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The walk back to the Stargate never seemed so long. John glanced to his side. McKay trudged along next to him, keeping pace. Only a blind man could miss how studiously he avoided looking in John's direction. Well crap, this was going to be a problem.

Teyla picked that moment to pipe up, "I believe, Dr. Weir, will be quite pleased with our new trade agreement with the people of Janar."

"Yeah." John should say more, but they all knew Elizabeth liked it when their medical supplies would get used to help some kids. For the moment, he didn't want to even think about the Janarian's.

There wasn't a damn thing he could do about the recent pronouncement their head priestess had rendered on him and McKay. But Teyla was expecting a response and that wasn't going to go away. Sucking it up, he asked, "So, that stuff we traded for, does anyone know how they get that cloth to shine like that?"

"They call it Janar Thread." Teyla pulled a small sample from her vest pocket and held it up to the sun. Its color flared in the sunlight making it look like it had been dipped in diamonds.

"They have an insect, much like Earth's silkworm, that spins the thread used to weave the fabric. Though others have tried, the Janarians are the only ones to successfully to breed this insect. It's something they have successfully kept secret for many generations."

"Genetically modified moths." Rodney snorted. "I wonder if the Janarians had any contact with Janus? That seems like the kind of thing he'd meddle in."

Teyla looked thoughtful, appearing to give the idea some consideration, whereas Ronon simply shrugged it off. But now that Rodney had pointed it out, John couldn't help wonder if they had a meddling Ancient to blame for their newly acquired soul mate status.

Thinking about it gave John a headache. McKay wasn't looking much happier. It was a relief when they made to the gate and Ronon began dialing.

Back on Atlantis, by mutual if non-verbal agreement, he and McKay held back and let Teyla give their mission report to Elizabeth. Since neither Teyla nor Ronon had been around when the priestess made her announcement, it seemed like the perfect way to avoid a subject he didn't want to talk about. Not that they wouldn't tell Elizabeth, he just didn't see the need to rush it.

For the first time in an hour, Rodney met his eyes. "Should we mention…."

"Later, McKay." John took a step towards his quarters when the awful truth dawned. "We have to go see Carson."

Looking worried, Rodney nodded. "I don't feel any different. Do you?"

"No, but ever since you mentioned Janus I've wondered if he set us up. Maybe he did something to the gate. Maybe he fixed it to mess with anyone with the ATA gene. Probably not, but we can't take that chance. So, first we get checked out by Carson and then we'll know if we have something to tell Dr. Weir."

What was taking Carson so long to get the test results? John finished tying his boot, leaving the god-awful paper gown crumpled up on the foot of the cot. Paper gowns were right up there on John's list of items designed to destroy a man's dignity.

"How much longer can this take?" Rodney attempted to smooth down his hair. It was a lost cause. Static from pulling his shirt over his head had rearranged it in fluffy, gravity defying tuffs that rivaled John's own.

"Relax, McKay. You look fine."

"Is that you saying that, Sheppard, or is an alien influence making you say – . Ow." Rodney rubbed the back of his head. "There's no need to get physical." John decided not to tell him it made his hair stand up even worse than before.

"Dr. Weir, what are you doing here?"

"Well, Colonel, I'd like to think I'm here to commend you on your wise decision to come straight to the infirmary. Teyla filled me in on your mission to Janar." She raised one eyebrow and John knew she was onto him.

"Yes, of course that's what he did, Elizabeth. What we both did." Rodney said.

"Good. Now tell me, do I get to inform General O'Neill that congratulations are in order?"

John glanced at Rodney in horror. "McKay!"

"I just told Teyla. I thought she might know what the old woman meant." Rodney's eyes narrowed and he turned to glare at Elizabeth. "What do you mean, congratulations?"

A tiny smirk teased at the corner of Elizabeth's mouth. "I've always wanted to officiate at a wedding."

Carson stepped into the room, and none too soon as far as John was concerned. "Everyone can relax. John, Rodney, your scans came back clear. I'm not sure what you were expecting me to find, but you didn't pick up anything from the planet."

Rodney looked relived, Elizabeth looked disappointed, and John's pulse finally stopped pounding in his skull.

"Unless," Carson continued, you and Rodney have something to add? I seem to be the only one not in the loop. I overheard Rodney mention an old woman. What did she say that has you so worried?"

John wanted to bury his face in his hands. Oh, he remembered every word with crystal clarity. They just didn't make any sense. "She said we were soul mates."

Say it, hell she'd announced it to everyone within hearing distance. He remembered how every eye in the crowd watched them waiting to see what he and McKay would do. Considering how they'd both been frozen in shock, they hadn't made much of a show for the natives. Instead, they stood there looking at each other in confusion and wondering what was coming next.

The priestess, decked out in glittering, ceremonial robes of Janar Thread raised her hands and uttered some kind of bullshit in a language neither of them understood. The crowd began bouncing on their feet, which seemed to be the Janarian's equivalent of applause.

"Stop acting like you agree with everything she's saying, McKay," John nudged him with his elbow. "You don't know what she's talking about any more than I do. We could be in trouble here."

"Well, excuse me for not wanting to piss off the natives," Rodney whispered back. "Just look at them, happily bouncing like pogo sticks. That's got to throw their aim is off. I say we go along with it and avoid getting stabbed with pointy objects." He gripped John's wrist. "I think they're done. Doesn't the crowd look smaller? I think it looks smaller. Thank god, they're leaving."

Rodney had been right about that, even the priestess was ignoring them now. With a practice refined by past missions, John and Rodney, with smiles and nods, quietly moved away from the remaining crowd. In fact, looking back at it now the entire incident seemed anticlimactic.

"I don't understand," Carson said. "Did no one take the time to explain further?"

John shook his head.

"I suppose the two of you will eventually find out if it means anything at all, just let me know if anything changes. Now get out of my infirmary while I go heal some real patients."

Before John could make his escape, Elizabeth stepped into his path. The glint in her eye had him gritting his teeth before she even said a word.

"I just want to assure you, Colonel, that should anything arise…." her cheeks flamed. "I meant should your new soul mate status have future complications, Atlantis, has full autonomy regarding certain matters of discretion."

Cheeks still tinged with pink she came close to laying her hand on his arm. "We adhere to a more open standard of rules here. I'm trying to say, John, military or not, there won't be any repercussions for personal preferences."

Oh hell. John backed away, turned, and hoped it didn't look too much like he was running hell-bent away from the infirmary.

~*~

Soul mates. He didn't feel any different. John tried to laugh it off. Of course he didn't feel any different because that would be ridiculous. Still, he couldn't shake the memory of the intense look the priestess had given them, or the knowing gleam in her eyes.

Worse, she'd made him think about things. Things about McKay, of all people. He looked at his watch and groaned. The last thing John should be doing right now was walking to McKay's quarters at zero dark thirty and hoping he'd still be awake. Stupid brain (stupid body) a part of him chimed in.

He stood outside McKay's door trying to come up with a good excuse for being here. Fuck, he had nothing. It was a relief when he heard a loud clunk on the other side of the door, giving proof that Rodney wasn't sleeping either.

Before John could pass his hand over the sensor, the door slid open. McKay stood there in a wrinkled tee shirt, unshaven, and sporting dark circles under his eyes. No stretch of anyone's imagination could call him pretty. Yet, he smelled good, really good. Surprised he'd even noticed McKay's smell, John found himself stepping through the door without waiting for an invite.

"I take it, you can't sleep either." Rodney said.

John ignored the obvious statement and got straight to the point. "Have you ever thought about us like that?

Despite the late hour and the lines of exhaustion on his face, Rodney got it right away. Thank god. The last thing John wanted to do was to have to explain.

Rodney waved him towards the bed. "Sit down. If we're going to have this talk, we might as well be comfortable. And to answer your question, no, Sheppard, I never once thought of you as date material. A good friend, I like to think my best friend, but I haven't had any undying need to tear your clothes off with my teeth. You?"

"God no." John held up his hands. "No offense intended. I've had plenty of friends, but, yeah, considering all the shit we've been through together I'd have to say you're my best friend, too. You…" he wasn't quite sure how to say these next words without sounding like a girl. Oh hell. Taking a deep breath he continued, "I think you're the most unlikely and unexpected friend I've ever had and I wouldn't want it any other way."

"Same here. I think it's fair to say we're comfortable with our friendship. Only…" he shook his head and sighed, "neither of us have been sleeping since that damn priestess suggested that we were more. We've got to figure it out because I need my sleep if I'm going to keep Atlantis afloat."

John knew that wasn't the exaggeration it sounded like. Rodney got precious little sleep as it was. The last thing they needed was to have that big brain of his too overtired to work the problem at a critical moment. John kept a list. Atlantis averaged eight critical moments every damn day. They were going to have to find a way to resolve this and soon.

As they sat on Rodney's bed, John could practically see the wheels turning as Rodney's gaze measured the distance between them. Would he scoot closer or mover further away? He did neither. Instead, Rodney stood up and said, "I want to try something."

"Okay." Right now, John was willing to go along with almost anything. Any solution that would give his crazy thoughts about McKay a rest could only be a good thing, right?

"Granted, this is all assuming that someone isn't playing an elaborate hoax on us for some asinine reason." Rodney cleared his throat. "Hold out your hand."

John held out both hands, wondering what on Earth, Rodney was up to. "If a ring is involved, McKay, you'd better be planning on being the bride."

"Funny. No. I thought we could test this by doing something simple. I want us to try holding hands."

Something simple sounded good to John. Unable to resist he teased, "All right then, as long as we're not having the awkward sex conversation."

"Please, don't ever try, Sheppard. I don't want to think about what would happen to your brain if you tried talking about something as personal as your sexual preferences. Besides, good sex is really all about the mechanics. Sex with you would just involve learning new methods of cause and effect. I'm sure with a little practice I'd be excellent at it."

Raising his brows, John waited for Rodney to realize what he'd just said. Witnessing his dawning look of horror was priceless.

The silence grew and Rodney didn't seem inclined to move, or speak for that matter. John decided this was a do or die situation. He reached out and grabbed Rodney by the hand.

John had shaken hands, lent a helping hand, and used a hand to pull a buddy out trouble, but he'd never held a man's hand before, not like this. Oh. John blinked. This was not what he was expecting at all.

To begin with, this was nothing like holding a woman's hand. Rodney's hand was larger of course, his grip stronger and not as soft. His fingers didn't curl into John's hand, complacent and clinging, instead they supported – almost challenged John's grasp in return. To top it off, Rodney's calluses gave his grip a roughness that John found intriguing. Mouth suddenly dry, he managed to ask, "How does this feel to you?"

He was still trying to catalogue the differences when Rodney answered, "Huh. No tingling, no fireworks, I can't suddenly read your mind. I assume you can't read mine either."

"No. It's good. No mind reading." John let out a breath he hadn't even realized he was holding. "Perfectly normal. Nothing to get excited about."

"Nothing special about it at all," Rodney agreed.

If John didn't know better, he'd think Rodney sounded disappointed. He stood and patted Rodney on the shoulder. "Guess someone kept themselves amused by pulling a fast one on us. Funny, right?" But some part of him whispered that it wasn't funny at all.

Before they could discuss it any further, John's radio beeped. "Gotta go, McKay. We have an unscheduled off-world activation. Major Lorne's team."

John took off for the Gate room radioing Chuck for a sitrep as he ran. Other than the reassurance that Lorne's team was safe he didn't have much to add. Lorne had dialed a call- in but his team hadn't stepped through the gate yet.

"We're all right, sir, but we have a change in the situation on P87-319. I thought we should report straightaway." Lorne looked tired, and while not spooked – exactly – he looked uneasy. "It's the Unas, sir. We found an entire community of them on the planet. As you might know, I've had some contact with the Unas in the Milky Way galaxy. Frankly, Colonel, if it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon not risk pissing them off."

The SGC had more mission reports than John had found time to read. But, he knew there was something about the Unas that waved a red flag. He motioned two marines over. "When the Major and his team come through the gate escort them to the infirmary and stay there until Dr. Beckett clears them. Sorry, Lorne, but it doesn't hurt to be careful."

Relief flashed across Lorne's face. "No, sir, it doesn't."

~*~

The senior staff sat around the conference table, all their attention on Major Lorne as he filled them in on his mission to P87-319. Lorne looked concerned but determined, Elizabeth looked thoughtful, Carson looked slightly confused, and Rodney sat forward in his seat splitting his attention between Lorne and John. Call it 60-40. He might be watching Lorne but every couple of minutes his gaze slid over to John. John found it surprising because normally any mention of naquadah would have Rodney's full and undivided attention.

As for himself, he felt better prepared now that he'd gone over Dr. Jackson's old mission reports. John rubbed his hand on his thigh and tried focusing on Lorne's words and not on the cold, hollow feeling in the palm of his hand.

Lorne paused to shuffle though some papers and John stole another look at Rodney. It didn't help. Rodney was cradling his hot cup of coffee in his hands as if it held the last coffee beans in the city.

"Do we bring Jackson in on this?" Elizabeth asked.

"Yes." John figured that was a given even if it meant a delay. "Major Lorne should head the mission on this. He's had the most experience with the Unas."

"Agreed." Elizabeth said. "Major Lorne, how do you suggest we start?"

"We need to go back to the planet and scan the area for naquadah. It would be helpful if I could bring along a geologist."

"I'll see to it. Major, we also need an assessment of probable Goa'uld presence as soon as possible, and suggestions on how to handle that if becomes necessary." Elizabeth looked around the table. "Anyone?"

John knew what she meant, he'd read the reports. The first time SG-1 ran into the Unas they also ran into the Goa'uld. While the SGC had never heard of the Goa'uld making it to the Pegasus galaxy, he wasn't taking any chances. A galaxy with both the Goa'uld and the Wraith in it didn't bear thinking about.

"We need to proceed with extreme caution." John held up is hand and began counting off each his point with his fingers. "Unas – Naquadah – Goa'uld. These three things seem to attract each other. If the Goa'uld are around it's a safe bet they're using the Unas the same way they did on P3X-888. Does anyone even know, evolutionary speaking, what the odds are of the Goa'uld spawning on the same planet as the Unas?"

"The biologists might be able to answer that," Lorne suggested. "So far, we haven't found any evidence of a Goa'uld presence on the planet, but I'd rather err on the side of caution."

Elizabeth looked at each of them in turn, her signal that she was ready to bring the meeting to a close. "Dr. Beckett, let me know if there's anything you need. Rodney, find a way to scan for Goa'uld possession when someone steps through the gate. We want the earliest warning possible. John, speak to Teyla and Ronon and see if they know anything about the Unas in this galaxy."

"Excuse me, Elizabeth," Carson raised his hand. "Is it wise to go back to the planet if it's so dangerous?"

Rodney jumped on the question. "Hasn't anyone given Carson the Unas files? He's our best geneticist…." He muttered the word idiots under his breath. "Never mind, I'll do it. For now, Carson, what you need to know is that the Unas are biologically closer to reptila than mammalia.

"P3X-888 isn't just home to the Milky Way version of the Unas, it also has the richest naquadah veins the SGC has found to date. Coincidence? Or, as some like to theorize, is it the large amounts of naquadah in the environment that affects Una evolution? If so, we need to determine if that parallel exists here. If it does, well, I don't think I need to emphasize what we could do with a few tons of naquadah."

Carson's wide-eyed nod ended the conversation and the meeting.

Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Elizabeth lean over and pat Carson's hand. "Rodney can get a little intense. Just come see me with any questions you have."

What the hell did she mean by that? Sure, Rodney could get a little over the top without someone like himself there to rein him in, but John always saw Rodney's passion as a good thing. Knowing Elizabeth would just laugh at him if he tried to explain, John kept walking.

~*~

With Lorne as primary on this mission, and Elizabeth busy conferring long distance with Dr. Jackson, it left John with very little to do. He was in his office rereading the Unas mission reports when Rodney popped his head in.

"Is this a good time?" Rodney asked.

John waved him in knowing McKay would stay until he'd said his piece, whatever that might be. Besides, John could use the distraction. He pushed his reading aside and leaned back in his chair, fully prepared to be entertained by the latest McKay plan.

What he wasn't prepared for was Rodney's hands and the way they moved as he talked. It was a distraction all right. John had to fight back the urge not to grab onto one of them just to see if it felt like he remembered.

He'd just managed to drag his attention back to Rodney's lecturing when he caught the words, "…and the tension is affecting my work."

John backpedaled trying to recall the last two minutes of conversation in the slim hope of figuring out what Rodney was talking about. It was a safe bet it had something to do with Dr. Jackson, the Goa'uld, or mines full of naquadah. He decided to go on the offence.

"McKay, we're living in a galaxy where the enemy wants us on their lunch menu. Are you telling me, that in all this time, you haven't figured out some way to relax?"

"Of course I have! Every morning in the shower, if you must know." Rodney folded his arms across his chest, throwing a challenging glare in John's direction.

Shit. Chess, video games, or some geek meeting thing where they plotted to take over the world, that was the kind of answer John expected. Not this.

Now he had an image of Rodney's slick, soapy hands sliding over his chest. The hot water and soap bubbles making it easy to slip lower, all the way down his groin. He might pause there, make the anticipation last, until the need rose and he had to touch himself. His wet cock would be eager, full, and ready to play with.

John wondered if he liked a long, slippery, root-to- tip glide that would make it last. Or maybe Rodney used short, rough strokes to finish himself off quickly. Hell, maybe Rodney liked it the way John did; fast and dirty, fucking his cock into his fist and riding the edge until he wanted to come or scream. Yeah, he could picture that. Not that he wanted to picture it. Hell no.

This had to end and John needed to make up an excuse to get Rodney to leave. "McKay…Rodney…I want to hold your hand again." Fuck fuck fuck. Good one John, blurt out the exact thing you don't want to say. Damn floor wouldn't even cooperate and swallow him up.

Rodney snapped his fingers. "I don't know why I didn't think of it but you're right, Sheppard! All this tension showed up after we got back from Janar."

He had a speculative look in his eye. The kind of look John had learned to be wary of.

"Hmm," Rodney continued, "the tension eased after we held hands, abet briefly. I don't understand why I didn't put the two together."

And that's when the conversation careened off the cliff and turned into John agreeing to a Saturday night date with Rodney.

~*~

Somehow, he'd fallen down the rabbit hole as far as this soul mate thing went. A date with Rodney didn't sound horrible. That alone made John uneasy because it really really should have.

At least date night remained a couple days away. It helped that Rodney suggested keeping it simple, just pizza and beer on South balcony under the stars. John didn't know where it would lead but he knew they were both getting better at handholding.

John curled his fingers into the palm of his hand. The warmth still lingered from the last time he and Rodney held hands. They were doing this as a regular thing now. Usually in the mornings after breakfast, and again for a few brief minutes every afternoon. Usually John found himself in the lab anyway, but if he couldn't away for some reason, Rodney came to find him. So far, it had gone well enough. He could've have done without Elizabeth's smug little smile when she caught them, though.

After days of negotiations, Lorne and Elizabeth were finally making progress with the Unas.
These Unas didn't seem violent, but then again Mayor Lorne had bent over backwards to keep things peaceful. More accurately, he'd spend hours on his knees letting matters take as long as they took – Dr. Jackson's advice. John hadn't envied him the task but he stopped feeling bad about it when Lorne confessed he'd had knee padding added to his pants. "Been through something like this before, sir."

So far they'd been no evidence of the Goa'uld, but they still hoped find a large deposit of naquadah. They still couldn't prove the Unas were biologically adapted to planets loaded with the mineral, but they'd know about the naquadah itself soon enough. Today the Unas were allowing the geologists to enter their territory.

John put his team on standby. At the slightest hint of anything not going to plan, John and his team would be through the gate to lend assistance. Ronon, Teyla and Rodney were in the ready room with him and gearing up for trouble, just in case.

"What are we waiting for, Sheppard?" Ronon asked. Ronon didn't gear up the way the rest of them did but John had no doubt he'd armed himself to the teeth and then some.

"Major Lorne has done a good job so far. I think we should give him the chance to finish this." John knew exactly what lay behind Ronon's impatience. He'd been itching to meet the Unas since he heard about them, believing they'd make tough, capable fighters against the Wraith. John had to admit, he had a point.

Ronon's blaster hung low on his hip and the hilt of his sword rose over his shoulder within easy reach. He'd pulled his long dreads back with a leather cord. John had seen him use his dreads when fighting, whipping them in the face of an opponent, confusing and blinding them. He couldn't help wonder why Ronon had them tied back now.

"Respect," Ronon said, answering John's unspoken question. "For now. We want to fight with them not against them."

Neither Ronon nor any of the Athosians had ever seen or heard of a race like the Unas. John couldn't help notice how Teyla had adopted a fascination with them and their culture. He knew she spent most of her spare time working with Elizabeth and Lorne over the negotiations.

"Dr. Beckett believes that, given their biology, it's highly unlikely the Wraith will be able to feed from them." Teyla said.

"Heard about that." The last time John had spoken to Carson, the doc had been practically drooling to get an Una into the infirmary for tests. "Let's see how today goes first before we try turning them into Wraith-fighting warriors."

That left Rodney. If John could figure out a way to keep him safe on Atlantis, he would. Just idea of Rodney getting snaked woke him up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. "You're sure you want to do this, McKay?"

"I'm not sure – want – is the exact word I'd use, but yes, Colonel, if they need us, I'm going."

"Planning to ride herd on the geologists?" John asked.

"Hrump. Someone has to. There's no telling what they'll overlook while they're in a panic or busy gawking at the aliens." Rodney eyes widened as he took in his teammates expressions. "I don't mean you two! You don't even look alien. Unas look alien. Wraith look alien. Clearly you're nothing like the Wraith and…ah…John, some help here."

"McKay, if I were you, I'd shut up before Teyla bops you one." John picked up his P-90 and gestured toward the door. "Gate room, people. If there's going to be trouble I don't want to be more than a few steps away from it."

John was the last to leave. He hadn't actually intended on watching Rodney's ass as he walked ahead of him. But it was there and impossible to ignore. Date night was in two days. Screwed – he was so screwed.

Somehow, Lorne managed to keep the geologists on their good behavior, keep a war from breaking out, and in the end, didn't have to call on John's team for any help. Rodney looked disappointed, as did Teyla. While Ronon, looked as close to pouting as John had ever seen him.

"Guys, we'll get our chance," John soothed. "The geologists found enough naquadah to make even Landry a happy camper, we'll get our turn rotating in for trade." He had to admit, Lorne and Elizabeth had brokered a kick-ass trade agreement – with some unexpected help from Cadman. The Unas were going to do the mining for them and haul the naquadah to their Stargate for pickup. All they wanted in return was some of the cloth from Janar.

According to Cadman, the negotiations were a no-go until she pulled a length of Janar fabric from her pack. The Unas had flocked to it like ducks to a pond. Mined naquadah for cloth – even Dr. Jackson had been impressed.

~*~

Tonight was the night. John had it circled on his calendar in bright, red marker and all afternoon he'd felt like the bulls-eye was staring back at him. It couldn't be nerves because he wasn't nervous. That would be ridiculous; it was only Rodney after all.

He carefully ran the straight blade over his chin. It glided easily across through the lather. It should, this was his second shave within ten minutes, but John knew how quickly his five o'clock sprang up and decided it was worth the effort. The last thing he wanted from Rodney was a Nancy-like reaction to his beard stubble.

Soft, well-worn jeans rode at his hips and he'd picked a black tee shirt to wear with it. Except for the extra shave, he'd decided to treat this like any other time they spent together. Just the two of them, getting together, hanging out, playing together during downtime whenever they could. Just the two of them…oh hell. Hand shaking, John set the razor carefully down on the sink's edge. Jesus, just how long had they been dating and he'd never noticed? Did Rodney know?

He pulled his shirt on, decided to forgo the Aqua Velva and after a quick check of the time, took a deep breath. Time to meet Rodney. He couldn't wait to see the look on Rodney's face when John told him they'd been in a relationship for years.

The moment he stepped out on the balcony it became evident that Rodney had been very busy indeed. John expected to see a couple of folding chairs and a cooler. This was so much more than that. A large stuffed couch, decorated with colorful Athosian blankets had been dragged up from somewhere. Candles of all shapes and sizes flickered in the dusky twilight lighting John's path. As he moved closer, he could see a low table sat in front of the couch holding a large, meat lover's pizza. Seeing the cooler of beer, he had to smile. The pizza might be his favorite but the Molson was definitely Rodney's. Only, there was no sign of Rodney.

John got comfortable and waited. Somehow, Rodney had managed to make the evening romantic without being girly. He measured how well they knew each other against everything else he'd learned in life and he knew, deep gut-feeling knew, that the two of them were right together.

"Oh hey, there you are." Rodney walked up to him, his tentative smile radiating uncertainty.

John could fix that. "Everything looks great. Now come sit down." He reached for Rodney's hand and laced their fingers together, tugging him closer. "You did something different with your hair."

Rodney raised an eyebrow at that.

"I just meant it looks softer than usual."

"You're waiting for the ground to swallow you about now, aren't you, because that was a very girly date thing to say."

"Yeah." John looked down at their joined hands. "But you probably knew I'd be bad at this."

"Un-huh." Rodney leaned close. Carefully, his knuckles brushed John's cheek. "I want…."

John held very still. When he'd thought about kissing Rodney, he always pictured himself as the aggressor, but in this, Rodney was braver than he was. The first, tentative brush of Rodney lips didn't come close to being enough.

John cupped the back of Rodney's head reluctant to let him move away. He needed a chance to thoroughly explore Rodney's mouth. Needed it like breathing but words failed him.

A beat ahead of him, as usual, Rodney pressed his open mouth against John's. With a soft groan, John pushed his tongue in, trying for slow and seductive, and failing. The hot wetness of it dizzied him even as he soft noises Rodney made went straight to his cock. When they finally broke apart, both of John's hands were curled in Rodney's shirtfront. Just the idea of letting go hurt, so he didn't.

Rodney looked down at John's hands, eyes glinting with amusement. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Damn straight." Grinning, he pulled Rodney in for another kiss.

John tried for tender and sweet but Rodney wasn't having any of it. Determined to give as good as he got, Rodney still caught him by surprise when he broke their kiss, bent his head, and bit down on John's nipple, straight through his shirt.

Every cell in his body came alive and sang – more – yes – mine. Damn, maybe was something to this soul mate gig after all. John pushed the thought aside to think about later.

Somewhere between catching his breath, admiring Rodney's flushed expression, and trying to shift his rock hard cock into a more comfortable position, he remembered Rodney's comment about sex, learning, and cause and effect.

"What are you muttering about?" Rodney asked. His hair stood up in tuffs, his eyes were bright and his lips were red and swollen.

"I said, it's been a long time since I took this much interest in my education."

~*~

"Why are you so nervous?" John asked. He and Rodney walked side by side down the dusty road, relaxing and taking their time as Ronon and Teyla moved on ahead.

"Because, it's our first time back here," Rodney gestured to the village ahead of them, "since their priestess stood in front of a crowd and claimed we were soul mates."

"Relax, Rodney. We're here because it's our turn to trade for that cloth the Unas like so much. We don't have to go anywhere near the priestess and her bunch."

"We don't?"

"No, we don't." He took Rodney's hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. Maybe they weren't linked in any way Carson could detect but that didn't mean John couldn't feel the twang of empathetic energy humming between them. "We go, let Teyla do the talking, get what we need and head back."

It almost worked that way.

"The shipment won't be ready until tomorrow, John." Teyla had a sparkle in her eye and John knew something was up for sure when she exchanged an amused glance with Ronon. "The Janar are celebrating their success in creating a new strain of moth and we have been invited to join them."

"What is it with these native cultures?" Rodney protested. "It seems like all of them are ready to party at the drop of a hat. How do they get anything done?"

"You would be wise to respect their ways," Teyla admonished. "Many cultures chose to embrace joy as often as they can in defiance of the Wraith."

"So, it looks like we're staying the night." John elbowed Rodney. "Try not to upset the nice people that are going to help us get the naquadah, McKay."

"Good." Teyla smiled. "I have arranged rooms for all of us at the inn. While you may find this evening's prayer ceremony interesting, I suspect that is unlikely. However, the priestess has assured me there is no offense taken should the two of you choose not to attend."

"We can choose not to attend? You're sure about that?" John asked.

"As long as one is there to represent our group, the Janar will not be offended. I volunteered Ronon, and myself."

"Thank you, Teyla. We owe you one." John said.

"You do, and I may collect on that later." She smiled in a way that John didn't find comforting at all.

"Sheppard, I think you just gave up your entire Earth's supply of good chocolate," Rodney said.

"If it gets us out of this, it's worth it."

Teyla laughed. "Perhaps you and Rodney would like to check out your room now? Just to make sure it's satisfactory." She looped her arm in Ronon's and steered him towards the door. "We will see you in the morning."

John turned to Rodney. "Why do I get the feeling she's up to something?"

When they opened the door to their room, John took one look and knew they'd been had. Judging from the size of the bed and the decorations, they'd been given the innkeeper's idea of the honeymoon suite.

Rodney peaked in over his shoulder. "Oh – okay, we're not leaving a mirror hanging over us while we sleep until I make sure it's secure."

"And people say chivalry is dead." He pulled Rodney into the room, closed the door and locked it.

Later that night, completely undone by the feel of Rodney's naked body underneath him, John knew he'd never have his fill of this. Thoroughly spent for the second time that night, he sprawled easy and loose across Rodney's body; content in a way he'd never known was possible.

Rodney, equally undone, groaned into John's shoulder just before biting it, again. "Sorry."

"It's okay," John's skin still hummed with an excited calmness that he only felt when he and Rodney were close like this. It made no sense when he tried to describe it but that didn't make it any less true.

Maybe Rodney had a thing for marking him but he wasn't alone. John gently ran his thumb over the largest of the marks he'd made on Rodney's throat. He couldn't help feeling proud of it.

"Not that. Um, I might have stretched the truth before – when you asked me if I ever thought about you like this. I did. Once or twice, but I swear I didn't mean to."

"It's okay," John murmured back, pressing a kiss on his claiming mark. "I lied too."

~♥~