Previous parts are available at the link below.
The Best Things in Life Are Free
High School AU
Rated: R (overall)
Pairing: Sheppard/McKay (eventually)
The Best Things in Life Are Free
"We're going to go to this place I know," John said when Rodney showed up at the door with his overnight bag and let himself in at John's shouted command. He had on black jeans and a black t-shirt and he hadn't shaved since the day before, if then. It was just enough stubble to cast a shadow across his jaw, making him look older than seventeen. His hair had more gel in it than usual, formed into glossy spikes. Rodney had to remind himself that this was John and not some pin-up boy to get hard over.
"Should I change?" he asked, glancing down at his own jeans, gray t-shirt, and flannel shirt. He wasn't quite sure what he had that would match up to John's outfit, but he didn't want to look like a nerdy tagalong, either.
"Nah, you're fine," John said, grabbing a leather jacket and shoving Rodney out the door. The jacket went in the back seat and Rodney went in the passenger seat and John backed the Chevy Nova out of the driveway and onto the highway.
"So where is this place?" Rodney asked for the fourth time when John got off at an exit just west of civilization and took the car down a dusty road with a mud-covered sign.
"Down a bit," John said, completely unhelpfully.
"You're not taking me to a gay bar, are you?" Rodney asked, just to make sure.
"No," John said, a grin teasing at the corner of his mouth. "No gay bars for you."
"I'm just asking," Rodney replied, stung with embarrassment, because of course John wouldn't be trying to sneak them into a gay bar, not the way Rodney was dressed. If anything, John would be the one getting hit on and wouldn't that just be Rodney's luck? "You're certainly dressed to cruise," he grumbled.
John laughed at him, out loud. It was a freer sound than Rodney remembered ever having heard from John and he thought maybe he liked it.
"Dressed to cruise," John repeated. "Wow. Way to pick up your gay slang from seventies porn."
Maybe Rodney didn't like it that much.
"Like you'd know," he snapped back. "Watched much gay porn this week, Sheppard?"
John shook his head, still chuckling silently, but Rodney felt a mean sense of satisfaction that he'd managed to make the tips of John's ears go pink.
"So what is this place?" Rodney asked when John turned the car onto the sandy ground next to a clapboard building which was most definitely a bar. It had neon signs in all the windows advertising cheap brands of beer and one sign that blinked "Pool." Rodney didn't think it was a place to go swimming. A rundown motel stood a few hundred yards away.
"Kind of a rough place," John said, making it sound like a ride at Disneyland. "You think you can hack it?"
"What, are we going to get you laid?" Rodney asked, irritated by the lack of information flowing forth. "Wait. We're not here to get me laid, are we?" His mind supplied terrible images of beefy truckers slapping his ass and wanted to cower behind John, except they were still in the car.
"Speaking of getting laid," John said, pausing with one hand on the door handle and his eyes on the dash. "How'd it go last night with Laura?"
Rodney felt his face go red at the memory. Laura had let him slide all the way into second base, let him touch and kiss her breasts, and had taken his shirt off and kissed his neck and shoulders and chest. It had been fabulous -- incredible -- amazing -- and Rodney had thought of her when he went home and locked himself in his room to jerk off. "It went fine -- good," he corrected himself. "Did you find Teyla?"
John flushed, up his neck to the tips of his ears, even though the rest of his face stayed fairly cool. "Yeah," he said. "We went to Carlson Point."
Rodney raised his eyebrows. Carlson Point was the notorious makeout spot and rumored to be the site of more deflowerings than any other single place in Tuscon. "Wow," he said. If he wasn't fairly sure that Teyla didn't need deflowering, he'd have chalked up another one to John's charm. He cast a sideways glance at John and tried to imagine what it was like, John fucking Teyla in the backseat of the Nova. "So, um," he said, trying to shove the image in his mind aside, "not getting laid here?"
"Hell, no," John drawled, sliding out of the car. "We're going to play some pool."
"Pool?" Rodney repeated, scrambling out of the car before John left him behind. "Couldn't we do that somewhere, I don't know, closer to home?"
John just walked into the place ahead of him and Rodney caught the door just before it closed in his face. If nothing else, he had to be there to save John from himself.
He took two steps inside and stopped. A haze hung in the air, gray smoke from cigarettes and cigars and probably joints, although Rodney was trying not to inhale too much. There was a bar across the wall to his left, beat-up wooden chairs across the back, and about a dozen pool tables scattered throughout the room. He looked around and saw a lot of men in jeans and t-shirts and undershirts, drinking beer and smoking. There were a few women, all of the type that Rodney's mother would call 'floozies' and Rodney found himself dangerously close to parroting her. It was pretty much his worst nightmare.
"Here." John was at his elbow, nudging him and pushing something cold into his hand. Rodney turned it up to look at the label and almost dropped it.
"This is beer," he hissed.
John raised one eyebrow and took a long drink from his own bottle, tilting his head back and Rodney was mesmerized.
"I guess you really are Canadian," John finally said, after wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Able to recognize beer in a single intuitive leap. Just go with it, ok? They don't card here."
"Obviously," Rodney muttered, letting John drag him by the elbow toward the back of the room.
"Hi," John said brightly to the surly looking guys bent over the table, eyeing their shots. He took an overly-enthusiastic drink of beer. "Can we play next?"
"Oh, great," Rodney muttered. "Now I can suck in public, thank you ever so much."
"Shh," John whispered.
One of the guys leaning on the table grinned up at his partner. "We've got the table for the rest of the night," he said. "You want to play the winners, you gotta buy in."
"How much?" John asked, reaching in his back pocket. "I really just want to give a quick lesson or two to my friend here. He's a quick study."
"Twenty to play the winner," one of the other men said. "Five per ball."
"Oh." John paused for a moment, then glanced back at Rodney and did that thing where he shrugged with only half his body. "What the hell. We can't lose that badly." He threw a twenty on the table and settled back next to Rodney to drink his beer and watch the game.
"Hello, are you crazy?" Rodney demanded as quietly as possible. "How is this possibly a good idea? You might be good at this game, but I've never even played before and there's no way they're not going to kick our asses."
John turned his head, tilting it down, and Rodney watched a lock of hair fall over his eyes. "Look, Rodney. This game is all physics. It's all about the force with which you hit the ball and the angle at which you hit it. I'm going to show you how to work the cue and then we're going to take all their money."
"What?" Rodney sputtered, distracted by the smell of cheap beer on John's breath. "You can't possibly think -- "
"Yes," John said, his voice carefully modulated. His hand squeezed Rodney's arm above the elbow. "I think you can. Now shut up and watch them. Even you might learn something."
Something tightened in Rodney's stomach as if John's hand was sliding under his shirt instead of resting on his arm. He nodded once and started watching the men playing, calculating the angles that caused the balls to careen into the pockets and which ones failed. When that looked easy, he began to take note of where the cue impacted the white ball, at what angle that ball hit the colored balls, how far away each man drew back the cue, and then he started guestimating force and velocity. He barely noticed when John took his beer away, sloshed it around, and handed it back to him. He was too busy taking note of the use of chalk, the heft of the cues, and the position of each man's fingers on the end of the cue to care when John went back to the bar.
"So what do you think?" John murmured in his ear some time later, interrupting his flow of thought and startling him so badly, he nearly jumped out of his pants.
"I think," Rodney muttered furiously, "that you were obviously raised wrong because you just don't sneak up on people like that and that if you want me to figure out this game fast enough not to embarrass you, then you'd best shut up and let me concentrate." He went back to his study of the game, his panic escalating as the balls disappeared into one pocket after another.
"Did you see that?" John exclaimed when the guy who seemed to be in charge made a three-bank shot. He elbowed Rodney in the ribs just a little too hard. "Wasn't that cool?"
"Stunning," Rodney snapped. "Are you sure we should be playing these guys?"
The big guy glanced over at them and John planted his elbow solidly in Rodney's rib cage and left it there.
"We'll be okay," John said loudly enough to be heard.
"Okay," Rodney said doubtfully as the battle for the eight-ball began.
"C'mere," John said, tapping Rodney's elbow. "I'm going to teach you a couple things."
Rodney glanced at the table one more time before following John to the corner of the room where John was pulling cues down from the rack on the wall.
"Okay, now this," John said, pushing the wide end of the stick at Rodney. "Is the cue. This end is the butt. This end," he continued, tilting the narrow end forward, "is shaft. Butt. Shaft. Think you can remember that?" His smile was completely wicked.
Rodney swallowed hard and scowled. "I got it, thanks," he snapped and snatched the cue away from John.
John let it go with an easy smile and a lazy shrug. "Chalk the tip before every shot," he said, picking up the blue cube from the shelf of the rack and showing Rodney the concave side. "Know why?"
Rodney sighed. This was basic. "To keep it from slipping and completely missing your shot," he said.
"Increases the friction coefficient," John nodded and wow, that was playing dirty. Rodney felt the shiver slide through him even though he was absolutely not impressed with John and his dirty innuendos and maybe had the very smallest fear that John was fucking with him on purpose.
Rodney glanced over his shoulder. Just about everyone in the room outweighed either of them by thirty pounds, easy. "Are you sure we should be doing this?" he asked uneasily.
"We won't be doing it at all unless you shut up and pay attention," John said. Rodney turned back to him and saw that John was regarding him with full attention. It was a little disconcerting. "Okay, so you're right handed, right?"
John looked momentarily disconcerted. "I didn't mean like that," he said, raising his eyebrows, and it took Rodney a moment to get the double entendre but when he did, he blushed.
"Oh, very funny," he said. "Just show me whatever it is I need to know to keep from being the laughingstock of this...pit of sin."
John snorted. "All right. Dominant hand on the butt and you rest the shaft on your hand to steady it when you take your shot. You can put it between your thumb and your index finger," he said, demonstrating, "or you can put it between the knuckles of your index and middle finger. You want to push and follow through. Don't let the tip pop up. Lay your index finger on top if you have to."
Rodney watched John fold one finger over the shaft of the stick and found himself thinking shamefully dirty thoughts in the middle of the most redneck pool hall in the state. "Can we just get on with it?" he asked desperately.
"Yeah, sure," John said. He glanced over to the table they'd been observing. "I think they're almost ready."
Rodney trailed John over to the table where the big guy who had spoken to them before was lighting up a new cigarette from the butt of his old one.
"You kids ready?" he asked.
"Can I have a minute to show my friend the table?" John asked.
The two exchanged glances. "Go for it," the other guy said. "I'm going for another beer."
John watched them go, his hands busy with the balls on the table. "I just want you to get a few shots in, get used to the cue, the way the balls roll, that kind of thing," he said, setting up a shot, side pocket. The five, with the cue ball lined up perfectly across from it.
Rodney arranged his hands on the pool cue and leaned over the table.
"Give yourself a wider stance," John coached, nudging Rodney's feet apart with his foot. "Keep your back elbow steady." He laid one hand on Rodney's elbow, warm and present as Rodney took the shot. "Okay, nice," he said as the cue ball tapped the five into the hole. "Don't be afraid to use a little more strength if you need to. You don't want the cue ball to scratch and I know you have it." He squeezed Rodney's left bicep and for one crazy minute, Rodney thought that maybe John was flirting with him.
"We play winner breaks," the big guy said. "And we just won. You got a problem with that?"
John shrugged. "We could flip a coin," he offered. The man loomed at him. "Or, you know, that works for us. I'm John," he added. "This is Rodney." He stuck out his hand. "What do you want us to call you?"
"The name's Eddie," he said. "My pal's Vince."
"Nice to meet you," John said, nodding and moving aside for Rodney to shake Eddie's hand. Eddie had a grip that nearly broke Rodney's wrist and grinned wolfishly at him. Rodney knew a test when he saw one and squeezed back as hard as he could.
"We breaking?" Vince asked, reappearing with a beer for himself and one for Eddie.
"Yeah," Eddie replied. "Junior here wanted to flip a coin."
They shared a laugh and John rolled his eyes. "Are you going to break or are you going to drink?" he asked.
Eddie laughed and put his bottle aside to take his shot. A loud crack and the balls scattered in all directions.
"Nice," Vince complimented him.
None of the balls went into the pockets so John stepped up to the table and lined up his cue on the white ball. Rodney very studiously kept his eyes on John's hands and the angle of the cue. This was the last place he wanted to be caught staring at another guy's ass.
John missed by a mile.
"Oops," he said, offering up an apologetic shrug and grin.
Rodney shrugged and said, "It's okay," although he was pretty sure John could have nailed that shot.
Vince stepped up and knocked in the one that John missed. "Stripes," he called, and went on to knock in the fourteen as well before failing to sink the twelve in the far corner.
"Try for the four," John breathed in Rodney's ear, completely disconcerting him before he lined up his shot.
The seven was more accessible, but John had said the four, so Rodney lined up the shot and took it. The cue ball skimmed the four, knocking it into the side pocket and rolled along...right into corner hole.
Vince and Eddie responded with a few rude jeers but John slapped his hand on Rodney's shoulder and whispered, "Good job. We need to let them get comfortable." His hand slipped to Rodney's shoulder blade and lingered just long enough for Rodney to worry, but Vince was watching Eddie slam the fifteen into the corner.
Eddie aimed for the nine across the short end of the table, glanced up at John and Rodney, and pushed his shot short. The nine bounced steadily between the walls of the corner before settling to a halt. He shrugged. "Your turn, kid."
"Thanks!" John said cheerfully, and sent the seven careening against three walls and cleanly into the near corner.
The two was a neat slam into the side pocket. The six followed easily.
This time Rodney let himself watch John's forearms as they lined up the shot, the muscles tensed under the light dusting of dark hair and he could tell from the hunch of John's shoulders that it wasn't going to be an easy one.
To his credit, John almost made it. Rodney held his breath as the five just missed the side pocket, banked and rolled back toward the opposite pocket. It eased to a halt about an inch and a half before the dropoff.
"Fuck," John said softly.
"But." Rodney waved at the table. "It's not like you were completely useless before that shot."
John grinned and shrugged at Eddie and Vince, who were looking considerably pissier than when the game had started. "Beginner's luck," he said cheerfully.
"Beginner's luck my ass," Eddie said as Vince tried to find a ball in decent position to play. John hadn't left him with much.
Vince's next shot really was successful only by providence of luck, and he managed to knock a second ball in after it, but then he completely missed the ball he was aiming for and scratched.
John retrieved the cue ball for Rodney and huddled over the table with him.
"You've got the one, the three, and the five to choose from," John murmured, breath warm on Rodney's cheek.
"The five is right there," Rodney said. "I just have to sort of hit it from an angle."
"Yeah." John rubbed the back of his neck and squinted at the table. "But if you can knock in the one and hit it hard enough to get it back, you'll have a straight shot."
"But if I hit it too hard," Rodney countered, "it'll go past and I'll be in the same position."
John tilted his head and nodded. "Yeah," he said. "It's up to you." He straightened up and stepped back, sliding one hand into his back pocket and snagging his beer bottle with the other.
"That's it?" Rodney asked, turning around and spreading his arms wide enough to almost hit Vince with his cue.
John shrugged and took a drink. "You're the one who has to play. I trust you."
Rodney had opened his mouth to say something, utterly forgot what it might have been. Instead, he just gaped at John.
John grinned. "Take your best shot, McKay."
"Hm," Rodney said, scowling, and turned around. He decided to take the shot at the five, because John had told him not to and took a deep breath. He studied the ball's distance from the pocket, and where the cue ball would have to strike to push it in the right direction. He drew the cue back, feeling the wooden shaft slide against the tender skin between his fingers, and pushed forward, remembering to follow through. The cue ball shot briskly forward, tapped the five in a perfect cut, and went on its way. The five rolled sweetly into the pocket.
Rodney released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and dropped his head forward as John grabbed his shoulders and shook them hard.
"That was awesome!" he shouted in Rodney's ear. "Beautiful!"
"Yes, well," Rodney said, inordinately pleased. "That's what you get for bringing a physics genius with you to hus-- um, play pool."
"Okay, then, genius," John joked, nudging Rodney with his elbow and coming up beside him to survey the table. He took a long draw on his beer bottle. "Sink us another ball. They're still up by one."
Rodney set up the shot on the one and sunk it. The three was the only ball left on the table. It was a long shot and the cue ball just glanced off and almost scratched, but came to a rest next to the wall. The three rolled placidly in the opposite direction than intended. Rodney sighed and turned to see John shrug philosophically.
"You got the five and the one," he said. "And you gave them shit for position."
"Small victories, huh?" Rodney said, leaning against the wall next to John while Eddie knocked in one ball and wound up for his next shot.
Eddie missed and left John in perfect position to knock in the three. He called the far left pocket for the eight ball and missed by centimeters. "Small victories," he said to Rodney, rejoining him on the wall.
A crowd had gathered by that point, to watch Vince knock in the thirteen and line up the eight ball.
John tensed beside him and Rodney glanced over nervously. This wasn't his fault, he told himself. It was all John's idea and he hadn't even ever played before, but that didn't stop the feeling of impending doom.
Vince called the far right pocket and tapped the cue ball. Everyone watched the white ball roll across the baize, hit the eight ball, and stop. The eight rolled toward the pocket. It hit the edge between the wall and the pocket and canted off to the other edge, finally settling on the edge of the pocket. Vince cursed up a blue streak.
"Take it," John said, bouncing his fist off Rodney's shoulder.
Rodney took a deep breath and walked up to the table. He picked up the cube of chalk and rubbed it on the tip of his cue. It wouldn't take much force, just a tap. But the ball was on the left and he didn't want to bounce it back between the sides like Vince had. The cue ball was a square shot, aimed just left of the center of the eight. Rodney held his breath and watched as the eight fell neatly into the pocket.
Cheers and groans went up around the table, money changed hands, and Rodney sighed and closed his eyes, feeling faint with relief. John slung an arm around his neck and squeezed, rattling him around.
"Air!" Rodney squeaked. "Need air!"
John loosened his grip but didn't let go. "Next time, will you listen to me when I tell you that you can do something?" he whispered, hot and low in Rodney's ear.
Rodney nodded and a shiver ran through his body despite his flannel shirt and the dozens of bodies in the room.
"You guys want to play again?" John asked, dropping his arm from around Rodney and taking another drink of his beer. He stepped up close enough to shake Eddie's hand. "It was a good game."
Eddie and Vince exchanged glances and almost-imperceptible nods.
"Yeah," Eddie said. He grinned and it didn't look friendly. "What say we go double or nothing?"
John's face lost a little of its elation and he bit down on his lower lip. "Hold on a sec, okay?" he said and drew Rodney over to the corner. "We're making it look like we might be worried," he said quietly.
"Shouldn't we?" Rodney asked. "I mean, yeah, we won that one, but he totally let us have that one shot."
"Yeah, and how many did we let him have?" John asked scornfully.
"Um, one?" Rodney asked.
John shook his head. "They're chasing their money," he said. "We can take them. You've got it figured out now. We're going to kick ass."
"If you say so," Rodney said doubtfully.
He should have trusted John. Twenty minutes later, John was sinking the eight-ball and giving Eddie his best 'aw, shucks' looks.
"Go again?" he asked.
"I'll play you," another guy said, stepping up.
John grinned. "You guys are going to lose your chance," he taunted Eddie.
"Forget it," Eddie said, waving them off.
John shrugged. "You're on. You got a partner? We play as a team."
"Yeah, c'mon," the guy said, beckoning to the guy he'd been playing. "We can take 'em. They're just a couple of kids. I've played the taller one before."
Rodney glanced at John. John shrugged.
"All right, then," he said. "Let's do it."
The next three hours were a blur of cue balls and blue chalk and green bills and John's hands and body brushing up against Rodney. Rodney calculated angle after angle in his head, chased balls around the table, and listened to John's quiet voice, murmuring instructions in his ear, as they pissed off pair after pair of competitors.
"All right!" John called to the room at large, nearly a dozen games and more bottles of beer than Rodney could count later. "Who else wants a go?"
"It might be time to cut and run," Rodney muttered, brave enough to speak close in John's ear.
"You're no fun," John told him, nudging shoulders. "C'mon, who's up next!"
There was a disgruntled murmur and Rodney reached out and gripped the back of John's neck. "We'll be right back," he called. "Don't anyone uh, miss us. Or anything." He hauled John outside.
The air was a good deal cooler outside than in the humid, smoky bar, and had a fresh, crisp quality. Rodney took a deep breath and was almost surprised at how irritated his throat felt. He lagged back and watched John look automatically to the stars.
The expression on his face was familiar -- Rodney had felt it on his own face enough times. Get me out of this place. They'd outgrown their quiet lives in their little town and they wanted something else, something more, something elsewhere.
"I'll be up there some day," John whispered.
Rodney wasn't sure if he was even meant to hear those words, but they weren't something he was going to let slide. He tamped down the urge to hug John, to press his face into John's neck, and instead reached out and squeezed John's shoulder and said, "I know."
John looked at him and when their eyes met, Rodney thought maybe he was only just now seeing the real John. Then the veil came down again and John's face split into a dirty smirk. "We made five hundred dollars tonight."
"What?" Rodney yelped. The moment was gone and he dropped his hand reluctantly. "How did we get that much money? You were only betting for twenties. And five per ball."
John shrugged. "I had Melanie, the girl at the bar? She was running the crowd."
Rodney gaped at him. "Five hundred dollars?"
"I mean, I gave Melly a cut and fronted the twenty bucks," John said, wandering over to the car and leaning back against it. He pulled a roll of cash out of his pocket and started dividing it up. "But after that, it came to about five-twenty, so really it's like, two hundred and sixty dollars each."
"Yeah, basic math, thank you," Rodney said, scrambling over to him and standing to block the cash from the door. "What if you'd lost? What if we'd lost?"
A slow grin spread over John's face. "Rodney, I've been coming to this place for a year, convincing them all I sucked. And you were great, all 'I suck, I've never played this before.' No one thought we'd win. No one. The odds against us were...were...well, they were twenty to one for a while, and then they started dropping a little." John pressed a wad of bills into Rodney's hand. "Here ya go. Your cut."
"I can't take this," Rodney said, trying to shove it back.
"Yes, you can," John said firmly, but Rodney caught a bit of a lisp on the S. "You played the game, you won the money. Take it." And then he folded the wad of bills in half and pushed them into Rodney's front pocket.
Rodney blinked at him. "You're drunk," he said.
John blinked at him. "I'm a little tipsy," he corrected, swaying when he tried to tilt his head. Rodney caught his arm and he yawned. "No big deal."
"You are so not driving like this," Rodney told John, just barely on the edge of panic.
"'M fine," John protested sleepily, leaning back against the driver's side of the car.
"Compared to what?" Rodney snapped desperately. "Let's not forget, Einstein, that you're transporting the brain that may very well save the world at some unspecified time in the future and even if my talents don't run to heroism and leadership, I can't very well be expected to win the Nobel Prize if you spatter my gray matter all over Highway X. Now give me your keys!"
John grinned in a way Rodney tried valiantly not to find sexy and failed. "Make me," he slurred.
"Oh, for -- " The keys were in John's right hip pocket. Rodney had felt them against his leg when John had leaned in to point out that he could put the 4-ball between the 13 and the pocket, even though there was no good shot to sink. He went for them now, pushing his hand over John's sharp hipbone and thin thigh, his hand trapped close by John's tight jeans.
"Don't think I'm getting fresh or anything," Rodney warned as he dragged the keys and his hand out of John's warm pocket. "You're not that lucky." He unlocked the driver's side door and realized John hadn't moved. "Oh, fine," he grumbled, pocketing the keys. "Come on." He grabbed John's wrist and dragged it around his neck, hauling John away from the car and around to the other side. John had the nerve -- the nerve -- to laugh at him, stumbling against Rodney's side as Rodney saved both their freaking lives.
He wrestled John, who was all loose, too-long limbs and lazy grin, into the front seat, pulled the seatbelt across him -- ignoring, totally ignoring the way John's hips shifted under the lap belt as Rodney fastened it -- and closed the door.
He stopped halfway around the car and took a deep breath, taking the dry, cool air in great gulps and trying not to panic. When he slid into the car, he felt better, especially when he only had to move the seat forward a tiny bit and then John put his hand on Rodney's knee and said, "It's okay, Rodney."
"I know," Rodney said, because he did, but that didn't mean he had to like it. He started the engine, took the car out of park, and eased the clutch. The Nova started right away and Rodney breathed a sigh of relief. He'd never driven any car besides his father's old Buick Elektra and he didn't want to grind the gears on John's father's car. Just because it wasn't the De Lorean didn't mean it was all right to abuse.
He navigated the way home slowly. He missed the first turn for the freeway and had to circle around, but once he was on, he knew how to get home and the knot in his chest loosened.
"See," he said to John, who had his head tilted back against the seat. "Easy as pie. No problem. Cakewalk."
John chuckled and didn't say anything else. It made Rodney unaccountably nervous. They didn't talk as he drove back to John's house, pulled in the driveway, and turned off the car with a deep, relieved breath.
"Mm," John said, from where he'd been leaning his forehead against the window. "We home?"
"And in one piece, I might add," Rodney said, slumping in his seat. He'd been sitting rigidly all the way back without realizing it and his back was starting to ache. He unbuckled his seatbelt and got out of the car.
John managed to untangle himself from the car and met him halfway around.
"You are so drunk," Rodney announced, realizing belatedly how quiet the neighborhood was and how much his voice echoed without background noise.
The key for the house was on the same ring as the car keys so Rodney managed to get the door open and both of them inside before people started looking out their windows to see what was going on.
"I think I'm drunk," John said matter-of-factly, tilting in an alarming fashion toward the floor.
"Whoa!" Rodney grabbed him and hauled him back up. "To the bedroom with you."
"Aw, Rodney." John's voice was hazy, a little sarcastic. "I thought you'd never ask."
"In your dreams," Rodney snapped, even though John's words made him go a little hot inside. It was only fifteen steps down to John's room, but they took them slow, inching forward with loose, anchorless strides from John and careful shuffling from Rodney.
Rodney dumped John on the bed with a shrug of his shoulder. The mattress bounced under John's weight, creaking a little and making Rodney think really inappropriate thoughts.
"You're a mess," Rodney said, pushing up the cuffs of John's jeans to find the top of his boots -- black leather on the front and back, but with canvas webbing panels on the sides, military issue -- and unlace them. He tugged them off and dumped them next to the bed. "I think you need the bucket tonight," he said, moving around the bed to get to where John had parked the plastic bucket under the cot. He was tired and a little queasy, and he wanted to get John squared away so he could curl up in the white sheets and slightly scratchy military-issue blanket that John provided every weekend.
"Rodney." John grabbed Rodney's wrist and squeezed tightly. Rodney looked down at him, surprised and alarmed to see the mask of studied indifference gone and John -- the John he'd only caught glimpses of through cracks and worn-down patches -- looking up at him. His eyes were pleading and his mouth was open and soft, so soft that it took Rodney everything he had not to lean over and kiss John, suck that lower lip into his mouth and scrape it very gently with his teeth. "Stay here with me?" John whispered, and all the arousal washed out of Rodney because John's voice was so plaintive and his eyes so sad, it wasn't even hot.
"Yeah," Rodney said, his chest aching a little because this didn't seem like something he should have to see. It didn't seem like something he should be allowed to see. "I'm spending the night. I'll be right over on the cot."
"Don't leave me," John whispered, his eyes slipping closed and his grip on Rodney's arm slackening.
"I won't, Rodney whispered, tucking John's arm under the covers and risking one dry, shaky kiss to John's forehead. "I won't."