Apparently, not even a kiss was enough to get Rodney to shut up, because the guy’s mouth was still moving and he was making these little mmphing noises. Any minute now he was bound to get a bright idea and bite John’s lip, so John began maneuvering the two of them—still locked in a kiss—toward a corner/alcove thing he could see out of the corner of his eye. It would’ve been useless for escaping the determined Yannara, but it might contain the damage of Rodney’s impending explosion.
“Mmph mph mmphm MMMPH,” Rodney muffled as his back hit the wall, and John could tell the guy was about two seconds away from kicking him in the knee, so he hastily substituted a hand for his mouth after checking surreptitiously to make sure no one was watching.
“Look, keep it down, would you?” he muttered.
“Keep it down?” Rodney looked like a angry wet cat—minus the hair sticking up in funny tufts. But he had the same outraged I cannot believe you just did that to me expression. “Major, you just kissed me!”
“It wasn’t like I had much choice in the matter,” John said, voice sarcastic but body-language as casually amorous as he could manage under the circumstances. It would have been a lot easier if Rodney hadn’t kept shying away like a spooked horse every time John tried to place a friendly hand on his arm.
“Was someone holding a gun to your head? No? Well then, I don’t see what you could possibly mean by ‘not having much choice’.” He shuddered when John finally managed to catch him again, but at least he stopped trying to fidget his way back into the main room.
“Well,” John said wryly, a tone he’d lost in the desert places and was only beginning to reacquire, “it was either proclaim myself as already yours or get snapped up by the creepy semi-high-tech definitely-not-Amish woman. And since I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t recognize a toothbrush if it bit her,” at which Rodney snorted, “in comparison you seemed like a match made in heaven.”
“Dental hygiene is very important,” Rodney stated stiffly, sounding somewhat less belligerent.
“Yes, it is,” John agreed, all easy affability. “Hence my desire to avoid being kissed by someone who has obviously never heard of the concept.”
“Understandable,” Rodney said, the irritation in his voice negated by the way his body finally, finally began to relax. “Just—don’t make a habit of it. There’s already enough gossip about us, and we don’t need Ford spreading more.” Though really, Teyla, with her incomplete grasp of Earth mores, was more likely to innocently say something unfortunately true where Ford would attempt obfuscation.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” John said, and didn’t tell Rodney that it’d been John who started the first rumor months and months (and all eternity) ago, back on Earth. He couldn’t remember why, only that it’d seemed like a good idea at the time. Which, really, was the reasoning behind a lot more of his disasters that he was willing to admit, even to himself. “C’mon—let’s get out of here before Yannara gets suspicious.”
Rodney didn’t say anything about the kiss—kisses, plural: that seemed important—when they got back to the city, which was a relief. It wouldn’t have been an actual problem, but John had enough hassles to deal with as it was. However, the silence about the kiss spilled over into silence about everything—around John, at least. After the first day and a half he started keeping track, and two weeks later he could say with certainty that Rodney was speaking just as vociferously as ever, as long as John wasn’t there. Or at least as long as Rodney thought he wasn’t. As soon as he saw John, his diatribes suddenly fluttered away into nothing, leaving Rodney looking like he’d swallowed a jar full of butterflies.
It reminded John of the way Rodney had looked after the second kiss, the one that shut him up and sent Yannara flouncing away. At that memory, John started to wonder, a bit uncomfortably, if he’d been perhaps too successful in his verisimilitude. If, perhaps, Rodney thought there were reasons to keep silent beyond not supplying more ammunition for the already rampant gossip about the two of them.
But that didn’t explain why Rodney was talking to everyone except John. If the kiss(es) were bugging him so much, he should just say so. Or, at the very least, send an email.
After another couple days and a mission that almost went down the tubes because the people they were trying to trade with thought Rodney was afraid of John (prompting Teyla to ask, sotto voce, on their way back, if there was something wrong between the two of them. “Just a misunderstanding,” John said, and hoped he was right), John’d had enough. It took him another day and a half, but he finally managed to corner Rodney while there was no one around.
“Hey, Rodney,” John said, and was almost amused to see Rodney go stiff. But it was pretty obvious that Rodney was still there only because he was currently wedged underneath a sullenly-blinking console, and that took all the fun out of it.
“What do you want, Major?”
“What’re you doing?” John countered, because want was a word he didn’t let himself use anymore.
Rodney huffed in irritation, but answered. “Trying to bypass whatever’s screwed up the heat and humidity controls for this sector. Very boring, and not something you’d be interested in, so don’t even bother pretending.” He banged something inside the console, making all the lights flash in unison, and at some point John was going to have to find out why Ancient electronics didn’t need to be unplugged before having their innards played with. “And don’t tell me there’s some sort of emergency, because I’ve got my radio on and I know there isn’t.”
“Can’t a guy just hang out with another guy?” John asked, only half-rhetorically.
“Not when one guy is a brilliant scientist like myself, and the other is a slouchy, daredevil, ambush-kissing pilot!” Something sparked, and Rodney swore, the harsh edges of the words muffled by the console.
“Ambush-kissing—?” It didn’t make any more sense when he repeated it out loud. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Rodney shoved himself out from underneath the console and glared. “What do you mean, ‘what’s that supposed to mean’? You ambush-kissed me! And then ran away, probably laughing at me as you went, and left me standing there looking like an idiot.”
Right. That. So yes, he probably hadn’t handled the situation quite as well as he could have.
“I wasn’t laughing,” he said with care; Rodney was the closest he had to a friend. “And I doubt you looked like an idiot.”
“How would you know?” Rodney asked bitterly. “It’s not like you stuck around long enough to see.”
“Because you’re not an easy person to make look like an idiot.” Which wasn’t exactly true, but if there was a time for judicious lying, this was definitely it. “And I didn’t ambush you.”
“What would you call it, then? A brief flirtation with homosexuality, and I happened to be the only option available?” He snorted, derisive, incredulous, and plunged back underneath the console, leaving John open-mouthed like a fish abandoned upon the shore by some seemingly-friendly wave. “Next time, find someone else to use as your guinea pig. I’m not interested.”
Not interested as in ‘Don’t kiss me again’, or as in ‘Congratulations, you’ve destroyed our fledgling friendship and now I would rather hang out with a wraith even though he’d try to eat me’? But he couldn’t say that, not now, with Rodney apparently determined to misread every word, every action.
“It wasn’t like that,” he said, knowing how feeble it sounded despite it being the truth. Rodney started to say something in retort, sarcasm evident even in the first scarcely-formed syllable, but John kept talking because he knew if he didn’t, if he allowed Rodney to careen on in his misunderstanding, that would be it. Finito. That’s all she wrote, folks.
“And no, it wasn’t like that either,” he continued, dropping to crouch beside the parts of Rodney not buried inside the console. Told himself he didn’t see Rodney flinch when John accidentally bumped his elbow. “You remember Drakka, the head honcho on Norosalim? The one who got to decide if we would continue having breakfast for the foreseeable future?” Rodney didn’t respond, but he went still, either listening or planning how to make John’s life a utter hell; John chose to believe it was the former. “Well, he had a niece who seemed to think I was, in fact, as you have so often accused me of being, this galaxy’s version of Kirk. She wouldn’t take a subtle hint and I couldn’t risk making her relatives mad at me and you were within grabbing distance.” And oblivious to everything not science-related, as always. “And I panicked.” Which was almost true. Close enough for the purpose.
He shuffled back a little, so Rodney could surface if he wanted. “That’s all it was—just me trying to avoid an unwanted lip-lock.”
“So instead you forced one on me.” Rodney squirmed around so he could peer up at John. “Gee, thanks. Great thinking there, Major.” But the almost-blind anger seemed to have faded, leaving just a flush of hurt Rodney probably wasn’t even aware of.
“Sorry.” The last person he’d said that to, and meant it, was dead and buried, and John still carried the guilt of it.
“Why’d you kiss me?” Rodney asked abruptly as they left yet another Oh No, We’re All Going To Die staff meeting.
“What?” John said stupidly, exhaustion-fogged brain still chewing through all the ways the expedition was screwed. You’d think the Ancients would have left instructions on how to recharge the batteries for the place.
“You kissed me,” Rodney said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. John stopped walking.
“I did not kiss you.” He was chronically sleep-deprived and slightly hallucinatory, but he wasn’t far gone enough to do that. Probably.
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I think I’d remember.”
“That I’d definitely remember.” John started walking again.
“But that was months ago. Why bring it up now?” The how stupid are you? look Rodney aimed at him would have . . . would have . . . would have done something, but John was having trouble moving forward in a straight line. Descriptive language was a bit beyond his capabilities at the moment.
“We’re going to die,” Rodney said flatly, and yes, John already knew that, but he really didn’t need to hear someone else say it. “I’d rather get this sorted out before the wraith kill us.”
After the breakup with Katie, John got Rodney drunk. He didn’t mean to, but somehow Rodney tossed back a bottle and a half of the stuff from Alpasa while John was still digging out his carefully hoarded supply of chips.
“Take it easy, Rodney. That’s all I’ve got.” John dumped the chips between them and rescued the remaining bottles. “Besides, I’ve heard stories of guys going blind from this stuff.” He took a cautious sip of his own and was pleasantly surprised. The last batch had been pretty much horse-piss, but this time it was almost fruity—if he ignored the way it burned when he swallowed.
“Blind? Really?” Rodney studied his half-empty bottle for a moment, perhaps in hope of finding a warning label, then shrugged and downed what was left. Geeze—was the guy trying for alcohol poisoning?
“No, not for really, but that’s no excuse for drinking it like Kool-Aid.”
“I always liked Kool-Aid when I was a kid. No surprises. Always tasted exactly the way it looked: blindingly artificial color.” He shook his empty bottle, frowned when it produced no sloshing noises, and chucked it over the railing.
“Biology’s going to kill you for that,” John commented.
“Only if you rat me out.” Rodney turned a lustful eye to the bottles being guarded by John.
“Look—I know you feel pretty crummy about being dumped, but alcohol poisoning won’t improve the situation. . . . Not that I speak from experience.”
“I’m pretty sure it would, actually, but just for the record, Katie didn’t dump me. We both agreed that the relationship just wasn’t working and parted amicably.”
“‘Just wasn’t working?’ You bought her a ring! A somewhat ugly ring, but still.”
And then somehow John’s mouth was suddenly smashed against Rodney’s—and was that a tongue? He jerked back, reflexively scrubbing his mouth with his sleeve.
“Jesus, Rodney, what the hell’d you do that for?”
Rodney wavered a bit, visibly processing the question. “Always wondered if you tasted the way I remember,” he eventually offered, eyes seeing something about two feet in front of and a couple inches to the side of where John actually was.
“I— Wait, what?”
“I wanted to see if you taste the same,” Rodney repeated, with the careful enunciation of someone who will slur otherwise.
“. . . Do I?” John asked, despite suspicions that the question made him sound like a teenager. Or possibly someone trapped in a chick flick against his will.
Rodney considered. “No,” he said eventually, just as John began to think he’d forgotten the question. “You taste like alcohol this time instead of spices.”
Spices? Oh. Oh. “Norosalim. I’d forgotten about that.” Repression, probably. “You do realize I kissed you that time because I about to be jumped by some crazy lady.”
Rodney blinked at him, then grabbed a new bottle and took a large swing like it was mouthwash. But he sounded more sober when he spoke again. “No, I didn’t.”
He never told Rodney about the things the hologram said as they—as John—slogged back through thigh-high sand to the gate room, about the grief and misery and loneliness evident in its every word, every feigned motion.
Or the things John said in turn, full of half-truths and mostly-false comfort. Those were reserved for a future Rodney who would (oh please God) never exist now, spoken as to a man about to die.
John would give anything, anything, up to half his soul, to keep from ever having to tell such lies again.