John surveyed the small area within the atrium with satisfaction. This would suit his purposes just fine. He was glad now that he'd run into Lorne as he was sneaking out of his office, book tucked under his arm, looking for a quiet place to read for a few hours until his meeting with Carter.
"Don't tell me you've finished War and Peace, sir." Lorne's glance at the book in John's hand and the smirk on his face had said it all.
"Just taking a break," John had said smoothly. Sometimes he wished he'd never brought that damned book with him. It certainly made for a lot of jokes at his expense. Fortunately the library on Atlantis had expanded greatly over the years. And no matter how much material one could store on a flash drive; one just could not get cozy with a laptop. John was grateful people still seemed to enjoy the feel of a paperback in hand.
"The Fighter Boys?" Lorne had cocked his head sideways to read the title. "Can I have it next?"
"I'll put you on the list." John had almost laughed at Lorne's look of resignation. "So, anyway, if you don't need me for the next few hours, I was thinking of doing a little reading...that is if I can find a place where no one will bother me. I'd take a jumper to the mainland, except for that whole giant, poisonous snakes thing." And the fact that Carter would probably not have approved the use of the jumper in that fashion. Well, it wasn't like they had an endless supply of energy.
Lorne had looked oddly furtive at that moment. "Um, sir? If you're really looking for a quiet place where no one is likely to find you..."
John had felt an eyebrow rise as he'd waited his 2IC out.
"Well, it's just that hardly anyone goes to the atrium on the science deck at this time of day. You've got the morning light from the balcony and a good ocean breeze. The greenery pretty much shields you from the casual passerby and I've got a few deck chairs stashed there. It's...um, nice." Lorne had broken off and sort of looked like he'd regretted speaking.
"The morning light?" John had questioned, wondering why the major looked so squirrely.
Lorne had turned red. "Yeah. I um, paint a little. In my free time," he'd been quick to add.
"Really?" Huh. The things you found out about people. "I've been trying to teach myself how to play the guitar. Let's just say I shouldn't give up my day job." He'd given a rueful half-laugh. "So what, people? Landscapes?"
Lorne had noticeably relaxed. "Landscapes mostly. I've got some good material here."
John had nodded in agreement. "So this bolt-hole of yours...you don't mind?"
"I wouldn't have brought it up if I had, sir. Only, if you drink all the Coke, you have to replace it."
It had seemed like a fair deal. Now as he stood looking at the set-up, he was impressed with the secluded feel to this corner of the room. A huge wall of vegetation screened off this section of the room and shut it off from the view of the banks of tables where more plants were set out in pots. Nearby, the open door to the balcony let in the sounds of the sea while great shafts of yellow light spilled down from the windows above, making the room pleasantly warm. The breeze from the open doors brought with it the smell of salt air and the faint cries of seabirds, as well as kept the place from being stifling. It reminded him of one of those whaddya call'ems, a sunroom. John unfolded one of the deck chairs with a grin and rooted around in the cooler to pull out a can of soda. Of course, a cold beer would have been better, he thought as he popped the metal tab on the can, but since he was still technically on duty, he wouldn't have been able to have it anyway. He made himself comfortable in the chair and opened his book.
The sound of voices woke him. He jerked briefly in his seat, remembered where he was and then checked his watch. Good. He must have dozed off, but he hadn't missed his meeting with Carter.
"...and so I said, 'honestly, what were you thinking?' I mean, seriously!" The woman's voice that woke him began to register on his consciousness. He rubbed his upper arm and then stretched with a yawn, scratching his chest. Okay, deck chair, not that comfortable. But a hammock...yeah, he could get behind that. He closed his eyes again for a moment, catching the open book with his hand when it threatened to slide off his abdomen. He could just sit here a few more moments. The voices and the sounds of movement in the room began to retreat into the background again.
"Brad Pitt or George Clooney."
Huh? He was jolted back to wakefulness again, even as a second woman said "What?"
"Brad Pitt or George Clooney? Who would you rather sleep with? It's a game I heard Keller talking about."
"Keller? Our little Doogie Howser? Miss Butter Wouldn't Melt In Her Mouth? You can't tell me she started this game."
"Okay," the other voice conceded, "maybe she said 'who you would rather fool around with', but we all know what she meant. I don't know if she started it, but she was telling someone in the infirmary that she tried playing it with Colonel Carter and Carter gave her two physicists to choose from."
There was a burst of laughter from both women over the sounds of running water and pots being shifted. John could not see himself playing this game with the team. Teyla and Ronon wouldn't get the references for starters. Somehow in his head the question turned into, "So McKay. Who's got the best fries, McDonald's or Burger King?" He grinned. McDonald's all the way.
"Figures," the second woman snorted. "No wonder she's still single."
O-kay. That's it. Time to make his presence known and get out of there. He'd have to tell Lorne that his little private getaway had a few design flaws. He swung his legs off the side of the chair, pausing as he was overcome by another yawn.
"Tell me about it!" The first woman laughed. "So Pitt or Clooney?"
"This game sure beats Prime or Not Prime. I hate that game. Pitt."
John's foot knocked against the nearly empty can of Coke and almost tipped it over. He reached down quickly to catch it before it spilled.
"Ooooh, not me. Clooney for me. Robert Redford or Paul Newman?"
"I presume in the Butch and Sundance days? I mean, they're practically dead now."
Ouch! John's head snapped up. He had no idea women could be so cruel. Well, on second thought, he could recall a few scratching post sessions between Nancy and her friends. On the rare occasions she had someone over. She never did understand why he expected them to live on his Air Force salary and not his dad's money. She would have preferred the gilded cage, even if it meant grounding him. He collected the book and the can of coke and got ready to stand up.
"Okay, how about this then? John Sheppard or Ronon Dex?"
The second woman did not hesitate. "Both. At the same time."
The squeals of laughter made him wince. Shit, there was no way to exit the room gracefully now.
"Oh you wish! C'mon, you have to choose!"
"How can you choose between those two? It's like apples and oranges. Help me with this bag of fertilizer, will you?" There was the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor and then both women grunted with the effort of lifting the object onto the worktable.
"Okay, so on a scale of one to ten, how would you rank the men of Atlantis? Ronon Dex."
"I said one to ten. But yeah, I know what you mean." There was a collective sigh. "The muscles, the dreads, knowing that he could kill you with his bare hands...serious Bad Boy material there. But no cheating. Stick to the scale. Colonel Sheppard."
That was it. He was in his very own personal existentialist hell. What had he done to deserve this kind of torture? He eyed the distance from the chair to the balcony and wondered if he could make it there undetected. Surely he could climb down to the next level from there. He'd already scaled the tower once in an emergency. It couldn't be that dangerous.
"Nine point five."
"Are you serious? Have you seen the man lately? With that sexy slouch and that fabulous hair and the imported-from-Ireland charm? And those jeans? Tell me you saw him when he came back from Earth wearing Levis. What are you deducting points for?"
John made a fist with his hand and began to thump his forehead repeatedly.
"We-ll," the other woman pondered, "you have to take off points for being totally oblivious when someone is interested in him."
"Oooh, good point. Of course, he could hardly get any work done if he started paying attention to that!" More squeals of laughter. Someone just shoot me now.
"And, not to mention the competition. I mean, seriously, have you seen some of the women he's been with? Who can keep up with that?"
"I don't think there's been all that many, but I see what you mean. And I bet that charm's just an act. Face it, he probably keeps everyone at arm's length all the time. Okay then, Radek Zelenka."
"Seven point five."
"What? You're joking, right?"
"No, really. I know he's a little on the short side and he's losing his hair, but he gets major points for being adorable. I love it when he gets all excited and breaks into Czech."
"You're really weird. I'm guessing you loved Carson's accent then."
"Oh!" There was a moment of silence, out of respect it would seem. "Oh yeah, Carson." Another collective sigh.
"So how about Rodney McKay?" The woman sounded positively malevolent and John suddenly hated both of them very much.
"Well," the second woman sounded as though she were smirking. "Like the man himself, the math here is very complicated."
An inelegant snort of laughter greeted this comment. "Do tell."
"Okay, first we start off with a base value of nine—no, no, hear me out. Base value of nine. I mean, look at those shoulders and that ass! Okay, starting at nine, but right away, you have to deduct five points off the top for his arrogance."
"Oh, I am so with you now, go on." John found himself grinding his teeth. Rodney had every right to be arrogant, damn it.
"Okay, so then you have to take off another three points for his lack of social skills."
The other woman laughed. "Aren't we down to a 'one', now?"
"Yes, however, you've got to give him back two points for his eyes and another two points for that mouth."
Well, okay. Rodney did have nice eyes. He could see that.
"Oh god, yes, that mouth." Hmmn. He could see that point too. He suddenly had an image of Rodney's eyes with a glint of evil glee to them and those wide, mobile lips stretching tight over...okay. So maybe these were not the sort of thoughts that a guy should have about his friend and team mate, but then, hey, he was a guy. Random thoughts about what other people looked like during sex were practically inevitable. Even when they included said friend giving blowjobs?
He really needed to get out of this room.
"Another two points back for saving our collective asses every week or so..." Oh c'mon! Only two points for that? That was just crazy. Rodney in full save-the-city mode was just...well, awesome. Because first he told you in great detail how you were all going to die. And then he told you (in withering terms) why none of your solutions would work. And then something you said (or maybe Zelenka) would ignite a spark from one mental connection to another and the gap would be bridged and then Rodney would be snapping his fingers and implementing the solution at great speed and volume. If that wasn't hot...
"And then," the second woman said with a flourish, "you have to give him another two points for swinging both ways. Which brings him back up to nine."
Excuse me, what?
"What?" The first woman shrieked. "Are you serious? And you're going to give him points for being a switch hitter?"
"D'uh, yeah! C'mon, two hot guys going at it together, that's totally hot. Can't you see that?"
"No, I really can't. And...McKay? Are you sure?"
John found himself straining to hear the answer and then wondered what the hell he was doing. The deck chair creaked slightly on the metal decking and he froze again.
"Did you hear something?" John refused to breathe. "Oh well, never mind. Yes, two hot guys...you must not have ever read any slash."
"A topic for another day. But yes, McKay plays for both sides."
"Wow. Bet Katie didn't like that."
"You know she's applied for a transfer back home."
"What?" John sat up straighter as well. Katie Brown was going back to Earth?
"Yeah, seems like McKay almost proposed, then took it back. Said he needed some time for himself."
"Oh for god's sake, he dumped her?" John frowned as he continued to listen. Rodney hadn't said anything about dumping Katie, only that the proposal hadn't gone well. Not that he wanted Rodney to marry Katie. Really, he'd thought all along it was only a matter of time before they broke up. Not that it was Rodney's fault; he just thought Rodney and Katie was a little like pairing a verbal pit bull with one of those little white fluffy dogs with a bow in its hair—a whatsit—a Shih Tzu. Bound to come to a Bad End.
"Well, I'm guessing that the real reason is because he hasn't gotten over the Colonel yet."
John shook his head with a sigh. Rodney, Rodney. Carter was just...
"Which one, the blonde or the brunette?" Both women snickered.
"Like I said, two hot guys..."
"You are so bad!"
John felt his face flush from the neck up. What was the saying about eavesdroppers? Well, it wasn't like he'd done it on purpose; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had no good way to escape. He thought hard about these women had said. At least he was fairly certain Rodney was not in any danger of repercussions from his sexual proclivities—the whole life-sucking space vampire thing helped put things a little into perspective this far from Earth. He might have to start watching Rodney's back though, unobtrusively, of course. An image of a naked Rodney sprawled face down on his bed suddenly popped into his head. Rodney was bi? He wondered how he could have missed it, but then thought of how awkward Rodney was around women and wondered why he hadn't seen it before. The idea that people speculated about his own love life was not a new concept to John; hell, he'd lived on smaller bases with less to do than Atlantis. But the notion that people would speculate about him and Rodney...to say it pissed him off was maybe stating the case too strongly. After all, there was no cause to take these women seriously, right? So not piss-worthy. Just annoying. And maybe a little exciting.
It was with relief when John heard someone else enter the lab.
"Um, hello ladies."
Shit. Speak of the devil. He wondered if the two women had the decency to look embarrassed.
"Dr. McKay." From the nervous clearing of the throat, John guessed that at least one of them did. Hah. Served them right. "Dr. Brown is not here at the moment."
"Oh. Ah, well, yes. I mean, no." Uh-oh, Rodney really wasn't handling this well, was he? "I mean, I wasn't looking for Dr. Brown. I was looking for the Colonel. You haven't seen him by any chance?"
There was a pregnant pause in which John wondered if the two women were exchanging significant, I-told-you-so glances and he wanted to burst out of his hiding place to yell that there was nothing going on between him and Rodney in the first place. No, he's only been flirting with you for the last three or four years now. Shut UP! He snarled back at his brain.
"No, we haven't seen him." Was it his imagination, or did the speaker sound just a little bit worried? Hah!
Rodney made a humming noise. If frowns had sound, they would sound like that. "That's odd, Perkins said she saw him heading this way earlier. I thought I would just stop by..."
"If you're looking for the Colonel, Dr. McKay, why don't you just radio him?"
"Well, yes, yes, I could do that." Rodney managed to instill in his voice the accompanying phrase 'do I look like an idiot, you moron?' as he spoke. It had to be a gift, John decided. "But as I said, I was just headed this way...oh you know what? Never mind. Sheppard, are you there?"
For a split second, John's heart stopped, thinking that he'd been spotted until he realized that Rodney was speaking in his ear as well as from ten feet away. And there was no way he could answer without giving his position away. He touched the radio receiver in his ear and clicked on it three times.
"That's odd." He heard Rodney say. "He's not answering, but I'm getting some sort of signal just the same." There was a pause, during which John could picture Rodney trying to figure it out. He could see the frown, the index finger tapping his lower lip...C'mon, Rodney, work it out...
"Major Lorne, have you seen the Colonel this morning?" Rodney spoke into the headset again. There was a pause. "No, Colonel Sheppard." One of the women giggled slightly.
"No, he's not answering his radio. Well, I know that..." Rodney continued to talk into his headset as he walked out of the room.
"He didn't even say goodbye. There goes another three points!" More laughter.
John downed the rest of the tepid cola with a grimace. There weren't many things in his book nastier than warm Coke. When the can was empty, he tossed it high over the wall of plants and waited for it to land with a clatter on the far side of the room.
"What was that?" The two women ceased their movements. John could feel their sudden wariness from across the room.
"I dunno, maybe we should check it out."
"Maybe we should call for back up."
"Call for back up? Who do you think we are, Team Sheppard?"
"Two words for you. Nano-virus."
"I'm pretty sure nanovirus is one word, but I get your point. Why don't we just go down the hall and look for one of the marines?"
As soon as the room was clear, John bolted. Once he felt like he was a safe distance away, he slowed to a walk and radioed Rodney.
"What's up, McKay?"
"Sheppard!" The relief was evident in Rodney's voice. "I tried to contact you earlier but you didn't answer—the radio just made this clicking sound. Well, I mean, it made the sound it makes when you want me to maintain radio silence, but that didn't make any sense, because we were here in Atlantis and not out on a mission so I contacted the major and he..."
"Yeah, about that," John cut him off. "I couldn't answer right away. I was a bit tied up at that moment."
"Tied up." Rodney's voice sounded puzzled and disbelieving at the same time.
"I was...indisposed, Rodney."
"There's no 'oh!' about it, McKay." Damn it, sometimes Rodney could be so obtuse. Whatever he was thinking, he managed to make it sound like John had been up to something he shouldn't have been. "Look, I can't explain it right now, only to say it's not what you think, nor is the city in any immediate danger or anything like that. I've got to go to a meeting with Carter—I'll explain it later, okay? I'll meet you at your quarters this evening—game of chess?"
"Um, sure. Oh right. 'Game of chess'. Right. Tonight. See you then." John could hear the quotes Rodney put around the words, as though game of chess was code for something else. Honestly, sometimes he just wanted to hit McKay. He was whistling tunelessly as he moved briskly down the hall towards the nearest transporter when it hit him. He'd just set himself up for a meeting with Rodney tonight.
Rodney tapped in the last few commands of his new maintenance sub-routine, started the program compiling, and then sat back in his chair with a groan. As he pulled his hands away from the keyboard he flexed his fingers carefully, feeling the stretch and pull of the newly healed skin. He turned his hands over to study his palms, checking for any signs of the damage the rope burns had caused, but there was none. With the benefit of Ancient technology, his skin had healed perfectly and he was certain no one would be able to tell that just a few days ago his hands had been practically torn to shreds.
He grimaced as he recalled the time he, Carter and Keller had spent in that underground death-pit. It would have been just typical had he survived their recent encounters with both the Replicators and the Wraith only to fall foul of some outdated and ill-advised Genii mining facility. Well, at least there had been no long-term damage done and he had been able to prevent Keller from falling to her death and then get both Carter and himself to safety. Next time they relied on him to save the day however, he was doing it with his brain rather than his brawn – it was much less painful that way. Nevertheless, it had been surprisingly satisfying to get Ronon's grunt of approval and Sheppard's pleased grin and drawled 'Nice going, Rodney' upon his return to Atlantis - perhaps not quite worth the excruciating pain of his wrenched back, shoulders and arms, but definitely very satisfying.
As his computer chugged away, Rodney sighed and let his mind wander over the other projects on which his teams were currently working; the new quarantine lock-down procedures, the trace ore analysis from M5V-801, those weird little Lego-like things from P3T-476. The Science Department had just had its weekly project review meeting yesterday, so it seemed a little too nasty for him to go check up on them all again now – Rodney always tried to be careful with his nastiness, it was a fine line to tread between being scarily motivational and just plain scary and Rodney liked to think it was one he walked well, most of the time at any rate.
A quick check of his computer showed him that his program had compiled and Rodney grinned when he realized it had done so without error, and on his first attempt too. "Dry spell, indeed," he muttered to himself under his breath, "just shows what they know." He quickly downloaded the new program onto his archive data pad for review and then started it running in the simulation of the Atlantis mainframe he had created for the purposes of testing all new software. Ever since that incident with the Wraith computer virus on the Daedalus a couple years back, Rodney had been very careful about isolating each new addition any of them made to the Atlantis network. He also ensured that he kept a physically isolated backup of the mainframe, which was capable of running all of Atlantis' essential systems just in case. Some people might think he was concentrating too much on the 'worst-case scenario', but Pegasus had taught Rodney, almost from the very beginning, that one could never be too careful.
With the simulation underway and no minions to terrorize, Rodney was at a temporary loss for what to do. He glanced at his watch and found that it was approaching mid-day and, with no missions scheduled for the next couple of days while the IOA conducted their annual interviews, Rodney found himself with nothing urgent requiring his attention whatsoever.
"Huh," he said aloud in surprise, trying to remember the last time he'd had some free time like this. Nothing sprang to mind and Rodney found himself drumming his fingers on the side of his desk looking for inspiration. He supposed he could pull out one of his numerous more theoretical projects, but he found that he wasn't quite in the right mind-set for that kind of work. Besides, the simulation would be finished running in - Rodney consulted his computer - three hours and fifty-seven minutes, so he wouldn't really be able to get properly stuck into to anything of that level of complexity.
Lunch, Rodney decided, that was it, he could have an early lunch. He'd hunt Sheppard down from wherever he was currently hiding and then they could have lunch together and maybe play a few rounds of computer golf. Rodney nodded to himself happily as he set off in search of the Colonel—that would be the perfect way to spend his free time.
"Um, hello ladies," Rodney said, entering the atrium with some trepidation. He wasn't all that sure of his welcome around the botanists these days. He vaguely recognized the two women who were looking after the plants, Williams and Clayton, and was somewhat relieved to find that he didn't think either of them were close friends of Katie's. He wasn't sure what the grapevine was whispering about him and Katie, but he was pretty sure it wasn't anything complimentary about him – it never was.
"Dr. McKay," one of them, Williams he thought, said. "Dr. Brown is not here at the moment."
Of course they would assume he was looking for Katie. "Oh. Ah, well, yes. I mean, no." Rodney blinked and tried again. "I mean, I wasn't looking for Dr. Brown. I was looking for the Colonel. You haven't seen him by any chance?" At his question the two women exchanged a knowing glance, and Rodney found himself feeling a little embarrassed for some reason he couldn't quite fathom; they were acting like he was the punchline of some joke he had no idea even existed.
"No, we haven't seen him," Clayton replied, her merriment evident in her eyes and confusing Rodney all the more.
Rodney frowned and did his utmost to ignore whatever it was that was going on between the two of them. "That's odd, Perkins said she saw him heading this way earlier. I thought I would just stop by..."
"If you're looking for the Colonel, Dr. McKay, why don't you just radio him?" Williams interrupted.
Rodney rolled his eyes, "Well, yes, yes, I could do that. But as I said, I was just headed this way...oh you know what? Never mind." Rodney gave up; there was obviously no talking to these women. He tapped his radio, "Sheppard, are you there?" Silence. "That's odd," he said to himself as he heard a faint tapping sound echo in his ear. "He's not answering, but I'm getting some sort of signal just the same..." he trailed off. The signal sounded a little like... Rodney shook his head, it couldn't be - they were in Atlantis, it made no sense. Feeling himself start to panic just a little, he tried his radio again.
"Major Lorne, have you seen the Colonel this morning?" Rodney asked and was relieved when Lorne answered immediately – obviously there was no cause for alarm. His relief quickly gave way to exasperation when Lorne started babbling something about having seen Carter in her office. "No, Colonel Sheppard," Rodney snapped.
One of the women giggled at this and Rodney turned to glare at her. Honestly, was the entire base set on irritating him as much as possible today? Snapping closed the connection, he spun around and stomped out of the atrium without a backward glance.
"What's up, McKay?" Sheppard's voice suddenly came over the wire.
"Sheppard!" Rodney said in relief. "I tried to contact you earlier but you didn't answer—the radio just made this clicking sound. Well, I mean, it made the sound it makes when you want me to maintain radio silence, but that didn't make any sense, because we were here in Atlantis and not out on a mission so I contacted the major and he..."
"Yeah, about that," Sheppard cut him off. "I couldn't answer right away. I was a bit tied up at that moment."
"Tied up." Rodney repeated in disbelief. Paperwork aversion more like it, Rodney thought, grinning to himself at the image of Sheppard cowering in fear of a stack of blank mission reports.
"I was...indisposed, Rodney," Sheppard clarified, sounding somewhat embarrassed by the admission.
"Oh. Oh!" Suddenly Rodney was assuaged by a very different kind of image altogether. He stopped in his tracks and slumped against one of the corridor walls – this was so not something he needed now. He had been very good at limiting his fantasies of that particular variety over the past few years and he was not going to start slipping. Nothing had changed, despite what Rodney might wish, and thoughts of that kind promised nothing but misery and heartache.
"There's no 'oh!' about it, McKay." John sounded frustrated, although Rodney had no idea why – after all he wasn't the one entertaining inappropriate thoughts about his male and very heterosexual friend. "Look, I can't explain it right now, only to say it's not what you think, nor is the city in any immediate danger or anything like that. I've got to go to a meeting with Carter—I'll explain it later, okay? I'll meet you at your quarters this evening—game of chess?"
Rodney frowned, what the hell was going on with Sheppard? "Um, sure. Oh, right - game of chess. Right. Tonight. See you then." Rodney closed off the radio connection and shook his head in confusion.
To his intense irritation, Rodney spent the rest of the day somewhat distracted. Oh, he got his new sub-routine installed and watched with some degree of satisfaction as their power efficiency climbed another four percent, but he couldn't focus properly on his work. To his chagrin, the visions he'd had earlier about the various ways and means by which John Sheppard could be 'indisposed' continued to impress themselves upon his consciousness at the most inopportune times. Really, coding in the Ancient base language was difficult enough without flashes of what Sheppard looked like while he was jerking off – all lean lines, coiled muscles, and flushed cock – flashing before his eyes. Once the clock struck six, Rodney grabbed his PDA took himself off to an early dinner in disgust.
With Teyla back on Earth for her IOA interview and Sheppard nowhere to be seen, Rodney and Ronon ate in a mutually agreed upon silence. This was nice, Rodney thought to himself – no need for him to make aimless small talk or put up with people's general stupidity. Instead he could concentrate on his dinner and his thoughts; that is if his thoughts were in any way sensible, which, of course, they weren't.
Rodney let out a sigh and pushed his half-finished dinner away from him, suddenly unable to stomach another bite.
"You not gonna eat that?" Ronon asked, one hand already reaching forward to pull Rodney's plate towards him.
Rodney waved a hand in acquiescence. "Go on," he said. "Have at it; I seem to have lost my appetite."
Ronon grunted in thanks and stabbed his fork into Rodney's remaining food. "Something wrong?" he asked around his mouthful.
"Not at all," Rodney snapped defensively. "Why would you think something was wrong?"
"You don't want your dinner," Ronon replied. "Doesn't seem like you."
"Huh," Rodney had to admit the man had a point. "No, it doesn't, does it?" He let out a snort of laughter. "Just got lots of things on my mind at the moment – important, mission critical things, you understand."
Ronon looked up from his plate and just stared at Rodney for a few moments. Rodney felt himself flush slightly before he gathered his indignation at being questioned and scowled right back at Ronon.
"You seeing Sheppard later on tonight?" Ronon asked, eventually turning his attention back to Rodney's dinner.
Rodney blinked in surprise. "Yes," he answered slowly, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Why do you ask?"
"Thought that was maybe why you were so twitchy," Ronon replied without looking back up. "Thought maybe you were finally gonna do something about how you feel about him now that you've finally finished things with that plant woman."
Rodney felt his eyes widen in shock and his stomach plummet to the floor at Ronon's words. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about – I assure you I have no feelings whatsoever about Colonel Sheppard," he said quickly, horribly aware that his voice sounded far too panicked for his words to be believable. Ronon merely raised his head and looked at him again, his skepticism palpable. "What I mean is, we're colleagues, acquaintances, friends even..." Rodney cut off his babble before he dug himself in any deeper and jumped to his feet. "Look, I have to go-"
"Whatever you say, McKay." Ronon's voice echoed after him as he fled the commissary.
Rodney found himself pacing up and down in his quarters and working himself up into a nice panic attack. What had Ronon seen? How had he slipped up? Oh god, did Sheppard know? Was that why he was ignoring Rodney's radio hails? What was he going to do? Rodney started to hyperventilate as a stream of different scenarios started to present themselves to him, each one more horrible and humiliating than the last. He sat down on his bed, leaning over to rest his elbows on his knees and dropping his head down. He concentrated on taking a few long, deep, slow breaths until he felt the panic subside slightly. Okay, he could deal with this; he was a genius after all. He'd faced down armies of Wraith and swarms of Replicators, surely he could deal with a few lousy feelings. He just had to stay calm and think things through logically; try to work out what exactly was going on.
Rodney knew that something in him had changed fundamentally in the years he'd lived on Atlantis. Life in Pegasus had made him different – harder and stronger in many ways, but it had also softened him. He had gradually become aware of the needs of his fellow expedition members and had consequently been more willing to accept of their shortcomings. But perhaps most importantly of all, he had been granted a greater understanding of his own faults and flaws. Pegasus, for all her terrors and mysteries, had made him a better person.
He accepted that he was still, at times, rude, short-tempered and arrogant – well, he was the smartest man in two galaxies, after all. But he also now knew when he over-stepped the mark and was working hard to try to do so less often. Although he would never admit it, he valued his fellow expedition members greatly, felt the loss of those who'd died keenly, and had an almost overwhelming affection for John, Teyla and Ronon - his team. It was on Atlantis that he had made his first true and lasting friends.
And then there was John, his best friend. The guy Rodney played chess and computer games with; the man who called Rodney 'buddy' and who sniped back at him when he was being pissy; the one who had made sure that he taught Rodney how to defend himself and who risked his life for Rodney's on regular basis. Colonel John Sheppard, who had appeared so devastated when Rodney had confessed that he wanted sacrifice himself to the wraith on Jeannie's behalf and had then talked another man into killing himself to save Rodney instead. Sheppard, who had looked so shocked and vulnerable when Rodney had told him he intended to ask Katie Brown to marry him.
Rodney blinked as he toted up John's recent actions, trying to determine whether or not he was jumping to conclusions – fiddling the statistics just so he could dismiss his null hypothesis. Because, Rodney had to admit, he was not exactly an uninterested party in this little equation. He'd been attracted to Sheppard right from the very start and his involvement with him had only deepened as he'd got to know the man. To his surprise and delight he'd found that Sheppard seemed to be one of the few people who actively enjoyed Rodney's company. Not only that, he could actually keep up with Rodney – he argued with Rodney, debated the finer points of pop culture with him, and could perform mental arithmetic so complex it made Rodney hard just watching.
So, it was entirely within the realms of possibility that Rodney McKay might be just the tiniest bit in love with John Sheppard. The Colonel, of course, was utterly oblivious – thank goodness. He also appeared to be, to Rodney's dismay, entirely straight and, if that were not enough, seemingly attracted to only the most gorgeous and unsuitable of females. Were Rodney a woman, he still didn't think he'd stand a chance with John. But Rodney was nothing if not resourceful and, despite his claims to the contrary, not entirely unfamiliar with failure. So he'd resolved to put his unrequited affection to one side, and concentrated on making a life for himself on Atlantis; a life that included John Sheppard as his best friend, a position as close to him as was reasonably achievable.
It had been part of this Reform Rodney Plan that had led to his relationship with Katie Brown. After all, he couldn't very well go on forever living with some overblown and implausible notion that somehow he and John were going to fly off together into the stars in a puddlejumper. So he'd gathered his courage and asked Katie out, dated her (albeit with more than a little help from Cadman), and had been all set to spend the rest of his life with her. It was the sensible and logical thing to do, after all; she was sweet and pretty and seemed to genuinely like him. However, when it came to crunch time, Rodney found that he just couldn't go through with it. With John's shocked expression still clear in his head and Katie's obvious total lack of understanding of who Rodney fundamentally was... well, it had all been just plain wrong. So much so he wondered how things had gone on between them for as long as they had.
Actually, now that he thought about it, he was no longer certain things had ever been right between them – had he ever been truly comfortable in her presence? Ever relaxed enough to be himself? The questions gave him pause, made him wonder that if Cadman hadn't been in his head and guided him through those first early steps of his relationship with Katie, would he ever have been in the position to even consider proposing marriage to her?
But Cadman had been in his head, assuming, as any other woman would, that Rodney should be only too glad that someone like Katie Brown would want to date him. And, okay, maybe she did have a point – Rodney did find Katie attractive and not entirely stupid, and hey, who was he to turn down a home cooked meal and the possibility of sex with someone other than his own right hand? Plus, Cadman was military and it would certainly have done none of them any good if she were to have picked up on where his other interests lay. So he'd gone along, let her have her way, given over his body to her so she could 'teach him a thing or two about the opposite sex'. It had worked. Before Rodney knew it, Katie was under the impression that he was utterly enamored of her and just too nervous to do anything about it – and Rodney had somehow been unable to do anything to shake that belief for nearly two years. Instead he let himself be carried along by the idea of being wanted and the comfort of having someone with him always.
Then the quarantine had struck, and Rodney had been given a glimpse of what life would be like with Katie – of his with her, and of hers with him. Locked in a room with no radio and no computer, Rodney had been at his wit's end. What was happening? What could he do? How could he help? It was his worst nightmare come to life – being trapped utterly helpless and without any information while the people he loved best were being exposed to god knows what horrors. And Katie had been trapped in the room with him, for the first time, face to face with a fairly sizable portion of Rodney's true character. She had been bemused by his panic, in need of calming platitudes of the type Rodney knew he would never be able to deliver, and misunderstanding him so completely that Rodney had known without a shadow of a doubt that there was no way they could ever spend the rest of their lives together without things coming to a very bad end.
He hadn't proposed and they'd ended things between them instead. And now she was going back to Earth and he was...
Rodney sighed; he was waiting in his quarters for John to arrive. John, his best friend, who he now had to admit that he loved in a way that was much deeper than how a friend loves another friend, and then...
The meeting with Carter was semi-productive and John was relieved that it wasn't a total waste of his time. He felt a little guilty that he'd been...well, weaseling out of some of the more administrative aspects of the job lately. A glance at Carter's walking cast reminded him that he palmed off the native negotiations on M5V-801 onto her simply because he was bored and frustrated with his own failed attempts. She was a full bird colonel. She was the base commander. She was the expedition leader. She was SG1, for Chrissakes. He'd expected that she could take care of herself. Instead, the three of them, Rodney, Keller and Carter, had almost died on that stupid dirtball of a planet. He swallowed hard at the thought of trying to explain how he lost Carter to the Powers That Be back at the SGC. Especially O'Neill.
Rodney, of course, had told him all about it on their return. He had been nearly falling down with exhaustion, and not just a little tipsy on beer, when John and Ronon had run into him and demanded an explanation for the bandaged hands. Despite justifiable weariness, Rodney had become quite an animated as he relayed the tale; injured hands flying as they demonstrated the fall from great height into the mine below, the attempts to climb or claw their way out because the room was unstable and sliding incrementally into a deep cavern below. John could see the events as they unfolded with Rodney's description, knew when Rodney was exaggerating or glossing over some portions, regretted deeply having missed out on the homemade canon and knew as he listened how close each one came to dying more than once. It took his breath away. All he could say at the end of the story was "Nice going, Rodney." Nice going. That was an understatement. It was only because of Rodney that they'd made back it at all. It was a chilling thought, how close they'd come to being another expedition statistic.
He watched as Carter stumped about her office in search of a form she wanted to call to his attention. He wondered what she had been like, caught in a deathtrap with McKay and Keller, neither of whom were their best in situations that called for skills outside of their areas of expertise. What was she like in combat situations in general? Did she ever lose her cool? Did she ever flagrantly disobey an order because her team came first? He tried to picture Carter truly angry, or in tears over the loss of a good friend or head tossed back in the throes of passion. He kept drawing a blank.
She turned towards him, paper in hand, and they made eye contact. Something in her expression suddenly said, 'don't go there, flyboy'. Damn, were all women telepathic? He took the files she handed him and fumbled his way out of the room.
Guilt, he found, was a great motivator. He threw himself into his backlog of paperwork with a zeal matched only by the two-week period towards the end of that first year—the time between when the Wraith had been spotted on the long-range sensors and the arrival of the Daedalus with the ZPM to save the day. It had been a pointless way to fill time then; a means of documenting for the datastream back to Earth all the dangers (as well as his mistakes) within the Pegasus galaxy. Today it was meant as a sort of penance. He would not think about how he should have gone back to MV5-801 with Carter and Co. He would not think about how funny Rodney was when he was high on beer, painkillers and the shock of being alive. He would not think about what a hole it would have created in the expedition, in his life, had Rodney been killed. How ironic would that have been? To survive the Wraith, the Replicators, Koyla, Ancient booby-traps and everything else this galaxy had thrown them only to lose Rodney to a stupid accident.
He threw down the stylus to his PDA suddenly. What the hell was wrong with him today? He hadn't been all weird and introspective before he went to see Carter. That must have been it—seeing Carter gimp around in that cast, a visible reminder of just how pear-shaped the last mission had gone. And how responsible he would have felt had they not made it back.
'Well, that's just plain stupid and incredibly egocentric on your part, Colonel.' He could just hear Rodney's voice berating him. 'Unless you deliberately pushed me into that hole, I don't see how this could possibly have been your fault.'
Yeah, but see, Rodney, I would have thought about pushing you, he would have countered, just to see Rodney's mouth twist up and his face turn red. 'Very funny, Colonel.'
It was a good thing you couldn't get prosecuted for your thoughts. If so, he was sure Rodney would have been had up on charges of his murder several times over. The thought made him laugh and then his thoughts slid sideways into what other things Rodney might be thinking and then he suddenly knew why his mood had changed from this morning.
He was trying to avoid thinking about what those two botanists had said about Rodney.
He could picture Heightmeyer's reaction, were she still alive. "You realize, John, that you are using imaginary failings as a team leader and the military commander of this base in order to protect you from examining your feelings towards this new information. Why do you suppose that is?"
Well, I dunno, he told Ghost Heightmeyer, maybe because any such feelings would be totally inappropriate for a team leader and a military commander? Oh and Kate? You're dead because of me.
"I see you're reading The Fighter Boys," she commented, as though apropos of nothing. He had always hated it when she did that—like she was changing the subject but really just about to turn it around on its head and throw it back at you. "The Battle of Britain, correct? They lived so intensely, those young pilots. Because there was no guarantee of tomorrow. Sounds a lot like Pegasus. Maybe you should think about that, John."
Oh great, I see dead people.
"Okay, that's nice sir, but I don't think I would go around admitting that too often."
John's head jerked up to see the smirking smile of Lt. Cadman standing in his doorway. Ooops, must have spoken out loud.
"Just misquoting a movie, Cadman. What can I do for you?"
She grinned and handed him a PDA. "I need you to sign off on these requisition forms."
He took the pad with a sigh and began checking over the lists, recognizing the items he had already discussed with Carter and Lorne. It was quick work to read it over and approve the requests. As he stood up to hand the pad back to Cadman, a thought suddenly occurred to him. Cadman. Cadman and Rodney. Cadman probably knew the inner Rodney better than anyone. Even if they hadn't been able to read each other's thoughts, they had inhabited the same body for a brief time. He hesitated as he held out the pad, pulling it back slightly.
"Sir?" Cadman looked puzzled.
"What? Oh, nothing, it's just...well, um, you know that time with the Wraith dart?"
"Like a single day could pass without someone bringing it up...sir." The honorific was tacked on a little belatedly. He could hear the sigh she didn't quite make.
"Yeah, I can see that. So, any um, side effects?"
Cadman raised an eyebrow at him. "Sir? You're asking me now? After all this time?"
"Well, Cadman," he drawled, "I'm just getting to the paperwork on that one now."
She laughed and then nodded at him. "Good one, sir. But seriously, what are you trying to ask me?"
What was he trying to ask? "Hell, I dunno, Laura. I just...I dunno." He shook his head at his foolishness, dropping the pad on the desk to rub the back of his neck with a rueful smile.
"McKay getting to you, sir?" Cadman cocked her head with an impertinent grin. He opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off. "Well, why else would you ask? Usually when someone brings that time up, they're looking for an inside tract to the inner workings of the McKay mind, not that I would really know about that. I mean, the whole time I was in there...well, the best I can come up with is that it was like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory."
John snorted. "What?"
"No, seriously." Cadman did honestly look serious at that moment. "It was like being in a room full of weird and wonderful machines constantly in motion that were exciting and inexplicable and dangerous. And the whole time Rodney was running around saying, 'don't touch that'."
John laughed out loud at that one.
Cadman gave an enigmatic little smile and said, "And when the solution came to him? It was beautiful."
The look on her face captivated John for an instant and then he felt a skeptical eyebrow rise. "I don't recall reading any of that in your report, Cadman." He picked up the pad again to hand it back to her.
"Nobody asked, sir," She shrugged, and then her eye flicked over him quickly, unconsciously licking her lips. "Not everything I experienced was relevant to the mission report."
No. Cadman did not just give him a once-over. Did. Not. Happen. She took the pad from his frozen fingers and frowned just a little. "Um, sir? Would that be all?"
He barely remembered dismissing her. She hadn't realized what she'd done. It wasn't like it was a conscious decision on her part to give him the assessing eye. It was like she was remembering it. He shook his head. Nope, he couldn't be reading this right because hadn't Cadman subtly guided Rodney in his wooing of Katie Brown? That had been what she had seen when trapped inside Rodney's body. Rodney's need for Katie.
So why did he feel as though it were Rodney who had just left his office?
He finished up the day's work feeling edgy and bored. He really missed his afternoon sparring sessions with Teyla—postponed due to her pregnancy; sparring with Ronon was not the same. He always got something out of his sessions with Teyla—they were designed to teach, not merely humiliate. The most he got out of a Bantos session with Ronon was a free trip to the infirmary. He was vaguely aware that he would have sought out Teyla anyway, had she been in Atlantis. Teyla had a way of figuring out what he was thinking and feeling and straightening him out on the subject without ever having made him talk about it in the first place. He missed that too. Things between Teyla and him were a little strained these days. He hadn't handled the news of her pregnancy well (maybe, his mind insisted, because he didn't find out until they had all taken some serious hits on a mission) and had come down heavy handed on grounding her from the team. Now whenever he brought up her place on the team after the baby was born, he could feel a hesitancy, a shift in her priorities that worried him.
He really wished he could talk to Teyla right now.
A glance at his watch told him it was nearly time for dinner but he wasn't hungry at all. With a sudden decision, he headed back to his quarters and changed into something he could run in, pulling on an ancient USAF gray t-shirt and sweat pants, exchanging boots for track shoes. The tee was from his early days in the military—a bit snug and starting to develop holes in places but still a decent shirt—no need to throw it out yet. He laced his shoes and headed out for his usual run.
It took him a little while to shut off the noise in his head, but eventually he fell into the rhythm of the run and nothing else mattered but the steady pounding of his feet on the decking of the city, his legs moving like pistons as he took in the flight of stairs and headed for the upper causeway. He focused on the movement, on the sound of his breathing and the way he felt as he reached each landmark along the way. Without Ronon to push the pace, he chose a speed that wasn't as punishing, but one that he felt he could keep up all day. He completed his usual morning circuit and then moved on to take on the loop he made when he had more time.
He hadn't had much in the way of 'more time' lately. He mind skimmed briefly over the thoughts of all those they had lost in the past few years and he found the cost too high, forcibly pushing all such thoughts away as he found a second wind and grimly picked up his pace. Focus. Concentrate on nothing but the sound of breath and footfalls.
He was a little startled to find himself nearing the seldom used South Pier. He slowed a little, starting to falter, lost the rhythm and half stumbled to a halt, hands on his knees as he took in air. He'd come a long way. He straightened, pulled the sweat-rimmed collar of his tee out away from his skin and walked towards the open pier, not wanting to cool down too fast.
There was some obvious damage here—probably from the landing of the city on this new world earlier this year. He made a mental note to send some crews down this way to assess the damage and make recommendations for repair—the critical systems and the internal structure of the city-ship having been more crucial to address first. Still, you never know when you might have to fly the city again. He thought briefly about the way it felt to have all that power rush through him each time he sat down in the Chair, to have worlds open up at your fingertips and the galaxy available with your thoughts. That would never, ever get old.
He remembered the first time it happened, that time he sat down in the Chair at Antarctica, and the confusion and excitement the act had rendered. He could still clearly recall Rodney rushing into the room with the others, standing out vividly in his mind because of that orange fleece in a place of subdued blue and grey. Everyone else arguing about who he was and what he was doing there but Rodney, as usual, cutting to the chase.
"Major, think about where we are in the solar system."
The delight on Rodney's face when the map opened up overhead was instantaneous, only to be chased away a moment later by a look of envy, that was in turn replaced by excitement. That was the beginning of this roller coaster ride. Had he known now what he'd known then, would he have chosen to come with the expedition?
There had been some really bad times and sometimes he was nearly crushed by the events that were happening around him, but he would not have missed knowing Ford or Carson or Elizabeth for the world, as much as losing them had hurt. He had built himself a family here. He had Teyla and Ronon and Rodney to count on. He had Carter and Keller and Radek...all these people meant so much to him. This city meant so much to him. It was all worth it, even though he was fairly certain it would all end badly one day.
He came to rest where the pier opened out towards the sea, the railing broken away in places. He was careful to stay back from the edge, in case there was structural damage as well. Off towards the left, the sun began to dip down towards the horizon, though it was still probably a good hour until sunset. No where left to run.
So. What was he going to do with this information about Rodney? Truthfully? He suspected that he didn't really have to do anything, that he could simply act as though nothing had changed and the two of them would work very hard to maintain the status quo. They could continue this little dance for years—or until one of them was killed—which was highly likely, given the attrition rate of the expedition. Feigning ignorance had its appeal. For one, nothing was being risked. No worries about wrecking a good friendship—one that you counted on. No anxieties about risking your career or even facing potential prison time. No fears of losing your home and being sent back to Earth in disgrace. No putting your heart on the line.
Well, that was the real kicker, wasn't it? Because if he didn't care about Rodney then the whole thing would be easy to ignore or he could simply take advantage of the situation and be done with it. He had to be honest with himself here, if no one else. He'd often gone for long stretches between sexual partners, controlling his own physical release until the desire to have another touch him grew so strong that it scarcely mattered who he took to his bed, male or female. He'd assumed that it had a lot to do with his emotional inaccessibility—hell, he doubted that he and Nancy had slept together more than twice in the last year of their marriage. He'd thought the fact that his few and far-between partners had been largely female over the last ten years or so had more to do with getting older, wiser and being posted in locations where sex with the wrong person could get you killed. He wondered now if that was the only reason. Maybe he wanted more and was too cynical to think he could get it.
"Cynical, afraid or undeserving?" Heightmeyer's voice whispered in his head.
Does it matter? Cynical sounds better.
She hummed in acknowledgement. "I'm afraid your time is up for the day, John."
Great. He was being haunted by a sarcastic psychologist. On some level, he suspected Kate would have really gotten a kick out of his musings today.
The evening breeze came in off the sea, ruffling his forelock of hair and making him shiver with the drying sweat on his skin. Time to start moving again, before he stiffened up. He started walking back slowly towards the indoors. Once inside, a glance at his watch told him he would have to either jog back to the central tower or cheat and catch a transporter if he wanted to grab something to eat before he met up with Rodney.
Transporter it was.
As he walked through the dimly lit corridors towards the nearest transporter, he thought briefly about the possibility that he was making a big deal out of nothing. There was nothing that said Rodney was attracted to him, now was there? Just because he'd found out that Rodney's sexuality was...a little more flexible than he'd supposed, didn't mean that Rodney felt anything more for him than a really strong friendship. Right. And just because he'd been without someone in his life for a while now...that didn't mean he was attracted to Rodney. It just meant he was lonely. And he wanted to be touched by someone other than his right hand.
He ended up in the main tower in a surprisingly short period of time. Wandering into the mess, he grabbed a bottle of water and an apple and then stood looking over the sandwich choices, not seeing anything that grabbed his eye.
"The chicken salad is quite good, I hear." Jennifer Keller said cheerfully, from behind his shoulder. He glanced back to where she stood with a tray.
He gave a non-committal shrug and selected a PBJ instead.
"Maybe you should convince Rodney to go running with you sometime." Keller indicated his workout gear with her tray and a smile.
"I hear he came through in the crunch." His tone was surprisingly cool, even to him.
"I didn't...I wasn't..." Keller flushed and suddenly looked very young. "Look, I like Rodney, okay? I know, I know, he started out seeming like just a big pain in my...like a big hypochondriac, but near-death situations have a way of changing your perspective. I only brought up the jogging because he was complaining that for all the running and shooting and saving things that he does, he wasn't in better shape. That's all."
"Oh." There didn't seem to be anything else he could say to that. He tried though, dropping into the drawl. "Well, you know how Rodney feels about running when it's not a life or death situation."
Keller grinned. "So what about you?" She reached for a bottle of water. "Were you a runner in high school?"
"Cross country," John nodded, moving down the line. There really wasn't anything else he wanted there. "Didn't have the build for football."
"Good thing, too. Probably why you still have knees left." She gave him a little appreciative glance. "So what—the Air Force only ever issues you one shirt? Have you had that thing since the day you enlisted?"
"You don't like my shirt?" John looked down with a frown. He pushed a finger through one of the larger holes. Maybe it was a little past its prime.
"I didn't say that, Colonel." Keller moved off with a laugh to find a table.
John opted to take his food back to his room, eating with dispatch and then taking a shower. Having gone to all that trouble, he thought he might as well shave. Then he wandered around his quarters, trying to decide what to wear. He'd technically gone off duty at 1900 hours. He really didn't have to put back on his BDU's. He went over to the drawer and pulled out his jeans, sliding them on with a sigh. He rummaged around in his closet, drawing out several shirts and then tossing them on the bed.
What was he doing? He caught himself as he reached for a third shirt. It's not like this was a date. You're just going to hang out with McKay and attempt to beat his ass at chess.
Okay, perhaps he could have chosen a different phrase.
He would just walk over to the closet and blindly pick out a shirt. His hand landed on the dress shirt he'd worn to his father's funeral. Okay. Not that. He reached back in the closet and found the light blue cotton oxford. He pulled it on, opting not to tuck it in and rolled the sleeves up as a matter of habit. Determined not to think about what he was wearing or not wearing any longer, he pulled out the brown leather hiking boots he'd brought back from storage on Earth and shoved his feet into them, lacing them up. Right. He was done. Oh yeah, grab the chessboard.
He found himself stalking down the hallway, wooden chess set under his arm, when he realized that if anyone ran into him they would likely assume he was angry about something. Forcing himself to slow down, he took a deep breath as he arrived outside Rodney's door. He hesitated before activating the chime. For Chrissake, he was nervous.
So now what?
And then...nothing, Rodney thought despairingly. Just because he had been forced to reevaluate his feelings for John didn't mean that Sheppard would have done likewise for him. No, the best Rodney could hope for in the current scenario was for things to continue between him and John as they always had, and for Sheppard's odd behavior on the radio that morning to have been no more than Sheppard's usual brand of weirdness.
Just then the door to his quarters chimed and Rodney jumped nervously to his feet. Oh well, here goes nothing, he thought to himself. He wiped his sweaty palms against his shirt and called out for Sheppard to enter. When the door slid open, Rodney was greeted by the sight of John standing at his threshold with something akin to a scowl on his face. Rodney swallowed thickly and willed himself to stay calm.
"Well, are you coming in or are you just going to stand there and brood all night?" he snapped, wincing internally at his complete inability to stay cool when he felt under pressure.
To Rodney's surprise, John's expression lightened almost immediately at Rodney's outburst, a smile threatening to pull at the corners of his mouth. Rodney blinked and then relaxed slightly himself; of course, Sheppard knew him well enough by now to have come to terms with his utter lack of social skills, and was even amused by it on occasion.
"As appealing as brooding on your doorstep sounds, I think I'll come in, thanks," John drawled sarcastically as he stepped into the room.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Ha, ha," he replied in kind. He noticed the chessboard John was carrying under his arm and relaxed still further. So tonight really was just about a game of chess, that hadn't been a euphemism for John inducing pain on Rodney in response to Rodney's somewhat inappropriate inclinations towards him.
But instead of swaggering over to Rodney's desk and setting up the board, like he usually did, John seemed to have frozen where he stood, just a couple of feet in front of Rodney. He wore an odd expression that Rodney was at a loss to interpret and he was studying Rodney closely. As Rodney watched, John's eyes slowly tracked over Rodney's face – moving from his eyes and then down to focus on his mouth. Rodney blinked and sucked in a sharp breath in surprise. John's gaze then moved down to flicker over the expanse of Rodney's shoulders, before sliding lower still. Rodney felt himself start to flush as John's intense scrutiny continued and his cock started to stir in his pants when he saw the tip of John's tongue emerge to sweep wetly across his lower lip.
"Um," Rodney said, frantically searching his brain for something with which to distract himself. Surely he was misinterpreting what was going on here; there was just no way that John could be doing what Rodney thought he was doing. "So, chess?" he blurted desperately before he did something unforgivably stupid, like pull John to him and thrust his tongue down John's throat.
John's eyes suddenly snapped back up to Rodney's at the words and, to Rodney's fascination, he proceeded to flush right up to the tips of his pointy ears. Rodney's eyes narrowed. Something was definitely up with John tonight.
"Are you feeling alright?" he asked bluntly, tilting his head to one side assessingly and waving a hand in John's general direction. "Cause you're acting kinda weird."
John let out a bark of laughter and then raised a hand to rub the back of his neck, his head bowing slightly, in a gesture even Rodney knew meant he was feeling uncomfortable. "Yeah," John replied on a sigh. "I'm just, well, trying to work some stuff out." He looked up at Rodney, his head still lowered, and Rodney felt something in his chest clench.
"Oh, okay," Rodney said, suddenly more than just a little uncomfortable himself. "Well, if you need... you know, any help with that... I'm, uh, you know..." he flapped a hand between John and himself in a manner he hoped sufficiently conveyed his presence and support.
"Yeah, buddy," John said, his expression utterly serious as he raised his head again and looked into directly into Rodney's eyes. "I know."
"Um... I... Good," Rodney replied, suddenly at a complete loss for what to do next. It didn't help that John was looking equally uncomfortable, standing at what looked like parade rest, his shoulders visibly tight with tension. The folded chessboard under John's right arm once again caught Rodney's eye and Rodney lurched forward, intending to take it from John and set up their game. It didn't occur to him that perhaps him reaching out to John at that particular moment might not have been one of his better ideas until is was far too late. As he reached out his arm towards John's body, John too leapt into action, his left hand out shooting as if automatically to latch tight on to Rodney's forearm.
Rodney froze at the contact, looking down to where John's fingers were curled around his arm, holding him firmly in place. John's tanned fingers with their sprinkling of black hair stood out in stark contrast to Rodney's paler skin and fairer hair, and Rodney found himself momentarily entranced by the sight. John was dressed in casual clothes rather than his generic black uniform, Rodney realized distractedly, and he had the long sleeves of his blue shirt rolled up. Unable to help himself, Rodney's eyes slowly started tracking the expanse of John's bare skin, moving from his hand, up his forearm to where the material of his shirt was bunched at the crook of his elbow. It was then that another thought hit him; John wasn't letting go.
Rodney wet his lips and tried to steel himself, wanting to be ready for whatever he'd see in John's eyes once his gaze reached John's face. Things could go one of two ways, Rodney's ever helpful brain supplied – either amazingly well or exceedingly badly. Rodney's heart lurched at that pronouncement, too much of a pessimist to visualize the former and far too terrified to anticipate the latter. But he knew he couldn't just stand here much longer without doing something; sooner or later John himself was going to act and if Rodney's worst fears were confirmed, well, Rodney certainly didn't want to be caught unawares.
Slowly, Rodney raised his head to look at John's face. But, once there, he found himself none the wiser, being met as he was by a random array of thick black tufts of hair. It would seem that John too was engrossed at where their bodies were touching. Rodney blinked as he assimilated these latest pieces of evidence, and wondered if he dared bring himself to hope. What was needed, he decided, was one final test. He was sure that if he had just one more piece of this puzzle...
Bracing himself one final time, Rodney started to tug his arm back out of John's hold. "John?" he asked softly as he did so.
John's head stayed down and his hold on Rodney tightened yet further, obviously reluctant to let Rodney go. Rodney had his answer.
"John," Rodney said again, and it was no longer a question. Rodney might be socially awkward and normally too self-absorbed to be able to use the social cues people displayed, but if there was one thing he was good at, it was being able to interpret the evidence in an experiment in which he was interested. And Rodney was very interested in the mystery that was John Sheppard.
John remained silent, but something in his stance seemed to relax just a notch as Rodney said his name. Then, as if more proof were needed, John's thumb slowly started to move, brushing gently back and forth across Rodney's suddenly hyper-sensitive skin. He shuddered and his cock twitched as ripples of pleasure ran through him at just that small caress. God, if this is what the touch of John's hand did to him, Rodney couldn't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to have John's body pressed up against his own.
Rodney brought his free hand up and touched John lightly on the shoulder. John jumped at the contact, sucking in a deep breath and then finally looking up at Rodney. Rodney's breath caught at the sight of him; John's eyes were wide and dark, the pupils completely blown, he was breathing in short, ragged pants, and his lower lip was wet and red from where he'd clearly been biting it.
"Rodney," John whispered almost brokenly, staring into Rodney's eyes as if seeking the answer to some deeply felt question.
Rodney's hand tightened on John's shoulder as he gently but firmly extricated his other arm from John's grip. John let out a small whimper of disappointment as Rodney pulled himself free, swaying towards him in a seemingly unconscious effort to keep in physical contact.
"It's okay, John," Rodney assured him. "Just let me get rid of this," he said as he moved to finally divest John of the chess set. Turning away from John for just a moment, he hurried over to place the set on his desk. However, before he could turn back around to face John, he heard John move to stand behind him and felt John's hands descend to rest at the centre of his back, just beneath the neckline of his shirt. Rodney stilled and his eyes drifted closed as he concentrated entirely on the heady sensation of John touching him. This was something of which he'd never dared allow himself dream.
John's hands were large and warm through the thin material of Rodney's shirt and Rodney could also feel the heat radiating from where John's body stood just a few scant inches behind him. Another shudder ran through Rodney and he only just managed to withhold his moan; only the knowledge that he didn't want to scare John away or make him stop keeping him quiet. But John didn't stop; quite the opposite. With his breath coming as hot, wet gusts of air against Rodney's nape, John's hands slowly moved apart, traveling steadily across the breadth of his shoulders. When John's little fingers brushed the sides of Rodney's triceps, they each curved to the side to span his lats and then moved slowly down until they were resting at Rodney's waist, one on each side of Rodney's body.
Rodney couldn't take much more – if he didn't touch John in the next few seconds he was pretty sure he would explode. He was practically trembling with the effort it was costing him to keep still and quiet, his cock hard as a rock where it was pressed uncomfortably against the zipper of his BDUs. Moving as slowly as he was able, Rodney turned around to face John. To Rodney's intense relief, John kept his hands where they were.
"John," he said seriously, his voice just cracking a bit. "Are you sure about this? Because I am and I need... I need to hear that you..." Rodney trailed off as John's hands started moving again; slipping around and behind Rodney to clutch his ass.
"Yes, Rodney," he said, mouth already reaching out for Rodney's own, "I'm sure; I want more."
"Thank god," Rodney muttered, and then they were kissing.
John's mouth was the most amazing thing Rodney had ever tasted. Soft and hot and so addictive he didn't think he would ever get enough. John was holding him tightly now, his hands still full of Rodney's ass, his fingers clenching and unclenching the cheeks in little spasms that were sending streaks of pure lust straight to Rodney's weeping cock. Rodney returned John's embrace almost desperately, wrapping his arms tightly around John's shoulders and pulling John closer still. They were pressed together from chest to thigh and Rodney's senses were at serious risk at going into overload. But still, he needed more.
Angling his head slightly to one side, Rodney took control of the kiss. He flicked his tongue along the seam of John's lips, licking, tasting, and probing. Everything about the two of them – he and John, finally together - pushed Rodney higher. The lush taste of John's lips on his own, the harsh grip of John's hands on his ass, the hard planes of John's body where John was leaning heavily against him. When John's lips parted on a gasp, Rodney wasted no time in thrusting his tongue deep inside. John moaned into Rodney's mouth as their tongues met, touching gently at first and then curling together. Rodney swallowed his noise greedily, already longing for more sounds of John's pleasure.
Rodney could feel John's erection through the thick denim of his jeans as John pressed himself almost tentatively against Rodney's leg. "God, yes," Rodney growled encouragingly into John's mouth. He then proceeded to slip his thigh between John's legs in an attempt to give him something more satisfying to thrust his dick against. John's reaction was practically instantaneous, his hands pulling Rodney's even tighter to him as he started to rub himself frantically against Rodney.
Rodney let his own hands slide down John's back, reveling in how John's muscles tightened and flexed under his fingertips. When he reached John's ass, he clasped it firmly and, moving his leg away, pulled John's groin to his. As their erections clashed together, John pulled his mouth away from Rodney's, threw his head back, and groaned long and low.
As Rodney watched John, his eyes screwed tightly shut in ecstasy, he knew that neither of them was going to last much longer. It was taking every ounce of Rodney's self-control as it was not to just shove his hand down his pants and give his dick one hard jerk. Because that was all it would take, one long pull while he looked at John's pleasure taut face and he'd be gone – creaming his pants.
"Okay, okay," Rodney panted, forcing himself to let go of John's ass and start to walk him backwards towards the bed. "We need to get naked before I lose it completely and come in my fucking pants."
John's hips jerked forward at Rodney's profanity and he leaned forward to kiss Rodney again, his tongue pushing messily into Rodney's mouth this time. Rodney gave up the fight and for a few moments did nothing up let John fuck his mouth and rut against him. Suddenly John pulled back, leaving Rodney swaying, lost and breathless. When he managed to open his eyes, he saw that John was taking his demands for nakedness to heart and was frantically stripping off his clothes.
"Wait, wait," Rodney said quickly. "Let me, please." John froze in the middle of stripping off his shirt, staring back at Rodney with need etched clearly on his face. He pulled the shirt the rest of the way off and then nodded, starting to move back towards Rodney. Rodney met him half-way, his hands reaching out to touch John's bare chest, craving the contact. John's skin was hot and smooth beneath his palms and his chest hair crinkled slightly as Rodney stroked over his pecs. John made a low needy noise when Rodney's fingertips brushed over his nipples, the sound making Rodney's mouth water and his dick pulse.
Rodney leaned forward and brushed his lips over John's right nipple. John jerked and groaned, thrusting his chest forward into Rodney's mouth. Rodney smiled and reached out with his tongue this time to lick a broad stripe across John's nipple, tasting the salt of John's sweat and the rasp of John's chest hair. John's hands fell heavily onto Rodney's shoulders, gripping him tightly.
"Rodney, please," John gasped, his hands plucking at the material of Rodney's t-shirt.
Rodney tongued John's nipple a few more times before reluctantly drawing back. He quickly pulled his shirt over his head and then reached out for the fly of John's jeans. John's erection was clear to see, pressed up tight against his zipper. Rodney couldn't resist running his fingers up and down its length a few times, just to see John's eyes go vague and to hear him moan. But when he felt John reach out and press his palm hard against Rodney's dick, all bets were off. Before he knew what was happening, Rodney had his pants pushed down his legs and John's hand wrapped around his cock. He blinked and it penetrated his lust-dazed brain that he too was holding John's dick in his fist.
John's cock was gorgeous, so obviously made for Rodney's hand. The head was flushed to almost purple and the slit was already wet and shiny, oozing drops pre-come. Rodney ran his thumb over it, smearing the liquid and using it to lubricate the rest of John's thick shaft. When he closed his fingers around John's cock, his fist making a tight channel, John's hips jerked forward convulsively, fucking himself up into Rodney's hand. John's hand tightened on Rodney's dick, jerking down hard on Rodney's shaft and twisting in such a way that Rodney felt like his eyes were rolling back in his head at the pleasure. They were both panting like the bellows and Rodney didn't think he was going to be able to stand upright for that much longer.
"Bed," John gritted, having obviously come to the same conclusion as Rodney. By mutual consent they moved apart, kicking off their own pants and boxers before tumbling down together onto Rodney's bed. Rodney landed on his mattress with a muted 'omph', John coming to rest almost completely on top of him, his weight nearly winding Rodney in the process.
"Sorry," John started to say, but his apology was lost in Rodney's mouth as Rodney surged up to kiss him.
Rodney shoved John to one side, still kissing him. They ground frantically together; legs entangled, cocks aligned, and mouths mating. Rodney had one hand tangled in John's hair, holding him steady so they could kiss and kiss and kiss. He felt John's hand move back down to cup his ass once more, feeling John's dick pulse hard against him as John squeezed one of Rodney's cheeks.
It was almost too much, yet not quite enough. Rodney let go of John's head and moved his hand down to John's hip, pushing John back slightly so he could get his hand between their bodies. John resisted at first, his own hand tightening on Rodney's ass and his hips surging forward, but Rodney was persistent and he finally managed to get his hand around both their cocks.
"Oh," John groaned in wonder, pulling back from Rodney's mouth so he could look down to where Rodney was squeezing their erections together.
"It gets better," Rodney replied thickly and, adjusting his hand slightly, started to slowly pump their leaking cocks together. It was incredible; to see and feel John's dick against his own, hot and hard, the slide of Rodney's hand eased by the mixture of their pre-come. John's hand tightened on Rodney's ass and he started to move his hips, fucking himself forward into Rodney's fist and rubbing himself against Rodney's cock. Rodney's own hips started to move in tandem, pressing down into John's waiting hand on his ass and then thrusting up into his hand and along John's hard dick.
They moved together, thrusting and fucking, feeling the pleasure and the pressure continue to build. Rodney moaned and gripped them both harder, his hand jerking faster along their lengths. Rodney felt his orgasm approaching fast, collecting in his balls before rushing forward, his cock jerking and spewing his release over his hand, John's cock and both their bellies. At the first splash of Rodney's come against his skin, John's hips stuttered forward one last time and then his cock was pulsing in Rodney's grip as he came hard a few beats later.
"Nine, hell, fifteen, at the very least," John muttered inexplicably under his breath some time later as they lay spooned together in the aftermath. Rodney was lying on his side in his small bed with John's slightly longer body curled up around his back and John's arms wrapped around him. As he whispered the words, John's hold on Rodney tightened and he pulled Rodney a little closer to his chest, pressing a kiss to the nape of Rodney's neck.
For a moment, Rodney considered turning his head and asking John what he was going on about. But it was late and Rodney was too comfortable, sated and sleepy to bother. He settled instead for worming backwards a little, propelling himself even deeper into John's embrace, and squeezing their interlocked hands. He felt John kiss him again softly and joy bubbled up inside him. With a contented sigh, Rodney relaxed completely and allowed sleep to take him. It didn't matter anyway; Rodney finally understood all he needed to know.