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The Harder They Fall

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The first time Rodney saw John Sheppard, he saw him flying through the air. Actually, “flying” wasn’t the most accurate word for it – “falling” was really a better description. Because the only direction he was headed in was down.

It started with Radek Zelenka, Rodney’s roomie from his days back at Cal Tech. Radek was the one who got Rodney hooked on Wormhole Extreme in their freshman year, and when Rodney lost his position as a civilian contractor for the United States Armed Forces and found himself disgraced and deported, Radek was the one who called him about his job (and other potential scientific advisory jobs) for the spinoff series – Wormhole Oceania. And Rodney ended up back where he’d started, Canada, in the province of British Columbia (at least it wasn’t Alberta, where Rodney was actually born).

Rodney got directions from an attendant at the Husky gas station on the edge of capital N “Nowhere” and followed them up a tree-lined highway that led further out into the middle of Nowhere. By the time Rodney was thinking about giving up entirely, the road hugged the curve of the hillside and the view opened up to find an encampment of plain yellowish corrugated steel buildings surrounded by a parking lot filled with trailers and cars, enclosed by a high chain link fence. There was a little building by the gate but when Rodney pulled up, he found the post deserted. The arm of the gate was up, so Rodney pulled through.

As he came closer, he saw crew members pushing rolling clothes racks and assembling sets. There was a group of Mad Max refugee types talking with a small, slender black woman in a baseball cap (a very hot director, if that’s what she was). A large man in full bluish-grayish make-up and fangs crossed in front of Rodney’s car. On his heels, a young man in an Oceania t-shirt was carrying a gray alien puppet under his arm. Rodney’s heart exulted. It was Hermiod (Hermiod!) from Wormhole Extreme. It was like he’d crossed into another world.

Rodney was so busy staring at the passing latex celebrity, that he didn’t notice the two men (one shorter and leaner, the other large and brawny) stick fighting by his chosen parking spot.

So he was taken completely by surprise when the one of them (the skinnier, smaller one) flew through the air and landed with a thud in the center of Rodney’s hood.

Rodney could take the door handle off with how hard he snagged it, though luckily it remained intact. It figured that something like this would happen the one time he didn’t pay the twenty dollar rental insurance. He was talking a mile a minute before he was even out of the car. He called, “Hello! Hello! Hey!” at the smaller guy as he dusted himself off and the dreadlocks guy sidled over like his comrade hadn’t just impacted Rodney’s hood with his (albeit) cute butt.

“Hey,” came the absent-minded reply.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Yes, ‘hey,’ we already established that, thank you very much—”

The guy with the dreadlocks came over and glanced at Rodney’s car. “No dent. No harm, no foul.” Never mind that, really, that was up to Rodney to decide, not the car-smashers who’d fallen on it.

“What?” Rodney demanded incredulously. Usually people were a bit more recalcitrant for crashing into people’s valuable possessions.

But the big guy wasn’t done assessing damage because he gave the smaller guy an even more cursory once over before announcing, “You’re fine.”

“I don’t feel fine,” the smaller guy whined. “When I said to throw me, I didn’t mean ‘to the moon.’”

Rodney’s mouth dropped. He really was in another world. It was the Mental Patient Planet. “My car is not a landing pad!”

Finally, the guy half turned, grimacing – unfortunately, probably about his back and not Rodney’s hood. “I get that. In fact, my whole back gets that.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” Rodney demanded. The shock of some guy crash landing into his hood made his voice high, which he was trying to work on. “Shouldn’t you, I don’t know, give me your insurance card or something? So we can-can follow…up?” What was he supposed to take – the guy’s butt insurance or something?

“Follow up?” the guy asked. He turned and looked at the car. “Well, what do you know? You’re right, Ronon. No dent. What’s this made out of, adamantium?”

Rodney balked at him. “Just factory grade steel, I’m sure.”

The guy smirked all around. “Good old fashioned American engineering.” Which Rodney supposed indicated American heritage, but not car know how.

“It’s a Subaru,” Rodney informed him.

The guy wrinkled his nose. There was a beat, the guy nose-wrinkling thoughtfully and Rodney putting his arms out to the sides impatiently. “You shouldn’t park your car there,” the dark haired guy drawled finally with a lazy gesture of the hand that wasn’t rubbing his sore ass. His accent was creaky and kind of Jimmy Stewart Midwestern American. Rodney was mute with consternation for three seconds in which his mouth opened and closed in uncharacteristic silence.

“Yeah, I’m getting that now.” He took a breath and reflected on his blood pressure. It was true that, miraculously, the hood was undented. He took his pulse at his neck and the two of them had the nerve to look at him as though he was the odd one there. “What were you doing anyway?” he asked.

“Choreographing,” the smaller guy said.

“A dance?” Rodney asked.

They both looked at him with narrow-eyed disbelief but before either of them spoke to correct him, a woman’s voice called out from behind, “Meredith McKay?” The owner of the voice was a slim woman with curling dark hair and a clear, keen look. Elizabeth Weir, the executive producer and creator of Wormhole Oceania.

Rodney turned, experiencing a flash of the standard mix of first day nervousness and arrogance. “It’s – just ‘Rodney’ is fine. Or Dr. McKay,” he said, glancing out of the corner of his eye at the hood-smashers, “if you prefer. Do you prefer?”

Weir’s brow wrinkled and she shared a smile with the two men. “I think I’ll stick to ‘Rodney,’ and you can call me ‘Elizabeth,’” she said. She put her hands in her pants pockets and scrutinized Rodney. “If you’ll forgive me, you’re not what I was expecting.”

Rodney flushed. “Well, I, ah, sound taller on the phone.”

“I was expecting a woman.” The two men laughed and Rodney frowned, crestfallen. “I see you’ve already met our stuntmen, Ronon Dex,” she gestured to the bigger of the two, “and John Sheppard,” she gestured to the mouthy one. Rodney noticed that they didn’t nod. What was this, prison? Did they take turns intimidating the new guy?

Elizabeth took Rodney by the arm. “Come with me and I’ll show you around.”

* * * *

Theoretically, Rodney wouldn’t have much to do with the actual performers on Oceania. (More’s the pity since he had won that Sears Acting Contest when he was a kid, so he had his fair share of natural acting talent.) Rodney’s job was vested in the trailers the writers made their office in, where he’d read over what Elizabeth, Samantha Carter (the Samantha Carter, who’d written much of Wormhole Extreme), Richard Woolsey, and the other writers came up with and give his notes on a sliding scale of how implausible the science was.

But when Rodney wasn’t poking holes in Woolsey’s scripts or arguing theory with Carter, he found his way to the large building where they were doing filming. His gaze passed over the beautiful sets with their blue green walls, fake stained glass windows, and coppery Ancient inlay as Teyla Emmagan, the beautiful baseball-capped woman Rodney had seen the first day, gave the actors direction and consulted on the lighting of shots. He watched as the actors played out scenes and as Ronon and Sheppard rounded on each other with those batons they called bantos rods on the show. He watched as Sheppard’s back hit the soft mat with a thud.

It turned out that falling was something of a specialty of Sheppard’s. He joked that he’d taken falls off of everything from pogosticks to moving airplanes. And he had the scars to prove it. Rodney was unsure of how exactly falling could be a specialty but he wasn’t in stunt coordination.

Rodney’s favorite thing to watch was when Sheppard and Ronon sparred in the wide, airy set with stained glass windows and a bench seat beneath them. Even if Sheppard was mouthy and Ronon seemed to go out of his way to intimidate Rodney, there was a grace and economy of movement when they fought together that Rodney found aesthetically pleasing. It was a stylistic departure from some of the fight scenes in Wormhole X-Treme, one of the differences that Rodney liked.

That was where Radek found him, a month and a half (and six episodes) after Rodney arrived to replace Peter Kavanaugh as science advisor. “Krásný,” Radek said as he came up beside him. “Even this set is beautiful.” He put his hands in his pockets and Rodney knew that he was thinking about the original series. “Put down your toys, lunch is here,” he called to the two men.

Sheppard turned, patting his inarguably handsome face with a towel, and Rodney colored, feeling caught even if he wasn’t sure why. “Cool,” Ronon said. “I’m starved.” Sheppard shot a wry expression at Radek as Ronon strode off.

“McKay,” Sheppard drawled as he fell in line behind Ronon and Radek. His arched brow and smirk were as pointed as his ears were. Smartass.

Rodney’s face flooded with color and his admiration of Sheppard’s moves was replaced with irritability. Jocks. They always thought they were so hot. Sometimes they were right.

It was in the lunch line that Sheppard declared the main character of Oceania to be a different kind of hero. After all, he had a wry sense of humor and he was more of a dork than space heroes typically were. He solved problems with his wits as often as he did with blazing guns. He wasn’t space Rambo.

“He’s not a hero,” Ronon said as a caterer filled his plate with three chicken breasts and what looked like mango chutney. “He’s a nutjob.”

“Hey!” Sheppard appeared almost as offended as if he, himself, were the nutjob described. He was proprietary about the character he doubled for. “He’s trying his best in a difficult situation, Ronon. He’s a wildcard, sure, but he’s got an idea about what’s going on.” Ronon looked skeptical and Rodney joined in, if nothing else to bug Sheppard. Mission accomplished, because Sheppard made a face, equal parts annoyance and despair. “Okay, if he’s not a hero, how do you define a hero?”

“Allen Ginsberg,” Ronon said as he pulled out his chair and sat down.

“What?” Sheppard asked.

“Who?” Rodney said at the same time.

Ronon ignored them as they took their seats. He nodded at Teyla, who was making her way over to their table. “Read his works when I was fifteen. Changed my life.” He looked up at Rodney. “Never go anywhere without a copy of Howl.” To demonstrate, he pulled a small black and white book halfway out of his breast pocket.

“What are we talking about?” Teyla asked as she sat beside Sheppard.

“I thought that was a pocket calculator,” Rodney muttered about the book.

“Heroes,” Sheppard told Teyla. He leaned forward. “You know, poets don’t count, big guy.”

“Why?” Ronon asked as he chewed his chicken.

Now Sheppard looked caught out. “Well,” he made a motion with his burger, “they, you know, they don’t do anything heroic.”

“They write poetry,” Ronon replied, deadpan.

John’s brows hiked to his hairline. “Well, that’s not really—”

Teyla smiled, clasping her hands under her chin. “My personal heroine was Eleanor Roosevelt,” she said. “I believe Elizabeth’s is Sally Ride.”

“Ah, good choices,” Radek said. He said something in Czech Rodney suspected might be something like, “Brains and beauty – the full package,” or “What a woman.” He might’ve been talking about Teyla. His wife might have taken offense at it, were Jennifer stationed nearby. Or less than about a thousand miles away in the States.

“So who was your childhood hero?” Rodney demanded of Sheppard. He finished peeling his banana and dropped the peel back on his tray.

“Evel Knievel,” Sheppard said as he took a bite of his burger. “He was my role model when I was growing up. My brother took me to see him once when I was a kid. Got a picture.” He dug his wallet out of his back pocket and dropped it open to the picture on the tabletop. In it, Sheppard couldn’t be more than nine years old, standing with the daredevil’s arm around his shoulders. Sheppard’s hair was combed down, except for a cowlick that refused to cooperate. Rodney steadfastly refused to think it was cute. Sheppard scooped the wallet back up. “I have an enlarged copy on my bedside table.”

Teyla stifled her laughter and Radek smiled at his chicken. Rodney furrowed his eyebrows. “Seriously?”

Sheppard narrowed his eyes at him. “Do you have a picture with your childhood hero, Rodney?” he asked with phony patience.

Rodney snorted. “It would be hard to get a picture with Batman.” He sniffed and returned to his food.

“Adam West,” John intoned in a low sing-song.

Rodney dropped his fork with a clatter, glaring at the other man. He was a car-smasher, professional fall guy, and dream-ruiner. Why was Rodney having a difficult time mustering real annoyance at him? He’d always had trouble resisting gorgeous people. Rodney blamed lack of sexual success.

“I did very much enjoy Julie Newmar as Catwoman,” Radek said.

“Why am I not surprised?” Rodney muttered at his burger.

* * * *

Rodney had been on Oceania just over three months when he succumbed to the bug ravaging the cast and crew.

He went to bed on Thursday with a scratchy throat and woke up on Friday with full-fledged strep throat/plague/possibly chicken pox. Elizabeth was patient when he called in sick (despite the fact that she was still sick herself). A half hour later, Sam Carter e-mailed Rodney the script to go over while he was in bed. Rodney tried not to feel stung that they didn’t technically need him around every day but then, he always fell prey to over-emotionalism when he was under the weather.

Rodney fueled himself with snack foods and coffee as he slogged through the script for three hours, e-mailed it back with his notes, and threw himself down on the couch around four fifteen. Scooby Doo was stacking a mile high sandwich on the TV. Rodney closed his eyes and hoped that he could sleep through the worst of what Teyla called the Plague.

He expected the only coddling he’d receive was courtesy of one Meredith Rodney McKay. It was the story of his life. His mother had never really been the motherly type, his father was at least as disengaged as Rodney’s mother was, and Rodney had always been a little more self-indulgent than anybody else was with him.

He wasn’t expecting to wake up on the couch with a bathrobe sleeve full of Kleenex and the sound of knocking on his front door at nine fifteen.

What he really wasn’t expecting was to open it to find Sheppard (tufty, dark haired head bowed as he scuffed the toe of his boot on the carpet) on the other side of the peephole. When he opened his door, Sheppard looked just as surprised to be there as Rodney was to see him. There was a moment where Sheppard’s face was blank, when he didn’t say anything, and Rodney felt his chest flutter in the most ridiculous and totally uncharacteristic way.

“What, did Elizabeth order you to retrieve me or something?” Rodney asked, his voice high and rounded with what he was sure was the stuffiest nose any nose had ever been.

A flush appeared at Sheppard’s neck and his elf-y ears, and annoyance (and what would have looked like embarrassment on anybody but Sheppard) flashed over his face before he thrust out a hand dangling a plastic bag. Through it, Rodney could make out the letters “-ick’s Vapo-” and the hard corner of a box of tissues. “Radek thought you needed some things and your place is on my way…” Sheppard didn’t so much trail off as break off abruptly, and was it Rodney’s imagination or was his creaky voice creakier than usual?

Rodney stared at the bag of goodies. “Where do you live?”

“I didn’t come to be interrogated, Rodney,” Sheppard said instead of answering (deflection, Rodney thought), and he shook the bag. As Rodney reached out to snatch it, Sheppard withdrew it to his chest. “You look like crap,” he generously observed.

Rodney scowled and hacked into his wadded up Kleenex sleeve. When he looked back, Sheppard was eyeing him like he had a highly contagious case of malaria. “Why, thank you, Mister Obvious. It’s a cold; people get them, you know.” Rodney furrowed his brow. “Unless it’s something worse. It may be the flu. I feel flu-ish.” He pressed a clammy hand to his forehead and wondered if he felt feverish.

Sheppard compressed his lips and exhaled through his nose. With a decisive look, he put his hand on Rodney’s chest, thought twice about it and switched his hand to Rodney’s shoulder, and pushed Rodney back inside. “I’m guessing you probably can’t make yourself soup, can you? Or you expect somebody to make it for you.”

Rodney snorted. “Not hardly, Patsy. I’ve had to fend for myself a lot longer than I’ve been holed up here.”

“Patsy?” Sheppard asked dubiously. The expression seemed to say, Do I even want to know?

Whether he did or didn’t, Rodney explained it, anyway. With only mild exasperation. “Patsy… A fall guy? Fall guy, like you take falls for—Oh, never mind. It makes sense. It’s a play on words. It’s totally—” He gave up because Sheppard was looking at him with an arched eyebrow of disbelief and he seriously didn’t have the energy to explain it. And maybe it didn’t make that much sense to anybody but him, anyway.

“Sit on the damn couch, Rodney,” Sheppard said without heat. “I guess because you suck, I’m going to make you something to eat. You haven’t eaten today, have you?”

“Peanut crunch powerbars.” Rodney collapsed into the couch and nearly stifled the groan at his achy backside hitting the cushions. “Ten of them.” He looked in time to see Sheppard’s look, the incredulous one he got when he was faced with something he thought was truly ridiculous.

“That’s not food, McKay,” he told him like Rodney was a child, rather than the highly intelligent science advisor he truly was. He turned back to his search through Rodney’s drawers for a can opener. “Jeez.”

Rodney was dozing when Sheppard nudged him for the soup. He looked pretty, even when Rodney’s eyes were watery.

“What is this?” Rodney asked of the proffered bowl.

“Chicken noodle,” Sheppard replied.

“Oh, good. Because I’m allergic—”

“To lemon,” Sheppard finished for him. “I know.” So he had been listening when Rodney was prattling. Sometimes Rodney really couldn’t be sure. “Here.” Sheppard pushed the stacks of science reviews and periodicals out of the way and set the bowl down on the coffee table.

As Rodney bent to slurp his soup, Sheppard looked around the room, at the packed boxes, stacks of magazines scattered about, and the dusty curtains at the window. “Jeez, Rodney. How long does it take you to unpack?” he asked.

“Wasn’t sure how long I’d be here,” Rodney mumbled as he swallowed two large spoonfuls of soup in quick succession.

Sheppard eyed him in his periphery. “What, are you planning on leaving or something?” he asked.

Rodney snorted. “Who would take me? I’m an unwanted commodity. The USAF assured me of that.”

Something in Sheppard’s face hardened. “But you have better things to do than work on a crappy TV show?”

“I’m a theoretical physicist. I’m supposed to be—be theorizing, not correcting Woolsey on how gravity works.” Rodney floundered at the look of annoyance on Sheppard’s face. He’d never been much of a people person, and he always managed to offend or hurt people without meaning to. This time, looking at the closed off expression on Sheppard’s face, he regretted it. “I—I like it on the show. I’m a big fan.” To prove it, he nodded at the Wormhole X-Treme poster half-hidden by a stack of boxes against the wall. “Tragically idiotic title aside, I like the show. That show, this—our show. But—”

Sheppard’s features softened. “But you don’t belong here?” he asked.

Rodney shrugged. It was hopeless. Now Sheppard was offended or, even worse, his feelings were hurt. And Rodney had no idea what to say to make it better.

“Nobody belongs somewhere,” Sheppard said. “They just end up somewhere and they either like it or they don’t.”

There wasn’t a philosophy Rodney could disagree with more. All of Rodney’s life, he’d been pushing forward toward some ultimate goal – to do something groundbreaking, to best his peers, to prove himself – and Sheppard freefell, just hoping for the best. They couldn’t be more different if they tried. For some reason, it made Rodney’s chest ache with more than just congestion.

“Do you?” Rodney asked after a moment.

Sheppard shrugged. “Yeah, I like it here.”

I like it here, too, Rodney wanted to tell him. If nothing else, that fact was what made it harder to admit. But as the thoughts were forming in Rodney’s head, Sheppard abruptly dropped it.

“Eat your soup, McKay.”

After the soup, Sheppard ordered Rodney to dispose of his Kleenexes in the garbage and take a shower. He’d obviously missed his calling as a drill sergeant. By the time Rodney was fed, clean, and back in his warm bed, he almost didn’t mind taking orders. He hadn’t been taken care of in a long time. The only nurturer he’d ever really been with was Katie Brown. And they’d only lasted a year before Katie moved to Seattle to work on cultivating rare and exotic plants.

Sheppard didn’t look it and he didn’t act it, but he was surprisingly capable when it came to putting a glass of cool water on the bedside and doling out Nyquil. The Vick’s Vapo-Rub was Rodney’s responsibility, he said, the tips of his ears flushing. Then, scrutinizing Rodney, he said, “I’m putting it here. Remember to put it on your chest.” He placed it decisively on the bedside beside the newly opened box of tissues and the freshly washed glass of iced water.

“Are you going?” Rodney asked. He tried not to sound too disappointed.

“I have plans with Teyla and Ronon.” Sheppard picked up a t-shirt from the foot of Rodney’s bed and chucked it in the hamper.

“Nobody invited me?” Rodney asked. His brow puckered.

Sheppard chuckled. Rodney wondered if that meant he was forgiven. “You’re sick.” He shook his head. “Go to bed.”

Rodney nodded his head and pulled the damp cloth Sheppard had given him over his eyes. He felt like an idiot for the prickling in his eyes. He wasn’t sure if it was because he’d pissed Sheppard off, or because he was touched that Sheppard had gone out of his way to play nursemaid for him. Either way, Rodney wasn’t about to argue it. Every once in a while, he might as well do as he’d been told.

* * * *

On Monday, Rodney woke up, blessedly asymptomatic. He stopped at the Husky station on his way in and left a bag of suckers on Sheppard’s duffel by way of thanks while the stuntman was pretending to fall down a ravine (shot in the chest by a Wraith stunner).

Rodney guessed that it was the lingering effects of the fever that all day he had a strange feeling like he was forgetting something or waiting for something to happen. He even let one of Richard Woolsey’s more incomprehensible science bits through in the next script because he figured it would be pretty cool to see Sheppard spacewalking (if it was, indeed, him in the harness and not the actor who played his other half on TV).

Rodney was definitely feverish. That was the only reason he could have for finding himself staring at Sheppard as he tumbled into a pad, joked with Teyla by the food tables, and ate string beans at lunch. Not that Sheppard wasn’t appealing to look at.

Sheppard was handsome enough to be a leading man. He was easily as attractive as Oceania’s roguish bad boy lead – not that Rodney was looking. If he was looking, Rodney would notice how green Sheppard’s hazel eyes were and how dark the stubble across Sheppard’s cheeks and along the column of his throat was – perfectly sexy stubble that Rodney’s mouth would tingle to brush over, if Rodney were looking at it.

Had Rodney really noticed Sheppard’s looks, he’d get distracted by the shape of Sheppard’s lower lip and the tantalizing dip in his upper lip. He’d probably guess what that mouth would feel like under his own, or (wow) what it would feel like if it were pressed against something (anything) lower than Rodney’s mouth. Rodney would notice Sheppard’s almond shaped eyes and the black arched eyebrows that emoted everything way more adorably than any stuntman really had need to be.

He probably would’ve noted Sheppard’s lanky frame, the suggestive slouch, those narrow hips, and legs (with a penchant for lazily crossing at the ankle) that couldn’t be described accurately as anything but “sexy.” If Rodney had noticed, he might’ve started paying too much attention and started picking out really ridiculous qualities like the knobbiness of Sheppard’s hairy wrists or even how weirdly pointy his ears were.

Rodney lost no sleep over the hair. Everybody could see the rakishness of Sheppard’s dark hair, how unruly and wild it was with cowlicks. Rodney was pretty sure that hair could conjure lazy morning “bed head” imagery in any onlooker.

It was fortunate Rodney wasn’t the terribly observant type, or he’d really start picking up on how much of Sheppard’s body, Sheppard’s mannerisms, and Sheppard’s personality was just kind of…lovable. And that might’ve led to something humiliating like Rodney having a schoolboy crush at the age of thirty four.

Rodney was so over that. No matter how kissable Sheppard was when he got out of his green GMC Yukon in the crisp Vancouver morning, looking as warm and tousled as the bed Rodney crawled out of, there was no way Rodney had a crush.

Standing in the parking lot that crisp Vancouver morning, Rodney had to duck his head and inwardly (and outwardly) groan. He totally had a crush on John Sheppard, stuntman and sci-fi geek.

It made things incredibly awkward for about half a day, until Sheppard nudged him with his elbow in the lunch line and they ended up playing Call of Duty in the writers’ trailer when the coast was clear.

* * * *

Rodney had just gotten used to crushing on Sheppard when the season ended. Even if he’d known it was coming, the season finale came too soon.

Then it was like freshman year all over again when the season was over. Nearly everybody but Chuck the technician came from somewhere that wasn’t Canada. And on the final day of shooting, everywhere Rodney looked, his crewmates were happy to be going somewhere to see their loved ones, and Rodney had nowhere to go.

That was really how Rodney’s love affair with sci-fi began in the first place. In Rodney’s freshman year, Radek put season one of Wormhole X-Treme in the DVD player on a Thanksgiving neither of them were going home for, and they marathoned it while eating a Thanksgiving dinner of Krystals sliders and Mr. Pibb. What started as a hardcore Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of the series became avid viewership every Friday. Science fiction took Rodney where he hadn’t been able to go on his own – to completely alien new realms with characters that became like friends and family (and, in some cases, fantasy lovers).

While Rodney always maintained that he wasn’t an antisocial sci-fi fan cliché, it was pretty lonely to be in his homeland without a home to go to during hiatus. Even Radek had managed to get Jennifer Keller to marry him (which, good luck with that – Rodney knew firsthand how difficult Radek was to live with), so there would be no marathons of Oceania to pass the time. Radek was going back to California to be with Jennifer, and Rodney had no solid plans until season two began filming.

Somehow, though, Rodney couldn’t begrudge his new friends their happiness when they were so incandescent at the final day of shooting. Seeing Elizabeth and Teyla glow with accomplishment, or hearing Ronon laughing his ass off at one of Carson’s terrible jokes, spotting Radek having a hushed and syrupy sweet conversation with Jennifer on his cell phone, Rodney felt a little bit happy for them, too. At least the part of him that wasn’t sore with loneliness felt happy for them. The other part was satisfied with feeling sorry for himself as everybody got together to celebrate after they wrapped.

The air on set was warm and humid. The building was filled to the gills with people who weren’t ordinarily on set at the same time or who were almost never on set at all as crew members from the pre-production, post-production, and principal shooting gathered.

Elizabeth stepped up on the DHD to address the crew. When she stood up, she was three feet over every head but Ronon’s, and the entire room went quiet to hear her speak. “First of all,” Elizabeth said, waving a hand for quiet, “I want to thank everyone for being a part of this process.” Rodney settled in beside Ronon and Carson, the medic, and listened.

“You come,” Elizabeth said, “from every corner of the globe, from every walk of life, to create something together. Something, I think, that will capture hearts and imaginations, as this project has captured mine. You’ve brought my dream to life and I’m thankful for that. Whether the network decides to renew us for another season remains to be seen. But I think that what we’ve created together is something worth celebrating.” Applause rippled throughout the crowd.

Beside Rodney, Ronon let out a whoop and lifted his hands over his head to clap. “Hear, hear.” With Ronon, that sounded like a command.

“So let us concentrate on having a good time tonight,” Teyla summed up at her side. “And to that end,” she held up a large bottle full of amber colored liquid, “I’ve brought bottles from my garage distillery to share.” She turned and started distributing the booze.

At her shoulder, Elizabeth laughed and clapped her hands. “That’s something I can celebrate.”

A sort of bucket brigade formed as red solo cups were passed about and the bottles went from hand to hand. When it came to Ronon, the giant grinned and sloshed an ample draught of liquor in Rodney’s red solo cup. “Drink up, little man.”

“Of course.” Rodney didn’t need to be told twice. He took a cautious sip and could’ve breathed fire when he coughed. “Strong, strong.”

Ronon laughed at him and knocked his drink back. When he straightened up, his face was flushed at least two shades brighter. “That’s good.”

Rodney looked at him skeptically but began to drain his cup. Whether it tasted good or not, it was inarguably strong. Rodney didn’t have to see the future to know everybody was getting wasted. Before his second cup was empty, Rodney rode the soft, sweet buzz of good drinks and good company.

Despite his years of training to become a steel-hearted scientific despot – feared more than loved by science groupies and peers alike – it was easy to fall into the atmosphere that felt a lot like home. Or what he imagined home to be for people who weren’t living with suburban emotional terrorists. Sure, he sputtered indignantly at Ronon’s grin and the heavy arm he slung over Rodney’s shoulders, but that was mostly to keep up appearances.

Rodney didn’t notice at first how he kept spotting Sheppard in the crowd, catching brief glimpses of his messy hair over Radek’s shoulder, the corner of his smirk as Carson and Ford (a gaffer) separated from a bear hug, Sheppard’s profile as he nodded at something Elizabeth said. Rodney saw that playful look on Sheppard’s face and wondered if he was flirting. His chest tightened when he thought about it. He didn’t have a chance to realize what he was doing before he was searching Sheppard out in the crowd, those glimpses like the taste of Teyla’s homebrew – he found himself wanting more, the more he had.

He didn’t perceive it until he caught Sheppard’s green eyes from across the room, the corners of Sheppard’s eyes creasing as one corner of his mouth quirked up – and Rodney’s heart missed a beat.

Rodney turned away, his heart hammering. Elizabeth slid in between them then, kissing Teyla’s cheek, and when the women parted, Sheppard was gone. Rodney scanned the crowd and couldn’t find him in the sea of familiar faces. When Radek came over and offered him another drink, Rodney took it without protesting his poor brain cells or possible hangover (who had a hangover from three drinks, anyway?).

“I am going to the gateroom,” Radek announced. “Who knows how long it will remain intact?”

“Ditto.” As Rodney followed Radek through the crowd, Ronon was pulling Carson onto his back for a piggyback ride. Get a little drink into these people and it’s madness, Rodney thought.

They weaved through the crush of warm bodies and the scent of liquor that wafted on the air, making their way to the set. Rodney halfway expected moonlight to stream through the windows as they walked through it. The set was dark, the edges darker for lack of overhead light, but it was beautiful all the same. And all over again, Rodney had that swelling feeling of wonder he’d first had when Radek introduced him to sci-fi. Like anything could happen. Maybe, he thought, Sheppard was right. Maybe it wasn’t too bad just to be where you were, to just enjoy falling.

“Já vím,” Radek said. “The balcony. I love the balcony set.” He laughed as he slipped between the wall of the set and disappeared into shadow.

When Rodney followed him, somehow he ended up lost. On the other side of the set, he saw the crossbeams on the back of the wall. He walked along it in relative darkness until he ended up in light from the overheads. It was the control room set.

Suddenly, there was Sheppard in the control chair, lounging like the castle was all his. “Hey, McKay.”

“You’re alone,” Rodney brilliantly observed.

“Yep. I like the quiet.” Sheppard took a drink from his plastic cup and looked up into the rigging.

“You seemed to be enjoying yourself out there,” Rodney said, trying to strain the petty jealousy out of his voice. He was almost certain he’d succeeded.

Instead of answering, Sheppard smiled and stood up. Rodney followed him from one set to another, where they had the space age RV set up. “Wanna go for a ride?” Sheppard asked, leaning back against the side. The planes and angles of his body were so languid and inviting, Rodney’s mouth went dry. Or maybe that was the booze.

“In your puddlejumper?” Rodney asked absently. Inside, he was wondering at the suppleness and warmth of Sheppard’s body under the costume he still hadn’t changed out of.

“Not mine,” Sheppard said. “We could steal it, though. Go for a joyride. Wanna joyride, Rodney?”

Rodney’s whole body throbbed. He would swear he’d never been so absurdly sophomoric before Sheppard awakened it in him. “Do I get to take the stick?” he asked.

Sheppard laughed and turned the corner, disappearing inside.

When Rodney caught up, Sheppard was leaning back against the inside wall. His left hand was tangled in the cargo nets over the bench seats and his right hand was around his drink. Rodney felt bruised, looking at him. “You like it in here?” he asked.

Sheppard nodded. He tipped his head back, his hair mussed against the jumper wall. “I like it a lot.” Rodney looked at the long line of his throat, the shadow of stubble under his jaw, and the flush, ripe color of John’s lower lip as he wet it with his tongue. “What’re you doing? Planning on going anywhere for hiatus?”

“I don’t have anywhere to go.”

Sheppard smiled. “Me, too.”

Rodney’s pulse picked up. His mouth tingled with his awareness of everything he could be doing with it. He could feel his heartbeat from the roots of his hair to his toenails, and beneath it was the keen edge of longing. He felt the need to reach out and touch Sheppard as almost a physical sensation. He needed to assure himself that Sheppard was real, corporeal – hard science and a theory about what it was like to touch John Sheppard, what it was like for John Sheppard to let him touch.

Millimeter by millimeter, Sheppard leaned forward, mouth parting and eyelids drooping. It seemed testing. Rodney felt the moment expand and his heart expanded with it. What the hell, he thought. Nothing felt impossible right then. He closed the distance in a surge of motion, colliding with Sheppard against the wall.

Rodney kissed him like he was starving for touch, like Sheppard was the only thing he needed to survive. And Sheppard was kissing him back, knobby wrists crossed at the nape of Rodney’s neck, his body a sinuous curve into Rodney’s frame.

It was delicious warmth and the ache of wanting. It was every conversation they’d had, every game they’d played, every time they’d argued, every minute Rodney had wanted him and every reason why.

When they broke apart, Rodney blurted out, “Does this mean I can call you ‘John’?”

Sheppard laughed – too loudly, in fact, to laugh in a tight, dark place where anybody could walk in. “You couldn’t not call me ‘John’ before, Rodney.” He smoothed a hand over the nape of Rodney’s neck, tightening his fingers on the short hairs there. “’Fact,” he said, “you could call me ‘Colonel,’ if you really wanted to.” The curved corner of his lips was against Rodney’s parted mouth.

Rodney shivered. “Oh – but for appearances, maybe I should keep – unless it looks more suspicious to call you ‘Sheppard’—”

“Rodney.” Sheppard pulled him close. So close, Rodney could feel the entire length of his body; so close, Rodney could feel the heat and pressure of his erection against Rodney’s leg. Was Sheppard seriously not wearing underwear?

“Yes?” Rodney asked breathlessly.

Sheppard nocked his knee, pressing that much closer. Rodney could feel the hardness between his legs. “Shut up and kiss me,” he said as he covered Rodney’s mouth with his own.

“—such a cliché,” Rodney mumbled against his lips. “Such—oh, wow.” He was a livewire.

Sheppard tilted his jaw and let Rodney press his mouth to his neck. “Show me what you can do with that big brain of yours.”

“Theory or practice?” Rodney asked against John’s throat. He nipped at the skin there and John’s body undulated against him.

“Actions speak louder than words.” Sheppard’s fingers flicked open the buttons on Rodney’s shirt. Fingertips skated against his right flank. The touch sent a shiver up Rodney’s spine. “Wow me.”

Never one to back down from a challenge, Rodney dropped to his knees on the floor. “I’ll blow you away,” he promised. He had only to autocorrect a little when he weaved and nearly hit the wall with his head.

Sheppard snickered as Rodney unbuckled his belt. His fingers were feather-soft over Rodney’s hair as he stroked the strands. Then he moaned low as Rodney pulled him out and sucked him. His fingers twisted in Rodney’s hair as Rodney tongued the underside of his cock. The spark and flare of pain in Rodney’s scalp was a surprising turn-on.

Rodney swallowed Sheppard as deeply as he could go, working the rest of Sheppard’s length with his right hand. It took a couple seconds to get a rhythm. Then it was deep swallow to bury Sheppard in his throat and tonguing him on the upstroke. The firm press of the tip of his tongue to the head of Sheppard’s cock. He tasted salt under his tongue, mixing with the berry sweetness of Teyla’s liquor.

The heavy sound of Sheppard’s breath was loud in Rodney’s ears. He heard the clatter as Sheppard fisted his hand in the net and saw the muscles in Sheppard’s arm flex in his periphery.

Rodney was never an underachiever. He pulled out all the stops and sucked Sheppard like his life depended on it. It helped that he was fifty percent sure his throat muscles were numb from whatever Teyla put in her drink.

“Rodney,” John panted. “Rodney, I’m going to—”

Rodney pulled off and stroked Sheppard until he came in his hands. He was amazed. Sheppard was boneless against the wall above him, his chest rising and falling as he panted. Rodney slipped his hands over his hips, the trail of hair from his belly button to his pelvis. Sheppard’s eyes were closed, his hand cradling the back of Rodney’s head.

Rodney was hard and aching. He pressed a salty kiss to Sheppard’s hip. There was come sliding up his forearm.

“Okay,” Sheppard said and guided Rodney up. He maneuvered Rodney onto the bench and threw his leg over Rodney’s knees.

“So hot,” Rodney muttered as John settled against him. His crotch throbbed against John’s ass.

The corners of John’s mouth turned up and he crinkled as he smiled. “Thanks.” He rolled his hips against Rodney and swallowed Rodney’s moan. He kissed Rodney’s mouth until Rodney was a hundred percent his mouth was numb and seventy five that his cheeks and chin were red with stubble burn. All the while, Sheppard worked his hand between them, belt clinking as he moved his arm, jerking Rodney off.

It was sudden, it was alcohol induced, Rodney was half-convinced it might even be a bad idea for their personal and work relationships, but there was no way he could fully convince himself of that when Sheppard was straddling him in the back of a space age recreational vehicle. It was, hands down, the coolest thing that had happened to him, ever.

They were knocking elbows and pulling their clothes straight when they heard the sound of movement outside the jumper. Footsteps. Sheppard laughed as Rodney cursed, pressing John’s cup into his hand, and missed two buttons on his shirt. “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” he asked.

“More like ‘hide and seek,’” Rodney replied. “Do I have come in my hair? I think I have come in my hair.”

“You’re worried about your hair? You should be worried about your shirt.”

Rodney paled. “Do I have come on my shirt?” he asked.

Sheppard was still laughing when Radek walked in through the back door. For one embarrassing moment, Rodney thought Radek would notice the rumpled clothes, the stubble burn, the come, and awkward Rodney to death but Radek had only to offer a clumsy smile for Rodney to realize that he was totally, completely smashed.

“Made you look,” Sheppard drawled lowly as they walked back to the party.

Rodney followed him with a half-hearted glare but he couldn’t put any usual vehemence into it. He was still shaky from coming. And, at that moment, he was a hundred percent sure that he was falling in love with John Sheppard.

They didn’t have a chance to say another word before they were back in the thick of it and they were pulled into different directions.

* * * *

By the next morning, the crew of Oceania had scattered to the four winds. Elizabeth was returning to Washington, Ronon was heading to see his girlfriend in Hawaii, Teyla was going home to visit her nanny, Charin, Carson was going to his mother’s place in Scotland, Radek was meeting Jennifer at the LAX airport.

All Rodney could think about was Sheppard. Neither of them were going anywhere. So they might as well spend that time going nowhere together. He was almost convinced that they would.

Only Sheppard – John – didn’t call him the next day. He didn’t call him the rest of the week. Rodney fluctuated from bleak panic that Sheppard had changed his mind to raw nervousness that Sheppard might call later that day. He picked up the phone and dropped it to the cradle a dozen times. He dialed out and hung up before Sheppard’s phone rang at least six times.

It was two weeks before John showed up at Rodney’s front door. When Rodney opened it, he didn’t know what to say. Was he supposed to kiss him? Was he supposed to act cool? Why had Katie said he was insufferable, again? If he could only remember, he could attempt to avoid replicating the mistake. While he was flip-flopping, John said, “You didn’t come over.”

Rodney blinked. Had they talked about that? He couldn’t remember if they had. “I thought it was a—I wasn’t sure that—” His face heated.

Sheppard hooked a hand in his jeans pocket, his other hand passing over his stubble. Almost as quickly as he’d touched his face, his brows furled and he stuffed that hand into his other pocket. He shrugged. “Whatever, McKay. I get it.”

“Wait a second, what, exactly, are you getting?” Rodney asked. He had no idea.

Sheppard shrugged again. His gaze was flinty, going from the wall to Rodney then to the carpet at his feet. “You don’t want it to be a thing. ‘S okay, Rodney. I don’t care.”

The words hit Rodney under his last rib. He felt his breath come short. “You don’t?” he asked.
Sheppard arched an eyebrow. He ran his hyperactive hand over the doorframe like he was checking out the wood grain. Rodney suppressed the urge to snap at him. “Nope,” Sheppard said. He shrugged a record breaking third time.

“Ah.” Rodney swallowed hard. His throat tightened and he cleared it. Maybe he wasn’t completely over the Plague.

“So you want to do it again?” Sheppard asked. He looked at Rodney from the corner of his eye. There it was again, that testing look.

“Do ‘it’?” Rodney repeated.

Sheppard blew out a breath impatiently. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal.” He pushed his hands back into his pockets. “If we want to fuck, we’ll fuck.”

For most of Rodney’s adult life, he’d been waiting for someone to say those words, but they stung when they came out of Sheppard’s mouth. “You don’t care?” he repeated dumbly.

The corners of Sheppard’s eyes tightened as they flicked upward. “I just said that.”

Rodney set his jaw. “I know what you just said,” he snapped.

Sheppard’s green eyes were bright and sharp on Rodney’s face. “So what?” he asked. “Do you want to have sex or what, McKay? It doesn’t take a genius to come up with an answer.” He pulled at the edge of his t-shirt and Rodney remembered him taking it off two weeks before. His heart hurt.

Rodney’s mouth was tight. “So you do this often?” he asked. He tried to suppress the bitterness of the question but he got the feeling it came through anyway, rendering him pathetic and transparent.

Sheppard’s eyes narrowed on him. “If I feel like it,” he said defensively. “Look, McKay, I didn’t come here for a lecture.”

“And—” That night meant nothing. The words were on the tip of Rodney’s tongue. He closed his teeth on it to stop them where they were. There was no way in hell he was saying that to Sheppard. Not after he’d said that he didn’t give a shit about the two of them. “Fine,” he said tightly.

“Fine?” Sheppard repeated. His mouth curled like he’d tasted something rotten.

Rodney shrugged and knocked the door wide open with the back of his heel. His face was hard. He could feel it. The jut of his chin was stubborn and superior. “Sure. Come in. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get the-the lotion and you lose the clothes.”

Now Rodney could tell that Sheppard was pissed. “You know what? I’m sorry I came over. Forget it.” He backed up, his fists clenched.

“So that’s a no?” Rodney asked. His face was on fire. His chest was aching and his heart was pounding. Even then, he wanted to ask John to stay.

“That’s a big fucking no,” Sheppard retorted.

“Oh, really?” Rodney asked. “What changed your mind?”

“You being an asshole, for one,” John snapped.

“Me being an asshole?” Rodney asked incredulously. He must’ve missed that portion of the conversation. The portion where he told his friend he’d fucked him for the sake of a fun time. “Okay, I’m not the one who just—”

John’s jaw clenched. “Just what?” he asked.

Rodney felt pressure building in his temples. His face was blood-dark and unbearably hot. “You’re right, Sheppard.” He pulled the door close behind him. “I don’t want to do it. Go away.”

He’d never seen Sheppard like he was then. His face was furious and completely closed off. They were done, Rodney just knew it. Just like his parents. Just like Jeannie.

“Fine,” Sheppard said. He pressed his lips tight and the lines deepened at the corners of his eyes. “Lose my number.”

Sheppard turned back down the hall, his footsteps hard. “Consider it lost,” Rodney called after him.

* * * *

He’d have to quit. Rodney came to that decision about two weeks later. It burned in the back of his throat when he turned the thought over in his head. He thought of Radek, Ronon, Teyla, and Elizabeth. He thought about not seeing John again and Rodney felt his face flare with heat. There was no other choice because he couldn’t go back to work with Sheppard after what had happened.

It was two days later when Rodney’s phone rang on the table beside the couch. Dim light came in through the dusty curtains and lit up the vibrating phone. Rodney eyed it resentfully. He thought about just letting it ring to voicemail. His finger was on the volume button on the remote. On the TV, Adam West was extolling the virtues of drinking milk to Robin. Rodney muted him.

“McKay speaking,” he said into the receiver.

“McKay?” It was Ronon’s voice.

Anxiety rushed through Rodney as he remembered what he’d been thinking about just two days before. Work, quitting, walking away. He swallowed. “Oh, Ronon. Have you heard from Elizabeth? When are we—”

“Hey,” Ronon cut in. There was noise behind him and Rodney remembered that Ronon was going to be a guest at a convention. Was it then? “Sheppard was skiing and he fell. He’s in the hospital.”

A keen pain cut to the center of Rodney’s chest. “What?” he asked in a rush. He stood up as though standing would help anything. “Is he all right? What happened? Where is he?” It figured. It figured that as soon as he decided to really be a dick, something would happen. That he wouldn’t be able to make it up. That he wouldn’t be able to fix what he’d broken. Rodney’s head swam in a sudden swell of panic.

The noise behind Ronon rose. Rodney could hear the muffled echo of a voice over a microphone and distant cheering. “Hey, I’ve gotta go on stage. Go and check on him, would you?”

“Go on stage?” Rodney parroted shrilly. “Are you kidding me? Why aren’t you coming here directly?”

Ronon didn’t answer. “Shit, gotta go. Vancouver Memorial. He doesn’t have his cell phone on him so you’re gonna have to check at the front desk. Later.”

Just like that, the line was dead and Rodney’s pulse was pounding in his ears. Sheppard had taken a fall, but he was a stuntman. He was supposed to take falls. He’d taken falls off of everything from pogosticks to moving airplanes.

Rodney grabbed his jacket and keys and slammed the door behind him.

* * * *

It was a fifteen minute drive to Vancouver Memorial and three minutes to park. In under twenty minutes, Rodney managed to turn his hypochondria into secondhand hypochondria and ran through every permutation of terrible scenarios he could come up with. Sheppard was dead on arrival. Sheppard was dying from terrible ski-related injuries. Sheppard’s leg was severed by a rampaging elk who’d strayed onto the grounds. Sheppard was waiting on a blood transfusion and Rodney hadn’t donated (ever) to share their extremely rare blood type. Stranger things had happened.

When Rodney walked through the automatic doors, he found that the emergency room was crowded with people waiting to be admitted. Sheppard was nowhere to be seen, which meant either that they’d already admitted him or his injuries were so bad, they’d prioritized him over colicky babies and walk ins. The chairs lining the walls were filled with people expressing various degrees of stress.

Rodney broke landspeed records as he crossed the room to the admitting nurse. He glanced down at the clipboard of admittance papers before impatiently pushing it aside. “You have a patient, John Sheppard. He came in earlier—”

The nurse sat behind a tall desk, phone in his hand. He held a hand up as he spoke. Rodney balked at him. When he finished his phone call, he turned to address Rodney. “I’m sorry, sir. You are?”

“Rodney McKay,” Rodney babbled. “Dr. Rodney McKay. John Sheppard – that’s the man I’m looking for. Where is he?” Again, he swept his gaze over the waiting room and didn’t see Sheppard’s face. He wondered if he’d ever see Sheppard’s face again and he pressed a hand flat to the desktop, annoyed at his overactive imagination.

The nurse shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything about that patient.”
“What?” Rodney scowled.

“I can’t give you information about patients unless you’re family,” the nurse said. “It’s hospital policy.”

Rodney swelled with anger. “Well, that’s just—that’s patently unhelpful!” he sputtered. Around the waiting room, patients looked up as Rodney’s voice rose in volume. Rodney was hardly equipped to care. “This is ridiculous. I want to speak to your manager.”

The nurse half rose from his seat, eyes going to the officer at the end of the room. “Sir, if you’ll calm down.”

“Well, how is he?” Rodney demanded. His face was hot, sweaty. In his periphery, he saw the officer straighten up and meet the nurse’s eyes. “Can you tell me—?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that information either, sir. If you’re not family—”

Epiphany. “Well, we’re—I’m his husband,” Rodney said, “so I am family.”

The nurse furrowed his eyebrows. “You’re John Sheppard’s husband?” he asked. He waved a hand to belay the officer.

Rodney straightened and puffed up. “Why look so dubious? Is it really that hard to believe? Hot people marry non-hot people all the time, you know.” He grimaced. “Is this discrimination? Are you discriminating against me? I know a number of attorneys who would be interested in the facts of this case.”

The nurse shook his head. He seemed done with the whole thing. “I’ll buzz you in. He’s in 317.”

Rodney swallowed and backed down. “Oh. Good then.” He stood there wordlessly until the nurse gestured for him to go in through the far door.

The emergency room wasn’t one room so much as a group of curtained off spaces containing beds and medical equipment. Rodney sped through the corridor. He didn’t see any numbers beside the curtained areas. He’d gone halfway down the hall when he recognized Sheppard’s boot peeking out from behind a curtain. He steeled himself against possible carnage and whisked open the curtain.

Sheppard was sitting on the tiny hospital bed, one leg of his cargo pants cut up to the shin. His hairy shin disappeared into the short neon cast around his ankle. The silver panda on his shirt winked at Rodney as he turned to look at the sudden sound.

Rodney felt every bit of tension in his body uncoil. “John,” he breathed. “Oh, thank god.”

“Rodney?” John was bright and blank with surprise. “What are you—” A change came over his face, as though he were closing the shutters, and his face hardened but Rodney was too dizzy with relief to care. “Who told you I was down here?” Sheppard asked resentfully.

“Ronon called me,” Rodney said. He came in and shook his head at the other man. “You moron, why didn’t you just call? I thought that something had happened – something serious, obviously – which is totally plausible for me to think, given your penchant for risky behaviors.”

“I’m a stuntman, Rodney,” John said. “Taking risks is my job.”

“Which is to say nothing of your promiscuity.” Rodney glanced around for Sheppard’s chart.

Sheppard’s eyes flew wide open. He shot forward and snapped the curtain in place around them as though it could block out sound. “Damn it, Rodney. I’m not promiscuous, okay?”

Rodney flinched. “Well, I mean, okay.” He put his hands up. “I was being an asshole about it before. I know that now. I slutshamed. I shouldn’t have slutshamed.”

“Are you calling me a slut?” John asked with narrowed eyes. “And what the hell is slutshaming? It sounds like – I don’t want to say what it sounds like.” He held up a finger in Rodney’s face to forestall an explanation. “I don’t wanna say it in here, Rodney.”

Rodney swallowed and felt so happy he could cry. He almost believed that it wouldn’t even be embarrassing. “I don’t care. I shouldn’t have gotten pissed because I wanted—and you didn’t want—it was weird and territorial and when I thought you were dead—”

“It’s a broken ankle, Rodney,” John interrupted.

“Shh, shh! No, I have to do this!” Rodney wheedled. He ducked his burning face and spoke to Sheppard’s right shoe (the one they hadn’t removed for the cast). “I mean, I didn’t ever fight to keep people in my life whenever we fought before.”

“Seriously?” John asked incredulously. His brows met.

“I have a checkered past!” Rodney retorted defensively.

“I guess so.” Sheppard’s hands slid over the paper on the hospital bed as he leaned back to look at Rodney. There was high color in his cheeks.

Rodney forged on. “I didn’t fight to keep people in my life. But I like you, Sheppard.” His voice pitched funny when he said it and his face twisted with emotion. “I like us. And we really just started and what we have – by that, I mean our friendship, not just my one-sided unrequited pining thing—” Sheppard’s eyes went wide again. “—it’s valuable. I think it’s worth fighting for. So I’m sorry I was a dick and slutshamed you—”

“Rodney,” John warned breathlessly.

“And I want to be friends,” Rodney said. He looked beseechingly at Sheppard. “Even if you don’t like me like me. I just want to hold on to-to—”

“Who says I don’t?” John interrupted. His voice was strangled but he said it anyway.

“What?” Rodney gaped at Sheppard for a moment, momentarily lost for words. He cast about and came up empty handed. “Because you said—when you came over last time, you said you didn’t—”

Sheppard firmly shook his head. “I said, because you didn’t want to be a thing, it was okay not to be a thing.” He curled a hand on the back of his neck and shrugged.

“No, no, no, no, no. I want to be a thing.” Rodney held his hands up to curb the impulse to grab Sheppard’s arms. He didn’t need to be a clingy weirdo who got grabby when faced with mortal peril that had never really been mortal. “I totally want to be a thing. We’re talking about the same thing, right?”

“Rodney.” Sheppard’s face was red. Rodney could only assume he was a matching color.

“Yes?” he asked weakly.

Sheppard curled a hand in Rodney’s lapel and towed him close. “Shut up and kiss me.”

Rodney didn’t have a chance to lean forward before John beat him to it. And it was all hot pressure and cool relief and overwhelming gratitude that he’d had a chance to fix what he’d broken. That he hadn’t walked away because it would be easier.

When they broke apart, Rodney leaned his forehead against John’s stubble and caught his breath. “So you’re not… You do like me like me?” he asked. “You actually like me?”

Sheppard’s face flooded with color. He scratched the back of his neck. The gesture was almost too endearing to be believed. “Come on. Do I have to say it?” He spoke to Rodney’s shoulder. His stubble scraped against Rodney’s mouth as he spoke.

“Well, for me to know…” Rodney tilted his head and brushed his open mouth over that stubble. He felt Sheppard shiver against him. It was a pretty amazing feeling.

“It’s pretty obvious, Rodney.” John tightened his hand on the back of Rodney’s neck. He dropped a quick, shy kiss against Rodney’s skin and got him on the earlobe. “I’ve done my share of one-sided unrequited pining myself.”

Rodney laughed. “We are requited, you know.”

Sheppard shook his head. “You’re incorrigible,” he muttered.

“I find it shocking that you use that word.” Rodney pulled back to smile at Sheppard. “Not inaccurate but shocking, nonetheless.”

“Okay,” John said. His smirk was crooked. “You have a big mouth. How about those word choices?”

“More plausible,” Rodney said. He nipped, then rubbed his lips against John’s jaw.

“So I guess you’re sticking around.”

Rodney withdrew to look at Sheppard. It came back to him, the decision he’d made. How it felt like a hand squeezing his heart. How he’d come to think of the crew as family and the show as home. He realized that there was nowhere else he wanted to be. “I like it here,” he said. He hoped John would get it. “I wanted not to. I tried not to. But I like it here. Because of—well, because of everyone but most of all, because of you.”

John’s eyes were clear and shiny and, for a second, tight at the corners. “Okay,” he said, like it was hard to do. He ducked his head.

“Okay?” Rodney asked. The corner of his mouth quirked. “Just ‘okay’?”

Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck, the line of his cheekbone bright with color. It was the only part of his face Rodney could see. “Cool,” he mumbled and Rodney shook his head. For a second, John paused and when he spoke again, it was all the awkwardness and tension Rodney felt about Sheppard reflected back at him. “Cause, you know, I like you being here, too.”

Rodney felt his crooked smile widen over his face. He was filled with something bright and glowing. Something he’d never felt before. “Good, because I may be here a while. How does six or seven seasons sound?” he asked.

John grinned. “Now we just need to get the network on board.” He was smiling into the kiss when Rodney pulled him close. No, freefalling wasn’t that hard when he let himself. There was nothing easier to do.