ETA: I find this most appropriate, for this fic, an inspiration if you will. Pablo Neruda's "Sonnet XVII".
ETA #2: This fic came about after reading a rash of stories in which it was revealed that Rodney understood John like no one else had ever before, and always knew exactly the right thing to say or do. To which I reply: huh? Are we talking about the same Rodney McKay here?
ETA #3: This is now a podfic, read by lunate8!
THE KNOWN WORLD
SGA; R. McKay/Sheppard.
At the beginning he thinks many cliche things, things that make him cringe to think of, later. Thoughts such as, I can do this. It's worth it. And it is - nothing could be worth more than these moments of skin that make his hands shake, bodies as natural as breathing. Of course, of all people, Rodney the asthmatic, the anaphylactic wunderkind, forever being buried or drowned or suffocated or scared, from all this he should remember:
Breathing is not always as easy as it appears.
Rodney associates sex not with moans or cries, but silence, biting down on his cheek to stuff the noises he makes back into his body; with the sound of clinking dog-tags, light counterpart to the heavy base slap of flesh-on-flesh. Their relationship is a clandestine thing, these days, and it's starting to wear on him, the constant worry, the way John won't meet his eyes during a briefing - tosses Mitchell a lemon, for God's sake - but kisses him, soft and open-mouthed, just inside his doorway, chessboard tucked under his arm.
Oddly enough, he thinks that he could do it if there was no love in the equation, because it may be true that x=F, when F is fucking and x is the absence of sound, rushing space of nothing-noise - it's equal sum, 2+2=3+1, nothing lost and not much gained - but it is also true that x=F(B) when
F is fucking, and
x is nothing-noise, and
B=P*Y, the sum of Pegasus: horror and wonder and Teyla, Ronon, coffee-stained sheets against his cheek; the way his heart stops at the sight of John sun-drenched on an alien world, beautiful like nothing real ever is.
All this by itself is an equation he will never be able to balance. Worse, though, is that the much-vaunted N does not exist with the parameters of any known equation - when N is John curled in early-morning sheets, hand fitted to Rodney's hip - except as a negation of itself, N=-N, fascinating in its impossibility. The existence of N breaks all the rules, and Rodney thinks he could create a new math around it, given the chance.
"John," he whispers, "oh God, oh fuck, right there yes, John, love you, oh -"
Just - Give him enough time, he thinks, and he could rewrite the universe.
While he's still in nappies, Rodney falls in love for the first time. He cuts his teeth on the leg of the piano bench; he learns dexterity from Chopin, quickens his hands on her keys. He has great technical skill, his instructor says, but no emotion, and he wants to protest that of course he doesn't, he hasn't caught it yet, it, it, don't you get it, don't you know? He's seven years old and chasing after the shape of something he's only heard of. Every note is a footstep and when he plays, he runs.
He writes equations into John's skin - first with touch and the promise of ink; then in the shower, with water, and soap. Off-world, with dust. Soon he devolves to sunscreen, antiseptic, lube; anything that might leave a trace. On MX9-488, he writes with berry juice after Sheppard has passed out from the ceremonial wine, and John wakes up striped with rash in strange swirls and loops: sum, i, pie.
"What the hell, Rodney?" he asks. Angry.
The equations he writes on John's body, they are nothing fancy. F=MA. E=MC2. CD/CI. 2+2=4. Everything simple that has ever irreparably changed the universe; anything without which, the universe would be incomplete.
(The only thing he does not feel the need to write in is blood. There is too much of that between them already.)
After music, he falls in with science. Night after night he spends at the telescope, imagining integers in the place of stars. When his teacher tries the old bean-and-balloon trick to compare the earth and sun, he laughs; he's practically iridescent with scorn. He's never had a problem with scale. In this way he becomes a scientist.
No, that's not right - considering it's the love of his life, "science" sounds so cruel, so impersonal. Think of it as a lover, or the idea of a lover, the spark that makes matter matter. In it gravity is a revelation. A spider is a minor miracle. Rodney sticks pins in electrical sockets and didn't talk until he was four, and years later he reads that his moving hands and stumbling legs and rapid heart are all run by electricity, and very much likes the idea.
As a child, Jeannie made up her own language. Unlike the majority child-languages, which are soft and malleable, for the most part real words rounded past all recognition, hers was sharp and whistling; difficult. Sometimes she sung to herself in it. It sounded rather like a bushman click language, and their father was very relieved when Jeannie started speaking English.
Rodney, of course, never made up any sort of language. Even as a baby he wouldn't have deigned to lower himself to that level.
With John, though, he seems to have his own ways of communicating. They have a thousand different semaphore varieties of kisses - simple and soft and hard and hot - and each is a moment too tiny and infinite to be within the parameters of the known universe.
"I can't -" he says, the first time, "I can't-"
John kisses him, and every breath and every movement says yes, yes, yes. And, God. He could tear apart the universe for this man. Destruction for his sake is laughably easy. Harder, though, is not saying fuck it all and letting go, but reigning himself in, existing within parameters and rules and the laws that govern both of their lives, both sets so different and yet so achingly the same.
"I thought you could do anything, McKay," John says, after. Casual.
"Yes, well," Rodney snaps, "even I have my limits."
There's a joke going around Atlantis. It's an old one; one of the Daedalus crew members must have thought it up. It goes like this:
SG-1 is given a piece of paper with a right triangle on it. The sides are x, 5, and 4, and they are told to find x. Dr. Jackson goes off to enquire about the cultural significance of the ritual. Teal'c looks the questioner in the eye and looms. Carter tries to prove the existence of x through a complex mathematical formula. O'Neill walks up, points at x and says, "Found it."
It's depressing how alike SGA-1 is to SG-1; how few adjustments needed to be made before they could stand in for that joke. Carter once accused Rodney of thinking of people as numbers, but the truth is she was wrong, or at least she was at the time. Then, he was young, and people weren't numbers as much as defined by vast sets of mathematical equations that wound around their legs and up through their throats, back when both people and wormholes were unique and beautiful and theoretical and complex.
By now, though, he has learned the power of reduction. Now he sees how easily people are not equations, but rather reduced to single integers: dull, interchangeable, only part of a greater sum. If E gets hit by a poisoned spear and goes into convulsions and dies, it is not too hard to slot D in her place. A = E(d) = d(E) = A, right? Right.
A part of him hates Samantha Carter for making him learn that - for taking him out of the theoretical and into the world never as beautiful as the one in his head. A part of him loves her for it. Another part likes to stare at her breasts. A greater part still sees her stern smile and how much of an asshole he is to her, the way she fucks him over in every universe, and thinks, yes, this is it, this is my dream woman.
Of course, when Rodney dreams, he dreams of being eaten by a whale, so maybe it's not a fair comparison.
Maybe it is not Samantha Carter at all. Maybe this woman-dream is not one of flesh or blood but rules and math like poetry. This mystery woman, this dream of dreams, the name she gives him is astronomy but he will later know her as science. It is a thirty-year rebound affair that somehow settled into marriage, though he is far happier with his mistress than his father ever was with his.
Two years shy of his fortieth, he finds her living in the Pegasus galaxy, as a place called Atlantis. By his forty-first, he decides that all people, excepting him and a small select group, are ignorant pieces of shit that deserve to be thrown on Atlantis' altars, because why else would she burn them, maim them, kill them, send them away?
No matter. She's still as timeless as ever; he's getting old. So take a lover, his once-lover said. He took a lover. He took John.
He writes this for the April 2nd entry in his high-school English journal:
On May 18th: I cannot wait for this to be over. You small-brained, addled, believing-in-creationism liberal arts bastards, you have no idea how much I cannot wait for this to be over.
On June 23rd: Just watch me. I am going to change the UNIVERSE.
For the most part, the expedition was easy to peg. Misfits, loners, freaks and geeks; if you had a reason to stay behind on Earth, you sure as hell didn't come to Pegasus. Even the Atlantis Marines are a little loose, a little crazy. 59% of the expedition population had lost both parents. The anthropologists estimated that over half were at least a Kinsey 3.
And Rodney? Well. Rodney is all of those things and more, hungry for discovery and worried someone else was going to get there first.
John, though - John is a mystery. John is insular in a way rarely encountered outside of monasteries. Rodney may not be able to tell the difference between what he wants and what he needs, but John is a study in denial - the excess of little things when forbidden big ones. He will play motor-cars and slouch at attention, but will not fuck without the door double, triple locked. He refuses morphine, and rebels against excess emotion. He has not trained himself to not want; he has trained himself to not even think of wanting, to have it pass his mind. He is entitled to nothing, and so is given everything.
For John, Rodney thinks, the world must be very beautiful, and very lonely.
"Idiot, idiot, idiot," he says between kisses, "you are such a fucking idiot. God, I can't believe you survived past birth."
Sheppard makes a face, and opens his mouth. "Rodney -"
Rodney takes a half-step back, but his fingers encircle Sheppard's wrist, holding loosely. "If you say something like, it was only a little scratch," he says softly, "I swear to God I will end you."
John smiles, oddly, and follows him back into his space. "It was only a little scratch," he murmurs, so close Rodney can feel their lips brushing against each other, breath in a continuous circuit.
"Right," Rodney says, suddenly weary. His hands smooth over the bandage that hides twenty ugly stitches from view. "Right."
Here is the way it works:
They kiss, and touch. John always leaves before Rodney's fully asleep, even though orgasms completely knock him out, and John's lucky if he doesn't walk into a wall on his way back to his rooms. Several times he's been detained by Keller; the first time, she feared some awful Pegasus version of a zombie outbreak. All the times after that, she's assumed insomnia and given him sleeping pills, sent him back to bed.
Here is the way it works tonight:
They fought this afternoon. As they stumble towards the bed, Rodney attempts to kick off his shoes. (It takes a couple tries.) There's about a ten-to-one chance that John will trip on them when he leaves and so, feeling petty, Rodney positions them for maximum nuisance in the dark.
The next morning, Rodney finds John in the infirmary, getting patched up by a sympathetic Keller. "I tripped," he says, glaring around his black eye, and Rodney waves cheerfully and grabs more condoms while Keller's distracted. They're running low and people would actually wonder who Sheppard needs them for, whereas in Rodney's case, people think he's just doing it for show - a suspicion which, he admits, at one time may not have been unfounded.
"By the way," he says, so smug he can taste it. "Conan the Barbarian's looking for you. Something about a mid-morning training session? With Marines?"
If Keller weren't in the way, Rodney suspects John would have jumped up and throttled him, right then and there. As it is, Rodney bounces his eyebrows and escapes unscathed, already plotting breakfast-related schemes. He'll make it up to John later. It's not as if this hasn't happened before.
Winter folds into itself, the weird reversal of the calendar throwing everyone from the Northern Hemisphere off-balance, including Rodney and John. Post not-quite-4th-of-July, they have drunk, awful sex and nurse hangovers for roughly the next ten years. Extra Tuesday goes a bit better: there's sex, but of the sweet, slow variety, and how cool is it that John would have been a screamer had he been able to risk making noise?
The next time they're Earthside, Rodney promises himself, they'll find somewhere to go where John can scream and grunt and moan to his heart's content, and even as he promises himself this he knows it won't happen, just - because. So many things, work and relatives and John and him and most importantly, this fucked-up sort of silent inertial thing between them. He's not even sure if John knows how to fuck anymore without making at least a little of it a punishment.
It's a nice dream, though, even if it doesn't feel real. Rodney files it away under "fantasy material" and gets back to work.
"Don't forget," he radios John accidentally-on-purpose on the public comm. "Chess at my place, 19:00."
"Wouldn't want to miss kicking your ass, McKay," John drawls, and Rodney smiles and wishes he could say: "Oh please, it's your ass on the line here," an almost-innocent joking-with-the-marines thing - empty except for all that's behind it - but instead just goes: "Dream on, Sheppard," and signs off.
Rodney's never been taken to writing out his sentiments. Hallmark cards, once in a while; maybe a handmade birthday card for his mother, lifetimes ago. Compliments aren't something he gives easily. Instead, he wrote journal articles for his girlfriends, equations for his boyfriends; sent newly published proofs back for his mother's birthdays, and for her funeral. The girlfriends and boyfriends never understood, but he'd liked to have thought that his mother did. Her brand of kindness had an edge of the self-serving, too.
In Pegasus, every equation he writes is a love letter to John's bruises, and sprains, and cuts - the things that keep him human, keep him un- untouched. Rodney thinks about kissing every one each night, in the bed they do not share: this for the smile John gave to him today, an instant of realness. This, for the bruise John got banging his shins into Rodney's bedframe, as he left unsilently in the dark. This for the scrape John got pushing him out of the way; the gun-callus on John's thumb; scar at his elbow, hip, neck; divot by his smile - proof that he -
("I have to say, output since wedding has gone down but it is nice to see two people so in love," Zelenka muses. "Too rare here."
"Yes, yes, whatever," Rodney snaps. "Throw your rice and get back to work."
"Love is not disease, Rodney," Zelenka says. "You cannot catch it, though I wish you would. Make you nicer, perhaps."
"If wishes were fishes, the desalination tanks would be full of crap," Rodney retorts.)
- proof that he says freely with his body what he will never say, cannot say, with words.
Of course, Einstein is correct - so far - and relativity still stands. The unwashed masses assume it's complex, only useful in deep space and higher mathematics; they're are wrong, of course, as they so often are. As Rodney knows, relativity is a relatively simple concept. Put bluntly, things look different from different places, different point of views. A tilt of the head can change the angle of the sun, and every love story is, in a way, an instantaneous parallax: the distance of two poles to a common point. A sees the star as being in a different place than B, but the distance is always the same.
No, that doesn't seem right. A and B can strain for the same star and never intersect; his parents are proof enough of this. Think of people as parallel lines, then, same direction but never connect, no explosion or combustion or much of anything, really; infinity as near as it is far. Johnny Cash had it more right than he knew. Human beings are simultaneously solitary and social by nature, higher brain functions a fair trade for the ability to get in each others' skin. They rose from the muck by hardening their walls, no longer constructing themselves from procaryote parts of others; America has McDonalds and China has Mao and Rodney has science, and no one really connects.
When it's not actively saving his life Rodney looks upon biology as a softer science, nothing like the clean bright lines of physics. To him biologists are the monkey nuts who talk pheromones but can't figure out the mechanics of a shower. Last week, they lost an alien chicken somewhere near Lab 6 and still haven't managed to recapture it. Put kindly, he has absolutely no patience whatsoever for them unless they figure out a way to make the Wraith all burst into flames, and even then, they'd be on probation.
It's possible though, that they may have a point. Perhaps pushing inside John's body, godsohottight, John's heels digging into the small of his back, hairy legs scraping against his sides and raising bruises - perhaps this is nothing more than a sad imitation of protazoans swallowing oval organelles, spirochetes becoming flagellae becoming cilia, the migratory bacteria that would become the mitochondria that pump and pulse inside him even now. Perhaps it's wanting what he has, instead of what he doesn't, and it's no less painful.
(His mother, she compared sex to a closed circuit, but she was wrong. There's nothing electrical about this, it's not even mechanical in the most primal of ways; nothing about them is closed. A circuit is a conservative thing, and would not allow for an elbow to the side, a break in rhythm, once two radios going off and an uncoordinated flailing resulting in falling off the bed. Whatever this is, it's biological, and shamelessly rude, and needy, and kind of fun.)
There's a joke going around Atlantis; it's an old one, but it doesn't matter, they're so strapped for entertainment anyway. This is how it goes:
Werner Heisenberg is scheduled to give a lecture at MIT, but he's running late and speeding through Cambridge in his rental car. A cop pulls him over, and says, "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
"And then, he says," Rodney pauses for maximum effect, waving his beer bottle around rather carelessly, "no, but I know where I am!" John snorts, once, and one look between them, that's all it takes, and they're laughing like it's the funniest thing they've ever heard, Rodney's quiet snee-hee-hee snicker to John's loud awful muppet laugh, haw-haw-haw. They're absolutely horrible-sounding, like some sort of concerto for rusty farm equipment, and Ronon rolls his eyes while Teyla smiles, in that for entertainment value, you are slightly more amusing than a trained bee'shak kind of way.
"Okay, okay, wait, I've got one," John gasps out. "What's non-orientable and lives in the ocean?"
"What, John?" Teyla asks patiently.
"Möbius Dick!" John says, slyly, and Rodney comes this close to spewing beer out his nose.
"Oh God, that was so awful," Rodney moans when he has his breath back. John smirks and says, "Wait, I've got another one. So a neutron goes into a bar, and orders a drink..."
The point of all this - well. In the few precious moments when his mind is not panicked or primal or spinning out an ever-changing theory of the universe that lives inside his head, Rodney thinks about kisses, and sex. It seems like the right thing to do. The romantic thing. Maybe he's not the most conscientious boyfriend, but he's caring enough, right? Right. Absolutely. He can care enough for the both of them.
Of course, the sex he happily translates from thought to action, every night and occasionally right before lunch. It's the kissing he trips up on: the gentle ones, the absent ones, the ones that feature that particular brand of decay singular to couples in which romance is not even a conscious act but a reflex action, like Teyla whacking him in the ass with a stick.
These kisses, he leaves in his head; never draws beyond the blueprints of them, and that, too, seems like the right thing to be done. It's what John wants, after all - he's sure of it - and despite what everybody who's ever had any sort of relationship with him before has said, he can be receptive to the needs of others.
See, Anna? See, Jeannie? Just watch him. Just watch him go.
Summer on Atlantis is hot and humid, like the hotel room in Langley when he was eleven, visions of nuclear fallout dancing around his head. It is, to put a cap on it, disgusting. The sea-breeze helps, a little, and the metal Atlantis is constructed from doesn't appear to conduct heat very well (thank god for small favors), but the air is stifling outside, and even indoors, pushed through Atlantis' superb AC system, it's a little thick, a little stale. Ronon calls it "kep weather", and from Teyla's scandalized expression, Rodney concludes that he doesn't even want to know what he means. The 'Lanteans cling stubbornly to their Earth calendar year, even if it's highly impractical, and so Christmas is always celebrated around this time, too, to put even further damper on things. The only people who seem summer-happy are the Australians.
Sometimes, though, summer will bring storms, great crashing pantomimes of thunder and salt-heavy rain. They come in late afternoon, early evening, and Atlantis closes the balcony doors of her own accord; seals them with her, in her, gives them the illusion of safety. Even Rodney feels the calm. The hallways empty, until all that can be heard is a snatch of laughter, or music; people present but unseen, a hidden life behind every door, and in theirs Rodney kisses John slow and lush and full, hands displacing cool air with heat, mapping out bodies as familiar as their own under crumpled white sheets, while rain beats at the window. Sometimes if the storm is long enough they play chess in bed, arguing softly, not bothering to get dressed. The moments run together; they seem insular, and heartbreakingly eternal.
They never are. Maybe they're close enough.
It's all hot wet heat, kissing John like nothing of him exists except what's touching, there, lips and tongue and teeth, hands and mouth and pointy-sharp joints that -
"Knees!" Rodney squeaks. "Watch the - knees!"
Probably the most terrifying part of the whole thing is, he knows Sheppard better than anyone, maybe ever, with the exception of Teyla and Ronon. Even then, they don't understand his pop-culture references, his "tee vee", silly little things that even the most stupid of Tau'ri would get. If for nothing else, Rodney is grateful to Batman and Red Dwarf for this - for giving him this chance, a little bit of room to slip through on - because Teyla may know the secret parts of John, the chill and deep darknesses, and Ronon the red places that pulse, but it's only Rodney who knows about the teeth in the shallows, and the bite-bruises low on his neck.
This is not to say Rodney understands him. On the contrary; he does not. N still equals -N. There are some rules he just can't break, no matter how hard he tries.
"Stay?" he asks, uncaring when John flinches.
"I can't, Rodney," John says, equal parts angry and scared, like a cornered animal. "I can't. Come on, buddy. You know that."
"Right," Rodney mumbles, turning away. "Sorry. Forgot."
There's a joke forming in Rodney's head. It's not very funny, but it's relevant, and a prime example of mathematical humor. It goes like this:
According to the rules of the universe, love should not be a matter of A B; it should be A B, balanced, whole. It rarely is, but still. Isn't everyone always saying it's the thought that counts?
(Answer: Yes, that is what everyone is always saying.)
He might never figure Sheppard out in any tangible way - there will be no grand equations, no unifying theories - but he knows him like he knows math, instinctively; parts relearned methodically. It's not the grand creativity that Sam and even John exhibit but it is enough, to know that the words and formulas and symbols he's taught, they are only the names worn by concepts that have always lived in his bones. He knows John like he knows the universe, then: knowing there is always more to know. In Pegasus, he faces a new impossibility every lunch hour. Life here for a physicist is like drawing a star-chart of his own innards. He's a scientist, though; everything from the bacteria in his blood to the tilt of a black hole, it's all quantifiable or at least it should be.
John is 1.8288 meters tall, 0.02048 meters taller than Rodney. He is eighty kilograms, or to be more precise 81.82 kilograms; Rodney is a fine full figure of a man who doesn't need to get into discussions of weight. John's lips are roughly one thumb-span, or at least that's what seems to fit there, just brushing or sunk into the heat, teeth nipping the pad. One of his eyes is .834 centimeters above the other. There are six freckles on his left forearm, two on his right, and scattered across his body John carries twenty-seven scars of varying sizes.
Sadly, none of these seem to make a difference one way or another. John / John = John.
He can't seem to reduce it any further than that.
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