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When General O'Neill said, "Son, I got something to tell you," and finished up with the your DNA's got the biggest knot on the whole damn planet, be a shame if you didn't use it to save humanity and explore space and time spiel, it seemed like a pretty mixed bag.

In a world run by betas, alphas and omegas got the short end of the stick. You're an alpha and you defy orders to go back into a war zone for guys who've put their lives on the line for you, you get labeled "hotheaded" and "irrational," and you're real lucky to get sent to Antarctica instead of shipped home with a dishonorable discharge. After thirteen years in the USAF, John knew how this kind of mission went: a few alphas mixed in with the grunts, and betas all the way up the chain of command. Maybe an omega medic, maybe not. An alpha who'd made it all the way to Major as the second highest officer? Fat chance.

He flipped a coin in the end. Hotheaded, irrational, superstitious: in for a penny, in for a pound.

"You're hardly going to be the only omega," Carson said, finishing up Rodney's last pre-mission physical. "They're taking me, after all."

"You've got the gene," Rodney said, waving a hand. He did, too, as it turned out; so did all of the alphas and omegas who'd been offered the opportunity to take a possibly one-way trip to another galaxy. It didn't occur in betas. Some weird accident of DNA and chance, but Rodney had been dealing with that bullshit since he was in the cradle. Having the ATA gene made him feel special for all of five minutes before he got bored and went back to arguing with Zelenka about wormhole stability and the likelihood they'd get spaced between McMurdo and Atlantis.

John brought three things with him to the Pegasus galaxy from Earth: his Johnny Cash poster, a copy of Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass transferred from fuzzy VHS to unforgiving DVD, and one of those Barnes & Noble editions of War and Peace. He didn't think about condoms. If you were an alpha and wanted to go anywhere in the military, you learned how to keep it in your pants.

Rodney deliberated over what to bring to the Pegasus galaxy for months. His final list included his signed first edition of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a five year supply of heat suppressants, twelve condoms, lube, and two different wilderness survival guides. Just in case.

John didn't even know that Rodney was an omega until after he'd thrown Rodney off a balcony and shot him and maybe fallen in love with him a little, when Elizabeth looked at Rodney with concern and Rodney narrowed his eyes at her.

It was just Rodney's luck that the guy with the strongest expression of the ATA gene on Earth was some lanky alpha who couldn't follow an order as basic as "don't touch anything." He smelled so good that it made Rodney's gut churn. In the space of a few seconds, he went from irritated to frustrated by how much he wanted to touch Sheppard, to wake him up as easily as Sheppard had woken the Chair from ten thousand years of sleep.

If you were an omega and you want to go anywhere in the world, you learned how to keep your pants zipped. So Rodney said, "Major, think about where we are in the solar system," in a voice that sounded, even to his own ears, perfectly steady.

John didn't think about fucking Rodney until they were already in Pegasus, but after that he couldn't stop thinking about it. John felt like an asshole about it, too, knew it was affecting his judgment: not the part where he couldn't stop checking out Rodney's ass, but more the overprotectiveness every time they went off-plant that was going to get them into some serious trouble soon. So John made Rodney qualify on all of the firearms they'd brought from Earth and Rodney started carrying a P-90 when they stepped through the Gate. That helped. Some.

"Is Rodney yours?" Teyla asked him one night, early on. They were setting up John's two-man tent. John always bunked with Teyla and Rodney bunked with Ford; they didn't talk about it.

"You asking because you're interested?" John said, after he'd checked that Ford and Rodney were still out of earshot. "Or just asking?"

"John," she said, passing him a tent pole. "I am merely curious."

Later, lying in their shared tent in the dark, John said, "He's not. But I want—" That was as much as he could get out.

Teyla reached over and touched his arm lightly. "Thank you, John. That is all I wished to know."

Rodney had thought about fucking John from the first moment they'd met, and he thought about it for years. The hunger was agonizing, ate him through during his heats even through the suppressants, ate at him the rest of the time in different ways: after Ronon joined their team, after they lost Ford the final time, after Rodney blew up five sixths of a solar system. Rodney had a hard time imagining an alpha like John going after a male omega like himself, when he had hot alien omega women swooning over him wherever they went, but Ronon was different: he was ripped, hot, badass. Even Rodney could appreciate that, you know, aesthetically.

He found out about Ronon and Teyla the morning after it happened. They were just eating breakfast as usual in the mess, but Rodney could smell it like they'd just fucked, the scent of sex still on them. Rodney sat next to Ronon and tucked into his breakfast, cheeks burning.

Teyla looked over toward him after a moment. "Forgive me, Rodney. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable."

"Yes, well," Rodney said, staring at his scrambled eggs.

"Sorry," Ronon said. He didn't sound sorry.

After Teyla and Ronon bonded, they shared a tent whenever they went off world. They started sharing other things, too, like Teyla's room and her Athosian partner, Kanaan. Kanaan was a beta; John didn't really want to know the details of how that worked.

It was the tent thing that was the problem, anyway. The first time he and Rodney had to share off world, John spent most of the night staring at the ceiling and listening to the steady drizzle falling on the rainfly overhead. Rodney kept breathing through his mouth and making weird sniffling sounds, like he wanted to pinch his nose but thought it would be rude.

"I'm not sure if you can hold your nose all night long, but I won't take it personally," John said.

"Jesus." Rodney's hand was already moving toward his face.

"Is it really that bad?"

"It's that bad," Rodney said.

"Maybe we can get you a thing," John said. "For your nose."

Rodney rolled over, away from John. "I'll get used to it. I'm not going to sleep with Ronon when he's—"

"Right," John said hastily.

Over the next year and a half, Rodney and Ronon got kidnapped four times by people who wanted them to join their harems. John and Teyla only had to help them escape once, but it got old pretty fast. Before Ronon had joined the team, the worst Rodney had to put up with was the occasional jowly village elder palming his ass.

"Everyone wants you to have their kids," Rodney said to Ronon the night after they busted out of the harem compound on MX3-677. They were hanging out on a balcony near the Gate room, waiting for Elizabeth to finish debriefing John and Teyla.

"It's my childbearing hips," Ronon said, leaning forward against the railing.

"Ha," Rodney said. "Really?"

"No."

"I'm never having children." Rodney shuddered.

Ronon's voice did something Rodney had never heard before: it dipped low and got soft and kind of shy. "Teyla and I are going to have lots of kids," he said. "After we defeat the Wraith. Kanaan's building us a house on New Athos."

"Wow," Rodney managed. "That's, uh—that's great."

"Yeah," Ronon agreed, grinning. "I'm going to kill all those motherfuckers, and then we're gonna have ten kids."

"Well, it's great to have goals," Rodney said, trying to smile back and failing miserably.

One time, the entire team was captured, escaped, and ended up hiding in cave while they were still strung out on truth serum.

"I don't really pay attention in meetings," Ronon said. "I mostly stare at Teyla's breasts."

"We know," John said.

"I am glad you appreciate them," Teyla said, putting a hand on Ronon's thigh. "Everyone else pretends not to look."

"I don't," John said. "I'm not really into breasts."

"I know," Teyla said. She looked sympathetic. "Kate Heightmeyer is not, either."

"Isn't she a beta?" Rodney said.

"So?" Teyla said. "She's very attractive."

"Sure," John said, charitably.

They decided the best course was to camp in the cave for the night and hope the effects wore off by the morning. Teyla and Ronon fell asleep quickly, but Rodney kept mumbling to himself, and John had a hard time sleeping.

"Katie dumped me because she wasn't into kinky sex," Rodney whispered in John's ear, just as John was falling asleep. "It's not even that kinky, I don't know why—"

"Katie didn't deserve you," John said. He didn't say anything else, just pulled his blanket up over his head and turned toward the cave wall. That was probably a sign that the drug was clearing out of his bloodstream.

"So, we've got a problem." Rodney leaned back against the fence, drumming his fingers against his knee. It was midway through their second month stuck in the time dilation field.

"Gee, I hadn't noticed," John said. He was chopping wood and the back of his shirt was dark with sweat. God, Rodney could already feel his cognitive faculties draining away.

"Maybe you should put the axe down," Rodney said. "Just to be on the safe side."

John frowned, but he put down the axe.

It was hard to get the words out. "Smell," Rodney said instead.

John closed his eyes, sniffed the air. His nose wasn't as anywhere near as strong as Rodney's, but he wasn't stupid. When he opened his eyes again, he stared at Rodney, pupils dilated, and oh, this, this—was not good. "You ran out of heat suppressants," John said. "Yeah, I'd call that a problem."

"You smell really great," Rodney said weakly.

"Jesus." John wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "What are we going to do?"

"Meditate?" He was losing it, he had had officially lost it. Rodney could feel his face flushing, his whole body heating up; he felt like he was on fire.

"Yeah, I don't think that's going to help." Fuck, John's scent—Rodney's ass was definitely getting with the program, and that should have been freaking him out, but the part of his brain that registered things like that was on the verge of going completely offline.

"Please don't knock me up," Rodney said.

"Jesus," John said again. He was making a face Rodney hadn't seen before. It was a special occasion kind of face. "This is like an after school special."

"You're thinking of Blue Lagoon," Rodney said. "But that makes me Brooke Shields."

"They have to have some kind of—omega's retreat," John said, backing away. "I'll get Teer, I'll get—someone. Just, stay here, okay? Don't wander off."

"Okay," Rodney croaked, red-faced and embarrassed and turned on.

The next week was pretty miserable, but Rodney had to admit: the Ancients made some great dildos.

John wasn't into alphas or betas, but he wasn't really attracted to women, either, which had been a problem when he got married. Male omegas in the military were few and far between. John's knot had a close relationship with his hand and he was okay with that. He had to be.

More to the point, John wasn't attracted to women in any galaxy, so if Rodney could stop it with the base accusations and the Shatner jokes, John would really appreciate that.

"No, glowy Ascended omega women were not one of the things I was so eager to get back to."

"You're lying," Rodney said, taking another swallow from his can. He was drunk enough that he'd stopped complaining about John's taste in beer. "And you're an asshole."

"I missed you, too, buddy," John said, staring off the end of the pier into the dark water, smiling at nothing.

"It's okay," Rodney said. "All alphas are assholes. I guess you can't help it, what with your big fancy gene and all."

John had thought they'd run out of jokes to make about his super special ATA gene and his knot size, but apparently not. "I haven't had sex in four years." Maybe he was a little drunk, now, too.

"Really?"

"Yup," John said. He downed the last of the beer in his can.

"That really sucks," Rodney said.

"Yup," John said. He risked a glance over at Rodney, who was looking at him with the kind of aching sympathy you only get from very drunk people and mothers. Rodney's hair was flat on one side and ruffled on the other, like he'd taken a nap facedown in his lab earlier. John felt all warm and muzzy on the inside, and he wanted to cover Rodney with his body, mark him with his scent, take him the way John had just taken back Atlantis, but that was the alpha part of him talking, so John just said, "Did you remember to bring the new season ofBattlestar Galactica with you?"

"Of course," Rodney said. "I brought the new Doctor Who and The IT Crowd, too."

"I like Roy," John said, and then he decided it was time to stop drinking.

Rodney lost a bet with Simpson on the function of an Ancient set of marbles and went on a date with Miko. She was the quietest alpha he'd ever met, and spent most of dinner staring into her rice pudding, which was a lot more like rice pudding than any of the supposed rice pudding Rodney had eaten since he came to Atlantis. The cinnamon stuff they had now even tasted like cinnamon.

"This is good stuff," he said, because he was Miko's boss and Zelenka still had to tell Rodney about her weird crush on him for Rodney to realize the degree to which this date thing was a terrible idea.

"Thank you," Miko said to the pudding. "My mother sends me the rice from home. I made it myself."

"Oh," Rodney said.

Miko met his eyes for a moment before ducking her head again. "I'm glad you like it."

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Rodney said, "I shouldn't have let Simpson rope you into this."

"It's okay," Miko said. "I thought the spheres were localized storage devices as well. They did not seem likely to be trash compactors."

"Nano trash compactors," Rodney said regretfully, thinking of the whiteboard markers. They always ran out of them before the Daedalus came back as it was.

"We all know about your unrequited longing for the Colonel. It's quite romantic." Miko scraped her spoon through the dregs of her pudding. "But, she lifted her head, smiling shyly, "one can be forgiven for hoping otherwise."

They were drinking around the central bonfire on New Athos when Rodney said, "So Roy is really your favorite character on The IT Crowd?"

"What?" John said. They had been talking about P versus NP problem again. It was Rodney's favorite thing to talk about when he was drunk, aside from his unrequited love for Sam Carter.

"I was doing the thing where we try to have deep insights about ourselves and people we know by comparing them to characters on our favorite television shows," Rodney said. "You know, like the thing where I always say you're Buffy and you get mad at me and then pretend you've never watched that show."

"You only watched that show because Carter likes it."

"I only watched the Back to the Future movies again because you like them." Rodney chucked another log into the fire.

"You watched them because you like complaining," John said.

"So, Roy," Rodney said. He paused. "If I'm Roy, who are you? Jen? Moss? Douglas Reynholm? Richmond?"

"I never said you were Roy," John protested. "Maybe I'm Roy. Or maybe they're just characters on a television show."

Rodney pointed a finger at him. "Han Solo," he said. "My point is made."

"I'm not sure what your point is." It was late and John was probably not actually drunk so much as tipsy; he'd been watering his rus wine pretty heavily.

Rodney sighed. "Can we stop doing this stupid thing where I have to be in touch with my emotions and you pretend you don't know what I'm talking about and we're just prolonging the inevitable moment when you kick me off the team and never talk to me again except in meetings? Because I'm really tired, and Carson's still, you know, really dead, and I can only handle one thing at a time, and, oh, God, I'm still talking, why are you letting me—"

"Why would I kick you off the team?" John said, even though he knew the answer.

It wasn't the answer. "Because I like you," Rodney said, looking at the fire. "Because I want you. And you want me, but not like that. It's just—" He flapped his hand. "You know. Biology."

"Biology," John said. He couldn't move. That wasn't true—he had a tangle with paralytic tree sap on P8X-2718 for comparison—but he felt the same way in his head, like his skin was closing in on him, clamping down on his lungs and his spine, locking him in place.

"Yeah." Rodney dusted his hands off on his pants. "And I think it's time for bed now. It's late."

"No," John said. His hands were still braced on the bark of the log they were sitting on, holding him up. "I do."

"'You do' what?" Rodney said slowly, pretending he didn't know what John was talking about, and okay, that was annoying.

"It's not biology." John took a deep breath. "It's you. Just—you."

Rodney turned toward him and for a moment, it seemed like Rodney was going to punch him, but instead Rodney's hand came up to cup his cheek and pull his head down, and Rodney kissed him. John unfroze, suddenly enough that he lurched to the side and into Rodney's embrace, and he was really kissing Rodney, kissing him back. Rodney's tongue was in his mouth, brushing against John's, insistent and hungry like his mouth, hungry like his lips pressed against John's. His teeth nipped at John's lower lip when they pulled apart to breathe. The central fire wasn't private, who knew might be watching, but John didn't care. He wanted to be ravished. He wanted Rodney to crawl under his skin like the antidote to that paralytic vine, so sudden and sharp that it hurt, it burned, and Rodney was already there.

"I want to fuck you," Rodney said, tilting his head up to whisper in John's ear. "Can I do that?"

"Okay," John said, kissing Rodney's throat. After a moment, he added, "Please."

It was a weird thing, you saw it in porn sometimes. They always talked around it in sex ed classes, anatomy classes, "Beta anatomy," people said, "Vestigial." By that, they meant, "won't knock you up." There was always a lot of focus on that, in the omega class Rodney's high school made him sit through even though he was twelve. It bothered him, because his dick worked well enough, he jerked off a lot, because he'd only just figured that out and none of the hot seniors in his class would give him a second look. Probably because they weren't child molesters. Rodney was finishing up his undergraduate degree by the time he had his first heat and found out the difference between desire and sweating, fevered compulsion.

His first girlfriend thought it was freaky at first, and then that it was sexist and he'd want her serving up dinner in the kitchen next and he was insecure about his masculinity. "You think it's easy for me?" Melody had said, lying on the couch and glaring at him over the lab report she had balanced against her knees. "Betas act like I'm a guy, omega girls think I'm going to give them gay cooties, alphas think everything's a pissing contest."

Rodney was lying on the floor, textbook in front of him, highlighter in hand and red pen lying next to him. Red pens, rather; he'd just bought a new box. "I don't see what that has to do with giving your vagina a test drive."

Melody threw her highlighter at him.

"Just to be clear," Rodney said, tugging his shirt over his head. "This isn't a one-time deal."

"Okay," John said, distracted.

"I like the other stuff, too," Rodney said, lying back against the sleeping mat. "But I don't like it all the time."

"Okay," John said again. He unzipped his pants, arched his hips up to pull them down, and kicked them off somewhere by the tent flap. He'd done this before, sort of, when he was a teenager and figuring out how everything worked. He could figure this out. "So this isn't a one-time deal."

"Oh," Rodney said, leaning in. He didn't have far to go; the guest tents on New Athos were bigger than the one John carried in his pack, but they were designed to be carried, too. "No," he said, breath hot against John's shoulder. "I was kinda thinking—"

"Stop thinking," John said, rummaging in his pack. He wasn't even sure what he was looking for—sunscreen?

"I came prepared," Rodney said, dangling a few packets of something and a strip of beta condoms. And one of the surgical gloves from the med kit, which John didn't remember needing before.

"I love you," John said.

Rodney's smile was all sweet and lopsided. "That's great," he said. "Scoot up, I can't—"

"Right," John said, and scooted.

The glove went on Rodney's hand and Rodney's fingers went in John's ass, one at a time, Rodney leaning up and kissing him the whole time in between telling him, in a low voice, how much and how long he'd wanted him. Word by word, finger by finger, John felt the tension bleed out of him and some other sensation take its place, which it took him a minute or to realize was pleasure. Rodney didn't push his dick into him until John was panting, rocking against him, and by the time Rodney put his fingers around John's knot he was already coming apart inside, and he shuddered and shuddered and came and came and Rodney trembled with him until he pulled out and rolled to one side, one arm draped over John, the other curled behind John's neck.

"That was messy," John said after a while, craning his head up to look.

"I brought a towel," Rodney said, doing something with the condom.

"You know what they say about towels," John said. "They're the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have."

"I do," Rodney said. "I do."

Rodney's experiences with alphas had given him a lot of depressing data points from which to fit an equally depressing model. But John didn't expect him to bottom all the time or break up with him or ask him if he wanted to move to New Athos and have ten genius children. He did sprain the wrist of one village elder who tried to grab Rodney's ass, but that was it. Rodney didn't get preferential treatment when it came to pudding or whiteboard marker allotment or getting to go back to the planet with all the bacon every week. Sometimes John was an asshole and sometimes Rodney offended the locals and sometimes Teyla saved the day and sometimes Ronon kicked Wraith ass. Ronon also took up woodworking to start on a cradle and a hope chest.

Mostly, things were the same.