It started when they woke up cuddling. They were in a tiny, 2-person tent on a freezing planet. Teyla and Ford had put him and McKay together ostensibly because they both snored.
John had no concerns whatsoever about Teyla’s virtue with Ford in the other tent – he knew she could take care of herself. But after the quiet moans being carried on the wind that night he realised he perhaps should have spared a thought for the virtue of his young lieutenant.
John had given orders for them to zip their sleeping bags together to conserve warmth and he and Rodney had quite comfortably smooshed themselves together the night before. When they woke up, however, they had somehow gone from smooshing to full-on cuddling, arms and legs tangled tightly around each other.
John hadn’t had anyone touch him in far too long and this felt too damn good just to pull away from. Rodney was cosy and warm and soft and honestly, John was going to enjoy whatever this was while it lasted and see what happened.
John came from a culture where cuddling another guy was a higher crime than fucking him. Both his family of origin and the military family that replaced them would look on this not with disapproval but outright condemnation. John had never been able to fathom why, nor bring himself to care about that shit beyond making sure he didn’t get the wrong side of such judgements. He was pretty sure, though, that nobody on Atlantis cared about stuff like that.
The SGC itself seemed beyond tolerant of its not-so-straight members, and although John wasn’t sure where he stood in relation to the term “not so straight”, he was at least comfortable with the idea that cuddling another guy was okay by him, and hang what anyone else thought about it.
John hadn’t got to 37 years old without figuring at least some things out about himself, and one of those things was how much he wasn’t into sex. It wasn’t unpleasant when it happened, he guessed. It didn’t disgust him and the payoff (lots of closeness and cuddles and kissing) made it worth seeking out sometimes. For a long time he’d thought he was gay, when he wasn’t attracted to women and preferred to be around men, but the relationships he’d had with guys (perhaps because of the spectre of DADT) had been disappointing – he was equally ambivalent about the sex, and there had been considerably less kissing and cuddling, which made the whole thing somewhat pointless for him. The other guys were getting just what they wanted but John was left feeling hollow and used.
John had finally worked out that he wasn’t sexually attracted to anyone, and that it took someone else actively trying to rev his engine to get anything off the ground, after which he could perform perfectly well and he didn’t hate it but it wasn’t something he’d miss if it didn’t ever happen again. It certainly wasn’t something he’d ever seek out for its own sake.
Rodney smelled nice. A little bit morning-breathy but there was something comforting even in that. His body was more on top, his chest leaned against the side of John’s, a comfortingly heavy weight. John’s exposed face was chilly but the rest of him was toasty as heck.
Slowly, John sensed Rodney waking, and wondered what was going to happen next. It seemed to him likely the man would either pull away or want to have sex with him. He was pretty sure that a bit of sex would be a reasonable exchange for some more of this fantastic body heat, to get to inhale more of Rodney’s scent, to revel in the sensation of skin on skin.
The truth was, he liked Rodney. A lot.
Okay, Rodney was definitely awake now, but he didn’t seem to be moving. After five or so minutes of John wondering what the fuck was going to happen next and just wanting the cuddle to go on forever, he caved.
‘Morning, Rodney,’ he said. What? He wasn’t going to actually talk about stuff.
‘Morning,’ Rodney said back, sighing slightly but not moving a muscle.
At which point John was both a) very, very happy and b) very very confused.
Not long after their First Official Cuddle, the Genii tried to take over Atlantis and Kolya tortured Rodney. After it all died down, when they finally managed to get time off for rest, John was drowsing in his quarters, trying not to go over everything that had happened. He was a little shaky, truth be told. What happened to Rodney had got him riled up, but the thing truly haunting him was the deaths of nearly sixty Genii soldiers who really hadn’t deserved to die.
The door chimed and he thought it open, wriggling upright against his pillow but too snoozy to get up. It was Rodney, looking sad and sleep-mussed and oddly silent as he came into the room and just sat on the bed. He was wearing an old T-shirt with the chemical formula of caffeine on it over plaid P.J.s. There was a hole in the T-shirt on the side, just below his ribs.
John really wanted to stick his finger through the hole and touch Rodney’s skin, but he thought in anyone else’s world that probably translated as a come-on, so he decided not to. He still wasn’t ruling out coming onto Rodney to secure further cuddles, however. He thought Rodney was cute, and he liked the man’s company, and sex really wasn’t that hard – he’d been quite the slut in his day, back when he’d been figuring himself out.
Of course, he had no idea which way McKay swung.
John just sat still and silent, waiting for Rodney to say something. He was never this quiet and it worried John. He wanted to reach out and pull the man against him, but he hesitated, not really knowing what the rules-of-them were.
And then Rodney just toppled like a felled tree right into him, and he caught the other man in his arms and held on tight. His heart jumped in his chest and he knew right then he didn’t want to ever let go. Twenty minutes later, Rodney was slipping under the covers and (still silently but nevertheless bossily) arranging them together in John’s too-small bed and making sure they were about as entwined as they could possibly be.
There was a certain amount of pleased sighing from his bed companion, and this time John was pretty sure it was going to develop into sex any minute. He’d be okay with that – even if the idea didn’t turn him on, there was something about Rodney’s arms, his bulk, his smell that already John couldn’t get enough of. Any minute now the cuddling would turn to fucking, because it always did, and John didn’t even allow himself the space to wish that everything didn’t have to be about sex. Sex was okay – it made the world go round.
For everyone but him, he reflected wistfully.
But Rodney’s (surprisingly strong and muscled) arms just held on tight and those usually mobile hands did not go wandering, they just clung to John like he was a life raft in Rodney’s own personal storm.
They fell asleep like that, tied into a perfect knot, and woke up still clinging on, reluctant to shift for all the pins and needles the position had created. When they eventually had to move, Rodney scurried into John’s bathroom while John got up and pulled the bed together, wondering what to do or say when Rodney came out and drawing a blank.
But when Rodney emerged from the bathroom he just came over to John and put his arms around him, dropped a forehead into his neck. He seemed tired, defeated, and John couldn’t help but bring up his arms to encircle the other man’s shoulders, even though he didn’t have a clue what was going on here.
He only knew he liked it, but what it was, he couldn’t guess. He hoped it was something.
‘Thanks,’ Rodney said at last, pulling away from John with apparent reluctance.
John didn’t know what to say, so he just squeezed Rodney’s bicep as he let go, and watched the man leave.
The next time was not long after losing Gall and Abrams and John was pretty sure there was a damp patch on his T-shirt from Rodney’s hidden tears. This time John didn’t sleep, and it wasn’t his injuries that kept him awake. His heart was thudding with something he couldn’t name, that was triggered by Rodney’s proximity. His chest felt a bit too full.
Rodney had been so damn brave saving his life and John was realising everything this man put across about himself was false. From that early incident with the energy-cloud-creature-thing John had known Rodney’s cowardice was a front – underneath, the man was ridiculously brave. Then there was how he acted about his department – like he thought they were all fools not worth his time. And yet John could see the way losing team members took its toll on him and how he found subtle ways to make sure his team were as safe and cared for as possible.
It wasn’t lost on John, either, that the life expectancy of a scientist on Atlantis was less than half that of one of his marines. Or that scientists contributed to all their safety more than double what the marines did – and for Rodney himself, you could magnify that by several factors.
Rodney came across as this selfish, shallow guy who’d run a mile in the face of trouble but he wasn’t like that at all, and John was experiencing a real joy discovering all the more-than-meets-the-eye bits of Rodney were so much better than the entertaining but irritating exterior he put on show.
Rodney was spark out, laying across John’s chest, and John watched the rise and fall of his breathing in the moonlight, trying not to let a longing set up inside his own chest.
Because the trouble with having things, is it made you want other things. And how quickly he had come to desire this to be something other than what it was. By now it was clear Rodney wasn’t starting anything, wasn’t interested in John that way. John was sad and glad in equal measure – kind of relieved McKay didn’t want to fuck him, to tell the truth, because it meant more than he could ever say to have this closeness without having to bargain something he didn’t really want to give for it.
At the same time, he wanted Rodney to want him in other ways – the ways he was increasingly wanting Rodney. Wanting to kiss him, wanting him to stay in his bed, be in his space. Wanting Rodney’s smell on his t-shirt and not just when the man was unbearably sad and desperate for some comfort.
It was stupid, here he was getting something he’d never had with anyone in his life, something good, something damn near perfect, and all it did was make him sad that he couldn’t have more.
It didn’t happen for a while after that so when Chaya paid John some attention, he became marshmallow almost instantly. It probably helped that Chaya was as asexual as John, what with not having a real body and all.
Real men were supposed to want sex and in John’s head his father was always looking on disapprovingly at his desire for attention and love and touch. At least women could give (and want) that affection freely while most men in his culture, it seemed, occupied cold, self-imposed cages.
He hated it. The military at least had provided him with some twisted version of male bonding but it wasn’t close to enough.
And Rodney? Who knew what Rodney wanted, one minute acting jealous over Chaya, the next minute prowling after Allina on Dagan.
And then the siege started up and Rodney was back in John’s bed whenever there was a moment to sleep, which was rarely. John would come back to his quarters from a late shift and Rodney would be snuggled up in his bed, or he’d sneak under the covers in the middle of the night and wriggle in close, his breath sour from a combination of stress, coffee and stims, though John didn’t mind. He’d still kiss that mouth in a heartbeat if he thought it would be allowed and not interpreted as an offer of sex.
And then the siege was over, and they were back on Earth, and John’s bed was empty and cold and he almost missed the siege for what it brought him, just like there had been times in the cold of McMurdo that he missed the way the barriers between him and the men in his unit (some more than others, and one in particular) broke down in the midst of the chaos of war in Afghanistan.
But that had ended in seeing pieces of a man he’d tried to love in his own fucked up way strewn across the desert sands.
Katy Brown came along and John had to accept that whatever-it-was was over. Then Doranda happened and for a while John didn’t even want to know Rodney. Til he finally realized he was mad at himself, not Rodney at all, and they slipped back into their old, easy friendship.
And then he got turned into a bug.
He’d been so desperate to be kissed for so damn long and Teyla’s lips were just there. He’d probably have kissed Ronon too given half a chance.
But McKay . . . his scent was magnified to the point of pain in John’s senses, overwhelming him. He just wanted to be near him all the time and it felt dangerous, way more intense than what was happening with Elizabeth or Ronon or Teyla.
So he stayed away.
After, when Carson released him from the infirmary back to his quarters, when he shed his skin and slowly became human once again, he ached with a hollow loneliness – an old familiar feeling that had been intensified by becoming even more inhuman than he already felt.
McKay, who’d been hovering at a distance, no doubt unsure of his welcome, found him one day curled up on his bed, hugging his pillow like a drowning man clinging to a piece of flotsam. Rodney just quietly got on the bed and spooned John and it was like John’s world went from monochrome to colour in an instant. John couldn’t help but grab Rodney’s arms tightly and pull them closer around him. The warmth of Rodney’s body melted him, hot breath on the back of his neck chased away the last of the cold.
He didn’t care that McKay had a girlfriend, didn’t wonder any more what any of this meant, it only mattered that Rodney was here.
After six months in a time dilation field, his world view had completely adjusted. Teer was a comfort, but she wasn’t Rodney, and when Rodney appeared in his bed the night he came home, he felt grateful three times over; grateful to be back, grateful to this man for working so smart and so fast because if he hadn’t it would have been years, and grateful that even though to Rodney it had only been a few hours, it still mattered enough for him to be in John’s bed that night.
After that, it was a regular enough occurrence that John began to get confused about when McKay was getting time to sleep with his girlfriend. He liked to think that maybe he had the better end of the deal – McKay was clearly a considerate boyfriend to Katie but John was sure he had the best of Rodney – they spent more of their free time together than with anyone else, devoured entire seasons of various sci-fi shows in marathons that would sometimes last a week in between shifts.
John never went to Rodney’s room. Part of him convinced himself he didn’t want to leave his scent all over McKay’s bedclothes for Katie to discover. But that wasn’t it, not really – the truth was he didn’t go because that would be asking for something, and John made a habit of not asking for anything.
The latest marathon was the brand-new Dr Who, fresh out of England, pirated by one of the scientists. They were on the episode with the faces that turn into creepy gas masks and Rodney was clutching at John like a teenage date at a horror-movie. John was creeped out as fuck by the show but warmed by McKay’s closeness.
When the episode finally ended they were slumped together on the floor cushions. Rodney’s head was on John’s shoulder and John wanted to press a kiss down into his hair so badly it was hurting to hold it in check. Feeling suddenly reckless, he leaned down to do exactly what he’d wanted to do all evening (hell, for two fucking years) when Rodney uncharacteristically started speaking to him.
For someone who talked so much Rodney didn’t say much at all while alone with John. John loved this quieter version of him. When the bravado was all gone the person beneath was so very different from what everyone else saw. John liked to believe this Rodney was his alone.
‘Do you think I should ask Katie to marry me?’ Rodney asked, and it was like someone filled up all John’s warm places with liquid nitrogen.
What the fuck, they were sitting here cuddling and Rodney was asking that?
Of course not, I think you should marry me! God, I’d give you everything you wanted. Well, apart from breasts and a desire to jump your bones.
But what he said was, ‘I guess, if that’s what you want . . .’
Katie never really changed John and Rodney’s relationship, but Jennifer Keller did. John now suspected Rodney had never really loved Katie, but he was clearly besotted with Jennifer, and suddenly she was sucking up all his time. John hated it – moped around like a jilted lover and kicked himself daily because he knew he didn’t have the right.
‘Just tell him how you’re feeling, Sheppard,’ Ronon said to him apropos nothing at all one day at lunch.
John wanted to go for blanket denial but Ronon knew him too well. ‘It’s not that simple,’ he sighed. I’m . . . complicated.
‘You’re asexual. That’s what your people call it, right? Doesn’t mean you’re not allowed love.’
’Like I say, it’s complicated.’
‘Doesn’t seem complicated to me.’
But not long after they landed in San Francisco bay, Jennifer and Rodney were on the rocks. John never found out what happened – Rodney lived under a big black cloud for weeks, lost a load of weight, avoided John and shouted at his staff more than usual but with a lot of his usual energy missing.
When they returned to Pegasus after much wrangling, Keller didn’t come with them and Rodney seemed to rally a bit.
John had taken the time to secure a much bigger bed while on Earth, and bigger quarters to go with it. Their first night back in Pegasus, Rodney crawled into John’s bed and just never left.
A year or so after they got back they were sitting on their pier on a summer’s day that was disappointingly cold. They were back on the original Lantea, and out on the ocean they could see the tails of a pack of those whale-fish they’d encountered before.
John had made a half-assed picnic out of items from the latest Daedalus delivery – Funyuns, Twinkies, Bud, hot-dogs in a jar (and that little Ancient food-zapper to warm them), but the bread was Athosian and honestly it was the best food item present.
Rodney carefully pushed all the food off the blanket and wrapped it around himself.
‘Brrrr,’ he said, ‘but for the quality of the food and beer, I might mistake this for a Canadian picnic.’
John prized his way under the blanket with Rodney and snuggled contentedly. ‘Don’t diss my culture,’ he warned with a smirk.
‘Culture? Seriously, Sheppard, I will never understand a man who would voluntarily eat a Twinkie, let alone when he could have one of those heaven-cakes from Belkan.’
John had to admit to himself that Rodney had a point. Not that he was going to admit that to Rodney.
‘S’nostalgic. Reminds me of being a kid.’
‘Oh come on. There were never any hot-dogs or Twinkies in your over-privileged childhood.’
Which was true, and also exactly the point, but he wasn’t about to explain to Rodney how he never got to be a kid then so he was damn well going to be a kid now. Somehow he thought Rodney understood that, perhaps related a little, even if he didn’t know he did.
Suddenly he caught Rodney watching him.
‘Oh,’ the man said, like he’d just got some complex equation to work. ‘That’s the point, isn’t it?’
John just stuffed a whole Twinkie into his face and said nothing.
Rodney kept eye contact for a moment, then reached for a Twinkie himself, dispatching it in identical manner and grinning a stupid, crumb-edged grin.
John felt such a strong wave of love for this ridiculous man it nearly unbalanced him.
‘You’re something else, McKay,’ he said, certain this was a bare-faced admission of his feelings.
Rodney blushed, dropped his gaze and went quiet, leaning further into John’s space.
‘Okay, I admit it . . .’ Rodney said at last, ‘this picnic? The cold weather, the bad food, the way it’s kinda awesome even so? It’s very us.’
They got married at the end of 2011.
It had been a simple handfasting ceremony on a planet that had too much gravity. It made them all feel sluggish and enormous and old. John could never get the world’s name straight in his head because it sounded too much like cojones so that was what stuck. He knew that made him a teenage boy but knowing that only made it stick all the more.
There had been a beverage. That’s where it started. It was the kind of drink that snuck up on you – warm and sweet and innocuous-seeming but halfway through the first ceramic cup they were giddy and flying.
So when the village elder, a wrinkled old woman called Mayala, asked them if they wanted to bless the planet’s harvest with a handfasting ceremony and indicated that this would cement their alliance (the planet had naquadah deposits and an ancient outpost they had yet to be allowed to access – one that on the database had sounded promisingly useful in the quest to recharge ZPMs), John and Rodney just looked at each other, smiled somewhat drunkenly and foolishly, and said almost simultaneously, ‘sure,’ and ‘why not?’
John didn’t question why Mayala had thought they were together. Later, he recalled Teyla had spent a lot of time talking to the old woman alone and he wondered about that.
When it came to the ceremony, their hands (Rodney’s right, John’s left) were tied together tightly with a piece of gold-flecked rope.
Mayala said simply, ‘there are many kinds of love, and this love before us is unique, but special and important enough that John and Rodney wish all here to witness their commitment to one another. May what the two of you have endure like the turning of the seasons, blossom like the spring, reap rewards like the harvest, and come to rest like the winter.’
And then it was over, and John was hugging Rodney tight, grinning like a loon, and Rodney was smiling too, although more shyly.
Back in Atlantis, the marriage became a sort-of joke. DADT was history, and Rodney started referring to John as “husband”, and though it was in jest, John liked and encouraged it. Someone would ask if Rodney wanted to take part in the monthly quiz, or take a group trip hiking on the mainland, and he’d say, ‘I’ll have to ask my husband.’ It made John go all soft inside.
Within a year, all the new personnel were sure John and Rodney were a couple, and everyone else was simply uncertain, but leaning towards a yes.
John himself was beginning to think perhaps they were – they lived together, slept together every night, had gotten married for chrissakes. The only thing they hadn’t ever done was talk about how they felt.
John was feeling increasingly content, possibly even happy. He’d never thought he could have anything like this and here it was, whatever it was, not like he’d ever imagined but nevertheless kinda perfect.
They sailed along like that for a year, the year in which they finally got the best of the wraith, and the one that Rodney cracked recharging ZPMs (two things not entirely unrelated). Life settled into something far less dramatic than before, almost routine. John was happy.
But Rodney? Rodney was miserable.
At first he’d seemed as happy as John, but something had changed and after a bit more than a year of their sort-of marriage, the steady drooping of his shoulders and downturn of his mouth seemed to turn into a major depression. A blister pack of anti-depressants appeared by the bedside, but he didn’t talk about it. John made an extra effort – bringing him coffee and muffins in the lab, ordering Godiva chocolate and Kona coffee on the Daedalus run, talking the kitchen staff into making all his favourites.
But that only seemed to make him sadder.
Then, on a boring, average day when the light around Atlantis was grey and the wind was chill, Rodney knocked a hole in the bottom of John’s world.
‘I’m . . . going on a date with Maggie Delaney.’ He said it like a confession, like he knew it was breaking unwritten rules, but dammit, John had never had the courage to say, ‘let’s talk about this thing between us, let’s admit it’s something real.’
Maybe it wasn’t, for Rodney. Maybe it was just a stand-in for something else he was missing. Maybe that’s why he’d been so damn sad when John had been so damn happy.
John plastered on his best easy smile and said, ‘hey, buddy, that’s great. She seems nice.’ Then he strolled out of the room as casually as he could manage, only letting himself fall apart when he was alone.
They weren’t really married. They’d done it for a trade negotiation, not the first or last ridiculous thing they’d do on some backwater planet to secure allies. Rodney wasn’t cheating. They were just friends. John had no right to feel the way he was feeling. But that didn’t change the way he felt like he’d just been stabbed in the gut, a sensation he was only too familiar with.
John couldn’t believe he was waiting up like a jealous husband, sitting on the sofa in half-dark, not even pretending to read his book anymore. It was the early hours of the morning, and he had realised by now Rodney was staying the night, so he should go to bed, but the thought of getting into bed alone for the first time in . . . god, it was years . . . was unbearable. So he was stuck to the sofa, unable to move or even think how to move forward when the door swooshed open and Rodney came in.
At first, John thought the tension coming off Rodney was a reflection of his own, but no, that wasn’t it. Something was really wrong. Rodney was a tight ball of dejection, emanating misery like a beacon.
‘Rodney,’ he said, as softly as he could, and the man startled.
‘I . . . I didn’t see you there. Why aren’t you in bed?’ Rodney was trying to sound normal and failing completely. His voice was strained and broken.
‘Rodney.’ John said it again, not really knowing what to say. But god, the no talking thing really wasn’t working. ‘Come here,’ he said eventually.
‘Oh. I . . . need a shower.’ John couldn’t quite read the emotion connected to that, something like disgust, something like shame.
‘Okay, I’ll make you cocoa?’
‘That would be . . .’ Rodney’s voice was sounding more cracked and broken by the second . . . ‘nice.’
John set about making cocoa in their kitchenette, faintly heard the shower start up and wondered what on earth was going on. Obviously the date had gone badly, and dammit he would not be glad about that, but this was more than a bad first date.
Rodney looked traumatized.
Twenty minutes later Rodney hadn’t come back and John started to worry. He didn’t let himself think about it too long, just slipped inside their shared bathroom after an unanswered knock. The room was full of steam and at first he couldn’t see anything, but he could hear Rodney – an intense, broken sobbing coming from the floor of the shower. Rodney sounded so completely devastated it broke John’s heart. He thought the shower off and the warm air dryers on, grabbed the enormous fluffy towels he’d brought on Earth from the shelf, and stepped into the shower.
Rodney barely registered his presence as John wrapped the man round with warm, dry towels, smoothing over them and trying to soothe him. Rodney was crumpled in a little heap on the shower floor, still sobbing inconsolably. John didn’t know what to say – he was bad at this stuff, but he just wanted Rodney not to be hurting. He slid down the wall, heedless of getting himself wet, wrapped one arm round Rodney’s shoulders and brought the other up to complete the circle.
‘Rodney.’ He said it again, furious with himself for not knowing how to make talking happen when clearly it needed to.
Rodney sagged against him, crying even harder, tears and snot staining the front of John’s T-shirt, but he didn’t care about that. They sat like that for what seemed an eternity, John just letting Rodney cry, feeling useless but hoping it would help if he just let Rodney cry it out.
Eventually, the crying subsided. There were long periods of quiet in between each new outbreak of sobs. John was running his hands over Rodney’s now-dry hair when the man finally tried to speak.
‘I’m broken,’ he said, sounding lost and more than a little afraid. ‘Been trying to fix myself for twenty five fucking years and I can’t.’ More tears poured out of him, and John wondered what he could possibly mean. This was Rodney, he was perfect.
‘Who told you you’re broken?’ he asked at last, his indignation pushing him to speak.
‘Every person I ever dated,’ Rodney replied, ‘apart from Katie, and that’s only because we never got that far.’
John was disturbed by the angry thoughts he had towards Rodney’s exes. ‘You’re not broken,’ he said firmly.
‘You don’t understand.’ Rodney said, his voice small and shamed.
‘You’re not broken.’ John said again.
‘If you knew . . . I never told anyone . . . thought if I kept trying it would . . . but I can’t, I keep trying but I can’t.’
‘It’s okay, Rodney,’ John said, smoothing the man’s hair from his forehead, wanting desperately to drop comforting kisses across his brow.
But Rodney was crying again, murmuring ‘it’s not okay, it’s not okay,’ over and over, and John was beginning to wonder if Rodney had really done something bad . . . maybe hurt someone . . .
‘Whatever it is, you can tell me, Rodney. Whatever you did, we’ll figure it out. Together.’ He gave the man’s shoulders a tighter squeeze.
‘I hate sex!’ Rodney blurted it out and then fell back into sobbing. Like the world was ending. Over sex. John had never felt so angry at the world in his life.
‘Rodney, Rodney, listen to me. You’re not broken.’
‘No.’ He was firmer this time. ‘Rodney, you’re just asexual.’
‘Went to shrinks. They tried to fix me.’
‘Shrinks used to try to fix gay people too, Rodney. They were wrong. It’s just how you are. There’s nothing wrong with you. Seriously Rodney, there’s nothing wrong with being asexual,’ he said again.
Rodney went quiet, like he was redoing some calculations based on what John said.
‘I just wanted so badly to be normal!’ he said at last with a pitiful whine in his voice.
‘Yeah, well, we can be not normal together.’ John took a deep breath and let it out again. ‘Cos I’m asexual too.’ He’d never said that out loud to anyone.
Rodney turned his big, sad eyes up to John’s at this. They were wide with surprise and bright, bright blue from all the tears.
‘I . . . you . . .’ Rodney stammered, clearly at a loss. ‘You never said,’ he managed finally, without recrimination, just a note of confused wonder in his tone.
‘Yeah, well . . . seems like we should’ve both been talking bout a lot of stuff. I’m sorry, I’m not much with the talking, but I’m willing to give it a go if you are. What say we get up of this wet floor, get into some dry clothes and go have some cocoa and talk?’
John couldn’t quite believe he was inviting conversation, but what was even more surreal was just how much he suddenly found himself craving it. He desperately wanted to know how it had been for Rodney all these years – what he’d been thinking and feeling. So much he had missed because they never talked.
They snuggled together on the sofa in their P.J.s with reheated mugs of cocoa. Rodney was quiet – cried out and pale. John was still very worried about him.
‘I’m . . . trying to imagine what it must’ve been like.’ John said eventually, ‘I mean, I’m asexual too, but I’m lucky, I don’t hate sex I just don’t really want it. That’s hard enough in this sex-obsessed world.’
‘Asexual . . .’ Rodney was chewing the word over. ‘I didn’t even know there was a word for it.’
‘Yeah. I was relieved when I read it. Maybe I thought I was broken too.’ Who was John kidding, he had a chorus of people in his head still accusing him for not matching up to what a man should be.
‘But we’re different . . . maybe you’re not broken and I am. People are not supposed to hate sex. I had a . . . bad experience . . . in my teens. My first. Maybe it was that.’
‘I’m sorry,’ John said. ‘But Rodney, how did you feel about sex before that?’
‘Disgusted,’ Rodney sighed. ‘I mean . . . the mechanics work okay . . . but the feelings are . . . not good.’
‘So, you’re asexual and sex-repulsed, and that’s just how you are. If we can be different from the rest of the world, then we can be different from each other, and that should be okay. Who the fuck said everyone has to feel the same way about everything?’
Rodney sighed. ‘Women expect guys to want sex whenever they do. Sometimes . . . sometimes I feel like I don’t have a say. Sometimes it seems like they’re sure they can fix me by fucking me into liking it, and sometimes it feels like they take it for granted I’m going to like it and don’t even care how I really feel.’
‘Rodney.’ John tightened the arm that was draped around Rodney’s shoulder, ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Not that men are any better, trust me,’ Rodney added.
‘No,’ John agreed with a half-smile, ‘they really aren’t.’
Rodney’s eyebrows raised at this. ‘Oh. You . . .’
‘Yeah.’ John thought it only fair he share a little of himself, given what Rodney was sharing. ‘I thought I might be gay if I didn’t fancy women. But that didn’t work out. And I didn’t get as much of what I wanted from men . . . most men anyway,’ he corrected, thinking of how much of what he needed came from Rodney.
‘What you needed?’ Rodney inquired.
Rodney was silent for a long time. Eventually, he let out a long breath and spoke again.
‘I wish it could’ve been . . . I wish I could have had . . .’ he looked at John imploringly, as if John might be able to read his mind, but John had no idea where Rodney was going with this. ‘I’ve wanted something more like what we have, but I haven’t been able to find it.’ Rodney said eventually.
Okay, that made absolutely no sense, and John tried to bat away the growing feeling of hurt that Rodney was saying he wanted this with anyone but John.
He took a breath. ‘You’re gonna have to explain that one to me . . . because it came across like you want this but with someone other than me.’
‘No no, I mean I wanted this. All of it. With you. I just wanted it to be real.’
‘Er, Rodney . . . who said this wasn’t real?’
‘But we don’t . . . oh. Oh I see. I’ve been operating under the assumption that if you wanted me, you’d be fucking me.’
John was holding his breath now. ‘I may have made a similar assumption.’ He barely dared ask the next question. ‘Does this mean . . .’
‘It means we’re stupid. We’re married, we live together, we’ve been sleeping together for eight fucking years, but neither of us appeared to realise we’re actually a couple! Oh, for fuck’s sake!’
And then Rodney laughed, an irrepressible snort that degenerated quickly into a tension-releasing fit of giggles. John quickly caught on, and before long they were shaking helplessly, clinging to one another for balance as the hysterics shook them loose of all the worry they’d been holding.
Finally, they subsided. It was time for John to be honest one more time.
‘Truth is, Rodney, I secretly did see this as a relationship, at least I wanted it to be. And I had almost everything I wanted in the world right here.’
‘Oh god!’ Rodney’s eyes flew wide. ‘I was cheating on you! No wonder I’ve been getting shitty looks from so many people. John, I didn’t know . . .’
‘Apparently not. S’okay, at least we finally talked about it.’ John had to admit that now he’d tried it, this talking thing wasn’t as bad as he’d feared. He might even want to do it again sometime. Not too soon, though.
‘Wait, wait. Back up again. What you said before . . . you said, “almost everything I wanted in the world” . . . what’s the almost about?’
Oh god. This was where John was going to blow it, where breaking the “never ask for what you want” golden rule was going to make him come unstuck. But they’d finally been honest with one another, he couldn’t undo that now with a cop-out answer.
‘Listen, there’s this thing I like . . . and it’s okay if you don’t. I never, ever want you to do anything you don’t like or want, but, well, I’ve wanted it. With you, I mean.’
‘Okaaayyy,’ Rodney said warily. ‘Give me a clue here . . . is it a kink? Whips? Bondage? Golden showers? I mean, I’d be willing to try . . . pretty sure I’d do a lot of things if it made you happy.’
‘Rodney.’ John felt a wave of overwhelming love for the man in front of him, who was being so damn brave but looked utterly terrified. ‘It’s kissing. And I only want to ever do it if you’re into it, d’you understand?’
‘Oh. Oh, yes, I think I might . . . I mean, it hasn’t always felt safe because kissing always seems to lead to sex but I think maybe I do like kissing.’ Rodney looked at John a little shyly. ‘I think maybe I’ve wanted to kiss you too.’
John extricated himself from his place on the couch and turned himself around, so he was sitting face-on to Rodney, knees tucked to one side. He looked earnestly into Rodney’s eyes and put a hand up to his face.
‘So, um. I need you to tell me if anything ever feels the teeniest bit uncomfortable, okay? The rule is, if you’re not into it, or I’m not into it, we stop. That’s not negotiable.’
Rodney just nodded, his eyes wide and bright with emotion John could only guess at.
‘Rodney McKay, I’d really love to kiss you now.’
‘Yes. Oh, yes please,’ Rodney breathed, tilting his head just right and leaning forward to meet John’s kiss.
It wasn’t frantic. It wasn’t teeth and tongues and hungry devouring, but there was a certain desperation in the way their lips slid over each other, eight years of need earthed in this small but powerful connection. Rodney’s kisses were every bit as expressive as you might expect – telling John slowly and carefully and oh so thoroughly just what Rodney had been keeping in all this time. In return, John told his own story, communicating to Rodney the intensity of the longing he’d been feeling for this man who was in his bed every night and yet just out of his reach. He gently mouthed Rodney’s lower lip, kissed his stubbled jaw, down his neck, and then returned to his mouth a little hungrily, unsure if he would ever get enough of this.
Rodney's responses told him the other man felt exactly the same, and John felt a wave of relief as finally a question was settled that had been hanging between them since that night in a tent on a cold, cold planet eight years before.