Summary: Rodney McKay has never heard of John Sheppard, rock-god and eco-warrior. John Sheppard thinks that's something that needs addressing.
Info: Thank you to Secretlybronte for a sterling beta. All remaining mistakes are my own. She pointed out that 'bunfight' is a Britism - she's right, but it's a GOOD one. Bunfight - Noun. A grand, formal party on an important occasion.
Perhaps Rodney hadn't been entirely on his game when disaster struck that morning. Two cups of coffee in an hour could only get a man so far - he'd need at least another two before he could begin to unravel the cryptic nature of Zelenka's inevitable early-morning voicemail messages. (Radek was moderately intelligent, and had been speaking English for at least as long as the six years Rodney had known him - would it have killed him to consistently remember definite and indefinite articles? Rodney knew he understood them and thought he was probably doing it for effect to make himself sound mysterious and uber-European or something.)
But Rodney hadn't seen the guy coming, no matter what the reason. When the jogger barrelled into him, he had landed on his ass in what must have looked like a truly spectacular pratfall.
"Ooof!" Rodney huffed, no doubt adding to the overall comedic value.
Somehow the man had managed to stay on his feet, and he turned smoothly now, easily crouching down to where Rodney lay sprawled and winded on the dirty, germ-laden sidewalk... pavement... whatever... outside his Knightsbridge hotel.
"Geez, buddy. Are you okay?"
An American. Of course. The British were an uptight, socially retarded, covertly patronising race in his opinion, but Rodney had never had one mow him down at 5.30 on a Wednesday morning.
Rodney glared at the reflection of his own face, absurdly distorted in the mirrored lenses of the man's sunglasses, and held out a hand for some assistance.
The man stared at him blankly for a couple of seconds, forcing Rodney to flap his hand in an undignified manner. Finally, he took it and helped Rodney to his feet, which was a much better position from which to deliver the haranguing that Rodney was going to unleash, just as soon as he caught his breath.
"I'm sorry, buddy. You just... you came out of nowhere," jogging-guy said, shaking his head.
Rodney glared, using the three seconds it took him to order his upcoming and devastating diatribe to examine his attacker. The man was tall and slim; what he imagined some people with a more charitable and poetic soul than his own might call rangy. His skin was lightly tanned and hairy, and he wore his running shoes, shorts and t-shirt with more ease than Rodney knew he could ever pull off in similar circumstances. All this was topped off with an infuriating half-amused, half-wary smile and a ridiculous explosion of dark, messy hair.
"Well congratulations, Mary Decker," Rodney began, feeling the heat of incipient bruises swelling across his hip and back, and wondering if he'd fractured something, "you've just put theoretical astrophysics back by ten years. Are you blind? Are you incapable of basic directional changes? I mean, who knows how many of my irreplaceable brain cells you've killed in your selfish quest for personal beauty?"
And damn him if jogging-guy's smile didn't come out from lurking behind apology and break across his face like the slow, warm slide of melted butter across toast. Rodney had a sudden, insane urge to snatch the man's stupid sunglasses off his face and see if his eyes were as insolent as his relaxed body-language suggested.
"Did I say something amusing? Because I must have missed it due to the... oh yes... overwhelming pain from the undoubtedly serious injury I've just sustained. Or do you always smile like some sort of mental deficient at people you've just assaulted?"
The man was talking over him, offering various inarticulate denials and apologies. Yet, none of that seemed to be detracting from the smile, which was still out in full force.
Rodney stopped and stared at him. Maybe he actually was mentally deficient in some way.
Rodney glanced around at the quiet street, the sun already climbing into the sky, gilding the windows of the surrounding buildings with indecently cheerful sparkles. The only other soul around, apart from the homicidal taxi drivers, who never seemed to sleep (which might actually go some way toward explaining the erratic way they drove), was the doorman standing at the top of the steps to his hotel. Of course, he was pretending not to see what was happening in a terribly British "it's not my problem" kind of way. Rodney wondered if the ridiculous coat and hat might slow him down if he were required to step in and save Rodney's life from a psychotic fitness freak.
Belatedly, Rodney noticed that he was still holding the psycho's hand and he quickly withdrew it and scowled.
"Why are you smiling at me?" Rodney demanded, his concerns for the mental health of his attacker washed away by irritation at the man's continued good humour.
"You called me beautiful," the man said slowly, his smile never wavering, stepping back and folding his arms across his chest. He tilted his head to one side and watched with interest as Rodney began to splutter indignantly.
"I... what? What? Are you some sort...? I most... certainly did not," Rodney scoffed, touching his ribs gingerly and checking his palm for blood.
"You did. You said I was on a selfish quest for..."
"... personal beauty. Yes. Thank you. Luckily, I have retained a sufficient number of brain cells for my short term memory to function adequately without assistance from idiots in expensive running shoes, and what's more, I was not..."
"This your hotel?"
"... in any way implying... what?" Rodney looked up at the impressive fa¨ade of The Lanesborough and felt slightly smug. "Yes. Why?"
The man moved so fast, Rodney had no chance to protest before he found himself with a broad, strong shoulder under his arm, and a warm hand snaking around his waist, being propelled up the steps toward the hotel entrance.
"Good morning, Dr. McKay," the doorman said brightly as he opened the door for them.
Great. Now the guy could see him? What kind of hotel employed such nocturnal and myopic staff, Rodney wondered.
His assailant's shoes squeaked shrilly on the marble floor, loud and jarring in the smart, silent atrium. When they stopped at the reception desk, Rodney disengaged himself from jogging-guy, who unaccountably didn't smell sweaty or gross, but of fabric softener and fresh air.
With another scowl and an irritable shrug, Rodney straightened his clothing. "I can take it from here, thank you," he said stiffly.
The guy seemed genuinely surprised. "Are you sure? I was gonna..."
"No, thank you. You've already done enough damage. You can go before you and your vanity inflict some other injury upon my person. I wouldn't want to be around when you're wielding a comb through that, for example." Rodney arched an eyebrow at the mop of hair that seemed to defy any spatial or motion formulae yet devised.
The man looked to be ready to argue, but Rodney flapped an angry hand at him and turned to face the startled concierge. By the time Rodney had collected his key and several envelopes, no doubt left for him by envious colleagues and interested leaders of commerce, the man had gone.
Which was as irritating as all the rest of it put together.
Rodney considered that he'd probably had a lucky escape, went to his room, hung a concise note on the door to deter housekeeping, took a long, hot shower, swallowed some aspirin to help him recover, then fell into his bed as the first buzz of commuter traffic began on the street below.
Rodney had been pleased that his latest research was to be delivered in the keynote lecture at the rather imposing venue of the British Museum. The last seminar worthy of his input had been in Seville, of all places. Seville! He'd declined with a terse note and refined his work for the following year.
London was comparatively safer from citrus-borne sudden death and he was somewhat familiar with Britain as he'd done part of his post-doctoral work at Oxford. The hotel they had put him in was adequate - suitable for a scientist of his standing and renown. Centrally located and overlooking Hyde Park, the Lanesborough had an air of quiet dignity, which Rodney felt complemented his personality. He was even unbothered by the traffic that seemed to crowd every square inch of the city (other than the taxi drivers who Rodney counted as a necessary evil and that was all). But he hadn't been prepared for the cacophony that woke him from his well-earned rest at ten a.m., which was too damn early for a man who'd been up all night wrestling with problems that most people couldn't even begin to spell.
Rodney reached out, scattering the items on his nightstand, until he found the telephone receiver. He didn't wait for the polite response before he growled, "What is that revolting wailing noise and why is it interrupting my sleep?"
"I'm terribly sorry, Dr. McKay. There's a concert in the park this afternoon and the engineers are running a sound check."
"Well, tell them to stop," Rodney snarled and slammed the phone down.
After an hour, four increasingly irate calls and the apparently unbelievable amount of time necessary to check the same sounds over and over again, Rodney assumed that the hotel was unable to resolve this issue to his satisfaction and went out to take matters into his own hands.
His temper was not improved when it turned out that a huge barrier had been erected around the concert site, and he had to walk an extra two kilometres to the opposite end of the park to find an entrance that wasn't padlocked. The screech of feedback and the thud of percussion accompanied him as he finally walked up to a huddle of t-shirt-wearing Neanderthal descendents.
"Help you, guv?"
"Yes, I'm looking for whoever is in charge of this..." Rodney flicked a finger at the stage and huge banks of sound and lighting equipment that he could see through the gateway, "... fiasco."
"In charge, you say? And who are you?"
"I'm Dr. Rodney McKay, and I'm the man who is attempting to sleep after having spent the night deconstructing what the human race currently knows about string theory in relation to CFT wormholes, work which, if there is any justice in this life, will lead to the first of my Nobel prizes."
The bulging man-beast stared at Rodney for a moment, then looked to his companions for assistance. Unfortunately for him, none seemed to be forthcoming.
"Right. Right... and what exactly is it that you want?" He leaned forward a little, as if being closer would help his woeful comprehension.
"What I want is a little courtesy. What I want is to be able to return to my extremely expensive hotel room and to be able to sleep, because in a little over thirty hours I am delivering a paper that will change the way we - and when I say we, I mean the world's greatest minds - think about space-time and may conceivably be the most important scientific advance of this century. What I want is for that dreadful, anti-social, hellish racket to stop."
The man waited, obviously wondering if Rodney had actually finished. "Right," he said uncertainly. "You do know who this is for, don't you?" He pointed at the distant stage, swarming with people like an ant colony, then gestured to his ill-fitting t-shirt.
"What is that?" Rodney muttered, tipping his head to look at the silhouetted figure of a man holding a guitar emblazoned across the highly stretched fabric.
"John Sheppard. This is his gig."
Something about the look on Rodney's face must have tipped the Neanderthals off about Rodney's grasp of modern musical artists, because, as one, their mouths dropped open, which frankly shouldn't have made them look any more impaired, but somehow did.
"You've heard of John Sheppard, right?" said one of the rabble, suddenly becoming bold.
"No, why? Should I have?" Rodney asked, crossing his arms and rolling his eyes. He assumed from the disbelieving smirks that he should. "Look, all I want... Who's in charge here?"
"Well, Big Ron is in charge of security."
"Okay, that's a start. Let's get Big Ron down here, shall we?"
One of the group managed to successfully operate his radio, and spoke into it. "Ron, there's a guy at gate nine... uh, Dr. McCoy..."
"McKay," Rodney snapped.
"Right... McKay... he wants to talk to you... about the noise."
There was a short crackle before the radio squawked to life with a string of grunts and snarls that Rodney didn't catch at all, but that the Neanderthals seemed to understand.
"He's a bit busy, but if you want to wait, he'll be down as soon as he can."
At that point a screaming, teeth-clenching guitar chord ripped out from the massive speaker stacks.
"I'll wait," Rodney said with a grimness that was totally lost on the Cro-Magnon wannabes.
They stationed Rodney at one side of the gate, while they moved on to the next group seeking access to the arena. He watched as delivery after delivery of foodstuffs for the incipient concertgoers arrived and was waved inside without incident. After twenty minutes, and no sign of any sort of Ron, large or small, Rodney was hot, hungry and had the headache from hell, induced by the lack of sleep and the ungodly screeching sounds still coming intermittently from inside the venue.
With security busy checking permits, and no doubt preoccupied with the urgent need to invent fire, Rodney followed the next truck through, keeping its calorie-laden bulk between him and the glacial pace of human evolution.
Once inside, it was easy to move around unchallenged. There were enough people milling about and working that Rodney could blend in, and he took his time walking around the perimeter of the arena, distracted by the range of cuisines available, all of it sadly as yet unavailable.
By the time he reached the stage, the squeak and buzz of the massive speakers was almost overwhelming, crackling over the hairs on Rodney's arms and making his sinuses hum. Without so much as a cup of coffee inside him since it had gotten light, Rodney's mood was sour as he looked around for a scapegoat. At least the sun had disappeared behind a cloud now, and he didn't need to squint as he turned 360 degrees and scanned the area.
There was only one person accessible that seemed to have anything to do with the actual concert; all the activity on the stage itself was still too far distant for Rodney to be able to attract their attention. The man was slouching against the pit wall, his forearms resting along the rail, and his chin propped on his fists watching the work on the stage.
"Excuse me," Rodney began, planting himself beside the lounging figure, "but do you, by any chance, happen to have anything to do with the revolting noises being generated?"
"You could say that," the man drawled in a strangely familiar voice, lazily turning his head toward Rodney.
They recognised each other in the same instant.
"You!" Rodney yelped.
"Hey, Mr. Personal Beauty! How's it going?"
Rodney watched speechless as the man unfolded himself into his lanky, messy haired attacker from earlier that morning. This was exactly the kind of hideous coincidence that had Rodney convinced that the world had it in for him at some fundamental level that had yet to be identified or adequately explained.
Rodney levelled a finger at him, gathering his wits. "I should have known it. Only someone like you could be responsible for not only abusing me physically but subjecting me to this extreme mental cruelty by way of hearing loss."
"Well, I see your sparkling good humour is still intact at least," the man said with a big, open smile.
"I'll have you know that in civilised company I am considered to be urbane, witty and very entertaining," Rodney replied, trying not to feel affronted that the guy had him pegged so fast.
"Wow!" the man said, leaning back against the pit wall and crossing his arms comfortably. "Urbane, huh?"
"Yes, it means cultured or..."
"I know what it means, Dr. McKay," he said smoothly, getting ridiculous amounts of mileage out of every vowel sound. He pulled his sunglasses off and hooked them over the collar of his t-shirt revealing the beginnings of a hairy chest to match the tanned, hairy legs Rodney had noted beneath his knee-length shorts. His eyes were deep set and hazel, pretty almost, and not nearly as young as the rest of his body suggested, Rodney thought, sidetracked by the fact that the man had remembered his name.
Rodney harrumphed, getting back on track. "Yes, well... so what is your function here? Are you the sound engineer by any chance?"
"Nope," the guy said, a small smile playing around his lips.
"You're not Big Ron, are you?"
The smile became an all-out grin at exactly the moment the sun escaped from behind the cloud, which Rodney thought was absolutely fucking typical - his attacker would turn out to be a fit, handsome, assured man who it was impossible to dislike and whose effortless cool was positively aided and abetted by Mother Nature herself.
Without conscious choice, Rodney found himself returning the expression, his mouth stretching into an unaccustomed grin of his own as the ridiculousness of his question became apparent.
Then three things seemed to happen at once. The guy stretched out a hand to shake, saying, "No, not Big Ron. I'm..."; a huge brain-melting shriek of feedback hit them, tying their internal organs into macramˇ; and several of the Neanderthals crashed into Rodney from behind pushing him into an up-close perusal of the ground for the second time that day.
Inevitably there was shouting - most of it was Rodney - and by the time he had been hauled back to his feet and dusted off by the meaty hands of the security guards, a small crowd of people had gathered. Rodney hung between two of the guards, who were each holding one of his shoulders, and wondered when his life had become a slapstick comedy.
Annoyingly Perfect Guy was answering questions, still unflappable. A man who could only be Big Ron with dreads, a neat beard and a menacing eye (and apparently the nickname wasn't ironic), was giving several of the t-shirt clad men a chewing-out of titanic proportions. Several previously invisible people in varying degrees of casual beachwear were hovering around with cell phones stuck to their ears and worried expressions on their faces.
Rodney felt his headache explode behind his eyes, and he sagged a little, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Guys! Guys!" Rodney's nemesis said, somehow achieving silence despite his own quiet tone. "It's okay, I know this guy; he's a friend of mine. Isn't that right, McKay?"
Rodney opened his eyes and looked at Perfect Guy in disbelief. Friends? If trading insults and getting knocked down were what constituted a friendship, Rodney would be getting a whole lot more dinner invitations than he did now.
He opened his mouth to quibble about the word, but paused when he saw the intent look on the man's face. When Rodney glanced at the strangely alert expressions worn by the security guards, he nodded carefully. "Yes, yes, old friends."
Some of the tension seemed to slip out of the group at this announcement, and a couple of them wandered off. Rodney's personal escort abruptly unhanded him, and he stumbled a little as he took his own weight on legs that were still shaky.
"Are you okay?' the guy said, putting a hand underneath Rodney's elbow and grasping him gently.
"Fine, fine," Rodney lied bravely. "I just... I'm hypoglycaemic, and I haven't..."
"Okay, let's go and sit down for a minute. Ron, could you go and get a pass for Dr. McKay, so he doesn't get thrown out?"
Ron nodded gravely, his dreadlocks swaying. "Sorry, Sheppard. If we'd known..."
"No problem, Ron. You're just doing your job. I forgot that, uh... McKay was going to drop by. Anyway, no harm done, right?"
Rodney wondered if he should argue that point, but Perfect Guy was already talking to a woman with an enthusiastic smile, a notepad and a radio, and Big Ron was giving him a rather hopeful look - like he was just waiting for Rodney to do something unexpected before he beat him to death with his backstage pass.
"Kate, could you get us some coffee and maybe a couple of muffins? I'm gonna take Dr. McKay round to hospitality, okay?"
"Sure, John," she said with an irritatingly upbeat lilt before bouncing off.
So, his nemesis had a name: John. Rodney had expected something less mundane, something with a bit more of an all-American, child of the sixties flavour like Sky or River or... or... Brad.
Rodney thought it was time he took back some control of this situation, and he straightened up, looking not-Brad in the eye. They were friends, after all. "So, John..." he said, trying to sound assured, which lasted right up until his brain made a connection. "...Sheppard. Oh God, you're John Sheppard, aren't you? I mean, not that I've ever heard your music or anything, but the guard told me you're a big deal and this whole thing..." Rodney gestured at the stage and the acres of yet-to-be-filled arena. "This whole thing is for you."
"Yeah, kind of," John said, looking endearingly embarrassed. He steered them both easily around the stage and through two lots of security into the backstage area. He pulled Rodney over onto a shady deck and pushed him down into a chair. "You sure you're okay?" he asked, looking genuinely concerned.
"Well, I dare say I'll survive, no thanks to your hired goons." Rodney passed an unsteady hand over his face and gratefully accepted the mug of coffee that Kate had trotted over and presented him with. He took a mouthful, and rubbed at his forehead with the heel of his palm.
"Headache?" John fumbled in one of the pockets of his shorts and pulled out a small brown bottle. He handed it to Rodney who frowned in confusion.
"Lavender oil?" he read.
"Yeah, it's good for stress headaches, you just..." John took the bottle back and opened it, smearing a little of the sweet, pungent oil onto his index finger. He leaned forward, and before Rodney could laugh at him, he swiped his cool fingers over the skin of Rodney's brow, depositing a stripe of slipperiness.
John settled back into his chair and waited while Rodney blinked at him.
"That's uh..." Rodney lifted a hand to his forehead, completely disarmed by John's strangely familiar behaviour. "Probably completely without basis in medical fact." He had the overwhelming impression that this was an argument he'd already lost and he was the last rumble of thunder, a half hour after the storm had moved on.
John smiled and pocketed the bottle again. "Not everything is scientifically quantifiable, McKay. Some things you just have to roll with. It works. Trust me."
Rodney considered tearing apart John's argument, but he was smiling at him again and the smell of lavender was definitely putting him off his stride, because it was John who spoke again next.
"So, you come to slap me with a writ for reckless endangerment or something?" he asked, offering Rodney first choice at the plate of muffins that had come with the coffee.
Rodney selected the biggest one without hesitation. "No, no. I had no idea that you... that this was... I didn't know who you were..."
"So you said," John smirked.
"Well, I'm a busy... Is there lemon in these? I'm deathly allergic to citrus and even a molecule could make me..."
"Nope, no citrus. Blueberry or carob."
Rodney made a face, glad he'd gone with the blueberry, and took a big bite. "No, seriously. I don't have a lot of time for... well, anything but my work really," he said, still chewing.
"You should learn to kick back a bit, Dr. McKay. You always this tense?"
"Only when I've been assaulted outside my hotel and then deafened by screaming guitar solos all morning while trying to catch up on my sleep," Rodney said, heavy on the sarcasm.
John landed his palm against his chest. "Ouch. Yep, I guess I deserved that one. So where were you last night when all good little theoretical astrophysicists should've been asleep? Hot date?"
Once again, Rodney was momentarily surprised by the man's recall. And then by his sheer nerve. "Oh, well, I was... well... working actually, although I fail to see what business it is of yours. You see I'd just made this breakthrough in the... never mind. Anyway, suffice it to say that when I'd finished getting it down, all I wanted was to go back to my room and get some well-earned sleep."
"That would be where I came in."
"Sorry, McKay." He actually sounded quite contrite, although Rodney doubted it would last. The man seemed to have a smile on standby at all times, just waiting for an opportunity to emerge and dumbfound Rodney all over again. Damn him.
"It's... it's Rodney," he said, then winced slightly when he heard how lame he'd sounded. It had seemed a lot more suave and assured in his head.
But John didn't appear to have noticed. The anticipated smile broke out, right on cue. He leaned forward in his chair again, propping his elbows on the table, causing Rodney to inch forward too, as if he was about to be let in on a big secret.
"Well, Rodney, you'll be pleased to hear that the sound guys are almost done, so you'll be able to go and get your beauty sleep." John's eyes flickered to where Kate was murmuring into her radio and hovering, obviously waiting for a chance to interrupt them. "Unless you'd like to hang around? I've got to go and do my sound check; I'm the last one up. Should only take ten minutes or so?" John cocked his head and looked strangely hopeful.
Rodney thought about his bed, about his presentation and about how he'd done some of his best work while massively sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated. Most of 1996 for example.
"Well, I suppose I could stay for a while. Is there more coffee?"
John grinned this time and slid Rodney his own mug across the table. He unfolded himself from the chair and shrugged a shoulder at Rodney in invitation.
Rodney got up with a lot less grace and waited while Kate pinned a visitor badge to his 'Obey gravity - it's the law' t-shirt, then followed John toward the stage, grabbing the other blueberry muffin as he went.
Somehow Rodney expected John to look more imposing once he got in front of the mic. From the wings, the stage looked massive, even with the drum kit and keyboards taking up space. The void above the stage seemed impossibly high before it reached the gantries and lighting banks. And John just... he looked so small. What was worse was that he looked kind of half embarrassed as he strolled out, as if he really had no right to be out there at all, and he was just the unknown support act.
John clipped a pack to the waistband of his shorts and slid a monitor into his ear. Someone handed him a guitar which he took with a grateful word and slung around his neck in an action so easy, Rodney got a real sense of how many times John had done just that.
With one hand curled around the neck of the guitar, and the other hanging loose over the strings, John suddenly seemed to have purpose. He played a couple of soft chords, his hand sliding almost lazily, then stepped up to the mic.
"Okay? You guys ready?"
Obviously he heard that they were, and he began to play, tapping a sneakered foot to a beat that only he could hear.
Rodney watched, hands tight around the coffee mug, slightly overwhelmed. He'd never been backstage at a concert before, and he'd never really had a reason to consider the huge amounts of planning that went into these things. There were a lot of people even now, moving with intent, quickly and quietly, making things happen.
He pressed himself against the screens, keeping out of the way and taking in the buzz of activity. There was equipment everywhere and endless recycling bins with inspirational messages on them. There were taped-up notes on every conceivable surface with bizarre sequences of words and numbers, and Rodney felt more hopelessly out of his depth than he could ever recall feeling before.
When John began to sing, Rodney was surprised to realise that he'd heard the song before. Even without the rest of the backing track, John's voice was sure and sweet, carrying a melody Rodney struggled to place. A car commercial? Something he'd heard on a radio somewhere? In a department store perhaps?
John's voice was fuzzy and kind of nice. It made Rodney feel more relaxed than he had since he'd arrived in London. It was a simple song with a pretty melody and the lack of other instruments allowed Rodney to appreciate the lyrics. He realised he hadn't actually stopped and listened to a piece of music in... well, probably years. He had a bunch of CDs in his car and sometimes the radio was on when he was knocking about his apartment, but that was always background sound - his mind always elsewhere, focussed on a million other things. And while this easy, pleasant melody wasn't what he'd have chosen, it nevertheless evoked an emotional response in him that he'd long since forgotten he was capable of. Simple happiness. Contentment even.
John's hands moved deftly and confidently, his eyes closed as he sang, and Rodney was disappointed when John stopped after only a minute and looked up toward some unspecified point out of Rodney's range of vision and began a strange, one-sided conversation with an invisible sound engineer.
"He is quite something, isn't he?"
Rodney hadn't heard the approach of the slight woman who now stood at his shoulder, gazing out at John with indulgent eyes. Free of make-up and with her long coppery hair unbound, Rodney didn't think she looked like a roadie, but then John didn't look much like a rock star, so it was hard to make a judgement call.
"I take it you're a fan," Rodney replied gruffly, slightly irritated at the interruption. He hoped that Ron had stuck around in case this woman wasn't supposed to be here and was about to throw herself at John. She might not be big, but Rodney felt that if it came to a fistfight, he'd be coming a poor second.
She turned her unsettlingly direct gaze on Rodney and gave him a small smile. "Yes, indeed. And I am also his friend. I am Teyla Emmagan from Ethos." She held out a hand to Rodney who stared at it stupidly.
Ethos was... well, even Rodney had heard of Ethos in his closeted, little, eat-sleep-work, lab-based world. An environmental group that had transcended normal societal barriers to become the cause of choice of many respected businessmen and celebrities, Ethos embraced issues as diverse as food additives, human rights and global warming with a refreshingly apolitical slant. And Teyla Emmagan was the vision and drive behind it.
"So, what? Are you... Is this...?"
Teyla grabbed Rodney's free hand and shook it briefly, obviously tired of waiting for Rodney to do the polite thing. "John puts his fame to good use and promotes the work of Ethos and other environmental groups when he tours."
"Ah, very... admirable," Rodney said awkwardly.
Teyla smiled tightly. "Yes, he is. Are you a friend of John's also, Mr...?"
"McKay. Dr. Rodney McKay, and yes... uh, an old friend... apparently."
Teyla inclined her head gracefully, just as John came bouncing off the stage like an affable Labrador pup.
"Hey, Teyla," he said, kissing her quickly on the cheek, which for some reason made Rodney twitch.
"John, I was wondering if you would care to join me for meditation now?"
"Thanks, Teyla, but Rodney and I were just going somewhere quiet to discuss his concerns about the noise pollution."
Teyla raised a perfect eyebrow, looking between John and Rodney with a sceptical quirk of her lips. "Then I will not detain you," she said calmly. "I will see you later, John. It was nice to meet you, Dr. McKay."
Rodney waved weakly as Teyla moved away with more composure than Rodney had ever displayed in his entire life.
"Meditation?" Rodney asked, his eyes straying back to John.
John shrugged. "I usually fall asleep," he admitted. "Teyla pretends not to notice."
Rodney smiled and nodded, then waited for John to tell him why he was there at all. He had no idea himself. John handed off his guitar and monitor to one of the techs and seemed as awkward as Rodney felt. Strangely, this made Rodney feel better.
"How's the head?"
Rodney blinked at John vacantly before realising that the question was directed at him, and that his headache had actually receded significantly.
"Oh, well, it's..."
"Better, right?" John's expression was expectant and quietly pleased.
Rodney didn't have the heart to tell him it was the muffins.
"I'm sorry you couldn't sleep. If you go back to your hotel now you can grab..." John checked his watch. "... an hour or two before the concert begins."
"I'm... no, I'm awake now. It's my own fault for refusing to leave the lab last night, really." Rodney bit his tongue in surprise - it wasn't like him to pass up the opportunity to blame someone else for life's trials.
"Cool, so do you want to do something? I've got a couple hours until they need me back."
They ended up at a small, back alley Italian restaurant, eating vermicelli and drinking Pellegrino while Rodney became painfully aware that, although he had never heard of John, the rest of the world had. Three waiters hovered nervously near their table, ignoring all the other lunchtime customers on the offchance that John Sheppard might need more breadsticks.
For his part, John seemed self-conscious about the recognition and kept his head down and his voice low as they chatted about London, sci-fi movies, stars (astrophysical ones, not rock ones) and Italy (which John had visited, and Rodney hadn't, but wanted to).
"So," Rodney said self-consciously and with no idea what to say next. The dessert plates had been cleared; the coffee cups had been drained, refilled and drained again; and Rodney knew that in a few short minutes, they would be out on the street, saying their goodbyes and he would never see John Sheppard again. He wasn't surprised to find that this disappointed him, but he was worried to realise how much.
"Teyla seems like a nice person," Rodney settled on finally. For some reason he kept coming back to the kiss that John had given her earlier - it weighed on him, which was ridiculous, because... well, any number of reasons, not least of which was that John was some kind of eco-warrior rock god and Rodney, for all his indisputable genius, was not.
John eyed him, tilting his head a little. "Yeah, she's great. She takes her work very seriously. It's kind of humbling, you know?"
Rodney smiled tightly and pretended he knew that feeling. "Does she always come with you? I mean... when you're... I mean the tour... Is she...?"
Blinking at Rodney, John sat back in his chair. "Teyla and I aren't..." He made a funny circling gesture with his finger.
"No, no, of course not. I didn't meant to imply..." Rodney stammered until his brain caught up with his mouth, "... really?"
John paused, then smiled that slow, melty ice-cream cone smile again, the one that made Rodney's spleen do a shivery little shimmy.
"So, what was that the security boys were saying? Something about thirty hours until you re-wrote space-time or something?"
Rodney dragged his eyes away from the smile and reminded himself that oxygen was a fundamental requirement. "Yes. Tomorrow, in fact. I'm giving the keynote speech at the European Conference on High Energy Astrophysics."
"Wow," John said with a twinkle, although Rodney wasn't certain if he was being teased or not.
"Yes, well, you're welcome to come if you'd like. It's not everyone's idea of a great evening, and I don't know how much of it will... that is, it's a highly specialised..."
John quirked his mouth in what may or may not have been amusement. "I can't; I'll be on my way to Berlin, but thanks." He sounded sincere.
"Right, right," Rodney nodded, twisting the tablecloth around and around his finger nervously, avoiding John's eyes and feeling like an idiot. "Touring," he nodded and tried to find a smile. "London, Berlin, then what?"
"Uh... I think it's Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Nice, Milan, Rome, then on to Japan, uh, Australia and then back to the States. I don't get home until September sometime."
"Wow," Rodney said, a poor imitation of John's earlier sarcasm, "so where's home? L.A? New York?"
"Oh, Big Island?"
"You know it?" John smiled hopefully.
"Yeah, I spent a few summers there, actually," Rodney revealed.
"Really?" John looked so pleased and surprised that it was almost a shame to burst his bubble.
"No!" Because there wasn't a planet yet discovered or even theorised on which someone like Rodney would surf. "CFH Telescope, Mauna Kea, undergraduate stuff," he explained, watching John try his hardest not to look disappointed.
The walk back to the hotel was quieter than the walk out. John didn't have an entourage, and although he got a few double takes, no one hassled them or mobbed him or any of the things Rodney expected a pop star to have to deal with.
"So shouldn't you have bodyguards and personal trainers and P.A.s following you around everywhere?" Rodney asked, his own glumness expressing itself in a renewed bout of prickliness. "Nutritionists? Choreographers? Stylists?"
John snorted and ran his fingers through his hair self-deprecatingly. "Not really."
"Well what kind of a rock star are you?" Rodney demanded, stopping in the street and turning to the confused-looking guy beside him.
John shrugged, which seemed to involve his whole body in a sort of slouching ripple. "This kind."
The ridiculousness of this situation hit Rodney like an icy shower after a warm bed. The man was a rock star. And Rodney should be working, damn it! Or at least thinking about working. He was taken aback to realise he hadn't even called into the lab to harass Radek for updates on the simulations he'd left running. Rodney couldn't remember the last time he'd gone for a whole morning without science, unless it was for sleep after science.
"We have nothing in common at all, do we?" Rodney declared, realising how stupid he sounded, but somehow suddenly so cross at the way the universe worked that he couldn't help it.
"Well, we both prefer blueberry muffins to carob," John offered with a small smile, but Rodney just waved an arm and carried on walking.
"C'mon, Rodney, we have lots in common. Don't you like music at all?"
"Music? Well, of course. I used to play piano."
"There you go! Why'd you stop?"
"I wasn't... it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're... whatever you are, and I'm a geek. A genius, but a geek."
"I'm a geek!" John asserted, looking half-offended.
"Uh, no. No one who looks like you could be a geek," Rodney explained slowly. "Sorry, but thanks for playing."
"I am so a geek. I have a master's in Applied Math."
"Oh, please! From where?"
"MIT," John replied mildly, obviously knowing he'd get a reaction.
Rodney stopped again, ignoring the irritated tuts of the people who had to swerve to avoid him. He stared at John, who looked back at him, hands stuffed in the pockets of his ludicrous cargo shorts, exuding cool and a whiff of challenge.
How John thought this would help, Rodney had no idea. So, now he was not only falling for an insanely fit, ethically pure, effortlessly cool and gorgeous superstar, he was falling for one that had a brain as beautiful as his body. In what way was this better?
Rodney was a genius. Yes, he might remind people of it on an hourly basis, but it was true. He didn't, however, have savant syndrome, no matter what Kavanagh, that rat-bastard, muttered behind his back. He was simply bad with people, which wasn't to say that he was completely incapable of interaction or recognising social cues. He knew that whatever reason John had for hanging out with him today, it wasn't going to be the same reason that Rodney was here. Even if he hadn't misinterpreted, and John's interest in him was physical, he knew that he would be no more than a day's distraction for a man with as many options open to him as John Sheppard had. And while it was flattering, because... John Sheppard... it was also the last thing that Rodney was looking for. He was too old for a one-night stand. He was too proud to be a guy whose name John wouldn't even remember in a week's time, and he was... fuck it... he was too lonely to be able to bounce back from being so easily discarded.
And what Rodney really hated, more than anything, even Kavanagh, was having the time to realise that he was lonely.
It was only five minutes back to his hotel. Rodney barely noticed John's gentle conversational gambits in his hurry to regain the quiet sanctuary of his room, where he had a phone and his laptops and his work.
He paused outside the hotel, impatience making him restless and jumpy, and turned back to John who watched him with wary eyes.
"So..." Rodney began.
"I said something wrong," John said immediately, looking more discomfited than Rodney had yet seen.
John waited for a beat to see if Rodney had more to say, then smiled slightly and ducked his head. "Right."
The awkward silence seemed to stretch on for hours. John looked at the ground and Rodney stared at his stupid hair, wanting to reach out and touch it.
"Listen, if you're ever in..."
"Thanks for lunch," Rodney interrupted, his voice loud and tinged with desperation. He looked away to the passing traffic and the steady stream of people who were walking into the park.
John laughed, but it wasn't a happy sound. "You paid, Rodney."
"I didn't want you to think I was taking advantage of your multi-millions."
"You're not the type," John told him. "Or else you would have already sued me for running into you this morning. Right here, actually."
Rodney looked back to discover that they were indeed on the exact spot where John had knocked him over only a few hours earlier. And then he had to look at John, whose face was open, watching him steadily, as if waiting for something. Whatever it was, Rodney knew he wasn't the guy to give it to him.
They were beginning to attract attention. A group of teenage girls were whispering and pushing at each other to approach. Others were turning to look at what the pointing was about, but John didn't seem to notice. He didn't look away, even when Rodney cleared his throat and gestured towards his hotel.
"I'd better... I have work to... Good luck for later."
"Thanks. We'll try and keep it down," John's smile almost reached his eyes. He looked disappointed and kind of lost, and Rodney couldn't quite believe the sudden change from the confident, slouching man he'd spent the morning with.
"See you then, John," Rodney said, sick to his stomach and not sure he was going to make it to his room before he puked.
"Bye, Rodney." John put out a hand, and Rodney turned back to shake it, but John instead grabbed his arm and pulled him closer into a hug. Rodney was surprised, but not surprised enough to miss the brush of a quick, soft kiss against the corner of his mouth.
Rodney froze, exultant, appalled, thrilled and miserable all at the same time. The irritating giggles of the teenagers reached fever pitch as John stepped back, pulled his shades from his shirt collar and put them on before turning and taking off back into Hyde Park at a fast pace.
The auditorium was packed. The best and brightest of the world's academic and industrial physicists sat waiting for Rodney to begin. He'd even noticed some military uniforms in the audience. Their expectant murmurs became an oppressive hush when he raised his head and stepped up to the podium.
He adjusted the microphone, arranged his notes and put a hand in the pocket of his good suit jacket, attempting to portray an ease he didn't possess. Instead his hand brushed a corner of a piece of card, and he had it half out of his pocket before he remembered what it was: the tickets that John had left at the hotel for him. He'd collected them when he'd finally emerged from his room after a bout of self-loathing that not even physics and shouting at Radek could alleviate. There was one for John's London performance, which he'd mercifully slept through most of, and one for Rome with a scribbled note attached to it that read 'You said you wanted to see Italy... J.'
The worst part of it was that Rodney had actually thought about it. For three whole minutes. He'd Googled John's tour dates and pulled up his own schedule to see if there was a way to make them coincide, but then he'd Googled John himself and found a number images of John with various celebrities at worthy causes. Models. Politicians. Actors. Actresses. Activists. All of them beautiful or powerful or both. Apparently 'opposites attract' only worked in magnetism - all other carbon-based life knew that birds of a feather should flock together and not get above themselves.
Really he should be grateful to John for the reality check. He was right: Rodney needed something more in his life than his work. Someone. Someone who actually liked him. Someone to remind him when enough was enough. Someone who could put up with his shitty moods and his passionate drive and his abrasive manner. Someone who wasn't an internationally known rock god with idiotic hair and more morals than you could shake a sustainably forested stick at.
Rodney stuffed the tickets back into his pocket and cleared his throat. This was the crowning moment of his career so far. He'd worked for years to achieve the attention of this room full of brilliant people. Until yesterday, Rodney hadn't been able to think of anything he wanted more that this - recognition, approval and envy. And then John Fucking Sheppard had stepped into his life, knocked him flat on his ass and systematically destroyed all of Rodney's carefully constructed dreams. The Nobels. The bestsellers that everyone owned but no one read. The luxury condo. The depressing string of generic young boyfriends (blond for preference) who were dazzled by his brain but more impressed by his bank balance. His name in every advanced physics textbook. These were the things that had kept him going when pure love of science failed him. These were the talismans he held against the knowledge that he was sacrificing a potential personal life to his obsession with discovery. Why it had taken a messy-haired, habitually under-dressed singer/songwriter with an adequate degree to achieve what years of pretty lab techs and graduate physics groupies had not, he had no idea.
The words 'fate' and 'soul-mate' had no place in Rodney's vocabulary no matter how loudly they clamoured in his consciousness.
He tried to find some spark of the joy he usually felt about his work, particularly when he was pointing out how spectacularly wrong everyone else's work had been up to now. He scanned the faces in the front row, waiting for inspiration to strike and it wasn't until his eyes lit on a weasel-faced imbecile that he felt anything. Luckily Kavanagh chose that moment to grace Rodney with one of his sneering, superior half-smiles.
If John had shown Rodney how hollow his love for his work might be, Kavanagh could show Rodney that his love of proving idiots wrong was still brimming over and healthy as a horse.
Rodney spoke, slowly at first, then faster and faster as he warmed to his subject. He gestured. He swept away what had come before, and built it anew. He explained and argued and demanded. He challenged his audience, then dragged them along with him, clarifying, coaxing and stretching them. He shone. If his passion was dimmed, his brilliance was not, and if anyone noticed that his smile looked a little wistful when he took the thunderous applause at the end of his lecture, nobody mentioned it.
The post-lecture bunfight was being held beneath the exquisite glass roof of the British Museum's Great Court. The formless rumble of the delegate's conversation rose to the curving, fractured ceiling and was lost in the darkness. Usually Rodney enjoyed this part of the proceedings; the congratulations, the backslapping and the questions that showed who had kept up with him and who was just here for the crab pastries. Tonight he was distracted and he had a mellow buzz on from the champagne he'd gulped down too fast. He was glad when the thrust of the conversation moved on from his own work to that of a related field. It meant he could coast for a while and see if he could spot Radek in the crowd.
He sighed when one of the event organisers came up and placed a polite hand on his arm, leaning in to be heard above the crowd. "Dr. McKay, I believe your guest was looking for you."
Rodney looked up and followed the subtle gesture of the man toward the main entrance. He wondered what had possessed Radek to claim to be his date for the night. If it was because he'd managed to forget his own ticket, Rodney was going to sack him. Again.
There was a press of people in the huge doorway, and Radek was a little lacking in altitude, so Rodney made a polite excuse to his circle, and started walking toward the noisiest group in the room.
He scanned the crowd as he went, looking for tufty hair, a hesitant smile and a bemused expression. He stopped dead when he caught sight of them.
The hair was more messy than tufty, to be fair, but the smile and the expression matched his criteria perfectly.
"Hey, Rodney. Great lecture."
The crowd parted in a manner that was distinctly biblical, and there, amid the dinner jackets and cocktail dresses, was John in a slightly rumpled shirt, jeans and sneakers, looking more gorgeous than anyone had a right to.
"I thought you were in Berlin," Rodney said, slack-jawed and stunned.
"I changed my flight. Of course now I have to offset the carbon impact of two trips, but I didn't want to miss this."
There were flutters of agreement from the crowd that had gathered around John, but Rodney ignored them and stared at John instead, because leaving tickets at his hotel was one thing, but actually turning up at his lecture was... was... Rodney had no idea what it was, but he thought he liked it a lot.
Grasping the sudden lull in conversation, a girl with glasses and freckles stepped shyly forward and pushed her lecture notes into John's hand. "Would you mind giving me your autograph?" she asked.
John seemed reluctant to drag his eyes away from Rodney, but smiled at the girl and took the pen she was holding out to him. "Sure," he said, and quickly wrote a couple of lines on the margin of the booklet. "You're probably going to want Rodney's autograph too, as he's the star of tonight's show." John smiled across at him and lifted his eyebrow in challenge.
Rodney stalked forward and snatched the paper and pen, then signed his name next to, 'with love, John Sheppard'. He looked up at John, sniffed, and then added 'M.Sc.' after John's name.
John took back the booklet and read Rodney's addition, then carefully took the pen. Rodney craned his neck to watch John draw a smiley face after Rodney's name, then hand the notes back to the beaming girl.
"Excuse us, won't you?" Rodney said, taking John by the elbow and steering him through the crowds and down some convenient stairs, ignoring the surprised murmurs that followed them. He passed the silent cloakrooms and the bathrooms and ducked into one of the smaller lecture theatres.
The lights above the podium were still on but the rest of the room was in darkness, making the echoing space feel unusually intimate. John's smile was happy, one might say smug. He didn't protest when Rodney shut the door, let him go and turned to face him.
"Hey," John said quietly when Rodney promptly ran out of ideas and resorted to staring at him stupidly once again.
"You're here," Rodney began, prompted into speech but finding nothing inventive to say. "Uh, why are you here?"
"Well, you know, if space-time is about to be re-written, I like to keep myself in the loop." John leaned back against the lowest row of desks and crossed his legs at the ankle with an ease that Rodney was beginning to see through.
Rodney frowned, held up a finger, and waved it between them. His mind sifted through possible outcomes, discarding, reworking, approaching from a different direction, as if this were a proof to be solved. "Do I take it you're uh... interested? In me? That you, uh, want to..."
John nodded slowly. "Yeah."
Rodney swallowed to keep his heart from leaping out of his throat. "This is a bad idea," he said finally, his voice rather shrill, like he'd just worked out something important. "A very, very... You don't even know me. I'm difficult. I'm untidy. I work insane hours. I'm allergic to everything. I never remember birthdays. I'm kind of an asshole most of the time. I... I have a cat!" Rodney babbled.
John blinked at him and licked his lips, shifting his weight restlessly.
"Cat!" Rodney clarified.
"Rodney..." John looked torn between amusement and horror as Rodney went from wringing his hands to flapping them wildly.
"I know. I know. I'm getting ahead of myself, and you're probably just... and it's not that you're not hot, I mean totally, totally hot, but..."
"Rodney, just breathe," John sighed, shaking his head.
"Right. Breathing. Good idea." Rodney sat down heavily on the step of the lecturer's platform and held his forehead in his hand. "Oh God. I'm so amazingly bad at this."
He didn't dare look up, even when John's sneakers eventually came into his field of vision. John stood there for a few moments, then sat down beside him on the step, close enough that their thighs and shoulders brushed together. "Look, here's the thing," he said.
Rodney dared a peek across. John was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his arms crossed, not looking at Rodney, but at the square of yellow light that shone through the window in the door.
"I think you're getting hung up on the whole music thing. I'm just a guy. All the other things, all the... stuff in my life is just... stuff. It's not me. Well, it is me, but it's not all of me. I'm also... I'm not..." John dropped his head onto his forearms. "Wow!" he said, muffled. "I'm almost as bad at this as you are."
Rodney made a desperate sound that might have been a laugh in other circumstances. "You wish!"
"I just... I like you, Rodney." John cast a sly look sideways under his eyelashes. "Think your cat can cope with that?"
Rodney smiled slightly, appreciating the sentiment, but his mind wouldn't quit. "But for how long? I can't just... I'm not cut out for affairs."
John shrugged. "You know it doesn't work like that. There are no guarantees, Rodney. This isn't something you can run probabilities on. I just have a feeling. I think we'd be good together."
Rodney ran a hand through his hair. He couldn't believe he was even contemplating turning down an offer of sex. It wasn't like he was exactly inundated with opportunities. And it wasn't just any sex, oh no. This was sex with a gorgeous, smart, talented rock star who for some obscure reason wanted Rodney enough to not take no for an answer.
"C'mon, Rodney. Take a chance. What would the world of science be if no one ever made a leap of faith? What if Galileo had never wondered about how the solar system worked?"
"He lived the rest of his life under house arrest for his theories," Rodney said morosely.
"Oh, okay. What if Gregor Mendel had never tried to find out how characteristics were passed from a plant to its offspring?"
"What? Nobody believed him and his successor burned all his papers," Rodney groaned, rolling his eyes.
"And if Marie Currie had given up on..."
"What? Are you deranged? She died, you idiot! Massive radiation poisoning," Rodney yelped, turning toward John in horror, and only then noticing the supremely amused grin that split his face. "Oh, fantastic. You are such a wit, Sheppard! Oh, my sides. Seriously."
"So, is that a yes?"
John inched closer to Rodney, leaning into his space and assaulting Rodney's senses with his warmth and the impossible fresh air and sunshine scent of him.
Rodney watched, unable to look away as John tilted his head and collapsed the remaining space between them to brush a soft, tentative kiss against his lips.
"It's such a bad idea," Rodney muttered when John moved back an inch, no more.
"But we're gonna do it anyway?" John said against his mouth.
"There are more reasons than you can possibly imagine why this is doomed to failure," Rodney said, lifting his chin out of John's reach.
Rodney's eyelids felt heavy; he longed to touch the tip of his tongue to John's lower lip and taste himself there.
John brushed his nose against Rodney's throat. "Yes?"
"Yes," Rodney murmured, and John smiled against his skin where he could feel it, put a hand into Rodney's hair and pulled their mouths together.
Rodney walked into what he called his study (what John called the den, mission control or the Death Star according to how irritating he was being). He was half expecting John to be there, but the room was empty. Through the garden doors, he could see the evening sun low in the sky, turning the sea into a blaze of sparkling refraction.
He glanced idly at the three laptops open on his desk displaying live data from a direct link he had to CalTech. Guiltily he shut one of the machines, knowing that John would be giving him that fondly exasperated look that meant he was single-handedly responsible for global warming, ocean pollution and abandoned puppies everywhere.
He walked to the opposite end of the room where a baby grand sat, haemorrhaging space (John's idea) and looked up at the wall which contained all the front covers that John had ever been photographed for (Rodney's idea). Rolling Stone, NME, The Ecologist, Out and Time were Rodney's special favourites.
He hefted the hammer in his hand, and after a couple of false starts, selected a suitable spot to knock in a new nail. Wiping non-existent dust away, Rodney picked up the framed photo that lay on top of the piano and hung it, adjusting until he was satisfied it was straight. He stepped back and admired his efforts.
"Looks good," John said quietly moving up behind him and trying to make Rodney make that embarrassing squeaking noise he made whenever John sneaked up on him. Thwarted this time, he slid his hands around Rodney's waist.
Instinctively, Rodney sucked in his stomach but John rubbed little circles on it until Rodney couldn't hold it in any longer.
John hummed a pleased little sound, and stuck his chin on Rodney's shoulder. "You look incredibly intelligent and yet young and hot at the same time," he said, putting a small, smug smile on Rodney's face, because that was totally what he'd been going for. Yes, his cover of Scientific American had been worth the trauma over what to wear and the unprofessional, sarcastic impatience of the photographer.
"It's amazing what they can do with Photoshop these days," John mused, holding more tightly when Rodney attempted to turn around and smack him upside the head.
"So, I'm going down for a swim before supper. When you've finished wallowing in your success, or more likely, your colleague's jealousy, you should come too."
Rodney was secretly convinced that the man he loved was part porpoise. There weren't many things that could hold John's attention like the ocean: probably only music and Rodney, actually. John would most likely say the same thing about Rodney and his work (with the competition being food and John).
"But it'll be dark soon. You shouldn't swim alone."
"I won't - you'll be there," John said, turning him around and pressing a kiss to his nose in a manner that Rodney found supremely ridiculous but endured. For John.
"Last one in sucks like a black hole," John grinned, swatting Rodney's ass and jogging out of the doors and down the path to the beach. In his customary dress of board shorts and nothing else, with his ridiculous hair looking even more perky at the prospect of salt water, Rodney watched John go, knowing he didn't have a chance of catching him - and also that he had no choice but to follow, if only to berate him for the latest in a long, long line of bad astrophysics jokes.
Cat had followed John into the room, settling in the last patch of sunlight for a pre-dinner nap. She stared at Rodney with interest. She'd been pissed at him ever since he'd attached bells to her collar. He'd tried to explain 'endangered bird species', and 'fragile ecosystems' to her, but she hadn't been interested.
"Oh what?" Rodney asked, "As if you don't act like a kitten whenever he's around. Don't think I haven't noticed. Jezebel!"
Cat yawned and closed her eyes.
Rodney sniffed and looked longingly at the CalTech feed, watching the information scroll across his laptop screens, then shrugged and kicked off his sneakers. As inevitable as the Planck Constant, physics would still be there tomorrow. This thing between John and him, well, it was only going to last a lifetime.
He'd better make the most of it.