It turned out that John was much, much harder to seduce!
What surprised me most, though, was that in the process of finding out how seducing John might work, I found myself falling utterly in love with this Rodney. I mean, as a writer I'm aware that for a seduction to work, the reader must fall in lust along with the characters, but even so, I ended up loving this Rodney so much more than I expected.
Title: A Change of Seasons
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Beta: Thank you, vegetariansushi. <4
Note: This is for fairestcat, who asked for "five ways Rodney seduced John."
It takes nearly forty-eight hours for Rodney to figure out how to get mirror-John home, and they're all silently starting to worry about cascade failure.
In hindsight, John should have realised that his alter-ego would react to that by having one last fling; it's exactly what he would do in the same situation. It hadn't occurred to him, though. Not until they're all standing in the gate room: Rodney looking grey-faced and exhausted, Radek's hair defying gravity in strange new ways, and the rest of the science team looking equally shattered by the technological miracle they are about to pull off. The gate whooshes open with a strange band of twisting striations marring the watery surface, and the MALP they cautiously send through shows them a view of alternate-Atlantis. Radek collapses back into the nearest chair. Rodney steps forward and makes an awkward, off you go motion to mirror-John, assuring them that he knew he could do it all along. They all smile at that, and Elizabeth says a few diplomatic words of farewell. John just tries not to make eye contact, because looking at himself in 3D is way too disturbing. Is his nose really that pointy? And what the hell is going on with his ears?
It's not until mirror-John hesitates at the bottom of the ramp that John knows; something about the angle of his shoulders makes John tense up. Oh, God. What has he done?
As though in answer, mirror-John turns away from the gate, strides over to one of the scientists--Metzinger, a huge, Schwarzenegger-type, who Rodney loves to ridicule for having more brawn than brains--and lays one on him. Right there in the gate room. It's no quick peck, either, and Metzinger doesn't seem at all put out at publicly playing tonsil hockey with the military commander's doppelganger.
After about twenty bazillion years of frenching each other--with a shocked and silent crowd looking on--they finally give it up, the kiss ending with a lewd, wet sound. Then--then!--that fucking evil twin bastard turns, smirks right at John, shrugs, as though to say, Sorry to leave you with the fallout, and saunters off through the gate.
John somehow manages to swallow down his rage long enough to get out of the room, but he's pretty sure some of it must have shown, because in the days that follow no-one makes any jokes about it to his face, and Lorne is taking special care in running interference between him and the marines.
Given the weirdness factor and the way everyone's treading on eggshells around him (oh-so-carefully not asking him anything, goddammit), it's maybe not surprising that it takes him a while to notice that Rodney's stopped touching him. Suddenly, there are no little condescending pats on the arm after one of their bitching sessions. No lounging in chairs placed so close together their shoulders or knees touch. No brushing of fingers when Rodney demands John turn on some device or other.
When John does, finally, notice it (P0K-146: Rodney carefully leaving an inch of space between them, an inch they really don't have, while they're confined in something that's horribly like a two-person coffin), John is first shocked, and then angry. He hadn't thought that Rodney, of all people, would be homophobic. But there is it, irrefutable: an inch of space, where before, Rodney would have been clinging like a limpet and complaining about the bonyness of John's knees.
After they get back to Atlantis, John very carefully makes himself incredibly busy with command stuff, not going anywhere near the labs until he's had a chance to calm down a bit. Which is how he ends up skulking through an access corridor that conveniently bypasses the labs, and finds himself face-to-face with an extremely sweaty and ill-tempered Metzinger. The faint waft of sewerage tells the story, and John is petty enough to feel some small satisfaction in knowing that he's not the only one on Rodney's shit-list.
"Oh," Metzinger says, stopping short when he catches sight of John.
"Hey," John says, casually, and edges past, stepping around an open toolbox.
Metzinger suddenly comes to life, making an abortive grabbing motion at John's arm, but not quite making contact. "Wait!"
Not wanting to have this conversation, John jabs an apologetic thumb over his shoulder and lies like a dog. "Sorry. I gotta be--"
"Please! Just tell McKay we're not fucking. He's driving me crazy!" Metzinger does actually look crazy, his eyes bloodshot and desperate as he pleads. "He's being a total bastard about this. I know you have no reason to do me any favours, but it's not just me." Metzinger makes an all-encompassing gesture with a smelly hand, taking in the whole of Atlantis, and stirring up the corridor's turgid air in the process. "He's being an asshole to everybody. Please, please, put him out of his misery."
John feels like someone has just dropped an anvil on his head as it slowly dawns on him that Metzinger thinks Rodney is jealous. Not homophobic. Jealous. Of him and Metzinger. The tension that has been thrumming through him for days suddenly unclenches, leaving him feeling limp and exhausted. He staggers back a step with the relief of it, bracing himself against the wall with one hand, and actually has his mouth open to say, Thank God, when he finally joins the remaining dots... if Rodney stopped touching him because he was jealous... then the touching wasn't the casual buddy-thing John had assumed it was. It was actually something more along the lines of a seduction--a really bizarre Rodney-style seduction--and somehow John had totally missed it.
As that idea sinks in, the tension rushes back, bitter and twice as unpleasant as before: John can't go there. Not after his evil twin's touching departure scene in the gate room. He can't afford to take the risk.
"Sorry," John says to Metzinger bitterly, not sorry at all. "I can't talk about this. You'll just have to sort it out with McKay yourself." He's already walking away before he's finished speaking, but he catches a glimpse of Metzinger looking like he's just been kicked. It isn't any kind of consolation.
Nor is it much of a surprise when Rodney turns up at John's door later that evening, looking anxious and twitchy. Knowing Rodney, he'd probably been monitoring Metzinger on the security feed and seen the whole thing.
"So," Rodney says, in a conciliatory tone. "I, um." He waves a hand in a circle between them, and now John's looking for it, yeah, it's right there. "I was thinking we haven't, you know, hung out in a while." He pulls a CD out of his pocket. "And I have Doctor Who. So..." He looks expectantly over John's shoulder, silently asking permission to come in.
John crosses his arms, blocking the doorway with his body. He's had time to come up with a game plan, but it mostly relies on what he doesn't say, and that's always a bit iffy when it comes to Rodney. "Can't. I have stuff to do tonight."
Rodney's face falls. He looks as though he might debate John's decision for a moment, but then he takes a step back. "Oh."
"But," John adds, and Rodney's face instantly fills with hope. It makes everything inside John clench up that much tighter, and he has to force the rest of the words out: "We could get together tomorrow. It's been a while since we've had a team night."
"Team night," Rodney echoes, searching John's face. He clearly doesn't find what he's looking for. After a brief flash of disappointment, he straightens his shoulders and says, "Right. Team night. Good idea." He takes another step back. "I'd better let you get back to it, then."
John nods and thinks the door shut, fast, so that he doesn't have to watch Rodney walk away.
The next night is very, very normal. They watch Doctor Who. Teyla seems bemused, but asks polite questions which set Rodney off on tirades about the "science." Ronon says nothing, although John catches him silently snickering a couple of times--whether at the show or at Rodney, he can't tell.
At one point Rodney's fingers brush John's as they both reach for the popcorn at the same time. It's disappointingly anti-climactic: they both take a few kernels of popcorn and eat them. There's no weird flinching or lingering or anything else.
And that, well, that's pretty much the end of it. John doesn't waste any time idly speculating about what might have happened if things had turned out differently. Things aren't different. That's just how it is.
A change of seasons, and they're lying side by side on a patch of crushed grass, sharing a bottle of Zelenka's hooch. The Athosian's harvest bonfire roars a short distance away, sending embers shooting up to trace fingers of orange across the bright starscape overhead. In the background, the drums are still thudding, a chorus of joyous voices raised in counterpoint, even though few people have enough energy left to dance. The murmur of sleepy conversation fills the darkness on all sides.
Rodney's shoulder is a warm pressure anchoring John to the earth despite the way the alcohol is making his head spin. He feels mellow and connected in a way he hasn't for a long, long time. It's easy to glance over at Rodney's familiar profile, harder to fight back the urge to reach out and lace their fingers together.
Still staring intently at the stars, Rodney sighs and lets the bottle slide away to rest in the crook of his elbow. "Do you ever feel lonely?" he asks, his voice full of melancholy, but not slurred enough for John to think it's just the booze talking.
"No," John says, and it isn't a lie. He tucks his hands into his armpits and watches the rise and fall of cloth and skin as Rodney sighs again, the downturn of his mouth an elegant line in the semi-darkness. Not even close to a lie, with Rodney's shoulder warm and solid and familiar against his own, and John thinks no prize is worth risking this.
Rodney turns his head, looking John straight in the eye. His gaze is steady and knowing, not at all drunk, although tomorrow they'll both pretend he had been. "Don't you ever get tired of saying 'No'?"
John's the one to break first, looking away to watch the bright dance of embers burn through the night.
A long time later, when Rodney's breathing has evened out and deepened into sleep, John says, "Yes," and the word comes out so raw, it hurts his throat to say it.
No-one is very surprised when people start using the Ancient VR game for anonymous sex hook-ups. It's not like there are many other safe outlets on Atlantis, and there are failsafes so that no-one can get hurt (or record illicit porn), so the command staff carefully turns a blind eye.
John doesn't plan to ever try it, but Pegasus being Pegasus, one night he's desperate and high on adrenaline after a mission that came too close to disaster, and he finds himself plugging in and making his way to the virtual red-light district.
Even though it's what he's there for, he's taken aback when someone joins him in the playscape within a second of him flicking on the "Player Wanted" option. She's a walking cliche: a tall, leggy blonde with an hourglass figure and a cute, button nose that's reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. Of course, it's not like he can throw stones on that count; he's looking rather like Harrison Ford himself. Still, it's disconcerting to be facing a faux screen goddess, and not nearly as hot as he imagined it would be. He's on the verge calling the whole thing off when the woman snaps her fingers and demands, "Clothes off!"
He barely notices as their clothes melt away, because he's staring at Marilyn, watching the play of expressions across her face. There's a flash of all-too-familiar irritation at his hesitation, and that's when he knows, absolutely knows, that it's Rodney. His body fires up so fast it's like he's just been slam-dunked into lava, and the thought that Rodney might not know it's him has an illicit edge that makes John a little dizzy, as though he's pulled too many Gs.
"What are you waiting for, Joh--nes?" She gives him a slightly panicked look, but attempts to play it off. "Or do you prefer Indiana?"
John grins; so much for the pretence at pretence. He should have known Rodney would be one step ahead, figuring a way out of their stalemate. Strangely, John's buzz isn't even dented by Rodney's slip. He takes Rodney's hand and twines their fingers together, and he's suddenly happier than he can ever remember being. "Call me anything you like, Marilyn."
Her eyes widen with wonder as John leans forward, and she's so close he feels like he's falling into her. Her mouth opens beneath his, soft and warm and greedy and, best of all, totally deniable, and God, yes, he can have this. They can have this.
She moans into his mouth, her hands moving, moving in restless circles and stops, drawing almost-familiar patterns of curiosity and satisfaction across his skin, and he just wants to melt into her. He pushes her down onto the magically-appearing bed, touching her everywhere he's wanted to, until she's writhing beneath him, legs spread wide, saying, "Fuck! Come on, fuck me. What the hell are you waiting for? Intergalactic peace?" and when he doesn't give her what she wants, she breaks, pushing him hard, rolling them both over so that she's on top. She slides down, her mouth momentarily crooked with concentration, and then everything is slick and hot, her cunt swallowing his cock, and he can barely breathe for wanting.
As she sets the rhythm, rocking back and forth, he captures her face with both hands and pulls her into a long, deep kiss; he kisses her again and again and again, deeper and deeper until, right before he comes, he can almost taste Rodney, almost feel Rodney moving around him, shaking in his arms, coming apart beneath the avatar's virtual skin.
The seasons don't change inside the playscape, so there's nothing to show that they've been doing this for almost a year.
Marilyn is curled up in his arms, looking well-fucked and sleepy, but beneath her contentment there's a tension that's been simmering all evening. So John isn't surprised when her hands go still, clutching at him hard enough that he'd bruise if this skin were real, and she says in a casual voice that isn't casual at all, "Does it ever bother you that you don't know who I am?"
It's not an unexpected question; it's been two months since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was replaced with a set of rules that even Rodney had conceded were civilised.
Two months is a long, long time for Rodney to hold his tongue, especially about something he really wants. And John is under no illusions about this: Rodney really wants him.
Of course, two months is no time at all in terms of military culture... but even as he thinks it, the excuse feels hollow and threadbare. The members of the Atlantis expedition have never been that hidebound by convention; they wouldn't have survived the first year of war against space vampires if they were, let alone the hard years that followed.
That doesn't change the answer John's going to give; he manages to drawl, "Nope," and he's better at feigning casualness than Rodney, so he's pretty sure there's no outward sign that his heart is thumping its way out of his chest, and his stomach is churning with acid. "You?"
"No." Rodney turns her face away, and John hates himself. "I'm just curious sometimes."
There's really nothing John can say to that without opening the topic up for discussion. All he can think to do is lift Marilyn's arm and place a careful kiss on the crease of her perfect elbow, right where he knows that Rodney's real body has a puckered white scar.
They dub M9S-262 "Arrakis," because the heat is a relentless shimmer, the ground a dusty, worn-out red, the sky so blue it feels like an attack, and the air smells sharp, surprisingly like the scent that rises after rain, despite the lack of moisture.
When they get to the market, it reminds John more than a little of South Korea and Afghanistan, and even Thailand, with the throngs of moving, shouting people; the rich smells of unfamiliar foods; the bright, embroidered fabrics fluttering in the hot easterly wind that sweeps in from the desert; and the large, elephant-like beasts of burden that occasionally loom through the streets, honking a warning at pedestrians who don't move aside quickly enough.
The first stall they visit is a trader in Antiquities and other devices; she gets a gleam in her eyes as soon as she spots Rodney, and John immediately gestures to Ronon and Teyla to stay alert. It would be easy for one of their enemies to have spread the word about their interest in Ancient tech, or have agents hiding amongst the throng. But for once, his paranoia proves groundless, and they move on unmolested as soon as Rodney has assured himself there is no ZPM lurking in the teetering piles of electronics. The trader does manage, through the strategic use of fluttered eyelashes, to get Rodney to buy a gewgaw that looks like a cactus, each of the spines tipped with a flashing light that Rodney speculates is a sensor of some kind. He stuffs it carefully in his pack and they move on.
Later, after they've all been lured into buying something (Ronon a weird-looking hair tie; Teyla a knife longer than her forearm; John a new wristband) the actual meeting with their informant goes off without a hitch. The man is fat and genial, and sweat rolls down his face as they sit in the shade of a tea tent, drinking something cold and teeth-achingly sweet and surprisingly alcoholic. His voice is jovial as he spills secrets about the Genii, the Wraith, a clan of warriors on P1L-090 who have put out a bounty on Lorne's head. At the end of it, as Teyla is handing over payment, he recommends a food stall a few streets away, saying the word, "cacao" with a sly, knowing look at Rodney that's at complete odds with his seemingly honest face.
The stall doesn't really have cacao beans, of course, but it does have cone-shaped leaves filled with what looks like crushed ice and berries, and swirled over the top is a dark, rich-looking sauce that has Rodney's nose twitching.
At the first bite, Rodney's eyes flutter shut, and he stands there in the dusty, bustling avenue, his mouth curved in a small, blissful smile that looks just like Marilyn's on the nights John has been particularly inventive.
It's a visceral, knee-jerk response by now: John's veins fill with lava, and he can feel sweat sliding down the back of his neck, the hollows of his knees, along his fingers where they rest on the smooth plastic of his gun. All around him the world seems too-bright, surreal--reds and yellows and verdant greens on awnings, abas, skirts, harnesses, tents; the colours striped and patterned and bleeding together, curling into the suggestion of body-shapes beneath the relentless tongue of the easterly wind--and John wonders if he's having a flashback, PTSD, except he's never experienced anything like this before.
Rodney opens his eyes and holds out the leaf-cone to John, saying, "God, you have to taste this." There is no innuendo in him anywhere; it's a simple offer, simply made, because he wants to share this and John is always the one he turns to first.
Rodney's skin is sweaty where John holds his hand steady; the leaf gives a little against John's mouth, and the cold of the shaved ice is shocking on his lips, but not as shocking as the jolt of berry and chocolate, barely sweetened, but ripe and lush like the smell of the rainless desert air as it fills his mouth and the back of this throat. John swallows, and he's very aware that right now, in this moment, Rodney's mouth tastes just like this.
"Isn't that the best thing ever?" Rodney says, as John lets Rodney's hand fall and fists his shirt, roughly pulling him closer even as he answers, "No."
Then Rodney's mouth is against his, startled and hesitant, but opening at the first swipe of John's tongue. And yes, this... this is the best thing ever: Rodney's mouth unexpectedly cool, his hands eager and sweaty against John's neck and in his hair, the iced dessert already forgotten, melting in its leaf somewhere beneath their boots on the dusty street.
"What?" Rodney demands of the skin at the corner of John's mouth, not pulling away long enough to make a rant of it. "What are you--"
"I've never really been all that big on blondes," John says, and bites Rodney's bottom lip.
Rodney pushes him away then, so fast his lip leaves John's mouth with a popping sound. The progression of expressions on his face is like a film: shock, then understanding, then want. John expects anger next, as Rodney realises how long John's been stalling. Instead, it's a weird mixture that takes a moment to decipher: relief, greed, smugness, and a proprietary satisfaction that John is pretty sure means there's a very public claiming being planned for his near future.
The panic swirls back, making his skin feel both far away and yet too thin, as though he doesn't fit inside it properly anymore. It's like combat, in that moment before things go really wrong--airy and disconnected; no thought, all instinct. Then Teyla coughs and it breaks the spell. When he looks over to where she and Ronon are standing, both of them with half-melted ices in their hands, they're grinning, not even pretending they didn't see the whole thing. Taking a deep breath, John deliberately shoves the fear away, because it's already too late to undo this, and honestly, he doesn't even want to.
He turns back to Rodney, whose smugness has drained away; he's clutching at John's arms with a too-hard grip, and the smile he offers is shaky and unsure. His eyes widen as John leans forward, and he's so close John feels like he's falling into him.
This time the kiss is sweet and slow; no desperation, no pretence. Just them.
Just because John can and Rodney wants him to.