"I want us to register," Rodney says. "Before we leave the planet."
John pauses where he's lying on the floor, playing with Mousse au Chocolat, Rodney's cat. He doesn't look up, but he doesn't need to; Rodney is well aware of how very much John does not like that idea. A few weeks of being bonded have been more than enough to teach him just how much John hates it to have people up in his private, personal business.
"John," Rodney says, leaning forwards a little.
John sighs and drops the string. Mousse pounces on it, but John ignores her and gets up, sitting down on the sofa next to Rodney. He folds one leg under himself and leans forward, takes Rodney's hand, presses a kiss to his knuckles. "Why?", he asks quietly.
Turning his hand in John's grip, Rodney twines their fingers. "I need to," he says just as quietly. "They need to stop pretending pairings like us don't exist – that we're not a real match, that we're somehow less."
John is silent, looks down at their hands, and Rodney pulls, wraps his free arm around his Sentinel's shoulders and pulls John's face to his neck. It's not an attempt at manipulation; he wants John closer, wants to feel their bond vibrate between them as John nuzzles above Rodney's carotid, five o'clock shadow tickling the sensitive skin. "I was so terrified," he whispers a moment later, not completely intentionally, but something about John so close just lulls him into revealing his innermost secrets. John only presses his lips to his skin, tightens his grip on Rodney's hand. "I didn't know," Rodney continues, pushing his mouth into John's soft hair, letting it tickle is nose and cheek. "I thought there's something wrong with me. For a while I thought I was insane – I thought I was a sociopath." He swallows noisily as John kisses the side of his neck again, not making any noise, just listening. "After I finally knew what was going on... what I was, sometimes when I mentioned it to the wrong Guides or Sentinels, they'd scoff or look at me with pity."
John tenses and pushes a little closer to Rodney, basically climbing into his lap. "Fuck 'em," he mumbles.
"That's what we'd be doing, if we registered," Rodney whispers into his hair, nuzzling the side of his head. "That's what every asexual pair that registers does. John," Rodney pulls away and ducks his head so he can look his Sentinel in the eye. "If one percent of all mundanes are asexual – and it's suspected that the numbers are actually higher – and considering that the Sentinel-Guide percentage of homosexuality is about equal with that of the mundane population... that means that there's at least three times as many asexual pairings as are currently registered – and that's not even considering unbonded Sentinels and Guides. They're not registering because they maybe don't know what they are – and most certainly because they're afraid. You know what they tell pairings like us."
"That we shouldn't be selfish," John says tonelessly. "That sex strengthens the Sentinel and Guide. That our bond won't develop and build properly if we don't have sex." When they had come back from Antarctica five days after their bonding to register as a mated pair, letters spouting such nonsense had been part of their "Welcome Package". They had both been furious and had refused to register. Only when they had gotten apologies from those at the Colorado Springs Center responsible for the letters as well as the Sentinel-Guide Association of North America had they been willing to be added to the records as a mated pair, but they still refused to set a foot inside the CSCentre.
Rodney nods and brings their foreheads together to calm both of them down. Just remembering it still makes anger boil up inside him – anger and fear. Fear that maybe they are right, that maybe he isn't supporting John as properly as he should, that maybe the fact that they don't have sex endangers their bond. It's that fear in Rodney that made John the most furious, he knows. Of the two of them, John is the one who is most at peace with what they are; he doesn't give a damn of what others think. As John put it, they are as they are, and it's working for them, and that's all that matters.
What John deals a lot less well with than Rodney is others poking their noses into John and Rodney's business. Not that Rodney particularly likes that either, but he doesn't feel as territorial as John does by nature. Which is why he will let John make this decision. "I'll understand if you don't want to, and we won't if you don't, and I won't be angry or disappointed, but I do, I really, really want us to register."
John nods once and presses his lips to Rodney's – and that's still new, they haven't done this often yet. Rodney is sorry about that; he likes John's lips, likes his kisses, but he knows he has to have patience, because John is the one who is more averse to touch, especially touch that is commonly associated with sex or sexuality.
"I'll think about it," John promises.
John's hand snaps forward and grabs the doctor's wrist tightly.
"Sentinel Sheppard," the doctor says primly, "as I informed you, physical contact is required for the physical exam." He sounds mostly professional, but there's an underlying mocking undertone, and Rodney can't help it, he feels vaguely threatened by the man. It's making John even more tense, Rodney's elevated heartbeat and whatever he scents.
"And as I informed you," John growls, "any physical contact will be made after permission has been gained – and with gloves."
The representative of the SG ANA – John and Rodney had firmly refused anyone of the CSCentre – clears her throat. The Sentinel-Guide pair she brought with her for this test isn't witnessing their physical, at least, but Rodney can't help the thought that if they were here, they would be on John and Rodney's side – no Sentinel would allow anybody touching their Guide without permission outside of absolute emergencies. This doctor is acting most unprofessionally, which under different circumstances would surprise Rodney more, but the CSCentre has proven their lack of professionalism before.
John throws the representative a dark look and doesn't let go of the doctor's wrist – it seems he actually tightens his grip, because the doctor grimaces and says, "Understood, Sentinel Sheppard." Only then does John let go. The doctor withdraws his hand and flexes his fingers, rubbing his wrist with his other hand.
Rodney knows that John would prefer being called by his rank, but fact of the matter is that these people are here to test the validity of their bond and their status as matching Sentinel and Guide, and since all Sentinels and Guides are generally referred to by their status by anyone employed by the center, John would actually demand to be referred to by his status as a Sentinel if anyone called him by rank. It's complete political bullshit, but Rodney firmly believes that their registering will help to bring change, and it's that belief that John supports and why they are here.
"Sentinel Sheppard, I'm going to touch your Guide to apply a blood pressure cuff," the doctor says, a hint of annoyance in his voice. He's balancing finely on the line of what is acceptable – that was not the proper formulation required to gain permission, and it lets them know that the guy doesn't believe their pairing is valid. Rodney has no doubt that if they were alone, without the SG ANA representative, he'd be acting even worse.
"No, you're not," John replies matter-of-factly, holding out his hand. "I'm going to do it."
The doctor looks definitely annoyed now, but when he aims a helping glance at the representative, she merely raises an eyebrow. John gets the hemodynamometer, applies it professionally – military training, Rodney figures; all this flying rescue helicopters must have taught him some skills – on Rodney's upper arm and afterwards on himself while the doctor notes down the numbers he dictates. Rodney is absolutely sure that John is controlling everything the doctor writes down to check whether it's correct or not, even if looking at him, you'd never notice.
There are a couple of other minor tests, including the taking of blood from both of them, all of which John executes; Rodney didn't even know that applying syringes is part of the military training of sentinels, but if it is not, he really doesn't want to know. Especially when John puts the needle into his own arm without a wince; Rodney has to look away and count from ten down in Russian to calm himself. In the end, the doctor doesn't even get to breathe in his direction, and if he's honest with himself, Rodney feels safer with John's hovering act. His Sentinel standing so close, touching him and protecting him bodily would in any other situation be faintly exasperating, but he has no problem at all hiding behind John where people like that doctor are concerned.
"For the following part of the testing, Guide McKay is required to undress," the doctor says eventually and glances at the SG ANA representative. "Perhaps Mrs. Langley should-"
"Mrs. Langley should stay right where she is," John interrupts. He obviously trusts the doctor even less than Rodney does, and Rodney isn't sure he even gets the vibes of his emotions off of him that Rodney gets.
"I was only trying to make you more comfortable," the doctor says with obvious exasperation, but underneath that there's displeasure and a fierce, sudden wave of disgust that makes Rodney wince. John immediately puts himself bodily between Rodney and the doctor; Rodney slides his hand under John's shirt to get skin contact and leans his forehead between John's shoulder blades.
"Perhaps we should discontinue the testing," the representative suggests. Rodney can't see her from his position and anyway he's too busy calming the both of them down, but he bets she's taking in everything that's happening between them with the help of the mirror placed strategically in the corner. It's why she's there, after all.
"I don't know how you expect us to give you valid test results when you have such an asshole do the testing," John snaps, patience clearly almost gone. The doctor glares and crosses his arms, opening his mouth, but the representative interrupts him with a curt, "Thank you, Dr. Cobbles."
It's a clear dismissal, and with a huff, the doctor turns on his heels and storms out of the room.
With an apologetic expression, the representative turns to John and Rodney and says, "My apologies, but this was a necessary part of the testing."
John tenses, and Rodney straightens where he's sitting on the bed and wraps an arm around John's waist to calm him. "What?", he demands. "You're telling me you put us in the same room as that asshole on purpose?"
She sends him another apologetic look, but there's no actual regret in her when she says, "Yes. It was not something we could warn you about, as it was necessary that your reactions be observed unfiltered."
John is maybe a breath away from putting an end to the testing, Rodney is well aware, and so he tightens his grip on his Sentinel and pulls him backwards between his legs. "Thank you, that's just great," he snaps at the representative, then dismisses her. If John really wants to quit Rodney will do it without protest, but they already got this far. On the other hand, the medical test is the second most invasive one of the tests a pairing has to go through to become a validly registered asexual pair, and they haven't gone through the most invasive one yet, not to mention the last one that isn't exactly a cakewalk either. Perhaps they really should stop.
"John...", Rodney starts, but John puts a hand on top of Rodney's on his belly and twines their fingers. "Send in your real doctor," he orders, and the representative nods and knocks twice on the door. Immediately, another doctor comes in, and this one seems a lot more acceptable, giving them a smile.
"Hello, my name is Dr. Anthony Baxter, nice meeting you." He holds out his hand towards John, and John almost doesn't take it – he wouldn't have, if he had been holding Rodney's hand with his right and thus would have had to let go of him. But it's his left hand that is twined with Rodney's fingers, and so he holds out his right for a short handshake. Baxter doesn't make any movement towards Rodney – which would have been hard anyway, since John is shielding him as best as he can with his body, but still, point to Baxter for knowing protocols better than Cobbles, who had made motions to touch Rodney right at the beginning, making for the first conflict between him and John.
"I want to apologize for the trouble my... colleague has caused," Baxter continues. He really means it; Rodney can tell. For all that he's part in this scheme, Dr. Baxter shows none of the condescension and bigotry that Cobbles displayed. "So," Baxter glances at the representative, "I suggest we start this again. Would you like a moment?"
John says "Yes" before Rodney even has the chance to contemplate the question. It doesn't matter anyway; if John needs a moment, he's going to get one.
Waiting until Baxter has retreated to the exit of the room again, taking a seat next to the representative and looking over the notes Cobbles made with a faint frown, John lets go of Rodney's hand. Rodney pushes himself further onto the bed while John turns around, and then John unceremoniously climbs into Rodney's lap, cupping his face and pressing their lips together. It's their sixteenth lips-to-lips kiss; their first had been a little over two weeks ago, five weeks after their bonding. Early Wednesday morning, Rodney had woken up before John and had nuzzled his neck, his cheeks, enjoying the rasp of stubble and pressing tiny kisses all over his face. He had only become aware that John was awake when John had suddenly turned his head and the next kiss Rodney had aimed at his cheek had landed on the corner of his mouth. It had been mostly an accident; they had never done it before because John didn't really like touches that were associated with sexuality. Kisses to the face or hands were okay, but the lips and neck and anything below had been strictly off-limits up until that point. Due to that accident, though, John had found that he liked it, and ever since, they had started doing it every now and then. Rodney still feels giddy whenever it happens, knowing that John is his and he is John's and that there are no obligation or expectation at all hidden in the kisses.
Now, Rodney tilts up his face and lets John nuzzle him, reassure himself that Rodney is fine; Rodney of course can't smell it, but he's sure that the fact that the smell of both of their blood is in the air surely isn't helping John's calm any. Sliding his hands up John's thighs, Rodney winds his hands under John's shirt, the skin on skin contact helping John ground further. Of course there won't be any actual relaxation happening here, in this place and under the scrutiny of both the SG ANA representative and a doctor and who knows who else via the surveillance system, but as John brings their foreheads together and breathes in sync with Rodney, they both achieve some resemblance of it. Enough to be able to deal with the rest of this test, hopefully, because Baxter will have to put his hands on Rodney before this part will be done with.
When John pulls away and gets off Rodney's lap, Rodney misses his warmth immediately, but in the end, he'd rather cuddle with John without an audience, and he just wants this test to be over so they can go home.
"Ready?", Baxter asks, and John nods, leaning against the bed next to Rodney and taking his hand.
"Good." Baxter smiles at them and puts on gloves. "I will have to take the same measurements Dr. Cobbles took, blood pressure, pupil reaction, reflexes, temperature, oxygen saturation of the blood and the blood itself. Which one would you prefer I start with?", he addresses John.
"Pupils," John decides. It had been the only test Cobbles had gotten to do on Rodney before things had gone rapidly downhill.
Baxter performs all tests on John first and then on Rodney, always asking for permission even if he doesn't actually touch Rodney; it serves a great deal to keep John calm. Due to the fact that their bond is still very new, nobody can really tell how he'll react to somebody else touching his Guide, but he's reining his instincts in with commendable self-control. Rodney makes a mental note to figure out something to reward him with when this is all over. He only hopes that John will be able to keep calm during the truly unpleasant part of the physical.
"Very well," Baxter notes when all the preliminary tests are done. He glances at the representative, probably considering sending her out, but they had been asked at the beginning if they would be more comfortable with a male or female representative to be present during all tests, and it really didn't make any difference for either of them. John felt equally threatened by either, and Rodney didn't care. "Now comes the most uncomfortable part of the test," Baxter informs them. "I trust you have been informed of the full extend of the physical?"
John nods curtly – before they had even registered for the test, they had read extensive info material on how the three tests were conducted. After having read that, Rodney had honestly been astonished John had still agreed to do the testing; he himself had never wavered, but then again, he isn't the one who is territorial by nature.
"Then I suggest Guide McKay take off his shirt so I can check his lungs and do a ultrasonic of his heart," Baxter addresses John. So far, he has barely looked at Rodney, much less spoken to him; normally, Rodney would be beyond annoyed, but right now he's thankful for everything that makes John feel a little better. He'd wear a burqa right now if it would help John.
Except for the part where he has to strip naked before the test is over, but, well. He'll deal with that when the time comes.
John steps in front of him again, fingertips fluttering over Rodney's neck for a moment before he takes hold of the hem of Rodney's shirt; Rodney raises his arms over his head like a child as John pulls it off. This isn't the first time they have undressed together, and also not the first time they have taken each other's clothes off, though apart from their bonding, that also is still fairly new. It took John long to trust that Rodney would never interpret anything John did as sexual – Rodney is afraid to ask, mostly because John isn't the only one territorial in their relationship, and he knows himself enough to be aware that he can be fairly vindictive. John probably wouldn't appreciate it much if Rodney destroyed the lives of everyone who had ever made John uncomfortable in that area.
When Rodney's upper body is naked, Baxter gets permission from John again before stepping forward and pressing the cold end of a stethoscope to Rodney's chest. After he has checked Rodney's lung function, he has Rodney lie down on his back and squirts cold gel on his chest to ultrasonic his heart – Rodney really has no idea what this test has to do with his asexuality and their asexual bond, but okay. The x-ray and MRT had seemed a bit excessive as well, but if these people thought it was necessary, there wasn't much they could do.
Might be he's a little impatient because he really just wants to get over with the next part of the test.
After his heart has been checked, John wipes the gel off Rodney's chest – at least it's water-based and won't leave any uncomfortable residue – and then, with a tense expression, opens Rodney's pants, pushing them and his underwear down a little. Baxter squirts some more cold gel onto Rodney's pelvis and checks whether all his reproductive organs are intact – which they are, thank you very much, everything's in working order, he just doesn't want to use it with other people – and then there's no way anymore for either side to stall. John again wipes the gel off Rodney, and then Rodney gets up – John puts his shirt on him again, and at first Rodney is confused, but then, when John pulls his pants and underwear down to his knees, a lot relieved because he feels less naked with at least his chest covered again. Still, it's not exactly pleasant, and he crosses his arms and stares at the ceiling, John's body pressed warm to his side, while Baxter checks his genitals.
Rodney's blushing tomato red by the time Baxter is finished, and John is deeply unhappy – Rodney would have liked to pull him a little closer, but Baxter needs some room, and also John needs to watch everything the doctor does. Then comes the part with more cool gel in even more uncomfortable places, Rodney has to cough, and then Baxter pokes his prostrate which neither Rodney nor John are at all happy with, and then it's thankfully over.
At least for Rodney. John has to go through this all as well, and it's that thought that makes Rodney more unhappy than his own test – Rodney is mostly okay with people touching him, or at least he had been before the bonding, but John has never been comfortable when his personal space is invaded, not to mention when people touch him. Rodney has seen him flinch when somebody brushed by him in a crowd and accidentally bumped into him.
John goes through it all with a completely blank face, staring at the ceiling. He only jerks twice, once when Baxter brushes his fingers over a scar on his chest just before applying the gel. "POW," he answers the unvoiced question, voice completely expressionless. The second time John flinches is when Baxter brushes by too closely to Rodney, almost touching him; admittedly, it had been Rodney's fault. John's complacence distressed him more than he could express, and after Baxter had touched John's scar he had been crowding the doctor, watching with narrowed eyes that he didn't touch John more than was absolutely necessary anymore.
Everybody breathes a sigh of relief when Baxter is finally done with all tests. This time it's Rodney who crowds John against the bed; he isn't too sure if it is a good idea to subject John to more touching after that uncomfortable episode, but he's anxious and he doesn't know what else to do. Thankfully, John seems to appreciate it, wrapping both arms around Rodney's neck and burying his face in his collarbone. Rodney just wraps his arms around him and holds him close; Baxter and the representative behind them are quiet, and slowly, John starts to breathe normally again, at least a little.
They stay like that for a while; Rodney suspects it will take a couple of hours of just the two of them at home before John really relaxes again. He should get the two of them home as soon as possible, but he really can't let go just yet.
Finally, though, they pull apart; John checks whether Rodney's clothing is all straightened up, and Rodney checks John over, and then, thankfully, they can leave. John acts like he always does, watching their surroundings and putting a hand in the small of Rodney's back, but he feels tense; Rodney doesn't say a thing while they go back to the car. Rodney is the one who drives them home while John stares out of the window.
When he stops his car, neither of them gets outside immediately. Finally, Rodney takes a breath. "I'm sorry."
John turns his head to look at him calmly. "It's not your fault," he responds.
Shaking his head, Rodney argues, "If I didn't want us to do this test-"
"You didn't force me," John interrupts. "You let me make the decision, and I decided that we could deal with it. And we did. Nothing bad happened."
Rodney doesn't reply; it doesn't really feel that way.
John's face softens. "Rodney," is all he says. Then he puts his hand on the back of Rodney's head and leans their foreheads together. "We knew what was going to happen. It wasn't pleasant, but we're fine."
"Okay," Rodney says, voice small.
John presses his lips to Rodney's forehead and then pulls away. "Now let's go take a shower."
They have never showered together; Rodney doesn't even consider it until John, after undressing him and directing him into the shower, hazardously pulls his own clothes off and follows Rodney into the warm stream of water. He crowds Rodney against the wall; it's not the first time he's done this, not even the first time where they're both naked. At the beginning of their actual bonding, he had crowded Rodney on the bed very much like this. The way he's acting right now is pretty similar to back then; Rodney suddenly realizes that Baxter is the first person other than John who has touched him since their bonding. No accidental touches, much less purposeful ones; not even the doctors in Antarctica or at the SGC had been allowed to touch him, and it hadn't been necessary either. He hadn't even really registered that.
But even if a hundred people had touched him since then because John doesn't mind, Rodney will always react the same way when John comes at him like that; he melts against John's body. Completely pliant, he lets John maneuver him around while John carefully washes Rodney's whole body, touching him everywhere as he never has before. When Rodney is clean, he makes a tentative attempt to return the favor, but John shakes his hand and takes care of it himself. Afterwards, John dries the both of them off quickly and then directs Rodney into the bedroom and onto the bed, where he pulls the blanket over both their heads and curls up tightly around his Guide. It's late afternoon and they should be thinking about getting dinner, but suddenly Rodney feels heavy and tired, and all he can do is rub his cheek against John's chest before dropping off.
When he wakes up, it's to John carding his fingers through his hair. At one point he appears to have lifted the blanket off their heads so they'd get fresh air, and it's almost dark in the room; a look out of the window tells Rodney that it's around sundown. Somewhere Rodney can't see, Mousse is purring just loud enough for Rodney to hear. "Food?", John asks quietly.
Rodney grumbles in agreement. He feels a little stuffy in the head; he's cutting it a little close with his hypoglycemia. When he pushes himself upright, his hands are trembling only the tiniest bit – not even visibly yet, but he's got to get some food into himself soon.
Of course, John notices quickly, and even though it's completely unnecessary he makes Rodney stay in bed while he brings him a yoghurt and orders pizza. Rodney indulges his Sentinel's over-protectiveness and eats some yoghurt, even though it's not really necessary. He doesn't let John keep him in bed when the pizza arrives, though; while John puts on Rodney's tattered bathrobe to pay the pizza at least somewhat clothed, Rodney picks them out something to watch. He chooses a documentary about the universe on which he participated instead of a movie – it's an okay documentary, nothing inaccurate, though it simplifies things a lot.
John likes the documentary; everything is just simple enough for him not to have to pay too close attention to understand, and Rodney is in it, and they have pizza. He also manfully holds back any comment about Rodney's hair; at the time Rodney had started to lose it (or perhaps only noticed that he was starting to) and had made an attempt to hide that by growing it, which in hindsight hadn't been too smart a decision.
After they have eaten and watched the documentary, they do some house work. Rodney checks in on the SGC for both of them, John makes them jelly for tomorrow and spends some time with Mousse, and then they crawl back into bed. They're not really tired yet, and because they don't have anything planned tomorrow they don't have to go to bed on time either, but Rodney feels like some cuddling, and John is fully on board with that.
The day after tomorrow they have the most difficult test of them all, but they don't talk about it.
"Just don't fly off the handle," John says, just before they get out of the car. The joke falls flat; Rodney isn't at all sure he'll manage not to lose it.
The thing about this test is that John, as the Sentinel in their bond, is possessive and protective by nature. Rodney is too, but it's turned inward; John is aimed outwards. Nobody is allowed to get physically close to either of them, but especially Rodney, whereas Rodney is responsible for their mental well-being. John, as everybody who is not a Guide, has no telepathic sensitivity at all, which is why Rodney automatically and naturally wraps himself around him mentally to shield him.
John is much more used to peripheral threats to the both of them; people walk by too closely every day, look at them, talk to and about them, and then there is the fact that Rodney isn't exactly a teddy bear. People glare at him and yell at him and Rodney yells back; actually he usually yells first. Just generally people tend to behave aggressively in his presence, which, granted, is mostly due to the fact that Rodney himself behaves aggressively. John does have a lot to deal with with Rodney.
In contrast, Rodney has a lot less to do to keep them safe, which is due to the simple fact that there aren't that many people on the planet who are capable of being a telepathic threat. Actually, the only people who in theory are able to are other Guides, and even a Guide isn't actually able to pose a danger unless they're let in or considerably stronger than oneself, though the latter of which can only be found out during an actual attack. It's not at all like in the movies; due to the natural shields everybody has, it's just not possible to go into another person's head without permission, not for anyone. All a Guide is capable of generally is receiving the undertones of outer moods and the upper layers of emotions of people, both of which are projected unconsciously. If one tries really hard and touches the person one is trying to read, it's even possible to get underlying emotions that aren't current, but that's hard and really not worth the bother – not to mention illegal without permission. The only person a Guide really has access to is their Sentinel.
Today, Rodney is going to have to let a Guide touch both him and John. She's going to gauge what they're feeling and what's going on, and Rodney has to keep calm and let her. It's comparable to John having to let somebody touch Rodney and himself, but it's generally considered the more trying of the two because Rodney has no frame of reference at all to what it'll feel like, and he's never had to protect them this way before. John's suggestion to not "fly off the handle" isn't particularly helpful, but that's just what Rodney has to try to do.
They enter the Colorado Springs Sentinel-Guide Center together, and the representative of the Sentinel-Guide Association of North America as well as the one of the CSCenter are already waiting for them, together with the mated Sentinel-Guide pair they met two days ago before their physical examination. Knowing what was going to happen today, they had made Rodney uncomfortable even then, which is not really their fault. It can't be helped, though; Rodney was the one who wanted to do this, after all, and now he's just going to have to deal with it.
He lets John handle all interaction, keeps it at the barest minimum of politeness, concentrating mostly on the warmth of John's hand in his and the closeness of John mentally. They're led into a room that is maybe supposed to be comfortable, but there's nothing that could make Rodney comfortable right now either way. The representative from the CSCenter leaves, the SG ANA representative puts herself into the background just as she did at the medical exam two days ago, and the Sentinel-Guide couple takes a seat on the sofa in a right angle to the one John and Rodney sit down on.
"Okay," the Guide, a woman in her early thirties, going by the name of Melinda, says. She doesn't look all that comfortable either. "No question, this will be a hugely difficult thing. I know it's obvious but I just want to make it absolutely clear that I am not sexually or personally interested in either of you." Her Sentinel, a woman named Eleanor, grimaces and takes her hand. Rodney is absolutely sure the Center chose a female-female pairing on purpose in an attempt to make John and Rodney more comfortable.
"Of course," Rodney says; he tries for derisive but only manages to sound shaky.
Melinda swallows. "I'll try to be as careful as possible, but it will be hugely uncomfortable, and if it gets too much for either of you, you have to say immediately and I'll stop, okay?"
She'll of course notice what the effect of her probing will have on them; it's completely impossible for her not to, especially how that is actually one of the points of this test. But Rodney guesses she wants to give them some control back so they will feel a little less invaded – here's to hoping it will make them feel a little better.
"Okay, then..." Melinda takes a deep breath. "Let's start with the Guide first."
Eleanor lets go of her hand and scoots away; John takes a breath and does the same. Rodney can feel John tense next to him, but he doesn't look, because he's not sure he can do this if he looks at John now. It won't be easy for John either, having to watch as someone touches his Guide and makes him very uncomfortable.
Reluctantly, Rodney reaches out, offering his arm for Melinda to touch. Reaching out as well, Melinda puts the tips of her fingers on Rodney's arm – they're cold, but that's not why Rodney has to hold back a wince.
He feels her immediately, even though she's not really doing anything yet. If Rodney weren't a Guide, he probably wouldn't even notice, but it's like she suddenly takes up more room without moving a muscle. It actually feels like she's bloating, like someone's filling her with air like a balloon and her skin starts to push against Rodney, except it's not on the outside but on the inside, and it feels uncomfortable and raw; nobody has ever touched Rodney like that, not there. In a way the feeling is similar to when Baxter put his finger into him two days ago, invasive and touching places it has no business touching, except the big difference is that Rodney is used to feeling down there, even if not exactly people's fingers. It had been very uncomfortable, but at least he had been able to tell what was happening – Melinda is just there, in his head, except it's not really his head because it doesn't have a clear location, the place she's touching, probing, searching, and Rodney jerks and flinches and John makes an aborted motion next to him, but he really can't look at him right now, is too focused on not pushing her away but also not letting her in too deep, and as suddenly as it started it's over, and she's gone.
"Rodney, breathe," John says urgently, suddenly right there next to him, close and touching him and-
Right. Rodney takes a shallow breath, and then a deeper one; John is pulling him into his chest, cupping his face with his free hand. His hand doesn't stay there; as soon as Rodney is tucked in tight, it flutters down to his collarbone and shoulder, over his chest to press briefly above his heart and then brushing over his side, touching his back. He's restless; John has never acted like this ever, and Rodney shudders and reaches up, wraps one arm around John's neck and buries his face in John's collarbone. "I'm fine," he whispers, knowing John will understand him, even if he weren't so completely focused on him at the moment.
Slowly, Rodney calms down, his breathing turning more regulated, and he starts to become aware of his surroundings again. He's curled up between John's legs, who is sitting sideways on the sofa and has one arm still wrapped around Rodney's shoulders, the other having finally come to rest on Rodney's knee. John's head is turned to Rodney's, mouth in his hair and breath hot on his scalp. The pulse beating in John's neck feels irregular against Rodney's forehead.
Pulling away a little despite John's immediately tightening grip on him, Rodney straightens up until he's face to face with John. "I'm fine," he says again, voice surer now, and the wild look in John's eyes abates a little, and then even more when Rodney puts his fingertips on John's cheek. He wants to lean in and kiss John, but John isn't a fan of kissing in front of an audience, and they've done that already during the medical examination – besides, so far John has been the one to initiate all their contacts that might be interpreted as sexual if they were a sexual couple. They will get to the point where John is comfortable with Rodney initiating things like kisses or anything but casual touches to his more private body areas (which for John is right now pretty much anywhere not his arms and face), where it won't even matter anymore what that sort of touch means for other people, but they're still growing comfortable with each other, and that time isn't there yet. Rodney doesn't mind; he'll have all the patience in the world for John, and even if it will take years, if it'll never happen. He'll happily take anything John can give him, and he'll do anything to make John be comfortable with him too, which as it were includes not doing some things right now.
"You sure?", John asks quietly, and Rodney nods. He'll be okay. It was terribly invasive and he wants to take a shower or two, and he definitely wants to wrap himself around John and snarl at anyone who gets too close because he knows it will be much worse when she touches his Sentinel, but he can deal. Hopefully.
He turns his head to look at Melinda, who has her Sentinel fussing over her pretty much like John is fussing over Rodney right now; she looks up when he glances at her and gives him a weak smile. "Are you okay?", she asks.
Rodney shrugs. "As okay as I can be, I guess. You?"
She nods. "Same. This isn't at all comfortable from my end either. Are you... ready for the next part?"
After a glance at John, who just grimaces helplessly and shrugs, Rodney nods reluctantly and moves away from his Sentinel's warmth again. Eleanor puts herself at a distance as well; she doesn't look particularly happy either, though Rodney can't imagine how she could be, with her Guide touching other people inside and out.
Like Rodney before, John reaches out, with the back of his hand up. When Melinda moves to touch his arm he tenses, just briefly, but she still notices and puts her fingertips on his hand instead. Rodney takes a deep breath and tells himself to relax and keep calm, and-
This time, it happens even faster than when she had touched him, and if then it had felt like a finger touching him all over his most intimate inside parts out of nowhere (which it hadn't, it had definitely been more than a finger), this feels like a fist clenching all around him, squeezing with the intent to harm. Only it's not him she's touching, it's John, and Rodney feels rage welling up inside him, a rage like he has never felt before; like he could jump on her and beat her to a pulp right now and not feel a shred of regret or restraint, because he needs to defend John, except he doesn't, he has to let it happen, and that's the worst part. She's touching John, touching him like this, and John doesn't even like Rodney touching his body; never mind his insides, the essence of his being, his feelings. It's like she's reaching into his body and pulling out his veins one by one to look at them, to look at the blood inside, and Rodney can actually taste it.
Then it stops, only it doesn't, not really; Rodney can still feel the echo of it, taste the blood- and, right, that would be because he bit the inside of his cheek. His head is reeling, and he feels faint and nauseous, and before he even realizes what's happening he has doubled over and is vomiting all over his shoes and pants, and it feels like he won't stop for a year or ten.
There's an arm around his shoulders, a hand on his lower arm. "Breathe breathe breathe," John chants; he sounds panicky and Rodney faintly wonders what would make him freak out so much. Then he remembers – remembers how she touched him – and his insides clench up and he vomits again, not caring where it goes, just needing it out. He'd fall right over if someone didn't catch him, keep him from dropping face first into the disgusting puddle of half-digested food he made, but that's alright because he can't really see it anyway, everything is blurry, going on black.
Something cold and wet is placed on the back of his neck, and the body pressed to his side shifts, one arm around his chest to hold him and the other moving to his back, patting, no, hitting him. "Breathe, Rodney," John says, and it sounds like he's pleading or maybe like he's really, really freaking out as he never has before, and the black spots in Rodney's field of vision are growing and-
It's like someone suddenly switches Rodney's brain back on, and he automatically takes a deep breath, and then another; John makes a relieved noise next to him that almost sounds like a sob while the black spots in front of Rodney's eyes grow and then shrink, making room for a whirl of colors and the world around him that makes him sick a third time, but this time it's mostly bile that comes up.
He feels dazed for a while, John a warm presence plastered to his side, voice low as he talks, though Rodney can't really understand what he's saying. The world won't stay still either, though it calms down considerably the more Rodney breathes. At one point John removes the wet cloth from his neck and wipes Rodney's mouth. "Let's get you out of this," John then says, touching between Rodney's legs to – oh, right, to open his pants. Yeah, he should probably do that, what with the mess he made out of them.
Good thing he mostly wears sneakers, he thinks while he toes them off; no need to touch them to get them off. Also, washing machines. John pulls his thankfully clean socks off Rodney's feet for him and then helps him twist out of his pants; as soon as they're done Rodney curls up close to John. He's shaking again.
"Here," John says, a glass of water suddenly in his hand; his other hand is sliding up and down Rodney's back like Rodney is fragile, or maybe sick.
He takes a sip, and then some more to get rid of the awful taste in his mouth. John keeps his hand on the glass to keep it steady, and he presses his mouth to the side of Rodney's head. "I didn't know it would be this bad for you," he says quietly.
Rodney winces and lets go of the glass, turns his face into John's chest. "I'm sorry," he gasps, shudders and curls his fingers in John's shirt, trying to pull him closer even though at this point, that's not really possible anymore. "I'm so sorry."
"Hey," John says, wrapping both arms tightly around him, "hey. I'm fine, Rodney, I swear. I didn't feel anything." He gives a small, bitter laugh, squeezing Rodney tight for a moment. "I didn't feel a thing."
Rodney sags in relief and instantly feels substantially better, at least emotionally; he can't quite believe that John really didn't feel anything at all, but if it had been as bad for him as it was for Rodney, Rodney might never have been able to forgive himself for subjecting him to that. One of John's hands comes up to cup the back of his head, sort of cradling him, and it's good he's so careful because Rodney can feel a headache lurking. He only hopes it won't develop into a migraine.
Someone brings a blanket, and John arranges it around them, covering Rodney's naked legs, for which he is somewhat thankful – he wasn't cold, curled up so close to John, but really, he doesn't exactly like flashing everyone in the room with his underwear. Someone has opened the window, as a low breeze tells Rodney, getting rid somewhat of the smell of vomit. John's heart that has been beating frantically when Rodney first pressed into his chest is slowly calming down, and Rodney isn't trembling so violently anymore.
He notices all these things mostly peripherally, concentrating almost completely on John; John's chest that he's pressed close to, John's thighs and legs where they bracket his body, John's arms and hands holding him carefully but securely, John's mouth and nose in Rodney's hair. And Rodney does something he usually never does; he opens himself up, just a little, to let John's feelings wash over him.
It's only possible because they're touching right now – theoretically Rodney could also do it with John if they weren't, but John has asked him not to unless they're touching, and not to do it unless it's important for Rodney. It makes John uncomfortable, that Rodney is able to see into him so easily, and it's another of these things that they're easing into, just like the touching. At the beginning, John had asked him not to do it at all unless he had gotten an invite, and then John had relaxed a little to Rodney asking for permission, and by now they're far enough that John trusts Rodney to do it at his own discretion, without having to let John know in advance. They're making good progress, and Rodney is very proud of John, because he knows how hard all this is for him. He's very grateful John is giving them room to build up trust at all, because John hasn't fully trusted anyone since he was eight years old, and Rodney is literally the first person ever John is giving an actual chance. It's a gift so infinitely precious, Rodney knows he'll never have anything more priceless in his life.
He's reminded of all this again when John's surface emotions pulse in him like a second heartbeat – there's a lot of worry and a lot of relief, intermixed with guilt and self-deprecation, with a trace of anger and resentment. A permanent undertone to all of these are the things John always seems to be feeling when they're touching, sometimes stronger, sometimes only a faint echo; the possessive satisfaction that comes from the fact that he's a Sentinel holding his Guide, keeping him safe as well as owning him, affection, fondness, contentment. Very early into their relationship, there had also been a trace uneasiness and even fear, but those have been absent for a while now – long before John gave Rodney blanket permission to feel him anytime he feels it necessary.
The problem with this is that while Rodney can tell what John is feeling, he has no idea why; it's one of the reasons he rarely uses it, and never when they fight or are anything but content. He frankly doesn't need to know every tiny emotion John is feeling, and he wants to be able to tell what is going on with John without using this ability as a cheap crutch to get there without making an effort. Which is why he only does it when he needs to feel especially close to John, like right now, and he ignores the discords and only concentrates on the undertones, the protectiveness that is particularly strong right now, as well as the absentminded satisfaction that comes with being able to provide for his Guide, the contentment and everything else positive Rodney is fairly sure John associates with him.
It puts something to rest inside him that had been panicking from the moment on Rodney had felt what was being done to John; John truly is fine. It's alright, Rodney didn't cause something inside John to be broken irreparably because of his stupid wish to register. He would have never been able to forgive himself if he had.
Someone says something to John; Rodney doesn't understand what because he's too busy concentrating on the beat of John's heart and his emotions washing through him, and honestly, he doesn't really care either. Though he does enjoy it when John replies and his voice vibrates in his chest, a little above where Rodney's ear currently is. Rubbing his cheek against John's shirt, Rodney contemplates sitting up a little so he can hear better, but John is already done speaking anyway and Rodney actually is quite content right now, nestled into John as he is – or at least, he's getting there.
"Rodney," John says some indefinite time later. One of his large hands is still cupping the back of Rodney's head, and the other is wrapped around his waist on top of the blanket, keeping Rodney warm and hidden. "Rodney, how are you?"
"M'okay," Rodney mumbles after a moment, which isn't all that correct because he still feels vague nausea roiling in his stomach, his fingers are still trembling a little, and the headache he had been feeling coming up earlier is starting to make home in his head. Comparing to how Rodney had felt before, though, he's practically peachy.
"Do you need to see a doctor?", John asks after a moment of hesitation.
Rodney has let their connection fade out slowly, but even so, it's practically impossible to switch off his ability to feel other people – it's like asking someone not to smell something, or not to taste; he can dull it a little if he makes an effort, but there isn't exactly an organ responsible for his sensitivity, so there's no way to figure out how it works and how to maybe shut it up (or enhance it, for that matter) with drugs. So right now, he feels the worry being the foremost emotion John is feeling, but there's also a faint flutter of discomfort at the idea of a doctor.
Rodney lifts his head to be able to look John in the eye. "No," he says. "I'm not fine, but it's really not all that bad anymore."
John looks at him for a moment before nodding slowly and cupping Rodney's face with both hands, leaning in to bring their foreheads together. He shudders. "That was...", he starts hoarsely, but doesn't continue immediately, thinking about the words for a moment before settling on, "really awful."
"I'm so sorry," Rodney winces, tightening his formerly loosened grip on John's shirt again.
"Not that," John corrects him immediately, sliding one hand down to wrap it around Rodney's chest. "I really didn't feel anything at all; I didn't even know anything was happening until your heartbeat sped up and you stopped breathing. You really can't do that again, Rodney, it was awful."
"Stop breathing? I didn't even realize I wasn't breathing until you told me to start up again. I really... I don't know if I have done this before, and I can't promise I'll never do it again, but I'll try my best not to," Rodney promises seriously. He doesn't mention citrus; John knows of his allergies, and there's no reason to make him freak out even more now. John does take him completely serious on his allergy, but he doesn't have any experience with allergies this serious, and Rodney knows from experience he won't truly understand until he'll experience Rodney going into anaphylactic shock. Hopefully, that's never going to happen, but Rodney knows that statistically, it inevitably will.
When John nods unhappily, Rodney squeezes the fabric bunched in his hands for a moment before letting go, smoothing the creases out against John's skin as best as he can before looking around the room, studiously ignoring the puddle of vomit in front of their sofa. Both Melinda and her Sentinel as well as the SG ANA representative have left; John informs him when Rodney sends him a questioning look that that was enough testing for today and that they'll do the rest when John and Rodney will be back for the last part of the testing, which is the questionnaire and psych evaluation, scheduled in three days. "If we want to we can shower here," explains John. "They'll have new clothes waiting for us when we get out of here... new pants for you, at least."
"I'd like to brush my teeth, but I really just want to get home now and not come back here ever again," Rodney replies with a grimace.
John grimaces as well. "Yeah, I'm ready to blow this Popsicle stand."
They climb over the back of the sofa, avoiding the unpleasantness Rodney made in front, and as promised, there's a pair of sweatpants waiting for Rodney when they open the door, as well as a pair of flip flops, a towel, shower gel, toothpaste and a toothbrush. They had been informed where the nearest shower area is at their first visit, so now they trudge over there and John watches as Rodney carefully brushes his teeth. He'll have to do it again at least twice before John won't smell it on his breath anymore, hopefully, and he'd like to get it out of the way as soon as possible.
After freshening up, the two of them hurry out, sparing nothing more than a wave for the woman at the reception. They get into the car, and John drives them home.
Once there, it's a repeat of two days ago; they take a shower together, only this time a even more thorough one, and then Rodney takes an aspirin and drinks a couple of glasses of water, as well as eating the yoghurt John urges on him, and then it's one last round of teeth brushing for Rodney before they crawl into bed.
It's sort of adorable; while Rodney was brushing his teeth, John collected all their spare blankets and built a nest for them in Rodney's big bed, complete with pillow walls and a blanket ceiling. It's actually more of a fort than a nest, really, and as soon as Rodney has crawled in, John has cowered his naked body carefully with a blanket, tucking him in, before barricading them in completely and then wrapping himself firmly around Rodney. Every time he makes them a nest – technically this is only the third time; the first having been during the bonding and the second the first night they had slept in Rodney's flat, when John hadn't felt secure enough in the new environment yet – John gets this defensive glint in his eyes and a stubborn tilt to his head, around his mouth, like he's just waiting for Rodney to be amused and make a condescending comment, like he's already preparing his defense in his head. It makes Rodney wonder how often John had had to endure ribbing or even ridicule when he made himself a nest while on tour or in a tent, and that makes him really angry; it's not like John can really control his instincts, and he really shouldn't have to anyway. Rodney of course never does anything of the kind; he finds it adorable when John piles pillows and blankets to make them something that reminds Rodney a lot of the forts he and Jeannie built when they were children, but he's also flattered and happy that John is trying to build them a safe, comfortable environment to rest in. It's a sign that John has fully accepted him and considers Rodney a part of himself.
That's why Rodney makes an effort not to fall asleep immediately like his body demands; instead he waits until John has gotten comfortable and then whispers into the blanket, knowing that John will understand him, "I love it when you build us a nest."
The part of John's face that Rodney can see – he's tucked in pretty well, so it's mostly forehead and a little eyebrow – blushes deep red; John is still for a moment before he says gruffly, "I should hope so." Then he buries his face in the blanket covering Rodney and relaxes.
Rodney would love to wrap his arms around John, but as the rest of him they have been effectively pinned by both John's weight and the blanket tucked tight, and so he refrains. It isn't long before he falls asleep.
When Rodney wakes up, it's to darkness. It takes him a moment to realize that it must be evening, and the fading daylight isn't getting through the blanket building the ceiling of their nest anymore; he blinks, and John shifts somewhere in front of him and brushes his lips over Rodney's forehead.
"Hey," he whispers. "How are you doing?"
Rodney can feel his breath as he speaks, and he smiles contently. "Good," he sighs, rolling onto his back and stretching a little, mindful of the pillow-blanket-walls of the nest. "Headache's mostly gone."
John shifts a little closer; he can probably see perfectly fine despite the darkness, the cheater. Sometimes Rodney wonders how things would be if their positions were reversed, Rodney the Sentinel and John the Guide. It's hard to picture, but in a way, it's not at all.
"Good," is John's slightly belated reply, then a hand comes to rest gently on Rodney's still blanket-covered belly. "Food?"
Fully on board with the idea, Rodney hums happily. He makes as if to get up, but John's hand slides up to come to rest on his chest. "Stay?", he asks gently.
Rodney blinks. "You want to eat in bed?" So far, John has been adamant they don't; every time they make or order food, he firmly closes the bedroom door, sometimes even going so far as to put a towel in place to prevent any smells permeating through the space under the door. He doesn't even like them eating in the living room, which up until John was the main place Rodney ate when in his flat. As far as he can remember, he has actually never eaten in the kitchen. But the smells of cooked food go into furniture, and John absolutely hates the mere thought of their bed smelling of a wild array of the foods they had for the past couple of weeks. He can deal with the sofa, mostly because he has to; due to the way Rodney's apartment is made up with kitchen and living room being more of two adjoining rooms missing the wall separating them, it's impossible to prevent it. Still, Rodney is thinking of moving, and when they come back from Atlantis, they probably will, at least if they have to stay in Colorado Springs for a greater length of time than a couple of weeks. John is okay enough here, but not so comfortable Rodney would make him live here for the mere sake of nostalgia.
"No." John hesitates, then asks again, sounding smaller now, "Stay?"
"Of course," Rodney agrees immediately; like it was ever a question. "Anything you want. I'll stay."
He hears more than sees John shift closer again, pressing another kiss to his Guide's forehead. "I'll come and get you," John promises, and then he somehow manages to wriggle his way out of the nest without letting in any air or light from outside. He even manages to sneak Mousse into the nest without Rodney noticing until he hears the soft noise of her paws on the bed, and he curls up and sets to petting her. From somewhere fresh air must be getting into the nest, because otherwise it would've been way too hot and stuffy under the blanket ceiling; Rodney can't see where, though. It seems John is quite the expert in building nests, which now that he thinks of it makes perfect sense; John was a soldier who had had his fair number of tours in hostile territory, in addition to his Special Ops training. Of course he's good at finding ways to make himself feel safe.
Rodney ponders the logistics of this for a while – did John have more than one sleeping bags, maybe? Or were there tents involved, or even things like twigs and stuff? – but picturing his Sentinel all alone somewhere, trying to build a nest with one measly sleeping back and probably no pillow, on top of being teased by his fellow soldiers makes him ache to drag John back in here and hug him close, so he stops before he actually has to go and do it.
Instead, he concentrates more on Mousse and starts to think about the things they're going to take with them to Atlantis; due to their status, they have been asked to provide a list of things that are absolutely mandatory for both their well-being, and a second with things that aren't as mandatory but are still pretty important. They still have only their one personal item each, but Rodney honestly doesn't know what he'll take anyway. He has John and his laptops, and they're going to the city of the Ancients – what could he possibly need? Except perishable food, of course, but that doesn't really count as a personal item, does it? He'd love to take Mousse, but he had already been told that that would be impossible. Several times.
Just when Rodney is contemplating making coffee his personal item and wondering with how much "absolutely mandatory" items he could get away with, John comes back; he switches on the bedside lamp so Rodney can at least see a little before he slides back into the nest and immediately plasters himself to Rodney's side, nuzzling his neck. "Almost done," he mumbles and slumps with a happy noise when Rodney slides his free hand into his hair and starts to scratch his scalp.
For a couple of minutes, they stay like that, then John shifts up a little, careful not to dislodge Rodney's hand or disturb Mousse, who is lying on Rodney's other side. He carefully pulls up the blanket to cover Rodney's shoulders again, smoothing it out, then reaching around Rodney's body to tuck him in a little again. Keeping his arm wrapped around Rodney's shoulders, John's eyes glide away from Rodney's face. "What happened?", he whispers, looking troubled, like even while he's asking he's not sure he actually wants to know.
Rodney closes his eyes, gives up petting his cat and curls up a little until his forehead is pressed against John's collarbone. He takes a breath, his Sentinel's chest hair tickling his nose, and tries to put it to words. But Rodney, who rarely ever has problems saying something, finds he can't; he can't describe what it was like. "It felt like... like she was touching you," he says quietly, shakily. John's arms around him tightens and Rodney carefully reminds himself to keep breathing. "Like she was... violating you. And I had to let her." He shudders. "I'm so glad you didn't feel a thing. I don't think I..." He shudders again and presses his face close into John's chest. John's arm tightens around him, and John's lips press a kiss to the top of his head.
"I really didn't feel anything," John assures him once more. He clearly isn't comfortable with the idea of what happened, but it's nowhere near the the way Rodney felt and feels about it.
John holds him close for a moment, then reluctantly pulls away. "Food should be ready," he informs him regretfully and then helps Rodney get out of the nest without bringing it all down behind them, leaving a small opening for Mousse in case she wants to get out. Then John wraps Rodney in his bathrobe and leads him into the kitchen, where spaghetti are boiling. Rodney gets them plates while John drains the spaghetti and separates two portions for them. He adds pasta sauce from a glass and grated cheese, then puts Rodney's plate down in front of him. "Eat," he orders.
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Yessir," he replies sarcastically, but obeys; John chuckles and sits down next to him.
After they have eaten, Rodney calls the SGC and simultaneously checks his emails; John starts ripping their movies onto the laptop Rodney designated for just that purpose. Rodney watches him while listening to the update Zelenka gives him – the things he didn't put into his emails. They're still a couple of weeks away from leaving for Atlantis, but preparations are in full process.
Rodney knows that he is damn lucky that John is leaving with him, that John barely even hesitated before deciding to join the Atlantis expedition. Not at all does he take it for granted, and he didn't try to influence John at all while he was thinking about it, no matter how hard it was for him. But he couldn't have lived with it if he had convinced John, if John hadn't really been a hundred percent with the decision for them to go. Especially if then something would have happened – or even if it hadn't, if John had just grown to resent him for it later. He had waited all his life for his Sentinel, and he still starkly remembers how it had felt to be alone; he wouldn't do anything to endanger this. That is probably the main reason why he's so shaken by what happened today; he would never want to be the one at fault if harm came to John, and it certainly had felt that way when Melinda had touched John.
But John is fine, he reminds himself again, John is perfectly okay, and they can forget what happened. They'll go find Atlantis together and they'll be fine.
John looks up and finds his Guide staring at him intently; he blinks. "What is it?"
Rodney starts. Radek has long hung up, the screen saver is obscuring his email inbox, and Rodney has been sitting in pretty much the same position for a while, staring at his Sentinel. "Uhm, nothing. Just, you know." He lowers his gaze and shakes his mouse, opening the next email, mumbling "I'm glad you're with me."
He doesn't look up while John shifts in his seat, mumbling, "Uhm, same."
When Rodney is done with his emails, he surfs around on the Internet a bit, checks out a couple of his regular websites before shutting his laptop down. John immediately moves to do the same, and without exchanging a word, they both get back into bed and to the nest John built for them. They're not really tired yet, but that's not what this is about.
This time Rodney is the one who takes over; he pushes the bathrobe off John's shoulders and follows him into their nest. He's careful where he touches John, waiting for his nod before sliding his arms around him and pulling him in. John curls up around and on top of Rodney, his head coming to rest upon his Guide's chest, right above his heart. Rodney wraps one arm around John's upper body, starting to rub up and down John's back, and tangles the fingers of his other hand in John's hair. Staying still and relaxed, John gives himself over to the petting of his Guide, as they both need the comfort it gives.
It reminds Rodney of how far they've come already; how skittish John was at the beginning, when they had just met. Except for during their bonding, John hadn't dealt with unexpected touching with any grace at all, and Rodney had had to learn to ask and telegraph his intentions clearly, the latter especially when he had finally gotten permission to touch whenever he wanted – first only John's hands, then slowly his arms and shoulders as well, which is were they are currently. John had from the beginning gotten blanket permission to touch Rodney wherever and whenever he wanted, no matter whether they are in public or not, but it had taken some getting used and adapting to each other before John had really started to make use of that.
Because fact of the matter is, Rodney needs touches by Guide-nature; with their particularly young bond, they both do, actually, but Rodney doesn't have the ability to listen for John's heartbeat or voice even several rooms over, no matter how finely attuned to each other they are. He had had to learn the hard way to rein this instinct in, and John had compromised as much as he was able to – which wasn't much, still isn't in comparison, but Rodney doesn't mind. Anything is better than having John stiffen or even flinch under his hands, and he has a front seat to John's emotions, so he really is all for giving him all the time he needs. They'll get there eventually, and it's okay no matter how long it will take.
With a sigh, Rodney raises his head to press a kiss to the top of John's head; lowering it again, he pulls the blanket covering them a little higher to properly cover John's shoulders. It's not cold in his bedroom, especially not in the nest with its blanket ceiling, but that's not really what blankets are there for to them. John uses them as a barrier to the world, keeping the both of them separate in their own little nest, apart and distant from anything that was threatening or troubling or even just distracting them. When he had wrapped just Rodney up in that blanket earlier, he had used his own body as an additional safety layer, keeping Rodney especially safe. It doesn't matter that it makes no logical sense – it isn't like a blanket is any actual protection against anything but the cold – Rodney has long learned that with Sentinels and Guides, some instincts just don't make sense. And it certainly is no hardship to let John wrap him or both of them in a blanket, or even hide them in a nest if John feels it necessary.
After a while of letting Rodney pet him, John shifts away a little. Rodney figures he's had enough touching for now, gives his Sentinel's neck one last rub and then rolls onto his belly, his favorite sleeping position. John makes a tired noise, then yawns. He won't fall asleep before Rodney has, he rarely does, but that won't be a problem is Rodney's last clear thought before he drops off.
The next day, what Rodney originally intended to be "just a quick check-in with the SGC" (because some insults just have to be imparted in person) turns into a full day spent under the mountain. Rodney runs around and yells at scientists and their idiotic ideas about what is mission-essential and what not, and John drifts around base, acclimating and trying to meet as many soldiers going to Atlantis as possible. The better he knows them, the better he'll be able to adapt to them. Sumner, who is basically thrilled in a manly Marine way to have a Sentinel added to his command, especially since that changes Rodney's status from "unbonded" (and consequently "potentially unstable") to "bonded", has appointed him his own little Marine to follow him around and do his bidding, and Lieutenant Ford is fulfilling his orders with youthful enthusiasm and a portion of hero-worship. It sort of freaks John out, Rodney is well-aware; every unit is always at least professionally happy to have a Sentinel among their ranks, but John is reaching celebrity-like status, especially with his track record. Sumner and even General O'Neill have gone out of their way to let him know that John is exactly what the Atlantis mission needs; someone loyal, smart, and very well-trained. Ford didn't even blink when he got replaced as Second in Command by John.
By the time John manages to drag Rodney out of the SGC it's evening, and they've spent the whole day there. They debate eating in the mess for a moment, but then decide to go eat at a restaurant instead. Dr. Weir, Colonel Sumner and Dr. Zelenka are planning to go and invite them along, a sort of unofficial command staff meeting, and Rodney and John decide to join them. It's not exactly their preferred way to spend the evening, but they do have to get to know the people they're going to go to another galaxy with better, and there is also the way Sumner, while delighted that John is a Sentinel, is having problems recognizing that John is also a person and a soldier.
Dinner goes okay; it's not exactly nice – Rodney doesn't think he'll ever be able to consider a meal spent with at least one diplomat "nice". It's pleasant enough, but there is just the way Rodney is acutely aware of how Dr. Weir is carefully evaluating both him and John as individuals and as a couple. He would like to be peeved off about that; she has known him for months after all and he hasn't really changed personalities now that he's bonded, but in the end that is not necessarily true. Of course his personality didn't change with John's coming into his life, but his priorities certainly have, and Rodney feels different, is different.
Still, they're both relieved when they're safely back home in their apartment. There were some unobtrusive questions about their week of off-time – they didn't give any reason, just claimed Sentinel-Guide business, which was perfectly valid. John did ask if Rodney wanted to let everyone know what they were doing – that they were getting registered as an asexual pair – but it really isn't about the publicity for Rodney. At least not the publicity in the sense that Rodney needs or wants all their friends and colleagues to know – he just wants them to be registered as a big "fuck you" to everyone who questions the existence or validity of asexual pairings, but even more to encourage those who aren't sure what they are, and to help those who are fighting for asexuality to be accepted as valid even in Sentinel/Guide pairings. He has a feeling John doesn't really understand. Maybe he will, one day, and maybe not; what counts, though, is that he is completely okay with doing this, and if he weren't, they would never even have started.
They both take a shower before getting into bed, where their nest is still intact, Mousse having taken over in their absence. It's not really necessary anymore, Rodney doesn't think, but it's comfortable, even after John takes off the ceiling to cover Rodney in the extra blanket for some reason. Most probably, he'll wake up pretty soon because he's too hot, but John doesn't mind if Rodney throws the blankets off in the middle of the night; he just wants to provide for Rodney as best and as thoroughly as possible, needs feeling like that, in fact. And he does do a superb job; Rodney has never felt so cared for in his life, and he's never been so comfortable with anyone as he is with John, and that's not just nature and hormones and pheromones.
Just when he's about to drop off, John shifts even closer to him, bringing their faces together. He waits until Rodney sleepily opens one eye before closing the distance between them completely, joining their mouths in a kiss. Rodney tits his chin forwards to welcome him, keeping his lips soft and undemanding. His heart starts to speed up, because John doesn't pull away, doesn't keep himself poised perfectly still like he's going to separate them again every second. Instead, he tilts his face a little, keeping their lips together in a way that is definitely less comfort and closeness and more something else – something that with somebody else would have meant sexual attraction and suggestion, but between them, it doesn't, of course.
The thing is, Rodney is sure that John has had sex before. Not because they talked about it, because they really didn't – John is almost as uncomfortable talking about sex as he is about having it – but he just gets a feeling. He's also sure that John has never been abused, and that he did consent to all of his sexual experiences; he knows so because that, he did ask about. Privately, he has his own theories – nowadays, John is a loner, but few people are born that way, and from the evasive way John didn't talk about his family, Rodney gathers that John did try to fit in at one point – hell, Rodney did too, after all. It's not easy, not fitting in, and while being Sentinel and Guide respectively gave them access to a close-knit community, in their mundane human circles it still made them each acutely aware that they were separate. And then the additional knowledge that they were different not just from mundanes but also from their fellow Sentinels and Guides because they didn't like to have sex – something that to this day many people don't even know exists, and that those who do know often like to claim is invalid in some way – it certainly hadn't been easy. Not for Rodney, and surely not for John either.
From the beginning, John had been very careful about the way they interacted – he is severely uncomfortable with anything that might be construed as sexual, even though they had clearly and to their joined relief established right at the beginning that sex was absolutely off the table. Touching isn't completely off-limits, but Rodney has to be careful, or John will stiffen up and sometimes even pull away, put some distance between them. John is in the process of relaxing, if slowly, but Rodney is well-aware that it will be months still until John will be completely comfortable with him, until Rodney can touch him in whatever way he wants without John getting at all uncomfortable. It might take years, and maybe some areas will be off-limits forever – which would be okay; Rodney is perfectly happy with the way they touch now, because while Rodney has to be careful, if John initiates a touch it's totally fine. But overall, Rodney just gets the feeling that it takes John a long time to get used to being touched, and to trust that Rodney really had meant it when he had said that everything John wanted to do with him was fine, but that he really didn't want to have sex (though he might be able to compromise as long it wasn't required of him to have orgasms).
And that is fine, it really is fine, but that doesn't mean Rodney isn't thrilled every time his Sentinel opens up to him a little more.
Like he might be doing right now; it certainly feels like it when John presses his lips in a little more, and then he opens them just slightly, pulling Rodney's lower lip between them just the tiniest bit. Rodney feels himself flush; he has to ball his hand into a fist so as not to push the blanket out of the way and pull John in, on top of himself, just closer, more. He keeps still as John nibbles on his lower lip; it feels more intimate than any kind of kiss Rodney has shared with anybody else before, and intimate in an entirely different way than the couple kisses John gifts him with every now and then. And the best part is how John feels soft and relaxed on the bed next to him, how he seems to just enjoy kissing Rodney in a way that would definitely be sexual, if they were that kind of couple. It's exhilarating and humbling at the same time.
However, Rodney has no idea what to do; he really doesn't want to spook John, but he wants to, he wants to- something, he just wants John closer. Which doesn't seem to be actually possible, but it's not like his emotions are particularly logical; he had to learn that at the age of five, and he's mostly used to it. So he doesn't move, does nothing but tilt his chin up the tiniest bit to offer his lips, letting John do whatever he wants.
John doesn't appear to have any big plans; he lets go of Rodney's lower lip and then pulls it in again, not really sucking or licking, just taking it between his lips and pulling a little. His stubble scratches against Rodney's upper lip, his nose brushes against Rodney's and his breath fans over Rodney's face – he doesn't seem to be breathing any steadier than Rodney. And then the tip of his tongue flicks out, hot and wet against Rodney's lower lip; it's so unexpected it makes Rodney gasp, his hands twitching under the blanket. John makes an encouraging noise low in his throat, and Rodney wriggles one hand out from under the blanket and tentatively puts his fingertips to John's neck. When John just hums and flicks his tongue against Rodney's lower lip again, Rodney gets a little bolder, sliding his hand over John's neck and up into his hair, tangling his fingers in the soft strands.
They don't really go much further; their tongues don't meet, John doesn't even adjust the angle of their lips to make that comfortable, but he continues flicking his tongue over Rodney's lower lip, tracing its contours and even nibbling once or twice. Rodney continues carding his fingers through John's hair, staying pliant except for every now and then pursing his lips to kiss John's upper lip. All in all, it's tamer than the first time Rodney was kissed, but it feels more intimate than anything Rodney has ever done in all his life, and it makes his heart flutter in an entirely different way too.
Rodney doesn't know how long it is until John pulls away; he has lost track of time entirely. It all feels strange, like a dream, like he's not really awake, and at the same time, he's hyper-alert. Every kiss John presses to his face makes his breath unsteady, and he can't manage to keep his eyes closed, even after John has kissed his eyelids butterfly-soft three times. The corners of John's mouth lift with amusement, and he rubs his thumb over Rodney's forehead before moving away. Just before he's about to pull away completely, Rodney tightens his fingers, still in John's hair; it makes John pause, and Rodney takes the opportunity to pull the blanket covering him down, just a little. It keeps him warm, but it also puts a barrier between himself and his Sentinel, and maybe John will be okay falling asleep like they wake up now.
It doesn't seem like it, though; John huffs and smooths his hand over Rodney's face, covering his eyes. "Sleep," he murmurs. "Rodney."
Rodney really likes the way John says his name. There's something special about it; he can't quite put his finger on what, but it's different. He drifts off while thinking about it, John's fingertips gentle on his cheek.
"What was the first thing you thought when you met your Sentinel?", the nice woman named Carol Spencer asks.
Rodney frowns in irritation. "What does that have to do with us being asexual?"
Spencer turns to glance over her shoulder at the representative of the Sentinel-Guide Association of North America who has been shadowing John and Rodney through all the tests. She frowns as well. "Dr. McKay, for this test as with all others, it's absolutely necessary that you cooperate completely."
"I am cooperating," Rodney snaps. "I've been cooperating through all the shit you've put me through just because you don't believe us when we tell you that we don't like sex, don't want sex, and are in fact not having sex. You have put me through an annoying, embarrassing, intrusive physical examination, through an even more intrusive telepathic one and now you're going to ask intrusive questions that normally, I would only ever consider giving the answers to to my Sentinel. This is borderline abusive as it is, and furthermore, it's pointless. You know our bond is valid; the telepathic test, if nothing else, proved that. Now, unless you're going to question whether I am in fact a Guide or not, I suggest you fucking stop asking intrusive, pointless questions about my feelings and stick with intrusive questions about sex. Understood?"
The representative gives him a long look before nodding at Spencer, who turns back to face Rodney and asks, "When did you realize that you didn't like sex?"
John pulls up his shoulders. He's felt better ever since Rodney limited the areas they're allowed to ask about to sex, and as soon as it was his turn he let them know that he wouldn't answer any questions Rodney hadn't answered, but he's still fucking uncomfortable talking about something this private with strangers. "I've always known, I guess," he answers evasively. He thinks about growing up hating his mom's hugs, and about how guilty and ashamed he had felt about that, especially when the first thing he had thought upon finding out about her death had been, "she won't hug me anymore" and there had been a bit of relief mixed in the grief he had felt.
"Did you ever try to have sex?", Spencer asks. She smells of onions, not because she ate any, but because someone cooked some while she was wearing that same shirt two days ago.
"Yes," John says, thinking about how, years later, the guilt and shame had been joined by self-hate and the desperate need to fit in, at least a little. He has had sex, but he had never found the love he had found in his mom's hugs – and still, he hadn't squirmed away like he had back then, as a kid, until many years after that first time he had made himself realize that his desperate attempt to find something intimate was futile. He would never find it, not like that – and years later, what he had only suspected then is proven true now that he's with Rodney, and their relationship is more intimate than anything John had ever imagined himself being able to achieve.
Spencer waits; John closes his eyes and gives her names and dates, every of his desperate, self-abusive tries at normality. He thinks about Rodney's warm body next to his, the softness of his lips, the way he receives every touch John bestows upon him with gratefulness, even giddiness. He doesn't want Rodney to have to feel like his touches are gifts – he wants him to feel like John is his, like he isn't going to ever be taken away from him. He doesn't want Rodney to feel like John is an exception, something special, out of the ordinary. They belong to each other.
"Why do you not want to have sex?", Spencer asks. John knows he's not giving her the answers she wants, but they're all the answers she or anyone who isn't Rodney is going to get.
He pulls up his shoulders. "Never really saw the point, I guess."
"Why do you not enjoy sex?", she prods further. She hadn't asked that detailed questions of Rodney – but then, she hadn't needed to. Rodney had been a lot more forthcoming with his answers to her general questions.
John thinks about the expectation that every sexual encounter is laden with – the expectation that you get your partner off, that your partner gets you off, that you don't do anything wrong, that you better do most everything right. He thinks about the way it's scripted and boring, a finite number of possible ways to get to always the same goal, and about how he doesn't enjoy the goal all that much anyway. Especially with how you can't just get to it, have to do endless foreplay and how afterwards, you have to touch for a while and can't just jump up and get dressed, run away.
"There's so many rules I don't understand," Rodney says thoughtfully. "So many unspoken lines, things nobody explains and that you're expected to just magically know. That's one of the problems, I guess – but I would be willing to learn and overcome that, if it were worth it. But I don't see the point at all, really. I'm perfectly capable of reaching orgasm all by myself, I don't see why I should involve other people in that. Besides, it's messy." He grimaces, then shrugs. "I just don't see the point, that's the way it is."
"Do you have problems with trust?"
Rodney tilts his head. "I don't think so. I mean, obviously I don't trust just anyone immediately, but there are people I trust." Just nobody he trusts with everything, except for John, gradually.
Spencer makes a note, as she's been doing during the whole questioning so far. "Do you ever see yourself wanting to have sex, and what will you do if that happens?"
"Well, I can't really exclude the possibility, can I?" Rodney purses his lips. "I don't really believe it will happen, but if it does, I'll talk to John about it and we'll find a solution. I mean, unless I suddenly find myself with the urgent need to put my penis into someone without being able to wait or abstain or compromise... well, it's pretty unlikely, so even if I suddenly wanted to, if John didn't, I don't think it'd be all that hard for me to abstain."
John shrugs. "We'll talk about it then. It's not like I'm morally opposed to sex or don't have it on principle or something like that. I'm just not that bent on having it." And wasn't that a great choice of words, he thinks. Later Rodney might tease him about it.
"Where you sexually abused in the past?"
Spencer looks frustrated, and John wonders if she would've liked better if he had been, or if they wouldn't consider his asexuality valid if he had experienced something like that. It's frustrating, this. Why would anyone claim they didn't have and didn't want sex if it weren't the truth? And what, really, was so bad about asexuality that they had to fight it so? It wasn't like it harmed anyone, or even had any kind of impact on anyone, even if their bond actually did suffer, as they liked to claim it would. John honestly doesn't believe it – actually, he figured that the opposite is the case. If they don't like to have sex and still forced themselves to have it, they would naturally be less happy, also with each other. How could their bond and relationship not suffer under those circumstances?
"I believe we're finished now," Rodney suddenly injects himself into the questioning. John blinks and turns his head to look at him, finding an expression of annoyance on his Guide's face. Probably, Rodney has had enough of this – John is relieved, if he's honest. He's seriously had enough of this; hopefully he'll never have to talk about sex ever again, with anyone except maybe Rodney. Though he doesn't really know why they would do that, because as far as they're considered, everything's been said long ago.
"Doctor McKay," Rodney interrupts coldly. "You have asked him everything that you have asked me. That should really be enough."
Spencer and the representative both look at him, wearing unhappy, pinched expressions. The representative looks like she's about to protest, but something in Rodney's face apparently tips her off, and so she just presses her lips together and nods.
They shake hands, and then Rodney and John leave, with the promise that they'll be informed of the Center’s decision concerning their status within the following week. When they get home, John for the first time since their testing started doesn't want to wrap himself around Rodney and protect him – well, he still wants it, he's fairly sure he'll never stop wanting it, but he doesn't need it. Right now it's the opposite, really; he needs some time for himself, and so he puts on his sweats and goes for a run.
When he comes back an hour later, he finds Rodney on the couch, curled up with Mousse, nibbling chocolate, watching TV and typing away furiously on his laptop. "Hey," he says absently when John walks in, and John makes a point of rubbing the side of his sweaty face on Rodney's neck to spread some of his scent before he goes to take a shower.
Four days later, John puts his chin on Rodney's shoulder and looks at the letter Rodney is holding. It announces the acceptance of their status as a valid, asexual Sentinel-Guide bonding and somehow manages to stay clear of insult, but also of any true acceptance. "Are you happy?", John asks softly, turning his head to inhale his Guide's scent.
"I'm more happy than I was before, at least where this is concerned," Rodney replies. "A lot needs to change still, but we've done everything we can, considering that we're two weeks away from moving into a different galaxy."
John nods. "Okay."