Title: A Good Day
Author: Keira Marcos
Prompt: Café (Fluff Bingo 2019)
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Relationship: Rodney McKay/John Sheppard
Genre: Pre-slash, Post-Canon
Warnings: Grammarly Beta’d
Word Count: 3090
Summary: John and Rodney discuss the future and get some lunch.
Rodney had taken to leaving the city and sitting in a little café not far from the docks. John knew this because security constantly told him where McKay was, and the city was irritated by his habitual leaving. Being on Earth had put Atlantis off in the worst way, and everyone felt it. Her displeasure of being stuck on the planet of her origin was starting to impact every single person on the city, regardless of gene status.
John wasn’t miserable, but he was uncomfortable and out of sorts. He figured that McKay was much the same, but they were just a week from leaving. That didn’t account for the whole coffee shop thing. The man had a year supply of the best coffee money could buy on the city.
John took off his sunglasses he entered the coffee shop. He stopped by the counter and ordered before going to Rodney’s table. Muffin and black coffee in hand, he slid into the seat across from McKay.
Rodney was writing in a notebook of all things. It took John off guard as he’d rarely seen the man without a computer or tablet in hand, and yet he was scrawling math across paper with a shitty pen that was leaving smudges here and there. The scientist didn’t seem to care about the blue ink dotting his hand or the paper. John unwrapped his muffin and section off a piece to eat.
“So, normally, when you get like this—I just go find a six-pack of beer to split with you,” John said conversationally. “But I know Jennifer doesn’t like it when you drink.” He paused. “With me.”
Rodney huffed a little under his breath.
“She’ll probably get bent about this if she finds out,” John continued. “So I considered not following you over here to see what was going on, but I figured you’d ignore an email.”
“I’ve made…a breakthrough,” Rodney said quietly and set down his pen. He picked up his coffee cup with both hands and took a sip. “Several actually—they sort of cascaded.”
John glanced toward the notebook.
Rodney shook his head. “That’s just my work on the Riemann hypothesis—a hobby of sorts.” He took a deep breath. “I dumped Keller two weeks ago.”
John considered that. He’d been in the mountain around that time and had gone on several missions with Cameron Mitchell’s team. Rodney hadn’t been thrilled at all with the whole thing. Ronon was still in the mountain and had been going through the gate regularly with SG2. John hadn’t recalled him because he was having the time of his life and didn’t want to ruin the big guy’s fun.
Rodney shrugged, sent him a miserable look, and looked out over the bay. “I got tired of pretending to be what she wanted. I felt like a weird robot version of myself, and I’ve already met that guy.”
John snorted. “Right. Sorry.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, shit, buddy, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I haven’t been a very good friend to you,” Rodney admitted. “I let her put all of these conditions on our friendship because she was jealous and immature. So, it felt inappropriate to unload on you after the fact. The whole thing is a dumpster fire, and she’s being really unreasonable about the whole thing. I mean, she’s acting like I left her at the altar or something.”
“Are you saying that you’re leaving the city to avoid your ex-girlfriend?”
Rodney made a face. “No, of course not. I’d call security if she was that kind of problem. The city is agitated, and it’s hard to focus. Plus, if I’m on the city, I’ll work on things I’d rather not work on while we’re on Earth.”
John considered that. “You’re afraid they’ll keep you here because of your breakthroughs.”
“Yeah,” Rodney admitted. “It’s pretty big—life-altering for the city and the program.”
ZPM related then, John thought but then pushed that aside since they couldn’t discuss that sort of thing in public. Rodney sat back with his coffee and stared off into space.
“What sort of problem is Keller being?”
“The kind that’s going to get her fired,” Rodney said tiredly. “She tried to say I wasn’t fit for duty because I was emotionally unstable and probably had been since the whole brain parasite thing. Jennifer foolishly didn’t realize that she would call her own abilities into question since she approved me for duty shortly after that incident. Woolsey asked Carolyn Lam to review Keller’s performance during that whole incident, and it didn’t go well. Lam filed an ethics complaint and is talking about medical malpractice.”
“I haven’t heard.”
“Well, it’s not public yet,” Rodney said. “The decision came down yesterday, and Woolsey is going to deal with the fallout today. He suggested I not be on the city when it happens, and I agreed.” He shrugged. “I’d rather not be around to get pulled into whatever fit she might have about it.”
“The break up hasn’t been news either, which is bizarrely abnormal,” John pointed out.
“I haven’t said anything to anyone until just now with you, and she’s been keeping it to herself, too. She’s tried to talk me out of ending the relationship several times, but I’ve refused to meet with her. It’s clear she didn’t expect the relationship to end unless it was on her terms.”
“Not a surprise considering her success and looks,” John said and just shrugged when Rodney looked his way. “I mean, women like her are used to getting exactly what they want when they want. I mean, I’m not trying to say she’s a…” He trailed off. “I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Jen’s used to getting what she wants,” Rodney agreed. “There’s an entitlement there that’s probably a mixture of her being a child prodigy and her physical appearance. She probably gets away with a lot because of her pretty, innocent-looking face and always has. I’m not immune to that. I let her get away with things, both personally and professionally, because of my attraction to her.”
John didn’t verbally protest when Rodney took half of his muffin. “Have you eaten lunch?”
“I figured I’d order a sandwich later,” Rodney said. “Not really all that hungry.” He shoved the last of the muffin into his mouth. “They have a pretty good turkey sandwich.”
John nodded and glanced toward the counter. “Let’s wait for the line to go down.” He focused on Rodney, who was fiddling with his pen. “Or I can leave so you can work your brain?”
“No.” Rodney set the pen aside. “Getting lost in my head right now is probably not a good idea, and I prefer your company over anyone else’s.”
John ignored the warm feeling that settled in his chest at that statement. Changing regulations and Rodney’s relationship ending didn’t equal him getting what he’d wanted for years. McKay had never even glanced at another man; of that, John was certain. He’d made a study of his best friend, so there wasn’t much he didn’t know about Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay.
“Do I need to do anything about Keller?” John questioned.
“Woolsey is handling it,” Rodney said. “She’s going to be replaced, obviously, and we don’t get a vote which is fine. Woolsey has asked for a doctor that has combat triage experience. I don’t know if that equals another military asset or whatever.”
“It’d be nice to have a doctor on the city with that kind of experience. Biro has been here since the beginning—shouldn’t she be promoted?”
“She was asked, and she said no so sternly that Woolsey apologized for asking.”
John laughed. “Right. I guess that’s not a surprise—it’s a lot of responsibility and hassle. If Woolsey makes a choice we can’t live with—I’ll work on it.” He relaxed when Rodney nodded. “You signed your new contract two weeks ago. Did that have bearing on your break up?”
“She didn’t want me to sign a five-year contract because they’d only offered her a two-year extension. Jennifer said they should consider us a couple and contract us as such. And I pointed out that doesn’t even happen with married couples. Which brought up the topic of marriage, and I’d been avoiding that like the plague. It quickly evolved into an argument where I explained that I was not prepared to marry her and spend the rest of my life being some Stepford version of myself to make her happy.”
“Only essential mission personnel get five-year contracts,” John said. “That wouldn’t be an option for her no matter how her performance. I mean, it’s rude, but medical doctors aren’t hard to recruit, and she’s nothing all that special on that front. I’m told she’s a very good surgeon, but that’s not exactly a rare skill either.”
“I can discuss one breakthrough I had,” Rodney said. “Well, it’s more like a revelation. I…don’t know what to do with it, and I’m worried it’ll ruin our already fragile friendship.’
“Our friendship is not fragile,” John said firmly. “I promise.”
“Right,” Rodney said unhappily and looked out the window again. “It’s weird to be here, you know? I kind of hate it.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “It doesn’t feel normal anymore, and that’s weird in itself.” He picked up the pen and frowned at it. “What’s up with the cheap pen?”
Rodney shrugged. “I found it in my office, which is a miracle in itself.”
“Well, we should get you a better one,” John decided and put it down. “You’re making a mess on your notebook.”
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” Rodney blurted out, and a shiver of shock rattled over John’s bones. “And I don’t know what to do with it, really, because I’ve never really wanted that from anyone.”
“And you’re straight,” John pointed out.
Rodney made a face. “Well, that’s not…accurate.”
“Rodney, I’ve never seen you give another man a single look.” John took in a breath to steady himself because his world was tilting on its axis, and he felt adrift on the subject of McKay. It had been years since he’d felt out of step with his best friend.
“I’ve worked for the military for a decade, and I learned early on that being outwardly bisexual was a recipe for violence,” Rodney said flatly. “I mean, I never personally got roughed up, but there was an out and proud scientist at Area 51 that…well. He was found in a supply closet with a concussion and a broken arm. He refused to say who did it and quit the program. It was enough for me and many like me to make sure we kept our preferences to ourselves to avoid the same treatment.”
“I used to get grief about….” John gestured toward his face. “So I got married and screwed that up pretty quickly, but it helped my career and kept people from asking questions. I wore a ring for years after the divorce so no one would ask questions about my lack of interest in going out to bars to pick up women. OTS helped, of course, because officers don’t get the same kind of scrutiny from enlisted. When the regulations changed, I interviewed every single military asset on the city and removed anyone that even skirted toward homophobia.”
Rodney huffed. “Is that why Lorne left?”
“Oh, no,” John protested and shook his head. “He was promoted to Lt. Colonel when I was promoted to full bird, and he’s been given command of the George Hammond now that Carter has returned to Area 51. It’s a good move for him, and Anne Teldy is a great XO, so it all worked out. She’s looking forward to going back to Pegasus.” He cleared his throat. “So—growing old together kind of implies some epic feelings there, buddy.”
“I don’t want to discuss my feelings,” Rodney protested and crossed his arms. “Can’t we just be stoic about this, John? It’s fine if you don’t want the same thing. I won’t get crazy about it. I mean, I know you could certainly do better….” He flushed and stared pointedly at his empty coffee cup.
“Well, first and foremost, if anyone could do better in this scenario, it’s you,” John said. “I’m a hot mess, McKay. I have PTSD, immense daddy issues that will never be resolved, problems with authority that will always hamper my career, one failed marriage, several bitter ex-lovers who hate my guts because I was so emotionally unavailable I barely recognized getting broken up with, and I’m almost 40.” He waved a hand. “And I still haven’t gotten myself figured out.”
“I’m really no better,” Rodney admitted reluctantly. “We should probably get together just to avoid making others miserable.”
“So we make each other miserable instead?” John questioned and grinned when Rodney huffed dramatically. “Are you rebounding?”
“No.” Rodney sent him a sour look. “I was…I tried…she was pretty, right? And smart, so I figured, why not? The regulations were hard to overlook, and Atlantis needs you, John. I don’t know that the city would function long-term without you, and there’s no replacing you.” He waved a hand as he spoke, eyes bright with irritation. “Then I’m in this relationship with a woman entirely too young, the regulations are gone, Jack O’Neill is married to Daniel Jackson, and you’re slouching around the city casually announcing that you’re super gay in the middle of the mess hall.”
“I did not use the words super gay,” John protested with a laugh. “And she’d asked me out four times, McKay. I was just frustrated because no should’ve been enough. It normally is.”
“Jennifer was encouraging her,” Rodney said. “Dr. Worth? I’m pretty sure she told that silly woman that you had a crush on her and was just too shy to say anything, so that’s why she…sort of stalked you around the city.” He flushed when John groaned. “Sorry? I mean, I didn’t know until after that whole scene, and Jennifer started to try to micromanage my free time so I couldn’t be alone with you. Ever.”
“She clearly didn’t trust you, which is a huge issue in a relationship. Jealousy is ugly at the base of it. It speaks to a lack of trust and faith in your partner that I think is pretty disgusting,” John said. “I’ve never tolerated it in my relationships or my friendships. Sometimes people get weirdly territorial about their friends. It’s crazy.”
“I’ve seen it,” Rodney agreed. “But I avoided making friends my whole life until I met you. It’s hard to trust people in my work because people will stab you in the back for a leg up—no matter the circumstances. I had a professor try to steal my work in undergrad. Fortunately for me, my advisor had seen my proof work two years prior on the concept and came down on my side when I filed the complaint with the university. It turned out okay, but the incident stuck with me. I stopped sharing my private work willy-nilly after that.” He glanced down at the notebook.
“How close are you to solving that?”
“Close,” Rodney said. “But I won’t be able to share it until after declassification—it’s not solvable without information I gained from…elsewhere.”
“Ah,” John said. “Pretty exciting stuff—can I see it when you’re done?”
“Sure.” Rodney frowned at him. “You didn’t answer me about the thing. About the relationship stuff.”
“You didn’t actually ask me a question,” John said quietly as he reached out and wrapped his hand around Rodney’s wrist and held it in a gentle but firm grip. “Listen, McKay, you’re the love of my life, and I’d like nothing more on this Earth to spend the rest of my life with you. But there are things that need to be said between us that can’t be said in this silly little café you’ve been treating like a bunker for the last week.”
“Right.” Rodney cleared his throat. “So, yeah.” He looked around and exhaled. “Lunch, then?”
John laughed and released Rodney’s wrist. “Yeah, let’s get some lunch.”
He went to the counter, ordered for them both, and got new coffees. By the time they got their food, Rodney had slid the notebook across the table to John turned to the first page. Pleased by his friend’s trust, John started to read. The math was elegant, not that he expected anything different from Rodney. Sometimes he wished he had a window into the other man’s brain, but situations like this were probably as close as he’d ever get. Math had always been one of the more fascinating subjects for him, and he was pleased with how he was able to follow Rodney’s work.
Six pages in, his sandwich was gone, and John started to see the influence of Ancient math principles, which they’d started to break into during year two of the expedition. The database wasn’t completely fixed, but it was better than it ever had before because of more staff and space to work on it. He felt inspired and grateful to be included in something so clearly personal to Rodney.
“Nothing,” John said immediately and felt his face flush when Rodney’s gaze narrowed on him. “It’s just…have you considered approaching it from a less old angle and more of a Norse angle.” He watched to make sure Rodney got what he meant and just smiled a little. “I can’t really say what I want.”
“I…” Rodney pulled the notebook back to him and picked up his pen. “No, I get it…you’re right…there’s a higher order of thinking in their mathematical principles that I’ve avoided because I thought it was too far above us to really give any solutions to the problem, but…oh.” He started to make notes along the margin of his own work.
John got them so more coffee and settled down at the table to watch boats on the water in the bay. He figured he could have a slow day—they’d be hard to come by in Pegasus. Rodney started to hum a little under his breath as he wrote, and John relaxed.
It was a good day.