One week after Richard Woolsey approves Philicia Wang's proposal -- the "Green Atlantis! A Plant in Every Room" campaign -- David can't turn around without spotting a Spathiphyllum or a Philodendron or a Chlorophytum comosum. Philicia holds a Thursday evening class for new plant owners worried about sunlight and nutrition. David's not involved at all, though as department head he approves of any outreach to the general population. He's absolutely shocked when Evan, during a boring routine mission to observe abnormal lichen growth on PLG-439, lets it slip that John's a quasi-regular participant.
Evan grins with the unexpected pleasure of surprising David into silence. "Don't you guys talk when you're being golf buddies?" Evan asks, eyes squinty with amusement. "I told him to go to try and mend fences with your friends the botanists." He rolls his eyes, like he doesn't expect that much from John. David feels the familiar burn of dishonesty he has whenever John or Evan talk about each other, because while they are both out to him they aren't out to each other. Sometimes that secret knowledge feels like a bomb. "He likes it, though. You should see his desk, he's got this scraggly big-leafed thing. He's turning into Landry in his old age." Evan nudges David with his elbow. "You should give him a hand, Doc, he's really into the greenery groove."
David spends a good deal of time trying not to think about giving John a hand. It's easier when they're arguing over lunch about stupid eighties TV shows than when David's failing, yet again, to correct John's stance in golf. David certainly doesn't think fondly of John when he's ranting about stupid American military policies and John plays Devil's advocate. But when David gives John ebooks from the LGBTQ lending library, for his edification, it doesn't feel the same as when he loans Evan Queer As Folk DVDs. David has conflicted feelings towards John, who's curious but not experimenting, not that David knows of, anyway, and not that David would want to be John's experiment, except that he actually likes John and sometimes thinks about giving him a hand.
"He has good taste," David says, keeping his tone arch and light, and hands Evan the specimen case. "Unlike some people."
Evan grumbles as David collects sediment samples and sets them carefully in their labeled compartments; David cites, as evidence of poor taste, Evan's last five dating disasters. "You know Sheppard's going to be offworld for that big shindig," Evan says, changing the subject away from the really hot but creepy Dr Ofoi. "And get this, he asked me to plant-sit."
David eyes him. Evan tries to look innocent so hard that he nearly tips the case sideways and mixes everything up. David rights it with a quick poke. "Either he trusts you a lot or he secretly hates his plant."
Evan doesn't even try to look wounded, grin firmly in place. "Hey," he says. "I'm trustworthy."
Which is why when Evan shows up on David's doorstep Sunday evening carrying the saddest pothos David's ever seen, David is not surprised in the least. Three leaves fall off when Evan hands it over. Evan winces, and promises David real Girl Scout cookies from the next Daedalus shipment.
Houseplants have never really interested David. He likes complex ecosystems and extremophiles, and considers the time he spends in the hydroponic food gardens a punishment for something he did in a former life, or possibly as a TA. But he can do this for John, and he tells himself he has no ulterior motives apart from a natural greed where Girl Scout cookies are concerned.
John's team returns Monday afternoon, and David delivers the plant to John's room that evening after dinner. John opens the door looking sleepy and shower-damp, and David belatedly thinks that maybe he is overreaching whatever the boundaries of their friendship are.
But John gives him a smile and is happy to see his plant alive. He invites David in for a beer, waving David into the room with a sweep of his arm. David lets himself be installed on a weirdly squishy chair while John sits on the edge of the bed. There's a nice, respectable distance between their knees, and John looks guileless as he asks David how his week was.
David tells him about the sweeping changes being made in his department (moving legume research into Astrobotany Lab 5), and mentions that Evan has no appreciation for lichen, and talks about the film series the AQS is going to be showing. "Practically a festival," David says, "if we can borrow a screen and projector from the cryptozoologists, and maybe steal McKay's popcorn maker."
"I might be able to help with that," John says, with a conspiratorial eyebrow-tilt. He's leaning his weight back on one hand, so when he takes a swallow the lines of his jaw and throat and chest are very aesthetically pleasing. Objectively speaking. "I didn't know we had cryptozoologists."
"Only true believers can see them," David says, straightfaced, and John grins like that's funnier than it actually is. "I heard you were at a shindig."
"Is that what it was?" John rests his beer can on his knee. "Usually I just call it classified unless it turns into a brouhaha."
"A man's got to keep that aura of mystery," David agrees.
John raises his beer to him, and they drink to auras, or mystery, or possibly to men, David's not quite sure, but the end result is that there is no more beer.
John collects the cans to rinse out and sets them on the balcony to dry. "Want another?" he asks, waving at his mini-fridge.
David says no, which is what he meant to say, because of work tomorrow and his low tolerance for cheap beer, but then he adds, "Why me?" Which he didn't plan on saying at all, even though the question has been niggling at the back of his mind since his conversation with Evan. He doesn't quite think John's houseplant explains why David's gone from hardly ever seeing John to hanging out with him several times a week. The change had been so subtle David hadn't even really noticed until Evan seemed to take it for granted that David was in John's confidence, because they were friends. So now David's on his feet, prepared to go but stuck, standing purposeless and looking at John, thinking fuck.
John blinks at him and then takes a keen interest in his repotted plant. "What?" he says, looking confused, but his eyes, flicking from the pothos to David and back, are wary.
David shrugs. He lowers his voice and intones, "One's a brilliant botanist battling global climactic change -- in space. One's the fiercely loyal and dedicated commander of an alien city -- in space."
John's mouth twitches. "Together they fight crime?"
"In space," David adds intensely. John rolls his eyes. "I like being with you," David adds, trying to keep the light tone but add sincerity. "But I don't know why you. . . ." He twitches a finger between them, both indication and question. John looks cornered, and David feels terrible. "Never mind."
"No," John says, sharp. "Talking is good. It's what people do." He nods once and sits down again. After a pause, David sits down next to him. On the bed. Living dangerously. "Five years ago I was staring down separation and now I'm not, but. . . . I had plans. I wanted a nice house with a yard for the dog and I wanted to fly and not get shot at and I wanted someone to come home to."
John doesn't say anything after that, but there's an ominous omission of how he now sees his future. Maybe he's feeling fatalistic. David thinks of the Wraith and all the times he's heard that John nearly died offworld. He wonders if this is John seizing the day with the first gay person he can find, and how absolutely horrible that would be.
"Atlantis has a big queer community," David says as neutrally as possible, but it has to be said in conjunction with the Why me? that's still hanging in the air.
John rolls his eyes. "Yeah. I'm not naive." He says the word like it's synonymous with stupid, possibly due to working too long with McKay. David think there's another meaning there as well; that John's aware and not impetuous. Thoughtful, in a nearly sweet way. Then John looks away awkwardly, his expression pinching in embarrassment, and says, "I have a type, and you," breaking off there as if admitting even that much is painful.
"Oh," David says, trying for a knowing tone but probably sounding on the verge of laughter as tension pops like a soap bubble. "So it's purely physical, then?"
"It was," John says, sounding annoyed. David gives him a nudge with his elbow; John nudges back. "But you're smart and know what's in my head better than me, most days." He shrugs and leans back on his hands again. "I'm real good at handling rejection, FYI," he says, "and realistically I'd be a pretty bad boyfriend."
"Have you ever?" David starts. "Before, did -- ?"
But John's shaking his head, his face as neutrally bland is if they're discussing the weather or Saturday night's ping-pong tournament.
"Are you even interested in plants at all?" David asks, feeling less manipulated than he probably ought to be.
John's eyes flicker again to the pothos on his desk, which is recovering nicely after its ordeal with Evan. "I'm allergic to dogs," he says after a moment. "But it's nice to have something waiting when I get home."
David will not, will not, ask John if he talks to his plant. Mostly because he's next to positive that John does, that John needs a barrier to keep loneliness at bay and a reason to get up on the bad mornings. Even David has bad mornings; John must have more than his share. David wonders if the plant has a name.
"I can't do the stuff other guys can," John says. He looks apologetic. David's mind flips helpfully through a technicolor 3D Kama Sutra of bendy positions all featuring John Sheppard, and he nearly blurts out that he's more than willing to start slow, with handjobs, and work their way up to more athletic sex over a long, mutually-beneficial stretch of time. But John goes on, still with that air of detached regret that borders on the analytical, "Dates," he takes a breath, "holding hands, sleeping over, hanging out with friends. Paperwork, ceremonies."
And that's like ice water down the back of David's neck, sobering, because what, John's asking him to be his dirty little secret? Though he supposes, if he'd thought things through, that John can't offer anything more. John's being honest.
"I appreciate being friends. If you don't want, we can, no harm no foul, just -- " and John's voice trails off, his forehead wrinkling in the wake of that terse verbal meltdown.
There's David's escape right there, the place where he can say he won't hang out in John's closet, or he's just not that attracted to John in the first place, or he's not looking for a relationship. Any number of excuses, and all of them lies.
He thinks about what John will do if he says no. Talk to his plant, David supposes; it's not like he can tell anyone even if he's hurt. They can be just friends, except realistically David knows they never were. John is attracted and David is curious (and flattered, he has to admit to himself), and if there's nothing holding them together they will drift apart. He imagines how he'd feel if John started dating someone else. How John would feel if he did.
"This is so much easier in the movies," John says wryly, his mouth quirking up in self-deprecation. "You could just slap me or," a very slight hesitation, "kiss me."
David has to point out that he did kiss John first, all those months ago after the begonia fiasco, even if that kiss was more brotherly than rip my clothes off now.
"Okay," John says, resolute. David feels cruel -- he is more experienced, he has less to lose, maybe he should take the lead -- but God is it hot watching John be brave. John shifts forward and to the side and reaches out with his right hand, fingers curled so that he brushes David's cheek with the backs of his fingers as he leans in.
John tilts his head so there's no awkward nose-bumping, and then he's kissing David, a bit rough, like he's trying to be careful but just can't. Hot, hot, hot, David thinks, and he might enjoy teasing but now's not the time. He wraps his arms around John, and John shifts closer, mouth opening against David's, eyes falling shut. David slides one hand up along John's spine and into his hair, which is softer between his fingers than he'd thought it would be. John makes a noise and reaches out. Probably he's aiming for David's waist but he ends up with his palm flat against David's stomach. David is painfully aware that his shirt is untucked and worn thin.
David hasn't had such a frantic kiss since high school, he thinks. He never wants it to end. He wants to shove John down on the bed and strip him bare, or shove John down and blow him. Just like in the movies, he thinks, and they're not even kissing with tongue yet. John's going to be the death of him.
John pulls back with a breathy fuck and rests his forehead against David's. "Are we taking things slow?"
David's incredibly turned on and he thinks John must be, too; right now he doesn't want to be adult and responsible and careful. "Let's take things slow tomorrow," David suggests, and moves his other hand down so his fingers are under the waistband of John's pants.
John retaliates by pushing David's shirt up and tugging, pulling David up and then pushing him over so he tumbles on his back on the bed.
"Suave must be your middle name," David says, laughing and using John's belt loops to yank him into place, hands braced at the sides of David's head, knees framing David's thighs. John looks surprised and amused, and ducks his head for another kiss.
This time David holds John's head still and makes John go slow, opening John's mouth with his tongue and working up to a languid tongue-fucking that has David's toes curling and John panting. David puts one hand on John's ass and pushes down until John catches a clue. John lowers himself gingerly, breathing hard when he asks, "Are you okay?"
In answer, David rolls his hips up to meet John's, and he can feel John's dick. Houston, we have frottage, he thinks, a little dizzy at the thought. He doesn't know if John's ever done this before, but David figures John's bright, he'll catch on. He keeps kissing John and moving against him, slow but not gentle, and John makes a noise that catches on David's tongue and sets him on fire.
David probably should have warned John that his brain never turns off even during sex, or perhaps especially during sex; he thinks about everything and he has unrelated flashes of inspiration and some lurid X-rated fantasies. His fantasies right now are all about getting John naked and claiming every single first-time possible.
"Shirt," David says, sliding his palms along John's sides as he pushes fabric up. John's skin is warm, or maybe David's hands are cold; John sucks in air at the touch and jerks when David lets a thumb slide close to one nipple.
"Yeah okay," John says, slurring the words into one as he sits up and yanks his shirt over his head. "You, too."
The buttons on David's polo shirt are already undone. He hadn't noticed John doing that, but John smirks and raises an eyebrow. As soon as David's shirt hits the floor, John stretches out over him again.
David raises his head until he's mouthing John's throat, and then says, conversationally, "I want to watch you come."
"Not going to be a problem," John says, and, "Kiss me," his voice rasping the words into a question.
The minor wiggling adjustments necessary to move into kissing range also give David a chance to get their dicks lined up and not bent at painful angles by pants and underwear. David's courteous like that.
John twists hard, like he's trying to get away from David's touch, and David's not going to stop him if he does want out, because of course this has to be new and different and scary to John as well as hot. But John pushes down against David and comes, stifling a groan but not quite catching a series of shuddering gasps, his forehead pressed to David's chest. It's devastatingly sexy but also reveals John as vulnerable, like he's been broken wide open, and David has the nearly superstitious impulse to box him up again, put the genie back in the bottle, because John's complicated and David, God help him, wants to keep him around until he figures him out.
David's obviously distracted by his thoughts, because he doesn't notice John moving until John slides off to the side and pulls down the zipper on David's shorts to shove his hand in David's underwear and grab his dick. Suddenly David can't keep a single thought straight in his head -- which must be John's intent, because he grins with a competitive kind of self-satisfaction and says, "Slow or fast?"
All David can manage is, "Please," which he repeats and keeps repeating as John's hand keeps up a maddening rhythm, never quite enough. Finally he pushes himself up enough to start fucking the ring of John's fingers, intent on taking his own pleasure if John won't give it to him. Bastard.
"Come on, then," John says, "Come on," and then he grabs a handful of David's hair and pulls him into a kiss. David kisses very badly, because he comes as soon as John's tongue is in his mouth.
David's content to drift bonelessly on pleasure in the aftermath of orgasm. John shifts, and David opens his eyes to see John licking come from across the backs of his fingers, his forehead furrowed thoughtfully as if in concentration.
"Oh, fuck," David says. John's eyes flick up, a little startled, as if he hadn't realized what he was doing, or hadn't figured he'd get caught. "That's criminally sexy," he adds, just so John knows he approves.
John blinks, and then semaphores something with his eyebrows. He starts licking again, carefully dipping his tongue between his fingers as if trying to get every last taste of David from his skin. David wonders if John does this after he masturbates; if he pretends he's jerking someone else off with his hand around his dick. Someday, David decides, he's going to watch.
When John seems to be satisfied, he sits up and asks, "Shower?"
"Don't want to move," David says, but showering seems as good a way as any to put the awkwardness off a bit longer. Plus he doesn't want to walk around Atlantis with come drying uncomfortably on his skin, and of course John came in his pants and probably is finding that more uncomfortable than hot by now.
When they're both clean and mostly dry and dressed, John glances at David and then away.
"I wish I could tell people," John says.
"You wish," David says, and gives John a bit of a grin. "I'm going steady with the Atlantis equivalent of the homecoming king."
John rolls his eyes. "I've seen your Discovery Channel programs," he says mildly. "I'm pretty sure they called you world-renowned."
This is new information. David stares. "Stalker."
"Lorne has your greatest hits," John tosses off casually. David's surprise must show on his face, because the teasing expression vanishes from John's face. "Seriously, you were in a bunch of documentaries that Lorne loaned me when I was laid up this one time." He gives David a somewhat disturbing eyebrow-waggle. "I've seen you in a three piece suit and necktie discussing post-apocalyptic environmental change. It was hot."
"We could tell Lorne," David suggests, not wanting to break the news that he doesn't like suits or neckties. He'd only worn them when he had looked too young to be taken seriously without. Although if John asked nicely. . . .
"No," John says. He gives David a pained look. "Sorry. I know he's your friend."
David sighs. "If I were sleeping with a student, I wouldn't be eager to tell anyone in my department and get fired."
John bites his lip for a second, and then says, "Thank you."
David reaches for John's hand, patient through John's confusion until he understands and belatedly puts his hand in David's. David tugs him closer and leans in for a kiss. John manages to turn what was meant to be a quick friendly kiss into something intense, with full-body contact and desperation.
John finally breaks it off and drops his head to David's shoulder, breathing hard. After a moment he says, "I'll do pretty much anything to make this work."
David gets a chill right down his spine at that, and then feels John's warmth against him doubly much. He wonders when John watched Lorne's videos, thinks it must have been before that time with the hallucinations, and is suddenly sure that John's been courting him slowly and patiently for months. David's been complacent, thinking he had the upper hand, the weight of experience and knowledge and all that, without realizing that John is -- that John --
"David?" John's voice is just that bit more cautious, and David can feel him start to pull back.
David can't come out and say, I just realized you're in love with me, let me process, but he does tighten his arms so John can't get away.
"I'm having a moment," David says into John's hair. "I don't start new relationships every day, you know."
"Please don't," John says, still a bit wary and defensive, and then makes David's heart clench up when he tries to stifle a yawn, fails, and then adds a sheepish, "Sorry."
"Can I stay over tonight?" David asks. "Or is that pushing?"
He feels a bit bad when John has to weigh this in his mind, desire versus danger, but then John says, "What color toothbrush do you want?" and it's easy and comfortable to settle into a nightly routine as if they've been doing this for years.
In bed, in the moonlight spilling through John's ineffectual curtains, David wraps himself around John and says drowsily, "I really like you."
John doesn't reply. When David lifts his head to look, John's sound asleep, mouth open slightly, face half-mashed into the pillow It's like being casually tossed something precious and priceless. David brushes a hand through John's hair as he settles back and closes his eyes, thinking about love.
the .:. end
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