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Strangers on a Six Train pt. 1/2

This is pretty much the number one most ridiculous thing to ever exist.  Enjoy!



_____________________________________________
Rodney squared his shoulders and marched determinedly toward the train, hoping to convey a sense of quiet dignity and extreme importance to the mob of passengers so that they would be stuck with awe and humility and beg him to take their seats, rather than be forced to stand, like a plebian. This tactic, while never really effective, ended up being particularly futile today; his dignified march was too slow for the closing doors, resulting in a far less dignified sprint-and-sideways-leap maneuver that probably dislocated his right shoulder and crushed the foot of an old woman. Of course she overreacted, and he did not weigh ‘at least three hundred pounds,’ though the remark caused him to suck in his stomach a little to emphasize the wrongness of her statement.

Squeezed in between the irritable grandmother and a shifty-looking fifteen-year-old in ill-fitting pants, Rodney once again questioned the wisdom of living on the upper east side and working downtown. His research grants and side projects for the government, along with the inflated salary NYU had offered him to keep him away from the other American universities that had wanted him --and, as Rodney was fond of pointing out, there had been dozens-- allowed him to live in a style normally foreign to college professors. Early on he had chosen to flaunt this fact by securing a townhouse on Madison Avenue. Sure, he had had to live on fast food and ramen noodles for a while and couldn’t afford cable for six months, but it was worth it to see the look on women’s faces when they pulled up to his door (mysteriously, however, the few women from work who had agreed to go out with him never seemed to stay around for more than a dinner or two despite his awesome accommodations and his expertly-wielded espresso machine).

At any rate, the uptown digs were necessary, for his comfort as well as his ego, and even if he didn’t despise taxis strictly on principle -- if you’re going to extort someone in exchange for transportation you might as well provide a therapeutic vibrating massage seat and a drink menu-- he was way, way too smart to be forced to converse with someone whose career prospects had been so limited that they needed to find work driving in circles and terrorizing jaywalkers.

That left the MTA during rush hour, and because of his hedonistic love of sleeping in, Rodney never managed to get up early enough to take the bus, which was slightly less sardine-like but infuriatingly slow.

Most things, in fact, seemed infuriatingly slow to Rodney, particularly other people and the speed at which they thought, spoke, or did what Rodney wanted them to do. Now, for instance, he was glaring murderously at the kid with the pants, who was shoving closer to Rodney to make room for the fresh crowd of passengers when he could have just as easily moved closer to the wall. The kid returned the glare with such enthusiasm that Rodney actually feared for his life momentarily; then the kid moved his hand over a knife-shaped lump in the side pocket of the huge pants, and Rodney thought it best to avert his eyes, pretending to have been trying to read the sign above the kid’s head. He hoped, for the sake of his pride, that the kid actually was carrying a switchblade in those pants, instead of (infinitely more probable) a comb.

The crowd pressed in from all sides, more dense even than the usual Monday-morning density. Rodney embarrassingly began to breathe faster, clutching the bar he was holding onto until his fingers ached and his knuckles turned white. He couldn’t move his other arm anymore; his ear itched and he frantically pulled on the arm to free it, but it was firmly imprisoned. Rodney felt his mild claustrophobia ratchet up quickly into full-blown panic as he realized he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, and where was his briefcase? Was it stuck between the legs of the kid with the maybe-knife-probably-comb and the girl with her iPod on way too loud (Rodney could very clearly make out the baseline to “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” )? How could he, trapped as he was, prevent someone from rooting through his stuff or stealing his case altogether? His tests from last term were in there; it had taken him weeks to grade those, they had three essays each and now someone was going to take them and sell them to his students so they could alter their grades and why didn’t he keep records of that sort of thing and why wouldn't his ear stop itching?? It was so hot, twenty degrees too hot at least, why was it so hot? He felt breath on the back of his neck and wanted to scream, to fight his way out and jump onto the track where it was dirty and rat-infested and he would probably die but it would be cooler and no one would be breathing on him, so slowly, and how could someone on a train this fucking crowded be breathing so slow, so hot and infuriatingly slow on his neck when Rodney couldn’t breathe at all? He wrenched his hand off of the pole and scratched furiously at his ear. The train stopped suddenly. Unsupported, Rodney hurdled sideways, bounced off the pole --hard-- and tripped backward, swearing, right into Slow-Breather’s personal space. Slow-Breather caught him easily by the elbows.

“Not a fan of small spaces, are you, buddy?” said Slow-Breather, rather inanely. In addition to breathing slowly and having bony knees (he had crooked one in between Rodney’s legs to keep him from falling to the ground, and action Rodney recognized as completely unnecessary since the sheer volume of passengers would prevent him from falling anywhere but into other people), the guy talked funny, like some kind of pothead California cowboy-- infuriatingly slow, of course, with am amused tinge of warmth and a soft drawl that Rodney refused to find really, really sexy, because this was already the worst day of his life and he was not going to add ‘sexual identity crisis’ to the list of things that were stressing him out right now.

Slow-Talker slid one warm, careful hand from Rodney’s elbow over to his lower back, gently pushing him upright again. He did not move away once Rodney was safely upright and holding onto the pole once again. Rodney wondered through his panic-induced haze whether he was supposed to say something now; perhaps pothead California cowboys who routinely rescued delicate science professors liked to hear a thank-you, once in a while, or maybe an apology for falling on top of them. Rodney started to turn himself around so he could mumble something to the guy, maybe find out what a pothead California cowboy might look like (Rodney half-expected him to be shirtless and wearing a ten-gallon hat; something about that voice suggested juvenile impracticality and inflated self-assuredness).

“No,” said Slow-Talker in Rodney’s left ear, the one that had itched earlier. “Don’t do that, if you move you’ll just feel more confined.” He said it gently, easily, like it was a suggestion, only his hand on Rodney’s back pressed him firmly back into position and held him there, facing forward. He moved his other hand from Rodney’s elbow to his shoulder, squeezing it in a way that was probably supposed to be comforting but was really just sort of confusing.

Another crowd boarded the train. Rodney was pushed against the man, feeling warmth and bony hips and a hard chest pressing into him. The hands moved again, one to his waist --his waist!-- and the other around to the front of his shoulder, an arm snug alongside Rodney’s, maybe even closer than absolutely necessary, his body not just propped up now but held firmly against the guy’s chest. In those close quarters, Rodney thought fearfully, he was probably just imagining the change in Cowboy’s grip.

“Um,” said Rodney, wincing when his voice came out higher than usual. “Um,” he tried again, “what...?”

“You’re having a meltdown,” explained Cowboy soothingly. “You’re hyperventilating and your neck is turning all red.”

Rodney didn’t know how to feel about this man noticing the color of his neck. “So? So what? Happens all the time. I’ll be fine.” The crowd pressed in. Rodney’s vision grayed. His knees buckled slightly.

“Okay.” Cowboy crooked his knee again and tightened his hold. “You’re okay.”

“I am *not*--”

“Shut up a minute.” Rodney was so taken aback that he obeyed the order, snapping his jaw shut mid-sentence. “Okay,” he repeated. “Now. Relax your body; you’re only taking up more space by tensing up like that.” Rodney rolled his eyes and tried his best to loosen his muscles, rolling them again when he realized that yes, a few inches of space seemed to clear around him. “Good,” said the voice in his ear, “Now a deep breath.” Rodney wanted to punch him, but he tried that too, taking a long, gasping breath and choking on the gulp of air. Through his coughing he heard low chuckling from behind him. “God, you can’t even breath right, how did you get to be a professor?”

Rodney wondered through his irritation and borderline hypoxia how Cowboy knew he was a professor. “From down here, slowly,” urged the man, distracting Rodney thoroughly from the thought by reaching around and lightly patting his abdomen, an invasion so severe that had Rodney not been slowly suffocating he would have thrown his weight into the skinny presumptuous bastard and crushed him to death against the wall. Instead he drew in a breath as instructed, slowly, and then another, until it got easier. He sagged a bit, his grip on the bar no longer white-knuckle tight. He could feel the rise and fall of Cowboy’s chest; unconsciously, he started to mirror the rhythm of the other man’s breaths.

“Close your eyes.”

“Are you out of your--”

“Just do it.”

Realizing that he couldn’t really do anything about it even if someone did make a play for his briefcase, Rodney did as he was told, figuring that if he was going to be robbed or knifed or whatever it would be better not to see it coming.

“Now I want you to picture a cloud, a dark cloud, made up of all the things that make you anxious--”

“Is this supposed to be helping me right now?”

“There’s no talking.”

Rodney heaved a huge, irritated sigh, letting himself fall more heavily on the man. He swore he could actually *hear* him smirking.

“Now. The clouds are lifting, blowing gently away, leaving only clear blue skies...”

“Clear blue skies,” Rodney echoed. The warm breath in his ear was making it tingle. He yawned, feeling hazily content in a way that really made no kind of sense. The voice was murmuring something. “Mmmhmmm,” Rodney said.

“I said, this is my stop,” repeating Cowboy, who was now smirking so much that Rodney could feel it. “So long, buddy.”

“Hey, what--” Rodney started, but the support on his back was gone and his stumbled back into the wall. By the time he’d turned himself around, he barely caught sight of a head of absolutely ridiculous dark hair before it exited off into the 42nd-Street station. Rodney actually wondered briefly when they had moved 42nd Street above 66th before he realized he’d missed his stop five stations ago.

_________________________________________________

 

Rodney was twenty minutes late for his class, for the first time since he was hired. All of his students had already left, except for Aiden Ford, who sat in the first row with his feet up reading a Sports Illustrated. Ford was an annoyingly friendly kid, not unlike a puppy in many respects, who was much better at football than he would ever be at mechanical engineering but who insisted on displaying a rather baffling enthusiasm for Rodney’s class. Rodney thought maybe it was the textbook’s occasional mention of robots.

“Hi, Dr. McKay!” Ford said brightly. “You look really... relaxed today.”

“Don’t be stupid,” snapped Rodney, without his usual ferocity. Ford noticed, his smile widening. Rodney decided to go easy on the kid; he was the only one who had stayed, after all, and Rodney was finding it harder than usual to be hostile when unprovoked. “Say, Ford?”

“Yeah, Dr. Mckay?”

“You remember that bit from Chapter Three about uniting robotics with weaponry?”

Ford lit up. “I sure do, professor!”

“Well.” Rodney moved away from the podium and swung out a desk from beside Ford, setting it down across from him and sitting down. “Did I ever tell you about the robot I built in ninth grade? It had opposable thumbs, and lasers. Lasers that shot out of its eyes.”

Ford’s face slackened in wonder. “No WAY.”

Rodney nodded. “Way. It completely destroyed the cafeteria. And pantsed the principle.”

Fords eyes shone. “Sir, I keep trying to tell everyone you’re way cooler than they say you are.” He lowered his eyes sadly. “No one ever believes me.”

“Yes, well.” Rodney colored slightly. “No one ever believes me, either.”

Ford patted his arm sympathetically. Rodney scowled.

_________________________________________________

 

Rodney’s good mood ran out quickly. A week passed without him running into Cowboy again, and another three days went by before Rodney realized he was anxiously waiting to run into Cowboy again. He went to a play after work to take his mind off things --some inane musical that cost way too much and failed to keep him awake for more than an hour-- and afterward sequestered himself in a coffee shop near the theater to wait out the subway crowds (because no good could come of crowded trains, he was sure of that now).

He boarded a near-empty 6 train, sat down, heard a familiar voice drawl “Hey there, professor,” looked up, and immediately became irate, because damnit, even a completely, totally straight guy could see the white-hot hotness of this man.

“You,” said Rodney accusingly. Hot Cowboy (and there was no ten-gallon hat in evidence, just the stupid, stupid hair) raised one eyebrow and one corner of his irrationally nice-looking mouth. He stood up from his seat and ambled over, stopping in front of Rodney and leaning his hip in an exaggeratedly jaunty fashion against a pole. He didn’t even sway as the train bumped along; he seemed to have a sort of jungle-cat grace that had Rodney confusedly wondering what it would take to throw the man’s balance... What if Rodney jumped him, pushed him to the floor and--

“John Sheppard,” said Hot Cowboy, and Rodney had never been so grateful to be interrupted mid-thought.

“Rodney McKay. Doctor Rodney Mckay. Or Professor McKay, but you already knew that.” Rodney narrowed his eyes. “How *did* you know that?” He gasped aloud as a truly terrifying thought occurred to him. “Oh GOD, you aren’t one of my students, are you?!” Because then Rodney would not only be suddenly kind of gay but also a criminal.

Cowboy --Sheppard-- laughed, a truly terrible, embarrassing, braying laugh that made Rodney smile before he remembered himself and covered it by scowling. Sheppard’s odd, catlike hazel eyes were sparkling at Rodney wickedly.

“I’m flattered, McKay, but actually I graduated college some time ago.” Sheppard, who did look young but not actually that young, now that Rodney looked closely, reached up and scratched one weirdly pointed, elf-like ear. Rodney’s own ear tingled and he blushed.

“I have... older students,” he muttered defensively. Sheppard just grinned, a totally dorky grin full of even white teeth, and sat down next to Rodney without being asked.  Right next to him, even though they had the whole car to spread out in and their sides were pressing together.

“I’ve been riding your train for a while,” Sheppard drawled, and why did the way he said that sound really, really dirty? “You usually get off at the stop for NYU. Plus you carry that briefcase, and you wear those stodgy suits and those boring ties--”

“Hey,” Rodney objected feelingly.

“--and I’ve seen you grumbling over papers more than once when it’s less crowded, and you’ve got this air about you like you’re smarter and therefore better than everyone.”

"Hey!” Rodney narrowed his eyes.

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” Sheppard said, smirking. “So what do you teach?”

“Mechanical Engineering. Physics. Theoretical Astrophysics,” Rodney listed proudly, waiting for the look of impressed astonishment. What he got was less satisfying.

“Cool,” said Sheppard, nodding. “My first masters was in physics.”

“Your first...”

“Yeah, well, I get off here. It was... really good to see you, Rodney.” He drawled out the name, Raaad-nee, and smiled like he meant it, a combination that had Rodney struggling to keep a blush from surfacing. By the time he’d collected himself enough to ask something, anything, what Sheppard did with his multiple masters, where he lived, whether he was ever coming back to the six train or was just going to abandon Rodney to his panic and confusion-- Sheppard had gone.

Rodney really wished he would stop doing that.

______________________________________________________

 

After that Rodney saw Sheppard every day. He ended up running into him on the platform every morning around seven; sometimes Sheppard was late, and Rodney ‘accidentally’ missed a few trains until he got there, looking bright-eyed and alert despite the effect he exuded of having just rolled out of bed, thrown a worn-soft T-shirt over a pair of too-loose cargo pants (and Rodney knew those shirts were soft, he’d been pressed up against Sheppard in the rush-hour crowds enough to have noticed), and run a hand through his pillow-mussed hair. The man probably didn’t own a mirror or bother checking one in the morning, because the hair was consistently a disturbingly attractive disaster. He probably jogged to the station, Rodney thought in disgust, and he was probably the only person in existence who could jog and saunter at the same time.

Rodney never did find out exactly what John did for a living --the man, despite being so outgoing to absolutely everyone that he almost gave the impression of being in heat, was surprisingly reticent when it came to talking about himself. Rodney, however, could talk about himself at length, and did. In an unlikely twist of fate, Sheppard turned out to like hearing Rodney talk; he listened, rolled his eyes, laughed his terrible laugh, and baited Rodney with teasing jibes that had him flying into a tirade one moment and laughing along with John the next. They always stood together or sat together --really together, with their sides touching, no matter how much room was on the train-- and Rodney found himself forgetting to lament his loss of personal boundaries.

It wasn’t long, however, before Rodney’s legendary self-centeredness gave way to burning curiosity about his strange new partner-in-commute. He tried on several occasions to get John to talk about his job, but all he got was “I teach.”

“You teach? Physics?” Rodney prodded. John smirked.

“Something like that,” he said.

Rodney waited. “Where do you teach physics?” he continued, with exaggerated patience.

“Downtown,” John replied evasively, and that was the end of it.

Further prodding on the following morning revealed that John liked “college football, ferris wheels, and things that go over two hundred miles per hour,” further confirming Rodney’s belief that the man had a mental age of about twelve.

“I bet you build model racecars or something,” Rodney accused one day.

“Model planes, actually,” said John brightly. “My other degree is in aerodynamics, so some of them actually fly, but most of them just have cool designs painted on them.”

“Of course they do,” Rodney sighed, dropping his head into his hands.

“Hey, now that I think about it, I have got a model De Lorean that I made in college. It has those sweet wing doors, I rigged them to open and close by remote control.”

“Oh my god,” groaned Rodney, utterly dismayed, “you’re probably smarter than half the NYU faculty and you’re using your intelligence to make toys.”

“I also made a tiny flux capacitor for the interior.”

Rodney lifted his head and glared. “Alright. That’s it. You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”

John grinned at him and winked.

_______________________________________________

One morning, Rodney was irascible. He had missed his morning espresso, a calamity unequalled in his world. He realized things were really bad when, to his dismay, he found himself replying to John’s good-natured ‘Nice tie, Principal McKay’ with a bitter ‘why don’t you go fuck yourself?’

Miraculously John, instead of leaving him in a huff to go sit with the hot redhead who had been very unsubtly eyeing him from across the aisle, peered at him worriedly.

“You okay today, buddy?” he asked earnestly. Rodney felt like he’d kicked a puppy.

“I missed my coffee today,” Rodney explained lamely, wishing for once that he could trade some of his brilliance for even a basic understanding of interpersonal relationships.

John nodded understandingly. The next morning, he showed up at their platform with a Styrofoam cup and handed it to Rodney with a silent, eager smile. Rodney knew his own cappuccinos were a hundred times better than these commercial coffee shop ones, but right then he thought it was probably the best cappuccino he’d ever had and he told John so. John’s resulting grin was blinding.

______________________________________________

 

"431."

"Please. Prime. 937."

"Also prime. 1003."

John was swinging his long, loose body restlessly between the support bars on the half-empty uptown train car (they met on their way home sometimes, more and more frequently as they discovered how to time it right, although they never planned it out). Rodney was standing in front of his own seat, flexing his fingers on the handrail and shifting from side to side, because watching John being all antsy always made him kind of antsy too.

"Uh... not prime. 27,644,437." Rodney suggested jokingly.

"Bell prime. 1489."

Rodney's eyes widened. "Are you kidding me? Just how smart are you?" 

John just smiled and looked at him innocently. 

"Oh, fine. Triangular prime. Show-off."

John grinned. "Could've been MENSA."

Rodney fell back into his seat. "I'm checking that last answer when I get to work," he threatened.

"Son of a bitch," Rodney said to his laptop later that day, not sure whether to laugh or cry.

________________________________________________________

"Ok, no," Rodney sighed, shaking his head in disbelief. "You are not going to stand there and tell me that Star Wars is better than Star Trek."

"One hundred percent," insisted John. "It's not even a contest."

"How did I get roped into this conversation?" mourned Rodney. "I used to be brilliant. I used to make fun of people like this, people who would actually try to compare a trilogy of movies with a television series and decide which one 'rocks' more as if it actually matters."

"Han Solo rocks more than Captain Kirk," said John.

"Han Solo wasn't even the main character!" Rodney exploded. "Luke was, and he was a total wuss. And he had some creepy hard-on for his sister."

"Sure, at first, but he overcame all that. It's all about dynamic character development."

Rodney glared. "Some secret, shameful part of you is an English major, isn't it?"

John smiled slyly. Rodney refrained from hitting him.

"Also, what's wrong with Kirk's character development? He's lonely, introspective, loyal, rebelliously noble--"

"He's not lonely, he's a slut," argued John. "He hits on everything that breathes."

"Oh, look who's talking," Rodney snapped. "And anyway, he's not that bad."

"Not that bad? Have you even seen the show? He's probably sleeping with his entire crew. Women. Men. Vulcans. Tribbles."

"Ew," said Rodney.

"Uhura. Sulu. Dr. McCoy."

"Oh please."

"'Please, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a piece of ass,'" John mimicked.

"Oh my GOD," said Rodney. "If you make a 'Bones/boner' pun I am jumping off this train."

"'I am flattered, Captain, but the removal of our pants at this juncture would be illogical.'"

"You're not funny," Rodney huffed, his lips twitching involuntarily as John laughed so hard his eyes watered. They were beginning to get strange looks, which was quite an accomplishment on the New York City subway. John seemed oblivious to this.

"'Ooh... oh, beam me up, Scotty!'" he moaned breathlessly, doubling over in hysterics and clutching Rodney's arm for support.

Helplessly, Rodney started laughing too, rubbing his temples with his fingers. "God, I hate you so much," he wheezed, and John grinned, gasping for breath as he leaned against him.

_______________________________________

 

“I hear you are behaving strangely,” Dr. Radek Zelenka informed Rodney one afternoon, sipping his tea with that calm-yet-energetically-smug air about him that meant he’d heard gossip. Usually the embarrassing kind. Usually about Rodney.

Rodney had become accustomed to going to a nearby cafe with the strange little Czech professor whenever they ran into each other on campus. He would call Radek his friend, if it weren’t for moments like this when he was sure the bastard only spent time with him because he took pleasure in the discomfort of others.

“I’m behaving the exact same way I always do,” Rodney snapped. “Like a brilliant man who doesn’t have time to waste on pointless observations clearly intended to unsettle me, and *who* did you hear this from?” Rodney knew Zelenka’s game, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to play. One didn’t survive on a college campus by rising above the pettiness; it was best to just sink to its level.

“Everyone is saying things,” was Radek’s alarming answer. “Students. Other professors. The custodial staff. The lady at the coffee counter.”

“Gladys?” Rodney gasped, glaring around at the nice, matronly woman who sold him his coffee every day, feeling betrayed. Gladys waved cheerfully.

“They are saying you are distracted. Less sharp. Less... terrifying.”

Well, that was troubling. “I am not. I am feared. My students fear me. Their fear of me is dwarfed only by their awe.”

Zelenka shook his head. “They are beginning to like you. The hyper young man, Aiden-- he is spreading stories. And they are all getting better grades on their lab reports.”

Rodney huffed. “Maybe I’m just a brilliant teacher.”

“Is another thing. Your work is actually getting sloppier. Not by much, but of course I notice.”

“Hah. Dream on.”

“It is true. Your last article on wormhole theory had many gaps in logic.”

Rodney sniffed and didn’t answer him, and here was another reason why he hesitated to call Radek his friend-- he was almost as smart as Rodney, and that was scary, unfamiliar territory. “So what are they saying? That I’m getting stupid? Going insane? That I’m in a destructive downward spiral of generous grading and logical gaps that will result in me being committed and you inheriting my place as the intellectual leader of NYU? What?”

Radek shook his head. “Actually what most are saying is that you seem... happy.” He tilted his head. “And I would agree with them.”

“That’s ridiculous. I’ve always been a happy person. I was perfectly happy before.”

“Before what?” Radek asked shrewdly, and Rodney groaned because that’s not even what he meant, and anyway Radek couldn’t know about John because no one’s spy network was that good.

“Leave me alone,” said Rodney dangerously. “My good mood is bound to wear off sometime and it might as well be on your watch.”

Radek just smiled. “It is good to see you happy, my friend,” he said, and Rodney rolled his eyes, half-smiling because he couldn’t really help it.

____________________________________________________________________

 

Even as time passed, a month and then two and then four, Rodney continued to have mysterious, inconvenient reactions whenever he was around Sheppard; tingly, warm, fluttery reactions that Rodney might have identified as a crush, had John been a little less... male. As it was, Rodney chalked it all up to rather strong affection (because he liked John, he could admit at least that by now, and there weren’t a lot of people Rodney liked) combined with the fact that he hadn’t gotten laid in a long, long time. He dealt with the feelings the same way he dealt with Professor Kavanagh or students looking for office hours: he ignored them and waited for them to go away.

The denial tactic was easier some days than others. The days when John talked about math presented a challenge. It was also pretty difficult one morning on a packed train, when Rodney turned toward John to mutter a joke about a woman’s ‘I Heart L. Ron Hubbard’ T-shirt and wound up tripping over someone’s foot and pitching forward.

“Wow. Graceful,” teased John as he caught Rodney around the waist. Rodney glared up at him and almost lost his balance again, because John’s face was so close and he was wearing that lazy fond smile, and he really had no right to smell so good while they were crowed in with a hundred sweaty commuters. The tingly, warm flutters returned with a vengeance, and he realized with mortification that he might actually be getting kind of hard. Because of John. Because of John holding him. And yeah, Rodney was a genius, but some things were beyond even his impressive rationalization skills.

“How did you survive before you met me?” John asked him, eyes bright, as he set Rodney on his feet again; and Rodney’s first thought was ‘I don’t know.’

His second thought was something along the lines of ‘Oh, FUCK,’ and he resolved to do something about this weirdness before he lost his grip on reality.

“You’re breathing kinda fast,” John observed, his eyebrows scrunching in concern. “Are you panicking again?”

“Yes,” said Rodney, nodding. “Definitely panicking.”

________________________________

A perfect solution came the next Tuesday afternoon when, while walking Samantha Carter to her door after work, Rodney noticed an encouraging lack of irritation coming from the lovely blond woman. At great risk to his pride and dignity, he asked her to meet him on the subway platform the next morning so she could ride the rest of the way to work with him. She had to repeat herself three times before he realized that, yes, she had actually accepted him. Rodney was shocked, thrilled, elated; he had been waiting for this moment for so long and he couldn’t let anything ruin it. He forcibly repressed the inexplicable lump of guilt that had taken up residence in his chest.

Wednesday morning, Rodney struggled for an embarrassing amount of time over what to wear. He finally decided on a bright blue dress shirt, which the salesgirl (clearly gunning for the commission) had insisted brought out the color of his eyes. He’d bought a new pair of flat-front khaki slacks for the occasion (first dates often caused him to panic and buy expensive clothing), which he was just then realizing might be a bit too tight around his hips and ass. He was rotating from angle to angle in front of the mirror, ruffling his nondescript hair in a futile attempt to get it to go all sexy-rumpled like John’s, when he caught side of the clock and realized he was going to be late; in a frenzy, he heaved a desperate sigh and jogged out the door, realizing a block later that he had forgotten a tie and jacket.

He arrived at his station with seconds to spare; he had to time this right, catch a train that would take him to Sam’s station no later than 7:15, since he wasn’t about to give her time to change her mind and get on the train without him. John wasn’t there yet, and Rodney found himself panicking a little; he’d grown used to having some form of emotional support during these moments of high anxiety. He felt overheated, faint, like he was maybe going to throw up. He ran a finger along the inside of his collar and rolled up his sleeves to the elbows, trying to cool himself down.

When John arrived a moment later he actually stopped short as he was coming over. He handed Rodney the usual coffee without his usual, easy grin and sunny greeting; his face seemed frozen, fixed in a sort of glazed, speculative expression as his eyes moved almost imperceptibly up and down. He whistled.

“Nice,” he said with a slow, warm smile. Rodney flushed.

“You cannot make fun of me. I’m nervous enough as it is.”

John’s smile widened and his eyes flashed something --relief?-- that Rodney couldn’t really place. “Rodney,” he said urgently, his eyes clear and bright and joyful, “Rodney, listen, you have to know you have nothing to be nervous about. Really.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve been trying to get Sam to go out with me for months, this is a huge deal, I am allowed to panic a little. I should have worn a jacket, or at least a tie, why didn’t I wear a tie?” Rodney smoothed his collar frantically; John frowned.

“Sam?” he asked, low and slow and dangerous. Rodney, confused by his change in tone, abruptly stopped fiddling with his collar, narrowed his eyes at John quizzically, shrugged, and continued running his hands nervously over his outfit.

“Yes, Sam. A professor in my department. Dr. Samantha Carter. Hot blond. Who can apparently no longer fight the undeniable attraction between us,” Rodney smirked, straightening the cuffs on his arms.

“Samantha??” John said in a small, high voice. Rodney looked at him again, wondering whether John had lost all those cool IQ points that made being friends with him so much fun. The sudden shift from ‘intensely happy’ to ‘kind of angry’ to ‘crushed and melted’ had Rodney genuinely concerned; if the normally good-natured and temperate John was having mood swings, he might be in the grips of some kind of rare tropical hormonal disease, and if John had a rare disease he definitely didn’t have the self-preservation instincts to go to a doctor; he couldn’t take care of himself, he couldn’t even comb his hair or iron his shirts, he’d probably die before he even realized he was ill, and then Rodney would have no friends. He might have a really hot girlfriend, but strangely enough, in the face of John’s death the prospect was little comfort.

“Are you ok?” Rodney asked, dropping his hands from his shirt and placing them on John’s face, feeling his cheeks, his forehead. “You look sort of... green. If you were dying you’d tell me, right? I mean I know we haven’t known each other long but I’d like some advance notice if you’re going to die, because you’re pretty much the only person who hangs out with me willingly and if you died it would just really stress me out.”

John smiled, weak but genuine, and put a hand over Rodney’s where it rested on the back of his neck.

“I’m fine, Rodney. Really.” He half-grinned and looked at Rodney with his exasperated-eyes, and that at least was familiar, so Rodney’s worry abated. Then there was an awkward pause in which Rodney couldn’t figure out which one of them was supposed to break the contact first; John seemed to come awake a little after a few seconds and solved the dilemma, removing his hand from Rodney’s and stepping back out of his reach. He looked at the floor. Rodney coughed.

“So,” John said, looking up at Rodney from under his eyelashes. “You’re meeting her today?”

“Yes, yes. On the 86th Street platform.”

“You’re going to ride with her.” John smiled tightly. “Cool.”

“Do I look okay?” Rodney asked anxiously. “I need a second opinion, and you’re all good-looking and charming so you probably know better than I do what impresses girls.”

John snorted.

“No, seriously, these pants. Are these pants too small? Do they make my ass look enormous?” Rodney turned backward and put his hands on his hips, displaying the area in question. John swallowed.

“Rodney, you’ll be fine, you look... you look fine. Good. Really.” He pushed Rodney gently by the shoulder to turn him back around and frowned for a moment, contemplating his shirt. “Okay, wait, here...” he said, and reached for Rodney’s collar, totally destroying his meticulous job of smoothing it to perfection by unbuttoning the top few buttons and tugging it open, exposing Rodney’s throat and the edge of his collarbone. “There. Don’t fix it,” he scolded, grabbing Rodney’s wrists as he reached up to re-adjust John’s handiwork.

“Come on, I must look like some kind of aging overweight Vinnie Barbarino,” Rodney protested, trying to break John’s grip. John laughed, and Rodney relaxed, because if Rodney could still make John laugh then John was probably back to normal.

“You do not. You look perfect.” He cleared his throat. “You know, perfectly fine. Presentable.”

The train rolled into the station. “Go get ‘em, champ,” John said brightly, clapping Rodney on the back and giving him a shove toward the tracks.

“John, hey, wait-- hey! Aren’t you coming?” John was backing up, being swallowed by the crowd, making room for the mob surging forward to board the train.

“No, I... I’ve got an appointment today, actually. In this part of town,” John explained with a half-smile. “I’ll, you know... see you,” he said, giving Rodney a dorky, pathetic little salute before turning and sort of trotting out of the terminal.

Rodney stood with his brow furrowed and his eyes darting from side to side, not sure whether to feel confused, anxious, guilty, frustrated, excited or abandoned. He decided on a mix of all of them. He caught himself reaching up to fix his collar and stopped just in time.

“What the hell?” he asked himself faintly.

___________________________________________

 
“And then I asked her to have lunch with me, and she said-- you’ll never guess what she said,” Rodney gushed the next morning, bouncing on his heels. John sighed.

“Was it ‘yes?’ ” he guessed flatly.

“Well... yes,” Rodney admitted. “That is what she said. She said yes,” he reiterated, “to an actual date. With me.”

“Wow,” said John.

“I know! And then at lunch, we both got the blue jello--”

“The only real sign of a strong emotional connection,” John said sardonically.

“--and then she told me that ever since we started working together she’d always admired my work on multi-dimensional theory! Can you believe that?” When John was unresponsive, Rodney nudged him with his shoulder. “Well? Can you?”

“Isn’t that kind of the equivalent of telling someone they have a ‘great personality?’ ” he sneered, giving Rodney a look that reminded him of the classmates who used to deliberately pick him last for kickball. If Rodney were the sensitive type --and he wasn’t-- his feelings would be pretty hurt by that.

“Sorry for boring you,” he huffed, lifting his chin sharply. “I hope you can forgive me for being happy for once.”

John flinched. “I’ll forgive you when you shut the hell up,” he offered, the set of his jaw stiff and painful-looking. Rodney wanted to shake him.

“Well excuse me, Kirk, but not all of us were born with that-- that face and that hair and that--” Rodney made a flailing gesture indicating Sheppard’s body-- “whole leaning thing that gets a person laid constantly, alright? Some of us can count on one fucking hand the number of women who’ve smiled at us or asked us for second dates or slept with us--”

“You slept with her?” John asked slowly, his eyes narrowing.

“Oh, what, is that so hard to believe?”

John crossed his arms.

“Well, ok, fine. No. Not yet, that is. But I guarantee that it’s only a matter of time,” he concluded with a smug half-grin.

“Fantastic. I really hope you enjoy all that great professor sex,” John hissed, pushing past Rodney as the train came to a stop.

“Thank you! I will!” Rodney yelled at his back as he disappeared into the station. Then: “This isn’t even your stop, Sheppard!”

________________________________________________________________

Two weeks later Rodney’s reputation as the horrifying troll-beast of NYU was firmly back in place, but he was too busy being miserable to enjoy his return to infamy.

Sam, as it turned out, was dating Chuck, the new Lit professor --had been for months-- and it seemed like everyone had known except Rodney. She still wanted to meet him for lunch dates, ‘pick his brain,’ as she said, but Rodney’s brain was so not in the mood to be picked.

He’d waited a week for John to start showing up in the morning again. When that didn’t happen, Rodney started taking the bus (the subway made him sad) and skipping his coffee (because coffee made him sad too). For days he was late to work, tired, and ready to snap.

“An A,” he announced to his Physics class one exhausted and caffeine-less afternoon, “to whichever one of you idiots can explain to me why Murphy’s Law has chosen to make me its bitch. Anyone? Half of you are failing, this is a golden opportunity. You,” he barked, picking a twitchy Asian girl at random from the roomful of uncomfortable-looking students. “Micha. Speak.”

“It’s Miko, actually, Dr. Mckay, sir,” she corrected timidly.

Rodney growled.

“But you are welcome to call me Micha if it pleases you,” she squeaked, cowering in her chair. Rodney sighed heavily and picked out another victim, a boyish all-American catalogue type guy in the back row. “You. Whatsyername. Football.”

“Evan, sir. Lorne,” said the kid. “And are you kidding me?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?” Rodney asked dangerously, and Football --Lorne-- raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, Doc. Maybe the universe is pissed off about that thirty-page final you’re making us write next week,” he suggested with a shrug.

“F. F’s for everyone,” declared Rodney tiredly, leaning forward against the podium and putting his head down.

Not long after that, the chair of the department ‘suggested’ that Rodney take a couple of days off.

______________________________________________

 

“Really you are lucky they did not fire you,” Zelenka pointed out later, handing Rodney a biscotti and sitting down across from him. “You fell asleep in half of your classes and went through four TAs in as many days.”

Rodney humphed petulantly, biting into his cookie.

“You should be counting your blessings. Health. Lingering intelligence. Pretty girl who wants to be ‘just friends’ with you but also no longer threatens you with mace. Life is good.”

Rodney glared at him. “You suck at this,’ he said morosely. “I can’t believe you’re my only friend now.”

Radek shrugged unapologetically. “I will let you beat me at chess later, if that will help.”

Rodney heaved a big, sad sigh. “Okay. But you have to at least act like you’re trying to win.”

“I will do my best,” Zelenka promised, patting Rodney’s shoulder.

_________________________________________________

 

 "Hello?"

Rodney squeezed his eyes shut at the voice and almost hung up the phone, but desperation won out and he stayed on the line. He clenched his fists and took a deep breath.

"Oh, for God's sake. Rodney? Hey, Rodney, is that you?"

Rodney opened his mouth and shut it again, realizing he didn't really know where to start.

"Rodney. Rod-ney. Meredith."

Rodney sighed. "Hi, Jeannie."

"Hi? Hi? Are you kidding me? You haven't called or visited in-- in--"

"Six months," Rodney offered helpfully, dropping onto the couch and leaning his head wearily on his hand. He was already beginning to regret this; some sentimental, forgetful part of his brain had suggested that his sister was be a kind, supportive, comforting person that he could always turn to-- never mind that much of the time, he tended to forget she existed.

"Exactly. At least six months. Geez, Mer, Madison actually asks about you, she's old enough to realize you're blowing her off."

"I'm sorry," said Rodney tiredly. "I'll buy her a pony or something. Girls like ponies, right?"

Jeannie snorted. "Yeah, that's fantastic. You might as well just stick to the expensive electronics, it's the only reason she likes you anyway. Wait-- did you just apologize to me?"

"...No," said Rodney. "So how are things with you?"

"Okay, that's it. Something's wrong with you. Do I need to come over there? Mer? I'm coming over there."

"Okay, since when does that woman's intuition thing work over the phone? And don't come over, I'm fine, I'm... on vacation."

"You're taking time off? What the hell happened? Are you dying?" Jeannie actually sounded worried now, which was kind of comforting.

"No, I'm not dying, I'm just tired. I freaked out a couple of students, it's no big deal."

There was a pause. "Then why are you calling me?"

"Can't I just check in on my baby sister?"

Jeannie said nothing.

"Oh, fine. I needed someone to talk to, alright? Someone with... female... sensitivity and... feelings and whatnot." Rodney squirmed and turned red. This was the most awkward heart-to-heart conversation ever attempted.

"Oooo-kay. Girl trouble? Other than the usual of course."

"Oh, ha ha." He wished. "Partly. Not really. Kind of?"

"You know, I've always envied your eloquence," Jeannie deadpanned.

"I'm sad, okay?" Rodney admitted quickly. "I'm stressed out and tired and sad, and I'm not really sure why, and I guess I'm always stressed out but not like this and usually I have massive amounts of coffee but now I can't drink coffee because it reminds me of John, and Sam Carter is dating some English professor instead of me, and there was this guy who used to ride the train with me every day and now he doesn't and he didn't tell me why and-- and--"

"Breathe, Mer," Jeannie said, gently. "Calm down a little. You're still panting after Samantha Carter?"

"No, not really," Rodney said, and he was surprised to find it was true.

"And who's John?" Rodney smacked himself in the forehead, recalling that Jeannie was a scarily good listener. It was probably one of the reasons he'd called her.

"John's no one," he answered, aiming for a casual, dismissive tone.

"No one, who's keeping you from drinking coffee?"

"Okay, so he's not no one, he's someone. Was someone. So what?"

"The guy you rode the train with?"

Score another point for womanly intuition. "Maybe."

"He's the reason you called, isn't he?"

"No. No! I called because Sam broke my heart again."

Jeannie laughed gently. "How did she break your heart if you don't want her anymore."

"I didn't say I didn't... oh, huh." Rodney sat up. "I did say that, didn't I?"

"So no broken heart?"

Rodney sighed a very exasperated sigh. "I don't know. It feels broken to me." Rodney would never admit this, but it was nice to be able to mention things like feelings without worrying about his manly image. Sometimes sisters could be extremely useful.

"Hm. Well. Maybe this 'John' person broke it."

Rodney sputtered. "Excuse me? Jeannie, John is a man."

"I'm no rocket scientist, but I had worked that out for myself, Mer," she said, and Rodney saw the eyeroll all the way from Canada. "I just meant, maybe you miss him. That's all."

Rodney relaxed a little. "Oh. I guess I do, a little." His chest ached and he sighed. "A lot. I miss him a lot. Where the hell did he go, anyway? I thought he liked me."

"Um." Jeannie sounded strained, possibly trying not to laugh. "Did he say anything to you? Before he stopped showing up?"

"No! He just yelled at me for talking about Dr. Carter too much and got off at the wrong stop and disappeared into fucking thin air."

Jeannie was silent for a moment. “Oh, wow,” she said.  "Wow, Mer."

"What?"

"Meredith. You can be so *stupid* sometimes."

"Yes, whatever, I'm an idiot, can you just please tell me what I did to make my best friend hate me?"

"Aw. That is so sweet. I can't remember the last time you had a best friend. Did you hire him from an agency or something?"

"Could you just give me your wise womanly advice now, and you can go back to insulting me later?" Rodney suggested. If Jeannie could explain the inexplicable John Sheppard, Rodney would buy her a pony.

"Relax. He doesn't hate you. I bet if you ran into him again you could patch things right up."

"What... seriously?"

"Sure. It's just, you can be so self-involved, Mer."

"Hey! I--" Rodney cut himself off. "You might have a point."

"You're not that used to having close friends. Sometimes you don't pay as much attention to other people, or their problems or their... feelings, as you should," she explained, putting a mysterious emphasis on 'feelings.' "This guy --John-- he probably just got a little sick of it, that's all. You just need to find him and tell him you're sorry."

"Oh that's brilliant Jeannie," Rodney said sarcastically, even though her words filled him with hope. "He could be anywhere in the entire city. Where do you suggest I start?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said breezily. "Just follow your heart. Your poor, broken heart."

"Alright, now I remember why I never call you," Rodney snarled, hanging up.

A minute later, he called her back to apologize and ask how she was, because she was his sister and he loved her, and he was working on changing that bad habit he had of screwing things up with people he cared about.

______________________________________________


On to PART TWO

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Comments

( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
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cleito
Jul. 21st, 2007 06:55 am (UTC)
Where's Part 2?
Hardly ridiculous. Where the heck is part 2? You can't just leave me hanging. Good lord, I love McShep AUs. I love clueless Rodney. I love how you're putting people into the bit parts. Jeanie, as always, rocks hard. And stranger-on-the-train-John? Brilliant!

More! moremoremore!
(Anonymous)
Jul. 21st, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Where's Part 2?
*grins* Seriously, I had no idea this many people would comment... I feel faint...

Part two is nearly done, I swear! Thanks for the enthusiasm :D I'm feeling a lot less anxious about my first post now!
lavvyan
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)
Awww, this is too cute! I can hardly wait for the second part. *sighs happily*

One thing, though: It's Meredith, not Merideth. :)
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
whoops
I'll fix it immediately (spelling was never my strong suit, lol)

I'm glad you like it! Your stuff is always great so it's pretty cool you're reading mine:)
Re: whoops - lavvyan - Jul. 21st, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
foliogal
Jul. 21st, 2007 10:15 am (UTC)
I *loves* AU's! And I am so enjoying this one! Poor John! Poor Rodney! Poor Rodney's poor, broken heart! Please hurry with Part 2! (And that was a heck of a lot of exclamation points...) :)
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I will hurry, I promise; I don't like to leave the boys in pain ;)
chevron17
Jul. 21st, 2007 10:41 am (UTC)
I am just loving this story! Great Clueless!Rodney and SulkyJealous!John.

More, oh pretty please with sprinkles on top! Best, chev
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
There is absolutely nothing I love more than Clueless!Rodney/Pining!John. Can you tell? XD Thanks for the comment; more is on the way!
badmandi
Jul. 21st, 2007 10:54 am (UTC)
I demand you write the next part! I clicked the continue button three times before I realised that it was there to disappoint me!

Oh,and brilliant work!
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC)
hahah, I'm *sorry*, it wasn't quite done but I didn't want to wait to see what people thought. It will be up soon.

Thank you!
slashfictionfan
Jul. 21st, 2007 11:17 am (UTC)
I don't think I've read a better AU where you have perfectly captured the two guys and have created a scenario which is totally believable for the two characters.
This is really good, and I like the slow build up and the great dialog and banter between the two. I can't wait to see how you carry on in Part 2.
Thanks for sharing.


eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:08 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you! I was worried about getting their voices right, so this comment made my insides go all fluttery with happiness :)
myreasontosmile
Jul. 21st, 2007 11:25 am (UTC)
I just adore cluessless Rodney. And my heart really broke for John when he thought that Rodney was all dressed up for him and it turned out that he wasn't. Poor guy. I can't wait until the second part comes out.
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
*grins* That was my favorite part to write. Poor John, I really shouldn't enjoy his agony so much... but it's all in good fun, really.

*pats John's head*
darlulu
Jul. 21st, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
I really loved this, and I'm usually not too keen on AUs, but it just *works* here. Can't wait for the second half.
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I used to avoid AUs too, but they've really grown on me. My friend rain_dances and I are constantly distracted by ideas for McShep AUs; it probably makes many of our conversations utterly incomprehensible to the non-lj world ;)
sunnyd_lite
Jul. 21st, 2007 12:43 pm (UTC)
he was probably the only person in existence who could jog and saunter at the same time. loved this line.

Poor Jeannie an apology,questions about her life and Rodney taking time off work, of course she thought he was dieing

Loved J&R interaction. John knew just how to catch Rodney's attention (my first Masters! Brill) Great dialogue, lovely clueless angst, and LOVE how pre date Rodney buys expensive clothes!!

Really really enjoyed this 'verse.
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
heehee, thank you! Yes, I think John's been planning his approach for a while; he knew right where to hit him (lol).
girrlkitty
Jul. 21st, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)
Ooooo, more! This was a lot of fun, and I want to know what happens next!

*breaks out the puppy dog eyes* Soon? Please?
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, soon :) lol now I'm both excited and terrified, knowing people are actually looking forward to it.
adafrog
Jul. 21st, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC)
Very cool. Looking forward to part 2.
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC)
It'll be up soon; thanks for reading!
(Deleted comment)
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
Yay, thanks!

Love the icon *smirks* That part of the episode was ridiculous-cute.
corysilver
Jul. 21st, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow. This is excellent. All of the touching and leaning and the slow build up is just delicious. The characters are themselves, despite the change in environment. I'm really enjoying this.
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:48 pm (UTC)
*bounces happily* Thanks! I'm a big fan of the slow build-up, though one wonders if even Rodney could be THAT stupid XD
sherryillk
Jul. 21st, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
Oh my god, NYU! And the 6 train! Too cool! As soon I as I read that he was a professor at NYU, I couldn't help but be distracted and wonder about how it would feel like to have him lecture in my Gen Physics course... I swear, a few times it seemed like some of the professors were channeling him so maybe it could work out. ^^

Anyway, I totally love it. My pleasure at imagining Rodney actually as a professor at NYU not withstanding, this fic is awesome. I love how Rodney seems totally clueless towards John, so very cute. Please post part two soon! I can't wait to see how it ends!
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:56 pm (UTC)
When I first realized you went to NYU I felt a stab of fear that I had picked the wrong train, or something-- I never did check up on the geography :)

I'm so glad you like it! And now I will be extra paranoid, knowing someone who actually KNOWS the city will be reading. Eeep!

*pulls up MTA web page and city maps*
(no subject) - sherryillk - Jul. 21st, 2007 09:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
ruggerdavey
Jul. 21st, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
Oh my goodness. I was hoping that the second part was done, but alas. I was really enthralled in this, and I loved it. I love the inclusion of Radek and Jeannie along with John - very cool. I think the interactions between John and Rodney are great, and Rodney's thought processes seem to be spot-on and yet we got glimpses into John as well (like with Rodney asking if his butt looked too big in the pants and John reacting). I'll be anxiously looking forward to the next part. :)
eye_queue
Jul. 21st, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
I think the interactions between John and Rodney are great, and Rodney's thought processes seem to be spot-on and yet we got glimpses into John as well.

Aw, wow. You've made me feel like an actual writer!

*hugs*
(no subject) - ruggerdavey - Jul. 22nd, 2007 08:08 am (UTC) - Expand
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