Pairing: Aiden Ford/Rodney McKay
Summary: It must have been Karma--or whatever his sociology professor called it...
Thanks for the beta, deani_bean AND morena_donn!
It must have been Karma--or whatever his sociology professor called it; Aiden Ford didn't remember much of what he studied in his freshman year of college. Whatever its name was, it was the only logical explanation for why the first person he saw when he arrived at the briefing for the Atlantis expedition was Rodney McKay. It was the third time fate, Karma, or just plain luck had brought them together. Aiden was beginning to wonder what his former incarnation had done to deserve this.
The first time he met Rodney he'd just arrived at the SGC. His first assignment was to the security detail and the first thing he was asked to secure was the person of one Dr. Rodney McKay, genius. Aiden took a good bit of ribbing about it from the rest of the security unit. They'd dealt with McKay before, on his previous visit to the SGC. Aiden's friends in security told him to enjoy himself as he headed up to the conference room to meet the doctor. Aiden heard their laughter all the way down the hall.
Dr. McKay didn't look all that impressive at first glance. Aiden stood near the wall awaiting his charge while General Hammond conducted a lengthy briefing about an imminent threat to Earth. The Goa'uld had managed to seize control of the Earth's stargate, effectively turning it into the mother of all doomsday weapons. Aiden tried to remain calm as he listened to the proceedings, in spite of the fact that he felt as though he'd wandered into the middle of some bizarre science fiction movie. He'd learned all about the Goa'uld during his training for his new assignment but the reports and lectures had seemed like fiction. Now, suddenly it was all very real and the Earth was in dire peril.
Aiden thought that the assembly of Earth's best and brightest should have been a lot more excited about the prospect of the imminent destruction of the planet. He was excited enough for all of them, though he never let it show. The soldiers, scientists and other experts taking part in the briefing discussed the situation as calmly as they might talk about a round of golf. Well, almost all of them--Aiden's charge was animated enough for everyone in the Cheyenne Mountain complex.
Rodney McKay liked to talk--a lot. Once he got started, he was hard to contain, Aiden noted. He even continued to talk as Aiden followed him and Major Carter down the corridor to his assigned work station. Major Carter seemed to ignore him half the time, Aiden noted with some amusement, but that didn't prevent McKay from speaking his mind nonetheless. He even talked when he was alone in the lab.
"Do you know anything about wormhole physics, lieutenant?" McKay said. Aiden sighed and checked his watch. "I thought they didn't allow the deaf to enter the military." Aiden looked up.
"Are you speaking to me, sir?" he said, bewildered at the fact that he was suddenly being addressed. Up to that point, McKay hadn't even acknowledged his presence. Now he was looking directly into Aiden's eyes. And smirking.
"I only see one lieutenant in this room."
"Yes, sir? I'm going to enjoy this," he said turning back to his work. "Finally, someone around here treats me with proper deference." Rodney began to babble once more and Aiden shut him out until he was addressed again. "So, answer my question, lieutenant. Do you know anything about wormhole physics?"
"I already answered you, sir," Aiden replied. "I said yes." McKay laughed.
"Surely, you're joking. What would a Marine recruit know about wormhole physics?"
"If you didn't think it was possible, why did you bother asking?" Aiden said, his jaw tightening slightly. He didn't bother objecting to being called a recruit when he was in fact a commissioned lieutenant. He was certain that McKay was well aware of that and just trying to bait him.
"Just wanted to hear what you'd say," McKay replied smugly as he turned back to his work.
"I took the science track in high school: biology, earth science, chemistry and physics--."
"Hooray for you."
"...And in college I took an additional two years of science."
"And that qualifies you as an expert on wormhole physics?" McKay sneered.
"No, sir. You asked if I knew anything about it. I have a basic understanding of physics and fully understood Major Carter's lecture on the principles."
"Major Carter gave you a lecture on the principles of wormhole physics?" McKay asked, intrigued.
"I believe she gives the lecture to all new SGC personnel."
"All new non-science personnel," McKay corrected.
"There were quite a few scientists in the crowd, sir," Aiden said blandly.
"Yes, I suppose you would think of everyone in a lab coat as a scientist," McKay said dismissively. Aiden rolled his eyes. By day's end he would do so several more times. Rodney McKay was that exasperating. He was also rather interesting, as Aiden found out when McKay began to explain the problem currently confronting the SGC. All in all, Aiden ended the day feeling completely exhausted--as though he'd spent it in the field on a forced march rather than on guard detail with a stationary scientist--but well entertained.
Several months later, Aiden arrived at Antarctica base for a six-month tour of duty. He stepped off the elevator and immediately heard a familiar voice.
"Finally!" Rodney shouted. "The SGC saw fit to send a soldier with a functioning brain." All eyes turned to the squad of soldiers that had just arrived. "Elizabeth, promise me that should I ever need the assistance of the military you will send me that man," he said, pointing toward the squad of soldiers eying him suspiciously.
"Which one?" she replied wryly. She didn't recognize any of the men, but then she hadn't spent much time as the head of the SGC.
"That one!" Rodney exclaimed. "Lieutenant something or other." He turned back to whatever he was doing while Elizabeth walked over to welcome the new arrivals.
"Which one of you is 'Lieutenant something or other'?" she asked amusedly.
"Ford!" Rodney shouted, apparently focused on the machine before him. Aiden blanched and his companions looked at him in surprise.
"Welcome to Antarctica," Elizabeth said with a smile before introducing herself. "Which of you is Lieutenant Ford?"
Once, again, Aiden took a great deal of ribbing from the other members of his unit--this time for being singled out by the irascible astrophysicist--but he was cognizant of the implied insult to the other men and held his tongue. He was, in fact, surprised that Rodney remembered him at all, since he hadn't seen him in the better part of a year, and he was secretly flattered.
McKay never did need his protection, at least not officially, but Aiden still found himself looking after the feisty little man. He came upon McKay one morning, deeply embroiled in an argument with another member of the physics unit. The heavy-set, burly German was in McKay's face, determined to make his point. Aiden moved to interpose himself between the two men and told him to back off.
"Dr. McKay, you are an ass!" Dr. Gruber shouted.
"And you are an imbecile!" Rodney spat back. Aiden sighed.
"Do I have to give you two a time out?" he said as he pushed the two men apart.
"You have to give him a stall and a bale of hay. He is an ass!" Gruber shouted.
"Heard you the first time," Aiden deadpanned. "Sir, please step back."
"I will wring his scrawny little neck!"
"I'll give you--."
"Dr. McKay!" Aiden shouted. McKay immediately backed off and Aiden ushered the bellicose German into one of the labs. When he came back a few minutes later, having calmed him down, McKay was nowhere to be seen. Aiden found him about ten minutes later, at work in his lab.
"Thank you for taking that gorilla out of my sight. I can't work with people shouting at me," he said matter-of-factly.
"Maybe he can't, either," Aiden suggested. McKay looked up.
"Are you suggesting that this was my fault?"
"Dr. Gruber said you called him a stupid Nazi!"
"Oh, that. Well..."
"I don't suppose it occurred to you that--."
"What's this about an altercation?" Elizabeth demanded as she entered the lab. "I heard that--." She paused when she saw Aiden standing beside Rodney. "Lieutenant?"
"Everything's cool, Dr. Weir."
"I told you he was a godsend," McKay said smugly. "...Took that idiot right out of here."
"Maybe if you weren't so quick to call people names..."
"The lieutenant has a point, Dr. McKay," Elizabeth said.
"I suppose," Rodney conceded. "Still, he had it coming. The man is an--. The man wouldn't know an accretion disk from a hole in the wall! And Lieutenant Ford has a better understanding of hydrostatic law than that cretin."
"I'll leave you to your work, doctor," Elizabeth said, knowing better than to engage Rodney when he was in a mood. "Lieutenant, keep an eye on things, will you?"
"Yes, ma'am. Doc, you've got to calm down," Aiden said when she was gone.
"Calm down? Why should I calm down? I'm not upset. I've got nothing to calm down for. I need more coffee," Rodney said absently. He lifted a small carafe and saw that it was empty. He looked at Aiden hopefully.
"I don't do coffee, doc."
"Fine! Fine! I'm surrounded by Neanderthals masquerading as physicists. I've got to carry this entire project on my back while a bunch of dilettantes and politicians screw around with the significance of my findings and you want me to stop what I'm doing and get fresh coffee, which involves running all the way down to the--."
"What are you doing?" Aiden interrupted.
"What am I doing? What am I doing? Didn't they brief you before you left Colorado Springs? I--."
"Never mind," Aiden sighed. He took the carafe from Rodney's hand. "If I get you coffee do you promise to behave for the rest of the afternoon?" Rodney glared at him till he shook his head and left the lab.
"Come right back!" Rodney called. "I need that coffee. Get it from the conference room; the stuff in the dining hall is lethal. And don't even think about getting decaf! I'd rather drink my own urine."
"Give me strength," Aiden muttered as he strode down the hall.
Over the next several months, Aiden developed a routine that included dropping by McKay's office at some point in the afternoon to check on things. Occasionally, he'd have to break up an argument. Aiden found that it helped if he brought something along to distract the combatants. He began to carry chocolate bars in his pocket as a matter of routine and a shipment of brownies from his grandmother enabled him to not only extract a promise of good behavior from McKay, but the entire unit.
One evening, Aiden was sitting alone in a quiet corner of the dining hall with a cup of coffee. He'd just put his team through a grueling drill and wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet before facing the rest of his shift. He was lost in thought, staring dazedly into space when a shadow suddenly crossed his path. It barely registered until he saw a hand in front of him. He blinked and looked down. There was a box of lemon squares nested in a sheet of waxed paper lying on the table in front of him. He looked up and saw Rodney McKay.
"I figured I ought to reciprocate," he said. "My sister sent them."
"Hey, you don't have to--."
"It's all right. I'm allergic to citrus."
"You're allergic to citrus? Does she know that? And she sent you--? Man, that's messed up!"
"We have a... Let's just say it's a curious relationship. Enjoy." McKay turned and walked away.
"Thanks," Aiden said, staring at his bounty.
Soon after the scheduled date for the Atlantis expedition was announced, Aiden was shipped back to the SGC. He was subjected to a battery of tests and briefings, and then sent home to visit his family for two weeks. When he returned to the SGC, he was called into another round of briefings, this time with all the other expedition personnel. He was about to enter the auditorium when he heard the unmistakable voice of Rodney McKay coming from somewhere behind him.
"Of course, I'm going," he said. "The entire expedition would be doomed without me."
"Good riddance, then," Dr. Gruber replied. "Global warming will slow down considerably once you are off the planet."
"Har har," Rodney replied. Aiden rolled his eyes and walked over to part the two men, hopefully for the last time.
"All right, you two," Aiden said. "Play time's over."
"I hope you're taking your watchdog with you to the Pegasus Galaxy," Gruber teased. "You'll probably need him."
"Of course I'm taking Lieutenant Ford with me," Rodney replied. "Why would he want to stay on the same planet with you when he had a better alternative?"
"Being stranded on the wrong side of the gate with you isn't a better alternative--it's madness!"
"Madness? I'll show you--."
"Come on, Dr. McKay," Aiden said as he dragged Rodney away. "We've got a meeting to attend." He ushered him into the auditorium and took a seat beside him. Rodney glowered for a few minutes, staring at the empty dais and occasionally stealing sidelong glances at Aiden.
"What?" Aiden asked finally.
"You are coming with us, aren't you?"
"Yes, McKay; I'm coming," Aiden said wryly.
"Good; I'd hate to let that fat German have the last laugh."
"Forget him, doc," Aiden replied as General O'Neill and Elizabeth Weir approached the front of the room.
"You aren't going to change your mind?" Rodney asked a few minutes later as Elizabeth addressed the assembly.
"Having second thoughts, doc?"
"I'm just saying; you're young and--. Well, you've got your whole life ahead of you."
Aiden frowned at Rodney for a second before turning his attention back to the front of the room. When the meeting was over, he rose to go talk to Colonel Sumner, the commander of the expedition's military contingent.
"Stay out of trouble," he said sternly before leaving Rodney's side.
An hour later, Rodney encountered Aiden in the hall. While the younger man was content to simply acknowledge Rodney with a nod, Rodney returned a look that made him stop in his tracks.
"Lieutenant?" Rodney said with a slight gesture of his head. Aiden sighed and walked over to him.
"McKay?" he said tentatively.
"Look, uh," Rodney began as he drew him aside. "I want to apologize for what I said back there. I didn't mean to volunteer you like that."
"You didn't volunteer me, doc. I did," Aiden replied. Rodney looked relieved.
"Good, good. I just didn't want you to feel obligated on my behalf or anything..."
"Never mind, never--. I just--. Sorry. Look, I know I'm not the easiest person in the world to get along with..."
"I'd noticed that," Aiden said with a wry smile.
"You've done an admirable job."
"Thanks." Aiden's smile broadened, though he realized he probably shouldn't make Rodney even more discomfited.
"I get a bit cranky sometimes," Rodney continued. "You realize I'm under extreme pressure. The success of the entire mission is riding on my shoulders. I can see that amuses you, yes," he said sheepishly. "Well, it's true. Those others--."
"The other 137 scientists and research personnel?" Aiden said helpfully.
"Yes, them," Rodney said with a dismissive roll of his eyes, "they aren't critical to the expedition. I'm the lynch pin. I'm the one they're counting on to get us back to Earth. If I fail--not that I ever--. I mean--. Well, I kind of--. Never mind."
"Doc?" Aiden said, his face twisted in concern.
"I'm just..." Aiden prompted when Rodney fell silent.
"I'm nice?" Aiden was amused, but touched by the sentiment.
"I mean I'm glad you volunteered."
"Thanks, Dr. McKay."
"You're welcome," Rodney replied. Aiden nodded and turned to leave and Rodney cleared his throat. "You know, you don't have to--. Never mind."
"Look, doc," Aiden said, turning back. "Would you stop saying 'never mind' and just tell me whatever it is you're trying to tell me!"
"My name is Rodney. You can call me that." He cleared his throat. "Rodney." Aiden smiled.
"Okay, Rodney," he said impishly. "You can call me 'lieutenant.'" He saw Rodney blanch and shook his head. "Just kidding, doc--uh, Rodney." The klaxons sounded and security was summoned to the gate room. "I've got to go." Aiden turned and ran down the corridor. Rodney stood and watched till he disappeared.
"You didn't tell me your name," he said dejectedly.
"For a moment I thought you were going to ask him to go steady," Dr. Gruber said as he passed by. He laughed loudly and stepped into a waiting elevator. Rodney swore under his breath and went back to his lab.
Two days later, Rodney once again encountered Aiden in the corridors of the SGC. It was nearly midnight and the place was fairly deserted. Rodney was walking the halls in an effort to rouse himself before returning to his lab.
"Hey, Dr. McKay," Aiden said warmly, when he spotted Rodney up the hall. "What are you doing here so late?"
"I live here," he replied around a yawn. "Well, practically; I'm in the middle of something that can't wait and I'm about to fall flat on my face from sheer exhaustion. I would have some coffee but there's none left and I can't--." he paused as another yawn overtook him. "You're out of uniform."
"They let us wear civilian clothes off duty," Aiden said with a smile.
"Oh," Rodney said wearily as he took in Aiden's attire. "Have you been away?"
"I had the day off...got together with a few friends. One last time, you know?"
"...For a night of wine, women, and wrong?"
"Not exactly; more like beer, burgers and balls."
"Balls?" Rodney repeated, suddenly wide awake.
"Hoops," Aiden said. "You know, basketball?"
"Ah. So you just got back," Rodney said as his eyes wandered to the clock on the wall.
"Yeah. I've got to be back on duty in seven--," Aiden paused to check his watch. "...Make that six hours."
"Well, I'll let you get your rest," Rodney said as he watched Aiden yawn. "Looks like you need it."
"Yeah. Night, Rodney."
"Night," Rodney said as he watched him go. He sighed and returned to his lab. He was still there several hours later when Aiden appeared at his door.
"Lieutenant," Rodney said, looking up from his computer screen.
"Smelled coffee," Aiden replied as he entered the lab. "Would you mind? The stuff in the mess is especially bad today."
"Oh yes; I never knew there were varying degrees of 'undrinkable' until I tried what the SGC dining hall laughingly refers to as coffee. Please--help yourself."
"Thanks, doc," Aiden said as he scanned the room for an empty mug. Rodney, noting his problem, rose and went to the sink, dumped out his own coffee and rinsed his mug before offering it to him.
"Here. Use this," he said simply. Aiden took the mug guiltily, their fingers briefly touching.
"You didn't have to--."
"Oh, it's all right," Rodney assured him. "I've had six cups of coffee in the last--. Well, I've lost count of how long. I'm trying to cut back."
"Good idea, doc," Aiden said before taking a sip. Rodney stared at the mug as it made its way up to Aiden's mouth and back to the table. Aiden observed his fascination and sighed. He pushed the cup across the table to Rodney's side.
"Here, doc. Maybe you need this more than I do."
"No, no... I'll be crashing soon," Rodney insisted. "Besides, once we're in the Pegasus Galaxy, we'll probably have to ration our intake, anyway." He looked at the mug wistfully and sighed. "I'm preparing myself..."
"Cool?" Rodney was intrigued by Aiden's reaction. "You think so?"
"Yeah," Aiden said, retrieving the coffee and taking a gulp before Rodney could change his mind. "I haven't even thought about what it's going to be like there."
"You've been through the gate before, haven't you? I dimly recall you saying something to that effect," Rodney said as he hypnotically watched Aiden drink.
"Yeah, I've logged over four dozen off-world missions."
"So you have a pretty good idea of what gate travel is like."
"Yeah, yeah, but that was like--." Aiden's face lit up with boyish enthusiasm. "I mean the longest I've ever been off-planet was two weeks during a training exercise at the beta site. I never considered what it might be like to actually move to another planet, you know? Maybe forever..."
"I've never been off world," Rodney admitted.
"Scared?" Aiden immediately regretted his choice of words as Rodney began to sputter.
"You know, I--. Well, I guess--."
"I suppose it's natural to be nervous the first time you go through the gate," Aiden said, "especially if it might be a one-way trip. Colonel Sumner puked before and after his first trip through the gate. And from what I hear, the earliest gate trips felt like an arctic blast. People would come through the gate with icicles on their asses."
"Don't tell me," Rodney said perceptively. "You weren't at all afraid, right?"
"Dude! It was such a rush!" Aiden exclaimed. "You know?"
"Dude!" Rodney aped him. "No."
"Don't worry, doc. I'll have your back," Aiden said reassuringly. He checked his watch and rose. "I've got to go." Rodney watched as he went to the sink and washed the mug. He refilled it and placed it in front of Rodney. "Thanks for the java, Dr. McKay." He gave a curt nod and left. Rodney frowned.
"I thought you were going to call me Rodney," he said to the empty room. A second later, Aiden reappeared at the door, nearly stunning Rodney out of a year's growth.
"I meant thanks, Rodney," he said with a smile. He left again and Rodney downed the coffee and returned to his work. About ten minutes later he swore out loud.
"I still don't know his first name."
Rodney was in the dining hall the following evening, having dinner with Elizabeth and Carson Beckett, the physician assigned to the Atlantis expedition and only other person Rodney had befriended in Antarctica. They chatted comfortably on a number of subjects, lingering over dessert rather than retreating to their respective quarters. Aiden entered the dining hall in the company of his commanding officer, a few other Marines, and General O'Neill.
"That reminds me," Elizabeth said rising. "I need a word with the general." She took her leave of the two men, neither of whom seemed eager to move.
"This time next week we'll be having dinner in another galaxy," Carson said. "I can't yet wrap my head around that."
"It'll just be the same sub-standard fare in an alien setting," Rodney said distractedly. "What's the big deal? I do hope they bring the blue Jell-o," he added as he watched Aiden take a seat next to Major Coburn.
"What are you staring at?" Carson asked, peering over his shoulder. He saw nothing unusual, so he turned back.
"Staring? I'm not staring at anything," Rodney insisted. "I'm just--." He shrugged and gestured loosely with his hand. "...Taking in the sights and sounds of life here at the SGC--in case I never see it again."
"Admit it, man; you're as worried about this as I am," Carson said.
"Actually, I'm not. Not anymore, anyway," he said with a small, secretive smile.
"Oh, it's nothing," he said a little too hastily. "I've just been speaking to some of the more experienced personnel."
"Who?" Carson said, looking around again. "The only members of the expedition I know with off-world experience are a few of the anthropologists and all the Marines. And none of the anthropologists will have anything to do with you," he added wryly. Rodney huffed a little at the implied accusation.
"Actually, I've spoken with a few Marines," he confessed. "In fact, Lieutenant Ford told me yesterday that gate travel is quite a rush."
"That's what he said," Rodney replied with another shrug.
"I think he was pulling your chain. It's not natural."
"No, Carson, it's science. And why shouldn't it be a rush?" Rodney reasoned. "The exhilaration of discovering a new world--."
"The folly of youth," Carson added dryly. "I doubt Aiden Ford's old enough to realize the value of having all his molecules remain in their proper order."
"Perhaps," Rodney said, a tiny smile forming on his lips. Aiden.
Aiden was sitting with a few other Marines when Rodney entered the dining hall a day later. He spotted Aiden and smiled to himself as he went to the counter to assemble his lunch from the assorted offerings. He reached the end of the food line and turned around to look for a seat. Aiden was alone. He didn't want to invade his privacy, but he thought that if he walked in his direction he might be invited to join Aiden at his table. The ploy worked. Aiden looked up from his tray and smiled.
"Hey, Rodney," he said. Rodney sat down before he could say another word. "Why don't you join me?" Aiden asked archly.
"Don't mind if I do," he replied with a smile. "How's the veal tonight?"
"Is that what this is? Damn, I've been in the military too long," Aiden quipped. "I don't even know what I'm eating anymore and I don't bother to ask. When someone puts a plate of food on my tray I eat it."
"Your mother must be thrilled," Rodney replied as he probed his own veal with the tip of his fork. There was no response and he glanced up. "Aiden?"
"Yeah," he said softly. "Sorry, doc, I was just thinking about my mom. She used to pile my plate with as much food as she could in an effort to put some fat on my bones," he said with a distant smile.
"To little avail, I see," Rodney teased.
"She--. She died a long time ago," Aiden said uncomfortably.
"...And here I am teasing you about her. I'm sorry, Aiden. I-."
"Nah, it's okay, Rodney, really," Aiden said with a smile. "I like to think about her now and then. That was a good memory."
"But it's going to be impossible to eat this dreck after that," Rodney said, hoping to coax a smile out of him. Aiden laughed briefly and leaned forward.
"Actually, she wasn't that great a cook," he said conspiratorially. "Now my grandmother; she can cook anything and make it taste like the best thing you ever ate. When I was back home last month she made all my favorite foods. She stuffed me every chance she got. I ate like a horse!"
"To no avail," Rodney said again. "I wish I could eat like a horse and stay so thin. I can't stay thin eating like a ten year old boy."
"I could put away an awful lot of food when I was ten, doc."
"So Dr. Weir announced that we could each bring something personal with us to Atlantis," Aiden said some time later, sitting back to let his dinner settle.
"Yes, I heard about that."
"Have you given any thought to what you're going to bring? I've been trying to decide. I was just talking to Stackhouse and Markham about it; we're all trying to figure out what we'll take."
"I--." Rodney sat back and set down his fork. He stared at Aiden for a few moments and then smiled.
"Nothing. I'm not bringing anything special with me," he said.
"Really? Isn't there anything you're going to miss?"
"I'll probably miss a lot of things, but I think I'm mature enough to live without a few creature comforts."
"It's not about creature comforts, Rodney. It's about being able to take a piece of Earth along with you. Something that means home."
"Home is where the heart is," Rodney said with a smile.
"Yeah, yeah, but--." Aiden paused and stared at Rodney for a moment. Rodney felt his heart begin to race, suddenly afraid that everything was about to go terribly wrong.
"I--. Uh," Rodney averted his eyes and gestured absently. "It's just an old saying," he said, speaking at a pace that nearly matched his pulse. "I adopted it as my mantra because I was always moving around, you know? Never got too attached to anything because I'd be moving on to the next school, the next assignment, the next--."
"Yeah," Aiden said eying him suspiciously. "We live out of our packs in the military," he said carefully. "You learn to do without a lot of things." Aiden licked his lips nervously and observed Rodney, who wouldn't meet his eyes. "Rodney..."
"I've got to go," he said rising. He reached for his tray and froze when Aiden started to reach for it. After a second, however, he retracted his hand and stared at the table as Rodney lifted the tray and left. Aiden watched him go, stunned by Rodney's revelation. He cleared his tray and left the dining hall, too, wandering the corridors till he was able to clear his head and return to work. Later that afternoon, he went in search of Rodney, but found that he was out of his lab. Aiden wasn't surprised and truth be told, he was somewhat relieved. He wasn't sure what he would say to Rodney when he found him. But in the pit of his stomach Aiden knew that the longer he waited the more difficult it would be to face him.
That evening, Aiden ate alone in the dining hall. Rodney didn't appear and Aiden knew that he was hiding. He felt badly about it but figured that he would give Rodney a little time before going to look for him again. He spent a couple of hours in the gym after dinner and decided to catch the movie being shown in the lounge before turning in for the night. He headed to level 18 and was walking down the hall when he saw Major Warren coming his way.
"Ah, Lieutenant Ford. Just the man I was looking for," Warren said.
"Sir?" Aiden replied, curiously.
"Here," Warren said, handing him a slip of paper. "Your friend needs a ride."
"Dr. McKay; I recall hearing him say that should he ever need the assistance of the military you were the one he wanted."
Aiden blanched and looked down at the paper while the major laughed at his expense.
"He's in the middle of nowhere," Aiden said.
"Car trouble; he's stranded in the middle of nowhere in the worst rain we've had in years. I've arranged for a car for you from the motor pool; I don't suggest you keep him waiting. Have fun." Major Warren laughed again as he turned back the way he had come. Aiden sighed and went to get his rain gear. Fifteen minutes later he pulled up behind a nondescript sedan parked by the side of the road. The unmistakable form of Rodney McKay quickly got out of the car and made a dash for his vehicle. He got in on the passenger side, splattering water and as mad as a wet hen.
"It's about time! I've been out here nearly an hour! What could possibly--."
"I got here as fast as I could," Aiden said calmly. Rodney froze. For a second he looked as though he would get out of the car again. He flinched when Aiden reached into the back of the car. A second later, a soft towel landed in Rodney's lap. "The roads are a mess," Aiden said as he pulled onto the road and executed a U-turn on the narrow roadway.
"The base is that way!" Rodney said, looking back along the road.
"I know," Aiden replied. "I thought since we were already out we could go somewhere and talk before we head back to base."
"Somewhere? Where somewhere?"
"Relax, McKay," Aiden said with a smile. "I just think we should go someplace where we can speak freely."
"...As in out of sight of prying eyes or surveillance cameras, you know?"
"Oh," Rodney said. "You want to talk," he said softly. He toyed with the drawstring cord on the hood of his jacket. "Talk."
"Yeah, talk," Aiden repeated lightly. "Something you usually do nonstop." Rodney looked up, but didn't meet Aiden's eyes.
"Talk; I can do that," he muttered.
"I just wondered what you..." Rodney paused to sigh. "I wondered what you wanted to talk about."
"Oh, I don't know; we have so much in common," Aiden teased. "Celestial mechanics, stellar astrophysics, planetary aberration, us..."
"You really do pay attention when I talk, don't you?" Rodney said.
"Us," he said softly. Rodney closed his eyes and sighed again, opening them again when he felt a warm hand touch one of his.
"You okay, doc?" Aiden asked worriedly.
"Fine; yes... I'm fine."
"You sure?" Aiden persisted. Rodney nodded and Aiden removed his hand. They rode in silence for a few minutes till they came to a small coffee shop.
"Bless you, Aiden Ford," Rodney said as Aiden pulled the car into a spot right in front of the entrance. Rodney jumped out and made a dash for it. Aiden smiled and followed. "They serve Seattle's Best! I could--!" Rodney firmly shut his mouth as Aiden looked at him in confusion. Rodney ordered two extra large cups of Henry's Blend and Aiden ordered a couple of brownies. Aiden paid for the food and they settled into a quiet corner of the shop, which they pretty much had to themselves on account of the horrible weather.
"Here," Aiden said, pushing one of the brownies across the table. But Rodney was engrossed in inhaling the aroma of his coffee. "You going to drink that or make love to it?" Rodney opened his eyes and sheepishly took a sip.
"Drink it," he said. "Drinking is definitely better than--." He took another sip. Aiden sat back and smiled.
"You're a funny guy, Rodney."
"Thank you," Rodney replied dryly. "Between degrees I dabbled in stand up."
"You've never dabbled in anything in your life," Aiden replied. He was looking at his cup as he spoke. Rodney studied his face.
"What makes you say that?" he asked, disarmed by the comment. Aiden looked up and for the first time that evening, their eyes met. They stared at each other for a few seconds, then Aiden averted his eyes to his cup again. He shrugged a bit and smiled.
"You're too good at everything you do," he replied. "I mean if I dabbled in something, you'd know right away."
Aiden looked up. Rodney shifted uncomfortably.
"...Dabble in anything, I mean."
"I guess," Aiden replied. "Everyone does, to some extent. Except you; you're so damned smart you make everything look easy."
"...Including comedy?" Rodney laughed. Aiden smiled at him and Rodney's face fell. "You wanted to talk."
"You wanted to talk about something. ...Something in particular."
"You ran out on me this afternoon."
"I--. Yes, I did," Rodney admitted. "I..." Rodney poked at the brownie with the tip of his fork and cut off a piece as he stalled for time. "Oh my God!" he moaned as it melted on his tongue. Aiden covered his eyes and chuckled. "Did you taste this? It's amazing! Not as good as your grandmother's brownies but pretty damned close."
"I'm glad you like it," Aiden replied. "Here, you can have mine, too." He pushed his plate across the table.
"No, no; eat! You need the calories far more than me," Rodney insisted, returning the brownie. "I can't believe I just did that. This thing is awesome!"
"Too late," Aiden said slyly as he cut into his brownie. He held the fork up to his mouth and paused. "Tell you what; I'll eat and you talk." Rodney watched the chunk of chocolate disappear into his mouth. Aiden smiled and Rodney averted his eyes. He took a gulp of coffee and sighed.
"What do you want to know?" he asked resignedly.
"You were going to tell me why you ran out on me this afternoon."
"Isn't it obvious?" Rodney said with a tinge of exasperation. He lost his appetite, anticipating the awkward discussion to come. He took little comfort in the fact that Aiden was obviously still willing to be friends with him--at least insofar as he was willing to buy him decadent brownies and be amused by his banter. Rodney sighed again.
"So how long?"
Rodney looked up. He frowned and watched another chunk of velvety chocolate disappear into Aiden's mouth.
"Two hundred twenty-seven days," he said.
"Two hundred twenty-seven days?" Aiden repeated. "You counted?"
"I'm smart, remember?" Rodney replied with a brief smile. "Comes in handy sometimes."
"So you...227 days ago?"
"It just happened one day in my lab. You started talking about physics..."
"I remember," Aiden said smiling. "You like geeks, don't you?"
"And Marines... well, at least one," Rodney confessed.
"I'm flattered, really," Aiden said softly. He drew patterns in the chocolate smear on the plate. Rodney held his breath, but Aiden said no more. He took a deep breath and released it.
"...But you aren't interested, right? You've got more women after you than you can possibly handle and even if you were interested in men, there are far better looking men around. And I'm way too old for you; I've got a receding hairline and a tendency towards a paunch, and I'm a crabby bastard and--."
"...And you talk too much," Aiden finished for him with a smile.
Rodney abruptly stood up.
"Where are you going?" Aiden demanded.
"I need more coffee," Rodney said. Aiden rose to his feet.
"Sit down; I'll get it."
Rodney sat down, but as soon as Aiden walked away he rose again.
"Maybe we should head back to the base. They'll be looking for me," he said.
"Who?" Aiden frowned. Rodney shrugged as he struggled to come up with a plausible answer. Aiden pulled a phone from his pocket and tossed it to him. "Call whoever it is and tell him we'll be back in an hour." Rodney stared at the phone for a few moments and then sat down. Aiden returned to the table with a small cup of coffee and another brownie. "It was the last one," he explained. "She saw how much we were enjoying them and gave it to us on the house."
"Sweet!" Rodney said as Aiden set the plate down in front of him. "We should split it," he said looking up tentatively.
"We can share," Aiden returned with a smile. Rodney looked around the shop. They were alone save for the woman behind the counter and she was absorbed in a phone call. Rodney shyly returned Aiden's smile and reached for his fork.
"Mm," he said as he tasted the first forkful. "This one's even better than the first! It's positively sinful."
"Like kisses," Aiden said with deceptive casualness.
"You know; the second one's always better than the first. You know--the first time you're both nervous; you move in for the kiss and bump noses or accidentally miss and end up on a chin. I accidentally missed entirely once."
"Your eyes were closed," Rodney said knowingly.
"Yeah," Aiden replied, smiling at the memory. "Sometimes it's better to do things with your eyes open."
Silence ensued for several minutes as the two took turns at the brownie.
"So I guess this is like our first date," Aiden observed when they were done and the three plates and cups had been disposed of. Rodney had expected Aiden to rise and join him near the door after he'd bussed the table, but Aiden had remained seated and just looked at him expectantly till he sat down.
"Date?" Rodney said hoarsely.
"Do guys date? I've never dated a guy," Aiden admitted.
"Guys can date," Rodney replied, beaming inwardly. "Of course, I really haven't..."
"No, no; I've been with guys before, but dating...not so much."
"I see. Well, I took you out and I say this is a date," Aiden said, holding Rodney's gaze. He slowly reached out and touched his hand. Rodney turned his palm over and their fingers intertwined. "Of course, I have no idea what I'm doing, but--."
"But you like me," Rodney said as a smile of triumph overtook his face. "You like me."
"It's fate," Aiden replied. He glanced down at his watch. "We'd better get back." He gave Rodney's hand a little squeeze and released his fingers. Rodney rose and pulled on his jacket as Aiden did the same. They bade the counter woman a good night and got back into the car. The rain had abated somewhat, but it was still coming down fairly hard.
"So do you usually kiss on a first date?" Rodney asked as Aiden pulled the car onto the road.
"Depends," Aiden said with a coy smile.
"You are so lying right now! I can see it in your eyes!" Rodney declared. "I bet you get kissed all the time! Women would probably line up to kiss you. We could probably support the entire SGC budget if we put a kissing booth on the lawn at the Pentagon," Rodney chuckled.
"Rodney!" Aiden laughed. He stole a glimpse at him as they waited for a car ahead of them to turn. "Would you line up?"
"In a heartbeat," he replied giddily. Aiden abruptly pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped. Rodney panicked, thinking he'd managed to say the wrong thing again. He couldn't imagine what or how, but he was suddenly afraid that he'd ruined the mood that had begun back at the shop.
"Well?" Aiden said, undoing his seatbelt and turning to him.
"Well?" Rodney repeated, completely clueless.
"Are we going to do this or what?"
"Do what?" he asked. The light dawned as Aiden rolled his eyes. "Here?" Rodney looked through the windshield and saw nothing but darkness. He quickly leaned across the console to kiss Aiden, but he was stopped by Aiden's hand.
"Open your eyes, doc. I don't want either of us to miss this."
Rodney opened his eyes and smiled. Aiden returned it and they gazed at each other for several seconds before their lips met in a brief, somewhat tentative kiss full of promise of good things to come. After just a few seconds they parted, each sitting back to savor the moment. Then they leaned over and tried it again, and it was indeed better the second time. Aiden pulled away and though Rodney wanted to pursue the matter he knew he shouldn't press his luck.
"Whoa," Rodney said.
"Weird," Aiden opined. "Nice, but weird." He glanced over at Rodney. "Sorry," he said apologetically. "This is kind of a first for me. I never did this with a guy before."
"Are you sure you want to?" Rodney asked. "I mean just because I have a sizable man crush on you doesn't mean you have to--."
"Submit?" Aiden chuckled. "No, doc. That's not what's happening here. I do like you and I like this...whatever it is. And I liked what you said before about home being where the heart is. I'm feeling a lot better about going to Atlantis knowing you're going to be there," he confided.
"Cool," Rodney said as Aiden refastened his seatbelt. He started the car and was about to put it in gear when Rodney placed a hand over his. "One for the road?"
"Rodney, it's our first date!" Aiden said teasingly, pushing Rodney away after several more kisses. He pulled out and headed back toward the base.
"So what are you doing tomorrow night?" Rodney asked.