|Fic: Playing With Matches (SGA, John/Rodney, NC-17)(Reel SGA)
||[Jul. 31st, 2006|10:53 pm]
you startled me! i thought you were the antichrist
Title: Playing With Matches
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Word Count: 10,835
Disclaimer: I am pathetically sad at how not mine SGA is.
Notes: Prompt was Cupid Takes a Holiday: Because his family has a history of insanity that breaks out when a family member hasn't married by the time they are 25 years old, Nikolai Nikolaevich (Rodney McKay) visits a matrimonial firm searching for a bride. But all the candidates are either too fat, too young, too old, too skinny or too ugly,and he turns them all down..
Many of my most enthusiastic thank-yous and smooches and fangirly praises go to siriaeve, cheerleader and sounding board and beta, without whom this would have been a completely different story, and probably would have sucked. A lot. Fab beta work by trinityofone and birdsflying has probably kept me from looking like an idiot and has definitely prevented resurrection of the dead.
Summary:'Ah,' John said. 'He's got a candidate in mind.'
Rodney's sister burst into his office three minutes before lunchtime.
"Busy now," he said without looking up, still focused on the numbers the computer screen should not have been displaying. "Come back in ten minutes."
"You'll be stuffing your face with meatloaf and blue jello in ten minutes, you selfish bastard," she replied, stepping into his office and slamming the door shut.
His head snapped up. "How did you get in here?" Rodney yelled. "You have to have a key card just to open the front door!"
"Funny that," Jeannie said. "I told the nice lady at the door that I was your sister and you didn't know I was coming. She said, 'I'm so sorry' and let me right in. These people really know you, don't they, Rodinka?"
"Get out of my office!"
"Not until you promise to go see Zelenka and Sons."
"You're insane!" Rodney shouted. "Out of your mind!"
"No, see, I'm not. Because I'm married. You, on the other hand…" Jeannie shrugged. "Your birthday is in four months, Rodney. Mom is getting worried. Not to mention Grandma Niki. They call me, begging me to get you to agree to see someone, but what can I do?"
"I've got a suggestion," Rodney muttered.
"And with your winning personality, it's not like you're going to get this done by yourself. Seriously, Rodney, I know you think it's just a silly superstition –"
"It is just a silly superstition!"
"—but you remember what happened to our great-uncle Walter. You don't want that happening to that big brain of yours, do you?"
"It's not going to happen, because the curse is just a silly superstition. A silly, ridiculous superstition perpetuated by Nikolaevitch mothers for years on end so they could have grandkids to spoil and children-in-law to torment. I will not go insane if I’m not married by 35, Jeannie! Uncle Walter got addicted to opium in Thailand, and that was sixty years ago. Has anyone else gone insane since then?"
"No," Jeannie said, "because everyone since then has gotten married before 35. Seriously, Rodney, better safe than sorry."
"No!" she said, crossing her arms over her chest and doing her best to look menacing. "Mom and Grandma Niki will blame me if something happens to you. Why, I haven't a clue. But it will be my fault, somehow, and I will be stuck having to make anchovy poutine for every Canada Day picnic into eternity. Rodney McKay, you will make an appointment to see Zelenka and Sons, or I will sit here and harass you until you give in."
"Fine," Rodney yelled, "I'll see them! Just… give me their card and I'll call them when I'm done working."
"Oh, I think not, little brother," Jeannie said, sitting down on the edge of the desk. "You'll call them now." She threw the card at him. It hit him on the cheek and landed face down on the desk.
"Ow!" he yelped, rubbing his cheek, and picked up the card. The typeface was an aqueous blue, raised slightly above the simple cream cardstock, and he read it over twice before sighing and picking up the phone to dial.
"Zelenka and Sons Matchmakers," drawled a low voice on the other end. For some reason the voice made Rodney's stomach twist – something in the vaguely suggestive tone – and Rodney wondered briefly whether Mr. Zelenka and his sons might be supplementing their income with some kind of illicit gay phone sex chat line.
"Hello?" said the voice again, rich with amusement. "You know, I can hear you breathing on the other end. You're breathing kind of hard – do you have asthma? Or is it… hey, listen, you know that Zelenka and Sons is a matchmaking agency, right? Not… whatever it is you seem to be breathing heavy over. So –"
"I'd like to make an appointment," Rodney blurted out. "For as soon as possible."
The voice on the other end paused. "I knew you were there." Pages turning, then – "Tomorrow at two?"
"Can't," Rodney said automatically. "I'm teaching a class at two."
"Does four work for you?"
He looked at Jeannie, whose crazy magic hearing powers, or the fact that the phone volume was turned up really loud and she happened to be sitting right next to him at the desk, allowed her to listen in on the entire conversation. She had been snickering at him earlier. Now she was glaring at him as he hesitated, trying to come up with a very good reason why he couldn't possibly meet with the matchmaker at four. Nothing immediately sprang to mind, so he sighed and said, "Yeah, okay, that'll work."
"Wonderful," the voice on the other end said smoothly. "I'll just need your name and contact details. It's just a consultation, so it'll only be a half hour. If Radek decides to take you on, he'll probably set up a longer session with you later."
"Radek? Who's – "
"So, your name?"
"Doctor Rodney McKay. That's M-C-K-A-Y."
"And where can you be reached?"
Jeannie glared at him as he paused. "Real number, Rodney."
He sighed and gave the voice his mobile number. "Anything else?" he asked.
"Many things," the voice laughed, "but we'll get to that tomorrow."
"Yeah, I'm sure," Rodney grumbled, glaring back at Jeannie.
"I'll let Radek know you'll see him tomorrow at four, Dr. McKay," the voice said, and then hung up.
"I really hate you," he said to Jeannie, looking at his phone like it had just denied him his future Nobel. "I really, really hate you."
"You'll thank me when you don't go insane," Jeannie said cheerfully. "Or, failing that, when you don't have to eat anchovy poutine at every Canada Day picnic from now until forever." She patted his cheek and left.
Head in his hands, Rodney sat at the desk looking dejectedly down at the computer screen and wondering, not for the first time, what he'd ever done to deserve his family.
Four o'clock came quicker than Rodney would normally have thought possible. His class of freshmen was unusually incompetent today, asking so many stupid questions that he walked out a half hour before the end of the lecture. Then he remembered that if he left early, he'd just have to get ready to go to the matchmaker, so he turned back around almost as soon as the door had closed, yelling at his students to stop packing up their things and start at least making an attempt to think with their brains. Yelling at his students for their incontrovertible stupidity on their last test took up the last half of class, and he almost didn't notice when the clock over the door read three. Luckily his students did, and they took a pause for breath as a sign he was done, bolting out the door at 3:02.
And then he had to face it. He'd promised Jeannie, and even if he could manage to get out of it somehow, she'd know if he didn't go through with it. She'd know, and she'd make his life a living hell. But it might just be worth it, he thought.
As if in response, his mobile phone rang. "McKay."
"I assume you are currently walking out the door," Jeannie said calmly. "And I assume you will then be driving to see Zelenka and Sons, where you will then sit and listen to everything the nice matchmaker has to say, and pretend to be someone whom it is actually possible to match with someone. I assume this from afar, Rodinka. Do not make me come assume it while driving you there myself."
"Stop calling me!" Rodney yelled. "I'm a grown man, I don't have to do what my sister tells me to!"
"You know better than that, Rodney," Jeannie said, sighing. "Go. Car. Now."
He hung up on her. He vaguely considered driving to whatever bar was open and drinking himself into a stupor, despite the number of incredibly valuable brain cells that might kill. But added to the damage Jeannie's shrieking would surely do later, it didn't seem worth it.
Which is how he found himself, thirty minutes later, sitting in the parking lot, staring at the tasteful office building where Zelenka and Sons purported to reside.
His phone rang again. "McKay," he answered.
"You're sitting in the parking lot debating whether to go in, aren't you," Jeannie said.
"Are you following me?" Rodney asked. "Because I know how to build an atomic bomb. You should think of these things before you piss me off."
"Please, you can't get a hold of weapons-grade plutonium. Go inside. But comb your hair first. You'll look like a – "
He hung up on her again, getting a vicious surge of satisfaction from the abrupt cessation of her voice in his head.
The phone rang again.
"STOP CALLING ME!" he yelled. "I'M TOTALLY GOING TO TELL MOM YOU WON'T STOP HARASSING ME."
There was a pause on the other end. "This is Rodney McKay, isn't it?" the voice on the other end asked. It was the same man from before, the suggestive drawling voice from Zelenka and Sons, and Rodney felt his face grow red.
"Uh, yes. Yes, this is he. I'm… I'm sorry about that. I've been receiving, um, numerous harassing phone calls from, um, a disgruntled Ph.D. candidate." Rodney coughed, his throat suddenly dry.
"And you're going to tell your…mother?" the voice asked, laughing.
"My mother's a police officer," Rodney invented. "She's…um. She shoots people."
"Wow," the voice marveled, "You're a really bad liar."
Rodney's face grew redder. "Why are you calling me, exactly?"
"I just wanted to confirm that you're still coming to meet with Radek at four." That you haven't chickened out was the unspoken implication.
"I'm in the…" he began, and then thought better of it. "Yeah. I'll be there at four."
"Wonderful. We'll expect you then." The voice sounded genuinely pleased, as if Rodney had done something unexpected and impressive.
Rodney hung up and stared at his face in the mirror for a long time before digging around in the glove box for a comb and slowly smoothing his hair down.
The inside of the office was as tasteful as the outside, and if hadn't known better he would have assumed Zelenka and Sons was a design company. A large painting hung behind the desk in the waiting room, which was filled with comfortable chairs in shades of red and orange. The desk itself was unoccupied, as were all the chairs, and Rodney looked at his watch. Definitely 4:00.
And then a man walked through the swinging glass doors at the back of the waiting room, munching on a donut. His hair was spiked within an inch of its life, clearly thumbing its nose at every law of gravity science had to offer. A tight black t-shirt hugged his torso like he was born wearing it, and saggy dark jeans clung to his hips, staying up only thanks to a belt and God's will. And around one wrist was a well-worn sweatband, managing to look not at all like a bracelet, even though it would have looked exactly like one had Rodney tried to wear it.
The man looked up, donut in his mouth, and said something that sounded like, "Roo us ee n'ay."
"You know," Rodney said, "I've been told that speaking works better if you take the food out of your mouth before you try it. Vicious lies, I'm sure."
"I said, 'You must be McKay.' And now I'm sure."
It was the voice. The voice, the voice that made his stomach clench, was this… surfer dude.
Life was incredibly unfair.
"Yeah, that's me," Rodney said. "I'd say 'good guess' except I'm sure I'm the only 4:00 appointment you have, so if you could let Zelenka know that I'm here to see him instead of standing there eating your donut, that would be great. Are there any left, by the way?"
"Wow," said the man after a few seconds. "You're…"
"I know," said Rodney. "And you are?"
"That's nice," Rodney said, something deep inside thrilling at having a name to put with the voice. "Where's Zelenka?"
Sheppard leaned on the desk, picked up the phone and pressed a button. "Radek, your four o'clock is here to see you." He nodded, murmured something Rodney didn't quite catch into the receiver, and then gestured toward the door with his donut. "He's in there."
"Thanks," Rodney said. "You've been so helpful."
"Any time," Sheppard said, taking another bite of his donut.
Inside the room through the glass doors, a tiny man with glasses too big for his face and wild hair sat behind a table, paging through a gigantic binder. He was muttering to himself under his breath in a language Rodney couldn't understand, scribbling notations.
"Are you Zelenka?" Rodney asked, and the man jumped out of his chair, yelping something in whatever language he had been speaking.
Then he looked up at Rodney and paled. "Oh, no," he said miserably. "Not you. No wonder John didn't tell me your name."
"Do I know you?" Rodney asked.
"You must do that a lot," Zelenka said. "You… I used to not do this –" he waved a hand, gesturing to the room at large "—this matchmaker business. Was my father's, and his father's. Seventh sons of seventh sons, back and back. I did not believe. Thought it was – hooey, the word is, yes? I believed in the provable. Things I could explain. Looked for ways to explain other things, which my father really did not like."
"Please tell me this is going to be over soon."
"Long story short: my first paper after I got my doctorate. You were the last to peer review it."
"Zelenka… Zelenka… Oh, okay. I remember it now. You made some erroneous assumptions on the effects of dark matter on spacetime within a wormhole, but overall, the foundations were good. I was quite impressed with it as an initial offering, actually."
"You eviscerated it," Zelenka said glumly.
"I did not!" Rodney said. "I was quite complimentary. Now Hans Zefermann – his paper I eviscerated."
"He was the man who sold all worldly possessions and became monk in Tibet, yes?"
"Ah, so you heard about him. Well, meditation is a much better use of his time than wasting mine writing papers with absolutely no foundation in fact – or, for that matter, rational thought."
"I read paper. Was terrible." Zelenka was silent for a few moments, then shrugged. "Well, I showed your review to my father, who read it and said that perhaps I was more cut out for the family business. They had all just moved to America, you see, and everything was left behind in Czech Republic – all connections, all friends, all clients, understand? So I helped him start up Zelenka and Sons, and took over when he retired. Is very successful, actually. Americans would rather pay someone else to do the hard work for them. Canadians too, I think."
Rodney stared at him. "So, wait. You gave up being a theoretical physicist to be a – what, a yenta? Because of me?"
"Not a yenta, Rodney. We don't wear the babushka." He grinned suddenly, bright and unworried. "And now is my toughest case yet. You. Has symmetry, don't you think?"
Rodney opened his mouth to say – something, at least – but Zelenka was already flipping through the giant binder, muttering to himself in Czech.
"I will find you a match, McKay," he said without looking up. "No need to worry."
"I, uh, wasn't worried," Rodney answered.
"You go now. John will call when I have first candidate for you."
Dismissed, Rodney got up, walking back through the swinging doors, Zelenka still muttering away behind him.
Sheppard was sitting behind the desk in the waiting room, feet propped casually on the desk, flipping through a magazine.
When he noticed Rodney standing there, he grinned. "How'd it go?"
"Is he always like that?" Rodney asked.
"Ah," John said, walking over. "He's got a candidate in mind." He smiled and handed Rodney a donut.
Rodney accepted it with a nod of thanks, munching on it thoughtfully as he walked back to his car.
Two days later, he was still turning the whole bizarre experience at Zelenka and Sons over in his mind, trying to make sense of it. Radek Zelenka, the funny twitchy Czech yenta, and their weird conversation – especially combined with Sheppard's knowing "he's got a candidate in mind" – made him uncomfortably nervous. He wasn't used to being nervous like this.
Rodney was sitting in his office, half-staring at his computer screen and half coming up with ways to make his meddling sister pay when his mobile phone rang. "McKay," he answered automatically.
"Hi, Rodney," said the voice he recognized all to well. "This is John Sheppard from Zelenka and Sons. How are you?"
"I'd be better if my students were somehow less idiotic, but as God is not that kind – I'm fine. How are you?"
"Just great. Listen, I'm gonna put you through to Zelenka. He's got your first date." The line went silent before Rodney could respond, and then Radek was talking, saying something about meeting someone –
"Wait, wait, what?" Rodney said. "I thought you'd introduce us! I thought you'd be there!"
"That's not how I work, Rodney," Zelenka said. "I just match you up and give you a nudge. I don't want to influence how you see your match – you must judge your compatibility in real terms, without a matchmaker there to smooth things over. That's why preliminary date is such a good idea. Is more natural, you see?"
"Fine, fine," Rodney said, reaching for a Post-It and one of the many red pens scattered across his desk. "When and where?"
"Atlantis Seafood," Radek told him, "tomorrow at 8:30. Her name is Teresa. Reservations are under my name – cuts down on confusion, yes?"
"Yes, absolutely, well done you." He scrawled the information down on the post it and stuck it to his computer. "Anything else?"
"I hope not. But if this doesn't work out, there are plenty more. I will let you know the details. Good luck, Rodney."
"I don't need luck," Rodney said, but Radek had already hung up.
As it turned out, however, Rodney was wrong. He did need luck, because his first date looked about sixteen, and although she was very excited to be dating an older man – clearly, she had requested it – he was pretty sure that, even if the university didn't frown upon professors having relationships with girls who could be his students, he would still go crazy listening to her discuss the various differences between the music of Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs, which could only hurt his ability to do his job.
But sadly, when he told Zelenka the next day to perhaps find him someone a little older, all his luck brought him was a woman who was sixty-five if she was a day, and old enough – although just barely – to be his mother. She admonished him for eating too much, tried to get him to drink lemonade, and told him that it was a proven fact that hypoglycemia was a figment of his imagination. When she dipped a napkin in her water glass and tried to wipe a bit of pasta sauce off of Rodney's cheek, he was pretty sure it was the only thing that hadn't yet gone wrong with the date.
To his credit, Zelenka apologized profusely afterwards, and set him up with one of the most gorgeous blondes he'd ever seen. She was tiny, curvy in all the right places, with a honeyed southern drawl and an enchanting smile. By halfway through the night, he was struggling to see any bad about the date. Then she asked him – finally, he'd been waiting all night to tell her – what his job was. And that was when he found out the catch. When he told her he was a scientist, her face went red. She hated science, she said. She thought that the Bible held all the answers that God wanted us to know, and that the godless scientists were ruining society with their evil insistence on teaching kids evolution and taking God out of creation. Then she threw her drink in his face and left.
Rodney had a lot to say to Zelenka after that one. "Give me someone I have something in common with," he barked into the phone, "Anything, for the love of God, just… stop setting me up with people I'm going to hate!"
Zelenka was as good as his word, setting him up with Louise, who Zelenka claimed he had a lot in common with. "You fit exactly what she wants in a man, Rodney," Zelenka had said on the phone. "This will be better, I promise you."
And it was, to begin with. They did have a lot in common – she was a science teacher, he was a scientist. He loved Batman, so did she. When he mentioned he had a cat, she seemed especially pleased – she also loved cats, she said excitedly. But then she pulled her wallet out of her handbag. "This," she said, opening her wallet and showing it to him, "is one of my babies, Mr. Snookums."
"He's… a very nice cat."
"Isn't he?" Louise said, and pulled at the edge of the picture. It flipped down, and down, and down, to reveal six more pictures. "Here he is with my other baby, Muffin. See, this was on Halloween."
"I see. Wow, you, um, make them wear little outfits. That's… adorable, really."
"Isn't it? But these are just their Halloween costumes." Louise turned the pictures over, displaying six more pictures. "These are their Christmas costumes! See, Mr. Snookums is Santa Claus, and Muffin is his elf! Oh, Rodney, I'm so glad you like cats."
As soon as he got home that night, Rodney left a three-minute long message on Zelenka and Sons' answering machine. The next morning he got to his office late, having decided that after a night like the last he deserved to take his time. When he finally made it in, there was a message on his voicemail:
"Hi, McKay, this is John. Radek wanted me to tell you that the next one will definitely be better, and that you should come into the office when you get the chance."
As soon as his last class finished, he was in the car. He had a lot to say to Zelenka, and none of it was complimentary.
Sheppard was sitting behind the desk flipping through one of Zelenka's thick blue binders when Rodney came to the office.
"What'd you say to Radek, McKay?" Sheppard said by way of greeting. "He seems… twitchier than normal."
"What makes you think it was my fault?" Rodney asked.
John just looked at him.
"Well, I'm sure it wasn't," Rodney snapped. "Now, where is Zelenka?"
"Actually," John said, smirk back on his face, "He's unavailable right now. He's set up your date, though."
"But… oh, whatever. Fine. Do I get to talk to her first this time, at least?"
"You wish, McKay," John said. "I've been given strict instructions to reveal nothing. You'll be meeting for dinner tomorrow night."
"But don't I get to – "
"No. Her name is Maxine. You've got reservations at Monfalcone at 8:30. And Rodney?"
"I hate you both," Rodney answered.
"I just wanted to tell you," John said, widening his eyes and completely failing, as far as Rodney could tell, to look innocent. "She looks like a sweet girl. So be nice."
Rodney was waiting at the door when Sheppard got to Zelenka and Sons on Thursday morning.
"Where is that Czech bastard?"
"Good morning to you too, McKay," John said, balancing a Krispy Kreme box on his knee while flipping through his keys. "Shouldn't you be cooking Maxine breakfast right about now?"
"Only if she wants food poisoning," said Rodney. "And more to the point, only if the date had gone well. Which, through no fault of my own, it did not."
"Really?" John asked, clearly trying not to laugh. "So what was it that Maxine did, then?"
"Literally nothing. She said nothing the entire night. She just stared at me, looking… awed. Or scared. I can never quite tell the difference."
"I thought she seemed sweet," John said, unlocking the door and setting the box of donuts onto the desk. Rodney immediately opened the box with a mutter that might have been, "Oh, God, food," and selected a donut from the middle.
"So I need to see Zelenka," Rodney said, biting into a donut. "When is – oh, wow, is this blueberry? How did you find blueberry jelly donuts? These are fantastic – when is he going to be in? Because I can wait. Not too long, though, unless he wants to be responsible for impeding the course of scientific discovery. Which, I guarantee you, he does not."
"Well, you'll be waiting a long time," John said. "Radek's in Florida."
"Florida? That's ridiculous. I'm paying a lot of money to get this done quickly, and it's getting put on hold because Zelenka suddenly gets a yen to go to Disney World?"
"First of all, he's not at Disney World. His dad retired to Key West a few years ago. He's gone down there to ask his advice on a few things – probably including your case. And also – relax. He left me a few files for you, and I can arrange everything. I may not be a matchmaker, but I've been working with Radek long enough that I'm pretty sure I know what he wants for you."
"Maybe you can explain what Maxine was about, then. Because I'm sure neither of us had any idea what we were doing there together."
"Well, I'm sure your next date will be better. How does Friday night at the Golden Dragon with…" He flipped to the third page of a folder on his desk. "…Suzanne sound?"
"Spectacular," Rodney said around another mouthful of donut. "As long as she's not another Maxine."
"Oh," John said, smiling,"I'm pretty sure she's nothing like Maxine."
"Good," Rodney said, finishing his donut and taking another. "So I have to ask. Why are you working for Zelenka? You don't really seem like the secretary type."
"What, you don't think I'd look good in a pencil skirt and fishnets?" John deadpanned. "I actually like working for Radek. The pay's good, the hours are short, and I don't get shot at. At least, not unless Radek really screws up."
"So you were in the Army?"
"Air Force. I flew helicopters."
"Why'd you stop?" Rodney couldn’t help but ask.
John just smiled tightly. "We'll save that for another time, McKay. Maybe after your next date. Now, don't you have world-altering scientific discoveries you could be making?"
"Of course, but –"
"Then I'll see you later. Have fun with Suzanne." He grinned. "As I'm sure you will."
Sitting in the Golden Dragon with Suzanne, Rodney found himself deeply regretting several things. First, that he hadn't noticed what had surely been the most evil of evil grins on John's face when he assured Rodney that Suzanne would be fun. Clearly, the jelly donuts had been a ploy to distract him. But more than anything, Rodney was suddenly regretting not giving Radek's paper the blistering critique that, in hindsight, it had surely deserved. Because clearly, if Zelenka thought for a minute that Rodney and Suzanne were a match, then something as complicated as astrophysics was light years beyond him.
Oh, Suzanne was pretty, in a slightly Jersey Girl sort of way. But she would not stop talking. She barely paused to take a breath – and even Rodney, who was, if he said so himself, quite able to out-talk just about anyone, found himself impressed at how fast she spoke. Scared, mostly, but impressed despite himself.
But none of that was the problem. If she had been talking about anything worthwhile, he'd have been happy to sit back and listen – okay, not true, but he would have at least exerted himself to argue. But Suzanne was currently talking about taking her dog, Lulu, to the groomers.
He kind of wanted to kill himself.
Instead of dealing such a blow to the scientific community, he muttered a quick "excuse me" to Suzanne as she took a breath, and ran off to the toilet.
As soon as he was out of eyesight and his eyes un-glazed, he dug his mobile phone out of his pocket and he dialed information.
"John Sheppard," he told the operator, then, "Yes, yes, connect me," and then the phone was ringing.
"Hello?" John's voice came on the line.
"You have to help me, Sheppard," Rodney said without preamble.
"McKay?" There was a long pause, and then John asked, "How did you get this number?"
"Information. Who would have thought you're the only John Sheppard in our area code?"
"Yeah, that's shocking. Why are you calling me?"
"Because you have to rescue me. My brain is an important asset to the scientific community, Sheppard. Save it now, and I might even mention you in my Nobel speech."
"Aren't you supposed to be on a date with Suzette right now?"
"Suzanne. And yes, I am. That's what you have to rescue me from, since you knew this would happen, you bastard."
John laughed. "I thought she seemed spunky."
"Talkative, yes. Spunky would imply that anything coming out of her mouth is even remotely interesting so… not so much." Rodney rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand and took a deep breath. "Listen, here's what you're going to do. You're going to call me in two minutes. You're going to need me to pick you up for some very important reason. I, being the good friend that I am –"
"Wait, so we're friends?"
"—will come pick you up, first begging Suzanne's apology for my friend and his issues."
"You know, Rodney, this really isn't part of the service you pay for when you hire Zelenka and Sons."
"Yeah, well, it should be. You have to help me, John."
John sighed. "Okay, fine. Three minutes."
"Oh, thank God," Suzanne said when Rodney got back to the table. "I was getting bored."
"Oh no, anything but that," Rodney muttered, setting his phone in the centre of the table. Suzanne didn't notice, having launched into a recitation about her favourite movie of all time, You've Got Mail.
Rodney stared at his phone, willing it to ring.
Three minutes later, and Suzanne was just reaching the climax of the movie – "But then she realizes who he is! But she's in love with him! But she can't be in love with him because he's trying to ruin her beloved bookstore! But she didn't know that when she fell in love with him!" – when his phone rang.
"Blessed relief," he said, not really caring whether Suzanne heard, and snatched up the phone. "Yes? John?"
"Make your excuses Rodney," John said in a long-suffering tone.
"You are?" Rodney said loudly. "You really shouldn't drink that much, John. I know she dumped you, but alcohol is no way to deal with the pain. Where are you?"
"You don't really need to come pick me up, Rodney. This is just for show, remember?"
"Oh, but I do!" Rodney said. "Come on, tell me where you are." He half covered the phone with his hand and leaned toward Suzanne, who was blatantly trying to eavesdrop. "It's my friend John," he told her. "He just went through a bad breakup. The girl, um, Marylou was her name, left him. For another woman. They, um. Moved to Canada. He's just… he's just heartbroken. I promised him I'd be there if he needed me. I guess I can call him a cab if you want me to stay…"
"Oh, no, Rodney," said Suzanne, clearly as bad a judge of truth as Rodney was a liar, "of course you have to go. Your poor friend. Having his heart broken by a lesbian."
"For this, McKay, you had better come get me," John said. "I'm at Joe's Roadhouse, on Miller Road. You owe me at least one beer. Probably two."
"I'll be right over, John," Rodney said loudly, gathering his coat. "Try not to throw up on the bartender, okay?"
Rodney hung up and gave Suzanne an apologetic look. "I'm so sorry about this, but I really have to go." He tossed a few bills on the table, muttered, "Uh, maybe we can reschedule," and bolted.
"And she'd started reciting lines from You've Got Mail when you called. Sheppard, if I'd wanted to feel like nails were being driven into my skull, I would have done it myself. At least then I wouldn't have had to also relive taking my grandmother to see You've Got Mail when my parents and sister were all out of town."
"Wow, McKay, I had no idea that it would be that bad," Sheppard said, his eyes puppy-dog wide.
"Don't lie, Sheppard. It's unbecoming, even on you."
"Okay, so maybe I knew it would be bad. But Radek was so sure that Suzanne was what you needed! And Radek… he's really good at this matchmaker stuff. I know it's weird, but he always just knows, you know? When people are right for each other."
"Yeah, well, I'm not nearly a big enough Tom Hanks fan to be right for Suzanne." Rodney took a sip of his beer. "So how do you know Radek, anyway? You didn't just answer an ad in the paper for a receptionist at a matchmakers, did you? I mean, you seem like you've known each other for a while."
"Yeah, we have. We were roommates all through college."
"School?" Rodney asked, confused. "But didn't Zelenka go to MIT?"
"Yes, Rodney, he did," John said patiently.
"So how –"
"I went to MIT as well. Bachelors in Physics and Applied Mathematics, Masters in Aerodynamics."
"And you're a secretary?" Rodney blurted out. "But you're smart!"
"Gee, thanks, Rodney."
"No, I'm serious," Rodney said. "I mean, aerodynamics isn't the hardest of the physical sciences, sure, and you didn't get your doctorate – which, why was that, by the way? – but MIT isn't exactly typing school."
"I enjoy working for Radek, Rodney," he said mildly, peeling the label on his beer bottle. "It's easy."
"Yeah, but –"
"Leave it, McKay," John said. "Another beer? You can tell me all about you. Since it seems you didn't get to talk about yourself at all with Suzanne. What was it you were saying about taking your grandma to the movies?"
Rodney had a secret. He'd been keeping it for a while now, ever since his very brief stint collaborating on some research with four surly Russian physicists in Siberia. They'd been made surly by the weather, and even more surly – so they claimed – by having to work with him. But what they hated most, he soon discovered, was his utterly inexplicable ability to down twenty shots of vodka and still hold a perfectly coherent conversation regarding the ramifications of sub-Planck-length quantum undulations on string theory.
That, however, was not his secret.
He had never quite let them figure out that any other alcohol got him drunk faster than he could say "sub-Planck-length quantum undulations."
Now on his third beer, he was letting this and many other secrets slip into the conversation. Maybe he'd regret it in the morning, but for now, John and Beer were both his very good friends and deserved any secrets he was willing to tell them. And he was very, very willing.
So he told John so. "I'm very, very willing."
"That's nice, Rodney," John laughed, taking another sip of his beer. He was still perfectly sober, his eyes clear and flashing, and Rodney found himself wishing… something. He forgot.
"I was really pissed at Jeannie for making me do this, you know," Rodney said, looking into his beer bottle.
"For making you do what, Rodney?" John said, helpfully switching their bottles.
"For making me go see Z'lenka. She thought the curse would get me, you know. And if the curse didn't, Grandma Niki would. She said so, but I was still…" He lifted the beer bottle to his mouth thoughtfully, tried to take a swig – empty. He set it down again. "Was still annoyed. But she's my sister, and if the curse got me, she'd have to put up with mom and Grandma Niki for the rest of her life. I'd be gloriously free, but then I'd never get my Nobel."
He thought about that for a second, about going crazy, about not getting what he knew was destined to be his. He thought about someone else getting it. And then he took another sip from his empty beer bottle. "Forgot," he mumbled to John, who switched their bottles back.
"So?" John prompted, taking a sip from his beer bottle, which – Rodney wasn't really sure how – was full again.
"So I owe it to them. I owe it mom, and Grandma Niki. And Jeannie especially, for not telling Grandma Niki that time when Jeannie walked in on me going down on the Math Club president in grade eleven when Grandma Niki was out getting groceries."
John choked on his beer. Rodney pounded helpfully on his back, moving his beer out of the way and nearly knocking it over in the process. John waved him off, still coughing, and when he finally managed to stop, he choked out, "What?"
"I know," Rodney said, "can you believe those imbeciles voted Andrew MacNeill president instead of me?"
For some reason, John made more choking sounds, but when Rodney looked at him he was very studiously peeling the label off Rodney's empty beer bottle.
"He was pretty hot, though," Rodney said. "And pretty good at math. I would have voted for him myself had I not been running against him. And he admitted later that I should have won, so it was all okay."
"So you…" John looked more intently at the label, tearing the edge at a perfect forty-five degree angle. "You're gay?"
"Oh, not really. Jeannie just says I'm opportunistic. I prefer the expl'nation that as a physicist, I appreciate aesthetics without discrimination on basis of gender." He blinked twice and frowned. "It doesn't really matter, as long as you're hot," he added helpfully.
Then he turned to John. "You know," he said, "you're hot. Despite the hair."
"What's wrong with my hair?" John said, affronted.
"It's really… you studied physics at university, right?"
"It was one of my majors, McKay, I told you that."
"Your hair," he said, frowning again, "was not paying attention." And then, frown still on his face, he leaned over and kissed John, beer-bitter and body-warm, his tongue darting out to touch the corner of John's mouth.
Then he continued leaning, sprawled across John's lap like a sleepy six-year-old, propped between his bar stool and John's and barely managing to not fall onto the sticky wood floor. "I think we should go home, Sheppard," he said solemnly to John's stricken face.
"Okay," John said, blinking down at him. "Okay."
The light filtering in through the curtains woke him up, and he groaned and stretched and wished fervently for coffee. And then he realized that this bed was a king, and his was only a twin, and his dingy apartment had cheap plastic blinds that did a great job of thoroughly blocking out the light, and then he was suddenly completely awake, sitting up in bed and clutching the sheets around him.
"What –" he began, and then fell silent. John was in the chair in the corner, head resting against the wall, still wearing his clothes from last night. His chest rose and fell evenly, and his eyelashes coal black against his cheeks. A smile curved his lips, and he looked… innocent, somehow. Like he hadn't arranged six bad dates for Rodney to go on, though he fully knew that each would end badly.
Like he hadn't taken Rodney home and undressed him, tucked him into bed and watched him fall asleep as he sat in the chair in the corner.
Flashes of the night came back to him – kissing John, the wetness of his mouth, the solid feel of his shoulders under Rodney's hands, the softness of his hair threaded between Rodney's fingers. He wasn't sure whether he remembered his hands sneaking under John's shirt or had just imagined it so much it felt like reality, but somehow he knew what the warmth of John's skin would feel like under his fingertips, how his muscles would clench as Rodney's hands smoothed over his back. He knew how it would be, and whether he knew it through memory or through such strength of want that it might as well be memory, it didn't matter.
The fact was, he was in John's bed. It was Saturday morning, and he had nothing to do but either act on impulse or go home and feed the cat.
And really, the cat was a little chubby anyway.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, ignoring the sheets that fell around his hips. John had left him in his boxers, but at the moment he could have been naked and he wouldn’t have cared. Actually, Rodney considered, if John had gotten him naked what he was about to do would freak him out a lot less, because the odds of his not being shoved away and told to go to hell would be way smaller.
Standing, he took a deep breath and started towards John, attempting to make as little noise as possible. He succeeded until he was almost in front of the chair, when one of the wood floorboards creaked under his weight.
John's eyes flew open, and for a moment Rodney's breath hitched in the back of his throat – John's expression was fierce, knife-point tense, and if Rodney had doubted before that John had been in the military, he would have believed it now.
But then John's eyes met Rodney's, and most of the tension disappeared, the snarl on John's face replaced by an affable smile. "I'm shocked you're up this early," John said, stretching. "You were pretty drunk last night."
"Yeah, I know. I don't usually do that." Rodney moved to stand in front of John, who smiled up at him.
"I figured. You don't seem like the wild partying type."
"I can get wild!"
"I'm sure you can, Rodney," John said indulgently.
"No, I mean…" Rodney took a deep breath and stepped forward. "I can be wild."
John's eyes widened. "Rodney…"
He tilted forward, hands on the arm rests at either side of John. "I think you know I can be wild," he said, and then released the breath he didn't know he had been holding. "John. Let me –"
"Oh, fuck it," John said, and leaned up, crushing his mouth against Rodney's.
Rodney lost his balance and stumbled back, his legs hitting the bed and buckling. John kept coming forward, and suddenly he was on top of Rodney, propping himself up on his elbows as his hips arched forward. His rapidly hardening cock bumped against Rodney's at just the right angle, and Rodney could hear his own heart beating frantically in his ears. "John," he choked out, muffled against John's mouth, and whatever he was going to say was lost as John's teeth grazed his lip, tugging lightly. John's tongue touched his, just at the tip, and then John was sucking lightly, taking him in. In the back of his mind, Rodney knew he should have objected – surely both their mouths were rank with morning breath, fuzzy and stale from the night before – but really, he couldn't bring himself to care. Nothing he could have imagined was like this. John was quite simply more.
He pulled himself together enough to move, his hands coming up to John's back to skim down along his spine, feeling the ridge of bone through John's black t-shirt. John was all shifting muscle, warmth and strength, bone and sinew, and Rodney found himself clutching at John's shoulders, wondering how the hell he'd gotten from the six worst dates in the history of the universe to this – better than any fantasy he could recall having.
It seemed inexplicable, and if Rodney could have collected himself enough to question it, he probably would have, and then he would have fucked it all up. But John's mouth was moving down, biting lightly at his neck, breath jungle-hot against Rodney's skin, and when he moved on, teeth and tongue moving in harmony to tease at the peak of one of his nipples, Rodney forgot that fucking this up had ever been an option. The only thing he could think was whatever stream of babble was coming out of his mouth, and then finally, as John tugged at the hem of Rodney's boxers, pulling them down over Rodney's painfully stiff cock, the stream narrowed, and all he was saying was, "JohnJohnJohnJohn," and it made perfect sense.
John leaned back, and something he saw in Rodney's flushed face made his eyes flash. "Don't move, Rodney," he said, a predatory smile twisting his wide mouth, "just… stay like that. Just like that." He pulled his t-shirt over his head and then Rodney was faced with the golden expanse of John's chest, dusted with soft black hair and rippled with muscle. Rodney's hips bucked up again, his cock clearly loving the prospect of getting John naked, and John's smile became a full-fledged grin. "Or move. Whatever."
"Oh, thank you God," Rodney said, sitting up enough to get an angle to work on the button fly of John's jeans, tugging until each button came loose and he could shove his hand inside. John's cock pulsed against his hand and Rodney decided that now was definitely the time to work on getting John naked.
Thankfully for Rodney's sanity, it didn't take long, and the next thing he knew he and John were rolling across the bed. "Christ, Rodney," John said, hitching himself up and leaning across Rodney's body, his cock trailing precome across Rodney's sternum. His nipple was just at the level of Rodney's mouth, and he licked at it while John dug around in a drawer over Rodney's shoulder. John shoved him away and came up with a condom and a slim tube, dropping them onto Rodney's chest. "Rodney," he said, voice rough and dark, "fuck me."
How Rodney didn't come just from the look on John's face and the rasp in his voice when he spoke, he couldn't quite figure out. Instead, he nodded, reached a hand between his legs to squeeze roughly at the base of his dick, and then rolled John onto his stomach. John's legs came apart, and Rodney couldn't quite believe that this was reality, that he wasn't in some sort of elaborate dream and he'd wake up in a minute with Suzanne talking in his ear about Sleepless in Seattle. He couldn't believe it, that John was sprawled on the bed waiting for him, spread out like a feast, but that didn't mean he wouldn't enjoy it. If there was any chance he was going to wake up, he'd do his best to make every second count.
So when John looked over his shoulder at him and said, "Well?" Rodney grinned and replied, "Oh, I'm getting there."
Rodney pressed his mouth to the ridge of John's shoulder blade, raking his teeth across John's salty skin. John shuddered against the press of his tongue and it seemed to go straight to Rodney's cock, and suddenly he needed to be inside John now. He pulled back, hand groping for the condom and the lube, finally finding them and slicking his fingers. The only sound in the room was their breathing, quickening with every second that passed, and by the time the first of Rodney's fingers pressed into John, the rasp of their breath was just one more thing on the growing list of Things Making Rodney's Cock Hard. At this point, the list had expanded to include everything in the room. He wouldn't be able to look at a pair of white curtains again without getting hard.
"Dammit, Rodney," John said, clenching against his finger, "more."
Rodney added a second finger, trying his best to focus only on the feel of John's body, and pressed inside, crooking his fingers and finally hitting a spot that made John groan and twist against him. "More," John ground out as Rodney stroked.
He jerked impatiently when Rodney pulled his hand away – "Rodney…" he began – and then his head snapped back as three fingers plunged into him, his muscles clenching tight around Rodney's hand.
" Rodney," he panted as Rodney worked him open, "would you just fuck me already?"
Colours flashed in front of Rodney's eyes, and if he had almost come the first time John had said it, this time pushed him right up against the edge. His shaking hands barely managed to rip open the condom and roll it down. Then the head of his cock was pressing up against John's ass, nudging inside, and John was meeting Rodney's thrust, and everything started to go fuzzy.
All Rodney could feel was himself inside John, all he could hear was John's muffled sobs against the mattress, all he could see was the riot of flashing colour in front of his eyes that was the buildup to the best of orgasms. Nothing was linear, nothing was concrete; there was just Rodney and John; everything else was irrelevant.
When John cried out, slicking the sheets and Rodney's hand and clenching around him in the best kind of torture, he couldn't help but follow. And for a few brief, blissful moments, he could not think.
"So was that it?" Rodney asked, propping himself up on one arm and looking down at John.
"Was what what?" John mumbled into the pillow. "A very good orgasm? Yes."
"No, I mean…that was why you left, wasn't it." It wasn't a question, and Rodney said it as softly as his voice had ever managed.
But even so, John went very still.
"That wasn't the first time you've done that," Rodney continued. "They had no right to –"
"Of course they did, McKay," John said, his voice dull and still muffled by the pillow. "Those are the regs. I knew it going in. I knew what I was doing."
"Torturing yourself?" Rodney asked sharply. "Denying who you are?"
"It was just sex, Rodney." John said. "I didn't think it would matter. Not the way flying matters. Mattered."
Neither of them said anything for a very long time. Rodney held his breath, let it out, held it again, and waited for John to continue.
"I was wrong," John said finally. "Sex was never like flying before. Even when I got caught, it was never like flying. It was never an adventure."
Rodney leaned in, pressed a kiss just left of his spine. "I'll go make some coffee," he said, smiling against John's skin, and did.
Jeannie, with her unerring sense of when her presence would annoy Rodney the most, was waiting in Rodney's living room when he got in from John's house.
"So where have you been?" she asked, narrowing her eyes, probably looking for something to blackmail him with.
"How did you get in here?" Rodney shouted. "Who gave you a key?"
"Oh, Mom let me make a copy," she said. "She was worried that you might accidentally ingest some citrus, and with nobody in your life who regularly comes to your apartment, you would go into anaphylactic shock and die on your kitchen floor and they'd only realize what happened when you started to smell. You know Mom."
"Give it to me!" Rodney ordered. "Give it to me right now."
"Geez, Rodinka, you let mom have one. What kind of grown man gives his mother a key to his apartment, by the way?"
Rodney snapped his fingers and held out his hand. Heaving an overly dramatic sigh, she fished in her pocket for a keyring and twisted off his key, slapping it into his hand and slumping back against the couch like the entire process had been exhausting. "You're unbelievable, you know that?" Rodney said. "You really should have been an actress."
She shrugged. "It doesn't really matter, Rodinka. We lived in the same house for sixteen years. We shared a bathroom, Rodney. I'm pretty sure I know you well enough to tell that you just got laid. Well done, by the way. I hope it was great. I'll let Mom know as soon as I get home. She and Grandma Niki will want to know when we can set a date. Clock's ticking, you know…"
Rodney winced. "Yes, yes, you could do that. Or, alternately, you could not."
"Why, Rodinka," Jeannie said, grinning, "is she good enough to sleep with, but not good enough to marry? You don't really have time to be picky…"
Rodney just stared at her. He knew his face had gone bright red, and knew what would be coming. As Jeannie said – she knew him well.
"Oh," she said, and then, "…oh."
"Jeannie…" he began, but then she grinned brightly.
"Well, we're Canadian," she said. "You don't have that excuse. He knows about the curse, doesn't he?"
"Yeah – I mean, I told him, but…"
"So what's the problem?" Jeannie asked, standing. She walked over, patted him on the cheek. "Despite the mild social retardation, you're really quite a catch. And if I can bring myself to say it, I'm sure he knows it already. Bring him to meet me, and we'll all have a little chat. It'll be nice." With that, she slid past him and out the door.
Rodney slumped into a chair, wishing not for the first time that his sister would move back to Canada. Or perhaps Australia. She wasn't going to give him any peace until she met John. And once she did, she'd realize exactly what the situation was, and insist he keep on looking for someone who would actually marry him. As far as he could see, there was no way that this would end well.
Monday morning he got to Zelenka and Sons before John arrived. He'd stopped at Krispy Kreme and bought a box of jelly donuts – for some reason, they claimed not to have any blueberry ones – and had just opened the box and begun munching on one when John stepped out of the elevator. "Rodney," he said. "Hey."
"I, uh. Brought donuts." He licked his lips. "Is Radek back yet?"
John raised an eyebrow. "Not yet. Wanted to complain about your last date?"
"John," he began, then stopped. "Actually, I have no complaints about my last date. It went just the way I hoped it would. Can we talk inside?"
John unlocked the door and gestured for Rodney to go in. Rodney set the donuts on John's desk and then turned to John. "Um. Before we talk, I just wanted to –" He broke off, kissing John quickly, nothing more than a press of lips. John went still and Rodney pulled back, leaning against the desk and looking at John, waiting for him to say something. But Rodney was never good at waiting. "Are you okay with this?"
"This?" John said, voice a little rough. "There's a this?"
"Of course there's a this," Rodney snapped. "What are you, stupid? We had sex. Really good sex, might I add. Unless you'd like to just ignore that, I think we can safely say that there's a this. You, uh, don't want to ignore it, do you?"
John just stared at him for what had to be the longest moment of Rodney's life before finally saying, "No, Rodney, I guess I don't."
"Oh, thank God." Rodney let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "There's just one more thing."
"There always is," John said, grinning. "You couldn't just be easy, could you, McKay."
"The thing is," Rodney rushed on, pointedly ignoring John's remark, "you know why I had to come to Zelenka and Sons."
"Because you couldn't find a special friend without the help of a yenta?" John asked lazily.
"Okay, first of all – I could too! But that wasn't what I was talking about. I meant… the family curse thing. The going-crazy-if-not-married-at-35 thing. That."
"Oh," John said. "That."
"See, here's the thing. My mom and grandma and sister won't accept I'm dating a man as an excuse not to get married. I'm Canadian. It won't work for them. They'll just insist we get married in Canada."
John sighed. "Rodney, I'm not marrying you. We just had sex yesterday."
"Okay, okay. Are you sure? Because Canada is really very nice –"
"That's kind of what I figured," Rodney said. "Jeannie is going to kill me."
John looked amused at his pain. Clearly he would get along wonderfully with Jeannie. "You're a scientist, Rodney. You don't actually believe in this curse thing, do you?"
"I guess not. It's just… what if it's true? I mean, Great-Uncle Walter…"
"What actually happened to your great-uncle Walter, Rodney?" John asked.
"He was the last one in the family not to marry by 35. He was working with an importing company and moved to Thailand at 30. He ended up in an institution two months after his 35th birthday."
John rolled his eyes. "And why was he in the institution?"
"Because he was crazy!" Rodney said. "And, um, addicted to opium."
"And you don't think that the opium might have something to do with the crazy?" John pointed out. "Because I think the two have a connection. Rodney, just…bear with me. I don't think either of us are entirely sane as it is. But that's about as crazy as you're ever going to get. And really, haven't you noticed that getting married sends people insane more often than not getting married does?"
"So what are you suggesting?" Rodney asked. "That I just… pretend it's not going to happen? Go on about my business?"
"Yes," John said. "That's exactly what I'm suggesting. I think you'll find that in however many months, when you turn 35 –"
"Three. July 15th."
"Okay, well, I think you'll see that in three months you'll be just as sane as you are right now. Not saying much, I know."
Rodney sighed. "Oh, fine. If anything, it'll prove one way or the other whether the curse exists."
"That's the spirit, Rodney. It's science!" John opened the box of donuts on his desk and offered one to Rodney. "Have one, and stop worrying. Everything will be fine."
Rodney's 35th birthday was the largest birthday party he'd ever had, even counting the birthdays when he was little and still living near his gigantic extended family. When he had announced to Jeannie that he and John were not going to get married, no matter what she tried to do to him, Jeannie had just said, "Oh, we'll see." She had set about planning this party, which he was pretty sure was in part to make him feel guilty and in part to make him suffer, because she had invited every single relative they had.
More to the point, all of them had showed up. This he knew the reason for.
"They want to see if I'm going to go crazy while they watch," he told John, mouth full of coleslaw. "I'm the entertainment. Come see the man who defies the family curse!"
"You'll be fine, Rodney. And I'm sure they're here because they care about you." But even John didn't sound like he believed what he was saying.
"They're here," Jeannie said, coming up behind them and handing John a beer, "because they want to meet the guy who convinced Rodney to risk his big important brain. The curse is just secondary." She patted John's cheek. "And we'll know whether the curse is real in an hour."
"The countdown clock was an especially nice touch," Rodney muttered.
"Well, you're not 35 until 4:00, Rodinka. So enjoy your last hour of sanity! John, make sure he enjoys his last hour of sanity. And make sure you meet cousin Sid. He works for Pegasus Aeronautics, out in Vancouver? He was mentioning a new plane they're designing… I think you might be interested in what he has to say. But make sure you do it before Rodney goes crazy. Sid will get a little cranky after that. He always liked Rodney." She grinned at Rodney, who got a sudden urge to stick out his tongue at her, and glided off to talk to Grandma Niki, who was holding court in the kitchen.
"Don't worry," John said. "You're not going to go insane. But just in case…"
"You are a genius," Rodney said, grabbing John's hand and not caring who saw him drag John out of the room.
The family was counting down. Jeannie made Rodney stand on a chair, where everyone could see him, and the family was counting down as if this were a missile launch, as if his head was going to explode. It was just one more reminder of how absolutely insane these people were, and really, if he went crazy in ten seconds, who could blame him?
"Eight!" they shouted. "Seven! Six! Five! Four! THREE! TWO! ONE!"
And then he was 35.
They all stared at him for a few seconds. Then his Uncle Barry at the back of the room shouted, "Well? How do you feel?"
Rodney considered it for a moment. "Can I have some cake now?"
Jeannie pulled him down from the chair, thwacked him across the back of his head – "Ow!" he shouted. "I thought the entire goal of this was to not give me brain damage!" – and then hugged him tightly.
"Rodney," she said, low enough that he was the only one who could hear it, "I hope he's worth it. Because Grandma Niki is never going to forgive you if our cousins don't get married because of this."
Then she grinned, released him into the arms of the rest of his family members, all of them hugging and kissing him, spinning him from one to the next until he was dizzy. And finally, finally, he made it across the room to John, who was standing at the back, eating a piece of cake and watching the room watch Rodney not be crazy.
"Want some?" John asked.
Rodney took the paper plate from John's hand, sat it down on the glass coffee table that had been pushed to the wall to make room for the family. Then he pulled John close, kissed him deep and tasted chocolate. "Thank you," he said, grinning against John's mouth.
"And what about me?" said a voice in the doorway.
"Radek!" Jeannie exclaimed, running across the room and throwing her arms around Zelenka. "You made it!"
"Yes, yes, flight from Key West was delayed, but I made it. I take it McKay is not crazy?" He peered at Rodney through his glasses, clearly unconvinced.
"Jeannie?" Rodney said as calmly as he could manage. Which, he had to admit, was not very calmly. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
"Radek?" John said, much more pleasantly than Rodney but somehow much scarier. "Explain. Now."
"Oh, uh, this?" Jeannie said. "Didn't I tell you Radek and I went out a few times? He ended up introducing me to Matthew. He was visiting his father in Florida when we had the wedding, Rodney, or you would have met him then. But yeah, Radek and I are old friends."
John's eyes narrowed. "Really."
"John…" Zelenka began.
"I knew there had to be a reason you kept sending McKay on dates with the women from the Batshit Crazy file. And don't think I didn't know what that red binder was!" John added.
"Okay," Zelenka said, "I admit, I set you up. But it did work out, yes? And Rodney is not crazy?"
"No more than he was before," Jeannie said.
"Then," Radek pointed out, "where is the problem?"
Rodney and John looked at each other. "Oh, fine," Rodney said. "You're forgiven. But I'm not paying for those dates you sent me on."
"Consider it your birthday gift," Zelenka said, moving toward the kitchen. "Cake is this way, yes?"
"Yeah," Jeannie said, taking his arm, "and let me get you a drink… I think I owe you one."
John and Rodney watched them melt into the mass of Rodney's family. Then John turned to him and smiled wickedly. "So," he said, "wanna celebrate not being crazy?"
"Will there be cake?" Rodney asked.
"Maybe later," John answered, "if you're really good."
"This is the best birthday ever," Rodney said, and let John lead him away.