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The thing John liked about owning his own business (aside from the perk of being able to close shop on occasion at times that weren’t strictly holidays), was the change of scenery. John had always been kind of restless, an explorer, and he got glum when he was chained to a desk for too long. Hence his IT-on-the-fly startup. He’d never been all too great with authority either, so it was a bonus that the only one he really had to answer to was himself. He was his own boss and he liked his boss. Another thing he liked about it was meeting new people on hours. Say, like when he took a call about a malfunctioning phone at a call center, packed up his diagnostic kit, headed over and found this:

The large room filled with shabby rows of cubicles was pretty much to be expected, as were the bored faces of the phone-set adorned operators whose individual conversation created a muttering din – but that was where John’s expectations went a little haywire. The only people in the room (save for person in the office at the far end of the place) were men and their conversations weren’t exactly typically work safe.

“What are you wearing?” some rumbling big guy in dreads asked at one of the nearby stations. He flipped the page of his manual, looking bored out of his gourd. “Sounds hot. Take it off.”

John glanced at Parrish, the guy whose phone was on the fritz, and observed, “Colorful stuff.”

Parrish shrugged with a small, wry grin. “You get used to it.”

John glanced around the room. “I’ll bet,” he said.

Really, it sounded like a pretty boss deal – except that it didn’t look half as fun for the guy rattling off lines from the manual in front of him as it was for the guy (or girl) who was calling. Hell, if it was reciprocal, John might be able to get down with it, if he could just make his own hours.

John pointed at the work station at his hip. “This is the one acting up?” he asked.

Parrish sighed. “Like a three year old.” At John’s good-natured, questioning look, Parrish flushed. “Ah, I have a couple kids of my own at home. They’re a handful.”

John raised his eyebrows with a grin and a nod. It was probably about a million miles from what the guy’s callers expected.

“Anyway,” Parrish explained, “it’s my phone. I can dial out but no one else can dial in. We couldn’t believe it. They just replaced all the phones in here with these super expensive Toshiba conference phone things. I thought they’d prefer to lose me than replace the phone, actually.” John humored him with a small chuckle. “Oh, and occasionally, there’s this sound – like a beep, skritch, feedback thing.”

Of course, the beep-skritch-feedback thing. That was what John got most of his calls about. “Okay, I’m going to get a move on.” He hoisted his diag bag onto Parrish’s desk and pulled the roller chair out and around like a familiar dance partner.

“Yes, of course,” Parrish said, sounding relieved. “Be my guest.” He shuffled back out of the way to make room.

John slid into the seat (bouncy, good rolly wheels, nice armrests) and pulled the phone over toward him. He flipped it over and started checking it out. John had an intuitive way with technology. It was almost like it responded to his thoughts as much as it did his actions. Except that, right then, John’s psychic frequency was being jammed by Parrish looming over his shoulder. He glanced back and Parrish smiled at him helpfully. John smiled wryly.

For the next thirty-eight minutes, Parrish was practically draped over John’s shoulder as John disassembled the phone and played with the motherboard. He saw pretty much right off the bat what the problem was. A couple prongs on the semiconductors on the circuit board weren’t properly soldered. It was a simple fix for John (he’d brought his soldering gun along just in case), but it was time-consuming detail work that required a steady, delicate hand. While patience never was one of John’s better virtues, he had to give it to the manufacturer – they didn’t phone it in in terms of expense, even if their solder work sucked. He finished at exactly 11:21, clapped the phone back together and twirled his chair around to face Parrish.

Parrish was already grinning ear to ear. “All done?” he asked. He looked all gung-ho to be getting back to work.

“Think so,” John said. “Why don’t you dial in and give it a try?”

Parrish eagerly dug his mobile out of the pocket of his khakis and dialed the number. After a second and a half of waiting, he looked impatiently at his phone and tsked. “My cell reception is terrible in here,” he explained, walking a few steps up and down the aisle between the cubicles. “Just hold on a minute.” He held up a finger to forestall the complaints that weren’t coming from John’s corner and took a couple backward steps in the direction of the stairwell at the far end of the room. “I get better reception on the stairs.”

“Sure, knock yourself out,” John said. He wasn’t in any particular hurry. It didn’t hurt that the conversations going on around him were a little funny on one hand and a little intriguing on the other. He’d always liked a little dirty talk himself. He could stand to hang around for at least a couple more minutes before it got old.

Parrish cracked another quick smile and jogged out the stairwell door, drawing the curious glances of the blonde woman in the office (manager, maybe) and the heads that popped up over their cubicle walls to see what all the bubbliness was about. The guy had a lot of spirit and a certain kind of attitude. All of his kids were probably terrors.

John chuckled and swiveled back to the desk just as the phone began to trill. He smirked at his technical prowess and chucked his soldering wire back into his bag. He slipped the headset over his head and punched the Talk button on the phone. “It works,” he said.

“What works?” a man asked on the other end. His voice was strident and impatient, as though John was the one who’d called him and John found his forehead creasing in confusion as the man barreled on without waiting for an answer. “It’s about time somebody picked up. You do realize that I’ve been on hold for about ten minutes, right? Who’s your operator? Ms. Daisy?” John heard the sound of fabric rustling and just as he opened his mouth to say, Hey, wait a minute, buddy, the guy declared, “Let’s get onto this, shall we? I’ve been working all day, suffering the longest commencement ceremony ever enacted for the least impressive graduating class on the face of the planet, and it’s about time that I let off some steam. So…chop chop.”

John snorted indignantly. “Wow, awesome foreplay,” he said.

“Foreplay isn’t requisite. This is strictly sexual. Which is a technical improvement over my last relationship, which won’t be mentioned.” Except that he just mentioned it. “So,” a huffy breath, “wow me.”

“What are you wearing?” John asked sarcastically.

“Boxers,” the man replied, completely matter-of-fact, “trouser socks. An I’m With Genius t-shirt. I’m touching my nipples.”

The words sent a surprising jolt to John’s groin. “What, you like nipple play?” he asked, a distracted question.

A sigh breathed over the line and seemed to drag fingers up John’s spine. His slacks were starting to get tighter. “Yes,” the man said. “They-they’re sensitive. They feel good when I—”

John took an unsteady breath. “When you rub your fingers over them?” he asked.

“Jesus,” the man murmured, “yes.” He made a sound, not quite a whimper, but it was close and it turned John inside out and on fire.

Fuck. John turned in his chair and scanned the room, expecting a glowering manager at the end of the row or a security guard flexing his muscles or something – anything. No one was looking at him. No one seemed to notice anything remiss about his presence in Parrish’s cubicle. All around the room, operators were still idly squishing little koosh balls or sipping green tea lattes as they voiced guys’ French Maid fantasies over the line. In John’s ear, the guy licked his lips. The phone picked that up and John’s dick paid attention.

“How about when you drag your nails over them?” John asked.

A pause and then a shuddering sigh came over the line. “Yes,” the man answered. “It feels good. It feels excellent.”

John paused, shaky all over, and leaned further into the security of the cubicle. “You want somebody to lick them?” he asked. “One and then the other?” Whoever the guy was, wherever he was, whatever he looked like, John could imagine it clearly – dragging the flat of his tongue over one pebbled nipple and punishing the other.

“God, yes,” the man replied. “I want it.” His raspy breath pitched and fell and John heard fabric rustling. He was doing it, John thought, touching them and imagining John’s mouth all them. Jesus.

“You want somebody to drag their teeth over them, tug them with their teeth so it hurts just a little, in a good way—”

“Um,” the man sounded uncertain.

“Yeah, you do,” John answered for him. His pants were tented and his crotch ached with pressure. He wished he could move just a little in the chair, to relieve the pressure or to find some friction somehow, but he couldn’t without leaving his post – and the phone call.

“No, no, you’re right. I do. I see that now.” The man’s voice rose, thinning. “Yeah, I want it.”

Heat flared through John’s face and his body. His cock was standing at full attention now and for once, John wasn’t too happy he’d dressed for looks over comfort because he could really use a little more space in his jeans right then. “Yeah, you want it all right,” John murmured. He could imagine tonguing the shell of an ear, tugging a reddened nipple between his teeth, slicking the skin of this guy’s pectoral with his tongue as he went ragged and wild beneath him.

“I want it. Oh god, I want it.” He wasn’t even trying to be coy now. God, if John had his hands on this guy, John thought, he’d totally wreck him. He’d fuck him six ways to Sunday.

“You want a mouth on your dick,” John said with brutish finality. For a fleeting, paranoid moment, he flicked his eyes around the room but saw that no one was looking in his direction. He bit his lip and dragged his teeth over the abused skin and imagined how he’d take this guy, run his tongue up the underside of his shaft, once against the grain, and then swallow him down, all velvet-soft over the head, tonguing at the salt and slit. His mouth would be a plush paradise. John tightened his fingers into a fist on the arm of the chair to quell the temptation to just fist his cock right there in the middle of the cubicle.

“I want your mouth,” the man answered. He broke off with a gasp. “Fuck. Fuck, I want your mouth. I want you to take it—”

“All the way,” John cut in. No holds barred. Damn, he was turned on. His crotch was throbbing and his hands were itching to just unzip and pull himself out.

“I want to fuck your mouth,” the man whimpered.

It conjured up an immediate mental image and the image was so sharp and so real, it was almost tangible. John could see the fingers tangled in his messy black hair and the guy’s hard cock sliding in and out, shining with John’s spit. He could almost feel the friction building against his reddened lips as his pulse fed back in the throbbing of arousal ringing throughout his body. “So do it,” John said quietly. “I want you in my mouth. I want to taste you. Rub my cheek all over your cock.”

The man moaned lowly and the sound of skin sliding against skin came over the line, electrifying John’s nerves. “You’re such a freak,” he whined. It sounded like a compliment.

John made a face. “You like it.”

The guy on the phone wasn’t playing hard to get. The sound of skin on skin sharpened and his breath hitched as it sped up. “Oh god, I do love it.” John could almost see the fingers pinching a red nipple, boxers forced down under cock and balls. The cherry red head of his dick pushing up through his fist, come welling from the slit. John focused on the sound of friction and the deep timber of the man’s moan. “Keep talking like that, like a-a filthy-filthy, irreputable—”

“Rapscallion?” John asked. He closed his eyes to immerse himself in it.

“Fuck yes.” A gasp, followed by a thick whine. The sound of friction was sharp and fast, underscored by the roughness of the man’s breath. He was getting close. John could practically feel it, the swell of a wave at his back. It was cresting.

John wheeled right against the desk, curling over it to talk privately. “Fuck my mouth,” he said. The urgency of the fantasy built in John even without this bossy, needy, odd guy’s dick stroking his lips, his hands cradling John’s jaw as he fucked him as hard and as fast and as deep as he liked.

“Yes, oh, yes.”

“Fill me up,” John said, closing his eyes again. His arousal thrummed in him, his cock throbbing in time with his heart. “I want you pulling my hair, shoving in my mouth, against my tongue so I can taste you—” A thin whine and high, breathless babble of enthusiastic agreement. John felt his body pull tight. “—suck you so hard,” John said. His nails dug into those arm rests he’d admired before.

The man gave a shuddering moan and that hypnotic sound of friction, of the guy’s fist pumping his dick, stalled. John’s muscles bunched at forlorn attention as he listened. There was another low murmur, friction stuttering once and then twice and four times more. And then it was just the coarse sound of the man’s breath filling the line. John’s crotch panged as he caught his breath. It seemed like John’s surrounding solidified around him as the man’s breath evened out on the other end of the phone. John’s face and neck were blazing and his body was raw with desire. Damn. He’d just answered someone else’s phone at a sex line and had one-sided phone sex with some guy he’d never laid eyes on. He wasn’t getting off and he wasn’t even getting paid for it.

“Oh my god,” the man breathed. At least John could take pride in rocking his world and he had to admit that their phone call had been sexier than the last time he’d hooked up in person (not that that was any time lately, unfortunately). “That was…”

“Pretty good,” John said.

“Oh god, yes. I’ve never…” John’s chest puffed up in pride despite himself. He’d been told a time or two that he was pretty hot, even if he was pretty goofy. God, how he could just wreck this guy, if the situation offered itself.

“Glad to lend a hand.” John swiveled around and cast a look around the room for suspicious looks and scandalized non-coworkers. Every eye was trained on manuals or computer screens – well, except for the two that had been checking him out when he’d come into the room. Even Parrish was absent and unaccounted for.

Actually, he had to agree. He was so turned on, he was going to black out if he stood up too quickly. The quirky mix of bombastic authority and wheedling neediness the guy had exhibited was pretty hot. He’d probably be a handful in bed and damned if John didn’t feel the needling of regret when he thought that he probably wouldn’t experience it. The man was probably also a bundle of neuroses and more than a little high maintenance.

“Okay, look,” there was the sound of rustling and fabric hitting the floor and John could’ve laughed at the clear sound of a man wiping himself off with his shirt and dropping it, “let’s not beat around the bush. That was – well, for me, obviously because you’re not precisely in a position to reciprocate, but – totally, incredibly hot. Hot like molten lava, a supernova, a microwave burrito—”

John choked on a laugh. “A microwave burrito. High compliment.”

“What’s your private extension?”

John’s spine straightened with a snap. “Wait a minute, what?” he asked.

The man sounded impatient. “Your private extension,” he repeated. “So that I can call again. When I saw the commercial, I thought it would be an inefficient, idiotic waste of time but that was exactly what I needed. In a general sense, when you achieve awesomeness, you stick to your guns. So what’s your extension for when I call back? You were advertising it on the horrible hold message you have over there.”

John paused. He always had the option of dropping the phone into the cradle. But then again… John had always sort of sucked about the sex stuff (anything that wasn’t actual sex). Even then, he was no good at dating when he tried it on occasion and the times he picked someone up from a bar, it had ended up being awkward as hell and not really worth the effort. Meanwhile, the guy on the phone got John hot in ten seconds flat and John hadn’t even gotten to get off to it. And what would it be hurting if he gave the guy what he was calling for at a lower pay rate than an 900 number commanded? One hand washes the other, as they said.

John’s dick still throbbed, pent up and aching for John’s hand or the squishy silicone toy thing shaped like a mouth back home in John’s bedside table. John sank down with his elbows on the desktop, hunching in defeat.

“Hello?” the guy asked. “Oh great. Tell me we didn’t get disconnected—”

John let his forehead slap into his palm. “You’ve got a pen?” he asked, his voice muffled by his hand.

“Yes, no, hold on.” There was the sound of the receiver clattering onto a hard surface and John recoiled from the phone at the explosive burst of noise. Then there was the noise of rummaging, muffled cursing, and the rattling of various objects. Finally, just as John was cagily shooting a glance around the area, the man’s short breath came onto the line. John’s dick gave a hopeful throb and John cringed. “Okay. Go on.”

John recited his cell number, speaking lowly into the receiver. It probably wouldn’t be all that great for business if he was caught skimming customers from his customers.

“Wait a second,” the man said. He repeated John’s area code with a questioning note to his voice. “You’re not giving me a 900 number? And where’s the extension?”

Damn quick thinkers. This guy was probably too much to handle and John was rolling out the Welcome mat for a troublemaker at his door. “It’s a private line,” John lied. “We all have them. It keeps costs down for the company.”

“Why does that make sense?” the man asked.

John screwed his face up. “Do you actually care?” he asked incredulously.

“I guess not.”

John gestured emphatically even if the guy on the line wasn’t there to see it. “Okay,” he said. Subject closed. John threw a look over his shoulder but Parrish was still nowhere to be seen and the phone operators were just as bored as they’d been before, even if John was still aching and jittery with arousal. “Then, uh…”

“My name’s Rodney, by the way.” The man on the line said it in a tone John couldn’t decipher. It was either offhanded or self-important but it was more amusing than John wanted to admit.

“John,” he replied. He found himself smiling, fingers threading through the hairs at the nape of his neck in an old nervous habit he’d never quite kicked. This was always the awkward part. The part John had a habit of fucking up.

“Well, then, I have your number. So, John.”

As John leaned forward and punched the button to end the call, the ringer went off again and John snorted. He wondered what Rodney hadn’t said that he needed to get to a second and a half after hanging up. John clicked Talk. “You forget something?” he asked cheerfully.

“I’m so sorry.” The words came out in a gush, intoned in Parrish’s distinctive voice. “My nana called and she had me on the line for a half hour about her heirloom tomatoes. They’re absolutely stunning examples of the genus – but you don’t need to hear about that. Wonderful. It’s working.”

It was like shifting gears but John was pretty good at rolling with the punches. “Yep,” he said. “It’s back to work as usual.”

“Wonderful.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” John replied.

~*~*~

By the time Rodney next called, a whole week had rolled by and John was starting to get the feeling that he’d lost his non-corporeal hook up. While the encounter provided John more than enough fodder for fantasies during that duration, John was a little sorry at the idea of losing a guy so good at pushing his buttons. And on John’s phone plan, the calls would be practically free.

Aside from the mild embarrassment of hijacking a hot line, the exchange had been more or less win-win in John’s opinion. And like Rodney had mentioned – there were perks to anonymous phone sex. The least of which were John’s lingering fantasies of meeting the stranger (Rodney) in a crowded subway car, feeling his hands (John’s hands at home alone in his bedroom) sliding over his John’s hip and over his crotch, stripping John down to a taut muscled mess with Rodney’s voice in his ear, asking him if John liked what he was doing.

The fantasy – as fantasies went – was pretty damn effective. A couple times until then, John went off like a shot with two fingers rubbing his perineum and a fist curled on his cock. Even so, by the following Tuesday, John was starting to think that it was some fleeting freak occurrence not fated to recur.

Then, while he was watching the highlight reel of the SCU game against LSU, his cell phone plucked out the first strains of the Jaws theme – his ringtone – on the end table beside his sweating bottle of beer. John clicked mute on the remote and, grabbing a last handful of nuts from the bowl on the couch, brought the cell to his head.

“You’ve reached the Museum of Historic Football Fails,” he said.

“What?” John recognized Rodney’s characteristic sputter immediately. After all, he’d been playing out their phone call in his head every other day for inspiration in the shower or when he was tousled in bed in the morning. “This is John’s number, isn’t it?”

John’s body went tingly at the sudden, reflexive memory of Rodney masturbating on the phone. Effortlessly and unconsciously, the memory of Rodney telling him that he was playing with his nipples. John grabbed the remote and clicked the TV off altogether. “Yeah. Hey. How’s it going?”

“Is that an actual question or like an obligatory salutation? Because if you really want to know, my week’s been fair at best.”

John chuckled at the easy onslaught of information. “It was more the latter than the former,” he said and Rodney’s deflated “Oh” was surprisingly amusing. Actually, having said it, John’s curiosity was piqued. He fleetingly wondered what a fair week looked like to Rodney, whoever Rodney was and whatever lifestyle he was living. John didn’t get a chance to ask because Rodney forged on.

“So what are you wearing?” he asked. “Or what would you have me believe that you’re wearing?”

Heat percolated under John’s skin even if he found the stale dialogue a little funny. “Track pants and a Dead Kennedys t-shirt,” John answered. “But it’s subject to change.”

He couldn’t tell if Rodney’s “Hmm” was appreciative or ambivalent and it riled John a little that it could be either. John kicked his trainers off just in case. “Take them off,” Rodney commanded. His tone brooked no argument – not that John would’ve given it to him even if it did.

John just eagerly shucked his track pants and, dropping the phone on the couch, grabbed a fistful of the back of his shirt and yanked it over his head. When he came back, his breath had an uneven edge of anticipation when he picked up. “Now what?” he asked. Then, glancing down, “I’m in my shorts.”

Rodney’s voice was immediate and brusque in his ear. “Describe them.”

John looked back down at himself. His lanky, runner’s frame was curled up against the back of the sofa, the deep rose colored nipples in a dusting of dark hair that trailed like a friendly hand down past the waistband of his underwear. His legs were lean but athletic, pretty hairy, and his plain white boxer briefs cut across his thighs – the fly front beginning to tent over his burgeoning erection. “Plain,” John said. “They’re white.” He took a soft breath and resettled. He slid a couple fingers into the leg hole and adjusted them, the back of his knuckles brushing wiry hair. When he spoke, his voice was gritty. “I’m kind of turned on.”

The sound of Rodney wetting his lips carried on the line. A good, wet sound. “Good. I want you to touch yourself—your-your crotch—very lightly. Only as much as I say. Do you understand?”

What was so hard about those instructions? Did Rodney think he needed an instruction manual. John scowled. “Yeah, I’ve got it.” His skin jumped under the shadow of his palm, already sensitive from suggestion. John softly cupped his hand over the curve of his cock straining against his underwear. He leaned back into the couch cushions for better leverage and sighed. “Doing it now,” he reported. The side of his thumb swept over the length of his cock, setting off shivering sensations. He kept his touch light like Rodney had said. The soft hand was a tease.

“Are you hard?” Rodney asked.

John swallowed and dropped his head back. “I’m getting there.” His voice was rough with gravel. “What are you doing?” Scraping his nails over his nipples, John thought, teasing himself with a couple fingers at his ass. John hoped so.

“It’s none of your business," Rodney said- it was another play, John got that. He wanted John in the dark, taking orders. John shivered at the idea. “Pull your shorts down gently, to mid-thigh.”

“Hold on.” John put the phone back on the cushion as he piled a couple pillows against the arm of his couch. He clicked the speaker function on and the grainy sounds of the connection sounded on the air. “Hello?” John asked.

“Did you do it?” asked Rodney. His voice had an almost echo on the phone speaker.

John pushed his hips up and plucked the waistband of his boxer briefs. “I’m doing it,” he said. The fabric inched down over his hips, the reddish base of his cock. He bit into his lip as he eased them down and his dick bobbed out against his belly. John let them go across his thighs. The pressure of the elastic was like a binding. It kept him together now that he was rattling with anticipation. “Now what?” he asked.

“Run your fingers up the underside.” A soft rustle sounded on Rodney’s end. The idea that he might be doing anything electrified John.

He stroked his fingertips against the underside of his cock and strained against the sensation. It was like his senses sharpened on that single point. He bit his lip hard, filling it with color. “Can I fist it?” he asked.

“No, absolutely not.”

“Fuck,” John gasped. He was dying for more friction but the fingers trailing over his cock were little more than a gust of wind and wishful thinking. As he watched, his cock filled completely, heavy against his stomach. His breath hardened. “I’m doing it.”

“You’re running your fingers up the underside of your erection?”

“Jesus yes,” John gasped. “Tell me what to do.” He squeezed his eyes shut, imagining that his fingers were Rodney's, playing with him according to his whims. He whined softly in his throat.

“Spread your legs.” There was a nervous edge to Rodney’s voice, and a certain thickness of timbre. A thrill ran up John’s spine with the thought that it was something Rodney really wanted and thought John might refuse to do. He evidently heard when John pushed his briefs off because he continued. “Stroke your perineum.”

John shivered as he pulled his knees up and spread his legs. Even alone in the apartment, he felt like he was on display, vulnerable with his legs apart and his hard dick welling with precome heavy against his stomach. He could catch sight of his reflection in the darkened TV screen- face flushed and mouth shiny from chewing his bottom lip, his knees up and apart—dick pressed to his stomach and nipples tightly at attention in the light fur over his chest—his balls drawn up over the pucker of his asshole. “How hard?” he asked. He grasped his cheek and spread himself open.

“Lightly,” Rodney said, his voice throaty. There was a rustle. John wondered if he was losing his shirt.

John pushed two fingers over the tight pucker of his asshole and took an unsteady breath. “I’m touching it,” he remembered to say last minute. He felt the clench and tremble of the ring of muscle under his fingertips, the tickle of his fingertips over sensitive skin. He flashed back on Rodney telling him how much he liked playing with his nipples and how hot that got him. “I like it,” he said.

“How does it feel?” Rodney asked, his voice immediate and hollow sounding over the speaker phone.

John glanced sidelong at where it rested. The phone felt too far away. He curled his toes on its edge and toed it closer. It clattered off the side and onto the floor. “Shit!” he hissed, shooting up straight.

“Crap!” Rodney’s voice was emanating from beside the chair of John’s sofa, muffled by the floor. “John? What the hell. Thanks for the hearing damage.”

John scooped the phone up and cringed. “Hey, uh,” How was he supposed to say he’d dropped the phone? “my cat dropped the phone.” He made a face at the shittiness of the lie. He didn’t even have a cat. “Sorry about that.”

“Aside from the burst ear drum, no harm,” Rodney retorted smartly. “What’s your cat doing at your call center?”

Shit. “Ah.” John faltered. “It’s a small operation. A half dozen guys. It’s a real grassroots kind of thing.”

“A grass roots phone sex line,” Rodney repeated. His dubiousness was clear even without seeing his expression.

John mussed a hand through his hair and cast a forlorn look back down at his slightly wilted erection. “It’s a thing,” he said. “Anyway, you were saying…?” His face burned and he flicked his hazel eyes at the ceiling. Damn it, John. His voice was muffled as he scrubbed his stubble-shadowed face. “About my ass.” Even after the embarrassing crap, a twinge went through him, the electric pang of his pert nipples echoing in a throb of his groin. “About me touching my ass.”

A short intake of breath issued from the phone. John carefully laid it on the back of the cushion behind him. “Yes, right. Before the nonsense with the cat.”

“Right,” John echoed. A pulse went through his body. “You wanted to know how it felt.” His hand drifted down, flat of his thumb brushing over his bunched stomach and wiry thatch of hair. He watched with hooded eyes as it slipped over the rosy head of his dick, his muscles tensing, and slid against the underside. He pressed two fingers against his entrance again and his breath hardened. “It feels good. Shivery, I guess. I like it.”

There was a rustle of fabric on the phone. “Do you have lubricant? Of course you don’t. You’re in a phone bank. Say-just say you do.”

“Don’t need it,” John said, spine curling into an S as he languidly rolled his hips. “I lubed up when I fingered myself earlier.”

“Oh god.”

John smirked. “Guess I must’ve known you were calling.” He impatiently arched his spine and dipped his fingers in. The hair stood up on his thighs as he squirmed against the slight sensation. “I want to—”

“Do it,” Rodney cut him off. “I want you to penetrate yourself with your fingers.”

“It’s shallow,” John said. His fingers slipped against the leftover lube. When his fingers slid deeper than he’d intended, it electrified his nerve endings. He bit his lip and curled his hips into the back of the chair, seeking his fingers. “Slippery.” His voice was husky. “It feels so good. I want to move. I want them deeper.”

“Oh good god,” Rodney murmured. There was a light sound like a click followed by a slick noise. John let his eyes shut and imagined that Rodney had opened a bottle of lube and stroking himself as though he could fuck John from where he was. John’s body was vibrant with the mental image.

“You said that before.”

“It still applies.”

John whined, pushing his head back into the pillow. “Jesus, Rodney. I want to go deeper.” He didn’t know why he was asking but it had seemed like they’d set up rules when Rodney began ordering him around and he wanted to keep by them. “I want your fingers in my ass.” Because then John could pretend they were Rodney’s.

There was a soft mewl on the line. “I—yes, please. Please do that.”

John pressed his fingers deeper. He groaned at the silkiness of lube and the heat of his body, the slide of his fingers past the outer ring. It was like dragging fingers up his spine. A shiver rolled through him and he found himself panting. “I’m doing it.”

The noise of fingers over slickness built up through the speakers, delicate but sharp, and John could almost feel it on his body, lifting the hairs on the nape of his neck. “Tell me about it,” Rodney said breathlessly.

John craned and spread his legs to watch his reflection on the TV screen, eyes on his fingers as they pushed into his hole. His nipples twinged and he rubbed his free thumb over one of them. “I’m all spread out here, I can see myself in the TV screen—”

“TV screen?” Rodney asked weakly.

“Don’t ask,” John said. His fingers twisted and his toes curled, heels digging into the couch. “Fuck, yeah. I’m spread out on the couch and my fingers are up my ass, two of them – they’re big, deep – and my hole’s tight around them.” He broke off with a gasp as his fingers brushed his prostate. “Fuck, I hit the money.”

“Your prostate?” Rodney asked. The slick sound sharpened, hastening and rising.

“Yeah.” John twisted his fingers and brought them over the sensitive place again. Every muscle spasmed and went taut. He was so hot, he was on fire. “Yeah,” he whined in his throat. “I want you here.”

“In you,” Rodney said, like it wasn’t a question. Fuck, he was awesomely bossy.

“Yeah, in me.” John whimpered as his fingers dragged over his prostate again. “I want you here, giving it to me.”

Rodney’s moan was low and forlorn. “God, yes.” That sharp, wet sound hit a rhythm set against the ragged in and out of Rodney’s breath. “I want that so much.”

The thing was that John could imagine it easily. He could practically see Rodney pushing him down, face first on the sofa, thumbs in the curve of his pelvis as he raised John’s hips. “I want you to spread me open and—”

“Tongue your opening,” Rodney interrupted raggedly. He gasped and cursed.

“Yeah,” John agreed. Fuck it. He dropped his left hand from his nipple to his dick. The head pushed up through his fist and John hissed at the suddenness of the sensation. “Make me wet.”

“Oh god, you’d be so loose already from playing with yourself,” Rodney moaned. The punchy sound of his hand pumping rang out through John’s apartment.

“Getting ready for you,” John put in. He pushed up to meet his fist and rolled his hips back down onto his fingers. He gritted his teeth and shuddered. Fingers of feeling tickled over his body and built him up. When he forced down on his fingers, he felt the slow drag of his digits against the ring of muscle and the flare of his fingertips against his sweet spot, and when he rocked back up, it was into the tight curl of his fist. He got to the edge before he wanted to, precome spattering his belly with every roll of his hips.

“I’m-I’m—” Rodney keened.

“Me, too.” John slackened his fist and fucked himself harder, faster, with his fingers, building up his climax before he could fall over it with a hand on his dick. It dawned on him, anyway, a swell of sensation that crested through his body and tumbled over him. He cried out, come shooting over his chest and convulsing stomach.

Distantly, he heard Rodney ask, “Oh my god, did you come?” and then yelp as he hit it himself. Then it was like white noise filled John’s ears and he went limp. John almost dozed off as he relaxed. Rodney’s voice startled him out of his daze. “That was awesome.”

John gave a short bark of laughter. Awesome sounded more like his kind of word than Rodney’s. “Exceptional,” John teased.

There was a pause as they both caught their breath and John straightened up, searching the floor for his discarded briefs. When he found them, he rubbed his hands off on them before wiping his front off (dried come was the worst). He needed a shower but he was still boneless with post-coital euphoria. He told Rodney anyway.

“Well, you might not,” Rodney said and John belatedly remembered that he was supposed to be a sex line operator right then, not a horny guy on his living room couch. “But I do.”

“You want some company?” A grin spread over John’s face as he imagined Rodney balancing the phone on the edge of the bathroom sink as he soaped himself up. He laughed.

“At 2.99 a minute?” Rodney snorted. “Right. If I wanted a mistress, I’d buy you a stole. It would be cheaper.” John laughed. “So, right. Thanks.”

“Good night, Rodney.”

“Bye.” There was a click and John’s phone lit up as it returned to his home screen. The Human Torch blazed across the display under a handful of apps. John considered the cell for a moment with a grin. Rodney was appealingly pushy, befuddled, and bratty. And there were definitely worse ways John could spend his time than jerking off to the sound of his voice on the phone. Yeah, he was definitely putting this one in the Win margin. He could hardly think of a way this would go wrong.

~*~*~

It was almost a week later, on the nose, when Rodney called next.

John had taken a job setting up the computers at a start up across town and it had taken him six and a half hours to get everything up and running. He finished up at nearly five and pulled his car out into rush hour traffic ten miles from his apartment building. It took forty minutes to get home in the sweltering heat of his un-air conditioned van and when he came inside, he was hot and sticky. Even his hair (which usually had a mind of its own) was wilted when he caught his reflection in his bathroom mirror.

A long, tepid shower sloughed off the reminder of the day. By the time he came out, he was pretty sure he was 76 percent water instead of the standard 57. But his hair had got some of its spirit back and as he scruffed a towel over it, it started springing up in various directions. He curled his lip at his mirror, totally Sid Vicious, and walked out into his living room.

He had a decent place, not too great and not a slum anyway, with a medium sized living room butting up against a galley kitchen, one bedroom dominated by a queen sized bed, and the bathroom he’d just vacated. The brown couch was second hand from Elizabeth, his old boss at SGC (Solution Generation Corporation), and the scratched end tables came from Teyla, his last roommate. Aside from the couch, there was a TV against the wall, a floor lamp in the corner and a chevron patterned rug Teyla left there when she moved in with Kanaan.

John padded over to the kitchen, intent on microwave Mac & Cheese and a cold beer for his troubles. The numbers on the microwave blinked at him: 7:15 – how the hell did that happen? – and his stomach growled. Right as he went into the kitchen, his cell phone rang. Dun dun, dun dun.

If it was Genii Realty, John was moving out of state. He switched gears and turned, straining over the counter to pick his phone up from the other side of the kitchen bar. He looked at the number before answering. “Dreamland Sexorium, this is John.”

There was a pause. “Don’t you have a manager?” John smiled as he recognized Rodney’s voice. “I mean, won’t you get fired if you keep answering, ‘This is Bea Arthur’s house, how may I service you?’”

John chuckled. “I don’t work for Bea Arthur so it doesn’t seem like a problem, Rodney.” He turned back and pulled the refrigerator door ajar. Scanning the frosty wasteland of his fridge, John made a face.

“That’s hardly an excuse. Just because you’re a phone sex operator doesn’t mean you have to phone it in.”

“Ha.” John took a cold bottle of beer from the top shelf and let the door fall back shut. He draped the end of his towel over the cap and twisted it off. When he chucked it in the waste basket, the cap arced right over the rim of the can and jangled onto the floor. “Damn it.”

“Okay, whatever. I know what I want you to do. Or to pretend to do anyway.” Rodney sounded all gung-ho and radiant in the assurance of his genius.

John made a face. “Rodney, I’m hungry and I had a crappy day.”

“What?” Rodney’s voice was high with disbelief. “You what?”

What a brat. Rodney wasn’t the only one who could have bad days. Was it supposed to suggest otherwise, that John was presumably a phone sex artist? “Yeah. And I haven’t gotten a chance to eat yet. So.”

For a moment, Rodney seemed speechless with confusion and possibly indignation. “You can’t refuse to have phone sex with me if phone sex is your job,” he retorted. “That would be like me refusing to teach ungrateful twenty year olds.”

“It’s called the first amendment, Rodney. Freedom of Speech or freedom not to speak and I’m not in a talking mood. I’m not at the service of your dick’s voracious appetite until I’ve dealt with my own.”

A pause. Then, “Your dick’s appetite?” He almost sounded hopeful.

John rolled his eyes and opened his cabinet. He pulled out a pack of ramen and a bowl. “My stomach, Rodney.” He broke the dried noodles with a spoon and dumped the bag into the bowl. A little tap water and John put his crappy dinner in the microwave.

“Hmm,” Rodney mused by his ear, “I knew it was too good to be true.”

“Quit whining. I didn’t say never. I just said not now.” John peered into the microwave and impatiently tapped the edge of his spoon against the counter.

For a moment, Rodney paused and John wondered if he would hang up. John would see the reason. He was calling for a specific purpose – to get off and to get help doing it – and if John wasn’t scratching the itch… John opened his mouth to invite him to call back later after he’d recharged, maybe watched something on the TV, when Rodney spoke. “What was it anyway?” John didn’t know what he was talking about. “What was so crappy about your day?”

John smiled despite himself. Leave it to this weird guy to call a phone sex line and ask something odd like that. He snorted a laugh and Rodney defiantly huffed. “I had a job that grew legs on me—” Rodney laughed (probably the idea of Thomas the Steam Engine’s endless uphill voyage to phone sex consummation), “—then I got stuck in traffic for about an hour,” John said. “I didn’t get a chance to eat before I left this morning, so that sucks.”

“Jinto’s Bagels,” Rodney said unexpectedly.

“What?” John asked. Sometimes Rodney had the weirdest timing.

A pause and John had a suspicion Rodney might be rolling his eyes from his general sarcastic demeanor. “It’s the name of a drive through place on Welcott. Do you live near the campus?”

Actually John did. “Thereabouts,” he said. “You live over there?”

“Of course,” Rodney said. “My lab’s in walking distance of my house.” A house sounded good. John liked his space and a yard would be cool to chip in, if you were careful about the neighbors’ cars. “Anyway, it’s an awful name but the food’s pretty good. Their lines are miraculously short. I can usually get something and walk out within a couple minutes.”

“I usually make some oatmeal,” John said.

Rodney groaned. “Health nut.”

John laughed. “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.” The microwave sounded and John let the noodles sit for a minute before he pulled the bowl out with a napkin at the rim. “I don’t think you’re technically a health nut unless you eat tofu.”

“Not true. My sister eats tofu and she’s just a nut, period. It’s a fine difference, actually. It takes a discriminating eye,” Rodney retorted.

“And you’ve got it?” John said.

“Well, if you must know, I’m a fairly good judge of character. It’s one of my personal skills. I have a few. Did I mention them?” Rodney asked. He sounded genuinely concerned that he hadn’t and John laughed.

“Is hearing about them optional?” He carefully strained the noodles with a fork and lost about a quarter of them down the kitchen sink. Oh well. John wasn’t half as worn out as when he’d first walked in anyway.

Rodney’s disgruntled groan was more amusing than charming. Either way, it eked a laugh out of John. “I’ll take your refusal as an unchecked inferiority complex. If you knew me, say professionally – my profession, not yours – then you’d have a better idea of my intellectual strengths and my interpersonal weaknesses.”

John furrowed his brow in mock disbelief. “No. You? You have weaknesses?”

“It may be hard to believe,” Rodney answered demurely. Demurely or snobbily, John couldn’t tell which it was. “But we all have them, I’ll have you know.” John cracked up and Rodney raised his voice to override him. “And I’ll have you know that my strengths outweigh my weaknesses by far.”

John was still laughing by the time he’d made it over to the couch with his bowl of steaming ramen. “Do I need to encourage you or will you just rattle them off whether I like it or not?” he asked.

“Well,” Rodney said after a prim pause, “besides being a Mensa certified genius – I mean that literally – back in Toronto, my Pacman high scores remain unbeaten at the local pizzeria arcade since I set the record when I was fourteen.”

Pacman, huh?” John asked.

“I’ve always identified with him a little, actually. Tenacious character, confronting whatever obstacle is before him in the pursuit of what he wants.” Rodney made it sound like the little pie looking guy was a trailblazer instead of a weird looking floating head hot on the trail of cherries and ghosts. John found himself grinning as he crossed his ankles on the couch and blew on his hot noodles.

Pacman’s pretty cool,” he conceded. “Space Invaders was my game.”

Space Invaders,” Rodney scoffed. “There’s no finesse required in playing that. It’s point and punch.”

“Hey! There is, too. You have to know where to shoot to shoot down the alien guys, Rodney. That’s skill.” John wrinkled his nose. “I’m guessing your Space Invaders top scores didn’t last, huh? Is it sour grapes that you don’t like it?”

“Ugh, yeah right.”

John ducked his head and laughed as Rodney began systematically extolling the reasons why there was no skill or beauty to Space Invaders. The lecture on 80’s arcade games segued into an invigorating argument about Star Trek (Rodney was Team Picard and John was practically captain of Team Kirk). It had been four hours when John dozed off and woke up to the sound of snapping fingers on the phone by his ear. John had to concede defeat to a long as hell day and he said goodnight against Rodney’s mild protests. It was only after John wormed his way under the covers in his bed and closed his eyes that he realized they never did end up messing around.

~*~*~

After that time, Rodney called a lot more often. It was usually in the evenings after work (John learned that Rodney worked a lot, and that stress relief was hard to come by in academia, especially when you were single), but once or twice he’d called on the weekend midday because he was bored and apparently getting off with a stranger was better than reruns on TV—at least John thought so.

Since it was a twenty four hour line, Rodney had the habit of calling whenever he felt like it and assuming that John would be on the other end. The worst time was in the mid afternoon when (somehow) Rodney had gotten a couple minutes to himself in his office and decided now was the time for sex right when John was unrolling his non static mat at a laptop repair house call. John had picked up without checking the number, and Rodney started with the colorful question, “How hard do you want your cock sucked today?” Then he’d excused himself, pink cheeked, to his car with the phone covered by his hand and had the most outrageous not-really-there sex he’d ever had up, since both of them being at work was kind of a turn on. If it really had been John’s day job, Rodney would not have been so lucky as to get him each time he got the urge to dial up. Of course, since John’s personalized voicemail didn’t exactly scream corporate sex line, if John wanted to keep up with the jig he had to be ready to pick up wherever, whenever. And honestly, that idea was more than a little hot to John, too.

After that, John dutifully labeled Rodney’s number by name and remembered to check first before picking up. For the picture ID, he put in an image of Albert Einstein that he’d snagged from the internet which, though it did not get him immediately hot and bothered to look at, did remind him a little of Rodney since he’d learned the guy was practically head over heels for all things science. If Rodney knew what his picture was on John’s cell phone, he’d probably be pretty pleased. The weird thing was that after a couple weeks, John had learned way more about Rodney himself than about what simply turned the guy on. Sure, he knew that stuff. Once they’d gotten up to about four or five times a week of verbal depravity, he was pretty sure that he knew what Rodney liked inside and out. But after they’d done what Rodney called up to do, more often than not, some off handed comment would spark a debate on Marvel versus DC or a conversation about things that had scared Rodney as a kid- which looked to be somewhere near everything, or some other ridiculous, tenuously related thing. John learned what Rodney was allergic to, his favorite hangout as a kid, what his cat looked like and how the vet said Schrödinger (the cat) was doing, and why his last girlfriend hadn’t worked out.

Meanwhile, John found that it was strangely a lot easier to talk to Rodney than to anyone else he’d known. Maybe it was because of the distance between them or that John had always been a lot more relaxed after sex – the hum of the phone felt comfortable with Rodney on the other end of it, and John found himself telling Rodney about how he tried not to pay sticker price for anything he could stick a coupon or a deal on, and how he couldn’t watch The Shining because it gave him the creeps after getting stuck in a real snow storm at a lodge as a kid, and even about how he still dodged his older brother’s calls because he hadn’t stood up for him when his dad kicked him out nineteen years ago. It felt pretty awesome getting some of that shit off of his chest and the best part was it didn’t even feel like they were talking-talking when Rodney had some smart remark back or told him something just as embarrassing, ridiculous or better yet, completely off topic.

All in all, after way too short a time, John started to like tuning into a Godzilla marathon with Rodney in his ear just as much as jerking off with the other guy. Sometimes that was just how it started without the sex at all- Rodney demanding he tune in on the TV Rodney thought was in the break room at his hotline’s office to the fifth Star Trek movie or something, and they’d hang up with no one having even made an attempt at shedding some clothes (or at least that John knew of).

It kind of freaked him out when he thought about it that he knew Rodney’s cat better than most of the people he’d met face to face in his life, and that the guy who was his most regular sex partner might have been any shade of the rainbow, height, weight, background or body build simply because it reminded him when he thought about it that they were virtually strangers, no matter how well they knew each other. He knew Rodney’s tastes in movies, music and women, but he didn’t know what he looked like, how old he was—though he was pretty sure given his adeptness at cultural lingo from the last twenty or thirty years, right about where he was at—where he lived or even what his last name was. But then when Rodney dialed him up, he forget all about it in his rush to pick up and tell him stupid details about his day that they could both laugh at before getting down to business as usual—if ‘business as usual’ was even on the table for the evening.

John had been in weirder situations, anyway. For two whole semesters at college, his roommate Chaya had thought that they were dating, never mind that he didn’t swing that way. John had only found out after they’d quote unquote broken up. So John was pretty used to quirkiness in people, himself included, and non-traditional had kind of always been a given for him.

~*~*~

Then came the time that Rodney didn’t call at all. The first two days were nothing too unusual, but by the time the fourth day rolled around, John was getting antsy. Once a week and a half had come and gone, he spent his nights falling asleep (though he would never admit to it) with his phone curled up in the palm of his hand, and whenever he woke up, it was with a start and a half panicked swipe of his screen to check for missed calls or messages that started with “Who the hell are you and why blah blah blah” but there were no little crossed out phone icons in the notification tab or flags for new voicemail.

And when it came down it, even hearing Rodney’s voice on the other end freaking out over why a sex hotline had John’s personalized message before the beep would have been good. He wanted to hear from Rodney – he wanted to know that he was okay and hadn’t walked in front of a train or something, as unlikely as it sounded. Maybe the guy on the other end of the line was actually in his 60s and a heart attack had him in the hospital somewhere with John unable to even ask after him because he didn’t know his name.

Or maybe (somewhat more likely) Rodney had gotten a new girlfriend and didn’t need John’s number anymore. It gave him a bruised, kicked puppy feeling thinking about it and – maybe even weirder – the idea of Rodney dating made John want to punch something or crawl into bed for a week (neither of which he did). The more that he thought about it, the guy just deciding enough is enough, no need for supplementary bedroom talk, no more John, the angrier and the crappier John became until he felt like a rotten piece of fruit. Something over-tender and completely unwanted.

It was three weeks later when John’s phone finally rang with the right incoming number. John was sitting on the couch while the TV played some reality competition for sharp shooters. More than ringing, it vibrated so hard it fell off his end table. By that point, John didn’t even like listening to the awful, cello bass death knell of chum in the water (since it was always somebody on the other end who wanted something from him), and he’d set it to vibrate. John grimaced, picked it up and saw Albert Einstein’s fuzzy head staring out at him, tongue stuck out over Rodney’s number on the display. His heart flip flopped.

He picked it up. “Yeah, what?”

“John, this is you, right? They haven’t switched stations on me or something, have they?” Rodney asked in his straight to-the-point way.

“It’s me,” John said shortly. “What do you want?”

The man on the other end hesitated for a moment. “You sound off,” Rodney reported.

No shit. “What is it?” John asked. For an interminable moment, Rodney said nothing again, which was pretty annoying, since he was the one who called in the first place, and only after he’d taken what felt like six years to do it.

“There is no ‘it’ in particular. I’ve had a long day, actually a long few weeks. You?”

John grunted inarticulately. The phone was pressed tight into his cheek without him realizing it until he heard it beep as the camera turned on and he pulled it away from his face. His fingers released the screen and left rippling white spots that faded. John punched the home button and pulled up Rodney’s call again.

The other man was still silent. “You’re chatty tonight,” he said after another painfully long pause.

John swallowed. “No, not particularly.”

After protracted silence, Rodney coughed. It didn’t sound easy for the guy to not be talking. His voice sounded stiff and awkward when he used it, but John wasn’t about to make it any easier for him since in the back of his mind, he kept seeing himself as an old banana peel tossed out beside the dumpster or a used condom circling the drain.

“Okay, so neither of our days were particularly remarkable. Why don’t you take your pants off and stretch your ass for me?” he said in one breathless sentence.

“Or you could shove it up your ass,” John retorted sourly.

Rodney paused. “I wouldn’t count it out of hand but that doesn’t sound like a real suggestion.” Statement of the obvious. For a genius, Rodney really knew how to read people. “What is your problem?” he asked stiffly.

“I don’t have a problem,” John snapped, shoving his coffee table with his foot. “You want me to take my pants off, fine.” He held the phone in the cradle of his shoulder and his ear and tugged at the waistband of his jogging pants with one hand.

“No, that’s fine. I’d rather not have you pretend to take off your pants when you’re obviously pissed at me, anyway.”

“You didn’t call for three weeks,” John said, and he was surprised when it came out plaintive instead of angry. He rubbed his cheek hard and snapped his waistband back down on his hips. “I thought you might be, you know. Dead or dating.” John slouched down into his couch and folded his arms over his chest, swallowing.

Rodney sniffed. “I didn’t know you kept track of all the guys calling you,” he said, but it sounded more apologetic than sarcastic. John tightened his jaw and said nothing, staring down into the open palm of his hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t really think about it but it would suck, you know, for me too. If you disappeared.”

John’s throat spasmed, and he put his hand up to his head at the spot where it felt like it was going to crack open or something. “Forget about it. It’s fine,” he said through a tight throat.

“I just don’t want you to think that, you know, I’d just drop off the Earth without telling you first, if I could help it. I mean, I already did, but that’s because I thought I was calling you back sooner than I ended up doing. My sister lost her job and she moved in with me at the first of the month. Ever since then, she’s been on me all the time and I just haven’t had a moment alone. Like at all. But I- I thought about calling and...”

John’s eyes burned and he swallowed. “I’ve had a sucky week,” he found himself telling Rodney. “How’s yours been?” He still felt a little burnt around the edges, but Rodney’s excuse was helping.

“Beyond terrible. My sister has two kids and they’ve been running circuits around the living room like hyperactive great apes. What’s worse is I don’t have a guestroom, so confinement to my bedroom is the only option after the little brats fall asleep. Which means I’m on the couch.” Rodney went into a long tirade then about how horrible reproducing was, and why his sister should have been responsible and gotten sterilized (and why everyone else should go ahead and get the job done, too). Even though he had a lot to say about his sister and none of it was too nice, John could tell from how he’d given up his bedroom that helping her out was important to the guy. Meanwhile, John sniffled along, threading his hands through his hair while the bruised, twisted parts in his stomach loosened up. If Rodney heard anything remotely like feelings in what they were saying, he didn’t acknowledge it and it relieved John like nothing else.

After a half hour, the two were back to their old tricks, competitively disagreeing about whose country was the coolest. John was surprised to learn that many of the standby neat famous people he had to offer up were actually Canadian without him knowing it. At least he still had Cash. They talked until John started to feel a little tingly and make-up phone sex (even though they hadn’t really been arguing) sounded like a really, really good idea. When the two of them were both a little hot under the collar, Rodney told him to pretend he was taking out his little black case by the bed since he couldn’t get in there to get it—the one with all the sex toys John loved listening to the whir of. It was kind of funny because for all John knew, he could be pretending Rodney was taking out something from that little black case when what he’d really been listening to this whole time was egg beaters or something. Pretending inside of pretending. It still got John’s thighs tingly anyway. Then there was a sound like knocking on the other end and the whisper of a woman’s voice underneath a sudden wave of static.

John could just barely make out the sound of her voice, even with the volume slid all the way up, but Rodney’s yell of, “Hey! I’m busy in here!” made John feel like a little kid with his best friend on the line.

A moment later, the static-y noise of shifting ended as someone said, “Geez, we heard you the first time! No more knocking, Madison.”

“Animals,” Rodney muttered into the line. John laughed.

“You get caught, Rodney?” he teased. It was pretty nice to hear the actual sound of Rodney’s family, even though John hadn’t doubted Rodney when he said it. Still, it made him feel like was talking to the real Rodney, not just the one who conjured up fantasies and had a very active libido.

“Of course not. I’m in the bathroom and the door’s locked. With what we end up doing on this line, this kind of conversation can only go on behind closed doors. Gross. She ruined the mood. Now I can only think about my sister’s kid listening in.”

John chuckled. “Well, I’m all alone, Rodney. Wish you were here?”

“You don’t even know. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’ve got to go before you expose my niece’s ears to something she’ll never get over. Though where-” John clicked the big red ‘end call’ button cause he knew how it got Rodney’s goat to get cut off mid-sentence. Wherever he was, he was probably staring down at his phone’s face, shaking his head at John.

Afterwards, when John was stretched out in his bed and all the lights were out, choice parts from their conversation stuck out at him, and the bruised, clenching feeling came back along with equal parts exhilaration. Rodney had said that he would miss him, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. John could easily recognize the parts that lit up inside him at the words, and identify it as ‘crush’ spots since he’d had a few before. Most of the time, something happened to screw it up and in the end, those past crushes weren’t even friends with him anymore. Holland, a soldier he’d met while on vacation overseas. He’d completely obliterated anything like friendship with Todd, the creepy (but kind of cool) guy in John’s human anatomy class. John was surprisingly lousy with people when anything like romance entered the picture.

Unlike with those other guys, though, there weren’t any foreseeable storms on the horizon with Rodney. It wasn’t like Rodney expected anything from John, aside from the obvious, and out-and-out rejection wasn’t in the cards if John didn’t ask for anything crazy back. John tucked his face into the crook of his elbow.

As long as he could hold on to the feeling like kamikaze butterflies rattling in his chest without freaking out, Rodney might even be one friend he could keep a hold of.

~*~*~

So it really sucked when something happened to screw it up. What the something was was that John went out to a house call and when he came back, he realized he was lighter than usual. He dialed his number from the kitchen handset, retraced his steps from bed to the front door, searched his pockets and dug under the sofa cushions but he didn’t find his cell phone. With the time glaring at him from the microwave, John could see the minutes pass as he continued to search and couldn’t find it.

The house search was followed by a search of his silver painted van. He punctuated every leg of the tour with a call from the kitchen counter. The minutes grew into an hour and then another as he went back inside and dropped to his knees in front of the couch to swipe his arm under it for loose technology. No dice. He moved back into the bedroom and started rummaging in and under his bedside table. He knew he’d gone out with it in the morning but thoroughness never hurt (for once). The search inside turned up nothing.

Back in the van, he hunted through compartments and cargo flaps, knocking the little Pegasus air freshener against the windshield when he crawled across the front seats. Never mind that the most likely place for it to be was under the seats and a search under the seats had turned up nothing – John turned his mind to the more exotic hiding place for an errant cell phone.

As John shot back and forth between van and apartment like a pinball, his eyes invariably fastened on the numbers sullenly staring at him from the microwave or his wrist watch. Any minute, he’d miss Rodney’s call, which was a bummer in itself but more than that, when he did miss the call, Rodney would hear John’s voicemail message declaring him John Sheppard, an IT-on-the-go. And Rodney might have some questions.

John rang the flirty woman whose computer he’d recently repaired and his heart dropped when she said she hadn’t seen his phone around her house. She took his home phone number and promised to call if anything turned up. John thanked her, hung up, and hoped that “anything” didn’t cover booty calls.

He went from there back outside, where he shone the beam of his LED flashlight into the dense, scratchy shrubs lining the parking lot outside the apartment building on the off chance his phone had somehow fallen out of his pocket while he’d walked to his car, bounced several times and shot off into the bush like a skittish street cat. The only thing he turned up there was a cigarette butt trying to grow roots in the dirt.

When John came back in, the numbers on his microwave read 10:13 – not later than they talked but later than Rodney usually called, certainly. He’d missed Rodney’s call, he just knew it. By then, Rodney was probably puzzling out why John wasn’t picking up and why his voicemail identified a phone sex operator as an IT for hire, not that either of those things mattered because if John didn’t find his cellphone, he wouldn’t have to explain anything. He didn’t have Rodney’s number and Rodney didn’t have his home phone.

When all else failed, the spirit of petulance overtook John. He scowled at the phone when it rang his cell twice and slid directly into voicemail, he folded his arms over his chest on the sofa and pouted at the darkened TV screen. It just wasn’t fair.

He ended up falling asleep to a Boris Karloff marathon on channel 6 and woke up around 11:21 in the morning, an insistent shaft of sunlight piercing through the blinds and his closed eyes. He didn’t work on Sundays but he wasn’t as excited about the weekend as he usually was.

For a few minutes, John moped about losing his cellphone (and maybe Rodney). Say he’d left it in Jinto’s Bagels and somebody picked it up – he might never get it back. Or if some intrepid jerkass saw that he’d left it on the seat of his van while he was inside, repairing a computer network issue, and they decided to help themselves out to a reasonably recent model smartphone. The world could be a damn dark place when people nabbed anybody else’s cellphone just because they could.

John threw an arm over his eyes and thrust out his bottom lip.

After another short search around the house (because if it was there at all, he’d hear it ringing when he called it), John pulled on a fresh T-shirt and jeans and went out. He drove over to the local skate park, where he could see the bob of skateboarders’ heads over the rim of a drained pool before he climbed out of his car. It wouldn’t change anything then but John locked it against any would be cell thieves before vacating it himself.

The park was Sunday morning busy. There were dozens of skaters rolling around through the park. John paid the ticket price at the shabby little office and went out on the concrete.

For a couple hours, John executed listless ollies. He did a half dozen kickflips and two or three heelflips, which he’d always been good at without trying too hard. As he executed a pop shove-it, he wondered if Rodney would like skateboarding if Rodney really gave it a try or if he’d like watching John roll around like some of the other people’s (usually kids) girlfriends did. It was a little depressing that John didn’t know what Rodney’s face looked like to imagine him sitting on the low half wall, lousy concession stand nachos at his hip, visoring his eyes and smiling at John.

Then John realized he was making Rodney his fantasy girlfriend and he fell off his board and flat on his back.

John went back home to power sulk about the lost cellphone and loss of contact. It wasn’t the first time he’d thought about it (not by a stretch), but it returned to him just how much he liked Rodney, how much he enjoyed their talks. Aside from the problem with authority, John got along with people pretty well. A good amount of people liked his looks or seemed to think he was all right. But John just didn’t make friends he could really talk to. Once, twice maybe, in college he’d met someone he considered good friends. Teyla, of course, was a pal and he saw Elizabeth a couple times a month even after he’d stopped working for the company.

But for some reason, he could tell Rodney things he couldn’t tell either Teyla or Elizabeth. He just knew that Rodney would be as embarrassing and hopeless as he was and that got John’s heart pattering in a way he still had trouble dealing with. Rodney was a geek and John guessed he was, too, because Rodney’s geekiness was one of the things John liked most about him.

All Monday, John brooded. It took him three and a half hours to set up wireless home internet for a doctor named Lindsey Biro because he was distracted by his unhappiness. On Tuesday, he agreed to get some lunch with Elizabeth at Jinto’s Bagels but John spent the entire time staring at the door and wondering if any of the faces coming in belonged to his friend.

By Thursday, his cellphone had stopping ringing altogether and immediately rang to John’s voicemail message. John was getting really sick of hearing his own voice. He was picking up on its reediness and almost nasal quality.

Lying across his couch on Friday, John saw four commercials for the call center. Buff, muscled guys bigger than John smiled up at the camera as they rolled around in bed and flexed their biceps (completely incidentally) as the voiceover said, “Dream Boys – want to talk to hot, local guys? They’re here to live your fantasy.” And to fill you in on college football games, whether you’re a fan or not, if John and Rodney’s past conversations were any indicator. John thought it was probably just as well that he’d stopped unofficially working as a phone sex operator because he was starting to think he’d never really gotten the “living their fantasies” part of it.

John morosely pushed his hands in his shorts and fondled himself, remembering all the stuff he and Rodney had talked about. The time John had sucked on a dildo as he jerked himself, or the time Rodney had described rocking on his vibrator, telling John how open he was. John’s cock jerked up in his hand but he couldn’t help thinking it might be better if Rodney had his hands on him, his voice by John’s ear as he coaxed him to climax.

Saturday was his day of desperation. It had been a full week since he’d lost his cellphone and nothing had returned it to him. He didn’t bother calling it anymore because he was so tired of his voicemail message. Around noon, John ended up over at the Dream Boys call center. He waffled for a couple seconds over what he could say and how stupid he was going to sound before he thought, Screw it, and walked inside.

The place looked and sounded exactly as it had the first time John had come there and that was unexpectedly depressing. The phone operators slouched in their cubicles, panting for the benefit of the callers. John came in, expecting Parrish at his desk, and didn’t find him. Parrish was probably the best person to talk to because he wasn’t immediately defensive or questioning. But he was also nowhere to be found.

John scanned the rows of workspaces but didn’t sight him. In the office at the end of the room, John could see the blonde woman he assumed was manager glancing over at him through the floor to ceiling window, her girlish face furrowed in not-unpleasant confusion. John tried not to wince. They’d talked once before he fixed their phone and she clearly remembered him as the IT guy. She’d probably come over when she was done with her conversation on the phone.

“Hey.” The voice was a deep rumble at John’s back and John started, turning to look at the guy who’d spoken. It was the phone operator John had seen earlier – the impossibly large man with tribal tattoos and dreadlocks. “You’re the IT dude.”

“Yeah.” John gave a small, lame wave. “How’s it going?”

The dreadlocks guy shrugged. John wondered if he was supposed to have his feet up on his desk (or if he was supposed to be barefoot at all) and guessed that when somebody was that big and brawny, they probably didn’t have to ask for much. “Thought you’d finished up here.”

It was like he was offering an in. John grimaced and shot a look back at where the manager was smiling and emphatically nodding her head at her desk. Wasn’t she a little young to manage a phone sex hotline? He glanced back at the guy. “I kind of wanted to come down here and ask a question, maybe.”

“Shoot. It was Sheppard, right? It’s Ronon.” Ronon looked so calm and centered and well-adjusted that John quailed.

“Yeah.” But why’d he go over if he wasn’t planning on asking?

“Mr. Sheppard.” The voice was cheerful and feminine among the deeper voices of the men around. John turned and saw the manager walking over. Her cheeks were dimpled with a smile. John was having a hell of a time remembering her name. “What brings you here? Are you over to check up on us?”

John sort of frowned and winced, and Ronon unexpectedly cut in before he could answer. “He’s here to see me.” The man in question was unruffled, reclined in his roller chair with his bare feet on the desk by his telephone, when John looked over at him. He was a good liar.

The woman tilted her head. “Oh?” she asked. “What a great coincidence.” Her smile brightened, if John thought it was possible, and she turned to Ronon. “So are you going on break?”

“Yup,” Ronon answered. He dropped his feet to the floor and toed into a pair of sandals. John clasped his hands at his back and rocked on his heels, smiling back at the woman while Ronon was picking up the straw fedora on the desk (oddball choice). “Sheppard,” he said after a moment. When John glanced at him, he saw that Ronon had stood up. “Let’s go.”

“Oh.” John nodded at the woman and followed Ronon outside. “See you.”

Coming out at street level downstairs, John started feeling stupid about the whole thing. He’d come over on the nebulous concept that he might manage to glean some information about Rodney so that they could maybe hook up again, but now that he’d left the place completely, it looked like the lead was a dead end. He followed Ronon down the block and around the corner from the Dream Boys call center to a deli nearby.

As they walked, Ronon cut to the chase pretty much immediately. “So what are you really doing here?”

John faltered. He thought about a way to phrase his question so it wouldn’t sound like he was a total nutcase. Then he shrugged. “I was kind of wondering if some guy named Rodney had called up any time.” Dream Boys was a small operation so Ronon stood as decent a chance as anyone to take the call if Rodney had. “And if he’d asked for a John.”

Ronon looked at him sidelong and the arched eyebrow was amazingly reminiscent of Teyla. “You?” he asked.

“You probably didn’t get a call.” John’s heart sank. He was surprised by the strong feeling of disappointment. But now that it occurred to him, he felt hot in the face and kind of hopeless.

“Not me. Mark did. A guy named Rodney called and he was looking for you.” Ronon shrugged. “But since nobody’s named John at the center, he hung up. Is he a friend of yours?”

John scrubbed a hand over his face to cover up any awkwardly emotional facial expressions. “Something like that,” he said. If John had his way, that would be a sure thing. But right then, he didn’t have so much as a chance in hell of even knowing what the guy’s face looked like.

They sat down at a table in the front window of the deli, Ronon putting away a Philly cheese tofu strip sub and John picking at his Reuben. Ronon took John’s home number and said he’d forward it to Rodney if Rodney called back for him. He told John he’d pass the word along to the other operators, too. The strange thing was that Ronon seemed certain it wouldn’t get back to their manager to hurt John’s professional rep and John believed him. Ronon seemed like one of those guys that, when he made a promise, he followed it through.

When they traded numbers on the sidewalk outside of Dream Boys, John felt somewhat better anyway. It seemed like Ronon and he could be good friends. He was Hawaiian and even over lunch the guy managed to sneak in some references to surfing while checking the waves on an app, never mind that the coast was three hours from where they were at. Moreover, though, he seemed to intuitively grasp the weirdness of John’s situation and yet, his response sounded a lot more like ‘shit happens’ than ‘what’s wrong with you’ – the response John had figured he’d be getting when he skulked over to Dream Boys earlier that day.

“Hope you find your guy,” Ronon told him, as if IT guys came into sex hotlines all the time looking for men that might think they could get a hold of technical support at 2.99 a minute there.

“Me, too.” On impulse, John put his hand out to the other guy for them to shake on it. It was kind of a weird gesture – John wasn’t really a touchy guy in person (or the type to shake hands after meeting), and the most contact he’d made with anyone recently had been over a phone line. But it felt like the right thing to do.

Ronon, however, took one look at his hand, smacked his own hand into John’s and then scooped the smaller man up into an enormous bear hug. For a moment, John thought his feet were going to leave the ground, the guy was so big, firm and unexpectedly friendly. Ronon’s t-shirt was scratchy against his face and nose, which were smashed into the man’s shoulder and John could barely angle his arm around to get a few pats onto the man’s shoulder in return for the ones he was delivering to his head.

“That’s how I do things,” Ronon said offhandedly like if someone had a problem with it that was their business. He let the smaller man go and John took a step back, ruffled the hair that had gotten crushed by Ronon’s meaty paw.

“Thanks,” John said.

“Malama pono,” the man said (whatever that was), waving one hand at John before he turned back and went inside.

“Back at you,” John said to no one in particular. He started over to his car and shook his head. John was still down one phone contact, a thought that kind of made his throat all scratchy like conversations that should be happening with Rodney were itchy to get out, but at least he’d gotten a hug for his troubles. Even though touchy feely wasn’t his thing, it had been pretty nice to actually make physical contact with another human being. In all the months they’d been talking, he’d never gotten to so much as lay a finger on Rodney, though they’d more than gone over all the possibilities of touching each other. Now he felt like if he could, he’d work for free for a week or two to get the opportunity to hold hands with Rodney or something.

Maybe this face to face stuff had some real appeal, after all.

~*~*~

Two months down the line, John was at the height of his sulk. He’d eaten at Jinto’s so often, anything circular was a gastronomical turn off. But any time he went there, his ears trained for every voice that sounded like his friend’s. A search of the university directory yielded nothing. It didn’t help that he didn’t know anything but Rodney’s first name. John called his phone company and waited two hours on hold before a rep could tell that they couldn’t just forward his calls or replace his phone with the same number.

The Star Trek marathon on AMC was a gloomy reminder of his absent friend. He could so easily draw on the mental image of his anonymous pal sitting by his side on his second hand sofa, sharing a big bowl of popcorn and calling out “Khan!” It was depressing to think that even without inking in his face, the image was probably painfully inaccurate, given he didn’t know the slightest thing about him physically, either. After Spock’s coffin floated out into the cold void of space, John got up and put his mostly full beer on the end table. Even knowing the end of the search for Spock, it was too depressing to watch since his search was going nowhere.

He spread his fingers in a Vulcan salute like he did any time he watched it since that first time with Dave when they were kids. Then he trudged into his bedroom and fell back into bed with a disgruntled sigh. His head fell off the edge and John stared morosely at the upside down Johnny Cash poster and orange decaled body board. God, he missed Rodney.

It had been long enough he didn’t mind admitting it to himself. He’d liked Rodney—he’d been crazy about him—and like always, he hadn’t said anything. Now John was just like commander Spock—adrift and alone, but there was no Genesis for John to land on. Even if there was, nobody was coming to take him home. Fuck. John closed his eyes against the prickle of emotion.

Just as he was preparing to turn on some Johnny Cash and wallow, his doorbell rang. John rolled over with a sigh and dropped his feet on the ground. He walked over through the living room and the doorbell buzzed twice more in close succession. “Keep your pants on!” he called as he grabbed the door handle. He pulled it open.

Outside his door, a man was standing with his finger poised over the bell. When he saw John, he blinked a few times, his mouth opening wordlessly. His visitor was a man about John’s age, maybe an inch less than John’s height, but broader in build. There was an attractive sturdiness to his frame and his arms. He had a squarish face with fine, sandy brown hair with a curiously peaked hairline. He had straight, thick eyebrows that nicely framed clear blue eyes. His eyelashes were long and pale. A straight, sloping nose went well with his other features. His wide mouth was uniquely tilted in a kind of perpetual half frown. He was good looking to John, the kind of guy that John would go for.

He was presently staring at John like he had two heads. John glanced over his shoulder at the mirror across the hall (the one that creeped him out when he wasn’t expecting it too many times to count). He saw nothing amiss in his reflection. Bed tousled black hair stuck up in cowlicks all over his crown and a couple days stubble shadowed his cheeks. The same usual longish face and somewhat knobby nose, dark eyebrows over almond shaped hazel eyes stared back. He was wearing his Endless Waves surf company t-shirt and a faded pair of jeans. Bare feet. There was nothing out of the ordinary. No reason for the man to gape at John like he was the long lost fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. In the mirror, his reflection’s eyebrows came together. “Can I do something for you?” he drawled.

Finally, the long finger hovering over John’s doorbell dropped and color steeped in the man’s face. “John?” he asked. “From Dream Boys?”

John’s eyes flashed wide open. He’d been searching for that voice in every crowd he’d mucked through for two months. It was the voice he went to sleep with in his head and waited to hear when he woke up again. “Rodney?” he asked. The curious, cock-eyed mouth widened into a giant smile and John’s heart twisted. His eyes were hot and prickling again and John blinked against the irritation.

“Oh my god, you’re hot!” Rodney exclaimed. “I’d thought – Well, imagined—”

John flicked his eyes to the ceiling with a goofy grin. His face flamed at the compliment, as silly as it was. “You’re—” What came to mind was here. And what he wanted to say after that was I missed you. But instead, he ruffled a hand through his hair and tried to strain the hopefulness from his expression.

“I can’t believe it was you I was jerking off with this whole time.” And time to get out of the hallway. John’s neighbors thought he was weird enough already. He didn’t want them getting any (totally valid) ideas in their heads about his recreational activities.

John plucked Rodney’s shirt and tugged him. “Get in here,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to the open door.

Rodney obediently went inside. As he passed, John caught the musky sea salt scent of aftershave and his dick twinged. He wanted nothing more than to push his nose into the back of Rodney’s neck and slip his hands under Rodney’s t-shirt to play with his nipples just like Rodney liked.

Instead, he said, “I lost my phone.”

Rodney snorted, turning on John and they found themselves close for a moment. John gulped, eyes on Rodney’s mouth, and Rodney seemed to recover his mental equilibrium. “That’s a polite way of putting it. When I called your number, the person who answered sounded like a teenage girl. She hung up when I mentioned the owner of the phone by name. That would be you.”

No wonder nobody answered. “You think it got jacked?”

“I’d bet money on it.” Rodney’s eyes moved over John’s face and John could practically see the thoughts flitting around behind them. Mr. Einstein.

“I tried to look you up on the campus directory but I didn’t see you in there,” John said. His cheeks burned.

Rodney wrinkled his face in distant annoyance. “You went through the whole thing by first name?”

John shrugged.

“Well, yeah. Of course you couldn’t find me. My first name is Meredith, not Rodney, and since they like to go by full name, that’s how they listed me. Meredith McKay. I have way too many other commitments to worry about dealing with that, so it stuck.”

“Meredith?”

“Yes, and I’ve heard about every way in which that can be made fun of, so I’m covered.”

John suppressed the crazy urge to laugh. It wasn’t even funny. He was just so happy to hear (and finally see) Rodney. “So you tracked me down.” Hearing the words was like a burst of pleasure all through his body. Rodney missed him, too.

“It wasn’t easy. Your full name is in your voicemail message, yes, but you might realize your home number’s unlisted and you don’t precisely have a strong internet presence. I wrote an algorithm based on your biographical information and other details. It was incredibly complex and I had to call in a favor from Radek Zelenka to run through Facebook, so now I owe him and he always collects.”

John laughed, feeling wheeling and shining. “You didn’t think about calling Dream Boys for a replacement?” he asked.

Rodney pointed. “I didn’t want a replacement. They usually suck and don’t get how to go off script. When I called the hotline, they said John Sheppard wasn’t then and had never been an employee.” His sandy hair was bright with the kitchen light on it. “Do I want to know what the story is on that, by the way?” he asked, squinting at John.

“It’s not that complicated,” John said. When he stared at Rodney, when he continued staring at Rodney, his pulse picked up and vibrated through him. It thickened his voice and throttled his breathing even as his chest expanded on the new, wild notion of seeing Rodney face to face. “I was there fixing a phone, and I was expecting someone else so I picked up.”

Rodney wrinkled his nose. “At a phone sex hotline?”

“You called it,” John retorted. “And then you started doing stuff.” Two points of heat bloomed in his cheeks at the memory. It was so much easier talking dirty when he couldn’t see the other guy’s face. “And I kind of got turned on,” John admitted. If Rodney wasn’t a steam roller, none of it would’ve happened.

The corners of Rodney’s lips curved. He looked pleased. “And you really were masturbating to me on the phone. Did you really come just from the dildo that one time?”

John made a face, curling a hand at the back of his neck. Then he swatted Rodney’s arm. He was on fire and Rodney wasn’t helping by talking about him getting off on fucking himself with a dildo. “C’mon.”

Rodney stared at John, his clear blue eyes soft and bright and John ached to close the distance. “And it was you who had a crush on the Millennium Falcon.” Only for Rodney would dildo up the ass segue into John’s crush on spaceships. And anyway, it wasn’t the only thing John had a crush on.

Now Rodney was standing right in front of him in his living room, staring at him with the same look of amazement John knew he must have. And he was there because he’d missed John and searched for him. John’s heart felt like it would pound out of his chest.

“I like talking to you,” John said. To him, it said everything. That simple fact surpassed any other. It surpassed the sex and Rodney’s looks and John’s emotional clumsiness. It was a truth that meant so much more than it sounded. He swallowed the ache in his throat and said, “I can’t say that about most people.”

For a moment, Rodney stared at him, his blank look indecipherable. John curled his fingers against his legs and forced himself not to look away. “Me, too,” Rodney said finally. “Even if you’re an emotional turtle and you’re a lunatic.”

John caught his lip between his teeth and bit down. He mutely nodded. His body was vibrating like a silent cell phone. He tightened his muscles to hold himself together.

“I like you,” Rodney said. “And I think—I mean—do you want to go out?” he blurted out in a rush, his face florid. “Like try this face to face.”

John’s throat was sore and itchy. He cleared it but it didn’t help. “I, um.” He nodded. Then, burning with color, he said, “Let’s do what you said.” When Rodney reached for him, John sank into the warmth of his body—shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, heart to heart. He felt the racket of Rodney’s heart pounding when he dropped his head into his shoulder. Thank God he had clamor enough for the both of them.

John pressed his overheated face into the shadow of Rodney’s shoulder and thought about two months of silence and talking to his mother before she’d died and Rodney’s loud, yammering heart. I love you, he thought, over and over. He loved Rodney McKay, the miraculous, ingenious loud mouth.

“I really want to,” John mumbled. Rodney’s t-shirt was worn silky against his lips. He wound his arms around Rodney and felt Rodney’s fingers press into his back. He let wave after wave of emotion crest through him, riding them out until he could pull back enough to brush his mouth over Rodney’s.

John’s hands went from Rodney’s back to his cheeks as he slid his open mouth over Rodney’s soft lips, over the curve of Rodney’s jaw. John felt him out like a blind man memorizing his features. John ran his mouth over the moist heat of lips, the prickly smoothness of Rodney’s shaven jaw, the sharp chin and velvety tickle of Rodney’s eyelashes. His heart hammered beside Rodney’s like two birds calling out to each other.

Rodney’s head tilted back and he parted his lips. The first touch of John’s tongue to his was electric. A sweet, wet heat against his lower lip, Rodney’s mouth on his, sucking John’s lip lightly.

Rodney’s fingers dropped to John’s ass and groped, pulling John against the ridge of an already impressive erection. John eagerly pushed forward, finding friction against Rodney’s hip. “I wanted this so much,” Rodney mumbled. “Oh God.”

John kissed every inch of Rodney’s face, neck and shoulders as he dropped back against the wall. He crossed his arms behind Rodney’s head and dragged his mouth blindly over Rodney’s until his lips and chin were numb and flushed. Rodney’s fingers gripped his ass, tightening and releasing as he slid his thigh between John’s and rutted against him. It was amazingly, unbelievably tangible.

Every thrust illuminated the nerves all over John’s body until he was breathing hard and biting Rodney’s mouth and Rodney was babbling. “I wanted you. I missed you. I needed this.”

And then John’s climax opened up beneath him and swallowed him up. John grabbed at Rodney’s belt loops, dragging him against his body, and he cried out loud. A shudder shook him and John clung to Rodney until the aftershocks died down. Even then, he stayed on. “Can you stay a while?” he managed finally.

Rodney snorted, the sound muffled by John’s shirt. “I don’t really have a choice.” He pulled back and waved a hand at the damp spot darkening his pants. John gave into the knee jerk impulse to kiss him and the hum Rodney voiced when John did it—he knew it was appreciative. When Rodney spoke, it was garbled by the kisses John laid on him. “Can I stay for more than a while?”

John nipped Rodney’s mouth. “Knock yourself out.”

An amused hum vibrated against John’s lips and Rodney mused, “How’s for the rest of my natural life span?” His blue eyes were momentarily apprehensive.

For a bright guy, he was surprisingly oblivious. John wrapped his arms around his neck, his heart clamoring with expansive joy. “Sounds good.”