Title: Wear Your Heart on Your Skin
Notes: The title comes from Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts.
I have just no excuse for this. It is clearly totally self indulgent. I love my tattoos, I love Rodney, I love McShep, and Disney Princess happy endings. Thus, this fic. Also, I wrote this prior to The Repeal, but it wouldn't fit into my story and take the story where I wanted it go so I had to leave it off.
Rodney calls it The Lost Weekend because he never remembers anything about it. But he wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, all manner of sore muscles, a pleasant dull throb in his ass, a really spectacular bite mark on his inner thigh, two hundred dollars in assorted small bills, a note on his bedside table that reads; 'Thanks. You were amazing. - E', and a massive tattoo.
As far as tattoos go, it's insanely complicated and surprisingly detailed and Rodney has no fucking clue how a tattoo artist good enough to do it actually agreed to considering how clearly fucked up he'd been. He remembers the supremely embarrassing argument he had with his girlfriend, Kimmy (a name he loathes) that ended with her, rather expertly, slapping him across the face in a crowded high-end restaurant, and Rodney's subsequent cab ride to ' the closest bar that isn't going to fuck me over drink prices'. He kind of hates the cab driver for being able to so expertly deliver on that account, because he was able to get blackout drunk and pay for a tattoo without ever having to stop at an ATM or use credit cards. Which just means he has no way of knowing where, or when, or from whom he got the tattoo. He has visions of seedy back alleys and paying some dirty drifter to ink him with a needle and a broken pen. Which is insane, because the tattoo is gorgeous, just nothing Rodney had ever wanted.
It's vaguely tribal, made up of some of Rodney's favorite equations but in a way that makes them look artistic instead of linear and mechanical. There's color and, because Rodney's looking for patterns, he can see the prism of color that goes from right to left; a rainbow. There's a Pride flag hidden in his tattoo. He's only partially gay, really, and seeing it in the mirror makes him laugh-and he may be drunk still. The rest of the tattoo is kind of confusing, still pretty, and definitely very, very new. So he packs himself up and heads off to the ER for a tetanus shot, or a flu shot, or ritual chanting, whatever mumbo jumbo they need to do to make it so his arm doesn't fall off.
When he gets there, the male nurse who does his preliminary 'what seems to be the problem' paperwork, takes one look at it and goes, 'Whoa! Nice tat!' and Rodney's too busy being thoroughly annoyed (because this ass-hat is, essentially, looking at the place where his skin has been worn down to expose skull and saying 'cool') to acknowledge that, yeah. It really is. It's also huge. It sits high up on his shoulder, covers the expanse of his upper arm, and stops a quarter of the way to his elbow. In the end, all his trip to the ER gets him is a banana bag IV and an admonishment not to drink so much in the future (they refuse to give him a tetanus shot because he's had one 'recently' and when they are offer him Flintstones vitamins he pitches them, one by one, at his male nurse until discharged).
It is, all in all, not the worst thing that's ever happened to him and not even, it turns out, the worst thing for picking up potential sexual liaisons. Mostly, it's just a blob of interesting to people, but some people see the equations, some the Pride, and one memorable girl remarked that there was a larger picture that encompassed the whole tattoo. Rodney had to concede, after staring at it in the mirror for an hour straight, that it did, kind of, resemble an orbital picture of the earth from a certain perspective. Although, he also concedes that that might have more to do with his one and only foray into marijuana use. The tattoo becomes something like a Rorschach test for companions (what do you see?) that Rodney uses to gauge their mental acuity. It's not the worst drunken mistake a twenty-two year old could make. His stupid mistake could have just as easily been a one-night-stand followed by an unwanted pregnancy and then who knows?
What Rodney doesn't expect is that a tattoo requires upkeep. Getting a tattoo at twenty-two means he has to go back to a tattoo artist every few years to get it touched up, if only to keep it vibrant. At thirty-two he gets a touch up because the damn thing has, literally, grown on him and at forty-two he schedules time into his busy schedule of saving two galaxies from evil alien leather fetishists to swing back to earth and get another touch up.
On Atlantis, he's somehow been able to keep his massive tattoo close to a secret. Aside from his team (Ronon backed him against a wall and brow beat him into showing the tattoo, then left with only a grunt and a 'nice' tossed over his shoulder) and a few of the medical staff no one really knows about it. Rodney kind of likes it this way. That is, until he starts dating Dr. Jennifer Keller. Jennifer brags about Rodney's tattoo, and Rodney's never sure why. It's like dating a guy with a tattoo is a status symbol for her. Pretty soon it's common knowledge and everyone wants to see it. Everyone has questions like 'where'd you get it' and 'when' which leads to Rodney getting snippy and yelling that he is 'really fucking busy working to keep the whole city from exploding' and 'can I get some goddamn peace and quiet so I can hear myself think'. Because regaling the entire expedition with the story about how he broke up with his girlfriend, lost three days, and woke up with a mysterious tattoo doesn't appeal to him in the least. Eventually, Sheppard sends out a tersely worded email about personal boundaries and work appropriate conversations and the questions stop.
Sheppard, as it turns out, actually loves Rodney's tattoo. Almost to a creepy degree, Rodney thinks. When they finally start having sex (because, honestly, six years is a ridiculous amount of time to delay the inevitable) Sheppard spends an inordinate amount of time lavishing Rodney's tattoo with lips, and tongue, and touch and, whenever he fucks Rodney, that's always where his hand rests. When Rodney calls him on it, Sheppard just ducks his head and looks adorably abashed and mumbles something about the first time he'd ever seen it and how turned on it makes him.
He's totally biased, because Rodney has had a thing for John since week one, but he loves this about him. He loves how much John loves this thing that's become as much a part of Rodney as the nose on his face-where Jennifer's infatuation always seemed to annoy him. It's just another completely unnecessary sign that he cares for John Sheppard much more than he allows himself to realize.
John tells him one day that, within the complex inking of his tattoo, is the Air Force's unofficial motto: Uno Ab Oto. John looks surprised, then suspicious, then he demands to know all of the details regarding Rodney's tattoo. He regards the tattoo suspiciously, like it personally betrayed him, concealing things from him on purpose. When Rodney can't explain it, because he truly has no fucking idea where it came from, John starts looking at him that way too. Rodney spends far too much time trying to convince Sheppard that, no, he's not lying to try to spare his girlish feelings. He really has no idea where he got the damn tattoo, he was drunk. Honest. But Sheppard (who can really act like a sixteen year old girl when he wants) latches onto the fact that the tattoo has the Air Force motto ('And that! There! There's the Air Force logo!') and storms out of Rodney's room (in the middle of sex) because he's pissed that Rodney won't just tell him who the guy was. Obviously he meant a lot to Rodney. Obviously John knows him, obviously they've met, obviously Rodney still has feelings for him, or else why not just tell John?
Rodney allows himself to sink back onto his bed, still naked, with lube in his ass and the phantom touch of John's fingers on his skin and inside him. He stares up at the ceiling trying to come up with a suitable lie, because clearly John won't accept the truth. He can't believe this is his life.
When he tracks down John the next day he's in a disused section of the east tower, looking around with Major Lorne. Rodney has the insane lie he's concocted all ready but John cuts him off by, oh so casually, mentioning to Lorne that Rodney has a big ass tattoo. Just so Rodney knows that he's still pissed and still doesn't really want to talk about it. John tells Lorne that Rodney's tattoo is 'really cool' and it 'has the Air Force insignia in it' and 'has Lorne seen it yet'. Lorne nods, glancing towards Rodney, and says that, yeah, yeah he has. Which is news to Rodney because he's never shown Lorne and he's pretty sure he's never been in a position where Lorne would have seen it. While Rodney is taking a breath to expound on the illegalities of stalking, even in the Pegasus galaxy, Lorne tells Sheppard that he knows all about Rodney's tattoo because he designed it. He spent two days lovingly crafting it and then four hours holding Rodney's hand at a tattoo parlor in Las Vegas. Lorne's looking at Rodney with the sort of exasperated fondness that he's gotten used to seeing on people's faces with regards to him during his time in Pegasus. In the back of his mind, Rodney's reformulating old data, putting together all kinds of circumstantial evidence, and it's all clicking together in an amusingly remarkable way. Rodney smiles back at him, snaps his fingers three times in rapid succession.
"Right, right," Rodney says fondly. "'You were amazing. - E'. You're 'E'."
As soon as he says it, Rodney realizes he's said something monumentally stupid. Because Lorne blanches, his smile disappears, and his eyes widen then sneak sideways to catch a sideways view of Sheppard. Sheppard, who looks thunderous, and livid, and just about ready to kill, but Rodney and not Lorne. Rodney, ever the social grace, immediately blurts out 'I was really drunk' which earns him the stink-eye from Lorne. But it is so true, even Lorne must have realized it, even back then, and it really needs to be clarified. Lorne, sensing Sheppard's ire focused elsewhere, slinks off (the cowardly bastard) leaving Rodney alone with a man who looks like he might be in the midst of a rage blackout. When Rodney, in the interest of self preservation, reaches up to key his radio Sheppard swats his hand away and snatches it out of Rodney's ear.
John says, 'what the fuck McKay' in such a way that it hits Rodney like a solid punch, which is disturbing, because he didn't even raise his voice. John's hissing 'Lorne! Lorne!? Lorne?' over and over in ever increasing levels of disbelief, that Rodney might take offense at, if he weren't currently out of girlish-screaming-range from help. John has a crazy tirade of paranoid questions for Rodney that makes his head spin. How long was he with Lorne? Do they have matching tattoos? Was he ever planning to tell John he'd been in a serious relationship with his XO? Is he still in love with Lorne?
The last question John answers himself without waiting for a response from Rodney, for any of them. John barks out a cold, self deprecating laugh and mutters, 'god, of course you do. You wouldn't even tell me about it' before getting all sad and drawn and staring at Rodney, daring him to argue. And Rodney would, he so totally would, if he weren't so thoroughly rendered speechless at the unmitigated proof of John's abysmal self-esteem. He can't get his shit together quick enough to string together more than 'I, uh' before John hands him his radio back and shuffles away looking more broken than Rodney has ever seen.
Sheppard flat out refuses to speak to him for an entire day, then, only in an official capacity. He's getting angry, accusatory glares from Teyla and Ronon and Radek, even most of the science division and the marines, because he dared to hurt Atlantis' favorite son. Rodney spends an entire day feeling like shit wondering why he hadn't just told John from the start that he's still in love with Lorne, before he remembers that he's not in love with Lorne and they actually only knew each other for three days, twenty years ago, and Rodney can't even remember it. He leaves the labs early and tracks down Lorne, it's ridiculously easy since he's being unfairly ostracized too.
They go back to Rodney's room where he makes Lorne tell him everything he can remember from The Lost Weekend. Lorne's memory is also under a heavy alcoholic haze but he remembers more than the giant void that Rodney doesn't.
It was the last weekend before Lorne shipped out. He met Rodney at a bar called The Kitty Shack, the cheapest bar available without the possibility of becoming a stabbing victim. Rodney was already pretty drunk when they decided to hitch a ride to Vegas, mere hours away, with two girls in a Chevy van. One of the girls had a cartoon unicorn tattoo, which they ribbed mercilessly until the girls ditched them outside of a cheap motel near Fremont street. Lorne said he could design a way better tattoo and Rodney told him to go for it. They spent two days partying nonstop, Lorne's memory gets really hazy, he says, but he remembers that Rodney agreed to take a shift dancing on a bar in gold hot pants for tips one night and made over a thousand dollars, which is how they paid for the tattoo, and that he's pretty sure they saw a jousting tournament at one point but he can't be sure.
Rodney wants to know if they had sex at all and Lorne blushes fuchsia, stares holes into the floor, but nods and admits that, aside from partying, that's pretty much all they did. He looks Rodney in the eye, suddenly all seriousness, and tells him that they were safe, they always used a condom. Rodney can't help it, he has to laugh, because they're both working on a top secret mission in another galaxy and it's been twenty years. You'd think if either of them had anything it would have shown up already.
Rodney thanks him with a sigh. He's pretty much at his wits end with the whole mess. He misses John like crazy and, he gets it now, really; he is in love with John. He doesn't need anymore distance to make his heart grow fonder. He really wishes he could have Lorne tell John what he's just told him but they have all sorts of American military rigmarole to prevent it. Even though he's sure both John and Lorne know, neither of them can ask or tell. Rodney hates rules promoting homophobia.
Rodney walks Lorne to the door with a hand on his back, half pushing him out the door, which turns out to be the worst idea ever because there are at least fifteen people in the hallway, John front and center. Everyone flat out stops and stares to watch the train-wreck about to ensue. Rodney and Lorne freeze and Rodney flushes with guilt then anger because, goddammit! He has nothing to feel guilty about. John gets a pinched, closed off expression and glances around surreptitiously at the people unabashedly gawking before walking off. Now, everyone's glaring at Rodney and Lorne but it's less speculative and more serious. Rodney decides something has to be done because this has gone too far. He may not be a 'people person' but he's sure he can fix this. He loves John, John may be an over emotional teenage girl but he's Rodney's over emotional teen aged girl. When Lorne moves to leave the room Rodney keys the door closed, nearly snapping Lorne in the face before he can get out. Lorne gives him he stink eye again.
Rodney and John had set up to take their leave earth-side together. Rodney has had an appointment set up for his tattoo for months. John had loved the thing once, had wanted to make sure the tattoo artist took care, and they'd planned to go together. Woolsey refuses to let John worm out of his vacation time, refuses to budge on it at all given the stink they'd had to raise to get him to agree to letting the military CO and the CSO go back to earth at the same time. Rodney loves him for being so petty and stubborn when it means that John can't weasel out of it and has to spend time on earth when Rodney does.
In the meantime, John barely looks at him and Rodney spends seven days, all told, pacing John's office and promising that there is nothing going on with Lorne. There never was anything going on with Lorne. They hooked up once and Rodney really doesn't remember it. John scoffs and sneers, saying 'you were amazing' then throws Rodney out when Rodney blusters that he is amazing, even John says so. It's not his finest moment but at least he can console himself that it's also not his worst-Although, most of those are fairly recent too.
When they get to earth Rodney begs John to come with him to the tattoo parlor. On his knees. In the locker room. John relents. He also smiles coyly as he turns back to his locker and Rodney realizes he is quickly losing whatever upper hand he might have had in this relationship. But it's the first smile John's shown him in weeks and he'll take his wins where he can get them.
In the car Rodney lays out his plan, pulling out pictures and gesturing wildly and twisting in his seat to try and show John his tattoo (because it's on his right arm and John's driving because John always has to drive) and tapers off morosely when John pulls off onto the side of the road and puts the car in park. John's staring at him, at Lorne's tattoo sketches, and Rodney's starting to panic. It seemed like such a good plan when he thought it up. He's really getting nervous, the longer they just sit in silence, because what if John really breaks up with him? What if this is the end? Some stupid tattoo, some drunken weekend he can't remember, coming back to bite him in the ass twenty years later and God! He would almost rather just had a fucking kid. He loves John so much, John is such an integral part of his life, that he can't imagine losing him. He can't imagine his life without John in it-and maybe they're both sixteen year old girls because he's feeling distinctly hormonal at present.
John's watching him carefully, his eyes scour Rodney's face thoroughly before his face breaks into a wide grin. He grabs Rodney by the back of his neck and pulls him into a wet, sloppy kiss. Rodney wants to cry, he's so fucking relieved.
"I believe you," John whispers against his mouth. "I believe you, I'm sorry."
Rodney brings his hands up to frame John's face and forces John to look into his eyes (it's difficult with them being so close), and swallows thickly.
"I," Rodney begins, "I really need..." but Rodney's not really sure what. It doesn't seem to matter anyway because John is nodding emphatically. "I do," Rodney continues, "because I'm kind of...in love with you."
John's smile is so radiant it could power the city but he cocks an eyebrow and teases, "You kind of love me?"
Rodney rolls his eyes, kisses John again, quickly, before releasing him. "Shut up and take me to the goddamn tattoo parlor."
John laughs. "Sir, yes sir."
After a week on earth it feels like an eternity since they've been back on Atlantis. A week spent 'making up' but Rodney can't wait to properly make up at home. When he steps out of the shower he catches sight of his improved tattoo in the mirror and can't help but smile. His hand goes to it and his fingers instinctively find John's name, hidden in the new section. His tattoo now extends to five-sixths of his upper arm. He's insanely grateful to know Lorne was the one who designed his tattoo, grateful Lorne agreed to help him add to it. It feels like he's allowed Lorne to finally finish a painting neither of them had known was incomplete. And it's nice to finally know where all of the hidden messages and meanings are in his tattoo.
When John lies him down on the bed later, finally back home, Rodney can't help but kiss the new tattoo on John's arm reverently, lightly. John breathes laughter and it makes Rodney smile against his skin. They aren't identical, their tattoos, but, when you see them together it's clear they're a matched set.
Rodney rubs his lips lightly over his name written onto John's skin and John places a soft kiss on his temple.
"I kinda love you too," John tells him softly.
Rodney pulls back to look him in the eyes and says, "I know," with his most devilish Han Solo smirk. John laughs and hits him with a pillow.