Part of the Restoration Hardware AU, and takes place about eight months or so after Office Hours. Hugest thanks to sheafrotherdon for audiencing and handholding!
Almost nine months to the day after John had clamored and annoyed his way into Rodney's life, Rodney wakes up, looks at the note pasted to his alarm clock, and hates the world. He glares venomously at the bedroom wall for a moment, turns over to glare venomously some more at John's oblivious back.
"I'm still not going with you," John mumbles. He hitches the sheet up higher over one bare shoulder.
"You should be there to support me," Rodney tells him.
"You're just going to be sitting there." John half-turns, transfers his weight to one elbow so he can look at Rodney; Rodney wonders how it's possible that John can alchemize a pillow crease, stubble, and sleepy perplexity into something that belongs in a magazine of questionable virtue. However he does it, it's unforgivable and distracting. "Two hours of sitting," John adds, like that makes it any less awful.
"I'm going to keel over, from boredom or heatstroke or both," Rodney says. "I need you there to stop me from hitting the floor; that's one of the definitions of 'support.'"
Rodney considers telling John he's a lousy boyfriend, except that his tongue – indeed, his synapses – recoil from the word. "You're a lousy person with whom I live and with whom I have sex, although the latter is subject to change" presents itself as a possibility, but lacks brevity. While Rodney hunts through other options, John turns back over and burrows into his pillow, stretches out and then retracts into a lazy coil of arms and legs.
"Jerk," Rodney says feebly to John's shoulder blade.
"I know," John says.
"Jerk," Rodney says again over breakfast. He rearranges his Cheerios so they float in new patterns on top of the milk, takes a truculent gulp of John's coffee. John's wearing the slight smirk that drives Rodney comprehensively insane, there enough to almost provoke Rodney to violence but faint enough that Rodney can't call John on how he's smirking just to piss Rodney off.
"Rodney, I've got stuff to do today." The way John oozes out of his chair, all long limbs and ratty t-shirt and boxers, suggests otherwise. Rodney points this out, and John shrugs, slow roll of his shoulders and he twists his neck like a slightly irritated horse. "I have to pick up more shingles for the porch; I'd like to get it done before it gets hot out."
"'Before' it gets hot out?" Rodney glances at the wireless thermometer, God's gift to those not wanting to step outside to check the weather. "If George Bush hadn't said otherwise, I'd have thought this morning is yet further evidence of global warming. It's twenty six degrees out, and it's barely nine o'clock." He pauses to allow John's primitive, American-schooled brain work out the temperature conversion. "Do you know what the high is going to be today?" He points at the weather section. "Ninety. I am going to be out in ninety-degree weather in what can only be described as a wool crock pot, slow-cooking my way to heat stroke."
"Maybe you should go naked under your robes," John says with a brief, sweet leer.
"Oh, yes, because I want to add a rash to the list of searing torments I'm already expected to endure today." Rodney takes another gulp of John's coffee.
"I backwashed," John tells him, and turns the page in a rustle of newsprint.
"Considering I've swallowed your come, I'm singularly unhorrified." The startled, choked-off cough sparks a glow of satisfaction somewhere beneath Rodney's heart. "What does horrify me is that non-dairy creamer you use. Haven't I told you about – "
"Carcinogens, yeah." John drops the newspaper. "I'll tell you what, if you don't wear anything under your robes, I'll go to commencement with you."
Rodney almost snaps in two under the sudden, crushing weight of temptation, a whole piano's worth of yesyesyesohgodsayyesdoit! coming down hard, and he wavers before reminding himself of the rash and he'd have to sit with the other professors anyway, although come to think of it they could kidnap some other professor (Kavanagh definitely; no one would miss him) and steal his regalia and dress John up and no one would ever know, except that Rodney would know and his cock very definitely would know and he'd spend two hours itchy and aroused and formally graduate his two doctoral students with their hoods and a hard on, and nonono, it's a spectactular, a very bad idea when viewed common-sensically, and the very fact that he's entertaining the notion is a sign of Sheppard-induced insanity, so, "ummm, no… I think maybe you should stay here," he says at last.
"Okay," John says, and shrugs again.
"It's definitely not okay." Rodney frowns at his regalia, black and flatly spectral and hanging from the door to the laundry room. "It's going to be a billion degrees and outside, and I'm going to have to listen to some moron going on about how you are the future and you will do brilliant things one day and make the world a better place – like half of them won't go back to live with their parents or end up in middle management – and then I have to sit through that and legions of people in identical black gowns walking across the stage to receive their empty diploma holder because the half that isn't going to live with their parents is going to have to take remedial classes over the summer because the university system in America has been hopelessly compromised by consumerism and clingy parents who think their kids are Mensa and will sue for emotional distress if they don't graduate on time."
"I'm surprised they didn't ask you to give the commencement speech," John says. He folds in on himself, stands in a long, hypnotic uncoiling that derails Rodney's subsequent remarks on the stultifying archaism of the graduation ceremony – but just because medieval people wore stiflingly hot robes and stupid hats doesn't mean modern people should (hence the helpful distinction between medieval and modern) and, really, people who accepted a terra-centric cosmos should not be trusted in matters of dress and comfort. This and much more falls back down Rodney's throat as he watches John move around their kitchen and shuffle dirty dishes and cups, and he wishes John would look less elegant tossing the milk carton in with the recycling. He wishes John would come to the ceremony so at least there'd be someone other than an endless procession of parents to talk to.
John wanders off somewhere, leaving Rodney to chew on his Cheerios and the possibility that heat stroke might induce brain damage. When he returns, it's to the pad of bare feet on tile and a sudden, soft weight descending on Rodney's head.
"That's almost adorable," John says, and scratches his belly and grins.
"Oh my god." Rodney yanks the fistful of velvet fabric off his head. John tsks and rescues the tam from Rodney's grip, uncrushes it, and replaces it on Rodney's head with a care that, in another person who would not make a remark about Rodney's head not getting sunburned, would be touching. He watches, tam tilted over his forehead, as John meanders toward the stairs, this time scratching at the bump of his hip.
"You're – " Rodney takes the tam off and sets it on the table. "You're still coming to dinner tonight, right? It's Carmina's," he adds, swallowing a little. "Only, you know, with the department paying. And you'll have to put up with Simpson trying to crawl into your lap."
"Wouldn't miss it," John says, and turns to smile with a sudden warmth that's a lot more welcome than the heat waiting outside, and despite the looming three hours of horror, Rodney smiles back.
Three hours nothing, Rodney thinks as he fights with his robe, a battle against a stifling blackness that smells uncomfortably of mothballs and sweat. His stomach can't decide whether to be hungry or nauseated, between two hours of ceremony and then two more hours of enforced politeness and poisonous food at the receptions for the physics and engineering departments.
"You, back there," he growls at his robe as he shoves it into the back of his car. He'd brought a change of clothes, because one hardly needed to be prescient to know that, within two minutes of putting on his robe and cap he'd sweat his shirt through to transparency and his pants would develop unpleasant crotch stains and his boxers, in the manner of a small, burrowing creature, would try to crawl up his butt, and he'd spend both receptions trying discreetly to pry them out.
Of course, this is exactly what happened. This, and numerous other excruciating things, including Radek reminding him that, as the new physics department chair, he'll be expected to attend commencement next year as well.
Now he's on his way home, shivering in what is either the cold blast from his car's air conditioning or the icy breath of Death blowing down his neck, head spinning as it bounces between what a fucking godawful day and I want to die and I want to sleep and I hope I can see John one more time before I die. He writes and rewrites accident reports and headlines in his head: proximate cause of death, massive crushing injuries to skull and spine, evidence of severe dehydration and exposure; Brilliant physicist dies in crash; 'I'd have gone to commencement with him, if I'd known this was going to happen,' grief-stricken boyfriend sobs, flings self over corpse.
Carmina's he reminds himself, stay alive for that. It's free food, free good food and a lot of wine on the department's tab, although wine is probably a terrible idea what with the heat headache spiking in his temples. It's also the place he and John had gone the night he'd ended up dragging John past Cadman's knowing leer and into his house and licked the taste of wine and espresso from John's mouth, and John had looked at him and Rodney's insides had done something insane and permanent and he'd taken John to bed.
He's not entirely sure what to make of this new association, a free dinner with academics set against John with his navy jacket and sleepy smile and an argument about the Three Laws of Robotics. Or, for that matter, waking up the next morning with John draped around him and snoring, and John staying for coffee and saying something about Asimov that had gotten Rodney started again.
"He's so wrong about that," Rodney mutters as he pulls up to the curb – on-street parking, and why John couldn't renovate the house to include a driveway escapes Rodney's considerable intelligence.
He shuffles inside, the hell with his robe and still-sodden clothes, more coolness but it's quiet and not filled with the clamor of morons. It's enough to revive him somewhat, that and gulping down a bottle of water, blessed water, and standing with his face in the cold blast of the freezer. After a minute he collapses into one of the kitchen chairs – one of his chairs, theirs now after moving in together.
"John?" Rodney calls. The silence answers him back. No John in the kitchen when Rodney wanders in to get water, or their postage-stamp back yard, or the downstairs bathroom. "John?" he shouts up the stairs.
No answer, which means either John isn't here (but his truck, Rodney's mind babbles, his truck is parked out front) or is being difficult or is dead in some horrible shingle-related accident. Rodney climbs the stairs as fast as dehydrated legs can take him.
No John in the bedroom, or bathroom, or Rodney's study, or the birch tree that pokes its branches against the window.
Rodney glances up and down the hallway, in case John's stealth skills have advanced to the ability to turn invisible and he might materialize at any second. The hallway stays empty, the walls still wearing their nondescript primer and waiting for John and Rodney to conclude negotiations over the color. It's stupid to freak out, Rodney tells himself, it's a sign of heat-precipitated madness, and heat stroke basically means the brain cooks itself, he's roasting his synapses in the juice of his own genius, which – no.
Back to the stairs and Rodney's half-turned to go head down when he sees one of the bedroom windows open.
"Oh, perfect," Rodney mutters. He vaguely remembers walking past a stack of shingles and construction-type implements on the porch, although no evidence of a ladder. Sighing, Rodney stomps through the bedroom and thrusts his head out of the window and there, out on the porch roof… there.
"How was commencement?" John asks. A languid hand smoothes out a corner of towel that the wind's rucked up.
"Fine," Rodney says. "I mean – no. No. It wasn't fine, it was awful."
Fine is for John, wearing sunlight and his most disreputable boxers, the ones that are pale blue and one micron thick, that don't do anything to hide the shadow of hair or the contour of John's cock, the resting curve of it in the cup of his thighs. All the rest of him is swathes of tanned skin and summer-cultivated freckles, the dog tags John still hasn't explained, and laziness. Drops of sweat catch the sun, catch and hold Rodney's attention, prisms that travel along John's cheekbone, down to his ear, another one that steps down the ladder of his ribs, across the sinusoid line between light and shadow, and vanishes somewhere under John's body.
"Come out here for a minute," John says, and his voice his slow, deep, slow with heat and lying there, one knee steepled.
"You want me to go back out into the heat?" Rodney stares hard at John. It isn't like he wasn't staring anyway, but this time it's not so much with lust as with disbelief.
"Yup." The hand holding down one corner of the towel gestures for Rodney to get a move on.
"This is a colossally bad idea," Rodney observes. "It's not like either you or I are ever on the best terms with gravity, and I should also point out that I just spent all day in merciless, unrelenting heat."
"Just for a minute," John says. It's the same voice he uses for all sorts of encouragement, from a birdie putt in miniature golf to persuading Rodney to hold on, just hold, wait for me when Rodney's aching and desperate and pleading with John to let him come. "The breeze is nice up here."
Rodney has to admit it is nice, unexpected coolness after an inferno of a day. However, he points out, that in no way makes gravity less dangerous or the ground less hard, but John's glare, sleepy as it is and hidden behind his sunglasses, and the mere fact that it's John, has him easing awkwardly through the window.
"This is, I should point out, a horrible idea." His foot grates on a newly laid shingle when he pivots, his heart pausing between beats as though wondering if continuing to beat is worth the effort, considering Rodney's imminent death by plummetting to the earth. "Possibly… oh my God." He makes it out without cracking his head on the sash, works past the disorientation of viewing the second story of the house from the ouside.
"I'm not dead yet," Rodney mumbles, peering back into his bedroom before turning to John, who is very largely naked and smiling up at him approvingly and gesturing for him to sit. Rodney obeys.
"Hey," John says, smile softening now. His fingers hover carefully along the inside of Rodney's wrist.
"Are you a burnt offering to the gods of melanoma?" Rodney asks irritably, and if he touches the warm, smooth intricacy of John's shoulder and neck, it's only to see if John's acquired new, hideous moles or mysterious irregularities. He angles himself to cut some of the sun; his silhouette spills across John's torso, pulled into new shapes in the dip of his belly, the topography of muscles weaving together under his skin.
"I put on sunblock," John says, and yeah, he smells like fake coconut and sweat and the easy familiarity of being John, and while the sunblock keeps cancer away it can't keep out the warmth John's soaked up. He's loose, lazy, drugged with it, sweat pooling right there in the valley where his collar bones meet and with that smile that's really, sincerely happy and unshamed of being so.
The fingers on Rodney's wrist become insistent, tracing out words without letters that translate into want and come on, tugging loose the already-frayed edges of Rodney's self-control, tugging him down down so he's pressed close to John's furnace-like self and he's slipping too. A different heat, he thinks, even though it's probably ridiculous, not cruel or brutal but drowsing, the warmth of John's body when he's asleep and still and thinks Rodney should be the same way for a while.
"Mr. and Mrs. Barker are probably watching," Rodney says feebly.
"Maybe we'll give them some ideas," John murmurs, Rodney's face in his hands now, dirt and shingle guts under his nails and skin rubbed raw in places because John had probably forgotten gloves again.
Rodney absently pulls off John's sunglasses, gigantic as they are and tending to get in the way, and John squints up at him, laugh lines and furrowed brows with a tan line spanning the bridge of his nose that Rodney has to kiss, salt strands mixed in with unruly hair that the sun keeps from being truly black. C'mere, John mutters impatiently, eyelid twitching when Rodney exhales an unsteady breath that brushes over his lashes, and on the inhale there's more fake coconut, more warmth, more John.
John's mouth is warm too, wonderfulbeautifulperfect, effortless against Rodney's because John knows him, and knows how to push relaxation into him, slow stroke of his tongue over Rodney's, breath that encourages Rodney to a slower pace. It's awkward and should hurt, bending over John and John's body curved improbably up into his, supported only by the tensile strength of his spine and the fingers tangled in Rodney's hair.
Good good good, hums in Rodney's blood, and he might even be saying it, because it's so true and it needs saying, the throb of John's heartbeat against his own chest, each breath that pushes John's flank against his forearm, in-and-out, and John's micron-thin boxers not hiding anything of how much he likes this. Dimly Rodney's aware that they're on top of their porch, making out in front of God and the Barkers and everybody, are possibly visible from passenger jets and are very probably breaking laws pertaining to public decency. But it's good good good, liquid heat melting into his bones, and it's John whose belly quivers when Rodney strokes one thumb low down, skimming the top of his boxers, pausing at the point of his hip, plucking at worn elastic.
John moans, sudden and slow, hips restless against Rodney's, rhythm faltering a moment. It's enough to break him apart, John looking at him now with eyes gone hazy and humid, the slightest bit teasing and that smile, made more obvious by reddened lips and the shallow divot in the lower one, the one John licks at thoughtfully.
"Better?" John asks. One hand wanders down Rodney's body to the quiver and jump of his stomach under Rodney's newly sweated-through shirt. The heat coiling low in Rodney's stomach doesn't have much to do with the day, or anything other than the aimless patterns John lays out over his hip and thigh, acute and startling through his khakis.
"Sort of," Rodney says, and sucks in breath through his nostrils.
John looks at him, eyebrow arch and meaningful shift of his body.
"We've got dinner," Rodney sighs, the reminder half-hearted next to the fading afternoon and John next to him inviting lassitude. He pushes John's sunglasses back onto his nose and collects the sunscreen. "And in the interest of not having to field lascivious and inappropriate questions from our neighbors or my colleagues, we should probably get going."
"Shower first," John says, his grin sudden and sly as a jab between Rodney's ribs, and yeah, maybe he can move after all.
It's still slow, swaying to his feet and leaning on the scaffolding of John's body for his balance. John's hands brace him guide him up and around, through redisovering how to walk with legs that don't want to do anything except stay in one place. His shoes crunch on the shingles, John's feet are silent, almost all of John is silent although awareness of him at Rodney's back drowns out almost everything else. He fumbles his way back in through the window and into their bedroom, disoriented a moment without John to touching him, the synthetic coolness of indoor air stirred by the ceiling fan.
"You're good," John tells him, whether it's with reference to Rodney's kissing or Rodney's making it inside safely or Rodney's day so far, Rodney has no clue. But it's an assertion, strong as John pressed close against him again, nosing at Rodney's sweaty, newly sunburned temple, soft breath, his mouth close to Rodney's ear.
"Shower?" John whispers, and pulls at Rodney's shirt. He kisses Rodney's cheek, some random place low on his jaw.
"Probably a cold one would be best," Rodney mutters, lifting his arms obediently and allowing John to direct him backward to the bathroom. "Also, time. Food. Running late."
John leans back to pull off Rodney's shirt, which clings desperately to Rodney's skin, unpeels reluctantly, ends up somewhere across the room, and then John's smile curves against his chin again, angling back into a kiss that walks up to Rodney's mouth.
"Later then," he says, and the words, the shift of his body, are a promise and an order and everything Rodney wants right now.
"Definitely," Rodney says. "Sweaty, sticky things later."
"I thought you hated being sweaty and sticky." John bundles a towel into Rodney's hands. "You know, the evils of global warming and all."
"Oh, I don't know," Rodney says to John's teasing face, trying to fight a grin of his own and failing utterly. "Sometimes it's not too bad."