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John shuddered as he recalled the sensation of sharing with Chaya. At first it had seemed amazing -- cool even -- but when the initial, almost sexual, sensation ebbed away into a more cerebral contact, he had felt far less comfortable. For someone who had lived ten thousand years, her thoughts were strangely sterile and immature, and he realized that gaining ascendancy did not necessarily turn a person into an all-knowing and benevolent god -- or goddess in Chaya's case. The Athosians might want the Ancients to be omnipotent but, in truth, Chaya had ascended with all her very human character flaws very much intact. He winced. She had not hidden any of her jealousy and arrogance from him while on Atlantis but he had been far too enamored with her to care, especially as those less than desirable emotions were mostly aimed at Rodney McKay. Plus, at the time, he thought she was just as human as the rest of them. However, as they shared their thoughts on her home world, he saw all her pettiness revealed, along with her childish anger at being held in suspicion and then finally ‘outed’ by McKay, a mere human.

On reflection, McKay's attitude towards Chaya had come across as very similar, as if they were rivals for John's affection, except John had been certain with whom he wanted to share that picnic date, and it was not some pissy and arrogant astrophysicist. In truth, it still galled that McKay's suspicions about Chaya had proved correct even though the revelation had come as just as much of a shock to McKay too. Yet, now that the incident was behind them, John felt a little vicarious pleasure as he recalled McKay's crestfallen expression when he realized that the person he had been battling against turned out to be the one person he would have killed to talk to. An ancient had walked among them and they had gained nothing from the experience.

Well, John thought. Perhaps not 'nothing' for he had gained some measure of physical gratification on Atlantis and then there was that mental contact later on Chaya's planet. Though, in hindsight, he had found neither experience as wonderful as the anticipation, leaving him feeling empty rather than satisfied both times. Admittedly, Chaya was exotic and beautiful but making love with her had lacked passion, with her body lying stiff and motionless beneath him as he thrust deep inside her. No pleasure had suffused her face while they made love, and no sparkle of consummated desire had filled her eyes as he slumped to her side afterwards to bask in the afterglow.

Still, John had not gained many opportunities for engaging in some of life's so-called simple pleasures since reassignment to Antarctica, so who was he to complain?

Okay, carnal pleasures, he admitted almost sullenly, aware that he had never been one to look for long term relationships where love and affection were more important than lust. Certainly, he had not seen her as more than a small waterhole in the desert of his sex life since his punishment for insubordination had seen him exiled to Antarctica. Yet the fact that he had managed to snare the alien priestess, as McKay so dramatically put it, was obviously a source of contempt and/or irritation to a majority of the city.

Let them get their own dates, he thought nastily as he breezed past two more of the scientists and saw their lips curl up in disdain.

John stopped after he turned the corner, leaning against the wall in annoyance. He frowned as those same scientists began to talk loftily, incorrectly assuming that he had kept on walking out of earshot.

"McKay might be an arrogant bastard but he didn't deserve to be thrown aside the moment some space bimbo stepped onto Atlantis."

Thrown aside?

"What the..?" John huffed angrily, suddenly making sense of all the evil glares and overly polite conversation in his presence. These people actually thought he and McKay had something going on between them, and that he'd callously kicked McKay out of his bed to make room for Chaya. He knew there was little point in trying to figure out where they would get such an insane notion. Small places like Antarctica - and now seemingly Atlantis - had a tendency to misread cues and make mountains out of molehills, or romances out of friendships, as in this case.

Except it had not been much of a friendship over this past week with McKay keeping him at arm's length, remaining polite to the point of coldness when they did have to interact. He kind of missed sharing meals with McKay, watching the scientist get all worked up over some petty incident in the lab or all excited over some new doohickey found inside a ten thousand-year-old closet. His excitement was infectious, and his complaints were always accompanied by a biting sarcasm that made a Saturday Night Live stand-up comedian sound more like a whiner. John had even grown used to the disgusting yet skillful way McKay talked through every mouthful without losing even a morsel of food. It was fascinating in a scary sort of way.

Why McKay though? What had the others seen between them that could make them believe that he and McKay were more than friends? After all, they did nothing but bitch and snark at each other. At least that’s what they had done until this past week, where John could count the number of words directed towards him on one hand.

John winced again. He could hardly blame McKay for being a little cool towards him after that fight in the hallway of Atlantis when John made it perfectly clear that he wanted McKay to back off, having put a dampener on what had been a great evening with Chaya up until then. Not that she had slammed the door in his face when he carried on to the room assigned to her for her stay on Atlantis, spending the rest of the night in her bed.

He continued on his way, barely withholding a snarl when a member of his command gave him a slightly contemptuous look. John recognized the soldier as one of McKay's fellow Canadians. A man who had replaced Grodin in the control room. A Canadian soldier who was not forced into the mockery of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Although US military regulations had been relaxed for members of the Atlantis Expedition, to bring them into alignment with those of the more tolerant countries like Canada and Great Britain, only a few members of the US military wanted to take a gamble on what would happen if they ever found a way back to Earth. John could hardly blame any of them for remaining suspiciously uneasy even though he would never reveal private information concerning any member of his command unless it was of strategic importance. After all, although he had never felt the urge to slip between the sheets with another man, he had no problems with other men wanting to engage in homosexual relationships. He had even watched a few porn flicks in his time where the two men comprising the bread of a girl sandwich seemed more engrossed with each other than with her. Very carefully, John pushed aside the fact that it had been the hottest sight ever, giving him a climax that had made his toes curl. He also avoided thinking about the fact that he sought out similar porn flicks thereafter, unwilling to admit to anything more than a slight kink at seeing a hot babe watching two guys go at it.

No, he had nothing against homosexuals. To each his own, he thought magnanimously.

Still, after a full week, this cold shoulder routine was beginning to wear thin. Perhaps if he had been involved with McKay then these people would have a reason for their righteous indignation. After all, when someone hurt or scared him McKay did look like the proverbial kicked puppy, gaining undue sympathy and reassurances from others like Elizabeth and Carson Beckett, albeit in the form of gentle teasing. Even Teyla was not immune to that sad puppy dog expression... and worse still, Bates had started to look out for McKay these days.

John had watched Bates rip into more than one seasoned soldier, reducing them to blubbering wrecks, and yet he held his tongue when McKay was being an ass. At first John thought it was a chain of command issue, and perhaps it was initially. Then he noticed the sympathetic looks Bates had started to cast in McKay's direction since 'The Storm'. His mind supplied the air quotes around those two words. Killing the best part of sixty Genii and saving Elizabeth with a well placed bullet through Kolya had faded into insignificance compared to a scared McKay being tortured, half drowned and strangled. Then, according to Elizabeth, Kolya had punched him in the face and yet Rodney had still kept his head, fixing the damage and getting the shield up just in time to save the city, and hence the entire expedition, from a tsunami of biblical proportions. Learning that McKay had also stepped in front of Kolya's gun to protect Elizabeth had merely sealed McKay's newfound reputation as a terrified, cowardly man who would still willingly put his life on the line for a friend, earning him Bates' grudging respect.

Sure, John thought harshly, and if I hadn't taken out those Genii then McKay would be slaving away in some underground bunker on the Genii home world by now, complaining loudly about radiation sickness and the lack of MREs.

He strode into the commissary and grabbed a tray from the rack, anger reaching boiling point when even Kavanagh glared at him scornfully over the top of his wire rim frames. John slapped his tray down hard on the nearest table.

"Okay. I've had it with this. It's not like McKay and I were dating...or whatever you people seem think we were up to. We are friends. Pure and simple. Platonic. Friends."

John gazed around at the stunned faces, frowning in confusion when several people began to grin inanely while others groaned as if they'd just lost a bet. He shook his head in bewilderment and turned back to the counter, taking what looked to be the most edible from the unidentifiable stuff that was on offer, and stalking away to a quiet table in the corner of the room to eat in peace.

***

A week later John was at a loose end, wandering along deserted corridors, idly looking for something to occupy his time. In the past, he might have wandered down to the labs to seek out McKay but they had still to get past the whole Chaya incident. Secretly, he missed bantering with McKay. He enjoyed watching the scientist at work, finding that incredible intellect and the acerbic tongue far more entertaining than any comedy program smuggled onto Atlantis. The man was a tyrant in the laboratory, reducing his staff to tears of anger and frustration, and yet they still respected him.

Respected him for his brain, John thought snidely, though the cold shoulder treatment of that first post-Chaya week hinted that they might actually like him as a person too. Or perhaps they simply wanted to protect one of their own, a fellow geek being slighted by the big, bad military commander.

John snorted softly at the idea but could not deny that he was intrigued by the general, unspoken consensus that he and McKay had been a couple before Chaya came between them. Although his outburst in the commissary had appeased most of the Atlanteans, he could still read doubt in the eyes of many others. Yet he could think of no particular instance that would give credence to their idea that he and McKay had ever been more than teammates, unless they knew something about McKay that had never come up in conversation, casual or otherwise.

With his suspicions raised, John had spent this past week watching and listening to McKay - surreptitiously of course as he wouldn't want the man thinking he had gained an avid audience for his rants and whines. Finally, he noticed the little signs that - although they did not shriek gay! - they certainly displayed possible bisexuality.

John stopped and frowned, recalling one incident where he was almost positive McKay had been comparing Zelenka's ass to that of the little Japanese scientist, Kusanagi, as the pair wriggled into the innards of a control station together while McKay 'supervised'.

"Nah!" he murmured, shaking his head as he wondered if he was simply seeing what he wanted to see, misinterpreting McKay's seeming interest in his fellow scientists' wriggling asses when he was simply checking on the task they were performing. John carried on walking slowly but stopped abruptly as a new thought struck him. If McKay was checking out their ass...assets then perhaps he was getting desperate for some... some...

"Damn it," John whispered harshly. The only person truly desperate around here had to be him, especially if he was even starting to wonder about McKay's sex life. However, in a city full of people - admittedly, a very under populated city -- his position in the chain of command left him with only one option beyond finding another willing alien priestess, and that was Elizabeth.

Or McKay, his inner voice taunted but he squashed that tiny little voice. I do not want to go there, he thought viciously, even as he conjured up an image of beige uniform pants drawn tight across McKay's heart-shaped ass as McKay worked beneath the console on the Puddlejumper. The memory sent a certain part of John's anatomy standing to attention, filling him with confusion until he convinced himself that it was the earlier thought of Elizabeth that caused the reaction. Making certain no one was around, he adjusted his pants to ease the discomfort on his hardened flesh, deciding that a cold shower might be in order, or maybe he could indulge in one of his private fantasies of Elizabeth as the filling to a man sandwich. As John reached the corner, he came face to face with...

"Bates."

The sergeant snapped off a salute. "Sir."

"At ease, Sergeant." Still feeling a little flustered, John looked around the empty corridor where many of the science personnel were quartered but he could see nothing amiss that might require the security sergeant's presence. "Is there a problem?"

"No, sir."

Bates retained his emotionless expression and yet John sensed a twinge of frustration emanating from the soldier, one that mirrored John's. He really needed to get to his room. NOW. Yet, a flicker of movement had John's eyes dropping to his sergeant's hand to see a Powerbar held in a firm grip.

"Thought you hated those?"

The flash of combined irritation and embarrassment crossing Bates' face had John intrigued. John knew of only one man who liked and practically snorted down those damn bars, at least until they started to get a little scarce, especially in his favorite flavors. His frown deepened upon noticing that it was McKay's undisputed favorite.

"Is that for McKay?"

John recalled that McKay's room was only a few doors along from here. He felt his annoyance growing, knowing his men should not be fetching and carrying even if McKay was the Chief Scientist for the expedition, and especially as the man could use a little exercise. Admittedly, McKay was not as soft as he had been when they first stepped through the gate onto Atlantis, but he still had a way to go before he could easily keep up with the rest of the team. Instead, McKay bitched and moaned about the pace when offworld, wanting frequent stops for rest, though John was positive that those whining demands were no longer out of necessity. He had seen McKay in the showers after the last mission and the man had more muscle than fat on his body these days, with strong, broad shoulders that tapered down to a...

Okay, so he still had a little fat around the middle but it was kind of cute on him, the softness of his tummy, and all that pale flesh like virgin snow...
Whoa! He was not going there. Let someone else get to grips with those love handles. He almost flushed at the image that created in his head before noticing that the irritation and embarrassment had started to give way to confusion and annoyance on Bates' face, making John realize that he had been pondering over McKay's body for a little too long.

"Tell McKay the next time he wants room service, to send one of his science minions rather than one of my men to do his bidding...or better yet, he can get his ass down to the commissary to get his own."

"Ah, sir. Dr. McKay did not request this. I discovered it in the stores wedged between some other foodstuffs and figured, since he likes them so much..."

"Oh."

John licked his lips again, feeling a sudden urge to snatch the bar from Bates and hand it to McKay himself, almost visualizing McKay's ecstatic response to the gesture. The way his blue eyes would blaze, wide and excited with pleasure, the way his lips would part in a soft 'o' of surprise before his crooked smile would even into a wide grin. Then he would watch as McKay tore into the wrapper, tearing off a bite, his eyes closing in pure ecstasy as the flavor burst over his taste buds.

John raised both eyebrows when Bates took a half step back with his hand tightening around the PowerBar, aware that his thoughts must have shown on his face and having a strange feeling that he would have to fight Bates for possession of that bar. He narrowed his eyes, tempted to take on the belligerent soldier before realizing how ludicrous that would be and decided to let it go.

"Okay, sergeant. I'll let it drop... on this occasion."

Bates' mouth twitched in one corner as he saluted and turned away, heading towards McKay's door. The alpha male in John felt an urge to snarl and leap for that PowerBar just to wipe the triumph off his subordinate's face. John really had no excuse for even wanting to take that PowerBar to McKay. Oh yes, he could persuade himself that he was looking out for a teammate, wanting to breach the small but noticeable chasm that had opened between them since the Chaya incident, but for what reason? What did he think Bates was going to do other than hand over that precious gift and expect...expect what in return? With a snarl of frustration and self-directed anger, John turned and stalked away, heading for the only place where he could deal with the aggression consuming him at this moment: the gym.

***

The next morning, John sipped at his coffee, idly watching the comings and goings of the people around him as they stopped by for breakfast. So far he had yet to see McKay - or Bates for that matter. Though why he should care whether he had seen Bates or not was a puzzle to him, or so he thought as he viciously squashed the memory of Bates going to see McKay last evening. His mug froze partway to his mouth as Bates wandered in with a loose-limbed walk and a happy smirk that spoke volumes to John. Bates had gotten lucky last night...that much John could figure out, and he swallowed hard against the irrational jealousy that put McKay in the wrong bed at the wrong time as far as John was concerned.

McKay had no right to...to... He cut off that thought. McKay had every right to see whom he wanted, and sleep with whomever he wanted, and it was none of John's business anyway. Just because they were on the same team did not mean McKay had to gain his blessing before seeing another... person. He started to rise from his seat. But what if Bates forced himself on McKay? That made it John's problem because McKay was a member of his team and he had to protect his team.

"Protect him from what?" he whispered angrily, sinking back into his seat, his knuckles whitening as they gripped the coffee mug.

John forced the anger down and took another sip of coffee, only to freeze again when McKay strode in with a 'cat that got the canary' grin. His wide smile and sparkling eyes took a lot of people by surprise as most of the expedition had become used to McKay being a miserable grouch until he had inhaled his first mug of coffee of the day. This McKay, however, was practically bouncing as he careened towards the food in his usual haphazard way. John gritted his teeth to stop them from grinding as McKay beamed over at Bates and gained an almost coy smirk in return.

"Slut," he whispered savagely.

"Who's the slut?"

Only years of training prevented John from diving out of his seat whilst simultaneously grabbing for his sidearm, having been too wrapped up in the vision of McKay lying in a sweaty, tumbled heap with Bates to hear Beckett's approach.

"Doc," he drawled, deciding to ignore the question as Beckett sank into the seat opposite. John stared at him thoughtfully, wondering how Beckett would react if he learned that Bates had gone to McKay last night. Probably nailed him to the bed, he thought nastily, imagining McKay going into orgasmic delight at the gift of his favorite PowerBar, willingly dropping to his hands and knees and sticking his ass in the air in repayment. John’s eyes drifted towards the ass in question as McKay bent over to retrieve something from one of the lower food shelves, the motion pulling the baggy material of his pants tight over the curve of his nicely rounded ass cheeks. Visions of Bates drawing those pants down, his darker hands running over the pale curves of...

Slut, he thought again.

"Major?"

Beckett looked at him nervously and John wiped the feral snarl off his face, schooling his features to bored politeness.

"So... What's up, Doc?"

Beckett raised his eyebrows, his cheeks flushing with annoyance at the Bugs Bunny expression, but John liked teasing the man.

Any retort was forgotten as McKay bounded up with a laden tray and sat down next to John, something that he had not done since Chaya. John took a moment to study him and noticed that despite the happy, relaxed air about him, McKay did not look well rested. Dark smudges under his eyes spoke of little sleep last night and John felt that creeping sensation of anger as he pictured McKay spending all night with Bates reaming his ass. Visions of Bates' dark hands on McKay's paler flesh made his stomach clench. John imagined those hands parting the surprisingly firm cheeks and Bates’ cock thrusting into McKay while John’s scientist whimpered and moaned...around a mouthful of PowerBar. Or maybe Bates waited until McKay had licked the sticky remnants of the bar off his fingers before giving that mobile mouth and those soft lips something meatier to wrap around.

"Major?" McKay asked, his puzzlement evident in his tone.

John startled, quickly concealing his reaction by giving a patented smirk in McKay's direction, much to McKay's bemusement. McKay simply shook his head and carried on from where he must have left off once he realized he did not have John's full attention. John listened for a moment longer, barely understanding half of what McKay was saying about power grids and fluctuations, before cutting in with a power question of his own.

"Heard Bates found you a PowerBar."

"What?" McKay frowned in confusion and then gifted John with his brightest, almost childlike grin while his blue eyes danced with pleasure. "My favorite too."

"Cost much?" John asked with an air of nonchalance.

"Eh?"

"Oh... I wondered what favors you had to perform to get that prize."

"I'm performing favors for this entire expedition on a daily basis, Major," he replied loftily. "Keeping the showers filled with hot water, the rooms heated, the technology from blowing up in our faces every time we activate the Stargate...and aliens from taking control of the city," he added with a pointed glare that said 'Chaya, Chaya, Chaya' to John. "I hardly need to provide additional favors."

"You're not going to let that go, are you?"

"I don't know what you mean." He raised his eyebrows and chin slightly and John winced in annoyance, knowing better than to push the issue with McKay when he was in a bloody-minded mood.

"Fine."

Part of John wanted to stand up and walk away but he felt strangely reluctant to leave McKay alone with just Beckett. Sure enough, Bates was rising from his seat and heading towards the table. The sergeant stopped and smiled down at McKay, his eyes for him alone.

"Thanks for last night. I appreciated the...company."

Yeah, I just bet you appreciated it, John thought nastily.

"My pleasure, Sergeant," McKay responded coyly, his cheeks flushing. "Same time tomorrow?"

John felt a twinge of something not so pleasant curling inside him at the subtle flirting playing out right in front of him and Beckett. He waited until Bates had agreed and moved off before turning his attention back to McKay and drawling softly.

"Anything I should know about?"

"I'm not telling... And should you be asking?"

"Okay," he drawled, "so it's none of my business...unless it's going to affect the team in some way."

McKay mused in feigned deliberation while turning bright eyes to John. "Affect the team in some way?" His mouth quirked up in that way that had John wanting to wipe the smirk off his face with a kiss... NO, he meant a punch.

"Damn it, McKay. It's decidedly creepy seeing Bates acting all nice, so what's going on between you?"

"If you must know, Sergeant Bates dropped by last evening with a request for my...company and suitable payment."

"You're so damned cheap, McKay," John sniffed. "A PowerBar?"

McKay wriggled uncomfortably in his seat, making John wonder if he might be a little sore down there... perhaps a little *muscle* strain? Though the thought of McKay being sore from hot sex with Bates did not sit that comfortably with him either. Bates had no right to proposition his scientist and best friend.

"It was Cookies and Cream," he stated defensively before huffing loudly.

"He gave you a PowerBar, Rodney?" Carson asked with incredulity. "A PowerBar?"

"Yes, a PowerBar. Okay, so I'm weak-"

"Aye. Weak all right." Carson shook his head in exasperation. "You know, if you were that desperate for one of those wee bars, we could have made arrangements. You could have asked for mine, for instance. I hate the bloody things. Stick to my teeth."

McKay's contriteness turned to avarice. "You have PowerBars? What flavors? Perhaps we could negotiate a few-"

"McKay!" John grated between gritted teeth. He did not want to hear McKay prostituting himself for more PowerBars. Not with Bates and not with Beckett either.

Both men glared at him before turning back to each other. Beckett continued. "Oh, I think we could come to some arrangement...if you want one that bad."

"I'm out of here," John stated, pushing up to his feet and striding away, ignoring the scrape of a chair from behind him.

"Major? You forgot your tray."

John flipped a remark over his shoulder. "Oh, I'm sure you can manage that, McKay." The Devil made him stop and take several strides back until he was close enough not to be overheard by anyone other than McKay and Beckett. "Or maybe you could trade the onerous task with Beckett for another...favor. Just make sure to brush the dust off your knees when you get up." He stalked away, grinning at the blustering voice rising behind him.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

***

John spent the next month getting annoyed whenever he saw Bates making secret arrangements for another tryst with McKay, hating the pleased looks on their tired faces when they appeared at breakfast the next morning. Taking his irritation out on Bates was not the answer, and yet John could not help wanting to blame the sergeant, wanting to find fault with the man. His sergeant's accusations towards Teyla only made that easier. John wanted to say to Hell with regulations and ask Bates outright about his liaisons with McKay, wanting to put the fear of God into the man and make him back off; partly because he envied the soldier's courage in grasping the opportunity to have a relationship with any man but mostly because it was McKay he had chosen.

He almost wished that Sumner was still alive so he could be relieved of the burden of full military command, a burden that made it hard for him to form any relationships beyond what was strictly professional.

John huffed in annoyance, knowing he had moved beyond professionalism with a few of the new Atlanteans, and McKay in particular, but mostly because he had finally worked through the puzzling annoyance and discovered that he wanted McKay for himself. Several hours caught in a jumper watching the Wraith cull an entire planet while he could do nothing but listen to the screams of terror that cut off abruptly as the culling beam snatched them away, had a way of making a man rethink his priorities.

With every reason in the universe to stay well away from the brilliant yet socially inept scientist, John had felt the desire grow, pulling him like a moth to a flame. He was caught in the excitement of startling blue eyes, attracted by the agile fingers that touched a laptop with a lover's caress, and drawn by the mobile mouth that wrapped around words and food in the most erotic way. Every breath he took, every motion of his hands, and every word that fell from his lips sent shivers of desire through John, lust that he covered with feigned disinterest and annoyance.

"Major Sheppard, I was wondering-"

"Jesus, Bates. Give a man a heart attack would you?"

"Sorry, Sir." But he did not sound apologetic. "I was wondering if you'd seen Dr. McKay. I wanted to have a word with him before--"

"I'm not his keeper," John snarked back. "And you both have radio sets."

Bates blinked several times in shock before his eyes darted away nervously. "Yes, sir, but it's a private matter I wanted to discuss..."

"Then I'd suggest you use the radio to set up a private meeting."

"Yes, sir." Bates backed off a few steps. "I'll do just that then." He saluted and turned, walking away swiftly, leaving John berating himself for his attitude. Snapping at Bates was inexcusable; John had no right to stop anyone pursuing a relationship with Rodney...

"MCKAY!" he snarled angrily, wanting to distance himself by using surnames. Thinking of McKay as Rodney was only going to make him feel angrier. After all, McKay was supposed to be his scientist, his team mate...his best friend.

And what else?

The quiet voice at the back of John’s head sliced through the self-righteous anger, taunting him. He winced, having given up on denial a few weeks back but hating the way his body reacted every time he thought of Rodney...

"McKay," he growled softly under his breath.

"Major?"

John whipped his head round, annoyed that someone had sneaked up on him for the second time that day, catching him unaware, except it was not just someone but the man who owned the very name he had uttered in annoyance. This was becoming a bad habit, one he could ill afford to cultivate in his current line of work. He knew of one way to resolve this problem but grabbing McKay by the scruff of his neck, dragging him off to John's room, and fucking themselves senseless would only create new problems that could not be resolved so easily.

Instead, John offered a tight grin that mirrored the one he had given in the conference room earlier today, when McKay had outlined his insane plan to try and bring the LaGrange point satellite back online. He knew that most of his current anger stemmed from being left behind in Atlantis, hating the idea of McKay so far beyond his reach should anything go wrong out there, especially as trouble seemed to follow the irascible scientist wherever he went. If disaster should strike then it would take fifteen hours to reach him; fifteen hours of deadly dull space with no distractions to stop his mind working through all the terrible possibilities. Yet he had only himself to blame. Oh, he had acted so 'put upon' when he offered his services as the jumper pilot, never expecting Elizabeth to say no and assign the task to another pilot. The shock had stopped him from reacting fast enough, leaving him cursing his exaggerated attitude of long sufferance and forbearance with the cynical but brilliant scientist.

"Rodney." He narrowed his eyes and forced a smile as he greeted his friend, hating the concerned thoughts flooding through him along with the desire.

Since the day they stepped across the threshold into Atlantis, McKay had never left the city without John at his side. Hell, he couldn't even leave McKay alone in the city without the man finding a nanovirus or an energy-sucking cloud trying to snuff out his life, so how the hell was he supposed to protect McKay when he was fifteen hours away by jumper?

Looking after the man off-world was a full time occupation too, though he had only himself to blame for the recent Allina debacle. He should have left McKay oblivious to her flirting if only to avoid the torment of watching him start to flirt back. Perhaps then they might have a ZPM in their hands - and he might have found better rest. Instead, John had tossed and turned in his bed each night since then as he thought of the shy smiles and blushes McKay had offered to the traitorous woman. She had used Rodney's incredible mind to recover the missing ZPM, had used all of them, including the unfortunate Kolya, for John had no doubt that the same farewell party would have met Kolya should he have been the one to walk away with the damn ZPM. He had known from the moment she stepped out with her newly formed brotherhood that she had never had any intention of giving up the potentia, descendant of the Ancients or not. Without it, her newly formed brotherhood had no meaning.

The hurt in McKay's eyes as she took the ZPM from him had cut deep and John wished he could have taken some form of revenge but he could not risk McKay's life; they were surrounded and force-marched to the Stargate. Allina’s only saving grace was that she had not killed them, had not killed Rodney. She simply made them dial Atlantis and then pushed them through once Atlantis had confirmed their identity, having already promised that she had found a far better hiding place for the ZPM. Still, if Elizabeth had not objected so strongly then he could have sent in a team to extract the whereabouts of the ZPM from Allina -- by force if necessary.

"You ready for the mission?" John asked almost too politely, bringing a quizzical look to the expressive face.

"Of course," Rodney stated arrogantly, as if there could be any doubt, but then his confident expression started to crumble. "Well, as ready as I can be under the circumstances, seeing as I have little idea of what I'll find when I reach the platform. Might not even be salvageable, in which case I'll have wasted two days that could have been better spent shoring up the defenses in Atlantis and-"

"Rodney?" John reached out, grasping one of the flailing hands around the wrist and holding it still. He could feel the heat of McKay's skin against his palm and fingers, could feel the flutter of McKay's pulse against two fingertips, too rapid. Scared. "You'll do fine and be back before you know it. Okay?"

John gave his most confident grin, hoping he had not been a little too harsh during his final pep-talk with Miller, especially with the unspoken words of bring McKay back alive or don't come back at all hanging in the air between them.

McKay stared for a moment, as if committing John's face to memory before swallowing hard and nodding his head. "Okay. I'll...I'll see you when I get back."

Their eyes held, time slipping past them, both strangely unwilling to be the first to turn away.

"Dr. McKay!"

John broke away from the heated, needy stare, all too aware of something in McKay's eyes that went beyond the simple friendship that John had insisted was all there was between them that day in the commissary.

"Take care, buddy," he said softly.

He strode off, leaving McKay standing alone in the corridor with Bates swiftly approaching him, not wanting to share his last few minutes listening to the lust in Bates' voice. He heard McKay call for him, his mind flashing to the last time he had walked away without looking back, recalling the dying Gaul and the ten thousand-year-old Wraith that had stood between them.

His final sight of McKay came fifteen minutes later as Miller leveled the jumper, facing the lower hangar door and the farewell party consisting of John, Zelenka and Elizabeth before the ceiling panel opened and the puddle jumper rose, quickly flying out of sight. John sighed as he turned away. Bates was already looking at possible alpha sites and he felt obliged to join him and Elizabeth. Hopefully, it would prove distracting enough to take his attention away from sending McKay out there alone.

***

Rodney slumped back in his seat while the last flickers of optimism died as their primary line of defense flashed across the screen, taking out nothing but rocks. Everett had come swaggering into Atlantis with his space mines, rail guns, Mark II naquadah generators and a hefty pile of assumptions, most of which had turned around and bit them all in their collective ass. Now all that stood between Atlantis and tens of thousands of hungry, life-sucking Wraith was a few dozen drones and a couple of rail guns that had originally been destined for the Prometheus. Admittedly, the Daedalus was on its way, and with the ZPM powering its engines it would arrive in a matter of days, but Rodney knew that he and his fellow Atlanteans did not have more than a few hours left to prepare. Already he could feel the pull of exhaustion tugging at his mind and limbs, having found little sleep since the death of Peter Grodin. Every time he closed his eyes he heard Peter tell them to move out to a safe distance, his elation upon seeing one hive ship destroyed turning to shock as the LaGrange point satellite exploded into tiny pieces. One human life for how many thousands of Wraith on-board that hive ship? It should have seemed worth it but all Rodney felt was emptiness as memories of Peter assaulted him.

It should have been him. He was the one who had drawn the short straw. He was the one who had taken most of the risks, stuck inside the claustrophobic spacesuit on a limited air supply where one mistake would see him drifting off into space forever, slowly suffocating as the air ran out. Peter should have been safe, and Rodney blamed himself for not realizing that his override would lock Peter into his grave.

One human life for a thousand or more Wraith, leaving him fearing for one human that meant more to him than a billion Wraith.

Rodney had spent many a restless night trying to pinpoint the moment when John Sheppard became more important to him than life itself. This had culminated in him having the courage to face down a super Wraith bent on feeding off John when every survival instinct screamed at him to run as hard and as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Any hope of seeing his feelings returned faded when Chaya started her courtship dance with John, completely enthralling him and driving a wedge between him and Rodney. Jealousy had reared its ugly head and Rodney could only be relieved that people would naturally assume that he was jealous of Sheppard getting the beautiful priestess, rather than of the girl stealing John's love away from him. Once it became apparent that John held nothing for him but a deep platonic friendship, he grew afraid of losing even that should John discover the truth of his feelings.

Instead, he limited his erotic thoughts of Sheppard to those few moments of privacy gained over the past couple of months, for times when he had not collapsed into bed too tired to lie awake worrying, and too exhausted to dream. Those few times were precious to him though, fueled by his near photographic memory of John's body, gleaned from shared showers and nights spent in close proximity off-world; times when his fingers would run through his own chest hair, wondering if the dark curls covering John's would feel as soft. His fingers would tease a nipple, imagining John's to be just as sensitive, peaking deliciously, making him mew in contentment. In his fantasy, his busy fingers would follow the dusky trail of hair down to the washboard stomach, playing the ridges of muscle like keys on a piano before palming the engorged flesh rising from a thatch of dark curls. Rodney would sink down, mouth following his fingers, licking and sucking and biting until he could bestow soft, nibbling kisses on the flared head, tongue dipping beneath the foreskin to taste the salty precome beading at the tip. Slowly, he would engulf the head, lips stretching around the hot flesh, opening his throat to let him sink deep as Rodney sucked and licked while his fingers massaged the heavy sac tightening below. He would moan and whimper around the solid mouthful, knowing the vibrations would send John over the edge, swallowing each spurted gift as John came hard.

Rodney shuddered. The fantasies were dangerous and Allina had seemed the perfect safety net for a desire that was slowly spiraling out of control. She was beautiful and intelligent, and so eager to hear stories of his past. He should have known it was too good to be true, even if she had not been the one he truly wanted in his life and in his bed. If he had kept his mouth shut then maybe they would have a ZPM powering up the shield right now. They would have the means to evacuate the city to the one safe place he knew of in two galaxies -- Earth -- rather than waiting on top of the ocean like a sitting duck. The Wraith were on their way, and though he was no strategist beyond being a Chess Master, even he could see the benefit of using the blindness of the sensors as cover for the first attack.

Rodney straightened up in his seat, knowing there was precious little he could do here while the sensors were blind except wallow in self-pity, and that would achieve nothing. Better to go to the Chair and see if he could improve the interface for when they needed to use the few dozen drones still remaining. First, however, he felt duty bound to head to the infirmary where Bates lay in a medically induced coma after his run-in with a Wraith. While he was there, maybe he could convince Carson to give him some stims, because he doubted he would gain much rest until this was over - one way or another. Rodney swallowed hard, not wanting to consider what another meant, but a vision of Abrams' desiccated corpse crept into his head and refused to leave.

When he arrived in the infirmary, Carson was nowhere in sight and, for a moment, Rodney wondered if the man was simply avoiding him in case Rodney wanted to drag him back down to the Chair. He crept forward, feeling an urge to walk as silently as possible as he approached the curtained-off area that appeared to be the source of low beeps from monitors. He drew back the drapes and stifled an indrawn breath as he saw the damage inflicted upon Bates, having had no earlier opportunity to see the man since his return from the LaGrange point satellite.

"He'll pull through."

Rodney jumped, half spinning towards the quiet voice at his shoulder and catching the serious look in Carson's tired blue eyes. "That's if any of us do," Rodney retorted, aware that his voice was tinged with fear and panic.

Carson stared at him for a moment, false promises poised on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed them and looked away. "Aye." Carson drew in a deep breath. "So...what can I do for you, Rodney?"

"I just wanted...I've been seeing a lot of Bates recently and-"

Carson laid a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "I know. You don't have to explain anything to me, Rodney. I know."

"Oh?" Rodney stared back down at Bates, resisting the urge to touch the man's hand just to see if his skin was still warm, just to prove that he truly lived beneath all the medical paraphernalia.

"If you want to sit awhile?"

"No. No." Rodney shook his head vigorously. "Too much to do, too little time." He gave a little half-laugh of self-derision, wondering if he would make better use of his time locating Sheppard and declaring his undying love, in the full knowledge that if Sheppard punched him in the face he would not have to suffer too long before the Wraith put him out of his misery. And if he didn't...? Rodney looked away from Bates towards Carson, feeling like he was betraying his unusual friendship with Bates by his erotic thoughts of his commander, John Sheppard.

"Aye. We're busy too, readying the infirmary for casualties." Carson glanced over his shoulder and Rodney's eyes followed, both of them watching a nurse setting up equipment in preparation for the worst. "So, will that be all, Rodney?"

Rodney felt almost guilty as he met Carson's eyes once more. "I need something to keep me going. Zelenka too."

"Would it not be better to get some proper rest now and leave the drugs for when they're truly needed?"

"Yes...and if I put up a do not disturb sign, then maybe the Wraith will tiptoe past my door when they get here in a matter of hours," he snapped back.

Carson looked like he wanted to argue the point but he sighed in resignation. "All right."

Two hours later, Rodney shivered in fear as he heard the first high-pitched whines of the Wraith darts beyond the walls of the city. The sound of distant explosions and of returned fire from the rail guns echoed mutedly, but he forced all the sounds away as he fiddled with the last connection, knowing Sheppard would be on his way down to the Chair. Within moments, Sheppard burst into the room, dropping into the Ancients' control Chair and initializing it with natural ease, his body tense and words clipped, eyes becoming sightless as he focused inwards. On a subliminal level, Rodney felt the city respond to Sheppard, sensed the drones firing, guided into the night sky towards the attacking Wraith with the precision of the Atlantis AI and Sheppard's military mind combined. Rodney gave a ragged sigh as John made every drone count even though he knew it would not be enough. Shudders raced through the superstructure of the city as darts crashed against it, buckling metal and opening already damaged areas to the devastating power of the vast ocean.

The first attack seemed to last an eternity and yet Rodney's inner timekeeper had it pinned to less than twenty minutes before all went silent.

He and John had survived the first wave but the slower hive ships were still coming and, eventually, they would reach Atlantis and take the city by sheer force of numbers. Fleetingly, he thought of telling John how he felt about him, wondering how many more chances he might get before it was too late for all of them but, once more, the demands of others interceded and John was gone before Rodney could open his mouth.

***

"Damn it, McKay!"

John knew he was being just a little too hard on Rodney. He could not help the bitterness that coiled through him as he recalled the if only promise he had made to himself during the last moments of his suicide run towards the hive ship all those months earlier. If only there had been more time, if only he had taken the chance, if only he had figured it all out earlier.

Well, fate had a way of kicking a man in the teeth by giving him the opportunity to say all the things he wished he had said to Rodney but throwing reality back into his face at the same time. In the heat of battle, with the Wraith laying siege to Atlantis, he had forgotten what renewed contact with Earth and the SGC would mean to the US military personnel. Regulations that had relaxed because of the multi-nationality of the men and women serving in Atlantis suddenly gained fresh importance. Don't Ask, Don't Tell (or we'll throw you in Leavenworth before kicking you out of the military) took on greater significance after they returned to Earth for a debriefing. Even out of contact with Earth, it would still have been impossible to have a secret relationship with Rodney within the tight-knit community, though few would have questioned or argued against their involvement with each other, and those dissenters would have found no outlet for their homophobia. However, once contact with the SGC had been restored that choice no longer existed and so he had swallowed his self-made promise to tell Rodney exactly how he felt about him.

As he settled his Puddlejumper on the ocean bed close to Jumper 6, he wished he had made his declaration, because John was not certain he could survive beneath the crushing weight of the regrets pulling him down should he gain no answer from Rodney. Across from him, Zelenka shook his head, bitter despair at being too late dragging down the corners of his mouth. The readings could tell them very little, only that the downed Puddlejumper had taken on too much water for them to raise it. The shield wrapped around the downed Puddlejumper and John wasted no time opening up the back and stepping out onto the surprisingly firm ground.

"McKay. Griffin. Do you copy?" He tried again, knowing that time was running out for all of them. If they did not set course back for the surface soon then the shield would collapse and the relentless pressure of water would crush the forward section of his Puddlejumper too, stranding him and Zelenka on the ocean floor with no hope of rescue.

"Sheppard!"

The weak and tentative sound of Rodney's voice swept over him, momentarily numbing his mind and senses, and he felt his knees weaken from relief. He leaned heavily against the outside of Rodney's battered Puddlejumper just to one side of the door, his eyes burning as tears of relief formed.

"Hey, buddy! What say you lower your door?"

He aimed for lighthearted but could not keep the intense pleasure at finding Rodney alive from softening his tone. When time passed without any sign of the door opening, John began to feel nervous. During the brief contact with Rodney before the pressure destroyed the forward compartment, Rodney had talked of needing an extended stay in Beckett's domain. It had taken an hour to gain that response, an hour where he and Zelenka had traded off turns calling the downed 'jumper, otherwise John might have been tempted to put Rodney's medical concerns down to his hypochondria.

Now he felt concerned that a head injury combined with hypothermia had left Rodney too disoriented to understand what was happening. John thumped on the door to give Rodney a more physical reality to grab hold of and was relieved when it gained the desperately needed response. Still, he was shocked by the amount of water that cascaded out of the open hatchway, quickly seeping away through the shield by some mechanism that John did not pretend to understand. Rodney was lying on the floor, soaked to the skin, the gash at his temple bleeding sluggishly, trickling down the side of his face to streak through his already bloodstained clothing. Of Griffin he saw no sign.

Even though John knew exactly where they would find the crushed remains of the Daedalus' pilot long before he and Zelenka dropped into the ocean, he still felt the need to ask, the final moments of that one and only brief contact with Rodney and Griffin echoing in his mind.

Good luck, Rodney. So simple and yet so final, followed by Rodney's frantic response. No! What are you doing?

"Where's Griffin?"

"He was in there." Rodney's response seemed flat but John heard the slight quiver of shock held in abeyance by sheer willpower.

He nodded in acceptance and helped Rodney to the other Puddlejumper, uncaring of the ice-cold water that seeped through his jacket and t-shirt to send goosebumps rising on his flesh. Instead he relished the solidness of Rodney's body pressed against him, the weight of his arm slung over John's shoulder as he and Zelenka supported him back to the only working Puddlejumper. He hated not having the time to settle Rodney or check his injuries before racing back into the forward section, knowing that brief physical contact would have to suffice until they climbed out of danger. John slipped into the pilot's seat, ordering Zelenka to collapse the field until it covered just their Puddlejumper, before quickly pulling away. He aimed almost straight up while his thoughts remained down on the ocean floor with Griffin, focused on the sudden loss of that brief contact as Jumper 6 sank deeper into the ocean.

All communication with Rodney and Griffin had failed when the forward screen gave under the pressure of water but John had remained convinced that Rodney was alive, convinced that Griffin had fulfilled his sworn duty to protect the scientists of this expedition, and one in particular: his scientist.

Good luck, Rodney.

Now he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Griffin had done his duty, his thoughts heavy and his jaw tense and aching from clenching the muscles tight as he fought against the urge to go back into the aft section to check on Rodney's condition. Griffin had bought Rodney time with his own life, sacrificing himself for the civilian who was his responsibility.

Zelenka made no murmur of protest when John increased the pressure in the entire Puddlejumper to match that of the downed jumper, which was fortunate as John had no intention of sealing Rodney into the aft compartment alone for his lengthy decompression. Someone needed to stay with him. Someone needed to tend to his head injury and check him over for any other injuries he might have sustained but missed while in shock. At the very least, with the jumper locked down like a portable decompression chamber, John could get back to the surface with Rodney quickly, and even though Beckett would not be able to treat Rodney directly until after he had decompressed, John would be there to follow the doctor's commands.

The darkness of ocean slowly lessened as sunlight penetrated the shallower water, casting ripples through the interior of the jumper and revealing shoals of strange aquatic creatures that might have been long lost relatives of Earth's fish. Zelenka had abandoned his post once he was no longer needed to monitor the shield, scurrying into the aft section to take care of Rodney, and John felt a rush of resentment that he could not do likewise. He swallowed hard, finally aware of how important Rodney was to him beyond his fantasies of their bodies locked in mutual passion, for never had the needs of any single person surpassed his love of flying before today.

The transition from ocean to sky was as seamless as before, the engines recognizing the change and compensating accordingly. Twenty minutes later, John was infinitely grateful to see the elegant spires of Atlantis appear on the horizon, barely waiting for the automatic pilot to take control of the ship before he was out of his seat and dropping to his knees beside Rodney, who was curled up on the floor. John's fingers brushed against a too pale cheek, feeling the chill that several blankets had not dispelled. Beneath the blankets, Rodney was naked, stripped of his sopping wet clothing by Zelenka at John's command, but too cold to even have the strength to shiver. John followed his own advice to Zelenka and began to vigorously rub the chilled flesh while Zelenka used the digital thermometer on Rodney.

"It is no good. His core temperature is still too low."

Beckett was demanding information on Rodney's condition and John left Zelenka to answer as, without a word, he began to strip off his clothes until he was clad only in boxers, wanting to retain some sense of modesty in front of Zelenka. He crawled beneath the blankets and pulled Rodney into his arms, shuddering as the icy cold skin touched his warmer flesh. John wrapped his arms around Rodney, holding them chest to chest, one knee slipping between Rodney's frozen thighs to bring Rodney closer still, belly to belly, groin to groin. He drew Rodney's head into the curve of neck and shoulder, hands splayed across the broad, cold back, nodding gratefully when Zelenka tucked the blankets around them both firmly.

Beckett's voice sounded like a mosquito buzzing through the radio headset he had abandoned but John knew Zelenka would relay the doctor's orders. He listened to the one-sided conversation.

"Yes. Colonel Sheppard is using body heat to help raise his core temperature. Yes. I am decreasing pressure gradually..." Zelenka reeled off a stream of numbers that must have satisfied Beckett and his staff.

Several hours passed and John felt increasing worry when he had to explain to the dazed man why he was holding him naked in his arms every time Beckett forced him to awaken Rodney. John felt a modicum of pleasure that Rodney had no seeming objections, relaxing back into John's arms each time with a soft sigh of near pleasure, even burrowing down on one occasion to snuggle against his shoulder. As much as John reveled in the close contact, he was relieved when Zelenka declared that the pressure had equalized with Atlantis so it was safe to open the door and let Beckett inside. John drew back, holding the blanket taut around his semi-naked body as Beckett began to fuss over Rodney, pulling up an eyelid and flicking his penlight into each eye in turn, his usual repertoire of hums and breathless sighs revealing more than mere words. John knew the concussion was fairly serious but he had seen Rodney awake and aware, and he had heard him respond to questions with a thorough understanding of who he was and where he was. However, there was still the small matter of Rodney's hallucination as he babbled about Colonel Carter, saying she told him they would come for him and how Rodney wished he had trusted her more. Beckett did not seem too concerned though.

"A lot of people hallucinate with head injuries and mild hypoxia, Colonel. I read in one of the SGC medical reports that Colonel Carter experienced something similar after sustaining a bad head injury on the Prometheus. The human mind is a complex organ..." he snorted, "...and none more so than Rodney's. It conjured up the one person Rodney thought could help him out of his dire situation."

"Carter?" But an inner voice asked 'why not me?'

"Aye! Well you have to admit she's got both beauty and brains, and he was not feeling too inclined to trust a hallucination of Radek under the circumstances."

John nodded, still not truly placated, and Beckett must have sensed this.

"No doubt, if he'd been trapped in a different scenario requiring protection or leadership, he would most likely have hallucinated you, Colonel."

John shivered and nodded his thanks as Zelenka passed across his clothing, stopping only long enough to watch Beckett's people lift Rodney onto a gurney and wheel him away at haste, with Beckett close on their heels. Only then did he notice Elizabeth hovering just outside, her tired features pinched with sorrow for Griffin alternating with her relief at saving Rodney. Every loss cut into all of them in Atlantis, reminding them of the fragility of their lives, especially in this galaxy, but none affected John so much than when Rodney was involved, knowing how close he had come to losing his friend each time. He watched her delay Beckett for a moment, long enough to gain a fairly confident smile from the doctor that eased some of the concern from her face. He wondered if he looked just as tired and gave a mirthless smile when she confirmed it with her words.
"You did well, John...both of you," her eyes drifted to Zelenka too. "Why don't you take the rest of the day off? Get some rest."

John felt he could say the same thing back to her but he decided to concentrate on a more important issue. "If you don't mind, I'm going to check in on Rodney first. Make sure he's not causing trouble for Beckett and his staff."

Elizabeth smiled, some of the shadows falling away from her eyes before she turned to Zelenka, offering a grateful smile before she walked away. Zelenka gave a half-hearted smile in response, lips trembling from the strain of keeping a mask in place. John reached out and grasped his arm.

"Wasn't your fault."

The mask slipped. "Then whose fault was it, Colonel? I was one who said Jumper 6 was fixed. I was one who begged Rodney to test fly her." His face crumpled. "Griffin is dead because of me. Rodney, he could have died too...and I did not even want to go and save him."

Zelenka stormed off before John could utter another word, leaving John alone in the Puddlejumper. He let out a deep sigh and finished tying up the laces on his boots before heading out of the jumper bay towards the infirmary.

***

Rodney groaned as he felt a slight tapping on his cheek, heavy eyelids fighting to open. "What?" he snarled, not noticing that his voice was slurred from fatigue.

Carson was leaning over him, asking him the same inane question that he had asked on at least two previous occasions, and Rodney felt no inclination to answer this time around. Couldn't the man see that he was trying to sleep?

"Carson, if you wake me up one more time to ask the same question, I will personally make certain you never get another hot shower while you remain in Atlantis."

"Grumpy! You know I've only your well being at heart, Rodney. Just answer the question and I'll let you sleep a wee bit longer."

"No." Rodney knew he was being petulant but he really did not care. He was tired, and his head hurt.

"Rodney, just tell Beckett the damn answer so we can both get back to sleep."

The annoyed tone of Sheppard's voice brought Rodney's head around too fast and he groaned as the pain flared. "Could have at least given me the good stuff," he mumbled before forcing both eyes open. "And what are you doing here? Don't you have a room to sleep in?" Part of him hated his ungrateful tone even as the other part of him felt humbled to see John Sheppard seated by his bedside, watching over him as he slept.
"I agree with Rodney. You really should go and get some rest, Colonel. He'll not be going anywhere until I say so."

Rodney felt regret when he saw Sheppard stretching stiff muscles, a pained expression crossing his face momentarily. "Not that I don't appreciate the...Yes. Well," he stuttered, hissing when he lowered his head to avoid making eye contact and only succeeded in making his head throb with renewed pain.

"Okay, okay," Sheppard stated in irritation. Rodney glanced back up as Sheppard laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it tight. "I'll drop by in the morning."

The first nod of agreement convinced Rodney not to try another and he let his head drop carefully back onto his pillow, eyes starting to slide shut, and missing Carson's warm smile when Rodney murmured the answer to the annoying question. He sighed as the blanket was tucked around him, slipping back into sleep.

When he next awoke it was daylight and he could hear the murmur of lowered, angry voices close by, recognizing Sheppard, Carson and Elizabeth.

"I'm awake," he grumbled, having the satisfaction of hearing them stop their heated discussion immediately. He cracked open an eye and gave a wry grin as Elizabeth took his hand.

"How are you feeling?"

"Hungry, tired. Did I mention hungry?"

"I'll ask the nurse to bring you some porridge," Carson replied.

"Or you can ask her to bring me something decent to eat."

"Porridge is a hearty way to start the day."

"Is that some slogan they brainwashed you with because-?"

"Rodney, don't insult the man with the big needles."

He opened his mouth, intending to ignore Sheppard's comment, but caught the evil glint in Carson's eyes and thought better of it. Only then did he notice how worried Elizabeth appeared, seeing the fine lines of concern etched around her eyes. He frowned, wondering what could have gone wrong while he struggled to survive beneath thousands of feet of water.

"Rodney, the Daedalus heads out in four hours and we wanted to hold a memorial service for-"

"Griffin," Rodney interrupted flatly and Carson turned on Elizabeth.

"I still don't think he's up to-"

"I'd like to attend." The silence fell heavy around the bed but Rodney was adamant, wanting to thank the heroic pilot for giving up his life to save him, and jutting out his chin in defiance of any attempt to stop him seeing this through. "I-I owe him. He saved my life."

Sheppard simply nodded, his hazel eyes unreadable, for even though Griffin had not been under his command, being a member of the Daedalus crew and answerable to Caldwell, Rodney knew John would feel the loss just as keenly as if he had been one of his own men.

"What happened?" Sheppard asked softly, and Rodney felt his mind flying back to the petty argument that had erupted between them after he helped Griffin hobble into the rear compartment.

"The bulkhead door wouldn't close. I tried it several times but...but the crash must have..." He broke off with a shudder, letting the event play out in his mind once more. He had left Griffin by the bulkhead while he raced towards the secondary controls at the back, desperate to find an override among the many redundant controls, all the while hearing the terrible grating and cracking as the forward window spider-webbed from top to bottom.

"Rodney?" Sheppard placed a hand on his forearm.

"I went to the rear panel. He said he had an idea and went back into the forward section...and by the time I realized what he intended, the bulkhead door was sliding shut." Rodney looked up at Sheppard, feeling the heat of unshed tears burning behind his eyes. "Why did he do that?"

No one had an answer for him but he saw Carson and Elizabeth's faces flush and glance away from him, mirroring the guilt he felt at being the one to survive. Sheppard dropped his eyes, hiding his emotions from Rodney, but the set of his jaw warned Rodney that Sheppard was feeling just as angry at himself--or at Rodney. It never occurred to him that Sheppard might have his own reason for feeling guilty for Griffin's loss.

The memorial service was well attended by both the Daedalus crew and those from Atlantis, and this surprised Rodney as he had not expected Griffin to be such a popular man, especially as this had been only his second trip out to the Pegasus galaxy. Though, perhaps it was not really so surprising when Rodney considered the familiarity with which Griffin treated everyone he came across. The first time he met the man, Griffin introduced himself and started calling him Rodney. Not Dr. McKay or Doctor or even McKay, but Rodney.

Good luck, Rodney.

His final words had held the familiarity of a friend and yet Rodney had never even known the man's first name, let alone used it. As he sat in unnatural stillness in the wheelchair Carson had insisted he use, Rodney ignored the sideways glances directed at him, sensing pity from some and anger from others while many simply mourned another life lost. How many of them saw his survival as a failure on his part? His failure to save anyone but himself. He should have been able to save Griffin. If he had spent less time arguing over who was to blame and more of those vital seconds on closing the bulkhead door from the rear panel then maybe they both might have lived.

"Don't belittle his sacrifice with self-pity," Sheppard whispered harshly as if reading his mind, and the suddenness of his words cutting through Rodney's thoughts startled him; he looked up sharply, wincing at the pain that motion evoked.

"Oh, and you were there," Rodney snapped back in a harsh whisper.

Sheppard stepped briskly in front of his wheelchair, turned and leaned down, bracing his hands on the armrests. Stormy hazel eyes met his, demanding that he hold his gaze, and Rodney could feel Sheppard's warm breath on his face. Sheppard kept his voice low.

"You were transmitting on an open mic so we all got to hear what happened." He stared harder for a moment but pulled back slightly as realization set in for Rodney, and Rodney felt the heat of his embarrassment for that petty argument. The hazel eyes softened. "There wasn't enough time, Rodney. You knew it, and so did he...except he wasn't so badly concussed he couldn't figure out the only other way to save one of you...and even if it wasn't his duty to protect you, there wasn't time to draw straws on who got to live."

And who died.

Those words hung in the air between them as Rodney's thoughts flicked back to Peter Grodin, and then Rodney saw it, the momentary lapse of control that revealed the depth of Sheppard's friendship for him. Suddenly, Sheppard's anger made sense and Rodney felt his own jaw slacken in shock. After Arcturus he thought he had lost Sheppard's friendship too when he abused his trust, spending these past months wondering if he could ever regain either. Now he knew their friendship was still intact. Griffin had given his life to save him, and Sheppard... He blinked. No... John was angry because he was glad it was Griffin and not Rodney who had died.

John straightened as if burned, his eyes darting away and his expression taking on that blank, almost laconic air that Rodney had long since decided he used to hide his true emotions from the rest of the universe. John kept his eyes averted for the remainder of the memorial service and disappeared quickly afterwards, leaving Carson to wheel Rodney back to the infirmary.

As he lay back on the bed, Rodney let his thoughts drift back to John and he smiled. Griffin had saved more than just his life. He had given Rodney his best friend back.

Now all I have to do is restore John's faith in me and earn back his trust, he thought, and then he realized that he was already most of the way there.

***

Most people appeared incredibly stupid when standing in the shadow of Rodney's brilliance, but Norena had other assets that, quite frankly, made John very unhappy. She was stunningly beautiful and blond, which according to Rodney's well-documented taste in women, added up to the perfect woman. No wonder the man stood there with his tongue hanging out. Pathetic. Totally pathetic... and John knew only one way to make certain this woman had no opportunity to get her talons into his friend: he flirted with her.

In between flirting with Norena, he remained just on the professional side of flirting with Rodney, keeping Rodney focused on saving all their lives rather than allowing him to follow his hormones or his tendency to panic, and lose track of the danger. Beyond the ancient outpost, the supervolcano continued to spew ash high into the air, the pressure from below opening fissures in the crust that sent lava bubbling to the surface. The Stargate had already fallen, even the naquadah unable to withstand the intense heat. Of Teyla and Ronon there was no news and John could only hope that the Daedalus would return quickly enough to pick them off the surface beyond the shield.

The small group clustered around Rodney as the scientist worked beneath the main console on the bridge of the Orion, looking to Rodney to be their savior one more time. Hundreds more people were relying upon him too, relying on his incredible intellect and the creativity that one shallow piano teacher had tried to suffocate through his envy. For what was intelligence, and what was science, without the vision and imagination to see the endless possibilities? Nothing. Without imagination man would never have reached for the stars let alone stepped across the threshold into a whole new galaxy. Rodney had more than his fair share of both intelligence and imagination, so it was hardly surprising that the man teetered on the edge of panic most of the time.

The small cry of pain from beneath the console made every muscle in John’s body tense until he realized how trivial the injury, slapping Rodney's leg to send his focus back to the task at hand. The supervolcano could erupt at any moment and if they were not ready to put Rodney's plan into action when that happened, then they were dead. John took the captain's chair while the others grabbed for any strong handhold, bracing themselves as the predicted eruption collapsed the hangar ceiling even as the pressure from below sent them firing like a rocket from a launch pad. A slight disorientation as the hyperdrive kicked in and then all was still. They had done it...Rodney had done it, and John wished he could pull the man into his arms and kiss him soundly.

However, Rodney seemed determined to continue lusting after Norena once the danger had passed, and the lovesick look and puppy dog eyes looked unsettlingly good on McKay. The revealed vulnerability, and the sickeningly cute way the normally razor-sharp man bumbled and tripped over his own tongue was sending mixed messages of passion and anger boiling through John's body. His fingers itched to reach out, grab Rodney's chin and turn his desire-filled eyes away from her, wanting to be the one to drown in the pools of brilliant blue. Instead John kept up the pretence of interest in the beautiful woman while trying to keep her at arms' length, having no intention of falling onto her soft, curvaceous form when he wanted the harder angles and greater strength of Rodney's body lying beneath him.

All in all, Rodney was seriously messing up his love life.

A week later, Norena was at a safe distance, settling onto a new world with her people with the help of the Atlanteans and John was pleased to finally see the back of her.

***

The Daedalus returned, bringing both new and familiar faces with it. Some were welcome, like Novak, while others sent Rodney screaming to Elizabeth with complaints about their incompetence or his desire for them to never set foot near one of his laboratories without a security detail ensuring they kept their hands firmly placed against their sides. Kavanagh came under that group and Rodney sulked for hours when Elizabeth countermanded his order to have Kavanagh thrown into the Atlantis equivalent of a brig when the man dared to touch his laptop.

Rodney still felt that Elizabeth was being a little too nice to the man following her wrongful accusation, especially after Caldwell turned out to be the unwilling host to a Goa’uld. The fact that even Rodney had agreed to the military decision to send Ronon in to interrogate...okay...torture the man, was immaterial. Kavanagh deserved everything he got for being a royal pain in the ass and the bane of Rodney’s existence during his time spent on Atlantis.

Bates returned to Atlantis on-board the Daedalus too, looking none the worse for the injuries sustained so many months before. Rodney knew it was up to Sheppard to decide if the marine could stay or not, though he had a feeling that Sheppard would not agree for his relationship with Bates had never been easygoing. While Bates was in charge of security on Atlantis, he and Sheppard had butted heads often. Of course it had not helped that Bates had this inability to trust Teyla, thereby undermining Sheppard's respect and often his authority regarding the ex-leader of the Athosians.

Personally, Rodney believed Bates had a thing for Teyla. After all, she had that whole Amazon princess thing going about her, with the sticks and the fighting and that Zen-like philosophy. That thought made him blush as he recalled his lack of tact in referring to her and Ronon as Xena and Conan, even if it was pretty close to the truth...and it was not like anyone could deny the similarity. However, as Carson pointed out, they were his teammates and they were the people he had to depend upon when out on missions so it was best not to rile them.

He looked up from his lunch as a shadow fell over him, half expecting to see Sheppard, who had been haunting his steps ever since the supervolcano but instead, he saw Bates.

"Sergeant!"

"Dr. McKay," Bates grinned and nodded towards the empty seat beside Rodney.

"Oh! Yes..."

Rodney was flustered, for in all the time he had known Bates, the man had never gone out of his way to be seen with Rodney in a public setting, merely acknowledging his existence in the past with a quick word, a smile and a dip of the head. As Bates sat down, he could not help giving the sergeant the once over, as covertly as possible, trying to see any physical differences in the man he had known from before the siege of Atlantis.

"You look...umm...well."

Bates gave a wry smile. "Small talk still not a strong point, I see."

Rodney flushed with embarrassment, a sense of deja vu filling him as he recalled his awkward conversation with Michael. As always, Bates got straight to the point, but that was something he had always liked about the man.

"I'm not staying on Atlantis. I'm with the Daedalus crew...but I wanted to continue our-"

"Yes. Yes, of course," Rodney interrupted, his face flaming with embarrassment and a shy smile.

Bates nodded and held out his hand. After a few seconds, Rodney managed to figure out what was required and took that hand in his, feeling the warm fingers closing over his, a thumb digging into the back of his hand before Rodney pulled free. Bates stood up, dipping his head one more time.

"Later then, doc?

"Yes. Same time as..." Rodney waved a hand in lieu of unnecessary words.

Rodney watched him walk away, startled when Sheppard dropped into the seat Bates had vacated, laser eyes burning a hole in the sergeant's back, making Rodney wonder if he had underestimated the hostility between the pair.

"He still giving you PowerBars or does he have you on your knees for a more tempting offer these days?"

Rodney frowned as Sheppard redirected the hostility towards him, glancing down at his knees in confusion. "What?"

"Oh come now, Rodney. You don't have to play coy with me."

"Are you suffering from some hitherto unknown head injury? Perhaps I should call Carson and-"

"Just tell me why Bates."

"Why Bates what?"

"Twice a week, twenty-one hundred hours...in your quarters."

"How did you...?"

"Giving him a friendly...hand?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Though I hardly think it's any of your business, and if you'd wanted to join in then all you had to do was ask, Colonel. I'm certain Bates wouldn't have minded the additional-"

"Don't say it," Sheppard raised a finger menacingly, but then the finger curled over as the tension left Sheppard's lean but muscular frame and Rodney hated the sad, resigned smile that crossed his face. "You're right. It's none of my business what you get up to with Bates." He looked away. "I had no right to ask."

Before Rodney could make sense of any of this, Sheppard pushed up from the table and strode away stiffly. The memory of Sheppard's misery stayed with Rodney long after Bates had come and gone from his quarters that evening, and he lay on his bed, counting the decorative dimples in the ceiling with little hope of gaining sleep any time soon.

His body betrayed him with thoughts of John and, cursing himself for his weakness, Rodney let his hands drift down his body, slipping beneath his t-shirt to stroke across his soft belly before moving lower to brush over his erection. He sighed as his fingers closed around the hard flesh, thumb playing across the sensitive tip, sending sparks of pleasure racing through to every nerve ending. He conjured up an image of John, with his dark hair mussed from stick-fighting with Teyla and with dark patches of sweat under his arms and striped down his front and back. Strong fingers grasped the edge of his sweat soaked t-shirt, dragging it over his head and balling it up to be thrown aside, his heaving body glistening from the workout. Slowly, he walked towards Rodney, stopping beside the bed, kicking off sneakers and toeing off socks. Rodney stroked harder, eyes closed as his imagination provided Technicolor detail of John teasing down the zipper of his pants, letting the heavy material drop to pool at his feet, leaving him gloriously naked.

Rodney moaned as his fantasy John crawled onto the bed and over him, leaning down to nip at his flesh from knee to inner thigh. His hand worked faster, thumb dragging over the head, adding the friction he craved as ghost fingers danced across his flesh, melting into the sensation of his other hand toying with a nipple, pinching and rubbing the hardened nub. He could feel his climax building and he cried out softly as one last stroke took him over the edge. He felt the splatter of warm ejaculate upon his chest as the heady scent of his own musk filled the room, his body trembling from the powerful orgasm as he gave one final stroke and let his hand drop away. Heart beating rapidly, Rodney lay in quiet repletion, fingers dragging through the sticky mess on his abdomen and chest until his image of John faded, leaving him depressingly alone in the empty room.

With a sigh, Rodney pushed up from the bed and moved into his bathroom, stepping beneath the warm spray of the shower to wash away the evidence of his solitary passion. Afterwards, he sat on the edge of his bed and let Sheppard's words and actions pass by his mind's eye once more, straightening in surprise when he finally figured it out. He reached for his radio, selecting a private channel.

"Colonel Sheppard?"

A slight delay was followed by Sheppard's tired and less than pleased voice. "What is it, McKay?"

"Bates is going for officer. He's studying for a Math degree and I'm his mentor. McKay out."

Rodney put aside the headset, deciding to leave Sheppard pondering over his words. Sleep found him quickly now both mind and body were relaxed, dreams of John chasing him down into temporary oblivion.

***

John walked the corridors of Atlantis long after even the most dedicated of McKay's scientists should have succumbed to the need to sleep under normal circumstances. His world seemed to have come full circle except he could no longer deny having feelings for Rodney that went far beyond lust, realized by his unwarranted jealousy of Bates. Although he felt like an idiot for misunderstanding the relationship forged between McKay and Bates, his edginess came more from knowing how stupid he had been to squander all the time he and Rodney could have spent together.

Fear for McKay was a metallic taste that was bitter on his tongue. The Wraith were at the door again and despite the scientist's enthusiasm, John did not trust Michael or the Hive Queen's assertions that they were looking for an alliance. The way the Queen freely offered up all of their knowledge, the schematics of their great ships and far more, only increased his suspicions of a honeyed trap.

In an unaccustomed act of bravery, McKay had offered to go along on the Hive ship as part of Weir's unwanted bargain with the Devil, a naive sacrifice should everything go to Hell in a hand basket. John had to bow to the decision, knowing Ronon would not be enough to protect his friend should the Wraith betray them and McKay's escape plan fail but the Queen Wraith had backed them into a corner, giving them little hope but to trust that her motives were to the benefit of him and his fellow Lanteans.

Still, he felt sick with worry for McKay and for the rest of Atlantis; sick enough to know he could not allow him to leave tomorrow without telling him how much he loved him, and how much he wanted him.

His feet had taken him back to McKay's door and John hesitated for but a moment before requesting entry. Beyond the door he could hear the shuffle of movement, smiling softly as the door opened to reveal the disheveled, hunched over scientist staring at him bleary eyed. One hand rose to rub across his eyes and to swipe away the other less romantic signs of sleep but Rodney had never looked more beautiful to John. His hair was mussed from sleep with short strands sticking in all directions, his long eyelashes fluttering as he forced his eyes to stay open. McKay made no attempt to suppress or hide the huge yawn that overtook him, making his blue eyes sparkle with a film of tears. Part of John felt regret at pulling the scientist from the only sleep he had gained since the hive ship reached the edge of the solar system.

"Colonel? What..?"

"We need to talk," John stated though, in truth, he wanted to do something far different involving mouths and tongues. He gave into that incredible urge, grasping McKay's shoulders and pushing him back into the room before ordering the door to close and lock behind them. Blue eyes became impossibly wide when John's hand brushed across McKay's boxer-clad groin, but John silenced any words or squawks by latching onto the surprise-parted lips, tongue thrusting deep into McKay's mouth.

Rodney's mouth, he allowed himself to think this time as all resistance melted away and hands clutched at John's shoulders, and then he stopped thinking at all as he let his body slake its demands on the more than willing man pressed hard against him.

Tongues clashed, darting and licking to savor the forbidden taste before drawing back so John could worry at the soft lower lip, teasing it between his teeth before sucking on the swollen flesh. Small, needy sounds vibrated between them as fingers clenched in the folds of his t-shirt, scrunching up the material as an image of Rodney kissing Beckett with the same fierce abandon swept unbidden into his mind. Rather than anger him, it excited him as he kissed back with bruising strength, hands dropping swiftly down Rodney's back to grasp the boxer-clad ass, fingers digging into the surprisingly firm flesh, forcing their groins together. Rodney's mouth slid away from his with a low groan of pleasure, head thrown back, pale throat exposed as John latched onto the juncture of neck and shoulder, biting down just short of breaking the skin. He felt another gasp and moan against his busy lips, drawing them away to find the source of the sweet vibration, tongue laving the slightly bristled flesh, mouth latching over the Adam's apple as Rodney trembled against him.

Grateful for his foresight, John kicked off his loosened sneakers as he worked Rodney back towards the bed, the tiled floor cool beneath his bared feet. He grabbed the hem of Rodney's t-shirt, dragging the material up to bunch under armpits while he attacked a small, tight nipple, drawing the flesh between his teeth and flicking his tongue over the sensitive surface. Rodney arched against him, small cries of 'oh god' falling from him as the fingers of one hand scrabbled for purchase on John's shoulders while others alternately tugged and stroked his hair, caught between pulling him away and pressing him closer.

John took pity on his soon-to-be lover, pulling back far enough to encourage Rodney to remove his t-shirt completely while he disposed of his own, tugging it over his head and casting it aside, hating the small parting of flesh on flesh. He moaned as talented fingers carded through the hairs on his chest, tugging at strands before a hot mouth latched onto a hardened nipple, the strong suction and flickering licks sending mixed signals of pleasure and pain straight to his cock.

John dragged Rodney's mouth away from his chest, wanting to taste him once more in open-mouthed, possessive kisses as his hands framed Rodney's handsome, desire-filled face.

They stumbled back towards the bed, mouths and hands paying homage to every inch of revealed flesh, eventually falling onto the bed's firm surface among the tangled sheets and covers. The body beneath John was warm from sleep and solid in all the right places, meeting John's uncontrolled thrusts with equal strength and ferocity as they bit and sucked on exposed skin possessively. He snaked a hand between their bellies, grasping for the waistband of soft cotton boxers and slipping his fingers inside to stroke over the velvet crown of Rodney's cock. The scent of arousal filled the air as his thumb played with the sensitive head, smearing slippery precome across the soft yet rigid flesh. Fingers scrabbled at the fly of his BDU pants, tugging on them, and he obliged by raising his body, letting Rodney shove the rough material down to trap his thighs and free his erection. John moaned as eager fingers wrapped around his cock, pumping with long, sure strokes that twisted at the end of each upward pull, adding a wondrous intensity as a thumbnail scraped over that deliciously sensitive bundle of nerves. Somehow, he worked Rodney's boxers down, exposing the thick, beautiful shaft, his mind glorying in the feel of the silken flesh gliding through his fist as he drew Rodney higher, the tiny, needy sounds rising to a crescendo of keening wails.

His climax came in a rush of powerful emotions, wrenching a guttural cry from his throat as he felt the answering heat of spent passion from the body beneath him that was convulsing with pleasure.

Hard grips became soft caresses while biting smoothed to gentle licks. John's hands stroked down Rodney's side from one muscular shoulder to the firm yet generous ass, cupping a cheek and squeezing it intimately. He arched against the strong and gentle hand smoothing down his own back while another slipped between their perspiring bodies, fingers carding through the sticky remnants of their lovemaking. John raised his eyes to find awe in the face gazing up at him. He had learned to read the myriad of expressions on the quirkily handsome face, including the one that he had studiously ignored until now; the one that told John how much Rodney cared for him...perhaps even loved him in return.

"That was...That was..."

"Yeah," John grinned, enjoying the sight of Rodney at a loss for words. He took his lips in another deeply satisfying kiss before Rodney could rediscover words, reducing the man to whimpers and soft moans as he slid away to nuzzle the vulnerable throat, sucking gently on the Adam's apple once more. Neither of them was up for a second round so soon but John knew there was far more to what he felt for Rodney than mere sex. He silenced Rodney with a kiss every time his lover made to speak, not wanting to waste time talking about the right and wrong of this, or of what tomorrow might bring, when all that he wanted was right here in his arms.

Eventually, though, Rodney would not be stopped, using brute strength to roll them until he was on top, the cover twisting around John's feet and making it difficult for him to dislodge him. Instead of words, Rodney stared down at John for a moment. A perplexed expression narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow, and then his head tilted slightly, as if drinking in the sight of John in a mixture of wonderment and confusion before he leaned in and kissed him. That mobile mouth devoured him, the supple tongue stroking into John with the single-minded possessiveness that he always associated with Rodney, and he welcomed it. Eventually, Rodney pulled back to small, nibbling kisses on lips, chin and jaw as he slid to John's side, body still pressed up tight against him, slowly growing still with his head pillowed on John's shoulder.

Rodney's warm breath fanned across John's chest, the silence stretching between them. If not for one hand drifting languorously, fingers trailing through John's thick chest hair then John would have believed Rodney was asleep. He had never associated silence with Rodney, recalling only a few occasions when that had happened in the past, and none of them good. He remembered the silence that should have alerted him to Rodney's unexpected decision to walk into a ten thousand-year-old, living darkness. He recalled the silence when the Wraith virus opened the hangar door to the vacuum of space, staring into shocked blue eyes for several long seconds before it dawned on Rodney that they were not dead. The silence only came when Rodney had fallen beyond terror into shocked or resigned inevitability, when words no longer had any power.

He wondered at the thoughts tumbling through Rodney's mind right now, wondered if he was thinking of all the missed opportunities from the past and, in light of the daunting task lying ahead of him, the chance of them seeing a future together. It seemed cruel to believe that all the time they had left to explore this new facet to their relationship might never be more than these few short hours. Already he could feel the call back to duty but, for once, he pushed it aside like a condemned man determined to have his last wish.

A slightly ragged fingernail caught on a nipple, sending an echo of spent pleasure through John and he sighed as he felt the first stirring of renewed desire.

"I want it all," Rodney whispered hoarsely before rising up on one elbow and leaning forward to follow the curve of John's ear with his tongue. "I want it all."

John smiled softly in response. He wanted it all too. He wanted to plunder the strong body, wanted to press deep inside and own Rodney completely, but he also needed to be owned too. He wanted to give up control to Rodney, to let him take what he needed from his body.

The desire sparked through his blood, tingling from the tips of his hair to his toes, and he grinned as he felt the responding twitch in the slowly filling erection pressed against his belly.

John slid a hand between their bodies and wrapped his fingers around the hardening flesh, feeling it jump in his hand as a fresh moan fell from Rodney's kiss-bruised lips. He squeezed and stroked firmly, mesmerized by the soft babble of incomprehensible words as Rodney's eyes fluttered closed, only letting go when he knew Rodney was too close to the edge. John had never done this before, had never offered himself in total submission, and he watched Rodney's eyes widen in shock when John turned onto his stomach, realizing what John was offering.

"You want me to...?"

Electric blue eyes widened in shock and, for a moment, John thought Rodney would back down now he had been offered what he had asked for, but then that crooked smile widened to a beatific grin, eyes filled with love and desire. Rodney's normally agile fingers fumbled in the bedside drawer, discarding items onto the floor in a frenzy until his questing fingers found what they were searching for. Soft lips pressed against the nape of John's neck in open-mouthed kisses, working slowly down his spine, vertebrae by vertebrae while gentle fingers stroked and caressed in their wake. He squirmed when the wet mouth latched onto one ass cheek, fingers kneading the flesh of the other as a knee pushed gently but firmly between his thighs, encouraging his legs to part. Moments later, John felt the first slicked finger stroke along the valley between his ass cheeks, toying with the entrance to his body before finally pressing inside the tight muscle. He groaned at the exquisite intrusion, encouraging deeper strokes that sent stars dancing before his eyes, basking in the litany of crooning words spilled between the soft, wet kisses.

Even the burn of stretched muscle felt incredibly good as another finger joined the first, opening him wider, increasing the amazing sensations. Eagerly, he obeyed the soft command to rise up on his knees with legs spread, obeying the hand that pressed his shoulders down. He buried his face in the skewed pillow caught between his braced forearms.

A steadying hand caught at John's hip as he felt the bed sway beneath Rodney's moving body, the heat of Rodney's flesh searing his own as Rodney pressed forward, the hard column of flesh pushing against yielding muscle, and sliding home. John sobbed his relief as his body opened to his lover's insistent touch, pushing back to bury Rodney deeper into his flesh, and relishing the passionate cries that fell from Rodney as a soft mantra of 'oh God, oh God'. Each thrust deepened his willing possession until he could feel the crisper hairs of Rodney's groin rubbing against his ass and thighs, and even then it was not enough. He wanted Rodney so deep inside that he might never find his way out, wanted to hold onto this moment forever.

The hand curling around his hard cock caught him by surprise and he whimpered in pleasure as Rodney's supple thumb rubbed over the sensitive tip with each firm stroke, doubling the incredible sensations overloading his entire body. The dual pleasure rocked through him from the heat of Rodney's body behind him and within him, and the fingers wrapped around him. Stroke after stroke sent his body flying, the world melting around him until he was caught and held poised on the knife edge between pain and pleasure, torment and desire.

He fell with a stifled cry, burying his head into the pillow as Rodney thrust harder, rhythm lost as Rodney wailed softly his own completion, bathing John's innards in liquid heat.

It took a while before John had the strength to nudge Rodney to his side, moving the heavy weight off his own sated body yet hating the loss as Rodney slipped from inside him. Before he could dwell on the sudden emptiness, Rodney was pressing slow kisses against his neck, shoulder and back, soothing away the loss with his overwhelming but welcome presence as he babbled on with breathless words tinged with wonder. John laughed softly, offering his own soothing caresses and words as he dragged aside the wet sheets and pulled the rumpled covers up over their sweat and semen-soaked bodies. He knew they would be itching by morning but, for now, John didn't care and he heard no complaints from the normally fastidious man who was now his lover.

As he snuggled into the heat and softness of Rodney's strong body, John no longer had any doubt of whom he wanted in his life and in his bed. Chaya was forgotten along with every other man and woman that had ever caught his eye. All he wanted from now on was Rodney, to taste the salt of his skin and scent the sweet musk of his release, to feel the softness of his belly and the hard angles of hip, to see the lazy smile that evened the crooked smile and hear his incoherent moans of passion as John rocked his world. Rodney had always filled his world with sight and sound and John could no longer conceive of a world without him

No longer perplexed by the rush of anger and the contradictions of denial and need that had made his life so confusing over these past months, he drifted away with his hand caressing the strong back of his friend, now lover. Later there would be time enough to mess up the sheets a little more; time for him to explore and possess the warm body snuggled up against his side before they faced the Wraith and whatever else the fates had decided to throw at them.

Regrets pulled at him for all the wasted time, for the weeks of denial and months of self-pity that stopped him from taking this step before. He had let pettiness, envy and stupid rules keep them from consummating a love that everyone else had seen long before Chaya ever entered their lives and John was not going to make that mistake twice. Whatever happened later that day, he would stay as close as he could to Rodney and he would not rest until Rodney was lying sated and heavy in his arms again. No matter where he went, John would follow and God help anyone who got in his way; the SGC, Caldwell, and especially a Wraith Queen.

Eventually, he fell into a light sleep with the sharp tang of sex and the sweet scent of Rodney surrounding him while his arms tightened protectively around this most precious man, wanting to hold onto him forever.

THE END