"Are you ready?" Rodney called. "We need to be down in the lobby in five minutes." Inspecting himself in the mirror, he brushed his fingers through his hair one way, then the other, trying to make it look rakish. It just looked like he'd forgotten to comb it. He smoothed it back down and stuck his head out of the bathroom. "John?"
John was sprawled on the bed where Rodney had left him, still in his t-shirt and boxer shorts, but at some point in the last twenty minutes he'd picked up Rodney's phone, hacked his way past the lock screen, and was now holding it sideways and staring at it with a look of intense concentration. He was, by no stretch of the imagination, ready.
"You've got to be kidding me," Rodney said. "John?"
"No, no, no," John mumbled, bringing the phone closer to his face and poking at the screen with one finger. "Get out of there."
Rodney left the bathroom and went to stand in front of the bed. "What are you doing?"
"Zombies," John said. "Can't talk."
"You're not even dressed," Rodney said, as John made a swiping gesture at him without looking up from the phone. "Or are you actually planning on—did you just try to swipe me aside?"
John finally looked up, eyes dark and crazy. "What?"
"Zombies, Rodney," John said, and just as Rodney was starting to worry that this was serious and there might be actual zombies out there and he'd have to miss the awards dinner, John scowled at him and said, "This butter isn't slowing them down at all."
Rodney put his hands on his hips. "Are you telling me you've been sitting here throwing butter at zombies instead of putting on—"
John made a triumphant sound and poked his finger all over the screen. "Suck it, zombies!"
"Pants," Rodney finished, making a face and crawling onto the bed, probably wrinkling his own pants beyond the normal range of what was socially acceptable, but one of the benefits of having a super hot boyfriend was that no one would be looking at Rodney's pants. Assuming, of course, he could pry said super hot boyfriend away from his phone long enough to get him dressed and into the car.
"Uh oh," John muttered, squinting at the phone. He touched the screen a few more times and then swore.
Rodney slid his hands up John's legs, long and bare and newly tanned from swimming in the hotel pool. "We're going to be late, Colonel."
"Just a sec, my coconut cannon has to recharge."
"Oh?" Rodney said, prowling over John's knobby knees, the strong thighs that were paler than the rest of him. He pushed his fingers under the legs of John's boxer shorts just to watch him twitch. "What's the typical refractory period for a coconut cannon?"
"C'mon," John said. "Hurry up."
"Because that could take all night," Rodney said, and grabbed John by the hips.
John's mouth dropped open in surprise as Rodney tugged him down the bed. Playing rough wasn't usually Rodney's style, but he was running out of ways to get John's attention, and for a moment, it seemed to work. John looked like he was considering giving in and handing over the phone, but the moment passed. John grinned and tried to wiggle away, and Rodney pinned him down, an arm across his chest, a leg over both his thighs. His tuxedo was going to look like he'd gotten into a fight with a boa constrictor.
John squirmed beneath him, but not enough to actually get away. "Bad touch! Bad touch!"
"Give me the phone."
"There's zombies—I have to kill them with fruits and vegetables!"
"I have to go accept an award for being very smart with science, which of those two things sounds more important?"
"If I finish this level I get a bonus shovel!"
"Your face is a bonus shovel," Rodney said.
John cackled, stretching his arm out as far as it would go, obviously having given up on the game in favor of making Rodney's life as difficult as possible.
"Give it here. You're such a child."
"Who," John said, between wheezing snorts, "is wrestling with me while wearing a tuxedo? Could it be...Bill Nye, Science Guy?"
"That's disgusting. Don't talk to me about Bill Nye while you're half-naked and rubbing your dick against my leg. Quit trying to distract me and hand over my phone. We're going to be late."
"Nope. Not until you admit my superior tactical intelligence brings all the boys to the yard."
"I will say no such thing."
"Yep, boys in the yard, as far as the eye can see."
"I'd teach you, but I'd have to—"
Rodney planted a hand on John's face, which had the added benefit of shutting him up, and lunged forward, reaching out for his phone with his free hand. "I'm going to kick your ass up and down the street if you make me miss the hors d'oeuvres. They're supposed to have these little bacon pear tarts with goat cheese!"
"But isn't our intimate time together as a couple more important than—"
"No, and furthermore, suck it."
Right on cue, a tiny scream came out of the phone, followed by sad music and the sound of munching.
"No," John moaned under him, going limp. "Zombies ate my brains."
"And what a disappointing snack that must have been," Rodney said, wrenching his phone out of John's sweaty hand and hopping off the bed. "Get your pants on. You can have the phone back when we're in the car."
John languished, tragically brainless, on the bed. "It's too late. Go on without me."
"The fuck I will." Rodney snagged John's tuxedo pants from where they were carefully draped over the back of the desk chair and threw them at his face.
John sat up. "What's your problem?"
"My problem?" Rodney threw John's shirt at him. "Let's talk about your problem. We get the time off, gate back to Earth, fly here, spend a week lazing around the pool and visiting the world's largest ball of string, and now, five minutes before we're supposed to leave, you suddenly decide you don't want to go?"
"Rodney, it was a joke."
"Was it? I know you hate these things because everyone talks to you like you need help tying your shoes."
"Oh." John slung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed his toes into the carpet. "You noticed that, huh? I think it's the uniform. No one takes me seriously in that thing. Also, last time, I may have gotten turned around in the hallway near the bathrooms. I had to ask for directions. Twice."
Rodney stifled the urge to say something about John's lousy sense of direction. "I've seen you play dumb. It's practically your default state. Does it really bother you that people buy the act?"
"Then what's the problem?"
"It's boring," John said, drawing it out like a little kid and flopping backwards onto the bed. "I don't have anyone to talk to."
"Uh, me? You have me to talk to."
"You'll be busy hobnobbing with southern California's scientific elite, and I'll get stuck with that weird guy who invented wet ice and won't shut up about his parakeets."
"Oh my god," Rodney said. "They're giving us an award. I'm going to get up there and thank Daniel and Sam and that beardy little Hungarian cryptobiologist whose name I have written on my hand—Icthor, that cannot be right—and then I was going to thank you for being stupidly brave, and for always coming to my rescue, and for never giving up, even when things look impossibly shitty, but it seems like I got that wrong because apparently you draw the line at being bored."
John groaned, and hauled himself off the bed. "You don't have to thank me. It's not like I helped build your bug zapper or anything."
"It's not a bug zapper, you asshole, and of course I don't have to; I want to. Ten years ago—before Atlantis—I wouldn't have had anybody to thank, and even if I did, it never would have occurred to me that anyone other than myself deserved the praise. You're important to the expedition, and to me, and I'll say as much whether you're there or not."
John had his pants on now and was tucking in his shirt, not making eye contact, but clearly listening to what Rodney was saying. His face had that easy, blank look that could mean anything.
"Does that meet with your approval?" And because Rodney hadn't gotten where he was today by keeping his mouth shut: "Because I'd like you to be there, even if you do manage to get lost on your way back from the bathroom."
"Like you're so perfect," John muttered, buttoning up his waistcoat.
Rodney waved his hands at himself, wrinkled tuxedo and all. "Um, hello, far from it. But we work, right? My keen scientific mind. Your nerveless badassery. If you think about it, we're kind of perfect for each other."
"We're okay," John said.
"Great, so we're in agreement." Rodney checked his watch. "Now, if you're done making me blush with that embarrassing emotional display, Daniel and Sam are probably already downstairs, wondering where we are and thinking up a dozen ways to tease me about how long it takes me to do my hair. Can we please go?"
John was back to his usual lazy smirk, jacket on, bow tie slightly crooked. "If you really loved me, you would have let me finish that level."
"There's an open bar, John. Odds are good that Zelda Henning and Mars Nguyen will get trashed and throw down over Bose–Einstein condensates. I am not missing that. Get your shoes on."
Rodney watched as John shoved his feet into his shiny black dress shoes and tied them reluctantly.
John pulled at the collar of his shirt. "I guess."
"If you make it through dinner without sliding under the table in a passive-aggressive rage coma," Rodney said, straightening John's bow tie and kissing his pouty mouth, "we can come back here, prop my award up on the night stand, and put your superior tactical skills to good use." Rodney waggled his eyebrows.
"Are you talking dirty to me right now?" John asked. "Because, if so, you're awful at it."
"Oh yeah? Let's see you do better."
"How about we come back here, throw your award down on the bed, and I teach you how to concentrate your attack on a single point of your enemy's defenses until they submit to your overwhelming force. You can even hold me down, if you want."
"What," said Rodney, his mind suddenly elsewhere.
"Just basic tactics," John said, and stole Rodney's phone as he moved away. Rodney barely noticed, stuck to the spot. It wasn't even dirty, what John had said. Or all that specific. But there was something about the matter-of-fact way he'd said it.
"Hey." John was waiting at the door, using his entire body to hold it open against the pneumatic arm. "Weren't you in some kind of a hurry?"
"Yes!" Rodney lurched forward. "Wine, women, and the recognition of my peers."
"First of all, you know you get mouthy when you drink, so unless you're looking to say something stupid and end up on whatever the nerd equivalent of Twitter is—"
"It's Twitter, thank you, and I don't know what you're talking about," Rodney said, all too aware his right eye had started to twitch, only the first of many tells in what had more than once been called the worst poker face in Atlantis. He doubled down. "That has never happened to me."
"Oh? I seem to recall a certain someone having a little too much Merlot at an MIT mixer and deciding that was the perfect time to approach the—"
"Please don't finish that sentence."
"Secondly," John said, slouched against the door, "I don't know what you'd do with one woman, let alone multiple women. You can barely keep me in line as it is."
"Fine," Rodney sighed, like this was an incredible sacrifice, when instead it had been years since the thought of anyone else had even crossed his mind. John knew it, and loved bringing it up, as though John had somehow tamed him, or otherwise ruined him for all others. "Fine," he said again. "The recognition of my peers, club soda, and you, I guess."
"It's a date," John said, offering his arm and grinning.
"You are such a pain in my ass." Rodney stole back his phone and took John's arm. "Seriously, when I tell everybody in Ballroom C how irreplaceable you are? I'm going to point at Daniel."
John wasn't buying it, his good mood now apparently unsinkable. "That'll be a nice surprise for him. I can take a video of his indescribable joy if you give me your phone."
Rodney thought about that while John led them down the hallway, trying to pick out what was so troubling about it. They reached the bank of elevators. Rodney pushed the call button several times, and his vague sense of unease solidified into a terrible suspicion. He stopped pushing the button. "Where's your phone?"
"Ah," said John. "That's an interesting question."
"Don't tell me you lost it."
"Not exactly," said John.
"Because it has sensitive information on it and if it's lost or stolen you need to notify the SGC immediately," Rodney said.
"Relax," John said, just as the elevator doors opened on a family of four. "I deleted those naked pictures of you days ago."
Nobody moved. Then one of the men put out a hand to hold the elevator door open, and the little girl stepped out, eyes glued to her phone. The other guy followed her, juggling a designer diaper bag, a rolling suitcase, and the baby on his hip, and wondering aloud what their room number was and if they were even on the right floor. They walked off down the hall and Rodney herded John into the elevator.
"Where is your phone?" Rodney growled.
"Geez. It's in the room. Somewhere."
"Then why were you using mine?"
"It was closer."
"I've never known anyone to work so hard to be so lazy," Rodney said.
"You should put that in your speech," John said.
The elevator doors slid open onto the lobby. Sam and Daniel were across the way, standing by a potted palm and whispering to each other, Daniel looking sharp in black tie, and Sam in a clingy blue dress that sparkled in the low light.
Sam's head lifted and she spotted them immediately. "There you are. We thought maybe you'd gotten distracted." Her mouth curled into a dirty grin. "We were just about to roshambo to decide who had to go up and knock on your door."
"It wasn't going to be me," Daniel said. She shot him a skeptical look. "Well, it wasn't," he insisted. "I was going to cheat."
Sam rolled her eyes.
"How do you cheat at rock-paper-scissors?" John asked.
Daniel gave his bow tie a self-satisfied little primp. "If I told you, it wouldn't work."
"Okay, apparently I was about to go up and check on you because Vala's turned Daniel into a criminal mastermind," Sam said, "but you're here, and Rodney only looks like he was rolling around on the floor a little. So I think we can call this a win. Now who wants to go pretend we're just a bunch of mild-mannered government employees who definitely didn't make a major breakthrough in particle physics by reverse-engineering alien technology?"
Daniel flashed her two thumbs up. Rodney half-heartedly brushed some of the wrinkles out of his pants. John made a face and put on his sunglasses, possibly in an attempt to appear unassuming, but it only made him look even more like an action hero. If Rodney didn't have an awards dinner to get to, he'd be climbing that like a tree.
John caught him staring, stuck out his hand, and said, "Hi. John Sheppard. I live on Earth."
"Great," Sam said. "That sounds totally normal."
Rodney shook his hand, because why not, and John pulled him in for a hug, put his mouth by Rodney's ear and said, "You know how proud of you I am, right? Not just for this—for everything."
Their hands were still clasped between them, and Rodney squeezed John's, feeling hot and kind of dizzy. That he got to have this was something else he never could have imagined ten years ago, the slow surprise that Major Sheppard would one day turn into John.
"I know," Rodney said.
"Even if you do get sloppy drunk on three glasses of red wine."
"Like you're so perfect," Rodney said, kissing him on his stupidly handsome face, and turning to look at Sam and Daniel. "Ready to go?"
"Yep." Sam held up the key to the rental car and they headed for the doors, Daniel arguing with her over who was going to drive. Rodney followed a few steps behind, pulling John along with him, and wondering where they'd be in another ten years.