"Where have you been?" John asked, looking up from his lunch tray when Rodney rushed into the lunchroom and sat down heavily across from him.
"I," Rodney said dramatically, upending his lunchbag onto the table, "have been typing up my applications in the main office on their sixty-year-old manual typewriter, which I'm only allowed to use when Mrs. Langford doesn't need it."
He corralled his apple and his string cheese and pulled half of his sandwich out of its plastic baggie. A quick glance at the table told him that John had given up early on 'Italian Surprise' -- most of it still sat in its assigned well on John's tray, and the individual white plastic tines of John's mutilated fork poked cheerfully out from the clump of pasta, sauce, and congealed cheese. Ronon was stoically shoveling in double helpings down at the end of the table and Teyla -- that was weird -- Teyla was down there, too, instead of next to John, and she looked like she was helping Aiden Ford with his homework. Well, Rodney supposed, that explained that.
"How far did you get?" John asked, ripping his milk carton apart.
"A page and a half," Rodney snorted. "How much time do I have to eat? Lunch is practically over." He glanced up at the clock on the wall and surveyed the rest of his food.
"Probably, if you don't breathe," John said helpfully, "you could get most of it down."
"Oh, very funny," Rodney said with his mouth full. "Here, you want this?" he asked, pushing the other half of the sandwich across the table at John and peeling apart the wrapping on the string cheese. "It's tuna," he added, when John pulled the bread apart gingerly.
John shrugged and ate it in about four bites. "Thanks," he said, glancing at his watch and standing up. "Hey, walk with me," he said as Rodney bit the top off the string cheese and followed it with a bite of apple. He liked the way the cheese and fruit tasted together in his mouth.
And that was when Laura Cadman showed up and slid into John's barely-abandoned seat, right across from Rodney.
"Rodney," she said, her smile wide and dangerous. "Long time, no see."
"Er," Rodney said around his double mouthful of food. He tried to swallow everything in one go and wound up choking.
"You coming or what, McKay?" John asked, walking around the end of the table and whacking him harder than necessary on the back.
"Er," Rodney said again, his food safe, but the rest of him possibly in mortal danger. He glanced from Laura's eyes, bright and intent, and John's face, casually expectant and knew that no good could come of this. "We've got this, um, thing," he said to Laura, waving his hand between himself and John. "That we have to go...work on."
"What kind of thing?" she asked, tilting her head and Rodney thought, oh, wow, she's hot before glancing over at John, who was looking positively stormy.
"A school thing," he said quickly. "It's uh, important. For our grades. For school." He scrambled up, tipping over his chair in the process. "Gotta go, talk to you later, bye!" he called as he fumbled the chair upright and followed John out of the cafeteria. "She is so going to kick my ass," he sighed when he'd caught up.
John tilted his head quizzically. "Why? What did you do?"
"Um, hello? Did you see her face? I just ditched her to hang out with you and you think she's going to be happy about that?"
John narrowed his eyes. "You could have said no if you wanted to stay. She kind of looked like she wanted to kick your ass anyway. I thought I was doing you a favor."
Rodney heaved a sigh and started walking again. "Okay, I suppose that there is some slim possibility that you're not entirely wrong. She might already be pissed off at me for not calling her or...whatever it is I'm supposed to do after making out with a girl." He paused and considered this. "What do you do after making out with a girl at a party? I guess you're supposed to call her, huh?"
John raised his eyebrows. "It's generally a good idea, yeah," he said.
"Oh, well, do you think it's too late? Should I try calling her tonight?" Rodney asked, suddenly preoccupied with images of Laura pantsing him or punching him in the mouth, or, what would really suck, not letting him slide his hands up under her shirt and cup her breasts again.
"I wouldn't worry about it," John said dismissively. "Look, I had this idea and -- Rodney, focus."
Rodney, who had been having incredibly inappropriate fantasies regarding Laura and her breasts, blinked and nearly crashed into a locker. John's hand clamped down on his arm and dragged him away.
"Sorry," Rodney said, shaking his head a little and looking over into John's weird-colored eyes. They were, he realized, quite a bit like Laura's except that he'd forgotten to notice John's quite so much in the last three and a half weeks.
"Yeah, so, I had an idea for the best prank ever," John said, hauling Rodney into the empty study hall classroom.
"Really?" Rodney asked, intrigued. He put his books down on his usual desk in the front row and perched on the desktop, feet on the chair. "What is it?"
John hopped up on the desk behind Rodney's and kicked his feet gently. "Well," he temporized. "It really all depends on whether you can reprogram the school's Scantron machine."
Rodney felt vaguely insulted. "Of course I can reprogram the Scantron," he scoffed. "What do you think I am, an amateur?"
"Hey," John said, the corners of his mouth turning up and Rodney remembered just how much he liked to see John smile. "I'm just asking. Everyone has limits."
Rodney snorted. "Only people who want them," he said without really thinking about it.
John licked his upper lip and gave Rodney a long, assessing look. Then he leaned forward and glanced at the door. "So this is what I was thinking," he said softly. "The first question on that Homecoming Match questionnaire was sex, right?"
"Uh -- " Rodney's brain derailed when John said sex even though he knew that John had been talking about gender. "Yes?"
"Well, I just thought if you could eliminate that particular parameter, then the results would come back completely different." John sketched a deliberately casual shrug. "C'mon, how much fun would it be to watch everyone go completely batshit?"
Rodney bit his lip. It sounded like a good way to get his ass kicked, to him, but John was pretty much the king of cool and Rodney trusted him to ride this one out. "The results don't come out 'til next week," he said slowly.
John looked up at the ceiling. "Rodney," he said. "I'm trying to set it up so that you stay cool. That was the point of all this, right?"
Rodney stared at John and thought to himself, No. That wasn't the point at all.
"Well. Yes. Of course it was," he said instead.
"So…." John said, drawing out the word. "This will pretty much seal your place in school history forever. Once everyone realizes it's a joke, you'll be the hottest thing around." He glanced at the door and quieted as two girls came in the classroom and sat on the other side of the room. They put their heads together and giggled. "So what do you say?" John asked, too quietly for them to overhear.
"Okay, fine," Rodney said. "But if I get my head flushed down a toilet, it's all on you."
John flashed a grin and knocked Rodney's shoulder with his fist as he hopped off the desk and brushed off his jeans. "We'll do it this weekend," he said, walking back to his seat. "Saturday. We've got to go all the way up to Oro Valley for the game."
"Great," Rodney said. "A stay. I wonder if I get a last meal?"
John detoured through the kitchen to grab an apple before picking up his gear for that night's game from his room. The phone rang while he had his head in the fridge, so he stuck the apple in his mouth, snagged the receiver, swallowed a bite that was maybe a little too big, and choked out a, "H'lo?"
"Why is Rodney McKay answering your phone?" a familiar voice demanded cheerfully.
"Elizabeth? Oh, shoot, I never called you back," John said, vaguely remembering the day he'd turned down her call to play video games with Rodney. "Rodney told me you called. I've just been -- " His heart sank a little as he thought about the De Lorean and Teyla and Rodney and the exhilarating trip to the pool hall and the jerk-off sessions that felt really forbidden for the first time. " -- busy," he finished lamely.
"Apparently," Elizabeth said, but her tone was indulgent. "So what's going on with you and Rodney? I don't remember you two ever being friends."
"He lives right next door," John said defensively. "It's pretty stupid that we never hung out before."
"Right," said Elizabeth. "Except that you like football, ferris wheels, and anything that goes obscenely fast, and Rodney likes physics, coffee, and being smarter than the teachers. So you want to tell me what's going on?"
"Well," John said, to bide time, and scrambled for the partial truths he'd told his father. "My dad's been getting on me about my physics grade, so Rodney gave me a hand with a couple of concepts I wasn't getting and in exchange, I...helped him ask out this girl he was interested in."
John thought it had been a pretty good save but the skeptical silence on the other end of the line told him otherwise.
"You're still not telling me the whole story," Elizabeth said thoughtfully. "But I'll be back in two weeks and don't think you're pulling one over on me then," she warned.
"You'll be back?" John asked, a tiny hope flaring in his chest.
"Don't tell me you've forgotten homecoming," she teased. "I've got to come back for the dance."
"Right," he said, realizing he'd been so preoccupied with Rodney and everything else that he'd completely forgotten that he'd actually have to go to the dance. He thought of last year's dance, watching Elizabeth blush and duck for Principal Hammond to put the crown on her hand and waiting for her to finish her dance with Jack O'Neill so that he could put his arms around her and turn his face into her hair. Everything had seemed so perfect back then, so easy. John ached for her suddenly, wished for the knowing lift of her eyebrow, and desperately wanted to confess everything to her and get her blessing.
"I've got to go," Elizabeth said suddenly.
"Wait," he said, even though he could hear people calling her name in the background.
"Hold on a sec," he heard her say to the other voices. "No, no, go on, I'll catch up to you." Then, "What is it John?" she asked softly, just for his ears.
He opened his mouth and nothing came out as he realized that he couldn't tell her. He couldn't tell anyone.
"John?" Elizabeth prompted.
"Elizabeth," he said, a little helplessly. "When -- when we were together? It was -- it was all right, wasn't it?"
"It, you mean -- " Elizabeth started, very softly. "John," she murmured, the background noise muting and John imagined her cupping her hand around the phone. "John, you know I wouldn't have wanted anyone else for my first time, right? Everything was exactly as I'd hoped. You were exactly as I'd hoped. Okay?"
"Okay," John said, nodding even though he knew she couldn't see him.
"I've got to go," Elizabeth said reluctantly. "I'll...do you want me to -- "
"No," John interrupted in his best guise of casual. "Don't worry about calling. I'll see you in two weeks, right?"
"Okay." Elizabeth still sounded a little unsure and John felt bad for ever bringing it up. "I've got to go! Love you, bye!" she added in a sudden rush.
"Have fun," John said, half meaning it, but he was talking to the dial tone.
"We are going to get arrested," Rodney whispered to John, who was doing something sketchy to door. "Are you picking the lock?"
"Nope," John said, holding up something shiny in the dim floodlights. "I have a key."
"Oh, my God," Rodney said, closing his eyes and trying to melt deeper into the shadows painting the side of the gym. "You really are a juvenile delinquent. What did you do, swipe the coach's keys and make a copy? Press wax into the lock? No, wait, never mind, don't tell me. I'd rather not know, that way when they arrest us, I can claim plausible deniability. 'He had a key!' I'll say. Of course when they ask what we were doing here in the middle of the night, I can't really sell the 'I thought we were allowed -- "
"Shut up, Rodney," John whispered. He opened the door and slipped inside.
Rodney cast one last glance around the quiet campus and followed him. "Where are we?" he whispered. This wasn't the main gym, the walls were too close and there was too much stuff scattered around. He took a step forward and crashed into something that pressed into his stomach and thighs and clattered metallically.
"We're in the weight room," John said in a normal tone. "All the football players have keys so we can come in and work out whenever we want."
"Oh. Well." Rodney stumbled away from the bench press table -- he recognized the shape now that his eyes had adjusted to the dark and also since John had gotten around to giving him some kind of clue of his great breaking and entering scheme.
"This way," John said from somewhere off to Rodney's left. "Try not to kill yourself on any of this stuff."
"That would be a little easier if I had some idea of where any of it was or maybe if we weren't, oh, sneaking around in the dark," Rodney muttered, picking his way through the room, hands out in front of him to protect the rest of him from malicious dumbbells and weight benches.
"We're going up stairs, next," John said, his hand bumping against Rodney's back before patting up to his shoulder. "You go first, I'll be right behind you."
Rodney made his way up the stairs slowly with John as a warm presence at his back. John's hand stayed firm on his shoulder throughout the climb.
"This way," John said. They went past the coaches' and health ed teacher's offices, to the end of the hall. John unlatched the window and pushed it up.
"What are you doing?" Rodney whispered. "I hope you're not doing what I think you're doing!"
"Why are you whispering?" John asked, his grin quicksilver in the moonlight. He sat on the windowsill and swung his feet outside.
"I don't know." Rodney realized, belatedly, that there were no teachers around in the middle of the weekend, no security guard, not even the janitors worked on Saturday nights. "It seemed like the right thing to do," he said.
John shook his head and hopped out the window.
"Are you coming?" John asked, ducking his head to peer in the window.
Rodney glanced outside. John was standing on the roof of the breezeway that connected the gym to the rest of the school. "You're crazy," he said, crawling through the window. "I thought you just threw yourself onto the ground!"
Even in the dark, it was easy to see John roll his eyes. "Because I pushed you up a flight of stairs so I could jump two stories and break a leg? Give me a little credit, McKay."
"I try my best," Rodney replied, crawling out on the breezeway with John. "It's not my fault you make it so difficult."
"Glad to know you're putting forth an effort," John said sarcastically, walking across the roof toward the main building.
Rodney edged across at a much less confident pace. "What's the advantage to breaking in this way?" he asked, folding his arms and looking around the dark campus.
"Teachers on the second floor are less likely to lock their windows," John said, trying the one to the left of the breezeway. "Try the one on your side."
Sure enough, whoever had the classroom on the right hadn't locked their window on Friday afternoon and Rodney pushed it up easily. "This is underclass math," he said when his feet were on solid linoleum again, looking at the equations left on the chalkboard.
"Yeah," John said, sliding in after him. "Mr. Boyd's room." He opened the door and jammed it open with the rubber wedge. "We want to be able to get back in here."
"What'd you do? Recon the place yesterday?" Rodney asked, and then did a double take at the expression on John's face. "You did! You totally have a plan!"
"Of course I do," John said, leading the way down the hall. "I want this to work, you know."
Rodney caught up with him and they walked side by side until they reached the main office. "You're going to break into the main office now?" he asked.
"Nope," John said, digging in his jeans pocket. "Teyla let me borrow the key. She's an office aide first period so she has a key in case she gets in early."
"Wow," Rodney said, definitely impressed, first that the office staff would think that Teyla needed a key when she spent her mornings in the cool hallway flirting with John and secondly that she'd given John the key with no questions asked. "So, I guess things are uh, cool? With you two?"
John cut him a sideways glance. "What do you mean?"
"Nothing," Rodney backpedaled. "I mean, look. You weren't sitting together at lunch the other day, you skipped lunch twice, and she skipped it once. I haven't seen you groping in the hall all week. So what's going on? Did you piss her off again? Did I piss her off again and you have to suck up? What happened?"
John shrugged. "We broke up," he said. "No big deal."
"No big deal!" Rodney stopped and dropped his jaw. "It's Teyla! She's the hottest girl in school!"
"Rodney, are you coming in here or not?" John asked from inside the office.
"Yeah, but -- " Rodney said, joining John.
"So let's find the machine and you can do your thing and we can get out of here," John said.
"Okay, fine," Rodney huffed, brushing past him to the computer room in the back. "Can you even break up with a girl you're not going steady with?"
"Since this is no longer the nineteen-fifties and people don't go steady anymore, and there are still people breaking up right and left, I'm going to go with yes," John said. He fished a penlight out from somewhere and flashed it over the keyboards of the computers. "Need this?"
"Yeah, over here," Rodney said, waving at one workstation and taking the seat in front of it. He found the boot disk and started the computer up and then realized what John had just offered. "Wait, you had that all along?"
"Had what?" John asked, feigning obliviousness badly.
"The flashlight," Rodney said, bracing himself on the back of the chair as he turned to glare at John and wound up blinding himself. He flinched away. "You let me bang around the gym all that time when you had a flashlight in your pocket the whole time?"
"The gym has windows," John said. "I didn't want the light to be seen from the outside."
"Fine," Rodney muttered, turning back to the computer and searching for the match program.
"What are you doing?" John asked, leaning over his shoulder.
"I'm looking for -- aha!" Rodney opened the program and started studying the lines of code. "We don't actually want to recode the Scantron machine. It's designed to recognize only one right answer. So the program the Homecoming Committee is going to use to match these up is designed only to match right-answer question ones with wrong-answer question ones. I'm just going to delete the line of code in the correlation program that -- there it is -- that gives that order, and that way -- huh."
"Huh, what?" John growled.
Rodney felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "If I take that parameter out, the test will match gender like any other variable. The test is defaulted to match like with like. Only on certain questions do they want opposites. So…." He pulled the keyboard closer and typed in a few lines. "There. That makes the first question completely irrelevant." He hit enter and spun the chair to beam smugly at John and nearly brained himself on the flashlight.
"Whoa, careful there, Einstein," John said, pulling his arm back. "You ready to go?"
"Let me just shut down," Rodney said grumpily, making a few keystrokes and then going through the procedure to turn off the computer. He had just returned the boot disk to its case when they heard a siren.
Their eyes met, alarmed, and John switched off the flashlight and sprinted to the doorway.
"Cop car," he said, peering into the main office, which had windows to the outside.
"I knew it!" Rodney yelled. "We are going to get arrested!"
"Not yet," John muttered, shoving the flashlight back in his vest pocket. "Get down." He pushed Rodney's head down and dropped to the floor after him. "This way," he whispered, running in a crouch to the door. "We need to get out of here."
Rodney pressed close to John as they slipped out of the office, more for reassurance than any untoward intent, and fidgeted nervously as John relocked the door.
"Left, then right down the Bio hall," John whispered as they heard the heavy lock on the front door rattling open. "Go!"
Rodney dashed down the hall and swung around the corner to the Biology hallway. There was a stairwell at the end and he didn't even hesitate when he reached it, just yanked open the door and ran up the stairs, John on his heels. He heard shouts behind them but not the creak of the stairwell door. He burst out on the second floor and John's hand on his back pushed him toward the math hallway.
They ran down to the last rooms in the hall and John yanked open the door and kicked the rubber wedge inside the room. "You first," he said, letting Rodney through and then closing the door behind them.
Rodney pushed the window up and crawled out onto the roof of the breezeway and froze. The ground was a long way down on either side and the police car sat in front of the school, lights blazing and siren still ringing.
"Rodney." John's voice was low in his ear and his hand was warm on the small of Rodney's back. "Get going. Now!"
"Right, right," Rodney said, not moving. John pushed, none-too-gently, and Rodney stumbled forward a few steps. He felt very unsteady on the creaky metal roof and inched forward even as John was urging him to get a move on.
"Hey! Who's up there?" The beam of a flashlight cut across the sky and Rodney found himself hurtling face-first at the breezeway roof with John on top of him.
"Crawl!" John hissed and Rodney did, scrambling with his hands and knees to get to the other side, through the window, and into the tiny hallway on the second floor of the gym. He lay there for a moment breathing in the sweet, sweet scent of linoleum and Simple Green, until John grabbed his collar and dragged him upright and down the stairs to the weight room. "In here," John muttered, shoving Rodney in a closet and pushing the door closed quietly after them.
"What are we doing in here?" Rodney asked.
"Being very quiet," John said shortly.
It was dark in the closet and Rodney kicked John when he tried to shift around enough to sit down. John's hand clamped over his shin and squeezed uncomfortably hard. Rodney scowled but didn't say anything. He had no desire to go to jail, after all.
The main doors to the gym swung open and only John's hand on his leg kept Rodney from jumping to his feet and knocking over everything in the closet. The crack between the door and the floor glowed, yellow light stretching not quite to the toes of John's black boots. Rodney bit his lip and held his breath. His heart was beating a mile a minute and when someone rattled the door of the closet, he thought that maybe he was going to swallow his tongue.
"No one's here. Must have been a false alarm," he heard a voice call and then heavy footsteps and the light under the door went out.
Rodney continued to hold his breath until he heard the doors close again. He started to move but John pressed an elbow into his kneecap and so Rodney sat still until the siren shut down and the sound of a car crunching over gravel faded away.
"That was close," Rodney said, only to get his mouth sealed by John's hand.
"Shh," he said. He pulled something out of his pocket and slid it under the door. They waited a minute -- for what, Rodney wasn't sure, but he'd counted up to sixty by the time John tried the door. He took his time, easing the door open and peering into the dark weight room before sliding out of the closet and letting Rodney out after him.
Silently, they slipped back out of the gym and ran to John's car, parked two blocks away in a residential neighborhood.
"Oh, my God, I was right, we almost got arrested!" Rodney shouted when they were safely in the car with the doors closed.
"Oh, we did not," John snapped, starting the engine. "And did you hear what the one said? You must have tripped a silent alarm somewhere."
"I tripped an alarm?" Rodney shot back. "How do you know you didn't trip it? You're running around with your boots and your flashlights -- maybe the alarm was triggered by light!"
"Maybe it was triggered by someone booting up the computers at one in the morning," John growled in return.
Rodney opened his mouth and closed it again, at loss for a good retort. As he groped for one, another idea occurred to him. "Hey," he said, feeling faintly surprised. "We did it!"
John turned to look at him, the moonlight playing over his features and in that moment, he looked surprised, too.
"Yeah," he said, the wonder evident in his voice. "We did."
"Where are we going?" John asked when Rodney pulled up in his dad's car.
"It's the last night we're contractually obligated to hang out together, so I'm going to teach you a little something about being a geek," Rodney said with insufferable smugness.
John suffered it gladly. He had his own ideas about certain 'contractual obligations' and with luck, they would fit perfectly with whatever Rodney had planned.
"Did you bring me flowers?" he asked, getting into the passenger side of the car and seeing a long, rectangular box in the back seat.
"In your dreams," Rodney shot back.
John just smiled and watched the late afternoon sun as Rodney drove out toward the base and then turned onto the backroads, skirting the perimeter. He finally pulled up next to a dumpster. A 12-foot wall stretched above them and it was the only thing around.
"If you wanted to sneak onto the base," John said as they got out of the car and Rodney retrieved the box from the backseat, "we could have just gone through the front door. I do have an ID card."
"Trust me," Rodney said, placing the box on the dumpster and hauling himself up. "It's more fun this way."
John scrambled up after him and joined him at the wall, squinting against the sun.
There were airplanes.
For as far as his eyes could see, airplanes lined up below him, parked in formation. B-29 Superfortresses sat before C-47 Gooney Birds, next to F-86A Sabrejets. John could see Stratojets and U-2s and Valkyries, all in various stages of rust and decay.
"Oh, wow," he breathed, taking in everything he could, his brain processing each sight and cataloging it, comparing it against pre-existing knowledge, slotting it against pictures in books and magazines and calendars, and then, when his brain couldn't handle any more, he just stared. "I didn't know these were here."
"Come on," Rodney said, and his odd, lopsided mouth was grinning so hard he looked twelve, and like someone had given him something he'd always wanted. A telescope, John's slightly guilty conscience kicked in.
Rodney put the box on top of the wall and hauled himself up with only a little help from John. He dropped to the other side and looked up. "Toss it down?" he said.
John picked up the box. It was heavier than it looked and something solid inside slid from end to end. He leaned over the wall as far as he could and released it, letting it drop into Rodney's hands. Then he pushed himself over the wall and dropped down on the other side.
"This is amazing," he said, reaching out to touch the nearest B-18 Bolo, his hand stuttering over the old metal. "The Bolos replaced the DC-2s in the late thirties. Double the range, double the bomb load of the B-10. We lost a lot of them in Pearl Harbor and the B-17 took over on the front lines during World War II." He glanced back at Rodney, who was looking unbearably smug. "And after the war, they put the MAG -- magnetic anomaly detector -- radome in the bombardier's spot and sent them sub-hunting."
"And then," Rodney said, with the aura of someone gearing up for a punchline, "the Royal Canadian Air Force bought them and renamed them Digbys."
"Yeah," John agreed. "Because we didn't need them anymore."
"Hey." Rodney only looked tangentially offended so John grinned and walked over to a sleek, black U-2, which looked intact until he circled around expecting to find a second wing.
"I hear these things are a bitch to fly," he said admiringly. "The Air Force lost nine of them the first year they were in service."
"The wings have an extremely high aspect ratio," Rodney noted. "It'd be like flying a glider."
"At ninety thousand feet," John said. "Dad says they have to stay within five knots of stall speed in order not to max out."
"That sounds incredibly dangerous," Rodney said.
"It is," John agreed soberly. "Especially with one engine, one pilot, and no offensive weapon capabilities? No thanks."
"I'm surprised your country is still using them after the Soviets developed missiles that have that kind of range," Rodney said. "Lest we forget the Gary Powers incident."
John screwed up his face in Rodney's general direction. "Yeah, but no one saw your homeland of military excellence scoffing when the U-2 picked up Soviet missile silos in Cuba."
"I'm so glad I brought you here so I could listen to you disparage my country of birth," Rodney said, but he had a little smile on his face and it made John want to knock shoulders with him, or better yet, wrap his arm around Rodney's shoulders, draw him in and -- "Okay, that's not even an American plane," Rodney said, frowning at an II-28 Beagle.
"That's a Soviet plane," John said. "They used it toward the end of World War II and now Poland, East Germany, Egypt, and some other places have it. They're phasing them out everywhere now. This is the bomber version. The markings look like it might have been Polish."
"Looks like it was shot down," Rodney said, poking a hole in a large caliber bullet hole in the fuselage.
"Yeah," John said, wondering how long ago that had happened. The rough edges of the metal were laced with rust and the sand and dirt coating the plane indicated that it had been there for years.
They walked the airplane graveyard for hours, pointing out rarities and discussing the attributes of some of the lesser-known models. John had always liked history and he liked the history of aircraft best of all.
"It's like you have a photographic memory or something," Rodney said when John had rattled off the top airspeed of an F-104 Starfighter.
John shrugged. "They're planes," he said, as if that explained everything. And the way Rodney nodded, maybe it did. "Wind's picking up," he added, turning up the collar on his vest.
"It's Arizona at the end of October," Rodney said. "And you're whining like it's the dead of winter in Newfoundland."
"All I said was that it was getting windy," John shot back.
"Well, come on, then," Rodney said, peering into the cockpit of an R-22 that sat incongruously among the warplanes. The doors were gone, so he crawled into the seat and beckoned John in after him. The plexiglass bubble blocked the wind well enough and John slouched into the pilot's seat happily. He glanced over at Rodney, who was pulling the lid off the box and pulling out components for…something.
"What is that?" he asked, as Rodney's hands fitted the pieces together quickly and expertly.
Rodney gave him a crooked grin. "It's not a real telescope," he said, "but it'll do for now." He hauled the tube aloft and squinted into the tiny hole punched a few inches from the bottom. "Right there," Rodney said, peering into his telescope and pointing haphazardly at the sky, "that's Rigel."
John nodded, but he wasn't looking for Rigel. He was watching the corner of Rodney's mouth twitch as he tracked down and pointed out a steady stream of stars.
"Here, you should look at this," Rodney said, pushing the makeshift telescope into John's lap and boosting it up to his face. "Right in the -- yeah."
John found his eye pressed up against the glass lens in the side of the tube and he let Rodney push the tube -- and John's head -- higher until he could see the star in question.
"This thing you made works really well," he said, looking up at the painfully bright dot in the sky.
"Yeah, you like it? I sort of cobbled it together from the tube -- my father had stuff for his classroom come in it -- and a couple of lenses which I made by -- "
John let Rodney ramble on, tilting his head back until he could see Betelgeuse, just as bright. He took his eye away from the glass and set the telescope carefully back into the cardboard box sitting at their feet. The helicopter cockpit was cozy and warm enough, even with the sides exposed. Pieces of metal creaked faintly in the near distance and John thought, It's now or never. He'd never done this with a guy but surely the mechanics couldn't be all that different on this very basic level he was working on.
"Rodney," he said, and lifted his hands to Rodney's face, as much to keep him from pulling away as to keep him steady and give John less chance to well, miss.
Then, he kissed Rodney's amazing, mobile mouth, catching Rodney's tongue on his lips because did the guy never stop talking? It was nothing like kissing a girl. Rodney's mouth was bigger than his and warm like a blanket on a cold night. There was strength there, too, a lazy strength that even Teyla at her most enthusiastic couldn't hope to duplicate. John shuddered and gentled his hands on Rodney's face. After a moment, Rodney's lower lip dropped against his mouth and John licked the length of it, like he was sealing an envelope only he wanted Rodney's mouth open, open and his, instead of sealed shut.
Rodney made a noise in the back of his throat and John's muscles tensed at the sound of it. His extremities tingled, all of them, and he pushed in a little, sweeping his tongue inside Rodney's mouth. Rodney's fingers brushed over his face and John wished he'd thought to shave again before he left the house. Then Rodney's hand came around the back of John's neck and took control. And John let him, feeling his heart beating wildly in his chest.
He let Rodney inside his mouth, let him kiss and lick, and scrape John's lip gently between his teeth. He was a little clumsy, a little sloppy, but Rodney was nothing if not a fast learner, and everything went from awkward to wow in less time than John bothered to count. He wasn't used to giving up control like this but he trusted Rodney and right now that, letting Rodney do this, was paying off in spades.
Rodney finally pulled away first, resting his forehead against John's with a light sigh before sitting back. His eyes were bright and the corner of his mouth was twitching up and John thought, I did that.
"I think we'd better go," Rodney said quietly.
John felt his eyes glaze over. Rodney wanted to go. He did too, back to his house, where his father would be gone for another three days and he could kiss Rodney all he wanted and touch him and peel his jeans back and do whatever the hell there was to do.
"Yeah," he said, head spinning with the breadth of possibility. "Let's go." He waited impatiently for Rodney to pack the telescope into its box, gazing rapturously at the slice of skin that showed between the waistband of his jeans and where his long sleeved t-shirt had ridden up.
The wall presented a bit of a challenge without the dumpster, but Rodney boosted John up, then passed up the telescope and managed to jump high enough for John to catch his hand and pull. Rodney helped and they both made it to the other side without much trouble.
John glanced over at Rodney at least a hundred times all the way home, but he didn't know what to say and was too distracted thinking of all the things they could do to care. Rodney looked over once to offer a tremulous smile and he didn't speak either. John thought he must be just as excited and willed his stomach to stop jumping around.
"So," he said when Rodney pulled into his driveway and didn't turn off the engine. "You gonna come in?"
"I uh, I think I should get home," Rodney said, not looking at him.
John felt the first flutter of panic and anger in his chest. What was wrong here? He had been sure Rodney wanted this. Wanted him. He thought of the way Rodney's mouth had opened under his, the sound in the back of his throat, the little sigh at the end.
"It's okay," he said, tilting his head to get a better look at Rodney's face. "My dad's not here. He won't be until Wednesday."
"I know," Rodney said. "It's not that."
"You can just tell your parents that he's away and you're staying with me. They let you do that before."
Rodney nodded once, appearing to come to some internal decision, and shifted in his seat so that he was facing John.
"I just don't think this is a good idea," he said.
"How is it not a good idea?" John asked. "You want me, don't you? Isn't this why you made this whole deal in the first place?"
He watched Rodney close his eyes at the steering wheel and sigh.
"I wasn't -- I just." Rodney sighed again and this time it was more like a shudder of frustration and it made John angry. "Not like this."
"Not like what?" John shouted, then gritted his teeth at his loss of control. What was his problem?
"Like...like this. We're not even supposed to be friends tomorrow."
"There's no reason for us to stop." John felt obstinate and quarrelsome and he wanted, desperately wanted, to go back to feeling happy and anticipatory and taking Rodney to his room and spreading him out on the bed and tasting every last inch of him. "I'm not that big an asshole." Rodney didn't look like he was changing his mind so John tried again. "Look, I like you. So why can't we just go in and fool around? I know you want to." To prove his point, he reached over to put his hand in Rodney's lap, but Rodney caught his wrist before he made contact.
"Because you're not gay," Rodney finally said, his voice rising a bit at the end.
"I just kissed you," John shouted, really shouted. "How am I not gay?"
"Face it," Rodney said, and he seemed on steadier ground, which just made John feel more unhinged. "You never had a gay impulse until I bought my way into your life. You found out about me, you started thinking about it, and now you're curious."
"Well. Well. Yeah." And why shouldn't he be? He'd never dated a girl who made as much sense as Rodney, who liked airplanes and science fiction and things that went boom like Rodney, who made him feel like he wasn't alone in the universe like Rodney did. "Look, I'm the one who might be giving something up if this all -- whatever. I don't know why you're so upset."
Rodney's face stiffened. "Because I don't want to be your experimental constant."
John furrowed his brow at the term. That would make him the experimental variable and it took him a minute to realize what Rodney meant by that.
"I'm not using you to find out if I like guys," he said with every bit of calm he could collect. "I like you, Rodney. That's just the way it is."
Rodney nodded once. "That's what you think now."
John elbowed the door open and slammed it as loudly as he could. He didn't look at Rodney as he jogged up the walk and let himself in to his dark, empty house. He didn't bother to turn on any lights, listening for the sounds of Rodney's car crawling next door and shutting off. He threw himself on his bed and stared moodily at the ceiling until he couldn't hold still anymore. Jeans and boxers to his knees and one hand, then both on his dick, thinking of Rodney sucking him, of sucking Rodney, of only a fraction of things they could be doing here, now, together, before he came, a warm splash on his stomach and hand. He closed his eyes and kicked off his pants and shoes. Then, he turned on his side and curled into the fetal position. The dampness on his face was entirely from the force of his orgasm.