John set the jumper down in the sand on the beach, glancing up at the HUD as Rodney packed his LSD into his pack. “Got everything?” he asked.
Rodney answered without looking up, his voice muffled by the power bar in his mouth. “For every possible scenario,” he answered.
John stood and joined him in the rear compartment as Rodney was stuffing another three MREs into his bag. “Are you really going to need those?” he asked.
Rodney shot a glance at him over his bag. “Isn’t your motto supposed to be ‘always be prepared?’” he asked.
“I think you’re confusing the Air Force with the Boy Scouts,” John said, slipping his sunglasses on as he lowered the rear bulkhead. “‘Fly by the seat of your pants and try not to fall on your face,’ is my motto.”
“Oh, yes,” Rodney said with theatrical thoughtfulness. “It’s surprising how often I confuse those two. The Air Force and the Boy Scouts. Thank you for the correction, Colonel.”
John smiled. “You’re welcome.” He checked his watch. “Check-in time is four hours. Let’s get a move on.”
Rodney nodded and walked down the ramp. “Of course, you know that I was part of a scouting troop back in Canada. Lodge 14 of the Fort McMurray Eager Beavers.” His tone was nostalgic, and at least part of that was as put on as his Air Force-Boy Scouts confusion.
“The roughest nine hours you’ve ever lived,” John put in.
“Well, the ensuing thirty three, when my mother was petitioning for my re-enlistment was difficult. I take after her more than my father, really. Headstrong, courageous.”
“Prone to exaggeration,” John suggested.
“Natural story-tellers,” Rodney corrected.
They stepped off the metal ramp and onto the most beautiful beach John had seen since he’d been stationed at Hawaii when he was twenty-three. It was a boundless pink ocean beneath an arch of bright blue, cloud-dotted sky. The sand underfoot was a cool baby blue, piled into dunes on their left side. “How’s the water?” John asked. Visions of surfing that cool salt water tide until shades of violet sunset settled on the water and he settled down beside a campfire were running through his head.
“The native microbes’ feeding cycle gives it its pink color. Our survey team brought a sample back for analysis. It’s safe for human contact. Though,” Rodney said, pausing, “I wouldn’t drink it. It is salt water.”
John noted that for future reference. Living on a city ship that floated in the middle of the ocean, John had no shortage of surf-able planets he knew of, but he’d like to surf the sparkling pink ocean. When else would he have another chance to do that?
“So, the Ancient ruins,” John prompted Rodney.
“Yes. AR-3 came upon them in their first survey. Large organic stone structures, too heavy to move, with an energy signal their scientist couldn’t identify.” He said this as though it wasn’t a favor that they were out there because Dr. Mussad, Zelenka’s possible girlfriend, was the scientist on said gate team and down with a flu. Rodney must’ve been scoring chocolate bars or free cable for this one. It was so far down the list of imperatives that they hadn’t bothered asking Ronon and Teyla for the backup (though Ronon was busy giving support to AR-5 after Sgt. Rodriguez broke his leg in a sparring session and Teyla was busy with translation work in the anthropology labs lately). Rodney had theorized three hours on ‘the Beach Planet’ at most. To John, it had sounded like a mini-vacation. He didn’t always get paid to relax on the sand.
“Are we planning on cannibalizing them or just checking them out?” John asked.
“For now, I’m planning on examining them before I decide to gut them or not. Our lab’s stuffed already.” They’d found a long forgotten Ancient outpost on their first time out, back in the Pegasus galaxy. The outpost had dwarfed Atlantis and contained a warehouse full of artifacts in perfect shape. Consequently, Rodney had become even snobbier about what he considered an interesting find. “We could always use more power.” Opening the star drive back to Earth had put them in the red once more regarding their power supplies but without present enemies, the situation wasn’t as dire as the first time they’d landed on Atlantis, completely unaware and unprepared for the trouble around the corner.
The mission, to scope out some Ancient devices on a picturesque beach, had sounded pretty compelling when Rodney came to him with it. Now, looking out at the sunlight glinting off the rolling tide, John wished he’d brought his surfboard. He wouldn’t have surfed, anyway but he could always daydream about it.
“Here we are,” Rodney said. The devices were, as advertised, large stone columns in that familiar Ancient design – smooth stone and crystal inlay with metal grating here and there. They stood, taller than Rodney and John by three feet. They were definitely too large for the two of them to move. “Dr. Mussad said that they were inactive, but—” As Rodney spoke, the crystal inlays sparkled with light. “But it looks like they weren’t activated.” This happened sometimes when someone with a weak expression of the ATA gene investigated an Ancient device. As John’s gene was the strongest in Atlantis (or anywhere else), he was capable of lighting up anything Ancient with any juice left in it.
“So what are they for?” John asked. As Rodney crouched down, opening a panel and plugging his tablet in, John stepped closer to take a look himself. He stepped forward in the soft sand, bending over to examine the Ancient lettering on the post over Rodney’s head. As he moved, the sand shifted underfoot and John stumbled, falling between the pillars and catching Rodney with his knee.
As soon as he came between them, he felt the catch and drag of a force field. He rooted his feet in the sand and tried to wrench himself free, knowing what was going to happen anyway. The force field was inexorably dragging him in, and with him, Rodney.
They fell together into the soft sand on the other side, John over Rodney and Rodney sputtering indignantly already. When they pulled apart, Rodney scowled at the uninterrupted stretch of beach where the Ancient pillars and their jumper had been. “Not pleasant,” he said.
John crawled into a sit and rubbed the sore muscles in his neck. “Second damn time one of those things has got me.”
With all the appearance of completely ignoring him, Rodney looked down at his tablet. “Damn it. It’s exactly as I thought.”
“What did you think, exactly?” John asked.
“I thought,” Rodney pronounced pointedly, “that it’s a time dilation field.”
“Well, yeah. Crap,” John muttered. He was sitting with his knees up, one hand on the back of his neck to soothe his strained muscles as he looked back at Rodney. Rodney’s reflection floated in the lenses of his aviator glasses. It was amazing they hadn’t broken when they’d been pulled through. “Can you turn it off?” he asked.
“Turn it off? From in here? I must’ve missed the part where I’ve been gifted with the ability to move things with the power of my mind,” Rodney said, pointing at his head. He sighed and looked up at what looked like empty air, but what was actually the dome surrounding them. “The source powering the field isn’t inside it, it’s on the outside. I couldn’t turn it off if I tried.”
John shook his head. “The power source is outside the field.” Rodney nodded, limply lifting and dropping a hand. “So it’s what? Like a prison?”
Rodney turned his eyes over the landscape. “Well, there’s no convenient signage but if I had to guess, wouldn’t you say a space from which you can’t voluntarily escape is prison-like?”
“Last I heard, they called it a ‘sanctuary.’”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Cultists.”
John smiled wanly. “So it looks like there’s nothing for us to do but twiddle our thumbs and wait to get rescued.”
“And pray that the time distortion isn’t so disproportionate that we’re wizened skeletons when Zelenka gets around to turning the generator off on the other side.” Rodney was nothing if he wasn’t optimistic.
“Well, is it?” John asked. “Did you get enough readings to make a call on it?”
“From what I gleaned before we got pulled through,” Rodney picked up and dropped the broken connector, “it looks like the time distortion ratio isn’t far off from the dilation field you got sucked into last time. It will be weeks before they realize we haven’t made the check in.”
“Weeks, but not years?” John asked.
“No,” Rodney said. “The generator’s efficacy looks to have waned in the interim and the time dilation isn’t as marked now as it was in the past. It’s immediate survival we have to worry about instead of, I don’t know, repopulating the planet or something. We’re looking at a few months on the outside.”
That sounded like good news to John. There were way worse places they could be stuck. “Nice. So we’re on vacation.” Rodney shot a side-eyed look at John. “Together,” John said dourly to tease. Rodney responded with exactly as much sputtering consternation at John’s tone and expression as John had intended so he marked it as fairly successful teasing.
“You mean if we don’t starve to death or, what’s more likely, die of dehydration?” Rodney asserted. He shook his head. “It’s not like anybody’s missing me outside anyway. Though my classified contributions to science and the Lantean lifespan should suggest otherwise.”
John tactfully ignored Rodney’s unsubtle comment on the single lifestyle and surveyed their surroundings. While there were as many people in Atlantis betting on wedding bells for Rodney and Keller as there were people betting that they’d never make it past a second date, when Atlantis landed back in Pegasus, there was no sign that Rodney and Keller were even an item anymore. John inwardly sighed in relief and outwardly gave lukewarm consolation that there were more fish in the sea for Rodney to sleep with. He privately held that he’d never bought the whole Rodney-Keller thing, but if he hadn’t, he was surprisingly relieved that it didn’t last.
Months later, Rodney was still single, though he seemed to be loitering near the anthropology labs more often than usual, which was odd in itself because Rodney rarely evinced the slightest interest in fields of study that centered around human beings as opposed to cosmic or natural forces. John kept waiting for the next Katie Brown to appear. He was sure he had his ‘total nonchalance’ act down for when she did.
On his part, despite what Rodney theorized, the closest John had come to fraternization with the female of the species during the expedition was the fling with Chaya. And that hadn’t even been physical in any sense of the word he’d actually like to talk about.
John had never been strongly attracted to women, which was something he found out the hard way trying to make it work with Nancy. There were women he liked, women he respected, and women he was scared of, but there weren’t many women he wanted to sleep with. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of his career, the USAF wasn’t particularly understanding on the issue, so John had made do with brief dalliances, one night stands, and borderline to overtly flirty platonic relationships. In one respect, John was similar to Rodney – they both weren’t that great with people, but while John was more popular with them, Rodney was the one who was more capable of getting what he wanted out of them.
“Better look around.” John shrugged a shoulder. “They might’ve marked their exits more clearly than the entrance.”
“That would be efficient and logical, which doesn’t sound asshole-ish enough for the Ancients,” Rodney replied.
John smiled and began to walk. They walked down the coastline, moon blue sand under their boots and pink surf frothing on the coast to their right. The ocean stretched out to the distant horizon in one direction, the blue sand spread before them to the hazy distance in the other, and the high dunes undulated to their other side, blocking out everything beyond it. They made weaving tracks over the dunes that obscured the rest of the vista from them.
At the crest, they found a path between outcroppings of wild violet sea grasses that wound between the stands of trees at the forest’s edge. “Looks like it’s manmade,” John observed.
Rodney grunted his agreement without looking up from his sensor. “I’m getting some energy readings. Low, not promising in terms of prison break.” He pointed. “In this direction.” He took a few decisive steps and fell in beside John.
John scanned the tree line and saw the faint glow of lights in the distance under the canopy of trees.
“You thinking it might be a settlement?” he asked.
“Maybe,” Rodney replied. “It wouldn’t be very useful in terms of technology. Definitely not a city ship, since its energy signature is unpromisingly low. Why?” He turned and followed John’s pointed finger.
“Maybe they might know how to get out of here,” John said. He nudged Rodney’s elbow as he picked up his pace, walking into the dappled shadow of the wood.
“Or they might have something to eat.”
The path went from silky sand to blond pebbles as it wended through the trees. They hadn’t gone far when they saw a small house in a clearing between the trees. It was only two stories tall and it looked like one of Atlantis’s spires in miniature on top of a wide platform. The roof sloped sharply away from a high peak and on one side, dropping off into a small balcony accessible by stairs. It was primarily glass and silvery metal, gleaming in the leopard skin sunlight coming in through the overhanging trees. It reminded John of a beach house, set just off the sand. The lights were all on at the steeper, far end of the house.
“Think anybody’s home?” John asked, eyeing the lights streaming through every window.
Rodney checked the display on his LSD. “There are no life signs in the area.”
“The lights are on,” John said, looking up to the pale light in the stained glass windows. “Is there anybody out,” he gestured with the hands hooked on his P-90, “further in?”
Rodney shook his head. “I’m looking at the greatest perimeter possible on the life signs detector right now. The outside edges are scrambled by the dilation field but in here, I’m only seeing the two of us. Excluding radical yogis trained in the art of a deathlike meditation, I’d say we’re alone.”
“So why are the lights on? The house is responding to my ATA gene?” John asked.
“I’d assume as much. We must’ve triggered – you must have triggered something, I mean – when you activated the pillars.” Rodney jogged up the stairs. “And if Atlantis is anything to judge it by, I’m betting the water’s still on and the front door’s unlocked.”
John followed at Rodney’s heels, catching him up as they came up to the balcony and the sliding door. It was like the doors at Atlantis – metallic, with inlaid designs – but it looked older and less ornamental than strictly functional. The door slid open and inside, they found the same blue-green washed walls, rust colored metallic sconces, and terra cotta colored tiled floors. The slanted roof overhead was stained glass, throwing faint diffused light over the floor in shades of yellow and red. As they came inside, the glass shifted from jewel tones to clear panes and full sunlight cascaded through, lighting the room completely. For a house, it was small – just one great room with a simple kitchen and enclosed washroom against the far, steep wall and a bed and sofa under the sloping side of the roof. The balcony ran around the corner of the house and just beyond the bed, there was another set of doors that led out onto it. From their position in the center of the room, they could see the ocean through the doors, perceptible through the trees.
“Even convicts have bigger beds than ours,” Rodney said, looking down at the furniture.
It was true. “I call that,” John said, pointing.
Rodney furrowed his brows. “You can’t call the bed. At least not every night. We should at least switch off. You get the floor tonight and I get the sofa tomorrow.”
John made a face. “I just called it,” he protested. “I get it tonight and you might get it tomorrow. Might.”
“Oh, come on. We should play paper scissors rock for it.”
“Why would I do that? I just called it. Come on.” John swatted Rodney’s shoulder. “Let’s keep looking around.”
Downstairs was a greenhouse with row after row of verdant greenery planted with Ancient symmetrical precision beneath misters and what Rodney believed were fiber optic lights. John recognized the leaves of the yocada plant – a Pegasus facsimile of the Milky Way potato, as well as tuttle root and tava beans. The far corner of the greenhouse was occupied by two small rooms – a shed with requisite supplies for planting and harvesting, and a storeroom stocked with vacuum sealed dried meats, fruits, and vegetables. The fruits were iffy, given Rodney’s aversion to citrus, but the meats and vegetables were still preserved.
It was a completely self-sufficient unit where one could live for a long while without outside assistance or interference. They’d be fine for the foreseeable future.
The first night they were there, Rodney got the bed and John rode the couch. Some things, at least, would need to change in the near future.
The bed was the central figure in their controversies – it had one pillow and one blanket, so the guy on the couch would have to go without or, Rodney’s idea, the one on the bed would give up the blanket for the right to sleep on a surface long enough to put their feet up (the sofa was exactly as short at the standard issue Atlantis sofa). Naturally, that idea wasn’t enough to maintain the peace because neither of them wanted to sleep on the sofa or sleep without a blanket.
“Okay, this is ridiculous,” Rodney declared in the beginning of the second week.
John cracked an eye to look at Rodney in the wash of cool moonlight. “What?” he asked. He’d been on the edge of sleep when Rodney said it.
“I can’t sleep without a blanket,” Rodney said.
John shrugged. “I don’t like taking the couch,” he said. He wiggled his feet under the blanket. “If you want to switch…”
“No, I don’t want to switch.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Look,” he said, hand making a decisive karate chop, “why don’t we try being actual adults here and simply share the bed – and blanket, but not the pillow since there was still only one of those.”
That woke John up in a flash. He was less than pleased about the suggestion. For Rodney, it was one thing, for John, it was another. “What if I like it over here with my blanket?” he asked.
Rodney made a face. “You just said you don’t like it over there.” He had John there.
John pursed his lips, looking down at his feet. The thing was that he’d nursed a flame for Rodney ever since they’d started not-whale watching in Atlantis, which, as well as John could figure, was not the case for Rodney, and which made the bed-sharing thing awkward in John’s opinion. It would be strange to mention it as a reason not to share (not to mention that Rodney very well might suspect that John was using it as a means to secure the bed for the entirety of their stay there). But not mentioning it made John feel like he was doing something wrong, like he was copping a feel or something – taking a liberty he wouldn’t be given freely.
“So what do you think?” Rodney asked. “You didn’t say anything.”
John stared at him in the blue moonlight. Rodney was bullheaded, to say the least, and if John argued the point, it would come out one way or another. “Okay,” he said. He tossed the pillow and Rodney caught it with a grin. “I don’t cuddle,” John said warningly as he came over with the blanket.
Rodney snorted. “Please, Colonel. You’re safe with me. I’m not exactly known for my cuddliness.”
John chuckled as he lay down in bed. He turned his back to Rodney as he slid under the covers. The bed was large enough they didn’t have to touch to lie side-by-side, but it was small enough John felt the warmth of Rodney’s body beneath the blanket, and when he moved, the coarse hairs on Rodney’s legs tickled the back of John’s knee.
He’d no sooner lain down than his body was throbbing with awareness of Rodney’s proximity and his face burning with embarrassment. Behind him, Rodney sighed with evident contentment.
“So much better,” Rodney murmured as he stretched out on his stomach beneath the blanket. Despite his assurances, his legs were definitely on John’s side of the bed. He didn’t seem to notice their closeness but with his back to him, there was no way John could’ve known for sure.
John was already too hot from lying down with him. Now he felt the bed dip under Rodney’s wait as he settled down beside him, his bare legs beside John’s, giving off heat. “Goodnight, Rodney,” he said pointedly.
John stared at the empty sofa, his back prickling with the foreign feeling of another body’s closeness. And it was Rodney beside him, no less. John pulled the blanket to his chin and tried to force himself back to sleep. He’d just have to deal with it.
For the most part, John tried to put it out his head entirely.
But whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not, something was changing between them. It wasn’t just the fact that Rodney and he were nude together often. It was the intimacy of sharing the bed at night. They were closer than they’d ever been, physically, more often than they’d ever been before. They relied on each other more than they had before.
On Atlantis, they were friends and teammates. They had each other’s backs in the meeting room and on the field. They ate together in the mess hall and had movie night once a week. But it wasn’t exclusively between the two of them. Beer on the pier was something just the two of them did, and MST3K in Rodney’s room on Fridays. But, for the most part, they shared their time with the rest of the team. They babysat for Torren and sparred with Ronon and occasionally did missions with Lorne and Zelenka when they needed backup or a familiar face for trading talks.
On MX3-476, they woke up in the same bed and worked together to put food on the table. They spent their down time playing games they made up and swimming in the ocean. When they weren’t working or playing, they were talking. They lived in the same room – eating, sleeping, and showering on top of each other. John had lived in barracks before but it was never one-on-one.
Actually, John hadn’t been that close to someone since he was married to Nancy. And even then, they’d been largely independent. It was one of the things John had thought made sense about their marriage. They both had their own careers, their own hobbies and spare time. He’d always wanted to maintain a level of separation, a barrier so he wouldn’t get hurt. But it was impossible to maintain a barrier when he and Rodney were the only people living in the enclosure, and when they were spending all their time together. There was no real reason to pull back when they were already friends and they’d done so much together already.
As well as they’d known each other back on Atlantis, they became closer in the little beach house. They stayed up late, playing makeshift card games and talking. Rodney told John about his childhood in Canada, his parents’ volatile fighting, and the boarding school in Toronto he won a scholarship for to get away. They talked about Siberia, Antarctica, and their separate failures. They reminisced about the glimmer of morning sunlight on the towers back in Atlantis. John told Rodney about his mother’s death and the private schools he’d gotten himself expelled from in his youth. They talked about their past relationships – though, really, Rodney had more to say about it than John did as Rodney had had about six times as many as John had in the same length of time.
They talked about sex, usually when it got late and they were lying side by side in bed. The conversation awkwardly revolved around the subject without getting into it explicitly, tentative and testing.
They ventured out under the nebulous stars and violet-tinged night sky to swim before bed. For thirty minutes the night before, Rodney had talked about sex – how he liked it, how he wasn’t having it – and John had stretched out in bed with one knee up, regulating his breath and feeling himself harden in his shorts.
They were in their shorts when they waded out into the water. The cool surf lapped around John’s hairy thighs and John laughed as Rodney sputtered when a wave smacked him in the face. They raced out to the buoy John had set up and when they came back in, they were breathless and salty with the sea water.
John flopped down on the hard packed sand and looked out at the ocean at his feet. It really was paradise, aside from the prison thing. The moonlight rippled on the dark surf like a path littered with golden coins and the stars shone out brightly against the dusky pink-purple sky. John settled back on his elbows in the cool sand and took in the sound and sight of the water lapping at the beach.
After a moment, Rodney clambered over, scattering droplets of salt water on John’s legs and stomach as he shook himself and dropped down beside him in the sand. “Salt water,” he pronounced, licking his lips.
John passed him one of the canteens they’d filled back at the beach house. From the corner of his eye, John watched the gleaming trail of a water droplet that traced a path from Rodney’s chin to the center of his chest. He watched the bob of Rodney’s adam’s apple and shifted, drawing one knee up. He remembered what Rodney had said the night before – about the awkwardness of sex, the other person not knowing what he wanted. About how hot this or that made him. John was fairly certain he would know what Rodney wanted – he just wasn’t that hard to read.
“Feels good,” Rodney said breathlessly as he set down the canteen.
“The water?” John asked. He wasn’t looking at the bright drops of water on Rodney’s skin and thinking about Rodney’s peaked nipples. At least he wasn’t looking directly.
“Because it’s getting hot during the day,” Rodney said. Now he seemed to be looking himself, downcast eyes on John’s bare legs.
John was hard. Damn it. He resettled, knee crooked between them, obscuring his nascent erection. “It’s not hot inside,” he said. He didn’t say it because he wanted to go inside. He was annoyed at himself for mentioning it.
Rodney paused and in John’s periphery, he saw him adjust the leg of his boxer shorts, bunch up more on his side. “There’s too much of a temperature disparity between outside and inside,” he said finally. “It’s jarring and I think it gives you a cold.”
“You spend most of your time inside already,” John said. His tone was a mild tease. He was too distracted to put more into it.
Rodney looked away and John saw his tongue move over his bottom lip, making it shine in the moonlight. “I get hot, too,” he said.
It put John back in the beach house the night before, when the edge of Rodney’s voice was harsh as he’d said he liked his nipples being touched. That he didn’t mention it to his girlfriends in the case they found it strange. An ex of his had teased him about it.
“Yeah, I know,” John said. His voice was strange to his own ears, its breathy hitch betraying the heat of his body. He was hard now.
Whatever he’d said and however he’d said it, now Rodney’s eyes were on him. His stare was equal parts furtive and bold. “And you?”
John shook his head. His right hand was stretched out between them, elbows pressed into the sand. John moved then, lying back full length and stretching his left arm over his eyes. He felt the heat of his cheeks against the back of his arm. He was aware of every fiber in his body, shivery with the notion of Rodney looking at him, blue eyes raking over his naked legs, the twist of his wet boxers, and the gleaming shine of water drying on his chest. John wet his lips.
He heard before he felt Rodney lean closer beside him. The pressure of Rodney’s touch on the inside of John’s wrist was light, tentative.
John had been through this before with other guys, back when he was growing up and back when he was hooking up when hooking up was off limits. That type of touch meant that the person doing it wasn’t sure they wouldn’t get socked in the face if John didn’t like it. It was that awkward kind of touching that was almost tentative as a form of politeness. Like a question that neither of them would ask. It was more electrifying than it had any right being.
John made a play of nonchalance. Not moving his arms, he arched his back in the sand and let it drop, making his lean body open. His skin tingled with the awareness of Rodney’s stare on his body, with the possibility of Rodney’s hands taking his stare’s place. In his periphery, he saw Rodney’s adam’s apple bob. He knew firsthand what it felt like, asking with a light touch, how nerve-wracking it was, and how his heart must be trembling as he reached out.
Rodney turned his fingers over, fingertips grazing John’s wrist and short, cropped nails lightly scraping as he drew his knuckles over the pulse point there. He leaned over, his shoulder hovering beside John’s so that John could feel the heat coming off of him. The warmth of his body contrasted with the cool breeze coming off the sea. His fingers slipped up, thumb into the well of John’s elbow, his other hand falling to tease the fleshy curve of John’s palm.
John tilted his head back and he felt his hair brush Rodney’s left ear. He licked his lips.
Rodney was watching him, his pupils almost blotting out the blue of his irises. His long, pale eyelashes caught the light from the bonfire and cast shadow on his cheek. His tongue darted out along his lower lip. With a tight expression, he leaned forward. His shoulder kissed John’s before he covered John’s mouth his with own.
John held his breath and his eyes fell shut. He opened his mouth as Rodney tilted his head. For a moment, it was the rush of slick warmth. Rodney didn’t press further and John let the kiss linger, soft and sweet as it was. As Rodney withdrew, John felt a throb of loss and longing. His fingers clenched in the silky sand.
“Oh,” Rodney breathed against John’s lower lip. His blue eyes were moving over John’s features. John saw that from under the fringe of his eyelashes. “You didn’t hate that.”
John felt his face heat up. He pushed Rodney’s shoulder with his as he sucked on his lower lip. “Jeez.” He looked away and as he looked away, he felt Rodney’s lips drop against his jaw, in the shadow of his stubble. His breath hitched. His fingers dug into the cool sand, searching for purchase. The light touch of Rodney’s tongue was electric. He turned quickly and caught Rodney’s mouth with his own.
It was sudden and lush. John’s back hit the sand and he carried Rodney over with him.
Between ragged breaths, Rodney kissed John deeply, tongue hot and mouth wet. Their chests rose and fell against each other as they kissed and broke apart again and again. Then Rodney’s hand was under the hem of John’s black shirt, stroking upward against his side, and John pushed him back so he could shuck it off.
A diatribe of uncertainty rattled around in the back of John’s head as the cool air rushed over his overheated torso but he paid it no attention and he pulled Rodney down again. Rodney’s stomach was hot against his, where his black shirt rode up and John slipped his hand under the hem to touch his bare skin. He’d been waiting for this, even if he hadn’t ever known it was coming. He’d been wanting this before he knew to want it. He wouldn’t stop now.
A couple kisses, deep and heady, and Rodney leaned back so John could pull the shirt over his head. “I’m so ready for this,” Rodney panted, dropping clumsy kisses against John’s throat and shoulders. “I’m so, so ready for this. I want—”
“I know.” John guided Rodney back to his lips with a hand on the nape of his neck. “Come on, let me…” The other hand was at the opening of Rodney’s pants, popping the buttons. And then his hand was inside, pushing down to cup Rodney. It was skin-to-skin. Rodney was hot and hasty in the palm of John’s hand. He could feel his pulse as he began working him.
Rodney dropped his head into the crook of John’s shoulder, moaning out loud as John stroked him. His spine curled with the movement of his hips, working into John’s loose fist. “You feel—Oh, god. So good. Don’t stop.”
As Rodney began to raise his head, John held him by the hand on his nape. “Keep going. Come on, Rodney.” He firmed his touch, sped up with the hitch and catch of Rodney’s breath. His whole body tingled with the awareness that it was he who was doing this, he who was making Rodney fall apart. “Keep it up for me.”
Rodney moaned, sharp and low, and his fingers spasmed on John’s side, tightening convulsively. “John.” His lips twisted, wet and soft, against the side of John’s throat as his body jerked and he spilled over John’s right hand.
“Come on.” John coaxed him through it until Rodney was heavy and panting against his side. “Good boy,” John teased.
“You have no idea,” Rodney said, sliding down his body. He turned out to be right in his estimation of his own skills.
The next morning, it was like they’d never stopped the night before. Rodney was as voracious for John’s touch as he was for new technology, power sources, and scientific insight. When John’s hands were streaked with dirt in the greenhouse, Rodney made him press them to the greenhouse wall as he pulled his pants down and stroked their dicks together between his hands. When they were gritty with sea water, Rodney licked the salt from the curve of John’s jaw.
In the weeks that followed, Rodney seemed to set about learning John’s body how he learned a new science. He examined every inch of him, experimented with every kiss and touch. John was nervous under the scrutiny. But there were no rules against going along with what somebody else wanted. And if Rodney wanted it, what did it matter that John felt it a little more deeply than Rodney did? For the time, John resolved to go with the flow and follow where Rodney led him.
“Touch you?” John asked. His forehead creased in confusion. He’d touched him every day for the last few months. There wasn’t a place on his body John hadn’t laid his hands.
Rodney nodded. “Yes, Colonel. Because I always make the first move, I want you to touch me.”
“Why?” John asked. He squinted up at him from his place in the sand, hand cupped at his brow to block out the light over Rodney’s right shoulder.
“Why what? Because I always reach out first,” Rodney said, his voice edgy with consternation. His crooked mouth sloped down unhappily. “You know I want you. We both know I’m hot for you, so maybe, once in a while, I’d like possibly to know that you’re a little bit hot for me, too, and that you’re not just, I don’t know, making the best of a crappy situation by getting blown a couple times on the beach by your best friend.”
John made a face. “I think there are easier ways to get off than getting trapped in a time dilation field with a mouthy scientist, don’t you?”
Rodney scowled. “And there are hotter guys than me who never worry about whether the guy they’re sleeping with is really into them or not.”
“And my sleeping with you isn’t convincing enough that I want to…sleep with you – so I have to sleep with you to prove it?” John asked. He shook his head incredulously.
Rodney folded his arms over his bare chest. He wasn’t budging on the subject. John could see the stubbornness in every muscle of his body.
John furrowed his brow. “Don’t you think it’s a little ridiculous to do it after we’ve talked about it?” he asked. “It’s not like we’re in the middle of heavy petting right now.”
“No, I don’t think it’s ridiculous. Why would it be?” Rodney asked. He knit his brow as though John was crazy. “Unless you’re saying that touching me is ridiculous.”
“I touch you all the time,” John said. “I touched you last night.”
“After I come onto you,” Rodney accused. “For once, I’d like you to make the first move.”
John shook his head. “You realize that by bringing it up, you’re actually making the first move, right?” he asked. Before Rodney could open his mouth, he said, “Sit down.”
John didn’t ordinarily make the first move. It wasn’t how he operated and he’d never had to. There were plenty of people – both men and women – who made the first move for him. John liked it that way. It felt comfortable and secure. There was no risk of getting shot down or misinterpreting the signs other people were giving off. Never mind that most of the people who hit on him were misinterpreting the signs John wasn’t giving. And John had never planned on hitting on one of his best friends.
They sat in the sand, turned slightly toward one another. No sooner than they’d sat down together, then Rodney shook his head. “This is terrible,” he declared and flopped back on his back, dropping his head in John’s lap. After an adjustment or two, he said, “That’s better.”
John paused, looking at Rodney before he touched him. For some reason, what was easy to do without prompting when they were in bed together felt awkward when Rodney asked him to do it directly. He felt stupid, reaching out.
John’s fingers touched Rodney’s sun-warm skin – fingertips reluctantly skating over the fine hairs on the back of Rodney’s arm, the touch borderline clumsy. His eyebrows screwed together, the fine lines at the corners of his eyes deepening. He leaned over Rodney, fingers light in the bend of Rodney’s elbow.
Just as John was leaning over, Rodney yanked his arm back. “That tickles really, really badly. Are you trying to tickle me?” He shook his arms out and, throwing it out across John, said, “Okay. I’m good now. Go back to it.”
John tossed Rodney’s arm off his leg and sat up, knees to his chest and arms locked over them. “I don’t feel like it anymore.”
“Because of one annoying comment?” Rodney asked incredulously. “If that turns you off, how have you slept with me at all? I make annoying comments constantly. You can’t say that you didn’t know what you were getting into.”
John’s flicked his gaze skyward before sullenly settling it on the horizon. His shoulders were tense. The sunlight was bright on his upraised arms, glittering on the sand clinging to his knobby ankles.
John could see an idea was coalescing behind Rodney’s blue eyes. He turned his arm over just under John’s chin, the pale side of his forearm up. He met John’s eyes, green on blue. When John looked away again, Rodney shifted closer in the sand. “Okay, I’m sorry. I understand that it’s different for you than it is for me—”
John flashed an annoyed look on the scientist. “Don’t even.”
“Because you’re military,” Rodney stubbornly finished.
“I’m okay,” John shot back. “And I’m more than just a pair of dogtags, Rodney,” he added as an afterthought.
“Yes,” Rodney replied, “but the culture – I understand that the culture is different for you so going ahead and doing this out in the open—” John cut him off with a hard kiss, fingers threaded through the short hairs at Rodney’s nape. He tongued his mouth open, deepening it, and Rodney felt lightheaded from the sunlight and the heat in the air. It was wet, demanding, and unapologetic. But Rodney never felt more certain of his hypothesis than when John tried his damnedest to prove him wrong.
When they broke apart, John kept his hand on the back of Rodney’s neck. His heavy breath fell on Rodney’s collarbone, stirring the fair hairs on his chest. “It was only a couple years ago that I could do this out in the open without getting sacked,” he muttered.
Rodney touched John’s side, fingertips on the silky edge of a knife scar under his second rib. “And then you lose Atlantis.”
“Everything,” John said. His jaw and his eyebrows tensed. “I would’ve lost everything.”
“And it’s not easy for you anyway.” Spurred on by John’s wary look, Rodney continued, “You’re not exactly emotionally effusive.”
John shrugged. “I don’t like to talk about it.”
“And you think I was laughing at you because you’re shaky?” John glared and Rodney waved a hand.
“Okay, a little shaky.”
“Probably because you were laughing at me,” John said.
“You were tickling me! I have the odd habit of laughing when I’m tickled.” Rodney settled back, presenting himself. He looked somewhat ridiculous and appealing at once, stretched out like some kind of brainy, hairy pin-up. “Try it again and I won’t laugh. I give my word.” When John didn’t move, Rodney took his hand and pressed it to the center of his chest.
John pulled his hand away. “Quit being pushy, Rodney.” He shook his head and suddenly pushed Rodney down on his back into the sand, ignoring his yelp of surprise. He looked for a moment at the scientist’s body in the bright sunlight. The sun had lightened his hair and darkened his skin. He was darker where he’d burned the first few days they’d been there – across the shoulders and the bridge of his nose. His jaw was sandy with stubble. John reached out and drew his fingers across his jaw, back prickling with embarrassment. Rodney didn’t laugh at him. Instead, his crooked mouth drew down, tighter as John ran his finger along his jaw, under his chin, thumb skimming Rodney’s mouth.
The truth was that John had thought of touching Rodney more times than he could count. When he was alone in his quarters and his body was hot and unfocused, he’d thought of reaching out and running a hand from the crown of Rodney’s head to the curve of his ass – his whole body alive with the awareness of his right to do so, his whole body touching every inch of Rodney’s skin. When he was out in the field and they had too much downtime, waiting for Rodney to fix the Ancient device he was bent over, John thought of cupping his hand on the nape of Rodney’s neck, sometimes softly, sometimes tightening his fingers as they caught on the fine strands. Thinking about it was something that just happened over the years. He wasn’t conscious of when it had started because wanting to touch and knowing he couldn’t risk it was old hat to John. That was the way he’d lived his life since he couldn’t remember when, and now, wanting to touch and knowing he could, it was almost like he didn’t know how. Like he couldn’t remember.
But Rodney seemed to approve of what he was doing. His ribs expanded and his neck arched as John ran his fingers down the column of his throat. His nipples hardened as John stroked fingertips over his collarbone and down his flank.
That first time on the beach – it hadn’t been John’s first time but it was the first time it had meant something. And while this wasn’t new territory, putting his hands on another man, it was new territory that it was happening again – that they both wanted it to happen again.
As John touched Rodney, he realized how much he wanted this. The realization emboldened his caress. He ran his fingers down the center of Rodney’s chest, trailing through his chest hair and slipping down against Rodney’s belly. He pushed up as he got to Rodney’s waistband, hand moving off toward Rodney’s side as Rodney pushed his hips up to accommodate what he’d thought John’s next move would be.
Rodney’s breath drew short as John leaned over and pressed an upside down kiss low on his stomach where his boxers cut across his hips. His arms and legs opened as John trailed his lips over the skin at the waistband’s margin. He started to breathe hard when John pressed his lips over one nipple and worried it lightly between his teeth. “Oh, that’s…”
John smiled, the knot in his chest loosening. “You like that, huh?” he asked. “How about here?” He reached into the fly front of Rodney’s shorts, cupping him. Rodney gasped and caught John’s wrist with his right hand. “I guess that’s a yes.”
“That’s a yes,” Rodney answered breathlessly. “Please—don’t—don’t stop.” His spine arched in the warm sand as John worked his fist over his shaft, pumping him softly and slowly.
“Sure.” John’s tongue darted out to moisten his lips. “Why don’t you,” he nodded, “take them down?”
Rodney nodded eagerly and shucked them, shoving them down to the thigh. His cock bobbed, heavy against his hip, the wetness at the crown glistening in the sun. John bit his lip and took him in hand, stroking him again.
Riding the swell of pleasure and happiness at seeing their friends, was the pang that came with knowing they were going back. That this was the end of their alone time together. John couldn’t force himself to meet Rodney’s eyes to see if he thought of it the same way.
He dropped the net on the water and raised his hand in greeting.
They saw each other regularly, of course. They’d spent the first eighteen hours back on Atlantis undergoing a battery of physical exams in the infirmary, on beds right beside each other. But it was different, going to separate rooms to sleep. It wasn’t the same waking up alone. John felt betrayed by himself that he’d let himself get so used to it back on the beach. It was always easier not to build up his expectations.
After the first day, John tried to keep to himself.
On the fourth day, Rodney caught up to him anyway. They were in the hallway to the transporter near John’s quarters. When John saw Rodney, it was too late to turn back the other way. John’s feet turned before his brain caught up and Rodney spoke from behind him.
“You were in a better mood on Planet Prison,” Rodney said. When John glanced over the curve of his shoulder, Rodney was looking at him, straightforward.
John turned on his heels, his body facing Rodney, but he dropped his stare to his boots as he rubbed the back of his neck. He glanced at Rodney from the corner of his eye, feeling caught out. “I’m not in a bad mood,” he said. He didn’t like people observing his moods any more than he liked talking about them. And John’s off-and-on bad mood was largely because of Rodney anyway, even if it wasn’t anything Rodney had done directly.
“It’s not as bad as your mood was last year. Back when we were stationed on Earth.” Rodney lifted his chin, prepared to defend his opinion. He hadn’t lost the tan he’d worn back on the beach.
John shrugged. He raked his fingers through his hair, the strands twisting and spiking up his tufts between his knobby fingers. “Can’t say I know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, please. I’m not that oblivious.” John would like to argue the point but he let it drop. Rodney’s expression was prying, unusually perceptive. “I could see you were anxious to get back here.”
It was partially true. John had been pissed off by the wait and the bureaucracy, and how it meant that Teyla and Ronon were cut off from their galaxy and, for Teyla, what remained of the people she’d been charged with protecting. Part of it was something else entirely. John shrugged again. “I kept it together.”
“With the brass, possibly,” Rodney said. His eyes moved over John’s face. “But you weren’t taking it easy on me.” Or Keller, John wanted to point out. He’d been more unfair to her than he had ever been Rodney. It wasn’t her fault John wanted what she had.
“Surprised you noticed,” John said without looking at him. He glanced aside as a sergeant passed them with a nod.
Rodney wasn’t as discreet. “What’s that supposed to mean? Of course I noticed.” Rodney wrinkled his nose, flushing. “I’m not supposed to notice when you get tetchy and start avoiding me? And now you’re avoiding me again.”
“Look,” John eyed the sergeant until he disappeared down the hall. His mouth was tight when he looked back at Rodney. “I wasn’t avoiding you on Earth.” He didn’t mention the past week because there were only so many lies you could tell before you got caught in one. “You seemed busy with Keller, so I didn’t bother bugging you.”
“I wasn’t that busy,” Rodney said defensively.
John shrugged. “You looked like you were that busy.” He reached down and swiped a smudge of dust from his knee with a quick, terse gesture, thinking about the fine grit of sand on his palms back on MX3-476. “How am I supposed to know that you’re not?”
Rodney exhaled with a huff. “What does that have to do with your foregone crappy mood, anyway? I just said—”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with it!” John cut in.
“But you just said—”
“Just drop it,” John interrupted. His gaze was flinty.
Rodney shook his head. He stared for a long moment at John before he asked, “Were you pissed off because of me? Was I the reason you were pissed off on Earth? Did you have to back off of being friends because I did something – said something?”
“God damn it, Rodney,” John said. “Why can’t you just let it go?”
Spots of color appeared in Rodney’s cheeks. “Because we’re supposed to be friends. You’re supposed to tell me when I’m pissing you off. You’re supposed to give me a chance to make things up to you. Instead you just, what? Wrote me off for months? What did I do anyway?”
“God damn it, you didn’t do anything! I’m supposed to fly off the handle at you for doing something I don’t want you to?” John demanded.
“If it bothers you that much, yes! I can handle it if you’re pissed off at me – I can handle it a lot better than if you just write me off without letting me know what I’ve done!”
“Even if there’s fucking nothing either of us can do about it? Get real!” John shook his head. “It’s nothing you did anyway,” he muttered hotly.
“If that’s not what it is, then what is it?” Rodney asked. His face was florid with frustration. It was like all the other times they’d argued, except that they’d never touched on this before.
“It’s—it’s easy,” John said haltingly, “when it’s just—if it’s just…” He looked over and saw Rodney staring at him, uncharacteristically patient, and John scowled. “Forget it.”
“What?” Rodney demanded.
Rodney huffed and took John’s shoulder. “Are you seriously doing this? I’ve had your dick in my mouth and you can’t tell me—”
“When it’s the two of us!” John shouted at him, his face going red. “It’s easy when it’s just the two of us but when it’s not, it’s—it’s—there are other people, okay? There are women that you—”
Rodney scrutinized John. “Wait a second, are you saying you think I’ll cheat on you?” he asked.
John’s face darkened. “We’re not going out, so no.”
“I don’t want anyone else. I’m not going to cheat on you. I’m not going to start sleeping with—with, I don’t know, Dr. Borgia!”
“You came up with that one pretty easily,” John said acidly.
Rodney flicked a hand toward the far off transporter door. “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t exist.”
“And why would you worry about me sleeping with somebody else. I’m not the one Kirking it up with all the alien women, excluding Teyla but possibly including her Athosian granny—”
“Since when?” John asked. “Since you’re the first guy – or girl—”
“—I’ve slept with since we got here, I don’t think there’s anything for you to worry about. My reputation is pretty greatly exaggerated, which you should know since you’re the only one who’s speculating. Meanwhile, you’re working your way through the female half of the base, trying your luck with every woman in the science department.”
Rodney balked. Then he went to speak and balked again. He shook his head. “Hold on, are you jealous of me?”
“Yeah right.” John turned his burning face aside, his hands tight on his hips.
Rodney took a step closer and John gave him a warning look. Rodney ignored it and stepped closer anyway. “You’re jealous…because of me?” he asked.
John firmed his mouth. He felt his brow tensing and the muscle in his jaw twitch. “Forget it,” he muttered hotly.
Rodney came closer and John refused to look at him in his periphery. He refused to register the amazement on his face or the carefulness in his touch when Rodney laid his hand on John’s arm. “You’re jealous because of me,” he said softly.
John shook his head. “Quit it.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Rodney asked. “We’ve known each other for roughly a millennia. You never said….”
“Wouldn’t have mattered if I did,” John muttered. His eyes were hot and his skin was prickly with embarrassment. “Let’s just fucking drop it.”
“No.” Rodney slid into John’s line of sight, head lowered to fill John’s vision. His cheeks were still sun-bright and flooded with color. “Are you in love with me?”
John turned. “Jesus,” he muttered.
“I think you are,” Rodney said, his voice strengthening, gaining confidence from how John reacted. “I think you’ve been in love with me. That’s why you didn’t think I should marry Katie. It’s why you were pissed off at me on Earth. You thought I’d do the same thing with Jennifer.”
“I’m telling you, Rodney – just drop it.” John rubbed his temple, hand cupped over his eyes. His chest was tight and painful.
“But I didn’t,” Rodney said. “And I wouldn’t. Because—because I think I’ve been in love with you, too. Only I didn’t know it.”
“You think,” John repeated. His voice was muffled. His pulse was pounding in his ears.
“It doesn’t matter because I know I’m in love with you right now.”
John looked over his shoulder at Rodney, wary of the openness of his arms, the awkward hopefulness in his expression. His heart tripped, seemed to skip a beat and now he was all out of whack. He shook his head. “Rodney—”
“I love you,” Rodney repeated. “And I think you love me, too.”
John rubbed a thumb over his hot cheek. It was the moment. He had to say something. He had to let Rodney know what he wanted, how he felt. He was choked with past precedence, with all the times he’d kept this – and everything – bottled up. He didn’t know if he knew how to start. When he nodded, the motion was jerky. “I—yeah,” he said. His face was burning and he couldn’t look straight at Rodney.
“You’re right about it. That’s the way it is.”
When he chanced a glance at Rodney, he saw the scientist’s face was bright and full of happiness.
“Really?” he asked.
“You said you knew,” John said impatiently. He shrugged. “And you’re—you’re right.”
“I was flying by the seat of my pants. It was a hunch. I guess acting like you pays off,” Rodney said, beaming. John was too embarrassed to contradict him on the subject. He just let Rodney when Rodney cupped his cheeks. He leaned forward and brushed their mouths together before Rodney could make the move.
John pushed through one soft kiss into another, the second deeper and hungrier. “I’m hot for you, too,” he muttered when they broke apart. He was surprised by Rodney’s laughter.
“Well, that’s a relief,” Rodney said. He tugged John closer by his shirt front. “I’d hate to be the only one.”