Rodney’s fortieth birthday had come and gone without much fanfare, either from his colleagues or, thankfully, from his own psyche.
Stress levels aside, Rodney was probably in the best shape of his life thanks to Sheppard and Ronon’s sadistic fitness regime, and Teyla had this way of making sure he ate well and regularly so that he didn’t notice all that much. Rodney certainly didn’t feel any more middle-aged; and as for the stereotypical midlife crisis – hello, he was literally getting paid to be a genius intergalactic explorer. As far as life goals went, there wasn’t room for much regret when Rodney paused to compare his wildest hopes and aspirations of childhood to what he had accomplished thus far.
In fact, the first time Rodney truly felt old and tired was lying spread-eagled in Jennifer Keller’s bed, her beautiful white thighs splayed over his hips. “Are you close?” she asked, moving fast and hard and perfect.
“So close,” Rodney gasped, his heart nearly leaping out of his chest with the exertion, hips snapping up to meet hers.
“Okay, okay,” said Jennifer raggedly, and Rodney closed his eyes gratefully, ready to come, only to feel her lifting away, clambering off the bed.
“What?” said Rodney, eyes popping open, reaching out for Jennifer and her amazing thighs – which were going too far away from him.
“It’s okay, Rodney,” said Jennifer sweetly, taking a swig from the water bottle on the bedside table, naked and sweaty and too far away. “We’ll take a break.”
“A break?” said Rodney. “Why?”
Jennifer produced a little confused smile, as though she must have misunderstood. “You said you were close,” she said, arching a brow in inquiry.
“I am, I was,” Rodney protested, “but then you stopped.”
She huffed a short laugh, the smile expanding outwards. “You’ll get your turn,” Jennifer promised, and bit the tip of her tongue between her front teeth, playful. She capped the water bottle and offered it to him. “Tomorrow’s Sunday, we can sleep in. I don’t want to rush it this time.”
“You already came, like, five times,” said Rodney, baffled and exhausted and still short of breath.
Jennifer’s smile dropped away instantly. “Oh,” she said, setting the water bottle down on the nightstand. “You think I’m”–
– insatiable, Rodney thought, and nearly always horny. He said: “No, no, of course not. I just.” He waved a hand in the air and heaved himself up on one elbow, facing her. “I was just surprised. In a good way.”
Jennifer didn’t seem convinced, so Rodney took hold of her wrist in a circle between his thumb and forefinger – she was so small-boned, he used to think of her as fragile – and tugged her closer. “You’re making me crazy,” Rodney said in a goofy voice, covering up his vast frustration with a wide grin. “Come back to bed.”
So Jennifer, smiling again, tumbled down beside him and kissed him, open-mouthed, until Rodney started wondering why he was being such an asshole because she was goddamn amazing and she was pretty much the first girlfriend he’d ever had who went down on him without him asking or even hinting and so what if she liked high-impact sex and marathon cunnilingus? It was clearly worth the effort.
“Hey,” said Jennifer into his mouth, “have you ever done it up against a wall?”
“Oh jesus,” said Rodney, but then he closed his eyes and thought: unsolicited fellatio.
“What did you do?” said Sheppard irritably when Rodney hobbled his way into senior staff on Monday morning.
Across the conference table, Jennifer flushed and bowed her head to her tablet.
“It’s a—“ Rodney waved one hand and groaned as he maneuvered his way into his chair. Thank god for Woolsey and his lumbar support fetish. “It’s an old hockey…injury.”
“And it flared up how?” said Sheppard, not buying it.
“I really don’t see that it’s any of your – ow, ow.” Rodney gingerly shifted his weight onto his other hip.
“Gentlemen, if we could please be seated and start the meeting,” Woolsey said, one part amused and two parts annoyed.
Afterwards, Jennifer circled the table and paused by Rodney long enough to say, “You took the muscle relaxants I gave you?”
“Yes,” snipped Rodney in spite of himself, “this is me on drugs.”
“Okay, go back to the hot compresses alternating with cold and I’ll come by and check on you later today,” she said, and pressed a kiss to his forehead, bustling out of the room.
Rodney closed his eyes and started to contemplate how he was ever going to stand again, much less make it back to his quarters under his own steam.
“McKay,” said John, and dammit. Was he still here?
Rodney opened his eyes and glared. “What?”
John didn’t look particularly solicitous. He perched on the edge of the table and folded his arms, narrowing his gaze at Rodney. “Listen, you’ve gotta be more careful. I need you field-ready at all times, not laid up in your quarters with – hockey injuries.”
Rodney huffed impatiently. “Look, it wasn’t exactly my plan to cripple myself over the weekend, okay?”
Sheppard sighed shortly and rubbed the space between his brows, looking tired. The silence stretched between them for a moment, then John said, “You need help getting back?”
“God yes,” Rodney admitted, and Sheppard was there beside him, arm behind his shoulders and hand tucked into his armpit, and it felt so good to have someone so solid and strong bracing him up that Rodney held back all the hisses of pain he wanted to make with every move.
Sheppard got him back home, and settled him on his bed with his laptop open on a table nearby, and then he did what Rodney could only describe as fussing: hovering around the room, adjusting Rodney’s curtains, playing with the lighting and the environmental controls, until Rodney snapped.
“Will you sit down or get out?” he demanded irritably. To Rodney’s surprise, John sat, kicking back in Rodney’s armchair and getting comfortable.
They stayed that way, quiet, for a while. Rodney lay back and let the heat of the compress under him melt into his stiff muscles, and John sat quietly and stared into the middle distance.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rodney told him, some fifteen minutes later.
“Good, ‘cause I sure as hell don’t want to hear about it.”
It had been really fun at first, thought Rodney, listening to Sheppard’s noisy adenoidal breath across the room. It had been years since he’d weathered the kind of dopamine storm that Jennifer had caused in his brain chemistry.
For days, weeks even, all he could think of was Jennifer – Jennifer’s smile and her soft slippery hair and her high perfect breasts and the curve of her ass in the palm of his cupped hand. They’d fucked every day, morning and night, fucked in his quarters, in hers, in a supply closet off the infirmary, on that goddamn private jet from Nevada. Under Jennifer’s sweet uncertain exterior there was this demanding person who couldn’t seem to get enough of Rodney, and it had been intoxicating, thrilling.
He’d made her come once with just the heel of his hand pressed against the seam of her pants, broad daylight in an alcove on the way from the mess hall. Another time, she’d radioed him while he was in the locker room suiting up for an offworld mission. Rodney’d had to make up an excuse about needing the bathroom urgently so he could shut himself in a stall and jerk off in the thirty seconds left before ETD, Jennifer talking him through it the whole time.
Rodney made an unhappy noise and pushed himself onto his side, seeking a position that would stop his spine from howling in protest.
“You need the cold compress now?” said Sheppard. He’d gotten out his palm pilot at some point and he was twiddling with it, like he had nowhere better to be than playing Sudoku in Rodney’s quarters.
“Yeah,” said Rodney, more to give John something to do than anything. “Thanks.”
Sheppard got up and pulled the cold compress out of the mini-freezer. “Where?” he asked, hovering over Rodney, wrapping the fresh compress in a hand towel.
“Right above my ass,” said Rodney, past the point of modesty. He hiked up his t-shirt and pointed.
“Got it,” said John, and tucked the compress tightly against him. “Okay, roll over onto your stomach this time. It’s not good to stay in the same position, you’ll stiffen up.”
“Ow ow ow,” Rodney said, obeying. John went and sat down again.
“I get this wicked sciatica on my right side,” John offered a little awkwardly, after another few minutes’ silence. “But it only acts up if I really push it, you know?”
“Well,” said Rodney thoughtfully, before he could censor himself, “it’s not that she’s heavy. It’s more how long I had to hold her up there that did it, I think.”
Instead of making the horrified choking noise Rodney had expected, John chuckled a little. “I thought so. Did the same thing once.”
“Your wife?” asked Rodney, wanting to draw out the unexpected camaraderie a little longer.
“Nope,” said Sheppard, and went back to his Sudoku or whatever he was doing.
It had changed so gradually with Jennifer, was the thing. Rodney couldn’t pick a moment when he’d felt the balance shift from “this is fucking awesome” to “wow, I’m really middle-aged”. It had been a slow change, imperceptibly slow, and what was more, the change had been clouded by Rodney’s own periodic relapses into insane lust. He’d spent one painful night giving his jaw the workout of a lifetime while Jennifer kept saying, “Yes, more, yes,” above him; but the very next morning he’d woken up to the world’s most intense handjob, Jennifer’s delicate surgeon’s fingers bringing him off while her other hand played with the sweet spot behind his balls, and it had all seemed worthwhile.
Jennifer liked coming, and she was good at it. Unlike some of Rodney’s past girlfriends, she didn’t need him to perform interpretive dance or hold her leg at a special angle or pray to a moon goddess or anything. Sometimes all she needed was the tip of his index finger. It should have been easy; everything else about them was easy. It never felt like too much work when he was having dinner with her, or walking along the east pier with her, or watching movies together curled up on her bed. But somehow it got to be work for Rodney, keeping up the hectic pace of their sex lives.
Sometimes he’d be so tired from working in the lab all day, he could barely walk straight. Rodney would be ricocheting blindly off the walls, side to side like a pinball, as he staggered back to his quarters, and he’d find her there on his bed in her cotton underwear with the rude cartoon rabbit on the front. “Come on,” she’d say, pulling his hand down, and he’d fall asleep before he even got hard, and he’d wake up to Jennifer smiling tightly and making excuses for him about how much he worked, like she didn’t quite believe it.
“We don’t have to do it every night,” Rodney had said one time, trying to sound reassuring and instead hearing a weird tone of panic in his voice.
“I know,” Jennifer had said. “But tonight?” And she’d crawled down his body and pressed her perfect breasts together around his cock, and Rodney had thought he should really stop being a lazy bastard and let the nice lady rub him off with her cleavage.
Rodney must have fallen asleep. He woke to the soft sounds of John’s voice, answered by Jennifer’s. Before he could wake up enough to make sense of the conversation, they noticed him stirring.
“Hey,” said Jennifer gently, coming closer. “Feeling better?”
Rodney shifted experimentally, and noticed that the compress on his back was hot again. Sheppard had changed it while he slept, and it seemed to have done some good. His back still twinged when he moved but it was far from the shriek of pain he’d felt that morning. “Yeah,” said Rodney, grateful. “Better.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then,” said John, with that sarcastic bite in his tone like he was trying to convey relief, like he’d been forced to stay against his will.
“No,” said Rodney, unthinking, half-asleep. “John, stay.”
There was an awkward pause, and Rodney couldn’t see the faces of either John or Jennifer from his frozen vantage point. Something must have passed between them, though, because when they spoke again, both their voices sounded a little different.
“I should really be getting back to the infirmary, I just wanted to check in on him,” said Jennifer cheerfully.
“I can work here just as well as anywhere on base,” said John, conciliatory.
Jennifer’s fingers combed through Rodney’s hair, then the door opened and closed and Rodney exhaled slowly. “Thank you,” he said.
Instead of making a caustic comment about being prisoner to Rodney’s needs, John’s fingers landed on the small of Rodney’s back, checking the compress, readjusting it. “You’re really better? You’re not just being a tough guy for her?”
“Please,” huffed Rodney. “When have you known me to be a tough guy?”
“You’ve got a point there,” acknowledged John. His hand patted Rodney’s shoulder, and then he could be heard to settle back in his armchair.
Rodney was fully mobile again by Wednesday, if still a bit sore. He had the marines bring one of Woolsey’s luxury conference room chairs down to his lab so he could celebrate his return to productivity in comfort. Rodney wheeled around the lab giddily, heedless of the toes of his slower minions, because it was so good to be back, good to be upright and working.
Teyla came by with Torren and a lunch tray, and later on Ronon dropped in to make threatening noises about getting Rodney back into the gym. Then it was Sheppard, this time with a power bar and a bottle of water, and the two of them shot the shit for a while about the relative awesomeness of the first two Terminator movies (the third didn’t merit discussion). After Sheppard, Rodney enjoyed a few hours of having the lab to himself before someone coughed in the doorway behind him and he wheeled around to see Jennifer standing there.
“Oh!” said Rodney, keeping his happy work-smile rigid perforce. “Hey, you.”
“Hey,” said Jennifer, coming closer, hands clasped tightly in front of her. “I said you were cleared for light duty, not all-nighters in the lab.”
“Psh,” said Rodney, flicking a glance at his laptop’s clock. “It’s only – huh. Oh. Two a.m.”
“Come on,” said Jennifer, extending a hand. “Bedtime.”
“No,” said Rodney. “Just – I need ten more minutes, you go. I promise, I’ll go straight to my quarters, ten minutes.”
Jennifer went still but didn’t let go of his hand. “Rodney,” she said. “I’m not going to ravage you.”
“Really?” said Rodney, sounding pathetically relieved in spite of himself. “I mean, I do enjoy being ravaged by you, but”–
“You need your rest,” said Jennifer, and smiled wearily. “So do I.”
She didn’t want to rest, though; she wanted to talk.
“I want you to tell me about stuff like this,” Jennifer told Rodney, curling around him and resting her head on the pillow next to his.
“Stuff like what?” said Rodney, wondering if there was time to fake falling asleep before Jennifer could speak again.
“Sex stuff,” she clarified, far too quickly for the sleep fake-out to work. “Rodney, if doing something is going to put your back out, you have to say so.”
“Right,” said Rodney, a little bitterly, “I love drawing attention to my decrepitude.”
“You’re not decrepit,” Jennifer said, a little too tenderly. “You’re in your forties now, and I’m a doctor. I know that you have limits. But I can’t read your mind.”
Rodney kept his eyes closed and forced his breathing to stay slow and steady. Sleep breathing. He threw in a light snore on the next inhale for realism.
In another minute, Rodney heard Jennifer click the lamp off with a sigh.
“Times have changed,” said Rodney, backing his racer up to get it around one of the obstacles in the course, a packing crate from the latest Daedalus run. “I mean, you remember the eighties. Back then, it was dirty for a girl to – you know. Perform certain acts.”
“I didn’t care for the eighties very much,” John agreed, and knocked over a stack of plastic cups as he drilled past it with his racer.
“Suddenly it’s required,” Rodney continued. “And don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Far from it! Hey, cut that out, that’s cheating.”
“It’s lateral problem-solving,” John argued, and knocked over another plastic cup tower. (Cheating.)
Rodney carefully navigated around a pile of old magazines. “It’s strange. Jennifer’s whole attitude is different from women I’ve dated before. It’s like sex is just assumed to be the most important thing we do together. And I’m the one who’s weird because I like to have some boundaries.”
“Right,” said John, toppling a tin can and rolling it ahead of his racer. “Lights off, under the covers, close your eyes and think of Canada.”
“Shut up,” Rodney shot back, rolling his eyes. “I mean, what about making it special? What about building anticipation? What about just – you know. Regular stuff?”
“What are you talking about here?” asked John, crossing the finish line. (Still cheating.) “I mean, what’s normal? Missionary position? Or light bondage and a little infantilism?”
“Normal is sex that doesn’t last three hours every night,” Rodney returned in a rush. “Normal is not having to feel guilty if you can’t do her against the shower wall every morning.”
“Jesus,” said John, not without sympathy. “Hey, Rodney, she’s – she’s only, like”—
“Twenty-nine years old,” sighed Rodney. “God, I’m decrepit.”
That night, Rodney went to Jennifer’s quarters at eleven o’clock – early enough that she’d still be awake, late enough that she wouldn’t be too chatty. She was cross-legged on her bed, already in her flannel drawstring pants and tank-top, pretty and messy and sleepy and looking a lot like one of Jeannie’s slumber party friends.
“Hey,” he said, and undressed to his t-shirt and boxers. Before Jennifer could make any moves, he clambered onto the bed beside her and kissed her shoulder. “Lie down,” he said, and tugged her pants down and off. When she tried to wriggle down, to get her hands on him, Rodney shook his head and caught her by the wrists. “Let me,” he said. Once she stilled, Rodney rifled through the bedside table, rolled on a condom.
Rodney moved in her, over her, slowly and steadily, kissing her mouth and listening to her breath grow shorter. He paced it right; she came just seconds before he did, and when he lowered himself onto her, shaking, he said, “That was exactly what I wanted.”
Jennifer laughed. “That’s it? That’s your big secret fantasy?”
“I’ll have you know,” Rodney told her seriously, pulling out and disposing of the condom, snuggling them both down under the covers, “that in my youth the missionary position was considered the height of eroticism.”
“Long live Molly Ringwald,” said Jennifer, rolling her eyes, but she was still smiling. “That was nice, Rodney.” She stroked his chest, rolling close again. “Kinda sweet.”
Nice and kinda sweet, thought Rodney, was not really what he’d been going for.
A week later, Sheppard stepped in an alien gopher hole on M6Y-378 and pitched forward with uncharacteristic clumsiness. “Ahhhh, fuck!” he said, lifting up his dirt-smudged face, wincing.
“Are you all right, John?” asked Teyla as Ronon hauled him upright.
“I’m fine, I’m – shit, shit, shit,” said John, trying and failing to put weight on the bum leg. “I fucked up my knee.”
Rodney pulled out his medical kit and helped Teyla get an ace bandage around Sheppard’s rapidly swelling knee. John kept trying to bear weight like the idiot he clearly was, swearing and half-falling again every single time. Finally Ronon intervened, half-carrying John back to the gate, and from the gate room to the infirmary.
“It’s a torn ligament,” said Jennifer, to John and to the rest of the team hovering beside him. “Sorry, Colonel, I’m going to need to operate on this”
“I’ve fallen down and messed it up before,” protested Sheppard warmly, making as though to sit up, ready to hop off the examination table – the moron. “It’ll heal up.”
“Yeah, I can tell you’ve done this before,” said Jennifer with a smirk, holding him down by putting her palm flat on his chest. “Stay put or it’ll be no good to you anymore. I warned you about this at your last physical.”
“Nice application of doctor-patient confidentiality there,” snarled Sheppard, throwing a dark look at Keller and then at the rest of his team.
“You’ve been favoring your right leg for some time now, John,” Teyla said quietly. Ronon didn’t speak, but shrugged his agreement. Rodney, who hadn’t noticed anything like that, raised his eyebrows, mildly surprised.
John sighed heavily and let his head sink back into the pillow. “This sucks,” he complained, heartfelt.
“You’re in your forties now,” said Jennifer with a comforting pat to John’s shoulder. “You’ve got to listen to your body when it tells you to slow down.”
John reacted to this advice just about the same way Rodney had: by abruptly, and pretty obviously, faking unconsciousness.
Jennifer had to graft a piece of tendon from the front of John’s knee to the two torn ends of John’s ligament. There was a drill and a screw involved and when Jennifer started describing it in detail Rodney was reminded of the old oak coffee table with the wobbly leg that his father had repaired over and over with increasingly industrial-looking hardware. He had visions of John ending up with bolts sticking out either side of his leg, like a Frankenstein’s monster of leg joints. But as it turned out, Jennifer’s gory procedure only left two small incisions as evidence; though right afterwards, John’s normally skinny knee was immense and wrapped in huge white bandages.
When John first woke from the general anesthetic, Jennifer had him hooked up to a morphine drip via one of those patient-controlled analgesia boxes, and every time it beeped Ronon would press the button like the overgrown cave-child he was. This resulted in John being lucid and chatty at fifteen-minute intervals and then drifting away as Ronon sent him under again. It was kind of entertaining; John on opiates was a lot like a kindergarten teacher, full of gentle smiles and doe-eyed fond looks.
Then, the next morning, Jennifer took away John’s morphine and John went from a kind early childhood educator to a grumpy humorless high school algebra teacher, circa 1950, back when they could still inflict corporal punishment on the students. The big white bandage on his knee got replaced by a smaller dressing and a giant space-age leg brace that kept the joint rigid between arduous PT sessions. When John walked he had to swing his injured leg from the hip, which would have been hilarious if John hadn’t also been wielding potentially lethal aluminum crutches.
On the third day, having proven that he could make it to the washroom and back on his own recognizance, John got to leave the infirmary with a handful of painkillers he would never take and a dire warning from Jennifer that he had better show up for daily wound check and rehab or face having his return to active duty postponed in perpetuity.
“Most of the time people have very positive results from this kind of surgery,” said Jennifer, a little more gently, “but it’s going to take a lot of work, and even then it might not be quite the same. You’ll be able to run as fast as before. But – maybe not climb.”
Rodney could see the small muscles of John’s jaw flicker tight and forcibly relax again (though as far as Rodney was concerned, anything that prevented John from doing more free climbs up the sides of towers was just fine by him.) “Right,” said John, and with a terse, “Be back tomorrow,” crutched his way out of the infirmary, bad leg swinging like a pendulum with every step.
Over the past five years, Rodney had seen John get injured a few too many times for his taste; he’d seen John doubled over with pain, hobbled by healing incisions, stricken from the gate team roster for several weeks at a time. He’d seen John’s invariably grouchy moods stemming from the pain of rehabilitation, from forced immobility, from restrictions placed on his activities around Atlantis. At this point, Rodney had honestly thought he’d seen John in just about every iteration of the irascible, bitchy, snotty, and sullen mood swings that always accompanied his recovery from a serious injury.
He’d been mistaken.
Though the knee surgery was relatively minor and John’s return to health was as disgustingly quick as usual, John descended into the deepest blackest sulk Rodney had ever witnessed in him or any other person. Far from fighting Jennifer’s carefully planned post-op routine, pushing for more and sooner and faster, John was weirdly compliant and occasionally edged into actual apathy, as though he didn’t care how soon he recovered. John failed to show up as a limping glowering presence in the hallways of Atlantis, and when Rodney asked Lorne where the Colonel was spending his time, Lorne gave Rodney a truly helpless look and answered, “In his office” – to which Rodney, of course, replied, “He has an office?”
John did have an office, out in one of the buildings flanking the east pier. The room was a strange shape: long and narrow like a gallery in an old castle, but with a whole wall made entirely of glass looking out onto the ocean. In spite of the spectacular view, the office wasn’t at all appealing. Though structurally intact, it had clearly seen some flooding and still smelled vaguely mildewed and salty. There was even a high water mark, wobbly and dark, all along the midpoint of the walls. John’s desk was a cobbled-together affair composed of empty aluminum packing crates, a large warped and water-stained former dry erase board forming the writing surface.
John himself was the least cheerful note in the whole depressing scene, dark head bent over some coral-colored requisition forms, bum leg resting on another empty crate. He was seated with his back to the ocean, presumably to make better use of the natural light falling across that side of his desk.
Rodney hovered in the doorway for a moment, trying to decide on an approach, then realized that he was actually getting worried about talking to John of all people. It was a complete waste of energy. John was probably the only person on Atlantis with worse people skills than Rodney. Most days, Rodney could probably greet John in any way, up to and including punching him in the face, and get the same blank look of feigned interest for his troubles.
“I know you’re busy being morbid about your impending old age,” said Rodney, “but do you think you could take half an hour out of your packed brooding schedule and come to the mess? It’s taco day.”
John looked up, heavy mournfulness written all over his face. “Not now, McKay,” he said, waving a hand.
“Get up,” Rodney ordered, coming closer, making shooing gestures with his hands. “Come on, get up, we’re going before they run out of guacamole.”
“I’ll go later,” said John, not moving. “I’ll catch up with you then.”
“Now,” said Rodney. “I’m officially kicking you out of the most depressing room in two galaxies. Let’s go.”
John continued to bitch and pull angry faces but Rodney just walked over and pushed John’s space-age leg brace off the crate, handed him his crutches, and waited impatiently while John got to his feet, sighing through his nose the whole time.
“Put your back out lately?” asked John, by way of a low blow, as they made their slow journey out into the corridor towards the transporter.
“Ha ha,” Rodney returned flatly. “As it so happens, Jennifer has been convinced – by your own misadventure, I’m guessing – to lower the pressure when it comes to acrobatic sex marathons. So I suppose I have you and your decaying joints to thank for that.” Rodney smiled at the idea, remembering last night, and the night before: Jennifer over him, moving slow and long, bringing them both to shuddering climax in perfect unison.
“She’s probably worried you’re going to have a heart attack in the middle of it like one of those ninety-year-old tycoons with the gold-digger girlfriends.” John was trying to go too fast, which was refreshing if typically stupid. There was a fine dew of sweat on John’s upper lip, either from suppressed pain or unaccustomed exertion. Rodney flapped a hand at him and stooped down, pretending to tie his shoelace, giving John time to catch his breath.
“I’ll have you know I’m in excellent cardiovascular health,” said Rodney, smug.
If John was a little too quiet over their trays of tacos later, Rodney didn’t point it out. He thought that John looked a little better for having gotten out of his moldy office, anyway.
The enforced Sundays that had begun under Weir’s command had taken on a lot more popularity as time went by. Rodney himself had thought them a spectacular waste of time until six months ago, when he’d started seeing Jennifer. Now fake Sundays were Rodney’s favorite days, and he found himself wishing that they came more often than once every three weeks.
Jennifer had all the major medical journals spread out around her like the genius doctor version of the weekend newspaper, and she was lying in a puddle of sunshine in the middle of the floor with a pencil stuck through the base of her ponytail and a steaming mug of coffee at her elbow. She was wearing one of Rodney’s t-shirts and a pair of jeans that hugged her ass.
“I have two movies for your viewing pleasure,” said Rodney, settling down beside her a little awkwardly, still wary of his back injury. “Number one – I believe it’s in the genre commonly referred to as ‘chick flick’ – 27 Dresses. And number two, for a slightly more refined experience: Iron Man.” He held up the two DVDs, each disc speared on his index fingers, did an enticing little hand dance. “Mmm? Which one first? I am totally open to suggestion here.”
Jennifer was engrossed in an article that involved pictures of diseased-looking internal organs. Rodney tried to avoid looking too closely while leaning closer to capture her attention. “Katherine Heigl?” he said. “She plays a doctor on TV. And she’s hot. You two have a lot in common?”
His only response was a soft humming noise, and then Jennifer blinked her way back to the surface and looked over at him. “Sorry?” she said.
“Movies,” Rodney prompted, flashing the DVDs again. “Remember? We were going to hole up in my quarters and watch movies today?”
“Oh,” said Jennifer. “We were?”
“Unless you don’t want to,” Rodney said hastily. “We don’t have to, I could sneak into my lab and get some work done if you’d rather”–
“No,” said Jennifer, sticking a bookmark in the journal and closing it. “No, it’s just – what about something different today? Maybe we could do the climbing wall or”– She stopped, seeing Rodney’s pained expression. “It’s just that I kind of promised a few people that I’d come by today,” she went on, “but maybe you can see what Colonel Sheppard’s doing and we can meet up later?”
Rodney honestly didn’t know how he ended up blurting it out; after all, he’d spent hours cooped up with Katie Brown when he’d been meaning to propose and had still choked. And yet, here he was, in the middle of a conversation about scheduling conflicts, and he heard himself say it: “I want you to move in.”
“What?” said Jennifer, her eyes snapping wide open.
“I want you to move in. With me,” Rodney said, and okay – it was true. He did want that. Things were good with them, better even than before Sheppard got hurt, and Jeannie did have a point about locking down a good thing when it came his way. “Move in with me?” he said.
Jennifer got up on her elbows, then pushed up onto her knees and hands, scattering journals haphazardly as she went. “Rodney,” she said, shaking her head, standing up, “Rodney.” Her tone was beseeching, that much Rodney could discern, but he was damned if he knew where she was going with this. He scrambled to his feet, following her, heart in his throat.
“I have a big place,” he said. “You spend half your time here anyway. I have a bathtub, a really big bathtub. And, and an ocean view.”
“We live in Atlantis,” said Jennifer. “Everyone has an ocean view.”
“Mine’s nice,” Rodney added. “And I think you should see it more often.”
Jennifer was sticking her hands in her hair, messing up the neat lines of her ponytail, avoiding Rodney’s eyes. “I don’t know, Rodney, I just don’t – is this the best time? Is this when we should be doing this? It’s only been a few months and we’re not exactly in the most normal circumstances here. We have no idea what it might be like if we”– She cut herself off, the effort involved visible.
“No,” Rodney said, jamming down every argument he wanted to make. “No, you’re right, you’re completely – I don’t know why I said it. It’s too soon.”
Every line of Jennifer’s body relaxed abruptly, her shoulders falling down and her hands opening up. She looked at him, smiling. “Right, that’s what I meant – I mean, it’s nothing against you, only”–
“Forget it,” said Rodney, making a waving gesture of ‘bygones’. “Forget it, I just – too much coffee. Like you said, this isn’t the best time for us.”
“Good, I’m glad you –” Jennifer said, “I mean, our sex life has been. Well, you know. For a while now.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Rodney, even though – what? Their sex life had been what? “You know, I think I will go and see if I can find John. He got his leg brace off yesterday – oh, but you’d know that – anyway. I should probably go and keep him from joining your little climbing team and screwing up his knee all over again.”
“Good,” said Jennifer, pulling her hair loose, tying it back again. “Good. We’ll talk later then?”
“Of course,” said Rodney. He wanted to kiss her but he wasn’t sure it would be welcome, so he just did a stupid little wave and beat a quick retreat.
“So are we breaking up?” Rodney asked, bewildered. “Is that what happened?”
“How the hell should I know?” snapped John, still pretending to read a book while splayed out on his bed. His mood hadn’t lifted at all with his freedom from the leg brace. From the look of him, he hadn’t shaved today or yesterday. Rodney really hoped he wasn’t going to grow a beard again.
“Well, the last time I broke up with someone, Jennifer’s the one who told me that’s what happened. I can’t exactly ask her now,” Rodney pointed out. Sheppard’s quarters were abnormally squalid, taking on something of his office’s atmosphere. Normally Sheppard was a little pathological about neatness. Rodney had often caught him smoothing out his blanket after getting off the made bed, or flicking a stray bit of fluff off the surface of his dresser. Now there were dirty clothes everywhere and at least four or five dishes that needed to be returned to the mess.
“Why can’t you ask her?” John said, making that squinty face he made when he thought Rodney was being ridiculous.
“Because she’s off avoiding me with her fake rock climbing friends,” Rodney said. “You know what, forget it. Let’s not talk about her anymore. Let’s – I know, let’s talk about you and your descent into a midlife crisis. It smells bad in here. It never smells bad in here.”
“So I haven’t cleaned up in a few days,” said John. “I’ve been busy with the crippling knee injury and the inability to bend over and pick anything up.”
“Is that all?” said Rodney, skeptically, but he took the hint and started gathering up clothes from the floor. “Okay, if I agree to return this place to your usual level of obsessive-compulsive sterility, will you stop being such a pissy girl and hang out with me until it’s safe for me to go home?”
John waved an arm, meaning “I accept your generous offer”, or possibly, “There’s more crap on the floor over there”. He kicked at his unmade sheets with his good leg and returned his attention to his book.
Rodney sighed and started searching for the laundry hamper.
“What was that?” said John, as Rodney began stuffing clothes into the bin.
“I said,” Rodney answered, “I miss Carson more than ever.”
“Don’t forget the bathroom,” said John. “I think there’s some underwear on the floor in there.”
“Oh my god, there isn’t enough friendship in the world,” vowed Rodney.
Okay, so their sex life had maybe undergone a sort of metamorphosis, Rodney thought as he slumped in John’s one awful armchair, watching The Dark Knight for the fifth time. It was true, what he’d said to John: for whatever reason, after John’s knee injury, things between Rodney and Jennifer had abruptly become slower, simpler. But it was still really good sex, Rodney had thought. Orgasms all around, some really nice variety as to position, foreplay, intensity. It wasn’t, of course, like the crazy frenetic sex they’d been having when they first started sleeping together, but it couldn’t be. It couldn’t stay that way and they knew it. It was inevitable. It was relationship entropy.
Rodney turned his head towards John, struck by the impulse to confirm this fact with another person, only to discover that John had drifted off to sleep in the flickering light of the laptop screen. Rodney had forced him to shower and shave once he’d been through cleaning, so John looked more like himself than before. Still, there was something melancholy about him, even in sleep…
Rodney tucked a blanket up around John as he left.
It turned out they weren’t breaking up, not obviously anyway. Things went on between Rodney and Jennifer much as they had been, and if Jennifer was seriously unhappy with their sex life she had a funny way of showing it, with her drawn out cries and arched back and heels digging into Rodney’s thighs, his ass. But Rodney wasn’t stupid, he knew he needed to rekindle something of the early passion between them or Jennifer would be gone sooner or later.
It didn’t help that Rodney had sort-of-accidentally stumbled across the contents of Jennifer’s bedside table drawer one day while he was in her quarters trying to find a piece of equipment he’d mislaid. There in the innocent-seeming recesses of the metallic Ancient drawer, Rodney saw not just the usual condoms and lubricant, but a little, weird knobbly latex thing with a tail. When he sort-of-accidentally picked it up and flicked it on, it vibrated in his hand. And when he tugged on its cord to pull it free of the drawer, it pulled along with it a solid red dildo that was tangled up with the cord. The dildo was perfectly smooth and a little shiny, and the rubbery plastic surface was a little sticky to the touch. Rodney wondered how long it had been since it had been used, then held it up against himself to see how he compared.
“I’ve been thinking,” said Rodney three days later, once he’d mostly worked through the weird jealousy and bitterness, “we’ve never really gotten creative. With, uh, accessories.”
Jennifer, halfway through kissing her way down his torso, looked up at him with surprise. “Accessories?”
“I mean, not that they’re necessarily easy to get a hold of here in the Pegasus galaxy,” Rodney said all in a rush, “but I certainly wouldn’t be averse to using a, a vibrator or something. If you wanted.”
Jennifer’s mouth firmed just a little, making a straight quizzical line, but she didn’t say anything else, just shimmied a little farther back on the mattress and took him in her mouth.
Meanwhile, Sheppard continued to mope through his PT until finally Rodney got sick of seeing him on crutches and rigged up one of the gym’s exercise bikes with a video game interface, rewarding John’s efforts at rehabilitation with a new MarioKart race course every time John racked up another hour of physio. With this incentive, John went from crutches to cane to limping freely within a few weeks’ time, though he hit a serious speed bump when he tried to get something down off a high shelf for one of the marine biologists (idiots) and fell off the three-step ladder, twisting his healing knee cruelly as he went. Luckily, the damage seemed to be limited mostly to John’s ego and didn’t much impede his continuing recovery.
Still, somehow John kept half-assing his way back into relative health and was beginning to shake off some of the oppressive gloom that had hovered around him since his injury. Rodney knew John was almost his old self again when he announced over lunch that Rodney’s little vacation was over: the team was going offworld again tomorrow.
Rodney made the appropriate noises, complaining and arguing and generally throwing up every barrier he could think of, but inside he was awash with relief; Sheppard was okay, he’d pulled through the worst of this weird midlife sulk somehow.
“At least watch where you’re stepping this time,” said Rodney, curling his mouth down against the smile that kept threatening to surface. “I couldn’t take cleaning your room again if you busted your other knee.”
John flashed reproachful hazel eyes in his direction. “You did a crappy job, too,” he said, “I found a moldy plate under my bed two days ago.” But he was hiding a smile too, and when he went to get up from the table, he dropped his cupcake onto Rodney’s tray almost as though it were an accident.
After lunch, Rodney went to the infirmary and cornered Jennifer in the linen closet because if she wasn’t willing to show him her big red dildo Rodney was just going to have to make sure it didn’t come out of that drawer too often. He even propped her up on one of the wire rolling shelves and did her that way, the wheels squeaking and folded sterile sheets slipping off the shelf and onto the floor with every thrust.
“What’s got you all worked up today?” she asked afterwards as they stuffed the fallen sheets into a laundry hamper.
“Nothing,” said Rodney, “just felt like stopping by for a visit.”
Of course, that night Jennifer had him come to her quarters and when he got there, his rival the red dildo was just sitting out in the open on Jennifer’s bed. “I’ve been thinking about what you said,” she told him, “and I have an idea.”
Jennifer’s idea was not what Rodney had imagined at all; it involved Rodney lying very still with his knees bent and his eyes squeezed tight-shut while Jennifer said things like, “Try to relax,” and “Shh, take it easy,” and “Come on, Rodney, breathe.” They got lube all over the sheets and Jennifer’s hands and Rodney’s thighs but finally she leaned down and licked the place behind his balls until Rodney forgot about what she was trying to do and the red dildo (which was really very very much bigger than he’d thought) slid up into his ass in a single breath-robbing glide.
“Oh my god,” said Rodney, and clenched tight, but Jennifer wasn’t budging an inch and the dildo stayed put, a solid unforgiving length lodged in his ass.
“That’s so hot,” said Jennifer, sounding like she really meant it, and rose up on her knees and pressed Rodney’s legs farther apart. “How does it feel?”
Rodney tried to think of an answer that was both honest and sexy. “It feels like there’s a dildo up my ass,” he said, failing.
“Okay,” said Jennifer, and moved her hand slowly slowly, changing the angle just a little bit as she pulled. “Let me know if you”—and Rodney made a weird high-pitched sound because, hello, that must be what all the fuss was about. The room whited out for a second and when Rodney blinked back into full vision, Jennifer was grinning down at him and pushing back in, and oh. Oh, fuck.
It wasn’t quite enough to get him off – though Jennifer tried for an impressively long time – so finally she got up, straddled him backwards, and sank down onto his cock over and over while she fucked him slowly and a little imperfectly with the dildo. When Rodney came at last, the sensation rolled and pulsed from inside to out in long arcs and it lasted long enough to make Jennifer come twice in quick succession.
“You’re not going to have some sort of anal-phobic crisis over this tomorrow, are you?” asked Jennifer as Rodney drifted off.
“Course not,” Rodney assured her, even as he wondered a little what it could mean that he’d gone his whole adult life without knowing about what his prostate could do.
When Rodney woke the next day, though, his first thought was not about the potential psychosexual significance of his anal sex revelation; it was that his ass goddamn hurt. It hurt on the outside, like the day after too-hot Indian food, and it really hurt on the inside, like nothing Rodney cared to think about having experienced before. “Oh god, I think I perforated my rectum,” said Rodney sickly, traumatized by the razor sharp pain that had lanced – what an unfortunate verb to think of – through him when he rolled over to hit the sounding alarm clock.
It was completely the wrong thing to say, not least because Rodney’s extremely sexy and completely naked doctor girlfriend decided that he wasn’t going anywhere until she pulled on a latex glove, lubed up her index and middle fingers, and assessed the potential damage herself.
“As far as I can tell it’s just inflammation,” said Jennifer, snapping the glove off and patting Rodney’s leg reassuringly. “There’s no bleeding but I can see you’re a bit sore.”
“My ass is on fire,” said Rodney pathetically.
“I’ll get an analgesic cream for you,” Jennifer offered, and pulled a regretful face. “I’m so sorry, Rodney, I didn’t think it would be this bad.”
Rodney waved a hand dismissively, because having a sore asshole was kind of minor compared to the complete humiliation of getting a rectal exam from your nude practitioner before you’d even had your first cup of coffee. “I just hope our offworld mission today doesn’t involve any sitting,” he said glumly.
“Well,” said Jennifer, collapsing beside him on the bed and kissing his jaw, “you know, it’ll be easier next time.”
Seeing that Rodney was on a team with the two people who had noticed Sheppard’s knee injury before it even happened, Rodney really couldn’t have expected his sore ass to escape unnoticed. Luckily he managed to convince Teyla and Ronon that his back was flaring up a little and this was the reason for his slightly stiff-legged walk and reluctance to sit down while they were offworld.
John was less easily sold on the story. He waited until Teyla and Ronon were safely away doing reconnaissance in a forested area east of the gate, then said, “What did she make you do this time? What, were you hanging in some kind of sling all night?”
“You don’t want to know, trust me,” said Rodney darkly.
“Rodney,” said John, tightly, “you’ve really got to start drawing the line with Keller. She’s going to put you in traction one of these days.”
“Well, unless I can fracture my ass,” began Rodney, then stopped, horrified.
John was quiet and inscrutable behind his stupid aviator sunglasses for about a minute. “Are you saying she –” he said slowly, finally.
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” said Rodney. “Suffice it to say, it seemed like a great idea at the time.”
John was quiet again for several minutes as they tramped through the forest side by side. “You used lube?” he said, sounding pained by the utterance.
“Jesus, of course we did,” Rodney snapped, “she’s a goddamn doctor, she knows how not to cause permanent damage for christ’s sake, it’s just that I was a tender blushing ass virgin until last night and we overdid it a little, okay?”
John took this in with a single nod and they went on in awkward tense silence for another ten minutes. “Look,” said John, even more reluctantly, just before they turned back towards the gate, “you should start off being the one in control of it, you have a much better idea of what you can handle than she does, and you’ll figure out how to relax more so that it doesn’t hurt as much the next day.”
Rodney froze in his tracks, stunned by this unexpected offering of advice. “So, what, you’re the expert on anal sex now?” said Rodney, gaping, Sheppard still moving ahead of him.
John lifted a shoulder, glancing back at Rodney. “Let’s just say I’ve been where you are. Take it slow.”
And, wow. Okay. Huh.
Rodney tried not to stare at John’s ass all the way back to the gate, but it was nearly impossible. He kept getting blindsided by visions of John lying the way Rodney had, flat on his back with thighs wide, letting some girl – but no, John had said he should take control, so yeah, John’s hands would be the ones down there, sliding that length in and out slowly, experimentally, hips lifting into each thrust. Jesus, maybe John still did that. Maybe John had a red dildo like Jennifer’s, maybe late at night he took it out of his night table and –
“Come on, McKay, hurry up a little,” Ronon said. “If your back’s that sore you shouldn’t be here to begin with.”
“Right, right,” said Rodney, and picked up the pace. The truth was, he’d almost forgotten his ass even hurt.
The pain went away on its own within another day, but Rodney and Jennifer stuck closely to their recent routine of straightforward, nice, and kind of sweet sex for another week after that. It seemed clear that neither of them wanted to risk a repeat of last time, so Jennifer gave Rodney semi-energetic expert blowjobs and Rodney fucked Jennifer for as long as she wanted, fucked her with his fingers and his tongue and his cock. John’s advice was going to waste, which was really too bad because John had been acting weird and squirrely around Rodney ever since he’d given it.
Rodney found John in his depressing smelly office and sat down on the shipping crate John had been using for his injured leg the last time Rodney had visited. “So I’m not going to tell anyone that you’re into pegging,” Rodney said as an opener, and hey – there was one way of greeting Sheppard that didn’t elicit the usual dry smirk. John’s eyes went a little big and crazy and John’s lips thinned as he hissed, “McKay!”
“What?” said Rodney, waving a hand around at the complete isolation. “No one’s around. No one would be caught dead in this hellhole if they could help it.”
“It’s the principle of it,” said John, huffy now. “Do I walk into your lab and talk about sex?”
“No,” admitted Rodney, “but you could. It would probably make Simpson’s day if you did.”
John growled low in his throat, but relaxed marginally. “So is everything…okay?” he asked, a little delicately for a man who’d been offering advice on successful anal penetration a bare week earlier.
“All healed up,” Rodney said, “but we haven’t really given it another go.”
“Didn’t like it?” asked John, pretending to page through a clipboard. Rodney could read the notes through the page curled over the top of the clipboard. Athosian beets, it read, and then, Ask Lorne for toenail clippers.
“I liked it okay up until the burning aftermath,” said Rodney. “I think Jennifer’s scared to try it again. Or she thinks I am.”
“Well, you don’t really need her to be there,” John pointed out, still fake-studying his clipboard.
“Are you offering?” said Rodney, dryly, then blinked twice at the rush of red that rose up at the tips of Sheppard’s ears. “Oh my god, you weren’t actually offering, were you?”
“I meant,” said John, strangled, “that you could try it out on your own first.”
But Rodney wasn’t going to be derailed, because – oh. Holy shit, it made so much sense, it was disgraceful he hadn’t even thought of it before. “I wouldn’t tell anyone about that, either,” he said hastily, stupidly. “John. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Well, it matters, but it’s not…” Rodney trailed off miserably.
John looked up from his clipboard, abruptly intense and dark-eyed. “I know you wouldn’t, buddy,” he said, very softly. “I just, I didn’t really plan to put you in that position, where you have to keep a secret.”
Rodney shrugged a little, heart growing almost painfully to press up inside his ribs. “No big deal,” he said, even though, yes. It was a big huge fucking deal.
He somehow managed a graceful exit and spent the rest of the day feeling like he’d been handed a bird’s egg, like he was cupping it close and keeping it safe and desperately trying to avoid closing his fist around it for fear of breaking it open.
Alone in his quarters later, Rodney lubed up his fingers neatly. It took him only about five minutes to relax into it without the pressure of Jennifer hovering over him, and five minutes after that, Rodney was curling his fingertips awkwardly to try and reach the right spot, and five minutes after that, Rodney was stripping his cock and fucking down onto his hand and making dark throaty noises and trying with all his might not to imagine John Sheppard doing this to himself, someone doing this to John Sheppard.
Jennifer sent an email to Rodney two days later. The subject line was the whole message: We need to talk. For a crazy frantic minute Rodney thought that somehow Jennifer knew, that she’d guessed that he was making a nightly ritual of jerking off with his fingers up his ass. Then Rodney shook his head and realized that this was probably a relationship talk; either Jennifer was ending it, or moving in with him.
It was neither, as it turned out. When Rodney came to the infirmary during a break in the morning, Jennifer steered him into her office and said, “I’m late.”
“What?” said Rodney.
“My period,” Jennifer said with clinical precision. “Five days late.”
“Why?” said Rodney, panicked and stupid.
Jennifer folded her arms across her chest, clearly waiting for him to realize how completely idiotic he sounded.
“Well – well, did you take a test?” he asked, heart hammering crazily, because – Jesus. Jesus.
“Yup,” she said. “It was positive. Rodney. I’m pregnant.”
“Wait,” he said. “Wait. We always use condoms.”
“Except that one time, about two weeks ago,” agreed Jennifer, “in the linen closet, remember? We were kind of in a hurry.”
“One time!” Rodney protested. “Come on!”
Jennifer gave him another folded-arm pause, this time accompanied by a heavy sigh.
“Right,” said Rodney, racing through the outright panic, trying to get to the logical part of his reaction. It wasn’t surfacing. “Right,” he said again, stalling for time.
“I thought about taking emergency contraception,” said Jennifer, taut and petite and neat in her uniform, “but I kept forgetting to do it, and I was sort thinking, what are the odds?” She blinked deliberately, shifting her gaze over to Rodney. “The odds,” she said, “are exactly the same as any other time you have unprotected sex mid-cycle. Which is to say – pretty damn high!”
“Hey,” said Rodney, because even though he felt a little crazed himself, it didn’t take his genius IQ to see that Jennifer was about two seconds away from coming completely unglued. “Hey, it’ll be okay.” He crossed the space between them and pulled her close, wrapped his arms around her and felt her, tense and stiff, against him.
“It’s not okay,” she protested, and burst into tears, which was terrifying and awful because he’d never once seen Jennifer cry and that one time they’d even been trapped in a fucking hole in the ground where they’d been about to die. Rodney never knew what to do when girls cried, especially girls he was dating, but like everything else with Jennifer, it seemed easier than he’d expected: he just held on and kissed her hair and hushed her. Eventually she pulled back and swiped at her cheeks and said, with a wobbly smile, “Sorry, I just needed a meltdown,” and Rodney kissed her mouth and said, “Don’t be sorry,” and then Rodney’s headset coughed and Woolsey was asking him to report to the gateroom, something about SGA-3 returning from a mission with some interesting energy readings.
“I’ll come back later,” promised Rodney, moving away slowly and gesturing at his radio even though Jennifer had to have heard it, so close to him. “Let me know if you need anything.”
And Jennifer nodded and laughed shakily and waved him off, and Rodney walked away thinking, holy shit. Holy shit.
After that there was no time to think; he’d scarcely been in the gateroom for five minutes before John and Ronon and Teyla came steaming in, already geared up and impatient-looking, like Rodney should have read their minds and met up with them in the locker room instead of doing vitally important work decoding SGA-3’s readings.
And then they were offworld, and then Rodney tripped and put his hand through the cliff face they were skirting as they chased the energy signature, and then he and Sheppard were exploring an extremely cool ATA-keyed Ancient lab. They hadn’t the slightest clue what it did, but John sent Ronon back to Atlantis for more scientists and marines anyway while Rodney dug around under all the consoles trying to jury-rig a power source and light up the room.
“Come here, get over here,” Rodney said, finding that his own pair of hands were inadequate to the task, and then Sheppard was squeezing in beside him, bony shoulder blade digging into Rodney’s chest as they tried to fit sidelong lying under the narrow console. “See where my hands are?” said Rodney, but John was already on it, slender-fingered hands taking up the same position so Rodney could let go and reach for the crystal he needed. After that it was easy: two circuits rerouted and the whole thing was hooked up to the baby Mark Three generator Rodney had brought. The room flickered and glowed blue, the edge of the console casting an abrupt shadow across Rodney’s forearm, John’s jaw. “No, don’t move,” Rodney ordered as John shifted automatically, “I need to tape that crystal down or it’ll slip right back out.” He writhed, trying to get one hand into his tac vest, finally managing to extricate a small roll of camouflage duct tape from which he pulled a length of tape, biting it free.
Rodney carefully placed the tape between John’s hands, smoothing it down and squishing out any stray air bubbles, a little meticulously. He was vaguely aware that his movements were slowing, dropping out of the frantic excited pace of their first fifteen minutes in the lab, unwinding into a nearly languorous tempo, but Rodney didn’t really register why until he was done with the tape and said, a little breathlessly, “Okay, you can let go,” and Sheppard lowered his hands and turned his head to look at Rodney, shuttered expression and cautious eyes, and Rodney closed the bare inch of distance between them and kissed Sheppard’s closed lips.
If Rodney had had enough of his wits about him to think of anything at that moment, he would have fully expected Sheppard to shove him back, to violently scramble to his feet, and to demand what the hell Rodney thought he was doing, that John had trusted him and Rodney was being a crazy asshole – but John’s mouth immediately went soft and lush under Rodney’s, John’s whole body dropped into sweet lax weight against Rodney’s, and they were kissing and kissing with their eyes closed against the blue Ancient light. It was blissfully mindless; and it only improved when John’s hand came up and his fingers dug into Rodney’s scalp, pulling him closer. They were both breathing hard by that time but neither one could seem to pause to catch his breath.
Then there was a clatter, and the sound of footsteps, and Rodney bolted upright so fast he smacked his head into the underside of the console. When he stopped swearing long enough to open his eyes, Sheppard had escaped and was on his feet, greeting the ATA contingent of the team Ronon had brought back with him.
“We‘ve got power,” announced John, like his lips weren’t vividly pink.
“At the expense of my skull,” said Rodney bitterly, still blinking back stars. “Don’t you people knock? You scared the crap out of me.”
“You wanted us to knock on the holographic cliff face?” said Lorne.
“It’s an expression,” said Rodney. “In any case, I need everyone to shut up and do as I say so we can figure out what the Ancients were up to here. And nobody touch anything unless I say so.”
An hour later, things had calmed down somewhat and Rodney sidled over to where John was slouched against a wall. He popped open a panel next to John’s shoulder and pretended to study its insides. Mostly he was just observing John, who looked relaxed and bored as always. “I think that may have been my first team effort at a panic attack,” Rodney said quickly, nervously.
“Panic attack?” said John, arching a brow, calm, not meeting Rodney’s gaze.
“I think things are moving forward with me and Jennifer,” said Rodney. “I think we might be getting serious really soon.” He waved a crystal sensor in John’s direction. “You were an innocent bystander.”
“Innocent,” repeated John, but Rodney couldn’t make out the tone of his voice at all, and didn’t dare stop to study his expression.
“All this is my way of saying sorry,” Rodney concluded, replacing the wall panel. “I don’t know what I was doing.” He hesitated. “I do know what I was doing, I was being a – a fumbling moron.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, McKay,” said John blandly, “it wasn’t that bad.”
“Bad?” Rodney hissed, surprised into looking directly at John. “I’ll have you know” – and John raised a hand and reminded Rodney with a tiny finger-wave: they were in a very small room with about a half-dozen other people. This was not the time.
The lab was for weapons research. Rodney caught John’s eye as he announced this news and was weirdly fascinated to see John licking his lips with anticipation. They didn’t know yet what the weapons were, if they’d been successful, or even if they were useful against the Replicators or the Wraith, but there was fodder for several days’ work here.
Rodney got some very strange looks when he assigned Simpson to lead the team that would stay behind, but no one questioned him about it. Rodney couldn’t possibly stay, himself, not with Jennifer’s tears still staining the front of his t-shirt, not with John hovering close by and shooting him odd glances.
Back on Atlantis, Rodney was better able to put his weird lapse of judgment with Sheppard out of his mind. Instead he focused on the struggle to find the right gesture, the best way to tell Jennifer that everything would be okay, that he wasn’t going anywhere. He couldn’t very well give her the ring he’d planned to give to Katie; and even if he could have, proposing marriage was all wrong. Rodney didn’t want Jennifer to think that he was orchestrating a shotgun wedding between them. He didn’t need to make a dramatic show of commitment; he only wanted to reassure her.
But Atlantis wasn’t a Hallmark store, and there wasn’t an easy supply of sentimental cards awaiting his signature. Rodney didn’t know where else to go, so he headed to Teyla and Kanaan’s quarters.
Torren was just past one and had recently progressed from wobbly walking to outright sprinting. It was nearly impossible to have a calm adult conversation in his presence, but Teyla had a way of managing nonetheless. Rodney somehow asked Teyla for what he needed, and Teyla somehow curbed her obvious curiosity, and Rodney left triumphant half an hour later with sticky graham cracker smudges on his pant legs and his offering in his pocket.
He found Jennifer in the infirmary even though her shift had ended some hours earlier. She was running simulations on her computer looking dazed and exhausted, her hair pulled back into a tail with a stubby pencil stuck through it.
“Hey,” said Rodney, perching on the edge of her desk, holding his offering in his hands.
“Hey,” said Jennifer, looking up and blinking. “Oh, hey,” she said again, a little more warmly, as though just waking up.
“So I brought you something,” said Rodney, and extracted the folded homespun piece of cloth from his pocket. Jennifer took it, uncertainly, and unfolded it to reveal its slightly irregular shape. “It’s a sling,” Rodney explained. “For the baby. Remember, Teyla used one with Torren when he was little?”
“Oh,” said Jennifer, and carefully folded the fabric back into a square. She wasn’t smiling. “Rodney, there’s something I need to –”
“I didn’t tell her why I wanted it,” Rodney hastened to add. “I sort of implied it was for Jeannie.” He didn’t tell her that Teyla had obviously not quite believed him.
“That’s – I mean, good – but“– Jennifer looked increasingly uncomfortable. Rodney’s palms broke into a light sweat. He’d misjudged.
“Look, I think we should get married. I think we should do it soon,” he said all in a rush. “I know you didn’t want to move in but it’s different now. I’d – I’d even, if you really wanted, I would move back to Earth with you. But I mean, Teyla has Torren here and Pegasus is just as good a place as any to have a family.”
“Rodney,” said Jennifer, voice going hard suddenly. Her hands grabbed his, and Rodney only then realized how he’d been waving them around. “Rodney, look at me.”
Obediently, Rodney looked. Jennifer’s eyes were steady and deadly serious.
“Rodney, after you left this morning,” she said, slowly, “I started spotting. When Dr. Biro did an exam, she confirmed it. Rodney, I had a spontaneous abortion. I miscarried.”
“It’s very common,” said Jennifer, soothingly. “This early on, nearly a quarter of all implanted embryos will spontaneously abort. We were just.” She quirked her mouth. “I was going to say ‘unlucky’ but I’m not sure that’s quite what I’m feeling.”
Rodney blinked again, and pulled one hand away so he could pick up the folded infant sling. It felt very soft against his fingers.
“It’s really sweet of you to offer all this,” said Jennifer gently, “but you don’t have to. We’re off the hook.”
Rodney was about to nod and accept this but the weight of the Athosian material somehow prompted him to open his mouth instead. “I feel unlucky,” he said, and he really did. “I don’t feel relieved.” He braved a glance at Jennifer. She was pale and unsmiling, staring down at her empty hands. “I want,” Rodney stumbled, “I want to live with you. I want to marry you. I want you to have our kids and I want you to keep this sling until that happens.” He pushed the folded square at her clumsily.
“No,” said Jennifer. “Rodney, I’m twenty-nine. I don’t want that. Not now.” She pushed his hand away, slowly. “This whole situation has given me some perspective on us, and I’m not ready to settle down.”
“Well, I’m forty,” said Rodney bluntly, “and I am.”
They were both certified geniuses, and yet it took them the better part of a minute to recognize the impasse.
“So,” said Rodney, squishing the sling up in his fist, “it’s been nice.”
“You deserve someone who wants all of this,” said Jennifer, almost at the same moment.
After that it was all by the book: a regretful embrace, a sympathetic look, and Rodney was ushered out into the hallway, alone.
Work had always been a haven for Rodney in times of psychological crisis. He spent the first several weeks after his break-up almost continuously in the Ancient weapons lab. It was promising; though the lab hadn’t been developing any technology they hadn’t encountered before, part of the focus of the work there had been more efficient drone manufacturing processes. For Atlantis, with its dwindling reserves and few notions of how the drones were constructed to begin with, it was a stroke of luck to find whole sections of the database in the lab detailing the drone manufacturing process.
The ATA-keyed nature of the lab naturally limited the number of people able to enter, and that helped too. Rodney could mostly avoid the sympathies of those who knew him best: Teyla, Ronon, and of course, Jennifer.
John, genetically blessed as he was, was much harder to avoid. Sometime during the third day in the lab (it might have been night, it was hard to tell in a cave), Rodney looked up from his work to find John sitting beside him, biting his lower lip, eyes flickering side to side like they did when John was trying to work up the nerve to initiate a difficult and potentially emotional conversation.
“Oh, who told you?” Rodney groaned, rubbing his forehead.
“Teyla said you borrowed something,” said John, visibly relieved to have an opening. “A – a baby thing.”
Rodney tried to keep scowling through the weird spike of loss that stabbed through him at this. “Did she also tell you that I returned it the next day?” Rodney asked.
John nodded, fixing his gaze on the lab bench. Rodney waited a minute, until it was clear that John wasn’t going to probe further, then caved and explained anyway.
“That day,” Rodney said, and waved towards the make-out panic-attack console, “she told me she was pregnant. It was an accident. When I got back, I gave the baby sling to her. And she told me she” – but it was important to be clear here, so Rodney manned up and continued – “she lost the… It was sort of a false alarm.”
“And then you broke up,” said John. “Fuck.”
“So you can put your conscience at ease,” Rodney told him, a little more sharply than he’d intended. “You’re cleared of any and all blame for…” Rodney did another wave at the console.
John cleared his throat, sat up a little, drummed his fingers on the bench; Rodney went back to work. But he’d only typed a few lines before he felt John’s hand land on his back, broad hot palm, long fingers digging in for a second. “I’m sorry,” John said, and got up, left the lab.
Rodney could feel the warm outline of John’s hand on his back. Sorry for what? wondered Rodney. For the kissing? For Rodney’s break-up? For the – the loss? For sort of asking about it in the first place?
Whatever John had meant to say, he clearly felt he’d said it, because suddenly he wasn’t around much anymore. Rodney saw him in passing, quick nods of acknowledgment, ten-word briefings on the latest developments in the lab. John was casual, cool, a little bored with Rodney. It was typical of John, actually, for his friendship to recede periodically, like he needed a break from Rodney once in a while – like he got tired of him.
Rodney thought of it at odd moments: the solid hard edge of John’s shoulder blade, the weight of him on Rodney’s torso, the soft hungry suck of John’s mouth on his.
Rodney contracted a virulent cold near the end of his fifth week in the drone lab. He battled it manfully for a day, then decided that ten-thousand year old lab notes weren’t worth his health. He gated back to Atlantis, aching all over, and staggered into the infirmary.
“You look like total crap,” said Jennifer dispassionately. “Lie down, I don’t want you to pass out and fall off the bed.”
“I was kind of hoping someone else could see me,” said Rodney through his stuffy nose. He lay back anyway because the infirmary was spinning a little. “Just give me some cold medication and some kleenex and I’ll be out of your way.”
“You know that’s not how it works,” said Jennifer, easing him up a little so she could slide the cold stethoscope over his back. “Deep breaths.”
Rodney tried to breathe deeply and ended up coughing instead.
“Are you sleeping okay?” Jennifer said, clinical and calm.
“When have you ever known me to sleep while I’m on a project like this?” Rodney returned. “Throw some Ambien in with the pseudoephedrine while you’re at it.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so. I’m pulling you off active duty,” said Jennifer. “You’re not going offworld again for thirty-six hours.”
Rodney groaned piteously, but couldn’t muster the energy for a more elaborate protest. “You know, my last ex-girlfriend transferred back to Earth,” he said, pointedly. “She didn’t stick around and wait for a chance to torment me like this, in my hour of weakness.”
“Your last ex-girlfriend was a pushover,” said Jennifer, efficiently spreading a blanket over him. “I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you until you’ve gotten eight solid hours.”
Rodney had to smile in spite of himself, because Jennifer was cute when she was bossy, and Jennifer smiled back reflexively, and there was a weird suspenseful moment where they both had to decide if this was okay, if they were okay, and then it passed. They were okay. Jennifer patted the back of Rodney’s hand, pulled the curtain closed around his bed, and left.
Unfortunately, time away from work – even sick time – meant time for Rodney to think. He started off thinking about Jennifer, probing at the idea of her very gently, like a tongue exploring a bad tooth. It hurt less than he would have supposed but it was still not a pleasant process. Much as he liked to lie back and dreamily picture Jennifer’s high lovely breasts, to remember how she’d looked moving over him, Rodney disliked having Jennifer in front of him now. After being released from the infirmary, he was sure to time his follow-up visits when he knew Jennifer was not working, and he entered by the door farthest from her office just in case.
But when Rodney did see her, in passing in the halls or across the mess hall during lunch, it wasn’t too bad: a little twist of his insides, a quick suppressed impulse to smile, and then it was over. He supposed this was how it felt to get over someone. He’d never really had a chance to try it with Katie.
It was much more difficult to broach the other taboo subject in his mind, that of one John Sheppard. For one thing, Rodney still had absolutely no idea what had happened between them on the first day in that lab. His extemporaneous “team panic attack” explanation had been satisfactory at the time but hadn’t held up over the past few weeks. If it really had been a lapse in sanity, Rodney wouldn’t find himself returning to the memory over and over again.
And John himself – well, John had now surpassed any past records for the length of time he’d spent ignoring Rodney and his overtures of friendship. It was weird, because if anything, Rodney had expected John to come rushing back into his life, taking up the best friend duty of consoling Rodney after his break-up, just as Rodney had been there for John after his knee surgery, just as John himself had been there for Rodney when he’d hurt his back. Instead, John was weirdly civil and professional and constantly busy whenever Rodney suggested that they play chess or watch movies or race cars.
They had made out, that was the thing that was different this time, and maybe Rodney had been kind of an asshole to explain the whole encounter away so casually, but after all, Jennifer had been (briefly) pregnant and his relationship had been seriously faltering and what were a few really badly-timed kisses between best friends at a time like that?
But John clearly didn’t see it that way, because he was continuing to act weird whenever Rodney was around. It was like he’d been replaced by a lookalike who’d gotten maybe a ten-minute briefing on John’s character and was missing out on all the best parts of John, his stupid smirks and bad jokes and crazy eyes.
“Now, about the holidays,” said Woolsey at the end of the next senior staff meeting, referring back to his tablet, “I wanted to know which of you plans to return to Earth this year so we can make the appropriate arrangements.”
“Holidays?” said Rodney, stunned, and scrolled up so he could check the date on the meeting agenda. Huh. It was apparently late November back on Earth.
“I’d like a week,” said Jennifer, at the far end of the table. “I’ve already made arrangements for clinical and research coverage in my absence.”
Woolsey continued around the table, making notes as he went, mostly approving requests, asking a few clarifying questions here and there. Rodney, meanwhile, was experiencing the annual internal battle of Eating Tofurkey vs. Getting a Guilt-Inducing Christmas Card from Jeannie. He was about to cave when he heard John speak beside him. “I’ll take eight days,” John said, like it was nothing, like John had requested vacation time before. Like it hadn’t taken a death in the family to take him back to Earth last year, and like John hadn’t spent that whole week saving the Earth from replicators instead.
Even Woolsey was visibly taken aback, but he recovered admirably and noted down the dates John wanted – early in the month, so as to accommodate Lorne’s own plans. But Rodney was still startled enough that when Woolsey came to him next, he was unprepared. He stammered, stalling, and finally said something about going around the same time as John. “We can split a cab,” he said helplessly, garnering weird looks from everyone.
The meeting ended and everyone cleared out, Jennifer moving quickly with her head down. Rodney was a third of the way back to his quarters when John materialized beside him in the corridor and scared the hell out of him. “What are you, a ninja? Don’t do that!” Rodney shouted, annoyed.
John wasn’t paying attention, though. He was grabbing Rodney by the shirt and pulling him out a door onto a balcony. It was windy and raining lightly outside, and the sea fog made it nearly impossible to enjoy the view, so Rodney figured John wanted a quiet place to assault Rodney out of the public’s eye. “You,” grated John, “have got to get yourself together.”
“Oh, look who’s talking!” Rodney exclaimed, stung. “You’re like an android lately! And I’m coming off a bad break-up, I’m allowed to be off my game.”
“I’m not talking about you and Jennifer,” said John acridly. “I’m talking about the way you keep looking at me. Everyone is noticing, Rodney.”
“I’m not looking at you,” Rodney protested. “Why would I look at you?”
“You tell me,” John returned, leaning in, scary and getting a little damp in the rainfall.
“Well, if I’m looking,” Rodney answered, “maybe it’s because I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with you that you’re sneaking up on me and dragging me out into the pouring rain to shout at me about looking at you.”
John plunged his fingers into his hair, clearly frustrated beyond words, and wheeled away to pace the length of the balcony.
“We don’t have to split a cab from Cheyenne,” Rodney said, the next time Sheppard pivoted in front of him.
John made an unearthly growling noise and paced back the other way, hands twitching by his sides now.
“I don’t know why I said that,” Rodney tried, with less conviction. “Come on, John, would you stay in one place for a second?”
John paused about five feet away, gaze fixed on the floor between them.
“Why are you going back to Earth anyway?” Rodney asked, because he wanted to know, and John would have told him, before. “I hope you’re not going to visit Dave, because he’s a heinous asshole and spending time with him is not a vacation in any sense of the word.”
“Why do you think I’m going, Rodney,” John said, not quite asking. He folded his arms across his chest and waited.
“Oh,” said Rodney, getting it now, “you want to get away from me?”
“I knew you were a genius,” said John with a weird bitter smile, and pushed past Rodney to get back inside.
Jennifer had told him once that it was a rule: getting over a relationship took half as long as the relationship itself. By that rule, it made sense that Rodney had usually needed only a few days to recover from a break-up. And by that rule, he would need four months to get past Jennifer herself, which felt about right now that the better part of two months had passed.
Also by that rule, Rodney figured it would take him nearly three years to get over the end of his friendship with John. That also felt about right, especially now as they stood in the jumper bay together with duffle bags slung over their shoulders, ready to board the shuttle that would take them to the new midway station for quarantine and then on to Earth. Rodney was biting down on his tongue, literally, to prevent it from saying something heartfelt and embarrassing like, “I miss you,” or “I’m sorry I said it was a panic attack,” or “Can we split a cab after all?”
Of course, the idiot staff sergeant at midway hadn’t gotten the memo about the great Sheppard-McKay rift and beamed at them when he told them they would be bunking together for the duration of the quarantine. Even more unhappily, the only other Atlantis staff travelling with them were a pair of young female scientists, neither of whom could be compelled to swap and share a room with Atlantis’s military leader or head of science.
“Think how much more you’ll appreciate my absence,” said Rodney in a failed joke, as the two of them struggled to fit their bags into the tiny cabin. The beds were literal bunks set into the wall, and unthinking, Rodney put one foot on the rung of the ladder, ready to climb up to the top bed.
“What are you doing?” said John. “I’ll take the top, you hate –” and he stopped short, figuring it out. “My knee is fine, Rodney.”
“Then let’s keep it that way,” said Rodney huffily, and clambered the rest of the way up, awkward and heavy. But Sheppard was too damn tall and the room was too short, because this meant he was pretty much on a level with Sheppard’s head and he could see the way John was looking at him, annoyed and touched all at the same time, and Rodney said, “I don’t want you to need to get away from me.”
John blinked, almost a flinch, but didn’t move. The line of the bunk’s mattress cut off Rodney’s view just below Sheppard’s nose, so Rodney carefully got up on one elbow and eased forward, needing to see what John’s mouth was doing.
It was quirking, just a little, near the edges.
“I’m sorry,” said Rodney, “I know I was staring at you. I just didn’t want things to be weird, and they were weird. But it’s my fault. I’m the one who.” Kissed you, he wanted to say. But you kissed me back, he wanted to add, and I can’t figure that out.
“You know what,” said John, still nearly smiling, “forget it. We’re cool.”
“Just like that?” Rodney said, startled. “What, I show a little consideration for your crappy knee and we forget all about how bad our friendship has been for the past two months?”
“Why not,” said John, and disappeared into the bunk below. After a few minutes of silence, Rodney ventured an opinion on the identity of the last cylon, and John made a completely ridiculous counter-argument, and that was it. Normalcy.
Only Rodney couldn’t help feeling that it was weird, later, when they dropped from talkativeness into sleepy silence, and under the warmly familiar sound of Sheppard’s almost-snoring breaths Rodney was thinking about whether he could fit into the narrow space between John’s body and the cabin wall, whether there would be room for the two of them on one small bunk.
Jeannie was horrible. Within two minutes of his arrival she’d forced him to admit that he and Jennifer had split and she spent the next two hours lecturing him on not being so pushy and suffocating that he drove his girlfriends away.
“You know, I could be surfing with Sheppard in Maui right now,” said Rodney pointedly, eating one of the limp dinosaur-shaped breaded tofu bites that Madison hadn’t finished at lunch.
“You can’t surf,” scoffed Jeannie, doing something noisy involving the dishwasher.
“I could watch Sheppard surf,” Rodney amended. “In peace.”
“That’s another thing,” said Jeannie, swapping out Madison’s leftover plate for a fresh one loaded with homemade carob chip cookies, “you don’t understand how deeply unattractive it is when a guy spends half his time displaying this embarrassing man-crush on another guy.”
“I don’t have a man-crush!” Rodney retorted, taking a cookie and studying it for possible broccoli infiltration.
“You have a huge man-crush,” Jeannie told him, matter-of-fact. “You never even liked beaches before and you’re talking about sitting on one for days just to watch John splash around in the ocean.”
“Pfft,” said Rodney dismissively, and bit into the cookie. It wasn’t awful. “You are way off-base on this,” he told Jeannie, then squinted at her while she bent down to close the dishwasher door. “Did you get breast implants?”
“What?” said Jeannie, mouth dropping open in horror. “I’m pregnant, Meredith. God!”
“Oh, gross,” said Rodney, stomach turning. “That means you had sex.” He ate the rest of the cookie anyway, figuring it shouldn’t go to waste.
He wondered, though, what John would look like in a pair of surf shorts. Was there a name for those lines that skinny guys had, those lines that went from hip to inner thigh on each side, converging, like an arrowhead? Sheppard was starting to get the slightest of middle-age bellies but the last time he’d had his shirt off in Rodney’s presence, he’d still had those lines tracing down and disappearing under the waistband of his pants.
Madison, wandering into the kitchen, pulled Rodney from his thoughts with a sharp tug on the knee of his pants. “Uncle Mer,” she chirped sweetly, “did you know how the baby got in Mommy’s tummy? I’ll tell you. Daddy put his penis where the baby is coming out.”
“Oh my god,” said Rodney, stricken.
“It’s very yucky,” said Madison, in full agreement.
John sent an email four days later.
Hey Rodney, it read, it’s been crappy and rainy here all week. I should have just come to Vancouver.
Rodney replied: Bring me some kona beans and macadamia nuts.
Rodney thought: John wanted to come to Vancouver? Or was that just an expression?
There was no privacy whatsoever in the Miller household. Nearly every day Madison came banging into the washroom when Rodney was in the shower, and Jeannie woke him in the guest room in the mornings because it was where she kept the good coffee she hid from Kaleb, and Kaleb himself had his computer desk set up in the guest room and spent part of every evening working in that room, marking papers or sending emails.
“Uncle Mer made a poo in the bathroom,” announced Madison one morning while Jeannie brushed her hair into pigtails, ready for grade one. “It’s stinky in there.”
“We don’t talk about poo in the kitchen,” said Jeannie.
“Poo,” said Madison, and cracked up.
“I’m going to a hotel,” said Rodney.
“Bum, poo, bum,” cackled Madison.
“It’s one more day, Meredith,” Jeannie pointed out. “Maddy, what did I just say?”
“Penis, bum, vulva,” said Madison.
“Okay, time out,” said Jeannie, but not before Madison could fire off one more cheerful string of baby Tourette’s curses: “Pee, penis, pee-pee!”
“What a lovely daughter you have,” said Rodney flatly when Jeannie returned alone. “She’d fit right in with John’s marines.”
“She’s six,” said Jeannie. “Toilet humour is the height of wit at her age.”
Rodney blurted it out without meaning to: “Jennifer got pregnant and lost the baby right away. She was relieved and I wasn’t. That’s really why we broke up.”
Jeannie’s face did something complicated, which usually meant she was trying not to get emotional in front of him. “Mer,” she said, and came up to him, pulled him in, hugged the hell out of him.
“Anyway, I guess I’m trying to say thank-you for reminding me why I really don’t want kids,” Rodney half-joked, trying to relax into her embrace.
“You’ll find someone,” Jeannie said, and cupped his cheek, kissed his forehead.
Rodney didn’t get that about women, how they could be years younger and your baby sister and mouthy and annoying and pushy, and how they could just touch you and make you feel comforted and safe and about seven years old.
John had bought a digital camera because the sales guy at the Best Buy in Honolulu told him it was a good deal. During his stay in Hawaii he’d taken one hundred and seventeen pictures, of which about fifty-six were accidental snaps of his hotel room carpet, his bare knees, and the ceiling.
“You can just delete them?” he asked, surprised, when Rodney rolled his eyes and started trashing all the bad pictures. They were eating lunch in the midway station’s tiny kitchen, feet bumping under the table.
“You’re hopeless,” said Rodney, and got rid of another near-black picture that was probably of the inside of John’s pocket.
There was a picture John must have made another tourist take, John standing with his hand on his surfboard, squinting and suspicious and wet with saltwater. Rodney turned the camera to see the picture better. John had those lines, whatever they were called, and they went down pretty far before the sagging wet waistband of his surf shorts interrupted them.
There was another, not long after that one, that was one of those obvious self-portraits where you held the camera up high and lifted your chin to avoid unflattering neck fat and smiled self-consciously. It wasn’t just John, though, in the picture. There was another guy, wearing sunglasses, grinning with white teeth. He had his arm around John.
Blinking, Rodney kept paging through the photos and efficiently got rid of the duds, then waved Sheppard across the table to sit next to him so he could show him how to do it himself.
“Where do you get them developed?” asked John. “Do you have to leave the camera with them?” Rodney opened his mouth to verbally abuse John before realizing that, of course, he was now joking.
“Do you want me to set one of these as the desktop background on your laptop?” Rodney offered instead.
“Oh, sure,” said John. He was brown from several days of sun but Rodney could see the edge of the tan line on his wrist, peeking out from under his watch.
“Any picture in particular? You and your friend?”
“Who?” said John.
“That guy. In the one picture.”
“Oh,” said John, evasively. “Uh, no. I didn’t really know him that well.”
“Oh,” said Rodney. “Sure.”
It wasn’t much of a vacation, Rodney thought, if you hadn’t had at least a single orgasm the entire time you were away. Between the claustrophobic midway quarantines and his extended stay at the Miller House of No Personal Boundaries, Rodney was more than relieved to find himself back in his silent private quarters on Atlantis. He celebrated almost immediately by locking the door and taking off his pants.
It was the work of less than a minute to find John’s vacation pictures on his password-protected networked hard drive (password: zaphodbeeblebrox1967), and not quite letting himself think about what he was doing and why, Rodney located the picture of John in his trunks and dragged it onto his desktop. The picture looked even better, spread out in 10 megapixels of resolution on his widescreen laptop.
Rodney put his hand inside his boxers and stared at the perfect line of John’s waistband. If he looked long enough, he could mentally extrapolate, pixel by pixel, what it might look like if Rodney could reach into the screen and tug the shorts down very slowly, over the jutting twin wings of John’s hipbones, following those sweet tantalizing divots that kissed the tops of John’s thighs to their inevitable meeting point.
Rodney figured that it didn’t count as jerking off to a picture of John if he closed his eyes.
Some progress had been made on the drone lab in Rodney’s absence, but the biggest excitement was that the research notes referred to the drone manufacturing facility – and gave its coordinates.
As they had long theorized, it wasn’t anywhere on Atlantis but in a distant ungated system reachable only by a hyperspace-capable craft, or by a very long jumper ride from the nearest gate. Their luck being what it was, both the Apollo and the Daedalus were far enough away that Woolsey decreed it a better use of their time to send a team via jumper to inspect the facility, rather than waiting to hitch a ride on one of the big ships.
“Six days to get there, even if Apollo picks us up for the return trip,” said Rodney. “Everyone must bring deodorant.”
“I cannot be away from Torren so long,” said Teyla, and boy, that was a handy excuse, wasn’t it? Rodney scowled at Ronon and John, letting them know they’d better not try any similar lines.
Figuring that the facility would likely be genetically keyed like the lab, they filled Teyla’s spot on the team with a young ATA-carrying weapon systems tech named Patil. If he was at all daunted by the thought of six days alone in a jumper with three-quarters of SGA-1, he didn’t show it. Rodney didn’t like him, but having three pilots to rotate through the cockpit of the jumper was definitely a bonus.
They’d done long jumper trips before, though never quite this long, and so there was an established operational procedure. Half the team sat up in the cockpit while the other half had the cargo space in the back to sleep or otherwise keep themselves occupied, the bulkhead shot to between the two areas to create an illusion of separate rooms. Even though deep space was lacking in handy time divisions like day and night, they kept strictly to Atlantis time – dimming the lights of the cockpit from 2300h until 0700h the next day, and eating meals at 0800h, 1200h, and 1800h. They split the clock into four equal shifts and rotated through in teams, two shifts in the cockpit and two shifts in the cargo space, sleeping eight solid hours whenever they could manage it. But even with all the artificial restrictions they imposed, the journey got very boring very quickly.
Ronon, who couldn’t even take over flying to break up the monotony, was the worst-off. John was doing only slightly better, obviously feeling caged in by the confined dimensions of the jumper. He and Ronon tried to spar but had to quit when they accidentally cracked one of the water reservoirs. The leak was patched up with tape but imperfectly – they had to balance the plastic tank on the jumper’s toilet seat so that the dripping water wouldn’t get all over the floor. This meant having to heave the damn thing out of the way every time one of them had to pee.
Patil and Rodney, both more sedentary by nature, were faring much better; but even they began to grate on each other’s nerves after several days had gone by. After they woke John and Ronon up with their shouting over circuitry analysis protocols, John moved the shifts around so that Rodney and Patil weren’t sharing cockpit duty anymore. Rodney wound up sharing the cargo space with John through every afternoon, trying to sleep and failing.
John seemed to sleep just fine, lying on the floor beside Rodney.
They finally arrived at the weapons manufacturing planet late on the sixth day. The jumper’s air scrubbers were efficient and thorough, but it was still a huge relief to lower the jumper’s back door and feel the breath of pine-scented air that rushed into the narrow space.
“No signs of anyone living here,” Rodney said needlessly as they emerged into the clearing where they’d landed the jumper. “But I’m still picking up that energy signature we noticed in orbit.” He turned in a circle, trying to figure out which way to go first. “This way, I think,” he said, and headed off.
Since the weapons lab, small as it was, was cloaked under a cliff, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the manufacturing facility was located somewhere under a largish mountain. The problem was finding the entrance. They picked their way along several promising rock faces before they had to stop and admit it wasn’t going to be so easy as Rodney falling through a holographic door. They would need to survey the area by jumper. Ronon and Patil would set up a camp while John and Rodney did the first aerial sweep of the mountain.
“Think Ronon can hunt something meaty for dinner?” Rodney asked hopefully as John steered the jumper towards the mountain.
“God willing,” answered John grimly. “And maybe some fresh fruit.” He pulled a face behind his sunglasses. “MREs – Meals Reluctant to Exit.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Rodney scolded. “I brought those chocolate laxative things, I could have given you some.”
John, inscrutable, deigned to nod in acceptance.
“Is it just me or do we talk about our asses a lot?” mused Rodney, and John snorted, breaking his composure. Just then, the sensors on the HUD flickered and went red. “Oh, hello, hello,” Rodney cooed, and zoomed in. “Ah, we were on the wrong side of the mountain. Good thing we didn’t continue on foot. I’m seeing something that looks like temple ruins, probably some kind of Ancient puzzle we have to crack before we get in.”
John made a weird snorting noise.
“What?” said Rodney.
“Crack,” said John, helplessly, “ass,” and broke into his usual appalling laugh.
“Oh, very mature,” said Rodney. “You and my niece should really get together.” But he was grinning and laughing too, giddy with discovery.
They decided to save the ruins for the next morning, as the sun was setting and they were losing light quickly. John put the jumper down right next to the camp Ronon and Patil had made. Sure enough, Ronon had managed to catch an antelope thing in the two hours John and Rodney had been gone, and even Patil had proved useful, collecting a bucket full of a tart green fruit that tasted like pears but had a fig texture. John gratefully ate his share, Rodney noticed, along with palming and swallowing the laxative Rodney slipped over to him.
“I’ll take first watch,” said John, because he had been sleeping during the day anyway, and the rest of them retired to the two tents they’d set up. Rodney thought at first that he was too invigorated by the fresh air to relax into sleep, but he was proved wrong when the next thing he remembered was John crawling noisily over the nylon sleeping bags, zipping the tent shut, and sprawling down beside Rodney.
“Ronon’s taking over,” he told Rodney, seeing Rodney open his eyes. “We have a couple more hours before sunrise. Go back to sleep.”
“Did the meals exit yet?” Rodney asked blearily, because it seemed important, or maybe just polite.
John grunted, wriggling into his sleeping bag. “Finally, yeah.” He closed his eyes, then blinked them open again. “You’re right, we do talk about our asses a lot.”
“Well, I don’t know about you,” said Rodney, already drifting off again, “but mine’s worth talking about, or so I’ve been told.”
“Who’s been lying to you?” asked John, sounding more than a little dopey himself.
The Ancient puzzle seemed obtuse enough to make them all wish they’d brought along a linguist or an anthropologist. Rodney scanned in large portions of stone-carved text and ran it through his translation program but no obvious patterns emerged when they pored over the English version of the text. Worse, there was no apparent mechanism to unlock the facility, no door or gate or panel, just smooth featureless marble slabs covered with tiny worn Ancient writing.
John got fed up with the scientific approach by noon and started feeling up the marble slabs like some kind of temple whisperer, palms flat to the white-grey surface and body almost pressed against it too, moving slowly, feeling every inch.
“What, are you hoping that getting to second base with the marble wall is going to open up the facility?” Rodney said irritably, and then, because Sheppard was annoying like that, it totally did. One of the panels quivered under Sheppard’s palms, and dissolved completely, leaving a dark passage in its place.
“Awesome,” said John, and drew his P-90 level. “Rodney, you’re with me. Patil, Ronon, wait here.”
About ten feet into the dark corridor, there was a popping sound, followed by a hum, and the long passageway began to light up in front of them, one fixture at a time. The light revealed that the design and colour scheme of the facility were clearly Ancient, had there been any doubt, and also that the corridor stretched ahead almost into a vanishing point in front of them with no visible doors branching off the main artery they were travelling.
“This is creepy,” said John, voicing Rodney’s thoughts.
“It still has power,” Rodney returned, trying to be optimistic.
It took them nearly an hour to reach the end of the immensely long corridor, and there they discovered a simple door like any door on Atlantis. John waved his hand over the control, and it glided open, welcoming them in.
Far overhead, a series of suspended light fixtures flickered to life, illuminating a vast empty space. What seemed like the entire hollowed out mountain stretched above and in front of them, long ranks of complicated Ancient consoles and gadgets everywhere they looked.
“Oh, this is seriously cool,” said John, eyes wide.
“The ceiling is higher than the Hagia Sophia,” Rodney marveled, trying to tilt his head back to gauge the distance to the far-off rock vault that stretched above.
“Are you kidding?” said John. “The Boeing plant in Washington could fit inside this place. Maybe twice over.”
Once they’d overcome the stunning size of the place, John and Rodney both began to wander, heading towards the nearest structures with their every footstep echoing back like a distant handclap in the vast room.
“Good lord,” said Rodney, and made for an installation that reminded him of the drone armory on Atlantis. And yes, every little cell in the immense matrix was full, holding a single drone. Rodney stepped back, craned his neck to try and see the top of the installation. There were at least four thousand drones in this single area. Rodney had no idea if they were inert or armed, but either way – “Yahtzee,” Rodney breathed, heart pounding.
Then John spoke, a hundred yards away already, voice small and almost incomprehensible with the reverberation. “Rodney,” he said, “you’ve gotta take a look at this.”
Rodney reluctantly tore his eyes away from the thousands of drones in front of him and headed back to where Sheppard was standing. Far from the immense structure that housed the drones, John’s focus of interest was a modest structure of perhaps six feet wide and five feet tall; but like the drone storage unit, it was honeycombed with small round holes, and each of the holes was filled with something treacle-dark and perfectly circular. Five rows by six columns made thirty small cells. “So?” said Rodney, missing the significance of this relatively unimpressive display.
“Rodney,” John said again, and pulled one of the round things out of its niche. A cylinder, an amber-crimson –
“Oh, fuck me,” Rodney breathed, flabbergasted. John was cradling the striated crystal head of a ZPM. Rodney scrabbled for his tablet, his sensors, hands shaking badly as he tried to attach the sensor leads to the ZPM’s body, as he ran the diagnostic. The tablet hummed, processed, and crawled its way through the analysis: 0% charge. 15%. 27%. 39%. Up and up the numbers rolled, one percent at a time, John and Rodney equally transfixed by the slow upward climb.
“It’s fully charged.” Rodney wasn’t sure which one of them said it, but it didn’t matter, he was already scrabbling for the next ZPM, hands steadier this time, running the diagnostic again. 100%. Another: 100%. A fourth, one more ZPM than Atlantis needed to fly: 100%.
“They’re new,” said John, voicing Rodney’s thoughts. “This isn’t just a weapons manufacturing facility. This is where they made new ZPMs too.”
“There are thirty of them here,” said Rodney, meeting John’s gaze, seeing John’s pupils blown with excitement. “God…god. Thirty.”
“Thirty ZPMs and the facilities to make more,” John said, dazed and pale.
“We could have more,” said Rodney, beginning to take hold of the reality of it. “We could power Earth for millennia. We could hand them out to every human world in Pegasus. We could, god, we could commute to work in Atlantis from Colorado if we wanted! What’s a little intergalactic wormhole when you have thirty fucking ZPMs?” Rodney’s heart was pounding, his face felt hot and hectic, his mind was racing. He wanted to kiss John. He wanted to push John to the stone floor and trace the lines framing John’s stomach with his mouth. Rodney realized abruptly that he had an erection, had been hard in fact since the second ZPM proved to be fully charged. The possibilities were expanding inside Rodney’s head, each branch of thought unfolding to reveal a million more ideas, until he could hardly contain them all.
Rodney was jerked out of his reverie when John grabbed him by the front of his tac vest, urgently. “Listen to me, Rodney,” said John, leaning close, frantic. “No one can know about this.”
And just as quickly, Rodney caught on to what John was saying, and yet another cascade of probable applications unfolded in his head. Unlimited ZPMs meant unlimited power, and unlimited power in the hands of the IOA, in any one government’s hands, meant unlimited corruption. The IOA would see the ZPMs and think: weaponry, supremacy, and invincibility. They would hoard the immense power here, ostensibly against misuse and catastrophe, but really out of greed and the need to consolidate control. Humanity in possession of this kind of raw energy would very quickly become a humanity that Rodney couldn’t bear to contemplate.
He choked on the unfairness of it even as he realized that they couldn’t possibly report this discovery to Woolsey, to the SGC. And what if the Wraith discovered this place? What if the Genii did? It didn’t bear imagining.
“What do we do?” Rodney said, caught on a vision of a dozen Atlantises, a hundred. “John, they’ll be coming in the Apollo to scan this facility from orbit. They’ll send down more teams.”
“How quickly do you think you can find the ZPM manufacturing equipment?” John asked, already onto the thread of some plan.
Rodney looked around the immense space. “Are you kidding me?” he demanded, wide-eyed. “Though it would make sense for that equipment to be centralized as it’s likely the power source for all the other operations,” he continued almost immediately. “And it probably gives off a signature we could isolate.”
“Can you do it today?” John asked. “And when you do it, you’ve gotta, I don’t know…pull some key components. Make it impossible to fix. We’ll blow it up if we have to.”
“No,” Rodney hastened to say, “no, I’ll find another way.”
“Okay, okay,” John agreed, raising his hands, conceding. “But make it so no one can figure it out and fix it, not even Zelenka. Not even you, Rodney.” John licked his lips, thinking. “We’ll hide the components and, say, twenty-five of these ZPMs, and any others we find along the way. We’ll find someplace, maybe one of the other planets in this system, and we’ll stash everything there.”
“Two problems,” Rodney said, thinking ahead. “First of all, the Apollo is scheduled to arrive here in three days. It might not be possible to work quickly enough.”
“C4 will do it if you can’t, McKay,” John warned tautly.
“Alright, fine,” Rodney returned angrily, “but the second problem is Patil. Ronon will go along with anything you say, but we don’t know Patil. We can’t trust him. And he’s an ATA-carrier, nothing’s going to keep him from getting in here even if everything’s ATA-keyed.” Rodney pointed a finger at John. “And if you say you can fix that problem with C4, I’m out of here.”
John rubbed the back of his neck, deep in thought. “I wonder if there’s a way to get him out of the way while we do this,” he mused.
“Make up some kind of task that he needs to perform?” Rodney said. “It’ll have to be away from the jumper, we’ll need it to fly everything offworld.”
They pondered this for a moment. They only had two days to get everything out of the Apollo’s sight before the place was crawling with scientists and sensors. Even if they could find another place on this planet to hide the components and ZPMs, the power signatures of the ZPMs would give them away in an instant. It would only work if there were a way to shield the energy readings that the ZPMs gave off, and as far as Rodney knew, only Ancient cloaking technology could do that.
Rodney snapped his fingers, elated. “This is a big facility,” he said, elated, “and it put out a lot of material, right?”
“Must have,” John agreed, nodding in the direction of the massive drone reserves.
“So they would need a means of transporting all that material. What do you want to bet there’s a jumper bay somewhere in this place?” Rodney said, and seized John by the vest, dragging him farther into the labyrinth of consoles and equipment. “Somewhere near these storage units, there’s gotta be a kind of loading dock or something, some doors leading to a – ha!” and there they were, identical to the jumper bay doors on Atlantis.
Inside, on two levels, there were fifteen jumpers and three empty bays. “Perfect,” crowed Rodney, going for the farthest jumper. “If there are some jumpers missing already, no one will question another empty bay.” He keyed the jumper open and it whirred obediently. “Hmm,” said Rodney critically, surveying the inside, “it’s one of the older models but it should still have – yes, here’s the cloaking array.”
John caught on now. “So we put the components in here, and the extra ZPMs, and we cloak it before the Apollo arrives?”
“We move the ZPMs now,” agreed Rodney, “and we’ll put Patil to work on the drone manufacturing systems. While he’s busy with those, I’ll pretend to be fixing the ZPM machines. But I’ll really be strategically taking them apart. Once I have the components out, I’ll get them in here one piece at a time when Patil’s sleeping, and we’ll keep this baby cloaked until the Apollo gets here.”
“But what about after it does?” John asked. “The cloak has a limited lifespan,” he pointed out, “and it wouldn’t do for it to fail while the Apollo’s still in orbit. We have to get everything offworld to be safe.”
Rodney nodded, beaming. “That’s the beauty of it,” he said, eagerly. “When the Apollo arrives, we’ll make a huge fuss over getting the five ZPMs back to Atlantis for strategic safety, convince Ellis that he needs to take Patil and Ronon and the ZPMs back immediately. I’ll insist on staying behind to keep working on the ZPM manufacturing systems, and you can agree to stay with me. While the Apollo is gone, we’ll zip off in the jumper, hide everything, and be back before Ellis returns to get us. Even in hyperspace it’ll be a day and half for the round trip. And once he gets back, I’ll announce that the ZPM systems are beyond repairing, too many damaged bits, not enough info in the schematics, whatever.”
“He won’t leave any scientists behind to help?” John asked suspiciously.
“From the Apollo?” Rodney scoffed. “Please. I’ll kill Ellis if he tries. I’ll insist on only Lantean staff being on the project.”
John nodded, accepting this. “It could work. We could do it.”
“Right,” said Rodney, “let’s hurry up and load the spare ZPMs in here. Ronon will be getting impatient.”
It was a close thing, and Rodney knew full well that no other scientist could have single-handedly inferred enough about the workings of a goddamn ZPM machine (which turned out to be a depressingly small and yet insanely complex piece of equipment) in two days to effectively disable it and make it look like the victim of the ravages of time. He thought he’d done it well enough under the circumstances, however, and by night he built up the small pile of ZPM machine parts next to the dizzying sea of not 25 but 55 ZPMs – they had found another full storage unit after emptying the first. There was scarcely room to maneuver inside the cloaked jumper, and in places the ZPMs were stacked in layers two deep.
Patil turned out to be satisfyingly oblivious to Rodney’s work, elbow-deep as he was in the workings of the drone manufacturing equipment. Rodney normally would have forbidden him to touch anything for fear of Patil ruining something important, but with a reserve of well over ten thousand drones once they’d surveyed the whole facility, Rodney felt confident that Patil could break the damn machines – they’d never need them anyway.
While Rodney and Patil worked away, Ronon and John took turns watching the camp and hunting. Rodney didn’t know when exactly John had found the time to convey the necessary information to Ronon, but by their third night on the planet, it had been done. John told Rodney as they huddled into their sleeping bags, shivering in the deepening cold of the night, the last of the ZPM machine components safely stashed in the jumper bay.
“He agreed with us?” Rodney asked between chattering teeth.
“Ronon trusts me,” John said simply. “Besides, four ZPMs and ten thousand new drones…he can hardly complain.”
The faint light from Ronon’s fire outside bled through the nylon sides of the tent, casting dark shadows from John’s lashes onto his cheeks. His mouth was a dark indistinct line.
“John,” said Rodney into the quiet. “Do you think we’ll ever be able to use them? The ones we’re hiding?”
John was silent, but Rodney could see his open eyes, knew he was thinking about it. “Someday,” said John, finally, “I think we might get the chance.”
Rodney thought about it, thought how things would have to be incredibly bad (to drain five fully charged ZPMs, they’d have to be) or unforeseeably good (the Wraith no longer a threat, or maybe the IOA giving them some real latitude in Pegasus) before they could do what Rodney wished they could do. Rodney wanted to outfit every last inhabited planet in Pegasus with its own ZPM, with two, in case the first failed. He wanted to give all the Pegasus dwellers protection from their enemies, and power to last ten generations, for twenty – the legacy that the Ancients had been too wary or too shortsighted to grant to their children, and to their children’s children.
“Goodnight,” Rodney said, and closed his eyes tight against the possibilities that were not to be.
“Goodnight,” answered John.
The Apollo arrived just before sunrise, and after that they played out their plan as smoothly as they could have hoped. Patil fussed a little over being pulled away from the drone systems when he felt he was getting closer to figuring them out, but Rodney told him sternly that he would be needed on Atlantis to help devise safe transport and storage of the drone reserves the Apollo had beamed up. John flew three jumpers that were in good condition from the facility’s bay up into the Apollo F-302 bays, for Atlantis’s use. Rodney personally delivered the five precious ZPMs into the Apollo’s cargo hold and asked for two marines to guard them. By lunchtime on the Apollo, all was secure and John and Rodney were beamed back down so the ship could head back to Atlantis immediately.
There was no time to lose now. As soon as the Apollo had jumped to hyperspace, John and Rodney transferred their hidden cargo to the Lantean jumper still parked by the camp, took off, and headed for the fourth moon of the nearest planet. The moon was completely barren but had an atmosphere that was, if not livable, at least not noxious, and it had the added bonus of many limestone caverns in its once water-covered surface. They took turns doing the EVA necessary to move all the ZPMs and the components. This took all evening and the better part of the night, but John and Rodney were safe back on the planet by mid-morning the next day. They slept for a scarce hour in their tent, then hastened to the facility so they could appear to have been hard at work on the ZPM systems when the Apollo returned.
“I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard to fuck something up,” Rodney said tiredly, laying out tools all over the stone floor, pulling out crystal trays haphazardly to make it look chaotic, worked-upon.
“We did it, though,” said John, slouching down against a console, yawning. The motion made his shirt ride up a little.
“Does this make us old and jaded?” Rodney asked, taking his cue from John and slumping down to the floor too. “I mean, are we fundamentally pessimistic if we’re able to assume that our own species is incapable of handling this kind of power?”
“I think,” said John precisely, “that you spent too much time letting Keller tell you that you’re a fatalist.”
“I am, a little,” Rodney conceded.
“I like that about you,” John said, stubbornly.
“You would,” Rodney snorted, and kicked at John’s scuffed combat boot. “You’re old and jaded, just like me.”
John grinned tiredly and kicked back, and then his radio crackled and Ellis was hailing them.
Rodney groaned and staggered to his feet, picking up his tablet and running diagnostics on a system he knew to be fatally incomplete.
Of course, it didn’t end there. Ellis sent down Rodney’s team, and when they failed to find out how to fix the system, the SGC actually shuttled Carter out from Earth on the Daedalus. This gave Rodney a momentary panic – Carter was the one who’d reverse-engineered a fucking DHD before ever having seen one, after all – but for all her substantial brains, even Carter gave the SGC the same report as Rodney and his team: the ZPM machine was broken and couldn’t, with their current technology, be repaired.
This seemed to close the matter, and Rodney was finally able to return to Atlantis with heartfelt expressions of relief. John had gone back some ten days earlier with the Apollo as it headed back towards the Milky Way, taking the fourth ZPM with it, along with Atlantis’s partly charged single ZPM that had formerly been their main power source.
“God, you look awful,” said Jennifer when she gave Rodney his post-mission exam.
“How kind of you to notice,” Rodney returned.
“Well, it kind of implies that you usually look much better,” Jennifer said in her own defense. She grinned, gamine and adorable and so young that Rodney could hardly believe they’d slept together. “Look on the bright side. Know what day it is?”
“The day you vow never to draw my blood again?” Rodney said, wincing and looking away as Jennifer jabbed the needle into the crook of his elbow.
“January 5th,” said Jennifer, as if that –
“Oh,” said Rodney, brightly. “Oh, god, he’s – how old now?”
“Forty-three,” said Jennifer cheerily.
“Ha,” said Rodney, and hissed as Jennifer popped another vacuum vial onto the needle, jostling his abused vein. “Hey, leave some for me, will you?”
“Oh, don’t be a baby,” Jennifer said, and patted his head. “Look, you’re off-duty for two days, but I give you full permission to make a detour on the way to your quarters. You know how he gets on his birthday.”
Predictably, John was hiding out in his smelly miserable office yet again, playing solitaire on his laptop with his bad leg propped up on the crate. It was drizzling lightly outside and Rodney knew from experience that bad weather always aggravated old injuries.
“You look like hell,” John said, looking up from his computer.
“So I’ve been told,” said Rodney. He stuffed his hands in his pants pockets and walked over to the long window, staring out at the miserable weather and the grey expanse of ocean. “I want to say ‘happy birthday’ but I’m sensing that’s not the mood here.”
“Not feeling very celebratory,” John conceded. Rodney heard the quiet snick of the laptop closing, the scrape of John’s chair as he pushed it back and stood up. “Come to gloat that you’re a year younger?”
“Sixteen months,” corrected Rodney absently. “And that was the general plan.” John drew level with him, a tall steady presence by his side, and suddenly the very fact of John, his simple being, seemed overwhelmingly good. Rodney swallowed back some of the strange abrupt gratitude that was rising in his throat like a tide. “You know, now that we have a full complement of ZPMs,” Rodney said, hearing the weird thickness of his own voice, “we could probably set you up someplace a little nicer, say with ventilation and fewer mold colonies and”—
John prompted him. “And?”
“And,” Rodney said, swallowing again, futilely. “And my timing was epically awful, but I need you to know: I’m not sorry I kissed you that day.”
They both kept their gazes locked straight ahead, but peripherally Rodney sensed John drawing himself up, pulling himself in.
“And I spend, really, what amounts to a criminal amount of time thinking about doing it again,” Rodney said. “Honestly, if the SGC knew they’d be within their rights to dock my pay.”
John released a small snort of laughter in spite of himself.
Encouraged, Rodney pressed on. “I’m probably saying this out of, I don’t know, gross sleep deprivation and the fact that I haven’t had sex for nearly three months, but that doesn’t change the fact that I.” He tugged his hands out of his pockets and extended them a little, spread them out with the palms facing up, staring at them, helpless. “I guess I wish I hadn’t screwed everything up with you.”
“You didn’t,” said John, and cleared his throat right after. “I’m the one who dumped all of this on you.”
“I want you to dump on me,” said Rodney, as sincerely as he could, passionately. And then he realized what he’d just said.
John figured it out about the same time, and they both started to chuckle helplessly, bodies bending with laughter and escalating until they were gasping for air and swiping at their eyes, and John was holding Rodney’s shoulder for support, and Rodney was clumsily swatting at John’s chest. “You’re a kinky bastard, McKay,” John finally managed, and then, so easily, they came together with laughter still rising up between them, pressing smile to smile.
John was tall, up close like this, taller and slighter than he looked from across the room, from a couple of feet away. But his hands were strong where they held onto Rodney’s arms, and his mouth was soft and open and wet.
Curious slow kisses at first, asking questions, intently reading answers given, and then they got the knack of kissing each other and it was easy, effortless – the way it had been under that console except better. Rodney’s hand slid down John’s back, spread wide over his lower spine, and pressed John’s hips closer in, and oh. John was hard, John was really hard, and then so was Rodney, and it was impossible to work against each other standing up in the middle of the room but they tried for several minutes anyway.
John pulled back first, soothing the motion with small apologetic kisses along the way. “What, what is it?” said Rodney, dazed, but then John’s hand was on Rodney’s fly – not working it open, just feeling Rodney up, checking him out, cupping him and then giving him a nice firm stroke through the layers of fabric. Rodney made a choked sound, bit it off, and with a herculean effort, pulled John’s hand away. “We need a room with a bed,” he said, “a room that doesn’t smell like ten-thousand year old dead fish.”
“What, are you a princess now?” said John, palming Rodney’s hip.
“No,” answered Rodney, rolling his eyes, “but as everyone keeps telling me, I look like shit because I’m dropping over from exhaustion and that means that wherever I come, I’m also passing out. I’d prefer that place to have lumbar support.”
There was also the matter of John’s sore knee, but Rodney knew better than to say so.
They settled on Rodney’s quarters, and headed there with as much decorum as they could manage in their current state – stupid with lust, giddy with reunion, and, in Rodney’s case, staggering with fatigue just barely kept in check by the overwhelming nature of his other feelings.
John didn’t give Rodney a chance to do anything other than stumble obediently in his wake after they were safe in Rodney’s quarters. Almost right away, John had Rodney pressed back into the mattress, one hand in Rodney’s pants, jerking him off messy and fast. “God,” said John, who apparently got kind of talkative when he was having sex, “you feel good.” And then, “Are you close? You look like you’re close.” And, “Hey, hey, I’ve got you, come here,” and kissing and kissing Rodney’s mouth while Rodney shook and came and shook and came all over John’s hand, Rodney’s shirt, his belly.
“Let me,” said Rodney, trying with his big tired-numb hands to return the favor, but John pushed him away and curled up against Rodney’s side, throwing one thigh over Rodney’s and riding Rodney’s leg slowly, dreamily.
“It won’t take long,” said John, and his breath hitched. “Every night in that damn tent I wanted to roll over and do this, just – this.” And his hips lifted into Rodney’s leg harder, faster, and John made a short pained sound and Rodney could feel John coming, the flex and release of his cock against Rodney, and god. God.
Some time later, Rodney woke in the dark. The rain outside had escalated from a drizzle to a certified shower, and it made the small room seem even closer, warmer. John stirred beside him, made unhappy snuffling noises, and kicked his way out of his pants and boxers, which, yeah, were probably a bit unpleasant by now. Rodney followed John’s example, stripping off his sticky shirt as well. Together they managed to get under the covers and dropped back into deep sleep.
Too soon, Rodney woke again, this time in the grey light of predawn, Sheppard sitting on the edge of his mattress, bare from the waist up. He was sticking his feet into yesterday’s socks.
“Right,” said Rodney, because of course John couldn’t stay until morning.
John twisted around to look at Rodney, hearing him speak. They stared at each other for a long moment. John was chewing on his lower lip the way he did when he was thinking.
“Wanna meet for breakfast?” Rodney asked finally, lifting up one hand and stroking it down John’s pale bare back.
“Yeah,” said John, uncrossing his legs and standing up, stooping down to get his t-shirt. “Oh eight-thirty hours?”
“Sure,” Rodney yawned. “I’m supposed to be off-duty today but I’m going to see if Zelenka will sneak me into the power room so I can see how the city draws off three ZPMs and where all that energy’s going.”
“Maybe we can fly the city to a planet where it’s not pissing down rain all the time,” suggested John, pulling at the faintly stained front of his pants, frowning.
John was almost out the door when Rodney got up the nerve to ask. “This isn’t it, is it? I mean, you’re not walking out of here and we’re pretending it never happened? You didn’t just want to get it out of your system or what have you?”
John’s expression was difficult to discern in the near-darkness, but Rodney thought he smiled a little. “I knew you’d be needy and emotional like this,” John said, sounding more pleased than the words themselves would suggest.
“Just, tell me you’ll take your clothes off next time,” Rodney demanded, the tightness in his chest easing.
John spread his arms wide, an uncharacteristic gesture from him – open. “I’ll dump all over you if that’s what you really want, McKay.”
“Oh, fuck off,” Rodney said, grinning helplessly. John grinned back before walking out the door.
Rodney hadn’t done much with guys before; there’d been about two years in his adolescence when he was still in his drama phase and he’d had a series of base sexual encounters with fellow actors, with the set designer, once even with the nineteen-year-old director of a student play. But that was all decades ago, and Rodney had honestly believed – until recently – that he’d outgrown his taste for guys along with his determination to win a Tony award. Mostly the experience had left him with two principal skills: the ability to pull off a very convincing British accent (The Importance of Being Earnest, summer of 1983), and the ability to give expert hand jobs.
“Oh my god,” said John, eyes wide and astonished, cheeks a hectic blooming red.
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” Rodney said, not a little smugly. “Actually, I think my bicycle-riding could take a lesson from my – oh, really? Already?” and John was pulling him in, dropping kisses all over Rodney’s face, working through his post-coital affection.
“You know, a closeted military guy like you,” said Rodney conversationally while John eased down onto his shoulder, “I half-expected you to run and lock yourself in the bathroom after we had sex, and start cutting up your thighs. Or maybe that you’d get off on calling me a dirty homo.”
“I’m not that closeted, Rodney,” said John, words muffled, “it’s 2010, for god’s sake, not 1973.”
“What are you if you’re not closeted?” Rodney challenged him, taking John’s hand and pulling it towards Rodney’s yet-untouched boxers as a gentle reminder.
“I’m discreet,” said John, a little proudly, and clambered down the bed until he was between Rodney’s knees. “And kind of experienced.”
And, okay, John had obviously spent all Rodney’s intervening years of wasted heterosexuality (1984 to 2009, inclusive) perfecting his own skill set. Rodney had thought that Jennifer and her freely offered fellatio had spoiled him for any other sexual relationship, but he’d failed to factor in the possibility of freely offered, truly skilled, and insanely enthusiastic blow jobs ever coming his way. “Oh my god,” Rodney panted, getting up on his elbows to watch.
John pulled off just long enough to smirk up at him and say, “Just like flying a Blackhawk – you never forget –“
“Oh, shut up and get back to it,” Rodney protested, and John did.
The mood in the city was nothing short of ebullient. They’d seen Atlantis at full power before, briefly, just after the Replicator take-over; but that had lasted mere hours before the SGC shipped the surplus ZPMs back to Earth for their own use in the Apollo and the Antarctic weapons platform. But now Earth had two spare ZPMs of their very own, plus the partially depleted one that had been Atlantis’s only support for the last few years. They couldn’t justify depriving Atlantis of its complement of ZPMs now, and if they’d tried Rodney would have just machinated a way of fetching back a few more ZPMs from his and John’s secret stash.
The city didn’t automatically initialize dormant systems just because of the increased power, just as it hadn’t automatically turned them off when they’d gone back to a single ZPM, so Rodney and his team spent a lot of time flipping switches and testing the resulting new systems as they came online, trying to judge their potential usefulness. Mostly the systems were redundancies of existing, functioning systems, or powering labs and experiments that Atlantis didn’t have the personnel to explore at the moment, and so by and large, the most noticeable result of the expedition’s rich power supply was twofold: firstly, they could strategically relocate the city anytime they so chose, and secondly, that they could avail themselves of some of the city’s more luxurious amenities which had heretofore been deemed too extravagant, but which now seemed as unimportant as flicking on a light switch.
Rodney, for his part, was far more interested in watching the three ZPMs at work. His knowledge of how they functioned had been substantially expanded during the two days he’d had alone with the ZPM machine, and expanded a little further yet when he’d spent another week alongside Sam Carter trying to fix what couldn’t be fixed.
“Remind me again,” he said to John later, head swimming with another set of equations, “why it would be a bad idea for me to figure out how to make unlimited ZPMs on my own.”
“Civil war,” said John, ticking the reasons off on his fingers, “international war, interplanetary war, inter—“
“Right,” said Rodney. They were sitting, comfortably wedged together, on the couch in Rodney’s quarters. John wasn’t wearing pants. Rodney wasn’t wearing his shirt. It was warm and close and a little sweaty but they were both too lazy to do anything about it. Rodney turned his head a little, just enough to move his lips over the side of John’s neck. “It’d take me a few years to do, though,” he tried. “There would be lots of time for the IOA to plan –”
“Stick to the theory, Rodney,” John said, more gently. “Leave the legwork to future generations.”
“I don’t want future generations to get credit for something I could have done myself,” Rodney complained.
“Look on the bright side,” John offered, “it could be your kids or your grandkids who finish your work and they could name it after you. In your memory.”
“What, am I dead in this fantasy world of yours?” Rodney asked, indignant, and John laughed, and Rodney was forced to take off John’s shirt in retaliation.
Later, when John got up to leave again, Rodney said, “Do you think about that, though? About having kids, and grandkids?”
John paused, naked back curved a little to pull his t-shirt over his head, then resumed dressing. “No,” he said, simply. He didn’t look back on his way out the door.
It wasn’t like it had been with Jennifer, those first days and weeks; it simply couldn’t be. They couldn’t risk ducking off together midday, they couldn’t stay the night, they couldn’t openly pass little smiles back and forth over lunch, remembering things they had done. Everything had to stay the same between them, and mostly it wasn’t too hard to do it. After all, John was still his aggravating self, and Rodney was still surrounded by idiots, and they still had to go on stupid missions where people shot at them and fed them fetid stews and thought that Ronon was a demon-god.
What was different was the constant wanting. Rodney had to tell himself, over and over, to be patient. Night would fall, the day of seeing John and not touching him would end, and the two of them would find each other, fingers to skin, lips to flesh.
Rodney learned patience.
Patience was sitting in his quarters, pretending to work, watching the clock, willing the 2300h shift change to end, for the corridors to empty, for the city to settle into slumber. Patience was waiting another ten minutes after that, because John was cautious in spite of what his past actions might suggest. Patience was resisting the need to rub off against John, kissing him frantically, the moment he came in the door, because the night would end sooner if that happened. Patience was going slowly, letting John -- John -- teach Rodney things.
The first time John fucked Rodney, he insisted on doing it with Rodney on his hands and knees and he took goddamn forever getting Rodney ready, and whenever Rodney complained, John would say something about Rodney’s blushing virgin ass and Rodney would try to get angry but it was – oh. Impossible, John’s slender dexterous fingers curling in and pushing out sparks that shivered and crackled through Rodney’s cock.
Patience was rocking back a bare centimeter at a time, mouth open in a perpetual gasp of shock, while John stroked his back shakily and said, “Rodney, Rodney, god.”
It wasn’t like it had been with Jennifer, either, the next morning. Rodney woke up alone, rolled over, felt the slightest of twinges in his ass, and was glad of the pain. It felt like a prize he’d won, like proof.
The botanists got to replant the vast Ancient orchards now that they had fresh water, tons of it, to spare. It would be a couple of years before they grew their own tree fruits, even using the Ancients’ genetically-modified fruit trees, but the very prospect of it felt good, like permanence was taken for granted now that the city was secure at last.
The water, that was new; water to spare, water to fill the long-dry Ancient decorative fountains, water to fill the big freshwater swimming pool they’d found in their fourth year.
With twice-weekly open wormholes to and from the Milky Way, it was easier to get other things from Earth. It stopped being uncommon to see people wearing new clothes on their days off, to see visiting scientists from the SGC strolling the corridors, to see members of the expedition outfitting their formerly bare quarters with the luxuries of Earth life: electronics, appliances, decorative elements that weren’t posters in tubes. Around them, the city grew beautiful, lit up.
“I’m thinking of moving,” said Rodney, when John resurfaced in the tub, water pouring off his head and shoulders, hair weirdly sleek and flat.
“Move over, I want to add more hot water,” said John, reaching for the tap, knees bumping against Rodney’s.
Rodney moved a little, felt the fresh hot water blooming warmth against his skin under the surface. “Did you hear me? I think I’m going to move.”
John sat back again, planted one foot on Rodney’s stomach, wiggled his toes.
“I’m telling you this because I’m worried about breaking up your love affair with my tub,” Rodney continued.
John wiggled his toes a little lower.
“Stop it,” Rodney said, getting a little annoyed, pushing at John’s foot. “Woolsey finally cleared that residential area I told you about, with the two-level lofts? Senior staff get first pick. I think I’ll take that two bedroom suite so I can have a place to stick all my computer stuff. But the tub is only big enough for one person.”
“So I’ll move in here,” said John, finally deigning to acknowledge the fact that they were having a conversation.
“No,” said Rodney, “no, you’re moving with me.”
John sat up, pulling his foot back, bracing himself on the edges of the tub. The escape position.
“Oh, calm down, I don’t mean with me,” Rodney said, “I mean into the same building, the same area. Senior staff, remember?”
“I like my room just fine,” said John.
“Your room is ridiculous for a grown man,” said Rodney. “Your bed is smurf-sized. Last time we tried to have sex on it I nearly broke my hip.” He clambered onto his knees, squeaked his way over to John, settled down straddling his lap. “There’s a loft with a better bathroom,” he said, “I want to go and look at it with you tomorrow.”
“My room’s fine,” said John again, but his arms were off the sides of the tub and had come up around Rodney’s body. He tilted his head back, kissed Rodney. One hand slid lower, down Rodney’s crack, the fingers teasing at him with a familiarity that made Rodney’s heart hurt.
“So you’ll come and look?” said Rodney, reaching between them, taking John in hand, stroking him slowly.
“Turn around,” said John, instead of answering, “it’s easier if you face the other way if we’re going to do it here.”
Rodney decided to take that as a ‘yes’.
It took another two days of cajoling before John caved and followed Rodney to the new residential quarters. “Packing is such a pain in the ass,” he said.
“I’ll find you an apple box and do it for you,” Rodney answered. “John, you own, like, seven things. Now, shut up and look at this.” Rodney stopped in front of the door and waved his hand over the control. The building they were in was newer, according to the anthropologists, than the main tower where most of the expedition had been housed in the first year, and where John had stubbornly stayed ever since. The colours were a little lighter, the aesthetic brighter, and – in this area, anyway – the quarters were naturally lit by a breathtaking expanse of sloped skylights. They entered on the lower level, the larger part of the loft. There was a kitchen area, a table and chairs, a bathroom (complete with large tub), and then there was a set of spiral stairs leading up to the smaller bedroom loft, open to the space below with metal railings overlooking the rest of the place instead of walls. The upper loft was almost entirely occupied by a vast bed, but had some typical Ancient decorative wall moldings against its back wall.
Rodney walked up to the back wall, put his palm carefully on a recessed part of the panel. “I’m thinking you could hang up Johnny Cash here,” he said, and pressed down. The wall retracted, opening into another, slightly larger, room.
“What the hell is that for?” said John, smiling in spite of himself.
“I can’t say what it’s for,” Rodney said, “but I found it when I was checking out the other loft for myself. John – they’re adjoining.” He took John by the hand, tugged him across into the other room, and the wall slid shut again. If you knew where to look for it, the button to work the wall was obvious. “I’m thinking I can put up a tapestry or something,” Rodney said, “so it doesn’t get pressed by accident on my side either.”
John looked around, still seeming stunned. “This is the place you wanted,” he said, catching on.
“Surprise,” Rodney half-exclaimed, a little too late. “Well?” He bounced forward on his feet, pleased with himself. “What do you think? Should we move?”
John remained strangely impassive, so Rodney moved closer. “Hey,” he said, “no more sneaking around. You could stay the night. No one would know.”
And John moved so fast that it startled Rodney, one second utterly still and expressionless, the next tackling Rodney down on the bed, right there in broad daylight, pulling at their clothes.
“We don’t have anything,” said Rodney even as he toed out of his shoes, tugged off his socks, whipped John’s black t-shirt over his head. “I haven’t exactly stocked the bedside table yet, I –“
“Don’t need it,” said John, freeing Rodney of his pants, pulling the elastic of his boxers up over his erection and then down his legs. “Just like this,” and pinned Rodney’s thighs open with his own, shifted them with his hand so their cocks lined up, and started thrusting. Rodney lifted his hips, tried to keep up, but John was gone, mindless like Rodney had never seen him, shuddering and making sharp pained noises, and coming almost as soon as they started.
“Here, here,” said John, getting up on his knees, flushed and sweaty, swiping his fingers through the come on Rodney’s belly, “just wait a second,” and reached behind, bracing himself over Rodney, spreading his legs wide. And then, too soon, John shifted forward, taking Rodney’s cock in hand, and lowered himself onto it.
They moved together, fast and hard, and all Rodney could think of was that they could do this now, they could fuck here in this room, they could fuck and sleep in this bed, they could wake up together and make coffee in their pyjamas and they could argue over who ate the last bagel and whose turn it was to do laundry.
Rodney came, and then John leaned down and kissed him and kissed him, and Rodney thought this could never feel like work, never in a million years.
But at senior staff the next day, Woolsey said, “Right, has everyone staked a claim in the new residential area?” and around the table everyone agreed they had, and then John said, “I’ll be staying put,” and “It’s bad for morale with the marines if they think I have this cushy place and they’re still in the small rooms,” and “No, it’s fine, I’m totally sure. Someone else can have the last loft if they want it.”
“You know, this is just one very small step up from calling me a dirty homo and cutting yourself in the bathroom,” Rodney said the second he cornered Sheppard late that night, in his stupid tiny immature quarters.
John looked up from his stupid golf magazine, bland and unconcerned. “Golf isn’t homophobic, Rodney.”
“You know what I mean,” Rodney said, and crossed the room and pulled the magazine out of John’s hands, rolled it up, and smacked him with it. “This is bullshit, John!”
“Are you housebreaking me?” said John, raising his arms to defend himself, wide-eyed.
“I’m trying, goddammit!” Rodney shouted. “You’re still pissing all over me, though!”
“I’m starting to see why Katie and Jennifer didn’t want to marry you,” said John. “Is this your usual approach to relationships?”
“Is this yours? Throwing me down on the bed and fucking the daylights out of me after I essentially ask you to move in with me and – and then changing your mind in front of my boss in a staff meeting?” Rodney returned, and smacked John’s stupid head again for good measure. “I’m shocked your marriage ended, really.”
John rolled off the bed, probably hoping to escape further physical abuse. “Look, Rodney,” he said, and seemed to lose steam, unable to look up and meet Rodney’s furious gaze.
“Are you breaking up with me?” Rodney asked, the idea slicing through his guts like a knife. “Is that what this is?”
“We’re not together,” John said, a little exasperated.
“We’re not?” Rodney said, stunned. “So all those times I put my penis in your –”
“We’re not together like, like you and Jennifer were,” said John. “You know that.” He planted one hand in his hair, pulled it free again, paced two steps away, and turned. Then he gathered himself visibly and looked up to meet Rodney’s eyes. “Rodney. We can’t be like that. Not ever.”
Rodney was at a loss for words. John was – he was, the rat bastard – he was breaking up with him.
“You can have something less fucked up,” John said warmly. “You can have the girl and the kids and the, the domesticity and the happily ever after, but not if I—”
“I liked our happily ever after,” Rodney said, because it was the only thing he could think of to say. “John.”
“There isn’t one for us,” John said, and his voice was a little thicker than it had been.
Rodney swallowed, dropped his gaze. Sat on John’s smurf-bed. Let the golf magazine uncurl and drop to the floor. Pressed his hands into his thighs until it hurt a little.
Rodney was a genius, while John was merely very bright, and yet John seemed to have figured it out much faster than him: impasse. Rodney remembered this moment with Jennifer, the sixty unbearable seconds that had ticked by before they walked away from each other for good. Sixty seconds passed as Rodney sat, John standing close by. One hundred and twenty seconds. Five minutes.
The rational thing would be to stand up and leave, Rodney knew, because it was intolerable, the knowledge that staying here only prolonged the inevitable; and yet, staying here an extra second, an extra minute, meant another second, another minute with John before everything changed for the worse.
Six minutes. Ten.
“No,” said Rodney, and stood up.
John had his arms folded across his chest, and his head snapped up at Rodney’s outburst. “No?” he said, almost comically surprised.
“No,” repeated Rodney. “No, I’m not leaving. We’re not breaking up, and if we don’t get happily ever after I’ll settle for secretly ever after. John, there’s nothing for me that’s going to be as good as this is. And you know it, too.”
“This isn’t a democracy,” griped John. “You don’t get to veto my break-up.”
“The hell I don’t,” Rodney said, grabbing John by the face, kissing him. John resisted for all of three seconds before he came alive under Rodney’s mouth, hungry and angry and resentful. When they broke apart, breathing hard, Rodney held John still between his palms and said, “I know this is a nightmare for you, but I have to say it once, so bear with me.” John blinked, lips red, eyes focused on Rodney’s. “I’m in love with you. And you’re in love with me. Now stop being an asshole and move in with me.”
“Next to you,” John corrected, always the wiseass.
“Don’t make me get the magazine,” said Rodney, and kissed John again.
“I told Teyla,” said John the night they moved, after they’d switched off the light and Rodney was drowsing a little.
“You did?” Rodney said, a little surprised, hauling himself up on his elbows to squint at John.
John looked over, eyes wide. “Oh,” he said, “not that. Not about”– he waved a hand at them, the bed. “Although I think that she knows, she always knows that stuff. No, I meant, I told her about the ZPMs, the cache.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, subsiding into his pillow. “Good.”
“She had some ideas,” said John. “She thought we should leave them there, though.”
“Good,” said Rodney, who liked the security of knowing the ZPMs were hidden, even if they weren’t useful.
“But she said maybe,” said John, “maybe we should leave a map.” He paused. “Not a map. A trail of clues. You know. Like – like Indiana Jones.”
Rodney thought about it, immediately interested by the prospect of being the puzzle creator rather than the breaker for once. “You mean, something to lead someone to the cache?” he said.
“Something like that,” John said, and reached over, laid his hand on Rodney’s back just above his ass. He scooted closer, pressed a kiss to Rodney’s shoulder. “Like the Brotherhood of 15, but way, way harder.”
“Instead of a 9-piece puzzle,” agreed Rodney, “the seeker should have to do advanced mathematics and physics problems – they should be able to understand the workings of the ZPM just as well as I do.”
“And philosophy puzzles,” contributed John, “and something that tests their moral compasses.” He tucked his head down onto Rodney’s back. “They have to prove they can handle the responsibility.”
“And we can leave the first clue somewhere in the city,” said Rodney, “and have it timed somehow, set it so that it isn’t revealed for – I don’t know, maybe two hundred years?”
John was edging even closer, now throwing one leg over Rodney’s thighs, his warmth blanketing Rodney, his weight comforting. “Could take a long time,” he said, apparently comfortable enough that he was dropping into sleep, judging by his abruptly drowsy consonants.
“Years,” agreed Rodney with equally sleepy diction. “Decades, even.”
“And we have to do it,” added John, “without the IOA noticing. Lots of planning.”
“We could do it, though,” said Rodney reassuringly. “We’re okay now.” He wasn’t sure, sleep-addled as he was, if he meant the city with its full power, or the two of them snugged into one bed, but he supposed it didn’t matter because John was clearly asleep anyway. And John would stay there, pressed against Rodney, until the morning light came to wake them and pull them into a new day, day after day.
Rodney thought, sometimes, about those fifty-five glittering gorgeous ZPMs, secreted in a soundless dark cavern away from prying eyes, about how they held a piece of space-time in their cores, a miniscule sliver of eternity wrapped in amber crystal and naquadah micro-circuitry.
They would stay there, Rodney knew – untouched by human hands, cradling their covert miracles – waiting dormant for the generations yet to come.