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A Little Learning

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“A little learning is a dang’rous thing.” – Alexander Pope

Maybe he was a masochist. John seriously thought he might be, considering he was wandering the halls of Atlantis looking for Rodney McKay. Surely, it should’ve been enough he’d spent fifteen hours on a puddlejumper with him listening to Rodney and Gaul argue about concepts John only had a passing acquaintance with. Abrams had tried to keep the atmosphere congenial with occasional breaks for food and invitations to play Tetris, and John did his part by distracting Rodney with flying lessons, although Dr. Gaul always looked a little green when Rodney took the controls.

Then there’d been the battle of wills with the Wraith-Who-Wouldn’t-Die and less than a day later, they’d been flying back to Atlantis with Abrams’ and Gaul’s aged dead bodies. He’d been surprised when Rodney insisted it should be them transporting the two scientists, but John had nodded and instructed the marines to put the bodies aboard their repaired jumper. He’d ridden with the dead before.

“Shall we join you, Major?” Teyla had asked, meaning she would gladly ride with them or change places with one of them if John requested, but John had looked at Rodney’s dusty face and shook his head. The four of them had come out here together—they’d go home together, too, even if John suspected Rodney had no idea how hard a burden it was to accompany the dead.

Another fifteen hour trip home and John found himself starting conversations only to have Rodney look at him with exhausted eyes and shake his head, as if he didn’t have the energy to even snipe at John. He hadn’t thought it was possible for Rodney to be voluntarily silent for more than a few minutes, but the whole trip back he didn’t say more than a handful of words, and John was actually relieved when Rodney finally dropped off to sleep because at least then the silence was natural. Bearable. Then all he had to deal with was the weight of the dead men they carried and Rodney’s snores. He could live with that.

Even after the memorial service was done, after they’d both been cleared for missions by Beckett, Rodney remained quieter than usual. When he looked at John it was with a certain measure of anguish that hadn’t been there before and their interactions had become more professional and less personal. It hadn’t been John’s choice. For some reason, Rodney was drifting away and John didn’t like it. Hated it. He’d gotten used to McKay being there, being McKay in all his screwed-up, over-the-top, “I’m a genius and you’re not” glory. And he’d grown to like it, so much so that he missed it when it wasn’t there.

He needed to find out what the hell was going on with McKay. He wanted him back.

***

John stood outside Teyla’s quarters, one hand raised to knock, and then he heard a familiar voice.

“Wait, just—just—give me a minute.” Rodney sounded out of breath, voice shot through with stress and exertion.

“Are you certain you want to do this, Dr. McKay?”

“Yes, yes, yes. Just—” Another wheeze from Rodney, and John splayed his hand flat against the door but didn’t knock. Teyla didn’t usually hold training sessions in her quarters. In the evening. John didn’t know she and McKay spent any time together outside of missions.

“Rodney.” Or that Teyla called him Rodney.

“No, I want to do this.” There was something in Rodney’s voice John recognized. Determination and an underlying sense of need, although John didn’t know how he’d learned to identify need in Rodney’s voice. He’d definitely been spending too much time with McKay.

“You must breathe. Deeply. Let go of what troubles you. This will help.”

Her voice was like an invitation wrapped in silk. John could hear her as she moved around the room. He could almost picture the way she would shift, small graceful steps, circling Rodney, gently settling a hand against his shoulder, his back.

“Breathe, Doctor. This is nothing we have not done before.”

John considered what that might mean when he heard Rodney give an awkward chuckle. “Teyla, if you don’t want to—I mean, you really don’t have to—”

“You are my friend. You asked for assistance. I would be remiss if I did not do all I could for you.” John sensed she had moved closer, probably standing right in front of Rodney. Maybe she placed her hands on his broad shoulders, leaned in so her forehead touched his, Rodney’s hands pale and large against Teyla’s bare shoulders. “But, I do believe you should tell Major Sheppard—”

John’s ears perked up. “You agreed not to say anything.”

“I know, but I believe the Major would be most understanding of your desire to—”

“Teyla.” Rodney’s tone was pleading.

“As you wish.”

“Okay.” The sound of deep breaths, Teyla’s voice dropping to a soft rhythmic lilt of encouragement. John could imagine her fingers trailing along Rodney’s arm, down to the thick bones of his wrist, the hands that never stopped moving. Maybe she would place her palms flat against Rodney’s chest, fingers splayed the same way John’s were against the cool surface of the door. She would feel his heart beating wildly, and try to gentle him with her touch. John could picture it as clearly as if there was no door between them.

“Maybe if we could—um, could go back to what we were doing before?” Rodney sounded almost shy, hopeful. “But more slowly. I think I’m getting the hang of that.”

“You are doing very well.” There was a smile in Teyla’s voice. “We can do anything you like.”

John stepped away from the door. There was no need to interrupt, nothing for him here. Teyla was … training Rodney. Giving him some kind of lessons. That was all. Something that involved touch and relaxation. Something they had obviously done before.

John knew the idea of it being anything more was ridiculous. This was Teyla. And Rodney. John scrubbed a hand through his hair and shook his head as he ambled away. There was nothing going on, and even if there was, it was none of his business.

Absolutely none.

***

Carson had told John to swing by the infirmary after lunch. The blonde nurse, the one with the nice smile, just waved him towards the back examination room that doubled as an office when Carson needed. There was a sheet drawn around the area and John could hear two familiar voices. He stopped and waited.

“You have the patience of an incontinent badger,” Carson said irritably.

“And you would know, wouldn’t you? I knew you had more than a passing acquaintance with the inner workings of furry things with four legs. You know entirely too much about them to be a real doctor.”

“Rodney, you’d make the angels reconsider their vocation, you know? I said I would help, but—”

“I’m sorry, I’m … sorry. I’m not used to being bad at things, and this is important.”

“Rodney.”

“All right, yes, let’s just carry on—can we just try it again? Once more?”

Carson gave a tired sigh. “Aye, but we best hurry. I told the Major to stop by and—”

“I don’t want him to know about this, Carson. Just let me try again.”

There was the sound of the bed moving slightly, wheels squeaking on the tile floor. John could only see one set of feet turned towards the bed—Carson’s from the looks of them—and there was the sound of fabric rustling and Rodney grunting hoarsely.

“Okay, steady. Keep the pressure on, wrap it around—yes, that’s it.”

“I’ve got it.” Rodney sounded as if he had something in his mouth, and John hesitated. What the hell were they doing?

“Now slide your finger in. There.” Carson’s voice was calm, as if he was explaining how to take someone’s temperature instead of … well, John couldn’t quite imagine what Carson was explaining, but Rodney was in there, lying on the bed, maybe with his knees up and his legs spread …

“It feels tight,” Rodney said. John stared at the curtain and wished for backlighting. He needed to know what the hell was going on with Rodney these days. He’d been distant, and he certainly hadn’t been asking John for any kind of help. Especially not this kind of help. John closed his eyes and listened to Rodney’s small noises as he wrestled with whatever he was doing. John tried not to think of fingers, blunt and strong, pushing, tight, and oh, God …

“Aye, just like that. It should be tight, lad. And if you’re doing it yourself, it should be even tighter.”

John took a step back. He didn’t want to know. Anything. His brain was already supplying images he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forget, Rodney’s fingers and tight areas and what he could do to himself or someone else. John’s face was hot as he backed away from the curtain and fled.

***

John thought maybe he should talk to Ford, see if he’d noticed anything strange about McKay’s behaviour lately. He tracked him down to the gym. When John passed his hands over the panel to open the door, it beeped in protest. Locked. Common areas weren’t supposed to be looked. Ever.

“Ford?” John banged on the door with one hand. “Hey, open up.”

There was the sound of scrambling, heavy military boots on hardwood floors, and two voices—one slow and casual, one frantic and a little bit breathless. McKay. John was starting to think there was something going on that everyone knew about except him.

The door slid open and a sweaty red-faced McKay emerged with his jacket bundled in front of him. In front of his groin, and John did not want to be thinking about Rodney’s groin or any reason he might want to hide it behind his jacket. Maybe it was just a coincidence.

“Rodney?”

“Major, I was—we were—”

“Hey, Major,” Ford said, standing just behind Rodney and wiping his face with a towel. He was wearing a damp t-shirt and loose sweat pants, and John was definitely not looking to see if Ford had been up to something. So to speak.

“Ford. A little unscheduled training?”

“Um—”

If possible, Rodney flushed even brighter and managed to stammer out, “None of your business, Major. We’re on our own time. You don’t get to ask, and I don’t have to tell.”

As soon as the words were out, Rodney blinked, started to retract what he’d said, then apparently deciding that was futile, took off towards the residential area. Ford turned and fled back into the gym, and John stood there opened mouth.

What. The. Fuck?

“Ford, you open this damn door right now or you are going to be pulling inventory duty for the rest of your tour.”

The door slid open to show Ford trying to suppress a fit of giggles in the corner.

“Lieutenant.” John leaned in the doorway and crossed his arms over his chest. “Would you like to tell me what you and Dr. McKay were doing, or am I going to have to make sure you have no off-duty time ever again?”

Ford smirked like the boy that he was, but drew himself up into a posture of attention. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss it, sir.”

“You’re not at—Ford, I’m your commanding officer.”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right, I order you to tell me what’s going on.”

“I can’t do that, sir.” Ford’s giggles had subsided and been replaced by a steady tone. The same tone that would’ve reeled off his name, rank, and serial number. John wasn’t going to get anywhere with Ford. That was clear. Not without some serious threats or blackmail.

He tried a different approach. “Aiden, look. I’m worried about McKay. Ever since we got back from the satellite—since Gaul and Abrams—he hasn’t been himself.”

“He said you’d be concerned if you knew, sir.” Ford’s brows were furrowed, as if he was trying to decide if keeping quiet was really the best thing after all. John just had to keep working on him.

“So what isn’t he telling me?” John needed to know. Rodney wasn’t only his friend, he was on his team, and therefore John’s responsibility. If Rodney needed help dealing with what had happened, he could do that. He’d send him to Heightmeyer or whatever it took. Rodney should know that. Not be sneaking around getting help from everyone who wasn’t John.

Ford shook his head, decision made, and it wasn’t the one John had hoped for. “I can’t say, sir. Wouldn’t be right.”

“Ford.”

“Really, sir. He’s dealing with it. Nobody minds helping him out.”

John raised an eyebrow. “Look, Lieutenant, I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but tell McKay,” John paused, sorting through his feelings carefully. He wanted to be the one Rodney came to. If he needed comfort, if he needed this interaction, John wanted it to be from him. Not anyone else. “Tell him he can come to me.”

“Really, sir?”

“Yes, really, Lieutenant. Why do you sound so surprised?” Rodney must have said something, given Ford some reason to think John wouldn’t be okay with this, wouldn’t understand.

“I just didn’t think you and McKay were … well, quite frankly, sir, you two don’t seem like you’re on the same page a lot of the time. The way you argue and all.”

“We don’t argue,” John protested, trying to find an appropriate word for what they did. He definitely shouldn’t call it flirting. It was banter. Friendly banter, and it was a sign of exactly how much they were on the same page, as far as John was concerned. Had he been reading things wrong? Had McKay missed the affectionate undertone of the barbs and only heard the words?

“Looks like arguing to me,” Ford said. “Sir,” he added hastily when he saw John’s face darken.

“Do you know where McKay was heading?”

“I believe his next appointment was with Sergeant--”

“Appointment?” John asked. Rodney was setting up appointments for … interaction? John really couldn’t convince himself it was all about sex. This was McKay. Sure, he was solid and kind of attractive in his own way with those ocean-blue eyes and that crooked smile. Those hands that never stopped moving, hands that made promises about what they could do, how deftly they could move. John had watched Rodney rewire a jumper with the same care and attention he would probably bring to a handjob, and John felt his cock twitch and decided maybe he should be the one carrying his jacket over his groin.

Maybe it really was about sex, after all.

“He’s got appointments?” John repeated incredulously. Damn.

“I shouldn’t have said that.” Ford looked embarrassed. “Major, he needs this. Just let him work it out, okay? No one minds. The doc’s saved our lives more times than we can count, and we’re all willing to go to the mat for him. As many times as he needs to prove himself.”

John just stared at Ford’s earnest face, the hair on his forehead damp with sweat. He tried not to imagine Ford pinning Rodney against the blue mats in the gym, straddling him with his thighs, and making McKay’s eyes roll back in his head. Maybe Rodney was already hard when Ford touched him. Maybe he traced the outline of Rodney’s nipples through his pale blue shirt, teased the zipper down with his teeth. Maybe … John shook his head and backed out the door.

“This isn’t finished, Lieutenant."

Rodney wasn’t dealing with what had happened to Gaul and Abrams—that much was clear. John had seen it before, guys who tried to lose themselves in sex, but he hadn’t ever expected it from Rodney, and he hadn’t expected McKay to be meeting with unprecedented success instead of opposition. Since when had everyone jumped on the McKay bandwagon? Granted, Rodney did kind of grow on people after a while, and there were days when he’d had enough food and sleep and coffee, when the world wasn’t a step away from ending when Rodney seemed downright pleasant to be around. Like a super-smart Furby. Cuddly and mouthy, but still something you wanted to be near—most of the time—when you could get past the urge to throw it in a closet and beat it to death with a broom handle. Or maybe that was just John.

And if Rodney needed this, needed sex, comfort, reassurance that he was alive, why hadn’t he come to John? They were friends. Improbable friends, maybe, but they’d been through a lot together. They’d faced down a Wraith together. John had taught Rodney how to hold a gun, and he spent most of his days watching the man’s back. Not because he didn’t trust him to take care of himself, just because … well, John liked knowing Rodney was there. That he was okay, and yes, he’d noticed the man’s ass on more than one occasion when he was saving it, so if Rodney had wanted something more, John wouldn’t have been opposed to exploring the possibility.

But maybe Rodney didn’t know that. Maybe John needed to tell him before he slept his way through the half of Atlantis that didn’t include John.

"Who's he meeting, Ford?"

"Sergeant Bates, sir."

Bates? No, there was no way. No damn way.

"I would've given him mine, sir, but I lost it a while ago. Sorry." Ford stood there looking a little bit guilty, and John just backed away because clearly the whole damn galaxy had lost its mind.

John checked in with the control room and found Sergeant Bates had armoury duty. John was going to put a stop to this destructive behaviour and save McKay from himself. Right now. And if it meant offering to have sex with Rodney himself, well, he was prepared to do that.

For Rodney’s sake, of course.

***

“A book?” John said, knowing he’d just repeated Sergeant Bates’s last three sentences, and the man was looking at him like he was a baby seal who’d suffered one too many blows to the head. Too cute for its own good, but inherently stupid.

“Yes, sir,” Bates acknowledged patiently. “Dr. McKay wanted to borrow a book. I gave it to him, and he left. I believe he was headed back to the lab.”

“What book?”

Bates seemed to think for a moment, then shook his head. “Sorry, sir. It was a personal request from Dr. McKay. I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss it with you.”

John snapped. It was a book, a damn book, and what could he possibly be borrowing from Bates? Rodney didn’t even like the guy! It couldn’t be anything that personal. He couldn’t picture Rodney sauntering up to Bates and requesting his copy of Gay Sex for Dummies. Not that Rodney would need such a thing. Gay Sex for Geniuses maybe, but … John took a deep breath and convinced himself it was not in his best interests to strike a marine. Especially one who would gladly press charges.

John put his hands on his hips, and tried one more time. “You’re not going to tell me what the book was, are you?”

“No, sir.”

“Torture wouldn’t help?”

“I’m a U.S. Marine, sir. Torture is part of boot camp.”

“As you were, Sergeant,” John said, and headed for the labs. McKay had to be stopped. Before he drove John completely out of his mind.

***

The door to Rodney’s lab was closed and locked when John got there, but he could still see the two blue-shirted scientists through the observation window. Zelenka and McKay were seated side-by-side—awfully close together, John thought—on a pair of lab stools, and they appeared to be totally engrossed in whatever was directly in front of them. In Rodney’s lap.

John leaned his head against the window and screamed inwardly. This was not happening. He pressed his ear to the window and concentrated on what was being said.

“No, no, no,” Rodney was saying. “Look at it. It’s not right.”

“Is exactly the same. Exactly.” Radek’s hands were thrown up in the air for a moment before he dropped them back to Rodney’s lap.

“No, it’s too thick, it’s got a weird curve in the middle, and the texture’s all wrong.”

“And how would you know that? You have grip like Hercules on it. No wonder Major is telling you to ease up on puddlejumper. One day you will break something off.”

John couldn’t help but grin. Rodney did have a fierce grip when he flew, especially when he was nervous or scared or, well, alive. Rodney just didn’t have a light touch. John had spent more than one lesson saying “relax” and hoping that the puddlejumper wouldn’t take letting Rodney fly as some kind of a personal affront. Sometimes John got a feeling the jumper was almost sentient, and if it could’ve given him a turkey sandwich, it probably would’ve. He settled for letting it keep him out of trouble, responding to his touches with only the faintest coaxing. Rodney hadn’t gotten the hang of that yet. In any area, apparently.

“It doesn’t feel the same,” Rodney complained. “It usually vibrates a little.”

Radek launched into a stream of Czech that thankfully covered John’s strangled groan, and just made Rodney get louder in an attempt to be heard.

“Seriously, Radek, I need this. You’ve had access to the original. It shouldn’t be that difficult to create a replica with the same responses built in. It’s not rocket science.”

With that, Rodney started to get up, and John darted away from the door before he could be seen. Access to the original? And it vibrated? John was really wishing he’d brought his jacket with him now because he was seriously hard and wondering if Elizabeth had been right about wanting to keep a closer eye on what happened in the labs. It did seem like Radek’s expertise wasn’t confined to jumper systems and engineering.

John had managed to get around the corner before Rodney swooped out of the lab. He’d track him down later. When he wasn’t quite so wound up. After he’d had some time to think of things that didn’t involve anything associated with Rodney’s lap.

***

“Yes, Major?” Rodney stood in the doorway to his quarters, blocking the entrance. Behind him, John could just see the unmade bed, the laptop glowing with some sort of three-dimensional design that circled in an infinite loop, the remains of a half-eaten MRE on the cluttered desk. Something meaty and brown with gravy.

“Can I come in?”

“No.” Rodney crossed his arms and didn’t budge. “I’ve got work to do.”

“Are you mad at me?”

“Should I be?”

“McKay.” John didn’t want to fight. He just wanted to know what was going on. They were still friends, weren’t they? “I want to talk to you—”

“So talk.”

“—and it’s a conversation I’d rather not have in the hallway,” John finished. Rodney never made anything easy. The blue eyes narrowed at him, and Rodney stepped back enough to allow him entrance. John scanned the room once, his eyes lighting on a book on the corner of the desk. Rodney seemed to register what John was looking for at about the same time and they collided as they both lunged. John’s arms were longer, though, and he’d played football. He managed to hold on to the paperback even as they tumbled to the floor in an unglorified heap, the remains of the meatloaf MRE landing squarely on top of them.

“Major!”

“I just wanted to see the—Rodney, let go of the damn—Rodney!” John tugged, keeping his arms wrapped around the book as he would a football, and finally managed to wrestle it away from McKay by rolling backwards. He didn’t even care that there was meatloaf gravy in his hair.

“What the hell are you doing?” McKay sputtered, wiping gravy off his face and licking his finger in a way John should not have found at all attractive. “It’s a book—it’s just a book, and it’s none of your goddamn business.”

Rodney’s voice was not at all convincing, and John hunched his shoulders up in a protective gesture, carefully turning his prize over in his hands. He held a slightly battered, grease-spotted copy of The U.S. Marine Corps Guide to Field Protocol.

Huh. Well, that was a surprise.

“What the hell is going on with you?” John said. “You up and enlist when I wasn’t looking?”

“I was just curious,” Rodney said, grabbing the book away from John and tossing it upwards towards the desk where it collided with a stack of journals that had been resting precariously close to the edge. John watched them go like a barrel over Niagara Falls. Rodney, resigned, flopped backwards onto the floor beside him.

“Rodney, come on. We’re friends.” John reached out and picked a piece of onion out of Rodney’s hair and flicked it across the room towards the trash. He missed. “You’ve been avoiding me ever since we got back from the satellite. Since Gaul and Abrams died.”

Rodney looked away, and it was so pitiful, John felt his heart breaking. He’d do anything to get Rodney to stop feeling the way he looked. Lost and sad and completely alone. John let his fingers trail along Rodney’s forehead, brushing aside the stray wisps of hair.

“Major, just—just let it go, okay? I’m dealing with it in my own way. Maybe it’s not the best way, but—but I really don’t need your permission to do this.”

“You’re on my team—” John started to say, and maybe it was something he’d said a thousand times before, but this time Rodney’s eyes flared with anger and John found himself sitting up and backing away—just a little—as Rodney sat up and glared at him.

“And maybe that’s why I’m doing this! It’s not just your team, you asshole. It’s mine too, and every time we go out and someone doesn’t come back, that’s as much my fault as yours. We screwed up on that planet. Both of us, and Gaul and Abrams were the ones who paid for it. And you—you—dammit, John, why couldn’t you just leave it alone?”

“Because watching you sleep your way through Atlantis to deal with the fact we lost two people isn’t my idea of a good time, Rodney!” John yelled back, not realizing he was shouting until he heard the echo of his words bouncing off the walls. Atlantis had damn fine acoustics.

Rodney blinked, looking owlish and confused. “Would you like to run that by me again?”

John really, really didn’t want to, but he did because Rodney was looking at him like he was about to haul him down to the infirmary and John started to realize that maybe, just maybe, Rodney wasn’t the only one who’d been acting insane here. John had been stalking him for the last week or so, paying way more attention to Rodney’s sex life than his own—not that he had one to speak of—and maybe this wasn’t about Rodney at all.

John was so, so screwed, and he knew it for certain when Rodney started to laugh.

***

“It was a reasonable assumption,” John said hotly after Rodney stopped cackling like a hyena and John had given up trying to make him stop by poking him in the side. They were still on the floor, but it wasn’t uncomfortable, and for the first time in a week John felt like things were almost normal between them. Even the meatloaf gravy in his hair wasn’t really that strange, all things considered.

“Reasonable in what universe? Granted, I’m really quite a catch, but most of the idiots here don’t know that—except you, apparently—and you can’t possibly think that Teyla, that Teyla and I—not to mention Ford and Beckett?” Rodney started to laugh again, and John couldn’t help it. It was actually kind of funny now that it had been pointed out to him that he was completely insane.

“I heard you and Teyla. You were all breathless and needy.” Rodney raised an eyebrow at him, but John pushed down his embarrassment and kept going. “It sounded like …”

“Sex, apparently,” Rodney said, still snickering, “although I think I should be hurt that you used ‘breathless and needy’ to characterize my approach to sex. I can assure you it’s a lot more diverse than that.”

John didn’t need to know that. He closed his eyes and tried not to remember how Rodney had sounded that day, tried even harder not to think about the man lying a foot away from him. Not breathless or needy, but confident, comfortable, tapping out a complicated rhythm against the floor with one hand while he talked.

“It was an honest mistake.”

“Yes, I can see how you would confuse ‘being beaten with sticks’ noises with sex. This says a lot about you. I’ve always wondered about your training sessions with Teyla.”

“Rodney.”

“No, no, I get it. Sex and violence go hand-in-hand for the warrior caste. You heard me wheezing my lungs out and assumed Teyla was taking one for the team. I get it.”

“Oh, for the love of God, would you—”

“But what about Carson?” Rodney propped himself up on his elbow and looked at John carefully. “You had no reason to think I was even interested in men. Did you?”

“I hadn’t ever thought about it,” John lied, and Rodney smirked at him because he knew it was a lie, but it was one Rodney seemed willing to let him get away with for the moment. “But Carson was …” John draped an arm over his eyes and prayed for mercy. He still didn’t know what Beckett had been talking to Rodney about, and he wished he’d never started this conversation because Rodney wasn’t the type to let things go. Anything. “He was talking about fingers and how things would be tight and—”

John peeked out from under his arm and saw that Rodney’s face had turned slightly pink. Good. At least he wasn’t the only one partly mortified by the turn of the conversation.

“And you thought—your natural default assumption was—”

“Look, I can’t help what it sounded like!”

And just like that Rodney was a foot closer than he’d been a moment before. John could feel the warmth against his side, and he didn’t move, didn’t breathe, didn’t say a word.

“Let me get this straight,” Rodney said, and if there seemed to be an emphasis on the word ‘straight,’ John couldn’t imagine that it was particularly important, “you really, seriously, idiotically”—John would’ve winced at that if it hadn’t been true—“thought that because I was having a hard time dealing with things, I was sleeping my way through the population of Atlantis, sleeping with team members--except you, of course—getting advice on sexual techniques from a man who’s most recent partner probably had four legs and went ‘baaaa,’ and that I needed a book, a book to round out my sexual education, and—”

“I didn’t really—”

“I’m not finished, Major.” John could see the shadow of a finger being waved in the air over his head. “A book borrowed from a marine so straight-laced that he could give a corset a run for its money, and then, then, because The Complete Encyclopedia of Gay Sex for Astrophysicists and Other Sexually-Challenged Scientists wasn’t enough, I apparently instructed my colleague, who has been known to spout Czech incoherently and steam up his own glasses when confronted with Elizabeth in a modestly low-cut blouse, to make me a—what was it?—yes, some kind of vibrating penis-like sex toy modeled on the original, which of course, you naturally took to mean me. As if I’d be letting Zelenka anywhere near me with plaster of Paris and liquid latex. Did I miss anything?”

John shook his head. If Rodney had missed anything, he wasn’t about to draw attention to it. All he wanted was to slink away, back to his quarters, and forget this conversation, this whole thing had ever happened.

“You’re an even bigger idiot than I thought,” Rodney said, and John took his arm away and looked up into Rodney’s face. He still had a spot of gravy on his cheek, and John resisted the urge to wipe it off. It was Rodney and it would’ve been okay to do it because they were friends and comfortable enough to lie on the floor and talk about all the sex Rodney hadn’t been having, but John had a bad feeling if he touched him, it wouldn’t stop there. It maybe wouldn’t stop at all, and thing almost seemed normal between them, or as normal as things ever were. He didn’t want to lose everything for one touch.

"John, just because you've been thinking about having sex with me doesn't mean everyone wants to."

And there was the crux of the situation in a nutshell. John's rational mind had flown the coop even when he knew, he knew there was a logical explanation for everyone's behaviour--except maybe his. Because this thing with Rodney wasn't conducive to rational thought at all.

Rodney leaned closer, and John felt his heart beat faster, couldn’t help the way his head came off the floor an inch or two, the way his tongue darted out to lick his own lips. Anticipation or just nerves, he wasn’t sure which. But Rodney stopped leaning and started talking and John settled back down and tried to keep his head in the game.

“We weren’t supposed to have this conversation. Not for weeks, anyway. Maybe not ever. I was—you were right. I wasn’t dealing with it well, but,” Rodney looked at John fondly, like he wanted to ruffle his hair for being so silly. “I wasn’t drowning my sorrows in sex—huh, I should be so lucky. I just didn’t—didn’t want to go through that again, being in a situation where I felt so helpless. Powerless. You were out there with that Wraith and I was stuck massaging Gaul’s fingers, listening to explosions, and wondering if you were dead.”

“Rodney—”

“No, just shut up and listen. You could’ve been killed because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do—stay with Gaul or go after you. Gaul took it out of my hands, and—and I’m sorry he had to do that, except that it probably saved us both.”

“You saved my life.”

“No, Ford saved our lives. And Elizabeth—because she’s a very smart woman who doesn’t think we can stay out of trouble, and she’s usually right. And even the glowy bugs saved our lives. Me, not so much. I can’t even fly the damn puddlejumper in a straight line.”

“Rodney, you hit that Wraith with everything you had. You bought us time. I was—I was damn proud of you.”

“Well, if I’d missed, I probably would’ve hit you, and then that would’ve been an even bigger problem, don’t you think?” Rodney let out a frustrated sigh. “I couldn’t afford to miss. But I’m not trained for things like that. I—I don’t have a clue what I’m doing most of the time, and when you’re not there to tell me … well, I just figured maybe it shouldn’t be your responsibility anymore.”

“You’re on my—”

“Yes, yes, on your team, I got that, you can stop repeating it. But see, you’re on my team too, and that means I don’t want you getting hurt either.” Rodney’s voice was quieter, and John knew he wasn’t saying everything. Maybe it wasn’t that important to say it.

Realization started to sink in. “You were getting lessons from everyone. Stick fighting from Teyla. Hand-to-hand from Ford.”

“Yes, yes, protocol from the book Bates lent me, although quite frankly there are some key things wrong with the whole chain of command thing, and there are at least three sections that completely contradict one another. I’m beginning to wonder if the military doesn’t keep attention-deficit grammatically-challenged gerbils on retainer because—”

If John let him continue, he’d never hear the end of it, and he wasn’t sure he disagreed. “What about Beckett?”

Rodney blushed. “Um, field dressings. You had to wrap your arm out there. I just wanted to make sure I could do the same if I needed to. Apparently you test if it’s tight enough by slipping a finger underneath the bandage.”

Yeah, field dressings had to be tight if they were going to do any good. “And Zelenka?”

“You’ll love this.” Rodney’s face lit up enthusiastically. “He’s working on a flight simulator for the jumpers. Small control panel that simulates the yoke design, but it’s still not—”

“Not quite like the original,” John finished, thinking back to what he’d heard Rodney say in the lab. “Yeah, the sticks do vibrate slightly when the jumper’s in flight.”

“All perfectly innocent.”

“Apparently.”

“I think I like your version better, though,” Rodney said. “At least that way I was getting some action other than being pounded into the floor by both Teyla and Ford.”

John flushed at the visual image, and Rodney let out a sharp laugh. “Jeez, who knew you had such a filthy mind, Sheppard!” Then he was leaning over John again, and this time he let his hand drift across John’s ribs. “You shouldn’t look this hot with meatloaf in your hair, you know?”

“Sorry,” John murmured, but he wasn’t sorry at all. His hand slipped around the back of Rodney’s neck and pulled him down until their mouths found each other. The first touch was tentative and warm, a little bit gentle, and John thought it was exactly right for two friends who’d finally figured out they were more than that. It was comfortable and familiar and John felt a sense of completion settle into his bones. When they broke apart, they just looked at each other for a moment.

“Are you sure you’re not here just because you were afraid of being left off my most wanted list?” Rodney asked suspiciously.

“Maybe.”

“And if I’m not dealing with things, you think sleeping with you will help?”

“Won’t hurt,” John said stubbornly, pleased to see that Rodney was smiling. “Rodney, what’s the real problem here? Why couldn’t you just tell me this?”

“Because you’d tell me I’m a scientist and you’re a soldier and it’s your job to protect me.”

Damn straight, John thought. He traced the fine hairs on the back of Rodney’s neck. “You have a problem with that?”

“Yes, I do. I was fine hiding behind you when I didn’t know you, when you were just a good-looking body between me and certain death. I was perfectly willing to let you die for me then because I was vital to the mission and you were just somebody who knew how to point and shoot—”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Let me finish.” Rodney laid a hand on John’s chest. It was warm and heavy, and John closed his eyes and relaxed underneath the touch, even as Rodney’s words tumbled over him, fast as light. “I didn’t get what being part of a team meant. Before. When I signed up for this. I didn’t know it would mean caring about people like this, and I sure as hell didn’t expect you, and now you can’t die. I’m not willing to let you die for me out there.”

John’s eyes flashed open. “Don’t think a few extra sessions with Ford and Teyla—”

“Please, don’t be ridiculous.” Rodney brushed the sentence off with a wave of his hand. “I’m not going to go Rambo on you in the field. I just don’t want to take any chances with either of our lives, okay?”

“Okay.”

Rodney looked shocked. “That’s it? No argument?”

“Only if you keep talking.”

John tugged less gently on Rodney’s neck and this second kiss was longer and deeper, more tongue and less caution, and John liked that Rodney touched his face and moaned like it just wasn’t possible for him to be quiet for longer than ten seconds. John was already hard by the time Rodney rolled on top of him and pressed a knee between his thighs.

“You’re sure about this?”

“Now’s really not the time to ask,” John replied, getting a hand under Rodney’s shirt and stroking the bare skin on his back. He nuzzled into Rodney’s neck and kissed him.

“It might hurt your career.”

“I really don’t think Elizabeth’s going to ask, and I’m not going to tell her. Are you?” John pulled back long enough to look Rodney in the eyes. There was a worried crease between his brows that John couldn’t help but reach up and soothe his fingers over.

“Well, normally I’d be standing on the rooftop shouting that I was sleeping with someone this hot, but considering you’re military, I do know how to keep a secret.”

“Good. Are we done with the talking yet? Can we get back to the kissing?” For emphasis, John nipped at the skin of Rodney’s throat, making him press John ruthlessly against the floor.

“That’s better,” John said, and licked the spot of gravy off Rodney’s cheek.

***

“So much for not going Rambo on me,” John muttered as they limped through the gate, Rodney’s arm clutched tightly around John’s waist. Teyla and Ford came in behind them, still firing frantically at unseen enemies. As soon as they were through, Elizabeth called for the shield to be raised.

“You can’t blame this one on me,” Rodney said, helping lift John onto the stretcher that Beckett had brought. John could feel the muscles in his side pulling with the effort. He was going to be hurting later.

“What’s the problem, Major?”

“Left upper arm,” Rodney bit out, pointedly ignoring John’s dirty looks. God, the man was annoying. Waste of a perfectly good glare. “Again.”

“Forgotten how to duck, have you?” Carson was already pulling up John’s sleeve to have a look. When he caught sight of the field dressing, he smiled. “Some of your handiwork, Rodney? You did a fine job. Nice and tight.”

“Except I wouldn’t have needed the bandage if I hadn’t gotten shot!” John interjected.

“And you wouldn’t have gotten shot if you’d done your job and let me do mine!” Rodney yelled back.

“What’s going on here?” Elizabeth said, laying a hand on John’s arm, the one that wasn’t covered with blood. He knew she meant well, but honestly, he didn’t need Elizabeth getting in the middle of this. “Are you two all right? Aside from the obvious, I mean.”

“We’re fine!” the two of them said at once, and Elizabeth took an involuntary step backwards. “I see. That’s the kind of day it’s been, huh? I’ll expect a full de-briefing after Carson’s finished with you both.”

John didn’t say anything else as they wheeled him to the infirmary, Rodney two steps behind the trauma crew, chewing on a power bar like he hadn’t eaten in days. Apparently acting like a complete and utter idiot worked up an appetite. John was actually grateful when Carson kicked Rodney out so he could work on John’s wound.

“Aye, he did a damn fine job of this dressing,” Carson said proudly. John decided that was as good a time as any to pass out.

***

When he woke up, he was still in the infirmary, his arm aching dully. He blinked in the too-bright lights and they dimmed suddenly.

Rodney let out a chuckle. “You’ve sure got her number.”

“Who?” John said thickly, mouth still heavy with the aftermath of whatever drugs Carson had given him.

“Atlantis. She’s one easy city when you’ve got the right gene.” John could see Rodney had his laptop open, but the screensaver had gone into hibernation mode. Obviously, he’d been sitting there a long time.

“You okay?” John ventured. He didn’t remember Rodney being hurt, but it was always best to ask.

“I’m not the one who was shot.”

John sighed. They never ever had these conversations when they were both feeling their best. He didn’t know why he expected this time to be any different. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“That’s not what you were saying when I dragged you through the gate,” Rodney pointed out, and John winced. He had a feeling they were still going to end up arguing even if they’d completely changed sides on the topic. He knew it wasn’t Rodney’s fault—he’d known it then—but sometimes it was easier to yell at him to keep him moving until they were all out of danger.

“I may have been mistaken,” John mumbled into the glass of water Rodney handed him.

“No, no, you were right, Major.” Somehow Rodney sounded more sarcastic than penitent. Not a good sign. John glanced over the edge of the plastic glass in his hand as Rodney continued with his speech. “I was just supposed to get the gate working again. It’s not the poor helpless scientist’s job to shoot back at the people trying to kill us, or oh, I don’t know, defend himself when someone tries to stick a knife in his side. No, there was no reason for you to think that I might be able to handle things considering you were already pinned down, Ford and Teyla were on the way, and I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself!”

John winced as Rodney’s voice got louder and higher. Nope, not penitent at all. All he could hope for now was salvation in the form of Carson and a really big needle full of morphine.

“Imagine my surprise when, in spite of the fact that I’d already disarmed my attacker with a nifty little tuck-and-roll move Ford showed me,”—John rolled his eyes—“and was in the process of dialing the gate, you—with a complete and utter disregard for your own pitiful life—popped up like a gopher with a death-wish. Do you really think they needed an invitation to try and kill you, Major? Your hair was already sticking over the barricade like a sign saying ‘come and shoot me.’”

“Rodney—”

“No, don’t ‘Rodney’ me. You stepped out from perfectly good cover because you didn’t think I could handle one guy.”

“He had a knife. A really big pointy knife with serrated edges.”

“Even if he’d had a knife with my fucking name carved on the blade, it wasn’t a good enough reason for you to stand up like a deer in headlights, you idiot! You got shot!”

“I know!” John could feel a headache starting behind his eyes. He handed the water back to Rodney and rubbed at his forehead. A second later there was a hand on his shoulder, a pair of blue eyes looking worried.

“Should I get Carson?”

“No, but maybe you could stop yelling at me for a little while.”

“Oh, I—I can do that.” Rodney sat back down and let out an exhausted huff of breath. “John, I know it’s hard, but really, I can do this.”

John figured they weren’t talking about the not yelling anymore. “I know that.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I do.” And John really did. He just hated the possibility that it might not be enough one day. That even with all the lessons he and Teyla and Ford could give him, it wouldn’t be enough to save his life. “It doesn’t mean I won’t forget sometimes.”

“Me too,” Rodney said softly, and John knew that was probably the closest he was going to get to an apology from Rodney, who’d deliberately ignored his order to head for the gate when they first came under attack. He’d stayed beside him, arguing with him practically the whole damn way as they retreated, until there was no choice but to split up. John had only left cover for a moment, just long enough to see Rodney going down, the knife blade flashing in the sun above him, and John hadn’t registered anything other than “Rodney” and “no” when the stray bullet caught him in the shoulder and he landed hard. By then, he realized Rodney had been diving out of the way, dislodging his attacker’s knife with some kind of Ford-inspired flailing move that shouldn’t have worked, but apparently did, and then Ford and Teyla were back with them and giving them cover fire while Rodney called him an ass and half-dragged him through the gate. Just another day in the Pegasus galaxy.

“You should rest,” Rodney said finally, his hand lying warm and heavy on John’s. “I’ll give Elizabeth the short version. No ZPM, and the Gemayans aren’t likely to be inviting us back for tea.”

John smiled. “Well, at least you didn’t offer to build them any nuclear bombs. I figure we got off easy.”

“Yeah, easy,” Rodney repeated, his eyes straying to John’s patched shoulder.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know. It was completely yours for not having faith in me, but—but I still don’t like seeing you get shot.” Rodney ran a finger lightly over the bandage. “Do you think we could try to avoid it for a while?”

“Sure. Why not?” John murmured. “Might be nice to try something different.”

Rodney smiled and placed a quick kiss against John’s mouth. So quick he almost didn’t feel it, but he reached out a hand and caught Rodney’s arm before he disappeared.

“Hey?” John tugged him back. “A little learning is a dangerous thing, you know. Just because you’ve got some skills under your belt doesn’t mean you’re invincible, Rambo. Check your protocol book. You still have to listen to me out there.”

“I know,” Rodney murmured. “I’m learning.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve still got things I want to teach you, so let’s try not to get killed, okay?”

Rodney’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Deal.”

John cupped his right hand on Rodney’s cheek and pulled him closer. When their lips brushed, the kiss was sweet and calm, a promise of better things. Yeah, John still had lots to teach him, and John suspected Rodney had more than a few things to teach him as well. Maybe a little learning was a dangerous thing, but a lot of learning could only be good--for both of them--and John had always been a good student.

When John drifted off to sleep, it was with a hopeful smile on his face.

 

THE END