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It had been said that Rodney worked too hard, but he did like to relax. Staff meetings were an excellent opportunity, built conveniently into his day and unavoidable. Sometimes he did crossword puzzles. Sometimes he tried to calculate the probability of Colonel Sheppard’s hair occurring in nature. Usually he just thought about banana splits.

He was the only one who ever had anything substantive to contribute in staff meetings anyway. Everybody else saved their moments of brilliance and doled them out sparingly, in crisis situations, which was as it should be. Rodney could afford to be generous.

Today was a banana split kind of day, which was why he wasn’t prepared when Colonel Sheppard wheeled on him right there in front of everyone and said, “This is your fault, isn’t it?”

“What? No!” Rodney had no idea what was going on, but he was innocent and he knew it. In fact, how dare Colonel Sheppard make an assumption like that? He folded his arms and said, “I can assure you, Colonel, I am not involved with this in any way. Go blame one of your own people, or better yet, how about a solution, hm?” But of course they would expect him to solve it. Whatever it was. They always did.

“I can’t see that it matters who lodged the complaint,” Elizabeth said. Rodney didn’t like that much; it didn’t sound entirely ringing. It sounded a bit like maybe it was Rodney and she was covering for him. Of course he’d be made to take the blame and then solve the problem. It was going to be one of those staff meetings.

“Is it even against the law on Atlantis?” Colonel Sheppard asked.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said shortly. “It is. I’m afraid I don’t have the section and article immediately to hand, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Look, this is not going to turn into a witch-hunt, all right? Nobody wants that. All I’m asking is that Lieutenant Bates make it a point to stop down there and...make it clear that....”

“Permission to speak freely?” Bates said, and Elizabeth waved at him to go on. “It’s a shit job, ma’am. It puts me in a terrible position – I mean, a raid on one of the civilian labs? It puts all our men in a bad position.”

“It puts you in the position of law enforcement,” Elizabeth said. “Which you are. This is not open for– “

Colonel Sheppard dropped from two chair legs to four. He must have made up his mind about something. “I’ll do it,” he said shortly. Elizabeth opened her mouth to object, but he didn’t let her. “No, you know what? Bates is right, policing the civilian population is pretty dicey work for security; it makes everything more adversarial. I can do this. They like me down there – right, McKay?”

“I’ll put in a good word for you,” Rodney promised. He still had no idea what was going on, but Colonel Sheppard flashed a little smile at him, and God, what was he supposed to say? Of course they like you, everyone likes you? Well, everyone did, but you couldn’t very well just say things like that.

It didn’t look right.

In spite of that smile, the Colonel was still pissed off when he leaves the staff meeting, which Rodney could tell because he moved twice as fast as normal when he was considering harming somebody. Rodney nearly had to jog to catch up with him. “Oh, hey,” he said when he noticed Rodney, and he clapped him lightly on the back. “Sorry about back there. I know it wasn’t really you; I mean, you’re pretty straight, but you’re okay.”

“Oh, uh. Thank you.” Pretty...straight? But okay.... All right, he really wished he’d been paying attention in the meeting, just this one time.

“I’ll see you around, okay?” Colonel Sheppard said, and ducked into a transporter. Rodney was left saying okay to a closing door.

Colonel Sheppard thought he was okay. It wasn’t a surprise, exactly – they’d been fairly friendly with one another almost since they met. It wasn’t a surprise at all, actually, and yet....

Well, it felt nice. Nice, a word almost as vapid and noncommital as okay, but that was Colonel Sheppard, all understatement, all the time. It was almost like code-breaking, having conversations with the Colonel; that’s part of what Rodney liked about it. The surface was slippery, and you didn’t so much get a grip on the situation as you did glide across it. You got a sense of things. It was a little bit the way Rodney imagined surfing would be, except with less salt water in your lungs and threat of being crushed to death under the ocean. Okay, in Colonel-Sheppard-speech, meant...something. Something nice.

Rodney wasn’t good with descriptive language, either. They might not seem much alike, but in that sense, at least, they suited each other.

Rodney went back to work feeling ten times more energized than he normally did after a staff meeting. It beat crossword puzzles all to hell.

*

Katie never called him anymore, except that evening she did. It sounded like holy hell had broken loose wherever she was, although what fresh type of hell was hard to say over the comlink, and for a second Rodney thought maybe there’d been some kind of horrible spore-related accident in the botany lab, and she was using her last moments of life to beep him and tell him she was sorry for never actually breaking up with him and just not calling anymore instead, or smiling at him in the halls, or appearing to remember that he exists.

He didn’t want her dead, of course. At the last possible second, the lab would be saved somehow. Oh, God, that would be impossibly awkward, though, because surely deathbed confessions of suppressed passion don’t count if you wind up alive, which was ninety-five percent of the reason that Rodney himself did not indulge in them, even though he’d had ample opportunity since coming to Atlantis. The other five percent was the estimated chance that, rather than being flattered, Colonel Sheppard would feel obliged to punch him in the mouth.

“Rodney, are you still there?” she said in his ear.

“Oh. Yes! Yes, I’m here, I’m listening.”

“If you could just – I think he might listen to you. I’m sure you’re probably busy, but– “

“No! Well, yes, I am, but I can– You’re in your lab?”

“Thank you, Rodney,” she said, and even knowing it’s as much reward as he’s likely to receive for whatever it is she thought he was going to do (talk to someone? He’s a man of many skills, but not that one, and he’s never really had to explain that to anyone before, it’s always just gone without saying), it was nice to hear. She sounded really grateful. Not quite Rodney, you’re my hero, but it was a fair sight more than he got for most of his acts of astonishing bravery.

He stormed into the botany lab as if he were the Chief Science Advisor around here, because power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and he was totally and completely over Katie Brown, but it would be nice if she thought maybe she was missing something. “Would somebody like to tell me what the hell is going on down here?” he said.

Colonel Sheppard turned around, and he looked like that other Colonel Sheppard, the one with the dark eyes and the itchy trigger finger, the one who never got invited to diplomatic functions. “McKay, get out of here,” he said. “We have this under control.”

We must be him and the four other armed thugs who have tracked their barren, boot-blacked, military order into botany, with its ever-present dirt and musty dampness and the shirring of fronds and petals and the soft tapping of spindly branches against quarantine glass. Botany sort of terrified Rodney – science was supposed to come with direct overhead lighting – but in its own way, the place was rather lovely, full of shy shadows and scientists who hum Sinatra tunes over their electron microscopes. The lab was a lot like Katie, really: too overgrown and unruly to live with, but relaxing and occasionally even inviting – when it’s speaking to you.

Colonel Sheppard and his shock-troops were making a goddamned mess of the place.

“I really don’t think you do,” Rodney snapped. He wasn’t posturing for anybody anymore; he was just pissed off, “unless you and your underlings have suddenly sprouted PhD’s that I don’t know about. This is a laboratory, Colonel, these people do research here.”

“Give it a rest, McKay. If you were so concerned about the scientific necessity of selling pot out of the botany labs, why didn’t you bring that up in the staff meeting?”

There were so many new things to think about related to that sentence that Rodney was momentarily forced into silence. Katie was looking at him like he’d personally put a bounty on the heads of her and all her friends; Rodney really didn’t think she’d be calling now. He was over her, but still.

“It’s part of an ongoing hybridization project testing the limits of compatibility between Pegasus and Milky Way plant life!” Parrish yelled, looking like he’d take a swing at the nearest soldier if they didn’t have valuable potted plants in their hands. “They’re building nukes upstairs, and I don’t see you up there harassing astrophysics!”

“Hey, we are not,” Rodney protested. Honestly, where would the opportunity for scientific advancement be in that? Everybody who worked for him already knew how to build a nuke. “Look, everybody wait just a minute! Are these– Is this really pot?” Everyone had a very firm answer to that question, but the answers didn’t exactly all match up with each other. Rodney threw up his hands; Christ, but people in the life sciences had no organizational skills at all, did they? “Is it or isn’t it? I don’t expect much from biologists, but I don’t think this should tax you beyond your intellectual limits. What is growing right there? Where I’m pointing! What is that?”

“It’s a hybrid,” Katie said, giving him a sorrowful, I can’t believe I let you take off my bra sort of look. “We’ve been cross-fertilizing cannabis with an apparently related indigenous species.”

“Where did you get– You know what, never mind. Colonel, I was not informed that this had to do with a legitimate scientific experiment.”

“Oh, come on, McKay, they’re not curing cancer, they’re growing really good weed. They’re also selling it for doughnuts and mp3s, so don’t let them talk you into believing this is for the glory of human knowledge.”

“That’s not true!” Parrish yelled. He was beginning to turn a much better color than his tomatoes.

“You people cannot just come into a lab and confiscate our work,” Rodney said. “Colonel, I don’t give a damn what happened in that meeting; I can promise you that the next one will go quite differently. What the hell were you planning to do with it, anyway, chuck it off a pier?”

“I was planning to smoke it,” Sheppard snapped. “They teach you how to make a bong out of a Bic and some chewing gum when you sign up for Special Ops.”

Rodney ignored that. “We’ll open a restricted lab, and I’ll take reports from the project supervisor, who, judging from his impending aneurism, I assume is Dr. Parrish. Access will be strictly limited to essential personnel, and you can file weekly inventory reports with Dr. Weir, in the unlikely event that anything should go mysteriously missing from the laboratory. I mean, that kind of thing can happen to anyone,” he added apologetically in Katie’s direction. “If I had a nickel for every one of those plastic report covers that’s been lifted from– “

“Fine, you work that out with Elizabeth,” Sheppard said, rolling his eyes. “I’m taking these like I was asked to, but we’ll treat them real nice. You want them back in these same windowbox things, or you want them in dimebags?” Katie wrapped both of her arms around Parrish’s, yanking him back as he lunged. Rodney didn’t think they liked Sheppard in botany anymore.

The unsettling part was the sparkle in Sheppard’s eyes as his people took control of the controlled substance in question. Maybe Sheppard hadn’t been so much taking a PR bullet for Bates as he was looking for an excuse to throw his weight around? That didn’t sound much like Colonel Sheppard, who preferred to lead through a crafty strategy of appearing to be a screw-up who needed an extensive support system to make sure things got done around him, sort of like if Colombo had been in possession of launch codes. But maybe he was tired of being underestimated?

“Sorry,” he said quietly to Katie as he got ready to return to his own job, back in his own lab that never smelled loamy or made him sneeze. “Best I could do.”

She smiled at him and squeezed his wrist. “You did fine,” she said.

*

So as it turned out, there was a conspiracy afoot. Rodney should have figured that much out when he went by Colonel Sheppard’s room (on one of the many embarrassingly flimsy excuses he stored up to disguise the fact that he had no hobbies or interests outside of work except for crossword puzzles, which could only take you so far, and stalking Sheppard) and met Katie Brown there.

He didn’t figure it out, though. He stood mute in the doorway, watching Katie hop around on one foot, giggling and trying to keep her hair out of her face with one hand while putting on her sandal (the straps apparently were every bit as complicated as they appeared to be) with the other. She was wearing a knee-length khaki skirt that didn’t seem to quite fit correctly and a short-sleeved sweater, and the overall effect was of a terribly ill-groomed Donna Reed, except that she still had those little freckles on her upper arm and that red hair that was sleek as soap film when your fingers were on it, assuming your fingers were or ever had been stroking her hair, and he was over her, but that didn’t mean he ever, ever, ever wanted to be stuck for life with the mental image of her, shoeless and brimming with happiness in Colonel Sheppard’s room. She stumbled, and Colonel Sheppard caught her elbow and held her up. “Easy, now,” he drawled, and his voice sounded scratchy and overused and was immediately responsible for about seven thousand more mental images Rodney didn’t want in his neural pathways. “C’mon, Katie, ‘s just like college.”

“I lived in a women’s dorm,” she said, a bit wistfully.

“Me, too!” he said, for all the world as if it were some unexpected bonding moment and not clearly one of Sheppard’s stupid jokes. “They kept me under the bed in one of those– “ He sketched something box-like in the air. “You know, those giant tupperware....” It wasn’t a good joke, even by Sheppard’s standards, but it sent Katie into fits of laughter.

She stopped on the way out and patted Rodney’s cheek. “Don’t be mad,” she said, tipping her head sideways and ruffling her hair again. “You’re not mad, are you?”

“Nah,” Sheppard answered for him. “Rodney’s okay. Right, Rodney?”

“Okay,” Rodney repeated blankly. He really hadn’t – well, he was still trying to, to process, because he wasn’t completely sure what Colonel Sheppard’s type was, but he wouldn’t have guessed it to be sweet-tempered freckled biologists who’d had to leave not one but four cats back home. More than that, though, he would have thought– Colonel Sheppard was a guy, not just a man but a guy, the kind who obeyed guy rules like calling shotgun and – and – the five-second rule for dropped food, and above all the one about dating your friends’ ex-girlfriends. Wasn’t there still a rule about that? Other, more guy-like guys hadn’t had it repealed behind Rodney’s back, had they?

“Hey, you plan to stand in the hall all night?” Sheppard asked, and then made the question mostly rhetorical by hooking his fingers in Rodney’s shirtfront and pulling him through the door. Sheppard didn’t let go of him, even when they were alone in the room. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “You look...not so good.”

“Katie....” he tried, glancing over his shoulder as if he could point her out to Sheppard through the closed door. Oh, goddamn it, it wasn’t fair that he was supposed to talk about his feelings, when his feelings were the same boring mishmash of envy and disappointment and hollowness and nausea and bitter misanthropy that always went along with watching other people make each other happy while you mostly managed to make other people throw you out of your own lab and tell you not to come back until you’d had a nap and/or a sudden and shocking change of personality due to head injury. The usual.

He was over Katie, but she was nice, and pretty but oblivious to it (as evidenced by that skirt), and smelled like vanilla, and seemed to enjoy kissing him, once upon a time, and had even confided her youthful crush on Ralph Macchio to him on their third date, so she must have liked him a little bit, which was maybe the most significant point, given that there weren’t so many people in Rodney’s life who liked him that he could afford to start wiping them from his memory. Everybody liked Sheppard, so what did he need with....

“Oh, yeah, Katie,” Sheppard said, as if he’d been trying to remember her name for some time now. “Katie’s cool.”

Cool. As opposed to merely okay, which seemed a fine distinction, but was clearly the line of demarcation in Colonel Sheppard’s head.

Colonel Sheppard did not smell like vanilla, although he did smell...sweet, a little. Not in a silly, romanticized sort of way, but literally sweet, and a bit smoky, like a very good hickory barbeque, except also not at all like that. More like.... Rodney wasn’t sure what the smell reminded him of, except maybe...the dorms? No, Sheppard had put that thought in his head, whatever the hell he’d been talking about, but Rodney remembered his undergraduate dorm smelling mostly like a gym locker.

Then Sheppard smiled at him in a way that made Rodney’s stomach plummet at the same time that it seemed to manually flip the master switch on Rodney’s brain, making his whole body quiver and convincing him completely that he was capable of any feat of brilliance. He would have challenged an Ancient to a lightning round of prime-not-prime. He was invincible, as long as the feeling in his chest wasn’t an incipient heart attack. “You’re stoned.”

Sheppard grinned even more broadly. “Well, I wasn’t gonna take the heat off the guys in botany for nothing. I’m a nice person, but I’m not stupid. So you wanna get high with me?”

*

While stoned, Colonel Sheppard is not easygoing. He is stubborn as hell, a phrase that Rodney does not use idly. He is as stubborn as the armies of darkness in their eternal quest to corrupt the souls of man.

Colonel Sheppard is starting with the body and soul of Dr. Rodney McKay.

First, Rodney tried simple good sense. It’s illegal. It’s police corruption. “You don’t want to be a bad cop, do you?”

Sheppard just smiled (the armies of darkness) and said, “Could I be mad and dangerous to know, too?”

Rodney had to sort of jump up and down on the balls of his feet to keep his knees from giving out at that. “It’s not funny,” he said when he had his voice back. “If you get caught– “

“Rodney, I’m in charge. I’m the frigging drug czar of Atlantis. I won’t get caught.”

“Power corrupts, Colonel. Also, Elizabeth– “

He smiled again, and Rodney started wondering how bad the upper circles of hell could possibly be, relatively speaking. “Elizabeth is gonna throw me in the brig for smoking pot? I don’t think so. Don’t worry about it, Rodney. You worry too much.”

“It’s not good for you,” Rodney tried. It wasn’t his best reason; he had better, he was just...having trouble thinking right now....

“Crashing jumpers is not good for me, and yet I do that.”

“Not on purpose, I should– Oh, God! You don’t go off-world stoned, do you? You don’t fly the jumper stoned?”

Sheppard looked amused by that. “Come on, Rodney, you know the answer to that.”

“No! No, I really don’t, because – because how could I tell?” He waved his hands wildly, trying to indicate all of Colonel Sheppard – his wrinkled black shirt and his sloping, baggy pants, his soft, happy eyes, his slack posture as he leaned with one hip on his sleek, Ancient breakfast table. “You could be stoned all the time for all I know!”

“Yeah, Rodney,” he said, his eyes crinkling up with his smile. “That’s right. I’m always stoned.”

“Really?”

“No! Jeez, Rodney. Not since high school, at least. It only took two or three tragic skateboard accidents to teach me not to go real fast through the air while I’m feeling real good. I have some scars – want to see?”

No!” Rodney lied hysterically.

Sheppard shook his head slightly, dismissing him, and pulled up a chair by his table. Immediately, Rodney was forgotten as Sheppard started on the careful work of shaking some of the hybridized herb out of an envelope and onto a thin strip of paper. Dried, Rodney realized, so it couldn’t have been from any of the plants that were confiscated from botany today – which meant Elizabeth’s source was right, they’d been doing more than watching it grow – which meant, oh, God, Katie wasn’t Colonel Sheppard’s girlfriend, she was his drug dealer.

“How long have you been doing this?”

Sheppard shrugged without looking up. “I dunno, I guess I was fourteen or fifteen....”

“How long– Here! On Atlantis, how long– “

“I really can’t remember. It’s been a while.”

“The hybridization project?”

“I’m pretty sure there is one. But come on, obviously nobody smokes that stuff. That’s science. But you know, I bet it’s good. I bet the Ancients had the best shit.”

“I very much doubt the Ancients were– The Ancients were busy! They were inventing technology advanced beyond our wildest dreams! They were hardly a bunch of unwashed slackers sitting around listening to Pink Floyd and running out of Doritos.”

“Nah,” Sheppard drawled. “They were all into, you know, philosophy and earth tones and things like that. I bet they knew how to kick back. They were cool.”

Was that the definition of cool? Rodney had never been good with free time.

Then, like the emissary from the underworld that he clearly was, Sheppard turned sideways in his chair and held the freshly rolled joint out toward Rodney. “I – no,” Rodney said feebly. “I can’t, it– “

“Seriously, Rodney, you’ve never smoked before? You were in grad school.”

“By graduate school, people have more or less outgrown– “

“That’s bullshit,” Sheppard said, with another one of those deadly grins. “I smoked way more in grad school than I did as an undergraduate. I drank when I was an undergrad. The hangovers were kicking my ass, so I switched back.”

“You went to graduate school?” Rodney said, briefly distracted by– Graduate school?

Pitching his voice low, Sheppard declared, “I have a master’s degree! In science!” and Rodney fisted his hands in his pockets and refused to be won over. So Sheppard remembered Dr. Science. He probably used to listen to NPR all the time, to make himself sound informed and sensitive for all those sexually liberated hipster girls in San Francisco – bisexual Berkeley girls who got stoned with him and licked his skateboarding scars and felt dirty because he was in the Air Force. Or, well. Something like that.

“Come on, Rodney,” he said again, and if those words in that voice weren’t already recurring features of his more restless dreams (and they were), they would be now. “What’s with you?”

“I’m very smart,” Rodney blurted out, very stupidly. “It’s – it’s more or less my lone redeeming – that’s what I do. I think up things nobody else is capable of thinking up, and then I prove them, and – and that stuff makes me paranoid and hungry – I can’t concentrate, and it kills your brain cells. Which. I really, really need.”

Colonel Sheppard stood up and moved toward him. Rodney wasn’t entirely sure what was making him capable of standing still when he wanted to bolt – or possibly what was making him incapable of moving when he really very much wanted to bolt. “Rodney,” he said, raspy and smoky and sweet all over, with dark stubble on his chin and pale white, lickable skin at the base of his throat, and Rodney had never hated Berkeley girls so much in his life. Liberal arts majors, every single one of them. “It’s not gonna make you stupid.”

“It does,” Rodney protested. “I’ve seen. It’s scientific fact, and also, I’ve seen those guys– “

“Sure, everyone’s seen those guys. I’m not asking you to– Jeez, Rodney, you don’t turn into some kind of burnout overnight. I’ve been doing it for twenty years, and I’m still pretty much in one piece. Some people even think I’m fairly bright. For a pilot.”

“God, imagine the mind you could have had,” Rodney realized out loud. “You could have been such a gift to the scientific community....”

Sheppard leaned entirely too close to him for anyone’s sanity and said, “I do okay.”

His hand was nudging Rodney’s, and somehow Rodney thought he was just touching Sheppard’s warm, bone-strong fingers, but really he ended up holding Sheppard’s joint, completely by accident. “I think this is peer pressure,” he said. People had always warned him about that, but honestly, it had never much come up in Rodney’s daily life.

“Quit faking, Rodney,” Sheppard said. “I know you’re cool.”

*

It turned out that cartoons really were much better when you were stoned, and of course Dr. Strangelove was brilliant any time, and the fact that Sheppard knew that was possibly the most attractive thing about him, at least if you discounted everything else about him. He also had a stash of Twinkies, which was the other best thing about him, although the way that he sucked the cream off his fingers was the best best thing, or possibly the worst, but definitely the most endlessly fascinating.

“What?” Sheppard asked, his ring finger still set against his lower lip. Rodney looked down and guessed that the way he’d been totally unable to get his own pack of Twinkies open with numb fingers had probably given him away.

“That’s pretty, uh. Kind of. You know.”

Sheppard smiled, and maybe the middle rings of hell would be all right, too. “What?” he said again, and then slipped his finger slowly into his mouth and back out again. “Hot?” he suggested. Rodney made a vague noise. Sheppard shifted around on the couch and knelt up, leaning just sort of not quite over Rodney, but definitely toward him, growing like a plant toward the heat lamps in botany. “You’re looking a little paranoid, there, Rodney,” he said, smiling like he’d eaten a canary and washed it down with Rodney’s immortal soul. “How are you feeling?”

“Hungry,” Rodney said softly. Because it was true.

Normally, in Rodney’s pre-drug days, if he were to make out with somebody during a Kubrick movie, it would probably be a moderately attractive scientist from some project that shared research space with his, and the movie would be 2001, and they would kiss and grope until Rodney’s back started to hurt, at which point they would turn off the movie and have reasonably satisfying sex on Rodney’s prescription mattress, after which Rodney’s back would still hurt, although he wouldn’t mind too much.

Colonel Sheppard didn’t kiss him. He braced his weight over Rodney and began to unbutton Rodney’s shirt with one hand. It felt very, very slow, and every time the cool air moved across a freshly uncovered spot on Rodney’s skin, his breath hitched and his body almost but not quite brushed up against Sheppard’s. At the last button, Sheppard’s fingers skimmed back up and lingered idly around the buckle of Rodney’s belt. Rodney couldn’t feel the cushions of the sofa underneath him anymore; he felt buoyant, heady, incredibly alive. If only he could have moved, he would have....

“You have to kiss me now,” he explained patiently. He hadn’t felt this patient in – since – ever. But as much as he wanted Sheppard to kiss him, he was pretty sure that Sheppard planned to...just any...time now.... So it was okay. Everything was...cool.

“Yeah?” Sheppard said. “I have to, huh?”

“I could kiss you instead.”

“That’d be nice,” Sheppard said, and brought his mouth down close to Rodney’s. Rodney put his fingers on the back of Sheppard’s head and pulled it all the way down.

Sheppard tasted dry, even though his mouth was smooth and wet and perfect. He tasted dry like martinis but sweet like mimosas, and Rodney wound his arms around the back of Sheppard’s warm neck and kissed him softly, patiently, drowning in it while Sheppard ran his hand up and down his side where the shirt had fallen away.

“We have to have sex tonight,” Rodney said, as urgently as he could without pausing for more than a couple syllables at a time between kisses. “If I have time to think about this, I’m – I might get – funny about it. Right now I’m good. Right now...this is...oh, very nice, you feel very nice. I want to have sex with you while I feel....” Floaty. Happy.

“Sure,” Sheppard said, and sucked gently on the tip of Rodney’s tongue. “We can do that.”

Rodney did remember to worry once, when Sheppard had both of their dicks out and was stroking them both together, still held up by one arm on the back of the couch and still letting Rodney kiss him over and over. It passed like a cloud over his eyes, and he mumbled, “Wait, wait, wait,” then when Sheppard stopped moving, he couldn’t remember what he should be afraid of. Then it came back to him, while he was staring into Sheppard’s hazel eyes, soft-bright and not laughing at him, calm and patient and curious and sure. “Do you even like men?”

Sheppard smiled down at him and began to stroke again. “I’m mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” he said, which wasn’t an answer, Rodney didn’t think, but it reassured him anyway.

Everything else that would normally have worried Rodney...didn’t. He didn’t mind Sheppard running his hand over Rodney’s belly, which wasn’t too soft after all that tromping around in densely forested planets, but also wasn’t anything you would hope and dream of having in bed with you, except that Sheppard caressed him like his body sort of was the sort of thing Sheppard had been somehow hoping for. He wouldn’t have taken that at face-value if he’d been himself, but he wasn’t, so he did, and he didn’t even try to hold his breath. He wasn’t worried about throwing his back out. He wasn’t worried about kissing sort of sloppy and desperate, so that Sheppard could without a doubt tell how much he’d wanted this chance, and how the feeling of Sheppard’s sharp edges and twitchy angles shifting against him was the sexiest thing that had ever happened to him.

No, not just that. All of it. Sheppard was an Air Force officer who flew spaceships and brought vintage Ren and Stimpy downloads through the Stargate with him, who had a master’s degree and a good head for numbers, pretty eyes under preternaturally expressive eyebrows, strong hands, a funny little California accent, unpretentious guy manners, an inexhaustible supply of hair gel hidden somewhere in his possession, possibly in the same place he hid his weed. He was even named John. That seemed significant somehow. Solid name, trustworthy, a good name to have out on the final frontier beside you. It was impossible to imagine getting your head fucked with by a man named John.

He wanted to say it out loud. He’d maybe never said it out loud, not by itself. “John,” he whispered against Sheppard’s lips, just listening to it, just trying it out. He liked it, and he arched against Sheppard and ran his mouth across his cheek toward his ear so Sheppard could hear how it sounded. “John,” he said against his ear, and he liked it so much he nipped on Sheppard’s ear and twisted the word around in his mouth, flicked the tip of his tongue against it, said, “John, John” so they’d be sure to remember it even if it floated away on a plume of smoke tomorrow.

“Yeah,” he said, kissing the side of Rodney’s neck. Lt. Colonel John Sheppard. John. “Yeah, that’s me, that’s me, you got me.”

Rodney slid his hands down the back of John’s pants; there was plenty of room, ever since he’d opened them up to get his dick out and line it up with Rodney’s.

They rolled off the couch and landed on the carpet, which should have hurt quite a lot, but it didn’t. Rodney felt like he was made of the lightest, most resilient alloy known to humankind. He felt lazy and blissful and just like the luckiest goddamn man in the world, and he couldn’t stop smiling long enough to kiss John back.

John braced himself on both hands and pressed down against him – not too hard, just surrendering completely to gravity and the stutter-slide of clothes and skin and precome, rolling his hips against Rodney’s, his raspy breath huffing into Rodney’s lungs through the loose seal of their haphazard kisses. Rodney could still smell the stiff, sweet smoke on his breath, and the sharper tang of euphoria and stupidity behind it. Even the fact that he was undeniably being stupid didn’t worry Rodney. Whatever this was going to cost him, he’d charge it, he’d freak out later, he’d do whatever he had to do, because no one could ever stop him from knowing that he’d been half-naked and grinding and sweating and whimpering with John Sheppard. In real life.

“I’m going to come,” he said dazedly, less a warning than an interested observation. Everything that glowed and went bang had a half-life.

“Good, yeah,” John said, in a distracted tone that made Rodney wonder if he was really listening or not. “Mmm, you’re just like flying a jumper. First you want it to go, then you put your hands where it feels right, and then it just goes. Makes you feel like.... Yeah, Rodney, go for me, come for me, come on, it’s good, it’s cool.”

He came in between their slowly thrusting bodies, and John tipped forward to kiss him harder than before. Rodney could feel the shuddering of John’s cock as he came, and the pool of warm wetness spread faster, felt like a sweaty hand between them, too hot and too intimate, but also amazingly real and right. “Oh,” John groaned, a long, luxurious sound like inhaling and exhaling at the same time. “Fuck, I wanted that....”

“It’s been a long time for me, too,” Rodney said, and then licked John’s eyebrow on impulse. It tasted hairy.

“What am I, just the first guy down the pike?” John sounded slightly offended, as much as Rodney imagined he could summon the energy to be offended. “I meant, I wanted you. For...about forever, or something like that.”

“Oh,” Rodney said. He had to turn that over in his head a few times before remembering to say, “Oh, well, I wanted that, too. You. You and me.” John sniffed, unmollified. “No, I did,” Rodney said. That felt more like a drug-induced hallucination than any of the rest of it had – trying to convince John Sheppard that Rodney found him attractive. Seriously, that was happening? “No,” he said again, although he’d forgotten what exactly he was denying. “I keep wanting to kiss...parts of you.”

“Parts of me,” John repeated vaguely, and Rodney almost knocked their skulls together trying to nod with appropriate enthusiasm.

“Your neck,” he said. “Your wrists. Oh, your feet. It’s so difficult to find people with attractive feet. I want to kiss your arches, your ankles, those calluses on the ball of.... You have the nicest feet.”

“Had no idea that was your thing, Rodney.”

“I like feet,” he said. He knew it kind of made him sound like one of those fetishists who mugged women in alleys and forced them to take off their shoes and have their toes sucked. He would have worried about that, ordinarily. “Oh! The small of your back. Right there where – there’s a little dip along your spine, and – right there above your pants, I just want to...kiss.”

He could feel John smiling against his face. “You know how hot that is?”

“Kissing your spine?”

“Saying you wanna kiss my spine. I’ll let you, you know.”

“I know.” It sounded crazy, but he did know. He was going to kiss that place on Colonel Sheppard’s back. Maybe not right now, but definitely soon. He was going to miss his brain cells a little, but goddamn if he didn’t deserve this. “I deserve this,” he said out loud, running his fingers through John’s spiky, sticky hair. “I feel...so fucking amazing right now. I feel smarter than I did before.” Now that John was leading a life of crime, he might need a partner in crime. Rodney felt that he’d be very good at that. John could supply the charming bravado, and he could be the brains of the operation.

“Well, that’s great,” John said pleasantly against his skin, “but I wouldn’t advise writing down any big ideas right now. Trust me, they’ll seem pretty disappointing tomorrow.”

“But you won’t,” Rodney said. John was a trustworthy name, the kind of name that wouldn’t turn on you. Tomorrow he’d let Rodney kiss the sole of his foot and the tendon behind his ear and the hollow of his hipbones, and show Rodney all of his scars, and he’d make Rodney feel almost exactly as high as he did right now. Rodney believed that. “You’ll seem just like this tomorrow, too,” he said, and he knew he should worry about saying too much, sounding too needy, but he couldn’t worry. He couldn’t feel anything but good, tangled up in John and breathing John’s unshakeable, unruffled peace of mind like John was shotgunning it into his lungs.

“Yeah,” John said, and breathed a kiss into him that went straight to his bloodstream. “I’m pretty cool.”