Summary: How John Sheppard comes to speak his own language and how Rodney McKay comes to understand it.
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Warnings: None. I do not, however, speak Italian.
Spoilers: Through the middle of season four.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Got It by wojelah
When Rodney was three, his father decided it was time for him to take swimming lessons. Granted, it was winter in Toronto, but his father always liked to be prepared -- Rodney needed to learn how to swim before they went on vacation to Santa Barbara in the coming summer.
So Henry McKay had arranged for the use of the University pool; he had hired an undergraduate to teach Rodney to swim -- $5 an hour, three hours a week for four weeks. He had appeared in Rodney's room with a pair of swim trunks and his "don't even try to argue with me" expression, so Rodney had no choice but to put down his picture book and walk to the car.
The student quit after one session because Rodney refused to stop crying. He hadn't meant to, honest, but the chlorine made his eyes sting and he had literally been thrown into the deep end by his father after he'd changed in the men's locker room. The student had to dive to fish Rodney from where he had quickly sunk to the bottom of the pool, and Rodney sobbed the rest of the hour, trying to muffle his sobs through blue lips while his father sat on a nearby bench, the paper resolutely open in front of him.
Rodney had thrown up on the way home, his father conceding to pull over to the shoulder while Rodney retched water up onto the frozen ground. With some part of himself, he wondered if the water would freeze into an icy puddle.
He was the only boy at the beach that summer who wouldn't go into the water.
John took apart the toaster when he was four. Unfortunately for him he had forgotten to clean up the mess. This only became a problem when his mother got home that afternoon.
Even at four, John knew the difference between I'm-yelling-but-I'm-secretly-amused, I'm-yelling-because-I'm-really-angry, and I'm-yelling-because-I-can't-believe-you-d
She was standing not too far away at the sink, the hair that was dark and thick like his pulled back into a bun. The maid was just walking into the pantry, but she tipped John a wink before she disappeared. That was reassuring, but John still needed a strategy. He decided to go for looking as innocent as possible. His mother took a good look at him and raised an eyebrow, a possible indication that she wasn't buying that look even for one minute.
"John," she said. It was the opening salvo.
"Yeah, Mommy?" John decided to stick with the innocence defense; it was all he had left.
His mother took a deep breath. "John, do you know who took the toaster apart?"
A question, not an accusation. Tricky. John tried, "Nooooo."
She was forcing him to reiterate his position. He could come clean or dig himself deeper. "No."
His mother came closer and kneeled down so that she could look John in the eye. "Are you being honest with me, John?"
There it was: the H word. John could feel the traitorous movement of his bottom lip, the way he suddenly felt the need to sniff. "Are you mad?" he asked.
"No, not mad," she said. John felt a wash of relief. "I'm worried. It's dangerous to take apart the toaster like that."
His mother nodded. "Dangerous. There are parts in there that are sharp and that could cut you, and other parts that might shock you and hurt you."
"'Cause of 'lectricity?"
"Yes, exactly. Because of the electricity. Especially when you keep the toaster plugged in when you're working on it."
"Oh," his mom repeated.
"Is Dad going to be mad?" John asked.
His mother seemed to think about it. "No. We'll get a new one before he gets home."
"Okay," John said. "Just wanted to see how it worked."
"I know." His mother sighed. "I know. But if you have a question, you could ask about it."
"It's better to 'splore," John said.
"I know that, too. But sometimes when you're little you have to ask instead. When you're bigger, you can go off and explore. Okay?"
John nodded. As long as she wasn't mad. "Okay."
His mother pulled him into a hug, and he didn't even try to squirm out of it. "I can't wait to be bigger."
"I'm sure," she said, and squeezed even tighter for just a moment.
John thought that when he was bigger, he'd be able to take apart things and get away with it.
Rodney didn't mind carrying Mary Beth's books home for her. For one, they lived on the same block, so it wasn't like it was out of his way. Secondly, her mom made the best cookies in the entire neighborhood, and she always gave Rodney a handful to eat on his way to his house. And third, Mary Beth was actually kind of cute, if you were into that sort of thing, which, like every other eight year old boy, Rodney was not.
Still, he had to make it past the boys in the park, first. Sometimes this was harder than others. If they were busy playing street hockey or some other kind of game, then he could get by pretty quickly, scooting around the corner before he was even seen. Mary Beth tended to walk ahead (sure she would, she didn't have anything to carry anything), so she didn't usually notice, but more often than not, Rodney just wasn't quick enough. There were times when the boys decided the best offense was one of distance, in which case they took to throwing whatever they could: rocks, coins, shovels from the sandbox. Most of the time, though, the attacks were up close, three or four of them at a time, walking next to Rodney, behind him, in front of him. Asking if he could take their books home for them; if he still sucked his thumb like his baby sister; if he was going to keep playing with the girls; if he was going to take ballet, too, and not just piano. The laughter was the worst, though, since it sounded more like Rodney's favorite arpeggio than he wanted to think about.
It took until spring for Rodney to work up the courage to tell Mary Beth he couldn't help her get home anymore. She only shrugged and said, "Okay."
Rodney went the long way home after that, the one that didn't go by the park.
John loved watching football, but baseball was the game he loved to play. He and Dave both played in Little League, though Dave was in a different age division, of course. John was only nine, which, at 12, Dave harped on incessantly. Dave played first base. He was fast on the ball and could turn his part of a double play with no hesitation. Dave would rag on John for playing catcher, like it was a sissy position and only guys who couldn't really play baseball were catchers. Guys who couldn't run fast or hit well played catcher, Dave said, but John was good at both batting and running. He was a decent pitcher, too.
But John liked to play catcher because that was where he could control the game. The pitcher did what he recommended; the coach counted on him to send signals to the rest of the players. From behind home base John called the shots, and he loved that -- and loved that he could do it in a way that most people didn't even pick up on or understand.
The best part, though, John's favorite part, was when he got to make a play at the plate. There was no other play like it in baseball. To catch a rushed throw, brace yourself at the plate, hold your ground and hang on for dear life while the other player tried to score: it was a rush. It was magic.
No runner ever got past John.
Rodney liked to think that his world didn't start until college. Considering he was twelve when he first went, this was probably more true than not. In some ways, it wasn't so different from his life before. He still got teased by the jocks. Girls still didn't know what to do with him. He didn't really have any peers, either in age or intelligence, though he was getting closer on the latter than ever before. He was still awkward, all big shoulders and knobbly knees. When he fell down the stairs and broke his leg his dorm mates didn't let him forget about it for two years.
Still. He always had the best -- and most -- time in the labs. His professors treated him with more respect than his parents ever had. He had a few friends, mostly the very young freshmen closer to his own age or a couple of the older girls who decided to treat him like a brother.
And if, in two years, after he completed his undergraduate ahead of schedule and was a T.A., he was grading the papers of those who teased him, or ignored him, or laughed at him, well. That was just icing on the cake. He used red ink just because he could.
It was November when they buried John's mother. Fat, wet snowflakes were dripping from a sky filled with heavy gray clouds. The first snow of the season, and John was shivering out in the dead grass beside the open grave, tight-lipped and solemn, dressed in a suit so crisply ironed he could barely move. It didn't really mean much to him, the funeral. It was sad, and Dave was very sad, large tears rolling down cheeks pink from the cold.
John didn't cry.
It took Rodney a good long while to figure out John Sheppard. Usually Rodney, his pettiness, hostility, and general aptitude for rudeness aside, could get to the heart of people fairly quickly. Sure, there were areas where he was oblivious, but usually that was because of his own choosing (better things to do) and not because of ability. Or else he feigned obliviousness in order to further his own agenda, which, honestly, happened more than he would ever admit. Picking up on social cues was not his strong suit (again, who has the time?), but as far as knowing whom he can or cannot trust, Rodney made those decisions quickly, and if he did say so, and he did, with a high degree of accuracy.
John Sheppard, though. Sheppard. Sheppard was not exactly deceitful. Not maliciously anyway. But he was content to just slide through people's consciousness, as if slinking through a frame of film. He made an impression, but more often than not people have trouble defining what that impression was.
Rodney was no exception. At first, it was easy to think Sheppard was just another flyboy with a little extra special gene. He liked football, appreciated a good Monty Python joke, enjoyed goofing off enough to throw Rodney over a balcony for their mutual fun (and not just Sheppard's). He was good at his job, great with planes, and handy with a gun.
But then something changed. Well, at first, Rodney thought something had changed. He thought it was the change in the mission, the sudden seriousness of the Wraith. Mortal peril proved good for provoking a lot of things, including growth. But the more time he spent with Sheppard, the more he realized: it was not so much that Sheppard changed as that Sheppard became more himself. Yes, there was still the swaggering of a man who has carefully cultivated his own personality, who has apportioned exactly the right amount of cool for his disposal. But there was also the desperation of a man determined to leave no one behind.
In Rodney's experience, that usually came from being left behind yourself.
John knew he was done for the moment Rodney performed his Hail Mary. Though if he was honest, he knew the groundwork had already been laid. He was somehow naturally immune to the tonal stylings of McKay. None of the arrogance, non-stop talking or abruptness bothered him, not even at the beginning. It wasn't that he had the ability to tune it out, exactly; nor did it relate to anything close to his own relaxed personality, as if that were actually all of his personality. No, it was probably the fact that he had reasoned all along that there was more to McKay than his bluster. His true intelligence backed him up on this, sure, but John came to know that it was Rodney's ability to step up and back up all things: his courage, his loyalty, and his respect, too, that proved there was more to McKay than his ego.
Though, John often thought wryly, there was that, too.
The first time surprised Rodney. It was subtle, of course. As much as he liked to tease Sheppard for his ongoing lack of subtlety, it was just that: teasing. John wasn't just subtle. He was often inscrutable, which led to surprises, good or bad. Rodney came to discover that he didn't hate surprises as much as he always thought he did.
That time, it was indeed a surprise. John was leaning over the infirmary bed, hands stuffed in his pockets and shifting slowly from foot to foot in the way Rodney had learned meant Sheppard was nervous and not wanting to show it. Of course, after hours underwater with almost no hope of rescue, Rodney thought that John had every reason to be nervous; Rodney had been and still was so anxious Carson had given him a mild sedative. He realized he had babbled the entire way to the surface, and couldn't recall exactly what he had said, but something had pinned a look into Sheppard's eye, made him reluctant to leave Rodney even after he'd been settled into the infirmary.
Rodney, to use Sheppard's own phrase, never saw it coming. It was surreal, the brush of lips over his cheekbone, the kiss at the skin near his ear. If Sheppard had wanted to chose places less conspicuous for a declaration than the lips, he hadn't chosen well. The skin tingled by Rodney's ear and spoke volumes about intimacy even though Sheppard had quickly stepped back.
He must have known Rodney was startled, or else Sheppard had startled himself, because he began to back away quickly -- too quickly. Quickly enough that Rodney instinctively followed, sitting up, his hands trailing down the blanket toward Sheppard. With a start, he realized this was what he had been doing all along, instinctively following Sheppard. This time, though, Sheppard pulled the flimsy privacy curtain around them and met Rodney halfway, picking up Rodney's index finger where it had fallen on the blanket. Rodney quirked his eyebrow, curled his finger into John's palm, and kept leaning in until John was forced to meet him again in a kiss.
When John woke, it was to hard ground and cold air. He exhaled, his breath crystallizing above him for the briefest of moments. He tried not to dwell on the day. Being cut off from the gate. Rodney's hands frantically working on asabotaged jumper. Ronon and Teyla going underground with old friends of Teyla's father, leaving John and Rodney to camp as close to the gate as they could safely while waiting for a team from Atlantis.
Still, a rescue team wouldn't be here for at least another two hours. John sighed and shifted a bit, the extra power bar Rodney had offered him rattling in his pocket. Rodney. Rodney was next to him, asleep, lashes dark against his pale face even in the pre-dawn light. He was on his back, which meant he wasn't sleeping well. A Rodney who was resting deeply was a Rodney asleep on his stomach, mouth half open into a pillow, John's arm slung over his shoulders. This Rodney was on his back, mouth pursed even in sleep. And John wasn't touching him at all.
With a sudden, fierce ache he couldn't explain, John rolled onto his side and put his hands on Rodney's shoulders -- it was wrong that they weren't touching. Wrong. Rodney's eyes flickered open, and though he came to sudden wakefulness he didn't startle, or tense, just melded his mouth with John's as best he could, as much as John allowed, since it seemed as if John was trying to swallow him whole.
Maybe he was, John thought, before pulling away and resting his forehead on Rodney's and breathing sharply, the smell of decaying leaves sharp in his nostrils. Rodney had cupped him through his BDU's and John felt ready to shake apart right there, but it still wasn't enough.
"No," he said, and Rodney pulled away. This time, though John chased him, pulled him back and tried again. "No, Rodney. I just, I need . . . ." He didn't know what he needed, really. Or else, he did know, and didn't know how to ask. John shot for the middle ground, pulling Rodney back in and kissing him slow and long, tongue circling the inside of Rodney's mouth and back again.
Rodney was multi-tasking, spurred by John's new effort. With one hand still cupping John, Rodney was using the other to try to open the closures on John's tac vest, a task Rodney wasn't good at even with both hands. John batted Rodney's hand away and opened the vest himself, shrugging it off, his shirt quickly following. It was too cold to be completely naked, but John wanted to feel something, to feel Rodney's hands on bare skin. He rolled once again to loom over Rodney, bracing himself on his hands, his dog tags dangling down from his neck to glitter against the hair on his chest in the early morning light. Rodney reached one hand up, fingered the tags and then surged, kissing John full on the mouth, his hand starting a slow, dirty slide up and down John through his pants.
John groaned into the kiss, breaking away only to inch down Rodney, to undo Rodney's belt and open his zipper. Rodney's hands gripped John's shoulders as John sucked Rodney into his mouth, rolling his tongue. Rodney couldn't help it, arched up into John's mouth, but John just kept going. For a while the only sound was Rodney's harsh breathing and the wetness of John's mouth. But John felt it coming and pinned Rodney to the ground just to see Rodney's hips stutter in his hands.
Rodney urged John back up after a moment in order to kiss him. John willingly complied, once again using his mouth, finding Rodney's soft and warm. John felt as if he could live there, stay there forever, in the warm, sharp taste of Rodney McKay, but Rodney had other ideas, his mind running as it always did at over 200 miles per hour. Rodney opened John's pants, got his hand on John through John's fly, and John fell away from the kiss, panting into Rodney's shoulder once, twice, before his whole body shuddered.
It was long moments before Rodney reached down, using his hand to clean up as best he could before tucking John away. John settled down with one head on Rodney's shoulder. He didn't bother to put his shirt back on. Rodney was creating enough warmth for the both of them, and he wanted the warmth to be as close to him as possible. He wanted to crawl inside of it and soak it up, but the best he could do was to keep his skin against Rodney's shoulder, to breathe a bit wetly into the side of Rodney's neck.
The last thing Rodney said before John drifted off to sleep was, "I know."