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On those rare occasions when he'd thought about love, he'd always imagined moments of euphoria laced with the uncontrollable urge to buy fluffy toys and lots of candy. In reality, McKay made the whole thing feel like he was strapped to a roller coaster in a haunted house with no idea how many clowns were round each corner.

He played it cool while nearly every muscle in his body seized up. Which also meant having to ignore the way Teyla and Ronon were staring at him, wondering no doubt why he'd gone so still. But as he stood there with his heart pounding and his throat so tight he could scarcely breathe, slowly it dawned on him that if he kept standing in the middle of McKay's lab like a statue, people would think that was weird.

To prevent that, he made himself saunter over to McKay's desk and then slouched there, every inch 'Major Casual' and supremely cool. Even though he could barely look McKay in the eye, he felt confident that he could still do his job like the professional he knew he was. He wanted people to see that when they looked at him—that he was just a guy, who was happy to see another guy after spending several weeks apart; it was perfectly natural to have sweaty palms and a little shortness of breath. And he couldn't help thinking that his moves were successful, because after sparing him a glance, McKay began to huff as well: more proof of his 'two guys happy to see each other' theory.

Moments later, however, once McKay opened his mouth, he realized he had a lot more work to put into their bros side-reunion.

"Sheppard, do you plan on doing anything useful today?"

"Maybe, I guess," John replied in his best nonchalant voice. After that, he just froze with horror, because the whole thing had come out sounding like a sixteen-year-old girl had hijacked his vocal chords.

"Please tell me that was a joke!" McKay gaped at him, looking equally horrified.

John didn't know what to say. He realized he'd already blown his cool fly-boy cover, and that his manly throat-clearing probably wasn't doing much to convince McKay of his sanity. But it was the only thing he had right then. Somehow, being near McKay was screwing with his mind, making him act weirdly. Or, he thought with growing horror, maybe he'd been behaving this way the whole time and just hadn't noticed. And the idea that he might have inadvertently been acting like a lovesick fool all this time made him so uneasy he started squirming and rubbing the back of his neck.

He had no idea how long he stood there fidgeting before McKay said: "What the hell is the matter with you?"

"Nothing," John insisted, still a little high-pitched.

"Then, why are you—" McKay waved vaguely in his direction, which he translated to mean *standing there doing nothing* "—when you could be . . ." and this time when McKay trailed off, it was with several *playing with the exciting stuff I made* hand gestures. After which came the *instead of being an idiot* hand wave usually only seen in the vicinity of Kavanagh, and which John thought was a bit uncalled for.

He got a little annoyed after the flurry of *oh God, they turned you into an idiot, didn't they?* finger-clicks, because that was low. Even for McKay, that was pretty goddamn low. By the time McKay moved on to the *I don't believe this! I wasn't gone that long; how the hell did this happen?* gestures, John decided that was enough.

"Okay, no more hand talking," he interrupted McKay mid wave. "And, for the record, I was thinking! If that's okay with you?" Leaning over, he made sure he pointed a finger right at McKay's forehead, just to get his own back, before adding: "You remember what thinking is, don't you, McKay? It's that thing most people do before they open their mouths to speak."

"Well, how was I supposed to know you weren't broken?" yelled McKay, somewhere between irritated and relieved.

And because that hit a bit too close to home, John was very careful not to flinch. The last thing he wanted was for McKay to figure out what was wrong with him, or that anything was even wrong. So, he settled into another grade-A slouch and drawled, "Come on, Rodney, you know you're the only one who's smart enough to break me."

All his attempts to play it cool failed after that.

McKay's face suddenly went bright red. So, naturally, he lost several seconds of higher brain function to the sight of McKay so adorably flustered. Then, just as his brain looked like it was kicking back into gear, McKay beamed out a smile that got to him in ways he wasn't prepared for.

It made his heart flutter and his throat tighten up all over again. God help him, it made him want things, stupid things that were impossible and crazy, but which somehow seemed achievable given the fondness he could see under McKay's exasperation. So, he stayed there daydreaming about tracing the curve of that smile with his fingertips, long after McKay had got back to work, long after it was sensible for anyone to stare stupidly at McKay, until something very heavy stamped on his foot.

"Sonofab—" He jerked away, whirling round and hopping mad, making Ronon raise both eyebrows. "What the fuck did you do that for?"

"You're kidding, right?" Ronon loomed over him like he was getting ready to do it again.

As a precaution, John hopped a few steps back, fists up in the air.

Before things could get out of hand, Teyla stepped in to defuse the situation by steering him quickly away from McKay's desk. "Perhaps you should see to our assignments, John," and whilst she made it sound like a suggestion, it blatantly was not. "We know so little about this base or its people. I'm sure there is much to prepare, if we are to provide McKay with the protection he requires."

Since she had a valid point, he decided to go with her on that. He still tried to dismiss his hopping with a casual: "You know what? Fine!" even though what he really wanted was to wipe the smirk off Ronon's face. But a couple of things stopped him going back, the first of which was that he didn't need two bruised feet, and secondly because Ronon was right. Much as it pained him to admit it, Ronon was absolutely right: he had lost it back there. No amount of denial could hide that.

On that note, he made his way out of the lab, swallowing his pride and telling himself to get his shit together before he slipped up again.

***

The way forward, he decided, was to handle 'being in love' the way he handled any emotional entanglement he didn't see coming: by compartmentalizing the hell out of it and refusing to acknowledge the panic gripping in his chest.

So, he had feelings for McKay, feelings that had apparently been building for some time. And once he had a bit more privacy, he was planning to give that epiphany the sort of freak out it deserved. Until then, he had a job to do—including ensuring no one ever suspected that he had a thing for his subject.

***

He made it through base orientation by sheer force of will. During the day, he shook a lot of hands, and signed a lot of forms, then had a completely different kind of freak out when he learned about the Stargate, the Ancients and the type of shit McKay was into. Yet, despite several attempts to push his feelings aside, they were always there, haunting every step he took.

The problem was he didn't want to pretend they didn't exist. What he really wanted was to ask McKay out on a date. Or, maybe, to just hang out, somewhere where they could both relax and have a few beers, then see where things went from there. But while he wanted to find out if McKay felt the same way, he knew it was far too dangerous. McKay had several eyes on him, and his career was still on probation; and he was going to have a hard enough time concentrating on doing his job now that McKay was such a distraction.

The smart thing, he knew, would be to back off for a while, until he had a better grip on things. So, factoring in all these variables, he came up with the sort of protection rota that would let him keep his distance from McKay without looking like he was trying to avoid him.

When he took it to Teyla and Ronon, both of them looked at him like he'd lost his mind. But he was still convinced this plan would work, right up until he met the base CO: General Jack O'Neill.

***

The rumour he'd heard was that the General was laid back.

O'Neill, however, chose to eye him with barely concealed consternation from the moment he walked in—something that did not bode well, in his experience. Nor did the bulging manila file, which O'Neill pulled seemingly out of thin air to place on the desk in front of him.

He got the impression that things were about to get ugly. People had only ever reacted one way after reading his 'greatest hits'; he didn't expect O'Neill to be any different. He certainly didn't expect any sort of welcome from that point. Which was how O'Neill managed to surprise him by waving him to a seat with a genial:

"Of course, you're McKay's new test pilot!"

"Test pilot?" He pulled up short, not sure if this was some kind of a joke. "Sir, I understood I was grounded."

"Yes, Major, that's correct. You are grounded!" After which, O'Neill proceeded to thumb through his file and barely made him wait at all before adding: "Except, you're not."

Wondering what the hell was going on, John sat down and tried not to seem too thrown by the blatant lack of hostility. "How exactly will that work?" he asked cautiously.

"Details, details," O'Neill responded with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Apparently you're vital to some Ancient doo-hickey that McKay's working on. Since only your team can test it properly, it has to be you, because you're special and McKay needs you and yadda, yadda, blah, blah. The important thing is that McKay insisted."

"He insisted?"

"Yes. Very loudly too." And O'Neill did not look happy about that. "You wouldn't happen to know how to stop him doing that, would you?"

"No, sir!" John denied that at once, hoping to Christ he looked sincere because, inside, he was pumping his fist with glee. McKay was officially the best thing that had ever happened to him; and, holy shit, this meant he got to fly again! He was going to fly top-secret planes designed specially by McKay.

"Well, I can see why the Doc likes you," and the dry tone made him realize O'Neill hadn't bought his act. Before he could do any damage control, though, O'Neill muttered, "Probably means you're just as crazy as he is. But, hey, lots of crazy people around here!"

Which completely blindsided him, because while those words weren't particularly warm and fuzzy, they still didn't add up to the 'fuck you' speech that COs normally gave him. He kept waiting for it to come, not sure what the hell to make of this guy. But as O'Neill kept flicking through his record, giving off that journeyman air as opposed to General Hard Ass, something told him he was being played. He didn't quite get how much until O'Neill sat back all of a sudden to regard him with the smile of someone, who ate Goa'uld System Lords for breakfast.

"Okay, Sheppard, let's skip the rest of 'the talk', shall we? I'm pretty sure you've heard it all before, huh?"

John couldn't see the point in pretending otherwise.

"Good! So, we know where we stand!" Then, O'Neill promptly dismissed him without giving him a chance to explain that actually, he had no clue where they stood at all!

On the way out, he heard O'Neill say, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Which didn't exactly clarify the situation. In fact, the only thing clear to him at that point was that O'Neill had effectively destroyed any hope of him keeping his distance from McKay.

***

With his plan thwarted, John made a special effort to act like a normal person when the team came back together.

The good thing was McKay seemed marginally happier with the lab staff he had at Cheyenne Mountain. "They're not complete idiots," McKay announced as he gave them the full tour. "Two are almost competent, and that Slinky guy hasn't tried to kill me yet. But you should probably watch him. I think he's hiding something."

The bad thing was McKay hadn't lost his talent for screwing up people's names, something Zelenka took great pains to point out in a furious stream of Czech.

Beyond those teething problems, John didn't find Cheyenne Mountain all that different from Area 51. The labs had the usual tech-boards and equipment, so nothing much changed there. And with McKay in charge terrorizing everyone around him, he and Teyla had to run the usual interference while Ronon gathered Intel on potential threats.

The only thing that seemed a little odd was the complete and utter absence of anything that could have passed for work on an aerial prototype. From his conversation with O'Neill, he'd got the sense that McKay had something ready for him to test. Yet, McKay was surprisingly cagey on that topic, and none of the other scientists had heard anything either; and pretty soon, John couldn't take the suspense any longer.

He cornered McKay about it one afternoon after McKay assigned him yet another set of numbers to run. Teyla and Ronon were already working on their project, which McKay kept insisting was not a lightsaber. So, he wanted to get started on what he knew would be his even cooler project.

That was when he discovered the real downside of working for irascible geniuses, who were prone to hyperbole whenever it suited them.

***

"So, basically, you lied," he said once the full extent of McKay's scheming became clear.

"I most certainly did not," was the immediate response. "Project Gateship is an incredibly important part of the Stargate programme. In a few years, we'll have a prototype for a fleet of ships that SG-teams can use."

"A few years?" John staggered, refusing to accept he was whining no matter what McKay's eyebrows suggested. "What happened to me being critical to your research? What happened to you needing a test pilot now?"

McKay looked a little ashamed then, and actually had the decency to admit: "Okay, I may have exaggerated that part." But he moved very quickly on to: "In my defence, you were being wasted at Area-51. And it's not like I haven't found an alien spaceship here for you to look at," as though that somehow excused the incredible lies he'd told.

John opened his mouth to point that out, but McKay barrelled on with: "Did I mention it's one of the Ancient artefacts?" Which derailed him slightly, because only a handful of people had clearance to go near that stuff. Which meant McKay had to have done a lot of 'insisting' to get him access.

He was still wondering what to make of that when McKay added, "As far as 'testing' it goes," putting emphasis around the word, "if you can tell me why they designed their spacecraft the way they did, it could give us a real shot at reverse engineering some of their technology. I mean, that's still pretty cool, right?"

John supposed he had to concede that much. He didn't want to seem like an ungrateful asshole when McKay had clearly gone to a lot of trouble on his behalf. But the truth was, he felt kind of let down. As much as he liked having the whole team back together, the prospect of flying again had really got to him. For a moment there, he'd actually thought he'd caught a break. Now, though, from what McKay was telling him, it was clear that him flying again wasn't going to happen any time soon.

"So, are you in?" McKay sounded almost tentative.

"Yeah!" John sighed, briefly closing his eyes against the bitter taste of disappointment.

He tried not to let it get to him as he followed McKay out of the room, trying to focus instead on the chance to see some Ancient technology. That, at least, was something, he told himself firmly. Probably more than he deserved, and definitely more than most people ever got to see. If nothing else, he felt like he owed it to McKay to do a better job of appreciating the things that McKay did for him. And he was going to, starting right then with the ship that they were on their way to see.

***

In the cargo bay, however, once they reached what McKay assured him would be the sleek alien fighter jet of his dreams, it became clear that in addition to actively lying to him, McKay was downright delusional.

John pointed at the Ancient spacecraft, completely lost for words. He'd been pointing at it ever since McKay's dramatic unveil. Only, McKay didn't seem to notice anything was wrong, and just kept beaming at him expectantly, listing off what he thought were interesting facts about the ship's pedigree—

"It's at least ten thousand years old!"

—its flight history—

"We haven't managed to switch it on yet. I don't think it runs on any power source we've got."

—and a ream of other statistics that didn't improve the situation.

Eventually, John ground out, "You've got to be kidding me," pointing at the boxy-looking hunk of metal again. He wasn't trying to be a diva or anything, but it was important to him that McKay got what was wrong with this picture. "Rodney," he drew his name out slowly, "that's not a sleek alien fighter jet. It's a beat up space Volvo!"

McKay responded with a sound of such outrage, he got the feeling that he'd finally made his point. Then, to hammer that point home, he sauntered over to the port side of the craft, refusing to acknowledge McKay's assertion that: "The craft was built by aliens, it flew at some point, and the scorch marks on its hull are clear evidence of a fight. Hence 'alien fighter jet' is the correct term."

Up close, the ship didn't look any less like the alien cousin of a 1960s hippie van, one that had seen far better days. In fact, the closer he got, the more convinced he was that McKay was genuinely fucking with him. "Okay, let me get this straight," he pointed at the ship one more time, "do you want me to inventory this thing, or just paint some fucking flowers on it?"

McKay, now thoroughly enraged, yelled: "Don't touch anything!"

Which pretty much guaranteed that he was going to grope the hell out of that thing. And even though he knew it was petty and just this side of childish, he reached out and said, "Jesus, would you lighten up! What do you think is going to happen if I touch it?"

No one was more surprised than he was when that ten thousand year old hunk of metal lit up under his hands.

***

McKay never quite forgave him for activating the ship before he'd figured out how to do it.

As a result, his penance involved submitting to a battery of tests, which McKay assured him were key to the future of mankind, but which he suspected were actually McKay's way of proving that McKay was still the smart one. He didn't mind much once the SGC discovered he had some special gene, which was critical to McKay's research. But when that gene proved vital to activating every Ancient artefact on base, McKay went on an absolute rampage of smugness, and took him along for the ride.

"Ha! See? I was right about Sheppard. Didn't I say we needed Sheppard here?" McKay liked to tell anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path. For everyone else, there were memos which McKay tended to send out in triplicate—particularly to any member of the brass, who was foolish enough to try to avoid him.

Since that person almost always wound up being General O'Neill, John couldn't tell if McKay was enhancing his career or helping him kiss it goodbye, especially once O'Neill started sending him memos that read: 'For the love of God, Sheppard, please make him stop!' But aside from the added paperwork, John kind of liked letting McKay parade him around like the smug bastard McKay was. He wasn't used to glowing feedback, so it made him feel warm inside whenever McKay bragged about him to other people. Also, watching McKay rub people's faces in his genius was just added entertainment value.

The rest of the time, when he wasn't enabling McKay's bad habits, he worked alongside him, running diagnostics on the Ancient craft.

Most of their work involved deciding what to call things, because McKay seemed to think that being chief science officer meant he got the final say on everything. John didn't want there to be any confusion about who was really in charge, so he made it a point to clarify the situation by constantly disagreeing with every name McKay suggested. It got him some spectacular rants, which in turn meant he got front row seats at the flushed, finger-pointing and eyes flashing McKay show. But the real result was the complete and utter confirmation of how truly fucked he was where McKay was concerned.

Every time he sat down in that small cockpit, he bickered with McKay and tried not to notice how good McKay smelt, or how much he wanted to push him up against the bulkhead and kiss him for hours. He found it harder each day not to touch him, not to let his fingers trace the curve of McKay's neck, because McKay seemed to have no concept of personal space whatsoever and liked to bend so close that there was practically no daylight between them. Yet, as hard as it was, he never once slipped up, until the day he finally got to take the Ancient craft out for a test drive.

***

"I still think this is a bad idea," McKay complained over the Comms.

"Which is why you're staying behind at Stargate Command," John told him lightly. The whole point of him going up alone was to keep McKay safe, and the last thing he wanted was for anyone to know how nervous he was. Right then, though, with McKay on the verge of panic, he couldn't tell if McKay didn't get that command and control were listening or whether he just didn't care.

Sure enough, McKay confirmed it was the latter by saying, "Okay, don't do anything stupid today," once their pre-flight checks were complete. "Also, try not to fly like a complete moron when you're up there. And, dear God, do you even have a seat-belt?"

Privately, John thought it was a little late for that, since he was about to go up in a ten thousand-year-old spacecraft, which they had only a vague idea of what it could do. Still, it was nice knowing that McKay worried about his safety, despite the aspersions cast on his intelligence.

After the SGC's go-ahead to launch, he took the ship up slowly into the atmosphere, taking her measure in steady increments. And even though they all had a lot riding on this trip, just getting to fly again made something deep inside him settle at last.

Once he reached outer space, that sense of peace morphed into pure, unbridled delight. And it stayed with him through a series of manoeuvres, which he called 'shaking off the cobwebs' and which McKay screamed were reckless. There was one weird moment when he discovered the cloaking mechanism, and when McKay subsequently went nuts because he'd apparently disappeared off the radar. After that, it was smooth flying all the way on his impromptu joyride to the moon.

By the time he got back to base, McKay was waiting for him in the hangar, absolutely livid.

The yelling started almost as soon as he opened the bulkhead door.

"What did I tell you?" McKay stormed up. "Didn't I tell you not to do anything stupid? You are the most infuriating man on this planet. Do you hear me, Sheppard?"

John nodded, pretty sure the entire base had heard McKay.

"And that last stunt you pulled: what the hell were you thinking? Were you even thinking?"

In all honesty, John didn't know how to describe what had been going on in his head at the time. Everything about the experience had been so exhilarating, he was finding it hard now not to bounce on his heels with excitement. He'd just flown through outer space! All thanks to McKay! And as if that weren't enough, McKay kept making his day better by standing right there in front of him, pointing fingers and hurling out the sort of insults that really only showed how much McKay cared.

Before he could stop himself, he yanked McKay into a hug. And, ignoring the outraged squawk McKay made, he pressed his face into McKay's throat and just held on, shaking, because this was everything he wanted out of life: the chance to fly again, and the man he loved right there in his arms.

He felt incredibly overwhelmed, all of a sudden. There was so much he wanted to say, but he couldn't get the words past the lump in his throat.

McKay, for once, seemed to understand, and even gave him a few awkward back-pats before forcibly extricating himself after he showed no signs of letting go. "I still think you're infuriating," McKay told him, visibly disgruntled by the whole experience.

John chose to take that as the compliment it so clearly was.

***

In the aftermath, getting Project Gateship off the ground opened several doors for him and the team. They all got clearance to train with gate teams, which Teyla and Ronon were ridiculously happy about, and with the strongest known expression of the ATA gene, he was pretty much the 'go to' guy for anything Ancient on base.

It still took him by surprise when people started coming to him for a different kind of help. Having zero experience with scientist-run covert ops, he didn't recognize their code-words, and since the first guy, who approached him for help, did it when he was in the showers, he spent most of that encounter convinced he was being cruised [III]. But the next few guys were smart enough to tell him that they wanted their research on McKay's radar. And pretty soon he had so many people coming to him for help, there was almost too many for him to handle.

Quickly, though, and with his usual flair for organization, he established a set of ground rules to manage his involvement.

He only intervened if the project in question wouldn't undermine McKay in some way. Once that was settled, four comic books bought a basic show of interest on his part, since that was always enough to make McKay find out why. The price went up to eight if he had to do any heavy lifting, like reading or discussing actual topics.

He was willing to take gadgets instead, depending, of course, on how cool the gadget was. Although, that brought with it certain problems of its own, since McKay got really weird whenever he got toys from other scientists. Still, he managed to amass a lot of cool stuff in virtually no time at all. And in the spirit of team bonding, he decided to cut Teyla and Ronon in on the action, because he was just that kind of guy.

It pissed him off slightly to learn that they'd been running their own racket for months already, possibly as far back as Nevada. What really got to him was that Ronon, being Ronon, just had to rub it in.

"I thought you knew," Ronon wheezed, doing that pointing and laughing thing John hated so much. "Seriously, how did you not know that running McKay could get you stuff?" And for some inexplicable reason, his frown of confusion seemed to set Ronon off again.

John did not sulk for days—something Ronon, again, seemed to find incredibly funny.

In the end, Teyla took pity on him after she apparently decided that they'd both gone on for long enough. They were all working in the labs one afternoon when she sat him down next to Ronon and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You do know Ronon and I only get the small problems," she murmured, giving him some time to digest what she was saying. "People come to you when they need something big from Rodney. Perhaps that is why you didn't see much action till now?"

"You know, I thought that was why," John promptly told her, rustling up his first real smile in days. He liked the idea that people saw him as the 'big gun', and since he spent the most time with McKay, it made sense that he would have the most influence.

Ronon snorted incredulously, making Teyla send him a quelling look. And even though Ronon wasn't buying either of their explanations, John felt a hell of a lot better.

***

Despite Teyla's assurance, John had his doubts that he was McKay's favourite, especially after McKay went back to torturing him by dating women, who were nothing like him. Most of those dates were with 'soft' scientists; all of them ended disastrously. But he still found it stressful watching McKay with other people, and his way of dealing with that was to torture himself by stealth dating McKay once McKay's actual dates were over. [IV]

Every time McKay crashed and burned, he made sure he was there to pick up the pieces. Usually, all that involved was sitting McKay down with the team, handing him a beer, and then listening to McKay moan about his love life. From time to time, if the opportunity arose, he liked to drop subtle hints that there were other, more masculine fish in the sea. Otherwise, the support he tended to give was more of the strong-silent-bro variety.

Sometimes, though, when the fear that McKay would fall for someone else overwhelmed him, he wound up offering McKay the sort of fucked up dating advice that made everyone look at him sideways. Whenever that happened, Teyla tended to make cryptic comments like: "Only a lame crow does not fly straight," before staring at him meaningfully. John always liked to think that it was her way of being supportive, since he never had a fucking clue what she meant, and it was better than being dragged down to the gym for one of her supposedly enlightening stick beatings.

But aside from those rare slips, he had the jealousy under control. And as the weeks wore on, he settled into the routine. McKay stuck to his abysmal dating record, while he stuck to stealth dating McKay. And he clung to the knowledge that there was still time for him to make a real move later—maybe after his two year probation was up, or maybe once he'd figured out if McKay even liked guys that way.

Then, one ordinary evening, Katie Brown walked into McKay's life, and John saw his whole world turn upside down.

***

Katie wasn't the problem so much as how McKay behaved when he was around her. McKay didn't dismiss what Katie had to say. He was borderline attentive, courteous almost; and on the rare occasions when obnoxious-McKay made an appearance, Katie didn't seem to mind. She actually seemed to find that side of McKay intriguing. Once, she even smiled during one of his rants.

John didn't know what to do. He'd been relying on McKay's unique brand of charm to scare people away. It never occurred to him that someone else might find the raw unvarnished McKay as compelling as he found him!

He didn't panic exactly when their meal didn't end in disaster. No, he saved that for their subsequent date, as well as the succession of follow up dinners and craft fair visits, which somehow translated into McKay seeing Katie on a semi-regular basis.

What frightened him the most was that McKay seemed to genuinely like her as a person. "She has a great sense of humour," he took to gushing whenever they were working together. "Have you ever met a woman who's that funny, and smart, and pretty?"

"No," John typically ground out. Because, really, he hadn't! Still, his less than welcoming attitude never deterred McKay from raving about his almost girlfriend. Even bringing up her line of work couldn't put a dent in his enthusiasm.

"Maybe the world needs a few botanists," McKay admitted one day, after all the not so subtle needling he'd been doing. "Of course, you're absolutely right: it's not a real science. But they have done some valuable research, especially Katie. So, we should probably look at that, in case there's something worthwhile for us to use."

By that point, John had a feeling it was McKay's dick talking instead of his brain. Still, he changed topics very quickly and decided to keep his comments about botany to a minimum, since the last thing he wanted to do was spend more time with Katie Brown.

It didn't make any difference.

From then on, McKay mentioned Katie at the slightest provocation. Worse, he started bringing her to things they used to do by themselves, like lunch, and coffee, and random trips to the grocery store. Whenever she came along, McKay seemed almost happy; and every time McKay smiled that dopey little grin at her, John felt like his heart was climbing into his throat.

Things nearly came to a head when McKay suggested inviting Katie to one of Ronon's Sunday barbecues, because those get-togethers were team only, and therefore sacred, and John was damned if he was going to let one of McKay's almost girlfriends cross that line. But even though he put a stop to that at once, the news sent his normal state of panic spiralling out of control. Because, this was McKay signalling that he was ready to move into serious relationship territory. And John couldn't accept that he was losing the man he loved to someone else before he'd even had a chance.

He was saved from taking drastic measures when, out of the blue, Katie ended the relationship. Neither McKay nor Katie would tell him why, and frankly he was too relieved to push. Yet, that sense of anxiety stayed with him long after the spectre of Katie Brown had faded from their lives, because he couldn't shake the feeling that the tide had turned somehow.

***

He was right: once turned, the tide was almost unstoppable.

All of a sudden, McKay got very good at dating. He seemed to put that big brain to work, and with it he went from berating his dates to listening to them instead. They, in turn, started broadcasting the sort of blatant 'oh, you are so getting some later' signals, which lit the sky up for miles.

Oddly enough, McKay never seemed to notice the last part. Which was about the only thing keeping him from going completely insane. But it didn't stop him worrying that he was running out of time, or that someone was going to steal McKay away from him.

Night after night, watching more women hit on McKay, he couldn't help feeling like it was Katie Brown waiting to happen all over again. And after weeks of this, he went into a hyper state of vigilance that had nothing to do with cock-blocking, but was all about protecting McKay from unwanted female attention, whether McKay wanted the attention or not.

***

In the middle of dinner one evening, he had an epiphany about how to take that protection to the next level.

"We should do more detailed background checks," he said from where he was surreptitiously eyeing McKay's latest blonde—a geophysicist called Norina, who'd apparently done gymnastics in high school. On the surface of it, she seemed harmless, if a little flirtatious. But that didn't explain why everything about her had him on edge.

It took some time, but eventually he noticed Teyla eyeing him from across their table. "What?" he sat up, trying not to seem defensive.

Even though she hadn't said anything, he got the impression, for some reason, that she was very disappointed in him. Why, though, he didn't have a clue!

"Look, I'm just saying it can't hurt to be too careful." Then, he folded both arms across his chest to show just how rational he was being about the situation. "I think we can all agree that it's too soon after Katie for McKay to start something serious. The last thing anyone wants is him ending up in a rebound relationship with some psycho from hell. Right?"

Teyla gave him another one of those looks, to which he shrugged before choosing to ignore her in favour of watching the action at McKay's booth.

He noticed that Norina had moved several inches closer to McKay while he'd been distracted. Now, she had her head tipped to one side, and she was smiling at something McKay was saying, idly twirling a lock of her hair around one finger. He got a bit concerned when she arched in a way that pushed her cleavage right under McKay's nose, and when McKay suddenly seemed to lose all manual dexterity. But the grip Teyla had on his forearm was rather tight, making it clear that he had no real reason to go over there.

*Yet*, he told himself, keeping a close eye on Norina in case that changed.

By the end of the evening, he'd counted at least thirty incursions past the safe distance boundary for McKay's personal protection, each one propped up by an excuse more flimsy than the last. But he'd stayed frosty, same as Ronon, and same as Teyla. They were all professionals here, who gave the appropriate level of response to any situation no matter how obvious it was that there was something seriously off about this woman.

On their way out of the restaurant, he made sure he put Ronon on point with Teyla bringing up the rear, while he took up a position that flanked McKay from potential attack. A position which, by sheer coincidence, just happened to put him between McKay and Norina. Only, somehow, as they went round the corner, Norina managed to slip past him. And in a matter of seconds, she had herself wrapped around McKay like some sort of curvy blonde octopus, who was doing her best to locate McKay's tonsils using her tongue.

Years of threat response training kicked in.

Before her tongue could do any serious damage, he had McKay extracted from her clutches, then had the team speeding away in their SUV, with Norina abandoned on the sidewalk and McKay staring back at her through the rear window.

"What just happened?" McKay shrieked, still looking over his shoulder. "Is everyone okay? Sheppard? Sheppard, are you—Jesus Christ, did someone try to kill us?"

Since, technically, the answer to that was 'no', John decided to ignore that question. "Just keep driving," he barked at Ronon instead. And even he realised that wouldn't cut it for long, but he was spectacularly not ready to come up with an excuse right then. Not when his heart was still pounding from seeing Norina pounce on McKay.

He couldn't believe how badly he'd underestimated the situation. And for the rest of the journey, he stared resolutely out of the window, refusing to dignify any of the weird looks he was getting with a response.

***

The minute they got back to base, John took a long hard look at their security protocols. And because the first line of defence was a good offence, he pulled Teyla and Ronon into an emergency meeting to ask them how one tiny ex-gymnast had been able to break their perimeter to get within touching distance of their subject.

Ronon replied with low-pitched growls, while Teyla sat there with a frighteningly bland expression. But the important thing he managed to get from that meeting was their agreement on a new set of protocols designed to protect McKay to the standard he deserved.

Over the next few days, John was quite pleased with how positively they all responded to this tougher regime of security. In fact, the only dissenters he found were McKay's dates, who came under far more scrutiny, and who weren't exactly thrilled at the paperwork required before they could even make it to the dinner table.

Since this wasn't doing McKay any favours with the ladies, he wasn't happy either; and he tended to bring that up during the emergency meetings he liked to call whenever one of his dates cancelled on him. Which started to happen a lot.

On those evenings, John liked to assure McKay that it was one of the downsides of having excellent security. But in the moments afterwards, when it was just him and McKay at what was their table in the mess hall, with McKay stealing his dessert and complaining about his three day background check rules, John couldn't pretend to regret the hard-ass line he was taking, even if it was pissing McKay off.

***

The shit really hit the fan with Miko Kusanagi, because Miko was a Japanese temptress, who was totally in awe of McKay's genius and wasn't afraid to show it. She seemed to hide her seductive guile behind shy smiles and a general inability to look McKay in the eye. But John had numerous background checks on her, so this time he went in ready.

Their date was another exercise in torture for him.

It started at dinner when Miko smiled at McKay, and McKay smiled back. This somehow seemed to spur Miko to new levels of boldness. She laid a hand on McKay's forearm. McKay didn't automatically shake it off.

John gritted his teeth and broke into a sweat. From the corner of his eye, he could see Teyla watching him, and he knew he was giving himself away. But, fuck, he couldn't help it! This Miko woman was dangerous; he just knew it!

She leant forward in her chair. One of her hands travelled in the vague direction of McKay's chest. But in the end, she never made it that far.

John had her forcibly escorted from the restaurant.

***

In all honesty, John couldn't understand where all the shouting was coming from. He'd done an excellent job protecting McKay. That woman had clearly been reaching for a butter knife, or a bread stick, or something equally dangerous, and given McKay's intense paranoia, McKay should have been delighted. But McKay hadn't stopped shouting for over five minutes, and frankly John was getting a little concerned about his blood pressure.

"Look," he said when McKay finally took a breath, "my job is to protect you."

"From Miko? Are you serious?"

"She was reaching for something!" John yelled. And, Christ, was he the only one, who'd seen that? When McKay responded by stalking off to the SUV, he turned to Teyla and Ronon, expecting them to back him up. What they both did, instead, was stare at him with varying levels of disapproval.

"You're kidding me!" John couldn't believe this was happening. "What, now you're taking his side?"

"He makes me stuff!" Ronon shrugged, not even trying to look repentant about that.

Teyla simply looked like she was considering the best way to deliver a hard message. "It is admirable that you are so dedicated to ensuring Rodney's well being." And for a moment, her words made him feel vindicated, like someone at least got where he was coming from. Then, she said, "However, for some time now, your focus has bordered on fixation, one that is affecting both your and Rodney's ability to form meaningful relationships."

Which made him do a mental spit-take, because unless that was her version of a joke, they were talking a serious need for an intervention here.

"Also, have care that your protectiveness where Rodney is concerned does not stray further into possessiveness, so that you are not tempted to use your position to ward off others, who would seek his company."

And when she put it that way, the whole thing sounded weird and a little creepy. Which was completely unfair, as far as he was concerned! It was his job to obsess about McKay's safety; he was pretty sure he did that without the stalker-ish elements thrown in.

"Okay, fine! So, maybe I've been a bit aggressive at enforcing some of our new protocols." He was a man; he could admit that much. "But that doesn't mean I've crossed any lines. I've only done what anyone would reasonably expect from a good bodyguard. Right?"

Neither one of them said anything at that point. Which pretty much settled it: he was acting like some kind of creepy, obsessive stalker. And as he stumbled under the weight of that truth, he couldn't help glancing over at the SUV where McKay was waiting, shoulders down, looking absolutely miserable.

Just seeing that expression made him cringe with guilt. But it didn't stop him panicking at the idea of backing off. McKay's obliviousness could only last so long, and it was only a matter of time before McKay figured out that these women were practically throwing their panties at him. And the wait for that to happen was driving him crazy.

He was going to have to man up, he knew that now, before he destroyed what was left of his relationship with McKay. Because, this didn't look like something he could fix with Twinkies and a few shoulder rubs.

***

Rather than confronting the situation head-on, he decided to take a bit of a detour first.

"Sir," he said, striding into General O'Neill's office, "I really need to get back out into the field." After that, his arms went through an embarrassing display where even he wasn't sure if he was trying to salute a superior officer or smack himself in the face.

Once he settled at ease, O'Neill gave him a look he found hard to interpret.

"McKay's finally getting to you, huh?"

"Something like that." He felt bad about implying there was something wrong with McKay when really it was all him. He just didn't feel bad enough to stop. "You know how it is with civilians, sir. Sometimes you just need a little distance."

Now, he got a raised eyebrow, which looked every bit as sceptical as it did amused.

"Let me guess: would off world be enough distance for you?" O'Neill didn't give him a chance to confirm one way or another. "Well, Major, it looks you're in luck! SG-15's gearing up in two hours for a milk run to P8X-211. You can go out with them."

And since O'Neill was clearly giving him a break in more ways than one, he tried his damnedest to look excited at the prospect. The problem was, a new team wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind when he'd walked in here. He wasn't comfortable with the idea of leaving Teyla and Ronon behind on his first trip off world. In fact, the thought of other people watching his back made his stomach clench with unease.

It got worse when O'Neill said, "One more thing, though," making it sound trivial and almost not worth paying attention to. "Colonel Dixon's a bit eccentric. But, hey, I figure you're used to that after McKay. Right?"

He really couldn't tell if O'Neill was trying to reassure him or to terrify him. Either way, he didn't suppose it mattered any more. He'd asked for distance, and O'Neill was giving him a way out, and he had no choice now but to take the assignment.

***

Unfortunately, 'eccentric' turned out to mean 'bat-shit crazy', and what was supposed to be a milk run turned into a cluster fuck of gargantuan proportions.

He spent most of it running for his life, doing his best not to get shot, stabbed or hacked to pieces by a horde of angry Erlani soldiers. Half the time, that happened by sheer luck. But since the mission felt like one fucked up metaphor, it seemed inevitable that trying to run from his problems with McKay would lead to being pinned down in a ditch alongside what was left of SG-15, almost out of ammunition, and several klicks from the Stargate.

As he relayed their status to the SGC, who'd radioed about their missed check-in, the Erlani kept bearing down on their position. And he didn't need anyone to tell him that they were shit out of luck. With Dixon concussed, Dumais dead and Michaels bleeding out next to him, there were too many hostiles for him to handle alone.

"We're too far from the Stargate; reinforcements won't reach us in time," he had to yell that over the sound of approaching weapons fire. "Send in a UAV, and target missiles to these co-ordinates. Do it now, over and out!" Then, he hurled last of his grenades over the top, and slumped back against one side of the gorge, waiting.

Slumped against the other, Dixon nodded his approval, grinning at him through bloodstained teeth.

John couldn't quite find it in himself to smile back. As bad as things had got, he hadn't really believed they would die here today. But, he told himself harshly, if he was going to die, at least he was going to take a whole heap of Erlani out with him.

The first few men over-ran their position moments before the air strike hit. Borne back by a wave of enemy soldiers, he looked up to watch that deadly payload ignite. His last thought as the world around him went up in flames was relief that Teyla, Ronon and Rodney were safe on Earth and weren't going to die in this hellhole with him.

***

Under the circumstances, he was a little surprised wake up with a canula in his nose, an IV piercing the back of his hand, and the steady sound of a heart monitor beeping in the background. Underneath the numbing haze of drugs, he could feel the ache that ran the entire length of his body—proof that somehow he'd made it out alive. And it took several moments of blinking before the shapes above him resolved into the bloodstained, tear-streaked faces of his two very anxious teammates.

Teyla spent a long time lecturing him with her eyes. But it was Ronon, who usually eschewed speech in favour of other forms of communication, who apparently felt the need to voice what they were both thinking.

"You're an asshole," Ronon told him plainly, "a stupid fucking asshole," in case he'd somehow missed that part. "And if you ever make us come to get you like that again, I will fucking shoot you myself!"

Ronon very carefully then leant down to hug him, still mumbling about how much of an asshole he was, and very graciously not mentioning the sobs that were hitching out of his throat.

He drifted off to sleep in Ronon's arms, grateful to be alive and too raw with the shock of it all to ask why McKay wasn't there with them.

***

For most of his recovery, John wasn't capable of much more than drifting in and out of consciousness. Ronon stayed through the worst of it, while Teyla stayed in-between shifts, and he remembered it clearly whenever Captain Lorne and Sergeant Bates stopped by to visit. Everyone else was a blur.

There were odd moments where things were pretty hazy from the drugs and where he could have sworn that McKay was at his side, laying out in biting detail how much of a moron he'd been to run off without them. But each time his mind cleared up, McKay was conspicuous in his absence, and each time he asked whether McKay had come to see him, the answer was always 'no'.

He kept asking until Ronon finally said, "He's pretty angry," the 'with you' all the more devastating in its silence. After that, John spent a lot of time pretending not to notice that McKay had apparently had enough of him.

That feeling of abandonment grew when McKay abruptly left for Washington with Teyla and Ronon in tow. To make matters worse, he had to find that out from Lorne, since none of his team bothered to tell him that they were leaving in the first place.

He supposed he had it coming, given the way he'd behaved. But he hadn't anticipated that McKay would completely pull the rug out from under him, like he wasn't even worth McKay's time. It hurt far more than he was willing to admit, because underneath it all he'd thought they were friends. Most of all, he was just upset that McKay didn't seem to want anything to do with him any more.

***

Over the next few weeks, John tried not to let the loss of his entire team affect him too much. But in the weeks they were away, he did get rather bored. And because he got bored, he started noticing things.

He noticed the very definitive pattern to Lorne's visits. Which tended to start at 0900 hours sharp, followed by Bates at 1300 hours, then Lorne again at 1700 hours. Bates always came by to walk him to Physio, and Lorne always brought him back, almost as though the two of them were on some sort of schedule.

When he asked Lorne about it, very casually of course, Lorne gave him a shifty look and said, "I don't know what you mean, sir," before forcibly dragging the conversation back to college football. And that, more than anything, convinced him that something was up because Lorne was one of those rare San Francisco guys who hated football.

Still, it was only after he varied his routine that he realized he was being followed. Because, while he could chalk some things up to coincidence, no way did that blond marine guy just happen to be in the hallway every time he left a room.

On the way to Physio the following day, he decided he was going to get to the bottom of the situation. He started off by saying, "So, I hear you've got a thing for Teyla," even more casually to Bates, who promptly walked face first into a wall, giving him plenty of time to take off round the corner.

***

Barging into O'Neill's office, he got there just in time to catch: " . . . oh, please, Hedgehog's not on the loose! He's on the way here—" before O'Neill closed his end of the Comms down rather abruptly.

"Hedgehog?" John snarled.

"Every subject gets a designation, soldier; you know that!" O'Neill said mildly. But the gleam in his eyes also said that he was laughing his ass off, and John still didn't know what the hell he was missing.

"Since when am I the kind of subject, who needs a protection detail?"

Now he got a massive eye-roll. Which apparently meant:

"McKay insisted?"

"You bet your ass he insisted," O'Neill roared that last part, evidently wanting to make it loud and clear. "Son, that scientist of yours insisted his way through the Senate, the Pentagon and the State Department. I think the joint chiefs finally decided it was easier to promote you than to have to listen to him. Though, between you and me, your promotion was long overdue—"

"My what?" John cut in, wanting to make sure he'd heard that right, and for a moment he was actually worried that O'Neill was going to shoot him.

"Colonel Sheppard, are you having difficulty keeping up?"

"No, sir," he gulped, because holy shit he had heard that right. "It's just I don't see why that suddenly means I get a protection detail."

He stared at O'Neill, hoping for an explanation or maybe a few hints to point him in the right direction. What he got instead was the sort of strained silence that sounded like O'Neill was still debating whether or not to shoot him.

"Apparently, it's for your own good," O'Neill said after making him sweat for a while. "And frankly, I'm inclined to agree. Did you know Colonel Dixon's unofficial report on P8X-211 says—and I quote—you're one crazy son of a bitch. That's high praise coming from him!" And there was another strained moment of silence, before O'Neill spoke again. "I take it McKay didn't mention any of this to you before he left for Washington."

John could only shake his head, bewildered. All this time, he'd thought McKay had washed his hands of him, but now it seemed Rodney had been up to something else entirely.

"Oh, well, what's done is done," and O'Neill shrugged his shoulders. From the slightly pained expression on his face, it was clear he wanted the conversation done too. "Shouldn't you be in Physio or something? In fact, why are you even here?"

O'Neill sat there staring at him until he had the good sense to get out of his office.

***

He finally got the answers he wanted when McKay returned from Washington a few days later.

McKay seemed surprised to see him, at first, sitting in his living room right there on his couch. But after both of their respective details took one look at each other and then decided to leave them to it, McKay seemed to get quite agitated. "What are you doing here?" McKay pointed at him accusingly. "This had better not be another one of your drills! Also, aren't you supposed to be recovering? Why are you even out of Medical?"

"Gee, Rodney, I don't know," John drawled, getting up and walking over. "Maybe if someone hadn't run off, leaving a bunch of people to spy on me, then I wouldn't have had to come here to get some answers!"

McKay's eyes widened all of a sudden before skittering away, and the way they darted toward the door had him veering to one side to block the escape route.

"What did you do in Washington, Rodney?" he continued in a deceptively mild tone of voice.

"Nothing!" bluffed McKay. "What makes you think I did anything there?"

"Rodney," John growled, taking another step forward, and McKay promptly admitted:

"All right, fine! I may have let slip to some very influential people that you were critical to the development of certain projects I'm working on. And that given said criticality to our planet's defence, it was appropriate that you should have a threat rating that was commensurate to mine."

"Rodney!"

"What?" And McKay actually had the gall to sound irritated; John couldn't believe it.

"Look, it's not that I don't appreciate your concern," he said, because, honestly, he did! McKay was one of the few people, who genuinely gave a damn about him. "It's just I have a job to do, which is to run your protection detail. And I can't do that job with a detail of my own. So, just get it removed and we'll call it even. Okay?"

"No."

"No?"

"Do you have any idea the mountain of red tape I had to go through?" McKay sniffed, lifting his chin. "Thankfully, Senator Clarkson—who adores you, by the way—was kind enough to cut through most of it for me. And since she also agreed with me that your reckless proclivities could be put to better use heading up the SGC's F-302 program, once you've recovered, your new job will be to roll out fighter jets reverse engineered from Goa'uld technology. Assuming, of course, you like the sound of that?"

At this point, John didn't think his legs would hold him up any more. By going to Mitch's grandma, Rodney had effectively landed him his dream assignment, and with both of them conspiring together, John felt like the wind had been taken out of his sails.

He staggered back to the couch, staggered at the lengths McKay had gone to. And as he crumpled down onto it, it occurred to him that unless he was reading this wrong, McKay seemed to have a hell of a lot invested in his happiness.

Then, he looked up into wide blue eyes that were watching him with unease.

Rodney wasn't just invested in his happiness, he realized; Rodney was committed to it, and prepared to go well out of his way to secure it. And connecting these dots into a whole new picture, he could barely contain the joy that was fluttering in his stomach, especially after Rodney shuffled over to stand right in front of him.

"You do like the sound of that, don't you?" Rodney's voice shook a fraction. "I mean, that is what you've always wanted isn't it: the chance to fly stupidly fast planes and to be an astronaut and do lots of stupid things?"

John nodded; it was what he'd always wanted, ever since he was a little boy.

"Okay, good!" Rodney patted him on the shoulder, looking relieved at first, and then pleased. "Plus, you haven't even heard the best part yet," and by then Rodney was practically beaming. "The senator made sure the F-302 program reports directly into her oversight committee. So, with the command position you've got, guys like Everett won't be able to touch you now."

And even he got that Rodney was actually telling him: '*I* won't let anyone touch you!' Because Rodney was clearly on a mission to take care of him; he could see that now. And apparently his dreams of having a future with Rodney weren't so unattainable after all.

He thought about their friendship thus far, about the pots of home-made sun-screen protection factor 2000 that were sitting in his locker, and about how Rodney always put his welfare first whilst somehow always making sure he had the coolest assignments. And as Rodney went on describing the various fail-safes he'd put in place to protect him from Everett and every other CO who'd even looked at him funny during his career, slowly, that feeling of joy spread right the way through his chest.

"You know, I would have said 'yes'," he murmured seemingly out of nowhere, making Rodney stutter to a stop. "If you'd asked me out on a date," he explained at the puzzled look Rodney gave him. "Instead of getting me my own flight program, or whatever else it is you think I want," and he grabbed the hand Rodney had been waving in front of him and held it gently, very serious all of a sudden. "I would have said 'yes', Rodney. To you. Any time. You do get that, don't you?"

Rodney certainly seemed to, if his stunned expression was anything to go by.

He watched Rodney smile then, and let himself do the same, feeling his face flush as Rodney laced their fingers together. And although neither of them said anything for some time, Rodney kept glancing furtively at him, before looking away.

He seemed to be struggling with something, or more accurately gearing himself up for something; John could see it in the tilt of his chin and the way Rodney struggled to meet his eyes whenever he glanced down.

Rather than ask what was bothering him, John decided to wait. Whatever it was, he knew Rodney wouldn't be able to hold back for long.

Sure enough, Rodney soon blurted out: "Aren't you supposed to be in bed? I have a great prescription mattress if you need to lie down."

John barely managed to choke back a snort of laughter, because that had to be the worst pick up line he'd ever heard.

"Laugh all you want, Sheppard, but that line is actually working on you!" And as Rodney stood over him, red-faced and smirking, John was vaguely surprised to realize that it was.

He wasn't going to go down without a fight, though, not when Rodney was practically radiating smugness. So, he leant back in his seat and drawled, "Plan on doing anything about it?" making it as much of a challenge as he could.

Moments later, he had to bite back a whimper as Rodney's eyes gleamed.

***

They didn't make it anywhere near that mattress for some time.

Rodney decided to help him move from the couch to said mattress, and that version of help involved a lot of touching—to his chest, his shoulders and to the side of his neck. Only, somewhere between Rodney bending down and him curling both arms round Rodney's waist, one of Rodney's hands slid into his hair while the other stroked along his lower back. And somehow that led to the sort of slow, deep kissing where Rodney had him stretched out on top of him, with one thigh pressed between both of his, and where he was rocking helplessly onto that thigh and shuddering with pleasure, going slowly out of his mind.

"Rodney," he panted, after lifting his mouth away. And he kept trying to catch his breath, trying to think as Rodney mouthed his way along his jaw and up to his ear.

"Everything okay?" Rodney asked him, before drawing his teeth gently over the sensitive skin below his ear.

"Yeah," John nodded, still struggling for air. He clutched at Rodney's shoulders, shivering at the feel of Rodney's lips on his throat. Then, he let out an embarrassingly loud moan as Rodney slid one hand down inside the back of his boxers.

"Come on, I've got you," Rodney told him, cupping the back of his neck with the other, using it to draw him in.

And Jesus, he knew Rodney had power and control issues, but he'd never quite imagined it would translate into this. He tipped his head up, following Rodney's lead, opening his mouth for Rodney's tongue and sucking desperately on it. And when Rodney stroked two fingers between his buttocks and rubbed him there, circling again and again over his opening, he could feel himself start to lose it.

Wrenching his mouth free, he grunted, "Rodney," low and harsh, hips juddering down. And even though part of him was shocked at the way he was basically humping Rodney's thigh, he wasn't sure he could stop himself even if he'd wanted to.

He turned his face into Rodney's shoulder and started biting at it, trying to muffle the sounds he couldn't hold in any more. But the hand in his hair pulled him away, drawing his head up for Rodney to whisper, "Don't hide from me," right in his ear. "I want to hear you, John, to see you . . ." And something in him shattered then, because he couldn't say no to Rodney, not when Rodney was trembling under him, sounding almost as wrecked as he was.

"Rodney, please," he whispered, closing his eyes for a moment. "Please, I need—" he hitched up to meet those circling fingers, then shivered back down, hips working as those warm, sweet bursts of pleasure kept curling through his stomach. And on his next hitch up, Rodney gave him what he needed and pressed inside him, pressing one finger in as deep as it could go.

Gasping, John hunched over with pleasure, and all he could do for several long moments was lie there, panting into Rodney's throat while he shuddered and came in thick, slow spurts, soaking the front of his BDUs with come.

***

Later, after Rodney had helped him clean up, and once they were curled up in bed facing each other, John really started to understand how far Rodney's control issues ran in the bedroom.

"I can't believe you won't let me do anything for you," and while he made sure he sounded casual, he was actually pushing.

Rodney, on the other hand, still looked guilty about making out with him in the first place. "We're not going any further until your doctor clears you for more vigorous activity," he murmured. "And don't try to tempt me with your masculine wiles; I won't give in, not where your health is concerned."

At this point, John decided that he needed to brush up on those wiles, because clearly they weren't getting the job done, even though he hadn't been trying that hard.

"At least we don't need background checks before we go out for dinner!" Rodney beamed at him all of a sudden, looking quite smug.

"Rodney—" John pushed himself up on one elbow, worried Rodney thought he could relax now that they were together.

But Rodney very quickly disabused him of that notion. "Look, if this is about me needing to maintain my security, then I agree with you wholeheartedly," Rodney told him, stroking one hand down his chest. "Also, you were right all along: you never know what people may be hiding unless you check up on them. Take Miko, for instance. It turns out she heads up the Colorado chapter of 'The Mer-maids'. Can you believe that?"

"I'm sorry, the what?" John cocked his head to one side.

"'The Mer-maids'," Rodney said again. When he raised an eyebrow, Rodney added, "My oestrogen brigade. Surely you've heard of them?"

John shook his head because, no, he had not. "Why do they call themselves—?"

"That part's not important," Rodney cut in, rather sharply in his opinion—making him realize that it probably was. "The important thing," Rodney stressed, "is that, as a fan base, they're very loyal but incredibly over-zealous in their attempts to interact with me. Which is why I need a lot of protection."

"From mermaids." John wanted to be clear about that.

"Not mermaids," snapped Rodney, "'The Mer-Maids'!" And for some reason, Rodney seemed to think the hyphenation and capitalization would make it seem less ridiculous.

"Any other sea creatures from your past I should know about?" He tried to say it using his serious command voice, to imbue those words with the gravitas they deserved.

Rodney, who apparently knew him far too well, just sputtered before rolling over with an annoyed little huff.

John bit the inside of his cheek, smirking. He could tell from the set of Rodney's shoulders that Rodney wasn't really angry with him. Still, taking the opportunity, he put his hands on them and started kneading them gently, wondering all the while how Rodney was going to retaliate.

The last time he'd seriously pissed Rodney off, Rodney had dropped a protection detail on him and had then had him promoted. Worst case scenario, he was pretty sure he would be on his way to General before the year was through.

 

The End.