If you've never seen the recipe for Schadenfreude Pie, you are missing out.
Title: Shadenfreude Pie [read on my website]
Author: Chandri MacLeod
Category: episode tag for Quarantine, friendship, humour, a little hurt/comfort
Rating: PG-13 (R for swearing?)
Summary: John's been acting strangely, and Rodney wants to know why.EDIT: Oops. Summary edited.
A/N: The title of this fic is brought to you by John Scalzi’s recipe for Schadenfreude Pie, which is possibly the most brilliant thing ever to hit the Internet (not to mention delicious; mmm, the suffering of others).
Because even otherwise level-headed people on any remote posting will jump at the tiniest piece of gossip – and John can’t think of any posting more remote than Atlantis – it’s barely an hour into the evening meal before everyone knows about Rodney and Katie Brown. John’s still sitting at the table with Teyla and Ronon when he sees Rodney slump into the mess hall and then stop, suddenly, as the mess goes silent.
He sees, even from all the way across the room, the way Rodney’s face freezes, the way his shoulders hunch up protectively, the glare promising death and malfunctioning plumbing for every gossiping person in his line of sight. And then Rodney turns around and leaves again.
When the noise level returns to normal, people going back to whatever they were doing, John turns back to the other two members of his team, faintly smug smile in place, only to find them both staring at him. Well, to be precise, Teyla is looking at him with her special, at the moment annoying, brand of gentle concern, and Ronon is… Ronon is looking at him like he expects something. He also looks kind of annoyed.
“I hate gossips,” he intones, and gets up, probably to go bother Keller again. John turns back to Teyla after Ronon, too, has disappeared in a flurry of weird mood and finds her still looking at him with that… that look.
“What?” he demands. “Do I have something on my face?”
The smile changes, going from gentle concern to you are an adorable, but rather stupid pet. “No, John,” she says, pacifically. She lifts her head, pretending to look out over the crowd. “Do you suppose that Rodney has returned to his work?”
John shrugs, beginning to feel uneasy. “Probably. That’s usually what he does when he’s sulking. What?” he asks again, when Teyla raises one of those perfect, aristocratic eyebrows of hers.
She says nothing for a while, and then she nods, decisively. “Come,” she says, reaching out to draw him to his feet. “We will spar. I spent the whole day sitting very still, and I am in need of some exercise.”
John senses, somehow, that it would be unwise to make his usual inquiry about whether she’s okay to spar/fight/run/whatever, what with her condition and all.
This turns out to be a wise choice. In hindsight, he thinks it might have gotten him a black eye or something.
As it is, Teyla spends two hours beating the crap out of him with her sticks, and he’s pretty sure it’s not him, because sure, she’s way better at this than he is but he really has been practicing recently. Which means that she’s putting a little something extra into humiliating him today. Which means he’s done something stupid that he doesn’t know about. Unless this is a hormonal thing.
Luckily he’s not suicidal enough to suggest that.
He showers, counts his new bruises, and still feeling kind of wired on his own account, he grudgingly trudges to his office to get some paperwork out of the way. When he realises paperwork is just too indescribably boring for his current mood, he goes for a run by himself. Then he goes back to his quarters and utterly fails to read a single entire page of his book.
By the time he realises he’s trying to distract himself from something and doesn’t know what it is, it’s one-thirty in the morning. He puts the book aside, changes into sweatpants and a t-shirt, and tries to sleep.
An hour later when that’s a failure too, he gets up, pulls on his boots, and goes looking for Rodney.
Rodney, hunched over his lab table, shoots him a glance, miserable and murderous at the same time, and John has honest to god never met anyone else who could manage that.
"I'm busy," Rodney says. And it may be true, strictly speaking, because this is Atlantis and there's always something – space vampires or killer microscopic robots or what-have-you – that could conceivably keep anyone perpetually busy, if they weren't human beings who needed food and, occasionally, sleep. In any case, John long ago learned to read Rodney's moods just by the particular tension in his neck and shoulders, because Rodney's body can't lie any better than his face can.
For a minute or two, John just watches him, trying to work out a strategy. Getting Rodney out of the lab when he doesn't want to go is always an exercise in delicacy; "herding cats" is far too tame a simile. And Rodney's more firmly set in, well, Rodney mode than John's seen him in ages, muttering to himself under his breath and poking at something with his right hand while he scribbles down notes with his left. Rodney's ridiculously proud of the fact that he's ambidextrous, and sometimes John thinks Rodney does this just to show off.
As if on cue, Rodney looks up again, twists around to glare at him. "You're still here? I said I'm busy." He glares some more, expectantly, and then he lifts his left hand to flutter it impatiently in John's direction, and something else flickers briefly in his eyes, so quick that John almost misses it.
Rodney is completely freaking out about something.
Okay. Not quite freaking out. But close on, and if John's any judge (and he’s probably the best one there is, at least in this galaxy), is huddled over what's probably an Ancient toaster oven at two-thirty in the morning because he's trying not to think about it.
Now, John could do the kind thing, which would be to turn around, walk out of the lab, maybe, oh, sleep. But it wouldn't be the right thing, because it would leave Rodney freaking out, and aside from that being against every instinct he's developed (against his will, it should be noted) regarding Rodney over four years, he sincerely doesn't want to do the kind thing. He’s kind of pissed off, truth be told, and he doesn't have any good reason to be, but suddenly all he really wants to do is piss Rodney off, too. Misery loves company, and John knows this makes him pretty much the worst best friend ever, but he’s miserable and there are steps to be taken.
Fuck it, John thinks, and hauls Rodney up from his chair.
It takes the distance from the chair to the door and halfway down the corridor for Rodney to emerge from surprised, indignant sputtering and push John away. John stumbles – he always forgets that Rodney's as strong as he is, mostly because he never shows it until he's ticked.
Phase one: complete.
"What, may I ask, do you think you're doing?"
John shrugs, ruthlessly beating back the sort of bitchy grin that wants to come out and putting on what he hopes comes across as concerned friend, doing this for your own good. "You need to sleep, Rodney."
Rodney crosses his arms; I hate you, say Rodney's elbows. I want you to go away.
Okay, he should really not be finding that hot.
And okay, that’s a surprise.
And it makes him even angrier, for some reason, but he pushes it back as Rodney snarls something long and complicated about how he has completely incomprehensible amounts of work to do, because after all it's not as if anyone else got anything done today, “what with the being locked in awkward social situations with no oxygen and the possibility of imminent death by explosion and everything.”
Normally it's the kind of rant John finds comforting, tunes out a few sentences in and has a beer or something, just listening to Rodney being there and himself and... hey, there's an idea.
"I owe you a beer."
Rodney stops mid-rant, mouth open, which is something he hardly ever does, stand there like a plastic clown on the midway waiting for someone to shoot a water gun in his mouth. Rodney’s always too worried about bugs flying in, John thinks.
"You... you did," agrees Rodney, vaguely, and all the fight is suddenly gone out of him, so fast that it kind of leaves John's head spinning. He recovers quickly, though, as Rodney drops his arms and looks unhappily at the floor. When he speaks again, his voice is bleak.
John leans forward a little, questioningly. "Okay?" he asks, kind of surprised that Rodney gave in this easy. But Rodney just shrugs.
Well, he did promise the guy a beer.
“So I guess it didn’t go well.”
You can win a lot of things playing slightly illicit poker games. Despite their only supply line being tied to the Daedelus the black market in non-reg goods is alive and thriving in Atlantis, based their own unique version of the barter system. Since (a) combat pay for the Pegasus Galaxy makes a couple-hundred-dollar pot seem kind of pointless and (b) what are they going to do with money in a galaxy that trades in goats, beans, explosives and root vegetables, anyway?
So the medium of exchange is value-based and just a little schizophrenic, being largely situational and dependant on the parties involved in any given transaction. Sometimes you can challenge a package of Oreo cookies with a dog-eared paperback of Pride and Prejudice, and sometimes if the betting in a hand of poker is especially fierce, a DVD copy of Manos: The Hands of Fate is more valuable than all the Playstation games in two galaxies (mainly because there are only two Playstations in the city, both belonging to members of the science division because no one else can figure out how to hook them up to the power system).
Alcohol has a pretty steady standard of value, though, like chocolate. John won a sixer of beer the last game he played, and then traded it for something Canadian because patriotism be damned, he spent enough time abroad by the time he was thirty to know that by comparison to just about everyone else, American beer tastes, as the Australian troops put it, “like watery cat piss.” He brings two bottles in from his balcony where he put them to keep them cold, and gives one to Rodney, who blinks down at the label.
“Keith’s?” he asks, wonderingly. “How did you – you know what, never mind. I don’t want to know.” He sits heavily down on John’s bed and twists off the top. “And to answer your question, no. It did not go well.”
John sits in his desk chair. Rodney sounds puzzled, staring with a frown over John’s shoulder like John isn’t even there. “I think she broke up with me. I think she… I think she was going to say no anyway.”
“What makes you say that?”
Rodney shrugs. “She sort of… didn’t say so, exactly, but she said so.” With a groan, he slumps and lets his head fall into his hands. “Oh my god, she was going to break up with me anyway wasn’t she?”
John says nothing. He actually has to bite his tongue, but suddenly he’s seeing Katie Brown in a whole new, much more charitable light. And when did he start hating Katie Brown, anyway? But he did. Wow. And now… he doesn’t?
Just like that, a knot loosens in John’s chest that he hadn’t even noticed was there – but now that it’s gone, he realises it’s been there for something like a year, and now he can see the place where it was, and now he realises why he was angry. For a moment he stares at the top of Rodney’s bowed head, his rounded shoulders, and thinks, wonderingly, huh.
“Go figure,” he says aloud without meaning to, and Rodney looks up with wide-eyed surprise.
“You’re happy!” he accuses, and John jerks back hard enough to make his chair roll a couple of inches. He didn’t even realise he was smiling. He quickly isn’t anymore.
“No!” he denies, even though it’s utterly, wildly untrue in a way he can’t quite sort out yet and his face feels hot, and he has to take a huge swallow of beer to cover it. When he surfaces, eyes watering, Rodney’s still staring at him.
“You are!” he says. “You’re…” Rodney looks like he’s trying to work his way up to angry, but his own face keeps stopping him, cycling through confused, hurt, back to confused, and a couple of other things John doesn’t catch because Rodney looks down at his bottle. A second later sets it down on the floor with exaggerated care, like he’d rather throw it at something. Or someone. When he stands up, a second after that, John knows who. But when Rodney speaks again, it lacks his usual punch, and he’s slouching in that way he used to, the way that takes an inch off his height.
“Fine,” he says, the word brittle and hollow, and he heads for the door. John’s on his feet before he knows what he’s doing, trying to hang on to the bright intensity of his epiphany while trying to make his brain reason adequately to keep Rodney here long enough for it to settle, because if he can’t make it all fit together he sure as hell can’t say anything, not coherently, anyway. And oh god, is he going to say something? Oh god.
“Oh, come on, McKay—”
Rodney whirls, and he is angry now, mouth twisted, jaw rigid. “What, because you haven’t quite gotten your daily quota of schadenfreude?”
John blinks at him, for a second completely off-balance. “Did you just use German on me?”
Rodney huffs angrily. “It means—”
“I know what it means, Rodney. I’m kinda surprised you do.” He can hear the drawl in his own voice, feel the smile, like reflex, extremely ill-timed, stupid reflex because then he can see the answering scowl on Rodney’s face. He’s expecting the flailing hands, but not the shove, and so it sends him staggering a few steps back.
“Is this funny, or something, Sheppard?” he demands, and he’s red in the face and John knows that to an outside observer the last few seconds make him look like a total asshole, but he can’t make his mouth move, though at least he’s not smiling anymore. Rodney is angry and icy cold, and John doesn’t think Rodney’s ever been this angry at him before. Other people, sure. Most often other people with guns pointed at them. But it’s a unique blend of something uniquely Rodney, which means he isn’t just angry, he’s something else, too, and right now John’s leaning towards hurt.
“I know I’m… I’m not…” Okay, Rodney struggling for words is never a good sign. “…a very nice person, or anything, or, or, or, you,” and he flails his hands in John’s direction in a gesture that seems to encompass John’s entire existence, “or anything else that would make me deserving of a, a, a happy ending, or whatever, but I was really, really trying this time. And…” Rodney pauses, shakes his head, and lets out a bitter laugh.
“You know, there are scores, literally scores of people back on Earth who would line up and buy tickets to watch me fail at anything. And I’m used to that. I earned it. I get that. Comes with the territory. Thing is, I really, honestly,” another pause, a hard swallow, and when Rodney speaks again, he’s looking at the wall behind John’s head and his voice cracks, just a little: “...never mind. Pardon me for mistaking your gesture for an indication that you gave a shit. I should have known better.”
The last few words could have been a hiss of pain, and Rodney looks it, standing next to the door with his chest heaving, his face red. His mouth moves a few more times, vaguely, but if he says anything else John can’t hear it over the roaring in his ears.
Rodney turns and storms out without another word, the door opening for him and closing behind him with its customary soft shush, and the sound is incongruously peaceful but it takes all the heat of the argument with it. If it was an argument. John’s left standing in a room drained of anything like sound and fury, feeling cored like an apple, his ears still roaring for a second before that, too, dies away and he has to slide down the wall or fall down.
“Fuck,” he says to his knees, resting his forehead on them. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
John tries to radio Rodney once, and when he gets no answer, paces for a while, running his hands through his hair over and over until he actually gets his fingers tangled in it and it probably looks even more ridiculous than usual. He stops when he knocks over Rodney’s half-empty, abandoned bottle of beer and has to go running into the bathroom for a towel. As he’s mopping up the spill he swears some more, and then he sits down against the cool metal wall again and bangs the back of his head against it a few times.
It’s actually kind of comforting. Grounding. Also, he deserves it.
“You are an idiot,” he tells himself, and the voice in his head that sounds like Rodney answers: Yes, yes you are, and candidly, it’s amazing someone as stupid as you is still alive, let alone in charge of an entire city’s worth of defences. Astonishing we’re not all dead, really.
John’s not sure when his inner critical voice started sounding like Rodney, but he knows it’s Rodney because John doesn’t use words like “candidly” unless he’s intentionally trying to be an asshole. He’s also not quite that sarcastic, whereas sarcasm is Rodney McKay’s default setting.
Rodney-in-his-head is right, though, there’s no arguing with it. And now that he thinks about it, he should have known. He knew he cared about Rodney, sure, but he’s never had a best friend like Rodney before, either, not that stayed alive longer than a few months. Okay, scratch that, he’s never known anyone like Rodney before, and there’s something about Rodney McKay that takes time to really kick in. And then you’re stuck.
That part’s not just John, he knows it’s not, because everybody who finds themselves caring about Rodney seems to find it surprising, but inextricable. The guy’s a rude, blustering, prickly, brilliant jackass but once you get used to the prickles you see he’s disproportionately brave (when he has to be), and fiercely loyal (when he chooses to be) and with an earnest streak that’s way more endearing than it should be. And he’s scared of more or less everything, from allergens to monsters to earthquakes to guns to the possibility of someone being smarter than him to, well, just people, but has faced and survived most of them. John thinks it might be that last bit that got him because on that count, they’ve got something in common.
And how the hell do you not know you’re in love with somebody?
Seriously? says the voice in his head, with blistering sarcasm, and John bangs his head against the wall a few more times, just for good measure.
He has no excuse. None. Well, beyond it could get me in trouble which is a crap reason because he’s in trouble anyway. It’s not like he’s never been attracted to guys before, because that’s how the it could get me in trouble reflex got slotted into his reactions in the first place, way back in flight school. But that’s how he knows it’s not just a lust thing, either, because he’s pretty sure he’d have noticed that. Which means it isn’t, just.
And Rodney… is, as has been previously established, one of the worst liars John’s ever met. He could probably lie to a stranger, under duress, if it counted, maybe, but most of the time he’s an open book. And now that he’s thinking about it, there was definitely a moment of simple, straightforward it could get me in trouble consideration the very first time John sat down in the control chair in Antarctica. Despite his very occasional self-aggrandizing bluster John knows how little Rodney thinks of his own attractiveness, he said as much as he was storming out, and John knows he looked on Katie as a miracle on all counts.
But now John can remember a flush of heat in his own belly at the look of surprise and pure, unfiltered joy on this blue-eyed stranger’s face, remembers the astonished grin on his own face as their eyes met for the first time, because up until the chair lit up beneath him Rodney had been talking to himself and not paying John that much attention at all. But after he did, for the few seconds until the rest of the science team came running in with their arms waving because the whole outpost had woken up at John Sheppard’s unspoken request, Rodney hadn’t even been looking at the chair.
After, John wrote it off as having more to do with the interface of the chair, because that had been unprecedented, too, and even Rodney had some competition when it came to a whole city lighting up at his touch. After that, there was the distraction of the Wraith and Pegasus and the Genii and the constant threat of the city sinking and keeping one another and everyone else alive. But it’s not like Rodney never looked at him like that again, just that he stopped doing it quite so much after he took up with Katie Brown.
Okay, a lot of trouble. Fuck.
He thinks about trying Rodney on the radio again, and decides against it. He doesn’t trust his voice right now and anyway, he probably wouldn’t answer. For a second John hopes Rodney hasn’t gone back to the lab, because it’s late but there’s always the chance there’s somebody else there, and John wouldn’t wish Rodney in the mood he’s in on anyone.
Well. Nobody he likes.
He’s going to have to figure this out in the morning. Assuming Rodney ever speaks to him again, and okay, even now he’s not completely expecting that spike of despair. God, what if Rodney never speaks to him again? Just because he couldn’t fucking explain himself?
Eventually he pulls off his boots, peels off his shirt, crawls up onto his bed and falls asleep on top of the covers.
He’s woken from a confused dream of walking, lost, in the hallways of Atlantis, with sharp-edged black things batting at every window he passes, by the awareness of somebody else in his room. You don’t stay alive in the field as long as he has without becoming a light sleeper.
Still, he fell asleep exhausted and miserable and aching all over from Teyla-inflicted bruises. So although he’s sitting up with his eyes open within about five seconds, it takes him a few more to be awake enough to make out the figure standing at the foot of his bed.
It’s Rodney, his arms folded protectively across his chest, and he’s staring at John with an intensity that makes him want to inch back up the mattress until he’s pressed against the wall. But he doesn’t move, can’t move, held in place by Rodney’s attention alone, even though he can’t make out his face in the dark.
Until Rodney takes a step forward, into the starlight coming in through the window, and he can.
He doesn’t look angry anymore. And maybe it’s John’s sleep-fogged perspective telling him so, but what he does look, for a heartbeat or two, is terrified.
But it doesn’t last, and John isn’t sure, and then Rodney takes another step, around the end of the bed, and now the expression is one John recognises as the time-stopping focus Rodney radiates when he’s trying to solve a complex equation. Indeed, he’s staring at John like a particularly puzzling piece of Ancient tech, a mystery to be solved, and on the next step, he unfolds his arms, crooked mouth frowning almost sideways, tongue darting out to swipe across his lips.
Another step, and John can feel the air between them shiver, like Rodney’s attention alone is changing it, stilling it in defiance of all the laws of physics.
On the last step, as Rodney leans forward to close the space between them, John has the devout and fleeting thought that no force in the world, at this moment, could make him look away from Rodney’s mouth. Rodney takes a breath like he’s steeling himself.
And then Rodney is reaching out, hands warm against John’s face, and pulling them together for a bruising, breath-stealing kiss.
John freezes for a millisecond, inhaling sharply through his nose as heat rises in him like a wave, and then he’s kissing back, his own hands closing loosely around Rodney’s wrists, thinking thank god, you are a genius.
When Rodney pulls away, he’s wearing that thoughtful look again, albeit now flushed and panting, and even in the weak starlight John can see his eyes are blown wide and dark, the blue a ring around the black. It’s a minute before John can make his mouth work, and when he does, his voice won’t rise above a hoarse whisper.
Which is officially the stupidest thing he’s said today, and there’s plenty of competition.
Rodney finally blinks, and lets go, and John’s halfway out of the bed to stop him before he sees that Rodney’s just turning away so that he can sit down, heavy and sudden, on the floor.
John slides out of bed and sits next to him, definitely awake now, careful to leave a hand’s-breadth between them, just in case it’s possible to misread what just happened and Rodney is sleepwalking or… something.
Rodney is pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes the way he does when he’s been working late and can’t stop to rest. When he lowers his hands again, his eyes look raw, but then, so does the rest of him, and John feels guilt settle in his middle like a weight. All at once the urgency from earlier in the evening is pushing at him to say something, and again he grasps at the first likely candidate that comes to mind.
“Look, about what I said. You didn’t take it the way… I mean I didn’t mean to…”
Rodney just sighs, sounding faintly annoyed, tilting his head back to rest it against the side of the mattress. “Why,” he asks, slowly, wearily, irritably, “didn’t you just tell me?”
John blinks at him, twice, and runs the question through a brief mental inventory of context, recent events, Rodney’s agitated expression, more recent events, John’s own half-dressed state and the distinctly pinkish tinge of Rodney’s cheeks.
His brain helpfully informs him that no, there’s just about no chance Rodney’s asking about anything other than what John thinks he’s asking.
He shivers, leaning back against the mattress, letting his head and shoulders droop miserably. “I didn’t know,” he admits, and adds, when Rodney gives him a disbelieving glance, “I wasn’t sure. I mean I’ve been… I’ve had…” he waves a hand between the two of them, an abortive gesture that ends with him raising hesitant fingertips to his own lips, where he can still taste Rodney. “…thoughts. Like that. Before. But I’d never…”
He makes a frustrated noise and scrubs his hands through his hair, and he can actually sense the sarcastic eyebrow-raise Rodney gives him. “But it was just,” he tries, hands in his hair, “occasionally, and just, I don’t know…”
“Urges?” suggests Rodney in a voice that manages to be condescending despite the fact that it’s a little higher than usual, and John just about chokes, but covers by swallowing, hard.
“Urges – I, yes. Okay. Yes. But just occasionally, it was just, and it wasn’t worth… and anyway you weren’t… and I mean she’s so, so nice…”
“Nice,” with a delicately critical tone, and oh, god, he has lost all control over the bridge between brain and mouth. In desperation, John looks up at the dark ceiling, takes a deep breath, lets it out, like he’s meditating.
It doesn’t help, because he’s never been any good at meditating, but at least he no longer feels like there are sixty-seven hamsters on methamphetamines fuelling his higher brain functions.
“And then suddenly you had a ring,” he finishes, and then he shuts his eyes and waits for death.
Or for Rodney to leave. Whatever.
But Rodney doesn’t leave. Instead, Rodney’s silent, uncharacteristically so, for twenty-three entire seconds (not that John’s counting).
“So, let me get this straight,” Rodney says finally, in the let me take you through the entire process voice he uses at briefings, the one that takes fifteen minutes to explain how he’s going to brilliantly switch on a light. John’s just too damned grateful that Rodney’s forgiven him enough to be condescending to pay much attention to the fact that Rodney is carefully un-knotting his shoelaces.
“You were attracted to me.” Rodney isn’t counting things off on his fingers, but he might as well be. “You decided not to act on it, I’m guessing because of some combination of the usually disastrous fallout of sleeping with co-workers and the ridiculous rules of your sexually-repressed military.” A glare, a habitual one, meaning, succinctly, this is what I think of your entire laughable country.
“Okay. I get that. It’s moronic, but I can at least understand the process. What I don’t get,” and suddenly his voice has an edge on it, and it’s a sharp one, serrated, even, “is the part where you suddenly decide to change your mind right as I’m about to propose to somebody else, a girl I’ve been courting – admittedly not with much finesse – for the better part of a year. And then you didn’t act on it. Instead you threw a tantrum because I was upset my girlfriend had just dumped me.”
Rodney’s staring at him now, with his eyes narrowed and his chin jutting out. “You didn’t want me but I wasn’t allowed to have anybody, either? What the fuck is that? Revenge for something?”
“No, it wasn’t revenge,” John says defensively, and then he raises his eyebrows, because come on. “’Courting’?”
Fuck, Rodney’s glare could facet diamonds. “Shut up.”
John sighs. “Look. I’d decided… at the beginning. That it was a bad idea. But when I decided that, I hadn’t realised that I… actually I didn’t realise that until a few hours ago.”
He adds: “And I’m not the one who threw a tantrum.”
“Until—” Rodney frowns at him, remembering, and then his eyes widen. “Oh,” he murmurs. “That’s what you meant when you… Okay. That’s… different.”
Then he shoves John again, hard. “God, what a waste of time!” he exclaims, and it’s enough that John almost goes over, catching himself with his left hand, but Rodney reaches out to pull him up again anyway.
Rodney’s hands are hot against his bare skin, and John becomes aware for the second time that he’s wearing only sweatpants, and that the air in his room is chilly. Then he realises that Rodney is sitting much closer than he was a moment ago, squinting vaguely at his chest.
“Why are you all black and blue?” he asks.
John looks down. His torso is covered with small bruises, and there are no few on his arms. “Sparring with Teyla,” he says, and then stops, blinking into the dark.
“What?” Rodney asks, when he’s been quiet a while.
“There is a distinct possibility that Ronon and Teyla know,” he says, slowly, thoughtfully.
“About…” John makes the vague hand-gesture again, indicating them both, the air between them, the entire incomprehensibly stupid evening. Or morning now, maybe. “I’m not totally sure, but there’s a chance Teyla beat me up because I was being mean to you.”
“You think—” Rodney begins, with a slightly panicky note, but he pauses, and when he continues, he sounds amused and deeply, vindictively satisfied instead. “Just Teyla? Not Ronon?”
John prods carefully at an especially colourful bruise on his ribs. “I’m thinking maybe they flipped a coin. He looked pretty annoyed. Or maybe he let her ‘cause she’s pregnant. Hypocrite.”
“Oh, like he wouldn’t let her anyway, if she asked,” Rodney snarks.
“She does have seniority,” John muses. “And there’s always the possibility they’re taking turns. Maybe Ronon’s day to beat me up is tomorrow.”
“So long as they’re taking turns,” Rodney agrees with mock solemnity. Apparently revenge by proxy trumps the possible embarrassment of their team-mates knowing about his four-year-long not-so-unrequited crush.
“I think I wanted you to say something,” Rodney tells him, after an indeterminate period of relatively peaceable silence.
John turns his head a little so that he can see Rodney’s profile, softly outlined by starlight. “Say something?”
“About the ring,” Rodney explains. “I was really – I mean really – fucking angry at you when you acted like it was no big… after I left you. And I wasn’t sure why, exactly. At the time.”
“I was horrified, as a matter of fact,” John says defensively, “but to be fair, I didn’t know why at the time, and I think you might have taken it the wrong way. Jumping up and screaming ‘no, god, no,’ doesn’t strike me as the standard response to your best friend telling you he’s proposing marriage to a girl.”
There’s a huffing sigh from his right, and sounding hard-done-by, Rodney replies. “Yes, well, about later, over the beer, possibly I was upset because I had just, and I’m just guessing, sabotaged the thing with Katie over… over… over somebody who’d never shown any reciprocating interest.”
It starts out sarcastic but ends up small, and in retrospect, John’s pretty sure he deserves every bruise. He wonders how long Teyla’s known. Before he did, anyway. Maybe all along. The realisation brings with it a strange surge of affection.
Rodney turns to him, away from the window. The blue eyes are suspicious, but the question is softly spoken, careful. “You do know I’ve been – had a crush on you pretty much since Antarctica, right?”
John considers this, but figures it’s not worth the lie. “Yeah,” he admits. Rodney glares at him again, accusing, but not very.
“You asshole,” he whispers without much ire, mouth twisting sideways in another frown.
“Yeah,” John agrees, and in a moment of inspiration breaks out the slow, lazy grin again, the one he now knows has worked on Rodney before, and this time can see it’s better received.
This time, John’s the one who initiates the kiss, pressing parted lips to the twist of Rodney’s mouth, hoping to gentle it back into a smile or something even better. There’s a moment of hesitation, but then Rodney makes a tiny, pleased sound and reaches, hands skimming up John’s arms, into his hair, one hand flat and warm and heavy on his back. Rodney kisses like he talks, energetically and with focus, with purpose, and this time when they draw apart John’s the one struggling for breath, tingling in all the places they’re touching.
“Stay,” he manages after a while, one hand resting on the back of Rodney’s neck. He can feel Rodney’s pulse through his palm. He can feel it, more than hear it, when Rodney laughs, a tremble under John’s fingers that warms him up from the inside, like the constant heat of Rodney’s body, always on the edge of fever.
When Rodney grins at him, a sure and joyful smile like the first one he ever gave him, John feels light-headed, like he’s feverish, too, maybe insane, but he finds, when he faces the thing, that he doesn’t really care.
“Why do you think I took off my shoes?”