Rodney always thought the answer should be obvious: brains were much sexier than beauty.
He had nothing against a nice exterior. Ideally, you'd take the combination package whenever you could get it, but he believed a truly civilized society should know that physical appearance didn't accomplish much, that beauty faded with time, and that sex was usually better with someone who was smart enough to be really creative about it.
Of course, the people of M3Q-754 had slightly different reasons for agreeing with him. When eighty percent of your planet was culled when the Wraith first came by, it made sense for the survivors to become disproportionately fond of anyone with the mental prowess to cobble together a shield system from the smoking ruins of your technology sector. It also made sense that this effect would become magnified over a few dozen generations when your cities with the best shields were the ones to survive future cullings.
Rodney wasn't exactly in favor of that. Intelligence should be sexy on its own merits, not because your ancestors had been terrified of having their lives sucked out of their chests.
Still, his reception on M3Q-754 (Braxa to the natives) was a welcome change from the usual. Ten minutes after Rodney started talking about naquada generators, the initially wary diplomatic group who met them at the gate were all smiles and enthusiastic invitations to come back to their city for supper.
Rodney spent a few happy minutes in consultation with Sheppard, who was looking nonplussed; Teyla, who was looking vaguely amused; and Ronon, who was looking like Ronon. Then he turned to follow the very nice junior minister who was inquiring whether the honorable Doctor McKay had any special preferences for his evening meal.
Rodney sometimes failed to notice when people were interested in him.
He liked to imagine that scientific insight occupied far too much of his attention to leave room for such a matter, but truthfully it just didn't happen as often as it should have, so he sometimes missed it. He sometimes missed it over an extended period of time, in the face of very clear signals, until the interested party gave up and walked away in disgust.
He was lucky that clear signals on this planet seemed to be a lot stronger than clear signals on Earth.
It only took Rodney about two hours to go from The governor is very interested in my applications for naquada shielding, to He really seems to enjoy talking about M-theory, to Wait a second, this guy is totally hitting on me.
He was on his second helping of something like a chocolate torte (with roasted nuts and a buttery swirl topping, mmm) and it would've been a waste of a phenomenal dessert if he started choking in surprise, so he didn't. Rodney finished swallowing and snuck a glance at Governor... oh hell, he couldn't remember the last name, they'd been at 'Darra' and 'Rodney' for over an hour now. Darra, who was an extremely intelligent man because the Braxians required their leaders to be highly educated, and who had cropped blond hair and really nice biceps, and who'd been laughing and exchanging Fourier transform jokes with him for the last ten minutes.
He also had his knee pressed unmistakably against Rodney's thigh, and he smiled when he caught Rodney looking. "More dessert?" he asked.
Sweet jesus, I'm going to retire here, Rodney promised himself, and he smiled back and said, "Yes. Yes, please."
He'd figured out his sexuality at nineteen, when he and Jason Chou solved the error in their plasma model that had been fucking up the whole experiment for a week, and all of the celebratory screaming and jumping had somehow morphed into a pair of very satisfying orgasms on a couch in the grad student lounge before they went running right back to the lab. It was three days before Rodney remembered that he was probably supposed to be having a big gay panic attack or something, but they were in the middle of the next experiment already and he didn't have any time to spare. And it wasn't like Jason had started sending him flowers or whispering sweet nothings; they had the same manic, coffee-fueled work relationship as always, just with added blowjobs. So: not completely straight, then. No problem. He filed the information away, and hadn't worried about sex since then.
Except, of course, when he wasn't getting any. At all. For longer than he wanted to think about. Then it became kind of an issue.
Rodney had been worrying about sex a lot since coming to Atlantis.
"Three dessert courses," Rodney said blissfully. "This is the best planet in two galaxies. This is the best planet ever."
Sheppard and Ronon were some distance ahead, and he was walking back to the stargate with Teyla. She gave him one of her patented looks of gentle amusement and said, "Yes, you seemed to be enjoying yourself. I was tapping on your shoulder for several minutes."
"Sorry," Rodney said, not meaning it at all. "I can't wait to come back tomorrow. Hey, the negotiations went well?"
"I believe they were satisfactory. The colonel arranged an exchange of shield repair work for staple foods."
"Good, that's excellent. Excellent." Rodney had a vague recollection of Darra instructing two of his ministers to negotiate with Sheppard, who had been seated with Ronon and Teyla at the end of the main table, but the deliciously seasoned almost-partridge had been served around the same time.
Sheppard and Ronon were waiting at the stargate, and Sheppard gave him a dry, appraising look as Rodney walked up. "Have a nice evening, Dr. McKay? Wouldn't want you to be distracted by trade negotiations, or anything important like that."
"Oh, I'm so very sorry, Colonel," Rodney said acidly. "It seems we've found a planet where the natives fall at my feet rather than yours. How about that? Blow to the ego? Think you'll survive?"
Sheppard rolled his eyes and said to Ronon, "Dial the gate."
He spent the first half of their post-mission briefing being grateful to the Daedalus for not having larger cargo compartments, and to the Wraith for requiring that said compartments be mostly filled with weapons on the way to Atlantis. Two lovely coincidences that meant Atlantis still needed to barter offworld for enough supplies to feed everyone. Considering the many improvements that he could make to the Braxian shield system, Rodney was probably looking forward to several weeks of hot offworld sex.
The possibilities made it difficult to focus on the briefing, and he nearly missed the moment when the conversation took a heart-stopping downward turn.
"Hang on, what? What did you say?" he demanded.
Elizabeth paused and looked at Rodney curiously. "I said that the Braxian offer is appreciated, but there's no need for the teams to stay overnight. The stargate is convenient to their city."
"What?" Rodney said, with rising dismay. "No, no, it isn't convenient! There's this big field between the gate and the city, it's huge! You know how much I hate nature, and walking, and--come on, Elizabeth, it would be rude to refuse their hospitality. It would be... un-diplomatic!"
She frowned. "Did they indicate that a refusal would be insulting?"
"They did not," said Teyla, who had never struck Rodney as a bitch. "It was a friendly gesture, but certainly not an obligation of trade."
"Good," Elizabeth said. "We'll be sure to thank them without causing offense."
"But--no! We should stay there! As new trading partners, it would show trust--"
"Rodney," Elizabeth interrupted, her patience obviously fading. "I agree with Colonel Sheppard that we need to maintain more caution with offworld traders. It's a lesson we should have learned a long time ago from the Genii. Until we are more familiar with the Braxians, I'll feel better with our people back in Atlantis for the night. Understood?"
Rodney knew that his only remaining option was to start whining, which was childish, and it never worked on Elizabeth anyway. Radek was kicking him under the table and everyone else looked impatient, except for Sheppard, who looked bored. Rodney slumped down in his seat and muttered, "Fine. We won't stay on the perfectly nice, perfectly safe planet. Fine." And he kicked Zelenka back, hard.
"Thank you, Rodney," Elizabeth said with a touch of sarcasm. "Now, their shield system..."
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. Oh, this is great. Just great. Here he was, brilliant scientist and grown adult and heroic-type person who occasionally saved Atlantis from unpleasant destruction, and he was being denied the chance to get laid like some sixteen-year-old with a curfew.
Elizabeth had already continued to the specifics of the trade agreement, but Rodney wasn't listening. He was glaring at a point on the opposite wall, and stewing. He was halfway through a plot to ditch his team on Braxa when Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard glanced casually across the table, leaned back in his chair, and smirked at Rodney.
Rodney's mouth fell open. It took him whole seconds to recover, and by then Sheppard was facing forward again, listening attentively to Elizabeth like he had never smirked at anyone in his life.
"You unbelievable asshole!" Rodney hissed across the table. "You're doing this on purpose!"
Sheppard looked over, an eyebrow half-raised in polite inquiry, and whispered, "What?"
"This is payback, isn't it?" Rodney said. "For the Chaya thing last year, for telling you that she was playing us?"
Sheppard blinked. With his big, wide, innocent eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about, Rodney."
"Yes you do! Oh, you so do! You--"
Elizabeth. Looking at them with annoyance, because it seemed that their half-whispered argument had brought the meeting to a halt. "Problem?" she asked.
Rodney opened his mouth again, then closed it abruptly. People often accused him of lacking a filter between his brain and his mouth. Those people were just idiots who didn't like hearing the truth about themselves. Rodney was absolutely not going to yell, Colonel Sheppard's cockblocking me! in front of everyone on the senior staff.
"No problem," he said tightly. "None. Go ahead, sorry."
Sheppard slipped out the door immediately after the briefing. Rodney caught up with him in the hallway where he was talking to Cadman.
"Look, Colonel," he snapped, ignoring the pointed look from Cadman. "I've had a bastard of a month, what with almost being killed by the Genii again, and then the life support system deciding for itself that we needed a more exciting oxygen level, not to mention one of your jarheads getting Zelenka interested in music that is ridiculously inappropriate for a man his age--if I hear 'The Real Slim Shady' one more time, I'm going to go right out of my mind. I need a break, I deserve a break. Will you please tell Elizabeth that the nice people aren't going to kill us?"
"Rodney," Sheppard said, drawing the word out like he was talking to a small child. "Just because the strangers like you, it doesn't mean that the strange planet is safe."
"No you don't! No, no, no, you're not going to ruin this for me! I saw that look back there--you're doing this on purpose!"
"It's my job to keep everyone in Atlantis safe," Sheppard said in a smooth, reasoned tone that made Rodney want to knock out all of his teeth. "Now, I know that you're very popular on Braxa, but I have another briefing right now. Lieutenant?"
"Bye, Rodney," Sheppard said over his shoulder.
When word got around Atlantis about a planet where Rodney McKay was the equivalent of Brad Pitt glistening in baby oil, the entire science team stampeded for the duty rosters like a pack of rats. It was fortunate that their new trade agreement would require a number of stargate teams to spend time on Braxa, because otherwise Elizabeth might have had a mutiny on her hands. Everyone wanted to go.
Rodney fielded a collection of bribes from his people, ranging from gourmet coffee to Cadbury chocolate to bootlegged Trailer Park Boys avi's. That third item might have really pissed him off--the Daedalus's last supply run was weeks ago, so these jerks had clearly been withholding something that was his goddamn birthright as a Canadian citizen--but he was too busy being furious at Sheppard to pay enough attention.
Because nothing was working. Rodney tried logic, and bitching, and pleading, and a heartfelt apology for not trusting a person as gorgeous and free of ulterior motives as Chaya had been. He even offered to spend a whole afternoon disabling the speed-restriction safety protocols on Sheppard's favorite puddlejumper.
Nothing. Sheppard kept waving him away like an insect, and almost (but not quite) laughing at him.
Then he tried sabotage, which didn't work because Atlantis was just as much of a whore for John Sheppard as every other woman in the Pegasus Galaxy, and she wouldn't let Rodney lock the man into his quarters or fake an email to Elizabeth authorizing offworld slumber parties.
It wasn't fair. Rodney had saved Atlantis as much as anyone, and she should've been in favor of helping him to score.
He hadn't felt this bad since watching the new Brotherhood take away his beautiful ZPM. Darra was flatteringly disappointed. "I'm sorry," Rodney repeated, thinking that this was the most humiliating version of the 'it's not you, it's me' conversation that any adult could possibly have. "The leaders of my expedition, they're morons, they're very paranoid about strangers."
Darra gave him a resigned smile. "Oh, well. We can still have lunch together, yes? And I'd like to see how you implement some of the shield modifications we talked about."
"Of course, yes, of course we can!" Rodney said, doing his best to sound upbeat. "Darra, look, I'm really sorry, I am. My people just wouldn't listen to me."
Darra glanced toward his outer office, where Sheppard and Ronon were both leaning silently with weapons, and murmured, "Yes, I can see they're rather... protective."
Rodney had to restrain himself from grabbing one of the very heavy books from the governor's desk and hurling it back at Sheppard.
"I hate you," Rodney announced on the second day. "You are a soulless, vindictive prick who seeks out and destroys every shred of happiness possessed by others. You are the corporeal form of all that is bad and mean and wrong in our universe, and I bet that even your parents felt nothing for you. I like the Wraith more than I like you. People on Earth probably have weekly parties to celebrate your continued absence from their galaxy. In short, you suck at life, and once again, I hate you."
"That's nice, McKay," Sheppard said absently, from his comfortable sprawl on the grass outside the shield substation. "Ready to go home yet?"
"Hate," Rodney said between his teeth, and didn't talk to Sheppard again for the rest of the day.
The good news was that Sheppard seemed to get bored with chaperoning Rodney himself by the third day, but the bad news was that Rodney was still saddled with various people who were under strict orders to keep him from being abducted. Arguing that the abduction would be short, voluntary, and extremely pleasant had no effect on any of them. Corporal Greider even threatened to inflict a few non-lethal injuries if the subject of Dr. McKay's sex life was mentioned in her presence again.
By the fifth afternoon, Rodney almost wished that Darra would quit coming to visit while he was working. It was starting to feel like torture.
"That guy likes you," Ronon said, after Darra had left again.
"Yeah, no shit, Sherlock," Rodney barked at him, throwing some tools into his bag. "Do you have a problem with that? Are people from Sateda a bunch of raging homophobes? Want to bash me into the ground, or tell me I'm going to the Satedan version of hell?"
"He likes you a lot," Ronon said, as if Rodney hadn't spoken. "You gonna do anything about it? He's pretty hot."
Rodney looked at him sideways. "Are you fucking with me?"
Rodney kept looking at him suspiciously for a little while, then shrugged. "Fine, I believe you. No, then. Probably not."
"Because I don't exactly have the opportunity, do I? With armed guards and not staying overnight? Unless--" Rodney looked back at Ronon with dawning hope. "Would you be willing to head back without me?"
Ronon shook his head. "Sorry. Orders."
Rodney threw another bunch of tools into his pack, hard enough that he heard something break.
Back in Atlantis, he spent some time wondering if he should try to jump Ronon. He decided on balance that no, bad idea, even though a blind person could see that Ronon was built like a brick shithouse, because the thought of sex with someone who could kill him just by rolling over on him was really more intimidating than arousing. Especially with the added zest of finding knives everywhere, and damn Kolya for that torture business during the storm, anyway.
Rodney was beginning to think he'd never get laid again.
Teyla came with him on the sixth day, which was fine. Rodney was so busy hating Sheppard with every fiber of his being that he was ready to overlook the fact that she'd told Elizabeth the truth about the trade negotiations.
"I think having guards might not be needed for all the work," she remarked, while helping Rodney open some circuit panels. "The Braxians seem very trustworthy to me."
"Thank you," Rodney said fervently. "Make sure you talk up that opinion in briefings, would you? Some people don't agree, some people don't think you can trust anyone around here."
"Colonel Sheppard did not seem pleased with what the Marines were calling this planet," Teyla agreed.
"Yeah, that jackass doesn't approve of most things about... wait, what? What were they calling it?"
"Something about eggs. I did not understand the joke."
"Eggs?" Rodney said blankly, and after Teyla explained, a lot of things suddenly became quite clear.
Sheppard was in his quarters when Rodney finally got back. This was good, because he'd been waiting about six hours to have this confrontation, and having it in the middle of the mess hall or the gym would have been slightly awkward for innocent bystanders.
"You're jealous!" Rodney screeched, aware that this was not the way he'd planned to behave while he was almost running here. There were none of the cool knowing smiles he'd intended to deliver, and rather more finger-pointing and undignified yelling.
"Hi, Rodney," Sheppard said calmly, standing outside the bathroom and towelling off his hair. "How was your day?"
Okay, the shirtlessness was a little distracting, but life in the Pegasus Galaxy was a series of high-pressure situations. Rodney knew how to stay on topic.
"I can't believe this, you are completely and totally jealous!" he fumed, still pointing at Sheppard. "That's why you did it! All of your bullshit about being so careful on the new planet, and oh my god, you didn't really make those Marines stand at attention while you yelled at them for calling it Egghead's Paradise, did you? Because that is about the least subtle thing I've ever heard in my life, Colonel Sheppard, unless your idiotic American military finally got rid of their caveman policies--did you want the whole city to know you were jealous? Jesus christ, I can't believe you! Why didn't you just say something, are you twelve?"
Sheppard had continued to dry his hair, his stupid eyebrow climbing higher as Rodney ranted, until he was grinning openly--the same stupid grin he'd worn to make fun of Rodney for drowning in another timeline, the needling grin that said, I win, you lose, and Rodney couldn't take it anymore. He stomped across the room and slammed Sheppard back against the wall and kissed him, holding Sheppard's head still with both hands buried in that stupid, stupid hair. And Rodney was absolutely not making a pathetic whimpering noise in the back of his throat when Sheppard's mouth opened instantly, kissing him back hot and wet and dirty, or when Sheppard angled a thigh between Rodney's legs and grabbed his ass and hauled him closer.
Rodney wasn't panting when they finally broke apart, either.
"Took you long enough," John said, his mouth two inches away and smirking again, and then his hands twisted into Rodney's shirt and he did some reciprocal slamming, and Rodney found himself pinned to the wall with John pressed hard against him from shoulder to hip. "If you were this slow at everything, we would've been dead about fifty times already."
Rodney opened his mouth indignantly to say that cracks about his intelligence were not his favorite type of foreplay, but he was derailed by the Atlantis military commander wrapping a hand around his neck and shutting him up again, very thoroughly.
"Well, you're not blond, but you're more convenient than going offworld," Rodney said, when he was allowed to surface for air, but winning points no longer seemed very important compared to getting John's pants and all of his own clothes off as fast as possible, so Rodney let it go and focused on the important things.