John isn't entirely sure, later, what it was that made him give in when he first engaged Rodney.
Maybe he was just worn down to a point where he could no longer fight it—"winning" the small battle of engagement only underscored the war he'd lost, against his cycling taking over his life. Maybe he'd been too alone for too long, underestimating the need for another human's touch. Or maybe he'd simply felt that Rodney was different.
He doesn't believe that he knew he'd love Rodney.
Even when he really looks at him for the first time, after they were done, even when he agrees to let Rodney buy him a coffee, it isn't out of any romantic feelings.
It's...curiosity, mostly. Rodney seems weirdly eager to him. Society in general agrees that it's desirable to be compatible to your partner, but even people who consider their cycling a very important part of their lives—like his father does—would consider putting compatibility before all other qualities in a partner excessive. There are a few of those, of course—and John fears he might have met some of them in his self-help groups—but mostly, people just let the everyday engagements happen and move on.
Rodney isn't like that. Just like for John, engaging has a different, less casual meaning for him—even if the meaning is obviously very different for him than it is for John. And John finds himself curious to find out that meaning, once Rodney steps away and signals he's not one of those people who'll cling to everyone they're compatible to.
He wants to know more about this man, who wouldn't let him push the panic button and who asks him out for coffee instead of walking away without another glance.
John can't help thinking that Rodney is kind of cute. He wonders if this is an effect of not going out on dates for almost a year, but he doesn't really care about the reason. He's isolated himself so much from human contact, that now it's happened in such an overwhelming way, he's willing to just go with it. And he's already engaged Rodney, which makes John feel almost free, because for once in his life he doesn't have to be afraid of it surprising him.
Rodney is pretty awkward trying to make small talk. "So, uhm, what were you doing here?"
John smiles, tempted to say, "What do you think I'd do at the mall?" In the end he tells Rodney the truth. "I was here to buy gloves." John has to laugh at Rodney's jaw snapping open in shock.
"You," Rodney says. "You are one of those—you really don't want to engage. I am...I am sorry. I didn't want to—I mean I obviously wanted—but I respect the right to—"
"It's okay," John says. And strangely it is. He's engaged someone. It wasn't the end of the world. Truthfully, it was really hot. John wonders if he's coming full circle. But he simply doesn't want to deal with that right now. Twenty-two years is a long time to struggle with his cycling. He thinks he deserves the right not to fight himself on it for at least one day.
"Really? That's good. I mean I wouldn't have wanted to...force this on you."
"It wouldn't have been you," John says. He's never once blamed a compatible for his engagements. It must be even worse for them. At least he can only engage during his cycle.
"Well, no, but you wanted to push the button. And that's what it's been made for—to stop people from engaging against their will," Rodney says, seemingly still guilty. John doesn't think he's ever seen a compatible being so apologetic over an engagement towards a cycler, or engagements in general.
"You're in the cycling choice movement?" he asks neutrally. Rodney clearly wanted the engagement to happen. But at the same time, John can't shake the feeling that Rodney's reacting like someone who supports or at least knows the movement.
"Uhm," Rodney says, flushing and averting his gaze.
Suddenly, John has a suspicion. "I won't tell anyone you enjoyed it," he says. "Wanting it is also a valid choice," he says, thinking about what Mark told him when they split up.
"I'm not sure everyone would agree with that," Rodney says under his breath, so fast John can hardly understand him. More clearly he adds, "Thank you."
John senses that this is nothing Rodney can talk about, and he doesn't want to push him. "So what do you do for a living?"
When Rodney asked John out, it was a desperate attempt to not let him slip away. Being engaged was possibly—no, scratch that—definitely the hottest thing that ever happened to him. And then it turns out that John is actually quite smart—for a soldier—and funny and charming and the kind of cycler that even his mother might respect—apart from the part where he engaged her son.
Rodney doesn't believe in fate, and he knows that scientifically compatibility has never been proven to have any connection at all to any characteristic of a relationship—emotional or physical—between two people, but still he can't help thinking that their compatibility goes far, far beyond the ability to engage.
He doesn't think about the fact that John's a guy, he only wants to make sure that this won't end after a cup of coffee, because he desperately wants this to be more than just the memory of that one moment in time. What exactly he might want doesn't seem to matter at the moment.
They've finished their second cup, and John hadn't even been sure about the second one, so Rodney knows he won't convince him to have a third. "You'll...you'll want to buy your gloves," he says nervously. His own purchases are long forgotten. He'll find a way to get the stuff for Jeannie. This is far more important.
"Yeah," John says. "I can grab some at the express checkout."
Rodney nods. He pulls out some money and leaves enough to cover all four cups of coffee. They get up. "So, you just wanted to do some last minute shopping?" John asks, starting to walk.
Rodney is relieved. It seems like an invitation to join him. "Yeah. My sister asked me to buy some stuff for her next— For a thing she does."
John gives him a slightly suspicious look, but doesn't say anything. He grabs a pack of plastic gloves as well as a pair of leather ones. Then he looks at Rodney. This would be where he should want to leave to buy the things for his sister. But he won't just leave John. Of course, he can't tell him that without sounding insane, so he doesn't say anything. John goes to the checkout to pay and doesn't say anything when Rodney follows him.
Then it's time for John to leave, and Rodney has no choice but to put his cards on the table. "I could go home with you," he says, flushing because he knows what he sounds like. And it's not even like that. As hot as the engagement was, it isn't that he only wants to go with John to do it again.
And John makes it very clear that it won't happen when he puts on the leather gloves and looks at Rodney seriously. "I will not engage you again."
Even though he expected it, Rodney can't help feeling the bone-deep disappointment at John's clear rejection. "I...yes, I thought so. After you told me about the gloves, I didn't expect..." Maybe not expect, but he still hoped. Because John wasn't just an amazing, hot body against him but is simply the kind of person that Rodney wants in his life. "I would still like to see you again. To talk to you. I enjoyed that. I thought we..." He doesn't know how to finish the sentence. Compatibility is what he's coming back to. John and he are just compatible in a way beyond engagements.
John thinks about it. Rodney can practically see him weighing the pros and cons. They hit it off pretty well during their coffee and John doesn't strike him as the kind of man who has many friends, but there's the compatibility that for John is probably a big con. And then there's the fact that Rodney is fairly certain he wasn't successful at hiding that he'd want to be engaged by John again.
John may have reassured Rodney that it had been okay, but Rodney is very aware that the kind of cycler who wears gloves and reaches for the panic button when coming into touch with a compatible is not one who'd voluntarily engage with strangers.
Maybe once I'm not a stranger anymore, Rodney thinks, but tries to squash that thought, because he fears it might show on his face and only make John say no. But after what seems like an eternity, John says, "I'm only going to heat up a can of spaghetti. Take it or leave it."
Rodney has never looked forward more to food from a tin can. He smiles widely and follows John out.
John isn't entirely sure why he invited Rodney for dinner. Rodney hasn't even tried to hide the fact that he'd like to be engaged again. But he's told Rodney it isn't going to happen, and he still wanted to join him. To talk.
Talking to Rodney has been nice. He's smart and quite arrogant about it, which stands in contrast to his eagerness with John. He also has a sarcastic sense of humor, but most of all there's something about Rodney that John can't quite put his finger on. Whatever it is, it's enough for John to give Rodney a chance to talk.
And if he does, in fact, want more than talk and won't accept John's earlier no, John's apartment has at least one panic button in every room. John is glad that Rodney notices as soon as they enter his apartment.
After the first on the shelf next to the coat rack, there's one on the living room table, and another one on the kitchen table, where John goes to cook.
"Oh, wow, looks like you paid for your coffee yourself," Rodney remarks.
"I don't get much in licensing fees, but considering how many of these you have..." Rodney points at the panic button in the kitchen.
"Licensing fees?" John asks. There's no way Rodney invented the panic button. John believed him when he said he was a genius, but the panic button...that would be too much of a coincidence.
"Patent 4768736," Rodney says. Apparently seeing John's disbelief, he adds, "You can look it up."
John's interest is piqued. He doesn't see Rodney lying on something that's so easy to check, but then maybe because of that many people won't bother. And he wants to know if Rodney was really the one who invented one of the most common symbols of the cycling choice movement. He goes to his laptop in his bedroom and switches it on.
Rodney follows him. He doesn't look surprised or nervous that John chose to check as he suggested. Instead he looks at the bed with a certain amount of longing before he sees the no fewer than three buttons scattered on both end tables as well as the desk. "When was the last time you engaged someone?" he asks John, frowning.
"About two hours ago," John says, smiling.
Rodney rolls his eyes. "You know what I mean."
John's smile disappears. He doesn't especially want to think about it. The guy with the ladder doesn't count. John managed to get away from him. This means the last time was...Holland. "Fourteen months ago," he says, starting up the browser.
"I'm sorry," Rodney says, which seems odd, because engagements are nothing normal people consider worthy of condolences or comfort. But Rodney must have sensed that for him it is. Well, John's little anti-engagement fortress might be a clue.
John surfs to the Patent Office site and finds, in black and white, the patent for "an electronic device that upon touching will emit a precisely dosed electric charge," by one Rodney McKay.
John doesn't know if he should laugh or cry. He's apparently just engaged the inventor of the panic button—who was desperate for John not to use it. "Why did you invent it?" he has to ask. Since it doesn't appear to be out of self-interest.
Rodney shifts uncomfortably. "It's a long story."
"Heating up the spaghetti will take a while, and you can continue while we eat," John says. He really wants to hear Rodney's story. So often he's felt like the only person who doesn't handle their cycling or compatibility the way it's expected of them. It might be interesting to hear what it's like from the other side.
Rodney isn't sure about telling his story. First of all, he doesn't think it's all that remarkable. He bets there are thousands of kids who've been conceived during engagements and whose mothers have become fighters for compatibles' rights. And there's the fact that John knows how desperate he was to be engaged. He doesn't know how long Rodney had been so desperate, but he still knows enough to make Rodney's part in the cycling choice movement look odd at best and disingenuous at worst.
However, John doesn't seem to question the incongruence of his personal desire to engage while fighting for the right not to be engaged. Eventually, Rodney can't help pointing it out. "And I did all that while wishing nothing more than to be engaged myself," he admits.
John gives him a long look. Rodney isn't sure, but he thinks that John probably can't fathom why anyone would want to be engaged if they can get around it. Just like it's hard for Rodney to understand why it would be such a problem for a cycler, who—compared to compatibles—has at least a certain amount of control over when they engage.
"I don't think there's a conflict there at all," John says eventually. "You recognize that it's important for people—some people, at least—to be given a choice in who they engage and who they're engaged by. As I said earlier. Wanting to engage is also a valid choice."
"But not one you'd ever make," Rodney remarks.
"I wouldn't say ever. I used to engage in the engagement room we had on base," John admits.
This surprises Rodney. "Voluntarily?" he asks.
John laughs. "You can't use them involuntarily. Going there signals your wish to engage."
And John has wished it at some point in his life. Rodney wonders what made him change his mind. At the same time, he tries to squash the hope that if John was open to engagements at one point in his past, he might be open to them again in the future. He isn't sure how to ask John though. He doesn't want to put him on the defensive.
"My father is one of the really proud cyclers," John says. "He thinks being a cycler is the best thing in the world, and during his cycle he tries to engage as many people as he can. Women, I should say."
Rodney can imagine where this is going. "He doesn't like that you're also compatible to men."
"I'm only compatible to men," John clarifies. "I've never engaged a woman. And my father made me shake a lot of hands during my cycle."
Rodney tries to take all this information in. His father enjoyed engaging their mother, but as much as his mother hated him, he cannot imagine his father would have pushed either him or Jeannie to engage others had they been cyclers. And the fact that John is only compatible to men is a bit unusual. "Are you..." Rodney doesn't finish the question, because as tactless as his sister accuses him of being at times, he knows that he shouldn't just ask people about their sexual orientation, even if he was engaged by them.
John however still answers. "Gay? Yes."
Rodney thinks about the military, where you can engage people of the same sex, but aren't allowed to have a relationship with them unless you hide it or unless your partner is compatible. Which must have been a bitter experience for John. Then again he didn't mind engaging back then. Or maybe... "Was that the reason you used the engagement rooms? To find a partner?"
"No," John says coldly. "I don't think it's right to pick and choose whom you discriminate against."
"Neither do I," Rodney says immediately. "I don't see how it changes anything about your performance in the field who you fall in love and sleep with, as long as it's a consenting adult."
"I never really liked engaging. I can't help the physical reaction, but it never felt right to me, even when I did it voluntarily," John says.
Rodney gulps. He feels guilty for enjoying their engagement so much and for basically demanding that John not use the panic button. "I'm sorry," he says again.
"Don't be," John says. "Sometimes you can't do what feels right to you. And it was...well, the act itself was good."
That only makes Rodney feel worse.
"Hey, no," John says. "What I'm trying to say is that just because I don't like the fact, in general, of this forced physical reaction doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. I just usually choose not to. With you...I just let it happen. And that's okay for me. And I think I know that it was more than okay for you."
"If I hadn't stopped you, would you have used the panic button?" Rodney asks.
"Probably," John admits.
"Then you didn't do it voluntarily," Rodney tells him. It's as simple as that. And he feels bad about it.
"If I really hadn't wanted it, you couldn't have stopped me," John says calmly. "You wouldn't be the first I stopped. And I didn't even have a panic button at the time."
Rodney frowns. That is quite remarkable. Most known cases of people stopping an engagement are about people who have a violent physical reaction against them. It's one of the reasons why hardly any engagements are put on trial as rape or why even the compatibles' right movement doesn't demand that cyclers stop engaging wholesale. For John to be able to stop an engagement, he has to have an incredible amount of control—or an unprecedented will to fight against them.
"There's nothing I can say that will make you feel better about our engagement, is there?" John asks with a small smile.
"Do you want me to feel better about it?" Rodney asks.
"Yes," John says. "You have the right to enjoy it if that's your choice. I let it happen."
"You're right. You can't say anything that will make me feel better about it," Rodney says.
John laughs. He looks younger when he does. Rodney wants to reach out and touch his mouth. The realization that it would lead to another engagement makes his face turn hot. He drops his gaze.
"Would you like some dessert?" John asks him. "I have a carton of chocolate ice-cream, I think." He gets up from the kitchen table.
"I never say no to dessert. Unless it includes citrus of any kind," Rodney says. John raises an eyebrow. "I'm deathly allergic," Rodney explains.
"That's good to know. I'll keep the orange juice away then when you're around," John says. He's been on his way to the fridge, but falters, apparently aware of the implications. "If you'd like to come over again at some point," he says non-committaly.
"I would," Rodney says. "I really would."
They have lunch together the next day and then dinner the day after. They don't call them dates, but they feel like that to Rodney, even if at the end of them, he knows he can't expect John to kiss him. At least not while he's still on his cycle, and Rodney cannot wait for it to be over.
He doesn't think too much about the fact that John seems unwilling to engage him again. Or that he's a man. Being with John is enjoyable in a way that Rodney can't describe. It's like there's a pleasant buzz under his skin whenever they're together. John makes him laugh or groan at his dorkiness and terrible taste in movies and music. And the thought of touching John makes things happen in Rodney's chest, and further down, that are not entirely related to their engagement, a repeat of which might never happen.
When John shows up for their next date without gloves and wearing a t-shirt instead of a long-sleeved shirt, Rodney almost can't contain himself. When John eventually asks, "Would you like to come—" Rodney interrupts him with a, "Yes," before he can even finish the sentence. It makes John laugh.
Rodney eagerly gets up from the table, and John does the same and on his way out briefly puts his hand on Rodney's back.
The door of John's apartment hasn't completely closed when Rodney turns and presses his mouth against John's in a kiss he's been waiting for since their first coffee date. John pulls him close and opens up his mouth for Rodney.
It's so good. Rodney's mind flashes back to their first engagement. He doesn't feel the intense lust of that moment, but he still wants, needs to feel more of John. And thankfully John seems to be fully on board with that.
They stumble into the bedroom, undressing as they go. Things get a bit awkward when they try to keep kissing with legs, arms, and heads sticking half in, half out of clothes, but eventually they manage to get naked and land on the bed.
Rodney doesn't have all that much experience with men. But it doesn't keep him from latching onto John's skin, hungry to explore every bit of it that he can reach. He's so eager that he doesn't notice John reaching out for his cock until his hand encircles Rodney and starts stroking him.
A moan escapes from Rodney's mouth, and he starts thrusting into John's hand even as he searches his mouth to kiss him. His hips move faster and faster, and when John opens his mouth and pushes his tongue into Rodney's mouth, Rodney thinks about that tongue in other places and comes, shooting spurt after spurt of come over John's hand and stomach.
As he comes down, Rodney realizes that he has neglected John. "I'll do you in a minute," he says, still panting into John's chest.
John laughs. "It's okay," he says. "We have time." He strokes Rodney's back and kisses the top of his head.
As soon as Rodney can breathe halfway normally again, he slides down John's body. He takes John's half-hard cock in his hand and strokes it, before taking the tip into his mouth.
He has given blowjobs a few times, but he's never wanted it as much as he wants to make John come now. He's inexperienced and has to let up a few times to breathe and control his gag reflex, but he's determined to make it good for John, so he keeps up the stroking and concentrates on the head.
No matter how bad at it Rodney is—and it's hard for him to judge—John seems to enjoy himself. He moans softly and claws his hands into the sheets until he groans Rodney's name and warns him, "I'm going to come."
Rodney lets up, and strokes John through orgasm, watching in fascination as white fluid shoots from John's cock. Rodney's never watched it from so up close. He licks along John's cock, making him moan again.
Rodney lays down on his side next to John, watching as he catches his breath. John turns to look at him and smiles. It's a beautiful smile. Rodney reaches out to touch it. John frowns but keeps smiling. Rodney leans forward to kiss him. John does the same, meeting him in the middle.
They kiss for a long time, until eventually the come on their chests and stomachs gets dry and John suggests a shower. They watch an old episode of Star Trek afterwards and when Rodney says goodbye it takes them a full ten minutes because they can't stop kissing.
On his way home, Rodney simply cannot stop grinning from ear to ear.
Dating Rodney is nice. Actually, that's not a good word. It almost sounds dismissive. It's just that being with Rodney feels so normal.
John is waiting for the moment when cycling will intrude in their lives again. The thought of Rodney being engaged by someone else upsets him, and he's worried about their compatibility. He knows that Rodney wants to be engaged again. They've never discussed it, so John's initial stance that he won't do it still stands, but he's not sure if Rodney will be okay with that.
The thing is, John isn't sure if he absolutely wants to stay firm on the issue. He likes sex with Rodney. It's not necessarily the best sex he's ever had—even outside of engaging—but it's getting better all the time. It's hot. And engaging Rodney was even hotter, so there's no real reason not to do it, but John's still hesitant about bringing this into their relationship.
He doesn't like the idea of engagements being the defining part of their relationship. He'd like to pretend that they wouldn't be, but he knows that without their first engagement they wouldn't even be here. Worse, he can't help that nagging feeling that Rodney—consciously or not—is only or mainly in this relationship out of the hope to be engaged again.
This is put to the test when John's next cycle comes around. He still hasn't decided whether he'll never want to engage Rodney again, but he knows for sure that he needs Rodney to be okay if he were to decide that way. So when Rodney comes over that day, John is wearing long sleeves and gloves and he can see the emotions, the disappointment and hope, in Rodney's eyes.
He doesn't say anything. He doesn't kiss John as they usually would. John appreciates that, but it's awkward and he's not sure if it's enough for him that Rodney grudgingly accepts John's unwillingness to engage.
"Were your previous relationships with compatible cyclers?" John asks. He imagines it must be harder to stop doing something he's been able to take for granted.
But Rodney says, "No." He goes on, "I've never been..."
"In a relationship with a compatible cycler," John finishes for him. Which is actually not uncommon.
"Engaged before," Rodney corrects him.
"What?" John asks. Rodney has told him about his work in the cycling choice movement and his inner conflict of wanting to engage, but he's never said that it had all been academic until John. Suddenly John gets a horrible sinking feeling in his gut. "That's why you wanted to see me again. You've been looking for a compatible cycler all your life, and when you found me..."
"It's not like that," Rodney says, but he averts his eyes. "Well, not just like that. Yes, it was because of the engagement that I asked you out for coffee. And I have to admit that our compatibility played a role in wanting to date you, especially considering that you're a guy. But it's not the only reason. I like being with you, not just sex, which by the way I really enjoy even when you're not engaging me, just...spending time with you."
John's brain doesn't fully process what Rodney's trying to say, because he's stuck on the part where Rodney only wanted to date him—a guy—because of their compatibility. John has noticed that Rodney is a bit clumsy in bed, but he was enthusiastic enough that John never doubted he was into guys. "You've never been with a guy before," he says.
"It depends on what you mean by 'be with'," Rodney says carefully.
And that's enough for John. He can't do this. As much as he likes Rodney—which is really a lot, more than he can remember liking anyone in a long time, maybe ever—he can't set himself up for the certain disappointment. Rodney's a straight guy, whose desire to engage can overcome his desire to be with a woman, and John is a gay cycler, whose desire not to engage can overcome anything else in his life. Their relationship was doomed from the start, but they had a few weeks respite between John's cycles when they could both pretend it didn't matter.
"I'm sorry," John says. He really is. Being with Rodney felt good on so many levels. On all levels really, except that one. But that one is non-negotiable for John.
Rodney looks stricken. "Sorry about what? You can't...we've only been going out for a month. And it was great. Don't tell me you didn't enjoy it. I know you did."
"It's not about that," John says. He can't believe that he has to explain this to Rodney. "I will never ever engage you again. Is that okay for you?"
Some part of John hopes that Rodney will say, "Of course," without having to think about it, but Rodney only opens his mouth and closes it, and John can see that he's stuck between saying the truth and saying what he knows John wants to hear.
"I'm sorry," John says again.
Rodney drops his gaze. "So am I," he says, sounding defeated.
They stand like that for a long moment, looking at the ground, the space between them that they won't be able to bridge.
"I'd still like to come over, have lunch with you sometimes if that's okay," Rodney says. "I do like you."
John looks at Rodney and sees the truth of it in his eyes. He nods. "Sure, we can still see each other. We can be friends." He thinks he might like that. He's never had a real friend. He's never been able to trust that people would understand him. And Rodney—for all his shortcomings as a potential partner—does understand him.
Rodney tries not to be too crushed about their break-up. They've only been together for a month. And if he is honest with himself, it's his own fault for not questioning what he's doing and why he's doing it. For his one-night-stands with guys it didn't matter whether he was gay, bi, or straight, or something in between. But what he's started with John—had started—was more than sex. It was a relationship—or would have been if maybe Rodney had been a bit more honest.
He's never knowingly lied to John, though in retrospect going back to John's apartment that first day to have dinner with him, even though John had made it clear that he wouldn't engage him again had been the implicit lie that they'd based their short-lived relationship on. John had told him the limits of their relationship up front, but Rodney hadn't wanted to see it, because his excitement over finding a compatible cycler who was also a great person overrode any other thought he'd had. He hadn't wanted to answer the all important question if he'd want to be with John if they never engaged again until John forced him to consider it and Rodney was unprepared.
Though he's not sure preparation would have changed anything. At least not back then.
They become friends. Good friends. They spend as much free time together as their jobs and families allow. Rodney's still helping Jeannie out with meetings and joining her fight for compatibles' rights. He's never told her or their mother about his engagement with John. He also hasn't told her about their relationship, which was maybe another sign that somewhere deep down Rodney had known that it wasn't right, that it wasn't going to work like that. But as he and John grow closer as friends, he mentions John to Jeannie, simply because he's such a big part of Rodney's life. Jeannie's happy that he found a friend.
John's deployed to Afghanistan again.
Rodney can't help worrying about him. They write each other as often as possible. Rodney asks Sam if she can arrange that he'll be notified if something happens to John. Sam only gives him a look, but doesn't ask any questions, and then tells him she'll see what she can do.
It's ten months into John's deployment, when none other than General O'Neill himself comes down to Rodney's lab. "Well, well, McKay. I've gotta say, you've found yourself an adventurous friend."
Rodney's heart is stuck in his throat. "Is he...?" Dead, he doesn't say. Can't say.
"Alive and well," O'Neill says, "Though I suspect some of his superiors would like to change that."
Rodney sighs visibly in relief. "Is he in trouble?" he asks. John hasn't talked all that much about his work, but Rodney can imagine him clashing with his superiors. He seems to have a problem with authority figures.
"That's what the investigation will have to show. Personally, I think he's a hero, but there's that little thing called chain-of-command, and the Air Force can be particular about what people should and shouldn't do with their multi-million dollar equipment."
Yes, Rodney can see that, considering the fuss the administration can make about things like new hard drives. In any case, he's just glad that nothing has happened to John.
"He'll arrive at 1500 at Peterson if you want to pick him up."
"He's back in the States?" Rodney asks.
O'Neill checks his watch. "Not yet. Still over the Atlantic right now. But he's on his way. You can go with Carter if you want to." With that he leaves Rodney alone.
Rodney is working himself into a slight panic, because he doesn't know what Carter would have to do with John. Maybe she's going there to do something else. Right. He takes a deep breath and goes to Sam.
"Hey, Rodney. I was going to head out in an hour to pick Major Sheppard up," Sam tells him when he comes in.
Sam frowns at him. "Is everything all right?"
"Uhm, why are you picking up John, I mean Major Sheppard?"
"You remember the little favor you asked of me?" Sam says. "It didn't go unnoticed with General O'Neill, so he's looked at his file and he's been impressed enough that he wants me to invite Sheppard to the SGC. He says if the DoD doesn't want him, he'll gladly take him. Is that a problem? I thought you might be happy if Sheppard joined the SGC."
"I never told John—Major Sheppard—that I work for the military. Since he's in the Air Force I didn't want him to be tempted to ask questions. So when I talked about my work—the unclassified parts of it—I happened to leave out the bit about it being part of the government." Rodney's not sure how John will react. Plus, Rodney doesn't think he'll necessarily feel better about John going out on missions to other planets than his deployment in Afghanistan. At least they'd be able to see each other more often. Either way it looks as if the decision has been taken out of his hands.
When he drives down to Peterson with Sam, Rodney tries to concentrate on the fact that John is alive and back home.
John gives himself a fifty-fifty chance of being dishonorably discharged. Of course, even if they don't discharge him, there's a high likelihood they'll send him somewhere where no sane person would want to go. Antarctica maybe. Fifteen months ago, John might not have minded that. But it's a long way from Rodney and he's been looking forward to seeing him regularly again.
He enjoys Rodney's lengthy emails, complaining in minute detail about the scientific errors in the latest blockbuster movie or recounting a stupid incident where a guy nearly ran him over with his jeep. It's all completely mundane, but it makes John feel as if he's taking part in life. He missed that in Afghanistan more than he ever did before.
He's not sure when he should inform Rodney of his return. Should he wait until he knows if he'll stay for good because there will be no more deployments for him ever, or should he just call him as soon as he can, telling him where things stand? John misses Rodney enough to be more inclined towards the latter.
Then again, maybe the "investigation" will just be a short meeting. It's not as if the facts are disputed. It's really just a matter of deciding whether John's blatant disobedience is more important than the fact that he saved the lives of three people.
He expects to be picked up by a driver at Peterson, but is directed to a Lieutenant Colonel Carter. Big alarm bells ring in his head. John sees no way how this can be good news for him. Have they already decided on his fate and want to get rid of him as soon as possible?
He's tense when he approaches Carter, but before he can so much as salute, he recognizes the person next to her. "Rodney?" Rodney smiles awkwardly at him, and John pulls himself together and gives Carter a sharp salute. He looks at Rodney, trying to convey with his eyes, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"McKay asked me to keep an ear out, in case anything happened to you," Carter explains. "I don't think this is what he meant, but it landed on my desk anyway."
John doesn't know what to say. Rodney never mentioned Colonel Carter. It's not really surprising that a lab in Colorado Springs would be involved with military technology, but asking an Air Force Colonel for a favor was a different thing entirely.
"We should get back to the Mountain," she continues. "General O'Neill would like to meet you." She turns and leaves.
John follows her, mouthing, "General," to Rodney.
"I only wanted to know that you were okay," Rodney whispers to him.
They all get into the car, and it looks like Rodney is coming along.
"I, uhm, work for a program of the US Air Force. Deep space telemetry," Rodney says.
Rodney can't lie worth shit, and even if he could, John wouldn't buy it. "Uhuh," he says.
Rodney glares at him. God, John missed him. He gives Rodney a wide smile. Rodney smiles back, flushing.
Carter asks him a few questions about how things are going in Afghanistan. She's been deployed to Iraq and John's respect for her ratchets up when she mentions the kind of missions she's flown. She's matter-of-fact about them however and seems genuinely interested in his experiences, so John feels free to ask what he's been curious about, if she is a liaison for the program Rodney's working on. "I'm working on the same program, actually. I'm also a theoretical astrophysicist. You could say I'm Rodney's boss."
"You are not," Rodney disagrees. "I run my own projects. Just because O'Neill prefers listening to you explain them, doesn't make them yours."
"I never said they were. I only said that you report to me, which—like it or not—makes me your boss."
Rodney harrumphs and crosses his arms, but doesn't dispute what Carter says. John grins.
Carter starts telling him about special precautions, since they're taking him to Cheyenne Mountain. John goes back to wondering what that deep space telemetry program really is.
He's taken down inside the Mountain, twenty-seven levels. At that point, Carter leads him out of the elevator, while Rodney stays behind, wishing him luck, which doesn't exactly do anything to calm John's nerves. Carter asks him to wait for a moment in a guest room, and about ten minutes later a sergeant comes to show him the way to the General.
John has met all kinds of different officers during his career in the Air Force. But O'Neill certainly takes easy-going to a new level. He tells John to just sit, when he salutes and asks him about the aircraft he's flown. They reminisce about flying and John waits for the other shoe to drop, because he's fairly certain General O'Neill hasn't asked him to come here for a little chat.
"Your superiors aren't very happy with you," O'Neill finally says.
John doesn't say anything, because he doesn't really have anything to say to that.
"And while I can see their point, I also think it'd be a waste to kick you out or send you to some far-off place ferrying people around."
"Thank you, sir," John says hesitantly. He's not sure where this is going. Conversely, he gets the feeling that O'Neill hasn't really started with what he actually wants to say.
"Don't thank me yet," O'Neill says. "How would you feel about joining one of my teams?"
Pretty good, John thinks, because O'Neill is the kind of superior he'd love to have, but common sense still makes him say, "That would depend on what being on one of your teams entails."
"Right," O'Neill says. "Walter!"
The sergeant that brought him here comes in with a stack of papers.
"You're going to have to sign this NDA before we can continue this discussion," O'Neill tells him.
It's not that John has any reasons to be distrustful. But it feels like he's about to make an enormous step in his life, one that deserves more than a second's thought.
"McKay is part of our program," O'Neill mentions.
"You want me on a deep space telemetry team, sir?" John asks.
O'Neill grins. "Sign the papers and I can lower this shield. It's a shame for the view. I'm sure you'll agree."
So John does.
The idea of aliens and going to other planets through a stargate is rather overwhelming. O'Neill seems to sense this and finally tells John to just take a look as one of the SGC teams embarks on a mission.
They watch from the briefing room and John sees a plume of what looks like water and four people walking through it, disappearing through the event horizon, simply gone when the gate shuts down again. And soon he could be one of those people.
The decision isn't very hard for John. He doesn't want a discharge and Antarctica might be okay, but it's far away from Rodney, and even if he wouldn't mind ferrying people around, the opportunity to maybe have his own team to lead to other planets, to find technology that could save the world, sounds too tempting not to take.
They discuss a few administrative things and eventually step out of the briefing room where Rodney is waiting. He looks at John with big eyes. John's not sure what he's nervous about. Whether John accepted O'Neill's offer, or whether John will have something to say about the fact that he kept this from him.
"Ah, McKay," O'Neill says. "Since you're here, you can show the Major where he'll find the mess. I doubt he had anything good on his flight here." He looks at his watch. "And after that you'll probably want to take him home. The major looks like he needs a bed."
Rodney flushes red.
"He must be tired," O'Neill clarifies.
"Of course." Rodney coughs.
"Is he familiar with Don't Ask Don't Tell?" O'Neill asks John.
"I'm right here," Rodney says, still slightly red. "And yes, I am. And we're just friends."
"Of course you are," O'Neill says.
"We are," John confirms. After a moment, he adds, "And even if we weren't, we're compatible."
O'Neill looks from John to Rodney, then shrugs. "Welcome to the SGC, Major," he says and leaves.
"You didn't have to tell him that," Rodney says once they're alone. "Now he'll know that we...at least once."
"It's okay," John says.
"Our compatibility would only matter if we were more than friends," Rodney points out.
John gives him a look. "I know." Rodney frowns. Before he can say anything, John asks, "So where is the mess?"
Rodney is happy for John when he gets his own team, but he can't help feeling anxious every time John steps through the gate. Carter's giving him knowing looks every time it happens. It seems that everyone thinks that he and John are a couple anyway.
And truthfully, it sometimes feels like that to Rodney too. They often drive home together and cook dinner in either Rodney's or John's apartment. They hang out and watch tv together, visit museums or concerts together, or watch a movie. When one of John's teammates throws a barbecue on weekends he invites John and Rodney, just like he invites the other guys' girlfriends.
Rodney has a hard time thinking of anything they'd do differently if they actually were a couple. Apart from the sex obviously, which they're not having.
Rodney misses it. They've only been together for a month and that was over one and a half years ago, but Rodney still remembers it, misses it, jerks off fantasizing about it. So often he finds himself wanting to reach out and touch John when they're together.
He's started thinking about telling John. What they have together is so good that Rodney doesn't know why they're willing to compromise so easily. If John asked him today if Rodney would be okay if they never engaged, Rodney wouldn't hesitate to say yes. Was the engagement with John hot? Yes, it was, and the memory of it is burned into Rodney's mind, but it pales in comparison to the life that he's built with John.
He doesn't quite know how to bring it up, though. It's the kind of thing where there really isn't a good occasion, so he just tells John one day, "I've been wondering...if we should give it another try. I mean dating. Each other."
John's making dinner—it's mostly John who does the cooking—and he looks at Rodney, his face not giving anything away.
John doesn't know what to say. This has come out of nowhere. Sure, there've been moments of sexual tension between them, but that's to be expected from people who had a sexual relationship at one point, if only briefly. It really kind of blindsides him.
Getting his own team at the SGC is both a dream and nightmare. He still hasn't quite grasped what he's doing every day. It can be completely amazing on some days, while on others it scares the shit out of him. He's stood face to face with an alien that wanted to insert a freaking body-snatching larva into his neck.
His job is insane. And when he comes back he's happy to just have a quiet evening arguing with Rodney about something or other, feeding him, and then falling asleep, knowing that he gets to do it all again the next day. It's like a peaceful ritual. It's like the eye of the storm that his life has become at the SGC, and he hasn't really thought about changing anything.
That doesn't entirely mean that he's never thought about sex with Rodney, because he has. It's his favorite masturbation fantasy. It's pretty much his only masturbation fantasy. But that's just in his head, in the privacy of his bedroom, and in a weird way it has nothing to do with the real Rodney. Even though sometimes John looks at him and sees something that makes him store away the memory for later use, when he takes his dick in his hand and thinks about all the things they did and didn't do during that one month after they first met.
So, yes, maybe he does think about Rodney this way, but he's never considered it as something that he should act on. It seems like just yesterday that he came back from Afghanistan. It all feels terribly sudden to John. He hasn't seen Rodney give any signs that he wanted more than their friendship. He's always seemed completely at ease when they're together. Except, yes, those moments of sexual tension. Maybe while John stored them away for later use, Rodney stored them away to think about where he wished they would lead to.
And that's the real question here. John hasn't changed his stance on engagements. He's not gone back to an engagement room, he still wears long-sleeved shirts and gloves during his cycle. Is what Rodney wants really just what they had during that one month?
Before John can figure out how to phrase the question he wants to ask, Rodney says, "I'm okay with never engaging."
John raises an eyebrow. He doesn't want to doubt Rodney. Rodney knows how important this issue is for John, and he wouldn't have brought dating up if he didn't think he could live with John's limits. But John still wants more than for Rodney to put up with that. He doesn't want to start a relationship with some built-in resentment. "It doesn't matter to you at all that I won't change my mind," John says. He's still not sure about that actually, but he needs to know he could.
"I wouldn't say it doesn't matter at all, but there are so many things that matter more to me. What matters to me is that there's no one I'd rather spend my time with. You make me laugh, you annoy me, you cook for me. And I want us to keep doing those things. You know, coupley things. Everyone at the SGC thinks we're together. And the only way that we're not is the lack of sex. I'd love to go back to that. I think at the end there, we really got the hang of it."
John laughs. "I wasn't the first guy you had sex with, was I?"
"For some things you were. And I've never wanted it as much with any other guy. I wanted...with the others, I'd hoped to be engaged," Rodney admits. John's heart sinks a bit. "But with you...I don't know how much of it was the engagement. It was our first time together and there's nothing I can do to change that, but I don't just want to recreate that moment. I want...I just want to be with you."
"You considered yourself straight before you met me," John says. It's not a question.
"Yes," Rodney admits. "But now I consider myself to be a man who loves another man."
And, wow, John really wasn't prepared to hear those words from Rodney. If he thought he was blindsided before... "I should continue this," he says, pointing at the tomatoes he's cutting up.
"Oh, okay," Rodney says, dropping gaze. The corners of his mouth turn downward unhappily.
"I have to think about this, Rodney," John says. He doesn't want Rodney to think this is a rejection. "You need to give me some time."
Rodney straightens and looks up hopefully. "I can do that. Take all the time that you want. Do you need help with that?" he asks, pointing at the table.
"I'm good," John says. "Tell me about your day."
Rodney starts talking and John lets the words wash over him, feeling comfortable being with Rodney as he always does.
In the end, the decision isn't so hard after all.
Rodney loves him, and even if John wouldn't have called his feelings for Rodney love, now that he thinks about it, he can't come up with a different word for them either. And he recognizes that there is such a thing as Platonic love, but if that's all it is, if John didn't have any feelings for Rodney beyond friendship, the idea of Rodney being engaged by someone else wouldn't still be in the back of his mind.
After Rodney told him how hard it was for him to find a compatible cycler, John was relieved. Rodney seemed to have a particularly rare genetic make-up. For a moment, John had envied him that, but in the end, the relief that Rodney wasn't likely to be engaged very often won out.
Beyond engagements there are relationships, of course. Rodney has never gone on a date that he told John about. It doesn't mean it never happened, particularly during his time in Afghanistan, but now that Rodney told him how he felt, John wonders if those feelings weren't the reason for the lack of dates. If John rejects him, there's no reason to expect that Rodney would keep living a celibate life. And the thought of Rodney in a relationship with someone else upsets John on a level that has absolutely nothing to do with being protective of a friend.
John hasn't thought about more than friendship with Rodney, simply because he didn't have to. In so many ways they are already a couple. And John doesn't miss sex as much as other people might. But once Rodney brought it up, John thinks about what they'd had during that brief month. It had been nice. And even if he's quite content with the friendship that they have now, he comes to realize that their relationship will feel more complete when they go back to what they had in that month, even if the sex was a bit clumsy.
John smiles when he makes the decision. He can't wait to see how happy Rodney will look when he tells him. But when Rodney drops by the next morning—it's a Saturday—he's so eager and hopeful, that John wants to know if Rodney will be able to actually give him time or if he will break down and ask John to please, finally make a decision.
Rodney doesn't say anything when John simply lets him in. John can see the question on his lips, but Rodney remains silent. He's brought some DVDs, and John makes some popcorn and they start watching one of the action movies that Rodney loves to complain about. He's rather quiet today, though, and John can't help looking over to Rodney and smiling at his slightly tense face.
He does love Rodney. There's no other way to explain how much John just wants to pull him into his arms and kiss him. And now he can. John puts the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table and turns to Rodney. Rodney looks over to him, but keeps his face straight ahead. His gaze moves from John to the screen and back.
John reaches out to cup Rodney's face and turn it towards him. He doesn't think Rodney is breathing right now. He wonders how long he could hold his breath, but in the end he wonders even more how wonderful it will be to kiss him again. So he does.
Rodney melts into the kiss. He pulls John into his arms and whimpers.
"Are you okay?" John asks.
"Yes, yes," Rodney says, seeking John's mouth with his own again. "Don't stop," he whispers. "Never stop."
I won't, John thinks, and sinks down on top of Rodney.
They've been together for three months when Rodney asks John if he wants to meet his family. Under normal circumstances, three months wouldn't be a long time, but to Rodney it feels as if they've been together since that first engagement. And sometimes he wonders if they weren't—with an extended time of separate bedrooms.
John says he'd love to meet Jeannie. Rodney notes that he doesn't say the same about Evelyn, which is understandable, considering her view of cyclers.
He stops by Jeannie's home, figuring it will be easier if he has her on his side. Not that his mother's disapproval would keep him from being with John. His relationship with John is the best he ever had. He wouldn't give it up just to please his mother. He can think of very little that he would give it up for—and he doubts that Goaul'd will conquer Earth and give them a choice between destroying all life as they knew it and Rodney breaking up with John.
"I wanted to bring someone next time we visit Mom," he tells his sister.
Jeannie smiles at him knowingly. "I knew something was up. You sounded different. And you look different. Happier."
Rodney isn't sure she'll be as pleased when she hears that Rodney is with another guy, who's also a cycler and compatible to Rodney. He doesn't think his sister is a bigot, but she's so entrenched in the cycling choice movement, he would understand if she had a gut reaction of being worried about Rodney. And she'll certainly be surprised that Rodney's partner is a man. "Promise me you won't freak out," he says.
"Now that's comforting," Jeannie says wryly. "Why do you think I would— Oh god! She's a cycler." She looks shocked, but then pulls herself together. "It's okay, Mer. As long as the two of you are happy, I am too. Remember Kenny?" Rodney does. It's one of the reasons why he's not looking forward to introducing John to his mother. "I'm for the right to choose, and that includes the choice to want to be engaged. I have no problem with people who make that choice. I have been engaged."
"What!" It's the first time he's heard of that. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Mom would have gone ballistic, and I wasn't sure how you'd react," Jeannie tells him.
"Did you want to be engaged?" Rodney asks. He's fully aware that not everyone feels the way he does about it, and for the longest time he thought that his sister was one of the people who wouldn't be engaged if they had the choice.
"I wasn't looking for it, but when it happened...I didn't fight it. I wanted to know what it's like."
Rodney is kind of floored. "Do you want it to happen again?" he asks carefully.
"I don't know. I won't go sneaking into cycling clubs, but if it happens again, I think I might be okay with it. Though we don't seem to have many compatible cyclers," she comments thoughtfully. Then she looks at Rodney, grinning. "But you still have found one. Or is she not compatible to you."
"Uhm," Rodney says, flushing.
"She is. I knew it. Is that how you met?" Jeannie asks.
Rodney is relieved about her reaction. If she reacts as well to the guy thing, he'll be happy. "It's not a she actually."
Jeannie blinks. "It's not...oh, it's..." She thinks for a moment and suddenly lights up. "It's John?"
"Yes," Rodney says, pleased that she seems happy for him and about the fact that it's John.
"You never mentioned that you were— When did this happen? After he returned from Afghanistan?" Jeannie asks.
"Three months ago. Though we...we were dating for a month when we first met," he says.
"You never told me about that. What happened?" Jeannie asks.
"Back then or now?" Rodney asks.
"Both! Tell me everything," she says.
"I have a date with John in half an hour," Rodney says.
"Okay, but tell me another time. Oh, and you can at least tell me how you found out you're compatible. Was that what got you together? I mean back together?" Jeannie asks.
"No," Rodney says. "We found out we were compatible...before we really met. Or maybe I should say as we met." Rodney feels himself flushing again.
Jeannie's mouth opens. "You met him through an engagement?"
"At the mall. I was buying things for you," Rodney says.
Jeannie laughs. "Don't say I never did anything for you."
Rodney just looks at her. He's really grateful that she's okay with John and their relationship. He's not quite as apprehensive about John meeting Evelyn, now that he knows that he'll still have some family left who'll support him.
John is nervous about meeting Rodney's family. Well, not so much his sister but his mother. They pick up Jeannie on the way, who hugs him and tells him, "It's so good to finally meet you. Rodney's talked about you so often I feel like I already know you."
"It's good to meet you too," John says, feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Rodney and Jeannie chat in the car. "Don't worry, Mer. It'll be okay."
John turns to Rodney. "Mer?"
"His name is Meredith. Didn't he ever mention that?"
"Meredith?" John tries very hard not to laugh out loud. Rodney gives him a murderous look.
"My name is Rodney, and could we please concentrate on the fact that Mom is likely going to disown me within the hour." Rodney seems really stressed about it.
John reaches over and pats his thigh. Rodney gives him a quick smile.
"It's not anything against you, John," Jeannie says from the backseat. "You'll need to give our mother time to adjust. She has a hard time trusting cyclers."
"Even though I don't know of any cycler who's more trustworthy than John," Rodney comments.
John gives him a smile. "What exactly did you tell her about us?"
"I only told her that I'm going to bring someone for coffee. But I'll introduce you as my, uh, boyfriend," Rodney says.
"And the cycling?" John asks.
"It'll be the first thing she asks, and I'm not going to lie to her about that."
"Okay," John says, trying to brace himself for meeting Evelyn Henderson.
"Meredith," Rodney's mother greets him when she opens the door. Her eyes go immediately to John. A flicker of surprise crosses her eyes, but she gets it under control.
"Hey, Mom," Rodney says, giving her a hug. "I'd like you to meet John Sheppard, my...the man I'm dating."
She looks at John, assessing him, and Rodney forces himself not to move from foot to foot. "John," she eventually says, nodding.
"I'm pleased to meet you, ma'am," John says. He's kind of hot when he's all polite. Rodney quickly dismisses that thought because he'll need his full concentration for the grilling that's about to occur.
"Hey, Mom," Jeannie says, hugging her mother too, and they move inside.
"You're a cycler, right?" Evelyn asks John when they sit down. She's remarkably polite about it. Rodney doesn't dare hope yet though.
"Yes, ma'am," John says.
Evelyn pinches her lips together in a grimace that might or might not be intended as a smile.
"He does his best not to engage anyone, though," Rodney throws in. "He wears gloves during his cycle and you should see the arsenal of panic buttons he has at home." He puts on a forced smile.
"Is that correct?" Evelyn asks John.
"Yes, ma'am. I do not wish to engage anyone. I haven't engaged anyone in...almost two years."
"Two years. Wasn't that about the time you met Rodney?" Evelyn asks.
Oh shit. Rodney looks to his sister, who gives him a commiserating look.
"Yes," John says, looking over to Rodney a bit helplessly.
"Mom, he doesn't engage me, even though we're a couple now."
"You mean except when you met," Evelyn tells him sharply. "Do you think I'm stupid, Meredith?"
"Mom," Jeannie steps in, but Evelyn would have none of it.
"You stay out of this Jeanne. This is about your brother. He's always been rebellious. He always thinks he knows better than everyone else."
"Nothing of this has anything to do with John!" Rodney shouts at her.
"All my life I've been fighting for people to be free of this...slavery to our body chemistry. And what do you do? You throw yourself at the first person that—"
"Okay, that's enough," Rodney says, getting up. "John, we're leaving."
"Mom!" Jeannie says, also getting up. "You don't even know John. Until recently they were nothing but friends. For years. It's not like John is some kind of predator cycler."
Evelyn's lips form a thin line. "You're right," she eventually says. Then she looks at John, who's still seated. "I don't know you. And apparently you mean a lot to my son, which given his tendency to be bored or annoyed by anything is quite a feat."
John cracks a small smile, and Evelyn's hard look softens a bit.
John is happy to find out that beneath the surface of a bitter woman, Evelyn is not only as smart as you'd expect of the mother of Rodney and Jeannie, but that she also has quite a dry sense of humor.
He can't help wonder how her life would have turned out if she hadn't gotten pregnant while being engaged. He pictures a more vibrant, happy version of the woman he met, and he resents both Rodney's father for what he did and the cycling that allowed him to do it.
However, he's aware that without that fateful engagement there'd be no Rodney in his life, so he stops short of wishing it had never happened.
Evelyn listened when he tried to explain that he's struggled with his cycling for a long time in his life, before finally deciding to avoid it if at all possible.
"You mean with others," Evelyn said, looking over to Rodney in a way that John couldn't quite interpret.
"Mom. He doesn't even want—" Rodney began, but John interrupted him.
"It's okay, Rodney." He doesn't need Rodney to defend him. He doesn't need Evelyn to think he's a saint. But mostly, John interrupted him, because he feels that his stance on engagements in their relationship is beginning to change.
They have different strategies to deal with John's cycle. One involves masturbating for each other, which is really, really hot, but it's also quite frustrating not to be able to reach out and touch skin.
They've tried gloved sex, but mutual jerking off is really the only thing that works without danger of touching, unless you remain fully clothed. They've tried that too, and it wasn't bad, but it's not what he really wants when he wants to be intimate with Rodney.
The biggest problem by far with all the ways they've tried to have sex without touching is that they can't kiss. And it's actually not just a frustration during sex, but in their normal interaction. John has to remember not to kiss Rodney during his cycle and he hates it. At one point he got so frustrated that he put saran wrap over the lower half of his face, but that was more funny than intimate when he first tried it and eventually more sad than funny.
At this point, they mainly just stick to not having sex at all during John's cycle, with a few instances of masturbating for each other from enough of a distance to make that part of the sex.
One thing that John wouldn't have expected when they first started this is that Rodney never once so much as hints that John should engage him again. He doesn't voice his frustration in a way that would make John feel guilty. In fact, he's the one who usually tries to cheer John up, telling how much better it will be when they can touch each other again—which only makes John more frustrated. In short, Rodney is completely supportive of John's decision not to engage anyone, not even him.
Rodney's unwavering support means that John doesn't feel the need to stay firm on this boundary in their relationship. He knows that Rodney's not with him only out of hope to be engaged again. He's not afraid anymore that Rodney only convinced himself that he was in love with John—with another man—because his desire to be engaged was so strong.
What John is afraid of, however, is that the engagements would take over their relationship.
All his life, John has struggled against the control that the cycling has over his life. And with Rodney he's been able to assert a certain amount of control by taking cycling completely out of the equation. Their relationship is still affected by it, of course, but at the moment its impact is negative, and John feels much more comfortable with his cycle being something that they hope to be over soon than the alternative.
Because that's what he really fears. That once they start, their sex life will suddenly only focus on engaging. He doesn't think that Rodney will stop wanting to have sex with him when he's not on his cycle. They've come quite a long way in the last few months, and Rodney isn't clumsy at all now, but rather focused and still very willing and eager to learn even more. John doesn't think engaging would change that, but the fact of the matter is that even after nearly two years, John can still remember their engagement.
The intense lust of it, the hunger for skin, the wave of ecstasy in that moment are burned into his mind. And he doubts that it's different for Rodney. Since it was his one and only engagement, John thinks that it's probably even more memorable to Rodney than to him.
It's a reaction that's programmed into their bodies, overriding all other senses and all logic. John remembers all too well how long it took him to have any kind of satisfying sex outside of engaging. The sex with Rodney has become amazing, but he knows that it will pale in comparison to engaging him.
And that's what John is afraid of.
He's afraid that consciously or not, they will compare their normal sex to engaging, that they'll maybe start to think, "Why should we work for it, when we'll have an instant explosion of peak after peak in a few days." He's not even just worried about Rodney. He's afraid that he himself will prefer engaging Rodney to other kinds of intimacy, and he can't bear that thought.
He's fought too long and too hard to be free of the power that cycling has over him to give in now—but at the same time he feels like he's once again losing that battle, because it forces him to fight. Even by denying his cycle so it won't dictate their sex life, it still does exactly that by determining that they won't have sex on certain days or in certain ways.
It's a dilemma that John is still working through when they decide to move into a small house together.
They've only been together for seven months, but they've been close friends for over two years, and they spend almost every night together. It's only during John's cycle that they each sleep in their own apartments.
John's team doesn't really understand why they had separate apartments in the first place, but in any case they're willing to help with the move in exchange for food and beer. Rodney's colleagues aren't surprised either.
John's a bit nervous when he files the official paperwork that announces the change in his living arrangements and also includes his written statement that he and Rodney are compatible.
It's at the discretion of the Air Force to check such statements, and if there are doubts, people are asked to demonstrate the physical reaction in the infirmary. There've been a few cases where gay couples tried to use a statement of compatibility to get around Don't Ask, Don't Tell. To discourage such abuse, any discovery will result in immediate dishonorable discharge.
John has never been able to wrap his head around this set of rules. Why would an openly gay soldier be disruptive to morale, discipline, and unit cohesion unless he's with a compatible? And soldiers exempt from Don't Ask, Don't Tell don't stop being gay when they break up with a compatible partner. Of course, the exemption for compatibles is not really about gay people at all. It's a plain and simple demonstration that cycling and the choice of cyclers is so important in their society that it even trumps discrimination against hated minorities.
It's a very cynical way of looking at actual, real relationships, but unfortunately in this day and age, they've all grown used to it. John can't even count the public figures, often virulently anti-gay, who regularly engage people of the same sex in ways that make it unlikely it was an accident. Some even have compatible employees of the same sex whom they regularly engage.
John knows cyclers whose compatibility isn't aligned with their sexual orientation, but anyone who has this genetic quirk tends to try to avoid chances of engaging people of the sex that they're not physically attracted to. And at the very least they know not to touch known compatibles during their cycle.
If the Air Force orders him to do a compatibility check with Rodney, he will have to engage him. Should that happen, John's been thinking about doing it in the privacy of their home first. He doesn't want their first engagement as a couple to happen in the infirmary under supervision of a doctor, even if he likes Dr. Fraser.
In the end it's not necessary though, as his statement is accepted without challenge. John is relieved. For the most part. A smaller part thought that this would be the chance to allow himself to engage Rodney for a good reason.
John knows that it's ridiculous to fight with himself like this, but he feels utterly unable to make a decision on it. Though it gets even harder now that they live together. Rodney sleeps in the guest room during John's cycle and by the last day of it, it's really, really difficult for John to see a sleepy Rodney in the morning, walking into the bathroom with a worn shirt and boxer shorts and so much skin that he's not allowed to touch.
It's an "accident" when it eventually happens, though John half suspects that his subconscious was just fed up with him and took over.
John is usually the one who cooks, and he's slicing tomatoes when the knife slips and he cuts his finger. Rodney's reading a magazine at the kitchen table when it happens; at John's shout and the blood that starts flowing, he jumps up, scrambling to find some paper towels.
"Oh god, you're dripping all over the tomatoes. That's really disgus—" That's when John takes one of the towels from Rodney's hands and ignores the fact that he's on his cycle.
John has stopped wearing gloves at home in Rodney's presence even before they became a couple. He was aware of what could happen and he knew that Rodney wouldn't try anything so it was never an issue. Now though, a surge of lust slams into him and he presses Rodney against the table.
"Oh god," Rodney moans. And then he tries to turn away, even as John's mouth latches onto his neck. It takes a moment for John's brain to catch up and realize that Rodney's trying to reach the panic button that they still keep in the kitchen—in case there are guests. He's suffused with love in addition to lust and pulls Rodney's face into a heated kiss.
They fall to their knees and lie down, rubbing against each other. John's hands search for Rodney's skin. Shock waves of ecstasy pulse through him and eventually they both shudder their release, leaving them both in a panting heap on the floor.
Even sticky and bleeding, John can't help but think that it was glorious.
The first thing out of Rodney's mouth however is, "You didn't have to do this."
"Rodney," John says. He's still too overwhelmed to explain to Rodney that he's been wanting to tell him for a while now that it's okay, that they can try this.
"I know. You'll say it's okay. That you don't mind. But you do mind. And you don't have to pretend that it doesn't matter just because it's me. We have those stupid panic buttons for a reason. It's not like they even hurt all that much. And you're still bleeding." Rodney gets up and picks up some more paper towels, placing them over John's hand without touching him.
"I love you," John says, because he does. Never more than in moments like this.
"And I love you," Rodney says almost reproachfully, leaving to change his clothes.
John gets up and takes care of his finger. He's thought about this long enough. He'll not continue to let Rodney live in the belief that John doesn't want to engage anyone, including him.
Rodney goes into the bathroom with a set of fresh clothes.
This was...completely unnecessary—and so very typical of John. Rodney still feels the sensations ebbing down in his body, but it's overshadowed by the knowledge that John doesn't want this. And he still did it, because for John others always seem to come first.
Rodney steps into the shower, thinking about the visits to the infirmary. John has gotten himself a reputation for doing everything for his team and the people they meet on their missions. Scientists who go on missions, joking that John had to be a bit crazy if he was with Rodney, come back with nothing but respect for him. Rodney has to admit that it makes him proud.
But at the same time it adds to his anxiety every time John goes on a mission, because he can never be sure if there won't be a grenade or trap that John can throw himself on in order to save a team member or native or wild animal.
Engaging isn't any different. John has told him about how he's gone along with engagements for the longest time for the sake of his compatibles. As if what he wanted didn't matter. As if it weren't allowed to not want it. And it makes Rodney angry. Despite his own feelings about engagements or maybe because of them, Rodney is glad that he grew up in an environment that makes him have a knee-jerk reaction of, "No, you shouldn't have to do that. It's your body."
Even when Rodney is the compatible in question. Especially when Rodney is the compatible in question. Because he can just see John thinking that he shouldn't stop an engagement if they have sex all the time. That it's somehow ridiculous to want to be able to say no, when you say yes enthusiastically every other time of the month.
Rodney wishes he had the power to actually stop the engagement, but the reaction was too overwhelming for him to control without John's help, which he didn't give because he was a self-sacrificing idiot.
Rodney steps out of the shower and rubs himself dry. When he comes out of the bathroom, John is walking into the bedroom, calling, "Can you look after the sauce? I'm going to take a shower too."
"Sure," Rodney tells him, walking into the kitchen where the memory of their recent engagement hits him.
It was as hot as the first time. Rodney shakes his head, but can't shake the disconnect in his mind. He doesn't want to think of something as hot that so obviously violates the man he loves. And while it was hot, at least he can't say that he enjoyed every moment of it. He wanted to tell John to stop, but he didn't find the words until after it was over.
It's not good enough, he knows. He'll have to make John understand that it's okay to use the panic button. That doing this to John hurts far more than a little shock ever could.
It seems like a million years ago when his primary reason to ask John out, to go home with him, was the hope to be engaged again. The idea that he could hesitate to answer whether he'd be okay with never being engaged by John seems entirely bizarre to him now. John is so many things to him.
He's Rodney's best friend, the guy he hangs out with, the guy he complains to about work, the guy he tells the great idea he just had. And then he's the guy he wakes up with every day that he can and goes to bed with every night that it's possible. John has shown him how great sex with another guy can be, and together they've gone on a journey to discover each other's bodies, experiences, ideas.
Being engaged by John was the spark that set it all ablaze, but now that a whole continent is burning with love for John, that little spark has lost any meaning it ever had, except as part of their shared history.
Rodney stirs the sauce, taking the moment to appreciate that John's cooking for them. It's just one more of the little things that make his life so much better than it would be without John.
John comes back into the kitchen, wearing fresh clothes.
"How's your finger?" Rodney asks.
"It's fine. It wasn't a deep cut," John says, wriggling the finger at Rodney.
Of course, he'd say that. Rodney sighs and sets up the table, while John putters around the stove, finishing their lunch. He seems really unconcerned, almost happy. It's not that it's unusual in and of itself. John finds cooking relaxing. But Rodney cannot believe that he can so easily ignore what just happened.
It would be like John, of course, to just put it behind him. And to not want to worry Rodney.
"Not too bloody, I hope," John jokes when he's done.
They sit down to eat, and Rodney is torn between just letting it go as John apparently wishes and trying to talk about this.
"Rodney, it's okay," John eventually says, giving him a look.
"No, it isn't," Rodney says.
"Isn't that for me to decide?" John asks.
"You've made your decision. You're wearing the gloves and the sleeves. You told me what you wanted when we started this and I'm as prepared to honor that wish now as I was then. It wasn't okay. And you shouldn't have done that just to spare my feelings or whatever the stupid reason was."
"What if the reason was that I wanted it?" John asks.
"You wanted to engage me?" Rodney asks, not hiding his disbelief.
"I want to be able to touch you during my cycle. I want to be able to have sex with you. And yes, I've been thinking about engaging you," John says.
Rodney doesn't know what to say. "When did you start thinking about this?"
John hesitates for a moment. "I've never been dead set against it," he says.
Rodney's eyes widen. "'I'll never ever engage you' sounds pretty dead set to me!"
John drops his gaze. "I didn't know how I'd feel about it. I still don't know how I feel about it. And even if I had, I needed to know that you'd be okay even if I never come around."
"You don't need to 'come around'. You don't need to do this for me. You don't need to be 'okay' with this," Rodney says, because to him it still sounds like John is doing this for him.
"It's not like that," John insists.
"Then what is it like? I get the frustration that we can't touch or kiss during your cycle. But are you honestly telling me that engaging is suddenly okay with you after two years in which you've managed to avoid it?"
"I don't...I can't explain it. I still don't know why it was okay when I first engaged you. Maybe because it was you," John says.
"Don't try to woo me with romance," Rodney chides him. "We're not doing this until you've convinced me that you actually want it."
"Just telling you I do is not enough?" John asks.
"Not in this case," Rodney says, crossing his arms.
John gives him a disbelieving look. "You know I kind of thought you'd jump on the idea. Literally."
"Well, you obviously thought wrong," Rodney says. He can't help wondering if John has it in his head that all this time Rodney's been waiting for the moment that he finally gives in.
"Obviously," John says, continuing to eat.
"I love the life that we have together," Rodney says. "There might be little things here and there that keep it from being perfect, but they just make it real. And not being engaged by you is not one of them." Rodney's not sure how much clearer in this he can get.
John looks at him thoughtfully for a moment. "Can I ask you something?"
"I can't remember you ever asking me for permission, so I'll say yes with slight trepidation," Rodney answers.
John smiles at him. The smile fades as he asks Rodney seriously, "Do you want to be engaged again? By me?"
"I don't want it if you don't want it," Rodney says, hoping that it will finally get through John's skull.
"That wasn't what I asked. If I really, really wanted it, would you prefer not to be engaged?" John asks.
Rodney gives him a look. "You know the answer to that," he says, slightly annoyed.
"I thought I did. Now I'm not so sure," John says.
Rodney sighs in exasperation. "What's so hard to understand about wanting you to do with your body what you want?"
"It's not just my body," John says, and Rodney gets the feeling he's getting frustrated now. "This is both of us. And if you don't want this, I don't even have to think about what I want."
"Of course, I'd want it," Rodney says. "Why wouldn't I want it?" He's wanted it all his life with anyone until it happened with John. Now he wants John more than anything but to have both at once... Of course, he'd want that. But it isn't about him.
"I don't know. Maybe because you don't want our relationship to become just about that. Maybe you prefer our life that has nothing to do with our compatibility. Maybe you don't want to do something that's not really us, but just genetic lottery."
A lot of things suddenly make sense to Rodney. Like the reason why John wouldn't have just told Rodney a long time ago that he wouldn't mind engaging him. "I wouldn't say our life has nothing to do with our compatibility. Just not the genetic one," Rodney says, smiling at John. "Not only the genetic one," he corrects himself after a moment. Because even if it's not the central part of their relationship, or even a particularly important one—except where it means that they can't touch during a few days in the month—it is a part of their relationship.
"I'm sorry I never mentioned it before," John says.
"It's okay. It's not...I understand what— Actually, I have to think about it. I've honestly never even considered what it could mean for us, because it was never possible."
"Well, consider it possible," John says.
Rodney snorts and continues eating.
John is surprised, confused, and a bit relieved by Rodney's reaction to the fact that he's been thinking about engaging him.
He's wanted to see what it's like and if it could improve a part of their life that's frustrating to both of them, but even after coming to terms with the decision, he's been afraid of the consequences. Now there'll be two people who thought about it, and if Rodney shares his worries, maybe they'll simply come to the conclusion that it's okay the way it is.
And if they do try it, both aware of the problems that might arise, maybe there's a better chance that they'll realize it before it becomes a threat to their relationship.
So even though it was unexpected, John's quite happy about the outcome of their discussion.
What he's less happy about is the waiting. Their engagement in the kitchen had been great, but it was still a rushed, uncontrolled moment of lust. And now that he's decided for himself that he wants to do this with Rodney, willingly, purposely even, he can't wait.
He's never engaged someone in a bed. Even his planned engagements in the engagement rooms were always a quick thing against the wall. And he'll want that with Rodney too he thinks, but the one thing he's curious about is what it will be like as part of their normal sex life.
Everyone knows the stories about sex cycles, where you engage your partner or partners again and again, only taking a break during the natural refractory period between one engagement and the next. John doesn't even know how long a refractory period usually is—it's never been a concern for him.
He's never fantasized about sex cycling, not even back when he voluntarily used the engagement rooms. But now that he's opened the door to it, he can't help thinking about what it will be like with Rodney. It makes him hard and the fact that he hasn't touched Rodney since their engagement two days ago doesn't make it easier.
He's afraid that his cycle will be over before Rodney has come to a decision, and it's a very strange feeling not to look forward to the end of his cycle. He knows that it's likely that they'll have to wait for a month. And maybe it's better not to rush it.
Maybe he should try to keep his own expectations down. And John knows that no matter how tempting those fantasies are, he will want to be able to simply make love to Rodney too. He closes his eyes and imagines slowly stroking along Rodney's skin, eliciting a happy shiver and not a violent explosion of lust. He imagines a soft, long, unhurried kiss.
A smile forms on John's face. It doesn't look like he'll be unable to enjoy their intimacy outside of his cycle.
Rodney goes through different phases as he tries to work out what to do about John's suggestion. At first, he thinks that what it all comes down to is that John wants to do this for Rodney, and that the wish is strong enough that it almost feels like his own wish to him. Almost because Rodney is very aware John still isn't sure about what he wants.
So Rodney's inclined to tell John that they should simply keep things the way they are. No point in fixing something that isn't broken.
But John did bring it up, and dismissing what John says because Rodney thinks he knows what John wants better than John would be as bad as dismissing John's thoughts when he said he didn't want this.
There's not really anything that Rodney can do about John's uncertainty, but he can think about what he wants and, more importantly, the concerns John raised.
Rodney wants to be engaged by John-—if, and only if, he's sure that John really wants it too. That's pretty simple, even if figuring out what John really wants won't be.
John's concerns are not as easy to dissect. If Rodney understood him correctly, John's main fear is that engaging might change their relationship irrevocably for the worse. John fears they'll focus on engagements to the exclusion of everything else in their lives.
Rodney would like to say that he doesn't see that possibility. After all, they don't engage at all at the moment and their relationship is getting better all the time—and it's better than any other relationship either of them had before. Rodney sees no reason why engaging would suddenly make them forget about everything that they love about each other and about their shared life. And John is only on his cycle a few days a month.
But then he thinks about that first month that they dated. He had really enjoyed being with John during that time too, even when he wasn't on his cycle, but when John had asked him if he'd be okay with not ever being engaged again, Rodney hadn't been able to say yes.
Right now, it's easy to say that he doesn't need to be engaged, because engagements aren't part of their relationship. But if that changes, if they spend hours, days on end, in bed, giving in to peak after peak of ecstasy, would it be as easy to say that he'd be okay without it?
Rodney would like to say yes. But that fact that he's always tried not to think about it, that he still doesn't try to imagine what sex cycling would be like with John in too great a detail, shows him that deep down he must be afraid to go back into the mental space he was in when he first met John.
If they do this, there is a chance that Rodney will find it so overwhelming that he wouldn't want to miss it, while John might find it too overwhelming to keep doing it. He'd respect John's wishes of course, but Rodney's not naive enough to believe that it couldn't possibly affect their relationship.
He doesn't want to be in a position where even if he's with John, he'll think about something else, something far-removed, something that John can't give him. That it would be John he'd be thinking about doesn't really make a difference. It would put a strain on their relationship, and Rodney doesn't really want to risk that for nothing.
But the idea of being engaged voluntarily by John, to experience it to its fullest with the man he loves, sounds like a dream come true. It could make their already very good sex life even better and it would ease the frustration that they feel right now for those few days a month. So as much as there's the risk that it could affect their relationship negatively, it could also be the other way round and improve it. And if John does truly want this, it would be stupid to not even give it a try.
Which brings him back to what John wants, which he's still not sure about.
He's aware that time is running out if they want to give it a try before John's cycle is over, but Rodney thinks that's probably for the best. John doesn't ask about his decision or if he's even thought about it. But he can sense his anticipation. Though there's always this air around him during his cycle. He's waiting for when they can touch again.
And Rodney's waiting for that too.
It might be Rodney's imagination, but when John greets him the next morning, sliding his hands around Rodney from behind when he's shaving, there is just a hint of disappointment mixed with the general sense of rightness now that they can touch again.
John kisses his shoulder, and Rodney finishes shaving. When he's done, he turns to John and captures his mouth in a long, sweet kiss. They have to get to work, so they don't have time for anything more, but Rodney can't help feeling that nothing can change this from being the core of their relationship. The absolute rightness when they are together, which he'd felt even when they were just friends, cannot be taken from him, no matter how many times they'll manage to come in the space of a few days.
He doesn't tell John his decision yet, though, because he wants to give them both the time to change their minds. They won't have a chance to try it for another month anyway.
John's not sad that they missed their chance this time around. Just being able to touch Rodney again releases some of the tension he always feels during his cycle.
But as the month goes on, he can't help the growing anticipation. It's about halfway between his cycles, when he trails a finger along Rodney's skin in bed, just enjoying the ability to touch him.
"Have you thought about it at all?" John asks. He expects Rodney to ask what he's talking about, but he doesn't.
Rodney's answer is, "I have."
This makes John sit up. "And...?"
Rodney gives him a long look. "You really want to try it, don't you?"
John nods. "I have a hard time not thinking about it. I don't know if it'll be anything like what I imagine. And maybe..." Maybe it won't be and maybe he won't like it. Maybe it will be Rodney but will still feel too much out of control for him, something which he doesn't want to associate with them.
"Maybe you'll change your mind," Rodney finishes for him. "That's okay."
John smiles at him, grateful.
"I really need you to believe that," Rodney continues, turning to lie on his side and face John. "Even if it will be absolutely amazing, it could never be as great as..." he gestures around them with his hand.
"Our bedroom?" John asks, grinning.
Rodney gives him a look. "Our life."
John gets serious again. "I know," he says.
"You'll need to let me know if you want to stop," Rodney says. "Or maybe...maybe we should decide on a limit before we even try. We know that engagements can be intense. I don't want us to drown in that feeling of...you know."
"That's...that's a good idea," John says. He loves it when Rodney is being a genius and this sounds like the best way to keep control of this without having to depend on their own feelings and their ability to communicate them correctly. "So what should the limit be?"
"I'm not really sure," Rodney says. "I don't even know if we'd want to, uh," he blushes, "measure it in hours or days."
John raises an eyebrow. "Days?"
"Or we could start slow. Limit it to two hours for the first time. Or maybe not a strict time, but number of continuous engagements. Like three."
"I want more," John says without hesitation. He's never engaged someone because he truly wanted it. Now that he will, he wants the full experience.
"More is good. I can live with more," Rodney says, moving a bit closer on the bed.
"How many hours?" John asks, doing the same.
"You know, maybe we shouldn't put a hard limit on that first time. Just keep going as long as we can." Rodney's in his space now, close enough that their knees touch and they can feel each other's breath.
"Let's have a light dinner together, then go to bed and keep going until we fall asleep," John suggests.
"That's a good plan. Great even. You have the greatest..." The rest of the sentence is swallowed by John's mouth on Rodney's as Rodney slips in his arms and rolls on top of him.
The feeling of looking forward to his cycle is entirely foreign to John.
He's trying not to think too much about their plans. He's trying to keep his expectations down. And he also tries to reassure himself that however their experiment turns out, it won't have a negative impact on their relationship.
Rodney is a bit more restless than he usually is. He's also a bit more frisky, randomly touching John and kissing him. When the time of his cycle is ready to roll around again, Rodney gets so antsy that he visits his sister—alone. "If you came along, it would defeat the purpose of keeping myself from jumping you."
"I like you jumping me," John says with a little mock pout.
"Tomorrow maybe," Rodney says. "I don't know when I'll be back." He kisses John and is off.
John settles down in bed with a book, but his mind drifts off to what they will be doing in this bed, possibly at the same time the next day. He knows that Rodney read up on what they can expect. He'll probably be able to tell John average recuperation times and if they tend to get longer after consecutive engagements.
John has never bothered to find out. He knows that it's different for every couple. And he guesses that it's not like that cycle porn he once watched that was basically one engagement after another, with just enough time between them to pan the camera in slow motion and loving detail over sweaty bodies.
He also wonders what sleeping next to Rodney will be like. Some people say that they swear they know a compatible couple that engages while they sleep. Others call bullshit, or wishful thinking, and say that the reaction is completely suppressed during sleep.
John just hopes that they'll actually be able to spend the night together again, because it feels wrong not to wake up with Rodney by his side.
It's close to midnight when Rodney sticks his head in the door. "Tomorrow's the day, huh?" he asks.
John nods. He can feel it in his body, as most cyclers can. A weak tingle before the stronger buzz in his skin that comes with his cycle.
Rodney comes in and sits on the bed next to John. "You still want this, right?"
"Yes," John says.
"It's too bad it's Thursday. I'm not sure how easy getting up will be the next morning if we..." Rodney gestures with his hand.
"Fuck all evening until we fall asleep from exhaustion?" John asks, grinning.
"Engage," Rodney corrects him. "But yes."
John considers this. Rodney has a point. John usually doesn't have any missions scheduled during his cycle, but he'll still have to get up and go to work the next morning. "We could postpone until Friday night," he suggests.
Rodney looks at John, then down his body which is hidden under the covers and up again. "I suppose I could survive one more day of waiting."
John can't help smiling. "Are you sure? I wouldn't want you to die on account of sex deprivation."
"I've survived waiting several days every month for a year. I'll survive waiting for another day." After a moment, Rodney adds, "And I'll survive waiting several days every month again." If he has to. John is grateful that Rodney continues to voice his support for whatever decision John makes on this eventually.
"My cycle hasn't started yet," John says, offering whatever Rodney might want to ease the wait.
But Rodney shakes his head. "If we start, we won't stop, and I'd rather not cut short the afterglow to get into the guest room."
John nods. "Good night then."
"Good night," Rodney says and leans forward to kiss John.
John watches him go. The next time they'll touch it will be to engage.
By the time they have dinner that Friday, the tension between them is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Rodney is close to hyperventilating at the thought of one of his biggest dreams since he was a teenager coming true.
He's glad John feels the same anticipation, even if there's a certain amount of trepidation mixed in. Rodney knows that, unlike himself, John didn't want this all his life. Quite the opposite. John might have engaged voluntarily in his past, but Rodney is aware that even that was more of a practical consideration. John has never truly wanted it like this, and that Rodney should be the one he chose, that it's Rodney who makes him finally feel safe enough to allow himself to want it is nothing short of amazing.
They walk into the bedroom, John two steps ahead of Rodney, making sure they won't touch until they're ready. They're both half hard already. Inside their bedroom they come to a stop, looking at each other.
"Okay, let's get this going, before I get sick over the anticipation," Rodney says, starting to tear off his clothes. He's feeling a little bit queasy.
John gives him a shaky smile. His breathing has sped up a bit, and he swallows and follows Rodney's lead in, taking off his clothes.
Once naked, they get onto the bed, still not touching. John is kneeling and Rodney's sitting on his heels.
"My guess is that the first time will be over in thirty seconds max," Rodney says, trying keep their expectations realistic.
John laughs. Then he lies down and looks up at Rodney expectantly. Rodney can see no trace of doubt in his face. Only love and affection and desire with a thread of anticipation running through all of it.
It's the same for Rodney. When he moves to settle down on top of John, he no longer thinks about having wanted to do this for all of his adult life. He only thinks that he'll be able to touch John, to experience a physical intimacy that completes a relationship based on emotional, spiritual intimacy.
They're compatible in so many ways, and after years they find their way back to the very first one that got them together. Slowly Rodney lowers his body onto John's, his eyes never straying from John's. Then their bodies touch and the surge of lust slams into them.
Their first skin contact brings them both to full hardness instantly. Rodney groans loudly, falling onto John, giving them even more skin contact. His whole body vibrates. John's arms wind around Rodney, and they kiss desperately even as their bodies move against each other. Rodney hears moans coming from deep within John as he quivers below Rodney.
He knows he won't be able to hang on for long. Intense pleasure spreads from everywhere they touch, suffusing their skin and bodies and minds. Rodney tries to say John's name, but what comes out is only an incoherent moan. When John's hands moves to his ass, fingers between his cheeks, it becomes too much and Rodney thrusts and twitches and comes, feeling John climaxing along with him.
His body is still shaking with little tremors and his brain feels completely empty except for John, John's body, John's skin—John's love.
John holds onto Rodney, feeling at peace as the man he loves pants into his neck. He didn't think he could ever feel like this after an engagement, feel nothing but rightness, but he does now with Rodney in his arms.
They slowly come down, breaths evening out a bit. John runs his hand through Rodney's heir and gently kisses his temple.
"Best ten seconds of my life," Rodney mumbles eventually.
John chuckles. "I think it was a bit more than that, but not much," he says.
Rodney lifts his head to look at him. "But good?" he asks.
"Amazing," John says.
Rodney smiles and hums in agreement, kissing John's neck and running his hand down his arm. "How long do you think it will take until we can engage again?"
"No idea. You did all the research," John says. He doesn't feel all that different from the way he normally feels after they have sex. It almost doesn't feel like an engagement. Which is wonderful. "Did it feel different to you?"
"Different from what?" Rodney asks.
"Our other engagements. And when we have sex," John answers.
Rodney considers it for a moment. Eventually he says, "It feels like both. This...rush from the physical reaction, and the other kind of rush from being with you."
It is a rush, John thinks, but the real rush is about having sex with Rodney. But then what he associates most with engaging—or used to associate with it—is loss of control, and guilt over enjoying something that he doesn't want to enjoy. And that didn't happen this time because he is in control, and his inability to disassociate engaging from sex from relationships isn't a problem either when he does it with Rodney.
Rodney watches John. He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Do you think we could try to...fuck for the second time?" he asks.
John likes the idea a lot. Every bit of skin contact just heightens the experience of their engagement. To actually feel Rodney inside of him would be mind-blowing. However there are other considerations. "I'd love to, but I don't think we'll be in the mental space for prep."
"We could do that now, though, while we wait for the compatibility to kick back in," Rodney suggests. He's already leaning over to get out the lube.
"Okay," John says, spreading his legs wider. "But hurry up. I don't want you to start humping my leg with your fingers up my ass."
Rodney snorts. "Yeah. Another time maybe, though." He lathers lube onto his fingers.
John shakes his head. Rodney can be so weird. John's thoughts focus on Rodney's hands when he rubs around his hole before pushing a finger in. He's doing it more quickly than usual, stretching John without trying to arouse him. Their compatibility will take care of that the moment it deems their bodies fit for it again.
Even if Rodney's not trying to arouse him, John still enjoys feeling him inside. He's not getting hard again, such a short time after coming, but he likes the pleasant buzz running through his body. It's like his body knows that this is Rodney, his compatible, the man he loves, and just waiting for the next time they will come together again.
After a few minutes, John is stretched enough to be able to take Rodney. "How long do you think it will take?" he asks.
"It depends on too many factors to make a guess," Rodney says, keeping his fingers in John's ass, continuing to stretch him.
"What's the average? Don't tell me you haven't come across some studies with actual numbers?"
Rodney gives him a look. "The time ranges from negligible to several hours," he starts recounting. "The average is a bit over twenty minutes for the first. Age can be a factor, though even old people can have an engagement recuperation rate of only minutes and some teenagers have hours, so it doesn't have to mean anything. Factors that can contribute are sleep, general level of fitness, time of day, medication obviously, environmental factors—"
"Okay, I think you can stop," John says. "And I think I'm stretched enough," he adds, because Rodney having his finger in John's ass while summarizing medical studies is just too weird.
"I want to be able to slide ride in," Rodney says, scissoring his fingers.
"You could lube up your dick," John points out.
"Yeah, I should," Rodney says, removing his fingers. He squirts a generous amount of lube on his hand and rubs it over his soft dick. "The studies I read don't go into much detail of what it feels like when the physical reaction comes back."
"You mean whether it's instantaneous or gradual?" John asks.
"I think it was implied that it goes fast, but I'm not sure if they mean fifteen seconds or so or if it's really," Rodney snaps his fingers, though the lube lessens the effect.
"We'll see soon enough," John says, pulling on Rodney's arm to get him to lie in bed with him again.
They kiss, deeply, languidly. John could never before do this with Rodney during his cycle. He still doesn't know if he'll want to do the full sex cycling thing again, but a quick engagement and then cuddling before they fall asleep will be a welcome change to having to sleep alone. He wonders what waking up will be like.
Rodney's fingers run down John's body, though the movements are getting a bit erratic—less of a gentle stroke and more nervous tapping. John catches Rodney's gaze falling onto the clock on his nightstand.
"It'll happen soon enough," John says, turning Rodney's face to look at him again.
"I know," Rodney says. "I just...I never had the chance to experience this." And John knows how long he wanted to. "I love being with you," Rodney continues, taking John's hand and kissing the tips of his fingers. "Always. But this...I just want to know what it's like. At least once."
John cups his face with one hand. He's grateful for Rodney's re-assurance that they don't have to do this again if John doesn't want to. Knowing that makes all the difference for John. "I don't think I would have dared to try this with anyone else," he admits.
Rodney smiles at him. He leans his head on John's chest and cuddles into John's arms while they wait for the next engagement.
When it happens, it's as instantaneous as their first touch was. Rodney's body jerks, his dick hardening against John in seconds. John feels a shudder running through his whole body, then searches Rodney's mouth with his again and spreads his legs.
Rodney scrambles to kiss John and at the same time move until his cock is at John's entrance. He shoves his fingers into John one last time, making John lift his hips and moan.
"Hold still. Let me—" Rodney pants between kisses and then he pushes into John roughly, not stopping until he's fully inside.
They both groan, and Rodney starts to withdraw only to slam back in. Again and again, he thrusts in so hard that John can only hold on for dear life.
"John, I'm going to—" Rodney tries to get a hand free to be able to jerk John off, while still keeping up his brutal pace, but the lack of balance pushes him deep into John, and John starts spurting come as he climaxes.
Rodney's following right over, body spasming as he comes inside John, before collapsing on him. John rolls them around onto their sides and Rodney slips out, still clinging to John.
"That was definitely longer than ten seconds," John comments. He feels exhausted already. He's not sure how long he'll be able to keep doing this. Not that it wasn't great. John always loves it when Rodney does things that make him hard even though he's come already—even if it's only touching in this case.
"Do you want to stop?" Rodney asks.
"No," John says. "Let's give it the full test run. So that we can make an informed decision about the next time."
Rodney nods. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
John shakes his head. "I'll probably feel it tomorrow, but that's not exactly a bad thing."
"It's your turn," Rodney says, fishing for the tube of lube. When he finds it, he hands it to John and rolls onto his stomach, lifting his ass just a bit.
Under normal circumstances this would be enough to make his dick stir, but after two orgasms, it's out for the count. He prepares Rodney but takes his time. He hasn't really kept track of the time, but he's sure that the recuperation time will be longer after the second engagement, and they had enough time for a full preparation the first time around.
Rodney sighs happily. He's completely relaxed. His eyes are closed. John envies him a bit. "I notice I have to do all the work here," he says.
"I prepped you before," Rodney points out, though it comes out as a bit of a slur.
"That was after only one engagement," John says, pushing his finger further in and looking for Rodney's prostate.
"Oh God," Rodney says.
John pulls on one side of his hip, to reach around for his still soft cock. "You're not getting hard again."
"I'm not sure if even the cycling can manage that at this point," Rodney mumbles.
"It will," John says. They both know it.
Rodney might have possibly drifted off at some point. His eyes have closed, and he's smiling lazily in post-engagement bliss and apparently enjoying John's hands on him. John watches him fondly even as he prepares him, when suddenly their genetic reaction to each other kicks in again, ringing in their next engagement. Rodney's eyes open wide. "Oh fuck," Rodney says, squirming on the bed.
John shares the sentiment. He removes his fingers as he can literally watch his cock thickening and lengthening as it grows to full hardness for the third time in less than two hours. He quickly applies lube to his cock and pushes into Rodney. He's not as fast as Rodney was when he fucked him, but it's still intense.
Once fully inside, John rests his forehead against Rodney's neck.
"Have you fallen asleep?" Rodney asks. John gives him a quick thrust as answer. "Just checking," Rodney says, pushing back at him.
They start to move, though hard and fast is out of the question for John. His body feels tired, but at the same time there's this irresistible pull to just let go and fuck Rodney into next week.
He pushes into Rodney, kissing his back and shoulders.
"Harder, please," Rodney whimpers.
John takes a deep breath, then pulls out and pushes in again with all the force he can muster.
"Yes!" Rodney encourages him. "More."
John has a hard time denying Rodney anything when he's like this. He pushes himself up and really starts to fuck Rodney. Rodney groans moving back in the same rhythm as John.
John pistons into him, trying to give Rodney what he needs. He can feel Rodney shudder every time he hits his prostate. His ass is so high in the air that John knows he's not getting any friction on his cock. He keeps pushing back at John, squeezing his ass around John's cock.
"Rodney," John moans. He tries to reach around, but Rodney slaps his hand away.
"Just fuck me!" he orders, voice rough.
And John complies. He slams into Rodney at the angle that makes incoherent noises spill from his throat and makes his body jerk. Again and again, fearing with every thrust that it might push him over the edge. "Rodney, I—" Rodney pushes back hard, and John shoves into him uncontrollably, "Come! Please. I need—"
And then finally Rodney shouts out, freezing mid-thrust and shooting come in a few quick spurts, allowing John to let go and climax as well, filling Rodney's ass with his come.
John only vaguely recalls the fourth and fifth engagement that night. For the fourth they rub against each other, Rodney just pushing his cock between John's thighs, because they can't summon the energy for more. For the fifth time, John rolls on top of Rodney and they hump each other until John slips a bit into Rodney and roughly jerks him until they both come.
They're out for the count after that. Somehow they manage to get to the bathroom and pee, but then they collapse on the bed together and fall asleep, not caring about the mix of come, lube, and sweat on the sheets and their skin.
Rodney is still asleep when John wakes up.
John doesn't know if they engaged during the night. It's not as if he could tell, given the state of their sheets and bodies. But he does feel as if there is a special connection between them. He has an arm wrapped around Rodney and is pressed against his back, but he doesn't feel the rush of another engagement.
It's a bit strange, and for a moment John wonders if their repeated engagements might have cut his cycle short. But he still feels that buzz in his skin, though it doesn't seem as pronounced as it usually is. Or maybe it's more that its focus is more on Rodney, and mixed in with the feelings that he always has when he's with him.
Last night was...spectacular. He's never experienced anything like it in his life. But at the same time, he doesn't think he needs to repeat this any time soon. Engaging Rodney allowed him to push the limits of what's physically possible for them, but it was still sex with Rodney first and foremost. It didn't feel like an engagement, and John is glad about that.
He's no longer afraid now that this will be some mythical act for them that will make their everyday life pale in comparison. It's just another way to have sex with Rodney. Not better or worse than when cuddling on the couch spirals out of control, or morning sex in bed, or sex in the shower, or normal "I'm horny, how about you?" sex.
It's just sex that makes both of them instantly hard at the first touch. Except now. John snuggles into Rodney, trying not to wonder about his lack of reaction. He feels Rodney stir in his arms, and then the reaction kicks in and crashes into his body.
Rodney wakes up feeling the force of the engagement in his body and in John's. John hardens against him, cock pressing against Rodney's ass. "I...oh...lube," Rodney manages to say.
John gives a shaky laugh, then moves one hand away, which finds its way to Rodney's ass, pushing inside. Rodney rolls onto his stomach, hissing at the friction against his dick. He doesn't want to come before John's inside him.
"Still loose," he says, panting.
John quickly presses two fingers in and pulls out again, only to push back in after a moment with his cock.
Oh god, yes. Rodney feels a bit sore from last night, but he really needs John to fuck him right now. And thankfully John seems to agree. He moves them half onto their sides and starts to push into Rodney, making Rodney's dick press into the sheets.
John manages to hit his prostate after only a few tries and the double sensation of John fucking him and the sheet against his cock makes Rodney come not long after. John keeps thrusting into him for a bit longer until he comes too, slipping out of Rodney and sinking onto the bed behind him.
"Good morning," he mumbles into Rodney's back.
Rodney snorts. "You could say that." He turns around to put his arms around John. "What a way to wake up. We might want to plan ahead for that during your cycle." Then it occurs to him that John hasn't said either way if he wants to continue this or would prefer that they go back to how they handled his cycle up until now. "If necessary," he adds.
John bites his lip, looking thoughtful. Which is probably a bad sign. Rodney tries to give him some space, but John puts his arm around Rodney to keep him close. "I enjoyed last night—and this morning," John says.
"But..." Rodney prompts, because he knows there's more than that.
"I don't think I want to do this all the time," John finishes.
"What does that mean?" Rodney asks.
John frowns. "What do you mean? I thought, you'd be okay—"
"I am," Rodney quickly reassures him. "Sorry. I meant, what exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean we'll go back to the way things were—which is fine by me—but once a year or so, we have a little cycle sex marathon, or—"
"No, no," John quickly says. "We won't go back to the way things were," he adds emphatically. Which is a relief to Rodney. "You're not sleeping in the guest room again if I can help it," John says, pulling him close.
"Old romantic," Rodney teases him.
"I try," John says, kissing him.
"So what is it that we won't do all the time and what is all the time?" Rodney asks, when they move apart again.
"Last night was great," John says, "but...it was just sex."
"It was five times just sex," Rodney points out.
John looks at him indulgently. "Yes, but it wasn't...it wasn't better than the sex we usually have." After a moment, he adds seriously, "At least it wasn't for me."
Rodney hears the implied question. Was it better for him? It was like nothing they've done before. Instant erections. Five orgasms in a night. But that's not what John is asking. Was the sex better? The first time was just a rush, the kind of sex that they sometimes have after John's cycle is over or when he's been on a longer mission. The second and especially the third were intense. But they've had intense sex before. The kind where he feels just an overwhelming need to become one with John. The fourth and the fifth were the kind that they have when they goof around and things turn sexual or that one time when Rodney walked in on John masturbating and it was not during his cycle. Clumsy, uncoordinated, but still very good. "No," Rodney says, understanding what John means. "It wasn't better than our 'normal' sex."
John smiles relieved. "Don't get me wrong. Getting it up again and again and again just by touching you is very nice, but there's only so much my body can take, and I just can't see myself doing this if I have to go to work the next day."
"Of course not," Rodney agrees. "Believe me, I'm really glad we waited until yesterday. Sitting is not going to be fun today."
"You're okay, though?" John asks, trailing his hand down Rodney's back to his ass.
"Yes, yes, just a bit sore. Don't tell me you aren't, too."
"So we're okay, here?" John asks.
"You mean we'll have sex during your cycle if we feel like it, but not more than one engagement or maybe two at a time?" Rodney asks.
"Depending on how we feel, yeah," John confirms.
"And sleeping? I don't think we'll be able to share a bed without engaging—or at least the chance of engaging—before we fall asleep and after we wake up," Rodney says.
"That sounds fine with me. The recuperation time should give us long enough to fall asleep and we'll just have to get up earlier. Or, you know, whoever wakes up first has to get out of bed. I noticed it didn't kick in until you woke up," John says.
"Oh? That's...yes, I suppose we could do that, though there's always the chance that we wake up at the same time. And as I said, I didn't really mind," Rodney says. And if his ass wasn't so sore, he'd mind even less.
John smiles widely. "It's a plan then," he says, kissing Rodney again.
"What does the plan say about another engagement this morning?" Rodney asks. "I'm not sure how long it's been since we woke up."
"Right," John says, kissing Rodney once more before moving to the far side of his bed out of Rodney's reach. "We'll have to see what to do about kissing during my cycle."
"Lots of laundry or we have to move to naked kissing," Rodney says.
John laughs. "We'll take it on a case by case basis," he says, rolling out of bed.
"And speaking of laundry. No amount of airing out and wiping with wet rags will save this sheet," Rodney comments, looking at the mess they made. "We're not having another engagement marathon this cycle, right?"
"I think it's safe to do laundry," John agrees. "Though we might want to look into using towels or something," he says walking off into their bathroom.
Rodney watches his lovely backside disappear. As John starts the shower, Rodney gets out of bed and strips off the sheets.
Engaging before going to bed and after waking up works out quite well. So does engaging to be able to kiss and cuddle and just touch for a bit. They store boxes of tissues all over the house for the purpose and while kissing with their dicks hanging out of their pants looks kind of ridiculous, they just don't want to keep changing clothes.
When John's first cycle after they decided to engage comes to an end, he's still relieved. Simply brushing his fingers against Rodney's—without having to engage him first—is as wonderful as it used to be after his cycle. And the sex that they have two days later, slow, gentle, unrushed sex, is actually wonderful.
All in all, the solution they've found to work around their situation seems pretty perfect to him.
During John's third cycle after they engaged, John sends a birthday card to his father. Even though he hasn't talked to him for years now, he still sends a card every year.
What's different this year, however, is that John gets an answer.
"Sheppard," he answers the phone.
"John," his father's voice comes through the line.
John doesn't know what to say. He hasn't expected to hear from him. "Hi, Dad," he eventually manages.
"I see that you've moved. Did you buy the house?" his father asks.
"I...yes, I bought it together with...Rodney." John realizes that his father doesn't even know about Rodney. Or that John identifies as gay now. The last times he'd visited, they'd fought so much about John's refusal to engage that the chance to talk about that hadn't even come up. Not that John thinks he would have reacted so much better—his father had always been determined to push him towards women during his cycle.
His father is silent for a moment. "Is he your...partner?"
"Yes," John says.
"How long have you been together?"
"One and a half years," John says. And that's not counting the time they were friends, which is really a part of their relationship. It would be three years if he counted that too.
John's father is silent again. "Maybe you could bring him home for a visit some time," he says carefully.
It hasn't been my home for a long time, John thinks bitterly, but doesn't say it. His father is reaching out to him. John doesn't know if he's changed, if he'll be able to accept John's decision now, but frankly, accepting Rodney as his partner is a good start. And despite everything, he doesn't hate his father. "Maybe," John agrees.
Rodney's not sure if visiting John's father is a good idea. From what he's heard from John, his father is a pushy cycler of the worst kind. Just the idea of the kind of man he is goes against much of what Rodney believes and everything his mother believes.
John and he have never talked about making their relationship official in any way.
They could get married. The right of cyclers to marry their same-sex compatibles was the first barricade to fall in terms of same-sex marriage. It's still illegal for non-compatibles in most states, though. Rodney wonders about the right-wing fundamentalists who somehow manage to consider homosexuality the devil's work, while seeing compatibility as one of God's great gifts. In the case of same-sex compatibles most have fallen into just considering it one of God's mysterious ways, deciding to gift sinners with his blessing. But then these are people that believe that God created humans out of the box six thousand years ago.
Anyway, they could get married. And that would mean that Evelyn Henderson, poster child for rebellious compatibles fighting back against their cycler oppressors, would meet Patrick Sheppard, poster child for exactly the kind of oppression she fights against.
Rodney gets a headache just thinking about it. He's glad his mother has mostly come to terms with her only son's relationship with a compatible cycler. She even likes John.
It took her a while to let John even shake her hand, but at this point she lets him into her home during his cycle—which Rodney would have said was impossible if anyone had asked him two years ago.
But of course, John is the most anti-cycling kind of cycler that you're likely to find. He and Rodney's mother agree about all the important issues around compatibility and engagements, namely that it's forced on people against their will, and that the world would be a better place if everyone had a choice about it.
Rodney's never met John's father, but he's heard enough to know that they won't see eye to eye on this, not to mention that everyone who makes John feel worthless immediately goes on Rodney's shit list. But if John wants to take the chance to reconcile with his family, Rodney doesn't want to stand in his way.
The fact that John's father seems accepting of their relationship doesn't ease Rodney's mind—quite the contrary. First of all, he doesn't trust that this is actual acceptance rather than grudgingly saying something just so John wouldn't hang up on him immediately. Second of all, this is the man who kept trying to get his son to engage with any woman in the vicinity during his cycle. And if homophobia had no part in that, John wouldn't have felt the need to point out his father was—apparently—accepting of his son's same-sex partner now.
He tries not to go into this with his mind made up. He's aware that growing up in his mother's household and only knowing about Patrick from John makes him pre-disposed to dislike, but he's willing to give him a chance, at least a small one.
Though his gut instinct tells him that they'll see that Patrick Sheppard is only trying to hide his discomfort in an effort to regain his son's love.
John isn't sure what to expect when they fly to Maryland. As much as he hopes his father has changed, he's still skeptical about it being a true change of heart, instead of just trying to make amends. John also knows that Rodney is not so much skeptical as convinced that John's father invited them under false pretenses.
It's Patrick Sheppard himself who opens the door when they arrive. "John," his father says, smiling at him.
It's a charming, open smile, but then his father is a charming man. He opens the door to let John and Rodney in.
"I'm Patrick Sheppard," his father tells Rodney, still smiling. "And you must be Rodney McKay."
"Dr. Rodney McKay, yes," Rodney says stiffly. They don't shake hands.
John can feel the discomfort Rodney's telegraphing. He's just not sure what to do about it.
"John." Dave's voice comes from the top of the stairs, where he stands with his wife Charlie and what must be their little daughter.
Susan was born during John's last deployment to Afghanistan. John sent back a letter to congratulate them and a little gift for Susan, but since he hasn't visited his family's home for years, he's never seen her.
They make their way down the stairs. Susan crawls down feet first, while her parents hover, making sure she doesn't fall.
John looks at his father, who's smiling proudly.
"She's not even two, but very smart," John's father says. "I bet she'll be a cycler."
John wants to hide his face in his hands. He looks over at Rodney, who gives him an "I told you so" look. To John's father, Rodney says, "You're aware that statistically, that's unlikely."
"Yes," Patrick says, "but then so is having two sons with compatible partners." His pride is bordering on glee.
John however is more shocked that he knows. He didn't tell his father anything about Rodney, and given John's resistance to risk any kind of engagement, it's not an obvious assumption to make.
Rodney seems surprised as well. "How did you know?" he asks.
"John said you've bought a house together, and as far as I know, he's still in the Air Force," Patrick explains.
He couldn't have been sure about the latter, but it would be useless to point out that he could have been wrong. He isn't.
Susan has made her way down the stairs and is looking up at him, not shy at all. He kneels down to greet her. "Hi, Susan. I'm your Uncle John."
"Uncle John," she says brightly.
John smiles at her. Then he stands up again. "Dave. Charlie." He nods at them. "This is my...partner, Rodney McKay," he says, putting an arm on Rodney's back.
Rodney dutifully nods at them.
"Let's go sit down and hear what you've been up to since you've last visited us," Patrick announces. As if John hadn't been kicked out the last time.
They walk towards the living room, when Cynthia comes in and picks up Susan. John brightens when he sees her. He's about to say hello, when she only says, "Later," and disappears with Susan.
Rodney is slightly creeped out by John's family. His father acts as if John had just been too busy to visit in the last years, and Dave and his wife play along the charade—but then again, so does Rodney.
It's all very polite, and Rodney's only waiting for five o'clock tea to be served.
"How did you two meet?" Patrick asks.
Rodney looks at John, whose face gives away how little he likes this question, even though it's not exactly unexpected.
After a long moment, John says, "I engaged Rodney in the mall."
Patrick's face practically lights up when he hears it. "I knew it, son. I told you if you just let it happen—"
"It was an accident," John says sharply. "And I'm still not engaging anyone during my cycle. Gloves and all," he adds defiantly.
Patrick looks irritated. "But surely you engage Rodney?" he asks.
John looks pained. If he doesn't want to admit this to his father, Rodney is willing to lie for him. "We have a guest room where I can sleep during John's cycle," Rodney says, which isn't even a lie.
John gives him a quick, grateful smile but corrects Rodney. "I do engage Rodney during my cycle. Only Rodney."
Patrick nods. "You've always seen engagements as something private." He's clearly puzzled by that way of thinking. "I'm just glad you've found someone to engage on your terms," he adds and looks at Rodney.
Rodney senses...he senses genuine gratitude in John's father's eyes. Maybe, just maybe, he doesn't have to hate Patrick Sheppard. He knows how hard it is to see beyond your own narrow way of thinking. He's had enough fights with his mother. It's okay to disagree, as long as it doesn't turn into judgment. "Does this mean you accept that John won't engage anyone?" Rodney asks point-blank. "If he shows up at your next party, gloved, would that be okay with you?"
Patrick is obviously not happy about the prospect. But he still says, "If this is what John wishes, there's nothing I can do about it."
Rodney doesn't mention that he could kick John out again. He's still not sure if Patrick has genuinely changed his mind. But for now he's willing to take his word for it. For John's sake.
John is relieved when Charlie asks about what Rodney's doing and the conversation is steered to safer topics.
He's grateful that Rodney asked the question that he didn't want to ask himself. And he's surprised and pleased by his father's answers.
Of course, his father isn't happy with John. He'd want his son to embrace his cycling and the engagements that come with it. But for the first time it seems that his father is willing to accept John's feelings about cycling.
John isn't sure he can trust it, but he's seen his father smile at Rodney and sees him listening with interest as Rodney explains what he's doing without delving into anything classified. There's nothing in his demeanor that makes John feel that he's less accepting of Rodney than of Charlie, which is astounding.
He guesses that a lot of it is the fact that Rodney is compatible to him—and it does make him feel slightly uncomfortable that if they weren't, his father would probably look down on their relationship. But that's all speculation and he can't in good conscience blame his father for something he hasn't done.
As it is, his father hasn't treated Rodney any worse—if not better—than Evelyn has treated him when they first met, and for now John wants to cling to the hope that it will end as it has with Evelyn, where initial reservations—to put it mildly—were in time replaced by mutual respect and even a certain degree of fondness.
John sneaks away when dinner is announced to quickly say hello to Cynthia, and finds her playing with Susan. They both look quite happy. Still, John can't forget what it must have been like for her. "Does Dave know?" he asks.
Cynthia drops her gaze for a moment before looking up at him again, smiling bravely. "It's perfect the way it is," she says, looking at her grand-daughter.
John disagrees. Cynthia deserves better. But it's not his decision to make.
"You seem very happy with Rodney," Cynthia tells him, her smile fond now.
"I am," John admits. "It took me a long time," he adds. "But it's never too late."
Cynthia seems to get the hint. "Some things are better left unsaid."
John sighs inwardly. Maybe if he visits more often, he can convince her to tell the truth.
For now he says goodbye and goes downstairs to join the others for dinner.
"Your father isn't like I expected," Rodney says when they leave.
John smiles. His father wasn't really like John expected either. "Your natural charm must have won him over." Rodney gives him a look. "Or he's so happy both of his sons are with compatibles that he's willing to overlook the fact that you're a guy."
"And I still don't get the logic of that. But then I don't really get the importance of what's essentially a random genetic occurrence. It's not even like it does anything special."
It's John turn to give Rodney a look. He can't believe that he's hearing this from the guy who's waited all his adult life to meet someone with that "random genetic occurrence".
"Okay," Rodney concedes. "It's nice. But in terms of the bigger picture, it has no meaning. If we'd met at the SGC, we still could have fallen in love, bought a house together and all that."
"Actually, we couldn't have, while I'm working for the US military," John reminds him.
"I meant in terms of our relationship. If you'd given up your job or if we'd decided to hide our relationship. You know what I mean," Rodney says.
"Yes, I do," John says, though it's sometimes hard not to think about the many ways in which their compatibility has influenced their life in small but also major ways.
"And it's not as if Charlie or I would be any less suitable for his precious cycler sons if we weren't compatible," Rodney continues.
"My father wasn't compatible to my mother," John suddenly says, because he feels it's important that Rodney knows.
Rodney looks at him. "That's good to hear. I'm glad he seems to realize that compatibility isn't all there is to a relationship."
At least the genetic one, John thinks.
After that first relatively successful visit to John's family, they go there again the next month, for Susan's second birthday.
Patrick is still friendly towards Rodney, and Rodney finds himself acting in kind. He still feels John's father likes him for the wrong reasons, but he can't be sure. John has never held Evelyn's attitude towards cyclers against her, and it wouldn't be fair of Rodney to do it.
There's a big party, which seems to be the general way any occasion is celebrated in the Sheppard household. It's also John's cycle, which gives Patrick the opportunity to show how accepting he really is of John's decision not to engage anyone but Rodney.
He handles it...as well as you can expect from someone who's uncomfortable with the idea. He's clearly embarrassed that John is wearing gloves. But he doesn't ask John to take them off, and John seems as relaxed as he can be in the presence of strangers during his cycle.
Rodney isn't sure if the guests are more surprised because John is there, because he's wearing gloves with Patrick's approval, or because he's with Rodney. Nobody says anything, though.
It's probably a great party by objective standards, but Rodney is kind of bored, and John keeps disappearing or talking to his old nanny. So Rodney goes to get another cocktail, reminding the bartender that he's still allergic to citrus in case he forgot from the last three times he told him. The bartender only smiles politely at him.
Rodney disappears behind the catering tent to get a view of the clear night sky without being disturbed, only to find that one of the servers has sneaked there too for a smoke.
"I'm sorry, sir," the young man says.
Rodney waves him off. "If you don't tell on me, I won't tell on you."
The young man snorts. "You want a cigarette?"
"No, thanks." Rodney bites down a remark about being perfectly happy not to put cancer on the list of probable ways to die. He wanted a moment of peace after all. The cocktail is superb and Rodney finishes it, looking at the constellations in the sky and the planets out there, some of which John has visited.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the young man putting the cigarette out. "Thanks," the man says. "Should I take your glass?"
Rodney looks at the empty glass in his hand and holds it out for the man to take. The man moves his fingers around the glass, brushing Rodney's fingers in the process, and a wave of lust overcomes Rodney.
He drops the glass as the young man pushes him against the back of the tent, grabbing his hand and his neck. Rodney moans involuntarily, as his dick hardens in instant genetic reaction. The guy moves forward to kiss Rodney, and it's like lightning strikes Rodney. This is wrong. It feels, good, so very good, but it's not John and...god, John.
He pushes the man away as hard as he can, but it doesn't stop the hold he has on Rodney. The guy looks confused for a moment, and Rodney knows that if he doesn't care, if he just goes ahead and keeps touching Rodney, Rodney won't be able to stop him.
But the guy pushes himself away from Rodney. "Sorry," he mumbles.
"I...yeah, sorry," Rodney says, still panting.
The guy picks up the glass and disappears.
Rodney lets out a deep breath. He can't believe what just happened. He was just engaged. Well, he was, but didn't...fuck, he doesn't even know at which point you can call it an engagement. He's never had to think about that. He's never not wanted it.
He's never felt this with someone who wasn't John. The thought of John sends shivers down his spine. He can't even begin to imagine what John will think of this. For John, engagements are sex. That's always been the reason why he couldn't see it as something random that just happened, but rather as something that was forced on him.
And for Rodney to be engaged by someone has to be like cheating for John. Fuck. Rodney's never known how blessed he was with his rare genetic make-up until now. He doesn't want this to stand between him and John. He didn't do it on purpose, and John will know that, but knowing and feeling are two entirely different things, and Rodney knows that John will feel betrayed.
Unless he doesn't tell him. Nobody has seen them, and he doesn't think the server will go around telling people about an aborted engagement during his unsanctioned cigarette break. It would be easier on John if he didn't know.
This is as far as Rodney thinks. Because the truth is, he can't keep any secrets from John. He doesn't want to keep any secrets from him. Even if he knows it'll hurt John, he'll have to tell him.
John steps back into the garden, where the party is still in full swing. People might wonder about his extended bathroom breaks, but it's the best excuse not to talk to people whose fake pleasantries grate on him.
He feels bad about neglecting Rodney, though. Rodney has an easier time talking to people—possibly because he doesn't feel as pressured to be polite—but he's probably not really having fun either. Maybe they can excuse themselves and head to bed early for an engagement or two.
John tries not to think about the fact that his father probably wouldn't mind.
He walks around the garden and finally spots Rodney at the buffet. "Hey," John says, smiling. "How are you doing?"
Rodney jumps, then turns around to John. He looks around, before focusing on John. "I'm, uh, good. Why are you asking?"
John's smile fades. Something is up with Rodney. "Did my father say something to you?"
"No, no. Why would he?" Rodney says. He keeps averting his eyes.
"Rodney?" John asks.
Rodney finally really looks at John. John doesn't know what he sees in his eyes, but he doesn't like it. "Maybe we should go inside," Rodney suggests.
John only nods and follows him to their room.
"What's going on?" John asks, worried. He removes his gloves and puts them on the nightstand, turning on the lamp there.
Rodney stares at John's hands. "I've been engaged," Rodney says, his eyes still on John's hands.
John doesn't get what he's saying at first. They've last engaged this morning after waking up. Then he realizes that Rodney is not talking about that. It's as if his heart plummets to the ground.
Rodney's been engaged by someone else.
John looks away, trying to be rational about this. Just because it took Rodney over twenty years to be engaged for the first time never meant it wouldn't ever happen again. The likelihood that John is the only cycler he's compatible to is practically non-existent. It's not as if Rodney went out of his way to be engaged by someone else. "Okay," John says.
Rodney's eyes snap up to his. "Okay?"
"It's not...it's not like you can choose who you're compatible to," John says, forcing a smile to his face. "It's a natural reaction."
Rodney stares at him. He doesn't say anything, which is quite unusual.
"I was thinking we could engage, but maybe you'd rather not. You'll probably want to head into the shower."
"I didn't come," Rodney says. "I pushed him away when he...tried to kiss me."
John is incredibly relieved by that. He manages not to sigh out loud. He doesn't want Rodney to feel guilty about this. Unlike John, he has no way of preventing it, apart from never touching human skin again without prior knowledge of their cycling status. "I'm glad that worked," he says, trying to sound neutral.
"I don't want to be engaged by anyone but you," Rodney says quietly.
John knows the feeling. "And I don't want to engage anyone but you." He's glad to know that Rodney feels the same. He's suspected as much. But at the same time they both know that it's not really in their control. "We've been lucky so far," he adds, trying to be positive.
But the corners of Rodney's mouth seem to dip only further down. "It could happen again," he says miserably.
"Yes," John concedes, stepping closer to Rodney. "But it'll be just a quick... It won't be what we do, even if you can't stop it." He tries not to imagine it, to picture Rodney in throws of ecstasy in another person's arms. It would only make it harder to see the difference to the sex they're having.
"I'll do my best to fight it," Rodney says, moving his chin up.
"It's okay, Rodney," John says, standing right in front of Rodney. "I know it's hard. It's impossible if the other person doesn't want to stop. It's okay. It'll be okay," he reassures Rodney, lifting his hands to Rodney's face but not yet touching.
Rodney watches him with big eyes, then moves his face into John's hands.
The force of the engagement slams into Rodney, and he welcomes it.
John pulls his face into a kiss, which he eagerly returns. They scramble onto the bed, pushing at clothes, looking for skin to touch. Rodney is overwhelmed by lust, but also by the rightness of doing this with John.
They push against each other, kissing, touching. "I love you," Rodney pants between kisses, clasping his fingers with John's as they approach their climax.
"Love you too," John answers, kissing him again, kissing, kissing until they reach completion together.
Rodney collapses into John's arms, holding onto him and burying his face between John's shoulder and neck. John strokes his back.
"Shh, it's okay," he whispers gently into Rodney's hair.
Rodney wants to say that it isn't. He's not surprised that John tries to be understanding. And it's a good thing, in theory. But Rodney knows John can't really be okay with this. And it pisses him off that John always has to be so noble about these kinds of things.
He rolls off of John and starts to remove his clothes. John does the same. "Are you okay?" John asks when they slip under the covers.
Rodney settles on his side to face John. "It felt good—for a moment," he says. He knows that John doesn't want to hear it. And he finally wants John to admit that.
"You mean with..." John says, also lying on his side, watching Rodney.
"It was a server. I don't know his name," Rodney says.
"I told you it's okay," John repeats.
"I got instantly hard," Rodney continues.
John looks away. "You didn't have to push him away," he says. "If you want..."
This isn't at all what Rodney wants. "I wish you'd admit that you don't want me to engage with others," Rodney finally says, because he doesn't think John will get it otherwise.
John opens his eyes. "Of course, I don't want it. The guy can be glad I wasn't there. I would have pulled him off you so fast you might not even have gotten hard."
"I might have been able to keep from punching him in the face, too, but I'm not sure," John goes on.
"I want to do the right thing, but in all honestly, I don't know how I'd deal if you were compatible to a lot of cyclers."
"You'd keep me locked up all the time?" Rodney asks. He'd hate John if he did, but at the same time he wants John to want it.
"I'd want to," John admits grudgingly, and Rodney smiles, wondering how he could have gotten so lucky.
He takes John's hand in his and kisses it, thinking again that their compatibility is so much more that their genetics. He might be able to be engaged by others, but there's nobody in the world he's compatible to the way he is to John.
The decision to go to Atlantis is surprisingly easy for John.
It's the chance of a lifetime. Rodney is eager about exploring the city of the Ancients. John apparently has an exceptionally strong Ancient gene. And they can go there together.
The only thing John regrets is leaving behind his family and his team. He hopes they'll be able to find their way back, of course, so he'll be able to see his family again. And as for his team: he understands and respects their decision. They have wives or girlfriends on Earth, one of them has children. He wouldn't expect them to go on a mission from which they might never return.
His team throws a big party for them before they go. They also visit Jeannie and Evelyn, of course. Evelyn pulls John into a full body-hug before they go, something which she's never done before. John's family is equally sad and worried, but his father refrains from telling him not to do it. John is grateful for that, because it's not like he can actually tell him why they want to do this.
Rodney is as nervous as he's eager, and John does his best to calm him down with a long evening of sex the night before they leave. It works quite well.
Then the moment comes, and they step through the gate into the city of Atlantis.
John feels a bit like coming home, even if that new home looks like it could become their grave. Thankfully it doesn't come to that. Rodney realizes in time there's a failsafe mechanism that will raise the city to the surface.
They would have been able to escape to the planet of the Athosians, which Colonel Sumner scouted as a possible refuge. Had it come to that, he still would have had Rodney by his side, which is the most important thing to John, but he has to admit he's very glad when they fall into bed together in one of the few larger quarters they were able to find on Atlantis.
He doesn't always agree with Weir or Sumner, but they both respect him, and John gets to lead his own team. He chooses two marines whom he thinks will work well together as a team, and invites Teyla, the Athosian leader, to join them on first contact missions. Weir is willing to give this approach a chance, since Teyla's knowledge of the Pegasus Galaxy will give them at least a fighting chance of knowing what they get into when they step through the gate.
Meanwhile, Rodney is eagerly building up the science department and learning everything he can about the technology in Atlantis. Sometimes he even joins them on missions when it looks like they'll need a scientist. Sumner suggests he could pick a scientist as a permanent team member, but John has been working well with Teyla, Franklin, and Adams, and he wouldn't be able to choose Rodney, so he'd rather do the first contact with his team and bring Rodney on board if necessary.
He thinks it works pretty well.
Rodney hates to see John go through the gate without him. It makes him feel only marginally better that he knows John will ask him to join them if he thinks it's necessary, because far too often Rodney being there could have prevented John's team getting into trouble in the first place. But fraternization rules are what they are, so Rodney is glad that at least Sumner doesn't make a fuss when John asks for Rodney to join him.
Not only that, but after a few times in which Rodney saved their collective asses, Sumner asks Rodney to join his team. Rodney's not all that keen on going out on first contact missions, but he knows they need to be out there to find ZPMs, not to mention food and other necessities which won't last forever.
John isn't happy to see Rodney go out there on first contact missions. Rodney isn't too proud to tell him, "Now you know how I feel."
Their first year on Atlantis is all about survival. Thankfully, they manage to negotiate enough trade goods not to have to ration too badly. Rodney does miss his coffee, though, once it runs out. There's also smaller things.
They've become used to going through boxes of tissues during John's cycle, and even though they're more sparing with their touches during those days, they have to switch to washable handkerchiefs. Rodney creates his own lube along with sunscreen, so at least they don't have to worry about that—or ask Carson.
All in all, life is pretty good. Rodney misses Jeannie and his mother and a few of his colleagues from his lab at the SGC, but his job here is much more exciting, and he still has John, which makes just about anything bearable.
When a hive ship approaches them, close to the end of the first year on Atlantis, life suddenly loses the tranquility of a normal base and becomes more like one in a war zone. It's in the chaos of trying to make contact with Earth and finding a way to either avoid or counter the upcoming attack that Carson tells Rodney about a genetic therapy he's accidentally discovered and worked on in his spare time.
"What do you mean isolating the genetic code for cycling?" Rodney asks him.
"I believe I might be able to modify the genetic code. I should stress might. As you know, I've had other priorities. And I didn't plan on sending this out with your data burst," Carson says.
"When you say modify...do you mean you could recode it, say to change the compatibility of a person?" Rodney asks.
"I don't know yet. But yes, I might be able to do that. I know how John feels about engaging. That's why I wanted to tell you. You'll find all my research in my personal files. If I don't make it—"
"No, no, no. We're not talking about dying! It's way too soon for that. The databurst will work. And then Earth will send someone to help us," Rodney says. He needs to believe in the truth of his words. He loves Atlantis. But he doesn't want to die here.
"All right. You can think about what I told you. But as I said, I'm not certain yet it's even possible. If it is, though, I'll need a test subject," Carson said.
"I'll talk to John," Rodney says. "And just to be clear. You're saying it might be possible you can modify his genetic code to be only compatible to one person."
"If it works, I could make it so he's only compatible to you," Carson says, smiling at him.
"Thank you," Rodney says. He leaves Carson alone. He needs to think. And he needs to talk to John.
Rodney knows John will jump on this idea, so he'll have to make sure to be clear from the start it's not necessarily going to work out. After all, the ATA gene therapy only has a 48% success rate.
More than that, Rodney has a niggling feeling he's missing something. He finally realizes what it is when one of the scientists has a little meltdown and shouts, "What do we care anyway? In a few weeks we'll all be dead!"
Rodney leaves others to calm the man down. Instead, he goes into his own lab to think for a moment.
There's no doubt in Rodney's mind that what he and John have is for life. And even though they've never talked about it, he thinks it's the same for John. But even if they completely ignore the realities of life and that even the greatest relationships can sometimes fail, there's still the very real possibility that John, at some point in his life, may have a new partner, not because he doesn't love Rodney anymore, but because Rodney will be dead.
Death is, and has always been, a possibility, but back on Earth—even with the experiments he conducted and the very rare missions he went on—that possibility was negligible. Here on Atlantis, however, the danger of dying is real and frequent. There've been several moments over the last year, on Atlantis or off-world, where Rodney wasn't sure if he'd make it. Any of those could have ended differently and would have left John alone.
So while trying Carson's cycling therapy might give them what they want right now, it could also prevent John from ever being compatible to anyone else. Rodney's not sure if John would mind. Actually, he's relatively certain he'll say he doesn't care, because he only wants Rodney and Rodney won't die.
To be sure, Rodney asks Carson if the therapy could be performed again to make John compatible to someone else, should he wish. Carson doesn't want to say either way, and in the end tells him they should assume it might not be changeable again.
Which is exactly what Rodney feared.
John knows Rodney is stressed. They all are. But usually he manages to let go of that when they are alone. He shouts and rants a bit, sometimes goes on about the hopelessness of it all, until he feels better and can let John take care of him for a while.
Now however, Rodney seems to be nervous about something which he hasn't told John yet. And that makes John nervous as well. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asks. Which is probably a bad question, because if Rodney wanted it, he would have done it by now. "Let me rephrase that. I think you should talk about it."
Rodney is sitting at his desk and running some defense simulation. John lies in bed. Rodney doesn't react for a moment, but when he does, at least he doesn't pretend he doesn't know what John is talking about. "I need to tell you something, but I'm not sure how to start."
"You have a plan to destroy the hive, but it would involve sacrificing someone?" John guesses.
Rodney frowns. "No. Where do you even come up with such— Please, tell me you have no such plans. Specifically not ones that involve you sacrificing yourself."
"I wouldn't really call it a plan," John hedges. "But if all else fails, enough explosives can destroy just about anything if you only get them close enough."
Rodney stands up from the desk. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out for a moment. "You want to load up a puddlejumper with explosives and meet the hive?" he asks in a shrill tone.
"I don't want to do it. But if the choice is between that and losing Atlantis and everyone on it, then yes, I'll do it."
"No, you won't," Rodney says, crossing his arms.
"Rodney. I know how you feel," John says. He could still strangle Rodney for walking into that energy cloud. "But I know at the end of the day you'd do the same."
"Not if it doesn't have to be us!" Rodney says.
"You want me to send someone else to their death?" John asks.
"It would be enough to let them volunteer. It's not like you're the only one here who'd be willing to sacrifice themselves. Would I do it if I had to? Yes! But if there's a choice, then let someone do it who doesn't have a person who couldn't..." Rodney stops, looking away.
"You could live without me," John says quietly. It's not that he really wanted to think about this, but he couldn't not, given their circumstances.
"But I don't want to!" Rodney explodes. Then he deflates and shakes his head. "God, this is why I don't even need to ask you about gene therapy," he says more to himself than to John.
"I don't need gene therapy, and you already have it," John points out.
"Cycle therapy. Carson might have found a way to make you compatible only to me," Rodney says, sounding very tired.
John takes a moment to comprehend what he's saying. He's not sure he heard that right. Especially, because if he did, Rodney wouldn't have a reason to look so defeated. "But that's great, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes," Rodney says, still sounding anything but enthusiastic. "Though it's not a sure thing yet. Maybe he'll never get to test it or the test on you would fail."
"What is...what is the problem? Is it dangerous?" John asks, because he still doesn't understand why Rodney seems so pissed off about this.
"You'd be compatible to only me for the rest of your life," Rodney says.
John frowns. He doesn't know what Rodney's trying to say.
"Even after I'm dead," Rodney adds.
And now John gets it. "You think I'd care?" John asks. He doesn't even want to contemplate this. The fact of the matter is John doesn't think he'll care much about anything at all if he loses Rodney. And caring about being compatible to someone else?
"No, I know you wouldn't," Rodney says.
"You don't want me to do it out of concern for the guy I might be dating after you're dead?!" John shouts. He only just stops himself from adding, "Are you insane?"
"I didn't even think of the guy, but now that you mention it. What if he wants to be compatible to you? What if he would be if you hadn't done the therapy?" Rodney asks.
"What if there'll never be another guy, because you're not dying and we'll live together happily for the rest of our lives? Did that idea even cross your mind?" John asks. He doesn't want to fight with Rodney over something so bizarre. Though he's not even sure they're really fighting.
"It's what I want more than anything," Rodney says.
"Come here," John says and opens his arms.
Rodney sits down on the bed between John's legs and lets John fold him in his arms.
"I don't want to die," Rodney says.
"I know," John says quietly, leaning his head against Rodney's. "I don't want to die either."
"But it could happen," Rodney continues. "And I think you should consider this before you make a decision."
John wants to say there's nothing to consider. But Rodney seems upset enough to not give up, so he says, "Okay." If they don't survive the Wraith attack, this might be a moot discussion anyway.
They don't die. Not only that, but by the time the Daedalus arrives, they've managed to destroy the hive by themselves. Rodney's pride about that is only slightly dampened by the fact they lost the satellite in the process. But everyone survived and that's what matters.
The stressful time in which they prepared for the attack is followed by an even more stressful time of briefings. At least with a hive attack he was working day and night to literally save his own and everyone else's life. Now it's just repeating all the things Elizabeth and Sumner had already forced them to write down in detail in the mission reports.
There's one amazing thing though about the SGC arriving: They can finally go back to Earth.
The first weekend the SGC lets them off the hook, John and Rodney spend at home with as much Earth food as they are able to buy and enough entertainment to overwhelm their senses.
They're on leave after that, so Rodney finally calls his sister and mother. Jeannie comes over the same night for a quick visit and the next day they visit Evelyn.
She's incredibly relieved to see them both alive and well.
"Not a single letter and then the recorded video..." Evelyn sighs deeply. "Which by the way, did nothing to ease my worry."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Rodney says. "But I know how to take care of myself," he adds. Of course, it's not as simple as that, but they'll go back to Atlantis, and he doesn't want his mother to worry about him all the time.
"I know," Evelyn says. "And I knew John was with you." She looks at John. "Actually, considering that you are the soldier, I was almost more worried..." She trails off and presses John's hand briefly.
Rodney's face darkens. The idea of what they might have had to do if the satellite hadn't destroyed the hive is too fresh on his mind.
"He's okay, Meredith," his mother reminds him, cupping Rodney's face for a moment and smiling at him. "You both are."
"We were lucky," Rodney says, giving John a look that might have been a bit reproachful. He doesn't know what he would have done if John had strapped all explosives he could into a puddlejumper and faced the hive head-on.
"You saved us," John says, leaning closer and smiling at him.
Rodney harrumphs. They haven't really talked about this, and Rodney fears sooner or later another moment like this will come. And he knows John will do what he thinks is right.
"I'm just glad you're both fine," Evelyn says. "And that you're still together."
"Of course," Rodney says. Their relationship was what gave them the strength to deal with the separation from Earth, the uncertainty, and the rare but terrifying run-ins with the Wraith. The idea that they'd break up seems inconceivable.
"I'm sorry," Evelyn says quickly, obviously sensing his puzzlement. "I didn't mean to imply you wouldn't be."
"John and I..." Rodney begins, but doesn't really know how to phrase that they are a unit that only seems to grow stronger the longer they are together.
Evelyn's eyes widen. "Oh," she says. She looks at John, her smile widening. Then she turns back to Rodney. "You finally decided to get married."
"Mom, that's..." Rodney wants to say that wasn't what he meant, but then he realizes it kind of is. In spirit at least, if not practically. He opens his mouth to clarify that they're not engaged, when he hears John speak.
"That's wonderful news," Evelyn says, pulling John into a hug.
Rodney watches them and shuts his mouth. He's not quite sure what just happened. He's fairly certain he wouldn't have missed either of them proposing. And yet, here is John telling their mother just that.
John gives Rodney an awkward smile. Rodney just stares back. It's not even that he doesn't want to marry him. Hell, he's caught himself thinking of John as his husband a few times, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have at least liked to be asked.
His mother lets go of John and turns to Rodney. "Not that it's a surprise," she says, pulling him into her arms as well.
"It's to some of us," he mumbles quietly enough for her not to hear. He forces a smile to his face when they part.
"I've always hoped you—and Jeannie—would find someone who's not just...whom you love and who loves you," she finishes seriously.
Rodney knows she means unlike her marriage with their father. He doesn't know what to say to that.
Thankfully his mother asks more lightly, "Does Jeannie know?" which returns Rodney's attention to what just happened.
He wants to say, I didn't know until a minute ago, but manages not to.
"We haven't told anyone yet," John says.
Yeah. Not even me, Rodney thinks, giving John a look.
John looks apologetic, then smiles at Evelyn.
"Have you set a date yet? You'll get married here, right? Before you return wherever it is that you go to?" she asks.
John and Evelyn delve into discussing their wedding then, and Rodney kind of stands on the sidelines letting it happen.
He feels he should be happier about this. It's not that he was waiting desperately for them to take this step. If he had been, he would have mentioned it to John. But it does feel right to him to marry John.
It still pisses him off, though, that John didn't talk to him before announcing it. Rodney wouldn't even have needed a real proposal or anything. Just a simple, "Hey, what do you think about getting married?" over breakfast would have been fine with him.
He's not even sure why he's mad about this. His mother seems very happy. Rodney's sure Jeannie will also be happy for them. And John's family as well. Looking at his mother making plans, Rodney realizes why he would have liked to have known in advance.
If he had known, he could have come in here, and smiled at her, and told her, "Mom, there's something we want to tell you." And then the moment would have been one of sharing a happy occasion instead of the WTF it was now.
John keeps telling Evelyn they haven't decided yet, so Rodney sits down with them and helps him. Maybe John has been meaning to ask him but didn't know how. Rodney doesn't see what the problem would have been, but John has a habit of mulling things over and over instead of just saying something, like he did with the decision to engage Rodney.
And in the end they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together.
They're getting married.
John is surprised when he doesn't get an earful as soon as they leave Evelyn. Rodney is quiet on the ride back home, and John prepares himself to get shouted at.
And he'd deserve it, he supposes. He should have discussed it with Rodney first. But in that moment, when Evelyn had brought marriage up, he'd only been able to think, "Of course."
In a way, he's surprised he didn't think of this before. It's as if, after Nancy, he'd put the whole idea of marriage behind him. Been there, done that. Except of course he'd never done it right. Being married to Rodney will be...exactly like it is now. Because John can't really think of anything that makes them different from any married couple they know.
They are married in all ways but the official one, so when Evelyn pointed this out, he couldn't help saying yes.
Once inside their home, John looks at Rodney, waiting for him to finally say something.
Rodney opens his mouth, then closes it again, then eventually says exasperated, "Just tell me why. I mean was this something you've been thinking about? Were you afraid to ask?"
"No, Rodney. It wasn't like that," John tells him.
"Then what?" Rodney asks. "Would it have been too much to ask to talk to me before you told my mother?"
John feels bad about what he's done. He hasn't really thought about what this would take away from Rodney when he just opened his mouth. "I'm sorry."
"I just don't get it," Rodney says.
"I couldn't..." John begins. "She was asking if we were going to get married, and I only thought yes."
Rodney looks at him. John's not sure if he gets what John's saying. Then something occurs to him.
"You do want to get married?" he asks. "I mean, we never discussed it. If it's not your thing because you don't believe in it or don't want to until all gay couples—"
"I do want it," Rodney interrupts him. "I just would have liked to been asked or ask myself. And actually be able to tell my own mother. She always thought Jeannie would be first."
John feels really bad now. "You could tell her about gene therapy," he says quietly. If there's one thing that would mean more to Evelyn than her son's marriage, it would be the hope to maybe be free of engagements at some point in her life.
"I don't think we'd be allowed to talk about it. And even if we'd swear her to secrecy, I wouldn't want to get her hopes up. Carson doesn't even know if it works."
"We could help him find out," John says in what he hopes is a casual voice. He's well aware they haven't really discussed this since Rodney told him both about the possibility and his reservations. John hasn't had sleepless nights about it, but he did think about it and still can't quite wrap his mind about Rodney's way of thinking.
"I know," Rodney says. "I believe we have a wedding to plan."
John knows a diversion if he hears it, so he nods. Suddenly he has an idea. "Hey, you could invite Jeannie to tell her!"
Rodney's eyes light up at that, and John smiles, hoping he can make up for his mistake.
While they wait for Jeannie they discuss how big the wedding should be, whom to invite, and where it should take place. John is fixing up dinner for them and Jeannie, but when she rings the door bell, he joins Rodney at the door, because he wants to see his face after previously denying him this moment.
"Congratulations!" Jeannie says, throwing her arms around Rodney.
Rodney pats her stiffly, both corners of his mouth turning downward.
When Jeannie turns to John and hugs him, he smiles apologetically at Rodney, who only gives him a sour look.
"How did you know? We've only just told Mom," Rodney asks her.
"I called you after you'd invited me to see if she wanted to come along. She didn't say anything, but I could hear something was up so I needled it out of her. It's about time. You've been together for what? Over three years now. I've seen marriages that didn't last as long. Who finally popped the question?"
Rodney only shoots John a murderous look.
What could have been a relaxed leave gets hectic as they continue their wedding preparations. John's wedding to Nancy took place at the Sheppards' home and, having attended some of their normal parties, Rodney doesn't doubt that if anyone can throw a big wedding party it's Patrick Sheppard.
Rodney isn't one of the people who started planning their wedding as a kid, but this is an important moment for him. They could make it a simple affair and privately get the paperwork done, but he knows what it will mean to his mother and sister to witness this. And John's family should be there as well. So should Elizabeth and John's old team, who've made jokes about it even before they went to Atlantis. And of course they'll also want to invite their respective teams even if Teyla isn't on Earth to join them.
In short, their guest list promises to be long enough for this to actually take a not-trivial amount of planning, so Rodney suggests letting Patrick deal with it, because he knows John won't bring it up by himself.
"Are you sure?" John asks.
"At least we'll know the food will be good and we won't have to deal with the catering and tents and whatever else you have to organize. Plus, can you imagine your father attending his eldest son's wedding in our backyard where you'd grill?"
They agree to fly to Maryland to share the news. John tells Rodney he can tell the others, but Rodney only gives him a look, because no matter how perfect their wedding will be, John will have messed up that first step.
Rodney can forgive, but he doesn't forget, because it's always good to be able to remind John of his shortcomings when Rodney himself did something objectionable. It's not pettiness. It's being practical.
When Patrick opens the door for them and they hesitate to step in after the greetings, John nudges Rodney and gives him a pointed look.
Rodney is about to give in and tell Patrick the news, when Patrick says, "Wait. You're getting married?"
Rodney turns to John and just gives him a look.
John looks sheepish, but then turns to his father with a wide smile and says, "Yes."
It doesn't take long for Patrick to ask where they plan to celebrate and offer his home.
Rodney simply follows when they move the discussion into the living room. He mostly lets John tell his father they don't want anything too extravagant. They talk about the theme and color of flower arrangements and other decorations. There are apparently different shades of white.
Rodney only joins in when they start to discuss food. He reminds Patrick of his citrus allergy and mentions they should have vegetarian options.
When Patrick asks about the number of guests they have to admit they don't know how many people will make it. All of their team mates are on leave and they haven't even sent out invitations.
"But surely your family will come," Patrick says to Rodney.
"My mother and sister," Rodney confirms.
"It will be great to finally meet them," Patrick says, smiling.
Rodney only turns to John and mumbles, "We'll see about that." At Patrick's look he says, "Uhm, they are...quite active in the cycling choice movement."
Patrick's smile freezes, but he pulls himself together and with a glance at his son says, "They must love John then."
"They do," Rodney says, lifting his head. He's proud of how John has handled his cycling, especially considering how hard society and Patrick in particular have made it for him.
"I know how you feel about cycling etiquette," John steps in, "but we should install panic buttons for the wedding."
The suggestion makes Patrick visibly uncomfortable. "Do you really think that's necessary?"
"You do know our house is decked out with them," Rodney can't help saying. Patrick has never visited them, but Rodney had assumed he'd know at least that much about his own son.
"And that is your choice to make in your home," Patrick says stiffly. "I do not want to give the impression that engagements—wanted engagements—are not welcome here." 'In my home' he leaves unspoken.
Rodney doesn't even consider that Patrick should have the final say because it's his home. If that's how Patrick would frame it, they'd simply go back to the backyard and barbecue idea. However, Patrick's argument doesn't even make sense, and Rodney won't let it slide. "Do you think malls that have them installed give that impression? No, they don't. It's just a precaution for those who don't want them."
Before Patrick can say anything to that, John adds, "And I want people to know there will be compatibles at the wedding who do not wish to be engaged. I'm not telling Jeannie and Evelyn to wear a red button on our wedding."
"Then what do you expect me to do?" Patrick says, what's left of his composure waning. "Pull everyone aside when they arrive, ask if they're on their cycle, and if they are, point out Rodney's sister and mother, so they won't be touched?"
"Why not?" John shoots back. "Or maybe it would be better if we included in the invitation that cyclers on their cycle should refrain from touching anyone who could be a compatible and who hasn't signaled they wouldn't mind being engaged."
"Why don't we go ahead and impose compulsory wearing of gloves when you're on your cycle?" Patrick asks sarcastically.
"Why the hell not?" John asks. "How hard would it be for you to have a party where you won't engage anyone unless you know they want it. Is that so much to ask?"
Patrick clenches his teeth. "It is your wedding. You can add a note in the invitation, but I will not force anyone who comes into my house to wear gloves." After a moment, he adds, "And I won't force them to not wear gloves either."
"Then we're in agreement," John says.
Rodney just watches the exchange unfold. He really has nothing to add. His mother can take care of herself. She has a whole wardrobe full of long-sleeved, high-collared clothes for all occasions, with different "Do not engage" buttons if she decides to wear those. She's fought this fight for herself for decades. This is about John.
Rodney hasn't seen him talk as passionately about cycling and engagements in a long time. There simply is no need. When they're at home, they generally don't go out during John's cycle and on military bases—the SGC and Atlantis included—nobody bats an eyelash at someone wearing gloves.
But just because John doesn't actively have to deal with his cycling now, for the most part, doesn't mean the issue has gone away.
Rodney thinks about what it would mean to John if he didn't have to think about it at all anymore. The only way it would still affect them would be in their personal relationship, in how they can touch each other during John's cycle. Everything else, everything that had bothered John all his life and that he's arguing against now with his father would be history—if Carson's therapy works.
It would be a dream come true for John, and Rodney knows it. The only reason John is hesitating... Truthfully he's not the one hesitating. It's only Rodney, and John simply respects his opinion so much (and probably doesn't consider it urgent enough) that he's willing to wait until Rodney comes around.
Rodney doesn't really understand himself completely on this. He's not usually so selfless—heroically walking into deadly energy clouds notwithstanding. And really, he doesn't even want to imagine John with another man, let alone have this mythical "other man" keep John from being able to deal with his cycling once and for all.
Why would he care about this guy who's unlikely to ever materialize? Even if Rodney died in the not too distant future—which he really hopes to avoid—and even with John's higher compatibility rate, chances are slim the next guy in John's life would be compatible to him too. And even if he would have been, they would never know whether they were naturally incompatible—the more likely option—or unnaturally—because of John's cycling therapy. And honestly, if being compatible would make a difference in their relationship, the guy wouldn't deserve John anyway.
Rodney wouldn't have met John if they weren't compatible. He wouldn't have noticed the love of his life walked right behind him into a mall on that fateful day five years ago. He wouldn't even have seen him. Maybe they would have met at the SGC—though it was only Rodney's involvement that brought John to O'Neill's attention—but Rodney worked mostly in the labs and it's unlikely he would have struck up enough of a friendship with a random soldier on an SGC team to realize he might want a relationship with a guy.
The thing is, if at some point in John's life before Rodney someone had offered him what Carson offers him now, they wouldn't be together. And even though it isn't rational, Rodney can't completely put that thought aside.
It's the same with his mother. She never blamed him for her plight, never told him outright she wished he had never been born, but her hatred for the event which had caused his birth and how it had changed her life forever is so entrenched in everything she does, that to this day he sometimes feels guilty about existing and reminding her of it.
He knows it's not rational, but that's the nature of feelings and as much as he wishes he could, Rodney can't change that.
The truth is, he doesn't worry about another guy who might or might not come into the picture for John at some point. It's simply that even though he intellectually knows it's not true, it feels a bit like a part of John is saying, "I wish I had never met you."
Rodney keeps his mouth shut and lets John and Patrick steer the wedding planning to safer topics.
When Dave and Charlie come back with Susan, they greet John and Rodney warmly. Rodney is waiting for someone to announce the news and when nobody does, he takes a deep breath and says, "We're getting married."
He almost can't believe it when Dave and Charlie are actually surprised. John puts his arm around Rodney and squeezes him. Rodney magnanimously smiles at him. Then there are congratulations all around and the next round of planning begins.
Rodney is glad when they can finally retreat to their guest room.
"Thanks for looking out for Jeannie and my mom," he says when they're alone. Even if it wasn't necessary it means something to Rodney that John is not only aware of the needs of his family, but willing to take a stand for them.
"It's not just them," John says. "I want everyone to feel comfortable at our wedding."
"You do realize your father won't feel all that comfortable surrounded by panic buttons," Rodney points out.
John drops his gaze. "He'll be fine. He won't be on his cycle, nor will Dave. I want them to be able to shake hands with Evelyn."
"That will be interesting. Do you think there's a way to introduce them after the wedding just to make sure we actually have one," Rodney says, one corner of his mouth tugging upward.
John smiles and envelops him in a hug. "If things get too bad we'll just elope."
Rodney knows they'd never do that, but it's nice to dream they could. His mind returns to his earlier realization. He needs to let John off the hook because he can't let his feelings trump his intellect. "You should do it," he says. "I mean Carson's therapy."
John pulls away enough to be able to look at Rodney. He's clearly surprised. "Really? You're not worried about the worst case scenario anymore?" he asks, amusement in his voice.
"If it happens, he already gets to have you. Anything more would be greedy," Rodney says huffily.
Unfortunately, John knows him well enough to see Rodney isn't telling him everything. He narrows eyes and asks, "What brought on the change of mind?"
Rodney avoids John's gaze. "I just thought about it. Intellectually there's no reason for me to object. It will be great for you, and I want you to be happy."
"And unintellectually?" John asks softly.
"I like to think I make decisions based on rational thought," Rodney says.
John gives him look. "Is that why you chose to date me, even though you'd never dated a man before?"
Rodney drops his gaze. He takes a deep breath and repeats, "I want you to be happy."
"I am happy," John says. "Would I love not to have to worry about wearing gloves on my cycle? Yes, but I've done it for a long time now. You're not going to tell me what bothers you?"
John raises an eyebrow at that.
Rodney rolls his eyes. They both remain silent for a moment. "Have you ever wondered what my mother's life would be like if she hadn't had me?" he settles on saying. Because he thinks John might understand that. Even if it doesn't make sense.
"Yeah, I have," John says.
This slightly surprises Rodney. He'd hoped John would understand, but he didn't necessarily think John had ever thought about it. "She'd be happier," Rodney says. "Maybe she would be in a relationship."
"Your mother loves you," John says, putting his hands on Rodney's arms.
"I know," Rodney says. "And I know you love me, but if you'd met Carson before me, you would have jumped at the chance to have his cycling treatment, and we never would have met. And maybe you would have been happier too."
"No," John disagrees without thinking. "It might have made things easier for me, but I can't imagine being happier. Not unless we still would have met."
Rodney didn't necessary mean John would have been happier without him. He likes to think he wouldn't have been. But he still appreciates that John explicitly says so. "Now you're getting all romantic on me," Rodney says with a smile.
But John remains serious. "There's nothing I'd choose over being with you, Rodney. If I had to choose between being on my cycle every day of my life, compatible to everyone I ever met and not having you, I still wouldn't give you up."
"John," Rodney says, because he really has no words for what John just said. He knows how much he means to John. He knows how happy they make each other, but to have John make that comparison still means something special to Rodney.
"I love you," John says. "I don't have to do the cycling therapy right now. Carson will find other people to test it on. Maybe it doesn't even work."
"I don't want you to give up this chance, just because I can't feel rational about this," Rodney says.
"If it works, I can still change my mind when I want to," John insists. "There's no rush at all. I'm fine wearing my gloves for a few days every month. And right now, we have a wedding to worry about."
Rodney only nods.
They'll get married on a beautiful July afternoon five years after they first engaged in a mall.
They send out the wedding invitations. Most people will have to fly in. Not everyone can make it. One of John's ex team mates is going to be a father any day now, and of course Teyla can't be there. But most others are happy to attend.
When Evelyn reads the invitation, she tells them she can take care of herself. "Though I appreciate the thought," she adds.
"Well, this way you won't have to come in full body armor," Rodney says. "It's summer, and we're going to be outside."
"Thank you for reminding me, Meredith. I never would have guessed it might be warm in July."
John chuckles but doesn't say anything.
"Listen," Rodney says, "I think John mentioned it, but I should warn you that John's father is one of the old-fashioned cyclers."
"And by old-fashioned you mean radical?" Evelyn asks. "Does he keep people to engage around his house or office?"
Rodney gives her a look. "Just because someone happens—"
"Yes, he does," John interrupts him.
Rodney is slightly surprised by that. He knows, of course, that Patrick casually or even frequently engages others—women—during his cycle and that he pushed John to do the same, but he hadn't heard this influences his hiring decisions as well.
"Our female staff is disproportionately compatible to him," John goes on. "And pretty," he adds after a moment.
Evelyn's face turns into a grimace of distaste. Then her expression turns sad. "And that's the house you grew up in."
John doesn't say anything and just takes Rodney's hand in his.
"Look, he might be a radical cycler, but he agreed to the warning in the invitation and will allow people to wear gloves," Rodney says, trying to smooth things over as much as possible.
"Oh, how very generous of him to allow people to protect themselves from unwanted engagements," Evelyn says, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Next thing you'll tell me he'll allow us to breathe."
John smirks, then covers it up by coughing.
"Mom, I'm trying to tell you even if he's everything you hate, he tried to compromise because this is our wedding, and I'd appreciate it if we could get over with it in a civilized manner. If not, John has already agreed to elope... Just so you know."
"If John's family can be civil, so can I," Evelyn says pointedly. "It will be interesting meeting your father," she tells John with a smile.
"That's what I fear," Rodney mumbles.
Evelyn and Jeannie join them at the Sheppard home a day before the wedding.
Rodney is tense all the way to the airport. "It will be fine," John tells him quietly, putting one hand on Rodney's thigh and squeezing lightly.
"Sure," Rodney says dismissively. "What could possibly go wrong when my radical anti-cycling mom meets your cycler poster boy dad?"
"They want us to be happy on our wedding day," John reminds him.
"Well, that isn't until tomorrow," Rodney points out.
John just gives him a look. He's a bit nervous himself. He thinks both his father and Rodney's mother are probably more tolerant than they're giving them credit for; however, even if they really try to be polite and understanding it probably wouldn't take much to reach a tipping point and end up in a shouting match.
Both Patrick and Evelyn can be very headstrong. John simply hopes they can all focus on the wedding and becoming a family, even if they won't all agree on everything.
Jeannie and Evelyn are in a good mood when they come off the plane. Evelyn is wearing a red "Don't engage me" button. John can't remember having seen her with one before, so he wonders if it's something she only does for flights and other situations where she'll be surrounded by people, or if she put it on specifically for meeting his father.
He doesn't ask, though, and Rodney doesn't give him a clue either. He's only fidgeting nervously and takes Evelyn's bag, mumbling, "Let's get this over with."
On the way to the Sheppard home they only talk about the wedding.
As soon as they arrive home, Patrick is coming out to greet them.
There's a moment of silence in which Rodney's hands clench around the handle of Evelyn's bag. John puts his arm around him and Rodney relaxes.
Jeannie is the one who steps forward and says, "Hi Patrick. It's nice to meet you. You have a really amazing home."
"Thank you, Jeannie," Patrick says, shaking her hand. John has assured them neither of the Sheppards are on their cycle. Patrick turns to Rodney's mother. His gaze dips to her button, but his face doesn't betray anything when he smiles at her and says, "You must be Evelyn." Unlike with Jeannie, he doesn't offer his hand and waits for Evelyn to offer hers.
Evelyn does so, smiling at Patrick as well. "And you must be John's father. I've heard quite a bit about you."
Rodney squirms as they shake hands, and John can't help feeling the all-smiles facade won't last.
"So have I," Patrick says. "But maybe it's better if we make up our minds ourselves," he adds, one corner of his mouth tugging up.
Rodney covers his face with one hand, and John squeezes him, but Evelyn only laughs.
"I think we should," she says. "Why don't you show us your home. I'd love to see what it looks like—and where the panic buttons are. I've actually brought a few in case you don't have enough."
"That is very thoughtful of you," Patrick says, overly polite and still smiling.
"Well, we get a big discount," Evelyn says casually.
"I would have imagined your home is already stocked with them. Or do you buy in bulk to gift others?" Patrick asks.
"No, but since Rodney invented them, we get a discount," Evelyn says.
Patrick is visibly surprised by this news.
"You didn't know that?" Evelyn asks, looking at John and Rodney.
"No, neither he nor John ever mentioned it," Patrick says. "It must have slipped their minds."
"Does it matter?" John asks, keeping his voice as forcefully polite as Patrick and Evelyn.
"No, I suppose it doesn't," Patrick says, giving him a look.
It's then that Susan comes running out of the house. She's wearing a cute white dress, but her hair is only half-braided and she's barefoot. "Look at my dress, John," she shouts, tugging on John's arm.
Charlie comes running after her. "Susan! They'll have a chance to see it tomorrow." She puts her arms around Susan, pulling her away from John. "We just wanted to try it on for now, remember?"
"So who are you?" Evelyn asks, smiling at Susan.
"The flower girl!" Susan exclaims.
Evelyn grins. Jeannie asks, "And do you have a name? My name is Jeannie. I'm Rodney's sister."
"I'm Susan. And I'll carry the rings," Susan tells them proudly.
"Rings and flowers," Evelyn says with wide eyes. "Well, you'll have your plate full then tomorrow. I'm Rodney's mother, Evelyn." She offers her hand.
Susan takes it. "Hi, Evelyn. Are you a pilot? Pilots fly planes. Did you fly here in a plane? John can fly planes. I think he flew one here with Rodney. Rodney can't fly planes."
"No, he can't," Evelyn agrees with a smile.
"Why don't we try out the rest of your outfit?" Charlie asks her daughter. "You want to look pretty tomorrow for Uncle John and Uncle Rodney's wedding, right?"
"Of course!" Susan shouts outraged.
Charlie shudders at the level of noise and smiles at the others before dragging Susan away, who waves cheerfully at them.
"That was Charlie," Patrick tells them. "She's Dave's wife. They're compatible," he adds.
"That seems to run in your family," Evelyn comments.
Patrick gives her a look. "My wife wasn't," he says in a quiet but firm voice.
John thinks about his mom and how his father had been around her before she became sick. For all his father's faults, he couldn't have loved his wife more had she been compatible to him. Looking over at Evelyn, John realizes she senses how much John's mother meant to Patrick.
"I'm sorry she can't be here to witness this," Evelyn says. She looks at John and takes his hand.
Patrick looks at Rodney. "I'm sorry your father can't be here," he says.
But Rodney only says, "It's better this way, believe me. Let's just get inside. I'm getting sunburn."
After a tour of the house, they show Evelyn and Jeannie their room and go to their own room to freshen up before the "rehearsal dinner".
The tour of the house went without any major incidents, though Evelyn had to make a few comments about the vast expanse of the property and the building. Rodney had remained silent, and John was a bit worried that the stress of the event was making their wedding not quite the joyous occasion John had envisioned for them.
And then there was the comment about Rodney's father.
Rodney had never talked about him apart from telling John he'd been a cycler, explaining how his engagement of Evelyn led to Rodney and their marriage and subsequent divorce, and that he was dead now.
Evelyn had only very rarely mentioned him, mostly when pointing out a negative trait she though Rodney must have gotten from his father.
"Did you still see your father after your parents' divorce?" John asks Rodney now. Even though Rodney had never defended his father, John had gotten the feeling Rodney didn't agree with his mother's view of him, even if he supported her politics that led to it. He isn't sure if Rodney wants to talk about it. If not, that would be fine with John. He had never felt the need to talk with Rodney about how hard it had been to lose his mother.
But he wants to give Rodney a chance to tell his side of the story.
"Jeannie and I visited him a couple of times, but it was awkward," Rodney says, unbuttoning his shirt.
John only nods. When Rodney doesn't say anything else, John only comments, "Things have gone well so far."
"Looks like our elopement plan won't be necessary," Rodney says wryly, getting out of his pants.
John watches with interest, but they don't have time for anything frisky before dinner. "Susan would be crushed if she didn't get to wear that dress at our wedding," he says.
Rodney snorts. "Right. That was my main concern too. Not all of our friends who'll fly in for us."
John steps up to Rodney and hugs him. "It'll be fine."
"Of course, it will be," Rodney says, pulling back. "I get to say I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Everything else is just..."
"Our friends and family," John finishes for him.
"You are my family," Rodney says, his arms still around John, pulling him a bit closer. "And my best friend."
"And in less than twenty-four hours your husband," John says.
"Jooooooooohn," comes Susan voice from outside. "Roooooooooooooooooodney. Are you in there?"
"Are you sure elopement is out?" Rodney asks.
Dinner goes surprisingly well. There is a minor argument about the necessity for panic buttons, but Dave and Jeannie manage to steer the conversation to safer topics.
They go to bed early that evening. Rodney has finally relaxed to a point that John can simply enjoy these days in their life. He falls asleep wrapped around Rodney, thinking how lucky he is to have found this man.
The ceremony will take place in the afternoon, and since Patrick is taking care of the preparations, John and Rodney aren't in a rush on the morning of their wedding day.
John takes in the scent of his soon-to-be husband, nuzzling the back of his neck.
Rodney makes a questioning noise.
"Morning," John says, kissing Rodney's neck.
"Is there some etiquette about having sex on your wedding day before the ceremony?" Rodney asks.
"Probably," John says, "but I don't really care what it is." He rubs his semi-hard cock against Rodney's ass.
Rodney seems to agree since he reaches for the nightstand to find them some lube.
One excellent wedding day fuck and a shower later, they tread down the stairs, giving each other looks as they avoid the flurry of people around them.
Flowers and other decorations are being set up. The floors and furniture are being cleaned and polished one last time.
The kitchen has been taken over by strangers, but thankfully Cynthia finds them and leads them to the sunroom, which will be closed to guests for the wedding later. Jeannie and Evelyn are already there, enjoying the breakfast that's been prepared for them.
"I have to admit, even if I still find this house vulgarly excessive," Evelyn says, "I could get used to this kind of breakfast."
Rodney gives her a look, but then just shakes his head and sits down. John joins him, smiling as he thinks about how mellow Rodney is after sex. Then he remembers they're not alone and flushes.
While their breakfast is relaxed, soon afterwards the first guests arrive and from then on, they don't have any peace.
Elizabeth arrives alone. The fact that she didn't bring Simon tells John all he needs to know. He's sorry it didn't work out for her. Having Rodney at his side helped him immensely during the often challenging times in the last year in the Pegasus galaxy.
John doesn't know what he would do without him. He hopes he never finds out.
A light lunch is served for those who arrived early. John tries to mingle and talk to everyone who came for their day. He doesn't see all that much of Rodney, but it's okay. Their moment will come.
And it does come.
The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and dozens of people watch them as they stand at the beginning of the aisle in his family's garden.
Susan is carrying a little basket with a pillow with their rings and flowers that she enthusiastically throws around as she walks down the aisle.
Back when he married Nancy, he had been the one waiting for the bride. This time, they decided to walk together to the wedding arch under which they'll exchange vows just like they've walked together in life for the last few years.
John looks at Rodney, smiling widely and enjoying this moment of affirmation and declaration of their relationship. He remembers how Rodney first asked him for coffee so long ago. He remembers their first kiss, his doubts, their growing friendship.
When Rodney first told him he wanted them to give this another chance, John had been surprised, but now it feels as if it couldn't have ended differently for them. Their life together after finally taking the plunge (again) just happened, growing almost naturally into the partnership John had accepted so implicitly he hadn't even considered whether they should make it official.
After Nancy and admitting to himself he was gay, he'd mentally put marriage into the category of things he'd never have. Back then he'd still fought his cycling so much he didn't consider a relationship with someone who was compatible, and compatibility would have been the only way for him to be allowed to marry another man.
With Rodney, they could have gotten married in Canada, even if they weren't compatible. John is aware other couples don't have that luxury. He's aware he should consider himself lucky, and he does—in so many ways.
He thinks about the parties he was forced to participate in when he was younger. He remembers the awkward encounters as he was pushed so he'd finally engage someone. Now he's in that same garden, surrounded by friends and family, some of whom wear gloves out of respect for the grooms' wishes and with his father's consent. Patrick looks genuinely happy for him, and John realizes this is what he'd always hoped for from his father.
His father finally accepts him as he is. A man who only wants to engage the man he loves for the rest of their lives.
Rodney can't help but return John's radiant smile. They turn together and start walking down the aisle arm in arm.
Rodney watches their friends and family. It's almost a little surreal that he's doing this. He's getting married to the love of his life, a guy who bakes wonderful muffins, has a dorky laugh, and kills to save others.
This isn't what he had expected whenever he thought about a nebulous happy future. As they approach the wedding arch and he sees his mother, he can't help thinking she too probably hadn't envisioned this for her son.
But she's still happy for him. That his mother accepted a cycler who's compatible to her son into her life is nothing short of amazing—like everything else in his life since he met John five years ago.
Their lives have changed for the better since they met. And not just their own, but also that of their families. John's father learned to look beyond his son's sexual orientation and his unwillingness to take his cycling as he does. Rodney's mother learned not all cyclers are alike and that compatibility as an initial reason for a relationship can work—if it's not just a genetic one.
And Rodney himself learned what it means to love someone else more than himself, to put someone else's needs above his own, and to be completely accepted and loved.
This isn't what he expected his life to be like, Rodney thinks when he says, "I do," but it is exactly what he wanted.
Their honeymoon is timed so that John's cycle kicks in on the second day. They're on a beautiful beach in Southern California. They don't really see much of it.
After their honeymoon, it's time to return to Atlantis. They throw a little barbecue to say goodbye to friends and family, though at least this time they know they'll be able to stay in touch.
Back in Atlantis, life goes on as it did before. The Wraith are still out there, but aren't a direct threat to Atlantis for the moment, and now they have a way back to Earth in the worst case scenario if they have to give up Atlantis.
Their newly married status is greeted with congratulations. Beyond that, John can't help feeling a little thrill sometimes at the thought of his husband. He had never felt that way about Nancy, even right after their marriage.
He can't even put into words what it is. The way they behave around each other hasn't changed. They still tease each other, take care of each other, and live their life together. Still, John is very happy they took the step and got married.
Two weeks after their return, Carson asks John about the cycling therapy. He's done some further research and it turns out his initial suspicion was correct and once the therapy has been performed and he'll be keyed to one person only, his compatibility can't be changed again to be keyed to someone else.
"That's not an issue," John says.
"I didn't think so," Carson says. "But Rodney had asked, and I felt you should know it. I can't really say what the chances are that it works. You'll be my first trial."
"Maybe not," John says.
"I think I'll wait for now," John explains.
Carson opens his mouth but doesn't say anything for a moment. Finally he nods. "Of course. It's your decision."
John gives him a quick smile. He knows Carson had been sure to have a willing—even eager—participant for this trial in John. But even though Rodney told him to do it, John doesn't want him to feel rejected.
After witnessing his father and Rodney's mother together and the obvious tension at the subject of anything to do with cycling, John is very much aware that everyone deals with the nature of their compatibility differently.
And he's always been aware that how you felt about it couldn't be explained. It had taken him decades to come to terms with what he wanted and what he didn't want. He wants to engage nobody but Rodney.
He knows Rodney wants the same, but he also knows you can't control your feelings, and even though they both know John would never choose this gene therapy over Rodney, they also know if it had been available back then, John would have done it and they'd never have engaged in that mall.
So John understands Rodney's feelings even if he doesn't share them. He doesn't even think they're irrational. Feelings are by definition removed from rational thought. He knows if he ever witnessed someone engaging Rodney, rational thought would fly out the window.
That's why he tells Carson he can wait. John would love to be free of the hold the cycling still has on him, but since he's made the firm decision not to engage anyone and since he's met Rodney—which brought the additional flexibility of having someone else who can do a quick run to the store if he needed gloves or something else—it hasn't been a real problem.
It's inconvenient, especially when it's hot, but his perseverance paid off and in fact the last time he engaged someone against his will—not counting Rodney, because he can't count Rodney—was still with Holland. His death is both a reminder of what the cycling can do to John, and also of how long he managed to avoid it since then.
He keeps wearing his gloves during his cycle. It has become second nature to him. They try not to schedule first contact missions during his cycle as an extra precaution, but the Keserkin have been recommended to them as very fair and friendly trading partners, so John decides to go ahead with the mission even though he's on his cycle.
Teyla politely explains that John needs to wear gloves, but that there's nothing to worry for them. They are welcomed and the trade negotiations go very well. The Keserkin are willing to trade fruits and vegetables for medicine.
They seal the deal after only an hour. John is very happy they got it over with so quickly. But then, Teyla is exceptionally good at trade negotiations. They are invited for lunch, and though John would really prefer to get back, he knows it would be impolite not to accept, so he signals Teyla to agree.
Seralef, who did the negotiations for the Keserkin, chats amicably with them. He's quite eager to talk to John, and John tries to sound interested, but most of the time he relies on Teyla to keep the conversation flowing.
When they say their goodbyes, Seralef leans forward and touches his forehead to Teyla's. Teyla returns the gesture, but John can see her tensing. He himself tries not to panic. He has two choices. Try to explain or go through with it and hope Seralef isn't compatible.
The phenomenon of engagements isn't completely unknown in the Pegasus galaxy, but from the planets they've visited so far it seems to be much rarer than on Earth. They've heard explanations ranging from curses to super powers endowed by the Ancients.
Revealing that John is on his cycle is something of a risk and when Seralef moves on to him and Teyla looks at John, ready to speak up should he wish so, John minutely shakes his head at her. There isn't a big likelihood Seralef will be compatible to him, and the trade negotiations have gone so well he simply takes the risk of touching him, rather than risking offending them and maybe endangering their lives, in case the Keserkin view cycling as something objectionable.
The odds should have been on his side, but the moment their foreheads touch, John feels the familiar feeling of lust shoot through his body.
He thinks about Rodney and their last engagement that morning, but this isn't Rodney and as soon as John's brain catches up with that, he tries to push Seralef away. Seralef, however, pulls John to the ground and rolls them until he's on top. John struggles, and out of the corner of his eyes he can see Teyla, Franklin, and Adams coming to help him, but suddenly they are stopped by the guards that have remained in the background to this point.
John still doesn't give up. He's stopped an engagement before; he can do it again. He moves his hips upward to throw Seralef off, but the man clings to him, rubbing himself on John. John swallows a groan. He will not give in to this. He starts to thrash violently beneath Seralef until four guards come and hold his arms and legs in place.
Seralef undulates against him, and John stills, knowing there's nothing he can do to fight this now.
He closes his eyes and thinks of Rodney when he comes.
It takes several moments for John to realize where he is after putting his mind firmly in a safe place with Rodney. Eventually he remembers that the body on top of him is not Rodney. Seralef moves away from him and tells the guards to let him go.
John opens his eyes again and gets up as well, squirming at the uncomfortable stickiness of his pants. He lifts his gaze to Seralef, who looks at him in wonder.
Oh god. John wants to hate him, but he can read that look and it reminds him of Rodney when John first engaged him, of how eager he was to go to John's place.
When Teyla asks sternly if they can leave now, Seralef turns to John and says, "You must stay."
"Surely you would not want to imprison your friends," Teyla says politely but with steel in her voice.
"Of course not," Seralef says, unable to look away from John. "I simply want to make Major Sheppard an offer."
John can see Teyla's willing to fight for him, but he doesn't think Seralef is in the right mind to listen to reason.
"Then you will at least let the others return?" John asks instead. They can return to Atlantis and get help and maybe John can convince him in the mean time that just because they are genetically compatible does not mean they are meant for each other.
"Of course," Seralef says. "Your team is free to go. But you must stay. You must allow me to make an offer."
John turns to his team and orders them, "Go!"
Teyla hesitates for a moment, but then nods at the others and they leave.
Seralef talks to the guards, and John is led into a room.
John tries to stay positive. These aren't bad people. They don't want to hurt him. He tries not to think about the engagement to Seralef. He's not sure if giving in was admitting defeat or simple necessity. He thought about Rodney in the end, because the intense lust the genetic compatibility evokes in him is something he associates with Rodney now—always. No matter how many times Seralef will try.
Though John sincerely hopes it doesn't come to that. One engagement he can deal with. He'd taken back control at least mentally, even if they took all other control away from him. But if Seralef does this again and again, maybe forces John to look at him—
John shakes his head. He doesn't believe that will happen. If anything Seralef looks like he'd do anything to make John happy.
That suspicion is confirmed when Seralef comes into the room with a finely woven costume and a necklace with intricate carvings.
"You will never want for anything," Seralef says, placing the costume on the table and lifting the necklace. "I will treasure you like the gift that has been given to us."
"Seralef, listen..." John begins.
"Marry me," Seralef says.
"I can't," John simply says. "I'm already married." He lifts his hand and shows him the ring.
Seralef opens his mouth. "That cannot be," he says. Then he composes himself. "You made a mistake. Didn't you see what just happened? We are gifted. Only chosen couples ever receive that kind of blessing."
"And I have. With my husband," John says.
"That's impossible," Seralef says sharply. "This is a rare gift. We haven't seen such a couple in a generation. And it certainly cannot be bestowed twice to the same person."
"I assure you it can," John says bitterly. "I'm sorry, but I will not marry you. I love my husband, and I will never leave him."
Seralef looks dejected. "I do not believe you," he says petulantly.
"Do you want me to prove it?" John asks. "If you let me dial the gate, I will ask them to send my husband so you can see I already have been given this gift."
Seralef looks challenging. "We'll see," he agrees.
"You left him there?" Rodney is furious when he hears John's team returned without their leader. "I thought they were friendly! Kidnapping my husband is not friendly!"
"Rodney," Elizabeth tries to calm him down. Then she turns to Teyla. "What exactly happened?"
"The trade negotiations went well, and we ensured a fair deal with them within an hour. We were invited to lunch and were about to say our goodbyes when Seralef, one of their leaders, touched his forehead to mine."
"Oh god," Rodney says. "Tell me he didn't..."
"Major Sheppard apparently decided that rather than run the risk of offending them by disclosing his cycling, he would risk touching Seralef."
"What do they want to do with him?" Rodney asks, dread rising in him. He looks over at Sumner, who's experienced first hand the kind of hostility that can happen when you disclose your status as a cycler, before turning back to Teyla, waiting for her answer.
Teyla looks at Rodney and hesitates for a moment. "I believe Seralef will ask Major Sheppard to marry him."
"What?!" Rodney says. "He can't have him! He's my husband."
"McKay," Sumner says. He's seen that kind of reaction too. He turns to Teyla. "You don't believe Major Sheppard is in any danger?"
"I do not think he is for now, however the guards did...force Major Sheppard to complete the engagement," she says, glancing at Rodney.
Rodney opens his mouth but no words come out. He didn't even consider this. He hadn't thought they'd actually gone through with the engagement. When John first told him he had managed to fight off engagements against the will of his compatible, Rodney had thought his hatred of engaging had given him some kind of super-power in those situations. "What did they do?" he whispers.
"They held him to the ground when he began to struggle," Teyla says.
"No," Rodney whispers. Then he repeats more loudly. "No." He looks at Teyla and the others, then shouts. "How could you let them do that to him?" They know John. They've seen him walk these halls for over a year, wearing gloves every month. They know what this means to John.
And so does Rodney. He feels sick and helpless. And furious. "We need to go back and save him!" he says.
"What do you think will happen when Major Sheppard declines the offer?" Elizabeth asks Teyla.
Teyla hesitates again. "I do not think they will hurt him. I do not think Seralef would let that happen. However, I believe Seralef will try to convince John by any means he has."
"Touch him again?" Rodney says. "They can't!" he shouts. He turns to Sumner. "We need to go. Now!"
Sumner looks at Elizabeth, who nods. He alerts the rest of their team. Rodney rushes to get geared up for the mission. He tries to calculate the time since they left the planet.
The refractory period between engagements is variable, even for them, and they never had a reason to care about how it varies from person to person, because John never cared to engage anyone again as soon as possible—except Rodney.
Rodney's mind flashes to last night and this morning. It had been an almost lazy engagement, rubbing against each other and kissing until they found release.
As they walk through the gate, Rodney imagines John on the ground, restrained and forced to endure this against his will. Maybe Seralef is trying to do it again this very minute. Rodney steps up the pace, walking as fast as he can. Damn, why didn't they take the jumper.
John could be fighting them off again right now, struggling against what Seralef must think is a sign of the Ancients or something that they are meant for each other.
It's so stupid and ridiculous. It's just an accidental genetic compatibility.
Rodney thinks about Carson's offer and his own reaction. He curses himself. How could he have been such an idiot? He'd only thought about himself and never about what this means to John. He never had to witness John engage someone. For some reason he had thought that despite the constant threat of it, the precautions they took and John's seeming control over his body even when he engaged made him invulnerable to it.
This would never have happened if Rodney could have realized sooner he wants John to be compatible only to him. He wants him to be free from this, and he doesn't give a fuck about what could have been, because he is with John now and nothing will change that.
When they finally arrive and Teyla asks about John's whereabouts they are told that Seralef is still talking to him.
Rodney hopes fervently it really only is talking. He struggles not get out his sidearm and start to threaten them.
"Could you let them know we're here?" Sumner asks the guard.
"Seralef ordered us not to disturb him," the guard answers.
Rodney's blood boils. "Look, I don't give a—"
That's when John comes out.
"John! Are you, all right?" Rodney asks. He looks fine to him, but then John always tries to take everything stoically.
"This is your husband?" the man with John asks, looking disbelieving.
"Yes," John says firmly. He smiles widely at Rodney, looking relieved and happy to see him. Then he quickly walks over to Rodney and without hesitation takes his face in his hand and kisses him.
Lust shoots through Rodney at the touch and he answers the kiss willingly and eagerly. They drop down to their knees and push at their clothes just enough to touch more of their skin.
Rodney hears a gasp from someone he assumes is Seralef. He's vaguely aware they are surrounded by people, but he doesn't give a damn. He lets John move him to the ground, where they thrust against each other and kiss until they come.
When Rodney opens his eyes he can see Seralef's crushed expression at what he just witnessed. Rodney can't help it. He puts his arm possessively around John, strokes his head and pulls him so that John pants into his neck. You can't have him, the gesture says. Nobody else can ever have John. He's Rodney's.
They stay on the ground, catching their breath. After a moment, Rodney turns away from Seralef and concentrates on John again. He's holding on to Rodney a bit more firmly than he usually does.
"I'm sorry you had to go through this because of my stupid feelings," he whispers into John's ear.
John lifts his head. "This isn't your fault," he says.
It may not be, but without Rodney's reservations John would have gone through with the therapy and this might not have happened, and they both know it. "It will never happen again," he assures John.
John kisses him.
They eventually get up. Seralef still looks heart-broken. Rodney feels almost sorry for him, but he can't get over the fact that they forced John to engage against his will. He'd deserve worse than a broken heart for that. Besides, the guy doesn't even know John. To Seralef, John's just a miracle orgasm person. That's not love. Even if Seralef can't understand that.
"Can I take my husband home now?" Rodney asks.
Seralef looks longingly at John for a moment and then says, "Yes."
Rodney wants to drag John to Carson immediately after the mission, but John can convince him to let them have their normal checkups, do the debriefing, and have a shower, before asking Carson.
It's afternoon when they go to Carson. Despite what happened, Rodney is actually more eager than John to finally do this.
John knows he feels guilty, and he's assured Rodney that he's fine. It's the truth. John isn't sure whether it's the prospect of cycle therapy, the fact that he thought about Rodney, or the fact that he was forced that makes him able to cope with what happened.
Looking back at the incidents that shaped his opinions on his cycling, he has to admit the biggest struggle had always been with himself and how he stood. But he's made up his mind for a while now and what happened today didn't change his conviction.
It turns out Carson hasn't done the therapy on anyone else, so John will still be the first—if it works.
"I will have to find a compatible test subject, so that we can verify it works," Carson tells them.
"What?" Rodney asks, frowning.
"I can't say for sure it will be successful," Carson says. "And I'm sure John will want to know if it took, before he stops wearing gloves during his cycle."
"It's okay, Rodney," John says when he sees Rodney wants to protest. "So how do we find a compatible on Atlantis? Other than Rodney."
"I can run a few tests with our data on everyone on base," Carson says.
"That's possible?" Rodney asks. "You can find out who's compatible to John? Why didn't you ever tell us?"
"It's not a simple comparison of blood type," Carson explains. "This'll require a long analysis. It could take days until we find a match. If we find one. Except for you. I'll let you know when I had success."
They return to their quarters.
John can't help mentioning the irony of maybe not being able to have his cycle therapy because a lack of compatibles.
"He could still do the therapy on you, just in case," Rodney says, obviously not happy with the outcome of their talk with Carson.
"Carson's not just doing this for us," John says. "He needs to find out if it works. But hey, now we know at least one other person in the Pegasus galaxy," he adds casually.
"As if I would let him within a hundred feet of you!" Rodney says, eyes narrowing in anger as he gets a faraway look.
"I'm sorry about what happened," John says. "I thought about not doing the greeting where we touched, but their rituals are important to them and I thought I'd take my chances. I probably shouldn't have."
"This isn't your fault," Rodney says, giving John a look. "This would have happened sooner or later," he adds more quietly. As if he should have known.
"It's not your fault either," John re-iterates.
Rodney makes a face, but then says, "Let's just make sure it doesn't happen again."
"You've really changed your mind about this," John comments. He's glad Rodney sees things differently now. He still doesn't want him to feel rejected.
"He didn't have the right to force this on you," Rodney says firmly. "Nobody has. Not I, not anyone."
"It's not forced when you do it," John says, though he knows what Rodney means and is grateful Rodney has always felt that way—except when they first met—and made sure John knew it. "And he didn't really force himself on me," John adds. At Rodney's frown, he explains, "I closed my eyes and thought of you. Only you make me feel like this." He comes closer to Rodney. "Touch me."
They actually have to wait until John's next cycle. Carson finds a match who's willing to participate, but only after John's cycle is gone.
Rodney is antsy. John tries to tell him it might not work and that it will still be okay. He has it under control for the most part, and what's important is that they are together and happy. John's compatibility to others doesn't change that.
The match is a marine, who looks awkwardly at John and Rodney when they meet in the infirmary.
"So we should make a negative test," Carson tells them.
Rodney is outraged. "You want him to engage? I thought you conducted an analysis?"
"Yes, I did, but I can't be 100% certain it works correctly," Carson explains. "I want to avoid declaring this a success when there might have been an error in testing. Since there's a simple way to check if they are compatible—"
"Simple!" Rodney shouts.
John squeezes his arm with his gloved hand. "Rodney, it's okay. We don't have to fully engage. Just check for a reaction, right?"
Carson nods, and John turns to the marine, who looks uncomfortable at the thought of being engaged by his CO, but then he straightens and nods.
Rodney is not happy. He crosses his arms and the corners of his mouth turn downward as far as they go. John wants to hug him, but engaging now would mean they'd have to wait until they can do this negative test and they all want this be done as soon as possible.
They go into a separate room. This will be the first time John volunteers to engage "involuntarily". He takes off one glove. The Marine holds out his hand, and John reaches out a finger and touches it. The familiar lust slams into him as always, and John immediately pulls back his hand and has to turn to Rodney because he only ever wants to feel like this with Rodney.
Rodney looks so unhappy that John has to kiss him, and this time John doesn't hold back even if it means they're engaging.
Rodney is surprised but possessive. It's the second time in less than two months that they've engaged in public. Both following an involuntary engagement—or potential for it—with someone else. Though the latter might never happen again. What John felt a moment ago before engaging Rodney might have been the last time.
They kiss and hold each other after coming. Rodney strokes John's back.
Carson clears his throat. "You'll probably want to freshen up first," he says.
Rodney's eyes widen, and he looks nervous. They get up, and John tells Carson, "Let's get it over with now. We'll have to wait for a bit anyway until we can check for another engagement." He looks at the marine, who stands at attention, but looks a bit flushed. "We can meet here again in half an hour," he tells the marine.
Carson gives him the shot. John doesn't feel any change in his body. "It shouldn't take that long," Carson says.
They go back to their quarters and shower, separately, taking their time. When John gets dressed and puts on his gloves, he can't quite believe this might be the last time he needs to do that.
They walk back to the infirmary in silence. Rodney is tense, kneading his hands as they wait for Carson and the marine.
"It'll be okay," John assures Rodney.
Rodney nods. "I'm sure it worked. The ATA therapy worked on me. I don't see a reason why this shouldn't work on you. Carson may be a quack, but he knows what he's doing with genetics." Despite his words, John can see Rodney isn't entirely convinced. He smiles at Rodney.
When Carson comes out of his office, Rodney tells him, "We haven't discussed this, but could you do the therapy for me too? I doubt you'd find someone on Atlantis who's compatible to me, but I'd still like to do it."
"You don't have to do that," John says. Rodney never mentioned the cycle therapy—or compatible therapy for him—to John. And John knows that even though Rodney wasn't happy about being engaged by the server at his father's party, he also knows that unlike John, he always wanted to be engaged. At least before he met John.
"I know," Rodney says. "But I want to. I don't want to be engaged by anyone but you. You know that."
John nods. He doesn't think he needs to point out he might die. There aren't many cyclers out there who are compatible to Rodney anyway. Rodney might never meet one of them for the rest of his life, but John isn't going to tell him he can't avoid even those few cases. The rareness of Rodney's compatibility made it possible for John not to worry about Rodney being engaged too much, but it will be a relief to not have to worry about it at all. If this is what Rodney wants—and looking at him now, John has no doubt—then John will support him.
"Let's see how the first trial goes, and then I can prepare something for you," Carson says.
The marine returns and lifts his hand as he did before. This is the moment John has been waiting for all his life. He takes a deep breath, removes his glove, reaches out, and touches him.
Nothing happens. He takes the marine's hand fully, but it's just a handshake.
John doesn't really know what to say. There are no words for what just happened. He looks at Rodney, whose eyes are as big as his smile.
"Excellent," Carson says. "We should probably do another test in a day, just to make sure, but for now I'm declaring it a success."
The marine nods at John and leaves.
"You should go ahead and test if you're still compatible," Carson tells them. "You should be, but you should still test. I daresay it won't be a problem for you," he adds with a smirk.
John looks at Rodney and smiles. "Let's go," he says.
Rodney still feels the rush of their success. He imagines John casually walking in a crowd during his cycle in summer, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no gloves. That can be reality from now on. No more staying in during his cycle, no more worrying about when to visit their families.
Rodney spares a thought to how selfish he's been, but it had been John's decision not to go ahead with the therapy even though Rodney said he should—despite his own feelings. He's still aware that if John had done this therapy in his youth, they in all likelihood wouldn't have gotten together, but that's academic and right now the freedom this offers to John makes Rodney so happy that no what ifs can dampen it.
Carson had informed them there was a minor chance the genetic compatibility key would be corrupt, making John compatible to no one, not even Rodney.
Rodney is a bit nervous about testing that out now. Their life together is pretty perfect now. Their genetic compatibility has become a part of it, with both its inconveniences and benefits. Rodney would miss it, even if he knows they'll still be happy if they lost it. And he'd be okay with it too. "I love you, no matter what," he tells John. "You know that."
They undress and lie on the bed. "I love you," Rodney says again, thinking about how lucky he is to have met John.
He'd looked for a compatible for so long before meeting John. But what he found wasn't really about genetics. Even if they no longer have the genetic reaction, they'll still be compatible in all the ways that matter.
They lean forward and kiss—and lust shoots through Rodney's body at the first touch.
They're still compatible.
John is relieved when his body responds to Rodney's touch as it always does during his cycle.
They would have been okay without it, he knows, but it's nice they still have this. If someone would have told him years ago he'd think of engaging as nice he would have thought they were insane. But that was before Rodney, and engaging Rodney is a nothing like engaging anyone else. Engaging Rodney is about love and trust and yes, compatibility but not genetic one. This is them.
Now that he doesn't have to worry about others intruding into his cycling, he might finally fully embrace his existence as a cycler. He's not sure what they would have decided if the only choice had been to be compatible to no one, not even Rodney.
It occurs to John that he could have become effectively an incompatible. For a long time that had been what he wanted.
But being with Rodney has changed that, and John is glad he had the opportunity to find out that under the right circumstances, with the man he loves, he enjoys his cycling. From his current perspective he wouldn't have wanted to miss this, but he's well aware his past self would have disagreed and that others would too.
He thinks about Evelyn and what it would be like for her to have this freedom. He wants to ask Carson to find a way to make it happen, even if it's not quite legal. Of course, there are many others.
He can't even fathom what would happen if Carson's research is published.
The churches would go berserk at the thought of messing with God's gift. But even outside of religious extremism, John's not sure what would happen. This would effectively make compatibility or cycling a choice. He would have loved to have that choice when he was young, but looking at their respective families, he has to wonder what would happen if a boy like his father grew up with a mother like Rodney's.
Would she have had the procedure performed on her children as soon as they hit puberty? John finds it hard to imagine anything else. He's not sure how he feels about that.
And this is nothing he can resolve here in bed with Rodney, waiting for the natural refractory period to be over. The whole world might change because of this. He thinks about Evelyn's long-sleeved shirts and buttons, then about Patrick and his employees. He thinks about Cynthia who might never hear her grand-daughter call her "Grandma". So much might change—if Carson can release this information.
John lets go of all thoughts about the future and just enjoys Rodney in his arms. When their second engagement in a row kicks in, he embraces it, loving how his whole body vibrates against Rodney's, how every bit of skin contact takes them higher. They come with twin shouts of their names within seconds.
Rodney lies on top of him, panting. John knows they won't stop any time soon. Not today.
"Do you want to fuck me the next time around?" he asks Rodney.
"I can," Rodney says, kissing him.
As Rodney prepares him, John forgets about the world and focuses on his world. He's still a cycler, but for the first time that doesn't evoke mixed feelings. Actually, that's not entirely true. He can't completely forget his past experiences and how much he struggled with it. But that's his past and from now on when he thinks of his cycling he doesn't have to think about anything other than dicks hanging out of their pants when they kiss, handkerchiefs to cuddle, engaging when they go to bed or wake up.
Today hasn't changed any of that. He still has all of that with Rodney.
But he doesn't have to wear gloves again or long sleeves on hot summer days. He'll never have to fear again that a genetic coincidence will take over his body against his will. He'll never have to fight again for autonomy of his own body.
The only one who still has that hold over him is Rodney, and John trusts him with his body, his heart, and his soul.
Finally, the feeling he's always had, that compatibility means more than just two bodies undulating, has become a reality for him.
He's compatible to Rodney—and only Rodney—in every way.