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"Could someone please explain," Rodney said in Sheppard's voice, "why these things always have to happen to me?"

"To us, McKay," Sheppard corrected him. "They always happen to us."

Beckett just looked at both of them, wearing an expression which was roughly one part sympathy to two parts intrigued fascination. Rodney would have much preferred the inverse ratio.

"Well, now, that's interesting," Beckett said, checking the displays on the diagnostic scanners they were both hooked up to: "According to this, the speech centers of your brains are behaving completely normally."

Rodney stared at him, incredulous. "Normally? You call this normal? Because, forgive me for pointing out the very, very obvious, but the Colonel and I appear to have been turned into this galaxy's equivalent of ventriloquists' dummies!"

If he'd been using his own voice, Rodney would have been able to invest that acid observation with exactly the right tone of invective. Unfortunately, while he was still able to speak the exact words he intended to—albeit that they now came out of Sheppard's mouth—how they got spoken seemed to be entirely up to Sheppard. The same sentence Rodney would have layered with sarcasm sounded more wryly amused than annoyed when delivered in Sheppard's drawl. Rodney glared at him in a way he hoped adequately conveyed his deep dissatisfaction with that.

He was still glaring when his mouth opened and, without any input from his brain whatsoever, he heard himself say, "So who's the ventriloquist and who's the dummy?" Sheppard, who was sitting on the end of the other exam bed, cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow while Rodney spoke the words that went with the facial expression.

"Och, I'd say you're both dummies for activating Ancient technology without observing the proper protocol," Beckett said, and chortled to himself, clearly pleased with his joke. Rodney swung the focus of his glare ninety degrees clockwise, and Carson wilted. "Now, don't look at me like that, Rodney. I'm sure this is a little strange for both of you, but you don't appear to suffering any adverse effects apart from the obvious—"

"Any adverse effects?" Rodney interrupted. Well, technically it was Sheppard who was actually doing the interrupting and—no, Rodney decided, that way madness lay. He was still the one talking, even if his words were inconveniently issuing from someone else's mouth. "Carson, listen to us!"

"It does take some getting used to, I'll grant you that," Beckett conceded, nodding at Sheppard.

"And could you please look at me when I'm talking to you? Over here." Rodney clicked his fingers, which were at least still wholly under his control, unlike his tongue.

Beckett threw up his hands in defeat. "I'd look at you if I could work out where to look, Rodney!"

Sheppard swung his legs off the exam bed and stood up. His expression shifted very slightly, like he was about to say something, and Rodney braced himself for the still-novel-enough-to-be-profoundly-disturbing experience of speaking not of his own volition. When his mouth opened, he was only a little mollified at having been right. "This is going to be one of those times you tell us to manage the best we can while you try to figure it out, and in the meantime we all just hope it wears off by itself, isn't it?"

Beckett looked for a second as if he might dispute that, but then his face fell and he nodded, a tad unhappily. "Aye, that it is."

"In that case," Rodney announced, via Sheppard, "I'm leaving, while there's still a faint possibility I might achieve something useful today. Come along, Colonel."

But that produced protests on two fronts: Beckett began to make vaguely objecting noises about wanting to do more tests, while Sheppard resisted Rodney's tug on his arm and glowered. "How come I have to tag along after you?" Rodney heard his own voice demand.

"Because you might be able to spend a couple of hours being stoic and silent, but I can't," Rodney made Sheppard say. "And, anyway, I'd set aside the rest of the day for deriding and mocking the pathetic attempts of my staff to add to the body of knowledge, and I'd hate to miss out on quality disparaging time."

 

***

 

It wasn't that easy, of course, because God forbid anything in Rodney's life should be straightforward, especially where Sheppard was involved. Rodney headed down to the main labs, where he gave a short explanatory speech—via Sheppard—outlining the situation for anyone who had somehow managed to miss what was surely the most entertaining thing to hit Atlantis' gossip grapevine since, well, the last bizarre thing that had happened. Then he set about working out his annoyance by inflicting impromptu project reviews on anyone who had the temerity to look even slightly cheerful.

But it wasn't nearly as satisfying as it should have been, because withering put-downs delivered in Sheppard's laid-back tones just didn't have the same impact, and listening to someone else speaking, Rodney quickly discovered, wasn't nearly as cathartic as saying it yourself. Also, before long, he started to suspect that not only was Sheppard not putting in the effort, he was deliberately trying to undercut Rodney's insults. By the time it got to Miko's turn, he was sure of it: when Rodney, in Sheppard's voice, told her that her assumptions about the behavior of cosmic background radiation in hyperspace were more wrong than the Flat Earth Society's mission statement, Sheppard delivered what should have been a cutting put-down with an easy smile and a knowing eyebrow-waggle that seemed intended to suggest that she shouldn't take anything he was saying very seriously. When Miko left Rodney's office, she had a hand pressed to her mouth to stifle her giggles. Rodney was furious.

"I am trying to run a department, here!" he exploded as soon as they were alone. Or he would have exploded, in his own voice. Sheppard just made it sound ironic.

"No, you're taking out your frustration on the people who work for you," Sheppard made him say and, damn him, because Rodney was cross, that came out sounding cross, so it was like being told off by himself. "Stop it."

"You're in the military. Don't you people all go to boot camps and get trained by drill sergeants? You must shout at your marines all the time."

"My marines are marines, McKay. I'm not going to yell at Miko like she can run ten miles with a full pack and strip a P-90 in under two minutes. You want to do that, you can wait until you've got your own voice back to do it."

Dinner was even less fun. They were doing fine until Teyla joined them and Sheppard looked up and greeted her unthinkingly, just as Rodney was about to swallow a mouthful of soup. She was very understanding about the resulting mess, and somehow managed to look serene even with soup in her hair, but it didn't make Rodney feel any less humiliated. He got his revenge a couple of minutes later when he spotted Zelenka and deliberately asked him about the power-consumption test results at the same moment Sheppard was taking a drink of water.

After that, Teyla made it very clear she did not wish either of them to speak again until they had both finished eating.

Rodney would have been happy to let the whole, miserable day end there, and head back to his quarters in order to commune with his laptop in blessed silence for a couple of hours before bed, but Sheppard had other ideas. He dragged Rodney back to his quarters, and it wasn't until Sheppard had thrust a digital voice recorder into his unwilling hands and made him start to describe their trip to PX5-293 from the previous week that Rodney realized just what mind-numbing torment the evening held in store.

"You dictate your mission reports?"

"It's faster than typing them."

"No, it's not." Rodney typed 140 words a minute.

"It's faster for me," Rodney's mouth said. "And, hey, if you stop interrupting, it'll be even faster. How does that sound?"

What it sounded was weird, because everything either of them had said all day had sounded weird: it was like they were actors who'd accidentally lifted the wrong scripts that morning and were now cursed to read each other's lines, badly. The only small mercy was that PX5-293 had been an uneventful trade mission, and so Sheppard's report didn't contain anything more exciting than a description of the various kinds of tuber on sale in the local marketplace. For a while, Rodney let his mouth work under Sheppard's control while his mind pondered some of the less pressing but more interesting problems that he usually didn't have time to mull over during the normal course of the day. But it wasn't long before his attention started to wander.

The only other source of distraction in Sheppard's room was Sheppard himself, who was idly practicing his golf swing, the muscles in his forearms taut as he gripped the 5-iron. And that was... yeah, pretty distracting, actually, Rodney admitted to himself. Watching Sheppard this way was an indulgence Rodney didn't permit himself very often, either because there was a chance other people would notice what he was doing, or that Sheppard would. But there was no one else here, and Sheppard's concentration was fully taken up with his golf swing and the mission report he was dictating, via Rodney, and so Rodney allowed himself to watch for longer, and with more intensity, than he usually would.

Sheppard's body was a lot like Sheppard's personality: lean and stripped down to its essential elements, all clean, hard lines, as ergonomic as one of his beloved planes. As Rodney watched, Sheppard's fingers curved around the handle of the club, caressing the rubber grip, and he shifted his hips as he adjusted his stance, rocking just a little. It was grossly unfair, Rodney thought, that John Sheppard could make an activity as dull as golf resemble foreplay. But he did. Jesus, he did.

Later, Rodney thought that was probably the explanation for what happened next.

Sheppard was just lining up another imaginary golf stroke, the tip of his tongue poking out through his closed lips like an invitation, when those same closed lips opened and said, "God, what I wouldn't give to kiss you right now."

Rodney stared at him in horror, realizing about ten seconds too late that once the link between your brain and your mouth got broken—or, at least, radically re-routed—it was much, much harder to tell the difference between what you intended to say out loud and what you really, truly, definitely didn't.

Sheppard's head snapped up and his eyes went wide. Rodney heard his own voice break off mid-sentence and demand, "What?"

Dropping the voice recorder like it was a grenade with the pin pulled out, Rodney leapt to his feet and made for the door. "You know what, I just remembered, I have a, a thing, a really important, crucial, vital thing, and I have to be there rather than here so if it's all the same with you I'll just—"

Sheppard grimaced, like the torrent of babble coming out of his mouth was causing him actual discomfort. He grabbed Rodney's arm as Rodney tried to push past him, and spun him around so that they were facing each other. "McKay—"

Rodney made flailing gestures with his hands, a physical pantomime to match the words he was forcing out of Sheppard's mouth. "Clearly, this is as embarrassing for you as it is for me, so how about we both just call it an evening and pretend this whole humiliating day never happened—"

He didn't get much further. The 5-iron clattered noisily to the floor as Sheppard dropped it to grab Rodney, one hand on each of Rodney's arms. While Rodney was still talking, Sheppard pulled Rodney roughly in and kissed him full on the mouth.

For a couple of seconds, maybe even longer, Rodney was so surprised that he didn't react. He kept talking, but with his mouth clamped over Sheppard's so that his words were stifled and all he could hear were muffled mmmphh mmmble ummph sounds. He could feel Sheppard's lips working, and his tongue, and he could feel the heavy vibrations of half-formed syllables passing between their joined mouths, as if Sheppard was giving his words back to him. Then shock gave way to irritation, because Sheppard was ruining the kiss by talking, until Rodney remembered that, in point of fact, that was him.

He shut up then, and the stream of muffled words broke off and became an approving hum, which Rodney guessed was Sheppard's response to getting control of his mouth back. And, wow, Rodney was really very happy about giving up that control, because it meant Sheppard was free to do all kinds of interesting and frankly filthy things with his tongue, and it was pretty much everything Rodney had imagined would be good about kissing Sheppard, plus a few other things he hadn't imagined but which Sheppard was enthusiastically demonstrating nonetheless.

Rodney opened his mouth and tilted his head, allowing Sheppard—John—to own his mouth completely. John's tongue traced intricate patterns on the roof of Rodney's mouth, like he was writing something there, etching letters or numbers or maybe the symbols of a private language shared by just the two of them. That made sense, Rodney figured; he and John had been speaking each other's language for years.

Rodney leaned forward a little and shifted his stance so that his foot was between John's ankles. In this position he could squeeze the top of John's leg between his thighs and rub against it, and before long the resulting friction was working up a pleasurable tension in his groin to match the insistent, urgent working of John's tongue in Rodney's mouth.

If it hadn't been for the irritating but necessary requirement to breathe, Rodney would have happily stayed like that, letting Sheppard write secret codes inside his mouth, grinding against him, indefinitely. It was Sheppard who pulled back first, and Rodney was almost surprised when he heard the whine of frustration that Sheppard's withdrawal drew from him emerge from his own throat. The small part of Rodney's brain paying attention made a note that their control of non-verbal communication was still where it should be.

Sheppard smirked and Rodney heard his own voice say, "Well, that's one way to get you to shut up."

Rodney grinned at him, feeling reckless and still a little drunk from the kiss. "Oh, don't try to pretend that was the only reason you did that." Then the adrenalin rush started to wear off and normal levels of anxiety were restored: "That wasn't the only reason you did that, was it?"

"Not the only reason. The biggest reason, maybe." Sheppard's expression shifted when he took in Rodney's response to that, and he made a pacifying motion with both hands. "That was a joke, okay? I can't do irony in your voice."

Relief made Rodney caustic. "You're American. You people can't do irony, period."

Sheppard grinned at that; then he put his hands back on Rodney's shoulders, and his face changed, becoming more focused, intense. "You didn't mean to say that."

"What, that crack about irony? Oh, look, okay, if it offends you that much, then, yes, I concede it's a cultural stereotype, but—"

But John moved one hand and put his fingers to his own lips, cutting himself—well, Rodney—off in mid-flow. Rodney took a couple of seconds to backtrack through the last couple of minutes, and realized what Sheppard was referring to. "Ah. When I said I wanted to—? Right. No, that just kind of... came out. My mouth runs faster than my brain sometimes. Which is very impressive, considering how fast my brain works. But, still. You know what it's like."

There was a shadowed look on Sheppard's face. He shook his head. "I don't. Not really. I..."

Rodney felt the pause coming, and that was a new kind of strange, because he could feel the pressure of unspoken words building up in a place somewhere inside him that was neither in his mouth nor his head, and although he had no idea what Sheppard wanted to say, Rodney could tell how much he wanted to say it. He wondered if he was getting a taste of what it was like to be Sheppard.

He lifted a hand and stroked his fingers along Sheppard's jaw. Sheppard gave a tiny shudder—Christ, an actual shudder—in response, and Rodney felt his cock start to strain against the fabric of his pants, because if he'd still had any doubt that Sheppard wanted him as much as he wanted Sheppard—well, it was pretty much gone now. His mouth, under Sheppard's control, opened but then closed again. Rodney had a minor epiphany. "It really is this hard for you, isn't it?"

Sheppard glanced away and exhaled, making a soft, vexed kind of noise. Rodney had an idea.

"Look. Pretend it's me saying it, if that's easier. It's not as if you don't spend most of your time listening to me talk anyway and at this point I can pretty much guarantee that whatever you want to say, I'll subscribe to the sentiment."

Sheppard closed his eyes, and a second later Rodney heard his own voice, low and grating, say, "I want to suck you." Then Sheppard's eyes popped open and for just a second he was looking right at Rodney, his expression a mixture of astonishment, relief and something that was as close to honest-to-God happiness as Rodney had ever seen on his face.

"Fuck, yes," Sheppard's mouth said, shaping Rodney's reaction into a sharp hiss of desire. Then Sheppard's face disappeared from view as he dropped down on to his knees in front of Rodney, and suddenly Rodney was looking at the top of John's head and the nape of his neck, where his hair tapered out right above his collar. It wasn't a view of Sheppard Rodney was familiar with, and for a couple of weird seconds he had trouble believing what he was seeing, until John looked up at him and grinned with a zeal that erased every worry line from his face. Rodney's brain kicked back into gear and sent an urgent message to his cock to let it know it was about to get intimate with John fucking Sheppard's mouth, and Rodney had to take a couple of breaths and shut his eyes to keep from coming then and there.

Sheppard's hands worked at the zipper of Rodney's fly while his mouth said, "Come on, come on, hurry it up already," sounding just as breathless and impatient as Rodney felt, and it was nice to know they were on the same page as far as that went. Rodney reached down to help, but four hands were two too many, and when Sheppard frowned at him, Rodney shifted his grip to Sheppard's shoulders instead. He gasped a little when Sheppard finally tugged his pants and boxers down, feeling cool air around his thighs as his cock leaped up, hot and heavy. His balls felt tight and he jerked his hips forward, straining toward Sheppard's waiting mouth.

Then Sheppard glanced up at him. The look on his face was one of amusement, which was totally not the reaction Rodney wanted to inspire during a first sexual encounter. He scowled, and Sheppard raised an eyebrow in response: "Better not say anything for a while. For your own sake."

Because that would be... Oh. A really, really bad idea.

"I hope," Rodney made Sheppard say, "you appreciate what a sacrifice this is going to be on my part."

"I'll try to make it worth your while."

With that, Sheppard tilted his head and closed his mouth over the top of Rodney's cock, and not speaking was pretty easy, because the sensation of hot wetness around his dick and the sight of Sheppard kneeling in front of him combined to make most of Rodney's brain go to a place which was largely non-verbal. He braced himself and fought the urge to thrust forward, instead letting Sheppard take him in by slow half-inches. When Sheppard's cheek bulged, Rodney lifted his hand from his shoulder and touched the swelling; that triggered a wave of complicated, interleaved sensations arising from the interplay of Rodney's thumb on Sheppard's stubbled jaw, the dull pressure it exerted on his cock through Sheppard's cheek and the scrape of Sheppard's tongue around its head.

Then Sheppard shifted his position minutely and started doing something which was indescribably good—Rodney wasn't sure what, but it seemed to involve a combination of lazy tongue-flicks combined with slow, even sucks which made Rodney want to demand where Sheppard had learned to do this and, more to the point, why he'd been holding out on Rodney for so long. Satisfying his curiosity was going to have to wait, though, because he didn't want to do anything which might get in the way of what Sheppard was using his mouth for right now.

He was concentrating so hard on not talking that he briefly forgot to concentrate on holding still, and when Sheppard's tongue next licked roughly along the underside of his cock, Rodney thrust forward before he could stop himself. Sheppard made a choking sound and Rodney started to pull back; as fantastic as it felt, he really didn't want to suffocate Sheppard, not least because if he died from asphyxiation, they wouldn't be able to do this again. But then Rodney's mouth opened and he heard his own voice husk out, "No, no, it's good, I can take it," and while that was fifty kinds of weird all by itself, Rodney had to admit there were certain advantages to Sheppard being able to talk without stopping that thing he was doing with his tongue. So he eased forward again, more slowly this time, letting Sheppard take him in impossibly deep in a way that felt impossibly good.

When he was sure that Sheppard could still breathe, Rodney hazarded a push forward, and John took it, and very quickly they were building up a rhythm. The slowly tightening coil of pleasure twisting up from his cock was so demanding of Rodney's attention that his mouth had already been working for a while before he noticed. When his ears and his brain finally got with the program, he realized he'd been talking—no, John had been talking—for a while, a quiet but urgent murmur of need: "Jesus, you taste so good, I want this, I've wanted this for so long, don't stop, Jesus Christ, Rodney—"

Rodney closed his eyes and gave himself over completely, because as thrilling as the feel of John's mouth slickly working his cock was, this was almost better: John's words, his desires, pouring unchecked out of Rodney's mouth. He dug his fingertips into Sheppard's shoulder, dimly aware he must be using enough force to bruise, but Sheppard only redoubled his efforts.

"—come on, come on, don't stop, give it up for me, want to make you come, want to swallow you down, fuck, yes—"

Sheppard's words in Rodney's mouth turned into an incoherent rush of breath as he came, cock pulsing over and over until the tightly knotted mixture of pleasure and almost-pain had dissolved into a haze of satisfaction. He felt the brief tightening of Sheppard's throat as he swallowed and then, with care and something like gentleness, Sheppard lifted his head so that Rodney's softening cock fell from his lips. Rodney sighed and opened his eyes and only then noticed that Sheppard's face was still screwed up in concentration, and the muscles in his right arm and shoulder were tense.

Rodney went down on to his knees so that he was on the floor, too, his position—kneeling, knees splayed—a mirror image of Sheppard's. He pulled Sheppard into a rough embrace so that their chins rested on each other's shoulders. Sheppard's mouth was next to Rodney's ear, and when he spoke Rodney's words his lips tickled Rodney's earlobe. "Here, let me, let go, I've got you, John, John," Sheppard's mouth said, his voice choked and thick with need. Rodney reached down to where John's hand was curled around his cock and eased it away so that he could replace it with his own, while Rodney's mouth whispered yes over and over again.

John's cock was hard and firm in his hand, and although Rodney's grip was dry, he realized very quickly he wasn't going to need anything in the way of lube, because as soon as he drew his cupped hand along its swollen length, it jerked in response and Rodney's mouth said, "God, yes, right there, like that, Jesus fuck—" and then Rodney felt warm stickiness flood his hand as John shuddered against him.

They were both breathing heavily and, thanks to the post-orgasm endorphin rush, for the next couple of minutes Rodney was actually quite comfortable kneeling on the floor with John slumped against him. Then his thighs started to cramp, just as Sheppard's chin—which was pointier than Rodney had previously noticed—began to dig into Rodney's shoulder. It was about then that Rodney remembered he was mostly naked below the waist and the floor was cold. "Come on, bed," he instructed. "I'm not staying on the floor when there's a perfectly serviceable mattress six feet away."

Then he went still as he realized what he'd said. What he'd said.

For a long moment, the only sound Rodney could hear was Sheppard's breathing. At last he cleared his throat experimentally and said, "So I guess it is one of those things that wears off by itself."

"Apparently," Sheppard said, a little hoarsely. He leaned back and touched a hand to his neck, frowning. "Jesus, you talk a lot," he complained. "My throat hurts."

"You know, there might be a reason for that other than the talking," Rodney pointed out, and felt a deep sense of satisfaction when he was able to imbue that with every bit of the sarcasm it merited. Not only did he have his own voice back, but the ratio of blow jobs to near death experiences in his life looked like it was about to shoot up, and that couldn't be a bad thing. If it hadn't been for just one lingering doubt, Rodney's happiness would have been just about complete: "So is it going to wear off you, too?" When Sheppard looked questioningly at him, Rodney elaborated, "I mean, is it always going to be this hard to get you to talk about what you want?"

Sheppard grinned slowly. "From now on," he said, "I'm thinking, not so much."