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It starts innocently enough; odd glitches here and there, little anomalies that don't even ping Carson's radar at first.

He's working late, typing up notes and case histories, cup of cold tea at his elbow and three monitors open at the same time. When one of them suddenly opens up a blank email message with Rodney's name on the 'To' field, Carson only blinks, closing it with a click. He must have pressed the button by mistake.

A few days later he gets to the sickbay only to be met with a confused frown from Dr Cheng.

"Is something the matter, Dr Beckett?" she asks, always formal when they are on duty.

"No. Why would anything be wrong?" He looks around, half expecting to see a Wraith assault in progress or beds full of people suffering from yet another mishap with Ancient technology.

"Because you are here six hours before your shift," Dr Cheng says, and then crosses her arms, looking politely annoyed. "Dr Beckett, I can assure you that I am more than capable of-"

"Oh, no, no, no, I wasn't implying otherwise!" Carson holds up his hands and takes a step back. "I just... I thought I was on early shift, I..." He pulls out his datapad, bringing up the medical staff rota. "Huh."

The rota clearly states that he is indeed on a late shift today, though Carson could swear that had not been the case when he'd checked it yesterday. "I'll just..." He makes a vague gesture toward the corridor, exiting swiftly and feeling Cheng's eyes burn a hole between his shoulder blades all the way.

Somewhat at loose ends, he dithers for a moment before heading toward the mess. Might as well get proper breakfast since he has the time.

Even this early, the mess is busy, the queue to the service counter snaking between the tables. The tail end of it is held up by one tired looking Head of Science.

"Rodney," Carson greets, settling behind him to wait his turn to decide between whatever the chefs are passing as breakfast items this morning.

Rodney turns around, looking like a startled owl, his hair standing up and uniform beyond wrinkled. "Hey, Carson," he says, attempting a wave and almost losing his balance and toppling face first into Carson's chest.

"Steady on," Carson says, grabbing his friend by the shoulders. Even stooping from exhaustion they are a rather nice pair of shoulders and Carson resists the urge to run his hands over them and around Rodney's back, to pull him closer...

Determinedly, he stomps on that train of thought before it gets off the station. Rodney is his best friend and just because his own traitorous heart - to say nothing of various other parts of his anatomy - has started to entertain impossible ideas, doesn't mean he should, or has any right to, act on them.

"You've worked through the night again without sleeping," he says instead, shaking his head unhappily. It's not a question because he can see perfectly well that Rodney's brain hasn't shut down for at least twenty hours if not more. "I've told you a hundred times! You can't keep doing this to yourself. Despite what you think, your brain is not actually independent from the rest of your body and if you insist on-"

"I did it," Rodney interrupts, beaming at him in a way that makes his tired face look years younger. "A portable shield. Now the Athosian settlement can have its own, and we'll be able to build more, given time and resources. Radek thinks-"

"That's brilliant," Carson says, because it is. They're not all that different, Rodney and him, both of them driven by the need to keep people safe as much as scientific curiosity. "You're brilliant," he adds, softly, because, well, Rodney is.

"I know that," Rodney says, looking pleased and surprised nonetheless.

For all his self-proclaimed genius, Carson doesn't think Rodney has heard enough genuine praise in his life, the kind without any underlying motivation or jealousy. Which is why he considers it his job, as Rodney's best friend, to provide it every now and then. And if he also loves to see the way Rodney's expression softens into something almost shy and awkward as a consequence then that's nobody's business other than his.

"I mean, don't get me wrong: You're still an idiot for pushing your body to its limits and skipping sleep and as your doctor and your friend I'm duty bound to point that out." It doesn't do to let Rodney forget that someone cares about him beyond his intelligence either.

"Of course you are," Rodney says, some of his usual snark back in his voice, but he's still smiling, patting Carson's chest absently before turning to peruse the food items on offer.

Carson goes for fruit and porridge while Rodney piles his plate high with the Pegasus Galaxy equivalent of pancakes.

"Not one word about my arteries," he tells Carson as they sit down.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Carson says placidly, perfectly happy and content in that moment, watching Rodney shovel food into his mouth and explain the intricacies of his latest invention between forkfuls.

After they've finished their breakfast, Carson walks Rodney to his quarters, partly to make sure he gets there and partly just because he wants to.

"Are you going to tuck me in?" Rodney asks once they reach his door.

Carson is pretty sure the question is meant to be sarcastic but the effect is somewhat ruined by the massive yawn and instead comes out sounding almost plaintive. Carson is also pretty sure he shouldn't take Rodney up on the implied offer, no matter how tempted he is.

And oh he definitely is. Very. "I'm sure you'll manage that on your own, being a brilliant genius and all," he says instead, giving Rodney a gentle push across the threshold.

Rodney huffs but is too tired to even attempt a come-back and simply waves a good night, or a good day, however you look at it. Carson stares at the closed door for a few long seconds before heading back the way they came. It's been a good morning; an unexpected chance to spend time with Rodney and to indulge his own protective instincts when it comes to the other man - something he would have missed out on if not for the unexplained shift change.


***


After their shared breakfast it seems like Carson can't get Rodney out of his thoughts. This is probably largely due to the fact that he can't get Rodney out of his datapads, his work computers, his personal laptop, or his projector screen. It is as if a proverbial ghost in the machine has developed a crush on the man and keeps opening files, documents, emails, photographs, even films and music Carson knows are among Rodney's favourites seemingly at random. At first it's perplexing, then almost amusing, then finally just annoying as hell. And oddly embarrassing. As if the computers know how he feels about Rodney and are mocking him.

Which is of course completely ridiculous. Not to mention impossible.

Still, Carson puts up with it all, somehow reluctant to talk to anyone about the problem. Definitely not to Rodney.

Three days later, a misbehaving technology takes that decision off his hands.

"Dr Beckett?" Rodney's voice in his ear startles Carson in the middle of an intense game of solitaire which immediately tells him 'no more moves' and promptly closes. The formal address and the harried tone indicate this is a professional, rather than a personal, call and Carson is already out of his chair.

"Dr McKay," he says, automatically reaching for his medical bag. "What is it?"

The silence at the other end stretches long enough that Carson is all the way to the door before Rodney's confused "You called me?" comes through.

"What? No I didn't."

"Yes you did."

"Rodney, I definitely didn't. It's not like I... Oh."

"What? What 'oh'?" Rodney's voice goes suspicious and then increasingly high. "There is no 'oh', Carson! Don't you know that on Atlantis every single 'oh' usually precedes an immediate catastrophe? Are you having an immediate catastrophe, Carson? Do I need to come over there and rescue you?" There's a noise like a chair toppling over and Rodney says: "Screw this, I'm coming over and you are not allowed to touch anything or die in the meanwhile."

There's a sad, twisted part of Carson that is somehow gratified over the concern Rodney is inadvertently showing. He's not proud of it, but it's there. "No, no, stay there. Nothing's wrong, just..." And well, now he's gone and said it, he's going to have to follow through. "Just been having some... technical glitches lately."

"What about me makes you think that's reassuring?" Rodney asks, sounding slightly breathless. He's obviously still heading toward the medical bay at a clipped pace. "Tšernobyl had 'technical glitches' to say nothing of such occurrences on Atlantis, I can't believe you haven't mentioned this earlier! How long has this been going on?" Rodney demands indignantly.

"Look, I'm sure it's..." Carson trails off as he sees Rodney rounding the corner, looking harassed and worried and angry in equal measure. The overall impression should be amusing but instead it's hot which is just all kinds of wrong and effectively highlights to Carson just how bad he has it. "...harmless," he finishes lamely as Rodney pushes past him and into his office.

"Well," Rodney says, fists on his hips as he eyes the array of computers and other equipment dotted around, "what seems to be the problem?" Every monitor is showing the standard Atlantis screensaver and when Rodney pokes at the nearest keyboard experimentally, nothing but completely innocent medical databases and reports show up.

Carson sighs and resignedly explains the issues, mentioning about randomly opening files and emails, but leaving out the details about how they all seem to include Rodney in some form or another. Surely that's a coincidence. The man is a Head of Science after all, his name crops up in a lot of documents and emails, likely this is just some kind of statistical probability at work.

Rodney spends several hours in Carson's office, then a few more in his quarters, running every test and diagnostic on every piece of technology in both. It all results in a big fat nothing.

"I can't find anything wrong," Rodney declares much later. It's obvious that he considers this a great and personal insult. The look Carson's laptop receives is withering and he almost flinches in sympathy.

"I told you it was nothing," Carson says, passing Rodney a bowl of soup and a plate of sandwiches. After it had become clear that Rodney was going to spend an afternoon chasing the cause of the glitch, Carson had done a supply run to the mess.

"Hmph." Rodney pokes at his datapad a few times more but it's desultory and even Carson can see it's mostly for show. Then he relents, picks up the food and starts eating.

It's surprisingly comfortable, cosy even, to be sitting cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by the detritus of Rodney's investigative work and exchanging idle gossip. Carson honestly tries to feel guilty about hoarding Rodney's time and attention but can't quite manage it. And really, surely being best friends accords him some privileges, even if many others are firmly out of the question.

"Well, I guess I better put your things back together," Rodney says finally, eyeing the computer parts and power crystals and various complicated looking things Carson doesn't know the name of and resists the urge to call 'doo-dahs' because it's clear his friend has already suffered a traumatic stress event today on account of being unable to identify much less fix the problem.

"That would be appreciated," he says instead mildly, gathering their empty dishes while Rodney returns to work.

A half an hour later Carson is alone again. He turns around slowly, surveying his rooms and the technology therein. Finally he says, cautiously: "Well, maybe that's..."

His laptop chimes. Carson closes his eyes briefly, before daring to look. Unsurprisingly, Rodney's personnel file is flashing on the screen. In the corner of the room, the data portal starts scrolling through what looks like the translated Ancient database. It's open on the entry titled 'Human Sexuality'. Carson cringes. Apparently, the subtle part of the campaign is over, though in honesty it was never really there in the first place.

There is also no longer any use pretending all of this isn't deliberate. That there isn't some kind of... agenda behind it.

On his projector screen Love Actually starts playing.

"Oh come on!" Carson groans, burying his face in his hands.


***


After that, it's perfectly clear that Atlantis is trying to set him up with Rodney. Perfectly clear and perfectly ridiculous of course, but there you have it.

The thing with the randomly opening files and emails and com-links continues unabated and soon Carson realises that the quickest way to deal with it is to give in every now and then. He starts emailing Rodney random questions and observations, pretends he's just calling to remind Rodney to rest and eat. Their shift patterns magically synch overnight no matter how different they are to begin with and Carson is always off duty by the time Sheppard's team comes back from off-world. Provided there is no immediate medical disaster to deal with he and Rodney often end up unwinding together, sharing a meal or a movie or both.

It's wonderful. It's frustrating. Carson loves every minute of it almost as much as he hates it. He likes spending time with Rodney, of course he does - likes his brittle sarcasm and sharp edges that Carson can navigate with ease, likes his expressive face and hands, the way he talks with his whole body, how passionate he is, how smart and funny and sexy and... Yeah. That right there is the problem.

Because Carson likes Rodney a little too much. A lot too much in fact. Definitely more than is within the safe parameters of 'best friends' and absolutely more than is good for Carson's heart.

Being this close to something he can't have is... Well, it's tiring, and Carson knows the strain is starting to show. He's snappy with his staff, with random people, with Dr Weir on one memorable occasion which led to a round of raised eyebrows and a public apology. And inevitably, he gets snappy with Rodney which... Is kind of mutual actually. Clearly, it's not just him who has had enough of company.

Carson starts consciously cutting back on the time spent with Rodney, avoiding him even when there are perfectly aligned free timeslots to share with each other, determinedly closing down every message window that pops up on his screens.

He half expects Atlantis to do something drastic but when nothing happens for a few days he dares to hope that the City's weird obsession has come to an end.

In retrospect, he really ought to have known better.


***


It's late, way past midnight, by the time Carson finishes his paperwork. He checks on Corporal Lund in bed three, feeling almost nostalgic for his early hospital rotations. The Corporal is recuperating from an emergency appendectomy which in the Pegasus Galaxy is almost novel in its utter normality.

Lost in his memories and the sudden, sharp homesickness for the echoing halls of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, he pays no attention to the softly lit hallways of Atlantis, following his feet to the nearest transporter and then out again, turning toward his quarters.

Except they're not there. Where his door should be there's nothing but a curving wall, and where all the other doors to other people's quarters should be there is nothing but more wall, sleek and dimly lit as far as the eye can see. Carson blinks and looks again but the scenery doesn't change. He turns around but the transporter door has also mysteriously vanished.

"Dammit," Carson says, knowing before he even taps at his earpiece that it's in vain. "What exactly is the plan here?" he asks, eyeing the corridor balefully. He pretends he's talking to himself but deep down knows he's also addressing Atlantis. It just doesn't do to actually admit such things. "Am I expected to wander around until the solitude makes me realise the error of my ways and..." Carson trails off, unsure even how to finish that sentence.

As if in response, the floor under his feet starts to glow. Carson jumps back, suspicious, but nothing else happens. He probes the tiles with his shoes, taking a tentative step forward. Immediately, a new section of the floor lights up, a few meters away. "Huh," Carson says. "Alright then." He follows.

Atlantis leads him through several intersections, going steadily upwards. Soon Carson starts to smell the ocean and behind the next corner the corridor opens up into a wide balcony. The view is breathtaking, the whole of Atlantis spread out before him like a jewel, glistening in the moonlight.

"It's something, isn't it?" Rodney is leaning on the balcony railing, already turning back toward the view.

"Rodney," Carson greets him, because of course. Of course. He goes to stand next to his friend, close enough to feel the heat of his body but not as close as he wants to. "I didn't know about this place."

"Why would you?" Rodney sounds oddly unsurprised by Carson's appearance.

"The transporter... I must have pressed a wrong button or..."

"A technical glitch," Rodney choruses with him.

"Uh, yeah." Carson sighs, resting his forearms against the railing. The wind is pleasantly cool, bringing with it the scent of an alien ocean; clean and tantalizing. He feels calm for the first time in days, the anxiety caused by the situation with Rodney lessening despite the man himself being a hair's breadth away.

They stand side by side, admiring the view as the moons slowly climb higher. They don't talk. A couple of times Carson almost asks if everything is okay. After all, it's not like Rodney to be this quiet and still, this... Content. There's a look on his face that quells Carson's questions every time they threaten to rise; a sort of calm acceptance that both reassures Carson and makes something ache deep in his chest. He doesn't ask what Rodney is thinking because he's not sure he wants to know the answer.

When the horizon finally starts to lighten, Carson turns to Rodney, taking his elbow gently. "Come on," he says. "We need some sleep."

Rodney nods and follows him out of the balcony, pointing out a transporter almost outside it that takes them back to the living quarters in no time at all. They part ways in silence, Rodney's smile genuine but oddly sad around the edges. Carson goes to bed head full of half-formed thoughts. He expects to stay awake for a long time.

Instead he falls asleep almost immediately.


***


He doesn't see Rodney for almost two weeks after that, largely due to the fact that Rodney is stuck off-world when a standard trading mission turns decidedly nonstandard, even by Pegasus Galaxy rules. Carson is worried at first but then he discovers that Dr Weir and Sheppard's team had known to expect trouble, had in fact gone in seeking it, and he gets pissed.

Not because Rodney had knowingly done something dangerous - waking up in the morning in Atlantis meant deliberately putting your life at risk and they all did it because the rewards were more than worth it - but because he hasn't told Carson. In retrospect, it explained Rodney's quietness the other night but understanding was a poor substitute for having his best friend there to shout at.

And Carson really, really wants to do that. He's going to, as soon as Rodney gets home.

Unfortunately, the circumstances effectively derail his plans. While Sheppard's team get back more or less uninjured and victorious, they also get back high as a group of carnival kites.

"What the hell did they give you?" Carson asks though the question is largely rhetorical.

"They gave us hugs," John says, grinning from ear to ear and swaying a little, "Very huggy people, the Veriaani."

"Rogers," Carson shouts at the harried nurse, "Skin swaps of everyone please, it might be... Teyla, no!"

It's too late though because Teyla has already wrapped herself around a startled looking Dr Weir who has come to assess the situation. She pats Teyla's back awkwardly, shooting questioning glances at Carson over her shoulder.

Carson sighs, hoping whatever the team got dosed with won't transfer skin-to-skin any further because otherwise they're in for an interesting afternoon.

"I do not like this hugging thing, it's restrictive," Ronon comments from the other side of the room. His arm is wrapped securely around John's waist though and shows no inclination of letting go. John doesn't seem to mind, busy as he is inspecting Ronon's dreads one by one and giggling softly to himself.

"Dr Beckett," Rogers says, wiping sweat off his brow and balancing a tray of blood samples, "Dr McKay refuses to be seen to by anyone but you. He's getting a bit... agitated."

And alright, so maybe Carson has been avoiding Rodney, focusing on the other members of the team, but it's purely out of self-preservation. Because if the drugs have made him as affectionate and tactile as the others, then it's not something Carson wants to subject himself to, not when his own emotions are so dangerously close to the surface; a confused mix of anger and heartache threatening to spill over.

"Dr Beckett," Rogers says again, then gentler: "Carson. He's distressed. I can't get him to calm down. I don't know what-"

"I'll take care of it," Carson interrupts, feeling suitably chastened. What kind of doctor lets personal feelings come between him and patient care? He should've...

"Carson!" Rodney exclaims, the relief flooding his face obvious and painful to see. "You're here." He grabs hold of Carson's sleeve, bringing his hand to his chest and almost cuddling it. "I don't think I'm quite compos mentis at the moment," he whispers as if imparting a grave secret.

"I think you're right," Carson agrees, resisting the urge to smooth his fingers over the skin under Rodney's eyes where it's thin and bruised-looking. Instead he pulls the stethoscope from around his neck with his other hand. "Come on, Rodney. Let me listen to your heart."

Luckily, there was no indication that the drug placed any undue stress on the heart or respiratory system but until the blood and skin swab tests came back Carson can't do much more than monitor the effects.

"Alright," Rodney says, obediently releasing his grip on Carson's hand and starting to unzip his jacket. It's eerie how agreeable he is and Carson mentally ups the drug from something simply happy-making to a substance that could very easily be used for less pleasant purposes.

"It's probably a little fast," Rodney comments when Carson has the end of the stethoscope pressed against his bare chest. "On account of you," he adds, and then honest to god flutters his eyelashes at Carson.

"Um," Carson says intelligibly, staring down at his best friend who is slowly leaning closer as if he means to-

"Dr Beckett!" Rogers interrupts, "The results are back."

Carson jerks back, grateful beyond belief. "I'll be right back," he tells Rodney, hardening his resolve against the stricken look on his face. 'It's the drugs,' he reminds himself, determinedly turning to follow Rogers.

A few hours later, they have figured out the drug's chemical composition and thus the best way to flush it out. Sheppard and his team are resting relatively comfortably, having progressed to a sleepy and shivery stage thanks to the intervention. Carson is sitting next to Rodney's bedside, making notations on his datapad and keeping an eye on his friend.

"Hey." Rodney turns to look at him, movements slow. He pulls the covers tighter around himself, clearly cold despite the sweat beading on his forehead.

"Hey yourself," Carson says, leaning closer. "Thought you were asleep. How are you feeling?"

"Loopy," Rodney says and then rolls his eyes. "As you can tell from my stellar vocabulary. I can't believe I..." He blinks, eyes suddenly unfocused again, gaze wandering all over the room. "Did you redecorate?" he asks. "I like the purple. It's... luxurious."

Carson frowns, glances at the back wall and then looks again. He could've sworn it was the same nondescript blue-grey as rest of the sickbay. "Atlantis," he sighs.

"Yeah," Rodney agrees like he has any idea what Carson is talking about. Then he grabs Carson's hand again, says: "Don't be angry," and promptly falls asleep.

Carson sits there for the longest time, arm slowly going numb from being twisted at an awkward angle, and stares at the purple wall. He's not sure what he feels anymore but it's definitely not anger.


***


In the grand scheme of things the whole 'under the influence of alien drugs' incident is nothing out of the ordinary of course; away teams in particular tend to get exposed to more mind-altering substances on a regular basis than your average university student. However, unfortunately for Carson, Atlantis seems to regard it is a source of inspiration.

He happens to be nearby when the call comes through about an accident in the botany lab, though of course 'coincidence' is a relative concept on Atlantis. It doesn't sound too serious; Dr Laitila simply alerting the medical team that she's sliced open her palm - something about a broken beaker - and that she'll probably need stitches. Carson taps his ear piece, saying he's practically around the corner and will pop by to assess the situation.

He gets to Lab 35 in under a minute, finding Dr Laitila holding her hand up, wrapped in a blood soaked t-shirt which presumably comes from her shivering lab partner.

"Let's have a look," Carson says, gently prying Laitila's hand open and cleaning the wound that indeed looks deep enough to require stitching.

She hisses slightly in pain but otherwise seems mostly pissed off; the injury is in an awkward place and will probably prevent her from working for a couple of weeks. Her colleague - a thin pale Swede by the name of Jönsson or Jonasson, something like that - looks far more shaken by the incident. He keeps hovering over Laitila like an anxious puppy and Carson makes an executive decision to send both of them to the med bay. "Why don't you escort Dr Laitila?" he suggests gently, nudging the two of them toward the door. "Blood loss can make a person feel a little woozy."

Laitila casts him an exasperated look but allows herself to be herded out of the door.

"Good call," Rodney's voice drifts from under the workbench, making Carson jump.

"You're here," he says, bending down to peer at Rodney who is ensconced in a mess of wires, gutting the insides of some machine Carson doesn't know the name of but looks like a hybrid of human and Ancient technology.

"Well yes," Rodney says, sparing him a glance. "They had some problems with the equipment and Manning's down with the flu... Aha!" He triumphantly holds up a tiny crystal, rolling out from under the desk. "I knew it was something to do with- What's the matter?"

"You're here," Carson repeats slowly. "And I'm here." His gaze drifts around the otherwise empty lab. Suddenly he has a very, very bad feeling about this. "The door," he finally says, eyes landing on it, "is shut."

There's a beat of silence and then they both try to make a run for it even though it's clearly so very, very late: Lab 35 has been sealed, with Carson and Rodney securely inside it.

"Sheppard?" Rodney is tapping at his communication unit, his voice getting increasingly high at every attempt. "Radek? Teyla? Chuck? Anyone?"

Carson doesn't even bother. There's no point. They're stuck here until whatever Atlantis has planned plays out. He trails Rodney to the middle of the room as the man gives up on hammering at the door and moves on to rummaging through the work tables in the hopes of finding something useful.

"Come on, come on, there's got to be something here other than plants..." Rodney mutters.

"Well," Carson points out, "It is a botany lab." It comes out with a definite bite of irritation and Rodney's eyes narrow.

"Thank you, Dr Obvious!" he snaps over his shoulder. "If you have better ideas... What is that sound?"

Carson hears it too: a low hissing sound like air being slowly released from a high pressure environment. Both of them turn around in a cautious circle, trying to identify the source.

"There," Rodney says, grabbing Carson's arm tightly. Despite the circumstances it feels... kind of good.

He points at one of the large display and examination cases, integrated long rubber gloves indicating that whatever is inside clearly requires care and isolation to be handled. Which makes the fact that the top of the case is slowly opening seem doubly ominous.

"What did you do?" Rodney breathes, gripping Carson's arm even harder.

"What?" Carson says absentmindedly, watching as a trail of something thicker than air snakes out of the glass case. Incongruously, it is the exact same shade of purple as the newly decorated wall in his infirmary. Then Rodney's question penetrates. "What?!" he demands, turning a narrow-eyed stare in Rodney's direction. "I didn't do anything! It's more likely that you touched something you shouldn't have when messing with the equipment!"

Rodney rounds on him so fast it pulls both of them off balance. His hand grips like a vice; a hot brand of iron that burns Carson even through the sleeve. The gasp that escapes his mouth is not entirely for surprise or pain.

"Fuck you!" Rodney all but shouts and the way his mouth stretches around the profanity is obscene. "We wouldn't even be in this situation if you hadn't taken up home visits. What are you, Dr Quinn Medicine Woman now?" He shoves Carson back and somehow the separation hurts more than the edge of the lab table that hits Carson's hips.

Objectively, the accusation makes no sense but Carson flushes with guilt and anger anyway because he knows he - or his stupid, embarrassing infatuation with Rodney - is the reason for their current predicament. "I was in the neighbourhood!" he snarls, blood pounding in his ears and hands curling into fists. "I'm hardly going to ignore it if someone's injured!"

A few steps away Rodney snorts, throwing his head back contemptuously which coincidentally displays the long bare column of his throat and Carson wants to bite, to sink his teeth in and push Rodney to the floor and make him understand...

With a shock he realises he's hard, painfully so, cock pressing against the zipper of his trousers. Carson shifts his weight and the small amount of friction of cloth against skin startles out a helpless moan. His vision is starting to go hazy red around the edges but he can still see the exact moment Rodney's gaze drops to his groin, the way his pupils dilate, expression changing to one of pure hunger.

Carson doesn't know whether he wants to fuck Rodney's face or slam his fist into it. Both sound equally good right now. Distantly, he's aware that there's something wrong about their reactions, the way they are so clearly teetering on the edge of either violent sex or outright violence, but Rodney is already taking a step closer, his fingers like claws reaching out for Carson's heart and-

There's a flash of light and the distinctive sound of Ronon's gun. Then everything goes black.

Much, much later that day Carson regains consciousness in his own sickbay. The blurry figure next to his bed slowly resolves into the apologetic looking Dr Laitila and groggily he listens to her babble about how she is sure she'd secured all the samples before leaving the lab but apparently not and how very sorry she is for what has happened. Almost happened. If not for timely intervention. She blushes delicately as she says it, not quite meeting his eyes.

Carson can't exactly blame her, seeing as he doesn't feel like meeting anyone's eyes at the moment either. He's still mostly out of it and nauseous to boot, only taking in maybe a quarter of Dr Laitila's explanation. It's enough for the words pheromones and aphrodisiac to sink in though and Carson has never been happier about Ronon's 'stun first, ask questions later' policy.

The thought of what could have happened if the rescue team had shown up even a minute later makes Carson's insides feel cold and hollow. He doesn't think that having sex whilst under the influence of alien fauna, no matter how awkward or borderline non-consensual, would have been enough to break the friendship between him and Rodney.

Carson's own heart though is a far more fragile thing.

 

***

 

"Carson."

Carson's head snaps up from the datapad he's reading and he takes an instinctive step back because no, no, not again, he can't deal with running into Rodney again, it's only been a few days since Atlantis decided a date-rape pollen made for a feasible matchmaking strategy and Carson is so not ready to...

However, instead of safety of the corridor, he bumps right into the transporter doors that have already closed behind him.

"Erm, Rodney, hello," he says, attempting to regain his balance and look like he wasn't just trying to escape. "Didn't see you there."

"I gathered," Rodney says and his voice sounds strained. He's holding himself stiffly in the farthest corner which isn't really that far at all considering their location.

Carson's immediate reaction is to ask what's wrong and his arm practically twitches from the suppressed instinct to wrap it around Rodney's shoulders like he's done countless times before. But he's afraid he wants to do that for all the wrong reasons now so instead he looks back down to the mission report he was reading.

Except it's no longer Sheppard's official one, but instead Rodney's 'for internal use only' science report. Carson definitely hadn't opened it. He frowns at the datapad, waiting for the transporter to make its customary arrival chime and then frowns some more when he realises it's not happening.

"Uh," he clears his throat, "Shouldn't we be there already? These things don't usually take this long, do they?"

Rodney's face contorts in annoyance and no little foreboding as he steps closer, reaching behind Carson to poke at the control panel. "No, they don't..."

The transporter makes an odd trilling sound and the ambient blue lighting switches to a red one. Rodney and Carson look at each other, the realisation dawning like a particularly unpleasant day, maybe one with a root canal and a five-hour budget meeting scheduled for it.

"Son of a bitch!" they say, at the same time, while the transporter remains stubbornly stationary.

Fifteen minutes later, they're both sitting on the floor, leaning against opposite walls, legs stretched out in front of them, close but not quite touching. Carson is more preoccupied by the two inch distance between his foot and Rodney's thigh than he is by their general predicament.

"...apart crystal by crystal, and if that doesn't help I'm going to take a good old-fashioned monkey wrench and hack until something falls loose, and reprogramme the whole thing from scratch until..."

Rodney has been alternating between blatant threats and detailed plans to redesign the whole of Atlantis into something that 'doesn't have more glitches than Windows ME' for a while now and he's looking flushed from his tirade, sweat causing his neck to glisten in a way that's making Carson rather hot under the collar as well.

He unbuttons his jacket, realising with a start that the temperature rise is not purely psychological. "Is it me or... Is it getting warm in here?" he asks, grimacing as soon as he realises it sounds like a bad pick up line.

Luckily, Rodney's self-preservation instinct is well-honed and he seizes onto the most pertinent information. "What? It..." He draws a few long breathes, looking increasingly panicked with each one. "The air con! Oh my god, we're going to die!"

"We're not going to die," Carson says, "Just... Get a little overheated maybe. There's no noticeable drop in the oxygen supply, it's just the temperature going up." By this point he's pretty sure that Atlantis is not actively trying to kill him, just slowly drive him crazy. "Take off your jacket, you'll feel better." He does the same himself, focusing on keeping his hands steady and not thinking about just how many layers he and Rodney may have to shed before the City puts Carson out of his misery.

Twenty minutes later they're both down to their under shirt and boxers. Carson tries not to stare at the little sliver of skin above Rodney's waistband, exposed because of the way he's sitting; knees drawn up and head resting on his folded arms.

"I'm sure Colonel Sheppard and the others will figure it out soon," Carson says, trying to inject more confidence than he feels into his voice.

"They probably haven't even noticed we're missing yet," Rodney grouses. "I had nothing scheduled for the rest of the afternoon so unless someone actively tries to find me..." He taps at his ear in vain. Both their com-units had fallen silent the moment the transporter had become their personal holding cell and it was safe to assume that nobody can hear them either.

"This happened the last time too," Rodney mutters, wiping sweat off his forehead and trying to pry the earpiece apart with his thumbnail. "In the botany lab," he adds like Carson needs the reminder.

They both flush and avoid each other's eyes.

"Well," Carson says after another minute of strained silence, "no exotic flowers here. It could be worse."

Rodney's head snaps up, hand reaching toward Carson's face as if to gag him. "Oh my god, don't-!"

A sudden strum of guitars makes them both jump.

"Oh fuck no," Carson says, eyes widening in horror as the strains of a hideously familiar song fill the transporter.

'I feel it in my fingers', Marti Pellow croons, 'I feel it in my toes.' For the first time in his life Carson is embarrassed for his native land. Still, it could have been worse, he thinks. There's a selection of Scottish folk songs somewhere on the Atlantis database. Now at least the connection to Carson is less obvious.

"I feel like shoving a fork into my ears," Rodney comments, looking vaguely nauseous. "They are already bleeding. Here," he says, offering Carson his side-arm handle first, "stun me. Didn't you take an oath to stop unnecessary suffering or something? It would be an act of mercy."

Carson considers it. The song urges them to just 'come on and let it show'. Rodney looks like he might take matters into his own hands any second now and not in a way that has featured frequently in Carson's daydreams either.

There's a polite cough somewhere to their left. Both men turn to look, taking in the suddenly open transporter doors and the small crowd gathered outside it, just as the song reaches its crescendo.

"Erm, sorry to interrupt... Whatever this is," Sheppard says. His gaze flicks from the pile of discarded clothing to the gun in Rodney's hand, the corner of his mouth twitching with amusement. "We got a little worried when both the CMO and Head of Science dropped off the radar... But if you prefer, we can just..." He gestures at the transporter pane, "close the doors and let you finish your... discussion."

"No!" Rodney is already up, tugging on his trousers and jacket, red faced with fury and not a little embarrassment. "Quite done, thank you very much." He launches into the rant about taking Atlantis apart subroutine by subroutine and enjoying every minute of it and stomps away without so much as a backward glance at Carson.

"You alright, Doc?" Ronon asks, holding out a hand and hauling Carson to his feet when he accepts it.

"Sure, sure. One of those things..." Carson waves a hand, pulling his clothes on at a much more sedate pace. Medical School and years of rugby had effective abolished any lingering body issues and he was much less concerned about his semi-naked state than Rodney.

Or maybe it wasn't the situation so much as the company that had gotten to him. It wouldn't take the rumour mill any time at all to circulate the story, especially considering the botany lab incident last week. Carson fully expects to hear a significantly more x-rated version of 'Beckett and McKay in the transporter with no clothes on' by dinner time. No wonder Rodney was irate. A rumour like that would certainly decrease his chances of advancing any real romantic plans he might have.

And wasn't that a depressing thought. Carson nods his thanks to Sheppard and rest of the rescue crew, resuming his day with considerably less spring in his step. Perhaps it was time to have a serious chat with Atlantis.


***


The problem with that plan is Carson doesn't exactly know how one would go about communicating with the whole City, without, well, communicating with the whole city. It's not like he can put a public announcement up requesting Atlantis to stop setting him up with Rodney. Well, he could, but he sure as hell isn't going to.

He thinks about finding a remote tower and shouting his demands to the wind, but that seems a tad over-dramatic, plus Atlantis would probably take that as an invitation and beam Rodney to the same roof or something.

In the end he decides on the low-key approach, settling in front of the data terminal in his own quarters. The location doesn't matter. After all, Atlantis is everywhere; surrounding and sheltering them all with its walls and technology. Carson opens the City schematics on one terminal, accessing the Ancient database entry for 'communication' on the other. He figures it's enough to be the equivalent of a polite tap on the shoulder.

Preparations done, Carson stares at the monitors, then at the walls, the ceiling, and finally at the vista of spirals and towers that opens up outside his windows. "Erm, hello," he says, feeling immediately foolish.

There's no reply, but the air surrounding him feels somehow more... attentive. Carson forges on.

"It's a very nice thing you're doing," he says, "Very... considerate. And kind." It's always better to start with a positive, his mum used to say. "I guess it can even seem like the logical thing." It's an argument he's rehearsed himself, on those rare occasions when he's entertained the idea of actually telling Rodney how he feels, explaining how the two of them would make perfect sense. They have a long and solid friendship, they get on well but are different enough to be complementary, to push each other to improve and take risks when necessary.

"But human relationships... They're complicated." Carson leans on the window frame, watching the way the setting sun makes the City gleam like a jewel. He's speaking softly now, less concerned about whether Atlantis is listening and simply relieved to be saying these things aloud, even if it just to stone and crystals, and an AI with an agenda all its own. "I like Rodney," he says. "He's my best friend. Anything else... You can't force it. You can't keep trying to push us together. It won't work and it's awkward." Carson takes a deep breath, glancing at the silent walls. "It hurts", he admits quietly, because it does. Because he can't have it. "Do you understand?"

Behind him the data terminals flicker, programmes closing down one by one until both are dark and silent. Carson watches them shut down, feeling almost sad.

Guess that's his answer.

The silence lasts for a few seconds. Then the door chimes, announcing a visitor.

Carson already knows who it is but he opens the door anyway, resigned.

"Hello Rodney," he says, taking in the uncomfortable way Rodney is standing, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "What can I do for you?"

"I uh... Need that report on Ancient technology and cell regeneration you mentioned in this morning's meeting."

"Alright..." Carson frowns, walking back into the room. "I have it here somewhere..." He starts going through things on his desk, somewhat surprised to hear Rodney follow him in and the distinctive hiss of doors closing behind him. "Ah, there you are." He locates the datapad and turns around to find Rodney fidgeting in the middle of the room, looking almost as uncomfortable as he had a few days earlier, escaping from the transporter.

"Spit it out," Carson says, sounding snappier than he means to but having the man twitching all over his rooms not a minute after he'd been trying to convince Atlantis that some distance might be for the best is wearing on his nerves to say the least. "You could have easily asked me to email the report to you if it was that urgent... Which leaves me to think you had something else on your mind, Rodney."

"Well, yes, no one ever accused me of being subtle," Rodney mutters. He runs an agitated hand through his hair, leaving it to stick out in a way that makes Carson's fingers itch. "I wanted to apologise," Rodney finally huffs out.

Well, that had been low on the list of possibilities. Carson feels his eyebrows climb up in surprise. "What for?" he asks.

"For... The way... I wasn't... Atlantis is driving me crazy!" Rodney exclaims, arms spread wide to presumably indicate his level of frustration. "All these... glitches. Nothing life-threatening of course, simply... annoying."

Carson nods in agreement because he knows exactly how Rodney feels.

"So I wasn't exactly at my best the other day, in the transporter. I'm sorry." Rodney's gaze is fixed on the back wall and his face is set in grim determination as if he doesn't expect his apology to be accepted but he'll ask for it anyway. "I shouldn't have taken it out on you, it's not like the situation was your fault."

The way Rodney emphasises the word 'your' as if to indicate that there is someone at fault, just not Carson, strikes him as curious but before he has a chance to ask about it Rodney has already switched gears.

"Anyway, that's what I wanted to tell you. So, um, I'll just..." He wiggles his fingers in the direction of the datapad meaningfully.

"Yes, of course." Carson hands it over but doesn't let go immediately. "And there's nothing to apologise for," he adds. "It was a... stressful situation. I didn't take it personally."

Something about the words makes Rodney flinch. It's subtle but definitely there if only momentarily. But again before Carson can pursue it further the moment seems to pass.

"Alright, thanks," Rodney says, taking the datapad and clutching it to his chest like a shield. He hesitates for a moment like he's about to say something but in the end only turns around and walks to the door with a little wave.

Walks into the door, in fact, because it doesn't open.

"Ow," Rodney says, rubbing his forehead. "What the hell?" He frowns at the door with a look of concentration.

Carson assumes he's trying to consciously tell it to open because that's exactly what he's doing. He feels inside his head for the gene-activated presence of Atlantis, finds it with ease, but fails to have any impact on the door either. For the sake of scientific enquiry he switches the lights on and off a few times and turns on the data console at this desk - no problems there.

"It was fine a minute ago," he says, rather inanely considering Rodney knew that perfectly well, having used the blasted door himself.

In fact, Carson is rather surprised he isn't already subjected to a scathing remark about his tendency to point out the obvious.

A glance at the door finds Rodney not dismantling the console like Carson half expected but instead leaning his forehead against the wall next to it. He appears to be muttering to himself.

"Rodney?" Carson asks, going over and laying a tentative hand on his shoulder, the muscles as rigid and unyielding as the door. "Are you alright? I'm sure it's just another glitch. We'll call Radek or the security and-"

"No, no, no," Rodney says, shaking his head in exasperation, his forehead rolling against the wall in a way that looks quite painful. "I'm not okay and it's not a glitch, she's doing it on purpose!"

Carson blinks, taking a step back as Rodney finally turns around and pushes past him, starting to pace the room. "Who is?" Carson asks, even though he has a horrible feeling he already knows the answer, that he has, in fact, known it for a while now.

"Atlantis!" Rodney says. "She... It... Whatever, is driving me crazy, trying to push me to... to..."

"To what?" Carson asks, but that question comes out much quieter, his mouth suddenly dry. It couldn't be...

Rodney ignores him, instead casting a malevolent glance at the ceiling. "Okay, okay, fine! I'm going to do it, Christ!" Then he closes his eyes for a moment, takes a deep breath and visibly steels himself.

For a few seconds there's silence and Carson is just about to clear his throat or touch Rodney's arm for attention or something, when he suddenly blurts out: "Carson, you're my best friend, you know that right?"

"Aye, and you're mine," Carson says, because it's the truth.

"Good, good. That's good." Rodney rubs his palms together nervously, a brief smile flashing across his face at Carson's words, before fading away. "Erm, you see, here's the thing."

Carson holds his breath until his chest aches from the strain, eyes locked with Rodney's who for once seems to have run out of words. When the lights start to blink they both startle.

"Son of a bitch, just give me a minute here!" Rodney snaps at the room at large, presumably addressing Atlantis. "I'm trying! I'm trying to..." He turns to Carson, takes a step forward, then another back, and says, in one long breath: "I would like to get into your pants. God, that sounds juvenile. I mean, have sex. I find you attractive, sexually. Obviously. But, but, but not like in a sleazy one night stand or a friends-with-benefits kind of fuck, though I'd probably take those too because I just... What I mean is that..." His gaze roams over the room, landing on Carson every few seconds, but not staying for long, almost as if he doesn't really want to see his reaction.

He sure as hell doesn't pause long enough for Carson to comment, instead continuing: "What I'm trying to say, Carson, is that I really like you. Probably more than like. And I would definitely want to do the whole dating, relationship thing too except I'm really bad at it as I'm sure you know. And I'm sorry for springing this on you, I would have never said anything and I'm only telling you this so that she," Rodney looks up at the ceiling again and waves his arms around expansively to encompass everything that surrounds them - walls, technology, towers - "stops playing yenta because I can't deal with my screen saver being changed to a picture of us, or the way my shower or room is never warm anymore - I think the city is trying to give me a cold so that I have an excuse to see you. And this enforced proximity! Torture!" Rodney points an accusatory finger at the locked door of Carson's quarters, the control panel still blinking red at them like a tiny, vicious star.

"I swear, if we get stuck in a transporter or puddle-jumper or fucking botany lab again after today I won't be held responsible for my actions! Last time I came this close," he holds a thumb and forefinger barely apart to indicate a gap that is very narrow indeed, "to just... I don't know, kissing you! Or getting down on my knees and offering to suck you off or something!"

Carson can feel his eyes getting wider and wider the longer Rodney's tirade goes on, but the last point makes his jaw drop. "I... You, what?" he asks, groping behind himself for the table edge to keep himself standing. No matter how physiologically inaccurate Carson knows it to be, it sure as hell feels like most of his blood just rushed southward, leaving him light-headed and with trousers that fit far more snuggly than usual.

"You heard me," Rodney says, managing to sound belligerent and vaguely hurt at the same time. "More importantly though; the City did too."

He crosses his arms and turns around in a tight circle, addressing the walls of Carson's living room: "There, are you happy now? I did it, you can stop with the... hinting already. I've humiliated myself and blurted out all my unrequited stupid feelings and probably ruined a perfectly good friendship in the process!" Rodney is getting louder with every word, his face angry red.

Carson is in love. He should probably say something about that soon but as usual, it's difficult to get a word edgewise once Rodney gets going. Also, he's still trying to catch up.

"So... Open the fucking door!" Rodney shouts at the ceiling.

The front door stays stubbornly shut but behind them, the bedroom door slides open with a discreet hiss. In the background, the gravelly voice of Bryan Adams urges them to 'search your heart, search your soul'. Apparently, Atlantis has moved from Scottish soft rock to Canadian. And isn't that telling in its own way.

Carson bites his lip, hard. There's a part of him, a big part, that just wants to collapse in a heap and give into the giddy hysteria bubbling in his chest. It has been a rather stressful few weeks and laughter would probably bring some much needed relief.

Then again, it appears he has other, far more appealing options, available for that now.

Also, Rodney looks like he's about to either have a fit or blow up the whole god damn city, possibly both. And there's something Carson really needs to clear up here, and fast.

"Atlantis!" He shouts, unable to help the grin that's spreading over his face like spring after a long winter. "Will you please stop it with the music? Contrary to what Earth film industry would have you believe, not every moment needs a soundtrack. I..." Carson takes a step closer to Rodney, putting a hand on his shoulder, partly to keep him still, partly to anchor himself, "...am going to kiss him now," he says, voice breaking only a little bit. "But I sure as hell won't do it to the strains of Bryan bloody Adams!"

The song cuts off suddenly and completely like someone had pulled the plug or possibly taken a sledgehammer to the recording.

"Ha!" Rodney shouts gleefully, and then: "Wait, what?" His eyes are wide when he takes in their relative position and they get wider still when Carson cups his jaw with one hand, thumb brushing over a cheekbone.

"I'm going to kiss you," Carson repeats, "if that's okay with you?"

"What?" Rodney blinks at him like a confused owl, which shouldn't be nearly as adorable as it is. "You want to...? Why?"

Carson huffs out a laugh. "Yes I want to. And I want to because... Well, I want to because I want to. Because you're my best friend and more than that. Do you think Atlantis would flog a dead horse? Think about it. Appalling taste in music notwithstanding, she, it, whatever, has intelligence that's alien sure but undeniably vast." The more Carson thinks about it, the more it makes sense. "Atlantis wouldn't... Conduct an experiment where there wasn't at least the potential of positive results."

"...Positive results?" Rodney asks. Carson can feel the shape of the words against his palm, Rodney's breath ghosting over the inside of his wrist. The room is still silent except for them, though Carson is loath to test Atlantis' patience.

"Hypothesis confirmed," Carson says. "It wasn't just you Atlantis was... nudging in a certain direction. I was always a safe bet," he adds softly.

"Oh," Rodney sighs, something very much like wonder spreading across his features.

"Yes, oh. Now can I kiss you before we get assaulted by another rock ballad? Because I don't think I-"

Carson doesn't get to finish the sentence but he empathetically doesn't mind. Rodney's kiss is hesitant to begin with but growing bolder and pushier by the second, his wide mouth slanting over Carson's like it was meant for it. His hands, his broad strong hands that Carson may have fantasised about for months now if not longer, clutch at his shoulders, arms, waist, finally burying under Carson's jacket. There's something desperate and frantic about the way Rodney is touching him and Carson tries to gentle the kiss, he honestly does, but ends up biting Rodney's bottom lip instead. Rodney whines, the noise making heat pool in the bottom of Carson's stomach, and then his own hands get busy pulling Rodney's jacket off him.

"That thing," Rodney leans back enough to get the words out, "I said about... Fuck!"

Carson is raking his nails across Rodney's chest, through his t-shirt, but even that is enough to make Rodney arch; shoulders curving back and his nipples hard and pressing against the fabric. "You didn't say anything about that yet," Carson points out. He can hear the way his own voice has grown rough around the edges, accent deepening. "But I'm amenable," he adds and watches with pleasure the way Rodney's mouth goes slack with lust.

He visibly shakes it off, catching Carson's hands before they have a chance to reach skin. "No, no... I mean yes, absolutely that, but the other things. About this not just being about..." He waves an awkward hand between them, casting a meaningful glance at the front of their equally tented trousers.

The feeling in Carson's chest expands, until his breath catches with unbearable joy and tenderness, and he says: "Everything. I want all of it," and he kisses Rodney again, slow and sweet and thorough.

"Great," Rodney says some seconds, minutes, years later, sounding gratifyingly dazed. "That's... great." He blinks, nips at the tender underside of Carson's jaw hard enough to make his knees buckle. "But maybe we could do this first?" he asks, rubbing the heel of his hand against the length of Carson's erection through his trousers.

It's Carson's turn to curse. "Sounds like a plan," he says and pushes Rodney toward the conveniently open bedroom door.

Rodney goes willingly, grinning wildly as he pivots Carson around neatly once they reach the bed and shoves until he's sitting down. Then Rodney drops to his knees in front of him, nothing smooth or practiced about the move, simply pure, single-minded determination. His hands are opening the fastenings of Carson's trousers before he's had a chance even to draw breath.

"Lift," Rodney tells him, tugging at his waistband, and Carson does, allowing Rodney to pull off his trousers and underwear, socks and shoes, until he's naked from waist down and Rodney is staring at his flushed cock with a look Carson recognises from the botany lab. Except this time all the chemical reactions responsible are fully natural.

"Do you have any idea how long I've wanted this?" Rodney asks. It's absentminded, clearly rhetorical, but Carson answers it anyway.

"Yes, I think I do," he says, stroking trembling fingers through Rodney's hair, over his face, tracing the bow of his mouth. "Can't be as long as I have though," he adds, and then has to stop talking because Rodney sucks his fingers in, effectively rendering him incapable of constructing coherent sentences.

Rodney licks and sucks and nips at his fingers, taking in three at a time and encouraging Carson to push them deeper, faster, until he's more or less fucking Rodney's mouth, watching in fascination the way his eyes grow glazed. "Please," Rodney says, garbled and thick, "Let me."

There's no power in the universe strong enough to compel Carson to refuse this from either of them. He pulls his fingers out, settling his spit-slick hand at the back of Rodney's neck, not pushing just... resting. Rodney needs no direction. With a deep groan of pleasure he leans forward, guiding Carson's cock to his mouth.

It takes all of Carson's self-control to let Rodney set the pace. His muscles are vibrating with the effort to keep still; the swipe of Rodney's tongue, the tightness of his lips, the shadows his eyelashes cast over his cheekbones as he takes Carson deeper and deeper, humming in obvious enjoyment as his nose finally brushes Carson's pubic hair... It's almost too much and Carson throws his head back and moans and the sound ripping out of him is a wrecked plea and an awed praise, all in one. "Oh Christ, oh fuck, Rodney," he groans, hips stuttering up helplessly as Rodney pulls almost off, before sliding back down, his hand wrapping around the base of Carson's cock and keeping up the rhythm.

It doesn't take long, can't, not with months of wanting and denying himself. When Rodney speeds up his movements, telling Carson to let go with every look and touch, he can do nothing but fuck gracelessly, desperately into Rodney's wet, beautiful mouth, spilling inside it within minutes, his fingers still buried in Rodney's hair, his blood like fire in his veins.

Carson comes back in stages, watching the way Rodney keeps nuzzling and licking his softening cock, each touch sending little jolts of after-pleasure that pierce him like arrows; sharp and almost painful. Eventually, he pulls Rodney off and up, bending to kiss him thoroughly, tasting himself and feeling the hot line of Rodney's cock pressed against his leg.

"Come on," Carson urges, shuffling back on the bed until he's lying down, Rodney climbing on top of him, unwilling to end the kiss. "Yeah, yeah, that's it," Carson murmurs against his lips, snaking his hand between their bodies and undoing Rodney's trousers just enough to pull his cock out. It's thick and perfect, already wet with pre-come and sliding into Carson's fist with urgency that's more than a little flattering.

"Oh fuck, oh please," Rodney chokes out, weight resting on his forearms and face buried against Carson's neck. "I can't, I want to... Please, fuck, please." His voice breaks as he moves faster, rutting into Carson's hand and the hollow of his hip.

Carson tightens his grip, swiping a thumb over the head of Rodney's cock while his other hand reaches around to grab hold of Rodney's arse, pulling the two of them even closer together. Rodney comes like that; held securely between Carson's arms, moaning his name into the scant space between their mouths, more gorgeous than Carson ever could have even imagined.

After a minute or so of simply breathing Rodney lifts himself enough to roll off and flop next to him. "Oh my god," he groans. "I think you killed me." It's difficult to take the complaint seriously though when it's delivered with a grin bright enough to rival the afternoon sun.

Carson huffs in amusement, tucking Rodney close and reaching to pull the covers over them. "Atlantis?" he calls out tentatively. "How about...?"

The windows grow tinted, dimming the bedroom light levels comfortably while one opens a fraction to let in the fresh ocean air.

"Perfect," Carson says, smiling, his arm still wrapped securely around Rodney who doesn't comment. He's already asleep.


***


A few hours later, they have relocated back to the main living area and are enjoying an impromptu picnic on the floor.

"Seriously," Rodney is saying, waving a piece of fruit - not citrus - around illustratively, "every time I turned a corner you were there. I thought I was going crazy. I must have walked miles just to avoid running into you... Not that it made any difference in the end."

"Well, all things considered..." Carson clinks their glasses, smiling in a way he suspects is downright sappy but that can't be helped.

"Yeah," Rodney grins in response. "So all those emails you-?

"Dr Beckett?"

Carson jumps, reaching for his abandoned communicator on the nearby table. "Dr Weir?" he asks, already getting up. "Is something wrong?"

"John?" Rodney is also climbing to his feet, looking worried and talking into his own radio. Both of them receiving calls at the same time and this late in the evening is unlikely to be good news.

"No, no, nothing is wrong," Dr Weir is saying in his ear. She sounds... amused. "I do believe congratulations are in order. Although," she adds, more seriously, "why you and Rodney didn't feel like you could confide in me earlier...?"

"What do you mean?" Carson asks, confused, while next to him Rodney says: "What the hell are you talking about, Sheppard? That's not funny. I don't..." He trails off, suddenly blanching white as a sheet.

Carson can relate. Elizabeth's explanation is making his own ears ring in that distant way he usually associates with immediate loss of consciousness. "I'll... call you back later," he says faintly, signing off at the same time as Rodney.

Together they reach for Carson's laptop, identical looks of horrified apprehension on their faces.

And there it is. Sitting proudly at the top of the citywide announcements is a notice decorated tastefully with blue and silver borders. You are cordially invited, it reads, in a beautiful flowing cursive, to the wedding of Drs Carson Beckett and Meredith Rodney McKay. Underneath the date and time - which is in less than two weeks Carson notices with vague alarm - there is a picture of them smiling together, taken sometime during the past few weeks. Underneath that, the same text is provided in Ancient.

For a few, infinite seconds Carson and Rodney simply stare at the screen. Then, in perfect unison, they turn their eyes - and angry, ineffectual fists - to the ceiling, yelling "Atlantis!" with all the indignation of men already resigned to their fate.

And perhaps not too unhappy about it after all.