Carson flashed a penlight in Rodney’s eyes. “Any headaches? Visual anomalies?”
“No, no, of course not.” Rodney blinked and shifted away while Carson’s tiny light relentlessly followed him. It had been five days since Sheppard and Zelenka had pulled him from the bottom of the sea, and everyone was still treating him like Lazarus risen from the dead. Rodney just wanted to put it all behind him.
“Nausea? Night sweats? Anxiety?”
“No.” Carson looked at him suspiciously. “No more than usual,” Rodney corrected, hurriedly.
The examining table creaked as Rodney shifted nervously. He’d always believed it was in his best interests—in everyone’s best interests really—for him to be perfectly honest with Carson about every little thing that might prevent him from doing his job—or continuing to breathe in the manner he’d become accustomed to. He was too important to Atlantis to be done in by some apparently innocent injury.
“Um, Carson, what do you mean by visual anomalies exactly?”
Carson checked the stitches on Rodney’s forehead while he talked. “You were down there a long time, Rodney. Concussion, hypoxia, the beginnings of hypothermia. It wouldn’t be unusual for you to have had hallucinations. To have nightmares.”
Rodney felt his throat go dry. He’d tried hard not to dream at all. Had played 47 games of Minesweeper before he’d dropped off halfway through a round and the next thing he’d known he was waking up, sheets damp with sweat, and the taste of salt in his mouth. He’d retreated to the lab until Zelenka had threatened to call Beckett, but even Rodney knew he couldn’t avoid sleep forever.
“Rodney, you had a terrible fright and a severe head injury. It’s perfectly normal …”
Carson droned on, and Rodney wondered if he should mention how the memory of Samantha Carter’s lips on his was as real as any other. Maybe more so. When he closed his eyes, he could swear he felt the swell of her breasts pressed against his chest, and the skin under the straps of her pale lace bra was smooth and perfect. Rodney wasn’t sure if that made him crazy or absolutely normal. He’d been convinced he was going to die—even with his inner optimist telling him to have faith—so imagining the hottest scientist he knew probably put him safely on the side of normal. No one could’ve predicted that Sheppard and Zelenka would pull off a rescue that involved underwater shields, grappling hooks and intelligent alien whales acting like Lassie. Even Rodney hadn’t believed it until he had woken up in the infirmary, a sea of worried faces gathered around him.
“Rodney.” Carson was looking at him with exasperated concern, and Rodney realized he hadn’t heard the last several sentences. “If you’re not comfortable talking to me, maybe Kate—”
Rodney shook his head frantically. Kate Heightmeyer was fine for a doctor who couldn’t even prescribe medication, but she was also an attractive woman and blonde, and Rodney needed to keep his fantasies and his professional associations separate if he could. Well, except for Samantha Carter.
“All right,” Carson said briskly, reaching for his clipboard. “If you’re not complaining, then it must be serious. I’m recommending a visit to Dr. Heightmeyer—”
“No! I—I—” Rodney took a deep breath and shrugged. “I thought I was going to die.”
Carson’s hand immediately squeezed Rodney’s shoulder. “Aye.”
“I really thought I was going to die, and—” Rodney twirled his hand in the air in a vague gesture. “Well, I—I guess I needed someone to talk to, to help me work things out, so to speak, and then there she was.”
“Samantha Carter.” Carson’s brow furrowed as he tried to place the name. “Ah, the scientist on SG-1. Yes, I met her once. Lovely lass. Beauty and brains.”
“And a big gun,” Rodney added blissfully, then flushed when Carson raised a curious eyebrow at him. “I just mean—oh, never mind. She’s in the Air Force. She’s possibly the smartest woman I’ve ever met—although still not as smart as me—but she could kill me with her bare hands.”
Carson smirked and Rodney realized he hadn’t meant to sound quite so excited about that last bit. He really needed to get more action than second-hand kisses when someone hijacked his body or hot, but clearly trauma-induced, action with uncooperative hallucinations. If he’d been fully in control of his faculties, Sam would definitely have been wearing something skimpier, although he thought the pink had suited her. If he saw her again, he was going to have to tell her that. The pink part.
“Rodney, are you saying you hallucinated Lieutenant Colonel Carter in the puddlejumper with you?”
Rodney nodded shakily, uncertain what Carson’s reaction might be.
“Have you experienced any hallucinations since you’ve returned to Atlantis?”
“No.” Even the memories were starting to fade. Sam’s face was less clear when he thought about her now, her voice an echo inside his head rather than the commanding voice of reason he’d heard in the jumper.
“Rodney, it’s very important you tell me the truth about this. If you’re still seeing things, it could mean—”
“I swear, Carson. She showed up, helped me figure things out—well, when she wasn’t distracting me with the kissing and the lace bra—but really, other than that, she was just sort of there. Helping.”
Rodney noticed Carson’s stunned eyes and slightly open mouth. He quickly backtracked through what he’d said, and decided he really should’ve left out the kissing part. Seriously. Even though it was hot. And the only way he was probably ever going to get to kiss Samantha Carter. He would’ve stripped naked and tied himself to her bed if she’d given him any indication she was even moderately interested, but he’d resigned himself to a lot of hopeless fantasizing and nights alone with his right hand. Even he’d realized after three months in Siberia that his posting there probably wasn’t an indication that she was pining for his body.
“You were kissing your hallucination?”
“Yes, but—it—I was freezing. She was trying to keep me warm.” And trying to distract him from a plan that was bound to fail, but he didn’t mention that part.
“I’m sure she was.”
“Carson. You don’t have to include the details in your report, do you? I mean, it’s a little bit—um, personal?”
“No, Rodney. No one has to know. And as long as you’re not having any other problems,” the look Carson gave Rodney said he wasn’t above sticking him back in the infirmary if he thought he was lying, “imagining you were kissing the Lt. Colonel in the puddlejumper really isn’t a major concern.”
“Right, right,” Rodney agreed, slipping off the examining table and feeling better than he had all day. “It didn’t mean anything. Perfectly normal under the circumstances. Besides, it’s not like it’s ever going to happen. Just a harmless fantasy, right?”
“Absolutely. Now, I still think you should consider talking to Kate, and if you’re still having trouble sleeping, take one of these with water.” Carson pressed a small packet of pills into Rodney’s palm. “Come back in a week and let me have a look at you then, okay?”
“Great.” Rodney pulled open the curtain and practically knocked over the nurse who was standing there with an open box of medications and a clipboard. “Sorry,” he murmured, stepping around her. He couldn’t wait to get out of the infirmary. Telling Carson about what had really happened in the jumper made him feel like he’d finally surfaced from under Atlantis’s ocean. He wasn’t crazy. He wasn’t dead. For the first time in three days, he felt like things were going to be okay.
The nurse was new and young and she wasn’t even technically assigned to Atlantis. She’d come in with The Daedalus crew yesterday and was helping restock the supplies in the infirmary, double-checking that the inventory matched the list of medications she’d been assigned. She wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but the doctor—not the one with the Scottish brogue, the other one, the physicist—was loud. The curtains and the squeak of the leather examining table only cut a few words here and there, and of course, she’d already heard the story of how Dr. McKay—yes, that was his name—had been trapped underwater for hours in a flooding puddlejumper, how a marine had lost his life saving him, and then some military guy and another scientist with a hard to pronounce name—Russian maybe—had gone after him and saved him. Just in the nick of time.
She’d thought serving on The Daedalus was interesting, but Atlantis was amazing. With its spires reaching into the sky, it felt like walking through a city of cathedrals, and the people here had such exciting lives. More exciting than hers, traversing the galaxy handing out nausea medication and Tylenol to Air Force personnel who barely noticed she was there. It was hard to make friends when you were replacement crew; mainly she worked in the labs at the SGC. It was hard to make conversation when everything was classified. Need to know. Top secret.
But maybe it was somewhere to start. When her shift was over, she went to the mess hall, happy to see some of the scientists who worked on The Daedalus. The ones who were usually pleasant to her. She set her tray down and smiled brightly.
“So, I heard someone talking about a hot Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. Any idea who that might be?”
Sergeant Santiago liked his work in the mess. He’d wanted to be a chef, but when you came from a family of Marines, you became a Marine. His marksmanship was first-rate, but it was his beef bourguignon that people remembered, and he wasn’t with any unit long before word spread that his pastries were light as air and he made a Chicken Kiev that would melt in your mouth.
Atlantis didn’t have a bar where residents could have a drink and share their troubles, but the food line seemed to provide the same release. The sergeant knew everyone on base. He knew McKay was allergic to lemon, Stackhouse couldn’t have anything with nuts, and that Dr. Vega had a weird thing about not wanting his foods to touch one another. Santiago had a specially sectioned plate just for him. It was just easier that way. So when he began hearing murmurs about Dr. McKay in the evening meal line, it wasn’t any surprise. He was used to the low grumblings and the vaguely reverent whispers when McKay managed to save them all from certain doom. The man was difficult, sure, but he spent a lot of time saving their asses, and Santiago wasn’t about to slip him a lemon, no matter how many times he was offered money—among other things—to do so.
Santiago was too busy overseeing the meal to get all the details. Rather it was like a steady rhythm of repeated words that he kept hearing. McKay. Colonel. Puddlejumper. Kissing.
Hm. Well, that was interesting.
When Colonel Sheppard showed up for his evening meal, slightly later than the regular crowd, the whispers quieted right down. He didn’t seem to notice the change—which probably wasn’t true, Santiago thought. Sheppard noticed everything, but the man didn’t let anything show. Just the opposite of Dr. McKay whose face was like a mile-high billboard screaming exactly what he thought. Sheppard kept it all inside. Santiago wasn’t sure which was better.
“Evening, Santiago. What’s good?”
“Everything, Colonel Sheppard,” Santiago said confidently. Sheppard smiled and gestured at the chicken. He had two trays.
“Of course. Two of everything, Sergeant. And an extra dessert if you’ve got it.”
“That for Dr. McKay, sir?” Santiago grinned as he served up two plates. It wasn’t unusual for Sheppard to grab something to take down to Dr. McKay in the lab. Or for the two of them to come in for meals together. They were obviously friends, unlikely as that might seem. Santiago shook his head and smiled. He heard a lot of things—he knew better than to listen to rumours.
“Something amusing, Sergeant?”
“No, sir. Just the usual silliness going around.”
“Anything I should know?” Sheppard looked at him carefully. It wasn’t exactly a question as much as an order.
Santiago shook his head as he sliced a double portion of chocolate cake for Dr. McKay. “Nothing particular. Talk seems to be about Dr. McKay. Mostly.” He looked up to meet Sheppard’s eyes.
“I see.” It seemed like Sheppard understood perfectly. Santiago watched the Colonel by-pass the tables in the mess and head out the main doors, balancing two trays as he went. As soon as he left, the chatter began again. Santiago sighed and went back to work. It wasn’t worth it to trouble himself about rumours. Sheppard was a good man, a good commander. As far as Santiago was concerned, that was all that mattered.
In a few days, Atlantis would be buzzing with something else. That much never changed.
John stood in the doorway of Rodney’s lab and watched him for a moment, Rodney’s fingers tapping restlessly on the edge of the counter. Molecular structures formed and re-formed as Rodney’s screensaver rolled across the laptop in front of him.
“Hey, McKay,” Sheppard said finally, stepping into the lab. “I brought you some dinner.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Rodney said looking up, “but I already—”
“You’ve had nothing but a couple of power bars and coffee, Rodney. Come on, just take a break, okay?” John slid one of the trays across the counter to Rodney and pulled up a stool. He grabbed his utensils and started cutting up his own chicken, hoping Rodney would stop being stubborn and join him. Rodney hadn’t exactly been himself since John and Radek had rescued him from the flooded puddlejumper.
Rodney sniffed his plate. “There isn’t any—”
“No,” John said patiently. “No lemon, I promise. I didn’t haul your ass off the ocean floor to kill you with cafeteria food. Santiago knows not to feed you citrus. Would you just eat something?”
“Fine.” Rodney took a bite and closed his eyes as he chewed. John couldn’t help but smile at the small look of pleasure that crossed Rodney’s face.
They settled into a comfortable silence punctuated only by the sounds of eating. Rodney paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. “Did you say Santiago?”
John murmured his agreement around a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “Why?”
“Hm? No reason. Santiago’s a decent guy. Makes great pastry, by the way.” Rodney reached for the huge piece of chocolate cake and sighed. He looked more relaxed than John had seen him since he’d been rescued. He hoped it was the start of getting the old McKay back.
Suddenly John wondered exactly what people were saying about Rodney. He tried not to listen to gossip—people talked—but he still needed to be aware of it in case it became something more than idle chatter. “Um, I just remembered I’ve got to go.”
“No, just something I need to take care of. I’ll catch you later.” John slid his cake across to Rodney, who looked up with surprise even as he dug his fork into John’s piece of cake.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” John squeezed Rodney’s shoulder quickly and released it as he headed for the door. “Try to stay out of trouble.”
“Gee, I’ll try, Colonel,” came the sarcastic response. John grinned and headed back towards the mess hall.
Lieutenant Laura Cadman liked Dr. McKay, even though she thought he was a pompous ass at the best of times. Even more than that, though, she liked John Sheppard—he was unconventional as a CO, but he was honest and fair and he didn’t expect anything from his people he wasn’t willing to do himself. She didn’t mind going into a fight with him because she knew he’d be right in the middle of it, not hanging back and letting other people take the brunt of it. So she didn’t know what to think of what she was hearing.
“Are you sure you heard right?” she asked as she peered at the cards in her hand. “I’ll take two.” She slid two cards face-down across the table to Katie Brown who was dealing this hand.
“I know what I heard.” Corporal Marriott threw in her chips and took one card. “I got it straight from Jensen, who heard it from Adams, who heard it from one of the scientists on The Daedalus, who got it straight from the infirmary nurse.”
“Well, then, of course it must be true.” Cadman didn’t bother to hide the sarcasm in her voice.
“Aw, Laura, it’s okay. You don’t have to defend your boyfriend’s honour.”
“He’s not my—fuck. You spend a couple of days inside somebody’s head, and nobody ever lets you forget it.”
“Besides,” Dr. Lindsey added, grinning. “Laura likes Carson, not Rodney.”
“I’m sure it’s a mistake,” Dr. Brown said, her lips a tight line. Laura resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Katie was way too naïve for a 34-year-old botanist. She actually seemed to think Rodney was secretly a shy, even-tempered man hiding behind a caustic exterior. Laura knew better. With McKay, what you saw was what you got. There wasn’t much filter between what went on his brain and what came out of his mouth.
“Come on, Katie,” Lindsey said. “Give it up. He’s not interested.”
“We had a perfectly lovely date,” she protested, shuffling and reshuffling the cards in her hand. Laura tugged on her bottom lip and kept her eyes on her cards. She still hadn’t had the heart to tell Katie it had been her, not Rodney, who’d kissed her at dinner. Rodney just hadn’t been getting with the program, and well, maybe now Laura was beginning to understand why.
“Let’s just play,” she said, trying to bring the conversation back to the cards.
“So you don’t think it’s true?” Dr. Lindsey asked, looking between her small pile of chips and her cards. “Ah, crap. I’ve got nothing. I’m out.” She laid the cards on the table.
“God, Sheppard’s gay? That’s really unfair,” Lt. French said.
“I don’t care one way or the other,” Laura said, raising the bet. “McKay had a concussion. Besides, we’re talking about hallucinations. It’s not like he and the Colonel were actually getting it on in the jumper.”
“Maybe not,” the corporal said tossing her chips on the pile, “but it’s a pretty small step from fantasy to reality, if you ask me. Obviously McKay’s hot for the Colonel, and seriously, who can blame him?”
“Why are all the really hot guys gay?” French stared at her cards mournfully. “I fold.”
Katie looked scandalized. “Rodney and the Colonel are not—they’re not—” She stopped, unable to even say the words.
“Yeah, she’s right,” Dr. Lindsey agreed. “Even if Rodney’s hot for Sheppard, there’s nothing to say it’s reciprocated.”
“You think?” French sounded a little too hopeful about it, and Laura sighed.
“I think we should play, and forget about—”
“God! I can’t believe you!” Katie stood up and threw her cards down on the table.
“Come on, Katie. Sit down,” Laura coaxed. “Let’s finish the game.” But it was too late. Katie’s face was flushed and she was gathering up her things. Laura sighed and tossed her cards on the table—she’d had a crappy hand anyway.
Dr. Lindsey leaned back and smiled. “I kind of hope it works out for them.” Her voice could only be described as wistful. It made Laura want to smack her.
“Yeah,” Marriott snorted. “You just think McKay’ll be easier to deal with if he’s getting some.”
“Well, regular sex certainly couldn’t hurt McKay’s disposition any.”
“Yeah, but why does it have to be with Colonel Sheppard?” French said bitterly. Laura couldn’t help but join in the laughter.
John slipped back through the deserted kitchen and out into the hallway, his heart still pounding hard against his chest. He didn’t think anyone had seen him. The ladies’ poker night crew certainly hadn’t noticed him, and he’d found out what he wanted to know.
If he was honest, he wasn’t entirely sure he’d really wanted to know. Life might be easier if he didn’t have confirmation of how McKay felt about him, but there was nothing he could do to erase the knowledge now. All Atlantis seemed to be talking about what had happened to Rodney in those hours when he was trapped under the sea. What he’d thought about. What he’d imagined.
John shook his head. There were only a handful of people Rodney might have trusted with something like that, and none of them would have broken Rodney’s confidence. There were a few new people around the infirmary taking inventory, replenishing supplies while The Daedalus was here, so John supposed it could’ve been one of them who’d started the rumour, but Rodney must’ve said something to give people the idea he was interested in Sheppard. Hallucinating about kissing him in the jumper seemed too damn specific for it to be made-up.
John pushed down the nervous feeling in his stomach, and decided maybe it was time to do something about this thing with McKay. He was probably never going to get a clearer indication of Rodney’s feelings than this—he knew Rodney wouldn’t put him in a position where his career would be in jeopardy, so if John wanted him, he was going to have to take the first step. He just had never been sure how Rodney felt.
John took a deep breath and headed for the nearest transporter before he could lose his nerve.
Rodney was scribbling corrections to Radek’s calculations on the jumper shield modifications when Rodney felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Rodney,” Carson chastised. “I told you to get some rest. You need to sleep, and if I have to I’ll find some marines to escort you to your quarters and make you sleep.”
“All right, all right,” Rodney said, stifling a yawn. “Believe it or not, I was just thinking of turning in.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it.” Carson’s tone made it clear he didn’t believe a word Rodney was saying. He laid a hand on Rodney’s laptop. “You won’t be needing this tonight then.”
“Fine. Goodnight, Carson.” Rodney decided there was no point fighting anymore. He waggled his fingers at him as he left the lab and headed for his quarters. The door slid open just as he heard footsteps behind him.
“Colonel.” Rodney stepped into his room and turned around to face John, who was smiling almost shyly. McKay gave him a raised eyebrow.
“Are you calling it a night?” John leaned in the doorway and looked restless. “I guess you must be tired. Still recovering from everything. I’m sorry I took so long, but—”
“It’s okay.” It wasn’t as if they didn’t see each other, after all. Truthfully, Rodney was tired, and even though he wasn’t sure if he could sleep, he owed it to himself to at least try. Of course, chances were he’d just wake up sweaty and terrified in a matter of hours. Maybe killing some time talking with Sheppard would help him wind down. It certainly couldn’t hurt. “You want to come in?”
John smiled broadly and nodded. “Yeah, sure. Sounds like a plan.” John’s tongue flicked between his lips, the way it always did when he was nervous. Rodney didn’t know when he’d started noticing that particular habit, but he couldn’t help but wonder what Sheppard had to be nervous about. It wasn’t like he’d never been in Rodney’s quarters, and sure, it was a bit of a mess, but it wasn’t like Rodney kept bio-hazards in there. He couldn’t say the same for some of his colleagues.
“John. We’re off the clock, Rodney.”
Rodney stopped. “Well, no, we’re really not. It’s not exactly like you stop being a Lt. Colonel after nine o’clock, or I stop working. Ever. Neither of us has the nine-to-five kind of job description, although it would make life a hell of a lot easier sometimes. ‘Thank you for visiting Atlantis, but as you can see, we’re closed for business. We’ll reopen for attack tomorrow at nine a.m.’”
John laughed and Rodney watched the tension drain out of his face. That was more like it. Since the rescue, everyone had been treating him with kid gloves, including Sheppard. Rodney liked this better. It felt more normal. More real. John’s hand caught him lightly on the arm.
“McKay, I—you know you can talk to me, right? If you want to talk. About what happened.”
Rodney swallowed and wished they could go back to laughing and pretending everything was fine. That Rodney hadn’t almost died five days ago. That his inner self wasn’t a woman who liked pink and was a much better kisser than he was. That one of Sheppard’s men hadn’t died to save him. Rodney couldn’t seem to find anything to say, and Sheppard’s hands were on his shoulders now, rubbing gently, and Rodney didn’t know what to do in the face of such obvious compassion from someone he was much more comfortable trading insults with.
“Rodney, I know what happened in the jumper.” The tongue flicker again, and now it was making Rodney nervous too—John licking his lips and looking at him with a carefully neutral expression. “The hallucinations.”
Rodney felt like he’d been sucker punched. “Well, I guess that proves Carson was out having a smoke the day they covered doctor-patient confidentiality in med school.”
“It wasn’t Carson,” John interrupted. “I don’t know who it was, but people have been talking—”
“People?” Rodney’s voice climbed up the octave. “What people?”
John looked down. “Well, a lot of people. But it’s okay. Really. I don’t think it’s that big a deal.”
“Not that big a deal?” Rodney stepped away, breaking John’s hold on his shoulders, although the comforting rubbing had been nice, and it wasn’t John’s fault Atlantis was a hot-bed of gossip. “People are talking about—talking about my life. My personal life, and you say it’s no big deal? It’s humiliating. It’s—it’s nobody’s business.” Rodney’s face felt hot, and he could almost feel Sam’s voice whispering in his ear. “Relax, McKay. It’s just a little talk. Besides, I’m hot, remember?”
“Yes, that’s all very well and good for you, Colonel, but it’s my reputation that’s at stake!” Rodney said to her before remembering she wasn’t actually in the room. God, he must be tired.
“Your reputation is fine, McKay,” John said a little more testily than Rodney thought necessary, but thank God he didn’t seem to notice the last comment hadn’t actually been meant for him. “Besides, this might even help it.”
“Oh, great. I’m going to be known as the scientist who keeps getting other people stuck in my head. How perfect is that?”
“Well, if the shoe fits,” John started.
John took a step forward and gripped Rodney’s shoulders again. “Look, Rodney, this isn’t how I imagined this conversation going. I—I just wanted to tell you that I know and it’s okay. What you were thinking about.”
“Okay,” Rodney repeated slowly, not sure why John felt the need to reassure him that hallucinating Samantha Carter was acceptable. Maybe it was because she was Air Force and John felt like he had some sort of stake in it because she was one of his people. Oh, God, Rodney thought suddenly. Maybe Sheppard had a thing for her too. The man seemed to have a magnetic affect on women everywhere, so maybe …
“I mean, it’s really okay,” John said, and kissed him.
Rodney saw the head tilt, the eyelids flickering closed and still he was helpless to move away from it. He didn’t really want to move, he realized, even though he hadn’t thought about it before. Kissing John. Whose lips were gentle against his mouth, and Rodney couldn’t help but lean into the kiss when John’s hands moved up to cup his face. It was natural. Instinctive. He didn’t think about it; just let it happen, let his lips slide over John’s, let his mouth soften and relax so that the kiss was slow and sensuous, John’s tongue gliding lightly against Rodney’s bottom lip before breaking the kiss.
Rodney licked his lips and swallowed. John’s hands were still on his face, stroking down his cheek, and Rodney could see in John’s eyes that he was waiting for a sign this was okay.
It was okay.
“You’re not saying anything,” John whispered after a moment of silent gazing. Rodney wondered if he could possibly be hallucinating again, but Sam’s mouth had never felt this real, this warm, and Rodney didn’t want to close his eyes just in case he was wrong and John was gone when he opened them.
“I—you surprised me, that’s all.” It was the truth. Rodney’s hands were on John’s waist, and he realized he was rubbing a bare patch of skin where John’s shirt had hitched up. He wondered if he should stop, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Especially given that John didn’t appear to want to lodge any kind of protest about the touching.
“I think I surprised me a little, too,” John admitted nervously. He leaned in and kissed Rodney again, and this time Rodney was ready. Well, no, he wasn’t—didn’t know if anything could’ve prepared him for John Sheppard kissing him out of the blue—but Rodney got with the program quickly and really, there wasn’t much to think about with John’s lips creating shivers down his spine, his cock expressing an interest Rodney hadn’t felt for a man in a long time.
“Is this okay?” John asked, and Rodney nodded, and let his hands wander up into John’s hair. He tugged him closer and kissed him again. “I was worried your hallucination might be hotter. It’s hard to compete with a fantasy,” John murmured.
Rodney laughed. “Please. The real thing is always hotter.”
“So you’re not disappointed?”
“Are you kidding?” Rodney stared at him. “This is obviously a little different from what my subconscious originally had in mind, but—”
“Different?” John’s lips brushed Rodney’s lightly. “How?”
Rodney had never really learned to lie convincingly to anyone, particularly not people he was used to being honest with, so it didn’t occur to him to say anything other than the truth. “Well, you’re smarter than I usually give you credit for, but you’re not blonde and you don’t have breasts, so—”
John’s mouth was gone and Rodney was left reaching into an empty space. “What?”
“What are you—” John started. “How many other Lt. Colonels do you know exactly?”
“Just the one,” Rodney admitted and watched John’s face fall as realization sunk in.
“You were—it wasn’t—Lt. Colonel Carter,” John stammered, and Rodney heard the other shoe drop in the back of his mind. Things like this never, ever happened to him. Beautiful Air Force Lt. Colonels of either gender didn’t just show up and start kissing him without the universe punishing him in some way.
“John, it’s okay.” But clearly it wasn’t, and before Rodney could say anything else, John was gone.
John managed to stay out of Rodney’s way for almost two days only because there was a major problem with Halon gas leaking from the fire suppression system. He took the opportunity to rethink the wisdom of acting on information obtained from dubious sources, and spent most of his time running with Ronon and getting beaten with sticks by Teyla. He hoped Rodney would just let the incident go—chalk it up to a colossal misunderstanding—and never want to talk about it again, but since Rodney didn’t let anything go, ever, John knew it was only a matter of time.
He was in the puddlejumper running a diagnostic with Radek when Rodney stormed in the back.
“You, out,” Rodney said to the technician who promptly dropped his welding torch and fled. “Radek, do you mind—” He waved his hand in a shooing gesture, but it was polite for Rodney, and Radek seemed to realize that. He shot John a sympathetic look, gathered up his laptop, and left muttering words John didn’t understand, but somehow the meaning was clear. Yeah. John was screwed.
Rodney closed the jumper’s hatch and sat down in the co-pilot’s chair, looking straight ahead. “You know, sometimes things aren’t quite as straightforward as you think they are.”
No shit, John thought, but he didn’t say anything. Let Rodney do the talking—it was what he did best. Or at least, it’s what he did most. When it came right down to it, John knew Rodney wasn’t all that much better at the talking thing than he was.
“It’s like—” Rodney paused and seemed to be searching for something in his brain. “It’s like when you go to the mess hall expecting chocolate cake, but you get apple pie instead. You thought you wanted chocolate cake, but you haven’t had pie in a long time, and then you realize that maybe you wanted the pie all along.”
John turned his head slowly to look at Rodney, who was still staring steadfastly at the window into the jumper bay, his face flushed, his hands clutching the edge of the console.
“Did you just try to explain this with a food metaphor?” John asked incredulously.
Rodney let out an exasperated huff and whirled on John. “Look, I’m just trying to say that I like pie. And cake. This doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
“You also like MREs and airplane food, Rodney, so that really doesn’t tell me--”
“Are you saying I’m a slut?” Rodney asked, eyes wide and angry.
“No! I’m just—” John shook his head. “I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh.” Rodney stopped waving his hand in the air and looked at John carefully. “I’m trying to say it’s okay.”
“Because you like both cake and pie,” John said, not sure if that clarified anything at all. He wasn’t used to Rodney trying to be tactful.
“Am I the pie or the—”
“Oh, for the love of—it doesn’t matter! I like women. I like men, too. I’ve always had a thing for beautiful blonde women, and apparently I’ve also got a thing for obtuse men with unruly hair and a thing for stick controls.”
John self-consciously loosened his grip on the stick and slid his hands back down to his sides. “It’s not unruly,” he said. “It’s a style.”
“And, yes, in retrospect that should’ve been my first clue that you’re not exactly straight.” Rodney cut off John’s sputter with a wave. “The point is,” Rodney turned to look at him, “I’m not opposed to what happened between us.” He paused. “Or to it happening again.”
“Not opposed.” John tried not to sound bitter. “Well, there’s a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.”
“Stop being an ass! What part of me kissing you back didn’t you understand? Yeah, you took me by surprise because I’ve spent two years not thinking about you like that because it wasn’t worth the heartache. The only reason my subconscious produced Sam was because, oh, yes, I thought I was going to die, and it was a hell of a lot easier to think about her without any real regret. Nothing was ever going to happen there. But you—” Rodney shook his head. “You’ve always been right in front of me, and I couldn’t—couldn’t take the chance of wrecking this job, this opportunity with a stupid, careless fling, so I took you completely off the list. You weren’t even a possibility.”
“No, I pissed off Sam and she made sure I was as far away as I could possibly be. Russia, then Antarctica, and it’s no surprise they found me a posting in another galaxy, and I’m not complaining in spite of the Wraith and the running for my life when I’m not trying to save the city from complete destruction, but if you wanted you could have me sent back to Earth, and I’m not giving up Atlantis for anyone. Not even you.”
John reached out and clapped one hand on the back of Rodney’s neck, the other over his mouth. He could feel wet lips, still moving, pressed into his palm.
“Shut up. There is no way I would ever take Atlantis away from you, and if you think that, you don’t know me very well.” Rodney blinked rapidly, and John could feel Rodney’s exhale against his palm. “And to tell the truth, I didn’t think you were a possibility either. Too many complications. Too much damn work.”
Rodney mumbled something sarcastic that John chose to ignore.
“But then you almost died.” John slid his hand from Rodney’s mouth, turned his palm to cup Rodney’s jaw. “The nano-virus. The Genii. Then again with the enzyme. The puddlejumper.” John’s fingers traced the outline of Rodney’s wide mouth. “I’m getting tired of watching you almost die, and not being able to say anything about it.”
"Strangely enough, I know exactly what you mean."
John winced at that because, yes, they'd both been in that position far too many times. "Rodney, I didn't think there was any chance--"
“But then you heard it was you I’d been imagining …”
“It just made it easier to take the first step. I thought I already knew how you felt, so it wasn't such a risk anymore. I—I guess I should know better than to listen to rumours.”
“Does it make a difference if I say I’m glad you did?” Rodney held John’s hand against his mouth and kissed the tips of his fingers.
“This is still impossible,” John whispered.
“No, just very, very improbable.” Rodney stood up, pulling John with him around the centre console, and kissing him like he was chocolate cake and apple pie all rolled into one. In that moment, John decided it would be rude to protest when the universe actually gave him what he wanted for a change, so he stopped thinking and kissed Rodney until he murmured “Sam who?” and John laughed, knowing somehow, improbably, it was really going to be okay.