Betrayed and miserable, Rodney stood outside the locked lab door. He pressed his hands flat against the glass window and leaned in so close his nose was squashed against the pane, staring longingly and in anguish at the beautiful shiny humming supercomputer in the back of the room, the whiteboard with his dazzlingly brilliant equations all over it, his books and papers sprawling over vast expanses of the tables, the stack of pop-tarts and Jolt cola on the windowsill. Tears stood in his eyes and he gulped hard at the hideous unfairness of it all—how could they do this to him, drag him away from his beautiful ivory tower, his paradise on earth, his temple of learning—
"For Christ's sake," Dr. Morgensen said. "I'll let you back in on Monday!"
"Why can't I just stay here over the weekend?" Rodney said, following him down the hall. "I'm close to a serious breakthrough here, you could be interrupting a—a—vital and earthshaking piece of—"
"I can't leave a nineteen year old in charge of a fifty million dollar lab!" Morgensen said. "Anyway, you're spending too much time in here—"
"Who says so?" Rodney demanded. "Was it Kasper? Because how he would know, that irresponsible dilettante—"
"I say so!" Morgensen said. "Jesus, you're making me feel like an irresponsible dilettante. It's not healthy. It's a three-day weekend! Get out of here, go to a frat party or something."
"Are you kidding me?" Rodney said. "I can't even drink legally in this country yet!"
"Oh God," Morgensen said, and practically broke into a run to get away.
In desperation, Rodney girded his loins and went down to the quad. Maybe if he showed up on Morgensen's doorstep Saturday morning stinking of pot and cheap beer, he could claim to have followed the advice and talk him into handing over the keys.
It was a scene out of nightmares and Porky's Revenge. A giant "Pledge Week" banner made out of bedsheets was hanging between two buildings, and even though it wasn't even 10PM yet, the entire courtyard was already full of milling, drunk women in crumpled formal dresses and guys in jeans. Rodney brightened a little: the ratio was looking pretty good.
He'd lost his virginity at seventeen to a cheerleader he'd been tutoring; afterwards it turned out she expected him to do her homework for her, and okay, sex was nice, but Rodney's time was too valuable to be wasted on first-order derivatives that a reasonably intelligent ten-year-old could have solved, and when he'd explained as much to her, he'd ended up kicked out into the dorm room hallway in boxer shorts with his pants on top of his head.
At the time he'd written her off without a qualm, but since then opportunities had been few and far between—somehow the physics groupies he'd anticipated hadn't quite materialized, even once he'd finally gotten to grad school—so possibly it was time he reconsidered his stance on the most advantageous division of his efforts, at least long enough to maybe get to second base.
He aimed himself at the doorway of the building most crowded with shiny dresses and forged ahead. A little strategic maneuvering, and he'd be in the all-important critical position between the keg and the chips, next to one of the few floor lamps, and then he could assess all the potential targets.
He ate another handful of chips morosely and looked without much hope for a break in the conga line. They weren't even good chips, just soggy no-brand corn chips, like bad Fritos, and the beer was horrible even for horrible cheap beer, and the women weren't even women, they were the pledges in drag, and now he was trapped inside a frathouse with a hundred drunk guys in dresses doing a conga line so enthusiastically that his attempts at getting back out the door had ended in a twisted ankle and an elbow to the collarbone that had probably given him a stress fracture, and even two horrible beers had not yet numbed the pain and if he kept going soon he would get alcohol poisoning and suffer brain damage—
"Hey, get me another beer?" a voice yelled in his ear, way too close, shoving a cup at him.
"What do I look like, the bartender?" Rodney glared at the guy, who was wearing a blue satin low-cut number showing off a pair of rubbery falsies and a sparkly tiara teetering over one eyebrow. "Get it yourself, Princess Ancienta."
The guy rolled his eyes and shoved the tiara back onto his hair. "If you don't mind, I don't," he said, and leaned over to the keg to get his refill, squashing his fake breasts against Rodney's chest and pressing up against Rodney's hip, smelling of sweat and the horrible beer and the play-dough smell of cheap lipstick.
"Oh, thank you," Rodney yelled over the howls of do that conga!, "because what my night was missing was being groped next to the beer keg by a guy in a tiara."
"Hey," the princess said, slinging an arm drunkenly around Rodney's neck, and patting his chest in what was apparently intended to be a comforting way, except for how it sloshed some of the beer out of his cup over Rodney's chest, "hey, it's okay. Not everybody can get rushed, it's just, you know, the luck of the draw—"
"What?" Rodney said, distracted from trying to shove the guy's beer-cup away.
He pointed at Rodney's jeans and t-shirt with the pizza stain—"Oh, I'm sorry I don't meet the dress code for the bad beer!" Rodney said. "As if I would have demeaned myself, even when I actually was a pathetic freshman—"
"Seriously, don't let it get to you," the princess said earnestly, and he offered Rodney his beer, and the guys started yelling, come on shake your body, baby, too loud to talk over, so Rodney gave up and took the cup.
"Whadyou call me?" the princess slurred, about seven shared beers later. "Prin—princess Ancienta? S'pretty."
"Yeah?" Rodney said, drooping against his shoulder. He hiccuped against the soft warm skin of his neck. It smelled of beer. Beautiful, delicious beer. He licked experimentally.
The princess giggled. "I'm—I'm a pinrcess," he announced to the room at large, and then he tried to sit in Rodney's lap, but since Rodney was standing up, that landed them in a heap on the floor, and they went rolling together under the beer-keg table, behind the curtain of the too-big paper tablecloth.
Rodney giggled too, and fumbled with the satin skirt and the warm skin underneath, and okay, so the breasts were fake, you couldn't ask for everything, and the princess was laying sloppy sort-of-kisses on his neck, and she—he—was kind of riding him, and putting a strong hard hand between Rodney's legs, and—wow. Wow.
"Uh, so," John—the princess was improbably named John—said, the next morning.
"Right," Rodney said, staring.
John sat up carefully, hunched so he didn't bang his head against the top of the table, and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. His hair was spiky and he was in boxers and nothing else, the dress crumpled into a ball that they'd used as a pillow. "That—that kind of wasn't really me."
And yes, Rodney was having a bit of a sexual identity crisis moment here too, but that was just pathetic. "Right," he said disdainfully, scraping together his scattered clothes, "it was Princess Ancienta, how stupid of me to forget; tell her I said thanks if you see her again."
"No, I don't—I mean—" John said, then stopped and took a deep breath. "Look, I'm ROTC."
"Oh, congratulations," Rodney said, "I'm sure you'll make some therapist very happy someday."
"Hey!" John said. "You know, no wonder you didn't get pledged, are you always this nice?"
"No, I'm in a good mood because I got laid last night," Rodney said, and then they both cracked up nervously, and it wasn't too bad after all.
The big room was empty, except for the stack of empty kegs and the mess of torn streamers and junk food bags, and one guy still on the couch, snoring. Upstairs, John lent Rodney a towel and soap and pointed him at the bathroom; nearly everyone was still sleeping the sleep of the blind drunk, and the ones who were up and about were kind of hollow-eyed and stunned-looking.
They got cleaned up, and then Rodney handed over the towel, and John flailed a little bit without actually saying anything, and Rodney said, "Uh, I'm—" and then another guy poked his head into John's room and said, "Hey, we're going to breakfast," and Rodney somehow ended up at a long table in the cafeteria eating french toast and bacon with eight frat boys and the guy he'd had sex with.
"So next Saturday is the semi-formal," one of the older guys said. "You know what that means."
"Oh, yeah, sorority girls looking for a date," and the guys jostled each other with elbows and grinned.
And the thing was—the hideous thing was, it had been good sex, and now that he was in daylight and not wearing awful powder-blue eyeshadow, John was ridiculously good-looking, smirking that little lopsided smirk and laughing with his pals. It made Rodney feel a little hollow inside to think that he'd had some of the best sex of his admittedly short-so-far life with someone he was never in a million years going to get to speak to ever again after this, not that he really wanted to, of course, except maybe, except of course not, because John was just some random football-watching frat boy, and the chances that he and Rodney would have anything in common beyond spectacular sexual chemistry—okay, yes, Rodney did really want to, and now he was depressed. Great. He poked at his syrup-soaked french toast and ate some more bacon. It was definitely looking like a pound-of-bacon day.
"Okay, guys," one of them, a guy named Lorne, said finally, "next week may be party central, but before then some of us have Morgenstern's death exam, and if I don't make a C in this class, my parents are going to kick my ass. You coming, Shep?"
"Morgenstern?" Rodney said, head jerking up.
"You're in Physics 101?" John said, a little squeakily.
The question left Rodney speechless, full of about ten thousand different appropriately cutting answers, all of them trying to get out at the same time. Before the logjam got broken, Lorne said, "So come on; God knows we need all the help we can get," and Rodney realized—
"Well," he said, looking at John, and John shrugged with elaborate lack of concern and said, "Yeah, come on, it'll be cool."
Rodney worked it out carefully as the five of them headed back to the frathouse. John was obviously hot for him, even if he was repressed, and proximity was the first step to victory. Rodney could probably guess what kind of problems Morgenstern was going to throw at them from whatever material they were covering; he'd throw them a few bones, and after the exam he'd be a shoo-in for study session the rest of the semester. Pathetic, perhaps, but also brilliant, and it would surely result in his getting laid again sometime in the next month: all he needed to do was play along, pretend he was just some ordinary undergrad nerd.
"Oh, come on!" he yelled, after five minutes of watching in horror as they struggled to figure out the amount of friction generated by a block sliding down a forty-five degree slope and failed, even though he'd given them the goddamned coefficients of friction and the mass and—"Come on, you've got to be kidding me! A brain-damaged monkey could figure this out!"
They looked at him. Rodney paused and thought for a minute. "Um, maybe that wasn't the most tactful way to, uh, word that," he said.
"Yeah, not so much," John said, deadpan; at least he wasn't a complete moron, Rodney realized with relief, seeing that John had the right answer already written down in his notebook and was just doodling jet fighters around the margins.
Rodney made them all do a dozen problems in a row. "I don't care how stupid you are, you are all going to get this right," he said grimly, and finally by the end of it they all managed to solve the last three right—and okay, he'd simplified them a little, but he was calling it a victory, and then he collapsed on the couch and covered his face and said, "Thank you, god, and now someone bring me a pizza and a gallon of coke."
"Man, you're a monster," one of the other guys, Ford, said, half-grinning, half-admiring, and they actually did order pizza and coke and beer, and afterwards he fixed the XBox that had been broken in their den for the last three months, and they all played Half-Life 2 until dinner, and he did get invited back to study some more the next day. "Yes, fine, and we're going to have to do some serious work on angular momentum, I can already tell," he said.
John slouched out with him afterwards and said, awkwardly, "Uh, so, look—"
"Relax," Rodney said, rolling his eyes, "I'm not going to out your drunken inner princess to the gang. Like they'd have time to care anyway; if I'm going to get them through this exam in any remotely adequate way, all their available brain capacity is going to be completely consumed. Why exactly are you studying with these guys?"
"Huh?" John said. "What do you mean, I'm not—I needed to—"
"Fine, forget I asked, just please don't insult my intelligence along with your own," Rodney said, with a sniff.
It was weirdly fun, the next couple of days, yelling at them to make them do more exercises and using the ratty old pool table in the rec room for examples, and even if they were all hopeless idiots, they at least seemed to think it was funny when he told them so. Okay, John still looked a little freaked out, but at the same time he kept hanging out even though he clearly didn't need the same level of help, so Rodney felt his plan was proceeding apace, and they fed him fast-food and soda, and they did make some minor, fractional progress, so Rodney was able to let them go off to the exam on Tuesday without feeling ashamed of them.
"Man, we all finished in time, and I think we all passed, no lie," Ford's message on the answering machine said, when Rodney got back to his apartment that night from the lab. "Where were you, anyway? We couldn't find you in the exam room. Did you finish in like ten minutes and take off? Anyway, this seriously calls for a celebration. Meet us at Mahoney's."
Rodney didn't have a fake ID, but he didn't need one; the other guys bought for him while he ranted about the stupidity of the U.S. alcohol age limit, and he ended up sitting next to John in the corner of the booth, and John slouched and put his eyebrows up at Rodney while he practically sucked on the neck of the bottle, and their legs brushed together in a way that made Rodney wish he'd worn shorts, even though it was mid-October in Boston.
Wednesday Rodney had a late night at the lab, made a couple of breakthroughs that would probably mean he got his doctorate in one more year instead of two, and Thursday morning he headed for Morgenstern's office to broadcast his triumph, and froze, because John, Lorne, Ford and the others were all sitting in his office: John slouched and pretending to be uninterested, Ford looking utterly panicked, the others somewhere in between, mostly closer to Ford.
Morgenstern was snapping, "Now, if you want me to take this to the dean, we can do it that way, but the longer you drag this out, the more pissed-off I'm going to be. Do you think we're idiots? Suddenly four D students and one underachieving B student break the curve, and they all just happen to be in the same frat house?"
"Oh my God," Rodney said, and burst into the room. "What are you doing?" he yelled.
Ford looked even more horrified. "Man, don't yell at him, you're going to get us in deeper shit!" he hissed.
"What?" Rodney said, frowning at Ford for a moment, and turned back to Morgenstern without waiting. "Don't be ridiculous, I spent twenty-three hours over three days on these guys, they didn't waste it on cheating!"
Morgenstern was staring at Rodney blankly. "You did what?"
John and Lorne and Ford and the others were staring too now, and John was giving him the raised eyebrow treatment.
"Well, um," Rodney said feebly, realizing that possibly he was blowing his cover, and then he gave up and pointed at Morgenstern, "Look, you're the one who told me to go to a frat party!"
"You went to a frat party and tutored them in physics?" Morgenstern pulled out his chair and sat down and rubbed his face. "Of course you did."
"He told you to come to our party?" John hissed at Rodney.
"Not your party specifically!" Rodney hissed back.
"And in one weekend you managed to turn them all into A students," Morgenstern went on, with what Rodney felt was really rather insulting disbelief.
"Excuse me, it's not my fault if you've dumbed down the coursework beyond all useful levels of differentiation," Rodney said. "They all got totally lost when I tried to make the dynamics even vaguely resemble a realistic problem, I mean, seriously, if you'd thrown even a little air resistance in there, and as for non-linearly-variable coefficients of friction—"
"This is karmic payback, isn't it," Morgenstern said, to the ceiling. "This is because I was an arrogant jerk to my thesis advisor, and now I'm being punished; okay, I get it, but isn't this a little disproportionate—"
"Hey, standing right here!" Rodney said. "And, funny, I seem to recall you were singing a different song when I was applying! Anyway, if you had only let me in the lab—"
"Oh, God, fine, here," Morgenstern said, with something like a moan, and pushed a set of keys over the desk. "Here, you can get in any time you want, but I swear if you fry the supercomputer, I'll have the department pull your funding—"
"My funding's from DARPA, the department can't pull it," Rodney said, pouncing on the keys anyway, "but seriously, what are you teaching them? I mean, what use is it to be able to calculate rates of friction at—"
"Out!" Morgenstern yelled. "Out, out, out! Yes, all of you too!" he added, and Ford nearly knocked Rodney over, fleeing the room.
"Ford's grandparents are pretty strict," John said, ambling out into the hallway last; the others had all decamped already, muttering hasty, "Dude, thanks," and slapping him on the shoulder.
"Uh, okay, right," Rodney said, and shuffled for a little bit, and then he blurted, "So, I'm, I'm not in Physics 101."
"No?" John said.
"No, I'm actually a doctoral student," Rodney said, "and—oh. Wait, was that sarcasm? That was sarcasm, wasn't it."
"Yes, it was," John said patiently.
"Oh," Rodney said. "So, when did you—?"
"It kind of gave it away when that first problem you started us out with was stuff that's not even in the back of the textbook for the class," John said.
"Oh," Rodney said.
"You're a pretty decent tutor aside from all the yelling, though," John said.
"Please, if I didn't yell you would all have just sat around bullshitting," Rodney said. "I was an undergraduate for a couple of years, I know what study groups are like." He paused and cleared his throat. "But, um. It was kind of fun," he offered.
John rubbed the back of his neck, the other hand shoved in his pocket. "Yeah," he said.
Rodney swallowed. "So, um, tomorrow night. There's that semi-formal."
"Yeah," John said. "I'm—I'm taking Liz from Sigma Gamma Alpha."
"Ah," Rodney said. "Right, of course." He tried to smile, but it felt funny on his face, so he stopped. "Have fun."
"Look, you could," John said. "Nobody would mind—I know this girl in Kappa Delt, and—"
"No," Rodney said hurriedly. "No, thanks anyway, I, uh, have a lot of work to catch up on, now that I'm not arbitrarily being kept out of my lab." He held up the set of keys for a moment, let his hand drop. "Anyway. Um. Good luck with, with the rest of the class. And—everything."
He got away as quick as he could, because if he stayed he was pretty sure John would say something else nice in a misguided attempt to be comforting, and really, he could take a pass on that particular humiliation, having already given himself a hearty dose by asking out a straight guy—and what had he been thinking, anyway; he was straight, one bizarre night aside, and obviously he needed to get out more. Just because John was superficially attractive, and also not a complete idiot, and could pull off that quadruple-combination special death-kick in Soul Caliber, and grinned with one side of his mouth at a time—
Right, it was time to get back to work.
He went out and treated himself to a victory sleeping bag, and then used it to spend the night in the lab while the supercomputer processed his data, and in the morning he got up and started working again without a pause. He'd also gotten a roll of quarters, and the vending machines down the hall had chips and candy and coffee, so he could probably spend the whole weekend without leaving the building. It was still paradise, he told himself, except late that night after the building staff had left for the day, and Kasper and Gupta had left the lab, throwing him their usual sour looks of envy, he ended up just sitting at his computer, staring at the clock, poking keys in time with the banging noises from outside.
Probably John had gotten the girl a corsage or something, and he was going to show up at her door, and he was going to be wearing a suit or something equally ridiculous and uncomfortable, and he'd walk her over to the party. And because John was hot, she was probably going to have sex with him, and he wouldn't even have to be drunk at the time, because probably she was hot—of course she was hot, Rodney thought bitterly, John could absolutely pull a hot girl, who was he kidding—
"What the hell?" he said irritably, and went to go look out the window to see what was going on down there, just in time for the next giant rock to hit him in the face. "Ow!" he yelled, covering his nose, and then he shoved the window wide open and stuck his head out all the way. "Okay, whoever you are, you had better start running right now, because I'm calling campus security this second—" He stopped, peering over his hand. "John?"
"Are you deaf or something? I've been throwing pebbles for ten freaking minutes, I thought I was going to have to break the window," John said.
"So instead you broke my face!" Rodney said. "Thanks a lot!" He paused. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
John put his hands on his hips and cocked his head. "What do you think, genius?"
Rodney stared down at him, confused. John was wearing a tuxedo, of all things, and he'd gotten his hair smooth and floppy instead of spiky and floppy, but the bowtie was hanging undone around his neck, and the top buttons of his shirt were open. "Did something happen to your date?"
"Oh, for—just get down here and let me in!" John yelled.
Rodney figured it out halfway down the stairs and nearly fell down the rest of them, running to the front door. He threw it open, and John was standing right there, looking a little uncertain, hands in his pockets and slouchy, and Rodney grabbed John by the lapels of his tuxedo, babbling, "Oh my god, you came here."
John said, "Yeah, yeah," urgently, and shoved Rodney back inside, already kissing him, and they hit second base on the stairs, and then third base just inside the lab door, knocking one of the LCD monitors over onto the floor in a shower of sparks—"Uh," John said.
"Forget it!" Rodney panted, kissing his neck some more, trying not to move John's hand from its perfect, perfect place inside his jeans. They took John's tuxedo off together, hands fumbling over each other as they worked on the studs and the cufflinks, the crisp white shirt spreading open over John's chest, so warm under Rodney's hands.
John shivered when Rodney put his hands on the waistband of his boxers, and said, "Yeah, go ahead," hoarsely, and clutched at Rodney's shoulders, squeezing restlessly, pleading, as far from subtle as he could possibly be.
"Yes, yes, fine." Rodney rolled his eyes and went down along with the boxers, and wow, he didn't mind this at all, not with John making choked little hungry noises up over his head, and his thighs trembling under Rodney's hands.
"I'm, I'm," John said, giving him enough warning to get clear, and afterwards he had a kind of silly grin on his face while Rodney led him over to the corner of the lab.
He folded sweetly down into a lanky sprawl over the sleeping bag and watched with smoky, eager eyes as Rodney took off his own jeans and t-shirt. "Seriously, you actually sleep here?" he said, already hard again, opening his arms as Rodney got down and crawled on top of him, and oh, oh, that was even better.
"This is the best place in the whole world," Rodney said, fervently, and kissed John while behind their heads the supercomputer contentedly munched away on his processing, blinking in happy red and green lights.
= End =