Seeing Stars

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John’s heart is in his mouth as he scrambles for cover through a hallway where there is no cover to be had. He’s not inexperienced with navigating the corridors of Atlantis under hostile occupation, but he’s cutting it fine and for a moment he wonders if his luck has finally run out. Fortunately, he finds a side door up ahead and ducks into an empty room just in time to hear the clatter of shoes and low hum of voices pass by outside.

John scrubs his hand through his hair and lets out a breath, tips his head back against the wall.

Phew. That was close.

He needs to sharpen up his game. Find the gaps available between the moving and stationary hazards, plot a safe passage through. Either one by itself is manageable, but getting pinned down by a mobile unit as he passes an emplacement will mean disaster. It’s Dijkstra’s algorithm with a time variant component; a math problem as well as a tactical one. Surely he should be good at this.

John cranes his head out the door and checks the corridor. No bogeys in sight. On the other hand, the offending stationary object is suspended from the ceiling a few feet up the corridor. Right there.

John shudders. He’s aware he’s being a little ridiculous.

It’s mistletoe.

===

Alright, fine, so the stakes aren’t as high as they can be during a bad week. It’s not a bad week. It’s a holiday. It’s just a bad week for him. John is on mandatory leave. At Christmas.

It’s their first December - by Earth’s calendar - back in Pegasus. Woolsey has spoken and the expedition is having a base-wide holiday to mark the various mid-winter celebrations. The halls of Atlantis are being decked with Pegasus foliage; well-trafficked areas of the city smell of pine needles and the sap of some local shrub with red berries and leathery leaves that sort of passes for holly if you squint. Barring some very specific convergent evolution though, the mistletoe is Milky Way mistletoe. Where the fuck did someone find mistletoe? Isn’t this intergalactic cross-contamination or something? He’s going to join Rodney in rolling his eyes about botanists if they can’t pick up on something as basic as this.

He wouldn’t even mind, except it’s everywhere and John is expected to play along.  Be a good sport.

Kiss people, or let people kiss him.

John’s with Groucho Marx on this one: when it comes to the Atlantis expedition he wouldn’t want to be kissed by anyone who’d want to kiss him. And the one person he does want kissing him… wouldn’t.

He glares again at the offending plant. He can’t quite bring himself to snatch it down.

It’s okay. John’s got a plan. It’s flawed but feasible, and that’s the most he ever asks. In this situation, discretion really is the better part of valour.

John is making the sensible tactical decision.

He’s running away.

===

His first choice would have been to spend the weekend with his team, but Ronon has other plans - “Amelia. Abseiling. Bye, Sheppard.” - and Teyla’s already gone to visit the Athosians for the holidays with Torren and Kanaan. She’d wished John well as she’d left the previous day, drawing him down for the Athosian salute and then, unexpectedly, kissing his cheek and letting her hand rest over the spot as she drew away.

“Take care of yourself, John,” she’d said.

“I always do,” he’d protested, and she’d given him the eyebrow.

“Do you indeed? Your people are celebrating. Join them - do something for yourself.”

John had nodded. It’s not like she’ll be around for the next week or so to kick his ass if he doesn’t.

“You too,” he’d said, helplessly.

“I intend to, John,” she’d said, pausing to consider her words. Then she’d brought a whole new level of game to the eyebrow thing and smirked. “Well. Not just myself,” she’d said.

John had snorted at that and waved as she walked off. Even her walk had looked self-satisfied.

===

John makes it to the Jumper bay unmolested and puts the next stage of his plan into action. He strolls through the open hatch of Jumper Four and slings his pack onto a bench. He’s timed this just right; Rodney is standing in the middle of the rear compartment wearing his department uniform and having an increasingly heated conversation with his radio.

“…this has been on the calendar for months, I don’t know why at this late juncture I’m suddenly expected to… What? Why would you say that? How is this a favour? Why would I be pleased to have to share my vacation time with a…”

Rodney pauses mid-rant as he notices John and narrows his eyes. “You know what? Fine. I’ll take it up with Colonel Sheppard here.” He clicks off, and looks John up and down.

“That was Woolsey. I’ve been planning this for ages, you know, far in advance of our noble leader’s campaign to spread holiday cheer up and down the halls of Atlantis, and now he tells me I need a babysitter? I’m headed to an uninhabited planet,” he ticks off on his fingers, “It’s one we’ve been to before, I’ve signed out the Jumper, I’m pretty good at flying these things by now…” John’s watching patiently. “…I’d got it all under control and now it’s all ‘risk assessment’, ‘duty of care’, ‘military escort’…”

He trails off, apparently registering the fact that John’s also in uniform on their day off.

John smirks, spreads his arms. “Well, I’m military - I don’t know about escort, McKay.”

Rodney rolls his eyes. “Oh fine. It could be worse, I suppose. At least it’s you.” He turns away and busies himself with the boxes of equipment, stowing it under benches and in the aisle and apparently erases John’s presence from his list of immediate concerns. ‘Course it’s McKay, so he’s still talking. “Goodness knows what prompted Woolsey to bring up all this now. Maybe it’s his Christmas present to himself. I swear, the man loves paperwork.”

John avoids the implied question - he’s pretty sure it’s rhetorical anyway - and claps Rodney on the shoulder as he takes a seat in the pilot’s chair and props his feet on the console. “Woolsey’s got the best interests of the expedition at heart,” he tells him, “What would we do if you ran into trouble off-world on your own? Maybe all the grass is infused with citrus. You never know. Better safe than sorry.”

Rodney splutters at that and John settles back into the chair, smiling.

===

Rodney, in his usual self-centred way, doesn’t ask why John’s here for a job any on-duty marine with the ATA gene could have done without sacrificing a senior officer’s leave time. He’s fairly sure it’s never even crossed his mind. Which is useful, because it gets John off the hook.

John had got permission for this detail without as much trouble as he’d been anticipating.

He’d assumed that with the decorations and the mandatory time off, Woolsey was making a point about togetherness at the holidays or something and figured that two members of senior staff disappearing off-world wouldn’t be in the spirit of the season. John had been prepared to fight him on this and hadn’t been looking forward to it, but Woolsey had acquiesced willingly to John’s plan.

“Of course, Colonel. You and Dr. McKay deserve a break as much as anyone on this expedition, I’m perfectly happy to authorise your time off-world.”

John’s surprise must have showed on his face because Woolsey had frowned. “Did you think it would be a problem?” he asks, looking wounded.

John shrugs. “A bit,” he says.

Woolsey’s brow creases and he looks like he’s sucked all the lemons Rodney takes such care to avoid. “I know I may appear… conservative, Colonel. But I really do wish the best for the both of you, at this and any other time of year.” He’d drawn himself up tall - well, as tall as possible - as he’d said this and John felt weirdly as if he’d been the cause of offence. He couldn’t work out exactly how.

“Okay? Well thank you,” he’d said, “I appreciate it.”

Woolsey had nodded, apparently troubled, and he’d still been frowning as John had left.

“Enjoy yourselves, Colonel,” he’d called after him. John had turned and sketched the semblance of a salute, then gone to pack.

He’d figured this wasn’t exactly what Teyla had in mind when she told him to do something for himself, but it’d do. And hey, close enough for government work.

===

Rodney stacks equipment methodically while John lounges in his chair and pulls out his DS to distract himself with Mario. He is on holiday, after all. Rodney’s not silent for long though. Also, apparently John’s underestimated Rodney this time. Dropping into the co-pilot’s seat, Rodney pokes him in the shoulder.

“Not that I’m complaining, Sheppard, but why are you here?”

“What do you mean?” he asks, evasively.

Rodney rolls his eyes. “Don’t be coy with me. What’s going on? You’re taking your leave ferrying me to some planet where you get to twiddle your thumbs while I work? Fun for you.”

John gives a half-shrug. “You need to get out of here, I need to get out of here. It’s fine.”

“I need to be off-world for a purpose. Your purpose is what, exactly?”

John heaves a sigh. “Ugh. Look, I just need to get out. The hallways are filled with mistletoe - you and I should talk about where they got that, by the way - and people. There are people everywhere. Getting into the holiday spirit.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asks Rodney, baffled. “I mean, it sounds dreadful to me, but I’m a well documented curmudgeon. You’re not usually one to start digging escape tunnels at the first hint of other people enjoying themselves.”

"They all want to kiss me,” complains John, flinging his hands in the air.

Rodney snorts. “Yes, well, how is that news?"

“Don’t be a dick. Maybe I don’t want to be kissed.”

“Only you would find that to be a problem,” says Rodney, mock sorrowfully.

John makes his most hammy begging face, puts on his best Donald Pleasence voice. “Take me with you. I can see,” he quotes.

Rodney frowns. “I’d have thought you’d want to be Steve McQueen in that scenario. But sure. I’ll enable your chickenshit avoidance of social contact, Woolsey keeps his pants on and I get some peace and quiet. Win, win, win. You owe me, though.”

“I brought beer,” says John.

“Your beer sucks, but I’ll take it. And I’ve got The Great Escape on my tablet if you get bored with Super Mario later.”

John grins at him, toggles his radio to let the Gate room team know they’re taking off and starts the flight sequence.

See? He’s totally doing something nice for himself.

===

It only takes a moment to leave Atlantis and emerge through a space gate into orbit. Rodney wants to take some readings from here, so John manoeuvers the jumper into a geostationary position over the Ancient outpost they’re apparently visiting for the day - or the night - and waits for him to be done.

“I guess there’s going to be a lot of this over the next twenty four hours or so, McKay?” he asks, lacing his fingers over his chest and tapping them idly on his knuckles.

Rodney looks up at that.

“Well, you don’t have to spend the whole time watching me take readings. Just drop me off - it’s a big planet, it’ll be warm and sunny somewhere. Fly around in the puddlejumper for a bit, go for a hike. I don’t remember there being any rock outcrops precipitous enough to tempt your daredevil sensibilities anywhere near the outpost but I’m sure you’ll find something to risk falling off somewhere. Stay in radio contact - for all the good that’ll do if you get in trouble - and I can get some work done.”

“What’ll you be doing, anyway?” asks John. All Rodney had put in the sign-out log was “astronomical survey” and the designation of the planet.

“Oh. You know. Science,” he says, with a dismissive hand-flap.

John swings the chair around and knocks his ankle gently into Rodney’s knee as he’s unstacking boxes. He gives Rodney a look. There are eyebrows. It’s usually a very effective look, and he’s not disappointed.

“Oh, fine,” he snaps, though without much bite. “There’s a comet passing by the planet and from the southern hemisphere we’ll be able to see an impressive meteor shower. No light pollution, no people. I thought it would be a nice place for some peace and quiet away from the city. Sue me, I wanted a scenic backdrop for my holiday getaway.”

John has a sudden horrible thought accompanied by a sharp pain in his chest. “You were planning on coming here with Keller,” he says. It’s not a question.

“Ha! No, actually,” says Rodney.

John breathes. Maybe it’s pathetic, but he feels instantly lighter.

He also only feels moderately guilty when Rodney continues, “But thanks for the reminder of my failure as a boyfriend and human being. I had the idea for this trip when the survey team got back from the planet - post Jennifer, thank you - but honestly? It worked out at a good time. I couldn’t handle the festivities either.”

John mentally scolds himself. Rodney’d said he needed to be here - for science! - but he’d also said he hadn’t wanted to be in the city. John had been so preoccupied with his own need to flee that he’d not picked up on that. Rodney’s still talking.

"It’s Christmas. And Jeannie and her family send their love and moderate judgement, and they’ll be putting up decorations and wrapping presents and I just can’t…” he waves his arms around, to sketch out the magnitude of the things he ‘just can’t’ in the air between them. He shakes his head, as if to dislodge the self pity. He points at John.

“Also, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a magnanimous, generous sort of person and…”

John kicks him again.

“Okay, I’d be the only one to admit it. But the fact remains, I’m magnanimously, generously, leaving the city to everyone else over their holiday weekend. I’m giving the gift of my absence, I’m sure my staff will thank me.”

“Oh yeah,” says John, grinning, and lets him get on with it.

===

John half focusses on navigation and their angle of entry into the planet’s atmosphere but he’s also thinking about Jeannie. They email - she’s got to keep tabs on Rodney somehow - and he’s familiar with her moderate judgement, as Rodney’d put it. Jeannie has had barely concealed Opinions about John, Rodney and Jennifer since Rodney’s brush with Pegasus’s version of Second Childhood, ironically not something John’s particularly keen to remember. Her emails to John have gotten a little pointed recently, since the repeal of DADT and Rodney’s latest break up.

John’s got nothing he can really do about any of that. Rodney wouldn’t want him to anyway.

John thinks about the word repressed. Someone who’s been pressed, then re-pressed - compacted, fitted to the shape of a mould. He’s never been particularly inclined to conform to the mould the Air Force created for him, but he’s not been able to avoid the way it’s bent his life a little out of whack either.

Sometimes it takes a while being outside of that mould for things to expand into their proper shape. John doesn’t even know what his proper shape is.

Soon enough, it’s time to land and John really does have to focus.

===

John lands the puddlejumper where Rodney instructs him to, next to an Ancient building that appears to have nothing to hold anybody’s interest. John noses around a bit, out of habit.

“There’s nothing there,” he says.

“Yeah, I read the report,” replies Rodney, unwinding cables. “It’s just a convenient position to navigate by, and here’s good as anywhere else. Also if it starts to rain, all I have to do is go inside. No clouds tonight though, or we’d have found somewhere else. Just let me unpack and you’re free to zoom off and do your thing.”

John watches Rodney ferry various other bits of equipment, cables and cases out of the rear compartment of the jumper and onto the smooth grass surrounding the Ancient facility.

“Feel free to help out should the mood take you, Colonel” he grunts, hauling a red and chrome barrel shaped object and mounting it onto a tripod he’d already set up.

“Nah, I’m good,” says John, waving a hand. “Is that an actual telescope?”

“No, I’m just pleased to see you,” he grouses. “Yes, it’s a telescope.”

“Aww, Rodney, I thought you were looking for somewhere quiet to work. Did you want to take me stargazing?” John is an Olympic level bullshitter but this feels safe enough.

“Cheesy dates are more your style, don’t you think?” says Rodney, with an eyeroll. “I was planning to be here alone, in case you forgot. Shouldn’t you be deciding whatever it is you’re going to do with your precious free time?”

“Sure. No hurry, though, right?” asks John, taking a seat on the grass. Rodney gives him a funny look.

“No, no hurry.”

===

It’s a warm night and the grass is soft. Rodney’s brought blankets, cushions and enough MREs to last a week and sure, John could go find something to do somewhere on this planet, but it’s comfortable enough here and he’s got food and beer and the soothing noises McKay makes while he’s concentrating and it’s all just too much effort to think about moving.

They’d alighted on-world just past sunset to give Rodney plenty of time to set up in the gloom of the evening without needing torches. The sky deepens to black as they wait, but the stars are so bright here that it’s never completely dark. John’s night vision is excellent and even Rodney doesn’t seem to have a problem puttering around by starlight and the screen of his computer.

“Isn’t this a bit eighteenth century for an astrophysicist who pushes the boundaries of his field on a weekly basis? I thought you were looking for a pretty place to sit and work?” says John, as Rodney fiddles with the telescope, some cables, a laptop, some more cables and another telescope that apparently helps point the big telescope at the right things. “What’s the point of looking at some distant planet or whatever through a telescope when we could just take that,” John points at their ride, “and go look at it up close?”

“Nostalgia,” snaps Rodney.

“Touchy,” says John.

“Looking into space from a planet has certain limitations, but a puddlejumper has more,” says Rodney gesturing around them. “Crappy field of view, you can only see one thing at a time, no room to set the telescope up inside, the HUD distorts the light. You hardly get the whole effect. This is nice. Isn’t it?” He waggles his can of beer at John.

“So you are stargazing. You wanted a chance to hang out under some unfamiliar constellations and do make-work drunk?”

“You brought the beer. And you know as well as I do there are no constellations visible from this planet. Just stars. Constellations require people. As far as anyone can tell, this planet has been uninhabited since the time of the Ancients.”

“What would they have named them, do you think?” asks John, cracking the tab on his first can.

“The Ancients? Did they tell stories? God knows. Maybe they named them after their staggering acts of hubris.”

“Sounds about right,” says John. “The fucked-up ascension device number one, the fucked-up ascension device number two…"

“…the terrifying nanite experiment…”

“Right. That one looks like a puddlejumper,” says John, outlining a trapezoid with his forefinger against the stars.

“Oh come on, you can do better than that,” snarks Rodney.

“Yeah? Okay. It’s not like I can do worse than some of the ones on Earth. ‘The Big Dipper’?”

“The rest of the world calls it The Plough,” says Rodney, still making minute adjustments on his sprawling set up of equipment.

John wrinkles his nose. “Both kinda dirty, don’t you think?”

Rodney snorts.

John points. “I think that one looks like Steve McQueen's Triumph - two wheels, handlebars - barbed wire over there…”

"That’s the Andromeda Galaxy. Basically right next door.”

“Huh.” John squints. “Less Milky Way, more yellow brick road. That group over there looks like a centurion’s helmet.”

“Helmet, huh?” giggles Rodney. John rolls his eyes but he won’t let that opportunity go either.

“Do you find it risible,” he asks, enunciating each word, “When I say the name Biggus…?”

“…Biggus Dickus?” responds Rodney, sniggering.

“‘E’s not the Messiah! ‘E’s a very naughty boy!” cackles John.

“No more beer for YOU,” says Rodney, and John curls protectively over his can and growls.

===

Rodney eventually gives up with the telescope and scoops up his tablet, taking a seat on the blanket next to John.

John lobs his empty beer can at the rear of the puddlejumper and hears it clatter somewhere inside. He lays back on the grass, listens to Rodney pick out some more constellations, naming them after his cat, a piano, Zelenka’s hair.

John aches, a little, lying like this, with someone he’s never going to have in the way he wants to have them, having just enough to imagine what it could be like, if they lived in an alternate universe where Rodney’s not straight and John’s not such a fuck-up. Somewhere he could reach out and hold Rodney’s hand just because he wanted to; where Rodney would complain he needed both hands to calibrate his instruments but would squeeze John’s fingers tighter anyway.

He’s so immersed in his pity party that he misses what Rodney’s just said, which apparently demands a response.

“You’re such a dork,” he says, on autopilot. As a comeback it’s hardly his best work, but it seems likely to cover most bases under the circumstances.

“Oh, I’m a dork. Of the two of us, who owns Spiderman pyjamas?”

“It’s a t-shirt, McKay.”

“That you wear to bed. Pyja-mas,” he sing-songs. “Speaking of things unfit to be seen in public, don’t you think that configuration over there looks a bit like that priestess we met on PXY-992? The one in the outfit?” He makes an hourglass shape with his hands that seems physiologically unlikely.

"You’re a pig, McKay,” says John, easily, still stretched out on the grass with his fingers laced over his stomach. “Is it all about the body parts with you? Boobs this, dicks that. You’re obsessed.”

“Eh,” says Rodney, shrugging and gesturing with his beer, “I’m forty, single, bi, and I haven’t gotten laid in months. At this point everything looks like either one or the other.”

And. What? John couldn’t have heard that right. Rodney did not just say that.

John replays the last sentence in his head. Only he… did.

John’s ease vanishes. His eyes are locked on the sky, the sweep of the stars, so clear before, blurring before him. Everything… stops.

Or maybe it’s John that stops.

It… that… Rodney said that so casually, like it wasn’t a thing, like it didn’t turn John’s world sideways. Like it didn’t mean anything to say that with John lying next to him. Like it didn’t mean anything for them.

The ache in John’s chest suddenly opens up and drops him in. He’s falling, dizzy, disorientated. He’d dealt okay, more or less, with having feelings for his very heterosexual friend; it had sucked, but it wasn’t like the Pegasus Galaxy didn’t provide a lot of things to distract them. John has gotten used to the low-grade disappointment. That sort of background pain he’s been handling for a while now.

This, on the other hand, this is a stab to the guts - and John would know, he’s had a few in his time - to be told that Rodney does look at men that way and hasn’t once said anything to John.

John knows Rodney loves him - the way a friend loves another friend, way to go John, by the way, for that one - knows he’s the one Rodney runs to in a crisis, when he’s feeling at a loose end, when he wants to blow off some steam. John figures he’d have known about it years ago, if there was anything to know.

But now it seems like it’s not that Rodney’s not into men, he’s just not into John.

Bitterness floods the back of his mouth. He tries to say something, surely he should have responded by now, Rodney will be expecting a snarky observation in return, but nothing comes out but a creaking gasp.

“Sheppard? John! What’s wrong?” Rodney’s bending over him and if John’s concerned he’s going to take John’s hesitation and - apparently - pending mental breakdown for bigotry, Rodney’s concern seems only to be for John. “John? Answer me.”

Rodney takes John’s cheek in his palm and turns his face, presumably so Rodney can see his eyes. He’s holding up a finger, realises it’s a little too dark to see properly anyway and scrabbles beside them for a torch. John squeezes his eyes shut. Because of the sudden bright light.

Rodney’s still trying to get through to him. “John, what happened? Are you allergic to the grass? Do I need to get an epipen? Oh, god, I’m really not trained for this. John, you need to breathe.”

The tightness in John’s chest isn’t going away and oh, yes, he is struggling for breath. Way to go, John. Neither heavy bombardment, gunfire, Wraith hive ships or nearly-unscalable-towers can stay you from your duty, but your best friend coming out? Apparently stops your respiratory functions. Classy.

Rodney’s patting his shoulders ineffectually, stroking his arms, taking his pulse, keeping up a non-stop stream of muttered encouragement, telling John he’s going to be fine, he’s got to be fine, he can’t leave Rodney alone in this galaxy, he’s needed, he can’t possibly have survived nuclear explosions and journeys to the far end of time to die here, he’s going to be fine, just fine.

For some time, John can’t do anything but heed Rodney’s advice and try and try again to breathe.

Eventually, the air John seems to have misplaced returns to his lungs and he takes a few deep, steadying breaths. His stiff limbs go lax.

God, he’s exhausted.

Rodney’s monologue stutters to a close, his hands still smoothing over John’s sleeves as if by reflex.

“That’s it, that’s right… John, you scared me. Is that what a panic attack looks like on you? Jesus.”

They’re quiet, for a moment. Rodney’s touches gradually still, though he leaves his fingers around John’s wrist, resting over the pulse point. After a while he apparently judges John calm enough to talk, and he squeezes gently. “Are you going to tell me what that was about? I know it wasn’t anything I said, because all I can remember is telling you I’m sort of frustrated and that can’t have been new information.”

John’s heart skips and Rodney frowns, looking at the place where his hand still grips John’s wrist, and then back up to John’s face. “It was? Why?”

“You like guys,” he rasps.

“Um, yes? Also not new information?”

Confirmation just sets John’s heart thumping again and he looks away. He’s aware he’s past the point of no return now. John’s never before broken under interrogation, but his own body has preempted him this time. Rodney’s not going to let this go; he’ll just poke and prod until he gets the information he needs, just like he always does, never mind that it’ll be John who’ll suffer the consequences.

John might as well pull the band-aid off and get it over with.

He hears his voice shake but he looks Rodney in the eyes as he asks, “So, you just… don’t see me that way?”

“What? What are you talking about? You know I think you’re hot! The whole of Pegasus knows I think you’re hot. I might have mentioned it a few times. And what do you care anyway? It’s not like you… oh. No. Really?”

Crap, thinks John, despite himself. But he’s got Rodney’s attention now, and there's no hiding it. He doesn’t trust himself to put another sentence together, but it turns out the look on his face does his job for him anyway. Rodney’s eyes are huge. John normally finds that look amusing but, yeah, no. Not right now.

“John. John! Are you fucking with me?” he demands, jerking John’s wrist around almost incidentally, as if he wants to wave his hands around but has forgotten to let go.

“Oh for crying out loud, and what? You’ve been somehow pining away under the impression that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to… well, anything, with you?”

Wait, what? John blinks up at Rodney, incredulous.

“Are you kidding me?” Rodney squeaks, dropping John’s hand and flinging his own in the air. “Holy shit! I gave you enough moments. You never took any of them. Surely you noticed?”

John shrugs. He never sees this coming. He feels something snap inside and thinks the recoil is unspooling him. He’s staring up at Rodney’s stars, no words, no thought, not even coherent emotions. He’s adrift.

Rodney’s oblivious to the full depth of John’s meltdown. He’s still trying to talk.

“Okay, okay, so we’re both useless. But John, for heaven’s sake, I can’t believe you. This is ridiculous, you know that? Are you still panicking?” Rodney takes his pulse again between a thumb and two fingers, checking.

John shudders at the touch.

Rodney gives a helpless laugh. “Okay, so fifty percent panic, fifty percent something else. I can live with that ratio for now.” He smiles down at John, slides an arm behind John’s back. “Come on, budge up, do I have to do everything round here?”

That would be… nice, actually.

John feels himself being manhandled, hauled up into a sitting position until Rodney’s behind him and strong arms are around his middle, holding him up.

Rodney wriggles about a bit, getting comfortable, and rests his chin on John’s shoulder. “Okay. Just breathe. I’ve got you.”

And, amazingly, thinks John, he does.

===

It takes a while, but eventually John can feel his equilibrium returning, his breathing and heartbeat gradually slowing to match the steady rhythm he can feel pulsing against his spine; Rodney’s breath, Rodney’s calm, Rodney’s heart.

It’s probably the aftermath of the panic attack making him woozy, but John can feel invisible limits of permission shift outwards, no longer adhering to his skin but expanding out of his reach, beyond his grasp, beginning to give him space to find his own boundaries; a whole new shape, moulded instead, unsurprisingly, to the solid presence supporting him.

“Are you back in the land of the living? It comes to something when I’m the well balanced one in this relationship,” sighs Rodney in his ear.

John’s body must have made some sort of reaction to that, because Rodney pokes him in the ribs with a pointy finger. “Yes, relationship, Sheppard. If you think I’m not in this with you, you really are insane. And I’m taking the colossal anxiety attack in response to what I assume you think was me coming out as some indication you’re not going to object?”

John shakes his head and eases back so he’s resting on Rodney’s shoulder. Rodney scoots closer. And hello. John thinks its time he contributed some words to this conversation. His voice is scratchy as he goes for the cheap shot.

“Huh. Rodney. Is that a telescope too?”

Rodney huffs hot breath past his ear. “Oh good, you’re not entirely broken, I was beginning to worry. It has certain telescopic properties but no, Sheppard, I’m still just pleased to see you.” He squeezes tighter, brushes his lips against John’s temple, presses them softly into his hair. “God, John, I’m always… Did you really think you wouldn’t have a chance with me? Seriously?”

John’s throat closes up again.

“Okay, okay. No talking about feelings. Fine. I’m going to need words at some point. I am, however, willing to postpone those words in place of kissing. Do you like kissing, John?"

John nods, frantically.

“Are you sure? Because as I recall, you wanted to get out of the city to avoid kissing.”

John snorts, turns around and shows Rodney that yes, in the right circumstances, he’s very much alright with kissing.

Rodney seems pretty okay with it too.

===

Most people would happily call John a masochist, but he’s got his limits, which is why he hasn’t actually spent all that much time fantasising about kissing Rodney. He always figured it wasn’t worth the angst.

He’s finding the reality somewhat overwhelming.

Rodney still seems happy enough to let John take charge, laughing as John tackles him back onto the blanket in a flurry of limbs. John forgets trying to be smooth, forgets any reputation he might have to maintain, and instead concentrates on licking and biting and doing his damnedest to take every sensation this opportunity affords him, right now, right this minute.

He’s all elbows and poor timing, hot gasps against Rodney’s mouth, wanting his hands to be everywhere, to card through Rodney’s hair even as he decides he needs to feel Rodney’s biceps under his grip, or smooth his palm over Rodney’s chest and slide his fingers up under the hem of his shirt. Not only is he allowed this, Rodney wants this. Rodney wants him. He leans in to suck hot, salty kisses into Rodney’s neck and whines because he wants it all. It makes no sense to John that this is not enough and also far too much all at once.

See? Overwhelming.

Rodney’s still laughing during the moments John lets him have use of his mouth, apparently finding John’s monumental lack of chill endlessly entertaining.

John would swear he’s usually much cooler than this. He can’t really bring himself to care.

After a few more directionless minutes of basically mauling Rodney, who’s now interspersing his giggles with the occasional ‘ow’, John finds himself flipped onto his back.

He lies there panting in the grass, as Rodney draws back, propped over John on strong arms and looking down with an expression that’s amused and fond. The torch has rolled away somewhere and the cockeyed beam lights up half his face in a warm yellow glow, the other half dim in the starlight by comparison. God knows where the blanket has got to.

“Alright, Sheppard, alright,” Rodney soothes, and John doesn’t want soothing, except now he thinks about it he is lightheaded again, and really, Rodney does have good ideas, most of the time, so maybe he should listen first. Behind Rodney, out of the corner of his eye, John can see the first of the meteors flicker against the sky.

“Not a race,” continues Rodney, brushing his fingers through John’s hair, “Not a competition. You don’t have to convince me of anything I haven’t spent nearly six years considering in embarrassing detail. Let’s just…” He kisses John on the forehead, the cheek, lips soft on the prickle of his jaw, “Slow down a little. We’re on holiday. There’s no emergency here.”

John feels maybe there is. Rodney cuts off any of John’s objections though, punctuating his argument with soft kisses to John’s face and lips.

“Hush,” - kiss - “Calm,” - kiss - “John. I have you,” - kiss - “And believe me,” - kiss - “I’m not letting you go anywhere without me.”

“Gonna hold you to that,” whispers John, and Rodney smiles wide, leaning in and kissing him slow and warm and relentless, replacing John’s manic energy with something more grounded, less hurried, designed to last.

John surrenders to whatever this is, entrusting himself to the care of his best friend, deciding to accept that those wicked, clever hands and smart mouth will get them both where they need to go.

He lets Rodney have him until he’s breathless and gasping and overwhelmed for entirely new reasons, swapping the stars streaking across the sky above them for stars bursting behind his eyelids, as he comes undone calling Rodney’s name.

===

“I missed the meteor shower,” says Rodney later, sleepy.

“Sorry,” says John, his head muzzy. “You mind?”

“Not at all. We can come back next year, miss it all over again.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Go back to sleep, John.”

===

John wakes up on Christmas morning with grass stains on his pants, a head full of cheerful memories and his arms full of Rodney.

Mindful of Teyla’s instructions, he thinks he should probably take the opportunity to do something for himself today. He knows just the thing.

Rodney doesn’t even take much persuading.

Turns out puddlejumper sex is on both of their Christmas lists.

===

When John meets Ronon for a run the following day, Ronon looks him up and down and snorts, “Fucking finally.”

“We’ve really got to talk about your comma placement,” says John and doesn’t even mind when Ronon proceeds to run him ragged, a smirk on his face, giving no quarter at all.

===

A few days later, John’s waiting in the gate room for the Emmagen family to come home. Rodney’s terrorising his scientists back in the labs; getting laid doesn’t seem to have done anything to dull his cutting management style. John’s glad. He likes watching Rodney verbally eviscerate other people.

“You kids have fun?” he greets Teyla and Kanaan, as they step through the wormhole from the Athosians’ new home, gathering Torren up into his arms as he’s tackled around the knees by 26 pounds of squealing toddler.

“We did indeed,” says Teyla, as Kanaan nods, smiling at John as Torren attempts to pull at his hair. John takes it manfully, in his role as kinda-sorta-godparent-Uncle-John.

“And you? Did you do something for yourself, John?” Teyla asks, inclining her head towards him.

John smirks.

“Well,” he says, with a perky tip of his chin, “Not just myself.”

Teyla gives him a long, appraising look.

"So I see,” she says, apparently impressed.

John beams.

===