This was meant to be your birthday gift, but I didn't quite get it finished in time, so I can only offer a birthday tease. Hopefully the rest will follow in a day or two.
Title: When I'm 64
Categories: It's kind of a first time fic and an established relationship fic.
Author's Notes: As I am easily the slowest writer in all of Fandonia, this was started quite a while back and has been somewhat jossed. So technically it's an AU branching off from actual canon in early S3. Also, thank you to ann_tara who looked at an early draft.
The first time he woke up to John’s body curling sweet and warm around him was the very next morning, John a comfortable presence along his side, their limbs in a tangle of post-coital exhaustion. He ran a hand up John’s side, already addicted to the way John pressed into his touch. He pulled himself in closer, enjoying the slide of skin on skin, and thought, maybe, it was about time he got started on the rest of his life.
The Ancients, Rodney was relatively sure, had never had to deal with shopping carts.
He didn’t have a lot of evidence for this, true, but sweating out the small details was more truly the domain of the barely talented, and Rodney certainly didn’t want to rob them of one of their few justifications for employment.
To think of the many, many wasted years he had spent worshipping at the altar of the revered ‘Ancestors’. Ooh, the Ancients. With their flying cities and Stargates and fancy invisible spaceships. Not so impressive when you realized how much time they saved by not having to deal with the soul-killing effects of urban sprawl. Too many strip malls and condos popping up? Just pick up your flying city and pop it down in a nice calm spot of ocean with a whole new galaxy to exploit. Not much better than carnies when you thought about it, except with the Ancients you didn’t even get the overpriced fried dough to go with the dime store chicanery.
The cart in question bucked in his hands and attempted to swerve in two different directions at once. Which was theoretically impossible, but Rodney wasn’t convinced that the laws of physics applied once you’d crossed the threshold into this particular capitalist nightmare.
Abandon all sanity all ye who enter here.
Rodney wrestled the cart forward with a penetrating screech of wheels. A mother trailing three children glared at him, but he just gave her his least apologetic smile and felt better almost immediately.
There was a reason John usually did the shopping.
With the help of the in-store computer, the tragically dim store employee he’d found in aisle five, and the tarted up floozie who’d ‘stumbled’ into him in dairy, Rodney had managed to track most of the stuff on The List. Otherwise known as a bunch of stuff that Rodney considered more plate garnish than food. John had e-mailed him a copy earlier that day, with a second copy sent to Rodney’s secretary because he was basically an asshole. Rodney would have almost certainly remembered even without Paul nearly tackling him on the way out the door. Quite possibly in the middle of the night but he would have remembered. Probably.
Rodney scanned The List again. John could be so cranky when he forgot even the smallest thing or twelve.
He dove into his coat for his phone and pressed the first number on speed dial.
“Hello, Rodney,” John said.
“Why am I buying a mini-muffin pan?”
“Washington’s great, thanks for asking. Elizabeth says hello.”
“Ha-ha. Seriously, though, mini-muffin pans?”
“Well,” John said. Rodney could practically see him shuffling his feet from over the phone. “There’s this thing I want to try.”
“Oh God, you’ve been watching cooking shows again, haven’t you?”
“O’Neill got bored one day. Somehow we ended up at a cooking demo in Pentagon City.” He paused for a second. “He was right, though. Elizabeth didn’t think to look for us there.”
“I told her not to leave you two unsupervised.”
“Teal’c came along,” John said—as if this made everything better. “That man sure does know a lot about teflon.”
“Well, I’m not buying a micro quiche whatever, so forget about that.”
After eight weeks of only knowing where John was half the time, and talking to him maybe one day in five, and, most critically, absolutely no sex whatsoever, Rodney could think of a few things that they needed more than to indulge John’s inner Julia Child. Fortunately Rodney had been patching up John’s slipshod approach to supplies for years now and knew just when independent action was required.
Rodney heard a woman laugh somewhere in the background. “Where are you?”
John sighed. “At some kind of dinner. I forget what it’s even about.” He sounded excruciatingly bored. Rodney completely failed to feel petty for being happy about that. “Elizabeth wants us to go for drinks afterward with Senator Hanson.”
Senator Hanson—“Isn’t he the one who spent all of Elizabeth’s birthday party ogling your ass?”
“No, that would be you.”
“Hmmph. Well, tell Elizabeth I don’t want her peddling your sexual favors for anything less than a ten percent increase in the science budget. Radek said he’d like to do some more hiring.”
“And they say romance is dead. Anything else you’d care to pass along, Heidi?”
“Umm, don’t kiss on the mouth? I hear that’s important.”
“You have got to stop treating that movie like a documentary.”
“And don’t worry,” Rodney said. “I’m sure everyone cries the first time. Elizabeth won’t think any less of you.”
“I wonder what Chaya’s up to these days,” John said. The bastard actually sounded wistful.
Rodney finally managed to grapple the cart down the appropriate aisle. The one advantage of shopping this close to campus was that certain sections of the store could be guaranteed to be well stocked. Too well stocked, one might argue, Rodney thought, surveying the bright array of sexual paraphernalia before him. He fervently approved efficiency in all endeavors, but the idea of being able to purchase your Doritos and your vibrators all in one convenient location might be taking the whole one stop shopping thing a little too far.
Progress marched ever on.
“What do you think of leather collars?” Rodney asked. John did look good in black.
“For you or Senator Hanson?”
Well there was one sexual fantasy crossed forever off the list. “Never mind.”
Rodney sighed and picked out their usual brands, wondering what such foolish consistency said about their sex life.
Which was, of course, the exact moment his senior graduate student and her only-slightly-more-sentient-than-cheese boyfriend chose to round the corner of the aisle.
For a tiny person, Kheryn Rossi had a surprisingly piercing voice.
“Was that Kheryn?” John asked brightly.
“I have to go,” Rodney said, snapping the phone shut.
He should have been expecting this. The large red letters spelling out “MegaMart” at the entrance had made it quite clear that he was entering the third circle of hell. Truth in advertising, right there. He had no one to blame but himself, really.
“I thought that was you,” Kheryn chirped. Her boyfriend, at least from what Rodney could discern of him through greasy locks of neon blue hair, looked like he might be wishing for death even more than Rodney was. At least Rodney didn’t have to suffer alone for once.
Once upon a time, Rodney had had great hopes for this girl. In her essays she’d seemed normal, dedicated, with a quite impressive resume and the very rare ability to think in creative terms undamaged by the pap they spewed in most undergraduate physics curriculums. Then this heavy metal pixie had shown up, ‘artist’ boyfriend in tow, with her neon tattoos, blueberry bubblegum addiction and complete disinclination to be cowed by Rodney at all. Rodney’s dreams of academic bliss had abruptly shattered. He still did not know how their relationship had survived. Particularly after he made the very, very grave mistake of letting her meet John. In retrospect, their instant bond seemed pretty much inevitable, given their mutual passions for horrible sci-fi, college football, hoverblading at terrifying speeds all over campus, and in general driving Rodney ever closer to insanity.
“The Colonel’s coming back tomorrow I guess?” Kheryn asked, gesturing at the lube in Rodney’s traitorous hand. She smiled at him again, all sugar and spice and everything nice. Women were such horrible liars. “I was wondering why you gave us the weekend to finish our pre-proposals.”
Rodney knew he shouldn’t have succumbed to that moment of generosity. You give and you give and you give. “Actually, I was just stocking up for my honeymoon. Dr. Keita and I have decided to elope to Hawaii.”
Kheryn swallowed her gum. Rodney’s evening was looking up already.
“We’re registered at Tiffany’s,” Rodney said helpfully, “if you’re looking to buy a small gift.”
Kheryn raised an eyebrow. “What about the Colonel?”
“Oh, John?” Rodney asked, tossing the lube into his cart with what he hoped was breezy unconcern but probably looked more like heartburn. “Pretty is all well and good, but eventually I felt I needed a relationship based on something deeper than cheap physical attraction.”
He very obviously did not look at the boyfriend. “I am sure you understand."
Her eyes narrowed. “No, actually, I wouldn’t know. We don’t all live lives of shallow thrills like you, Rodney.”
Rodney nodded. “Yes, I’ve been very lucky, haven’t I?”
Cheese boy shifted on his feet and pushed at Kheryn’s arm. “Umm, Kheryn? The party?”
Kheryn just rolled her eyes at him. “Andy and CJ plus a case of beer isn’t a party. It’s Thursday night.”
She turned back to Rodney. “I guess I’ll be seeing you in class tomorrow?”
The lump shifted again and kicked their cart. Rodney wanted to kick him. But John would hear of it eventually and that could only end in disaster.
Rodney nodded and Kheryn allowed herself to be pulled past him with an apologetic smile. The boyfriend was mumbling again before they’d gone more than five feet.
Rodney looked down at his list filled with its boring heart-healthy food that John had probably scribbled over for an hour at least for all that he always pretended he just dashed them off. John could be stupidly obvious at times.
Maybe Rodney had time to pick up a stupid tiny tart pan after all. If John’s inner Julia Child burned the house down, well, they had insurance for a reason.
* * * * *
The Wraith War lasted twelve years. It sounded so finite on paper. Sometimes Rodney would read a description in the paper—a skeletal outline of bare facts lasting no more than a few paragraphs--and be surprised at how small it could seem, how easily condensed, when viewed from the safe distance of another galaxy.
His memory of it was so much messier. The lines in the paper—dates, names, important battles—seemed to have so little to do with what they’d experienced at all. Twelve years. So much longer than Rodney had thought it would take, really, even in the first year when there had been so few of them stranded so far from help and home
But one day Rodney found himself on the bridge of the Daedalus next to his team cheering himself hoarse as they watched the hulk of the last remaining Hive ship go up in flames. He didn’t remember much from that night beyond the way they’d clutched at each other, disbelieving. And Sheppard, oddly touchable, looking at the three of them standing together, his smile just a little bittersweet. Rodney had always meant to ask him, afterward, if he’d known what was coming, but somehow he never did.
* * * * *
Rodney knew he shouldn’t have stayed after faculty coffee. It was just that Abrams was just so very incredibly wrong and Rodney didn’t know if he would be able to sleep that night knowing such wrongness had been allowed to continue uncontested. At least his team in Atlantis had come up with creative ways to fail at life. Wondering how, how, they could leap to such conclusions had at least given him something to ponder while keeping the city from exploding the third time that week. And every once in a while they’d pepper it up by being right about something. Abrams landed at merely pedestrian incompetence, which was boring as well as frustrating.
But really, Rodney should have known better. Lingering after mandatory fun activities like Friday coffee always ended in disaster. Usually these were minor to moderate, but this had to rank at least at the level of getting stuck on that planet of sentient cockatoos, if not quite at blowing up 4/5ths of a solar system. Abram’s spiral of inanity had wasted precious minutes. Precious minutes where John had been left unsupervised with his graduate students rendering God knew what damage. Bad enough that John and Kheryn already had some kind of compact—which they totally did, no matter how many times they laughed about it, the liars--but Rodney drew the line at letting them bring Ana Maria and Jianyu into their coven.
“So where do you think Rodney’s hidden himself?” John’s voice drawled down the hallway.
“I’m sorry, Colonel.” Kheryn’s voice practically vibrated with regret. “But the professor has run away with Dr. Keita. He said they just couldn’t take pretending anymore.”
Rodney sputtered to a stop in the doorway to his office, his response to this indignation temporarily halted because . . . dress uniform.
John was standing up nearly straight like the Colonel he was supposed to be rather than the Teen Beat idol he played on TV. He looked like every cliché ever written about a man in uniform, all shiny medals and crisp blues. He didn’t wear the uniform very often. Rodney needed warning before it made an appearance.
John sighed. “I knew it could only be a matter of time.”
Kheryn made sympathetic noises while Jianyu and Ana Maria looked like they didn’t know whether to laugh or run in terror.
“Oh, please.” Rodney said, jolted out of his reverie.
“It’s all right, Rodney,” John said, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t want to force you to keep living a lie. I’ll console myself somehow.”
“I think I might know some people who could help you with that,” Kheryn chimed in.
Rodney just bet she did. Ever since they’d come across some creep attacking a freshman in the dark walkway behind the physics building late one night and John had shown him just what over thirty years’ service in the Air Force can train you to do in terms of grievous bodily harm, John had been campus hero number one. John and some of the former members of his command then offering to teach free self-defense lessons two evenings a week when it was clear the campus administration wasn’t going to do much had only sealed the matter. Rodney saw his acolytes everywhere. They carried sticks. He was pretty sure there was a t-shirt.
It didn’t matter that Rodney had been the one to call the police, or had argued uselessly with the dean for hours for more lights and security, or had been the one to tape up the great hero’s knuckles later that night and then to deal with his ferocious mood the next day. But that was his fate, to do all the real work and yet remain forever unsung.
“Yes, yes, we’re all very amused,” Rodney said, crossing to John’s side preemptively when Jianyu began to look a little too enthusiastic about the whole consolation idea.
John’s mouth quirked and the splay of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened. His fingers brushed Rodney’s wrist and slid down to caress his palm in a quick warm hello. Which was totally cheating but Rodney had learned a long time ago that John fought dirty.
Rodney suspected that he probably had some very stupid expression on his own face, but he couldn’t really bring himself to be annoyed about it considering that he was very likely about to get spectacularly laid in a few hours. And again, dress uniform.
“You about finished here, professor?” John asked, two of his very distracting fingers drawing abstract figures in the curved space of Rodney’s palm.
Rodney forced himself not to swallow. “Quite.”
The students were all staring at them avidly as if they expected the two of them to begin having sex on the desk at any minute. While the perks of sleeping with John were pretty much self-evident, there were times when Rodney found this whole business of being the physics department’s token gay very tiresome.
“I assume that you all have work to do,” Rodney said. “You know, the work you’re doing to ‘earn’ those inflated stipends that the dean insists I pay you?”
John settled a hand on Rodney’s shoulder, its familiar weight stupidly distracting.
The students merely exchanged long-suffering looks and did not move. He knew he should never have let any of them meet John.
“Well, kids, it’s been fun,” John said in that ‘why no it’s not an order but we both know you’ll do it anyway’ tone of his.
The students shared another look, a collective shrug and then filed out the door with a little wave from John.
John moved his hand up to curl around the back of Rodney’s neck and he swayed in a little closer.
“Miss me?” he asked, like he didn’t know the answer to that one already.
“You were gone?” Rodney said, looking over the overflowing contents of his desk with something like despair. “I guess I did notice the dishes were piling up.”
John’s laugh puffed warm and intimate across Rodney’s neck. His hand on Rodney’s neck flexed once, briefly, and then disappointingly dropped as John moved away.
The pile of papers on Rodney’s desk waiting to be marked refused to indulge him by disappearing so he stuffed them haphazardly into his ancient backpack and threw in the drive with the downloaded articles he’d been sent to review. He only hoped that in some kind of freak accident his publisher had lost his contact information because there was no way he was going to fit dealing with her edits, finishing up the articles, grading, and John in one weekend, and he knew off that list what was going to be knocked off first.
John did what he usually did in Rodney’s office—which was to pick up priceless Ancient artifacts and make them light up just because he could.
“I brought you something,” John said, not looking away from the bookshelves.
This was more surprising. John’s attraction to bright shiny objects wasn’t new, nor his penchant for bringing them around for Rodney to play with when he got bored or found something particularly cool. Rodney’s lab in Atlantis had been littered with things that John had charmed off the archaeologists in the eternal unspoken war between the real scientists and the cultural tourists. But here on Earth, where one didn’t turn around and trip over Ancient technology everywhere you went even if you were John Sheppard, these little tokens of John’s made far fewer appearances.
“Oh?” Rodney said, striving for deliberately casual. John reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a gold cube that fit neatly into the palm of his hand. Rodney leaned over John’s shoulder to get a better look, but closer examination didn’t reveal anything beyond the squared, crystalline surface of the object.
“Congratulations. You’ve rediscovered iron pyrite. Which does, come to think of it, put you above half of my department in terms of scientific achievement. Ever thought of going tenure track?”
But then John tilted his head and the edges of the cube wavered and then diffused into a nimbus of gently swirling light as soft, distinctly alien music filled the room. John’s teeth caught his lower lip and the light began pooling in his hand, flowing over and around his fingers, writhing about like a living thing.
So, not iron pyrite then.
Rodney cupped his hand around John’s and the light where it touched him felt cool, with a not-quite-liquid tangibility. It buzzed along his arm and sparked faint tingles of pleasure down along his nerve endings that made him hyper-aware of the shape of John’s hand in his, the warmth of his skin, the solid feel of him beneath the muffling layers of clothing between them. He turned his face into John’s neck, inhaling skin and soap and the starched cotton of John’s dress shirt.
Eight weeks. Christ.
“Elizabeth thinks it might be the Ancient version of those stress relief balls,” John said, oblivious to Rodney’s reaction. “But it is so much cooler than that. Watch this.”
John tilted his head just a fraction of an inch further, the light in his hand convulsed, and then the unmistakable sound of “Uncloudy Day” replaced the earlier music. The light picked up the beat of the new song, pulsing along in a punctuating rhythm. Rodney found his physical hypnosis broken with a nearly electrical shock, though warm notes of pleasure still throbbed up his arm where the light touched it.
“It can play any song I can think of.” From John’s tone of voice this was clearly meant to be the most awesome thing in at least the last week, and okay, it kind of was, but still.
“With an entire universe of music to choose from, you chose Willie Nelson. And yet some people still insist that you make an excellent role model.”
John smirked at him, completely unrepentant. His long fingers closed over the writhing light in his hand, cutting both music and light to an abrupt halt. When John opened his hand again the golden cube had reappeared, still looking perfectly innocuous.
Rodney plucked the object from John’s palm and took it to examine in the light from the window. It was solid, slightly warm. Some kind of hard light? Despite its crystalline appearance, it didn’t seem entirely Ancient. And yet it had responded to John.
He turned it over in his hand, but each side appeared the same. “How does it work?”
“You wouldn’t like it nearly as much if I could tell you that.”
“True.” Rodney brushed a thumb over the surface of the cube. It felt irregular, real, and there was none of that sense of banked potential that you usually got from Ancient tech. But there, when he concentrated he felt a spark of something, something unfamiliar, something different, and God how long had it been since he’d had something truly new, something to solve just because? It could be some kind of hybrid, Ancient in origin but evolved through some other unknown culture. Despite the many worlds that showed Ancient influence, they hadn’t found many technology fusions between Ancient and other, and if this really was something like that . . .
“So, I guess you like it,” John said.
Rodney glanced up from the artifact to find John rocking forward on his toes, looking entirely pleased with himself. Which he probably had a right to, because as far as spontaneous gifts went, rare and possibly illegally acquired alien technology beat out chocolate and flowers any day.
Rodney set the device on the bookshelf beside a few of John’s earlier offerings. The pull of the cube and its mysteries was undeniable, but there was something else, not new though even after all of this time still a little surprising, that he was more interested in just then.
Rodney hooked his fingers in John’s belt loops and tugged him forward. John’s eyes crinkled up again as his lopsided smile made another appearance. He was still smiling when Rodney kissed him, slow, unhurried, a grounding Rodney hadn’t felt in too long. John let out a low pleased hum as Rodney mouthed up along his jaw, the strangely vulnerable naked patch of skin behind his ear. Rodney slid his hands up John’s back underneath the jacket, pulling at John’s shirt as he went. The uniform was, God, yes, really hotter than it should be, but Rodney kind of preferred John a little rumpled, and he definitely liked to be the one who got to do the rumpling.
“I guess we can safely take that as a yes,” John said, groping Rodney’s ass pretty shamelessly considering that the office door was still wide open. But they could do that, here, where the only risk was someone getting a bit of a show. And really, considering how little action half these people got, that could only be considered an act of charity.
“Yes,” Rodney said, backing up with some reluctance. “We can.”