Smitty (smittywing) wrote,

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[SGA fic] The Best Things in Life Are Free, 7a

Instead of my rattling on about why LJ is like Woodstock, I give you fic. I'm sure you're all breathing great sighs of relief.

It should probably surprise no one that part 7 won't fit in one post. Part B is well underway at almost 5,000 words, but 7a was already 10,500 so I was going to have to split it anyway. reccea was fantastic enough to beta this despite running around to get ready for Con.txt. miss_porcupine, raisintorte, and lilac_way previewed certain parts for me and made suggestions. (And put up with me fussing.)

Previous parts are available at the link below.

The Best Things in Life Are Free
High School AU
Rated: R (overall)
Pairing: Sheppard/McKay

The Best Things in Life Are Free

Part Six-B

Rodney let himself into the dark house and trudged to his room. He left his shades down and threw himself on his bed.

Rodney McKay, teen genius, had just turned down an invitation to the school quarterback's bed. Literally. A literal invitation. And a literal bed.

Surely that set a new record for ultimate stupidity.

Of course he would have reached stupid entropy if he'd gone inside with John and ridden with John's crazy kamikaze ideas. It would have been fun -- it would have been spectacular -- for a while and then the next day, or the next week, or maybe even as late as next month, when John decided that he wasn't really gay, it would be too late. Rodney would be looking at heartbreak and humiliation that even years of therapy would be unable to dent.

Rodney rolled over and immediately found something sticking him in the back. He reached behind himself and felt around until he found a solid rectangle that didn't feel like an electronics component but still definitely did not belong in his bed.

Not, Rodney thought morosely, that he was even qualified to determine what belonged in his bed anymore. John had put a hand in his lap. John had tried to touch his dick and Rodney, in his infinite wisdom -- or lack thereof -- had turned him down.

He poked at his sinuses, which had started to feel swollen, and reached to turn on the lamp on the nightstand. The rectangle was a chocolate bar, the good stuff. Something was written on it in black magic marker and it had smeared when Rodney had sat on it. He squinted a little and made out, "Sorry" and a "J". The Cadbury bar must have cost Jeannie her entire week's allowance. He slid the paper sleeve down and peeled the foil away from one corner. Jeannie and his mother downed pounds of the stuff watching stupid sappy movies about lost love. Maybe there was something chemical, some reaction that confirmed chocolate as a mood-altering substance. Maybe women were on to something.

Rodney stopped when he smelled the chocolate and ran his tongue across his bottom lip. He could still taste the inside of John's mouth on the tip of his tongue. It was likely the only time he'd ever know that. Rodney wrapped the chocolate bar up again and set it aside. He stripped down to his boxers and got into bed. He laid still for an entire thirty seconds before his hand was magnetically drawn to his cock and he jerked off with his lower lip sucked between his teeth.

Everything would be back to normal by the next morning, after all. John wasn't the kind of guy to hold a grudge.

The next day, John skipped school in its entirety and spent the day in bed, staring at the ceiling. Around ten, the school called and John croaked out enough to satisfy them that he was sick, and then went back to resolutely not thinking about Rodney.

The phone rang twice after that and John ignored it. Around 3:30, someone knocked on the door and John closed his eyes tightly and rolled away from the window. He tried to convince himself that he didn't want to see if it was Rodney.

The Colonel came home a few hours later and frowned when he found John overwarm and listless under too many covers.

"You're warm," he said, the back of his hand brushing up under the hair that usually flopped over John's eyebrows. "But I don't think you have a fever."

"I'll be fine by tomorrow," John lied. He felt like he was never going to be fine again but he couldn't stand another day of moping.

"Come out in a little bit," his father said. "I'll make grilled cheese."

John felt horrible, hot and sick and guilty and completely unable to tell his father why. After forty-five minutes, he kicked the covers off and slogged out to the kitchen in sweatpants and a t-shirt.

"You're home early," he said, realizing that he'd been expecting two more days of solitude and that if Rodney had spent the night and they'd skipped school together, he'd be doing some fancy footwork. He couldn't quite work up the energy to be relieved.

"Mission got scrubbed," the Colonel said, turning over two sandwiches. The buttered bread sizzled against the hot pan and John wondered how his father had known to start cooking. "Bad intel. I rented Silverado. Why don't you go set it up?"

"Cool," John said, going into the living room. He opened the plastic rental box and pushed the tape into the VCR. He let it run through the FBI warning and the previews and then paused the movie until his father came out of the kitchen with a plastic bowl of sandwich quarters -- cut into triangles -- in one hand and a bottle of ketchup in the other.

"Hey, vegetables," John said, starting the movie and was rewarded with the ketchup flying at his head. He caught it before impact and sat down on the couch with a sigh.

His father sat next to him and put the bowl of grilled cheese triangles between them. "Look," he said, not looking at John as he squirted ketchup onto a piece of sandwich and handed the bottle to John.

"Yeah?" John asked when nothing else was forthcoming.

"I don't know," Colonel Sheppard admitted. "I was trying to be fatherly and supportive and I think we lost the instruction manual that came with you during one of the moves."

John snorted. "I just don't feel good, okay?"

"Okay," his father said and used the remote to start the movie. But then he reached over and squeezed the back of John's neck and John felt a little more awful for having a secret he couldn't even tell his father.

"Rodney! Rodney!"

Rodney glanced around. Usually, when female voices were calling for him at the top of their lungs, it all turned out to be a dream. But he was pretty sure he'd woken up and gotten out of bed already this morning and there was Teyla, jogging down the hall to catch up with him.

"Hi, Teyla," he said, trying to hide his dread. He wondered if John had made up to her the day before, since Rodney had derailed his Great Gay Experiment. He was only saving John later embarrassment, he told himself.

"Hello," Teyla greeted him, and despite her smile, she didn't look happy. "Might I speak to you for a moment? In private?"

Rodney's stomach went cold, John's words about Teyla kicking his nuts so far up his ass he couldn't sit down came involuntarily and inexorably to mind and he edged away. "Well, the thing is," he said quickly, "I've really got to get to homeroom and well, there's only, wow, twelve minutes, that's like no time at all and I have to get all the way down to um, the end of the hall and -- "

"This will not take more than a minute," Teyla said. Rodney squawked as he found his ears twisted between her fingers. She frogmarched him across the hall and into the nearest girls' bathroom. It had an out-of-order sign on the door, but Teyla ignored it and pushed Rodney against a sink. He rubbed his burning ear and kept a wary eye on Teyla. She was tiny but she was mean!

"Are you responsible for this?" she demanded, brandishing a fistful of papers. By turning his head, Rodney could see that they were -- oh shit -- the results of the match test.

"Responsible for what?" he asked nervously.

"Somebody," Teyla said, her raised eyebrow indicating exactly who she thought that somebody was, "changed the programming to ignore the first question. Boys are matched up with other boys and girls are matched with other girls!"

"Why would I do that?" Rodney asked, his tongue going numb with fear and tripping over the words.

"You were making fun of the test at lunch and I'm sure that if I had asked you at any point before today, you would tell me that you are the only student in this school with the knowledge and abilities to do this."

Okay, so Teyla wasn't just another pretty face.

"Well, technically I think Radek would probably be able to pull it off," Rodney admitted. "Of course whether he had the creativity to think of it is another story all together." Technically, Simpson or Kavanagh might have been able to do it, too, Rodney thought. Their school had the draw of the best science curriculum in the state. But he didn't know for sure and he wasn't willing to give either of them that kind of credit without proof.

Teyla's eyebrows went up. "And did Radek change the test?" she asked.

Rodney felt his face go hot. "No," he said. "I did it. It's just a joke. Because everyone was taking it so seriously and it's -- it's funny."

Teyla stared at him. "Did John talk you into it?" she asked. "Was this his idea?"

"What, I can't think of a good joke by myself?" Rodney asked, trying to keep from selling out John.

"You are protecting him," Teyla said. "Or trying."

Rodney rolled his eyes and crossed his arms protectively over his chest. "Look, I just don't see what's so terrible about it," he snapped. "I meant what I said about hooking us all up when we're all going off to different colleges next fall. But it's matching up people by interest and temperament, right? So why does that have to be restricted to romantic gestures and societal expectations of adolescent interaction? Why can't we have a test that just says, 'Hey, you might like hanging out with these people?' Because if John and I hadn't made that -- " He broke off, realizing what he was about to reveal.

"I mean, okay, look, if John hadn't been a really nice guy and started talking to me because I live next door, we never would have been friends, because I'm a geek and he's a jock. And that shouldn't matter and neither should what our parents do for a living, or gender or -- or -- any of that. It's narrow-minded to look at a group of people and expect them to interact in a certain way.

"There are whole fields of study devoted to that and they're useless because you know what? They're not provable. Something works for 99 percent of a population and that's fine but it's not universal. They call it deviant behavior but it's not deviant, it's just outside norms, and okay, yes, in their classroom models it's a deviation but they should know, they study connotations and it's just -- it's just not fair," he finished lamely.

He looked down at the floor, then up and around the tiny room. "Huh. So this is what the girls' bathroom is like? I've always wanted to see inside"

Teyla stared at him, her posture no longer aggressive. Rodney fidgeted, sure she could see right through him and his paper wall of words. "I believe I see your point," she said after a long moment. "I will distribute the results. As they are. I cannot promise that people will accept the results as you intend, but I will not complain to the teachers." She straightened the stack in her hand. "You are a good friend, Rodney," she said. "Even if John was maybe not so noble in his intent as you."

"John was noble," he said, before he remembered that he was trying not to sell John out. "I mean, in a different way, and I can't really explain but -- "

Teyla smiled. "You do not need to," she said. "John's motives are not malicious."

"He's a good guy," Rodney said. "You should get back together with him."

Teyla shrugged, her smile and eyes darting toward the door of the bathroom. "John's heart is elsewhere," she said. "I do not want to be merely convenient."

"He likes you," Rodney said, feeling bad for her. "He's just...he's confused right now."

"I do not think he is confused at all," Teyla said. She handed Rodney the top page. "I think it is merely a question of priorities."

Rodney looked at the paper as she turned around and walked out of the bathroom.

John's name was printed in ten point courier new at the top of the page.

John skipped the cool hallway and went straight to homeroom. Just because he couldn't stand to mope around the house anymore didn't mean he felt any more social or any less angry. He dropped his bookbag on the floor and slid into his seat, hearing his classmates laugh and joke about the usual things -- homework, girls, sports, homecoming -- as they filed in around him. The final bell rang and he had to suffer through the drone of the Mr. Maybourne calling attendance and the announcements about sports team scores and club meetings before picking up the stack of papers on his desk and aligned the edges with his hands while clearing his throat importantly.

"As I'm sure you've all been waiting with bated breath," he said dryly, "the results of the homecoming compatibility tests have been compiled. I'm sure you'll all be useless for the rest of the day whether you get them now or later, so we might as well get on with it. While the rest of the faculty and staff expect that you will all react in a respectful and mature way whatever your results may reveal, I know better. Just try to keep it civil, people."

John rolled his eyes and there were snickers around the room, but Mr. Maybourne walked up and down the rows of desks, laying each piece of paper face down on the corresponding student's desk.

He stared determinedly at the flat expanse of white and waited for the shit to hit the fan.

"Uh? Mr. Maybourne?" Andrea Dumais talked as she raised her hand, likely her first experience talking out of turn ever. "I think there's been a mistake."

"Yeah, no kidding," someone else said, setting off a chain reaction of whispers and rustling of papers as the class started comparing their results.

John glanced toward Teyla and saw the corner of her mouth twitch up in a faint Mona-Lisa smile. She knew, he thought. She knew and she let Maybourne distribute the tests anyway.

"Dude, this is so wrong," Mitch said from the seat behind John.

"Let me see," Mr. Maybourne said, walking down the aisle and picking up Andrea's paper. "Well, something's certainly futzed up," he said after skimming the page. "Teyla?"

The faint smile vanished and Teyla's head snapped up. "Yes, Mr. Maybourne?"

"Do you know anything about this?" Mr. Maybourne scowled and tried to look threatening but didn't bother holding the expression.

Teyla widened her eyes and tilted her head. "I do not," she said. "Perhaps there was an error in the compatibility program. It seemed to be very difficult to write."

"Right. And I just fell off the turnip truck." Maybourne shrugged and went back to the front of the room. "All right -- "

His next words were drowned out by the crackle of the loudspeaker engaging and the tapping of a finger against the microphone.

"Is this thing on? This is Principal Hammond. I have been informed that the Homecoming Compatibility Test has been compromised. We do not know how this happened but rest assured we will find out. Members of the Homecoming Committee are to report to the student government room at lunch. In the meantime, faculty is to collect the tests and turn them in to the main office."

The intercom system clicked off and Mr. Maybourne shrugged. "All right," he said. "Pass them back."

A cry of protest went up. John snorted.

"He's standing in the way of our love!" Dex cried from the seat besides Mitch's. John twisted around to see him standing in a heroic pose, one fist clasped over his heart.

"The heck are you doing?" he asked, stretching his legs into the aisle and leaning back in his seat.

"Dex and I are soul mates," Mitch explained, thrusting his computer printout at John. "The test says so."

John scanned the list of ten names. "I hate to break it to you," he said, "but there are six other people on this list who are more your soul mate than Dex. Not that I'm not really happy for you," he added quickly because seriously, Mitch and Dex were doing all his work for him on this point. Already, half the class was laughing and egging them on. And John was just fine with that.

"You two, break it up," Maybourne said, walking to the back of the room and tapping Mitch -- who had wrapped his arms around himself and was simulating a steamy makeout session -- on the shoulder. "Give 'em up." He took the paper off Dex's desk and John handed up Mitch's page. "Thank you."

The bell rang and everyone stood up, slinging their bookbags over their shoulders and scooping up books and papers.

"Wait up," Maybourne called, making his way to the front of the room. "Leave your printouts on my desk as you leave. And don't forget to turn in your ballot for Homecoming Court by the end of the week!"

John scooped his notebook under his arm and left the room in a clot of people, his test safely hidden away. In the hallway, he opened his locker and, shielded by the open door, turned over the page.

The name Rodney McKay glared up at him from the number one spot, in black and white. John stared at it, a flare of anger heating his face -- because goddamn Rodney, it was right there in black and white, what else did the boy need? -- and then crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it in the back of the locker.

He slammed the door shut and nearly jumped out of his skin when Ford was suddenly standing next to him.

"Geez, Ford," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "Wear a bell or something, would you?"

"Sorry Shep but…did Rodney really change the tests?"

John raised one eyebrow. "What are you talking about?" he asked ingenuously.

"The match tests the Homecoming Committee was doing," Ford explained. "Teyla was on the warpath this morning, man. They came out all messed up -- you heard Hammond, right? -- and she thinks Rodney did it."

"What do you mean 'all messed up'?" John asked casually, shifting his books into his backpack so he wouldn't have to look Ford in the face.

"It's got everyone paired up funny," Ford said hesitantly. "Like, it's got guys on the same page as other guys. And same thing with girls."

"Well," John drawled, trying not to laugh. "Gotta admit, two girls together would be pretty hot." He glanced sideways and was gratified to see Ford's face flush. "I'm messing with you," he said, reaching out and clapping his hand on Ford's shoulder. "Yeah, Rodney reprogrammed the machine to ignore the first question. The one that asked if you were male or female. We thought it would be pretty funny."

"Yeah?" Ford asked, his face showing his eagerness to be in on the joke.

"You heard Hammond on the loudspeaker," John said with an enthusiasm he didn't feel. "Five bucks his head's bright red."

Ford bobbed his head and followed John closely to the end of the hall where the cool kids congregated.

"I don't know, man," Lorne was saying. "I think it's a little fucked up."

Ronon, who was standing silently behind him, looked up as John approached. "Sheppard," he said.

"Ronon," John answered. "What's going on?"

Ronon raised one eyebrow and tilted his head at the cluster of football players and cheerleaders arguing in the hall.

"It's sick, man," someone said.

"What's sick?" John asked, making sure his voice carried. The crowd quieted somewhat.

"This whole thing with the match test," Lorne explained. "The program got fucked or something."

"It didn't get fucked up," John said with his best lazy-slash-smug grin. "Rodney and I fucked it up. That guy can do anything with a computer."

A dozen pairs of eyes stared at him.

"Seriously?" Stackhouse said. "Why?"

John shrugged lazily. "It's a dumb test," he said. "But it's got Hammond's panties in a twist. The teachers are going nuts over this."

"I just don't see how this is this funny," Bates said.

"Trust me," Laura Cadman said, peering over his shoulder at his page -- Teyla must have given him an advance copy, "the image of Mitch and Dex going to the Homecoming dance together is going to keep a smile on my face for days."

"Which one's going to wear the dress?" Lorne wanted to know, chuckling.

"This is fantastic," Laura said, punching John in the arm. She had a pretty good left jab. "Rodney's totally forgiven for being a jerkwad if this is what you two were up to."

John thought of Rodney's hand under Laura's shirt and forced a grin that felt plastic on his face. "C'mon, Laura," he said, "do you really think Rodney would blow you off for anything less than the perfect prank?"

"Oh, John Sheppard, you sweet talker, you," Laura teased back. "Whoever gets you on their list is going to have to do a whole song and dance number to hold your attention."

"Oh, yeah?" Mitch called. "You better watch out, Shep! If your name's on my hit list, I'll sweep you off your feet, just like the rest of 'em!"

"Ha!" John shot back. "You only wish my name's on your sheet!" He scooped up his backpack, slinging one strap over his shoulder, and turned around, grin still pulling at his face, to find himself nose-to-nose with Rodney.

The sounds of the busy hallway dimmed and faded into the distance. Rodney's eyes were wide and very blue and when he saw John, his mouth fell open, just a little bit. John tensed to keep himself from pushing Rodney's chin up with his knuckles, tensed to keep himself from reaching out and touching Rodney at all.

You never had a gay impulse until I bought my way into your life came into his head so clearly that he blinked and looked at Rodney as if he'd said it again, in the middle of the hallway and everyone. At the same time, he was hit with the sense of memory of the heavy warmth of Rodney's hand on his neck, as John gave up control and fell, fell, fell --

The bell rang and the noise of the corridor came rushing back to his ears. John twisted away and shouldered around Rodney to get to his first class, his heart pounding in his chest.

Status check: Rodney McKay was now the hottest thing at school. Women wanted him. Men wanted to be him. His name was on the tip of everyone's tongue and his entourage of freshmen had grown from that little Abrams geek to an entire assortment of geek, theater, and jock hopefuls.

What he didn't have, though, was a date to the Homecoming dance. Plus, John was still looking at him like Rodney had run down his puppy or something but Rodney couldn't exactly take him to the dance anyway.

"I need your help again," he said to Ronon that Thursday before class. "I'm trying to ask Laura to the Homecoming dance and I can't get her alone. I don't suppose you could -- "

"No problem," Ronon said, breaking away from the crowd and heading for the library with long strides.

"Uh, hey, I didn't necessarily mean," Rodney wheezed, half-jogging down the hall just to stay in earshot.

"Good a time as any," Ronon said, reaching his goal. He approached the wall where Laura was standing with Jeannette Simpson and a couple of girls from the track team and planted his hand on the wall next to Jeannette, wedging his body between the girls and effectively cutting off whatever Laura had been about to say.

"Um, excuse me," she tried, reaching high to tap Ronon's shoulder. "Yeah, hi, I -- "

"Laura, hi," Rodney interrupted, having almost managed to catch his breath. His stomach twisted a little and he shifted his weight to his other foot.

"Hi, Rodney," Lauara said, still fixing Ronon with the evil eye. "You need to teach your big, hairy friend some manners." She finally turned her attention to Rodney. "So what's going on?" she asked. Her track friends had moved subtly down the hall a bit and Rodney glanced over at them before leaning his shoulder carefully on the wall next to Laura. It felt awkward so he resituated it, and cocked his hips the way John did when he leaned that way.

"I hear -- I mean, the word on the street is -- oh my God, do people really say that? It sounds so much better on TV. I mean, um. The dance, the Homecoming dance, it's next Saturday and I, uh -- "

"Oh!" Laura said, sounding terribly disappointed. "Rodney." She smiled sympathetically. "I'd love to go with you, but I promised a friend I'd be his date."

"I -- you -- really?" Rodney bravado crumbled around him. "Couldn't you know?"

"I would if I could," Laura said, as if she knew exactly what he was talking about. "But I promised."

"Oh. Well." Rodney lifted his chin. "It's good to know that you are a woman of forthrightness and honesty. I wouldn't want to, you know...waste my time and attention on someone less worthy."

Laura smiled. "You're sweet, McKay," she said, leaning in and pecking him on the cheek. "Weird, but sweet." She winked at him as she hooked her bookbag over one shoulder and headed down the hall.

The bell for homeroom rang and Rodney sighed, pressing his hand to his cheek. It was time for Plan B.

Physics class really made John lose his appetite. He threw his book into the top of his locker with more force than entirely necessary and slammed the door shut. The halls teemed with students funneling toward the cafeteria and John let himself get carried along with them. Any desire he'd had to stand against the crowd was quashed by the indifference that seemed to have seeped into him over the course of the week.

He paused at the door of the cafeteria, letting people stream past him, and looked at the table where he usually sat with his friends. Mitch, Dex, Ronon, and Teyla were already there. Dex had two straws up his nose and Teyla was taking something -- it looked like a plastic knife -- away from Ronon as he protested good-naturedly.

Rodney came up and shouldered his bookbag off, rooting around inside for his bag lunch. John shook his head. Rodney wasn't any cooler than he had been a month ago, except maybe for his hair and clothes, and everyone suddenly adored him, all on John's say-so. All because John could throw a football and had cool hair.

John turned away from the door and pushed against the crowd, shoving his way to the library. He wasn't so hungry anyway and he wasn't too enthused about sitting across from Rodney at lunch and having to think about the careful, matter-of-fact rejection in the car. He slouched into a chair way in the back corner and pulled out War & Peace to read until he had to go to study hall -- and he just might skip study hall, too, since it was the only class he shared with Rodney.

He stared at the page, until the words blurred under his eyes and he slammed the book shut. He was hiding in the library from Rodney and the irony of the situation struck him full on.

Way to go, John, he thought disgustedly. You really know how to pick 'em. Risk your whole career, your whole life, and for some guy who doesn't even want -- He stuttered over the idea that Rodney didn't want him. He knew it wasn't true, knew, but somehow thinking that way made it easier to be angry at Rodney. Easier to transfer the embarrassment into blame.

He scrubbed his fists over his eyes and rested that way, elbows braced on the table, for a long moment.


John jerked upright, dropping his hands. "Teyla?" She approached the table where he sat, Ford and Ronon trailing in her wake.

"You okay?" Ford asked tentatively.

"You look like shit," Ronon added.

"Thanks, guys, I'm swell," John said, hooking one arm over the back of his chair and slouching down. "Just got a little homework to take care of."

"We were concerned," Teyla said, reaching out to touch his shoulder. Her small hand burned hot through his t-shirt. "You have been avoiding us. All of us, including Rodney." She tilted her head and he felt like she was looking right inside of him. "You were great friends and your…prank…was very successful. And yet you do not seem to be celebrating with him."

John threaded his pen into the spirals of his notebook and said casually, "Where is Rodney?"

"He's helping Mitch with his homework," Ford said. "Well, he's probably doing Mitch's homework. He gets a little bossy."

"Aiden," Teyla warned. "I seem to recall that Rodney was very generous with his time when you needed help with your algebra."

Ford flushed and shifted his weight sheepishly. "Yeah, he was," he admitted.

"Rodney has helped me as well," Teyla said. She looked pointedly at Ronon.

"Not me," he said, holding up both hands. "I got Jeannette Simpson to hang out with me after practice by faking dumb at chemistry, though."

"Good job," John said, even though he was fairly sure he had no idea who Jeannette Simpson was.

"The point is," Teyla said. "Rodney is our friend, but you were our friend first and we do not like to see you like this."

"Like what?" John protested. "I'm fine."

"Right," Ronon said. "That's why you're hanging out in the library during lunch."

John shot him the glare of the betrayed and turned his eyes up to Teyla. "I really appreciate you guys coming out here," he started. "But really, everything's fine."

Teyla inclined her head. "So I see," she said. "Still, I think we may…stay a while." She pulled out the seat next to him and sat down. Ronon and Ford sat down, too, and pulled out books or magazines, all obviously prepared to sit with him until he packed up to go.

John bit his lip and looked at each of them in turn. Teyla, serene but implacable, her coppery hair glinting in the harsh light as she bent her head over her history assignment. Ford, perched on the edge of his chair, memorizing Spanish verbs by mouthing them to himself. Ronon, like an immovable mountain to his right, flipping through a magazine, legs stretched casually in front of him.

He was lucky, even without Rodney, and he bent over his book once again, quiet and grateful.

Rodney didn't actually have a Plan B. Rodney didn't actually have a plan at all, but he didn't see where that had to be a problem. Wasn't he the most popular guy at school now? Didn't he have squads of freshmen following him around and Ronon at his beck and call -- well, when it had anything to do with Laura Cadman's little circle of friends -- and also a 4.0 GPA, which -- when produced with an official transcript -- was lifted above the ordinary constraints of an artificial cap on mediocrity by his college level courses? Surely getting a date wouldn't be so difficult a task. He just had to narrow down the wide array of options.

"Katie Brown is definitely out," he told Ford after school, with his mouth full of pizza. "Too high-maintenance. I don't want to deal with the crying thing."

Ford nodded solemnly, tethered to his slice by a thick strand of cheese.

"Laura's sacrificing herself to the greater good for the course of the evening, but I'm sure we'll be together eventually, so whomever we pick should be a pleasant conversationalist, reasonably intelligent, and most importantly, spectacular arm candy, but shouldn't be holding out hope for a long-term liaison. Teyla's off-limits because John dated her and in all honesty, I prefer blondes -- "

Ford choked on his pizza.

"Maybe Jeannette Simpson? She's far from ideal. Blonde, not terribly stupid, but she fails the other criteria."

"Also, Ronon will snap your neck," Ford said helpfully as Rodney pondered Jeannette's worthiness.

"Mmm, well. Oh, I know! That girl, the one in my math class." Rodney snapped his fingers a couple of times, trying to draw out the name. "Dumais! Andrea Dumais. She is both lovely and talented, though I have to admit that her snappy patter leaves much to be desired."

"That's 'cause she hates you," Ford informed him. "You gonna eat that?" He reached for Rodney's last slice of pizza.

"Yes!" Rodney dragged the slice toward him protectively just as a brightly clad body burst into his peripheral vision. "And anyway, she doesn't hate me. I made her a Cosmopolitan."

Ford rolled his eyes, but before he could say anything, they were abruptly interrupted.

"Hello, Rodney." Vala Mal Doran slid into the booth across from Rodney, bodychecking Ford into the corner, and grinning widely. "You do go by Rodney, don't you?"

"Er. Yes?" Rodney answered, his tongue numb and stupid again in his mouth. His eyes snapped directly to her breasts, swelling from the tight tank top she wore and he was pretty sure Ford was doing the same. Everyone at school knew Vala. Her cup size was inversely proportional to Rodney's grades and her price for sharing the wealth always seemed like a good deal at the time. "What -- what else would I go by?"

Vala shrugged elegantly. "Everyone has a nickname...Rod," she suggested.

"Er?" said Rodney.

Vala glanced over at Ford. "Could we have a little privacy?" she said and it wasn't a question.

"Um, yeah," Ford said, ignoring the desperate look Rodney slung his way. "Sure. Let me just, uh -- " He made a shooing gesture, helplessly looking around Vala since she was so obviously blocking his path. "I'm going to need for you to uh, move, if you want me to uh -- "

Vala heaved a sigh to illustrate how put out she was by Ford's request. Ford and Rodney both watched her chest heave and then she leaned back slightly, twisting her lower body to the side so Ford could squeeze past her. He made it with an unintentionally hilarious series of contortions engineered to avoid accidentally groping or pressing up against Vala. Then he ran for the bathroom.

"Um, so, you uh, wanted to talk to me?" Rodney asked, sparing half a glance to watch Ford run away before turning his attention back to Vala.

"Yes!" Vala offered him a bright and somewhat predatory smile. She reached across the table and looped her fingers around his wrist. The touch went instantly to his dick and Rodney gulped. The number of guys with dirty stories about Vala were legion, much greater than the number Rodney had suspected to be telling the truth, but now he was revising his estimates. "I think that you," she said, drawing the words out, "should take me to the Homecoming dance." She shifted her weight, uncrossing and crossing her legs so that her foot brushed up against the inside of Rodney's calf. She blinked at him. "I could make it, shall we say, worth your while?"

Was she...was she propositioning him? Rodney blinked. "Wow," he said.

"Well?" she demanded, her grip tightening on his wrist.

"Um. Yeah," he said. "Sure."

"Lovely!" Her face lit up and she released him. "You can pick me up at six-thirty for dinner. See you on Saturday!" She slid out of the booth and winked at him, her hips twitching in her tight, acid-washed jeans as she sauntered away.

"Wow," Ford said, sliding back into the booth with Rodney. "What was that all about?"

Rodney opened his mouth and was completely unsurprised when nothing came out. Ford pushed a glass of water across the table and Rodney dumped it in his mouth, closing his eyes and letting the water and ice dampen his admittedly over-stimulated libido. First John and now Vala. It was more than one should be expected to bear. "She wants me to take her to the Homecoming dance," he croaked when the situation was less dire.

Ford blinked at him and then twisted around to look at the door, though Vala was already long gone. "Wow," he said again. "You know, they say she's a sure thing."

Rodney nodded. "Well," he said sanguinely. "Obviously she realized that she needed to get herself some of this and really, who could blame her?" He tried to drink from the empty water glass and found himself with a face full of ice. "Oh, my God," he said. "What do I do?"

Ford clapped him on the shoulder. "Well," he said, although he was obviously out of his depth. "Maybe you should think about getting know."

"I know?" Rodney repeated.

" know," Ford said. He leaned forward and glanced around. "You need to invest in"

"Protection?" Rodney asked blankly. Ford looked aggrieved.

"C'mon, McKay," he whispered as if Rodney's obtuseness needed to be kept hushed. "You need to buy a condom."

John spit his mouthguard out and pulled his helmet off his head. Practice the day before a game was made up primarily of precision drills -- strenuous and tedious.

"Genii Prep won't be a problem," Ronon said, thumping John on the back of the shoulder. John rocked forward and very nearly snapped at Ronon for forgetting his own strength when a voice from the bleachers called, "John!" and he turned automatically.

Elizabeth waved at him from the bleachers and John's foul mood dissipated like smoke into the wind. He jogged over the bleachers and tossed his helmet aside to wrap up Elizabeth in a tight embrace. She felt good -- too thin, too light, but good -- in his arms and her hair smelled like strawberries.

"Hey. You all right?" Elizabeth asked in his ear, and he decided that yeah, he could be okay with her back.

"Yeah, I'm good," he said, pulling away reluctantly.

Elizabeth had cut her hair and it curled around her ears and puffed over her forehead. She had on makeup -- blue mascara that made her eyes look very green, and pale lipstick made her mouth glossy and shimmering. John leaned in to kiss her, but she turned her head and he tasted powder on her cheek.

"John," she said, her voice oddly formal, "I want you to meet Simon. He's pre-med."

John blinked and realized that there had been someone sitting on the bleachers behind Elizabeth. The other guy -- Simon -- stood and nodded. He was tall and thin, with too much hair -- in John's assessment -- and an arrogant set to his lips.

John hated him on sight.

"Hi," he said, stepping away from Elizabeth and extending his hand. "John Sheppard."

Simon nodded. "You're the one going into the military," he said, not making it much of a question.

"Simon," Elizabeth warned under her breath, "we talked about this."

"Yep, that's me," John said loudly, as if he hadn't heard Elizabeth, his hand still firmly suspended in mid-air.

Simon finally stepped up and clasped his hand quickly. He had a hard grip and John matched it.

"Elizabeth is very proud of you," he said.

John eyed him warily.

"Simon," Elizabeth murmured.

"She is," Simon said. "She talks about you all the time."

"Well," John said, still gripping Simon's hand. "That's nice."

"Boys," Elizabeth said.

Simon released and so did John and John resisted the urge to wipe his hand on his jersey. Yeah, his palm was sweaty and his fingers were cramped but it would be rude. And he didn't want to be rude.

"Yes, well, that was nice," Elizabeth said. John wasn't looking at her, he was watching Simon, but he was pretty sure she was rolling her eyes. Elizabeth had a brilliant eyeroll and she was never afraid to use it. "Now that you've gotten that out of your systems, what do you say we all go out and grab some dinner. John? I've been looking forward to catching up with you."

Her smile wavered just at tiny bit as he raised an eyebrow at her and she looked hopeful and uncertain. He tried to imagine asking her about her life in Berkeley and trying to tell her about the last four weeks with Rodney and one-point-five-seven weeks without, and maybe try to get back together with her...with Simon sitting across the table.

"No, thanks," he told her with a careless shrug. "My dad's home and I'm having dinner with him."

Elizabeth frowned, the divot John knew so well appearing between her eyes. "All right," she said. "Promise me we'll get together before we leave on Sunday, okay? I don't want to leave without finding out what's going on with you."

"Sure," John said recklessly. It was ridiculously easy to make open-ended promises. Everyone always believed him and no one ever held him to them.

"Okay." Elizabeth's smile was small and worried but still warm. "I'll talk to you soon."

John just nodded and waved over his shoulder as he turned away. The ache in his chest was just a drop in the bucket compared to how he'd felt the week before.

"I do not know this person who is with Elizabeth," Radek said grumpily, frowning around the eyepieces of his binoculars.

"Maybe he's her new boyfriend," Rodney suggested, leaning back against the chainlink fence that surrounded the football field and stretching his legs out in front of him. "That would be the logical assumption, anyway. Back to things that are actual issues, how on Earth am I going to the Homecoming dance with Vala Mal Doran?"

"I do not know why your petty inadequacies rate higher than my possibly very broken heart," Radek said. "You are going with her because she asked you and you said yes."

"Yes, yes, your imaginary girlfriend left you and ran off with some other guy," Rodney said. "But why did Vala ask me?"

"Did you not get the memo?" Radek asked, finally putting the binoculars down and turning to slump against the fence with Rodney. "You are cool now. You are special. All the girls think you are cute and awesome. The real question is why you said yes if you do not want to go."

"I tried to ask Laura Cadman earlier this week," Rodney said glumly. "But she already promised a friend she would go with him."

"That I am sorry to hear," Radek said, not sounding sorry at all. "What does John think of all this fuss?"

Rodney shrugged, glancing to his left, away from the field and the door to the locker room where the football players disappeared after practice. "I haven't really talked to him much this week," he said casually.

Radek snorted. "Your deal is over and now you are not friends?" he asked. "It is very silly of him to make that decision since you are now Mister Popular."

"He...didn't exactly make the decision," Rodney blurted out. "I did."

Radek gave him a sharp, skeptical look and then his eyebrows shot toward his hairline. "You asked him to date you!"

"No!" Rodney shot back. "That's stupid. And ridiculous. And dumb."

"No, you do not get to pass go on this," Radek said, and Rodney regretted teaching him to play Monopoly. "What did you do? Was it ill-thought out and embarrassing?"

"No, it was not ill-thought out and embarrassing," Rodney replied witheringly, "and you don't have to sound so gleeful about the possibility. I merely -- I turned John gay and he threw himself at me. I can't help that I'm irresistible."

There was a beat and then Radek burst into peals of laughter. "Of course you did," he said, patting Rodney's arm. "Who could resist your pulsing virility?"

Rodney huffed out the breath he'd just taken and clamped his mouth shut. The last thing he needed to do was confess John's bout of temporary insanity.

"Wait." Radek's eyes widened, almost comically, and his mouth turned down in a thoughtful frown. "You are not complaining. Or yelling at me for mocking you. It is not possible you were speaking the truth?"

"Oh, please," Rodney blustered, desperate to defend John's honor. "How many ridiculous stories to I have to make up before you catch on that I'm just toying with your puny little mind?"

"John Sheppard jumped you!" Radek crowed. "You got your heart's desire and...then what happened? Was he a terrible kisser? Too grabby with the hands? Wait, you probably like that. Are you not gay after all?"

"Oh, for crying out -- I turned him down," Rodney said before he could stop himself.

Radek's grin faded into a worried little frown that wrinkled his forehead and twisted his mouth. "But Rodney," he asked searchingly, "is that not what you want? All last year it was, 'John Sheppard, John Sheppard, John Sheppard.' Do you not like him so well now that you know that he is a real boy?"

"No," Rodney said, feeling like the ground was dropping out from under him. "No, now, I think I like him better."

John pushed his formerly-frozen peas around his plate with the tines of his fork. His father had grilled steaks and baked potatoes and usually that was the best dinner ever, real food after a steady diet of pizza, stories about the places his father had been and the aircraft he'd flown. The stories were getting spare these days, had been since his dad had made colonel, but he wasn't really up to listening anyway.

It was hard to avoid Rodney at school, or even out of it. All his friends had come around, just as he knew they would, and now hanging out with them meant hanging out with Rodney. They didn't speak much but John was always reluctant to part ways anyway. He didn't know how to convince Rodney that he had been definitely, pathetically sincere in his overture because he just didn't want to use anyone else as an 'experimental constant.' Rodney was right, that was unfair, and John didn't want to be unfair to anybody. He really didn't want to be unfair to Rodney but as each day passed, he was more and more sure that his days as an experimental variable were drawing to a close.

It wasn't that he didn't like girls anymore. He absolutely did and he still wanted to go to the Academy and he still wanted to fly. It was just that no one understood him the way Rodney did, and no one made him feel the way Rodney did -- not even Elizabeth, and he had dated her for almost a year. He couldn't stop seeing Rodney when he jerked off in the shower or in bed and he had to stop himself from reaching out and touching Rodney at least four times a day.

He lined up his peas in double rows and stabbed them with the fork until he had them stacked on the tines.

"All right. Spit it out."

John looked up in surprise. He'd almost forgotten his dad was there. The elder Sheppard was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. He raised an eyebrow at John. "Something's on your mind, son."

John took a deep breath and nodded. He knew better than to try an end run around his father when he had that look about him. And John did have a lot on his mind. Too much, too much he could never say to his father, because there were things they didn't talk about, things that he knew without being told weren't allowed so he opened his mouth and prayed for something safe to come out.

"If I don't want to be in the Air Force -- " he started, and then stopped.

If I get kicked out of the Air Force for being gay....

"How pissed are you going to be?" he finished with disgust.

Will you still love me?

The side of his father's face quirked up. "Only a little," he said. He uncrossed his arms and pushed his plate aside so he could lean on the table. "Don't ask me what we'd talk about on holidays," he said. "But if you really, honestly, don't want to be in the military, then don't be." Colonel Sheppard studied John and then suddenly he was just Dad.

John lied to his father on a regular basis. He told minor fibs and half-truths and lies of omission and he bent reality and engaged in the fine art of bullshit. He had damaged his father's beloved car and hid the repercussions for a month. A month that had put him in this position. He had never felt so dishonest, so secretive and cut-off from the man who had taught him to salute and to throw a football as he did just then. I'm sorry, he thought fiercely. I'm so sorry that I can't tell you this.

"But don't not do it just because it's big deal," Will continued, his blue eyes steady on John. "Life is about taking risks and making commitments and you can't not do something just because you're scared. You'll wind up being scared of everything and you'll wind up not doing anything with your life."

John knew he wanted to be in the Air Force and he knew he didn't want to end up like Danny Connors. But even now, rejected out of hand, even tagged "experimental variable" by Rodney's insane brand of logic, he couldn't help but think -- to know although he didn't know how -- that it was going to be worth it. No matter what, Rodney -- the fuckhead -- was still worth it.

He took a deep breath and put his fork down. "I still want to fly," he said and he looked at his father.

"Yeah," Will Sheppard said with a grin. "I knew that."

Ford, Lorne, and Ronon had invited Rodney to hang out at the Early Bird after football practice but Rodney didn't want to sit around in the stands all afternoon when John was on the field and being included in the cool crowd wasn't nearly as fun without John nudging him and muttering sardonic comments in his ear. So he trudged home alone, instead.

Jeannie and three of her little Miami Vice-worshiping friends -- actually, Rodney realized, after getting a better look, he didn't recognize any of them as friends of Jeannie's -- were sitting on the front step when he walked up to the door. There was a flurry of whispers as Rodney let himself in the house -- pointedly ignoring Jeannie -- and then he heard Jeannie say, "I'll find out," before the door closed behind him. He dumped his bag in his room and went into the kitchen to find Jeannie already lurking in the doorway.

"Sooo..." Jeannie drawled, leaning on the counter next to Rodney as he got out the milk and the Nestle Quik and proceeded to mix up a glass of chocolate milk. He put the ingredients away without asking Jeannie if she wanted any and went to sit at the kitchen table. Jeannie followed. "How come John's not here?" she asked finally. "He never comes around anymore."

"How come your little juvenile delinquent friends are here?" Rodney countered. "Where's Mom? You know she doesn't like you having people over when she's gone."

"She's at one of those tea parties for the faculty wives," Jeannie said morosely. "And you didn't answer my question."

Rodney made a face. Their mother hated those tea parties. More specifically, she hated being a 'faculty wife.' There was absolutely going to be another round of McKay Family Argument #615 tonight.

"Also," Jeannie continued loudly, "I'm allowed to have friends over if you're here."

"Oh, like you even knew I was going to be home," Rodney said, wiping off the milk clinging to his upper lip with the back of his hand. "I could have gone to the Early Bird with the football team or I could have had a meeting, or I could have gone to John's house."

"You haven't gone to John's house all week," Jeannie said. "You've been home early every single day. Did you guys get in a fight?"

"No, we didn't get in a fight," Rodney said, scowling. And technically, no, he and John had not fought. Well, he hadn't fought. John had maybe raised his voice a little. Which didn't make anything a fight.

"Is it because everyone's saying you're cool now?" Jeannie asked eagerly. "Are you cooler than John now?"

Rodney choked on his milk. "Oh, oh yes," he said, going to the counter for a paper towel. "I am now the paragon of cool. People are lining up at my door for my autograph." He paused. "Wait a minute. Those friends of yours. I haven't seen them before. They're not -- " He dropped the paper towel on the table and stalked to the front door and yanked it open. Three pairs of twelve-year-old eyes, complete with illicit purple and blue eyeliner tracked right to him. "Are they all here to see me?" he demanded of Jeannie, who was worming her way under his arm to put herself between him and the three girls.

"No," one of the girls said as snottily as Rodney had ever heard someone sound, "we're here to see John Sheppard."

"Yeah, we each paid you three dollars, now where is he?" another said.

"Guys," the third stage-whispered. "This is Jeannie's brother! The one who reprogrammed the test."

"Oh, God," Rodney said.

"So?" Jeannie demanded. "When is John coming over next? I have to tell them something," she added, nodding at the three girls as if they weren't even there. "Otherwise I'll have to refund their money."

"Oh, my God," Rodney said again. "Look, you can't charge people to hang out with John. You just -- no, you just can't," he said quickly, trying not to remember that he'd done the exact same thing. "Give them their money back."

Jeannie sighed and turned around. "Hey," she said to the girls. "You know Rodney's the next big thing. Two-fifty to hang out with Rodney?"

"No!" Rodney cried.

The girls exchanged glances. "That was pretty cool how he had the whole school going crazy," one of them said.

"Hello, you don't even go to my school," Rodney said desperately. "You still have recess."

There were a lot of very put-out sighs.

"Fine," Jeannie said, digging into her pocket. "I'll -- oh! Look, John! John!" She started jumping up and down, her blonde ponytail alternately obscuring Rodney's vision and leaving his line of sight clear to see John rolling down the street on his skateboard.

"Hey, Jeannie," John called, lifting his hand, and Rodney wanted to crawl under the front step and die.

"C'mere!" Jeannie called, still bouncing and John visibly hesitated, then stepped off his board, flipping it into his hand -- to the tune of four lovesick sighs and one irritated eyeroll -- and making his way slowly up the front walk.

"What's going on?" John asked when he was just feet away from Rodney and everyone. He reached out and tugged on Jeannie's ponytail and grinned when she flushed bright red. "Who are your friends?"

"This is Michelle," she said, too fast. "And Jennifer and Heather."

"Nice to meet you, Michelle and Jennifer and Heather," John said, grinning.

"Oh, God, I think I'm going to be sick," Rodney announced.

John glanced up at him, finally, and raised an eyebrow as the twinkle in his eyes faded and he looked guarded again. "Too much chocolate milk?" he asked.

"What? How did you?" Rodney slapped a hand over his mouth and found his upper lip damp. "Oh, for crying out loud," he said defensively. "I'm talking about this ridiculous display of teenybopper adoration. Any minute now, they're going to break out in a painfully off-key rendition of, I Know What Boys Like, and I'm going to have to shoot myself."

"Rodney!" Jeannie screeched, punching him hard in the arm. "Shut up! You're ruining everything!"

"Hey!" Rodney yelped, grabbing his arm and shoving at Jeannie.

"Whoa," John said vaguely, catching her and sort of shifting her back onto the porch as best he could, but Jeannie had locked her arms around his waist and was holding on for dear life. The three other girls sighed in envy.

Rodney was really just seconds away from taking control of the situation when a familiar Buick Elektra pulled around the corner and drove slowly up to the house. The entire porch fell silent as Mrs. McKay parked in the driveway and got out of the car.

"You're going to be in trou-ble," Jeannie sing-songed under her breath, not releasing her hold on John.

"I'm going to be in trouble?" Rodney asked. "I'm not even supposed to be here. You're the one with illicit guests."

"I have just spent two hours listening to four very stupid women discuss the benefits of a balloon valance over a tailored one," Mrs. McKay announced as she walked up to the porch. "And whether grapefruit is the next diet revolution. My life is hell. You, you, and you," she added, pointing to Jeannie's customers. "Home. Now. Jeannie? Let go of John and get inside right now. Rodney? Give me one good reason why I shouldn't hold you responsible for whatever's going on here."

"Oh, this is so not my fault!" Rodney exclaimed as his mother steered Jeannie into the house. He glanced back at John, who had backed off the porch and was standing on the front walk. The look in his eyes was something weird and confused and unlike anything Rodney had seen in Laura's eyes, or Katie's, or even Vala's. "Hey," he said, a little desperately. It was the closest John had allowed him to get since the Sunday night before last and he wasn't ready to let him slip away.

"Gotta go," John said, giving Rodney a two-fingered salute and turning away. "See you later."

Rodney sighed. "Yeah, well, have fun and...good luck tomorrow," he said, raising his voice to carry across the lawn. "Throw lots of touchdowns."

But John was already gone.

John had taken to doing his physics homework in the library during his free period. Whenever he tried to do it at home, his thoughts drifted from magnetic fields to Rodney's hands and Rodney's voice and just Rodney himself and the way he would take John's pencil right out of his hand while he was writing to illustrate a concept in the margins of John's work.

Lock it away and block it off, he told himself sternly. His father had taught him the importance of concentration long ago, when he had trouble sitting still in class because the sky was outside, with the grass and football and planes.

He scratched out another equation and immediately failed at locking and blocking by wondering why the book wasn't compensating for varying density and wanting to ask Rodney. Assuming infinite density, the square of r in the divisor increased the magnetic field toward infinity...and was that someone crying?

No, this was the library, a lot of people came here to work on projects so it was probably --

Someone was -- definitely...crying.

John put down his pencil and got up to peer around the stacks. He found her in the second row -- a pretty good hiding place, really, tucked in the alcove where the older books were. "Katie?"

The mop of fiery hair shifted and Katie Brown's red and tear-stained face glanced up at him through swollen eyes. John suddenly realized what his father was talking about when he talked about the necessity of anticipating logical follow-through.

John had no idea what he was supposed to do now.

But he couldn't exactly walk away now that he'd made his presence known, so he sat down beside Katie and rubbed the back of his neck.

"Rodney again?" he asked, bracing for more tears. "He's kind of stupid when it comes to girls."

"No," Katie said poutily. "Yes. I don't know. Did you know that he's going to Homecoming with Vala Mal Doran?"

"He's what?" John asked. "You're kidding. He asked Vala?"

"I don't know," Katie said, sniffing. "I heard she asked him."

John grimaced and tried not to think about it. He'd met Vala a few weeks after starting his junior year and that was more than enough to last him. "What does she want with him?" he wondered aloud.

Katie shrugged.

"So you're pissed that he's going with Vala?" he asked. It was valid. He was pissed that Rodney was going to Homecoming with Vala.

Katie sniffed. "He asked Laura Cadman first," she said. "But she's going with Carson Beckett and turned him down."

John nodded. "Didn't ask you, huh?"

Katie shrugged and let her hair fall in front of her face again. "No one asked me," she said quietly.

John felt kind of terrible. "I don't have a date either," he said, stretching his legs out in front of him. "You know what we should do?" he asked, snapping his fingers and pointing at Katie as if he'd just had the best idea in the world. "We should go anyway. We should just go and have fun and who cares if no one asked us? We'll show 'em. If we stay home, they won't know what they're missing."

Katie lifted her head and brushed her hair back. She did have pretty eyes, John thought, even if they were too big for her face and tended to look terrified all the time.

"Really?" she asked, biting her lip.

"Really," John said, really getting into the idea, now. "C'mon, we gotta show them what they're missing, right?"

A tentative but genuine smile slipped across Katie's face. "Wow," she said. "That's really -- that's really nice of you. I mean, Rodney said you were a good guy but I never expected, I mean -- wow, I can't wait to tell my mom!"

John blinked. "Yeah. I mean. What just happened?"

Katie's eyes widened again and her smile wavered. "You don't want to -- I thought you were asking me to go with you."

"Oh. I." John looked at Katie's fallen face and felt a hard twist of self-loathing in his gut. "Well, of course I was," he said with false conviction. "We're not going with anyone else so we might as well go together, right? I mean hey, look at what Rodney did to the match test. You don't need to run in the same circles to be friends."

"Right," Katie said, and John could see her regain that little bit of confidence. "And Rodney McKay will see what he missed out on."

"You bet," John said. "You bet he will."

Part Seven-B
Tags: fic, sga, tbtilaf
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