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[ Santa in a Stetson ]
by kHo

John Sheppard loves his job. At least, that's what he tells everyone.

"What's not to love," he says when asked, with a lazy smirk. "I get up at two, play some golf, come in at six, and serve alcohol to people who tip me well. Isn't that everyone's dream job?"

The Tavern on the Green, which is a kick and a half being that it's located in the desert, is sixty miles north-northwest of Las Vegas and twenty miles south-southeast of Groom Lake. John gave up a long time ago trying to figure out if the bar did so well being only an hour out from Vegas or being the nearest watering hole for conspiracy-theorists thinking they're going to sneak into Area 51.

It's a ramshackle bar, hard worn, the ceiling tiles cracking and the wooden floors coming up at the joins in places. The lights flicker on and off at random intervals with an audible hum. John keeps it clean though, the bathroom stalls and the floor, the bar and the fixtures. He does the best with what he has.

The dry heat of Nevada has a way of making lonely people lonelier and John's not immune to that, but it also has a way of making people buy a hell of a lot of alcohol. He figures it all washes out in the end when he turns his pockets inside out at the end of the night and always winds up with over $100, even on a Tuesday.

Not that the money stays in his pocket. His rent comes first, his car second, and his gambling habit third. It's not always that order, but he always means for it to be in that order.

It's not that he hates his job—he doesn't. He just doesn't love it. It's not satisfying, it's not intellectually stimulating, and the company's not very good.

The music is, though. The jukebox belts out songs by people like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride, and Hank Williams Jr., with a little Mississippi Fred MacDowell, RL Burnside, Janis Joplin, and John Lee Hooker thrown in for good measure. It's the reason John decided to work there. On the nights when he feels like he might go out of his mind with the banality of being the guy that facilitates other people's drowning of their sorrows, he closes his eyes and lets the music wash over him. Music gets him by better than anything else ever has.

There's Bob in the corner who always gets three fingers of whiskey served five times over the course of the three hours he's there. He's there every day, like clockwork, from seven until ten. He's got a wife at home, four kids, and a job he hates. He tells John that he's in love with his secretary, who's fucking his best friend, and that his best friend's wife and his wife are also best friends.

Steve comes on Tuesdays, gets shitfaced on shooters, and gets shot down by every pretty blonde he hits on.

Todd comes on Wednesdays and Saturdays and fucks guys half his age in the bathroom, sometimes three a night. When he leaves, he leers at John and says, "One day, that'll be you, son," and John's gotten used to the feeling of nausea that passes over him at the thought that one day he's going hate his life enough that it will be.

Sandra comes in only rarely, and he flirts with her over her martinis and slips her extra olives. He loves the way she sticks her tongue in the hole of the olive and then blushes as she eats the pimento. He thinks it's endearing that she continues to do it, that she wants him bad enough to mime cocksucking on an olive even though it embarrasses her. It's not sexy in the slightest bit, but John just likes it all the more for that fact. She's got a kid who keeps getting locked up in the state prison and a husband who knocks her around. John's almost positive the only thing that makes her smile is thinking he might fuck her. He thinks he might, too, if she ever actually asked him.

There's a military contingent that comes in on Thursdays, loud and rowdy and drunk, and familiar in a way that makes John ache for his days in the service. Cadman and Lorne make out in the corner after her fifth vodka tonic and his sixth beer, and Ford blushes and talks to John because Ford's their ride home. John hates it because it reminds him of all the people he's lost but he wouldn't tell Ford to scram for anything. The kid's too sweet.

"Do you have anything that won't make me want to kill myself in the morning, but will get me stupid, rip-roaring, forget-my-name-for-the-foreseeable-future drunk?"

John stops wiping the counter down and turns to see the man scowling at him from the other end of the bar. "Well," John says, tucking the damp rag into his back pocket and walking over to the guy. "Somebody's had a bad day."

"Aren't you fucking observant," the man grumbles, slamming a twenty onto the bar. "Something potent. Stomach-lining corroding potent."

John rolls his eyes and pulls out his stoutest whiskey, pouring four fingers and sliding it across the bar. "Don't come in here much anymore, McKay," he says, smiling and folding his arms across his chest. "You're my favorite curmudgeon; I was starting to miss you."

"Yes, well, for a time there I was getting laid regularly, whereas now I am decidedly not because women are the devil with cute asses and pert little breasts designed to suck you in with some sort of weird, fucked up, Pavlovian/Oedipal, knee-jerk response that renders heretofore impossibly intelligent men into weak-kneed, sex-obsessed, blithering idiots."

Rodney McKay is by far the loudest, rudest, most obnoxious patron John's had in the past five years that he's been tending bar in this shithole. He's also the only person whose tales of woe don't make John want to shoot himself in the head just so he doesn't have to listen to them anymore. Not that the tales are less desperate or less depressing, but the way in which Rodney tells them makes John laugh like he hasn't in years.

John purses his lips and thinks for a moment. "Katie?"

Rodney glares at him. "Do not utter that name in my presence," he says, raising a finger to point and waving it around threateningly, "ever again."

John smirked. "To be fair, you knew it wasn't going to work before you fucked her the first time. She's the botanist, right?"

There is probably no detail of his life Rodney won't share with anyone willing to listen. As such, over the past two years since Rodney started coming through, John has learned that he is deathly allergic to citrus, prone to hypoglycemia, the smartest man on this continent—if not all of them—and that his parents hated him for interrupting their plans. John knows a lot about every one of his regulars, but Rodney's the only one he actively bothers to remember.

Such as the fact that he claims to hate peanuts but will eat them non-stop if they're in front of him, so John shoves the bowl over to Rodney and grins as Rodney says, "Ugh, peanuts" and starts shoveling them into his mouth.

He refills Bob's scotch a final time and tells Ford he needs to learn how to say No, I won't be your backburner car ride so you guys can get drunk and make out, and checks the bathroom to make sure Todd didn't leave his disgusting used condoms all over the floor again.

When he gets back, Rodney's two fingers into his four and looking forlornly into the bowl of empty peanuts. John replaces them with a fresh bowl and grabs himself a mug full of Bud on tap. "So," he says, reaching over, grabbing a peanut, and popping it into his mouth. "What stupid thing did you say to get yourself kicked out of her bed?"

"I proposed to her."

John chokes on the peanut and Ford catapults over the bar to deliver a completely unnecessary Heimlich. "Jesus, sorry—thanks, kid, I'm fine," he says after he's elbowed his way out of Ford's deathlike grasp, still coughing. "You... proposed?"

Rodney smiles sadly, and the way his eyes look, bruised and soft and bewildered instead of flinty and hard and perceptive, makes John's heart hurt a little. "I know. Me? Married? That's what I said."

John takes his rag out, wipes away the peanut shells that are rapidly accumulating on the bar, and frowns in confusion. "What?"

"I bought the ring," Rodney says, pushing his glass over to John for a refill. His eyes flicker up to look at John and then down and away. John pours him a fresh one and places the dirty glass in the sink, watching him carefully. "I was going to do it. Something happened, though, and... there was a situation. I asked her, but as I asked her, I realized I wasn't ready, and well... Apparently, you can't ask somebody to marry you and then expect them to go back to just dating."

"Sorry, buddy," John says, and then, because Rodney deserves it, he reaches below the bar and pulls out the bar of chocolate he saves for when Rodney's hypoglycemia kicks in. "Here."

Rodney barks out a laugh and takes it. "Death by drink or death by chocolate," he says, ripping open the package as one side of his mouth lifts in a smirk. "I like those choices."

At closing time, John kicks everyone but Rodney out of the bar while he sweeps the floor and gets the mop out. As he's wiping the bar and tables down, and refilling his stock, he listens half-heartedly as Rodney bemoans the loss of regular orgasms and soft breasts to rest his head against as he falls asleep at night.

When he puts Rodney in a cab to take him home, Rodney doesn't loosen his grip on John's shirt immediately. "Would you come home with me and keep my bed warm," he slurs, looking pleadingly up at John, mouth twisted down in a miserable line.

John snorts a soft laugh and ruffles Rodney's hair. "That's what your cat's for, McKay," he says, and disentangles Rodney's fingers from his shirt.

The thing is, though, that John wants badly to say yes.


About once a month, John rents a jet and takes to the skies for a few hours. He rents for an hour, but as long as there's no backlog, they let him keep it up for as long as the fuel will last.

He flies and watches the browns and greens and blues beneath and above and before him and feels truly, truly free. The happiness it gives him usually lasts him for at least 48 hours.

There are times he considers giving it up, though, because if the high he experiences for those 48 hours is heaven, then the lows he experiences every hour after that is hell for sure.


John grew up on a ranch riding horses and learned at a very young age that rich people suck. They're hard to please, they talk around what they're actually saying, and they think their money guarantees them a place in heaven. Or maybe that's just his folks' way of being; he's never been sure.

His brother, Dave, was his hero when he was a kid because he was older and wiser and didn't get pissed when John tagged along. It changed as they got older into a pissing contest of who was the better son. John forfeited the game at every chance he could because Dave didn't understand that John wasn't interested in being the best son. Not if it meant giving up everything he wanted out of life just because their father didn't like John's choices.

At their father's funeral, Dave hugged John for the first time since John was sixteen and said that it was a great loss. John had nodded his head and agreed even though he hadn't spoken to his father in five years. He wasn't losing anything at all except the loud, disapproving silence that hung over his head every time Father's Day rolled around and he struggled with whether or not he should give the old man a call. He never did.

"Explain to me again how you go from being a Major with a promising career in the Air Force to tending bar in a ramshackle little tavern in Nevada," Dave demands on the phone when John calls him for a loan.

John sighs. "Dave."

"I'm going to loan you the money, John. I just want you to explain to me why you insist on pissing your life away when you know you have a job waiting for you whenever you want it. You shouldn't be paying monthly rent on an apartment when you could be living at the manor."

John rolls his eyes. "I don't want to live at the manor, Dave. I didn't want to live at the manor when I lived at the manor."

"You know, Dad left you plenty of money. All you have to do is sign the papers."

"I don't want his fucking money, Dave, I just need to borrow a thousand so I can pay this guy off and he can get off my back, okay?"

The silence is palpable over the staticky phone line; John contemplates hanging up and blaming it on interference. However, Stephan's right hand man had promised him a lot more where that came from when he'd broken John's left pinky and kicked him repeatedly with the shiny tips of his cowboy boots. He really needs the money.

"Will you come for the Fourth of July? We'd love to have you."

John's not sure if it's guilt or Dave's wife, but he thinks Dave's been trying really hard since their father died to have some sort of relationship with him. He also thinks it's a dollar short and a few years too late.

"If I do, will you wire the money to me?"

"For christ's sake, John, fine, fuck it," Dave says and John grins. Dave's always failed at holding that temper in check and it's one John's favorite things about him. When he'd wrecked his father's Porsche, he'd only gotten a cold, steely glare and a stern, hour-long lecture on the importance of being responsible and respecting other people's property from his father. He much prefers Dave's straightforward, knee-jerk curses.

"Maybe I'll come," John says as a peace offering, taking a deep breath. It turns into a hiss because his ribs really hurt, and he can taste blood in his mouth from nearly biting through his lip as the guy's boots had left marks on his ribcage. He clenches his fists and pushes past the pain. "But probably not for the Fourth; I've already got plans this weekend. Maybe some other weekend."

"I'll add on another $500 to the $1000 for expenses; just don't piss it away, John," Dave says, and he hangs up before John can say thanks.

He sits in the hospital waiting room for four hours and reads the trashy novel the teenager had left behind in her seat when she'd gone back to the treatment area. John's already got more than $5,000 in unpaid hospital bills, but he thinks his rib is broken and not just bruised, and his pinky is slowly turning purple.

The doctor, when he finally sees her, is a pretty, perky blonde with the name Jennifer Keller written in tiny cursive on a name badge. He holds his hand away from her when she reaches out for it. "I'm pretty sure you're not even old enough to drink in my bar," he says, looking at her suspiciously.

She rolls her eyes and laughs. "Mr. Sheppard, I'm twenty-five. I can get drunk, and I can set your pinky just fine."

He reluctantly allows her to take his hand. "But not at the same time, right?"

She looks at him and cocks her head to the side. "Not always."

He laughs and relaxes. He tenses up again when she sets his pinky, manipulating it back into place and putting a splint over it. She's quick and efficient at it, and it doesn't hurt as much as he thinks it should have.

"Oh, that's some nasty bruising, there," she says, looking at his chest as he lifts up his shirt. "And scarring," she says, raising an eyebrow at him as her finger traces the old scar of a stray bullet from a lifetime ago. "Are you part of some sort of Fight Club thing?"

He snorts. "No. Just pissed off the wrong guy." He clears his throat and gets ready for a fight. "Hey, ya know, they're most likely broken so maybe we can skip the X-ray and just go straight to the wrapping and the pain meds? I can't really... afford the X-rays." He can't afford any of it, but doesn't need to pad his failing credit score any more than necessary.

She runs her hands over his torso, pausing, pushing, gently and then firmer. She taps her hands over his sternum and listens with her stethoscope. Looking around, she takes out a small gameboy console looking thing and waves it in front of him, and he wonders at the beep-beep-beeping of it.

"You have one broken rib and a second one bruised." Rising up, she looks at him grimly. "Maybe time to stop pissing people off?"

He frowns. "You're not going to argue with me? What if I punctured a lung?"

She smiles. "You didn't." She lifts the beeping device and waves it around. "This is a... uh. New technology. Kind of in the testing process. But it works well enough." She winks and puts her hand on his shoulder. "No charge."

A nurse comes in twenty minutes later with a prescription for twenty Vicodin and discharge orders that tell him to rest.

At home, he takes two pills and passes out on his couch to reruns of MASH. He dreams of Afghanistan: dirt and dust and blood and dead bodies all around him.


John's apartment is nice, if bare. It's 1500 square feet of nothingness. There's a couch and a coffee table, a kitchen table, a television, a stereo system, a Wii console, and a bed. No pictures, no photographs, no flowers, no decorations. Maybe it's bleed-over from his time in the Air Force and the fact that attachment to things rather than ideals didn't really have a place there, or maybe it's the fact that John has no desire at all to venture into anything resembling a Pier One.

Scratch that, there is one thing he's attached to: his Johnny Cash poster has followed him from town to town, assignment to assignment, apartment to apartment. It's wrinkled and worn and yellowing from age, and sometimes, John lies on his bed, listens to Johnny, smokes a few cigarettes, and stares at that poster for hours.

John worships that poster like it's his own personal Jesus because nobody but Johnny knows all of his secrets; nobody but Johnny's stuck around through John's highs and lows and never once asked him for anything in return.


Saturday nights have a cowboy theme so John wears tight jeans, a big belt buckle that says, "Ride a Cowboy" on it in obnoxious red cursive letters, and a faded, brown Stetson. He only comes out from behind the bar to make the customers happy, replacing the snack bowls as an excuse. It's embarrassing and stupid but the patrons love it. It's worth it to keep them coming back and he always gets tipped well if he lets them slip the money in his pockets themselves. It's always the longest night of the week and he leaves feeling miserable and touch-sensitive and, more often than not, has to jerk off in the car before he drives home.

On this Saturday night, he feels like utter shit, slow and stupid and doped up on Vicodin, and he has bags under his eyes. He pulls on his too-tight jeans with holes in the ass, lowers his Stetson over his eyes, and trudges into the bar at ten past six.

He can't bend over and he can't twist but he manages to make it through half the night without taking another pill. He's got a few hundred dollars burning holes in his ass, and he's been groped by nine women and two men by the time Rodney shows up.

Rodney grabs his wrist as he passes him his scotch and looks sharply at him. "What the fuck did you do to yourself?"

John doesn't feel like having this conversation for the fifteenth time tonight. He doesn't feel like talking to Rodney. He doesn't feel like hiding the fact that he's lonely and horny and has wanted Rodney since the first time Rodney had called him an idiot with a tone that resembled something like affection and flashed that brilliant 100-watt smile at him.

"Can't really chat tonight," John says, gesturing at the full bar and then at the loud, loud music. David Allen Coe's 'You Never Called Me By My Name' almost always puts John in good spirits for it's sheer twanginess, but tonight it's just what's on the jukebox. "Busy."

He can feel Rodney's eyes on him the entire night as hands slip inside his pockets and women hang on his neck and leave sloppy, wet, unwanted kisses on his cheek. He pretends to laugh and pay attention, and he bats his eyes at a few college girls. As he slips behind the bar, one of them cups her hand over his half-hard cock and waggles her eyebrows at him. He thinks about letting her fuck him in the bathroom but then someone orders a beer. The next time he sees her, she's making out with one of the guys she came with.

At three o'clock, he locks the door behind him and turns around to see Rodney leaning against his car with his arms folded over his chest looking seriously pissed off.

"What?" he asks, sighing. He doesn't look at Rodney as he puts the key in to unlock his door.

"Who did this to you?"

John laughs bitterly. "You gonna defend my honor, Rodney?"

Rodney looks at him in such a way that it makes John feels very, very small. It's in moments like this that John knows he's got it fairly bad for Rodney because condescension normally turns his gut cold, but on Rodney, somehow it's hot. "It's been a while since you got your ass kicked. I'd thought you'd smartened up."

John grits his teeth and sits down in the bucket seat, ignoring the way his ribs are aching and his pinky is itching. "I got jumped, all right? I'm taking care of it."

"Why don't you just tell me his name," Rodney says, blocking John from closing the door. "I'll make sure he never operates in this town again. I can do that, you know. I'll make him fucking disappear."

John looks away and tries not to feel touched. "You think you can kick his ass? I'm trained in ground combat, McKay, and he got the better of me."

"You were once trained in ground combat; now you're a bartender at a piece of shit bar and don't take care of yourself at all." Rodney says nastily, and John's fists clench by his side. "My sister could kick your ass."

Rodney continues to stare down at him, anger sparking in his eyes, and John fights the urge to apologize to him.

"Well, she'll have to get in line," John grouses, reaching over and shoving Rodney out of the way. "I said I'm handling it," he says, and shuts the door with more force than necessary.

He turns the key in his car and nothing happens. He turns it again, and still nothing happens. Of course. Perfect.

"Something wrong?" Rodney asks, mouth quirking up.

John narrows his eyes at him. "What did you do?"

"Me," Rodney asks, eyes widening in a terrible facsimile of innocence. "What makes you think I did something?"

John opens the door and pops the hood, walking over to the front of the car and staring down at the engine. "What did you take?"

"I don't do my fighting with my brawn, John, I do it with my brain," Rodney says, walking over to his old, beat up, barely chugging along Taurus. "Can I offer you a ride home?"

John walks over to it and barely manages not to rip the door off its hinges. "Rodney, fix my fucking car."

Rodney turns on his car and feigns deafness.

John grinds his teeth. "Are you really gonna leave me stranded here?"

Rodney levels him with a calculating look. "Are you really going to continue to be a moron and bet your livelihood on horses?"

John stands there, staring at him. "What?"

"I know people," Rodney says. "I made inquiries."

John's hands flail. "When, tonight? Jesus, Rodney, what gives you the right to go digging into my personal life!"

"Well, six months ago when you showed up to work with your face broken, I got a little curious," Rodney says, waving his hand impatiently. "Are you getting in or do you want to walk home?"

"Rodney!" John smacks the roof of Rodney's car. "Fix my engine!"

"I'm sure you could hitchhike if you wanted," Rodney says flippantly, gesturing to John. "You're like a walking wet dream in those jeans, especially with that hat on. You'd make a lonely housewife on her way home from Vegas a very happy lady."

John, despite himself, feels his cock twitch at the fact that Rodney just called him a wet dream. This is what getting felt up all night does to him; it makes him horny with nowhere to go with it. "Please," he says through clenched teeth. "Just fix my car."

"Oh, fine," Rodney says, turning his car off and stalking angrily over to John's, fishing in his pocket for a pair of pliers. "There," he says, two minutes later. "Good as new."

"Hey," John says, reaching out to catch Rodney's arm as he starts back towards his car. "I'm okay, all right? I'm taking care of it."

Rodney frowns at him and shakes his head. "Well, why don't you take care of yourself in the meantime," he says. He gets into his car and drives away, kicking up dust as he leaves.

John gets halfway home before he has to pull over and unzip his jeans because being pissed off and turned on at the same time is his default setting when it comes to Rodney McKay. He runs his hand down his cock and pictures Rodney's hard, angry eyes. Up, and pictures the way Rodney's wide mouth would look wrapped around his cock instead of a bottle of beer. Down and up his hand goes, and when he comes he hears 'you're like a walking wet dream' in his head.

He always hates himself the most on Saturday nights.


John sleeps with women but he falls in love with men, and he mostly only sleeps with women because he doesn't have the heart to say no and watch their faces fall. The thing is he never sees it coming until it's too late and they've already got his pants undone and their hands on his cock.

The first boy John fell in love with was Tim Callen at the end of tenth grade. Tim was two years older, a senior, and ridiculously beautiful while John was awkward, lanky, and shy. Tim was John's best friend's older brother and gave John a ride home one day after school when John missed the bus.

Tim dropped Jacob off at home first, saying it was easier that way, and he had plans after school anyway, so he'd just drop John off last. John didn't point out that his house was actually on a more direct route than the one Tim was taking and Jacob didn't notice.

"You in a hurry to get home or you wanna run some errands with me?" Tim had asked, and grinned at John in a way that made his stomach do a confusing little flipping dance that John was only later able to label as arousal.

It was a stick-shift pickup truck and when Tim switched from second gear to third, his hand brushed over John's knee. Tim laughed and said, "Whoops, mistook your knee for the shifter." He did it again, though, this time leaving his hand there for ten excruciatingly long minutes that left John frozen in place and afraid to breathe, unsure if he wanted to yank the hand off of his knee or wanted it to stay.

The first stop was the library. As Tim sprinted in to return a book, John stayed in the truck, feeling flustered and panicked, part of him wanting to bolt and the other part of him realizing that he was sporting a semi-wood.

Then Tim got back and threw him a wink and John got hard all the way. He couldn't concentrate on anything Tim was saying about the rest of the stops he had to make because he was too busy freaking out about being hard for his best friend's brother who, John was 90% certain, was flirting with him. It went up to 100% when Tim's hand landed back on his leg, this time on his thigh halfway between his knee and his hip. It made John's hard on twitch in a way it never had done, not even when Susan Tillmer let him feel her up.

When Tim pulled up to John's empty house, his parents away in Italy this month and Dave off at college, John was struggling to breathe normally, hugging his arms to his chest, and avoiding looking at him. Tim's hand slid up and up though, so something must have given him away.

John finally looked at him, wide-eyed and practically hyperventilating, and Tim threaded his fingers through John's hair. "You didn't even know, did you?"

Tim had leaned over and kissed him then, tongue in John's mouth before John could even fully wrap his head around what was happening. It was like something exploded in his chest, a loud resounding 'oh' in his head where things shifted around inside of him and left him feeling baffled and yet grounded at the same time.

He had his first real, mind-blowingly hot, bone melting orgasm sitting in that truck with Tim's hand in his pants and his tongue in John's mouth.

In the summer between tenth and eleventh grades, he made out with Tim fourteen times; Tim gave him three blowjobs, and John jerked Tim off ten times. Then Tim left for college in New York and never called him. John pined for him for two years until he went off to college and fell in lust with his calculus professor.

The first girl John fell in love with was his mother. He thinks he should have known a long time before he did that he was gay.


After he pays his rent, pays the bills, and pays his bookie, he has $300 left over. He puts $200 down on a horse named The Mad Scientist, and thinks, "Fuck you, Rodney," as he does it.

He cruises out to the driving range, singing along to Johnny Cash. "And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert."

He hits shags for four hours. They don't really go anywhere because he can't move the way he needs to in order to put any momentum behind them without crying out in pain. But then, his brain whites out. He just feels the club in his hand, the wind at his back, and the great wide-open sky above him.

Turns out the damned horse actually wins.


Rodney starts coming in on a regular basis again, and John stops being pissed off at him for nosing into his personal life. Not that he lets Rodney off the hook easily or anything.

"Well, if it isn't my own personal stalker."

"Oh, ha, ha," Rodney says, already mindlessly shoveling peanuts into his mouth. "Can I get a Killian's? Do you have Killian's here?"

John pops the lid off of the bottle of Irish beer and slides it to Rodney, squinting at him. "Why bother to ask? Apparently you know everything there is to know about everything." He quirks an eyebrow at him. "You mean you didn't hire a private dick to report back to you when my beer deliveries arrive? You're slipping, Rodney."

Rodney frowns, and stops chewing. "All right," he says, letting out a gust of air. "I know, okay? I know it's kind of creepy to have you tailed, but can I just defend myself a little here? I was concerned for your wellbeing."

John's eyes bug out of his head, just about. "Tailed? You had me tailed?"

Rodney flushes slightly and looks away. "Just once... or five times. Your nose was broken in two places!" He waves a finger at John's nose. "Two!"

John sighs, leaning on the bar, and ignores the way his ribs protest. "Rodney. That's scary, you realize that, right?"

Rodney grins. "I know. I actually could make people disappear if you wanted me to."

John grins back. "How? Is one of your mysterious Area 51 experiments a disappearing ray?"

Rodney's grin disappears. "Who says I work at Area 51?"

John rolls his eyes. "The most brilliant guy on this continent, and probably any other, hanging out in a bar in the middle of the desert, twenty miles away from Area 51. And you're a scientist." He shrugs. "Inductive reasoning."

Rodney smiles and props his head in his hand. "Why is it so hot that you know it's inductive instead of deductive?"

John bites his lip and feels a little thrill travel through him. He's certain that Rodney has no idea that he's flirting with John when he does it, thinks it's more that Rodney just doesn't have any kind of filter whatsoever, and says every little thought he has. It's the best and worst part about Rodney.

"Because you're a freak and you react to someone showing a modicum of intelligence like it's an aphrodisiac," John says, and doesn't resist the urge to lower his voice playfully in response to Rodney's inadvertent flirting. It's fun to rattle the guy, if nothing else.

Rodney's grin widens and his eyebrows wag. "Modicum."

John laughs. "Jesus," he says, and makes his way around the bar refilling drinks and thinking up other interesting facts that he can tease Rodney with later.

"I can though," Rodney says later, when John is satisfied that everyone's drinks have been filled and peanuts re-stocked. "There is no computer I can't hack into, and that includes the Nevada State Police. I'll have your bookie deported."

John laughs. "He's not Mexican."

Rodney shrugs. "You think that matters? You have no idea how high my security clearance goes."

John leans forward and taps his fingers on the bar in front of Rodney. "If your security clearance is that high, I don't think you're supposed to be going around telling people about it."

Rodney leans forward, too, and looks a little chagrined. "Well, you're right there, but I'm a little drunk, and also, you won't tell anyone. Plus, if you figured out about Area 51, you could have inferred I probably have a reasonably high security clearance."

John doesn't back up, even though he's only two inches away from Rodney's face and positively itching to kiss him. "You really would, wouldn't you," he asks, wondering when being stalked turned out to be a powerful aphrodisiac in and of itself.

Rodney nods.

John finally leans back when leaning the last inch or so to kiss Rodney becomes less of a possibility and more of a probability. "I paid him off," he says finally, clearing his throat. "And actually, I made a bet inspired by you."

Rodney's grin fades and his chin goes up, hands slicing through the air. "Oh, you are a Class A moron, you know that? You're in debt to the point that you get beaten within an inch of your life, and when you pay it off, you make another one!"

John ducks his head, laughing. "Not exactly an inch of my life, Rodney, just a broken rib."

"Broken rib!" Rodney looks positively stricken.

John waves his hand and shrugs. "I'm trying to make a point, Rodney. I bet $200 on a horse named The Mad Scientist," he says, grinning. "And won $2000."

Rodney laughs, shaking his head. "You think of me as a mad scientist?"

"Well, you're a scientist," John says with a shrug. "And you were really pissed at me."


John laughs. "Stalker."


Sandra shows up that Wednesday with a scratch on her cheek and a hand-shaped bruise around her neck. John pours her a martini, puts four olives in it, and thinks about following her home that night and murdering her husband in his sleep.

Rodney's there that night but John hardly gets a chance to talk to him because he's too busy telling Sandra lame jokes to see if he can get her to laugh.

After he closes, John lies on the couch in his den and idly watches old football tapes. He wonders when exactly it stopped being exciting to watch Flutie throw the Hail Mary to end all Hail Marys. He thinks it's probably around the same time it stopped being exciting to wake up in the morning.

He watches Weird Science and it's still funny, if a little bit lame. He thinks about Rodney and knows he wouldn't be surprised if Rodney told him he could make a computer simulation come to life too.

He watches The Princess Bride and falls asleep in the middle of the sword fight. He dreams of he and Rodney traipsing through the woods, arguing and bickering and fighting off giant rat-type things. When he wakes up, it feels real enough that he almost thinks it's a memory rather than a dream.

He watches The Princess Bride again from the point he dozed off because he loves the movie. He still laughs at everything Inigo Montoya says, and he still thinks that the best speech in any movie is Carey Elwes' delivery of the rules of To the Pain.

There's a few people he'd love to deliver that speech to and he thinks he'd start with Sandra's husband.


Saturday rolls around again and John pulls on a tight, black t-shirt, a belt buckle that says, "Free Ride," and pulls on his Stetson. His ribs still hurt but they're manageable and John forgoes the Vicodin because he's probably already an alcoholic; he doesn't need to add drug addict to it.

When Rodney shows up that night, John is thrown by the way his eyes roam slowly down John's body before Rodney realizes that John's watching him. "Oh, hey," Rodney says with a little wave that reminds John of a five year old.

He smiles so easily at John—as if he wasn't just undressing him with his eyes—that John wonders if he didn't just imagine it.

The bar's only been open for three hours and six women have already felt him up. He's regretting the tightness of his black t-shirt until he notices the way Rodney's staring at his chest, his long fingers absently stroking slowly up and down the neck of his beer.

Third time's a charm, John thinks when he comes out from behind the bar and leans against Rodney in the pretense of reaching for a bottle as he passes by him. Rodney's back stiffens and his hands twitch on the bar. John grins and feels dopey and high from the thought that maybe, just maybe, Rodney's just a little bit interested.

It's not until then that he realizes he chose the tight, black t-shirt for Rodney.

He flirts openly with Rodney that night. Touches him as much as possible. Winks at him when he refills his drinks. Leans in close and talks only loud enough for Rodney to hear. He grins when Rodney fidgets in his chair, feels warm all over at the way Rodney flushes and ducks his head and jumps at John's touch.

By the end of the night, John's so achingly hard he doesn't even turn on the engine of his car. He has his jeans unbuttoned and his hand down his pants practically before the door closes. He squeezes his eyes shut and thinks about shoving Rodney up against the wall one night, dropping to his knees and sucking Rodney down and listening to Rodney babble and babble and babble as his fist clenches in John's hair.

He comes so hard that night, he feels dizzy and has to wait a good three minutes before getting his car on the road. Waylon Jennings' 'I've Always Been Crazy' comes on and he grins the whole way home.


John sucked a man's cock for the first time when he was seventeen. It was at one of his parents' parties, and it was one of his father's friends. John had always hated those stupid parties, his Mom forcing him into a stupid little bow tie and reminding him to smile and act as if he was having a good time.

It was the beginning of twelfth grade and John was dating the head cheerleader, Monica Durante. She was blonde, stupid, and annoying, but all of his friends were dating stupid and annoying girls. John hadn't exactly ever asked her to be his girlfriend in the first place. She just started holding his hand in public and inviting herself along with him and he never really told her to go away.

Scott was the only one of his father's friends he'd ever really liked. He wasn't as old as his father, only about thirty, and he had sandy blonde hair and a nice smile. He always talked to John as if John was an actual person instead of just his father's reckless, disrespectful, rebellious teenaged son.

Scott found John in the stables with Monica, his hand up her shirt and her hand down his pants, and Monica had run off like a bat out of hell. John was more than a little drunk, more than a little horny, and he'd stood up to tell Scott off and hadn't bothered to zip up his jeans.

Then he'd noticed the way Scott's eyes lingered on his unzipped jeans and took a moment to study the way his hands were hanging loosely by his sides, the way his mouth was slightly open, the way his eyes were unfocused when he finally met John's gaze.

John had knelt before Scott, looked up at him, and put his hands on Scott's hips. "Promise you won't tell?" he'd asked.

Scott blinked down at him and shook his head. "I... no, of course not."

The taste was odd, unfamiliar, and he didn't like it at all. Scott's hands in his hair were gentle but his hips bucked and John gagged more than once. It made him hard, though, harder than he'd ever been with Monica, the way Scott's breath caught in his throat, the way Scott's voice was soft and stilted as he said, "You're so fucking beautiful, John, jesus," just before he came.

John's heart pounded and there was a rushing in his ears. He was so hard it hurt. As he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth to get the acrid taste of semen out, he felt an oncoming panic attack and hated Tim with every fiber of his being for making John realize that he wasn't straight and not sticking around long enough to help him figure it out.

Scott reached for John's head as he rose, but John ducked him, furious at himself and feeling simultaneously turned on beyond belief and sick to his stomach. He turned tail and ran as fast as he could out of that barn, off of their property, and three miles further until he reached the riverbank and sat down by the old oak tree where he and Dave fished.

He never saw Scott again after that and he started to think that sex meant people left you. That thought never really went away, and the evidence John collects after that only seems to further prove it, so he starts being the one who leaves first.


Rodney doesn't show up again until Thursday and John's so relieved, he almost drops Cadman's Vodka Tonic when Rodney walks in two hours before closing.

"Hey," Rodney says, settling down at the bar and looking uncomfortable.

John curses himself for flirting so much with Rodney Saturday night if this is what it does to him. "Missed you the past couple of days," he says, adopting a neutral tone. "I was getting used to having you come in every night."

Rodney looks at him, eyes widening a bit and mouth turning down in a frown.

John frowns back at him and leans forward. "Something wrong, Rodney?"

"Uh, no?" Rodney fidgets some more and then lets out an annoyed huff. "It's just, uh, well."

John holds up a finger and hands Rodney a Killian's before walking around the bar and making sure everyone's drinks and peanuts are filled. RL Burnside sings, "I ain't Tip-Toe Tom, I'm a tell you straight," and John pulls himself together.

He comes back and sits on the stool next to Rodney, knocking his elbow into Rodney's side. Rodney looks at him with those blue eyes, and John feels like he's falling into them. "I'm all yours."

Rodney blinks and tilts his head to the side. "I find you incredibly, frustratingly intriguing."

John laughs and feels his chest swell a bit. "Okay," he says slowly.

"And I'm a scientist," Rodney says. John smiles because Rodney's using that tone of voice he has when he's ramping up to a good long rant and those are always entertaining. That it's about him only makes it better. "And more observant than any ten people, except when it comes to human interactions, and yet I find myself unable to not pay attention to you. You're gorgeous, and miserable, and usually that means nothing to me because I'm a busy man, and miserable myself, and I don't have time for other people's bullshit, but for some reason all I want to do is fix it and make you smile, so explain that to me."

John looks at him and feels floored. Flabbergasted. Rocked off of his feet. "I'm not miserable," he says because he has to concentrate on something, and Rodney's mouth is too distracting.

"You really are," Rodney says, and John watches the way Rodney's mouth turns down, pensive and thoughtful and unhappy. It's incredibly touching, and it makes John want to get up and walk away.

"I'm not..." John frowns, tapping his fingers on the bar a few times. John's not used to this softer, gentler Rodney. He's used to caustic and nasty and rude; he knows how to handle it. This guy in front of him, he's not used to him, and it's really taking him off his game. "I'm not that miserable."

"I'm not so much concerned with that, except for how I am," Rodney says. John can feel his eyes boring into the side of John's face but he can't look at him. "I'm not used to caring about other people's happiness. Your happiness, to be specific, and not to put too fine a point on it, but it's really kind of painful for me to watch you whore yourself out on Saturdays and smile and pretend you like it when you so clearly don't."

John frowns and leans back. "I don't whore myself."

"You don't," Rodney says, snorting disbelievingly. "You mean you don't make yourself look sexy as fuck on purpose and let anyone who wants to grope you? Because while I believe you may not know that you're as sexy as you are all of the time, I do not buy for a second that you don't purposefully put on tight jeans and know exactly how hot you look in that hat."

John jerks his head to look at him. "You just called me sexy, like, five times."

"I suppose I did, yes. Although, it was three times, actually. Maybe you're not as good at math as I thought." Rodney laughs. "Also, I've been trying to flirt with you for over a week now and, seeing as how you seem shocked that I find you sexy, I'm obviously failing miserably at it."

John blinks at him. "I... I don't... Why do I never see these things coming?"

"I really don't know. I'm not subtle at all, and I've been all but throwing myself at you for the past week once I realized that I wanted to kiss you." Rodney laughs, shrugging. "It was the damn cowboy hat. Or the ass-hugging jeans, I'm not really sure. And I'm not good at reading the signs either, but it seemed to me like you were maybe interested, too, because I could have sworn the other night you were about to kiss me—"

John feels frozen to the spot. "Rodney, I—"

"—Which, I should have known, was too good to be true," Rodney says, his hands moving distractingly. "You're entirely too gorgeous to slum it with the likes of me, but I felt a certain amount of electricity that usually only happens when two people are of the same mind. Perhaps, my sensors were off because you were being smart and that always derails me; I'm a sucker for brains, and—"


Rodney just continues on, fingers flying through the air as if he's making a PowerPoint presentation. "I really can't be blamed for wishful thinking because your mouth is just amazingly sexy, and have you ever just wanted to suck someone's cock just to do it? Just to see what they look like when they come? Because I feel like that about you, like you wouldn't even have to do anything, just let me—"

Just like that, John is rock hard, his head is swimming, and he's almost sure a stiff breeze would make him come. This puts every Saturday free groping session to shame. "Rodney," he says, his voice raw and choked.

"—and clearly I've overstepped my bounds and said too much and made you uncomfortable, and I'm sorry for that. I just have the kind of mind that gets stuck on one thing and goes over it and over it and never quite stops and... and I should..." Rodney blinks as if he's just realized that he's been talking out loud this whole time. "Stop talking now."

"I... Rodney, I don't..." John takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, tries to get his breathing under control. "It's busy tonight, and I can't just... I mean..."

"I should go, is what you're saying. Understandable," Rodney says quickly. "I'm sorry for unloading all of that on you because of course you're not interested, and I just need to go home and forget all about it."

"No, but..." John says helplessly as Rodney stands up and begins patting his pockets, looking for his wallet. "I'm interested, shit—we don't close for two more hours, that's all I was saying!"

Rodney looks at him and blinks. "Oh."

John swallows and turns and bumps his knee into Rodney's thigh. It sends a tingle down his leg straight into his achingly hard cock. He feels insane and like he might just burn the bar down if that's what it takes to get his hands on Rodney right this very second.

"I've wanted you too," he says thickly, looking up into Rodney's eyes. "For fucking ever."

Rodney blinks again. "Oh. Really?"

"Yeah," John says. Then he's grinning, and giddy, and he stands and almost, almost kisses Rodney. He doesn't, though, because there's ten people at the bar, and he doesn't close for another two hours. "Shit."

"Shit," Rodney repeats. He's frozen to the spot, staring at John wide-eyed and suddenly speechless.

"I, um," John says, backing away. "I have to stay away from you for now. In fact, you should go."

Rodney looks crestfallen. "You want me to leave?"

"Yes," John says, nodding. "Because I can't concentrate with you here and you need to go, you need to leave, and come back in two hours when I close up."

"Oh," Rodney says, stepping forward towards John. "You mean..."

"Go, please," John says, clenching his hands into fists to keep from grabbing the front of Rodney's blue, button-up shirt and hauling him in. "Now? Two hours? Please?"

Rodney grins and John grins and Rodney leaves and John has to wait two excruciatingly long hours until he can finally feel Rodney's lips under his.


The first time John met Rodney, Rodney came in at seven and ranted for three hours about how much American beer sucked, how much Nevada sucked, how much the desert sucked, and how much politicians sucked.

Somehow, over the course of those three hours, John went from being bored and tired and completely uninterested in hearing yet another person's sob stories to being enthralled and entranced by the non-stop verbosity of this new and exciting man ranting on his bar stool, nursing a whiskey while his hands mark reckless punctuation all over the place.


He doesn't kiss Rodney after he locks the door to the bar behind himself and turns around to see Rodney leaning against his car. He doesn't kiss him when they get inside the car; he doesn't even look at him. He doesn't kiss him when they get out of the car, and he doesn't kiss him before he unlocks the door to his apartment.

When they get inside, though, his lips are on Rodney's so fast all Rodney has time to do is flail and grab onto John's shoulders and hold on for dear life.

"Is this your first time," John asks between kisses, his body a livewire of lust and need and just a hint of craziness. He forces himself to slow down, gets his hands up, puts them on Rodney's shoulders, and pushes him back until he can look into those blue eyes and ground himself. "With a guy? First time?"

"The occasional sloppy, drunk kiss and handjobs after a really big discovery, but I want so much more with you," Rodney says, and surges forward to kiss John and John can't really say no to that. "I'm no blushing virgin; don't go easy on me."

John smirks and slides his mouth down Rodney's chin to his neck, sucks a wet kiss there and nibbles a bit. "Didn't think you were—just wanted to know how slow I had to go."

"I don't care; I want it to hurt," Rodney breathes against him, and John feels a shiver, a surge of protectiveness, and a bone deep conviction that he would never willingly hurt Rodney. "Well, now wait, hurt how much?"

John laughs and pulls back. He lets his hands fall to Rodney's pants and begins unbuttoning and unzipping them. "We'll take it easy this time. Hard and rough'll come with time."

He freezes but Rodney doesn't notice, off babbling, lips on John's collarbone, and hands kneading into his ass as John realizes he's already made some sort of commitment for the future before he's even slept with the guy. The last commitment he'd made was his ex-wife and that lasted ten months, and he never wanted to do that again.

"Hang on," he says, heart beating in his throat.

"Oh, God, I'm the one with the inexperience; shouldn't it be me freaking out," Rodney says derisively, rolling his eyes and reaching up to yank John's shirt off. "Do I seem to be freaking out right now? If your answer is yes, you need to get your head checked because I've already had my freak-out about a week ago, and I'm well over it by now, so if you don't mind—"

John closes his eyes and lets Rodney's words wash over him and thinks, No way. There's no way this is the only time I'm having sex with Rodney McKay.

John shoves his tongue in Rodney's mouth to interrupt Rodney's tirade about doing a lot of research online, reading magazines, and downloading a bunch of porn, but somehow, even with John's incessant tongue winding in his mouth, Rodney manages to talk through it.

"Did you know there's a YouTube for porn now? Youporn has a lot of crappy porn, but it's free, and there's a ton of guy on guy, and I'll have you know that I can learn quite a lot from repeated viewing—"

He pushes Rodney down on the couch and Rodney makes an annoyed sound but he finally shuts up as John pulls down his pants and boxers in one go and wraps his hand around Rodney's cock. At the silence, John raises his eyes to meet Rodney's, and when they do, he slowly lowers his mouth over his cock and sucks him down.

"Oh," is all Rodney says as John moves his tongue in wide sweeps between going down on him, his fingers clenching in John's hair, and John loves, loves, loves this. He's been giving head since he was seventeen and he's always strived for each blowjob to be his best. Judging by the way Rodney's writhing and clenching his fists into John's hair, making incoherent sounds that John thinks are probably complex sentences in Rodney's head, he's succeeding in that endeavor.

Flying and cocksucking, the two things John's always excelled at. He grins as he pulls off. "I want you to fuck me."

"Jesus, yes," Rodney says, and then he's hauling John up on top of him by his arms, kissing him like any minute the world's going to implode, and John has to agree, he feels like it might. "Can we, I wanna see your face, can we do it so I can see your..."

"Slow down, Rodney," John whispers against his jaw, feeling like he's on fire and really needs to be telling that to himself instead of Rodney. "We need a bed, and lube, and condoms."

"Right, right, yes, of course," Rodney says, fingers looped through John's jeans, which are undone but still on him. "You, uh, you have those, right? Because I'm a genius but also I'm a fucking idiot and I have condoms but not lube."

John stands up, kicks his jeans off in one fluid movement, and grins at Rodney's slack-jawed realization that John wasn't wearing boxers, or underwear for that matter. "Air Force guys do it commando style," he says, smirking wider. He takes Rodney's hand, hauls him up, and starts walking him into his bedroom.

"Is that true? Because I work with a lot of Air Force guys and I really could do without the mental image of them without any underwear on when I'm saving their asses for the umpteenth million time and that just seems really unsanitary—"

John ignores him and reaches into his drawer to grab the lube, tossing it at Rodney and lying back on his bed with his legs spread wide. "You watched all the videos, right? What do you do next, Rodney?"

"I, right, right," Rodney says, and then he crawls over John, shoves him up the bed, and kisses him with that wide, reckless mouth again until John can't breathe and maybe doesn't want to ever again. He pulls off and John's eyes roll back in his head as his hand tentatively wraps around John's cock. "Tell me if I'm doing it wrong."

"You're a genius," John says, smiling and laying back in the bed, watching Rodney flipping the top to the lube and frowning down at it. "I'm sure you'll be able to tell if you're doing it wrong. Trial and error, Rodney. I'm your Thursday night experiment. Make your hypothesis and draw out your conclusions."

John expects a laugh, not Rodney's startled look of horror. "You're not an experiment. Is that what you think this is?"

John props himself up on his elbows and reaches out to take Rodney's hand in his. "Hey. It was just a play on words. You're a scientist?"

Rodney blinks and then laughs softly, chagrinned. "Right. Because this isn't an experiment. I'm 100% sure this is exactly what I want."

John thinks it's doubtful for anyone to be 100% sure about anything but death and taxes but he lets it slide and lies back down on the bed. "Come on, Rodney, I want you inside me."

"Oh, wow, that's so crass and unsexy and yet so incredibly hot," Rodney says breathlessly, and John laughs until he feels Rodney's tongue on his cock and his fingers wet with lube circling John's ass. Suddenly, nothing's funny anymore.

Rodney's gentle and tentative, but with each moment grows quickly more and more confident, one finger and then two inside John's ass, and John's hands grip the sheets. Rodney's mouth is hot and tight around his cock, and he's got two fingers inside John, and John feels like he's out in the middle of the desert in a chopper with a broken rotor, certain he's about to fall to his death and loving every minute of it.

When Rodney finally does fuck him, it's an awkward position and not all that comfortable, but John wouldn't change a thing. Rodney's heavy and warm on top of him, kissing him as he slowly pushes in and pulls out, and John wants to feel this in the morning. He wants the reminder the next day and the next, that this happened, that Rodney fucked him.

Again, Rodney is an incredibly quick study and he maneuvers John's legs and hips, and shifts his own, and finally finds the right angle that makes John's hands scramble in the sheets. He groans his approval as Rodney hits the right spot with every upswing. John thinks of golf and the perfect course where he can shoot par without being a PGA pro to do it, bunkers and lakes all around, and that moment when you finally hit your grove, the ball sails onto the green and in for a hole in one.

He comes before Rodney does, Rodney's mouth muffling his cries of ecstasy as he rides out wave after wave of pleasure. Rodney says, "Oh, God, oh God, you're so hot," and comes shortly after, hips jerking hard into John's ass through the last of it as John shivers and clutches his hands into Rodney's ass and pulls him in deeper.

Rodney collapses on top of him and it almost takes the breath out of John with the sheer force of the fall. John finds himself hugging Rodney and laughing until he almost has tears in his eyes.

"Oh, wow," Rodney says when he finally rolls off of him. "That was amazing."

John smiles and laughs again, looking at Rodney. "Yeah. I'm inclined to agree."

They do it twice that night and once in the morning, and John rides the high for the next 48 hours and then some like he did when he was in the service and pulled eleven Gs in an F-16 without passing out.

He should have realized the crash would be that much worse for it.


John still smelled like the desert the first time he gambled and won something really big. He hadn't even checked into his room in Atlantic City yet, was standing in the lobby feeling dazed and confused, and like none of this could possibly be real. He was home, and home for good, but it wasn't home at all and never would be again.

There was a truck stop casino next door, and he'd left the duffle bag of uniforms he'd never need again in the lobby of a hotel he never returned to and put everything he had on him—$2050—on zero at the roulette table because that's what he had left in his life: Zero.

God's got a damn good sense of humor because the payout was 35 to 1 and he won.

He cashed out and didn't bother to go see his father or his brother, didn't bother to go see old high school friends, didn't even bother to call anyone. He bought a 1967 dark red Pontiac GTO for $22,000, a box set of Johnny Cash CDs, and set out on the open road.

He flipped a coin on whether to go to Florida or Vegas.


On Sunday, John calls Rodney at noon. They have a late lunch and then go to the driving range. Rodney is awful at it, and bitches the entire time about UV rays and sunburn and likens golf to reading Danielle Steele novels: pointless and without merit, except to waste time doing useless things.

"Aw, Rodney, come on. You underestimate the value of uselessness," John says, and smiles slyly.

He hands Rodney the golf club and stands behind him to line his hips up with his hands on Rodney's thighs. Rodney goes silent and suddenly doesn't have all that much to say about the sun and the pointlessness of trashy novels or hitting a golf ball 300 yards.

They go back to John's to grill burgers and drink beer. Instead, they wind up making out on John's couch until Rodney flips John over and fucks him slow and hot and so good that John feels like he can't even remember how to form a sentence for a good ten minutes.

They nap until nine, when Rodney wakes John up with his growling stomach, and John orders a pizza while Rodney delightedly flips through John's comic books.

Rodney eats quickly and sloppily and talks nearly the entire time, and John smiles and watches the grease drip down Rodney's chin. He leans over when Rodney takes a pause and licks it away. Rodney calls him disgusting and John mentions the fact that he swallowed his come not two hours ago, which is arguably more disgusting, and they wind up laughing and doing it on John's kitchen table next to the two leftover slices and three empty beer bottles. One rolls off and breaks on the floor but John's too busy having a fantastic orgasm to care.

"You make me feel like a teenager," Rodney comments, sinking back down into his seat and reaching over for one of the slices. John nabs the other. "I swear I didn't know I was able to get hard twice in three hours."

John shrugs, smirking. "Guess you just never met the right guy, Rodney."

Rodney looks at him and tilts his head to the side. "Why... you know what, never mind."

John raises an eyebrow. "Ask."

Rodney shakes his head. "I guess I'm just curious: did you not know you were gay when you went into the Air Force? Because if you did, why would you join?"

And just like that, all good humor is gone, and John wants out, out, out. "I just did," he says shortly, and stuffs his face with pizza and gets up to grab another beer.

"Is that why you left?" Rodney asks John's back, and John glares into his refrigerator. He's never found it annoying, how much Rodney talks, but right now, he wants him to just shut the fuck up. "Did they find out you were gay?"

"No." He grits his teeth and studies the fridge for longer than he needs to. "Want another beer?"

"Then why did you leave," Rodney asks, and his tone is still conversation, not hesitant at all, and John is suddenly furious that Rodney is really so oblivious to human interaction that he can't tell that everything in John is screaming Topic Off Limits. "You seem to miss it; I see the way you look at Lorne." Rodney frowns a little as John sits down across from him and shoves a beer at him. "Unless that's not nostalgia and it's just you wanting to get into his pants. He's quite attractive."

John rolls his eyes. "I don't want to fuck Lorne."

Rodney shrugs and looks away. "Not that I'm laying claim to you or anything. I work with him on a regular basis. I could hint around, ask if maybe he likes show tunes or something?"

John gives him a sour look. "Do you think I like show tunes? For someone who's getting pretty good at sucking cock, you sure have a lot of stereotypes about gay people."

Rodney blinks and something clicks. "You're angry."

"I don't want Lorne," John says flatly. John swallows and looks away, aches all over in a way that has nothing to do at all with his mostly healed ribs or how much sex he's been having in the past few days. "I just don't talk about my past all that much, okay, Rodney?"

"I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable." Rodney frowns and looks miserable. "I'm really awful about knowing when to shut my big mouth."

"It's difficult," John says haltingly, looking back at Rodney. "To talk about... It wasn't my choice to leave, and..." He looks away and pretends to wipe dirt off of his pants leg. "It's not something I like to talk about. Or think about. That's all. I'm not mad at you, I just... I don't want to talk about the Air Force."

"So, I'm right," Rodney says softly. "You miss it."

John closes his eyes. "Rodney."

"I'm sorry but it confounds me the way you're just wasting your life away serving drinks to sad sacks like me and Mr. Five Whiskeys who hates his wife," Rodney says, hands spreading out helplessly.

John laughs and looks at him. "You're not a sad sack." He shrugs. "More of a miserable son of a bitch than a sad sack."

Rodney jerks his hand. "The point is you obviously have a self-destructive streak, what with your gambling habits, and very little respect for your health, with your driving habits, and you don't seem to be very happy at all."

John sighs and looks away again. "You know, I'm the bartender. I'm the one who's supposed to be the armchair psychologist."

Rodney's frown deepens. "I've done it again, haven't I? I'm sorry. I'll shut up now."

John smiles a little and looks back at him. "Don't shut up. Just talk about something else."

Rodney nods and worries his lip with his teeth. "983."

John frowns. "What?"

"Prime or not prime," Rodney says, waving his hand. "I'm testing my theory on your intelligence."

John's eyebrows furrow together. "Based on primality?"

Rodney nods. "It's a game."

"A game on whether or not a number is only divisible by itself and one? And you said golf is boring and useless."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "983."


Rodney's mouth quirks a little. "6421."


A smile blooms on Rodney's face and John feels his edginess fading away. "7851."

"Not prime."

Rodney laughs. "I knew you were hot."

John finds himself laughing as well. "And I'm only just finding out exactly how crazy you are."

Rodney laughs harder. "2153."

John leans forward and puts his hand on Rodney's thigh, lowering his voice. "Please. It's not hard until it's more than seven digits."

Rodney's pupils dilate and John wonders if he can find it in himself to get hard for a third time. He's almost positive he can't but that doesn't mean he's not willing to try.


When he was thirty-one, John thought he'd found happiness in a girl named Nancy. She'd loved him a whole hell of a lot and he'd loved her as much as he knew how. They got married and it lasted less than a year; she learned to hate his uniform more than she'd ever loved him.

When he got the divorce papers in Kandahar, he signed them, got shitfaced with Holland, and gave him a very sloppy blowjob.

"Kinda sucks," he said, leaning against the wall next to Holland afterward, taking a long pull on his beer. "We didn't even get a real honeymoon. We planned on doing it when I was done with this tour."

"You pissed you're divorced or pissed she beat you to it?" Holland asked, snickering as he pulled up his pants and fastened them.

"'M not pissed at all," John said, looking up at him. "She deserved better than me anyway."


It falls apart on Thursday because, of course, it had to fall apart. Everything's always fallen apart for John.

"I heard," Lorne says when he comes up to the bar to order his third beer and Cadman's fourth vodka tonic, "that you're Air Force."

Merle Haggard sings, "I wish coke was still cola, and a joint was a bad place to be," and John passes him the beer and starts pouring the vodka. "Hooah," he says.

Lorne's grin is ear to ear. "Hooah," he repeats back and slaps a hand on the bar. "Been comin' here how long, man, and you never said you were one of us."

John hands him the vodka tonic and meet his gaze. "Not anymore."

"Oh," Lorne says, and his grin falters. "Well, still. One of us," he says, and then salutes John and grins brightly again.

John laughs and salutes back because it's true, once you're in, you're never out, even when you are. It's a way of life, not just a uniform you slip in and out of.

Lorne leans forward. "So you flew with Cam Mitchell?"

John raises his eyebrows. "I did."

Lorne nods. "Awesome guy. Love Mitchell." He nods again and laughs. "He said you were a kickass pilot."

John shakes his head. "I'm sorry, how did the subject of me come up?"

"Oh, Doc mentioned you," Lorne says, motioning to the end of the bar where Rodney is sitting. "We work together and the colonel's visiting from Colorado."

John frowns and looks over at Rodney. "He mentioned me."

Lorne shrugs. "I don't know, guess he did the math and figured you and Mitchell woulda been in flight school around the same time."

John grits his teeth and breathes through his nose. "Mentioned me or was digging for more information?"

Lorne looks chagrined and his eyes dart towards Rodney. "He, ah... Might have asked a few questions."

John nods and abruptly turns and walks over to Rodney, who smiles brilliantly at him and momentarily makes John forget why he was angry enough to see red. "Hey, can I get another?"

John reaches under the bar and grabs a Coors, just to see Rodney's frown. "I hear you've been talking about me."

Rodney looks at him. "Ah, what's that?"

"We've had this discussion before." He leans forward and adopts his dressing down a plebe voice. "My past is none of your fucking business, McKay. You keep your nose out of my military history, you got it?"

Rodney blanches and his mouth works open a few times. "What?"

"Do not talk to Cameron Mitchell about me. Do not talk to Lorne about me. Do not talk to anyone at all about me ever again," John says, looking him directly in the eye. "When I walked away from the Air Force, I walked away from it, do you understand me? Do not ask questions about me. Got it?"

"I'm sorry," Rodney says, and looks like a kicked puppy. "I was curious."

"I'm a private person, Rodney." He puts his hands on the bar and glares at him. "You really need to stop stalking me. It's not fucking cute anymore."

Rodney's mouth works open a few more times and then he shuts it, chin going up defiantly. "So, we're done here?"

Merle Haggard sings, "Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell?" and John leans back and nods. "Yeah."

Rodney gets up, stalks out, and doesn't pay for either of his two beers. It's only then that John realizes Rodney hadn't meant done with the conversation, he'd meant done with them.


The last time John spoke to his father was two months after he'd gotten out of the service. One afternoon before John's shift at the Tavern, his father showed up at his apartment in a suit and tie, looking pissed off and tired.

"Dad," he said, taking a step back. "How..."

"Dave told me where you were holed up," his father said, and then walked past him into the den. "If it was up to you, you never would have called me."

"I would have called eventually," John said quietly, though he wasn't sure he would have.

His father turned around in a small circle and gazed at the apartment in abject disgust. "Pack your bags."

John sighed. "Dad."

"Pack your bags; you're not living here," he said, turning to face John. "You're coming to work for me like you should have to begin with instead of getting it in your fool head to go fly planes at the ground." He shook his head at John and sat down on his couch. "I don't know why you insist on making your life as difficult as possible, Jonathon."

John gritted his teeth. "You know what? I don't remember asking for your opinion on how I run my life."

His father laughed, throwing his arms out. "And I don't remember asking for a son who was this ungrateful. We're all disappointed."

John let out a frustrated huff and scrubbed his hands through his hair. "You're not even just a little bit proud, are you? I fought tooth and nail for my country and you think I'm just an idiot."

"And look at the respect they give you in return," his father said, smirking. "The armed services are no place for a thinking man."

"Get out," John growled, pointing towards the door. "Just get the fuck out, Dad."

His father stood, hands running down his suit to smooth out the wrinkles. "If you change your mind."

"I won't," John said. "Leave."

Four years later, Patrick Sheppard died of a heart attack.


Two weeks pass and Rodney doesn't come in again. John lets Todd grope him the second Saturday night in the back stall of the bathroom. He closes his eyes and thinks about Rodney's wide mouth and blue, blue eyes, and lets Todd hump his leg. Todd makes lewd sounds against John's neck and comes against his hip.

John doesn't come at all.

Afterward, he gets shitfaced on whiskey, calls his bookie, and places all $400 of what's left of his week's worth of tip money on The Mad Scientist again. Then he walks the two miles home in the rain, falls into bed and listens to Patsy Cline on repeat and hates himself.

On Sunday, he wakes up and finds out that the fucking horse won again.

John's not sure whether to laugh or scream.


He has Monday off and goes to Vegas with $1000 of his winnings. He blows it all within the first two hours.

He runs into Cameron Mitchell at the roulette table as he loses his last $100. Cameron is all smiles and "Shep!" and "How the hell ya been?" and hugs him with this great big bear hug and lifts him up in the air. "I was just talking about you, man!"

"I've been, ya know," he says, waving his hand and grimacing as his ribs ache. "How about you?"

"Bachelor party," Cameron says, leering at John, and John has to laugh again. The man is the happiest person John's ever met, and it's damned contagious. "My boy Charlie's getting hitched. Want in?"

John shakes his head, holding up his hands. "Nah, I'm good."

"Aw, come on, Shep, ain't seen you in forever," Cameron says, and loops an arm around John's shoulders and drags him into his group. "Charlie won't mind, will ya, Charlie?"

Charlie's young, younger than John was when he joined the service, and has pretty blue eyes. He grins at John and holds out a shot in one hand as he downs the other. John meets his eyes and thinks they're the same shade of blue as Rodney's, downs the shot, and then gets pissed at himself all over again and downs two more shots.

The group gets rowdy quick and John loses himself in the shared camaraderie. It's so easy to slip back into that state of mind, just a bunch of guys being guys, getting drunk, making stupid jokes, and sharing war stories. Cameron tells his story about almost shooting a camel in the ass, and Charlie tells a story about a goat and lipstick that John doesn't follow because he's too busy staring at Charlie's lips. John tells a story about talking to a warlord for twelve hours with his gun out under the table the entire time because the warlord wanted to try out his English.

Later, after the stripper and the poker, Charlie comes into the bathroom after John, locks the door behind him, and says, "You've been looking at me all night and driving me insane. Please, god, please, will you suck my cock?"

John's never been good at turning down a begging man but he just doesn't feel up to it tonight, tired and drunk and frustrated. He washes his hands and looks at Charlie. "Sorry, no. You caught me on a bad night. Your eyes remind me of someone I don't want to think about right now."

"I'm not gay, ya know," Charlie says, "you're just really hot."

"I've heard that," John says, nodding and facing him. "Said it too. You know it's not true, right?"

Charlie gives John a pissed off look. "It's only gay if I'm the one sucking cock."

John laughs, crossing his arms and leaning back against the sinks. "You do realize you came in here begging me, right? Not exactly the picture of straightness."

Charlie rolls his eyes. "Whatever, man. I'm getting married tomorrow so it doesn't matter."

John shakes his head and feels sad for Charlie. "Do you really wanna live the rest of your life just going through the motions?"

He doesn't hear Charlie's answer because he's too busy realizing that's exactly what he's been doing for the past five years since he walked away from the Air Force rather than taking the reassignment.


The last time he'd spoken to Nancy was at his father's funeral. She was still stunningly beautiful and it had hit him all over again how desperately he'd wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

What he hadn't known before was that it had more to do with the idea of living the happy, cookie-cutter, "normal" life that he'd wanted so desperately rather than actually loving her enough to make it work.

She'd walked over to him and hugged him and he'd felt awful and guilty because he didn't deserve her forgiveness. "I'm so sorry, John," she'd said.

"Thanks," he said. "Me too," he'd said, but she thought he meant his father. He let her because he was a chicken shit and always had been.


He calls Rodney Friday afternoon. He gets his voicemail, which is just as well.

"I was a Major in the Air Force five years ago, but I walked," he says. He doesn't know how to work his way gradually into this topic and Rodney appreciates blunt well enough that this is the best way to go anyway. "I got a black mark in Afghanistan because I can't leave a man behind. I defied one too many orders, and instead of taking a reassignment, I walked."

He closes his eyes and grits his teeth. "He was a friend of mine and I failed him. He died. His name was Holland, and he was probably the best friend I've ever had. I got there too late. I always get there too late, and I know I'm too late for you, but I wanted you to understand that I was never angry with you. I was angry with myself, and I have been for a long time.

"I hate that I'm not Air Force anymore, and I hate that I walked away, and I hate that I can't fly choppers anymore, and I hate that my life is worthless, and I fucking hate that I blew it with you because instead of just telling you, I got pissed and acted like a dick. I'm sorry."

John takes his remaining $3000 worth of winnings, tells his boss he's taking off, and rents a plane to fly to California for the weekend. Being up in the air makes him feel sane again and he takes the extra long way just to make it last longer. He shows up at Dave's front steps Saturday at ten in the morning with flowers.

"Hi," he says to Carol and pushes the daisies at her. "If you don't know who I am, I'm the piece of shit brother-in-law who never visits or calls unless he needs money."

Carol laughs and hugs him, which he wasn't expecting, and invites him in as she calls upstairs for Dave.

Dave comes down and sits across from John at the kitchen table while Carol busies herself making brunch and coffee. Dave looks at John like he's trying not to spook a wild horse. "What happened?"

John says thanks when Carol puts the coffee and plate of food in front of him before leaving them alone in the room. He stares down at the mug, fingering the edge of the handle and feeling the warmth radiating through it. "I'm a miserable son of a bitch with a self-destructive streak wasting his life tending bar and I'm an incredibly bad brother," he says. He takes a deep breath and flicks his eyes up to meet Dave's. "That's my way of saying I'm sorry. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?"

Dave blinks, shakes his head, and rubs at his eyes. "What?"

"Also, I'm gay," he says, and pours creamer in his coffee, stirring it around so he doesn't have to look at Dave.

"Hold on," Dave says, and puts his hands down on the table as if he's holding himself steady. "Are you dying? Do you have cancer? Do you need to borrow more money?"

"No," John says, feeling suddenly exhausted. Shaking his head, he finally looks up. "I'm just tired of hating myself."

Dave looks unexpectedly sad and somehow old. "Jesus. Hating yourself. That's really how you feel?"

John nods. "You couldn't tell?"

"I thought maybe but I hoped not," Dave says, and scrubs at his face again. "I knew you were gay, by the way."

John frowns. "Who are you kidding? There's no way you could know."

Dave laughs. "Sorry, John, but I walked in on Tim blowing you in the back of the barn on one of my weekends home," he says. "I've been waiting twenty years for you to tell me that."

John covers his face. "Jesus, Dave. Really?"

"I wasn't sure at first if you were really gay or just trying to get at Dad with something he'd disapprove of," Dave says, smiling softly and taking a sip of his coffee. "But you were so careful to hide it and looked freaked out any time Dad asked you about Tim, so I figured it was real."

John shakes his head. "I can't believe you've known since then."

Dave arches and eyebrow. "There's very little I don't know about you, John. Who do you think ran interference for you all those years?"

John feels a horrible, crushing guilt. "It's been me, hasn't it? Keeping us from having a relationship."

Dave lets out a startled laugh and looks at John, confused. "You didn't know that?"

John looks away, fiddling with his fork even though he hasn't touched his food. "I don't know. You were always Dad's right hand man. Same opinions, same morals, same politics, same everything."

Dave shakes his head. "And you were my kid brother, you stupid shit. You walked away and never looked back, smacked my hand away every time I reached out."

John frowns and sinks down in his seat. "I used to worship you when we were kids. But then we got older, and I thought you hated me. You were always pissed at me."

Dave steeples his hands in front of him and studies John for a moment. "Something you never got about Dad and something you never got about me is that pissed and lecturing is our way of caring," he says quietly. "I get pissed at you for fucking yourself over because it makes me worry."

"I was happy once, wasn't I?" John asks. His throat hurts and his eyes sting and he hasn't cried in years, but he thinks he might now, right here in Dave's kitchen over coffee at ten o'clock in the morning. "I can't remember."

Dave reaches for his hand and John lets him take it, blinking rapidly, and clearing his throat. "You will be again."

John shakes his head and takes his hand back. "I don't know how to be."

"Then learn," Dave says, grinning. "Come on, man, you learned how to fly from
Uncle Robert in two hours. No amount of flight school could teach you more than you already learned from him. You're a quick study."

John cups his hands around his coffee mug and glares down at it. "I think... There's this guy, this scientist. His name's Rodney. And I let him walk out of my life." He laughs and looks up at him. "God, it's weird to talk to you about this."

Dave nods. "It's weird to hear. Not because you're gay but because you're talking. I didn't know you did that."

John laughs again. "I don't."

"Do you remember when you were ten, and we were vacationing in Florida," Dave says suddenly, and John gives him a confused look. "You wanted that model airplane and Dad said there was no way he was spending that amount of money on something that didn't even have any real purpose."

"Oh, wow, yeah," John says, grinning. "That thing was so cool."

"And you tried and tried to convince Dad to get it for your birthday but he kept saying no. So, you got on your bike, and you went to everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods and knocked on everyone's door and offered to cut their grass, do their dishes—I think you even offered to rub Mrs. Tillman's feet."

John laughed. "Yeah. That was gross; she had bunions."

"It's probably why you're gay," Dave says. John lets out a startled laugh and Dave joins in. "But you saved up $200 over that summer and you bought the airplane yourself."

John nodded. "Coolest plane ever. I still have it, somewhere."

Dave nods. "My point is: if it's important to you, you make it happen. You're a stubborn motherfucker, John. Once you make up your mind to do something, there's nothing stopping you."

John nods. "Wow."

Dave smiles. "I made an impact?"

"No," he says, shaking his head. "You serve up obvious metaphors even worse than Dad did."

They laugh and Dave gets up to refill John's coffee cup. "I've missed you, John," Dave says, coming back to the table.

He looks just like their father and John never noticed that before. "Me too," he says, and finds that he actually means it. "I'm sorry."

"Listen," Dave says, waving a hand and sticking his fork in his untouched brunch—quiche with zucchini and mushrooms. John finds he's suddenly famished. "Let's just move on, all right? There's no point in rehashing old shit."

John grins. "I would very much like that."

John stays the weekend and they get along surprisingly well for people who haven't spoken much in twenty years. John becomes aware of the fact that he's been alone for a long time and it's been all his own doing. It makes him feel like utter shit. When he leaves, he hugs Dave and gets a nasty lump in his throat, and he apologizes no less than three times for being an asshole. Dave just gives him a noogie, kisses him on the cheek, and says he's just glad to have him back.


When John returns to work that Thursday, he realizes that he hates his job. Hates it. Hates it like he hates clowns, hates the stench of alcohol and cigarettes and desperation.

He stands there and watches Bob drink his fourth whiskey, and Steve hit on yet another blonde who won't give him the time of day. He finally gets it through his thick head that he's been living his life on repeat for five years, watching people living the same kind of nothingness that he has been every single night.

Sandra shows up with a fresh bruise on her arm and he doesn't serve her a martini. Instead, he leans on the bar in front of her, looks her dead in the eye, and says, "Aren't you tired of it?"

She blinks at him. "What?"

"Him beating you. Aren't you tired of it?" he asks. Her mouth twists painfully and he feels bad but he continues. "Because for five years, I've wanted to beat his ass to a bloody pulp but I haven't because I knew even if I did, you'd still just go back to him and let him do it all over again."

Her eyes are red rimmed and she looks at him like he's the one beating her. She bolts, and John feels his heart sink, but he also feels alive like he hasn't in years and he can't believe he's taken five years to confront her about it.


When John was thirteen, his Dad's brother Robert took him up in his crop duster and let John take the stick. He taught him how to fly and John looked out at the sky and the birds and the fields below him, grinned brilliantly, and shouted, "This is what I'm gonna do, Uncle Robert. I'm gonna fly forever and ever!"


Rodney is sitting on his porch when John gets home that night at three am. He's in a folding chair and reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. When he looks up and sees John, he smiles, and John stops. Stops walking, stops breathing, stops everything.

"Hey," Rodney says, voice quiet and soft like it never is.

"Hi," John says, swallowing.

"So, uh, I forgave you three days ago before I even listened to your message, but you haven't been home since then. So I set up camp here, and I think your neighbors think I'm a crazy person."

John lets out the breath he's been holding and closes the distance between them. "Well. You are kind of a stalker. That's a little crazy."

"Yeah, but the good kind of crazy, right?" Rodney asks, and his eyes ask a thousand more questions, none of which John knows how to answer.

Instead, he drops the beer he was carrying on the concrete and doesn't care that the bottles break. He's too busy grabbing Rodney, hauling him forward, and kissing him and kissing him and kissing him.

They make it to the bedroom on autopilot, peeling each other's clothes off bit by bit and dropping them in the kitchen, the den, the hallway, all the way to the bedroom. John pushes Rodney onto the bed and crawls down his body and worships Rodney's cock until it's leaking and pulsing, and Rodney is batting at John's head, saying, "Stop, stop now or I'm gonna come, and I really want to be fucking you when I do that."

"God, yes, thank you, I can't believe you forgave me, Rodney, I'm so fucking happy you're here," John says, and now he's babbling instead of Rodney because he hadn't known how scared he'd been that he'd never see Rodney again until he'd seen him sitting on his porch. "Please, fuck me."

"You're an idiot," Rodney says as he reaches for the lube and turns John over onto his stomach. "I told you I was crap at understanding people. All you have to do is tell me to shut up and I'll stop doing whatever it is I'm doing wrong. I didn't mean to hurt you, John."

"I know, I know, a little less conversation a little more action, please," John says, and they laugh because who the fuck quotes Elvis fucking Presley as a come on line.

Then Rodney's inside of him and it's not funny anymore; it's hot and amazing and John doesn't want it to ever stop. He doesn't want Rodney to ever leave, and somewhere over the past two years, while he was listening to the guy bitch and moan and groan, he'd been slowly falling in love with him and not even known it until he'd had him and then lost him.

The orgasm rocks him from head to toe. He feels like he's exploding with it, little points of light shooting out of his head, his fingers, his toes. He feels like he couldn't move if his life depended on it.

"I love you like this," Rodney says above him, breathless, voice hitching as he builds closer, and closer to orgasm. "All loose and languid and happy; I want to make you like this every day for the rest of my life."

John winds his fingers in Rodney's as Rodney comes and wishes with all of his heart that he can make that want come true. For Rodney, and for himself.

"So did you ever decide," John asks later, after they've dozed and woken again, kissing before they're even properly awake. "Was it the hat or the jeans that made you realize you had to have me as your sex slave?"

Rodney grins, plucks the hat off the bedpost, and plops it on John's head. "Yeah. Definitely the hat."

John grins and stands up, feeling giddy and happy and like he's just broken the sound barrier and done twenty tailslides. "Well, I don't know how comfortable I am knowing that you just want me for my cowboy hat," he says, affecting a petulant frown and cocking his hip. The truth is, yeah, he did know how hot he looked in a cowboy hat. Especially naked.

Rodney practically drools. "Oh, get back over here right the fuck now."

He starts to but he steps on something and it really, really hurts. "Ow," he says, and bends over to picks up a round ball that had fallen out of Rodney's jeans pocket. He looks at it. "What's this? It's got carvings I've never seen before. Is it Sumerian or something?"

Rodney frowns at it and then at him. "It's, uh... Actually, it wasn't supposed to leave Area 51 but I didn't know how long I'd have to wait at your door, so..."

John eyes widen and he looks at Rodney. "Are you telling me this is alien tech?"

Rodney bites his lip. "Um." He chews on his lip. "Okay, I'm not saying yes or no, but... it's not not alien."

John's eyes widen even further and he stares down at the ball in his hands. "What's it do?"

Holographic lights fill the room: blue and red and green, orange and pink and fuchsia, forming triangles, squares, and hexagons. John drops the ball and the holograms disperse.

"Holy shit," Rodney says, suddenly standing in front of John.

John blinks and feels his heart ratchet up. "What the fuck just happened?"

Rodney picks up the ball and holds it out to John. "Do that again. Think what you were just thinking again, only concentrate on something."

John shakes his head and backs up. "You're saying I did that?"

Rodney nods and grabs John's hand, forcing him to take the ball back. "This has been lying dormant in my lab for the past year and a half, John. It's Ancient, and I can explain more of that later, but I need you to do what you just did, just concentrate on something. Concentrate on where we are in the solar system."

John closes his eyes and thinks. He hears Rodney gasp and feels like he might faint, the ball glowing warmly in his hand and feeling alive in a way that freaks him right the hell out. "Rodney?"

"You have the gene," Rodney says, hoarse and full of awe. "Jesus, you're like Santa in a Stetson."

John's eyes fly open. "I'm what? In a what?"

"Santa," Rodney says, gesturing.

John looks up and sees the sun. He sees Mars and Venus. Earth. Pluto. He sees Saturn and Uranus and the moons and the stars. "Jesus."

"You touched what I thought was a piece of dead tech and lit it up like Christmas," Rodney says, sinking down onto the bed and looking gobsmacked. "John, we've been looking for someone like you for five years. Carson will want to do tests but I'd be willing to lay down money that you have the strongest expression of the gene that we've found yet."

John drops the ball again and Rodney catches it just before it hits the ground. "Ancient, alien tech that I have a gene for. Rodney, what the fuck are you talking about? What gene? What tests? Who's Carson? What the hell's going on?"

"This, I think," Rodney says, turning the ball over and over in his hands, "is a teaching tool. Just a representation meant to enhance learning. The writing accompanying it wasn't very clear on how, but... well. I understand now. And it's nothing; it's not even worth mentioning in comparison to what else we have."

John reaches up and takes his hat off, tossing it on his dresser and sitting down next to Rodney. "In comparison to what else you have?"

Rodney grins up at him with tears in his eyes. "Oh, John. I'm about to make all of your little kid fantasies come to life, and if you didn't love me before, you'll love me now."

John blinks at him and really believes him. "I do," he says, swallowing thickly. "Already, I mean. Just so you know."

Rodney grins and John realizes that this story is only just beginning.


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