John was hot and Rodney was whining, a steady stream of bitching and moaning interrupted only by his wheezing gasps for air. He'd already gone through the asthmatic-routine and the blood-sugar-routine, and now he was starting in about the tendons in his knees. "McKay," John said finally, "Shut it."
He could feel the silent gratitude of the rest of the team behind him--Ford and Teyla bringing up the rear, Corporal Phelps and that kid from the biology team right behind Rodney. It had been a long hike up to the top of this bluff and everyone's patience was wearing thin.
"I'm trying to give you what could be vital information about my condition, here, Major. You're the Team Leader, after all--aren't you supposed to be monitoring the well-being of your team?"
John rolled his eyes. "Just...a little less frequency with the updates would be nice."
They took another couple of steps. "I also have a stabbing pain in my left ankle," Rodney said.
John unslung his canteen from around his shoulder and took a long sip. Almost at the top, he thought. "Uh huh."
Rodney stumbled a little and grabbed John's shoulder for balance. "Which could be a blood clot forming. Which, if it gets into my brain, could quite possibly be fatal." John glanced over his shoulder but Rodney was smirking--he was just trying to get on John's nerves, now.
John grinned, shaking his head. "Blood clot," he said. The guy was so full of shit.
"It's within the realm of possibility, Major. These things do happen."
John turned around and opened his mouth to respond, and the trail gave way beneath his boots.
It was fast, fuck, so fast--he was sliding down the sharp incline of loose scree and dirt and then he got a perfect, adrenaline-clear glimpse of the looks on the faces of his team right before he slipped off the edge of the overhang.
He knew he was falling. He heard someone shout. He threw out a desperate hand and was surprised to see his canteen still in it, and then a second later there was a hellacious jerk and John felt the bones of his shoulder come apart.
The world spun and dipped. He could hear his own ragged scream echoing in his ears, the sound of it falling away toward the river hundreds of feet below. He saw the sky, too vivid and too blue, and moving crazily, swaying back and forth, up and down--except that might have been him doing the moving, which would certainly make more sense. His mouth was full of dirt. His eyes were, too. The canteen strap wound around his wrist was cutting painfully into his skin, and there was nothing but air beneath the soles of his boots.
He made a weird sound, not exactly a laugh, and all of a sudden several things came crystal clear in his head:
#1 - He was alive.
#2 - The difference between alive and dead was half a goddamned inch.
#3 - The difference between alive and dead was maybe always half a goddamned inch.
So #4 - Lying about stuff because you were worried what people would think of you was a colossal waste of time.
He laughed again, and this time it really sounded like a laugh, though it was kind of breathless and strained. After a moment, there was a scrabbling and a cascade of loose dirt, and then Ford's face appeared at the edge of the overhang.
John grinned up at him. Ford grinned back. "Holy shit, sir. I mean pardon my French, but that was really fucking close." He shook his head and they grinned at each other some more. "Just hang on--McKay's rigging some kind of...something."
"Okay," John said, and then laughed again, because he couldn't help it. His feet were kind of pedaling in the air, like Wile E. Coyote's, and he couldn't feel the arm he was dangling from at all anymore. "Hey, Ford," he said, "Guess what?"
Ford looked at him.
"I slept with Michael Wendell."
Ford grinned again, uncertainly, thinking it was a joke. John shook his head. "No, really. Me and Michael Wendell. Because I'm a big queer."
Ford blinked. "Okay," he said, slowly. His face was all caricatured confusion and surprise.
John snorted. He couldn't even believe how light his chest felt, how good everything felt, hanging here at the edge of death and telling the fucking truth. "I don't like country music, either. I think a lot of our proud military tradition is a big old load of horseshit. And I really hate--" there was a jerk and another cascade of dirt, and Ford started a controlled slide toward him "--being good at killing people."
Ford's eyes narrowed. "Did you hit your head, maybe, sir?"
John shrugged. "Maybe. But it doesn't matter, though. I'm just really fucking sick of not telling the truth, you know?" Ford was hanging level with him now, only upside down instead of right side up. Everything was still all cool and bright and hilarious. "Life is too short to lie about shit," John told Ford's upside down head, grinning.
Ford sighed, reaching around to fasten a harness on John's chest. "If you say so, sir." He twisted a little, turning back to the edge of the cliff. "Okay!" he shouted, "You can bring us up!"
So it was obvious as soon as they hauled him over the edge that everybody had heard. Phelps was staring with eyes like saucers. The little biology guy was snickering. Teyla looked kind of confused about the whole thing, and Rodney was...weirdly silent.
"Surprise!" John said. He was finding it really hard to care about this like he knew he should. Partly that was how his shoulder was starting to throb like a fucking motherfucker, but it was mostly this new knowledge he had, this epiphanal thing, whatever it was. He couldn't stop grinning all the way down to the jumper. He felt like a new person or something. Reborn.
Ford kept trying to make him stop talking. "Just hang on, sir," he said. "You'll be okay once the doctor has a look at you. But in the mean time, I really think you should just be quiet."
And even Teyla wasn't on his side. "Lie still, please," she kept telling him. "We do not know what is wrong with you. It is important for you to lie still."
They didn't get it. They did not understand. This wasn't a goddamn head injury speaking--he was having a spiritual thing of some sort. He had to talk, to tell them. To explain. "There isn't time for all that shit," he told them. "There's not! Because you don't know when it's going to happen--just that it is. Guaran-fucking-teed. So in the mean time you're just...obligated to live your life the way you want to."
They weren't even listening, which was so their loss. They kept doing things with bandages and painkillers, exchanging bemused glances over his head. Phelps sat at the far side of the jumper, staring at the opposite wall with a look of utter disdain on her face. The kid from biology just kept right on snickering.
The only one who wasn't being mean or patronising was Rodney, which was a surprise if you thought about it--Rodney's default setting was mean and patronising, after all. But Rodney was silent all the way back, his face tight and hard to read, like a mask.
Of course, he had to fly the jumper, though, so it could just have been concentration.
There wasn't a head injury. "See," John told his team.
Teyla inclined her head, smiling a little, conceding the point. Ford just looked confused, though, and even more embarrassed, and Rodney... Rodney hadn't said anything at all since the jumper landed, except to confirm Ford's report to Elizabeth. He'd stood a couple of feet away while the doctor explained the results, arms crossed over his chest, his face pale and set.
"But that's good," said Elizabeth, sounding doubtful. She looked at the rest of the team, then back at John, obviously puzzled. "Isn't it?"
Ford cleared his throat. Rodney scowled at the floor. Teyla just looked confused.
"Of course it's good," John told Elizabeth, clapping her on the shoulder. And then he left them there and went back to his quarters to see about a shower and a clean set of clothes.
See, John had known he was queer since he was in his freshman year at high school, when he woke up one morning with a raging crush on Paul Forniski. But even then, he'd been The Guy, that kid all the lady teachers had a rueful crush on--the kid people talked about and picked for stuff, captain of this, vice president of that. He was on the basketball team and the track team; always had a bunch of friends. People expected him to act a certain way, to be easy and happy and fearless, to live up to their admiration. And so he had. He didn't like to disappoint people. And he'd never known who he'd be if the admiration went away.
But once he got out to the Pegasus Galaxy and met his first couple of Wraith and got half-eaten by an alien cockroach and hunted through the corridors of the city by a bunch of Amish terrorists, John figured he'd best make a list of all those things he wanted to do but never had the guts to try. And it just so happened that sleeping with a guy was right up at number one.
Michael Wendell was a linguist, which already sounded vaguely promising, plus he was kind of cute in a sandy-haired freckly-faced way. But the main reason John had picked him out was the way he crossed his legs when he sat in meetings (lady-style, knee over knee) and the soft way he spoke, all the sarcasm veiled, and the silver bracelet he wore on his wrist. The thing was, John figured he could deal with getting shot down his first time out--it would suck, but he was tough, he could take it. Getting shot down because the other guy was straight, though...for some reason, that seemed way worse.
So he'd hedged his bets.
And playing it safe had paid off in more ways than one--it turned out that not only was Michael Wendell gay, and not only was he willing (once John got him to actually believe that he was serious), but he was also a fucking Master Technician of Cocksucking. Like, if there was a graduate program of cocksucking science someplace, Michael Wendell could teach it--or no, could be the Dean of it--because seriously, wow, wow, wow. John hadn't had better sex with anybody ever. And if he'd had any doubts before Michael got ahold of him, he sure as hell didn't have any after.
But all that discretion and sneaking around had been getting under John's skin. Michael hadn't seemed to mind it, and it wasn't like they were serious about each other anyway, but John didn't like the way it had made him feel. Like he was guilty of something sick or sordid. Like he had something to hide.
So all things taken into consideration, it was actually a good thing that Phelps was, in all likelihood, flapping her evil little mouth all over the goddamned city. For sure it was. The truth was better. John told his reflection so, as he tried to fix his hair one-handed. Nodded, firmly. Did his level best to believe it.
He went down to the mess for dinner. Sure enough, there was a weird sort of hush when he came through those doors. Not like everyone stopped talking all at once--most of the scientists didn't even look up. But he could feel the eyes of the marines in the room, feel their quick glances and their speculation and their scorn, and when he deliberately took the seat next to Derrick George--teller of fag jokes, taker of growth hormones--he was not at all surprised when George got up without a word and left.
John just sat there for a while, staring down at his tray. He could feel people wondering what he was going to do. He wished he knew what he was going to do. To buy some time, he picked up his fork and took a bite of meat loaf. It wasn't bad actually. Gamey, but they'd used some kind of spice.
After a moment, he heard movement nearby and looked up, and there was Ford, tray in hand, his cheeks darkly flushed, glaring impartially at everyone. "Lieutenant," John said, uncertainly.
Ford nodded. "Sir. Saw you were eating, sir, and I wondered if I could maybe join you."
John swallowed and blinked down at his tray. He honestly wasn't sure if he was about to cry or start laughing. Christ, Christ, get a grip, he told himself, and drew a careful breath. "Lieutenant, I'd be delighted," he said.
Ford sat, looking much relieved. John was about to turn his attention to his food again when Rodney slid into the seat next to Ford's.
Rodney caught John's gaze across the table, and nodded. John swallowed and cleared his throat, but this time he couldn't quite bite back the reaction. Fortunately, it was the laughing thing that happened and not the other thing, so although Rodney and Ford both stared at him, the level of total humiliation didn't increase.
"Sorry," he said, and took a couple of deep breaths. "Sorry. It's just, this is so...so..." He waved a hand. "What's that movie I'm thinking of?"
Rodney's mouth twitched. "Um, every movie ever made about teenaged ostracism? God, Major. Even coming out of the closet in a spectacularly public way, you're an all-American clichÈ."
John had almost had the laughing thing under control, but that made him start up all over again. He rested his forehead on his hand, tried to catch his breath. Rodney watched him, smiling a little, shaking his head. Ford watched too, though he looked a lot more worried than he did amused.
"Jesus," John said finally, wiping at his eyes. He took a breath. "Fuck. How public?"
Ford swallowed and they were back to the blushing thing again; the poor kid was going to die of vicarious embarrassment before this thing was over.
Rodney just met John's eyes. "Public," he said. "Common knowledge by now, I'm afraid." They looked at each other seriously for a moment, then John saw something complicated go on in Rodney's face. Before he could figure out what it was, though, Rodney had lowered his gaze to the tray in front of him, where his blunt-nailed fingers were twisting the stem off a yellow fruit. "So," Rodney said. "Michael Wendell. Wow."
John squirmed uncomfortably. "It's nothing serious," he said. There was a pause. "What's wrong with Michael Wendell?"
Rodney lifted an eyebrow. He'd gotten the stem off that yellow fruit; he tossed it lightly onto the tray. "Nothing at all," he said, and met John's eyes again, and John saw that he was serious about that. Or about something, anyway.
Ford cleared his throat. "So," he said, looking back and forth between the two of them. "Sure is sunny out there today."
So things sucked for a while, because even the people who weren't automatically disgusted by him were kind of uncomfortable around him, like they weren't sure what they were allowed to say. John spent a lot of time working out with Teyla, getting his injured tendons back into fighting shape. She'd asked him what was going on as if she was genuinely confused, and when he'd explained it, she'd seemed even more confused than before.
"Yes," she'd said slowly, like she was waiting for the rest of the explanation. When he'd shrugged and failed to add anything else, she had shaken her head. "That seems like an odd thing to become upset about," she'd said tentatively, in her best diplomatic tones.
And John had shrugged again and said, "Yeah," and Teyla had shrugged too. "I am not upset," she'd told him. "But nevertheless, I am going to beat you quite badly if you do not guard your left side." And she'd hit him hard with her stick thing, and that had been the end of that.
Ford was weird for a couple of days longer than that, but one afternoon when the two of them were taking inventory of the remaining stocks of ammunition, it was like John could see the kid's natural curiosity winning out over his embarrassment. "Don't you miss tits, sir?" he blurted finally.
John snorted. "Well it's not like I swore them off, Lieutenant."
"So you're, like, bi or something?" Ford said, his eyes wide. "Isn't that confusing?"
John grinned. "Yeah, asshole. Because I'm so stupid I'm going to forget who I'm sleeping with." He closed the box of cartridges they'd just counted and started on another one. He shook his head. "Christ. I only wish I got laid often enough for that to be a problem."
Ford actually giggled at that point, so John had to hit him. Things were pretty much okay between them after that.
Rodney, though--he was a whole other problem. And that was surprising, because really, Rodney was the guy John would have expected to be most okay with this whole thing. He never seemed to care about little details like people's sexual orientation before--he was just impartially mean to everybody. But even after that thing in the mess, Rodney had been avoiding John. Used to be, at least once or twice a week he'd come out to the lounge on level three and play cards with John and a couple of the geologists, or they'd watch a DVD on Rodney's laptop, or play Halo III on John's. But lately Rodney always seemed to be too busy in the labs. He never showed up at the mess hall during meal times, either, and when they had a meeting to plan the team's next mission, when John was finally okayed for active duty, Rodney sat all the way on the other side of the table and hardly made any snide remarks at all.
It was maybe weird to be hurt that somebody hadn't insulted you, but John really was. So afterward, he avoided Elizabeth's I-need-to-talk-to-you gaze and went jogging after Rodney instead.
The guy could walk pretty fast for a chubby little Canadian. John didn't catch him until they were in the hall outside Rodney's rooms. "Hey," he said then, catching Rodney's elbow. "Hang on a minute."
Rodney stopped walking, but he didn't turn. He sighed and hung his head instead. "What is it, Major?"
John scowled. "What, now you can't even be seen talking to me or something? Come on, McKay--you don't really think your reputation can get any worse, do you?"
He expected Rodney to turn around and bite back, but he didn't. He just frowned like he was puzzled and pulled his arm out of John's grasp. "What are you talking about, Major?"
"You," John said, waving a hand. "Me. The whole gay thing. You've been avoiding me since I...you know. Since that cliff. I just never expected you to be like that, I guess."
Rodney's whole face was twisted into a confused scowl, but at least he'd turned to look at John. "Like what?" Rodney said.
"Like...whatchacallit. Homophobic. You know."
Rodney stared at him. "Are you seriously accusing me of being homophobic?"
"Well duh," John said. "Why else would you be trying so hard to stay out of my way?"
"Well, since everyone in this entire god forsaken sector of the universe--with the sole exception of your extremely perceptive self--is aware that I am, in fact, queer as a three dollar bill, I don't think it's because I'm homophobic."
They stared at each other for a moment. Somehow during this exchange, John's fingers had gotten curled around Rodney's arm again, and they were standing close together, and John could hear their uneven breath. He squeezed his eyes closed for a moment. "You're gay," he said.
"Queer," Rodney corrected. "But yes, asshole. That would be why I own that t-shirt with the enormous pink triangle on it. And why I listen to Morrissey." He paused for a moment, then frowned. "Also why I was making out with Johann Djebler that time you came across us on your way to the can. Seriously, John--are you actually blind?"
John shook his head. This was...too huge to think about all at once. "I thought you were arguing," he said.
Rodney shrugged. "Well, we were doing that too."
There was another pause, and John let go of Rodney's arm. Rodney blinked and looked down at John's hand.
"I have to go...do something," John said. And then he was walking before Rodney could say anything else.
He went to his quarters and thought about tracking Teyla down for a quick bout in the gym, but abruptly changed his mind and lay down on his bed instead. Rodney was gay. Big Gay McKay. It made a weird kind of sense, now that he was thinking about it. And it sure as hell explained some things.
He sighed and shifted and drummed his fingers on the sheets. Rolled to his feet and paced around his room, touching the lamp and the windowsill, the mystery shelf where the weird holographic flowers would occasionally appear. He kept seeing Rodney's face in his mind's eye--that wide-eyed look when John was slipping off the edge of the cliff. The knowledge there, that John was going to die, and the anger. Rodney's silence afterward, which had nothing to do with being scared of flying the jumper--and John had known it hadn't, all along.
He blew out a long, frustrated breath and pushed his hands through his hair. All his talk of guts and truth was bullshit; Michael Wendell and that scene in the mess were nothing compared to this. He stood still for a long moment just looking at the door. Then he took a breath and forced his hands to relax, to loose their grip, because this time the strap wasn't going to save him. This time he just had to let go, and fall.
His knees were kind of wobbly so he took a transporter instead of the stairs. The halls were deserted, which was good. Rodney's door came open a few seconds after he knocked. Rodney was on the other side of it, looking breathless.
John cleared his throat. "So, if I'd thought about it, I would have told you first."
Rodney blinked, and his chest moved, and his cheeks went slowly red. But he pretended to be cool, though. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked John in the eye. "That's a start," he said. Coolly.
John kind of loved him a lot, right then. He smiled and stepped inside, closed the door with a thought. Rodney was right in front of him now, his head tilted so he could hold John's gaze. John put his hand on Rodney's arm.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm stupid."
Rodney swallowed and his eyes were really dark. "This is supposed to be news?" he said, and then John had both hands on Rodney's face and he bent his head and...Rodney put his hand on John's chest and held him at arm's length.
John blinked. "This would be the kissing part," he explained to Rodney.
Rodney snorted. "No way. I'm not kissing anybody until you explain to me why you'd feel more comfortable discussing your sexuality with some queen from the soft sciences, and your idiotic lughead Lieutenant, and Christ--a whole crowd of your subordinates than you would with me. I mean, I know I'm not the easiest guy to talk to, Major, but I thought we were friends."
"Rodney," John said.
"Good friends, even, in as much as a person with my admittedly limited capacity for human interaction can have a--"
John rolled his eyes, pushed Rodney's restraining hand out of the way and pressed his mouth to Rodney's. Rodney kept talking for a minute, muffledly, his hand pushing at John's shoulder, but John just tightened his hold on Rodney's face and kept right on kissing him. After a while, Rodney made a breathless noise and kind of melted against him, his hands sliding around John's shoulders to his back. John leaned closer. Rodney held him harder. John lifted his mouth away and pressed his lips to Rodney's cheek instead.
Rodney took a breath. "Oh," he said. "Wow." He stroked a hand up John's back and pushed his fingers into the hair at the nape of John's neck, and John kissed the place where Rodney's ear met his jaw. Rodney let his head fall back against the wall. John licked his neck.
"You were the last person I could tell," he said against Rodney's wet skin.
Rodney's chest moved against his. "Yeah," he said. "Okay. I get that."
"It wasn't like I didn't want to tell--"
Rodney's fingers tightened in John's hair. "Yes, yes, all right. Kissing part now."
And John grinned against Rodney's neck and lifted his head again, and this time when their lips met, nobody said anything for a good long while.