Rodney wished a soulmark was specific to the individual pairings but there was often a grey area caused by vaguely similar shapes, birth defects, or even changes in body shape distorting the mark. It would have been far simpler if the universe had branded the name of a person's soulmate on their wrist so they could pay greater attention to anyone with that name crossing their path but, no, it was some random shape raised like a brand on the skin on some random part of the body. Rodney pitied those who had their soulmark blazoned across their face for all to see, though it likely took the guess work out of finding that special someone when all they had to do is look at you to know you were their soulmate. Equally he felt pity for those with their mark on a hidden or even unsavory part of their anatomy. People joked about one guy with his soulmark on his scrotum. Rodney's soulmark was in a slightly embarrassing place, low on his left ass cheek, but he guessed if he ever did find his soulmate they probably wouldn't mind him dropping his pants for them.
The biggest problem with having a soulmark was the possibility of never finding the person you were supposed to be with. That person could have died, or been one of those people who refused to allow the universe to dictate who they should be with, hiding or even obliterating their soulmark. Though how two people on a planet of eight billion managed to find each other was still a mystery to Rodney, and yet so many managed to cross paths under some of the strangest circumstances, as if it was preordained. Rodney hated no knowing how it all worked, refusing to believe in the metaphysical theories proposed by certain religious factions, and until he joined the Stargate program he'd sneered at the wackier ones from the conspiracy theorists.
Were aliens responsible?
Rodney guessed it was plausible because he'd met a few alien races. The Asgard in particular liked to meddle in genetics, and they bore an uncanny resemblance to the creatures drawn by victims of alien abductions. General O'Neill had probed them - Rodney huffed, pun intended - over the possibility but if they had technology capable of zapping a mark on every newborn to pair them up with another from birth then they refused to admit it. It was feasible though especially as the Asgard were essentially gender-less so that could explain the same gender pairings.
Rodney took another sip of beer, finishing the can, and he sighed as he dropped the empty onto the pier next to him to join the two he'd finished earlier. John nudged his shoulder and handed him a fresh one.
Soulmarks featured in the plot of so many movies, and while the hero or heroine was always searching for that perfect person, they still had relationships with others. Those movies ranged from the tragic - the star-crossed soulmates trying to overcome the prejudices of families, friends, religion, and even different countries, and the jealous partners who would kill to keep their lover from leaving them to be with their true soulmate - to the usual kind of romantic comedy chick flick with two people from different backgrounds overcoming all kinds of silly odds to finally find their soulmate and be together.
Jennifer loved the chick flick movies most of all, and in the end Rodney realized the love between them would never be enough as she would always be fantasizing over that perfect person who would come along and sweep her off her feet. He couldn't compete with a fantasy, especially as their soulmarks were not even remotely similar, so earlier that evening he had finally broken off their relationship. This was his third official crash and burn relationship since joining the Stargate program, following on from Sam Carter and Katie Brown. So at 38 years of age he had finally given up all hope of finding anyone let alone his intended soulmate, but at least he wasn't the only one alone on Atlantis. John was sitting beside him.
"There was always this irrational fear that... that everything would come crashing down if either of us found our soulmate," he slurred.
John hummed and nodded in agreement, and Rodney glanced sideways at him, mesmerized for a moment as he watched John take a sip of his beer; head tipped back with his throat exposed, Adam's apple bobbing seductively, vulnerable. He shook away the longing thoughts and focused back on the beer in his hand.
"Have I had enough to drink?" Rodney asked.
"If you have to ask then the answer is no."
"Huh!" He pulled the tab and took a quick swallow as it foamed over the top, as like most items from Earth, beer was an expensive commodity, and not to be wasted.
Wasted. He smiled because he was a lightweight drinker these days and he was already over halfway to being wasted on John's private beer stash.
"You're my best friend," he stated suddenly, wanting that out there.
"Okay, now you've officially had too much. I'm cutting you off."
John made a grab for the can but Rodney rolled his eyes and held it at arm's length. Rodney could feel the heat of John's body pressed hard against him for a moment before he gave up trying to reach the can, and pushed down on the unexpected pleasure. For a moment he wished John was more than his best friend, more than any kind of 'just a friend'. He wished John was his soulmate but the likelihood of someone as hot as John being soulbonded to him was so remote that he pushed the idea away immediately. Anyway, he knew John had been married once, though obviously not to his soulmate or they'd still be together, and it had been to a woman. Rodney shook his head, confused by the direction of his thoughts because his own tastes ran mostly towards women too - preferably blonds - though a few boyfriends had figured into his early, discovery phase when adolescent hormones were running rampant. They'd all been blonds too, but apparently his tastes also ran to dark-haired men as well, or maybe just to John.
"I think I've had enough," he stated and handed the half-drunk beer back to John.
John stared hard at it for a moment as if wondering what to do with it before deciding not to waste it, drinking up. Rodney staggered to his feet and stared at the small pile of empty cans on the side where he'd been sitting, finally noticing the lack of empties by John.
"I drank all your beer," he murmured in dismay as he realized John must have been nursing the one beer.
"Nah! Got plenty more. I stocked up before we left Earth... and one of us needed to stay sober. Wouldn't want you falling off the pier."
And that made a lot of sense even to his alcohol befuddled brain, and it was kind of thing a friend would do for another friend.
"I guess that would take drowning my sorrows to a whole new level," he huffed, but was glad of John's hand steering him in the right direction.
A month later Rodney was surprised when he discovered Jennifer had found her soulmate, and it was the man she had turned down in favor of him all those months earlier. For some reason Rodney thought the soulmark was an Earth human thing but when Ronon shaved off his dreadlocks Jennifer saw the raised mark tucked just behind his ear that exactly matched the one on her ankle. However it also proved there wouldn't be some spark of recognition from the moment your eyes met your soulmate's across a crowded room, like in most of the chick flick movies. No instant recognition of the person you were destined to be with for the rest of your life.
"I could have walked straight past them. I could have called them an idiot and told them to get out of my sight. I could have-."
"Sent them back on the Daedalus."
Rodney rounded on him wide eyed. "Not helping, Sheppard."
John shrugged. "What do you want me to say, Rodney? Keller and Ronon were born in two different galaxies and they managed to find each other." He grimaced and added tightly. "If I was a betting man I'd say the odds are in your favor your soulmate is right here on Atlantis, or maybe in Pegasus."
Rodney snapped his fingers as a thought struck him. "I could create a pattern recognition algorithm, and have everyone submit a copy of their soulmark."
"Or not. The law prohibits that for good reason. Not everyone wants to find their soulmate."
"Voluntary! And that's what I don't understand. Why wouldn't you want to find the person who's perfect for you?"
John looked even more uncomfortable. "Hypothetically, maybe you've already found someone who is close enough to perfection... and maybe you don't want to lose them," he added.
Rodney blinked. "Huh! I guess that's possible. Hypothetically speaking, of course," he clarified, though Rodney was thinking of how much he enjoyed John's company.
Since the other month on the pier when a few beers had loosened his uptight thoughts and let him think of John as more than a friend, Rodney had compiled a list and realized he shared more of himself with John than with anyone else... ever. Even Jennifer had come second to John, and the few times when he had chosen to spend free time with her instead of with John he had wished he'd chosen differently. In fact it was hard to imagine anyone who could push John into second place in his life. They would have to be exceptional, and Rodney was convinced he would have spotted someone that exceptional on Atlantis had they existed.
No, John was right. He had already found someone who was close enough to perfection. All that was missing from his relationship with John was sex, but he had no idea if John would even consider a sexual relationship with another guy, let alone him, and he didn't want to lose their easy, comfortable friendship by asking.
The explosion rocked the city, the strident Ancient alarm blaring as Rodney raced through the corridors towards the control room. The last time this had happened he lost one of his best friends, so Rodney was filled with foreboding as he went straight to the main console. He didn't notice the current operator anticipating his arrival and practically leaping aside to avoid being physically ousted from their seat. His fingers were flying over the symbols but those who had spent long enough on Atlantis knew there was also a mental component, and even though Carson had called his a 'mouse gene', his clarity of thought and his understanding of Ancient technology made all the difference. Atlantis let him access systems that others might not even be aware existed, and within seconds he had bypassed the failed fire suppression system and isolated the damaged area before the fire could spread.
Fortunately it was a tower close to the south pier rather than one of the main towers but he recalled it being on the list of those supposedly stabilized while Atlantis was on Earth. Rodney passed all the information along to Radek.
"Colonel Sheppard and his structural engineers are already on the way. My team will be following shortly." Rodney cursed under his breath even though he should have known Sheppard would not be able to resist going with his engineers. "I'm on my way."
As he raced off he tapped his radio. "Colonel!"
"Don't do anything until I get there," he ordered even though he trusted the military engineers; they had been the ones digging everyone out of the rubble at Michael's compound.
By the time he arrived, out of breath after running from the closest working transporter, Radek's team was already working alongside the military engineers, carefully clearing rubble. A faint cry for help took them all by surprise. Radek had checked the work logs as soon as the location was confirmed so no one should have been working in that area. The internal sensors were down in the damaged building but Rodney was convinced John must have been a boy scout as he pulled a portable lifesigns detector from out of the pocket in his BDUs.
"I read a single life sign."
Everyone began to work faster, carefully removing the debris blocking access to the building. Once they had cleared enough rubble Rodney was again not surprised to see John preparing to crawl through the small space shored up by the engineers, but at the last moment John moved aside and let one of his men go first. It made perfect sense to Rodney as the man had been trained for search and rescue, but that had never stopped John from playing the hero before.
"What?" John asked, making Rodney realize he'd been frowning at him.
"Huh!" Rodney looked around, acting all innocent, but he knew by John's narrow-eyed expression that he was not dropping this, simply postponing the conversation for later, in private.
Fortunately, that gave Rodney plenty of time to come up with a plausible excuse.
By now a second rescuer had followed the first, and they were relaying information through the radio. Rodney cursed under his breath when the trapped victim was announced as Doctor Jenna Fielding who was injured but, fortunately for her, not seriously.
"One of yours," John stated smugly and Rodney rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth.
Radek laid a hand on Rodney's arm just as Rodney opened his mouth to retort.
"Doctor Fielding is my responsibility, Rodney. She asked to study some of the outer structures but obviously did not understand the meaning of the word, NO." His smile turned evil. "Perhaps I will have to consider a different means of making her understand. I hear the sanitary tanks require cleansing?"
So Fielding had gone ahead on her own, without structural engineers to verify the safety of the building, and without a back up plan. She was lucky to be found alive. It was this kind of stupidity that cost lives, reminding him once more of the original Carson's death and the actions of two scientists who had activated an Ancient biological weapon that caused exploding tumors. Through a twist of fate he had Carson back but he'd learned early on in his life that the universe liked to balance the scales - good and bad, lucky and unlucky, right and wrong. An ominous creak resounded that sent the short hairs rising at the back of Rodney's neck. He watched in horror as John practically dove into the hole.
A rumble sounded from inside followed by a plume of dust from the hole. Rodney tapped his radio, desperately trying to keep from panicking.
"Sheppard. Colonel Sheppard." No answer. "John, are you there?"
"I'm here, Rodney!"
Except the voice came from the hole rather than through his earpiece, and Rodney shuddered in relief as he watched John clamber out, covered in dust and maybe a little the worse for wear with blood streaking down one arm, but he was followed by Doctor Fielding and the other two military rescuers. Fielding's cuts and abrasions were worse than John's, and her wrist was bandaged but otherwise she looked fine. However, Rodney refused to take any chances this time around.
"I want a full report of what you were doing in this area and what you touched. Leave out nothing."
"Maybe after we get her to the Doc, Rodney."
"Exploding tumors, anyone?" he asked in a faux-casual voice.
John winced. "Infirmary first," he replied but softly firmly.
Rodney must have hovered around the infirmary on a dozen occasions over the years, and they had shared a tent off-world and the men's locker room after missions, so this wasn't the first time he had seen John shirtless. He tried not to stare at the glint of metal dog tags partially concealed by the thick dark hairs curling on John's chest. The hairs looked soft and inviting.
"Can you raise your arm, please, Colonel," Jennifer ordered politely, so she could check out a minor gash from where John must have caught his arm on something sharp while crawling through the debris.
After a moment of hesitation, John held his right arm above his head, bent at the elbow, and Rodney froze, eyes riveted to the soulmark just a few inches above John's armpit on the underside of his arm. It looked like a fuzzy infinity sign sitting over the top of the letter A, and Rodney would recognize that particular mark anywhere as it was identical to the one he saw in the mirror on his left ass cheek.
"OH. MY. GOD." Jennifer stated, practically taking the words out of Rodney's mouth.
Jennifer glanced across at Rodney, eyes wide. In a twist of fate, she was one of the few people who had seen Rodney's soulmark up close and often enough to recall its exact shape, confirming Rodney wasn't simply seeing what he wanted to see.
"What is it?" John demanded, nervously flicking his tongue over his lips when both Rodney and Jennifer turned to him.
"You're...," Rodney blurted out before Jennifer could say anything. "Here... look."
He started unzipping his pants only to stop as both John and Jennifer called out his name in consternation.
"What are you doing?"
"I have to show-."
"I'll pull the privacy curtain and step outside for a few minutes," Jennifer stated, giving John a reassuring smile before pulling the curtain closed behind her.
By this point Rodney had dropped his pants and slid his boxers partially down, turning so John could see his soulmark. He tensed in surprise when he felt a soft touch right on top of the mark, looking over his shoulder to see John staring at his ass in awe. Or rather at his soulmark, though Rodney had been told by several former boy and girlfriends he had a great ass.
"Mine?" John murmured quietly, eyes finally rising to meet Rodney's, and his expression was so vulnerable and hopeful that it almost broke Rodney's heart in two.
Rodney decided to lighten the mood, voice a little shaky as he huffed imperiously.
"I should have known it would be you. Who else would have Superman vs Batman arguments with me, or race toy cars around the corridor, or give me a heart attack every-?"
"And I should have guessed it was you because... because no one else sees me like you do."
Rodney smiled crookedly. "That goes both ways, Sheppard. What say you finish up with Jennifer and we get out of here."
"To talk about... this?" John looked pensive.
Rodney screwed up his face. "Is there anything to talk about? Apart from the obvious... obviously."
"No," John replied but he was smiling.
Hours later they were sitting side by side on John's thankfully now much larger than child-size bed, one of the perks of being on Earth for several months, and watching the latest Avengers movie. They had agreed to take it slow, savoring the anticipation from knowing they were always meant to be together. And when John made a pretty amateurish move of stretching and letting his arm fall back to drape around Rodney's shoulder, Rodney snorted in mild derision... and pressed in closer as the movie played on.