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Pegasus Non-Verbal

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Before Antarctica, John had never realized that a mute person could be incredibly, offensively loud.

After the drone almost killed them, General O'Neill turned back to him and said, "There's no chance I can get you to just forget what you saw, is there?"

John snorted. "Sorry, sir. Not a snowball's chance in hell."

Jack muttered something about hell and cold and John figured it was just the scenery. Antarctica affected people differently, but it affected everyone. He liked it.

"Hey, by any chance, do you know ASL?"

"Nope," John said, which was only half a lie. He could understand a little - okay, maybe more than a little - but he had trouble remembering how to make the signs himself. He figured, if O'Neill was asking, that someone important to the SGC was deaf.

"Too bad," the General replied, and that was that.

Then they walk into the main lab, and someone is yelling without making a single sound.

The man's in a terrible orange fleece, broad-shouldered and a little shorter than John, but that's only relevant because the man he's yelling at is taller, built like military but with round glasses and a delicate face. Orange-fleece-guy is flailing his arms, a dry-erase marker gripped tight in one hand, and in between said flailing and stamping his feet, he's writing on the board, numbers and lines in broad, careless strokes that are barely even legible, he's writing so quickly. Glasses-guy doesn't look all that impressed. "It's all we've got, Rodney," he says, and orange-fleece-guy - Rodney, presumably - throws his hands up and caps the marker with far more force than necessary.

Glasses-guy sighs, General O'Neill goes to meet him, and John figures that's his cue to start wandering around and touching shit he isn't supposed to. This is generally how he makes friends.

In this case, it gets him an invitation to Atlantis, and one very surprised scientist in his orange fleece, hands flicking almost too fast as he signs think about where we are in the solar system.

"Think about - " someone starts translating but glowing lines are already appearing over John's head in graceful arcs, mapping the curves and folds of the universe. It's beautiful, but John's not looking up - he's watching the face of the man who clearly understands what's being said around him, but doesn't speak. A face that looks as if something inside him flipped over, when John recognized the sign for 'solar system'.

"You told me you didn't know sign language," General O'Neill mutters into the silence, and John shrugs.

"I suck at signing," he says, and the General sighs expansively.

"Why do I have a feeling you're going to be more trouble than you're worth?"

+

"So, are you just mute, or really, really good at reading lips?"

Rodney gives him a shocked and petulant look. It's one Rodney wears a lot, another way he shouts without saying a word. When John just returns it with a steady patience, not willing to backpedal, to tiptoe around it, to treat him like a cripple - he sighs.

A little of both, he signs. I have a hearing aid that basically lets me -

"A what?" John interrupts. Rodney's lips tighten and he's about to go for the small whiteboard he carries, but John's hand flashes out, catches him around the wrist. "Don't, just - spell it for me. And then make the sign again."

Rodney is not a patient man, and with most people, he doesn't even bother signing. With most people, he has to go slow, and the only reason he'd signed so much in Antarctica was because of Daniel Jackson. John can keep up with the speed - he's just short on vocabulary, and he's found that, if Rodney will let him, he wants to learn.

For John, he spells out h-e-a-r-i-n-g a-i-d, and makes the sign again. John copies him, his fingers clumsy, then drops his hand as he realizes what he's doing. "Right," he mutters. "So. You have a hearing aid...."

It helps, Rodney signs, and his face is a mixture of conflicting emotions. But it's still hard to understand unless I'm watching someone's lips.

John nods, because he gets it. And he gets, too, why Rodney skips over explaining whether he's actually mute or just stubborn - for one, it's really none of his business, and for two, it doesn't really matter. John pretty much believes that people are gonna do their own thing, and that's just fine with him. So he doesn't really care what people think about him, as long as he knows he's done what's right for himself. And he accepts Rodney's right to communicate with his hands, wholeheartedly, no matter what the reason. To John, it's just common decency.

And it quickly becomes clear that common decency is not a thing that Rodney gets a lot of. The soldiers, especially, seem particularly dedicated to making sure they don't treat Rodney any differently - and as a result, frequently end up having to repeat themselves, because they started talking with their faces pointed away. They don't get pissed off by the repetition, but John notices the high flush that comes over Rodney's cheeks, whenever he has to ask. He notices the way Rodney's strong jaw tenses, the way he steels himself, suiting up for one more battle in the fight to be normal.

John always turns toward him when he speaks, always gets his attention first. He starts not listening to people unless they do the same, too, and a number of soldiers - the smart ones - pick up the habit right away. John doesn't care about rank and he doesn't care about coming off disrespectful. Respect is something that only happens when everyone is included.

+

Rodney has a text-to-speech program that he uses to communicate over the radios. John hates it instantly. It sounds stupid and fake and no matter how good Rodney's programming is, it just doesn't do cadence, and John quickly learns that, when you talk with your hands and your body language alone, cadence is important.

Not that he would say anything, if it wasn't so obvious that Rodney hated it, too.

"Why do you even bother with that thing," John finally says, gesturing at the small keyboard he's got hooked to his belt.

Rodney rolls his eyes and sighs, loud and pointedly. What the fuck is that supposed to mean, he signs, and if he expects John not to know 'fuck' he obviously has no idea where John picked up the language in the first place.

He cocks an eyebrow. "You hate it. I hate it. It makes you sound like the unholy union of Vader and R2."

Rodney bursts out laughing, silently, but his whole face is stretched in a wide grin. I don't hate it, he tries signing, but now it's John's turn to roll his eyes and reach out, grab one of his hands.

"Nice try," he drawls. "You think you're the only one who watches faces around here? Yours is an open book, McKay. Which is, you know, a good thing and all, but I wouldn't bother trying to lie. You kind of suck at it."

Rodney huffs, mock-aggravated, then his hands are flying through the air with the snippy edges that John's come to read as his Impatient With This Bullshit voice. It's not like there are a lot of options. Radio is convenient. Can't argue with that.

John watches his hands slow and fall, before Rodney balls them up and crosses his arms over his chest. Defensive. Protecting himself, and it's not from John.

"Sure it is, but there's other downsides. Audio can give away a stealth mission better than anything else. There's interference, voices are easily faked, not to mention that it sucks for transmitting any kind of concrete data."

Rodney's flailing his hands around, now, and he isn't making words, just flinging them around in passionate agreement.

"So, as your team leader, I'm ordering you to think of something better. Something the entire team can use, not just three fourths of it. Understand?"

Rodney salutes him, which is another way that he doesn't need words to make himself heard, loud and clear.

+

Rodney runs up behind him, crashes into his back and spins as he maneuvers himself in front of John, who's still walking. Rodney keeps pace walking backwards, and he's excited, his eyes are shining and his hands adding dips and loops as he breezes through the signs.

I did it, I did it, he's saying. I've got it, I'm a genius, me, I did it, I'm a genius, best, genius, me, and John both rolls his eyes and laughs because it's not rare to see Rodney proclaim his prowess, but it's all kinds of special, seeing his grammar break down as his hands move faster than his brain.

"Yes, fine, whatever, what did you do this time?" Rodney grabs his hand and tugs him, dragging him as fast as he can toward the nearest transporter. "I hope you didn't blow anything up, please don't blow things up anymore - "

Rodney jabs his thumb into the zone with his lab, and signs something that's even quicker than John can make out. He's pretty sure he knows what it is, though.

"No, you blow things up all the time, McKay, don't even give me that - "

They're still bickering, John talking and watching Rodney's hands and thinking that that's another reason non-verbal communication is awesome, as they stroll into the lab - Rodney shoots Zelenka a lewd gesture, which really, is mostly just his way of saying 'hi'. Zelenka sighs, put upon, and doesn't even bother responding; John is distracted, because he's pretty sure that Rodney is his favorite. Like, forever.

A few things, he signs, John only watching him out of the corner of his eye but still listening. Not only do they send and receive text, like so, and he demonstrates, first plugging in his keyboard and typing something, then gesturing for John to speak. The little watchlike device interprets his words almost perfectly, which has his brows shooting right up his forehead.

"Okay, now that..."

It's keyed to your voice, Rodney signs with barely contained excitement. I've been recording your - never mind, he cuts himself off with, rolling his eyes. That's not the exciting part. Watch this.

And then Rodney straps on one of the watches, adding a secondary band to his left wrist. Grins, all challenge and smirk. And then he signs.

If you can understand this, look down at your communicator, and John's already looking, watching, in amazement, as the text version of Rodney's signs appears on his tiny screen.

"Holy shit," John mutters, and it hits him like a punch - he wants to kiss him, he wants to kiss Rodney McKay, not because he's got the loudest mouth on Atlantis and he doesn't even vocalize - but because he's brilliant, absolutely fucking brilliant. It's one thing to know stuff, to crunch numbers, to be able to solve logic puzzles - that's great and all, but what Rodney has, the thing that makes him so special, is his innovation. The way he integrates ideas, information, aggregates and sorts and comes up with new and creative solutions to solve the problem at hand, and the next one and the next, before you could even think of it. His mind is just. And John just.

"Come on," he says, instead. "Let's go show Teyla how they work."

+

They sit side by side with their shoulders pressed together and wait to die. So, pretty much a normal Thursday in the Pegasus galaxy.

I'm pretty sure RZ hates you a little, Rodney signs, though his hands barely move up from his lap - he's tired, so tired, but not tired enough to fumble for his keyboard. He uses initials for most people - RZ, EW, AF, EL. Sometimes, though, for the people he either really likes or really dislikes, he gives them nicknames. Carson is 'magician', Teyla is 'princess', and John, apparently, is a physical portmanteau of 'flight' and 'math', which ends up looking like math flying off in a plane - which, he guesses, is how Rodney sees him. It's kind of. Well.

Look, at this point, when it comes to Rodney McKay, John knows he's entirely too biased.

But Rodney doesn't have a nickname for Zelenka, reserving the prime sign of 'asshole' for Kavanaugh. John always gets a little thrill when he sees Rodney sign at him across the room, casually dissing people literally standing next to him and John is the only one who knows.

John wants to ask why but Rodney's not looking at him, he's looking down, and anyway, he doesn't want to speak up, to let their captors know they're awake. God damn it, he thinks. John Sheppard, you are a fucking coward.

But if anything can be counted on, it's that Rodney abhors a conversational vacuum. He's more than happy to fill up the space without input from John at all. I keep losing the whiteboard, he signs. You would think he'd learn a few signs by now, but nooo, two languages and basic theoretical physics is all he can handle, apparently.

John smirks, something inside him settling. Yeah, it would be easier if Zelenka had a better grasp of it, sure. But he knows more than Rodney gives him credit for - and sometimes, John likes being one of the few people on Atlantis that understands.

+

He isn't surprised that Teyla takes to learning Rodney's language with the same earnest and dogged persistence that she assimilates everything else. It's important to her, learning to communicate as effectively as possible, and within months, not only has she acquired the basics, but she has introduced Rodney to a group of Athosians who practice their own non-verbal language, keeping it alive for any child born without the gifts of hearing or speech.

"In our culture," she explains, both out loud and with her hands, though she moves and speaks slowly, carefully, needing time to remember. "Those born without one of their physical senses are seen as being uniquely gifted in other areas. They are, without fail, some of our most brilliant painters, weavers of stories, shamans, and of course, the gift of sensing the Wraith is almost always paid for in other ways."

What about you? Rodney signs, and John hides a smile when he notices how slow he's talking, how he's willing to do that, for Teyla.

Teyla's mouth shapes into a smile of her own, but it is not a happy one, and Rodney shakes his head, his brilliant mind already answering his question.

"Here," she says, and leads them to a hut where a group of children sit with one of the village elders. "Join us and learn."

Ford doesn't learn much, but enough to make it clear that he's paying attention, that he cares. Mostly, what he chooses to pick up is for convenience and security - and, probably, for the sake of his sanity, since Rodney's rapid-fire signing is almost always comprised of WE ARE GOING TO DIE and really, no one but John needs to hear that. Teyla does because she wants to, sure, but John's the leader, John's his friend, John doesn't try and shut him up because he knows that this is how Rodney McKay works. He freaks out, hands flying through the air and shaking and flailing and pointing and John just looks him calmly in the face and says, as distinctly as possible - "Shut up and fix it, McKay."

I CAN'T, he signs back, loudly, and John growls.

"Yes you damn well can, asshole, now get those hands working on saving our asses, not talking my ear off!"

He thinks, sometimes, that Ford really doesn't understand how he can say that - hear, ears, or he doesn't understand how Rodney accepts it. He doesn't get that the literal meanings are immaterial, that it's more important that 'I hear you' and 'you talk too much' and 'loud' and 'shut up' and 'my ears are bleeding' all have cultural meaning, they're significant. Yeah, John could say 'I see you' but that's not what he means, not really.

But out of all the marines, Ford was the one who tried, and John isn't going to accept that he can't be saved.

+

At first, Ronon Dex doesn't get it either. He doesn't get anything.

"You have a mouth," he growls, "use it!" and John watches as the aforementioned mouth flattens into a thin, unhappy line.

"Didn't you have deaf people on Sateda?" John asks, as they circle each other in the gym and trade tentative, searching blows.

"Sure," Ronon says, easily. "But they learned to make up for it, or else they'd fall behind."

John thinks about a society built on the 'man up' premise, and yeah, that makes sense. He goes down to Rodney's lab, slouches against the edge of his desk and taps him on the shoulder to get his attention before telling him what Ronon said.

Well that's great and all, Rodney signs, rolling his eyes in exasperation, but has it occurred to him that I can't? Talk, that is? Does he think I'd actively pursue being this different - no okay never mind, he quickly cuts John off with, and huffs out one of those sighs that maybe, almost, hopefully sounds affectionate. Obviously I take pride in some differences. But that's just practicality. I'm exceptionally intelligent, it's not like there's any use denying it. Hard of hearing - honestly that's somewhat psychosomatic, I was obviously a precocious child and hearing the adults around me make these noises with their throats and I would open my mouth and nothing, nothing. I'm pretty sure I just started tuning out sound because I was so frustrated that I couldn't join in. Does that make sense?

"It makes sense," John murmurs, over Rodney signing of course it does, not like there's any hard and fast rules to biology, with a look of such exasperation and contempt that John can't help smiling.

But when I learned how to write, they figured out I was a genius - finally - and I let them give me a hearing aid because retraining myself at that point was already too much effort that could be better spent coming up with new and creative ways to be better than everyone else. That last is signed with a lopsided smile, the almost-self-deprecating one that John knows isn't actually a bit modest, not at all. So there. The story of why MRM hates English and loves ASL, and why he would die on Sateda, I guess. Are we done here? Some of us actually have work to do, and John -

John leans over and kisses the backs of Rodney's fingers, just one little dry press of lips, before pulling back and grinning warm and fond. "I'll talk to Ronon," he says, because he knows Rodney, knows what offends him versus what pisses him off, and he knows, now, how hard it must have been. Growing up, unable to be loud, unable to make himself heard.

You do that, Rodney signs off-handedly, but John can see that his eyes aren't looking at his screen, they're looking at the back of his hand, unseeing, like he's thinking, thinking, thinking.

+

"Oh," Ronon says, and he doesn't look guilty, doesn't worry that he's offended Rodney by making assumptions, because Ronon doesn't look back. He doesn't regret what he said, doesn't judge himself for being ignorant, and surprisingly enough, John finds that he respects that. "Never knew anyone like that on Sateda. Pretty sure they'd've found a way to get by." He holds up the arm with his communicator strapped to his wrist. "Just like McKay, I guess."

Ronon doesn't learn ASL, but what he does learn is how to speak Rodney. John sees them have entire conversations with just their faces, and he isn't jealous - just happy, because Ronon is the missing piece to this team in a way that (he thinks, with not a small amount of guilt because he wants Ford back in Atlantis, he really does, this has nothing to do with him) he would not have even thought possible before. John trusts him, and it's all too plain that the big guy is loyal to John first, then the team, and Atlantis only as an afterthought. He's a wild thing that chooses to roost in John's care, fiercely defensive, barely controlled, and always only because he wants to be.

So yeah, John feels kind of weak and happy on the inside, when he sees the way Ronon forges his own connection with Rodney McKay.

+

The language that Rodney speaks, now, is not ASL. John doesn't know what to call it, Rodney smirks and makes the signs for 'Atlantis Sign Language' and John kicks him, because he's not funny. Then we could still call it ASL! Rodney signs brightly. John kicks him again.

Teyla suggests Pegasus Non-Verbal and it sticks, probably because 'pegasus' is a pretty sign and at this point, they've adopted gestures from all over the galaxy. There are over twenty separate signs for 'Wraith', and Rodney uses them interchangeably. He no longer spells out Z-P-M, and once, on a video call with Dr. Jackson, Rodney stared incomprehensibly, because he'd forgotten the ASL sign for 'dangerous'.

They don't talk about the time John pressed his lips to the ridge of his knuckles, and John still keeps his hands in his pockets, getting Rodney's attention so he can let him watch his mouth.

+

John knew that Rodney had a sister, but he didn't know that her daughter was as mute as Rodney was.

Apparently, Rodney didn't either, judging from the stricken look on his face when Jeannie signed, just as deliberately off-handed and casual as Rodney could be when he felt passive-aggressive, of course you wouldn't know, you never asked.

More than once he makes a sign that leaves Jeannie mystified, until he remembers that she isn't fluent in PNV. More than once, John catches her looking at him from behind, lost, worried, and afraid. More than once, John tries to find a way to tell her, he's okay.

Then someone arrives from another galaxy, someone who looks like Rodney, but he opens his mouth and says, "Oh my god, it worked."

+

The meeting is awkward on so many levels, but mostly because Jeannie actually has to translate, simply so the two Rodneys can understand each other.

"So, uh," Rod says, not entirely comfortable but certainly fascinated, "wow. You can't talk. Alternate me can't talk. That's just. Wow."

Rodney rolls his eyes and signs something that John knows Jeannie won't translate, because Jeannie is actually nice.

"How do you... wait, never mind, that's not important."

Later, Rodney signs, and Jeannie smiles, soft and rueful. "He'll tell you all about it later."

+

The consensus is that Rod's voice is really goddamn aggravating. The novelty of having a talking Rodney wears out its welcome in under an hour, and John is beyond tired of trying to get a word in edgewise, especially when he's used to being able to be heard over Rodney's nonstop signs. Still, they can't exactly say that, not when Rod can hear them no matter where he's looking, and it's no surprise that Rodney shuts down, quiet and tetchy and miserable.

Rod comes up to hit a few golf balls, and John isn't actually all that surprised to learn that in a universe where Rodney is this friendly, this talkative, John Sheppard's response is to clam up.

He wonders, then, if it's just being able to speak that gave Rod the kind of confidence and ease that Rodney has never had. He wonders, but part of him can't help but feel that, voice or no voice, his Rodney McKay would be just as...

Well, the adjectives that others would use - that others have used - aren't exactly polite. He hates how easy it is for people to talk behind Rodney's back - literally - but on the other hand, he's grateful, that he has at least some small protection from careless cruelty.

But when John thinks of Rodney McKay, these are the words that come to mind: Loyal. Persistent. Proud. Stubborn. Brilliant. Cynical. Practical. Picky. Loud. And whether he speaks with his mouth or his hands, John knows that these are things that his McKay would always be.

+

Jeannie has tears streaming down her face, as she watches her brother sign with shaking, stilted movements - that he loves her, that he wishes he had done more, that he wants a second chance, if they somehow survive these impossible odds. John hadn't said anything - just came in, opened the laptop, set it down in her lap. There weren't any words, really. Not in English, not for this. But John has figured out how to tell her, he's okay, while really meaning he may not say it in the same way, but he cares. He cares more than anyone else.

There's a swoosh, swoosh as the door opens and shuts and they look up to find Rodney, guilt and anguish radiating from his face. John closes the laptop, sets it aside. "It's nothing, Rodney," he says, but what he means is, trust me. And Rodney does, is the thing. He nods, letting it go, and when does Rodney let things go? When John Sheppard tells him to, apparently.

Rodney signs something that John recognises instantly, but Jeannie frowns. "What..."

He says it again, uses a different sign. Then another, and another. John feels his heart contract in his chest.

On Athos, he begins to explain, there are four words for love. This, and he makes the first sign over again, is what you say when someone is family. It means that the love is unconditional, that you can. His hands sort of stutter, which is Rodney's version of 'uh'. He pauses for a moment, face uncertain - he's bracing himself, John can see that - then he barrels on, hands flying. Judge someone's life choices and stay bitter and resentful for four years and hate themselves for it and not know how to make it better, and Jeannie makes a sound, a little gasp-sob of a noise, and Rodney flinches so John knows he hears it. And you still love them. His fingers twitch, eyes darting around the room like he's searching for something - answers, strength, whatever, and John realizes at this point that he should have left, but when Rodney meets his eye and something inside him settles, John figures it worked out for the best.

That's, uh, that's Athosian family love, and the others, but he doesn't get to explain them, because Jeannie sways a bit and suddenly his arms are busy reaching out, taking hold of her, and - hugging her. Hugging her tight and tight and sometimes, even soundless words are too much, sometimes simple is best.

John slips quietly out the door. He's seen Rodney make that sign before, with Teyla, with Ronon, and he still dreads the day Rodney uses it for him.

+

"Why do you not speak to him with your hands?" Teyla says, out of the blue one day. John had known this was coming; still, it catches him off guard.

He tries to unstick his throat and come up with a response that isn't lame.

"Because he's a pussy," Ronon says with a hard-edged smirk. John glares at him, angry, but only because he's right.

"I'm just shitty at it, that's all," he mutters, but Ronon snorts, not buying it for a second.

"Bullshit," he rumbles, and John is suddenly and sharply tired of being interrogated.

"How 'bout it's none of your goddamn business," he growls, pushes up from the table, and stalks off. It's not one of his finer moments, but.

But nothing. He wants to. He's been wanting to sign back the moment he realized that Rodney feels more comfortable communicating with hands - but he couldn't, he couldn't make himself do it.

He'd say he was afraid of screwing it up, but for all of McKay's bitching about incompetence in every other field, he has never, not once, taken someone to task for clumsy signing. So it isn't that, it can't be that.

Honestly, John has no idea. It just sort of - he had told himself he was out of practice, couldn't remember how to sign, and Rodney understood him anyway, so why bother? He'd made a point of using himself as an example, teaching everyone on Atlantis how to talk to Rodney, with Rodney, and Teyla learned to sign back but that was because she was Teyla. That was her thing. John's thing was tapping him on the shoulder, the arm, the hip sometimes, to make Rodney turn to him, so he could watch the way that John moved his lips.

Yeah, okay. Not that it was conscious, obviously, but John's pretty sure he rebelled against signing because then Rodney wouldn't have to look at his mouth anymore.

+

The easiest person to learn from would be Rodney himself, but obviously John's not going to do that. He finds himself spending time on the mainland, with the handful of Atlanteans who've learned PNV, with Teyla and Ronon, practicing. Rodney might tolerate imperfect signers, but John isn't going to be one of them. If he's going to do this, he's going to get it right, he's going to exceed expectations, because in all his life, Rodney is the first person John wants to actually impress.

He remembers the look on Rodney's face when he realized John had qualified for Mensa. It was perfect, that little shocked slash of surprise in his mouth and something new in his eyes, new and wondering and utterly furious. Other people had been angry that he wasn't living up to his potential before; but none of them had the kind of information Rodney did. His pitch wasn't, you could be doing so much better, because oddly enough, Rodney seemed to understand that John was exactly where he wanted to be. What he said, instead, was how dare you cheat me out of all the reasonably intelligent conversations we could be having! and for some reason, that actually worked.

Rodney didn't push him for his own sake, he pushed him because he didn't want to be alone, and that, well. John has always been weak to the needs of others.

So he's got to get this right. Has to. Because, he's slowly realizing, this means something, and he has to - if Rodney doesn't understand. If he doesn't get it, then. John won't know what else to do. He sucks that this, people, relationships, and the only reason he isn't pissing himself in terror is that, by all accounts, Rodney does, too. And John thinks, as he shapes an M and an R and another M and watches Teyla's face for approval, that maybe what he needed - what they both needed - was someone who could speak their language.

+

It's supposed to be a birthday present, but of course, this is the Pegasus Galaxy. It kind of has a special hatred for plans.

This is new, Rodney signs, in a bored sort of way that means it's not new at all. They're underground, in a holding cell, and John is done with holding cells. He is so done.

"You'd think we'd get used to this by now, huh," John says, and suddenly someone jabs him in the back, through the bars he's been cuffed to - feet only, though, and there's enough give in the chain to sit down, but not enough for them to reach each other.

"Quiet!" the guard snaps. "The Mistress has not granted you the privilege of speech!!"

John meets Rodney's eye, across the cell. His hands are cradled in his lap, but John knows from experience that they're probably shaking. He lifts an eyebrow.

Rodney's eyes dart left and right, quick - but of course no one's looking. The guards face outward, awaiting a signal from their Mistress or whatever, and they think they'll be able to hear if anything happens. They think.

Why do I have a feeling we've somehow managed to find the Weird BDSM Planet? Rodney signs. His looking at John's lips, expecting him to mouth his reply.

But John doesn't. Can't. He is, suddenly and achingly, sick of being the one that doesn't talk right, that can't, won't, refuses to speak the Language of Rodney. It's stupid, so stupid, because he's been fluent in Rodney from day one, and somehow, he let everyone else do the one thing he should have been doing all along.

He lifts his hands and - nervously, because of all the things they've faced together in this new and terrifying stretch of stars, this is the thing that manages to make John Sheppard scared - signs.

Because that's pretty much what just happened, he says, and no amount of bracing prepares him for the look on McKay's face.

God, he just - he lights up, astonished first, shocked, perplexed - and slowly it dawns on him, and he tries to hide it but when has Rodney ever been able to hide something on his face? He's happy, he's so happy he looks like he's losing his mind.

You ok? John signs, and that one comes much easier, because it's something he's wanted to say a hundred times now, wanted to be able to ask him across the room, just for the two of them, something private and reassuring that sails right through a sea of people with ears that listen.

Rodney squeezes his eyes shut. Nods. Presses his forehead to his knees, and for a moment John's genuinely concerned that he broke him, but a moment later his head flies up and his eyes are blazing and hard.

I hate you so much, he signs, hands rough and jerking and so agitated and John knows, because he is fluent in Rodney, that sometimes, the more angry he is, the more it means he cares. God fucking damnit, Sheppard! Have you just been holding out on me for kicks or what??

That, however, stuns him, and Rodney must see the genuine astonishment in his face, because some of the fight drains out of him. I literally just learned, he signs, quick and precise. It was going to be a birthday present or something. I would never - Rodney, and what he signs, instead of the usual MRM, is his own portmanteau - 'brilliant', together with the sign for 'partner'.

Rodney stares, gobsmacked. John knows he won't have any trouble working out what two signs they'd started out as, and what it was supposed to represent - that's not what's got Rodney McKay looking like a clock with a stuck gear.

I love you, John says, using the fourth Athosian hand-sign, the one that they both knew full well meant 'all the kinds of love at once, and then some more'. Because Rodney was sometimes family, sometimes a soulmate, and sometimes John just wanted to kiss him, over and over again. He wanted to marry him and teach him things and sign pacts in blood that promised they'd always have each other. There wasn't a love in the universe that John didn't feel for this man, and at this point, it didn't matter if Rodney felt the same, he just had to know. Had to know that John was, and would always be, his.

What McKay ends up signing back is: asshole, and then, realizing, huffs and adds, jackass, sorry, because John is an asshole but he's not Kavanaugh.

John presses a hand to his mouth to stifle a laugh and knows that Rodney can see it, dancing in his eyes, and Rodney's anger is gone as well, leaving him looking tired and fond and so, so warm.

John waits, cocking an eyebrow. Finally, Rodney sighs.

I love you too, dipshit. Obviously, and that one's accompanied by an impressive eyeroll, even by McKay's standards. Took you long enough.

Whatever, John signs back, and he's going to be making that particular hand motion for the rest of his days. Maybe, in the lexicon of Pegasus Non-Verbal, it'll start meaning what John intends it to mean - you're aggravating and impossible and I can't live without you.

+

"Fascinating," Jackson breathes, eyes scanning the hundreds of tiny videos that Rodney lined up in a grid, just to be impressive, really. "Do you even realize what you've done here? This is a new language, it has structures and syntax that are entirely new, totally separate from ASL or the Athosian hand signs - this is, this is incredible."

Rodney smirks. Pretty fucking impressive, huh, he signs, and across the room, Ronon snorts, because the sign for that particular version of the swear is based on a Satedan euphemism.

"Wow. I just - can I learn it? Would you mind teaching me?" and Rodney's a little better at a poker face these days, but John can easily read the awe lurking in his eyes.

Rodney's hand jitters in a drawn out uhhhh.

Teyla steps behind John so she can sign over his shoulder and catch Rodney's attention. If you do not do this, I will make you attend staff practice daily. For a month.

Rodney gulps and John, catching the jist of it out of the corner of his eye, chuckles.

Yeah, okay, obviously, yes, Rodney signs, finishing up with the ASL word, and Dr. Jackson grins like Christmas come early. You should get John to help you, though. He's the one who started it.

At a look from General O'Neill, who is inexplicably but very firmly present, Dr. Jackson translates. The General sighs.

"Jesus Christ, Sheppard. Of course you started it. Didn't I say you were going to be more trouble than you're worth?"

Dr. Jackson gives the General a disapproving look over his glasses, but the AR-1 team is just grinning, their language running like a circuit between them. Worth it, Rodney signs, then shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and mock-innocently peers up at the ceiling.

"See, Dr. McKay thinks I'm worth it," John drawls, and when the General assumes that John's just joking, no one moves to contradict him.