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10 December 2007 @ 12:31 pm
Commentary: Undressing Like Cross-Eyed Strangers  
Hello, and welcome to this commentary! Undressing Like Cross-Eyed Strangers is one of those stories that was really difficult to write, and this is totally a chance for me to whine about it twice. I love those.

You can find the original here.



Title:
Undressing Like Cross-Eyed Strangers, Or It's Not Paranoia If The Universe Really Is Out To Get You
Fandom: House/Stargate Atlantis
Pairing: House/McKay
Rating: R
Word count: 4,647 words
Summary: In which there's a plague in Atlantis, connections are remade, and Rodney doesn't actually shoot House in the face.
Notes: Okay, this is the sequel to High School Is Not Another Name For Hell that I said that I'd make zulu write, but she agreed to write House/Watson for me instead (NO JUDGING), so I let her off the hook. Still, she and savemoony did an awesome job of helping me out along the way, betaing, giving awesome suggestions, and listening to me whine. There was a lot of whining. Apologies to Wilco for snagging the title from "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart".



So let's start with the easy stuff: the title. Like most of my stories, it was the last thing to fall into place. I always have some trouble with titles, and this was especially difficult, because High School... had such an awesome title, and I wanted to live up to it. The first part came from a Wilco song I really love, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart", the lyric, "We undress like cross-eyed strangers".  I think it's a good reflection of one of the themes of the story, that House and Rodney don't really know each other anymore, because they've changed, they've grown up (mostly), and they need to relearn each other again.

When Rodney steps through the Gate, he's all nervous tension and sweaty palms. There's a crisis on Atlantis (when is there not?), and once again, it's up to him to save the day.

It's weird, to have two parts of his life collide in such a spectacular manner, but they have, they will, and there's nothing Rodney can do to prevent it. Part of him doesn't even want to try. On the platform, Carter greets him with a wan smile and a hospital address.

"You went to school with him," she says. It's not an accusation.

"Yeah," Rodney says. "I did." He manages to keep his hands from shaking as he holds onto the slip of paper she hands him.

She laughs. It sounds sort of strangled, and Rodney gets it, because she's worried too. He feels almost pathetically grateful for that. "Small world," she says.

"It really is," Rodney says, and doesn't elaborate.

So, right here you can see how the tone of this story is different from the tone of High School... It's a lot more sedate, more adult. When I started writing this, the idea was to have it be completely different, to make the tone itself another way of demonstrating how House and Rodney have changed. It didn't up as radically different as I originally thought, but you can kind of see the idea of that in this section.

Also, I actually really like Sam, so I gave her a cameo here.

---

When he steps into Princeton-Plainsboro, he feels crowded all of a sudden, too many people, too many sick people.  Rodney has always hated hospitals, and now is no different.

There's a large chunk of stuff that used to be here, about Rodney at the front desk. I wasn't originally sure how I wanted to go about writing this story, so I started writing two different versions. The other version was more comedic, more crossover-y and fast-paced, with a jumping POV. This one was going to be slower, more drawn out. When I finally got all the pieces together, it ended up being faster than I originally thought, so I pulled that section. It was boring, anyway.

When he finds House's office, he's almost surprised to find that it's all glass, easy to see through, because Rodney's never thought of House as the kind of person who liked to let people see him. He peeks through the door, catching sight of a familiar back, turned to face out the window.  His hair is different, which shouldn't surprise Rodney at all (Rodney's own hair isn't what it used to be), but it does.

"Dr. House?" Rodney says as he pushes through the door, and House turns. His face is different, too, which is something Rodney knew from looking at the photographs, but it didn't quite prepare him to see the way time leaves traces behind. He's leaning on a cane, and yeah, Rodney read his file, but his body is bent forward, in a way that Rodney has never seen before.

More highlighting of differences, and also some Rodney being observant! I feel like in some of these earlier scenes with Rodney, Rodney is less Rodney, but I think it works, because this Rodney is out of his element.

"Yeah?" House says, and this is familiar again, something Rodney remembers. House's eyes widen slightly, then narrow again, sharp and suspicious. "Rodney," he continues, "it's been a while."

Rodney opens his mouth and feels the old banter coming back. "Yeah, yeah," he snaps. "I've been busy getting doctorates and joining top secret military projects. Now that we're done catching up, I need your help."

I love Rodney. SO MUCH. I can make him say the weirdest shit, and no one bats an eye because it's Rodney. Also, in the other version of this story, Foreman was in the room, because I wanted that 3rd party POV. In this version, he served no purpose, so I took him out.

He does. He really does. Because there's something that's killing Atlantis and Carson can't figure it out by himself, and Rodney's just really sick of dead people, of watching people die.

All of that must show on his face, because something on House's face softens just a hair, and even though he doesn't look the same as Rodney remembers, his face still moves the same. "What's going on?" House asks, and there are those eyes again, that Rodney might have had a bit of an obsession with way back when, blue and sharp and clear.

For the longest time, I used to get twitchy about the abundance of physical descriptors in slash. I finally got over it in High School... and it's also on display here. It's also a chance for me to emphasize change and how the physical changes also reflect emotional changes as well. Because I couldn't do that too many times in this story.

Rodney tells him.

I love short, declarative endings. When done right, they pack quite a punch.

---

House raises his eyebrow when Rodney says "U.S. Military", but he still signs the NDA without blinking, and only inserts about five snide comments into their resulting conversation about Atlantis ("Do you really expect me to believe this?", "A circular ring? That you walk through? Were warp drives too passè?", "Dying, huh? And you asked me why I didn't want to go into physics.", "Why yes, of course I can diagnose alien viruses, sounds like a breeze.", and "There haven't been any bug-like things bursting through necks, right?").

This section is pretty elided, mostly because I'm a really impatient writer. When I start writing something, I usually have the general idea planned out, and then I rush through the first draft, desperately trying to get to the end. This was especially bad with this story (which we will see later), but I am mostly mentioning this now, because I could have written out this entire conversation, but I didn't. Because it would have taken too long.

And Rodney only has to say, "Shut up. We don't have much time," once, after House starts asking detailed questions about the disease and what they know about it halfway through Rodney's explanation.

He can feel House measuring him up, turning him into one of the people he watches, and maybe at some point Rodney would have cared, but right now, he doesn't have the time to deal with it.

At the end, Rodney says, "So, are you coming?"

And House says, "Sure, why not?"

Oh, House. He's always up for a good adventure. I kind of loved the CIA episode, if only because it justified my House characterization here.

---

After that, it's all about the waiting, which has never been Rodney's strong suit, but there's not much he can do with it, so he knuckles down and deals.

On the Daedalus, they spend a lot of time together, mostly because House is Rodney's responsibility, and Rodney knows better than to let House near new toys (Rodney let him use his telescope once, and that was enough).

This was totally one of my favorite sections to write, because I loved including these little details about House and Rodney. Especially the stuff that took place during their high school days. I suspect the telescope in question was not actually damaged all that badly, but Rodney's still resentful, because he's Rodney.

So House follows Rodney around during their days, eating meals, looking over his shoulder as Rodney helps recalibrate the transporters, sleeping in the same room. House is more obnoxious now, though, opting for condescending scorn instead of his usual simmering resentment.

I really do think teenage!House bottled up most of his anger (amongst other things) and that he only managed to let that out once he left for college, which is why Rodney remembers him differently.

For the first week it's weird, but then Rodney gets used to it, and it's almost like it was before, side by side, them against the idiots.

Almost.

This is really where the structure begins to mimic that of the first story, which was unintentional for many reasons. This story was really hard for me to write, because I spent a lot of time trying to write a different story from the one that came out in the end. I usually have a really clear beginning, middle and end when I  write, and I usually don't waver from those. For this one, I had a theme and some vague ideas about where it was going, but then it turned out to be going in a completely different direction.

There are still things that Rodney doesn't get, like the quick glance away before House starts telling a story about a lawyer he once dated, the odd tilt of his head when he mentions his fellows (three of them, though Rodney doesn't get much in the way of details). The stories House tells are meaningless, only amusing because some moron did this or some moron did that. Nothing deeper than that.

House doesn't tell the story behind the leg. Rodney doesn't ask.

I think very little in this story conveys the theme as well as this section. Rodney sees these things, but can't identify the context. But of course, the audience gets the references. I also really like Stacy and I really do believe she had a pretty intense effect on House's life, even if he'd deny it.

But it makes sense, because Rodney has his own scars that he can't tell House about, the one on his arm, still there, white and thin, the one on his chest from a musket ball on MKX-239 (Teyla had held his hand, telling him that it was okay, that it would be all right), the stripe across the back of his neck (just a lucky swipe of the sword, but it had bled and bled and bled). He can't tell House these things because House wasn't there. He doesn't (can't) know what it was like, what these things mean, and Rodney's not sure he could explain them properly.

Now Rodney's scars! The first one is obviously Kolya from the Storm episodes. The other two I made up, though originally, I was going to make the second one Sheppard shooting Rodney in "Phantoms", though I hadn't actually seen that episode at the time and I wasn't sure I wouldn't screw something up. So I switched it to random-angry-natives #342 instead.

It's in the third week that a transformer explodes, and House is there, in the thick of the infirmary, bitching at nurses, calling the other doctors incompetent, his eyes sharp and focused, the way they were in the middle of a meet, the way Rodney feels when Atlantis is going to fall apart all around him and it's up to him to pull the right answers out of his ass.

Afterward, House brushes all the "thank you"s and "I'm glad you were here"s off with a sneer, and Rodney just adds it to the list of things he doesn't get about him.

I love House and Rodney in crisis situations. They get focused and badass and stuff. Also, more differences! Rodney would totally take the praise as his due. But even though House likes it too, he doesn't like to acknowledge that he likes it.

---

It's like history is repeating itself when Rodney finds himself staring at House a lot during the fourth week, cataloging the physical differences that he didn't notice at first. The longer, more knobbly fingers, showing their age, the persistent stubble, lining his chin and cheeks, the grooves under his eyes, too little sleep, probably. Rodney can't help but think they look beautiful (and isn't that just the cheesiest way of describing it, ever) on him, like they fit.

Rodney wonders if this is just habit, getting adolescent crushes on House after prolonged exposure.

He kind of hopes it's not.

Once more with me (a) mimicking the earlier structure and (b) emphasizing that they're ADULTS NOW, FOR REAL. I also suspect that Rodney is less shallow than he thinks he is, that he finds these things hot because it's House and not the other way around.

---

There were large chunks of the following scenes missing in the first draft (due to the afore-mentioned impatience to finish a first draft) until zulu was like, "Dude, where's your middle?" except, you know, nicer. Looking at it now, I think I probably should have included even more.

When they drop out of hyperspace and begin approaching Atlantis, the first thing House says is, "That's it?" His face is twisted into a mocking sneer, but there's something too exaggerated about it, too forced.

Oh, House. You're trying too hard, seriously.

From the windows, they can see all of Atlantis in the late afternoon, golden light reflecting off of glass and metal. Rodney beams with pride (even though the nervous tension is back, settling down once again in the pit of his stomach). "Yeah," he says, "that's it."

And Atlantis is so pretty. So, so pretty. I love that image of her, golden and waiting.

---

This was one of those scenes that was not in the first draft. One of the reasons for that was that I wanted to maintain the serious, tense mood, which, in retrospect, was dumb. But a scene like this would have been too comedic. I think it's hard to imagine this story without it now.

They actually have a welcoming committee when they come aboard, which is probably customary for Elizabeth, and it makes sense to see Carson there, ready to ambush him, but that doesn't explain why Sheppard's tagging along.

Shep's just curious. He didn't know Rodney had friends. That's all! And besides, it's totally okay he missed the guy while he was away. They're friends after all!

"Welcome to Atlantis, Dr. House," Elizabeth says in her best diplomat-voice. "We were very glad to hear that you were coming."

House turns to Rodney and says, "Her tits aren't as nice as Cuddy's. It's a real shame."

House couldn't pass that one up.

Sheppard's eyebrows go up to his hairline, Carson's face starts flushing, and Elizabeth looks completely flabbergasted.

Rodney pulls House aside and hisses, "Did you really have to do that in front of my boss?" He's become more used to the inappropriate comments (especially since it was hilarious to see House trying to get a rise out of Hermiod), but even Rodney knows there are lines that one doesn't cross.

I suspect that Hermiod remained condescending and non-plussed, which earned him House's respect. House is pretty impressed by the aliens.

House smirks and says, "I do it in front of my boss, too."

So very true.

---

After that, they don't see much of each other anymore. House gets abducted by the med staff, and Rodney has his own shit to deal with while so many people are in the infirmary.

They pass each other in the halls at times (because House's new quarters on Atlantis are only maybe three floors from the main science labs), the off-balance walk always catching the corner of Rodney's eye even when he's got his face shoved into a datapad, checking up on the latest power fluctuations, and sometimes pass each other in the mess, since Rodney doesn't actually have the time to sit down and eat a meal, and neither does House.

Can I just say right now that jealous!sulky!John is my favorite. Forever and ever. savemoony commented that he was stealing scenes, and I suspect that it was because I was filled with glee while writing him.

It's on the fourth day that Sheppard leans against the conduit Rodney's working on and says, "So, I heard you used to go to school with this Dr. House guy." His voice is casual, but Rodney can hear the question in his voice.

Rodney wonders if Sheppard knows exactly what he's asking. Probably not, or he wouldn't be asking it at all. "We were on the math team together," Rodney says, hoping Sheppard will take that and leave.

"Really?" he says, and Rodney can hear the skepticism in his voice.

"Yeah," Rodney says, "really. Now will you shut up? I'm trying to focus here."

It's just his luck that Sheppard is very good at ignoring people when he wants to. "Heard a rumor that you went to prom together."

It's strange, how you sometimes realize things about your own story after they're written and posted. I'm pretty sure John's lying through his teeth about the rumor, since I think he had an awkward confrontation with House after that display with Elizabeth. It was pretty clear that Rodney had a massive crush on the guy, and John just wanted to make sure that everyone was on the same page about this stuff. But then House started flaunting the prom thing and also talked a lot about he could spot another military brat just by the way they were carrying their Daddy issues on their shoulders. John beat a hasty retreat after that.

Rodney grits his teeth. "True, as far as it goes." He thinks about the tangy juice-scent of the punch, the way he could smell it on House's breath when he leaned in too close (and afterward, he made House brush his teeth, rinse out his mouth with mouthwash, before he was willing to let House anywhere near his mouth). Remembering it feels like getting kicked in the stomach.

I love this detail, because it's so sensory, and also because it's so Rodney. Oh, Rodney. I also spent way too much time researching punch (punch!) for this one line, looking for a common citrus-free punch. (Didn't find any.)

"Yeah?" Sheppard says, like he wants to hear more, but doesn't want to ask.

At this point, what little of Rodney's patience snaps. "Look, I'm actually trying to keep this city's power grid from frying. If you're just going do something besides ask annoying questions, you can hold these wires for me, otherwise, I'm sure Elizabeth or Lorne can give you something to do."

Ha! I totally think Lorne spends more time giving John things to do than vice versa. I mean, come on.

"Sure, McKay," is Sheppard's reply, all slouchy grin and shrug, and he shuts up and holds the wires without further comment.

I usually have a tough time with my John voice, because it's far subtler than Rodney's, but I was hearing it particularly clearly here. Especially that last bit, there.

---

There's news that they've managed to slow the progression of the disease in the infected patients, which buys them more time, and Rodney breathes a sigh of relief.

It's interesting to find out how much gossip has been spread about House in such a small amount of time, how much of that gossip somehow manages to trickle back to Rodney. The prom thing, yeah (it spread so fast it got all the way to Sheppard, who couldn't follow gossip if someone gave him Cliff Notes every week), and Rodney can see this House telling everyone about it just because he can.

Cliff Notes. Totally. Though Rodney personally thinks that Coles Notes are better. (Canonically.)

Rodney's scientists are also pretty freaked out about the prom thing. Just the fact that Rodney went to prom. The House thing makes it worse.

By keeping his ears closer to the ground (and by "ground", he means "Zelenka", who knows everything about everyone, and Rodney doesn't let himself think about it long enough to let it get creepy),

Zelenka runs the Atlantis black market. This is a fact. A side benefit to this is that he gets all the juicy gossip.

Rodney learns that there's a medical doctor House knows named Wilson who is simultaneously smarter and stupider than Carson, that House's boss has a really nice ass (and Rodney tries to repress the resulting jealousy, but it's hard),

More references that we get but Rodney doesn't. I don't believe that House would stop besmirching Wilson's good name just because he's in Pegasus, and Carson spent way too much time pushing back against House's bad habits for the comparison not to come up.

that House likes calling Biro, Wendall, and Panjabi "Cameron", "Chase", and "Foreman" for some reason and finds it absolutely hilarious.

I took this idea from Airborne, I think, but I do believe that House needs fellows to bounce ideas off of. Also, Biro as Cameron is hilarious, IMO.

Rodney also learns that it was a good idea to bring House, because he's actually competent, and even Carson admits that they wouldn't have gotten this far without him.

He feels somewhat justified because of that.

---

So, this was one of the scenes added at the request of zulu, who asked for House meeting Teyla. I am generally really easy when it comes to these things, so I wrote it. And here it is.

Rodney somehow manages to be there when House meets Teyla and Ronon for the first time. The team still eats together frequently, even though Elizabeth has put all offworld missions on hold until the matter of the contagion is solved. The quarantine seems to be working, and there have been no new cases, which is also a relief.

It was an average lunch, though Sheppard was off doing official military stuff, so it was just he and Ronon and Teyla. Rodney was rambling about his day (with Teyla looking interested and Ronon looking bored), when there's a cane tossed onto the table and a familiar face sliding into Sheppard's usual spot.

"So," House says. "You must be the token people of color. Gosh, I'm almost kind of sad that I left mine at home." He smiles, bright and mocking, and Rodney feels an intense urge to disappear until the table and never come out again. He now remembers why they never used to eat lunch with other people.

House points at Ronon. "You must be the big scary one that kills things and doesn't say much."

Ronon shrugs. "About right," he says.

And then House turns his attention to Teyla. "You must be the beautiful alien priestess who's just around to look hot. At least you're good at that." He leers in an overly blatant way, and Rodney rolls his eyes.

Teyla just smiles. "Not a priestess, no. But thank you for the compliment." Her expression doesn't waver from 'serene'.

That makes House blink for a moment, clearly thrown off balance, and then he looks impressed. He looks at Rodney and winks. Rodney kind of wants to jump him then and there.

He doesn't.

---

This, oddly enough, was one of my landmark scenes (you know, one of the ones you have in mind while writing, that you see absolutely clearly in your mind) but it also didn't exist in the first draft. It's very weird for that to happen, when I write, but I really was gunning for the end there.

One evening, at dusk, he finds House on the east pier, staring out at the horizon, his tall, lanky body hunched over the railing, his cane laid down at his feet.

"What are you doing out here?" Rodney asks. "Not that you can't be out here or anything like that. Just wondering why you, in particular, are out here right now."

"You actually talk more now, don't you?" House says.

"Yeah, bad habit that I never managed to shake, really," Rodney says. He nods toward the sun, where it's painting the sky pink and orange. "Never thought of you as a sunset kind of guy, though. Too overdone or something like that."

Sunsets are pretty! I bet people were wondering how I'd get my weather reference in.

House glares, but doesn't say anything. Rodney leans on the railing next to him, so close their shoulders touch, and he feels House tense beside him. They stand like that for a while, quiet and close, and contrary to popular belief, Rodney can stay quiet when he needs to, when someone else needs him to.

I think House and Rodney spend most of this fic reaching for each other, for lack of a better word, and this scene especially exemplifies that. My original plan was that despite all that reaching, they ultimately wouldn't be able to reconnect, because they had become too different, they had changed too much. I think I kind of underestimated them there, so I ended up fighting my story all the way.

"We lost Jenkins twenty minutes ago," House says, eventually. It comes out through gritted teeth, and Rodney thinks he can tell how much it took out of House to tell him that.

"Jenkins? Wait, he was in the second wave, wasn't he?" Rodney says. "I mean, they were infected at least a month ago, the first wave died in a week." Three weeks was a lot, especially on Atlantis, at least they'd managed to give Jenkins that much more time, at least they were buying everyone else more time, too. Rodney gets that it's hard to let people die on your watch (boy, does he know), but maybe it's just become too much a part of his life, because it doesn't hurt as much as it once did.

"Boring details," House says, with an edge. "Still died, and I still don't know what's wrong with them."

"So what are you even doing here, then?" Rodney snaps. "Why are you whining about it to me instead of out there working on figuring it out?" It's not the most tactful or nice he's ever been, and that makes him wince, but it actually gets House to look at him.

"You give the best pep talks, McKay," House says, sarcasm dripping from every syllable, but there's still some fondness underneath.

I actually think Rodney gives the pep talk House needs to hear at this point. It's not sympathetic and condescending, and it's a challenge. Something House would say to his own fellows.

Their elbows brush again, but this time, House doesn't so much as blink.

I love tiny  bits of physical interaction representing a relationship. This wasn't exactly subtle, but I like it a lot.

---

People actually start treating Rodney nicer, oddly enough, at around the three week mark, and he guesses that it has something to do with his demotion from "biggest asshole on Atlantis" to "second biggest asshole on Atlantis". Rodney's not sure whether he should be pleased or insulted.

Heh. The Atlanteans totally realize that it can get worse.

House seems to get crankier as the days drag on, and Rodney sees more of him, as their breakfast-lunch-dinner schedules beginning lining up better, and Rodney's pretty sure their arguing amuses the rest of the team (much to his annoyance), who smirk whenever House shows up with the familiar tap of his cane.

Rodney thinks he likes it, this new pattern. He could get used to it if he lets himself.

Patterns, schedules. Once again imitating the structure of the first one.

---

In the fourth week after House starts working on Atlantis, the disease gets tracked to some sort of Pegasus virus, though Rodney tunes out the explanation of the medical voodoo as Carson presents it during the senior staff meeting, and in the end, it's determined that House is taking the Daedalus back to Earth on the next supply run.

"Oh, good," House says. "Another month stuck inside a space ship. Sounds like a party."

Everyone at the table has learned to ignore House during his outbursts, so they do.

Afterward, Rodney considers asking House to stay. There's definitely not enough medical doctors on Atlantis, and while the "asshole" thing might be kind of a turnoff, no one's fired Rodney over it yet.

And again.

It's a possibility. It's there.

---

They spend more time together, waiting for House to leave again, and Rodney says things like "Zelenka is decent at handling the generators, but he occasionally flubs the math," and, "Sometimes I really regret not firing Hawkins years ago. Incompetent asshole," instead of things like, "You should stay, this time," or, "I think I still have a crush on you." He's pretty sure House doesn't notice.

House occasionally psychoanalyzes Carson's Freudian mother fixation, Sheppard's weird authority issues, and Ronon's penchant for long knives. He doesn't talk about going back to Earth, either.

I love this sort of talking/not-talking thing, especially since Rodney usually doesn't filter himself. But he will for House.

It's a week before the Daedalus is due to show up when Rodney corners House in a hallway and kisses him, and it's nothing like their other first kiss, not hurried and desperate, all giddy adrenaline. It's almost gentle, slow and sweet with a hint of yearning. House's stubble scrapes his skin, rough and different, and he hisses when Rodney leans on him the wrong way. It shouldn't be the same, Rodney knows, because this is different, they're different, but it still catches him by surprise.

Could I beat this point more to death?

When they pull apart, House smirks and says, "Took you long enough."

And Rodney says, "You. What. Oh, come on. You have got to stop waiting for me to make the first move."

"Why? It's a lot more fun this way," House says.

House is being such a liar. The real reason he didn't make the first move is because he has major rejection issues. But Rodney doesn't know that.

"Hey!" Rodney says, and House snickers, but that's familiar enough. That hasn't changed.

Daww. I think this is where I realized my original plan wasn't going to work, because here they are, figuring things out, actually connecting in their dysfunctional way. I kind of want to squish them in this scene.

---

They don't really talk about it much, House's impending departure, what exactly this is, between them. They argue and complain and snipe, and when Sheppard raises an eyebrow when House starts stealing food off Rodney's plate (Rodney draws the line at the blue jello and the pudding, but everything else is fine), it's not like they can't brush it off as an old school habit.

Food-stealing is, of course, House's chosen way of professing his love, and Rodney actually lets him have it. John totally gets it, and after he notices, he wanders off and sulks a lot. He doesn't take advantage of the House-paper-targets, even though he really wants to.

At night, they usually end up in House's quarters, because they're bigger and cleaner, impersonal enough that Rodney thinks that maybe it won't be so hard to let him go again.

He finds himself relearning House's body, the rougher texture of his skin, the wiry scrape of his hair, the vicious scar on his leg. When they have sex, it's less frenzied, less young, but they're that way, too. Older and probably wiser. Wearing their years on their bodies.

It's weird sharing a bed, though, something they never did before. Rodney learns that House likes his personal space but doesn't complain when Rodney ends up spooning against his back in the middle of the night (which, for House, is something of an accomplishment), that House steals blankets as he's sleeping, and that in the morning, he needs Vicodin the way Rodney needs coffee.

Rodney hoards these bits and pieces, these fragments of a relationship, keeps them close to himself because he knows it's all he'll ever get.

Still beating the point to death here, but I love the details of this bit, and House totally steals the covers ALL THE TIME.

On the last night, House says, "If I let you in, will you still respect me in the morning?" when Rodney shows up at his door, and Rodney says, "Oh, please. That assumes that I even respected you in the first place."

House smiles, though. A real one that makes Rodney's heart twist in his chest, and when Rodney kisses him, he knows this is the last time.

Can I say that this exchange captures my House/McKay in its entirety? They don't say what they mean, necessarily, but the point gets across.

He doesn't ask House to stay. They're stuck in a loop, doomed to repeat themselves.

Instead, he starts counting the hours.

I love that closing line. I'm pretty sure I've used it in other places too. The idea of counting down just has this air of inevitability I really like.

---

On the day House leaves, Rodney considers giving him a hug, but then decides against it, giving him an impersonal handshake and a "Thanks."
 
House, apparently even less concerned with social niceties now that he's older, grabs Rodney by the back of his head and sticks his tongue down Rodney's throat. Rodney's pretty sure at least one of the marines wolf-whistles. "Anytime, McKay," House says, afterward, with a leer.

Of course, House mostly just wanted to give Rodney something to remember him by. And I don't think Rodney gets that. I feel like House can be very opaque from Rodney's POV, and I kind of want to write lots of House POV just to help convey the depth of his feelings better.

Caldwell chooses that moment to beam him up (or maybe there were a few moments, and Rodney just doesn't remember them), leaving Rodney sputtering and blushing and having to deal with weeks' worth of fallout.

"Asshole," Rodney mutters, under his breath. That actually does make him feel a little better.

---

It's always the first few days that are the worst, that Rodney has the hardest time getting through. It's actually easier this time, since he's had practice before, and it's just the same thing all over again.

He tries for "subtle", but he's never been good at that, and it's the day after when Zelenka makes pointed comments about taking the day off so that he doesn't completely destroy the souls of his staff (though Rodney knows it's a complete fabrication, their souls should have been destroyed years ago).

And people say Rodney's oblivious! For shame!

Teyla tells him meditation is good for the soul, and that this might be a good time to start. She smiles benignly at him, her 'make sure Rodney doesn't do anything too rash' smile.

Every time I re-read this section, the repetition of "soul" makes my own soul hurt on the inside. I kind of wish I caught that while editing.

Elizabeth purses her mouth and says that while Dr. House's assistance was invaluable to the medical team, she was not sorry to see him go.

Ronon doesn't say anything about it at all, but he does imitate Sheppard's eyebrow-raising maneuver more than is strictly necessary.

The last scene used to be one line right here, about John trying to cheer Rodney up on the firing range, but since I wanted to end with a conversation between John and Rodney anyway, one of my betas convinced me to make it its own scene instead.

Rodney brushes most of them off, because he doesn't want to talk about it at all, not to anyone, and especially not to anyone who wouldn't understand (which is everyone, come to think of it). The more he talks about it, the more he remembers, and that's the last thing he wants to do at this point. Crisis has been averted, Atlantis still up and operational, enough people still alive that they can call it a win. He just needs to put House away again, fold up the memories, store them in the back where Rodney can't see them anymore.

And if sometimes, there's a confession at the tip of his tongue, it's just because Rodney's still not as good as this as he should be.

Oh, Rodney. I want to give him a hug.

---

So, yes. The final scene. This took me three re-writes and lots of whining at my betas to get right. I usually don't have problems with endings, since I tend to plan them out way in advance (I've even written backward from an ending before), but for this one, my planned ending -- with Rodney coming to terms with the fact that they'd both grown up and moved on -- no longer matched the story I had actually written. I had no idea what I actually wanted to say, and it drove me nuts. I knew I wanted to have a conversation between John and Rodney, because I am totally a shipper at heart, but it wasn't like they could really say anything to one another, so that made it difficult. But the shooting range gave me a hook, when I decided to move the order of events a bit, and it really helped me get this ending down.

It's not until two weeks after House leaves that Sheppard finally makes his own attempt to cheer Rodney up, and for some reason it involves the shooting range, a gun, and a paper target with a familiar face taped over its head.

I can't remember when the idea that they had paper targets with House's face on it first came up, but I can totally see them doing it.

"Is this a joke?" Rodney says. He eyes the gun in his hands warily. It's entirely possible that this is some sort of elaborate set up and not just the product of Sheppard's freakish, freakish brain.

Sheppard shrugs and slouches against the wall. "Not really."

Rodney's not sure what to make of this, so he says, "You honestly think making me shoot at my ex-boyfriend's face is actually going to make me feel better?" He'd already had his 'I don't think you're handling this as well as you should' meeting with Heightmeyer, and he was hoping that everyone had decided to drop the subject by now.

"He was kind of an asshole," Sheppard says.

"Well, duh," Rodney says, rolling his eyes. "I knew that. It was kind of the appeal." And it's not like Rodney can really throw stones about it, what with his own glass house and all.

Sheppard's face scrunches up. "Seriously?"

Oh, John. You're so, so obvious.

"Yeah, I mean, it's kind of nice to have someone around who understands you, you know? And..." Rodney cuts himself off as he realizes what Sheppard's up to. "Hey!"

Sheppard looks innocent. It is totally not fooling Rodney. "What?"

Rodney narrows his eyes. "You're trying to get me to talk about it!"

Sheppard shrugs. "I was mostly just trying to get you to shoot at the target, actually. But if you really want to talk about it..."

He really is telling the truth here, and he really doesn't want to listen to Rodney moping over his ex, but if Rodney needs to, he'll sit there and take it like a man.

Rodney actually considers it for a moment, considers spilling the whole story from twenty years ago, about the Mathlympics, the prom, the time he and House cut English to make out in an empty Bio lab. The way House isn't who he used to be, because he's all grown up, and how it makes sense because Rodney isn't who he was either. The way House snores at night, not loud, but in the back of the throat. The way House tosses back pills like they're candy, because of his leg. The way Rodney wants to know the story behind it, but he never worked up the courage to ask. The way House looks like when he smiles, really smiles, soft and affectionate and fond. The reasons why Rodney can't do this right now, like this, because shooting House in the face (and knowing Rodney's aim, it would probably end up hitting the wall somewhere to the right of House's arm) isn't going to make him feel better. But it all catches behind his teeth, and instead, he puts the gun down on the bench, the gentle clack of metal on plastic filling the quiet room.

This is, for me, the moment where Rodney finally confronts his feelings and gets the catharsis he needs. And I loved getting those details in. Rodney didn't really want to cut class, but House was really convincing, and besides, it was only English. I also really enjoyed referencing this bit in the summary. So maybe it was a bit misleading, but whatever, I think it's awesome.

Sheppard seems to get what that means, so he shrugs and takes down the paper target and folds it up. Rodney thinks that maybe he can't tell Sheppard those things now (the things Rodney still can't stop thinking about, no matter how hard he tried), because the hurt is still too fresh and new. But maybe, one day, he will be able to. He finds himself almost looking forward to it.

"Hey," he says to Sheppard. "Thanks anyway. For doing all of this." He gestures to the paper target in Sheppard's hands. Okay, so maybe it was a little creepy, but it was a nice gesture, for the most part.

"These things?" Sheppard says. "Nah, it wasn't any trouble." He shrugs. "We've got dozens of them."

I loved this last line, but I wasn't sure about whether or not it was too quick a reversal from the emotion that just came before. I still get a bit of whiplash when I reread it. Also, I was worried about getting the timing of the punchline right, so me and zulu played around with like five different ways of splitting it up.

I also must say, John shrugs a lot in this scene. A lot.


FIN.

So that's Undressing Like Cross-Eyed Strangers! I was kind of maybe going to write a sequel with John and Rodney visiting House at PPTH and having crazy antics ensue, but I don't have enough of an idea to really get it to work. However, I think there are a lot of stories that can be told about House and Rodney's high school days, and hey, I might even write some of them. We'll see.

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

 
 
 
Zulu: house - truth seekerzulu on December 10th, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah! What you said!

I mean, yeah, I was there, so I remember you having a lot of these issues. But it's more fun having it all written out like that.

We need more House POV in this 'verse, you know. You're doing the winter scene...can we hope for anything else?
thedeadparrot: focused!housethedeadparrot on December 10th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
I WAS DOCUMENTING MY PAIN AND SUFFERING. VERY GOOD FOR THE SOUL.

And yeah, I will probably write more House POV, though we'll see if this winter thing kicks my ass or not.
perspi on December 10th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure if this story makes me hurt for Rodney and House, or makes me happy, because owie--the loss Rodney feels at losing House again, and undoubtedly what House feels, too (which you confirmed in your commentary! W00t!) just makes me hurt for them. But then again, I'm happy they had the chance to see each other at work, doing awesome things, and that House got to go to Atlantis (can you imagine? The guy who wants to know everything finally gets let in on the biggest secret EVAR!). And House can go home to his Wilson and Rodney still has his Sheppard. And I love jealous!sulky!Sheppard, too.

Great, great commentary, THANK YOU!!!
thedeadparrot: shepthedeadparrot on December 10th, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I thought the other ending could have been more uplifting, in a sense, because they wouldn't really lose anything this time around, but then they got the better of me, and they did get pulled apart again.

House really is very opaque here, but I think he'll never be able to articulate how much this trip meant to him. And he does have a Wilson at home.

Also, jealous!sulky!John is far superior to the jealous!asshole!version. Because the other one's just an asshole.
allyndra: Doctor Smugallyndra on January 24th, 2008 08:29 am (UTC)
I just came over to re-read High School and Cross-Eyed Strangers (because they are awesome, awesome, awesome) and saw that you'd put up this commentary. I really enjoyed reading through this. It's always (well, usually) fascinating to see what the authors think of their own work, and your comments were highly entertaining.

And since you said you struggled with the ending, let me reassure you that it totally works. I love having the look at Rodney's emotional aftermath, because it's messy and painful and real, without being emo!Rodney full of angst. And Sheppard is comforting and kinda jealous and excellent. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

If you do find yourself inspired to write more in this 'verse, I would squeal love to read it.
thedeadparrot: focused!housethedeadparrot on January 24th, 2008 11:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I love commentaries too, both reading and writing them, and I'm glad to see this one entertained.

And thanks for the reassurance! The ending was SUCH A BITCH OMG, and I'm glad I managed to get across what I wanted to get across.

There may be more coming soon. *shifty eyes* Um, we'll see.