Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, (past) Sam Carter/Rodney McKay
Warnings: takes place in the reality from SG-1's "The Road Not Taken"
Summary: Then he meets Doctor M. Rodney McKay and he falls in love instantly
Notes: I was bagging grocery's today for a guy who knew the cashier. The cashier asked after his wife, and said something about their story being very romantic. I said, "That's what they all say," so the guy told me their story. This story is based heavily upon it (with some significant alterations). Such was my muse for this story that I wrote the first 1.1k words on the back of 18" of receipt paper while watching self checkout before retyping and finishing it here.
A Stargate: Atlantis Story
"Let love steal in disguised as friendship."
John goes to work for TechMage one week after being discharged from the Air Force, having decided it was more honourable to retire gracefully than to re-up and wait for the Powers That Be to find an excuse to chapter him out.
He's been at TechMage for a month, working as one of their test pilots for their new full flight simulator, when he gets the order to report to Long Beach Airport for the chance to take an actual plane in the air again. John would give most anything to fly again, but not even the promise of a dozen glorious hours in the air make up for the fact that it's the Big Boss – the founder, CEO, CTO, and Chairman of TechMage, Doctor M. Rodney McKay himself – he's supposed to be shuttling around. He tries his damnedest to get out of it, but he's the low man on the totem pole and can't pass it off to someone else.
One doesn't have to be with the company for long to hear things about the Boss. It doesn't take a genius to know that a man who's never kept a PA for longer than four months isn't a man John, who'd never gone longer than four months without being written up for insubordination while he still in the Air Force, is likely to keep his job around. And John really, really wants to keep this job, at least, for however long it takes him to save up enough to move somewhere warm, where the ocean stretches for miles and the waves call out his name.
Then he meets Doctor M. Rodney McKay and he falls in love instantly.
It's impossible for John to say why. It's not like he's never been attracted to men before, but McKay is just about as far from his type as it's possible to go and still be in the range of human. Of course, his normal type is the sort of people his old college buddies would (at their most polite) call twinks and bimbos, and while John's not exactly old, he's getting of an age where most of his one night stands are after his wallet more than they are the rest of him.
Maybe it's that John's not exactly young anymore either and starting to look for something more than sex. Someone he can talk to, maybe. Someone he can stand to be around for longer than an orgasm. The big "C".
And Rodney is exactly that:
They talk all through the flight to Kidlington Airport, where McKay is supposed to be giving the keynote speech at some sort of futurist's conference. It's a Gulfstream, it's passenger cabin offering every amenity known to modern aircraft, but Rodney sits in the co-pilot's seat the entire time, complaining only once about the accommodations. They talk through half-a-dozen lectures, right up to the moment McKay goes on stage, and from the moment he steps off it until they land on the tarmac at Long Beach.
It starts with a joke about Star Trek, shifts to Battlestar Galactica, and passes through the whole host of the SyFy channel's other offerings. From there they progress to a more general mocking of television science, talk at length about their dissertations (which fate would have that they'd both completed at Stanford, although half-a-decade apart), and, from there, wade into the whole host of reasons John left the military and Rodney's only ever stayed on the sidelines of the military-industrial complex.
John's irreparably in love before he even realizes he's falling.
He might even have done something about it on that trip, his job and his future be damned, if not for a well-timed comment Rodney makes about his wife in the hotel bar that first night. John may be many things, but he's never been the sort of guy who makes a move on married men, and so he says nothing.
He continues to say nothing for six years.
During this time, he becomes close friends with McKay – and McKay's devastatingly perfect wife, Major Samantha Carter, who is entirely too smart and too beautiful for John to ever compare to and kind enough that, if she sees John's crush on her husband, she never mentions it to him.
So much happens in these six years besides:
John's job title becomes less test pilot and more chauffer stroke research associate stroke personal assistant stroke Chief Operations Officer stroke babysitter,complete with a large corner office down the hall from Rodney's that he only ever uses when necessity dictates, preferring to slouch about Rodney's labs, doing his work on borrowed computers and serving as a sounding board for whatever innovation Rodney's working on that week.
The Stargate Program – which John had been read onto sometime in his first year at TechMage, after Rodney had borrowed him from the aviation guys to work on base-eight maths for the better part of three weeks – goes public after the Battle of Antarctica.
Rodney gets nominated for a Nobel Prize two years in a row, but looses the first to Doctor Jackson for decoding of the secret of the Stargate (which everyone but Sam considers a travesty of galactic proportions) and the second to some Central European scientist who's done something with gauge bosons that has absolutely nothing to do with space travel (the public having already become disillusioned by the Stargates and the War).
The Air Force tries to call John back into service, they're that desperate for bodies, but intergalactic war has only deepened the traditionally conservative military's xenophobia and a couple carefully leaked pictures of John with one of his rare boyfriends during this period is more than enough to dissuade them of the idea.
There are boyfriends, enough to be plural, but not enough to be remarkable. Rodney certainly never remarks on them. Sam does, once or twice, but only in relation to how they never seem to stick around long. He won't degrade any of them by saying that they were only easy fucks – a way of release and nothing more, - because it isn't like that. He likes them all well enough, but it's a long way from like to love. And even for those who never realise how hopelessly he is in love with Rodney, they all realize soon enough that they'd only ever be second fiddle to his boss and leave soon after.
Then there is year six, that terrible year, that annus horribilis, which begins with Sam serving Rodney with divorce papers, which surprises everybody but John, who's been watching his friends' marriage fall apart for years as they spend more and more time at their separate jobs and on opposite sides of the at what cost freedom argument. The press has a field day and TechMage's stocks fluctuate ten points with every headline.
Things seem to even out around the middle of the year, until the one-in-a-million accident that kills Sam – their Sam – and sends them some other, who appears on every newsstand and television station until suddenly she doesn't. Word is quietly given out that she dies in service in her planet, that her family had wanted a simple service, but John knows the truth. He knows what happened to Sam – theirs, unburied, and the other, sent back to her own reality – and just what it costs Rodney.
It's not until Christmas that things begin to return to normal. Special Advisor to the President or not, Rodney's welcome aboard Air Force One appears to be outstayed, and he comes back to Pasadena. The home that he had once shared with Sam has long since been sold, the flat that he'd kept after his divorce long since sublet, but John has a spare room he's more than willing to lend out. He's no longer Chairman of TechMage and the title of CEO has passed, almost by default, to John, but his labs haven't been touched since the Secret Service took Rodney away and John would rather they be put to use again. It's nothing definitive, nothing formal, but it seems to be enough for Rodney, who takes ages to grow back into himself, to stretch out of the shell of a person he'd become to protect himself from all the hurts of the world. John works weeks to get a smile, months for an honest laugh.
All of which leads them to this moment, almost seven years to the day they first met, with Rodney standing nervously in the door of the kitchen of the apartment they still share, hands making aborted gestures as he tries again and again to find the words he needs.
John, at last, takes pity on him, telling him, "Dinner'll be ready in fifteen," without turning away from the green peppers he's slicing, letting Rodney think he's not seen his nervousness.
"That's good. I'm starving."
"You're always starving."
"I have hypoglycaemia."
"I know," John reminds him with a smile. "You need something?"
"What? No. Why would you ask that?"
"I've got eyes."
"Oh," Rodney says, slumping with defeat.
"It can't be that bad."
"Linda in Marketing asked me out to dinner."
John goes still. After a moment, he sets down his knife, just to be on the safe side, and turns to look at Rodney, who's wringing his hands now and looking for all the world like he's about to face a firing squad. "What did you tell her?"
"That I'd have to think about it."
"And now that you've thought about it?" his voice sounds tight, brittle to his own ears, but Rodney's too caught up in his own troubles to notice it, or maybe it's not as noticeable as John thinks it is. Linda is exactly Rodney's type, in the exact same way John never has been. It's been six long years, nearly seven, but his feelings have not changed. If anything, he loves Rodney more now than the day they met, when they talked about aliens and spaceships and interplanetary wars without ever thinking it one day might all be true and worse than they ever could have imagined. The world's gone to hell in a hand basket, one of the two best friends John ever had is dead, and Rodney could be snatched back to Air Force One at any moment without so much as a by-your-leave.
"I need your advice."
John bites his lower lip and shakes his head. "I can't do that," he says, trying to keep his voice even. It's impossibly hard. It distracts him from the unwanted prickle behind his eyes. He knew he should have diced the onions last.
"Don't ask me that."
"Why not?" Rodney asks, growing angry. It's probably an improvement over the lost look he'd been sporting earlier, but cuts John all the deeper. "I've shared everything with you. I don't think I've asked for much in return. You have my job, my company, everything. The least you can do is help me a little with what I'm supposed to do about Linda from Marketing."
"Because," John snaps back, not quite thinking. "I'm not about to give you dating advice when the only one I want you to be dating is me."
The silence that follows is heavy, its impossible weight crushing the breath in his lungs and stoppering his ears. For the life of him, John does not know why he said that. It's true, but there are too many years of friendship between them now for John to risk this, however much he wants Rodney as more than a friend. Even his imaginings, once fevered and frantic, have the air of comfortable familiarity now, and he can go whole days without thinking about what it might be like to claim those lips with his own or clutch at those shoulders when he falls apart beneath that solid, steady weight. John can have a full and fulfilling relationship with his right hand so long as he has Rodney here just as he is, muttering at the coffee pot in the mornings and tearing new ones in cowering researchers in the afternoon and talking back to the television in the evenings. His friendship is enough – has been enough.
Jeopardizing that friendship is the last thing John ever wants. But that's what he's just done.
"Do you mean that?" Rodney asks at last, his voice small again.
John is many things, but craven is not one of them and so he says, "Yes," sounding just as raw.
"For how long?"
Rodney swallows audibly before continuing, somewhat awed, "That long?"
The silence returns, less stifling than before, but still pressing down on his lungs and giving every breath impossible weight. John knows he should say something, but nothing he can think to say can make this right, can take back those words so that things can go back to how they've always been. So he just stands there, watching Rodney watch him, and feels everything that was once between them slip away into the ether.
When Rodney finally does speak, breaking the silence, it's to ask, "Will that keep?"
John doesn't immediately understand, and so he repeats-
"Whatever you're making, will it be ruined if you stop now, or can you stick it in the fridge and come back to it tomorrow?"
"It can go in the fridge," he says carefully, not following, not trusting the words that come out to be the ones that he chose.
"Good. Do that then and get changed. You've got until I've found someplace willing to give us a table last minute to be ready."
"What are you on about?"
"We're going out for dinner."
"I got that part, but why?"
"Because," he says slowly, "I may be a little rusty on the whole dating thing, but they tend to be dinner or a movie and the new Star Trek isn't out yet, so dinner it is."
John laughs, startled into relief. "You don't have wine and dine me, y'know. I'm pretty much a sure bet."
"Which is why we're doing this the right way," Rodney insists.
And John falls in love with him all over again.