Title: Stealth Dating 101
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Challenge: Fluff Bingo (Walk on the Beach)
Word Count: 3230
Summary: As it turns out, dating McKay is kind of hard.
– – – –
“I don’t see how this is going to relieve my stress.”
John spared McKay a look as he maneuvered the jumper into position to land. “Getting away from the city will be good for you.”
“I have a lot of work, Sheppard.”
“You are precariously close to being relieved of duty due to high blood pressure,” John reminded, and Rodney huffed. “I realize work is a…”
“Is a what?” Rodney demanded.
“An escape for you.” John concentrated on landing first then turned to McKay once that was accomplished. “You’ve been pretty fucked up since Keller left.”
“I don’t want to talk about her,” Rodney snapped. “You said that was fine!”
“I was clearly mistaken,” John said wryly and opened the back of the jumper with a thought. “The new CMO is taking their job very seriously, and if you don’t want to get shunted back to Earth for six months for an extended leave you’re going to have to start managing your stress better.”
Rodney huffed and left the co-pilot seat. “I’m not stressed about Keller!”
“She appears to be a sore point for you,” John pointed out and grabbed the backpack he’d brought for the day trip. “That relationship obviously didn’t end well. You weren’t like this when Katie Brown left.”
“Katie…well.” Rodney frowned, snagged the blanket from the bench, and left the jumper.
John followed and watched his best friend trudge across the sand to their favored place to set up camp on the beach. It was the team’s favorite place on the new world, and even McKay enjoyed it whenever they managed to get him off the city. He dropped the pack on the blanket McKay had spread, took off his shoes and tucked his socks inside them before setting them aside.
“Katie broke up with me,” Rodney blurted out. “She said I was too high strung for her and I guess that’s more accurate than I wanted to admit at the time.” He took off his shoes and socks. “I don’t want to go into the water.”
“I didn’t even bring my board,” John reminded.
Rodney scowled at him. “Is this a picnic, Sheppard?”
John grinned. “Well, the other choice was a Teyla-shaped intervention involving meditation and therapy.”
Rodney huffed and grabbed the pack which he rummaged through. “You’d have better brought good food, or I’m going to…” He trailed off as he pulled out a package of cookies. “I guess a picnic isn’t a terrible idea.”
John just laughed a little and curled his toes into the sand. “Don’t tell Dr. Harris about all the junk I packed in that bag.”
“I saw some carrots,” Rodney said as he opened the cookies. “I dumped Keller.”
John turned to look at him. “What?”
“I called it off. I mean…I don’t think I had much of a choice considering her behavior, but it’s been difficult because…I’ve failed, yet again, to keep a relationship and Jeannie thinks I’m going to end up alone for the rest of my life.”
“Not gonna happen,” John declared. “Jeannie doesn’t have the same priorities that you do, and that’s fine. Keeping a relationship out there—with what we face is a lot of work. Keller is incredibly young and naïve despite her education. I mean the city is pretty much overrun with maladjusted adults who used to be gifted children, but her emotional intelligence is quite low.”
Rodney frowned and ate half a cookie. “Yeah.”
“Why what?” He brushed crumbs off his T-shirt, and John sighed.
“I’m beginning to think this isn’t much better than therapy,” Rodney griped and focused on his remaining cookie. He shrugged then and took a deep breath. “She didn’t want to stay on the city after we came back to Pegasus and only came out here again because I signed a new contract without discussing it with her. It made her furious—she said I didn’t have the right to make decisions for us both, but I didn’t. I made a decision for me, and she acted like that was terrible, and maybe it was.”
“Well, couples normally talk about that sort of thing,” John said. “I mean I’m not one to judge. My wife and I divorced because she wanted me to leave the Air Force, and I wasn’t at all interested in doing that outside of an injury or forced retirement. I never made a secret of it—I told her when I met her that I fully intended to make a career of it.” He paused and cleared his throat. “You talked to me about your new contract.”
Rodney flushed. “Yes, well, that came up, and she was furious that I asked your opinion but not hers and I had no answer for that. Your opinion mattered and hers…didn’t.”
“Ouch,” John muttered and sat down on the blanket. He pulled a bag of chips from the pack and opened it. “No wonder she flounced back to Earth like a sixteen-year-old who didn’t get a new car for her birthday.”
“Well, she quit the program and left the city because I made it clear that I wasn’t interested in getting back together. She said being around me was unbearable because I clearly wasn’t as upset about our breakup as she was.”
“You’re clearly bothered,” John said. “She didn’t know you at all, huh?”
“She liked me best when I was brain damaged,” Rodney said flatly. “When I was easy to be around, and she could manage me. Part of me wonders if she put off treating me as long as she did because she hoped the changes would be permanent because the parasite made me more palatable.”
“Did you tell her that?” John questioned.
“No, the final argument was mostly about you and emotional intimacy,” Rodney muttered and rolled his eyes.
“Our emotional intimacy or the lack of between her and you?” John asked and laughed when Rodney huffed dramatically. “Did you tell her that beer helps with that?”
“Fuck you.” Rodney rummaged through the pack, pulled out a sandwich then a bottle of water. “She wanted to be everything to me. She said I shouldn’t have any secrets from her and making a life together meant that she was welcome everywhere in my life. She’d show up in my lab during working hours and get pissed with me that I didn’t have time for her. I tried to explain to her that I regularly had to cram a hundred hours of work into a 60-hour workweek and I didn’t have time to chat with her. She said I should quit going on missions and that I really shouldn’t have ever been on a team, to begin with.”
“Your fieldwork has often been the difference between life and death for the city,” John said. “She really wasn’t paying attention to you at all it seems.”
“She saw what she wanted and assumed what she didn’t like she could change,” Rodney said. “So, I dumped her, and I think she was more angry than surprised. She said that it was stupid and I couldn’t do better than her.”
“Well, at least she doesn’t have a problem with her self-worth,” John said dryly.
“She was very convinced of her value,” Rodney agreed. “And acted like I was privileged to be allowed to even touch her, which got old fast. I mean, yes, being invited into someone’s personal space is awesome, but she treated sex like a reward, and there was a system where I was clearly denied access based on my behavior on any given day. Not behavior with her but just in general. If I was rude to someone in front of her, she’d tell me that I should spend the night in my own quarters so I could work on my manners.”
John grimaced. “For fuck’s sake, McKay.”
“I know. Anyways, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to participate in her little pussy-motivated behavior modification situation as soon as I realized what she was doing and she acted like I was the terrible one.” He took a bite of his sandwich and stared out over the water as he chewed aggressively.
“There’s more,” John said.
Rodney scowled at him then refocused on the ocean. “You’re exceeding my boundaries.”
John laughed and slouched back on the blanket. “Hey, you did pay attention during that sensitivity seminar Woolsey made us attend.” He sighed when Rodney huffed. “I’m trying to save you from yourself here, McKay. You really don’t want to end up in therapy. Woolsey thinks Teyla’s amazing and if she suggests you need it—you’ll spend the next year spilling your guts to Dr. Grant whether you want to or not.”
“Keller was everything I was supposed to want,” Rodney said quietly. “Smart, beautiful, and successful. Maybe I should’ve made it work because I’m not getting any younger and Jeannie says I really can’t afford to be picky and…”
John sat up and glared at him. “Listen, your sister is…” He took a deep breath. “She’s judgmental and mean. I know you love her, but her version of love is just ugly sometimes. Why the hell should you settle? Keller is smart and beautiful, but she’s emotionally immature, shallow, often unprofessional, and obscenely selfish. You’re the linchpin out here that keeps the city functional which is paramount to our mission to keep the wraith out of the Milky Way, and she wanted you to go back to Earth and teach at some fucking some college in Nebraska. Also, you loathe teaching, but she couldn’t honestly give a fuck about what you wanted.”
“Jeannie doesn’t know you,” John interjected. “She makes assumptions about you and honestly about your work out here as well. Two trips to Pegasus doesn’t equal any sort of understanding regarding the wraith or our fight against them. Despite her experiences out here, Keller is really no different in that regard. She certainly doesn’t understand sacrifice or duty.”
“Maybe I can’t do any better than that,” Rodney said finally and focused on his sandwich.
“Professionally, you demand the best for yourself,” John said after a protracted silence. “It’s actually frustrating that you don’t allow that carry into your personal relationships.”
“Yeah, well, I figured out quite some time ago that I can’t always have what I really want.” Rodney tossed the wrapper from his sandwich back in the bag. “This isn’t stress-relieving.”
John frowned and dropped back on his back to stare at the sky. Their new world had three moons, and at least one was always visible. Currently, the dark reddish one was in high the sky. The geologists were keen to explore that moon due to the high iron ore content. He’d put Lorne in charge of that whole thing since that was his background and also John didn’t want to ferry a bunch of geeks back and forth in a jumper for weeks while they played with rocks.
“Are you mad at me?”
John glanced toward McKay and found him frowning at his bottle of water. “No, of course not.” He shifted his leg and nudged his friend with a foot.
“Bah, keep your foot to yourself.” Rodney poked his leg.
John flexed his toes and brushed them over McKay’s ankle. “You like it.”
Rodney flicked John’s big toe. “Not to be rude, but I think I liked you better when you were actively repressed and living in the closet.”
He laughed. “No, you didn’t.” John nudged him again and flexed his toes against McKay’s ankle bone.
“Don’t tease me, John,” Rodney said flatly, lurched off the blanket and stalked away.
John scrambled up after him and caught up with McKay just short of the shoreline. The scientist picked up a piece of broken shell and tossed it into the ocean. “Rodney.”
“You flirt with me a lot, did you notice?” McKay asked. “I don’t take it seriously, but sometimes it’s really hard to be around you. I know you don’t mean it to be hurtful and so I try to be a good sport about it but for fuck’s sake… I wish you’d stop practicing on me and find someone to date.”
John’s stomach tightened into knots as he considered that. There was no one on the city he trusted more on the city than Rodney. “I’m not practicing on you. I don’t…”
“I don’t think you’re doing it on purpose,” Rodney interjected. “You’ve spent your whole life in the closet, so I guess you’re just getting used to being out of it.” He waved a hand and took a deep breath. “But sometimes it’s hard—especially when you cross the streams so to speak. Flirting with me as a method of getting me to open up about my issues is a little fucked up.”
“McKay.” John rubbed his hands through his hair in frustration. “First, I wasn’t trying to manipulate you! Second, I’m not practicing on you! I’m not a cocktease, you know. I’ve spent the last three weeks actively trying to get in your pants!”
Rodney focused him then glared. “You…fluffy haired idiot. Why didn’t you just say so?”
“I keep asking you out, and you say yes!” John exclaimed in frustration. “We’ve been on four dates, and you can’t catch a clue!”
“I took you to that play off-world, I cooked for you in my quarters with your favorite movie afterward, and last week I used my flight time in the X-302 to give you a tour of our new moon!” John flicked a hand around. “Picnic on a secluded beach, beautiful view, and all of your favorite foods.”
Rodney continued to glare. “Is that why you told me all about your first flight while we were orbiting that moon?”
“I have it on fairly good authority that you’re supposed to open up and talk about your personal experiences on dates.”
“Teyla suggested it,” Rodney said. “Honestly, John, if you were going to get advice on dating—I really wish you’d asked Ronon instead.”
John rolled his eyes. “He was there—he suggested I just show up at your quarters and offer you dick.”
“That would’ve worked!” Rodney exclaimed and huffed dramatically.
John took that as an invitation to invade McKay’s personal space. Rodney huffed again just short of John pressing a soft kiss against his lips. He groaned a little when Rodney’s hands clenched on his hips and brought him closer. He’d been thinking about Rodney’s big, capable hands on him for years and now he was getting exactly what he wanted. It was a little overwhelming since John wasn’t in the habit of getting anything he really wanted.
Rodney pulled his mouth free. “I have to lodge a complaint.”
John lifted an eyebrow at him.
“We’re on date four, and I haven’t gotten laid. You’re terrible at this, John, and I don’t think you can be in charge of this whole dating thing anymore.” He pulled John a little closer.
“I…” John had no excuse, really, because honestly, he’d have liked to gotten laid after the first date. “You haven’t been exactly picking up what I’ve been putting down, McKay. Honestly, this whole thing has been wounding to my self-esteem. I might need therapy.”
“It’d take a tactical nuke to wound your self-esteem,” Rodney declared. “Is this…I mean…” He frowned. “Is just about sex?”
John blinked then pulled back. “What?”
“I mean, I would say no because I always thought we’d have great sex but…” McKay frowned and released him. “I just think it would be kind of silly to play with our friendship that way.”
“Rodney.” John rubbed his face as McKay walked up the beach some. “For a genius, sometimes you’re really dumb.”
McKay glared at him briefly then focused on the ocean in front of him. “Right.”
“You’re the love of my life,” John blurted out and flushed when McKay focused on him in shock. “I want to grow old with you…don’t you get it? You’re it for me, and maybe you always have been, and I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t want you to have to choose between Atlantis and me and if we’d gotten caught—it would’ve come down to that.”
“There…” Rodney cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “There would’ve been no choice at all. I’d have gone back to Earth and destroyed anyone who even tried to be a threat to you. I don’t flaunt it, but I’ve got money and influence to burn, John. I know you think Elizabeth kept you with the expedition after the first year but she…” Rodney rolled his eyes and walked back toward him. “She never had that kind of political capital to spend, and if she had it would’ve been spent on getting the position she did with the expedition. She really wasn’t qualified for the job, but that’s a story for a different day.”
John’s stomach settled as McKay caught his hand and laced their fingers together. “I had no idea. She made it pretty clear that I owed her quite a bit for both my promotion and my placement on the city.”
“I should’ve said something,” Rodney murmured. “She didn’t try to call in that favor, did she?”
John flushed and shrugged. “I mean…she tried to get me to sleep with her if that’s what you’re asking, but I haven’t gone to bed with a woman since I divorced. I loved Nancy, so it wasn’t unpleasant to be intimate with her. It just wasn’t what I wanted. I made the mistake of telling Elizabeth I was gay. She eventually made it clear she was more than willing to use that against me if I didn’t follow her lead without discussion or argument.”
“I wish you’d told me that shit,” Rodney muttered and took a deep breath. “I love you, too, you know. I never let myself to get romantic about it because you’re the best friend I’ve ever had and I’d rather not ever know another day like…well after Doranda…it was terrible and I never want to go back to that again.”
“I’m so sorry,” John murmured. “I was really out of line with that—mixing personal and professional issues like that. You were just doing your job and I—”
“Elizabeth encouraged that,” Rodney interjected. “I know that in retrospect. She enjoyed the strife between us because we were both easy to control when we didn’t agree with each other.” He bit down on his lip. “I’m on board with that whole growing old together thing.”
John wrapped a hand around the back of Rodney’s neck and pulled him close. “Come here.”
Rodney met the kiss eagerly. It felt like a beginning, and John hadn’t even realized that was possible so late in his life.
He pulled his mouth free and tugged on Rodney’s hand. “Let’s take a walk.”
McKay scowled. “A walk on the beach.”
“It’s romantic,” John cajoled.
Rodney huffed but fell into step without further protest. “Yeah, okay.” After a few moments, he exclaimed, “But I’m too old for sex on the beach, Sheppard!”
John laughed. “You and me both, buddy.”
He swung their hands again and grinned when Rodney glared at him.