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But Never Nice

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They marked the return to the Pegasus Galaxy with a festival in the mess hall. Tables pushed out of the way, what Rodney semi-privately disparaged as Ancient Christmas lights twinkling overhead, new Lanteans and less new Lanteans and some aliens mingled and danced late into the night. At twelve thirty-three Atlantis Standard Time, AR-1 was still present and accounted for. Woolsey and the new IOA rep had already turned in.

By the buffet table, Rodney stifled a yawn, still suffering from what he was tempted to call galaxy-lag and the work-related insomnia that went into supervising the trip back. He turned his eyes over the mess hall for John and Ronon. The only reason he hadn’t face-planted into his extremely comfortable bed was because Ronon and John had spent half of a brief breakfast that morning betting on how long Rodney would last at the party before he passed out in his drink. Damn Teyla and her airtight excuse -- she’d gone to bed hours before to put Torren to bed. The only hint she’d once been there was the cask of hard Athosian liquor she’d left and a gaggle of scientists still blushing from her new (very skimpy) Pegasus clothes.

Rodney’s shoulders slumped as he saw Ronon surrounded by a group of marines, an uncharacteristic smile softening his features as he laughed at something Rodney couldn’t hear. Damn his Spartan endurance. Rodney wouldn’t doubt for a minute that the empty beer bottles on the nearby table were seventy-three percent his. As far as Rodney could tell, the moons would set before Ronon’s dreads hit his pillow.

Rodney saw Radek gracelessly and very drunkenly dancing, Jessica Simpson chatting with Miko by Keller, Chuck passed out on one of the tables, and Evan Lorne talking to a scientist and making a gesture that looked like "But have you tried a grenade launcher?" But John was nowhere to be seen.

As Rodney’s gaze moving toward the doorway to the balcony, Rodney recognized the shadowed set of John’s body from across the room. He was leaning against the railing, looking out at the sea in the moonlight. The awning overhead made John’s figure dark. Rodney’s heart palpitated. He’d have to ask Keller for a full physical in the morning. Right then, his feet made the decision and Rodney wandered across the room and out into the balmy evening air. He was busy wondering, half-worried, why John was pensively staring out at the ocean because if John was worried about something, more often than not Rodney needed to worry about it, too.

The breeze lifted off the water, bringing the scent of salt in. Rodney’s gaze briefly lingered on John’s shoulders and the curve of his spine as the man stood with one boot on the bottom rail. The nape of John’s neck was visible over the collar of John’s dark gray uniform shirt, John’s elbows tucked up and tight against his sides. His knobby fingers were laxly knit in front of him.

The throbbing reprised in Rodney’s chest, something mysterious he’d become adept at ignoring over the years. He stepped up beside John and propped his elbows on the railing, removing any brand of grace that he might’ve moved with if he wasn’t mildly and mysteriously embarrassed. He wondered how he could brook the subject of what was bothering John without sounding like every girlfriend Rodney had ever had. He settled on, "Everyone in Atlantis must be on speed to be up at this hour. Do you know that Parrish has a tie around his head? Where’d he even get one?"

John started at Rodney’s sudden diatribe and blinked at his friend with large green eyes. His smile was slow and clumsy when it crossed his face. "Rodney," he said warmly. Liquor fumes poured off of him at close range. "Hey there, Rodney."

Rodney recoiled from the fumes coming off of him. "My god! You reek of that Athosian rotgut! Just how much did you drink?"

John waved a hand at him. "Ah, c’mon. I’m not that drunk."

"You are! You’re totally plastered!" Rodney examined John’s features for signs of intoxication. He decided that Pegasus Galaxy Heartthrob of not, under the circumstances, John’s wild hair and not-sexy stubble and wrinkled uniform gave him the appearance of a habitual lush. "What gives? Some obscure American holiday?"

John amiably or exasperatedly (Rodney wasn’t sure which) shook his head and settled forward on his elbows. Rodney scrutinized his profile in the darkness and enough time passed that Rodney was preparing to tell John how lucky John was that Rodney was there to call for rescue if John tumbled over the rail -- when John spoke up. "Just glad we’re all out here. That’s all." His voice was so muffled Rodney could barely hear him over the sound of the waves on the pier far below.

Rodney blinked in surprise. "What -- you mean...?"

John reached up and ruffled a hand through his dark hair. He laughed unevenly and waved Rodney’s question aside.

It was true that the return was the first time they’d seen Teyla in a month (after she’d gone on ahead through the wormhole) and there had been the resignations and transfer requests that had caught John and Rodney both by surprise. But to Rodney, there had never been a question in his mind about whether they would come home again. "What? Because of Teyla?"

"No! Look," John gestured, his hand making a loop-de-loop more clumsily than usual, "I know she has people here-"

Rodney snorted. "She wouldn’t have gone back if she didn’t think we’d be following her."

"Exactly!" John shook his head exasperatedly at Rodney and when he did, the strands of his hair brushed Rodney’s shoulder.

Rodney hadn’t realized when John had slumped so close and now he had to jump ahead to keep his mind clear, to not-notice the scent of John’s soap beneath the odor of liquor clinging to him. "If you knew that all along, what are you sulking about? If it’s something I need to-"

"Exactly!" John interrupted. His neck and ears flushed dark and he said, "I mean, not you. It’s not about- Come on."

Rodney boggled at John. "Wait, when you say it’s not about me, you mean it is about me, don’t you?" he accused. When John didn’t object, Rodney charged ahead. Blood burned in his face at the realization. "What could I have possibly done to give you the impression I wasn’t a hundred percent devoted to this? I’ve ate, slept, and bled this mission for five and a half years-"

"Because you were with Keller!" John interrupted.

"What?" Rodney asked.

John slumped against the rail, flushed and visibly annoyed. "You’re totally oblivious, McKay. Everybody was talking about what you guys would do and if you’d stay on Earth."

"We - neither of us - were ever thinking of leaving. What would’ve given anyone the idea-?"

"Everybody thought you guys were getting married," John snapped, "have kids."

Rodney floundered. He gaped at John, completely flummoxed by John’s flush and the look in his face. It wasn’t unfamiliar. He’d seen John looking like that, like Rodney was choosing Keller over the rest of them. "Is that why you’re chugging a liquor store?" he asked. His tongue felt numb and his mind was racing forward and backward, examining and re-examining and not understanding. Or maybe, for once, he didn’t want to jump to conclusions before he’d heard everything.

John’s brow furrowed. "No!" he said more forcefully than he needed to. But he cut his stare toward the water quickly, avoiding Rodney’s eyes. The nape of his neck was bright red, looking blood-dark in the shadow of the awning. "No. Maybe I was a little worried."

Rodney’s heartbeat thundered in his chest. "Neither of us were ever planning on doing that. And you know that things started going south pretty quickly after, you know, the attempted Wraith invasion." Rodney put his sneaker up on the rail beside John’s, his stance inoffensive as John’s was prickly. He raised his eyebrows. "After this and after Katie, I’m wondering if I’m actually undateable. Is there some signal or something that I don’t know I’m putting out? Something that says, ‘Totally Undateable’?"

John chuckled and relaxed enough to bump Rodney’s shoulder with his. "I want to say yeah."

"I know you do."

The corners of John’s mouth curved. "Maybe you’re just dating the wrong people," he said.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Easy for you to say. By modest estimations, you’ve Kirked your way through half the base and most outlying planets."

"Are they still doing that counter thing?" John groaned.

"Why don’t you stop giving them fuel and they’ll put out the fire, Don Juan?" Rodney reproachfully shook his head. "Who do you propose? If I’m dating the wrong people."

John shook his head. He gestured with both hands without lifting his elbows off the railing. Rodney found himself staring as John cocked his head this way and that. "Maybe, look, Katie was a nice lady and Keller -- she’s," John trailed off, blocked by whatever prevented him from extolling on the doctor’s positive traits. "She’s a nice girl," he said finally. To this point, Rodney followed. "And you, Rodney, if somebody wants to call you something-"

"Do I have a choice in the matter?" Rodney dryly asked.

"-it wouldn’t be ‘nice.’" John made sloppy rabbit ears in the air. Rodney stared at him without saying a word as John shrugged his shoulders. "Talented, dutiful, obsessive, jerky-" he plowed on over Rodney’s objections, "-rude, bull-headed, loyal, brave, smart, good-hearted -- but not ever just ‘nice’."

Rodney opened his mouth speechlessly and closed it again. He didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t that no one had paid him compliments before and it wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy them, but he hadn’t expected it from John. They were honest with one another except for about each other and he wasn’t used to the naked sentiment John expressed just then. He swallowed and looked down to the glittering surf beating against the pier stories below. "But that’s not a name."

"Rodney," John scolded. He was too drunk for his tone to hold any heat.

"Never mind," Rodney muttered. He looked at John. "I think I might have an idea."

"Oh yeah?" John asked, looking flinty and sounding ticked off. "Who?"

Rodney leaned forward and brushed his lips over John’s. It was a gamble but he was tired of running scared from what could happen. John’s lips parted instantly and Rodney congratulated himself on reading the situation right (finally). He angled his head, cupping a hand against John’s jaw. He touched the tip of his tongue to John’s bottom lip, flirting with the fullness of his mouth. For a moment, John didn’t respond and Rodney broke into a sweat. He screwed his eyes shut tighter, stubbornly pressing on past the taste of Athosian liquor and the salt from the sea breeze. Then John leaned into Rodney’s space and his hands tangled on Rodney’s belt loop and at Rodney’s shoulder, pressing close and reeling Rodney in. His mouth was wild and wet under Rodney’s.

He wasn’t winning any points for skill, which was surprising, even if he was drunk off his ass. But his arms were warm around Rodney and he was already breathless with excitement as he licked his way into Rodney’s mouth.

Rodney remembered first that they were out there on the balcony, only partially out of view. And it wasn’t like the repeal of DADT meant the repeal of anti-fraternization policies in the IOA and at SGC. He pulled back reluctantly and then, seeing John’s lips dark with color and shiny with the kiss, he groaned and kissed John again. The second time was a charm and he managed to disentangle himself from John’s octopus arms. "Okay, reconvene later -- when you’re not so-"

"I’m not drunk," John interrupted. But he looked possibly more dazed than he had been before.

Rodney glanced at him. "I was going to say 'After you've taken a shower'."

John swatted the back of Rodney’s head and just narrowly missed hitting Rodney’s eye in doing so. He was probably more dangerous at hand-to-hand drunk than he ever was sober. "Thanks."

Rodney peered over John’s shoulder, but through the doorway, the revelers were engaged with each other, unaware or just uninterested in a major turning point in Rodney’s life. He shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was. He leaned in and pecked John on the mouth, withdrawing before John could wind his wicked arms around Rodney’s waist. "So this means-? About us...?" he asked.

"I’ll let you in my pants," John slurred, completely serious.

Rodney’s head spun at the sudden throbbing in his crotch. John was tousled and careless and it was absolutely no mystery why half of the galaxy wanted to jump his magic flyboy bones. "Okay, thank you for the invitation. You’re going to remember this in the morning, aren’t you?"

"Jeez!" John threw his hands up. "I told you, I’m not drunk!"

Rodney wrinkled his nose. "If this is you when you’re not drunk, what’re you like when you are?" he asked.

John crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the railing, the angle of his hips the exact description of irresistible. "Wouldn’t you like to know?"

Rodney groaned and the groan became a yawn. He shook his head. "Okay, I’ve got to get you to bed." The rest of it would have to wait for the morning. He was too damn tired for fooling around anyway. He slung his arm around John’s waist. While John was guffawing against the crook of Rodney’s neck and Rodney was steadying his friend’s unprincipled limbs, the sound of the party faded behind them as they walked down the walkway, toward the other door.