Sheppard has to work for it. O'Neill enjoys that. O'Neill makes him work for it. O'Neill likes to see the other guy break a sweat.
Sheppard doesn't do any of the things that ordinarily pop O'Neill's arousal balloon, like talk, or god forbid emote. O'Neill doesn't want to hear a running narrative of how good it is, how hot he is, how hard he is, how tight he is. With the exception of a few terse instructions regarding preferences, all O'Neill wants to hear, before the climactic gut-punched groan, is the grunts pushed out of a man who's working hard -- or the chesty phlegm-voiced expulsions of air released by a man who knows how to breathe when he's being worked over. Those are all he ever hears from Sheppard during sex. Even better, because O'Neill has never clued Sheppard in to the trick of making him come, Sheppard will work himself to exhaustion trying to grind an orgasm out of O'Neill, never succumbing to the temptation to finish him off the easy way so he can rest. O'Neill can lie back and enjoy Sheppard hammering his ass and whipping his dick until Sheppard's sheened in perspiration, hair matting on his brow, and hold off triggering himself to come until he's as plundered and stripped as he needs to be, and Sheppard's put in the work to earn the payoff. O'Neill can slouch against the wall and watch Sheppard bob and suck until salt droplets bead on his upper lip and drip down to catch in his eyelashes, and not come until he's scoured raw and Sheppard's mouth is lax and blown. O'Neill can haul Sheppard to his knees on the mattress and pound him into his braced, straining arms until the headboard's juddering loose and sweat's trickling along the dimples in corded muscle, and deny his own orgasm even through the sucking ass-spasms of Sheppard's. With no kisses, no tenderness, no soft murmured pleasure sounds, O'Neill can hold back until Sheppard's shot.
Sheppard gets that. Sheppard relies on that. O'Neill wrings him dry -- twists him in his fists like a soaked washcloth until it's the bed or the floor that's sopping wet and all the aching pain's flushed out of him and he's limp and empty and nothing hurts for a little while. O'Neill wrings him out, and then does that thing in his head, and shoots -- pulling out just before, to make his own contribution to the fluid drenching the place; shooting on Sheppard, sometimes, but more often aiming down or to the side, because what's squeezed dry should stay dry, and what's purged should be left to evaporate. Sheppard's never issued the terse instruction Don't pull out. He wouldn't mind if O'Neill stayed in when he lets go. But defaulting to politeness isn't the reason O'Neill doesn't shoot into him.
Today O'Neill's not shooting at all.
He's flipped over to give Sheppard more leverage. Sheppard's drilling his prostate, sending twitching ripples up his back with every thrust, raking his cock over the sheet-rucked mattress. Sheppard's gone past muscle fatigue into a zone of focused exhaustion, tinged with surreality by the afternoon light beyond the window shades and the low-wattage bulbs in the motel lamps, Earth sunshine and incandescence that his backbrain still hasn't adjusted to. He's earned his payoff twice over and counting, O'Neill will be pacing in the next briefing because he can't sit down, and there's no question anymore that this isn't O'Neill holding out because he needs a more punishing session than usual. This is O'Neill when he can't get off.
They're here because the stargate should be enough for O'Neill and McKay should be enough for Sheppard and they're not. They're everything, but they're not enough, and sometimes they're such a glaring reminder of what's missing that the release of this harsh, impersonal rutting feels like the only possible relief.
Harsh rutting, check. Release, not so much.
Sheppard eases himself down on his arms, chest almost but not quite touching O'Neill's back, an intimation of the kind of skin-on-skin that they instinctively avoid. Sheppard thrusts deep, thighs straining, arms straining, and drops his face to within a breath of O'Neill's head.
"Jack," he says, in a low voice. There's only one male voice that has ever called O'Neill that name in bed. He may never hear that voice again, the way Sheppard may never hear the murmur of the sea around Atlantis, the soft, subliminal voice of the living city whispering in his genes. They're both here because home is Out There, lost to them, taken from them.
"Jack," he says, soft against the general's ear. It's a trick that will only work once.
O'Neill fucks him to drive his own demons out, to exhaust himself and numb himself. O'Neill fucks him for the same reason he fucks O'Neill. They're both here for the orgasm as much as the workout, or they'd be getting this in the gym. But rough, relentless fucking gets Sheppard off, and what gets O'Neill off isn't actually fucking at all. What gets O'Neill off is one very specific kind of intimacy, a kind that as things stand is available to him only in his mind, a kind that for whatever reason his imagination can't seem to conjure up right now -- a kind that Sheppard isn't supposed to have any clue about, and a kind that he can imitate, this one time.
It's a cruel mercy. He should let it go. Work doggedly and patiently until O'Neill throws in the towel, gives up on coming, writes off whatever's screwing with his head today, says Stop. Forget it. Not gonna happen. If he were taking O'Neill's cock, he'd have no choice. He'd have long since come and he'd be kneeling or lying back and relishing the overload of fast jabbing thrusts into his mouth or his ass, savoring however much extra boning O'Neill had the stamina to provide before he decided to finish. But he's driving, here. The option's open. And this is ending, either way. After this, it's over, whether he blows it with one crossing-the-line syllable or watches it die the death of the thing that isn't working anymore. O'Neill's a good guy. They'd still hook up when he was in town, if it kept working for Sheppard. But it won't work for Sheppard if the brutal relief isn't mutual. This is it. Go down swinging, not looking.
"Jack," he says, in his gentlest, tenderest murmur, in a voice that barely sounds like his, and isn't meant to.
O'Neill growls a startled curse into the mattress under his face and convulses under Sheppard. His right fist slams into the pillow-buffered headboard, and the sudden violence of that, the raw beauty of muscled arm driving hard bone, the impact jarring through the bedframe, tips Sheppard over before he's ready. A surprise for a surprise; that's fair enough, he thinks, before thought dissolves in savage ecstasy. Then he's back, thinking that he didn't even think to pull out, wouldn't have had time if he had, vaguely wondering whether O'Neill will be pissed or the shots were a nice extra jolt for him while he was coming. He's balls-deep up a general's ass, lying heavily on him, full weight, full length. He's kept his head up, somehow, so their faces don't touch, but the general's hair is tickling his jaw and he's catching a lemony scent of shampoo. When he pushes up to get some distance, a monumental effort on rubbery arms, a fresh bloom of sweat breaks out across his shoulders and low on his back.
"Fucking hell, Sheppard."
"Never do that again."
"I don't mean unloading into me. I mean the other thing."
"Yes, sir." He won't. It'll never work again. He doubts that they'll ever be doing this again. Probably O'Neill means 'to anyone.'
It's the longest conversation they've had outside of the job, and it's over. He withdraws, goes in to shower, steps out when O'Neill steps in.
They dress efficiently, in silence. The haggard tension is gone from O'Neill's face; he looks relaxed and calm. Same way Sheppard feels. But he hasn't re-armored yet, his eyes haven't gone hard and distant, and they've got the same heartbreak in them that Sheppard can feel in his own. The same fierce determination not to give in to it.
"I won't ask how you knew," O'Neill says.
"That you have a kink for subordinates saying your first name, sir?" Sheppard replies, expression open, guileless.
"Sure," O'Neill says, flat and unreadable. "That."
To spare O'Neill having to -- or because he won't, since sex has always provided the temporary equality of the athletic field, and the general has never pulled rank on him in private -- Sheppard says, "I know there are a lot of other ways you can make me sweat, sir."
O'Neill cocks his head, then gives a noncommittal grunt and turns to scoop his wallet, keys, phone and pager off the TV stand. "You hold the fort this time," he says, meaning that Sheppard's the one who'll sit tight for the remainder of the four hours the room's rented for and slip out after dark. "I've got an offworld at eighteen-twenty."
Sheppard doesn't echo, Offworld, sir?, but when O'Neill turns to look at him, hand on the doorknob, it's written all over his face. O'Neill knows that Atlantis time is engraved on every cell in Sheppard's body. O'Neill knows that Sheppard knows that local 6:22 p.m. today is daybreak back home.
"You didn't hear this from me -- you don't know this at all -- but I'm joining Woolsey across the pond for a few days," he says. "See what I can do to sweeten the Ancients up, now they've had some time to settle back in. See if they'll firm up a timetable for letting some of you come back. After Woolsey, a little charm could work like a charm. And some folks at the Pentagon have suggested that the IOA's been thinking with their pocketbooks. Wondering if that offer of manpower and supplies was a token gesture, if they caved a little too easily regarding an expensive outpost with waning political value." There's a burning gleam in his eyes, something between impudence and ferocity, something like glee, and for a second Sheppard thinks he might be seeing a hint of the old O'Neill, the trailblazing team leader he's heard about, shrewd and irreverent and dangerous and, yeah, charming; but in the next blink it's gone, and O'Neill's the general again, gaze blunt and indifferent, just a glint of warning. "Don't get your hopes up too high, Colonel. Or anyone else's."
Sheppard understands then -- that this is over, but for reasons he never imagined, and that fixing things for Sheppard will leave O'Neill alone with his own loss; that the prospect alone already has, which was why imagining that lost voice in his ear didn't work for him this time -- but it's a dim realization, already sidebarred, drowned out by the rising buzz in his head. He's having dinner with Rodney and Carson the day after tomorrow. He can't tell them. He can't tell Elizabeth even if he calls her, because she doesn't answer her phone. He doesn't know if he'd tell them even if he could, because it's bad enough here, it sucks enough here, he can't curse his friends with the wild surge of hope that O'Neill's mild warning couldn't stifle.
He thinks, Rodney. He has to tell Rodney that there's movement, activity, there's something happening, there's a chance, higher's going to bat for them, higher's giving it another shot, it's not over 'til it's over, it's not hopeless.
He thinks, I can't. I can't tell Rodney. I can't do that to him.
He thinks, Home.
"I don't know what to say, sir."
"How 'bout 'Good luck'?"
"Good luck, sir," he says, and steps away from view as O'Neill opens the door and goes out, alone, into the slanting glare of late afternoon.
Luck will have a lot to do with it, but it's going to take effort, too. One way or another, he knows, he'll have to work for this.
He's dressed, and his phone and pager are in his jeans pockets with his wallet and cash and keys. He flips on the TV, sits down to stare blindly at it, and measures the time until morning in Atlantis by the trickles of sweat running down his spine.