiet and hung out in the back, but he was the only one of the bunch with potential. "You," Rodney said one morning, pointing. John looked around like maybe he meant someone else, but he figured it out in the end.
Unsurprisingly (to Rodney), he and John worked great together. The making out had come later, not long after they slaughtered the Science Fair competition with their Awesome Autonomous Robot.
The Science Fair ended, and the school year did too, but Rodney wasn't about to give up working with John. John didn't seem to want to stop either, so lately they've been playing with an idea for a super-laser Rodney has been kicking around since Freshman year. It's mostly theoretical at this point, but it gives them a reason to hang out together in the summer. They meet at one of their houses each morning—usually John's since there are rarely authority figures present—and hash out super-laser specs. They spend the rest of the day working equations on a chalkboard John found, and when they get bored of that, they kiss for a while. It's the best summer Rodney has ever had.
John doesn't really think they can build the laser—and much as Rodney hates to admit it, he's right—the technology hasn't yet caught up to Rodney's vision. It's only matter of time, though, and if they do the theoretical work now, Rodney is sure the actual production will be easy. Maybe.
As Rodney sees it, the biggest reason no one has built a giant weaponized super-laser is that a convienient method for high volume electricity storage and generation doesn't exist—yet. It's John who comes up with their latest plan to eliminate the need for bulky cooling equipment by using high temperature superconductors. The fact that they'll have to invent the kind of superconductors they'll need is a bonus as far as Rodney is concerned.
John isn't anywhere near the physicist Rodney is, of course, but he's some kind of weapons savant, and by the end of the summer they have a workable plan for a super-laser. It should be ready for production in five or ten or twenty years—whenever the physical world catches up with Rodney's brain. There's nothing to do about that, and Rodney's mostly okay with it. Part of him really wants to build the thing, wants to see his physics made real. But the fun this summer was in the theory—in posing himself an intellectual problem and kicking its butt, with John. Making an actual super-laser that could be used for actual super-laser things wouldn't have been the same. At least this way he and John won't have to face the ethical problems of becoming weapons dealers.
Rodney is a genius, but he couldn't have taken the laser this far without John and his knack for turning random connections into workable math. He and John spark ideas off each other in a way Rodney has never experienced before—never even knew was possible. He wants to do science with John forever. It's a heady feeling. It might be love.
So the next school year—their senior year—he makes sure John is in all the hard science classes with him. Rodney wants to be there to fill in the holes high school classes leave—though to be fair, Mr. Lawson's not terrible. The two of them are inseparable all year, until May when John inexplicably decides to go to Stanford and join the Air Force ROTC, and not MIT like Rodney had thought they'd been planning.
Rodney feels like his heart is breaking, but he agrees to write and call John. For a while they do. Then John gets involved in military stuff and Rodney devotes all his energy to bludgeoning the school into letting him into the graduate classes. Before he knows it, two months have gone by without him speaking to John, then a year, and then he graduates and starts working on his first doctorate. He hears from someone that John is a lieutenant in the Air Force now. He doesn't hear anything more after that.
When a crazy Goa'uld half-ascends and tries to take over the Earth, Rodney thinks about the super-laser for the first time in years. They've got naquadah now—it could totally work.
He spends a feverish month working on adapting the concept—more than once he wishes he could call John, but the Air Force claims not to have heard of him (which means Black Ops, Rodney knows). He's probably not interested in science any more, anyway. At the end of the of the month, Rodney has a naquadah —enhanced McKay-Sheppard Super-Laser that could take out a dozen motherships if Anubis had them.
He hears vague rumors the lovely but dim Samantha Carter and her harem of dancing boys are searching for some kind of lost city in the hopes of recovering fabulous weapons powerful enough to save the world. The McKay-Sheppard Super-Laser makes that unnecessary, and the SGC unsurprisingly prefers the bird—in-hand MSSL to SG-1's pie-in-the-sky plan.
They mount the MSSL—not missile, Rodney has to say, pained, too many times—onto the Prometheus and take out Anubis and his entire fleet in less than seven minutes, firing only five shots in total. Unfortunately there's some damage to the planet above which the battle took place. As it happens, the Ancient Repository of Knowledge that may hold the only clues to the location of SG-1's mysterious very special lost city is completely destroyed, so there will most likely never be an expedition there. Sam's boy-toy Daniel Jackson gets a little huffy about that, as if Rodney didn't just save the entire Earth. Jackson should be grateful the Prometheus beamed up SG-1 before they started firing. Rodney can't bring himself to care about his grumblings. What's one lost city? The universe is probably full of them.
Rodney has a small hope that someone might tell John about the McKay-Sheppard Super-Laser—that's pretty much the reason he gave him credit in the name. Probably no one ever does, or maybe John doesn't have the security clearance, because Rodney never hears from him.
Universe the Fourth, in which the Apocalypse happens
John's first day at Area 51 is... interesting. He finds out aliens exist and meets a gray one with no pants. It's probably weird the no-pants thing sticks with him more than the fact that humans are not alone in the universe, but John never claimed to be deep.
Guarding aliens and eggheads is not the duty he expected to pull as a newly-promoted Air Force captain, but here he is. His new superiors are vague about his actual assignment—eventually he's going to be trained to fly some brand new super-duper alien-enhanced fighter plane!—so for now he ends up standing around a lab with a weapon, providing extra security for the apparently dangerous and valuable experiments that happen there. John's not sure what he's supposed to do with a nine-mil against an alien invasion—which seems the likeliest attack in this place—but he's willing to give it a try.
Only one scientist pays him any attention—a guy about his age, late-20s or so. Brown hair, cute in an indoors kind of way. He starts out glaring at John resentfully every ten minutes or so. John wants to tell him the baby-sitting duty wasn't his idea, but after about an hour the looks change, become speculative. John knows what that's about, and sure, he's interested—why not?
In another hour he and the guy are smiling at each other so much John expects the other scientists to notice. The way the guy's shoulders look in his lab coat is getting to John, so he lets himself drift a little closer . He can see what the scientist is working on now—an oddly-shaped device about the size of a large laptop, unmistakably alien with a soft blue glow around the edges. It looks kind of dead to John—the lights on it blink limply and its glow is starting to fade. The scientist pokes unhappily at it with something that looks a bit like a voltmeter. His frown is strangely appealing, but John still wishes he could make the thing work for him.
Suddenly the alien machine bursts to life with a blinding blue glow—so abruptly John might think it was in response to his wish if he didn't know better. The scientist jumps back in alarm, then begins swearing viciously. The machine starts something John is sure is a countdown—flashing blue lights, then red, then purple.
Alarms start going off, and every phone in the room rings. The scientist ignores it all, poking frantically at the alien machine. John has no idea if he should try to evacuate people, or jump on the machine, or something else entirely. He doesn't even know what the machine is—until knowledge suddenly flows into his brain from somewhere. The machine is doing it, he realizes with a shock—the one he turned on without knowing it.
John suddenly knows about the Ancients, and his own bizarre genetics, and the evacuation of a far away galaxy—now called Pegasus, the machine tells him—for Earth thousands of years ago. He knows about the soul-eating aliens they were escaping, and all about the Ancients' backup plan—a back-up plan he has just inadvertently initiated and now can't turn off.
Of course the Ancients wouldn't give regular people like them a way out. John has just had the awareness of their existence uploaded into his brain and he already hates them. He should have known no good could come from aliens—the little guy without pants showed him all he needed to know.
But the Ancients had to be a special kind of bugfuck crazy, even for aliens. He won't have long to resent them though, for whatever that's worth. The Ancient machine's countdown is just about to finish, and it's making a horrible shrieking noise in warning.
At the sound, the frantic activity in the room ceases. Everyone goes completely still, staring at each other. John would like his last thought be something noble or meaningful, but instead he finds himself thinking that the Ancients have a lot to answer for—and no one to hold them accountable.
It's one thing to be unwilling to cede territory to the enemy, no matter what. John has known some crazy generals like that, and they have their place. But what the hell kind of alien race crosses millions of light years to assimilate into a fresh, young planet teeming with life and brimming with possibilities and puts in a self-destruct?
Universe the Fifth, which is oddly familiar
"Major, think about where we are in the solar system."
That's easy enough—third planet from the sun, in a strange chair in an alien outpost on a continent that seems made of ice. Easy as thinking, a light show appears above John's head—Earth, the planets, the sun twinkling merrily away. John feels dizzy. "Did I do that?"
The others all press forward now—the doctor who shot at him, a dark-haired woman, a youngish guy in glasses, the general who got him into this mess. And a man in orange fleece, who steps up close, looking at him like he's the last donut in the box. "Yes, Major, you did."
John swallows hard.
It's an ordinary Saturday, or what passes for one on Atlantis. No one has shot at them, nothing has flooded, no tiny robots have tried to take over their brains. Ever since they flew Atlantis back to the Pegasus Galaxy, John has a standing date with Rodney and some beers on Saturdays like this.
Rodney's already at the pier when John gets there. He's halfway through his first beer, legs dangling over the edge. He smiles up at John when he hears him arrive. "You're late."
"Traffic," John says, and it's a bad joke, but Rodney laughs. Rodney will laugh at bad jokes on good days; not many people know that about him.
John takes the beer Rodney offers. He's not too late for the sunset, and he stands there a moment, looking out at it. It's an ordinary Saturday on the West Pier, and something about that—the sunset, Rodney, his beautiful city—is making his chest feel like it's about to crack open.
He sits down next to Rodney, closer than he normally would. Rodney gives him an odd look, but doesn't say anything and doesn't move. They watch the sun set in companionable silence, shoulders bumping together occasionally as they lift their beers.
John isn't sure why, after all this time, this particular moment on this particular Saturday is the right time, but he can recognize that it unquestionably is. He turns to look at Rodney, and leans toward him slowly, not because he expects any objections, but because the mood is quiet, and he wants to enjoy that.
Rodney meets him halfway, seeming completely unsurprised, and the kiss is gentle and soft. Rodney's lips on his are warm, and so full of affection John feels his breath get stolen away. They kiss for long moments, unhurried, like they have all the time in the world—which, John realizes, they do. When they finally pull back, neither of them says anything.
This is it, John thinks, watching the stars come out over his new planet. After everything, this is where we are now. It's a good thought.
John's known Rodney for more than five years, and wanted to kiss him for what seems like a lifetime. He thinks back over everything that has finally brought them to this moment, expecting it to feel like wasted time. He's almost surprised to find that it doesn't. Being here right now with Rodney feels inevitable, but John has lived too many years to believe that. He feels staggered by how close he's come to missing this, and grateful to everything in his life that has happened in just the right way to lead him here.
The Air Force led him to Afghanistan which led him to Antarctica. John had thought his life was over then, but Antarctica gave him Atlantis, and Rodney, who had had to follow his own path. That they've both gotten here to where they are now seems almost miraculous, and John can't keep himself from saying that, though he knows Rodney well enough by now to know what his answer will be.
"Hey, Rodney." He stands, pulling Rodney to his feet with him, unable to resist darting in to give him a quick affectionate kiss on the cheek. "You ever think things were supposed to turn out exactly this way?"
Rodney gives him just the look of fond exasperation he was expecting. "Of course not. Random universe, as you well know."
"Okay," John says. In the end, the haphazard events that conspired to get them here don't really matter; it's what they do with their chances that count. Right now John is going to take Rodney to his quarters and show him that. Slowly, with his tongue.
He grins, and grabs Rodney's hand, tugging him back to their city.