A fine romance, with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend this is

Dorothy Fields, Songwriter


Katy Brown and Jennifer Keller know each other, of course – in a community as small, as tightly knit, as precarious and besieged as Atlantis is, everyone knows everyone else.  They aren't friends.  They don’t have girl time together and paint each other's toenails.  They don't share secrets over coffee or over the sticky orange drink that Laura Cadman produces from Radek Zelenka's rotgut and god alone knows what that phallic-shaped fruit from M34-P17 is called, and that Laura insists on calling a 'cocktail'.  They each know who the other is, and that's about it.

They don’t get that much time to get to know each other, anyway.  After the Great Quarantine Disaster, Katy decides that her future isn't here in Atlantis, and she accepts a job offer from one of the massive pharmaceutical companies back in the US, researching the application of plant compounds to enhance cancer treatments.  Within eight weeks of the Proposal That Never Was, she's on the Daedalus on her way home, and the opportunity for confidences has passed. 

Jennifer Keller has sort of noticed that Katy is there one day and not the next, but since Katy hasn't ended up in the Infirmary under her care or in the morgue under Doctor Biro's, she draws the right conclusion: another first-wave Atlantean has decided that they've put in their time in Pegasus and wants to go home.  Jennifer isn't concerned.  At the time, she's more interested in Ronon than anyone else, and hasn't even put Rodney McKay onto her list of possibilities.  There's no need for her to seek out Katy to compare notes.  It's only later that she realises that she's passed up a golden opportunity to gather some intelligence on her quarry and by then it's too late and Katy is six months gone from Atlantis, living in Milwaukee and happily entangled with another plant geneticist who shares her love for platycerium bifurcatum and humata tyermannii and who doesn't raise an eyebrow when her passion for adiantum hispidulum overpowers her.

But, you know that if Katy Brown and Jennifer Keller do ever sit down to braid each other's hair and swap Life Lessons, they'll agree that Rodney is, on the whole, a bad boyfriend.  He is, they'll say, quite possibly the worst boyfriend in two entire galaxies.  In short, this will give them the chance to say out loud to someone who can empathise, that Rodney wouldn't recognise 'romantic' if it hit him between the eyes with a piece of nail-studded 2 by 4.



For one thing, Rodney's rarely on time for dates. 

He's sometimes on time for section head meetings with Colonel Carter when she runs Atlantis although his performance in this regard slides when Woolsey takes over.  It's not that he dislikes Woolsey, you understand, but he's carried a torch for Carter for years and while Woolsey is a competent administrator, he's no scientist and he's definitely no Samantha Carter.  He's not blonde and stacked.  His attributes don't claim the same level of Rodney's attention.

Rodney's usually on time for meetings with the senior science staff because… well, it doesn’t need explaining does it?  This is Rodney's chance to correct their mistakes, to catch the problems early that might otherwise have Atlantis disappearing in a sheet of flame, to shine, to show his people just how wrong (how totally wrong) they are in ten different realities and all four dimensions and obviously all bought their doctorates at a penny bazaar, and his chance to remind everyone how totally brilliant he is.  He does mete a little praise now and again along the lines of And all right, Radek, you aren't always wrong, but you're never as right as me and he considers that fulsome.

But when it comes to what Rodney, in his more unguarded moments, describes as "unimportant social interaction" – and this despite Sheppard's training in the social niceties (a clip around the back of the head and a "Play nice, Rodney") – there's no hope that he'll leave the calculation or simulation hanging, or leave a discussion with Radek or others of his minions who need to be impressed with his genius. 

And there is no way at all that he'll leave a debate with Sheppard over the rival merits of Catwoman and Storm, or curtail a to-the-death race with the remote control cars, or even pull himself away from watching the latest Scyfy DVDs (and doesn’t Rodney roll his eyes at that inanity)–neither of them are impressed with Fast Forward, but they're in full agreement that Defying Gravity should be given a fairer hearing—or look anything other than surprised and displeased when someone who isn't Sheppard or Ronon or Teyla joins his Gate team's table in the mess.

Both Katy and Jennifer learn the hard way that this is a truth more absolute than physics, and Rodney couldn't find a stronger simile if he tried for a fortnight.



For a man who's the greatest genius in two galaxies, who can crunch math so complex that most human brains would implode, who is bending the universe to his will every single day, Rodney is astonishingly incapable of grasping the workings of a calendar. 

If you challenge him about the date he'll look startled and defensive and then you'll be able to sit back and listen to him babble while that massive brain of his tries desperately to shift from its consideration of quantum vacuums or super-symmetry or Baryon asymmetry, to wondering whether he missed Valentine's Day, or a birthday, or Christmas or an anniversary.  You can almost hear it skittering about like a wild thing desperate to escape.  You'll laugh, honest you will.  Watching Rodney McKay flounder about looking for a clue can be exquisitely funny.

John Sheppard has this sort of Rodney-management down to a fine art, by the way.  It's a joy to watch him at it.  He never so much as cracks a smile.

Rodney, when he's recovered what passes for equanimity, will tell you that he doesn't bother with birthdays because he's getting older and still doesn't have his Nobel, that Christmas and Valentines are commercialised and crass and any right thinking person's an atheist anyway, and he's never really got anniversaries because (i) he's never gone an entire year with anyone to celebrate and (ii) he's never got the hang of celebrating weekly or monthly significant dates.  Privately he thinks that giving praise because you've lasted an entire month with someone smacks of desperation.

Rodney knows that he's been desperate.  He just wouldn't admit to it if you had him stretched out on a Wraith Queen's table with 'dessert' tattooed over every inch of available flesh and confession is all that stands between him and being an after-dinner snack.



So, you're late for a date and you've forgotten that it's been exactly six days, fifteen hours and thirty two minutes since you and your inamorata first joined in physical ecstasy.  What do you do to make amends?  Flowers, of course.  Flowers or chocolates or both.

Except that Rodney's allergic to pollen—which begs the question of why he ever thought he'd make a go of it with Katy Brown—and would only offer flowers if he could do so from the safety of the inside of a decontamination suit with its own air supply.  And if there are ever chocolates in the offing, you have to get up pretty damn early to beat Rodney McKay to them.  He's been known to spear Sheppard's hand with a fork when the Colonel reached for a spare pudding dish on Rodney's lunch tray.  You'd have to multiply that response by ten or twelve to factor in chocolate. And if the chocolate's real honest to God Cadbury's, the kind that sticks to the roof of your mouth when you eat it, then it would more than a hand that got stabbed if it came between Rodney and his lawful prey.


You begin to see that Katy's and Jennifer's points of view may have some validity.  And you doubt that even a nail-studded 2 by 4 would have much impact on Rodney's impermeability to romance.  The man should come with health warnings.



Except for this.

Rodney is sitting on west pier in the quiet of a Lantean summer evening.  The air is still warm with the last rays of a sun going down behind the horizon in a splendour of gold and scarlet, mauve and a pale, cool green.  He knows exactly why and how those particular colours are there, he can explain the atmospheric conditions, name the wavelengths, calculate the angles of incidence and reflection… but he doesn't.  He lets it just be instead.  He watches the sun go down, his feet dangling in the water, and whenever he leans forward there's the faint kiss of sea spray on his face and when he licks his lips he can taste the tang of sea salt. 

John's hand is in his, their fingers tangling together, warm palm to warm palm.  John's hand is a little dry and Rodney's nimble fingers, smoothing over it, can feel the calluses and rough patches that come from the daily handling of a gun, or bantos sticks, or a Puddlejumper's controls.  But this is John's hand, holding Rodney's restless hand still and quiet in his own.  Rodney likes the calluses.

John's mouth is on his, tasting the salt and John's licking his way into a kiss.  John's lips are a little dry too, and Rodney—the little bit of Rodney that can still think—at first thinks that he'll give John some of the factor 100 lip salve that could soften tanned leather into suppleness.  But then, as John's mouth presses harder and John's tongue licks along Rodney's lips, Rodney decides he won't.  Rodney likes the slight roughness dragging over his mouth.

John's voice is in his ear telling him to Look right there, Rodney because the first star has just appeared in the dark blue sky above Atlantis's central tower… and Rodney smiles and looks at the star and kisses John and tastes the salt on John's lips.  Rodney likes the stars, with John there.

You know, Katy and Jennifer are wrong.

Rodney's got this romance thing down pat, after all.


1710 words

October 2009