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Rodney is sort of angered beyond all possible comprehension at the new batch of scientists. "What, they're sending us babies now?" he complains, jabbing his fork into a thin slice of slag meat. "I'm almost entirely certain Urie just had his twelfth birthday last week, and did you see that linguist? The one with the extensive hat collection? He's three feet tall." Rodney leans back in his seat. "Seriously, I'm tempted to promise him a pony if he'll just sit still."

John arches an eyebrow. "The linguist?"

"Urie, Colonel. Urie. He's got the attention span of a larval gnat. He needs a leash, and possibly one of those protective helmets."

"Rodney," John drawls, a grin twitching across his lips.

"And that anthropologist, the tall one the slutty eyes," he snaps his fingers, "Ross something or other. He keeps distracting my minions."

John frowns. "The really quiet one? Who reads in the mess?"

"Yes, him. You realize he's wearing women's BDUs, right? Clearly that's against all regulations." He's called him on it, of course, but the kid insisted there weren't any men's pants left that fit him properly. He's about the size of a pencil, so Rodney unhappily conceded the point.

"You're kind of right, though," John says, cocking his head thoughtfully.

"I know—wait, what?" John never agrees with him about the new recruits. John's always ridiculously gung ho about them, while Rodney always bemoans their obviously nonexistent potential and wee little minds.

John shrugs. "I think I've got maybe one Marine who's been through the 'gate before, and Lieutenant Smith? Is a boy."

Rodney narrows his eyes. "Smith, Smith, Smith. The one with the," he waves a hand over his face, "and the hips? Smith's a boy?"

"Yep. Really a boy. Man," John amends, blushing, and goddamnit, Rodney says, "I hesitate to ask how you found that out," even though he's blatantly lying.

John doesn't share, though, just widens his eyes in faux innocence and says, "Yeah, so. I had to promise him his own off-world team." He pushes his pudding towards Rodney. "You'll have to give him a list of scientists he can have."

"Great," Rodney says, and then Radek's voice crackles over Rodney's comm. link and he's off to clean up another most likely Urie-inspired mess in the labs.

*

After he crashes into the lab bench and spills the box labeled Ancient Tech Worth More Than All Your Brains Combined, Brendon goes for the big, baby-deer eyes, lower lip jutting out, but Dr. McKay actually turns purple, and he's. He's speechless, Brendon thinks. He's simultaneously impressed with himself and frightened out of his mind, because no matter how many times Brendon fucks up in the lab, Dr. McKay always has a rant ready for him.

Exit, stage right, he thinks, and beats a hasty retreat while pure rage still has McKay's mouth frozen shut and his hands curled against his sides.

He slips down to Ryan and Patrick's labs - down one level in the transporter and three halls over - because bugging Ryan and Patrick is always fun.

"I'm pretty sure I just gave Dr. McKay an aneurism," he announces, hopping up onto Ryan's desk, dislodging a messy pile of papers and earning a glare and a swat on the back of his head.

"So it's Tuesday," Patrick says, partially hidden by a pile of books. He's got a lot of books in the lab. Brendon's not sure why he brought them, since everything they ever wanted to know about the Ancients is at their fingertips, somewhere hidden in the city database, but whatever. Dr. Jackson is like his idol or something.

"Hah-hah, Stump." Brendon pushes his glasses up his nose. "He just doesn't understand my brilliant sense of humor."

"No one understands your brilliant sense of humor."

"Pete thinks I'm funny," Brendon pouts, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Pete thinks fart jokes are funny—"

"Because they are." Fart jokes will never not be funny.

Ryan rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Get your ass off my notes."

Brendon shifts and pulls out a wad of papers and a notebook and then settles back onto the now-bare desk, grinning smugly at Ryan. Tossing them aside, he says, "So. Lieutenant Spencer Smith."

Ryan eyes him warily. "Yeah, no," he says.

"He's nice," Brendon says, with just the slightest hint of wheedling in his tone.

"Not really. I mean, yeah, he's nice, I love him, but he's not nice, so stay away from him, okay?" Ryan bites the end of his pen and flips through his notebook, and Brendon pokes him in the head.

"No, really, can I—"

"No. No way, Brendon. Spencer knows, like, one hundred and one ways to kill a man, so," Ryan shrugs, "I don't wanna have to pick up your pieces."

"It's no good, Ross," Brendon says mock-sadly, shaking his head, "I'm a sucker for heart-breakers."

Ryan snorts. "It's not your heart I'm worried about."

"Hey." Pete's head pops through the open doorway, fingers curled over the frame. "Who's up for bocce ball on the west pier?"

"Me!" Brendon shouts, pushing off of Ryan's desk. "I call Patrick." Patrick's a precision thrower.

"Patrick's not playing," Patrick says, settling his hat firmer on his head and slumping down in his seat, making himself a smaller target for Pete's intense... intenseness. It never works. Brendon wonders why he even bothers to try anymore.

"Oh, Patrick's playing," Pete counters sagely, nodding, then he pops back out of the room, his voice carrying down the hall, "Fifteen minutes!"

Patrick grumbles under his breath, but they all know from experience that if they aren't down at the west pier at the specified time, impromptu games of hide-and-seek or freeze tag at completely random times of the day are not outside the realm of possibility, and shit like that is just embarrassing, especially during departmental meetings.

*

The list Dr. McKay provides Spencer is dismally short. Five names, to be exact: Beckett, Urie, Ross, Stump, and Wentz. Ryan's a no-brainer, because Spencer's known him since forever, and he suspects Ryan wouldn't let him go off-world without him anyway.

Walker pulls out his earplugs, setting down the discharged Glock. The paper target is pretty much annihilated, because Walker is awesome. "What about Stump?" he asks.

"Pacifist," Spencer says. Patrick's out of the running because he won't pick up a weapon, and all scientists going through the 'gate were required to have a certain amount of hours logged at the firing range.

William's out because he's a complete space case. And, also, he can't seem to get it through his head that Spencer's not a girl. Which is seriously getting old, by the way, and is patently ridiculous coming from William, who shares Ryan's penchant for girl BDUs and is literally one step away from complete drag.

So that leaves Urie or Wentz. It's like choosing the lesser of two evils. He says as much to Walker and Walker shrugs.

"So go with Urie, then," he says, smiling a little. "He's slighter at least. We'll be able to wrestle him into submission or something."

It isn't much of an argument, but Wentz is sort of unpredictable. Urie's annoying, but Spencer's pretty sure he'll handle himself—well, not great, maybe, but probably not horribly. He's kind of spazzy, and has this thing about staring at Spencer, but he's smart, and can fix almost anything, Ancient or not.

Honestly, Spencer was hoping to get that xenobiologist, Iero, but Major Toro got first dibs and he doesn't think it's fair that Toro got Iero and Trohman, but it isn't like he can complain. He's just glad he approached Sergeant Walker before anyone else, since Walker is just an all around great guy.

"Urie," Spencer says, nodding slowly. "Okay. Okay, we'll try him out."

*

Urie's a maniac at the firing range. Spencer's never seen any scientist take to violence so readily. Within fifteen minutes, he's named his sidearm - "Delores," he says, petting the barrel, "sweet, sultry Delores, you wicked temptress, you" - and he might be missing the target nine times out of ten, but that doesn't seem to be dampening his enthusiasm a single bit.

"He's crazy," Spencer whispers to Walker as Urie replaces his empty clip like a pro, humming what sounds like the theme from Mission Impossible.

Walker grins, rocks back on his heels. "Nah, he's just enjoying himself. It's refreshing."

"Refreshing or insane?" Spencer stresses, because he's suddenly not so certain they made the right choice. Sure, Wentz is a little moody, but the occasional bout of sullenness has to be better than a trigger-happy engineer with phenomenally bad aim.

Ryan, on the other hand, is much more methodical, and turns out to be a decent shot. Not perfect, but better than expected.

He's also flirting constantly with Walker, though, and Spencer's starting to get a twitch in his left eye.

"So, Lieutenant," Urie says, bounding up to him like a puppy, "how'd I do?"

"Less theatrics, more aim," Spencer says, and Urie's face crumples, just the slightest little bit, before lighting up again.

"Can you show me?" he asks, and Spencer narrows his eyes, because there's nothing wrong with his form, really, he just has to concentrate. "Please?"

Spencer sighs and nods and follows Urie back to his station, watching as he slips in his earplugs again, replaces the ammo clip and raises the gun. "Widen your stance," Spencer says loudly, kicking Urie's feet apart a little, and Urie grins at him over his shoulder.

And then he's holding the 9mm all wrong and Spencer steps up behind him without thinking, winding his arms around his shoulders and cupping the handle under Urie's clenched fingers, pushing them into the correct grip. "Hold it like this," he says, and then Urie wriggles back against him, curving into his chest, and that's. That's just way too close for comfort, really, and Spencer drops his arms and steps away.

He spares a glance for Walker and Ryan, and Walker's giving him this funny little look, eyes wide, but he's got one hand on Ryan's waist, so Spencer really doesn't think he has any room to talk.

Urie empties the clip into the target, and his aim is marginally better. He's managed to shred part of the paper figure's arm, so that's something.

"Okay, that's good enough for today," Spencer announces, tugging out his own earplugs. He's got a headache, and it's not just from the acrid discharge.

*

Brendon's a little in love with Lieutenant Spencer Smith. And not, like, fifteen-year-old girl love, either, but the kind of love where his chest hurts and he wants to be around him constantly and he wants into his pants, and okay. It pretty much sounds like fifteen-year-old girl love, but it's not, no matter what Ryan says. Spencer is just. Pretty. And competent and, okay, the sidearm is totally sexy. He didn't think he'd ever go for that, but the handling of it, his hands, really, and the thigh holster? Makes Brendon want to lick him. A lot.

They met briefly right before the Daedalus left Earth. Like, they exchanged hellos when Ryan had introduced them and then Brendon didn't see him again until they beamed down onto Atlantis, but. Ryan'd told so many Spencer stories Brendon'd thought maybe they were involved, except Ryan said that'd be, like, incest, considering their childhoods, and instead Brendon ended up completely infatuated with this paragon of, of. Of Spencer, who's apparently kind of a bitch, but also has a really good heart.

The sucky part of all that, though, is that Spencer seems to want nothing to do with him.

Except, okay. Maybe Brendon squealed a little when Spencer asked him to be on his off-world team, and maybe he caught Spencer smiling in response, and when Spencer helped him on the firing range, warm along the length of his back, Brendon went, like, instantly hard, so. Things are looking up. Spencer is not averse to touching him. For the sake of the team, maybe, but Brendon is charming. Brendon has sex appeal.

Brendon can totally wear Spencer down.

*

Ryan and Spencer are best friends. They've always been best friends, and Ryan's absolutely sure that won't ever change.

But Spencer stopped letting Ryan get close long before they ever left the galaxy - they work together, and work was all about appearances and somewhere along the line, Ryan thinks Spencer kind of forgot how to relax when no one was looking. He respects Spencer's need for professionalism; it's his career, after all, his life, not something he can just let go of, but at the same time, he resents how easily it was for Spencer to give up him.

So. Ryan's starting to think Brendon might actually be good for Spencer - although he will never tell Brendon that, because that's just asking for harassment.

Ryan won't pester Spencer about hugs and casual touches, because they've had argument after argument about it in the past, and Ryan just doesn't have the energy to fight him on that anymore. But Brendon is tactless and seems to have limitless amounts of will, and Ryan's thinking maybe if he provides the way, something good'll come of it all.

*

Their first mission is second contact trade, according to the briefing. Something easy, since SGA-2 described the natives as happy, peaceful farmers, and that's perfectly fine with Brendon. He's up for some action, but the trip over to Atlantis by spaceship was his first ever step off Earth, so.

Brendon's never been through a stargate before. It's pretty cool, stepping into the wavy blue event horizon, and it's kind of exhilarating, too, and he makes the others promise not to tell anyone ever that he threw up all over the place once he staggered out the other side.

Before they even reach the village - there was a sign by the 'gate in the shape of a big arrow, clumsily painted with, "Newer Muggart" - Ryan slips off the edge of the narrow path and straight down into a hidden ditch.

Spencer seems pissed off, and Brendon's not sure how it happens, but while trying to maneuver Ryan out of the ditch, they all somehow land in it instead.

Sergeant Walker laughs, hands on his hips, and says, "Okay, what now?"

It is not an auspicious beginning.

The hole has soft, muddy sides and it's impossible to climb more than a few measly feet before sliding back down, and after a half hour, Brendon is bored. Really, really bored. And he's got a layer of filth all over him.

Ryan's sitting with his knees up, picking at his fingernails with his nose wrinkled. He's looking pretty pristine himself, considering, just some smudges on his pants and the sleeves of his jacket, and Brendon realizes he hasn't been helping to scale the pit walls.

"Ryan," he says, and Ryan glances up at him, expression still sort of disgusted.

"What?"

Brendon scrubs a dirty hand through his hair, pointedly looks down at his body and then over at Ryan.

"Oh, come on, it wasn't going to work anyway," Ryan says, getting to his feet and brushing a hand over his ass.

"No," Spencer puts in absently. He has his arms crossed and his head tilted back, staring at the top of the hole as if sheer will of mind'll get them out of there.

Walker laughs again, then leans into Brendon's side, dropping a companionable arm over his shoulders. Brendon doesn't know Sergeant Jon Walker all that well yet, but he likes him. He's kind of indescribably awesome.

"I say we shout," he says.

Brendon arches a brow. "Shout?"

"Yep." Walker nods. "Shout, make lots of noise. We can't be that far off from the village, right? Someone's bound to hear us."

Brendon's a big fan of making noise. He thinks he and Jon are going to get along just fine.

Shouting is great, and singing is even better, and the natives of Newer Muggart are really nice. They give them huge slices of yummy, fortifying pie after they help them out. Brendon is definitely going to make sure they trade for pie.

And then he finds the pebbles.

*

"Okay, wait. Wait, wait, no. No, see—"

"Brendon." Ryan catches Brendon's flailing hand, eyeing him dubiously. Jon's hanging off Brendon's back, chin hooked over his shoulder.

"Hi, Ryan," Jon says, smiling goofily. "Hiiiiiiiiii."

Ryan blinks. "Are you drunk?"

"No, no. No. I don't think so, no." Brendon turns his head so his nose brushes Jon's. "Are we?"

"No," Jon says, but he sounds unsure, because obviously, obviously they're on something. Jon's pupils are huge.

Brendon's knees buckle a little under Jon's weight, and then they're giggling, leaning into each other's sides and grasping hands, and Ryan's torn between annoyance and worry.

"Look," Brendon gasps in between little bouts of manic laughter. "Look, Ry, Ry. Ryan. See." He holds up a shaky hand, a little pebble in the middle of his palm. "Poof," he says.

Ryan looks from the pebble to Brendon's sloppy grin and then back again. "It's a pebble."

"Poof," Brendon repeats, and Jon starts choking he's laughing so hard, sliding down Brendon's side to land on his ass in the grass.

Ryan arches an eyebrow at him. "Okay."

And then the pebble actually goes poof, splitting open and dispersing a little cloud of white dust that disappears into nothing just as quickly.

Ryan sneezes. Then rubs his eyes and under his nose, tingles tickling down his throat. Oh. Oh damn.

"What's going on?" Spencer asks, walking over towards them, P-90 angled down.

"Um." Ryan coughs, giggles a little, then coughs again and bites his lips to keep them straight. "Um."

Spencer narrows his eyes. "Ryan?"

"Spencer," Ryan says.

"Smith," Brendon says. He's got his hands in Jon's hair, and Jon's leaning against his leg, face mashed into his knee, and Jon says, "Hiiiiiii. Hi, Spencer," and then they're laughing again.

*

When Spencer finally lures his three teammates back through the 'gate - and by lures, he means lures, because flash something shiny and Urie's eyes go wide and that's pretty much the only way he could get any of them to move, his watch-face angled to reflect the sun - they're like cats scrabbling after laser pointers, and they stumble out of the puddle and onto Atlantis in a laughing heap.

Spencer, unfortunately, is at the bottom.

Since no one seems inclined to move, Spencer fights his way out with elbows and knees in soft places, then flops down on his back on the cool gateroom floor.

Colonel Sheppard is grinning down at him. "Have fun?" he asks, and Spencer gets the feeling that the whole trip was one big hazing stunt, except that would be irresponsible and frankly dangerous, and he'll likely never know for sure either way, since he's certainly not going to ask.

Sheppard reaches out a hand and hefts him to his feet, then places his hands on his hips and stares down at the mess of Ryan, Urie and Walker. They're still giggling and wriggling around a little and it actually looks mostly obscene. Perfect.

"Pollen?" Sheppard asks, slanting him an amused glance.

Spencer sighs and scratches the back of his neck. "Ryan kept going on about exploding pebbles."

Sheppard presses his lips together and nods.

After a few quietly awkward moments, Spencer asks, "Dr. Beckett?"

"Carson's on his way."

Spencer sighs again. "Right." He considers helping them up or at least untangling them, but he figures it'd be better if he just left that for the med team to sort out. Urie had licked his cheek when he'd gotten too close before. "Colonel Sheppard, does this kind of thing happen—"

"All the time, Lieutenant," Sheppard interrupted, clapping his shoulder. "All the time."

"Great." That was just. Great.

*

Jon doesn't know how the fuck he ended up in another galaxy, but he's not really complaining. The city's cool, and he can light her up with his mind and his CO is probably the best CO he's ever had.

He also has a completely inappropriate crush on Ronon, but he's found that basically the entire base has an inappropriate crush on Ronon. William's the only one who's ever tried anything with him; or at least the only one who's tried something and lived to tell the tale. William is slippery and hard to pin down, though, and can fold himself into a storage box to hide if he needed to.

There's movement to his left, and then Ryan settles down next to him on the balcony, legs hanging off the edge, arms hooked on the lower rung of the railing.

He nods hi with a small smile.

Jon thinks their team, that the four of them together are great. Brendon's a handful, but completely fun, and Spencer needs to unclench or something, live a little, and Ryan. Jon likes Ryan, because Ryan'll sit with him on the balcony and just be.

Jon likes the quiet outside. He likes the way the sunlight reflects off the water, and the way the water calmly laps along the edges of the city. No rough waves here, not even with the turning tides. Not unless a storm blows in, and those are few and far between.

Sometimes Jon takes his camera out with him, but he hardly ever uses it. He takes pictures in his quarters, in the mess, in the labs, maybe, but the outside. The outside there is too clean, too light, too wide, and the calm is always nice to have, nice to keep, but it isn't necessarily beautiful, not when it's cropped smaller than it should be, sliced down to pocket-sized.

He sighs, and a puddlejumper zips up and away from the 'jumper bay, off towards the mainland, a distant whir.

He doesn't know how he got there, no, but he's damn sure he wants to stay forever.

*

They play bocce ball together, because Ryan says it'll be good for team dynamics, and Spencer doesn't feel like arguing. He thinks bocce ball is a waste of time, and there are all kinds of Wentz rules that make no sense, and half the balls end up in the ocean off the side of the pier, but he does it. He does it with minimal complaint, too, and every time he feels like wrapping his hands around Urie's scrawny neck, he just grips his balls tighter.

It doesn't help that Urie keeps giggling whenever someone says "balls," and it doesn't help that Spencer wants to giggle, too. It's fucking funny and, yeah, he occasionally feels like he's thirteen, but Wentz just sends him these stupid, toothy grins and. It's fucking funny.

It's only round one of the First Annual Atlantis Bocce Ball Tournament, and they're playing Brown, Zelenka, Parrish and Saporta. Saporta and Zelenka is an interesting combination, and Spencer's sure they're going to get beaten to a pathetic pulp.

Urie is vibrating beside him, trying to juggle a couple of his balls, and Ryan and Walker are eyeing up their designated playing area, using thumbs to judge distances and talking in serious, low voices, like any sort of preparation will make a difference.

"Hey. Hey, Smith, wanna help me with my balls here?" Urie says, grinning up at him. He's abandoned his juggling and is attempting to make some sort of order out of the chaos that is their throw line, and Spencer doesn't, he doesn't want to help at all, but Urie's on the edge of laughing.

Spencer moves closer, and then Urie's hand is out, grabbing his and tugging him down, and Spencer loses his balance and lands on his ass, feet spread.

Urie really is laughing then, and Spencer shakes his head, because okay, the balls are there and it's still funny, stupid funny, and he's still apparently thirteen years old. He tries to hide his smile, but he doesn't think he's all that successful.

*

Their first mission was largely a disaster - according to Spencer, anyway, since Brendon still thinks the exploding pebbles were totally cool.

For the next month, though, things are so smooth and Brendon's so good - seriously, he's awesome and spectacular and he's, like, the best little space explorer ever - but things apparently hardly ever go smooth in Pegasus, and their luck was bound to even out eventually.

"Your little one has so much energy it hurts the eyes," the Capatha village elder says, voice booming jovially. He is mammothly tall and bone thin and smiles a lot. Brendon doesn't particularly like him.

They all smile and nod back, though, because they're supposed to trade for some bird things that lay chicken-sized eggs and it'll be really disappointing if they mess that up.

There are plates of fruit and bread set out on the long table they've gathered around, and something hot and sweet sits in a round bellied pot in front of Brendon. The elder claps his hands, and a servant steps forward, bowing slightly, and then pours something sickly brown into the cup to Brendon's right.

"It is a calming tea," the elder says, eyes crinkling up at the corners as he smiles at Brendon. "I'm afraid we will not be able to concentrate on the matters at hand with so vibrant a spirit among us."

Brendon frowns and sniffs his cup. Minty. Then he shrugs and takes a small sip, ignoring Spencer's narrowed eyes.

"That's probably not a good idea, Urie," Spencer says.

"S'fine," Brendon says, then flashes him a grin. "Tasty." He's trying his very hardest to stay on Spencer's good side, do what's best for the team and for Atlantis, so he downs the cup of tea and hopes it isn't poisoned or anything.

*

Spencer is bored. Bored, bored, bored, but he nods like he really cares about whatever Elder Ker is saying. Ryan keeps pinching his leg, though, and that's getting old, fast.

"Spencer," he hisses.

Spencer smiles tightly at Elder Ker and excuses himself politely before turning a glare on Ryan. "What?"

"Brendon," Ryan says, jerking his head meaningfully.

Urie is. Urie is having a civilized conversation at the other side of the table with a really old guy. His hands are folded and his eyes are wide and focused and he's. He's totally engrossed with this guy, who, by the way his lips are moving, is talking very, very slowly.

Ryan says, "It's creepy."

Spencer whole-heartedly agrees. He turns back to Elder Ker and asks, perfectly aware of his half-threatening tone - screw the eggs, really, because calming is one thing, but messing with one of his teammates' minds is so not on - "What exactly is in that tea?"

Elder Ker looks surprised. "Why, simple luug root," he says, "and katle tongue."

Root and tongue. Great. He gets to his feet, the elder, eyes clouded with confusion, echoing his movements at a much more sedate pace. "We're going to need a sample of this luug root and katle tongue," Spencer says. "And a container of the tea, if you have it."

"Of course," Elder Ker says, bowing. "I apologize for any presumed offense."

Spencer sighs. He seems nice enough, and he's sure there was no malicious intent, but still. He's got a disturbingly placid Urie on his hands, and that's wrong on several different levels.

On the walk back to the stargate, Ryan tries to draw Urie out, talking nonstop about stupid, random shit, but Urie just nods his head and smiles, and it's not a vacant smile, not really, but he's so quiet and Spencer's never seen him walk like that, a strange purposefulness to his stride. It's freaking Spencer out.

Spencer's angry at Urie as well as the elder, though, because he told the idiot not to drink it, and Urie hadn't listened to him. It wasn't quite a matter of disobeying orders, but it was close, and the truth of it is, if he's going to be honest, is that Spencer's pissed off at himself. He should have made it an order. He should've grabbed the damn cup of tea right out of Urie's hand. Of course, that's all irrelevant now.

"Urie," he says, and Urie turns towards him, his dark eyes focused so entirely on Spencer it sends a shiver down his spine.

"Smith," he says, and at least he sounds the same. There's even a little grin at the corner of his mouth.

"How're you feeling?" Spencer asks.

Urie shrugs. "Fine. I don't see what the big deal is."

Spencer arches an eyebrow at him and Ryan snorts.

"Brendon," Ryan says, "you're practically strolling here. I said 'balls' five times and you didn't even snicker—"

"Snicker?" Jon cuts in.

"Laugh, whatever." He rolls his eyes at Jon. "This is Brendon. And balls. This is me saying 'balls.' Several times!"

Spencer says dryly, "I think we get the picture." Urie not giggling his ass off over balls is a big deal.

Urie frowns, bites his lip. "I don't know," hey says slowly, brow furrowed. And then his face sort of does this weird, pained contortion and he stops in the middle of the path and goes instantly pale and starts throwing up.

*

Brendon used to think he had an iron stomach. He was apparently very, very wrong.

He kind of feels like all his insides have been scraped raw and his chest hurts and his throat is so sore and he really, really hates IVs. He hates needles in general, and he absolutely refuses to look at his arm or the drip bag, and instead he stares at Jon and narrows his eyes and tries to get him to read his mind. He really wants some water, but his voice isn't cooperating.

"Water?" Jon asks, and Brendon gives him a shaky smile, yes please. Jon holds a cup and straw up to Brendon's mouth and water is seriously the best invention ever.

Brendon licks his lips and rasps, "Thanks."

Jon shakes his head, scrubs a hand over his short hair after he sets the cup aside. "No more drinking strange tea, okay?"

Brendon nods, because totally, that isn't something he's going to argue about, and asks, "Ryan?"

"Trying to talk Smith out of killing you," Jon says, but he's smiling and there's relief in his eyes, and then Spencer and Ryan are hovering behind him, Spencer looking grim and Ryan sort of wide-eyed in perverse awe.

"Dude," Ryan says, "I think maybe you threw up your entire stomach at one point. Esophagus, even."

"Cool," Brendon manages, and it was probably the wrong thing to say, because Spencer's mouth tightens even more, and he backtracks, "I mean, um, sorry?"

"You pull shit like that again, Urie, and—"

"Spencer," Ryan cuts in, a warning in his tone.

Spencer glares at him. "Ryan," he growls, then spreads his glare around and says resolutely, "If any of you forget to stop and exercise a little caution, I have no qualms about disbanding this team."

Disbanding. Bad word, really bad word and Brendon would have shaken his head emphatically if it didn't hurt so damn much to move. "I won't, Smith, I won't," Brendon says, voice hoarse, and Jon clasps his upper arm to keep him still. But Brendon sees Spencer relax, minutely, and he flashes a huge grin. "I won't," he says again. "I will try my very best."

Spencer pinches the bridge of his nose, eyes squinched shut. He looks a little like he's trying to resist the urge to punch him in the head.

"Seriously," Jon says, breaking the slowly building tension, "I've never seen anyone throw up that much before."

Brendon finds he's strangely proud.

*

"Team bonding night!" Brendon shouts, jumping onto the lounge sofa and practically tackling Ryan. Spencer is on Ryan's other side, so Brendon climbs over Ryan's lap and squishes in between them, claiming his rightful place in the movie-night sofa sandwich. Jon is sprawled out on the floor, and Brendon kicks at his outstretched feet. "Hey, hey," he says. "It's physically impossible to bond with you when you're way over there, Jon Walker."

Spencer elbows Brendon in the ribs and says, "Settle down, Urie."

"Team bonding night," Brendon stresses, elbowing Spencer back, and when Spencer jerks away from him, Brendon takes up all the space he made and curls up, draping one of his legs sideways over Ryan's lap.

"Urie," Spencer growls, but Brendon just shushes him and presses his cheek against Spencer's shoulder.

The movie's already started - Weekend at Bernie's, because it was Jon's turn to pick, and Jon apparently has this thing about finding dead people hilarious - and Brendon whispers, "We're bonding, Lieutenant Spencer Smith."

"We're not—" Spencer stops, and Brendon has his hand in one of his, idly playing with his fingertips, the smooth short curve of his nails, and then Spencer shakes him off and stands up. "I'm."

Brendon, flopped down on his back without Spencer's support, blinks up at him.

"I'm sitting on the floor," Spencer finally says.

Brendon lets out a breath he doesn't remember holding, and smiles a little as Spencer slides to the ground in front of him, propped up against the sofa.

From months on Atlantis, Spencer's let his hair grow out a little, just enough to fall over his ears. Brendon teases the shorthairs at his nape, watching the tense line of Spencer's shoulders, but Spencer doesn't pull away.

*

Ryan thinks it's cute. Brendon can be fucking annoying, yeah, but it's just plain adorable when he's being annoying to someone else.

And Spencer's being tolerant towards him, all things considered, so Ryan thinks that's a good sign.

Brendon's taken to doing a lot of his work in Ryan and Patrick's lab space since McKay wants him dead, and he's a general handyman, anyway, so he spends most of his days stalking the halls of the city, and whenever he stalks the halls of the city, apparently he just gravitates to wherever Spencer is whiling away his time. Ryan knows this because he gets radio updates from both Spencer and Brendon - Spencer's always sort of angry-resigned about it, while Brendon's more comically enthusiastic, and his, "Guess who I found in the 'jumper bay!" makes Ryan grin, because where else would Spencer be during his monthly instructional puddlejumper repair class - and, also, William is everywhere.

William's a little eerie, actually.

William has cat feet and for someone so utterly noticeable - he's tall, and arguably prettier than Ryan, and did he mention that he's tall? - he can hide himself in plain sight very, very well. The only one sneakier than William is Captain Saporta. Captain Saporta is some sort of trained ninja assassin, apparently, who snacks on raw baby mainland slags and drinks the blood of his bare-handed kill for the nutritional value and the way it stains his teeth a lovely shade of red. Or he's, like, a Special Forces sniper, but whatever. He frightens Ryan.

So, anyway, William normally knows where everyone in the city is at any given time, so Ryan always knows when Brendon is bugging Spencer, and he knows when to stop it before things get out of hand.

Spencer has a temper, and Brendon can be surprisingly sensitive, and the important thing about their blossoming - Pete's word, not his - relationship, Ryan realizes, is for them to take it really, really slow. Build up to it so quietly that Spencer'll just wake up one day and they'll be, like, married or something.

When Ryan gets a radio from William that Brendon has Spencer trapped on the sixty-fourth balcony, just above the mess - and he has no clue how that could have happened, since Spencer is usually pretty good about not ending up alone with Brendon - he sets off towards them and prays Spencer doesn't throw him over the railing before he gets there.

But Jon's already there, and the balcony doors slide open on Brendon falling dramatically into Jon's arms and sighing, "You're my hero, Sergeant Walker," and Ryan has no idea what's going on, but Spencer looks really disgruntled. Pissed, even.

Jon laughs, pretending to stagger under Brendon's weight before tipping him back onto his feet. He looks up and grins at Ryan, and Ryan's breath does not catch, not even a little bit, honestly, but Jon really does have these great big kind eyes.

"We were trapped," Brendon tells Ryan cheerfully. "The door wouldn't open."

Ryan wrinkles his brow. "And you couldn't fix it?" There isn't much Brendon can't fix, Ryan's found.

"Well, sure," Brendon says, shrugging, "but I didn't have to."

"My gene is magic," Jon says, wiggling his fingers, and it's partly true. Jon currently has the strongest ATA gene next to Colonel Sheppard, and the city's pretty much a slut for him.

Spencer rolls his eyes, and it's kind of mean, actually, and then he shoves his way past Ryan, and that's when Ryan thinks maybe something bad happened. Like maybe Brendon went too far somehow and Spencer did that thing that he does when you push him and he doesn't want to be pushed, and then. Things are, like, fucking awkward for weeks until he mysteriously forgives you. Ryan hates when that happens, which is a large part of why he doesn't ever really call Spencer on his standoffish behavior anymore.

He's not sure that's it, though, because Brendon doesn't seem to notice him leaving, since Jon has him in a headlock, and they're both laughing, and Ryan knows that Brendon thinks Jon's awesome - because Jon is, obviously; Ryan's not going to argue against that - and he wonders if, maybe, Spencer's mad about that.

Because that would be cool.

*

Spencer really loves traveling through the 'gate. It's both thrilling and humbling at the same time. He's such a small piece of the universe, yet he gets to do this. He gets to explore alien worlds in an entirely different galaxy, and, best of all, he gets to have his best friend at his side.

He gets Walker and Urie, too, which is sort of a mixed bag.

Walker is awesome at pretty much everything, and Urie seems to be his biggest fan. It's as annoying as anything else about Urie, really, but Spencer's gotten used to Urie following him around Atlantis like an eager-to-please puppy, and Spencer's kind of afraid he's gotten a little too attached. He doesn't think it's jealousy, exactly.

Except. Except on Tirria, when Urie accidentally walks onto the sacred Tirri temple grounds, the only way to save his spirit from eternal damnation - and sharp, pointy spears gouging his eyes out - is to cleanse his body and marry him off. Seriously.

"Jon, I want Jon," Urie says, before they can even ask him, and Spencer's gut tightens, because really. Urie never says his first name.

The ceremony is long, like days long, and it's elaborate and Urie's half naked by the end, slick with oil and completely covered in flowers, and after the Tirrians finish binding their wrists together with silken ribbons, they kiss, and Spencer thinks maybe he'll crack his teeth from clenching his jaw too hard.

They share their "marriage hut" while Spencer and Ryan camp out under the stars, and Spencer snaps at anything that moves too fast the next morning.

Urie makes a hurt face when Spencer growls at him after he stumbles sleepily to the village hearth fire, and Spencer refuses to acknowledge it, hugging his tin cup of instant coffee close to his chest and glaring down at the ground.

Walker gives him strange looks on the hike back to the stargate, and Ryan and Urie talk in low whispers in between them. Spencer makes a concentrated effort to lighten up. He smiles even, but Walker's answering puzzled frown makes him think he's probably not doing too good a job.

Obviously, things are getting out of hand. He's - possibly - losing his grip on reality, and he's the team leader, and he can't afford to get emotionally involved here and.

Okay. Okay, so, really, what he has to do is take a giant step away from Urie.

*

Rodney thinks maybe, maybe there's actually a Hell. And maybe Dr. Peter Wentz is Satan. Oh, he knows Urie is his most annoying demon, and that Trohman is possibly the most destructive botanist ever to lick plants, but there has to be a mastermind behind it all, and it certainly isn't Ross or Stump or William, who he calls William only because otherwise everyone thinks he's talking about Carson. Carson may be a voodoo practitioner with a disturbing affinity for blood and haggis, but Carson is nothing compared to the forces of pure evil that sailed in on the Daedalus mere months before.

"I like Pete," John says. He's reclining on Rodney's bed and bouncing a rubber ball off the wall by the window.

"You like playing bocce ball," Rodney points out. Rodney actually likes playing bocce ball, too, but he'll never admit it. His team went all the way to the tournament finals before losing the last game against Way, Iero, Wentz and Lorne, of all people, and Lorne's always had a strange but adamant objection to organized sports, thus proving that Wentz has some sort of thrall over all of Atlantis. Excepting himself, of course.

And then John says, "Urie and Walker got hitched," tilting his head back on the pillow, grinning at him, and that brings back memories. Good memories, really. Last week memories, even, since matrimonial ceremonies are a favorite in Pegasus, second only to births and baptisms and these weird bird blessings that Rodney has yet to figure out the purpose of.

Rodney smiles. He smiles and then he schools his expression back into a scowl, because Wentz had half his scientists singing in round all afternoon, and he must be stopped at all costs.

*

The day Dr. Trohman blows up the southeast pier - no one's absolutely sure how he does it, either, since he gets these amazingly brilliant ideas when he's high and is therefore not allowed anywhere near the armory when he isn't going off-world, but. The day the pier blows up is the day SGA-12 comes back through the 'gate hot and in the wrong bodies.

Spencer is not happy. Ryan is freakishly tall, and his balance is completely off.

"Oh my god, Smith," Urie says. "You've got these," he glances down his body, Spencer's body, damn it, "amazing hips. How can you not want to—" He juts them out, palming his waist. "I mean, Jesus." He shimmies. "These are pretty."

Spencer claps a hand over his eyes and groans. Spencer is an officer and a gentleman, which is the only reason, he tells himself, that he hasn't killed Urie yet, because this was entirely Urie's fault. Sometimes he thinks God's punishing him for things he doesn't remember doing, like maybe he strangles puppies in his sleep.

There's a reason they came back through the 'gate hot, a mob of angry villagers chasing after them, and it's because they had to steal the device that'd gotten them into this body-switching mess in the first place. The device that Urie had touched, despite Spencer's warning about not touching anything. The sacred amulet or whatever. Spencer just hopes McKay and Zelenka can figure out how to change them back.

Carson pronounces them perfectly healthy, and Dr. Weir tells them they're grounded for the time being, and Colonel Sheppard just sort of snickers at them. Spencer's got a feeling this isn't the first time something like this has happened.

After Zelenka absently waves them off with a, "Yes, okay, give me twenty-four hours," in a bored tone that kind of cements Spencer's suspicions about what's gone on in Atlantis in the past, Spencer goes off to sulk by himself. And maybe to clean the top shelves in his office, because seriously, how did he not realize how tall Ryan was before?

*

Brendon gets to spend twenty-four hours in Spencer's body, and it's awesome.

And not all of that time will be spent in bed, but, okay, he's not going to pass up the opportunity, right? And it's not like Spencer's letting Brendon anywhere near him, so. He wants to have some fun. Some fun that Spencer will never know about, because if he ever does find out, Brendon's pretty sure he'll kill him. He's well aware that Spencer uses an awful lot of restraint on a daily basis in order to not strangle him to death, and he appreciates the effort.

The first hour he spends eating, because everything tastes different with Spencer's mouth, and that is. Really sort of hot. He starts getting weird looks, though, after groaning over his fifth bowl of pudding, so he slinks off - seriously, slinks, because Spencer's body is perfect for slinking - to his quarters, and okay, with not much on his plate, he's basically planning on spending the next twenty-three hours or so in bed.

Naked, he feels a little guilty. Not enough to get him back into clothes, because, wow, Spencer is hot, and Brendon is not that selfless.

He sprawls out on his bed on his back, legs apart, and he starts at his chest and just. Lingers. He's in no hurry. For once he doesn't feel like his bones are humming out of his skin, and he's tense, yeah, because Spencer is so freaking tense all the time, but it's different than the sort of tense Brendon gets.

Brendon is always, always ready to go, and Spencer is kind of slow and deliberate when it isn't about life or death or Wraith, so he spends long minutes working his way down, thumbs petting his nipples, the curves of his ribs, belly, softly padded amazing hips, and his breathing gets incrementally and evenly faster, and by the time he palms his cock, Spencer's cock, he thinks maybe he's a leisurely stretch away from coming.

He also thinks maybe Spencer hasn't gotten laid for a while.

When his radio crackles some time later and Ryan interrupts his self-love fest with, "Jon has the most adorable toes ever, okay, and I will shoot you if you tell anyone I just said that," the break is almost welcome.

He curls up around his pillow and hmmms and he rubs his face back and forth along the cool, soft cotton and just. It's probably sick and wrong, but he really doesn't care.

"What are you doing?" Ryan asks suspiciously.

Brendon yawns. "Nothing."

"Does nothing include sticking your hands in inappropriate places? Because Spencer'll kill you, you know."

"Relax," Brendon says, and man is he relaxed, "Smith will never, ever know."

"Oh, Spencer will know, Brendon, especially if he can feel it," and those words from Ryan shouldn't be hot, but they are, which means Brendon is still totally keyed up.

"Wanna come over and play?" Brendon asks. He can practically hear Ryan's eyes narrow.

"I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that."

"Okay," Brendon says amiably, then flicks off his radio. He's going to take a nap - mmm, nap - and then he's going to shower, which'll be a whole 'nother level of fun, he's sure.

*

"Okay, seriously?" Walker starts, sitting down across from Spencer-in-Ryan's-body, "Urie is—I'm, like, wired. It's like having a constant sugar-high. How can he live like this?"

"Ryan," Spencer says slowly, "is apparently seven feet tall."

Walker blinks at him. He's visibly vibrating in his seat. "Dude, you're like maybe the same height. Maybe," Walker says. "You're possibly even a little taller than him on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"I've tripped on my own feet more times than I can count." Spencer grips his fork tight, knuckles white. "I feel like I'm going to tip over when I stand too long. My legs fold up like a spider's, Walker." Logically, he knows he's not that much taller than he used to be, although Ryan is the skinniest motherfucker since William Beckett, so that might be contributing to his delusions. He might also be going a little crazy. Plus, he's pretty sure Urie hasn't been out of his room in five hours, and he's torn between confronting him about it and just not wanting to know.

Walker nods, pushing Urie's bangs back off his forehead. "I haven't had this much hair since I was sixteen," he says, "and did I mention that I can't sit still? Because I can't. I hope no one ever gives Urie caffeine, because I'm pretty sure he'd stroke out."

"How are we doing, gentlemen?" Colonel Sheppard asks, materializing at the end of their table.

Spencer automatically straightens. "Fine, sir," he says, and then Dr. McKay is there, jabbing Sheppard in the back with his tray and snapping, "Come on, come on, we haven't got all day, Sheppard, and if you think I'm sitting with Urie—"

"He's not really Dr. Urie, Rodney," Sheppard says, obviously amused, and the Sheppard-McKay dynamic is just one more baffling thing Spencer will never understand, like how Wentz always gets the last fruit cup on Fruit Cup Fridays.

McKay harrumphs, jabbing him with his tray again. "Until Elizabeth and Carson approve slipping sedatives into his food, Colonel, anyone Urie-shaped faces my wrath and disdain."

"Sedatives might not be a bad idea," Walker whispers to Spencer as the colonel and Dr. McKay make their way across the commissary.

He's grinning, though, so Spencer thinks he doesn't really mean it.

*

Ryan does not get undressed. Ryan won't even go to the bathroom, and when he really has to go he plans on closing his eyes and he'll try it without even touching, because after this all goes away he's going to have to look Jon in the face, and he's not going to be able to do that if he's seen Jon naked.

He really wants to see Jon naked.

Purely for curiosity's sake, and not for whatever perverted reason Brendon is naked for, and seriously. Spencer is going to know, there's no way he doesn't already know, given that Brendon hasn't come out to breathe in, like, forever and a day.

Ryan kind of, also, maybe a little bit, wants to go visit him. He's Brendon, but he's a Spencer-shaped Brendon, and Ryan hasn't been closer than a foot to Spencer in years. He doesn't go, of course, but it's a close thing.

Instead, he hangs around the lab until Patrick throws him out, because he can't concentrate on his work and he can't stop looking at his toes, the one piece he'll allow himself to see of Jon bare, because he's seen them before - although how could he miss how adorable they are? - since off-duty Jon has this weird affinity for flip-flops.

He hunts down Pete for a game of bad word Boggle, but Pete's not in the mood, won't even look up from his notebook, really, and Ryan is seriously bored out of his mind.

Then he thinks: Joe. Joe is always up for some fun.

*

Jon wasn't kidding. Urie's body is never still. Even when he's sitting, the muscles in his legs are jumping, little tiny twitches, and he wonders if it's worse, if it could possibly be worse, when coupled with Urie's brain.

'Cause that kind of explains a lot.

He leaves Spencer in the mess and wanders down to the gym, thinking maybe he can tire himself out with some physical activity. Saporta is sparring with Teyla, and Jon fidgets in the doorway. Jon never fidgets.

He finds it funny, all this spastic, unfocused energy, and he can imagine what Urie's doing with Spencer's body, because Urie is nothing if not totally obvious in his humongous crush on Spencer, and he's just the slightest bit curious himself. It would expend some extra energy, at least. Maybe.

But then William Beckett appears out of nowhere and tackles him down just shy of the mat, all sharp elbows and pointy knees and hard floor and Urie's glasses go flying and Jon's pretty sure he broke something. Like his ass.

"You're getting slow, Walker," William says, because he does this all the time. Usually Jon can hear him coming, since Jon spent nearly two years in the South American rainforests hunting drug runners before being recruited into the stargate program, and he's always had this Beckett-sense, anyway - hazards of being paired together too many times at the SGC, Walker and his resident geek - but Urie's body is so busy trying to do everything at once that he hadn't even noticed his approach.

"Fucker," Jon hisses, struggling to push off all of William's limbs - he's got, like, fifty - and William just laughs and sprawls across him until Jon gives up and goes boneless, panting a little, and he tells himself to take Urie running once they're all back to normal, because Jesus. "I'm handicapped."

"Not having the right body is no excuse," William says, grinning down at him. He squeezes his hip. "I always wanted to grope Urie."

Jon bucks and twists and he might not have the same strength as before, but he still remembers the moves. He's got William pinned in seconds, and then he's scooting back and up, pulling William with him, gripping his hands until they're both standing. "All right, Bill, let's go," Jon says, walking out onto the mat next to Saporta and Teyla's.

William eyes him mock-warily. "Sure you wanna risk that boy's tiny, fragile body?"

"I can beat you with just my feet, Beckett," Jon taunts, beckoning him onto the mat. "My baby toe."

"Oh, it's on, asshole," William says, on the edge of laughing, and Jon thinks, this is good, and hopes he'll wear himself out enough to get some sleep that night.

*

Because Brendon likes to think he's not completely depraved, he heads out for a late dinner in the mess. Well, first he goes to find Ryan. Ryan is not answering his radio, so Brendon thinks Ryan's probably doing something fun. And possibly illegal.

He finally finds him with Joe and Frank, discussing plans for a mud-wrestling pit in the lesser greenhouse.

Or Frank and Joe are discussing it, and Ryan's nodding a lot, and Dr. Parrish is hovering around wringing his hands and Brown, Ackers and Lemming are all giggling and drawing up fight schedules on a huge dry-erase board.

"Wait, wait," Brendon says to the ladies. "You can't have Vogel against Ager, okay?" Ager would cry like a little girl. He strides over to them and snaps his fingers for the marker - something he's picked up from Dr. McKay - swipes Vogel's and Ager's names off the board with the side of his fist, and carefully writes in Emmagan and Heightmeyer.

If they're going to have a mud-wrestling pit, they're going to do it right.

*

The Ancient body-switching device is surprisingly simple, so they don't even last twenty-four hours. First thing the next morning, all four of them are in Zelenka's lab and Way is giving them encouraging smiles and Iero - and who knows why Iero's there, really - is saying really comforting and helpful things like, "So this probably won't scramble your brains," and, "Gee says only one of the mice died," and, "Maybe you should all hold hands, okay?"

When Spencer blinks open his eyes and he's himself again, he's. He's relaxed. Oh, wow, is he, like, boneless and exhausted and he can't believe Urie actually. God. How very, very embarrassing. As soon as he can face him without blushing, Spencer is totally going to kick Urie's ass.

He glances up and accidentally catches Urie's eyes across the lab, and Urie's not even smiling or anything, just staring, and it's nothing new, but Spencer ducks his head, skin tight and hot.

Beside him, Ryan shakes his head and arms and asks, "What did you eat, Spencer?"

"Not much," Spencer mumbles, because Ryan's stomach is apparently the size of a fist, and it rebelled against anything Spencer usually found appetizing. He had some carrots. And a slice of angel food cake.

"Ugh, bleh. I need to brush my teeth," Ryan says, smacking his lips and rolling his tongue over the top of his mouth, grimacing.

Spencer rolls his eyes. Ryan's sort of a drama queen.

"So everyone is who they are supposed to be, correct?" Zelenka asks. He's got a mad little grin on his face. Spencer sometimes suspects he's plotting to kill them all. Or at least trick them into doing something really humiliating.

Ryan says, "Yeah, I'm me," face still screwed up kind of painfully, and he sniffs an armpit and says, "Dude."

"What, what, did you want me to shower your naked body? Because I could've," Spencer snaps, and he refuses - repress, repress! his mind screams - to acknowledge the almost flowery scent wafting off himself and the way his hair is silky soft against his fingers.

*

After five months of traveling off-world, Brendon's willing to admit he's not that good at diplomacy. He's not terrible at it, 'cause, hey, he's friendly. He's outgoing and handsome, and he makes a pretty good first impression. Still. Somewhere between that first hello and the negotiation table, something almost always goes wrong.

"Hey. Hey, so, not to alarm anyone, but I think I've been shot."

They're sort of wedged in a cave, and it's hard to move and it's pouring out, and Brendon's pretty sure he's been shot.

"What?" Spencer scoots marginally closer, peering down at him with an annoyed frown on his mouth. "They didn't have any weapons, Urie," he points out.

Which is true, of course - they had clubs and pitchforks, but nothing projectile - but his leg hurts and he's having trouble breathing. "No, I know, but."

Spencer scowls. "You're fine."

Over his shoulder, Brendon sees Ryan's worried face. "Bren—"

"I'm fine," he assures him. He's totally fine, like Spencer said.

"You don't look fine. Spencer, he doesn't look fine," Ryan insists, and Spencer shakes his head.

"He says he's fine so he's fine, okay? We've got to—"

"Okay, I'm not fine," Brendon cuts in, because he's not. Oh, he's really, really not. He knows it's his fault they were being chased in the first place and it's his fault they have to hide out in a tiny little dank cave but he's. The natives had to have had something, he thinks, because his leg is throbbing and he's never been shot before, and he's so far from fine it's ridiculous.

Jon says, "Let me see," but he's on the far side of Ryan, and there's not much space to maneuver, so Brendon ends up draped in between Spencer's legs, Ryan tight against the wall and holding a flashlight steady on Jon's shoulder as he leans over him.

"So team bonding, right?" Jon's hands are steady on his thigh.

Brendon blinks up at Jon, tears pooling at the corners of his eyes when Jon's fingers twinge something stuck on the underside of his leg, just above his knee. "Yeah, man. Yeah," he manages, Spencer's arms tightening around his torso, and if he wasn't in such debilitating pain, this might've been some sort of moment.

Jon grimaces. "There's something lodged in there," he says. "I can try—"

"Ow! Fucking ow, Jon," Brendon yelps, because there's no way he's pulling that out of his leg without massive amounts of painkillers.

And then Ryan has to go ahead and ask, "Poison-tipped dart?" and Brendon goes all woozy and gasps, "Spencer," and, "Oh my god, I'm going to die," and then he kind of hyperventilates himself into passing out.

*

"Hey," Spencer says, and Ryan nods, stepping back to let him into his quarters. Spencer's cheeks redden, because he knows Ryan shouldn't be so accommodating towards him, not after what happened, but Ryan always forgives him for shit without making a big deal about it. Normally that's a good thing, but he kind of wishes Ryan would yell at him now.

"Hi," Ryan says.

They sort of stare at each other, and then Spencer jerks his gaze away and lets it jump around his room. Ryan's fairly neat. He's always been that way.

Spencer takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he says finally, looking at the floor.

Ryan makes a little sound. Like a giggle.

Spencer risks a glance up at him through his lashes.

Ryan's biting his lower lip. He pushes his hair back off his forehead and snorts, and his eyes are shining. "Dude," he says, then shakes his head.

"What?" Okay, so, he knows he flipped out a little when Urie fainted and he yelled at Ryan a lot and there might've been some kicking involved, because. Because Spencer doesn't know. He doesn't know, exactly, why it happened, but he's pretty sure it's Urie's fault.

Urie, who's in the infirmary with a twig wound, and has a tendency for dramatics, and might also be slightly claustrophobic.

"Look, I get it, okay?" Ryan says, and Spencer blinks.

"You get it? Mind telling me, then?" he asks, because he seriously has no clue.

Ryan says, "Okay, see, if you don't know yet, you're probably not ready to know," and Spencer scowls, because Ryan knows he hates that cryptic shit. Ryan's been spending too much time with Wentz.

"Ryan," he growls.

"Look. Look, can I." Ryan steps towards him, slowly, like he's skittish or something, like he's going to shy away, and it's fucking Ryan so of course he's not going to, and then. Then he's sort of hugging him. His arms are loose and he's barely touching him anywhere, just his wrists on the tops of his shoulders, fingers brushing high on his back and forehead dropped onto his.

Spencer lets out a breath, long and slow, and it's like all the strings in his body have been cut, like the only things keeping him upright, standing, are the points of contact against Ryan. Ryan never touches him like this anymore.

"This is okay," Ryan says.

It isn't a question, but Spencer says, "Yeah," anyway.

After a few minutes, Ryan murmurs, "You were worried about Brendon."

Duh. Of course he was.

Ryan pulls away and smiles at him. "It's all right," he says. "It's all right, Brendon's good for you."

*

"There's something strange going on with all my minions," Rodney says, sitting down across from John in the mess.

"You mean besides the mud-wrestling?"

Rodney waves that off. He's not worried about the mud pit, mostly because it's in the lesser greenhouse, but also because the bulk of his newer minions have the maturity level of irresponsible preteens. They obviously needed something to entertain them after the bocce ball season came to a close.

Ronon grunts around a bite of turkey sandwich, then says, "Wentz and Stump are fighting."

Rodney jabs a finger at him. "Not possible." Not without him knowing, at least. They tended to yell.

"Okay," Ronon shrugs, "they aren't fighting," and that makes much more sense.

Stump may be a hippie vegan pacifist, but he has a mean temper, and Wentz always seems to enjoy taunting him into blowing up.

So Wentz isn't taunting Stump and his whole lab is off. Sometimes he laments the loss of his fear-inspired, ironclad grip on the science team.

*

It's like a chain reaction.

Ryan feels a little guilty for starting it, except someone needed to kick Spencer in the ass, and if not Ryan, then who?

Spencer is avoiding Brendon, and Brendon is dumping all his misery on Pete, and Pete is sort of helpless against big-eyed sad, tragic engineers - who isn't? - and Patrick is being pissily jealous because Pete and Patrick are desperately in love, even though they're currently refusing to acknowledge it, and consequently the whole lab atmosphere has been affected.

But Ryan's a fucking girl, right, because he got to hug Spencer and Spencer just. He let him and, see, he knows it's because Brendon's the biggest touch-whore in all of Atlantis, especially with Spencer, and all of Spencer's boundaries have gone, like, elastic or something. Brendon is awesome for Spencer, Ryan wasn't lying.

Ryan just has to figure out a way to make Spencer see that, too.

*

Armed with just a tazer and his fists - he's generally a pacifist, okay, but he isn't stupid - Patrick stares up at the giant ring. He's never been through the 'gate before, not even back at the SGC, and he wonders what he thinks he's doing now, except the bigger question is, "Who the hell let Brendon and Pete do this, anyway?"

"Wheeler and Kennerty," Smith says darkly, tugging at the straps on Patrick's vest.

Patrick is almost too pissed off to be worried. Almost. "Fucking Wheeler."

The natives of P33 are using technology that isn't theirs - not Ancient, not that advanced, but in the interest of creating allies for war and trade, Dr. Weir insisted they send someone along who could help repair a few things for them.

Brendon can fix anything, and Pete can MacGyver laser beams out of party hats or something, so of course, of course, the natives of P33 don't want to give them back. Or, actually, Patrick supposes it's more a matter of not actually being able give them back. Which is why Patrick is there, about to step through a wormhole and then walk the crust of an entirely different planet.

He probably shouldn't find that weird, given that he's living in the lost city of Atlantis and that he traveled there by spaceship, but he still does.

His pack is heavy with books, since the scans of the large hieroglyphics Travis sent back through the MALP look Sumerian, but not Sumerian, and Teyla thinks the text beneath them is perhaps a dialect of Lapes, a nomadic clan they've come across before, and Patrick thinks a great deal of the words, though not all, are remarkably similar to phonetically spelled Gaelic.

Colonel Sheppard clasps his shoulder. "Ready, Dr. Stump?"

Not really, he thinks, but he nods anyway, and then Ryan's next to him, swinging his own bag onto his back and giving him an encouraging grin. They work well together. Mainly because Ryan's quiet and because he knows lots of obscure facts about aborigines and the Piltdown man and the sexual proclivities of ancient Rome. They're unbeatable at Genus Trivial Pursuit.

The 'gate dials out, chevrons locking in a slow, methodical pattern, and then it whooshes open and Patrick's heart jumps into his throat.

There could be anything on the other side. Well, logically he knows there'll just be Travis and maybe Wheeler and Kennerty, possibly a few natives acting as guides, but also. Also, there could be Wraith or killer robots or skinny, pubescent native kids with puppy-crushes on Pete or, or—

Ryan pushes him forward. "Breathe, Patrick," he says.

"Right, um." Patrick adjusts his hat. "Right."

*

All the wires spiraling out of their heads are kind of scary.

"Not Ancient," Dr. McKay says, clicking away at his laptop, hunched down at the foot of the giant... thing. A huge cylinder of softly diffused light, cradling Urie and Wentz's bodies in mid-air, beams of copper-colored metal spiking up from the carved base.

Spencer has never seen anything like it.

Urie and Wentz aren't completely unaware, either. Their eyes are slits, and they grumble and shift and yawn and scrub clumsy fingers over their mouths and. There're wires spiraling out of their heads. That part, even to Spencer with his limited scientific knowledge, seems really, really bad.

Ryan is off interviewing the natives with Sheppard and Teyla, and Stump and McCoy are busy working on translating the writing etched into the walls of the temple, shrine, whatever the hell this is. It's an open-air columned pagoda made of thick, heavy stone, and Spencer's not sure translating the script is going to make any sort of difference, since the machine that appears to be eating Urie and Wentz looks way more technologically advanced than its surroundings.

Spencer just sort of stands there next to Ronon, feeling useless, staring at the trapped scientists and trying to tamp down the urge to kill Wheeler and Kennerty for letting them even get near the thing.

After a particularly big yawn, Urie flutters his eyes wider than they've been and Spencer sees a flash of recognition as he spots him, a tiny smile twitching across his lips. Spencer's stomach flips over and he almost stops breathing, because shit.

He's in so much trouble.

*

"It is called the Skyward Oracle," Teyla says, standing with Ryan behind Patrick.

Ryan watches Patrick's fingers as they hover over the wall but never touch.

"'And when there is famine, so shall you know years before,'" Patrick recites, then says, "Years, years. That might not be years. It looks like a," he flutters a hand, "you know. It's remarkably similar to the word for dragon, though that doesn't make much sense."

"So what you're saying," Ryan starts slowly, "is that this is a giant Doppler radar program that feeds off human brain activity."

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Dr. McKay snaps. He's glaring at them from where he's still sitting cross-legged on the ground by the machine. "They're predicting the weather?"

Teyla nods, a frown pulling at her lips. "So it seems. It is apparently a great honor to be chosen, although generally the task falls to a child." She looks mainly disgusted at that, and Ryan pretty much agrees.

Dr. McKay narrows his eyes and tilts his head back to gaze up at the machine. "There was nothing wrong with this, then."

"No. And I do not believe they were meant to enter this building at all, except—"

"Wentz is the devil, yes, I know," McKay cuts in, scowling.

There's a hint of a smile in Teyla's eyes. "It was an accident."

"And accidents can be fixed, right?" Sheppard asks, voice tight. He's circling the machine, P-90 angled down, but ready.

"From what I could gather," Teyla says smoothly, "they are only needed until the function is complete. They only perform this infrequently, during important ceremonies, and I believe we are lucky that they are not threatening the doctors' lives for their intrusion."

McKay snorts. "Yes, of course, because clearly the lack of pagan sacrifice is what should be focused on here. This makes meteorology actually seem like a legitimate science."

Ryan bites his lip to keep down a laugh.

"So Dr. Stump and Rodney'll look for loopholes, and in the meantime we wait," Sheppard says. He doesn't sound happy about it, but there's not much else they can do.

Ryan slips outside to where Spencer is leaning against a pylon, staring off into the distance. The sun is dying, but another one is peeking up over the horizon, bright and orange-red. "You all right?" he asks.

"Sure," Spencer says, shrugging. He glances over at him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"No reason," Ryan returns, making sure his eyes are wide and suitably mocking. Seriously, Spencer has to get his act together soon, or Brendon's just going to stop trying.

*

After Wentz starts spouting the farmer's almanac report for some distant year - "About three decades from now," Stump says, pushing his glasses up his nose - the machine starts dimming and the wires retract like spindly little spider legs, curling up into the ceiling, and then there's a pile of just-freed scientists sprawled over the copper base.

They're still awake, like before, just languid and slow-moving, like they don't have the energy to untangle themselves, pale and slumped together like sleepy puppies. It's arguably adorable, but it's also so incredibly wrong, because neither Urie nor Wentz really stop moving for anything ever.

Biro is at their side almost immediately, taking vitals, and Spencer relaxes in tiny, minute relief. There's a flurry of activity as the rest of the med team gets Wentz and then Urie onto stretchers, hooked up to IVs.

Wentz is completely out of it, head lolling and body limp, but Urie grabs hold of Spencer's arm as the stretcher skims past, fingers biting through the thick material of his jacket. Urie's pupils are huge and glassy with something like pain and his grip on Spencer is surprisingly strong.

"Spencer," he says, and his eyes aren't really focusing so Spencer isn't sure how he knows it's him, but he says again, "Spencer," and then, "Is it snowing? Was it—is it—" He licks his lips, grimacing, and there's a tiny pinprick hole just over his left temple from a wire, already crusted over with dried blood.

"Hey, hey," Spencer says softly, lifting a hand, fingers hovering hesitantly over Urie's forehead before smoothing the line between his brows with his thumb. "It's not," he murmurs. "Don't worry, it's not."

*

Brendon is tired. More tired than when he'd first gotten his body back from Jon and his unholy regimen of exercise. His eyes hurt and his bones feel heavy, but his mind's filled with static fuzz, snowy remnants of the machine, and he can't sleep, can't even let his eyelids slide closed.

It's late, but Jon's with him in the common lounge. The TV's on low, and Jon's whispering softly into his radio, but Brendon just shifts and pillows his head on Jon's thigh. Jon's fingers absently card through his hair, and Brendon's jaw pops on a yawn he can't help.

Minutes, hours later - time is sort of melting together for him - Ryan stumbles in, hair mussed and t-shirt on inside out, striped pajama bottoms sagging low. He scratches his belly and folds himself up on the couch on the other side of Brendon, pulling Brendon's feet into his lap and squeezing his ankles.

"Spencer's still on patrol," he says, slumping down and tipping his head back against the cushions. "What're we watching?"

"Frank's documentary on elephant seals," Jon says.

Brendon sighs. "My head hurts," he almost-whines, and Jon's hand slips down to cradle his neck.

"Few more hours," he says, because Carson's a painkiller nazi who clearly wants Brendon's head to explode.

"My head's gonna explode," he mumbles, turning his face halfway into Jon's leg. Jon's fingers travel up and gingerly press against his temple, a slow, rhythmic caress. Drifting, he doesn't notice when Spencer arrives, not until the flat of his palm is against his cheek and his eyes are right there, wide and blue. He says, "Smith," and he's too tired to smile, but he hopes Spencer can hear it in his voice.

"Urie," Spencer says.

"Wanna watch Frank talk about baby seals with us?" he asks.

"Yeah, okay."

*

Patrick's jerked out of sleep by his radio crackling a low whisper of, "Patrick."

For a minute, he thinks maybe he's fallen asleep fully dressed with his radio hooked onto his ear. And then he realizes he actually did fall asleep fully dressed, radio hooked on his ear, and that he's also still in his lab, slumped over his desk.

"Patrick."

"I'm asleep, Pete. It's the middle of the night and I'm asleep and in bed, so I'll talk you tomorrow, okay?" Patrick yawns, stretches and cracks his back. His laptop cursor is blinking at him at the end of a long page of js, where his finger had gotten heavy in slumber.

"No, you're not."

Patrick scrubs a hand over his face. "What?"

"You're not in bed," Pete says. "I'm in your bed, and you're not here. Unless you've, like, shrunk. You didn't shrink, did you?" he asks, and his voice is more tight than teasing, because they both know that could certainly happen in Pegasus.

"No," Patrick says, getting to his feet. Pete's encroachment on his quarters doesn't surprise him. "No, Pete, I didn't shrink." He glances at his watch and sees it's not quite the middle of the night. It's late, but the mess is still open, and he briefly contemplates grabbing something quick to eat, maybe one of those really sweet and thick imitation brownies, before heading back to his room.

He's paused in the hallway by the nearest transporter, shifting on his feet in indecision, when Pete says, softly, "Patrick. Sing me a song, Patrick."

"Hey, no." He checks the radio channel to see if it's on the common science one or one of the more private lines. He usually turns it to a semi-public one just for general emergencies before going to bed.

"Sing me a lullaby," Pete insists. "Sing me songs of your heart. Sing—"

"Pete, god, shut up, okay?" Patrick says, cheeks flushing, because there's bound to be someone out there, listening. Chuck, probably, or whoever has the nightshift in the control room. Second patrol.

Pete laughs, tired and thin, and Patrick sighs and palms open the transporter, silently bemoaning the loss of his midnight snack.

*

It's dangerous. It's dangerous, but Spencer can't seem to stop. The little touches, the wrist squeezing, light fingers at the small of Urie's back.

Urie sends him strange, happy looks whenever he does it and Spencer knows, he knows he shouldn't encourage him, but the entire atmosphere of Atlantis is so unlike any other post he's ever had, so close-knit and familial, and it's not like anyone's going to call him on it.

"You seem cheerful," Walker says.

Spencer shrugs, tearing his gaze away from Urie as he bounces his way down the food line. He toys with his watery eggs. "We're cleared for a puddlejumper."

Walker's watching him thoughtfully over the rim of his coffee cup, but his eyes light up at Spencer's words. "Yeah?"

"Space 'gate," Spencer says, grinning. Of course, the downside to that is the stargate's three hours off-planet, and the planet itself is mostly desert, but. Puddlejumper missions are always more fun.

Ryan's tray clatters onto the table next to Walker. "I never thought there'd be a day I'd long for toaster waffles," he says, frowning down at his eggs.

"You should stick with cereal," Urie says, sliding in next to Spencer. He's got a huge bowl of Froot Loops, along with—

"Oh no," Walker says, snatching the mug of coffee out of Urie's grasping hands. "No caffeine for you. You shouldn't even be having sugar, man."

Urie pouts. "That's so—"

"I was in that body for almost a day," Walker points out. "I know you now. We're gonna have to scrape you off the ceiling."

"Whatever," Urie grumbles.

Spencer shakes his head. "Briefing's at 0900," he says, getting to his feet and collecting his tray. He curls his hands around the hard plastic, resisting the urge to cuff Urie in the back of the head. Then he thinks what the hell, and reaches out, sliding his fingers into Urie's dark mop and pushing him forward, a light playful shove.

"Hey," Urie says, batting his hand off and tossing a grin over his shoulder.

Spencer just arches his brows, then quirks half his mouth up and walks away.

*

As far as Brendon is concerned, three things of import happen on the desert planet of PX5-70S.

Firstly: "That," Brendon says, "is a giant tortoise." A giant sand tortoise, to be exact, roughly the size of a Buick sedan, and it's awesome. It even let Brendon pet its giant head.

Secondly: Ryan trips and twists his ankle. He trips, specifically, on what he swears was a rock, but was apparently just his own feet. Brendon doesn't plan on letting him live that down anytime soon.

And thirdly: Brendon kisses Spencer.

It's an impulse, because Spencer's been teasing him for days and he's laughing over Jon's tortoise impression - which is pretty great and involves lots of slow-motion chewing - his entire body shaking with mirth, and Brendon just grabs his wrist and tugs him off behind the 'jumper and leans in and kisses him. It isn't anything but a peck, really, just a press of their smiles, but Brendon knows instantly it's a mistake by the way Spencer tenses up and jerks backwards.

The thing is, Brendon doesn't think he's been reading the signals wrong, because while Brendon hangs off anyone and everyone, Spencer never really touches anyone at all. He's been touching Brendon, though. He's been touching Ryan a little, too, but not as much as Brendon, and the little absent caresses have been driving him crazy.

So Brendon's upset. He's mad at himself and he's mad at Spencer, because Spencer's an asshole.

"You're being quiet," Ryan says.

They're in the back of 'jumper, still an hour out from the 'gate. Cloaking was being sticky, so Brendon's busying himself testing crystals, and Ryan's got his bum foot resting on the bench.

"Spencer's an asshole," Brendon says without looking up from his datapad.

There's a pause. Then Ryan says, "Okay."

"Okay." Brendon nods. He's glad they've established that as fact.

*

Ryan's curious. Normally, he'd just ask Spencer what was going on, except Spencer's got this pinched expression on his face, like his underwear's too tight, and that usually means he's spoiling for a fight. Ryan's got delicate bone structure, and Spencer's got a mean right hook, and Ryan's too pretty to risk it.

So instead he asks William.

This is a bold move. Although William eagerly shares his infinite wisdom and knowledge with all who'll listen, rarely, rarely does anyone ever actually ask him for it.

William is a geologist. He's a top-of-his-field geologist specializing in explosions, and he's got a pet rock - "Geode, dude, geode" - named Zippy.

He eyes Ryan through the 3D representation of the largest layered rock face on the mining planet, M45. "Smith and Urie," he says slowly.

"Yep."

He steps over to the side, then flicks off the simulation. "Okay, let me put it this way." He picks up Zippy, a slightly smaller purple geode, and another quartz-filled rock that looks almost exactly like Zippy, the inside a deep, crystallized red. "For the purposes of this demonstration, Zippy'll be Smith."

Ryan blinks. He thinks maybe he's made the wrong decision here. He's just looking for some gossip. "Um."

"Hang on, stay with me. Zippy's Smith and Urie's the amethyst geode and this jasper one," he waggles the other red geode, "is you."

Ryan has no idea where William's going with this.

Fifteen minutes later, after William has, apparently, made the two red geodes make sweet, sweet love, Ryan still has no idea what he's talking about. Well, he has a clue, but he thinks maybe William has finally lost his mind.

When William gives up the rock analogies - seriously, rock analogies - and says, "You and Smith are like lobsters, and Urie's this adorable hermit crab," Ryan kind of wants to stab himself in the brain, but instead he deadpans, "So you're saying Spencer's in love with me."

"Yeah, man, yeah, exactly. You've got some weird dynamics going on there," William says, nodding, and as he's ushering Ryan out of his labs - because he's got "shit to do besides schooling eager young men in the mysterious ways of the heart" - he adds, "Oh, and tell Jon to come see me when he's not busy being on the gayest team in the galaxy," which is kind of laughable coming from William, except William isn't on a 'gate team, so point.

*

It's possible that Spencer is freaking out. It's highly likely, in fact, that Spencer is freaking out.

Urie kissed him. Wait, no, not Urie, Brendon, because he has to keep some sort of perspective here, and Urie is on his team. Urie's life depends on his objectivity and his capability as a leader. Urie is annoying beyond anything Spencer has ever known, and Brendon sort of has soft lips. Brendon is someone he has to push the fuck out of his mind.

Brendon is standing in his doorway, watching him pace.

Spencer freezes. "Uh."

Brendon's arms are crossed, and his fingers are biting into the pale flesh of his biceps, slipped up under the sleeves of his t-shirt. "You're an asshole," he says, and Spencer gapes a little.

"I'm." He pauses, then reaches out and jerks Brendon inside the room, thinking the door shut behind him. This isn't a conversation he wants to have in the hallway. "What?"

"You're an asshole," Brendon repeats, arms dropping to his sides to fidget. "You can't just—"

"Can we." Spencer pinches the middle of Brendon's glasses and pulls them off his face and okay. Okay, yeah, that's better, that's different, and he can totally compartmentalize this and be fine for tomorrow's mission.

Brendon blinks, but it's more like a fluttering of lashes, and he's got these big doe eyes and there's some confusion there, but there's also some hurt.

"You were saying?" Spencer prompts.

"Right." Brendon licks his lips and Spencer realizes that he's staring at his mouth about three seconds too late. "That," Brendon snaps, jabbing a finger at him, "you can't do that, Spencer. Not unless you're going to follow through—"

It is possible that at this point, Spencer is no longer paying attention to Brendon's words. He thinks he's maybe rambling about inappropriate touching - which, really, like Brendon can talk - but mainly Spencer's watching the way his lips move, the way he dips his head, and the way his fingers skate over the side of his neck.

Spencer's jaw tightens. "I think." he interrupts Brendon.

"What?"

"I think you should leave," he says, and his words are so careful and precise and his eyes are narrowed and he knows he wants Brendon to stay. Stay and push his composure, push his boundaries like he's been doing since they first fucking met.

Brendon's expression turns half-suspicious, half-sly. "No."

"No?" Spencer takes an involuntary step closer to him, fingers curling and uncurling at his sides.

"I don't think so, no," Brendon says, more stubborn this time, and, okay, Spencer has no clue what he's doing, no clue, but he does it anyway.

*

Brendon is confused, but he's never let that stop him before.

His hands are under Spencer's shirt, spread over his bare skin, and Spencer's not just letting him touch, he's touching him back, tentative fingers against his side, his neck.

Brendon always thought, if they ever got this far, there'd be a rush, urgency, an overwhelming sense of we can never do this again. He thought Spencer would be forceful, maybe angry, and okay, those are hot thoughts, Brendon isn't going to lie. He's had more than one fantasy involving a wall and Spencer shackling his wrists above his head.

But Spencer's fingers are soft along his jaw, and his kiss is chaste enough to be a question.

Brendon tightens his grip on Spencer's hips and opens up under Spencer's mouth, licking over his lower lip, and when Spencer's breath hitches, he smiles.

Spencer pulls back. "What?"

"Nothing," Brendon says, then skins off Spencer's shirt, pressing close against his chest, one palm sliding up his spine to cup his nape, leaning in to bite a pale shoulder.

"Brendon," Spencer says, slightly breathless, and Brendon turns his face into Spencer's throat, open-mouthed over his pulse-point.

*

Ryan hesitates at Spencer's door. He hesitates and then he shrugs to himself and rings the chimes.

There's a muffled thump, and then the door slides open halfway, revealing Spencer rubbing a hand over his face like he's avoiding the bright light of the hallway. The room behind him is dark, and Spencer's hair is spiked up ridiculously above his ears, falling at weird angles over his forehead. He's not wearing a shirt, and there're tiny Marvin the Martians all over his boxers. Although Ryan hasn't born witness to many Spencer-in-boxers moments in recent years, he has his doubts about their ownership.

Ryan checks his watch and confirms that it's still afternoon. He's growing slightly suspicious.

Spencer makes an inpatient noise, then follows it up with an irritated, "Ryan?" when Ryan just stares at him.

Right. He's there for a reason. Ryan clears his throat, then asks, "You're not in love with me, are you?"

Spencer blinks, thickly, and a slow smile blooms across his face. And then he starts laughing. Like, dying laughing, one arm across his bare stomach, forehead tipped into the doorjamb, eyes not quite closed, but reduced to narrow slits from his huge-ass grin.

It's kind of insulting, except Ryan hasn't seen Spencer laugh like this in ages.

Ryan smiles despite himself, hands sliding into his pockets. It's what he gets for listening to William, really. "So I guess that's a no."

Spencer winds down to a few giggles, pressing the heel of his palm into his left eye, still grinning at him. He's soft in ways Ryan never remembers him being. Then he reaches out and squeezes Ryan's arm and says, "I'm going to shut the door on you now."

Ryan thinks that's okay.

*

Walker's watching him oddly. He's darting his gaze from Brendon - who's alternately jittering around on antsy feet and hanging off Ryan and grinning really, really stupidly at Spencer - and then back to Spencer, and it's starting to make Spencer's skin itch.

"What?" he asks, and Walker shakes his head, slow like his accompanying, "Nothing," is really 'something.'

Spencer scratches the back of his neck. "You're not going to say anything, right?"

"Dude." Walker cracks a huge smile. "Come on. This is great, of course not."

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Wouldn't say great," he mutters, then sighs and says, "It's just." He stops, because he's never tried to articulate it before, but he doesn't want this, whatever this is, to mess up their team dynamic. He doesn't want to favor Brendon, Urie, over Walker or Ryan. He doesn't want to make decisions based on his emotions, because that's when people got killed, and.

"Hey." Walker grips his upper arm. "What's going to change, right?" he asks, like he can read Spencer's mind. "Ryan's your best friend since forever. You really think you're going to put Urie ahead of him, or vice versa?"

Which is a valid point, Spencer thinks. "And you—"

"Can follow orders," Walker interrupts, "but I'm not going to follow orders I think are stupid," and his overall stance is you-don't-have-to-worry-about-me, and Spencer's pretty sure if he ever does go suddenly, blindly biased, Walker'll be there to kick his ass.

Walker claps his shoulder. "Ready?" he asks.

Spencer nods. "Yeah." He turns slightly and sends a half-wave, half-salute up towards the control room.

"Good luck, gentlemen," Dr. Weir says, and then the 'gate starts dialing out.