Summary: Rodney McKay is the best friend John has ever had, but when John lets his guard down, it turns into something more.
Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis does not belong to me, and none of this is true.
Author notes: Comments and con. crit are much appreciated.
When John meets Rodney for the first time - properly, anyway; the bit with the chair that got him on the Atlantis expedition doesn't really count - he's not terribly impressed. Two minutes into the conversation, it's clear how jealous Rodney is over his mutant gene and how much he wants John on the expedition. Him wanting John there might actually have been nice if he hadn't then gone into explicit, loving detail about all the cool stuff there was going to be in Atlantis, and how useful would it be to have his very own light switch to turn it all on for him?
Never mind that John would go as a member of the military and would more than likely be much too busy trying to secure the city and help get major systems working to worry about whatever Rodney got up to. John leaves Rodney in the mess when he starts speculating on potential uses for Ancient lab equipment that might be there, but that he obviously has no idea about.
John figures that will be the end of it, and Rodney will leave him alone now that he's walked out right in the middle of a conversation. Later, he'll realize just how stupid that thought had been, but as it is, he's completely thrown when Rodney plops his tray down across from John at breakfast the next morning and continues what he'd been saying when John had left. John is too surprised at Rodney's audacity to do anything but sit there and stare. It's at least a couple minutes before he realizes that he's sort of zoned out and Rodney has been trying to get his attention.
"Major?" Rodney snaps his fingers in John's face, which is just annoying enough to bring him back to reality.
"I said, would you like to see my lab?"
John doesn't particularly want to, but all he really has to do for the next two weeks or so is sit in his quarters and decide if he wants to go to Atlantis. Maybe seeing the types of things they're doing here in a little more depth will help him make his decision. He can hope, anyway.
"Excellent! And maybe while you're there you could try turning on a few of the Ancient artifacts we have lying around?" John just shrugs, already getting that it isn't really a question; if he goes to Rodney's lab, he'll be turning some things on. "Perfect. I was going to try to talk General O'Neill into doing it, but he's somewhat less than fond of my methodology."
That doesn't sound promising. "You're not going to fry my brain or something, right? Because in that case, I'm very busy this morning."
"Oh, for- he doesn't like me, okay? And I'll have you know that no one has ever even been maimed in my lab. Really, I have a pretty good track record compared to some of the other departments."
Rodney gives a haughty sniff, and John tries to decide whether or not he's joking. In the end, it doesn't matter much, because he's bored enough already to think it sounds like a good idea. The weird thing is that not only does it turn out to be less boring than it might have sounded initially, but he actually has fun.
Yes, Rodney has him touch a bunch of random (to John's eyes, anyway) stuff to see what it does, but the first time something powers to life for him, John feels a jolt of excitement. Sure, he'd accidentally turned on the chair the other day, but that had caused more of a rush of panic than anything else. This, though - purposely turning on something only a handful of other people can - this is awesome.
It doesn't hurt that Rodney is standing not more than a foot away from him, eyes lit up with something John would best describe as glee. Rodney is more likeable when he's being enthusiastic about something, and by the time they finish for the day, John is actually disappointed to have it end. It's not so bad, though, because Rodney sort of follows him out of the lab and into the mess, and they're halfway through the meal before John remembers he'd meant to have some time to himself after an entire day with Rodney McKay.
He doesn't mind it nearly as much as he'd have thought even a day ago. Even stranger is that when stuff keeps coming up, so that they spend most of their time together, John finds that he's sort of relieved. He frequently has trouble finding people who really want to spend time with someone who doesn't talk much and has a very wry sense of humor. He works pretty well with someone who could probably listen to themselves talk all day, though. Not to mention that Rodney quickly proves to be one of the best people-repellents John has had the good fortune to come across.
So, Rodney shows John the ropes, and John turns on random artifacts when Rodney asks him to, and overall, they get along well enough to start spending their down time watching movies together. Then, suddenly, John really has to make a decision about Atlantis, because it's a day until departure and Rodney's already been talking for days like he expects John will go.
John hates making decisions like this - which is why it's not been made just yet - and though he likes everything (well, almost) he's heard about the mission, the fact that he could never come back makes him hesitate. After hours of weighing it out, thinking things over, he finally resorts to chance and flips a coin. The coin hasn't even landed in his palm by the time John decides he has to go, of course he does.
There's nothing to keep him here, anyway; his best friends are dead, and he's looking at a lifetime of service in a frozen wasteland. Even if that might suit him, he's got nothing to lose by leaving, and he might even find something worth his while out there.
With the decision finally made, there's a flurry of last-minute things to take care of, and he doesn't see Rodney until just before they open the wormhole. John feels even better about going when he catches Rodney's eye and a look of relief flashes over Rodney's face before being carefully hidden behind the usual mask of disdain.
"You took long enough to get here."
"Had some stuff to take care of."
"Stuff?! This is one of the most momentous days in scientific history, and you almost missed it because you had stuff to do?"
"Well, we haven't all been just waiting for something like this to come along. I had to be really sure I wanted to go."
"How could you not be sure? It's another galaxy! Unexplored space, untold wonders, the lost city of -" Rodney keeps rambling as they step through the Stargate, "-Atlantis," Rodney finishes almost breathlessly.
John is nearly as impressed as Rodney sounds at his first view of Atlantis. And then, for awhile, there's no time for marveling over the city as they're too busy worrying about not drowning, and later, the new threat of the Wraith. It's actually several days before John gets a chance to catch up with Rodney and see what's going on.
Rodney's face breaks into a manic grin as soon as he sees John, and John can't help responding in kind, especially when he discovers that what Rodney's got to show him is a personal shield, which quickly becomes John's new favorite toy, even if he isn't able to convince Rodney to let him try it first.
If he'd known the way that would end, though, John certainly would have insisted on being the one to test it. He could live the rest of his life happily without seeing that look of determination on Rodney's face - the one that says he knows he might not make it through this - ever again. But Rodney had come through it, and John hadn't lost someone he'd only just begun to think of as a friend.
As much as John hadn't liked seeing Rodney in danger, the kind of bravery Rodney had shown doesn't come along every day, not even in the military. That's when John knows he has to have Rodney on his off-world team. Of course, the bonus in that is that they'll get to spend plenty of time together, and John will be there to watch Rodney's back.
John had, of course, known Rodney was brilliant (because Rodney makes sure everyone knows that within five minutes of meeting him), but it isn't until they start going off-world and Rodney continually saves their collective bacon with some crazy genius plan that John fully gets what that means. Sure, John saves their lives a number of times, but that's usually with a quick escape, a steady aim, or a willingness to throw himself in the line of fire. Rodney does it all with his mind. He's the sort of challenging person John rarely gets a chance to meet.
It's funny how much Rodney keeps John on his toes, how much he makes John want to surprise him, impress him even. Naturally, this leads to competition, especially once they find the Ancient world-building game. There's an awful lot of 'you can't do that', 'yes I can', 'well, it doesn't matter because my people are doing better than yours, anyway'.
It's more fun than John's had in quite awhile, particularly when he manages to beat Rodney to the punch, prove that he's doing better than Rodney. Rodney always gets this look on his face, like he can't believe someone knew something before he did, and it's satisfying for more reasons than just that John has managed to beat Rodney. Rodney obviously likes the competition as much as John does, even if he does whine a lot when he feels like he might be losing.
The upshot of it is that what could have been very long, lonely days in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, instead turns into the beginning of John making a home for himself. He's got people he's close to and trusts, a job he can't help but love despite all the death and general craziness, a place he feels like he actually belongs, and to top it all off, a best friend who really gets him. John is settling in so comfortably, in fact, that he'd sort of forgotten how life likes to throw you for a loop just when things are starting to seem right.
This is why he finds himself so taken off-guard to realize - while he's accidentally tuning out a moving he's been wanting to see, no less - that he's staring at Rodney and thinking how good his friend looks. And not even good like healthy and whole (which is always a good thing, but definitely not guaranteed out here), but good like...attractive.
John startles himself so badly with the thought that he very nearly falls off his chair. Everyone turns to look at him, and though it's thankfully only a team movie night, he still feels like hundreds of people are staring right into him, all knowing exactly what he's been thinking.
"John, are you alright?" Teyla asks, looking concerned.
"I'm fine. Just a little tired, I guess."
None of them seem like they believe that, but Teyla and Ronon are good enough to turn their attention back to the movie, while Rodney keeps looking at him, thinking face firmly in place. The last thing John needs is Rodney trying to figure out what's going on with him, not when he's confused about it himself.
See, John had always been a bit...different than most people. All throughout high school, he hadn't had a girlfriend, and it hadn't taken long to figure out most people thought that was weird. He'd just never seen the point since he wasn't attracted to any of the girls he knew. Why bother putting in boyfriend levels of effort when anything he wanted to do, he could do with his friends?
In college, though, it'd really hit home when everyone he knew started getting married. And there was John, with no girlfriend, nor any desire for one. It occurred to him that maybe it was just girls that didn't do it for him; maybe he was...gay. It would make things more difficult when he went into the military, maybe, but at least that would explain why he'd never been interested.
Of course, nothing was ever that easy for John. He threw himself into looking for a guy with gusto (although sort of on the down-low) with no success. Guys, it seemed, held about as much attraction for him as girls ever had, which really wasn't what John was hoping to find out. Later, when he'd finally made a sort of peace with himself, John would be embarrassed by how desperate he'd become after that.
His entire senior year of college lives in his memory mainly as a long string of dates with a ridiculously large number of different people, none of whom ever made it beyond a few outings and maybe some kissing. The longer it went on, the worse John felt about it, to the point where he finally just asked out his friend, Nancy, because at least he knew they'd get along.
Weirdly, it proved easier to pretend he was interested in her than it had for anyone else. Easy enough, in fact, that they ended up married less than a year later. Of course, that turned out pretty far from well, seeing as he wasn't attracted enough to even consider sex until after their marriage had begun falling apart due to his disinterest. That was particularly rough, but given that it finally convinced him he was better off alone than with someone he wasn't attracted to, it was probably for the best. It's been nearly ten years since then, and John had really thought he was never going to be attracted to anyone again.
Through the rest of the movie, John can't stop himself from sneaking peeks at Rodney, trying to decide if this is really happening. Luckily, Rodney remains mostly oblivious to the attention, only catching him at it once, and then John gets so flustered he actually blushes. Unfortunately, Teyla is not as unaware as Rodney seems to be.
After the movie, she hangs back, pinning John with her 'you will talk to me' look. John desperately wants to leave, anything to keep from having to try to explain this to Teyla, but he knows she'll just keep after him until he does, anyway. Besides, she won't push for more than he can handle, and she might even be able to help.
"You have been acting strangely all evening, John. What is troubling you?"
Teyla frowns at his automatic denial. "So it was...nothing that almost cause you to fall over earlier?"
"And was it also nothing causing you to stare at Rodney the rest of the time?"
John swallows heavily and takes a breath before he answers. "Not exactly." Teyla smiles the tiniest bit at his admission, but she doesn't say anything else, clearly waiting for him to elaborate. "I might have discovered I'm slightly..." John ducks his head and rubs his hand over the back of his neck in a bid for just a little more time.
"Attracted to Rodney?" John looks up at Teyla, surprised (though he probably shouldn't be) by how well she can read him.
"You should tell him."
It's Teyla's turn to show surprise at John's vehement denial. "Why not?"
"He's my friend. I can't just- You know what, no. I lied. I'm not attracted to him at all." Teyla gives him a stern glare, and John's heart starts pounding, because when she does that, she always gets what she wants. "I can't, Teyla."
"You can." Teyla places her hand on his arm, which has a strangely calming effect. "He is your friend, and he would never jeopardize that, even if he was not attracted to you."
"That's beside the point."
"What is it about this that is bothering you so much, John?"
"I'm not used to being attracted to anyone." Teyla's look turns quizzical. "The only other person I was ever attracted to was my wife, and that wasn't even until things were coming to an end for us. So, yeah. It's kind of freaking me out."
"Pathetic, I know."
"Unique," Teyla says firmly. "And even more of a reason to act on this."
John's never thought of this particular quirk so optimistically, but it's not entirely ridiculous to do so, he guesses. "I'll think about it."
"Very well, John. Have a good night."
She touches her forehead to his briefly before pulling away and leaving his quarters. John sighs heavily and begins to get ready for bed. He going to bed with something to think about because it always mean a shortage of sleep. Maybe if he's lucky, things will look better in the morning.
Things don't look better in the morning, nor for weeks after that. John had sort of secretly hoped that maybe with enough time, his attraction to Rodney would go away on its own, but as usual, luck has failed him. He finds it increasingly difficult to pay attention to anyone else when Rodney is nearby, and even sometimes to pay attention to what Rodney's saying if he gets too caught up in staring.
He gets tongue-tied in a way he never has, wanting more than ever to be able to impress Rodney, but worrying more about doing or saying something ridiculous. It's frustrating, and all so very fourteen-year-old with a first crush that John can't help feeling like he's becoming crazier every day.
It's Rodney's nipples that finally break him, push him to take Teyla's advice though he's not at all sure about it. Because the thing is, he's been working with Rodney day in and day out for over a year, and somehow he's managed not once to notice how visible they are. Like, all the time, and he doesn't know if Rodney's just perpetually cold or what, but the damn things are too there to be ignored.
It's not just about attraction anymore, because suddenly, John wants to touch Rodney, do things with him, see those nipples up close and personal. That's when he really knows that this isn't just going to go away, that he maybe has to talk to Rodney before it all gets completely out of hand.
Normally, he has no trouble at all catching Rodney on his own, but today there's a series of minor disasters around Atlantis, all of which require Rodney's attention. John doesn't even really get a chance to talk to Rodney until dinner, and then it seems to be all he can do just to ask Rodney to meet him out on the pier later. Rodney gives him a strange look John can't even begin to decipher, but he agrees to the meeting, and that's all that really matters at this point.
John heads to the pier almost as soon as he's done eating, happy to take some time to think about what he might say before Rodney shows up. By the time Rodney sits down next to him, John still has no idea what to say, and Rodney apparently already knows something's up, because the first words out of his mouth are, "What's been going on with you lately? You've been acting weird, especially around me."
"I have not," is John's automatic denial, though it's foolish to say since Rodney is completely right, and if Rodney noticed how he's been acting, it's probably been really obvious. "Okay, yes, I have.
Rodney looks smug for just a second before concern overwhelms that. "Ah, well, yes. Care to tell me what that's about?"
John wishes momentarily that the Wraith would attack right now and get him out of this conversation, but of course, he doesn't really want that, and besides, he was the one who asked to talk to Rodney in the first place. "Becoming friends with you has been one of the best things to happen to me since coming here." Not a bad start, letting Rodney know how much he means to John. Yeah, John can totally do this.
"You're not dying, are you?" That surprises John enough that he can't even answer right away. "No, if you were, I'd have been lucky to get a 'goodbye'."
John's indignation at that pretty well kills any nervousness he'd been feeling. "That's not fair, Rodney."
"Because it was fair to me, your best friend, to get nothing more than that when you were ready to blow yourself to smithereens taking down the Wraith ship?"
John scowls, wanting to throttle Rodney and wondering just how this could have turned into a fight. Only with Rodney. John takes a deep breath and wills himself to put his anger aside. "Maybe not, but what would you want me to have said? Sorry to die on you like this, but all that's really important is that if I do this, you'll be safe?"
Rodney opens his mouth to retort, but shuts it again without saying anything and looks at John like he's grown another head. Just like that, John's nervousness returns, complete with a loudly thumping heart and sweaty palms. "You- what did you bring me out here for, Colonel?"
"I, uh...well, I-" John feels wide-open, exposed, and this suddenly seems like the worst idea ever.
Naturally, that's when Rodney figures out what's going on, if his gleeful smile is anything to go by. "Do you have feelings for me, Colonel? That's it, isn't it? Why you can't seem to talk to me anymore without fumbling your words, why you've been staring at me so much lately. Not that anyone could blame you, of course; I am a highly desirable specimen of manhood."
While Rodney talks, John clenches his hands in the extra fabric of his BDUs. "You know what? Maybe this wasn't such a great idea."
John starts to stand, hating the way Rodney is just laying out everything he's feeling, as if it's just that easy, that simple a thing. "Wait, what?" Rodney stands, too. "Where are you going? This is great, and-"
"Great? Nothing about this is great. Maybe it's that easy for you, but it's been driving me to distraction. I can't think straight when I'm around you, and it just won't stop. At this rate, I'm liable to get someone killed!"
"John, calm down." Rodney's unexpected use of his name throws him out of his rant, and he's abruptly embarrassed as all hell at admitting any of those things, even if what he'd said was true. "You're too good at your job to get us killed over something like that." Rodney pauses. "And stuff like this isn't exactly easy for me, either. I mean, have you met me? Not many people can handle my genius."
Rodney's way of acknowledging what a pain in the ass he can be, John thinks. In all his worry about his own attraction, he hadn't thought much about the fact that Rodney probably wasn't at his best in these kinds of situations, either.
"Okay, look. I'm...attracted to you, and it's been a little difficult to deal with since I've never really had to before." Rodney just stares at him like he makes no sense. "Since you're the only person I've been attracted to other than my ex-wife."
Even in a situation like this, John can take a small amount of satisfaction in being able to surprise Rodney. "Yeah."
"Oh, well that's, yes. I can see how that would be disruptive." John nods and looks away, unsure what to say to Rodney now that he's calmed down again, but fortunately, as usual, Rodney picks up the conversational slack. "Did you tell me because you were hoping that would help make it go away, or for some...other reason?"
John had thought he felt exposed before, but that's got nothing on how he feels now. Telling Rodney had been hard enough, but this is much worse, because now it's down to a real decision about whether or not he wants something to come of this. Before, there'd been the possibility that Rodney wouldn't be interested, but now, looking him in the eye, John knows that possibility is gone; it's all up to him.
"Another reason," he says carefully, watching Rodney's reaction closely.
Despite the sort-of fight they just had, Rodney seems ridiculously pleased by John's answer. "Perfect. Now if we can just keep you from trying to get yourself killed all the time-"
"And you from being overbearing and obnoxious," John chimes in.
Rodney ignores him. "-this will work out just fine."
John smirks at that, until he realizes just how close he and Rodney are standing, and that Rodney is smirking right back at him. Without further warning, his arms are full of Rodney, and a warm pair of lips is pressed against his own. It's more intense than any kiss John's ever taken part in, and he can't help trying to pull Rodney closer, enjoying the experience more than he'd ever thought he would and not wanting to let it go.
Eventually, Rodney pulls back and chuckles a little breathlessly. "Wow, you really meant it about being into me, huh?"
That question doesn't even merit an answer, so John just pulls Rodney back in for another kiss, one from which they don't separate for a very long time.