Rodney was convinced that constant danger had to be a Pegasus thing, something in the cosmic atmosphere that compelled everything and everyone living in its proximity to live in perpetual motion, rushing to some things and running from others. He and the rest of the senior staff had spent their days at the SGC surrounded by meetings and paperwork and explanations and job applications, but at the end of it, all of them had felt like they had an embarrassment of riches where they’d once seen only the mundane. They were safe, no one was trying to kill them—and what was more, even if there were to be a threat, the group of them wouldn’t be on their own when fighting it.
Of course, all that had changed once they’d crossed back into the Pegasus galaxy. If he never had to sit in an F-302 again (and he was morosely certain that would happen anyway, more likely sooner rather than later), Rodney was sure he could die happy.
After the dust had settled and they’d all begun to transition back to what passed for normal in Atlantis, Rodney spent some quality time pacing in his quarters. He’d come to a realization during the crisis on the Daedalus, and he felt he needed to think over his conclusion a little. After nearly an hour he had a whole workstation constructed in his head, complete with pie charts of time spent and graphs of appropriate vs. possibly inappropriate touching that would have looked quite impressive on paper, should he ever have been foolish enough to sketch them out. Exactly one hour and twenty six minutes into his musings, Rodney realized that he was wasting time over-thinking his conclusion—that he should just throw the scientific method out of the stained-glass windows and act.
The sun had long since set, but he still passed one or two people in the hallway, and Rodney had to tell himself to slow down (while simultaneously ignoring the irony of that thought) as he made his way to his destination. The last thing he needed was to be seen rushing to the major—the colonel’s quarters as if he couldn’t wait another second to see John (which, yeah, okay, would probably be an accurate conclusion to make, but still), because that was not the impression he wanted to make in regards to his ability to keep secrets. Once there, he didn’t even bother to knock, silently asking the door to open, instead. He was grateful and even a little bit astonished when it did.
“Have you ever noticed that rushing things seems to be a theme in this galaxy?” Rodney said, as though he were picking up the threads of a hastily dropped conversation.
“If I don’t answer, will I still get to hear why you felt the need to ask me this at one in the morning?” John said slowly, carefully setting down his massive book on the bed beside him—the picture of patience. Rodney had been expecting something on the order of a sarcastic ‘Hello to you, too’ or a baldly spoken ‘Yes. Your point?’ so his plan went slightly off-track when John didn’t respond as anticipated. He was further derailed by the fact that John wasn’t wearing anything on his feet, something that Rodney hadn’t even considered a turn-on until John slid his legs over the side of the bed and padded over to stand closer to Rodney. After months of telling himself not to look, and an even longer time reminding himself that John probably wouldn’t appreciate it if he did, even the thought that he might have been wrong was enough to send his senses humming with awareness.
“Well?” John prompted, somehow managing to slouch without anything to lean against, his weight balanced on one foot and the toes of another. Rodney’s thought processes were torn between trying to think back to what the question had been and focusing on the way John’s pants framed his ankles, how the play of muscles at the top of his foot contrasted with the glimpse of softness on the instep. Rodney had never considered the possibility that the concept of an Achilles heel could be quite so literal.
“I…” Rodney started to say, wishing he’d taken the time to rehearse, spontaneity be damned.
“Rodney, I seriously hope you didn’t come here to stare at my feet,” John said, and Rodney could see the twist of exasperation and playfulness in the quirk of his brow and the tilt of his head, even though he wasn’t looking at John. ’You’d be surprised,’ Rodney thought to himself almost hysterically, finally pulling his eyes up to John’s face. Sheppard looked shocked, tense, shifting his weight nervously for a few seconds and Rodney realized that he must have said the words out loud.
“Oh, god,” Rodney whispered, wondering how his plan could have gone so spectacularly badly when he’d known from the second he’d come up with it (not that ‘go babble at your possibly-not-straight team leader until he either kisses or punches you’ was that much of a plan, really) that he’d only get one shot.
“Okay, look—forget your feet,” he said hurriedly, then, “Actually, on second thought, don’t forget them. They’re…” he trailed off before shaking his head, trying to refocus. “Here’s the thing: I can’t help but notice the difference between the way we—humans, that is—live on Earth and the way we live out here. Not just the whole death-can-come-at-any-minute thing, but how that affects everything, from the way a society is built and rebuilt to the way people out here relate to each other.” Rodney paused for breath and went on, too caught up in his desperate speech to see whether John was making the face that meant he was curious or the face that meant he thought Rodney was crazy. The pressure was building inside him and he started to pace as he’d done in his own room, sketching out his emphasis in pleading, expansive gestures that felt more natural than his uneven breathing. “Maybe it’s in human nature to hurry, or prioritize, or whatever, but it’s a different kind of rushing here. It means more.”
“Rodney, slow down. What—”
“People treat each other differently when they know they could die at any time,” Rodney interrupted. “Except, we don’t, not the expedition, not…” At this, Rodney gestured between the two of them and told himself that blushing wasn’t going to matter in a few minutes anyway, not if John understood what he was trying to say. “…not us, either. And I think we should.” He resisted the urge to fold his arms in front of himself as protection from whatever the response might be, though he couldn’t avoid the way his body oriented upward, his posture stiff and his chin raised. Sheppard stared at him for a long moment as though expecting him to continue, and Rodney felt the heat of embarrassment start building from his neck up to his ears.
“We should treat each other like we’re about to die.” John’s raised eyebrow spoke volumes.
“More along the lines of, ‘like each day might be our last,’ but…” John was still staring at him steadily. “Well, in a way, yes.” Rodney replied, hating the way his voice sounded so flustered. Instead of responding, John casually lifted one foot to rub at his calf. The motion caught Rodney’s eye even though he tried not to look at the way the fabric hiked up, how the cuff brushed John’s ankle like a caress.
“What would you do if you thought we were about to die?” John finally asked.
“I—well, if we were really about to die I’d probably be stuck trying to deactivate whatever deadly thing was about to kill us,” Rodney said quickly, without thinking. He waved his hand dismissively. “But that’s why it’s better to think of it now, when there’s, uh… you know, time.”
“I don’t plan on losing any of my people, Rodney,” John said firmly.
“Don’t cloud the issue! It’s not like I want to lose you—” (Rodney had to stop and glare, because he could feel his voice start to slip from indignant to distressed) “—or Teyla, for that matter. It’s just… if my last words are more likely to be ‘Just hold them off for ten more seconds’ than… than ‘thanks for being my friend,’ and, ‘I’d rather die with you than—’ Well.” He broke off again and cleared his throat. “I’d prefer have the chance to say it, that’s all.” Rodney gave in to the pressing need to cross his arms; for some reason, his chest felt awfully exposed.
John’s own face was uncharacteristically open; he looked stunned, his eyebrows high on his forehead, and Rodney felt the dull weight of his mistake leeching ice into his veins from his stomach outward. He tried to tamp down his panic as he shot a nervous glance to the side, looking for an escape route.
Rodney took in a deep breath. “Well. I’m glad we had this talk, I’ll just be—”
At that, John’s casual attitude dropped away and Rodney found himself being propelled backwards by a firm grip on both of his shoulders. The breath huffed out of him when his back made contact with a hard surface, and Rodney realized it was the door to John’s quarters.
“…going now,” Rodney trailed off breathlessly. Though their bodies weren’t terribly close, their faces were, and Rodney placed his hands firmly on the flat of the door behind him to ground himself, feeling shaken. To think that John would pick up on what he'd meant, that hadn't been stupid. No, he'd been stupid to assume that John was interested in the first place.
“I don’t think so, McKay,” John said matter-of-factly, his tone giving nothing away.
“Yeah, caught that,” Rodney said, blinking. He dropped his gaze, only to see that, in pushing him back, John had braced himself in a wide stance, his feet angled along with his body, toes gripping the floor. The power Rodney felt in Sheppard’s hands contrasted with the vulnerability of his bare feet, and the contrast of the two had Rodney gasping, surprised and unprepared by his reaction. Not even the unpredictability of the situation was enough to dampen it.
“Are you going to ask me what I would want, if we were both about to die?” John’s voice was low in his ear, the tone he used for warnings, intense and focused. Rodney caught the change of phrasing, his hands flexing nervously against the door as he felt the urge to fidget. He found the drag of his eyes back up to level completely agonizing as he studiously looked anywhere but at John’s body, the other man’s shoulder so close thanks to his leaning position that Rodney could have rested his forehead on it easily. That thought only magnified the difference between what he’d hoped for versus what was probably about to happen.
“If this is one of those moments where you tell me that, even though you consider me a friend, there’s been something you’ve wanted to do for years—” Rodney said, trying to keep the regret from his voice.
“There is,” John murmured, close enough that his words left whispers of heat on Rodney’s cheek that hadn’t faded by the time John pulled back to regard him with a steady gaze. John released his hold on Rodney’s shoulders, sliding his hands up onto the door on either side of Rodney’s face, effectively trapping him.
Rodney screwed his eyes shut. “Well, in that case, if you could drop the suspenseful build-up and just punch me already, I can go away and remind myself that adrenaline-fueled assumptions about my co-workers are always, always a bad idea.”
There was a long silence, and Rodney sensed John pulling away from him but didn’t open his eyes until he caught the barest hint of a caught breath that almost sounded like…
John was across the room laughing, his shoulders shaking with the effort of keeping his amusement silent. Rodney’s earlier embarrassment had nothing on this, and he couldn’t manage to get his body turned around so he could get away; all he could do was stare, feeling completely betrayed without really knowing why. He must have made a sound of dismay, because John turned his head toward him, the hand that had been half-covering his face dropping away. Their eyes locked, and the laughter that had been sketched across John’s face slid away into seriousness.
“We really are bad at this, aren’t we?” John said cryptically, walking back to the center of the room.
“At what?” Rodney asked, confused.
“The truth, Rodney.” His lips curved into a wry little smile as he stepped so close that Rodney had to tilt his head up just a bit to look at him. Rodney opened his mouth to object that, hey, he’d been practically baring his soul, thank you very much—but John shook his head slightly and held up a finger.
“Quiet,” John said. “I would want you to be quiet and listen, so I could tell you that— ” He sighed and looked straight at Rodney, face set and determined as though he were facing some unknown enemy, instead of a friend. “That I was glad it was you. That I would want to die there with you, at the end of all—at the end of it all.” John didn’t look away; his eyes seemed to draw in all of the light from the room, converting it to an intense energy that held the promise of something none of Rodney’s hastily thought-up models had predicted. Jesus, Rodney thought. When John let his walls down, he really let his walls down.
“Oh,” Rodney said, though ‘Oh’ was an understatement. “But you—”
John kissed him.
It was a ‘shut up’ kiss, though not through force, but from heat. John stretched his hand up to rest it beside Rodney’s head as he leaned closer, his thighs pressing against Rodney’s just as he sucked softly on Rodney’s lower lip. Suddenly, the door wasn’t a solid enough support for Rodney, and he slid one hand up John’s arm, snagging the other at his waistband, seeking the warmth of John’s back. John swept his tongue into his mouth, seeking out Rodney’s tongue to stroke it insistently, almost as if he were trying to make a point—this is me, this is us—and Rodney groaned, hauling John as close as he could, using the hard door behind him as leverage.
John stumbled the last inch or so forward, one hand coming up to cup Rodney’s face as though to hold him steady. The few seconds John had been off-balance had caused him to adjust his stance, and he had one leg between Rodney’s, their ankles brushing together, pant legs rucked up from their frantic movement. The hot brush of skin against his leg left Rodney panting against John’s mouth. He pulled back and rested his head against John’s shoulder as he’d wanted to do earlier, fingers tangled in John’s shirt, hips hitching friction at the memory of John’s bare feet, bare ankles, and how it felt to be pressed together like that.
Rodney thought of the little noises he’d been making, and his ears burned a bit. “That… wasn’t very quiet,” he managed. He felt rather than heard John’s laughter.
“I’ll live,” John said, and Rodney tightened the hand he had at John’s back.
“Good,” he said meaningfully, lifting his head and pressing what had been intended to be a fast kiss to John’s already swollen lips. An indeterminate number of minutes later, both of John’s hands were braced on the wall, and Rodney was reevaluating the amount of stress he was willing to put his knees through in the pursuit of the scientific method.
Which was why he was dismayed and more than a little annoyed when John slowly pulled away from him, pupils blown wide and hair even more impossibly mussed. Rodney shot him as indignant a look as someone who was (presumably, and it really wasn’t that much of a stretch, given the circumstances) about to have sex could give. The thought that John was probably moving away toward the bed (and he’d always known the man was a genius, really) was enough to motivate Rodney into pushing off from the wall and taking a few unsteady steps toward where John was standing.
“Rodney,” John said in a bit of a pleading tone. Rodney thought John needn’t have bothered.
“What?” he said, feeling a giddy smile threaten to break out on his own face. “I thought, in the interests of being thorough—you know, last moments, and all that—that we could—”
Inexplicably, John’s face blanched. “No,” he said. Then, because he still was a genius, and he could tell that Rodney didn’t understand him because he wasn’t making sense, John added, “I wouldn’t—not at a time like that I—”
“Do you really think you’d be nothing more than a ‘last lay’ to me?” John said almost angrily, raking his hand through his hair. “That’s not what it would be—that’s not what this is. I’m not that kind of—you’re not an excuse for—”
“John… you—I…” Rodney said, momentarily speechless—and, wow, he would have thought the name would sound strange, spoken with his voice rather than in his head, but it didn’t. It felt… right. What felt wrong was John looking uncomfortable and upset. Rodney wasn’t sure how to fix that, but he could try, anyway. “I believe you, I promise, okay? But come here right now.”
Later, after Rodney had conducted a plethora of new experiments (including a giving John a blowjob before John had taken his pants off, kneeling between John’s bare feet, because that was still seriously hot for reasons Rodney would study some time when he hadn’t come his brains out. Twice), he lay beside John in bed and said the first non-sex-related thing that crossed his mind.
“There has to be a catch. They’re probably really cold at night…”
“Huh?” John mumbled against Rodney’s chest.
“Nothing,” Rodney said quickly. “Oh, and don’t think I missed the part where you practically quoted ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to me,” he added smugly, mentally rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the inevitable argument. No one had ever said that ‘treat each other like every day could be your last’ precluded goading, after all—and really, didn’t John know that ‘The Princess Bride’ had better quotes?
He’d learn, though. Rodney planned to make sure they both had plenty of time for that… among other things.