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FIC: A Supermarket in California

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May. 23rd, 2006 | 11:04 am

Fic: A Supermarket in California
Fandom/Pairing: SGA, John/Rodney
Rating: R

John decides that California doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. After Antarctica, the sun is a very, very attractive prospect, and there are beaches for surfing, and he could go barefoot and wear shorts all the time, which is a nice thought after years in uniform. The letter from his great-uncle’s lawyer tells him that he’s inherited ownership of the store, and it’s probably in his best interests to sell it, unless he’s willing to put the time and effort into refurbishment. He’ll get a handsomely inflated price for his East Bay real estate, the letter assures him, in addition to what he’s already inheriting. He thinks about it for a few weeks – the supply runs are long and also boring; the "milk run" jokes got old around the time he hauled his third cargo of powdered dairy product, and he’s almost done -- it’s not like he has anywhere better to go.

He flips a coin, and starts packing two months later.

Besides, John had gone through a phase his sophomore year of high school during which he’d carried Howl around in his back pocket. He still has a copy, somewhere.

+++


The market is about two blocks from campus, with dirty windows and white linoleum. A line of Coca-cola refrigerators graces the left wall, and there’s a small counter in the front right corner, half a Marlboro display sitting abandoned on a shelf. There’s a small back room, X-acto knives and cardboard boxes littering the floor, and in the small space between the end of the shelving unit and the wall, he discovers a cache of beer bottles and empty chip bags. John finds a light switch on the wall behind the shelves, and flicks it on, greeted with the pleasant hum of fluorescent lighting that makes everything look even dingier.

He decides to save the employee bathroom and back office for the next day. A man can only take so much.

John’s apartment is within walking distance, about a mile over on Alcatraz, right on the border between Berkeley and Oakland, and he stops for coffee every morning at a wide-windowed cafe on his way to the store. Despite twelve hours of sleep and sixteen ounces of caffeine, the market is still as depressing as hell – just as square and empty looking, full of sharp metal shelves with a single, despondent package of Chips Ahoy dustily mourning the fifth aisle over. He considers eating them – in twenty years of service, he’s consumed far worse – but eventually decides against it.

Fortunately, the back office isn’t as bad as he expects – it’s been mostly cleared out, save a broken desk chair, a couple of chewed-up pens, and two boxes of Playboy and Hustler dating back to the seventies, all of which he drags to a dumpster out back.

He grins when he finds a supply closet next to the bathroom (he’s still not quite ready to take it on, and tries to give it a wide berth as he passes) full of buckets and mops and brooms, and by the end of the day, the store is significantly cleaner. It feels like a job well done, so he has dinner and a pint at Raleigh’s to celebrate, and watches the A’s get slaughtered by the Yankees on a plasma widescreen (it’s not football season, and that’s one thing about the bay area that almost drove him away, but not quite – all they’ve got in the way of football are the Raiders and the 49ers, and Jesus, if that’s the best they can offer, he’ll gladly root for the Golden Bears). John groans along with the rest of the bar when A-Rod smacks another one into the bleachers because, "No," the disgusted college kid next to him, in full green-and-yellow regalia, mutters as he takes another swig of beer, "he’s not on the juice."

When John finally stumbles his way home, it’s almost midnight, but he sleeps well that night, and the night after.

+++


After a week, he gets the bright idea to wander up the hill to Kroeber Hall and stand around looking endearingly lost. It doesn’t take long for a group of giggling undergrads to approach him, biting their lower lips and blushing, to ask him if he needs help, and he tells them that actually, yeah, he’s looking for someone to help him fix up his store for cheap, and would they know anyone who’d be interested. He breaks into a grin when they erupt into lists of credentials and awards, and say they’d love to – it’s just the kind of practical application they’re looking for.

"Great," he smiles. "I’ll pay you, and throw a couple of sandwiches in the bargain. When can you start?"

And that’s how John ends up with half a dozen female (and two very effeminate male) Art Practice majors redesigning the (very crowded) interior of his 1800-square-foot market.

+++


It only takes them three weeks, working long hours that John pays them for in coffee and sandwiches and donuts as well as cash. They’ve painted the walls a pale orangey yellow that looks warm and open in the mornings, and oddly comforting at night, under the bright new lights. The students cleaned up the windows, and moved around shelves and made signs and designed a layout, and one of them even (God bless her, John marvels, Oh thank you hallelujah) gets her boyfriend and a couple of his fraternity brothers to tackle the bathroom with cleaning products until it no longer violates health code.

He thanks them profusely, and after that, it’s not long before he hires employees – a small, quiet, acerbic Vietnamese girl named Eunice, a bioengineering major named Sara with dark hair and black glasses, and Keith, a lanky blond lacrosse player with a wide smile. John hires them because they’re smart and capable, and none of them stammer and flush when they give their interviews (although Keith does look at him a little too intently), and to some extent, each of them reminds him of himself at their ages (shelving boxes of breakfast cereal, Keith makes a comment about what he likes to do at the breakfast table first thing in the morning, or any time, for that matter, and Sara throws bits of cardboard at him while Eunice mutters, "Apple Jacks – breakfast of sodomites," and the three of them burst out laughing until they’re in a helpless, teary heap on the floor).

It turns out that Sara’s uncle helps coordinate the farmers’ market, and so John finds a few excellent local producers who reluctantly agree to do business with him (no one’s overly enthusiastic; they all know he’s got a convenient location but Berkeley Bowl Produce Market is virtually unbeatable competition). Their first shipment of produce comes in shortly thereafter – peaches that still smell like sunshine, buttery soft lettuce, and mounds of carrots with leafy green tops. Keith arranges it all in a rainbow, wiggling his eyebrows, and John laughs along with Sarah and Eunice.

That Thursday, he’s restocking the meat case, and looks up to find in pencil, light, on the wall: Look for me under your boot-soles.

+++


For the most part, John runs the store on his own in the final weeks of May – Keith can’t sit still for more than five seconds at a time and Eunice looks ready to kill him for it. John extends the hours of the market for the shaken, weary-eyed students that wander by long past midnight, blindly groping for packages of Twinkies and No-Doz, stocking up on Mountain Dew and the Peet’s Coffee John has begun to carry, stacked on a massive display at the back of the store. He grins sympathetically at a slack-jawed Indian boy who blinks stupidly back, pays for his Mallowmars and Doritos, and leaves.

After that, June is a whirl of packing and U-Hauls and cars with out-of-state plates. Sara leaves for Prague, and Eunice has an internship in Hawaii, but Keith is taking summer classes and sticks around to help John manage the store – there’ll be fewer customers, anyway, with a third of the population gone for the summer. The nights are warming up, and John leaves the doors open until late, sits behind the counter and watches evening pass through warped windowpanes.

+++


It’s getting close to two, and John’s thinking about closing when a very agitated-looking man marches in through the door, walks straight to the Peet’s display, grabs a package of French Roast, and, almost as an afterthought, a box of filters and a package of Twinkies, casting a perturbed glance at the produce (still arrayed according to refracted wavelength – John figures that he either lets Keith do what he wants, or unpacks the produce himself, and really, that’s what he’s paying people for) and tossing all three on the counter. John blinks.

"Yes, come on." The man snaps his fingers in a small circle, rolling his eyes. "I’m on the verge of a major breakthrough in theoretical physics, so it would be great if you would hurry."

John picks up the coffee and keys in the price, purposefully mistyping it twice, and watches the man out of the corner of his eye. He’s wearing a rumpled, coffee-stained tee-shirt and tan slacks that are slightly too long on him, the cuffs a little dirty, a little frayed. He looks around the store in uneasy silence, and drums his fingers on the countertop, lips curved in an impatient frown. John hides his smirk, biting his lip and waiting for an outburst.

"Are you aware that your produce is in a rainbow?" Bingo. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that is to someone with a severe citrus allergy, such as myself? I could, say, purchase a loquat that's brushed against a peach that's touched a lemon and go into anaphylactic shock, and sue," the man takes a breath. "What are you waiting for? Are you going to ring me up or not?"

"Yes, sir." John enters in the price for the squished three-pack of Twinkies with a flippant little salute, reaching under the counter for a bag. He takes his time – this guy’s the best entertainment he’s had all night.

The man heaves a dramatic sigh. "Sir? What are you, some military grunt? An ex-Marine? Shouldn’t you be good at, I don’t know, following orders? As I said, I’ve got research to get back to, the importance of which you couldn’t possibly understand, so if you would please just give me my coffee, I’ll be on my way."

"Air Force Major," he says, and smiles, carefully folding the top of the paper bag. John rips off the man’s receipt and hands it to him. "Fifty-three cents is your change, and have a good morning."

The man stands there for a moment, looking as if he’s about to say something. Instead, he snatches his bag from the counter, and John watches him go, illuminated by streetlight.

+++


He’s back two nights later, again, just before John’s about to close. This time he buys two bags of coffee and a pack of cupcakes, insults John’s intelligence a total of three times, criticizes his choice of clothing (a People’s Republic of Berkeley tee-shirt he bought from a vendor down the street, on a whim) and introduces himself as Doctor Rodney McKay after John jokingly asks if he has a hidden pirate degree.

John’s pretty sure this means that they’re friends now.

"How could you possibly know that?" McKay (born in Canada, he tells John, with a hint of pride, and refers to America as "your backward nation") eyes him suspiciously. "You must have gone to an Air Force Academy, not—"

"MIT," John finishes, with a small sense of satisfaction at the look that passes over McKay’s face. "Aeronautics and astronautics, and a minor in mathematics."

"Please, you’ve got to be – fine, then, 9,767."

"…What?" John blinks at him.

"9,767," McKay repeats, glaring. "Prime or not prime?"

"Prime. Why?"

McKay begins to look a little wild. "54,417."

"Not prime," John responds airily.

"2,352,889," McKay practically hisses, leaning over the counter expectantly.

"Not."

"You," he’s practically foaming at the mouth, hands moving in frenetic circles. "You can’t honestly – you’re not human. That must be it, you’re a robot. You are a robot programmed to run a convenience store and identify prime numbers. 648,950,441."

"Prime," John rolls his eyes at McKay’s spluttering protest, and has to fight a smile. "And would you like your receipt?"

After that, they fall into a pattern: Mckay comes in almost every night (and then, every night) for coffee and disgusting snack cakes ("Those have tons of trans fat in them, you know," John points out, and then McKay tells him to shut up, spraying bits of pink Sno-Ball on the counter) followed by a game of Prime, Not Prime. Sometimes, McKay walks in enraged, shouting about the stupid, stupid, idiot who nearly killed them all that day falling asleep next to a running experiment, and John lets him; sometimes he walks in humming and inordinately pleased with himself, and sees fit to remind John how much of a genius he, Dr. McKay, truly is. On one memorable occasion, he came in slightly drunk and disturbingly somber, refusing John’s offer to walk him home, his insistence that McKay at least take a cab.

"I’ve got a friend," McKay gestures vaguely toward the door. "’S waiting for me."

"If – if you’re sure," John responds, half-glad that McKay probably won’t remember this – he almost reaches out, when McKay stumbles a little and rights himself, but John forces himself still.

It bothers him, a little – no, it unsettles him – to see McKay like that, foggy and unaware. He’s grown used to, become fond of the sharp man that stomps in, frowning (recently, though, less – he smiles a little more, crooked and kind of goofy) and goes oddly silent when John talks about Mersenne primes, but gets agitated about Euler and supersymmetry, waving his hands in the air to somehow provide a visual demonstration of eleven-dimensional space.

McKay explains things to him, flailing and pointing and getting a little flushed, and John listens, even when he knows it already, or it’s way over his head and he just ends up watching, because McKay is really sort of attractive in a messy, intelligent way. His shirt is always a little rumpled, and John sometimes has the weird urge to touch it or slide his hands just under the hem, because McKay looks pretty warm. John gets distracted, too, by the small furrow just between McKay’s eyebrows when he’s annoyed or upset or concentrating on explaining the Planck black-body radiation law. His eyes, up close, are startlingly clear blue.

John walks into the store early one afternoon – Keith is unloading plastic cartons of blueberries. "Your friend was looking for you."

He yawns in response. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Keith breaks into a shit-eating grin. "Seemed very disappointed you weren’t around. He told me to tell you that Rodney –" Keith draws the two syllables out into what could almost be a baritone version of grade school sing-song – "dropped by."

John thinks there may be a problem when all he can manage is a half-hearted mumble and – oh, god –a faint flush before retreating to the back office.

+++


In early July, the banners that hang from the streetlights (previously a blue etching of the campanile with orange and yellow flowers) are changed to images of Nobel Prize winners associated with the university. They make Rodney irritable (more than usual, in any case – he pointedly refuses to look at them) and therefore amuse John.

"Give it ten years," McKay mutters, "ten years. You’ll see." He’s taken to following John around as he closes, gesticulating wildly in order to emphasize his arguments about the relative importance of organic produce, careful to keep his back to Alvarez, Gross, and Mullins, visible across the street.

"Sure, Rodney," John drawls, but he doesn’t really doubt it. Mostly he just wants McKay to get angry again, red-cheeked and animated and too absorbed to notice the way John keeps looking at his eyelashes, his lips, his hands.

+++



Le Conte Hall is just up the hill from the Main Library. John walks up Bancroft and crosses to campus next to Barrows – he likes passing by Morrison, and listening to the music majors practice, concertos and arias drifting out across the North Field.

He finds McKay’s – Rodney’s – office on the third floor, in the corner overlooking Memorial Glade. Knocking, once, he gently eases open the door. Rodney is sitting at his desk, hunched over a messy stack of papers, surrounded by empty coffee mugs and piles of highlighted journals and books. John takes a step forward, and Rodney tenses the muscles of his jaw, forehead twitching.

"What did I tell you, Kavanagh?" Rodney slams down his pen. "You’re full of – Oh," he stops, blinking. "It’s – it’s you. Er, hello."

"Hey," John’s grins and he steps further into the room, letting go of the door. "You busy?"

Rodney really does do a startling good impression of a guppy. "Yes," he answers. "I mean no – well, that’s a lie, I’m terribly busy and it’s all very important, but – No," he manages, and John wonders if maybe he’s choking. "No."

"I was hoping you’d say that. Wanna get some ice cream?"

"Sure." Rodney nods, still a little speechless. "Sure."

"Great," John says, motioning to the door. "Well?"

"Um, yes," Rodney leaps into action, capping his pen and chucking it onto the pile of work on his desk as he stands, nearly toppling his chair. "Let’s."

The weather’s hot, but not too hot – they’d had a heat wave the week before, and John had spent his nights sprawled out naked on his bed, all the windows open and hair wet, hoping to god that none of the neighbors could see in the window. (Recently he’d noticed that a man across the way had invested in a high-power telescope. John fervently surmised he was at least an amateur astronomer, but the evaluating looks he’d been given on the few occasions they’d run into each other had led him to believe otherwise.) John’s more than content to walk across Sproul Plaza to Yogurt Park in silence, especially because it seems to unnerve Rodney, who won’t stop rubbing his fingers together, or playing with the zipper pockets on his shorts. John brings a hand up to hide his smile as much as to shield his eyes from the sun.

When they get there, the line’s spilling out into the street, but they’re serving peanut butter today (John orders his half chocolate; Rodney, unsurprisingly, latches on to the cappuccino) and it’s more than worth the wait. John suggests walking up to the used bookstore, and they take their time on the three blocks to Moe’s, stretching them to last as long as their disgustingly rich ice cream, weaving up and down side streets a block in either direction, shadowed by churches in one direction and frathouses in the other.

At the bookstore, Rodney makes a sharp left into the stairwell climbs to the third floor. John comes up to stand behind him, looking over Rodney’s shoulder as he surveys the shelves, running a finger along the titles. "Wrong," he mutters, "So, so terribly wrong, and yes, this one, too – this one especially, oh god, I didn’t know anyone could possibly be that wrong and still be legitimately published; the world of physics has hit new lows. Slightly less wrong, very wrong, disgustingly wrong – oh," Rodney stops and pulls a heavy green book from the shelf. "This one might actually…"

"Are you always this impressed by your peers?" John murmurs, looking down to catch a glimpse of an intricate black and white diagram.

"My peers," Rodney snorts, sounding vaguely insulted, "are idiots. The only person who might even begin to understand what it is that I’m doing would be Zelenka, and he’s off in Siberia of all places…" He trails off, distracted, head bent and muttering into the book. "I think… yes, yes, this looks like… If we could just, he was on to something…"

John’s stomach flips a little, and he abruptly sets course for the fourth-floor philosophy section before he can no longer fight the urge to press his lips to McKay’s neck, right at the soft nape. The three messy shelves devoted to the subject are an amalgam of Western and Eastern, old and new, and John finally settles on Krishnamurti. Rodney finds him sitting cross-legged on the floor reading Think On These Things, and John buys the book on their way out of the store.

"You do know," Rodney says thickly, after they’ve taken a detour to BayKing and bought chocolate éclairs (upon Rodney’s vehement insistence). "That he slept with his secretary’s wife?"

+++


On Saturday, John buys a bicycle, because it’s better than a car in this city and faster than on foot, and there are really, really steep hills he’s been eyeing for at least a month now that a skateboard just can’t handle. It’s a heavy-duty machine, with extra gears and bars and, the salesman explains with a gleam in his eye, a custom ZR9000 alloy frame with a tubeless 29er wheel system, and mentions Armstrong and state-of-the-art, and John just nods and waits patiently and finally asks, "But is it fast?"

The man blinks, and nods, and rings up the purchase looking vaguely heartbroken. John just looks at his new bike and grins.

He starts to ride three times a week, at least. It’s easy to understand why people enjoy it so much – the hills have killer curves and views that stretch out across to San Francisco and Santa Clara on the clear, hot summer days. The buzz of the spokes becomes familiar, and the click of changing gears as he hits the top of the hill and pauses, a second of stillness before he goes whizzing down the other side.

He makes the mistake of mentioning this to Rodney, who snorts and shakes his head. "Don’t be an idiot. Nothing’s ever still."

Rodney keeps talking but John thinks he knows what he meant.

+++


Rodney walks in and starts complaining about the heat at about half past eleven, grumbles some more as he makes a detour to the ice cream freezer to grab a carton of Haagen-Dazs (John’s more of a Ben & Jerry’s man) and launches into a diatribe about the volume of the music blasting out into the street from the bar next door. John just grins and continues unloading the last crate of sweet-smelling, ripe mangoes.

"Honestly, you’d think someone would have the presence of mind to consider the fact that there are other people out and about at this time of night who don’t appreciate being accosted with mediocre punk rock," he sniffs.

John laughs, and then Rodney trips over the mango crate, dropping all his groceries in the process and John laughs some more, and then, of course, when they both reach for the carton of ice cream everything goes to hell in the way of every single romantic comedy John’s been forced to sit through.

Their foreheads bump painfully, and John ends up holding Rodney’s wrist instead of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough – they both freeze in place, just for a second, and John can’t help but think how pale Rodney’s skin is there, and how weirdly prominent his veins look through it. He doesn’t let go as they stand up, gravitating towards each other, and he can't help but lightly stroke the inside of Rodney's wrist as he waits for someone to remind him that this is such a bad idea.

"John," Rodney manages, and John takes the step closer, gently kissing the turned-down corner of Rodney’s mouth, and Rodney’s light gasp is better than yes. John turns his head just this much, just enough, and then they can really kiss – Rodney’s fingers splayed helplessly on his hip, breath hitching in his chest. He smells like coffee and paper, the warm summer wind smell of eucalyptus and hot cement, and John can’t help but pull him closer, eliciting a low groan echoed in kind when Rodney’s thumb strokes just under the hem of his shirt, rough against his ridiculously sensitive skin, grip tightening as he breaks the kiss, panting, and pushes John away.

"Rodney–"

"It’s not that I don’t, I mean, you’re a wonderful person, and smart, and hot, and funny, and I’m sure you’d be excellent in bed," Rodney babbles, flushed, looking everywhere but John. "There are things, and you’re an excellent kisser – I mean, really, excellent, I mean, wow – but I can’t, it’s just too—"

"But," John says, still dazed, "I was just gonna bite your neck."

"No! No, no, no," Rodney squeaks. "I mean, yes! But, no! See you say things like that, and I forget, and it was just supposed to be for regular sex, but now, you, and really, you; I wouldn’t have even imagined, but, John, I can’t—"

"Rodney," John blinks for a long second and when he opens his eyes, Rodney’s meeting his gaze head-on, miserable and strangely bereft. "Are you trying to say that you’re not—"

"It’s just, there’s – there’s someone," Rodney finishes lamely, and flees.

+++


The next morning, John wakes up and gets on his bike, cycles up to a park nestled in the hills and gets sunburned. He heads toward the waterfront – almost gets run over – before finally looping back toward his apartment, exhausted muscles screaming in protest. He stumbles through the front door and collapses on his bed, too drained even to shower, and sleeps for ten hours straight. By the time he stumbles into the bathroom the next morning, he has a plan.

+++


Sort of a plan, anyway. He bides his time at the store for the next few days, reorganizing the back room and doing accounts, and ignoring the way Keith keeps giving him sideways suspicious looks and asking how his friend is until it’s Monday again. John brings a white button-down shirt to change into and grabs three bags of whole bean French Roast, and, after a second of hesitation, a package of Ho-Hos. He tries not to look out of place climbing to the top floor of Le Conte Hall just after lunch, when he knows Rodney will be in his office, making happy humming noises over a takeout container of chicken tikka masala and drawing big angry faces on his undergrads’ weekly quizzes. John catches sight of himself in a window reflection, and realizes that blending in is a bit of a lost cause. He goes in despite the stares of wild-eyed physics majors, ducking his head a little and trying not to attract too much attention.

The door to Rodney’s office seems unusually imposing, despite the fact that John finds the DO NOT DISTURB!!! :( sign sharpie’d on loose-leaf lined paper kind of hilarious, but he knocks anyway and is rewarded with a pointed lack of response. He sighs and opens the door anyway.

"Oh my god, can any of you rea—oh." Rodney’s mouth snaps shut mid-launch and he turns a shade of red that John associates with tomatoes and stoplights. "It’s you. What are you-- I mean…" he trails off, jaw working uselessly for a few moments before turning back to his papers.

"I wanted to apologize for the other day," John begins, letting the words roll off his tongue diplomatically.

"Apologize?" Rodney seems a little stunned, and for a moment, John wonders if he’s going about this the right way, but it’s kind of too late now, and seeing Rodney so bewildered is almost fun.

"Yeah," he continues, rubbing the back of his neck in slightly abashed nonchalance. "I didn’t know, you were, you know, involved."

Rodney winces a little. "Yes, well, I hadn’t exactly mentioned it either, and I hadn’t thought you would – jump to conclusions, and, you know." He gestures feebly, and picks up speed. "Things, and it was actually all a very, very terrible misunderstanding, really, and if you feel you need to apologize, as you term it, well, then, who am I to stop you? And really, I gave no indication that I was available for such, such dalliances, and I am in fact a very important and very busy man conducting crucial, cutting-edge research in the field of astrophysics and declined several other very profitable offers for this position, I’ll have you know. And what do you mean, you didn’t know I was involved? Why would there be any reason for you to think I wasn’t? I’ll have you know, I have quite a rapport with many and various people on this staff. And furthermore, why would it matter, whether or not I was involved, for you to just go around – accosting people like that. Hasn’t someone brought you up on sexual harassment charges yet? For all you know, I might not even be gay, and—"

"Are you?" John quirks an eyebrow and watches Rodney color nicely, because really, this is going far better than he had originally anticipated.

"That’s beside the point," Rodney snaps. "The point is that I have work to do, so if you’re finished with your apology, you might want to go, so I can return to it, and not be forced to call campus security to escort you from my doorstep." He makes a shooing motion, gesturing John towards the door.

"Oh, really," John drawls. "Then you wouldn’t mind if I took these back?"

Glaring, Rodney places a protective hand over the crinkling Hostess wrapper. "Don’t you dare."

+++


He figures that’s as good a reconciliation as any, and takes to bringing Rodney coffee and snacks on a regular basis (Rodney’s eyes nearly bug out of his head when John walks in with four different flavors of ice cream at the height of the heat wave that always hits in mid-August, and he makes little delighted noises eating Coffee Heath Bar Crunch straight out of the carton). John’s fairly certain that Rodney hasn’t realized that he’s being courted yet, albeit covertly, which as far as he’s concerned is a good thing. It means John can sit across from Rodney and listen patiently to his tangential, exhaustive accounts of classes and experiments and idiots (there are lots of these in Rodney’s world, no matter that he’s surrounded by the supposed best in his field) and spout terrible puns that make Rodney shake his head and then laugh. Sometimes John just watches Rodney while he works, bent over a stack of papers to grade or results to analyze – the times when Rodney really is busy and not just complaining about it to seem important. Rodney never works silently; he’s always snorting in disgust, or making pensive, intrigued noises, or laughing lightly (it’s more like a cadenced exhale, really, it’s that close to being nothing at all, and it makes John’s stomach do a funny wrenching thing).

It’s not as pleasant as it should be when John shows up near the end of August (term is starting up and Rodney’s been busy putting together lesson plans and yelling at TAs and lab techs and the administration) to find Rodney sitting at his desk looking blank and a little lost, and learns that Rodney’s someone had apparently broken it off with him in favor of another someone down the hall. His first reaction is to beat the shit out of someone, and his second is to kiss the turned-down corner of Rodney’s mouth, coaxing his lips apart until he’s smiling again, but John doesn’t do either, instead just hands over the butterscotch pudding and a spoon.

+++


After move-in day has finally come and gone, and Eunice and Sara have come back to work in the store, and the university has settled down to its normal September-through-May pace, Rodney makes the mistake of telling John when his classes are held.

It’s information readily available through the internet, or hell, even his employees, but hearing it from Rodney is like an invitation. On Tuesday, John takes a late lunch and makes it to the lecture hall just in time – Rodney’s teaching a 200-level class on High Energy Astrophysics, a topic John is just barely able to follow until a couple of students in the front row ask questions that set Rodney to ranting at them about how wrong, wrong, wrong their assumptions are, and then he just sits back, amused as hell while the undergrads cower in the face of such ire.

After twenty more minutes of pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut and sighing a lot whenever anyone says anything particularly egregious, Rodney gives up and tells everyone to read two extra chapters for next class, and John stands up, stretches, and bounds down to the front of the room.

"Hey, Rodney," he says, slinging a friendly arm across Rodney’s shoulders.

"It’s Doctor McKay," Rodney hisses, taking a step back and ducking John’s arm, casting furtive glances back at the talking, laughing students gathering their things.

"Doctor McKay?" John raises an eyebrow. "Class is over, Rodney." He draws out the two syllables until Rodney’s cheeks are flaming, and two girls in the back row are giving them sideways looks. They giggle when John turns and smiles in their direction, waving.

"Don’t do that!" Rodney jerks his arm down. "They’re undergraduates. Don’t you understand? They’ll think we’re sleeping together!"

John shrugs. "Who cares?"

"You may have no compunction when it comes to vicious, dreadful lies being spread across campus in regards to your sex life, but I do," Rodney growls, dropping John’s arm and pivoting away to stomp around, shuffling papers and ominously shoving them in his briefcase.

John is pretty sure that’s a lie, but he lets the subject drop.


+++



Three days later, Keith wolf-whistles when John stumbles through the door at seven o’clock in the morning to sign for the dairy delivery, and Eunice raises an eyebrow.

"Rumor has it you’re screwing Professor McKay," she mutters in counterpoint to Keith’s eyebrow-waggling whoops and enthusiastic hip-grinding.

"Shouldn’t believe everything you hear," he grumbles back, and only smiles and shakes his head when Keith starts making out with a dust mop.


+++



The next time he brings Rodney coffee, there's an administrative assistant in a tie patterned with a diagram of eleven-dimensional space standing down the hall by a water cooler. He looks at John as though surprised, then smiles knowingly, shifting his hips with just a shade of proposition. John immediately freezes and turns toward Rodney’s office, shoving the door open.

"Don’t be a moro—excuse me?" Both Rodney and the student standing at his desk turn to look at him, shocked (Rodney soon exchanges this for the less favorable furious; the student, a tall pale girl with thin wrists and long brown hair looks mostly relieved).

"Hey, I was just wondering—"

"Excuse me," Rodney thunders, standing. "Do you have any sense of boundaries whatsoever? Do you not understand the concept of office hours? Privacy?"

John brandishes a bag of coffee, a pink pastry box from the bakery down the hill, and a book of the really tough sudoku puzzles, but Rodney just shakes his head angrily and starts in on personal space, and how he has work to do, while the girl takes the opportunity to gather her things and beat a swift path toward the door, ducking under John’s arm and shooting him a grateful look. He winks back at her, and Rodney stutters to a halt.

"Did you just – my god, what are you, some kind of animal? Also, are you completely, utterly insane?" Rodney’s voice goes a little sharp, and John thinks he even sounds like he might actually be hurt. "She can’t even solve basic polytropes. Do you try to seduce everyone you meet?"

"Not everyone, Rodney," John rolls his eyes. "Just you."

"Oh please, as if you—" He stops, eyes going wide. "Oh my god. Oh my god, you’re not kidding. You’re not even trying to seduce me, you’re – you’re courting me. You’re wooing me. That’s what all this—" he gestures toward the coffee and desserts – "is about, isn’t it?"

"Figured me out, McKay." John stretches, reaching toward the ceiling.

Rodney just stares. "No, no, you are so very wrong. I like relationships that are just sex on lab tables and desks and in the staffroom at two in the morning. I like relationships where I don’t have to remember birthdays or phone numbers or favorite colors or middle names, especially if they’re difficult to spell like Aloysius or Siobhan, and what I do not like is this, and you, and your – seduction and flattery, and I’ll have you know I am entirely immune to it," he sniffs. "Your feeble attempts at enticement have absolutely no effect on me. I am imperturbable."

John just looks at him.

"Couldn’t you have just brought me flowers and candy like a normal person?" Rodney sighs, finally.

"Naw." John glances out the window, and back at Rodney, slumped dolefully in his chair. "Where’s the fun in that?"


+++



They run into each other at lunch the next day and end up sharing a table – John is utterly repulsed by the graceless, slurping hulk that is Rodney McKay inhaling Thai noodles, but he’s more disgusted by the fact that he finds it tremendously endearing. That night, Rodney walks into the market again.

"Just so you’re aware," John offers, "I’m not really a patient person, but I am ex-military. I can live in a ditch and eat dirt for a month if forced."

"Yes, yes, fine," Rodney snaps, paying for his coffee and proceeding to bitch about the incompetent lab tech who nearly messed up his data for the third time in a row.


+++



John invites Rodney over to his apartment a couple days later (Rodney confesses he’s rarely at his own, a tiny hole on the corner of Haste that reeks of roach poison, with a claw-footed bathtub and a cat), and they watch the tail end of the Giants game on TV, drinking beers and arguing over the infield fly rule.

"Oh, please," Rodney rolls his eyes. "It’s inane and idiotic. In fact, those two adjectives describe the entirety of baseball. Now hockey, that’s a real man’s sport. Too bad the Sharks’ season doesn’t start for oh, two months."

"Yeah," John drawls, sprawled loose-limbed on the couch, "there’s nothing more intelligent than a bunch of hulks on ice skates body-checking each other into plastic sheeting."

"You clearly don’t understand the finer nuances of the sport," Rodney sniffs, turning back to the television, and that’s how John knows he’s won.

After the game’s over, Rodney gets distracted by one of John’s beat-up undergrad mathematics texts, flipping through the chapters and pointing out the more erroneous bits in a loud, outraged tone. John sits next to him and watches, amused, until Rodney comes to a stuttering halt and jerks away, and John realizes he’s been playing with the soft frayed hem of Rodney’s shirt the entire time.

"No," Rodney sputters, sliding to the opposite end of the couch with wide, angry eyes. "you have to stop doing this."

"Doing what?"

"This!" Rodney gestures wildly, face flushed, and John feels a tiny twinge of – something. "Your – your hands! And that face!"

"Rodney," John sighs, because Rodney actually looks almost betrayed, and seconds away from standing and stomping down the stairs. Fuck. "Listen, I—"

"No, no, you listen." Rodney sits up straighter, frantic, and John’s suddenly very worried. "I have a stupidly massive high school crush on you – you and your idiotic MIT degree and juvenile sense of humor and God help me, your hair," Rodney spits, and at this rate John’s not sure if what comes next is going to be good or bad-- "And I was doing just fine, and working for a first-tier research institution on a tenure track with a corner office and getting regular sex, and then you come along, with your stupid market and stupid coffee and stupid ex-Air Force hot-ass self and then you kiss me and then say it’s okay to be just friends, but don’t you see? It’s not okay! It’s not okay at all because I can’t be friends with you when I can’t go three minutes without thinking about you over my desk or on my bed, or in your bed, or how much I – how much—"

"Rodney," John murmurs softly, but Rodney’s on a roll – "I just don’t get stupidly massive high school crushes on people – my stupidly massive high school crush is on physics, okay? Don’t you understand, this can only end badly for me" – so John reaches out and gently encircles Rodney’s wrist, and figures that works a little better. "Rodney."

"But I can’t—"

"Rodney," John says, and that works best, because Rodney finally shuts up and looks at him, and John can see he really is upset, and so he kisses Rodney, slow and sweet, until the tension in his back smoothes away and he doesn’t do much of anything at all except kiss back, clutching John’s upper arms almost too tightly.


+++



And after that, John does bring him flowers: a sprawling, riotous handful of late-blooming roses and ragged-edged lilies and then kisses Rodney in the candy aisle, next to a display of Snickers bars, and Rodney says, "okay, okay" and kisses back.


+++



At the end of September, there’s a week where it rains – sporadic light showers to darken the sidewalks and dampen the paperback books John sticks in his back pocket to carry home. Rodney complains about wet papers and dirty car windows and his hair (John resists the urge to laugh at this, but only just) yet leaves the windows to his office open, and says yes when John asks him back to his apartment after a day spent in Rodney’s office with account books and papers respectively.

"Oh," John exhales, when Rodney pushes him back against the barely-closed door and kisses him hard, because this is new – the insistent push of Rodney’s hands struggling with John’s jacket without warning. This isn’t the tentative, slow touching John secretly loves with Rodney, where they don’t even do anything but kiss. It’s alarming, in a way, but strangely hot, because Rodney’s hands are shoved up John’s shirt, stroking bare skin, barely brushing his nipples, and he can’t help but groan when Rodney mumbles "these clothes, off" into his mouth.

John nods in agreement, just as he notices how Rodney’s hands are shaking a little as he tries to unbutton John’s shirt, and how he won’t look up into John’s eyes. "Hey," John says gently, placing a still hand over Rodney’s own, but he still doesn’t look up, crumpling as he loses momentum.

"Can we just—" Rodney glares at the hardwood floor.

"Hey," John says again, reaching to cup the back of Rodney’s head in his palm, and damn it all if Rodney doesn’t lean into the touch. "Only if you want to."

Rodney’s glare shifts from oak beams to John, and there, that’s better, because now at least Rodney’s looking at him with that familiar annoyed scowl. "Of course I do, you idiot, I just—"

He falters, and John knows an opening when he sees one, so he tightens his grip a little and pulls Rodney to him, brushing a thumb along his stubbled jaw before leaning to kiss him, tugging at Rodney’s lower lip with his teeth before dipping his tongue between Rodney’s parted lips. He tastes like stillness, the long, silent moment looking out across the bay just before John goes zooming downhill, and when Rodney finally responds with soft movements (nothing is ever still) they pick up speed, Rodney’s hands gripping John’s shirt, drawing him in, until they have to part to breathe, glazed and panting.

"You can stop me," John says, finally. He's prepared to wait but doesn't have to, because Rodney's pulling him closer, eyes narrowed.

"Because I’ve suddenly turned stupid?" he mutters and kisses John again, the same slow pace, wet and dirty, and this time John lets Rodney unbutton his shirt, helps him take off his own. Rodney makes a small impatient noise, and reaches down to cup his hand between John’s legs.

"Bed," John manages, and Rodney murmurs in agreement, pulling him down for another kiss before they stumble down the hallway, John batting Rodney’s hands from his zipper, because if he keeps that up, they’re not going to make it to the bedroom.

Rodney slams the door open and kicks off his shoes, starting on John’s pants again, and then they’re kissing more, harder, and everything’s a blur of touches and arching response. Rodney’s pants come off, and then both of their boxers, until they’re horizontal and grinding against each other on the bed, John’s cock aligned with Rodney’s just so, so good, heat building.

"Rodney," John gasps, and comes, eyes squeezing shut and a sticky warmth spreading between them as Rodney thrusts down: once, twice, and arches, collapsing against John’s chest, with a choking exhale.


+++



John decides that California wasn’t such a bad idea. The sun’s coming up over the hills, shining through the light morning fog and right into his apartment, right on Rodney McKay, who makes grumpy, sleepy noises when he’s woken up, and makes fun of John’s pillow-smashed hair, grinning the entire time and leaning into the broad hand splayed flat against his chest.

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Comments {339}

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life is short, and you are hot

(no subject)

from: iamtheenemy
date: May. 23rd, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)
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I have to come back to read this later, but I have to say: OMG ALLEN GINSBURG LOVE!!!

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:55 pm (UTC)
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YES. I have to say that I have criticisms of Howl, but come on, the third part? And I love A Supermarket in California. Ten different kinds of yes.

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etui

(no subject)

from: etui
date: May. 23rd, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Hee! I really enjoyed this. I loved John courting Rodney with coffee and ice cream and snacks, and Rodney totally oblivious.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:56 pm (UTC)
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Thank you so much! :x And, hee, totally. He's just like, "Yes, thank you, now would you please leave me alone so I can be brilliant in peace? Goodbye."

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Sara

(no subject)

from: panisdead
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:00 pm (UTC)
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What a sweet, calm story. I love it.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
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Thank you!

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(no subject)

from: aspacer
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:13 pm (UTC)
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yum

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
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:> Thank you!

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(no subject)

from: fairestcat
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:22 pm (UTC)
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Oh. This is wonderful. The slow build of it and John's pov are both just terrific. This is a John and a Rodney that I can really see.

There's a real sense of place to this too, which I just love. Really, I just love everything about this.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
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Thank you so much! That was one of my goals -- in my head, John falls in love with California, and I really wanted a sense of that. I'm glad it came across. ♥

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A Supremely Black Tai Affair

(no subject)

from: setissma
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
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I knew I forgot something, um, with calculus problems. :"> I will read ASAP! I suck at beta.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC)
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I know you're busy, love. :x

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Ria

(no subject)

from: ainaria
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:42 pm (UTC)
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I loved this. It was romantic, funny and sweet. And it kinda tasted like life. Very good job. :)

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC)
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Hee, thank you! And now you've got me wondering what life tastes like. Maybe a really weird sandwich?

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(no subject)

from: poisonshock
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)
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lovely delicious fic, the best ones are like this, when you're completely engrossed and just go with it [grins] loved the rodney snark, john wooing rodney and just being patient, willing to wait and fight, in his own laid-back way. lol their budding relationship made me all happy and melty inside. the whole sense of relaxed sunniness of this is refreshinly wonderful. thanks for this beautiful AU!

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it -- and the sun was totally something I had in mind the entire time I was writing this, so I'm glad that came through! ♥

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(no subject)

from: ex_stateline124
date: May. 23rd, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC)
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\o/

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
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\:D/ >:D

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not_sally

(no subject)

from: not_sally
date: May. 23rd, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)
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This was wonderful. Sweet and funny, a lovely AU.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
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Thank you so much!

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Tora

(no subject)

from: torakowalski
date: May. 23rd, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I love AUs and this is a wonderful example. I really like the way you paint not only the characters but also California. Lovely pacing and style.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:01 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. I really wanted to bring across a sense of setting, because John is falling in love with the city as much as he is with Rodney, and finding his place. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Baudrillard: like Bob Ross, in a way

(no subject)

from: das_kabinett
date: May. 23rd, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC)
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That's absolutely beautiful! Great job, I cooed the whole way through. Your Rodney voice is abso-bloody-lutely divine.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:01 pm (UTC)
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Oh, gosh, thank you so much! I was worried he was over the top, even for him, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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(Deleted comment)

(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:02 pm (UTC)
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Oh, gosh! Thank you so much. Now I'm all flustered. :">

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(no subject)

from: nestra
date: May. 23rd, 2006 08:45 pm (UTC)
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Awww. My two seconds of "a supermarket? really?" turned very rapidly into "yes! a supermarket! with ice cream!" So very sweet and happy-making.

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
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AHAHAHAHA. That's exactly how this got written.

Me: I have a desire for John to run a produce market.
Friend: WRITE IT.
Me: ...A market?
Friend: YES.
Me: Okay, then.

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it, absurdity aside. ♥!

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Kali

(no subject)

from: altorogue
date: May. 23rd, 2006 08:52 pm (UTC)
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Oh, this was lovely. Especially "Rumor has it you’re screwing Professor McKay". Bwahaha!!

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(no subject)

from: taffetablue
date: May. 24th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
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HEE, thank you so much. That scene is totally one of my favorites, mostly because I kind of want Keith to be my best friend. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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