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Positively Charmed

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1.

It was the feeling of a new page turning, like the first day of school or a brand new posting where no one knew John or his checkered past.

They were back in Pegasus at long last, having spent nearly eight months languishing in boredom and suspense on Earth. It had been long enough that most of the Lantean crew had drifted away to other projects, coring their close-knit culture, leaving only the highest- and lowest-ranking behind.

But then, like a storm after a drought, the IOA had said yes, go, go back and the city had filled right up again, filled up fuller than before, and things were moving and people were shouting and it had all happened very quickly. John got promoted, his first promotion below the zone in his entire career, and the Air Force gave him more pilots and more marines. Woolsey took the chance to reorganize the entire city and restock it until it was packed to the gills. Rodney came back from some mysterious project at Area 51, dragging a dozen new engineers and scientists in his wake.

And, okay, that was when it happened, in the midst of all the chaos and yelling and excitement, smack in the middle of that dizzying fresh-start feeling. John had just been rounding a corner, heading off to the gateroom, and there Rodney was, belligerent and obnoxious and berating someone new, and John didn't know what came over him except he was grinning and sprinting and then he had McKay, awesome shouting angry McKay, in a full-on Ronon-style squeeze.

"Oof, Sheppard, nice to see you too, you're very"—and John checked himself, pulled away quickly, but couldn't wipe the shit-eating grin off his face so he slapped Rodney on the back and shoulder a few times, saying inanely, "You're back, this is great, how are you?"

And Rodney blinked, as if no one had asked him that in recent memory, and then his blue eyes met John's, and he said, "I'm, I'm good – I mean, we're going home, aren't we?" and John had helplessly slapped him again, giddy and glad, and agreed, "Yeah, we are."

"So," said Rodney, suddenly slipping into something like nervousness, and he stuck his thumb over his shoulder at his new frightened subordinate, "I should, uh."

"Oh, yeah," said John, and waved him back to it. "Just saying hi."

"Right," said Rodney, and his chin went up, and his eyes slid to the left, over John's shoulder, and then he pivoted back towards the cowed scientist and said, almost politely, "Where was I? Right. The many reasons why you idiots can't run around doing random power-sucking tests on the star drive whenever the mood hits you," and John took a few steps down the corridor, incorrigibly happy, and it was the first day of school, the first day of a new posting, the first time through the gate to a really cool new planet with lots of awesome guns to share.

2.

Back in Pegasus, reunited with Teyla and Ronon, back in the team, back home. John spent the first day wandering the halls, grinning out at the navy blue New Lantean ocean, ostensibly overseeing things as everyone began to unpack and settle in, but really just enjoying the hell out of this.

Rodney was set up in his old lab, but it was even more crowded than usual, techs still hooking up monitors and interfaces and labeling great big plastic storage bins. Rodney's team had cool new whiteboards that were actually giant touch screens you could write on. John spent a couple of minutes scrolling through the new and improved media server (no digital rights management in this galaxy) like the whiteboard was a giant iPod. Rodney rounded the corner and noticed him.

"Colonel Sheppard!" he exclaimed, and smiled. "Ah. It's great to – isn't it nice, being back here?"

"Did you see Ronon and Teyla yet?" John asked, scrolling up and into the movies. They had something like two thousand of them this time. God bless Woolsey and his bureaucratic ability to wrangle huge amounts of resources for inane line items like 'personnel recreation'. No more watching the same tired 80s movies over and over.

"Yeah, yes," said Rodney, "in the mess hall, just now. Did you see Torren? He's huge!"

"I saw," said John, and stuffed his hands in his pockets, looking over at Rodney and then back at the list on the board.

"Oh," said Rodney, "right. So, do you want to, uh, have a movie night? Soon?"

"Yeah, let's do it," said John easily.

"Maybe," said Rodney nervously, and man, the guy still kind of sucked at planning hang-out time even six years into their friendship, "maybe tomorrow night, then? My quarters?"

"Yeah," said John. "Let's grab dinner in the mess about 1900 hours and we'll hang out after."

"Okay," said Rodney, pleased, bouncing a little. "Uh, it's a – I'm looking forward to that."

"I as well," said John, very seriously, and used the light pen thing to doodle on the whiteboard before he left: Welcome to McKay's World: Prepare to get schooled.

3.

That night the whole team hung out for hours in the mess, first just eating dinner together, Carson and Woolsey and a bunch of other old-timers joining in the laughter; and then, pretty much the moment it was 2100 hours and past the official shift change, Ronon broke out the serious liquor and they all proceeded to get methodically and thoroughly hosed. Their corner of the mess hall grew noisy and prone to frequent outbursts of hilarity, and when John looked around behind them, head swishing with rus wine, he was unsurprised to see the rest of the hall was abandoned, that everyone else had closed down shop and gone to bed long ago.

"God, I missed that smell," Rodney was saying, "what is that smell?"

"I believe that is the ocean," said Teyla, in that awesome dry sarcastic way of hers.

"Right," said Rodney, snapping his fingers. "Good smell."

"Okay, okay," said John, "okay, I think it's time for AR-1 and friends to call it a night. Mission in the morning."

Everyone whined and protested like John was the babysitter and he was forcing bedtime.

"No, no," said John, affecting a little displeased frown, "I'm a full-bird colonel now. No use in arguing with me."

This raised a groan, even though John had barely mentioned it – maybe one or two times tops – but it did seem to have the ultimate desired effect as people stumbled to their feet and wandered towards the door, still laughing and chatting as they went.

"That was so good," John said to Rodney as the two of them bumped shoulders half-accidentally on their way back to the senior staff quarters. "God, that was great."

"Yeah," said Rodney, "it was totally great." He paused; they were a few paces from Rodney's rooms now. "John, I'm really very glad that things are going the way they're going. Can I just say that?"

"You can absolutely say that," said John, and his hand was cupping Rodney's shoulder, a little drunken and sloppy. "Never thought I'd be so happy to share a zip code with the Wraith again," John said, and squeezed, and smiled.

"Yeah," said Rodney. "Yeah." His hand came up and squeezed John's shoulder right back. "Hey, we have a date tomorrow."

John snorted. "Yeah, we do."

"Okay, then," said Rodney, nodding. "Okay." And he wheeled into his quarters and John continued to his own rooms down the hall, still feeling the wide press of McKay's strong fingers on his skin, sinking through his t-shirt.

4.

The mission was a cakewalk, and for once that thought didn't automatically doom them to a firefight or an abduction or a culling. They had dozens of these diplomatic visits on the roster for weeks to come, visiting former allies and trading partners and saying hey, we're back, sorry about taking off on you there, still wanna be friends?

The Gresthel still wanted to be friends, thank god, because they were Pegasus' answer to Texas, all huge ranches with big hulking herbivores which tasted a bit like beef and pork mixed together: steak with a hint of bacon as McKay described it. The team was treated to a huge overdone country-style brunch, eggs and beef-pork and pitchers of beef-pork milk and wheels of beef-pork cheese and piping hot rolls and something not unlike coffee. They tucked in with enthusiasm, both John and Rodney desperately homesick for Pegasus food by now and not ashamed of showing it.

"We'll take shipment next week," John said in parting, "and we'll bring those cases of antibiotics when we come." His belly was, literally, distended. He could see it pushing out his shirt around the waist when he glanced down. Ronon kept stifling a burp behind his fist and Rodney was sweaty like he got after eating too much meat. Even Teyla had packed an impressive amount of food away. John suddenly feared for their post-mission exam blood tests and the record cholesterol levels that they'd surely hit.

"That was some good eating," said Rodney dreamily as they lumbered heavily towards the gate.

"I don't think I need to eat again until next week," John agreed.

"I kind of miss non-fat caramel lattes," said Ronon, squinting at the horizon.

"As do I," said Teyla wistfully.

5.

When John arrived at Rodney's place for movie night, he was a little surprised to find that they were alone. He was about to ask if Teyla and Ronon had made other plans when he took a look around the room and saw that it was clearly set up for only two: Rodney's short couch was the only free sitting surface, his armchairs each being stacked with piles of journals and papers. Probably John had misunderstood and Rodney hadn't meant this to be a team event, but it really didn't matter; movie night without Ronon and Teyla had its perks, namely not having to pause and explain every few minutes.

"Sorry about the mess," said Rodney, "I haven't had much time to unpack."

John shrugged, not willing to point out that this was a usual level of chaos for Rodney's quarters.

"Oh," said Rodney, and reached into one of the boxes near the foot of the bed. "I almost forgot. I, uh, I know you weren't off base much the last few months. I thought, maybe," and his hand came out, holding forth a vanilla white pillar candle, still in the shrink-wrap with the Pier 1 tag under the plastic.

"Oh," said John, a little surprised. He took it from Rodney, turned it in his hands, sniffed at it delicately. It was nice. The label said it was some sort of rain scent. "Uh. Thanks?"

"I know you like them," said Rodney. "You, you do like them, don't you?"

"Sure," said John, and yeah, he sort of did. His new quarters, while more capacious, still smelled faintly unused and musty. The candle would probably help. "No, I do like them," John said, a little more firmly, and sniffed at the candle again. He wasn't sure it smelled anything like rain, but it was a pleasantly fresh scent, not girly like cookies or flowers or spices. "Do you want to try it now?" John asked, and ripped the plastic off.

"Okay," said Rodney. "I think I have matches around here somewhere."

They lit the candle and set it on the coffee table, and then Rodney surprised John again by pulling out a bottle of red wine instead of the usual beer.

"Nice," said John, twisting the bottle to read the label. It was a Canadian wine, no surprises there, but it was very good and probably not that cheap. "Thought you'd be saving this stuff up," John said, nonetheless taking another swallow from his glass.

"Oh, I got quite a few cases into the city," said Rodney. "Woolsey thinks it's important to have a good wine cellar for visiting dignitaries so he was fine with it so long as I agreed to share the occasional bottle."

John grunted appreciatively and sat on the couch, making himself comfortable. "What are we watching?"

Rodney had a movie all queued up already, and surprisingly it wasn't an action movie or sci-fi, but a drama – one of those good thinky movies with lots of interesting characters and a strong plot but no explosions or flashing lights. Rodney offered up a plate of cut veggies and dip, and then some cheese and crackers, and John would have said something about how Jennifer Keller had really upped Rodney's hosting skills if he hadn't thought that would end with Rodney getting all quiet and upset. Not that there was anything wrong with the traditional beer and popcorn and car chase movies, John thought, just that this seemed to be a nice chance of pace.

After the movie Rodney split the last of the wine between their two glasses and made a toast. "To new beginnings," said Rodney, and he was maybe going to try and expand upon that because Rodney rarely knew when to end a good speech, but John hastily clinked and drank, and Rodney followed suit.

"Hey," said John, "are you wearing a new shirt?"

Rodney looked down guiltily. "Well," he said.

"I like it," said John. It was a good shade of blue, and at least a full taste level above Rodney's usual civilian wear. Jennifer's influence again, John suspected, and didn't press the issue.

Rodney swallowed the rest of his wine in a few swift mouthfuls, and John copied him, figuring maybe this was where Rodney would bust out the beer. But instead, as soon as John had set his wineglass down, Rodney was rising to his feet, cueing John that the evening was over.

"Good movie," said John, maybe a little disappointed, but standing up as well.

"It was, wasn't it?" said Rodney, kind of smugly.

"Good wine, good food," John said as they wandered towards the door.

"I'm glad," said Rodney, losing a little of his confidence, "I mean, that you enjoyed the evening, and," and then, out of nowhere, just out of the clear frigging blue, Rodney reached over and took John's hand.

John's eyes snapped to Rodney's, his body stopping, his mind startled and utterly blank.

"So," said Rodney, "uh. Goodnight."

John looked down at his hand, holding Rodney's. "I forgot my candle," he said, stupidly.

"Right, of course," said Rodney, dropping John's hand, turning back to fetch the candle, and John got Rodney by the shoulders and spun him back to face him and held him there.

"Uh, what?" said John, hearing himself sounding like Rodney was the one who'd grabbed him by the shoulders, and then John tilted his head and moved in, planting a weird off-center kiss on the corner of Rodney's surprised mouth. John backed away again, feeling as stunned as Rodney looked – no, more stunned, because – "So, was this an actual date?" John said.

Rodney's slack jaw abruptly lifted into a pleased smile. "Well, yes," he said.

"Oh," said John, and yes. Of course. Wine, appetizers, mood lighting, a toast, a sort of sexy thoughtful movie. "Oh." John bit his lip. "Okay," he said, "because I always sort of thought that you weren't"—

"Well," said Rodney, "I haven't been. Historically."

"Historically?" said John, because they'd discussed this three years ago, drunk one night and about four days out from yet another huge crisis. At that point, John had sort-of-accidentally let it slip that his preferences tended more towards the male side of the spectrum, maybe just kind of testing the waters with Rodney since they were about to die and all – and Rodney, at the time, had seemed sweetly oblivious to John's clumsy come-on and had very graciously – for Rodney, anyway – shrugged away the whole thing. "You mean, you haven't acted on anything, or you haven't felt anything?" said John, narrowing his eyes.

"God, I don't know," said Rodney confusedly. "Look, do we have to dissect this? Because I never expected you to be the psychoanalytic one in this relationship."

"I'm not," said John, a little offended. "Jesus."

"So," said Rodney, and tilted his chin up, somewhere between charm and arrogance, "so, can I kiss you again?"

"Be my guest," said John, not sure if he was more shocked or pleased with this turn of events.

Rodney took John by the shoulders this time, gentle and sure. His kiss was a lot smoother than John's had been, and definitely a lot smoother than John had expected from Rodney, full stop. Rodney was kind of tender, but definitely in control. One of his hands came up and cupped John's jaw, which was weird but somehow made John's knees go a little unsteady nonetheless. It was a polite kiss, just a hint of open mouth, just enough pressure to make sure John knew that Rodney was interested, but nothing beyond that.

"So," said Rodney, pulling away, his voice a little lower and softer than John had ever heard it, "I guess this is goodnight."

John blinked. "Oh," he said. "Okay. Goodnight, then."

John was most of the way back to his quarters when he remembered that he'd never gotten the candle after all.

6.

Things got busy abruptly after that. First there were a few trade renewals that didn't quite go as planned – AR-2 was attacked on M6E-131 and Lorne ended up with a badly sprained wrist out of the deal – and then some of the new scientists found something that looked like a cool energy pulse weapon but was actually a memory wiper that mentally regressed the target back about twenty years. John spent the better part of a day coaxing a group of adult-sized six- to twelve-year-olds to trust him and walk with him to the infirmary. McKay, shouting, "Honestly, I can't tell the difference!" didn't prove to be much of a help in the process.

It was kind of reassuring, though, that apparently Rodney could keep his shit together in front of other people even after he'd kissed John. That had probably been John's strongest hesitation whenever he'd thought about the possibility of starting something with Rodney – at least, it had been until that drunken conversation when Rodney had somewhat unknowingly assured John that it wasn't even a possibility anyway. But first-timer or not, Rodney was being himself – his abrasive, complaining, egotistical self – on missions and in meetings and whenever they ate meals together with the team.

After the amnesiac scientists were rounded up and safely in Carson's custody, John trailed Rodney out of the infirmary. "Hey," said John, jogging a little to catch up with him, "do you want to hang out? We could do RC cars or video golf or something."

And Rodney, who'd been utterly normal and obnoxious as usual when they were in front of other people, suddenly went a little pink in the cheeks and began to stammer out something about how that would be – nice – and, well, thank you for asking – only, he'd said he'd go back to the lab and take another look at the energy pulse thing, and Zelenka had –

"Okay," said John, and grabbed Rodney by the elbow, dragged him into the nearest transporter, and pressed a remote part of the city map. They exited near the south pier that smelled funny and was rarely frequented. John pushed Rodney back against the wall of the corridor and kissed him.

"What"—began Rodney, confusedly, still nervous and wide-eyed.

"It's okay, McKay," John said, taking pity on the guy, because he was probably freaked out as hell about what had happened between them. John dimly remembered his own first time with another guy; it'd been terrifying. "Hey, let's just," said John, and unfastened Rodney's fly, laying into him with another kiss.

This time Rodney made a desperate noise and kissed back, fisting his hands in John's t-shirt and hauling him in close.

"I got it, I got it," said John hotly against Rodney's lips, and reached into Rodney's boxers to get a grip on his rapidly hardening cock. Rodney's hips jerked and he made a small almost-pained noise that made John's heart start to race. "Yeah, Rodney," John breathed, and kissed him again, starting to jerk him off.

Rodney began to tremble. John kissed the corner of his mouth, his jaw, his ear, hushing and gentling him instinctively, wildly turned on by Rodney's helpless sounds, his desperation. Rodney'd thought about this, John was pretty sure.

It didn't last long – John hadn't expected it to, the way Rodney was shivering and gasping. There was probably only about a minute of groping before Rodney seized the back of John's neck hard and said, "Ah, okay, shit," and came hot and wet into the hollow of John's palm.

"Hey," said John, grinning, proud, "nothing to it, right?"

Rodney was sweaty and flushed and breathing hard, but he managed a shaky nod. "Give me a minute," he said, "I just need"—and then he jumped, blinking, and his hand left John's neck and went to his own ear. "No, I'm on my way, Radek, I just had to make a quick pit-stop," Rodney said, sounding remarkably like his usual self. He was maybe a little out of breath but that could easily be attributed to the way Rodney started panting when he jogged from one place to the next.

"It's okay," said John, when Rodney looked back at him apologetically. "No, seriously, it's fine." And while John really wouldn't have objected to Rodney returning the favor, that hadn't been his goal when he dragged Rodney out here. He'd just wanted to get Rodney past his initial freak-out and back to where they were comfortable alone together. John dipped in and kissed Rodney's mouth again before digging in his pants pocket for a balled up tissue, something, to wipe his hands and Rodney's belly with.

"Here, here," said Rodney, and extracted an honest-to-god handkerchief from his pocket. They cleaned up quickly and John kept the hanky, figuring Rodney didn't need to be carrying that around the labs. Rodney did up his pants and blinked at John, obviously unsure of the etiquette here.

"See you later," said John, trying to be casual about the fact that he still had a pretty obvious hard-on.

"Oh, sure," said Rodney, hands going a few directions at once. "Um." And he stroked John's face, rubbing his broad thumb over John's bottom lip. John was reminded of Rodney's last kiss goodnight from that first evening. "That was."

"Just go," said John, grinning.

"Right," said Rodney, and went.

John leaned against the wall and waited until he'd calmed down enough to appear in public, then headed back to his quarters to wait for Rodney.

7.

Rodney didn't show up that night. John waited up until about two-thirty before giving up on him and jerking off, thinking of Rodney's sex noises and the hot silky feel of him in John's hand.

"Oh, good morning," said Rodney the next morning in the mess hall, and stood up to pull out a chair for John.

"Thanks," said John, sitting down. "Late night?"

"No, not really," said Rodney, and then Ronon joined them and John couldn't press the issue.

8.

There was a bottle of Rodney's red wine in John's office when John dropped by later on. It was sitting next to the Pier 1 candle Rodney'd given him.

"It was there when I came in, sir," said Lorne, carefully keeping his eyes on his laptop as he typed one-handed.

Maybe Rodney had come by here last night, thought John, puzzled. But Rodney never came to his office.

9.

John washed out Rodney's handkerchief in his bathroom sink and hung it up to dry. It would need pressing but it was monogrammed MRM and there was no way John was taking Rodney's monogrammed hanky down to the military's communal laundry room to starch and iron it in plain sight of a dozen marines.

10.

Figuring that it was his turn to make plans, John popped by Rodney's lab the next night and suggested that they grab dinner to go from the mess and take it out to the west pier. "I have some Sleeman's," said John, knowing that would seal the deal.

"Yeah, just give me three minutes," said Rodney, banging his knee on Radek's desk in his haste.

Three minutes in Rodney-time was usually closer to thirty, so John wandered over to one of the new cool whiteboards, seeking some diversion. Under the warning John had left last week someone else had scrawled a correction, crossing out his "schooled" and replacing it with "skewered". John grinned. Rodney was breaking in his new staff as expected, then.

"Okay," said Rodney, appearing at John's side. "Let's go."

"Already?" said John, blinking.

"Yes, yes," said Rodney. "If you're ready."

"Yeah," said John, still thrown. "Yeah, sure."

They got heaping plates of the really good Reshari curry made with Grethselian beef-pork and swung by John's quarters for the beer before making their way out to the pier.

"Oh," said Rodney, halting as they exited the transporter. There were a handful of other people strung out along the length of the pier, enjoying the weather and the view.

"It's fine," said John. "This thing's, like, a full klick long. It's not exactly crowded."

"Are you sure you want to," said Rodney, and waved around vaguely, "in front of all these"—

"Have dinner and drink beer in plain sight?" prompted John. "Come on, McKay, we do this all the time. Nothing's any different."

"Oh," said Rodney again, getting it. "Right, of course."

They found a clear spot right near the end of the pier, a good hundred feet of privacy between them and the next small group down. "I had dreams about Reshari curry," said John in ecstasy.

"God, me too," said Rodney. "The closest I could find in Nevada was this Indian take-out dive with fly paper hanging from the ceiling, and it wasn't nearly this good."

"Have another beer," said John, shoving a second bottle in Rodney's direction. He figured more alcohol might help Rodney shed a little of his continuing nervousness.

"Yeah," said Rodney, probably drawing the same conclusion, drinking up.

The sun set. People began to pick up and leave once the show was over and the evening chill started to settle. John and Rodney lingered over their third and final beers until they were the only ones left.

"Hey," said John, kicking Rodney's boot with his, "wanna make out a little?"

Rodney was staring down at their feet, but a shy goofy smile overtook his mouth as John watched. "Yeah," he said, and wiggled a little closer.

John dug in his jacket pocket and pulled out his life signs detector, the one Rodney had rigged with a proximity alarm for use in exploring downed Wraith cruisers. He laid it on the pier behind them, a tiny watchdog, and then reached across and pulled Rodney to him.

Rodney was a little hesitant at first, probably not so used to having someone else take the lead, but he relaxed into it after John stroked his hair and the soft skin behind his ears, kissing him persistently. "Mmm," said Rodney, and got John by one shoulder, sliding the other hand down to John's waist, and then Rodney's mouth opened up and John found himself relenting almost embarrassingly quickly, letting Rodney in, letting Rodney take charge.

And since Rodney seemed to like being in charge, John waited for him to make the first move. He waited and waited while Rodney kissed John's mouth and face and neck, while Rodney stroked his hand up John's back under his jacket but over his shirt, while Rodney tilted John's chin up and held him still so Rodney could run his lips over John's jaw, ticklish against John's late-evening stubble.

"Rodney," said John finally, giving up on waiting, "I don't want to push you into anything, but you can"—

"Getting there," said Rodney in the same authoritative murmur he used when concentrating hard on a tricky repair.

"Okay," said John, caving, even though he'd been about to grab Rodney's hand and press it against John's straining fly.

So they kissed for a while longer, and after a couple more minutes John let Rodney push him down flat and lie down next to him. The pier was metal and hard and a little damp, but John was more focused on the fact that Rodney was finally sliding one hand up under his shirt, shivery soft over John's bare stomach and chest. "God," said John, unbearably turned on by Rodney's hot solid hand curving around his side. "Please."

"Okay, okay," said Rodney, and his other hand didn't tease, landing squarely on John's crotch. If Rodney was at all weirded out by touching another guy's dick for the first time, he didn't show it. John was grateful for that, because now he had Rodney's hand giving him perfect pressure, pressure he could grind up against. John threw one leg over Rodney's hips and started to hump a little greedily, knowing this was the polar opposite of smooth but far beyond caring. "Yeah?" said Rodney, and though it was now full dark John could hear the smile in his voice, the smugness.

"Shut up," said John, somewhere between embarrassed and amused, and Rodney curled his fingers a little, and John pushed his hips into the delicious heat and friction five or six more times before he had to grab onto Rodney's broad strong shoulders and come.

"Yeah," said Rodney again, any smugness overwhelmed by arousal this time. "John, god, that was hot."

"Just," said John, and reached down to lift Rodney's hand away. "Wow. You're kind of better at this stuff than I thought."

"Well," said Rodney, "I am a genius, you know—ow, hey!" and then Rodney was laughing while John jumped on him and gave him a noogie, and then they were kissing again, Rodney's erection hard between them, and then John was crawling down Rodney's body and opening his pants. "Oh, okay," said Rodney vaguely, and John took the wet round head of Rodney's cock in his mouth.

The life signs detector started pinging faintly a few minutes into the afterglow, when John and Rodney were doing something that John resolutely refused to acknowledge as spooning, still catching their breath and letting out the occasional helpless chuckle. "That's our cue," said John, pulling away and getting to unsteady feet, suddenly aware that he was pretty drunk, pretty damp, and definitely uncomfortable in the underwear area. He collected his share of the empties, staggering just a little, while Rodney took his time grunting and sighing and finally getting up on his knees to help.

"Pants," said John, because Rodney's were still hanging open.

"Oh," said Rodney, looking down. "God, I'm so wasted." And that got them laughing all over again while the proximity alarm started a slow crescendo.

By the time the mystery couple appeared at the city-end of the pier, they were mostly put back together, if still a little prone to snorting with hilarity. John and Rodney made their way back to the transporter, passing the interlopers on the way – two scientists from botany, or maybe marine biology – a soft science, anyway.

"Well," said Rodney when they got out of the transporter in the senior staff quarters section of the city, "I guess it's goodnight."

"Right," said John, tugging a little self-consciously at the front of his untucked shirt.

Rodney shot a glance left and right, then behind him. "No one's around," he said, "but"—

"Best not to risk it," John agreed.

"Right," said Rodney. His eyes were very blue. John didn't know how he'd never noticed that. "So, I'll see you tomorrow?"

"We do have that mission," said John, trying not to laugh at Rodney getting all weird and anxious yet again.

"Right," said Rodney. "With the – okay. So. Goodnight."

They went their separate ways.

11.

"Sir," said Lorne, when John came in to write up his AAR late the next afternoon, "someone left some socks for you."

"Socks?" said John, baffled. He went over to his desk and saw for himself: a 3-pack of black athletic socks. They were made from bamboo and had padded soles. They were very soft to the touch.

"They look like nice socks," said Lorne encouragingly. "I mean, as socks go."

John squeezed the little stack the socks made. They were springy and thick. The price tag had mostly been peeled away but the top part that was left read 'Zellers'.

"You want a pair?" John asked, feeling like maybe it was the polite thing to do.

"Oh," said Lorne. "No, sir, that's fine."

"You sure?" said John, popping the plastic tie that held the socks together by the cuffs. "They look like good socks."

"Well," said Lorne. "I mean, if you really don't mind."

John pulled off the top pair and tossed it at Lorne, who looked pleased as only a military man could at the prospect of really nice athletic socks. "My pleasure," said John.

"These are good socks," said Lorne again, appreciatively. "Say, uh, say thanks to whoever…"

"I will," said John, unable to keep from smiling.

12.

"Thanks for the socks," John said, the next time he caught Rodney alone. It was lunchtime and the rest of their team was still in line for their meals.

"Oh," said Rodney, blushing, pleased. "You're welcome. I mean, I discovered that brand when I was back home visiting Jeannie and I thought you'd like them."

"That's very thoughtful, McKay," said John, and he know he sounded maybe a little sarcastic – he couldn't help it – so he gave Rodney a gentle kick under the table to assure him of his sincerity.

"Well," said Rodney, rubbing his nose, trying not to smile.

"I'm wearing a pair right now," said John. "They're good socks."

Teyla came up to the table holding her tray and looking tired. There was something in her hair – porridge maybe. John carefully didn't comment. Torren was going through a difficult phase.

13.

Something broke in one of the unused towers, and for once it seemed to be nobody's fault, but there was a lot of flooding and whatever had busted had to do with the city's desalinization system because for forty-eight hours they had to subsist on bottled water and all the city plumbing was out. John had to show the marines how to flush Ancient toilets using buckets of seawater, but it was hard on the 10,000 year old pipes so everyone was encouraged to treat the sewage system like a rural septic tank.

"If it's yellow, let it mellow?" said Woolsey unhappily, reading John's memo on the subject.

"McKay says we can't afford to corrode the pipes by pouring tons of saltwater into them while he's getting this problem fixed," said John, shrugging. "Lots of the marines are just peeing off the piers and balconies, actually."

"That seems highly unsanitary," said Woolsey.

"Well," said John, "a hundred guys, an ocean full of water."

"Right," said Woolsey. "Please encourage Dr. McKay to work quickly."

John figured his best bet to get Rodney to work quickly was to leave him alone, because while McKay was best under pressure, he was also incredibly grouchy when he couldn't shower every morning and that was probably pressure enough.

Finally the water came back on, though it would take a while for the city to build up its reservoir again (John's new memo: 'You can flush, but the mellow yellow rule still holds') and showers were banned for a further three days because drinking and cooking water took top priority.

"That's it," said John, rearing back as he started to enter the too-fragrant confines of the main conference room on the afternoon of the fifth showerless day, "I'm going to the southern beach on the mainland. Anyone care to join me?"

"God, yes," said Rodney.

"Count me and Amelia in," said Ronon gratefully.

In the end, it was a full jumper, which was almost unbearable for the ride out: Rodney, Ronon, and Amelia were joined by Teyla's whole family.

Once there, Teyla set the tone by stripping down completely before undressing her son, and after that it was a free-for-all. John and Rodney were probably the most self-conscious of the group; but after a few minutes of wading with his trunks on and feeling only about half-refreshed, John gave up and joined the other nudists, pulling off his suit and flinging it onto the beach from where he stood in waist-deep water. Rodney gaped for a moment, then sighed and did the same.

It would have been weird if it weren't for Torren, for whom this was obviously normal family behavior. The presence of a toddler was actually surprisingly helpful, John discovered, taking the uncomfortable sense of sexuality out of the air entirely. For Ronon and Teyla and Kanaan, too, there seemed to be no hesitation or embarrassment, which made it almost impossible to feel anxious after a few minutes had gone by.

They all took turns scrubbing with handfuls of sand and then wading into the open water on the far side of the beach to wash more thoroughly with the expedition's standard issue biodegradable soap and shampoo. The current pulled the suds out to sea in that area, keeping the beach pristine.

"I feel a million times better," Rodney sighed, flopped out belly-down on a towel, a dry clean t-shirt draped modestly over his butt. "This was actually kind of a brilliant plan, Colonel."

"Why thank you, Rodney," said John with an eye roll, digging through his pack for his boxers and sunglasses. Teyla and Amelia were covering up again, though Torren was still racing around in the buff, and Ronon and Kanaan were chatting idly while sitting naked on towels. John figured he'd split the difference and at least put on underwear.

"Do you think we can camp out here until the rest of the city has a chance to shower?" asked Rodney hopefully. "Because if we thought they smelled bad before, I'm guessing it's going to be even riper when we're clean."

"Good point," said John. "Well, we have supplies in the jumper. I mean, if you're serious."

"I'm definitely serious," said Rodney. "Ooh, we can have MREs for dinner."

"Only you," said John wryly, tugging on his boxers and standing up. "Okay, I'll radio Woolsey and see if he minds us doing a camp-out."

14.

Woolsey assented, though John was betting he had begun to regret his skittishness over joining them and his subsequent decision to stay in the stinky sweaty city.

Teyla helped John pitch the three tents from the jumper's emergency kits, laying out bedrolls inside while John staked the tents down. Ronon (still naked, and obviously enjoying it) cleared a patch of dirt in the grassy area where they'd set up camp, outlining it with stones to form a fire pit. Torren (clothed again at Teyla's insistence) gathered kindling with some help from Rodney and Amelia and Kanaan.

"I can get us some dinner," said Ronon, finally picking up his pants and shirt and his blaster. "Anyone hungry?"

"I'll stick with the beef stew," said Rodney suspiciously, clutching his MRE pouch. Everyone else was curious to see what Ronon could find.

In short order, Ronon returned to the camp hauling something like a deer, except it was only about the half the size of an Earth specimen. Torren watched with great glee as Ronon showed him how to gut and skin the animal, and then Kanaan turned up with several handfuls of purple soro berries. But as impressive as Ronon's hunt and Kanaan's contribution were, Amelia won everyone's affection by digging around under the right bench seat of the jumper and coming back with a cooler.

"Where did you"—said Rodney, awed, as Amelia pulled off the lid to reveal several large clay bottles of Athosian homebrew, nestled in half-melted ice.

"The kitchens had lots of ice," she said modestly, "but it was kind of old, so it wasn't any good for melting into drinking water. Good enough to keep beer cold, though."

So they had plastic plates full of roasted miniature venison and sticky ripe purple soro berries, and plastic cups full of the rich yeasty Athosian beer. Torren fell asleep nestled in John's arms, heavy and warm and trusting.

"I believe I am almost happy that Atlantis's plumbing failed," said Teyla, cross-legged, leaning back into Kanaan's embrace.

"This is good," agreed Ronon, and poured himself his fifth or sixth cup of beer, content and loose-limbed like Ronon rarely was.

John didn't feel like saying anything, so he just looked over at Rodney and smiled, and dipped his head down to kiss Torren's soft baby hair.

15.

Sleeping arrangements were easy: Teyla, Kanaan, and Torren in one tent, Amelia and Ronon in the next, leaving – to John's unuttered pleasure – Rodney and John to share the third.

"No one's going to think this is weird?" Rodney asked in a whisper as they zipped the tent shut behind them.

"Well," said John, "if you'd prefer to sleep in the jumper," and Rodney made a face.

It was only surprising for a minute when the first soft sound drifted over from one of the other tents. But then John remembered that Teyla had grown up in a whole village that was basically this campsite on a larger scale; of course she wouldn't see anything odd about making love in the privacy of her tent, and Torren was dead to the world like any child asleep. Besides, today had been desperately romantic, especially near the end, and they were probably all more than tipsy at this point, leaving them more uninhibited than usual.

"Is that…" said Rodney, hearing the next soft sound.

"Yeah," said John, closing his eyes, a little turned on.

"Huh," said Rodney. "I think"—and yeah, obviously John wasn't the only one, because that was definitely Ronon making that quiet satisfied grunt in the next text over.

"So," said John, rolling onto his side, eyes adjusted to the faint light coming through the nylon from the dying fire, "I really don't think anyone would notice, if you want to mess around too."

"Yeah?" said Rodney, eyes gone all pupil with the dark and with arousal.

"Get over here," said John, smiling helplessly.

This time Rodney was okay with being rushed a little, and John got him on his back after a few minutes of kissing, making it easier to tug Rodney's shorts down and take his cock in hand. "Do you want my mouth?" said John, knowing what Rodney's answer would be but wanting to see how he'd manage to say it.

"Uh, if you don't mind," said Rodney awkwardly, "I mean, if you want to. Whatever."

"Try again, McKay," said John, teasing.

"Yes, please," said Rodney very softly, and John was surprised by how unfunny it suddenly was.

After Rodney came in John's mouth, he moved John up and onto his back before fumbling John out of his sweats and straddling John's knees. "Are you sure?" asked John, shaking.

"Yeah," said Rodney, not sounding too sure at all, but he bowed his head and kissed the head of John's cock, tender and affectionate and kind of sweet, and John thought, insanely, of those soft black socks and the way Rodney'd taken his hand that first night. "Tell me what you like," said Rodney, embarrassed.

"No," said John, "I mean, you're – anything. Just. Your mouth. God."

Rodney dipped his head down and held John's cock in his big warm hand – for the first time, John realized dizzily – and started to lick and suck tentatively. It was inexpert and Rodney probably wasn't enjoying it much – it had taken John a while to get the appeal, too – but it was hopelessly hot from John's perspective, especially with the quiet distant sounds of sex in the background, the taste of Rodney still on John's tongue.

"Here," said John, and reached down to move Rodney's fist up and down, "use your hand, just suck the tip, I'll let you know when I'm close," and Rodney was a quick learner, because John's head fell back as Rodney followed his instructions perfectly: firm steady jacking and soft sucking and licking that spot under the head. John shivered and balled his hands in the sleeping bag and tried to be quiet, but then he looked down and saw Rodney, Rodney's wide mouth and big hand and thick shadowy lashes in the orange-dark, and a small but unmistakable moan left John's mouth.

Rodney hummed back, and John barely got his hand down there in time, pushing Rodney out of the way and cupping his cock head as he came hard, probably too noisy after all.

"Good?" said Rodney as John gasped and sank back into the bedroll.

"Definitely good," said John. "Hey, you don't happen to have another hanky, do you?" and they both kind of got to laughing over that one, because Rodney did have a hanky and they were the same couple of assholes they'd always been, just now with bonuses like John's come-sticky fingers and Rodney's red cock-swollen lips.

"I think they heard me," said John as they settled back down, Rodney's belly against the small of John's back.

"You think?" said Rodney sarcastically.

"Shut up," said John. "Anyway, it's Teyla and Ronon."

"Yeah," said Rodney in a fond voice. "Yeah, it's them."

16.

John didn't even realize he was expecting anything until he came into his office and looked down at his bare desk. Lorne was off for a run so the room was empty. Maybe Rodney hadn't had time to come by yet; it'd been busy since they'd gotten back from their little camping trip.

John sat at his desk and shuffled through paperwork until he found it: a scrap of the yellow legal paper that all the scientists wrote on.

It's in my quarters. Come by at 2300.

John folded up the paper and stuffed it in his pocket.

17.

John had heard McKay go on and on about his great big awesome bathtub when he'd first moved into his new quarters around the start of the last year. John had never been much of a bath person – stewing around in your own filth? no thank you! – but he got that Rodney was excited, so John tried to seem pleased when it turned out that his present was a hot bath.

"I know, I know," said Rodney, clearly seeing right through John's expression of feigned happiness, "but look, there are these bath salts, it all sounds incredibly girly, but you have to try it."

"Are you trying it with me?" said John doubtfully.

"No," said Rodney. "I mean, I'll get in, but that's not the point."

"I don't know," said John. "Can't we just have sex?"

"Trust me," said Rodney impatiently. "Come on. Strip."

John sighed and got undressed. Rodney liked a damn hot bath, and John hissed when he tested the water with his hand. Still, John was still sore from the marathon run he and Ronon had taken in celebration of the return of the showers, so he gritted his teeth and slowly eased one foot into the steaming water. "Jesus, you must have skin like an elephant," John said, watching his leg turn lobster-red as it was submerged.

"Actually," said Rodney, "hot water's good for exfoliating, keeps your skin fresh."

"Fuck," said John, balancing himself with one hand and getting his other foot into the tub. "I have no idea how I'm going to get my balls in here without screaming like a woman."

"Come on, princess," said Rodney, undressing. "I thought you full-bird colonels were tougher than this."

John squeezed his eyes shut and slid down into the tub in one quick motion. "Ow, ow, ow," John said, body seizing with the shock of the nearly scalding water. "Remind me again why this is fun?" He sank down gingerly, muscles rigid with the stinging heat.

"Give it a minute," said Rodney, and got in the tub facing the other way, fast and matter-of-fact even as the blood rushed to the surface of his fair skin and turned him a bright pink. Rodney settled with his back against the opposite end of the tub, their legs intertwined in the middle under the faucet. "Mm," said Rodney, closing his eyes. "Tell me when you're comfortable, I'll pour in some more water and add the salts."

"Get a meat thermometer and I can check to see if I'm cooked all the way through," John bitched, but already the water was losing a little of its burning quality, and John was sagging into the steady heat almost against his will.

Rodney was feeling it too, judging by his happy sighs and lolling head.

"Okay," said John, sweaty and loose-jointed, after another minute passed. "Break out the magic girly bath salts."

Rodney rolled his shoulders contentedly and opened his eyes, getting a little jar off the edge of the tub and twisting the hot tap open to release a fresh flood of scalding water boiling into the depths of the tub. John pulled his legs away hastily and Rodney dropped a few tablespoons worth of the bath salts into the splashing water.

It smelled nice. Like the candle, it wasn't a flowery smell, it was fresh and kind of sharp and yet weirdly relaxing. The salts dissolved slowly, clouding the water a little as they dispersed. "What's so great about this?" said John, because aside from the nice smell he couldn't see the benefit.

"Shut up and lie back," said Rodney, and John sighed before obeying.

It was strange how quickly the water had gone from seeming impossibly hot to merely warm and pleasant. John could feel his muscles stretching out, loosening, like the aftermath of a good massage. The steam was making his face sweaty, perspiration popping out all over his skin wherever he wasn't submerged. On impulse, John ducked down and got his face and hair wet, feeling the skin come up clean and fresh. "Mm," said John without meaning to, because it felt good.

"Right?" said Rodney drowsily. "I've found I can't use the salts if I'm actually trying to work a problem, but for sheer relaxation value, it's amazing."

"Mm," said John again, grudgingly, getting a little woozy and tired himself. He breathed deep through his nose, the steam opening his lungs and sinuses, and then he drifted for a while, not quite sleeping but not really awake either. He suspected that this was what meditation felt like for Teyla.

"Okay," said Rodney from far far away, some minutes or hours later, "up, up, up."

"No," said John, too happy to move.

"Yes, the water's going to get cold soon and you don't want that," insisted Rodney. "I speak from experience, John, come on."

John opened his eyes slowly, drifting back towards full consciousness. "Okay," he said, a little embarrassed now about how far gone he'd been. He dragged his feet up under him and braced himself on the edges of the tub, standing up slowly, the blood rushing from his head in the liquid heat that clung to him still.

"Careful," said Rodney, already out of the tub, steadying John. "I've got you."

John managed to get out of the tub with minimal assistance, and then Rodney gave him a fat fluffy towel and John began to pat himself dry. When his fingers brushed his skin, he was a little startled by how soft it was, especially in the bare patches like the backs of his knees or his sides, his back. "What's in that stuff?" John said, wonderingly.

"Unicorn pee and fairy dust," said Rodney smartly. "I have no idea. But it's good, right?"

"It's very good," John agreed, still dizzy. He reached down to rub the towel over his groin. "You do realize I won't be able to get it up for hours now?"

"I know," said Rodney, "hot water has its drawbacks." He handed John a t-shirt and a pair of boxers – both Rodney's. "I thought we'd have a nap first anyway."

Rodney's quarters were amazing, John realized, sliding between soft expensive sheets onto a wonderfully firm and wide mattress. He'd never seen past the clutter and mess before, but Rodney had an incredible appreciation for creature comforts, and John was more than happy to reap the benefits. They wound up in the middle of the bed, John's arm around Rodney's waist, and then without even thinking about it, John was out like a light.

18.

They woke sometime in the small hours, and later John couldn't remember which of them had stirred first because he came to consciousness so gradually. He felt like there was no jarring moment of alertness as usual when waking up, just an easing into it: sleeping comfortably one minute, kissing and groping the next, and a few minutes after that they were naked and rutting against each other, and John probably only fully woke up just before he came, Rodney over him and thrusting down onto his belly, heavy and hot and gorgeous.

"You should probably go," said Rodney regretfully, wiping them off with one of his discarded t-shirts.

"Nah," said John, sinking back into Rodney's awesome bed. "No one's gonna notice anything weird, Rodney. It's not like there's a patrol outside my room. It's the senior staff wing, it's practically deserted most of the time."

"Huh," said Rodney, "I guess you're right." He settled back down, naked, and flung the used t-shirt into a corner before pulling John to him. "I guess I envisioned more complications than this."

"You were thinking it through?" asked John, even though he knew Rodney had. Rodney thought everything through.

"Hmm," said Rodney, nosing John's hair, sleepy again.

"How about the parts that were supposed to make up for the complications?" John prompted shamelessly, knowing from experience that Rodney was even more disarmingly truthful when he was half-asleep or half-drunk. "Are those better than you envisioned too?"

"Well," said Rodney, groping his hand down to John's lower belly, trailing there. "You forget we've seen each other naked before."

John snickered. "You were lured in by the sight of my gigantic dong, huh?"

"Right," said Rodney sleepily, and John could feel his smile curving against his neck. "That's definitely what got me into your clutches."

19.

It wasn't until the next morning that everything finally started to come together in John's mind.

He woke in the middle stages of dawn, as usual. Rodney was sprawled out flat on his stomach, mouth open and drooling a little, thinning hair going ten directions at once, which made John fear for his own hair. "Hey," said John, nudging him, "I'm going to head back to my place, Ronon and I are going for a run soon."

"Nuh," said Rodney, and then bolted awake. "What?"

"Leaving," said John, pointing with his thumb. "Running. Ronon. You sleep."

"No," said Rodney, "I'll get up, I'm up."

"It's six in the morning," said John. "Breakfast doesn't even start for an hour. Sleep."

"Well, you're getting up," said Rodney, pushing up and wiping his cheek. "I should get up too."

"If you say so," said John, because neither of them was a morning person and this seemed like a bad plan. Still, Rodney was true to his word and staggered towards the bathroom while John searched out his clothes from yesterday and got dressed.

Rodney emerged smelling minty and still wearing nothing but terrible bedhead. "You're going?" he said, scratching his beard stubble, dopey.

"Mmm hmm," said John, shoving his feet into his boots. "I'll see you at senior staff, or breakfast maybe."

"Listen," said Rodney, obviously making an effort to overcome his usual morning grunting sounds, "I just wanted to say – this was really, um. Special."

"Special?" said John, wrinkling his nose.

"Well," said Rodney, "for me, anyway."

"Okay," said John, not wanting to be an asshole about it, but really, they'd just had a weirdly lesbiany bath together and then humped each other in the middle of the night. It wasn't exactly the pinnacle of John's life so far, though it had been fun, and kind of nice.

"I just wanted you to know that," said Rodney awkwardly, and took a couple of steps closer. "Okay?"

"Fine," said John, squinting. "Did you hit your head?"

"No, I didn't hit my head!" said Rodney, indignant and high-pitched, more like his usual self.

"Good," said John, running his hand over Rodney's scalp to check, just in case, and also because Rodney's hair was hilarious and kind of soft. "Later," he said, and impulsively ducked in to kiss Rodney's mouth.

20.

"Did you look in the mirror this morning?" Ronon asked, mouth twisting with cruel pleasure when John showed up on the catwalk.

"Shut up," said John. "I went to bed with wet hair. I'm having a shower right after this."

Ronon snorted and took off down the catwalk.

"Oh, like you're one to talk!" John hollered, sprinting to catch up. "Your whole hairstyle is pretty much an acute case of bedhead."

21.

"Hey," said John, "did you ever have a girl give you, like, a little speech the morning after?"

"What, like, 'Do you still respect me?'" said Ronon, watching John stretch.

"Shut up," said John. "Well, actually. Kind of."

"You know," said Ronon helpfully, "if you say you respect her first, you can head that off at the pass. Like, say that you really had a good time and you were glad you did this and it was, like, special to you and that shit."

"Well, yeah," said John, who'd given that speech more than a few times. "Wait."

22.

At the senior staff meeting, Rodney stood up and pulled out a chair for John.

John spent most of the meeting focusing on his data tablet, wishing his ears would stop burning.

He was so dumb sometimes.

23.

"Uh," said Lorne, "I think they're bath salts."

John looked at the familiar little jar sitting in the middle of his desk. "I don't even have a tub," he said, agonized.

"Well," said Lorne. "Maybe she wants you to share them then." He grinned, shooting John a 'you sly dog' kind of look.

"Oh my god," said John, and sagged down into his chair.

24.

At dinner, Rodney gave John his extra serving of apple cobbler. When John finished eating, Rodney bussed both their trays so John could continue his conversation with Teyla. And as they left the mess, Rodney hung back and let John exit first.

The thing was, Rodney had been doing all those things since they'd gotten back to Atlantis, and John had only now noticed.

"Rodney," John said, teeth clenched, "can I have a word?"

There was a handy balcony nearby, so John grabbed Rodney by the wrist and hauled him out there.

"Um," said Rodney, "this is actually kind of visible from the mess hall, so if you were thinking of reprising that thing from the south pier – which, you know, go you! – maybe we should go somewhere else."

John dropped his forehead into his hand and gave himself a little temple massage, willing himself to speak.

"Do you have a headache?" asked Rodney. "I can walk you to the infirmary if"—

"Would you stop it?" John exploded, looking up, abruptly pushed past his limits. "Jesus, do you even realize what you're doing?"

"I'm – being solicitous?" said Rodney, startled.

"Exactly!" said John. "Since when do you give a shit if I have a headache?"

"Since we started dating," said Rodney, as though it was perfectly normal.

"Dating?" said John. "Jesus Christ!"

"Well, what would you call it?" asked Rodney, huffy, folding his arms over his chest. "We go out, we do stuff, we make out and have sex."

"You pull out a chair for me, you feed me your dessert, you give me little cute presents every time I make you come," John added, knowing his eyes were getting a little crazy. "You tried to give me the speech, for god's sake!"

"I don't know what you"—began Rodney, defensive.

"It was special?" John quoted fiercely. "It was special for you, having me stay over and fuck you?"

"Well, it was!" Rodney insisted. "It was very special!"

"I'm going to punch you in the face!" John yelled.

"I have no idea what I did to piss you off!" Rodney yelled back. "Jesus, I've done everything exactly the way you're supposed to do it!"

"For a girl, maybe!" John shouted. "Or did you forget that I have a penis, Rodney?"

Rodney's mouth snapped closed, and he looked almost comically wounded. "Of course I didn't forget," he said, "it's kind of been foremost in my mind, since it's the first time I've dated anyone with a penis."

"Well," began John, angrily, and then he realized what Rodney was saying. "Oh." Rodney honestly had no clue. He was taking all his plays right out of the weird old-fashioned and kind of lame book of McKay Romance. "Well, it's different," said John, with a sigh. "Rodney. It's different with guys."

"Why would it be any different?" asked Rodney, confused. "I mean, I – I really like you. I mean, obviously, I like you, I've liked you for a long time. But this thing, this new thing: it's so good, John. I wanted to make sure it was perfect."

Oh, fuck. Well. That was kind of – John hated the word even as he thought it – kind of sweet. Because John had seen Rodney trying before, trying with Katie and then with Jennifer, and really, John didn't think Rodney had ever tried this hard with either of them, not this consistently, not this perfectly. "I get it," said John, "but it's me, Rodney. I"—he choked on the words, but they needed saying. "Me too, is what I mean," John tried, with difficulty. "What you were saying. Me too. It's just – you don't have to, I don't know, woo me or whatever."

Rodney licked his lips, nervous. "I don't?"

"No," said John, smiling in spite of himself. "Rodney. You've got me already. You – you won me over a long time ago."

"I did?" said Rodney, pleased and surprised. "Was it the socks?"

John laughed, shaking his head. "No, I mean, a long time ago. Like, probably years ago."

It took Rodney a minute to absorb this information, which was kind of flattering because Rodney took everything in quickly, in the blink of an eye most of the time. "Oh," he said finally, and looked up at John, still weirdly shy. "I did?"

"Yeah," said John. "I had kind of given up on you ever – um."

Rodney wiped at his mouth as though trying to erase his smile. "Honestly, I thought things had maybe just started changing when we came back to Pegasus – the way you gave me that hug in the hall, in front of all my minions and everyone. It – it didn't seem like a typical thing for you to do."

"It wasn't," admitted John. "I guess I was being a little impulsive that day."

"Well," said Rodney, "I guess I'm kind of easy, then. It totally sold me. You should have done that a long time ago."

"If I'd known you were this easy," said John, cracking up a little, "I probably would have."

"So," said Rodney, "I guess I can just stop with all the – the tokens of affection?"

"Yeah," said John. "You can stop." Then he wiggled his toes in his awesome soft bamboo athletic socks, and ran his thumb along the soft soft skin inside his forearm. "Well. Maybe just the – the chair thing and and the 'ladies first' thing. And the speeches, I fucking hate speeches."

"But you like socks," said Rodney, "and wine. And the desserts."

"Mm," said John, trying to look neutral about it all.

"You liked the bath," said Rodney, his voice dropping down low.

"Enh," said John, lifting his shoulder, shrugging, but he couldn't keep from smiling.

"So," said Rodney, "since I don't have to woo you, I can just assume you're going to sleep over again tonight?"

John paused, frowning, trying to make Rodney squirm. "I don't know," he said, "it's not like I'm a sure thing."

"Oh, you're such a sure thing," said Rodney, grinning and bouncing on his toes. "Come on, let's go make out on my couch."

25.

The next day, John snuck into Rodney's lab during lunch and left him a six-pack of Sleeman's squarely in the middle of his desk.

On the board, John's note had mutated again:

Welcome to McKay's World, it read. Prepare to be positively charmed.