Surprisingly, the mission went well. After a quick round of negotiations, the Katralla agreed to their terms, and the only request they added was that the members of AR-1 stayed for the Festival of Love. After Teyla explained to the rest of her team what the festival was, and how it was perfectly safe, as she knew from experience, John agreed they could stay, but that didn’t mean he was exactly willing to participate.
“How do you suppose it works?” Rodney asked John, shaking the small vial they received.
John shrugged. “Genetic compatibility?”
Rodney shook his head. “Teyla said she saw it work with same-sex couples, which wouldn’t make sense if it was used for reproduction.”
“Unless Zelenka is right about that incubator room we found in the east tower. A genetic compatibility test would fit his theory.”
“We’ll know more about it after I have a chance to look at the lab, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a simple enzyme, nothing dangerous.”
“Teyla did say she participated before.”
“Are you going to try it?”
“I’m not sure if I’ll refuse if someone asks, but I won’t go around chasing anyone.”
Rodney hesitated for a moment. “I think I will. All these beautiful women waiting to be kissed… And this would give me an opportunity to see how this works. Wish me luck.”
“Try not to destroy diplomatic relations.”
Rodney ignored him and went to the dance floor. John turned to the bar; he didn’t want to look at Rodney kissing every woman there, or how it was more likely, getting slapped by them. Two women approached him while he was trying not to think of Rodney, and he accepted to kiss them in the spirit of participating of the festival as it was requested. The first tasted like salt, and the second like lemon. He hated how that made him think of Rodney, and didn’t kiss anyone else after that.
Rodney came back after a little over an hour. “No match. I tasted everything you can imagine, but nothing sweet. Can you believe my luck? All these women and none of them are a match to me.”
John raised an eyebrow. “You kissed all of them already?”
“There’s not much seduction involved, I just showed them the vial and we kissed, then moved to the next person.”
“Maybe you should try Teyla,” John suggested, figuring he would never do it, or that, at least, Teyla would never agree.
“I did that already, actually. She tasted like green tea and mint. Have you tried anyone?”
John tried not to think of Rodney and Teyla kissing. “Two, salt and lemon.”
Rodney made a face. “I’m glad the taste changes from person to person, even just the taste of citrus makes me nervous.”
“You can’t die from just the taste, and we tested the formula, it’s safe.”
“I know that, but the taste still makes me nervous. I still can’t believe that I couldn’t find a match. If it’s a genetic compatibility test, statistically, someone here has to be compatible to me.”
“Though luck, buddy,” John said, patting his shoulder. “Are you sure you didn’t just skip someone?”
Rodney slapped his forehead. “I’m such an idiot. I mean, I’m a genius, but I… I don’t want to say failed to consider. I forgot what Teyla said before. I should have tried all the men too,” Rodney said, getting up to leave.
“Wait, what? No, that’s not what I meant.” But it was too late, Rodney was already too far away to hear him, shaking his vial in front of an attractive young brunet with spiky hair. John tried and failed to look away, but was satisfied to see that they only kissed for a brief moment before both spat on the floor. John thought it served Rodney right, for thinking he could just kiss every one there like that.
Trying to concentrate on his drink when he knew that behind him Rodney was kissing every man he saw was harder than it had been when he was kissing women, and John tried not to think too hard about what that could mean. It didn’t help that he was offworld and needed to be alert, so his drink was water with pieces of something that looked like a blue pineapple and tasted like peaches. Not even proper juice, just pieces of fruit cut and put inside the cup to add flavor to the water. As far as drinks went, it was too boring to distract him Rodney.
It took longer for Rodney to come back this time, and John was already considering recalling his team and going home when he sat by his side.
“There are more guys here,” he offered as an explanation, a little short of breath.
John tried to ignore that. “No luck?” he asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
“No, but Ronon tastes like bacon, so maybe I should keep kissing him.”
“You kissed Ronon?” John tried and failed to sound casual.
Rodney shrugged. “I was being thorough.”
“I can believe he went along with that.”
“As it turns out, he was here before too, and both he and Teyla believe that this can help you find your soulmate.” Rodney turned to him, and shook his vial. “I haven’t tried you yet.”
John shook his head. “And you won’t, but it’s nice to know I’m your last option.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “It won’t make you gay, you know? It’s just a kiss. Or we could just touch the tips of our tongues, that works too, just isn’t as much fun.”
John wanted to laugh, because of course Rodney would get this wrong. “Believe me, I know that kissing men can’t make me gay any more than kissing women can make me straight.”
Rodney seemed shocked by that. “You’re… but how come you never…?”
“Air force, remember?”
“Oh right. Well, no one is going to know if you kiss me here.”
John sighed, Rodney really didn’t want to drop this. “Why? So you can say you kissed everyone here?”
“So I can see if you are my soulmate. Isn’t that the point? You told the priestess you would respect the festival.”
“You don’t believe in soulmates.”
“Neither do you, but we are talking about the Ancients. Who knows what this thing actually does?”
“Probably not what the Katralla think it does, so what’s the point?”
“Aren’t you curious to see if we are a match?”
“Not particularly,” John said, trying to sound casual.
That seemed to hurt Rodney. “Fine, if you think kissing me is such a terrible idea, you should have said something.”
“I thought I just did.”
Rodney got up to leave, and John regretted his words. He didn’t mean to offend Rodney, but he was sure Rodney didn’t want to kiss him, he was just curious about the effects of that formula.
“I think I’ll go back to the lab, see what else I can discover,” Rodney said as he turned towards the exit.
“Rodney, wait,” John said, getting up and reaching out to grab his arm. He certainly didn’t mean to drive Rodney away from the festivities, especially when he seemed to be having so much fun. “Why do you want to kiss me?” It wasn’t what he meant to ask, but it was too late to take that back.
Rodney stared at him. “Why don’t you want to kiss me?”
“I asked you first,” John said, and he knew it was childish, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I asked you second.”
John rolled his eyes. “What are you, five?”
“Fine, I’ll tell you if you tell me.”
“Only after we kiss.”
“Fine.” It took John’s brain a moment to catch up with what he had just agreed, and he was still trying to find a way to defuse the situation when Rodney placed a drop of the formula on his own tongue. Since John couldn’t think of anything to say, he extended his tongue, trying not to think too hard about this. He told himself it was just a kiss, it didn’t have to mean anything.
John held Rodney’s face, and they started the kiss with their mouths open, which was weird and not how he would have liked to do it. He tried to focus on keeping his hands still and leaving some space between their bodies, even though he wanted nothing more than pulling him closer. He was so focused on not giving anything away that it was only when Rodney moaned against his mouth that he noticed the taste.
Chocolate. The good kind, like the stash Rodney kept in his room. Sweet, but not overly so. It was already beginning to fade, and it wasn’t what John imagined when Teyla talked about a sweet taste meaning a match, but he had no doubt this was it. Except it didn’t meant anything. There was no such thing as a soulmate. John dropped his hands and started to pull away.
Rodney had other plans. He grabbed John by the hair and kept him in place, kissing him even though neither of them could taste the chocolate anymore. John pulled him by the waist, then slid a hand down to his ass before remembering where they were. He forced himself to pull away.
They stared at each other for a moment.
John cleared his throat. “Uh, you were going to tell me…”
“Because I was afraid it was going to be my only chance,” Rodney said earnestly. “Your turn.”
“Because I was afraid if we kissed you would know how much I wanted to kiss you.”
They kept staring at each other. The festival was approaching its end, as more and more couples left after finding their match, and the remaining had few people they still hadn’t tested.
“What did you taste? Because I think it was–”
“Chocolate. Like the one you gave me the last time I beat you at Mario Kart.”
Rodney nodded. “It was the same thing then.”
“This is how it works.”
“Soulmates don’t exist,” Rodney said, because he felt that he had to.
“I know,” John said, and it was true. He didn’t believe in soulmates, but he didn’t think this was a genetic compatibility test either. He didn’t know how that formula worked or what was its purpose, but he couldn’t believe that being paired with Rodney was a coincidence.
“So what do you think this is?”
“I don’t know.”
“Earlier you said it could be a genetic compatibility test.”
“I’m not so sure anymore.” Then, because there was too much tension between them, he added, “Maybe we should hold off on going to the incubator room.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Don’t even joke about that. You shouldn’t go anywhere near that room, Atlantis loves you so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if she was desperate enough to have your babies that she wouldn’t even wait for a command.”
John shivered, and made a mental note to keep away from that room. “What do you think this is?” he asked, both to change the subject and because he wanted to know which logical explanation Rodney would give to this.
“There’s a mental component to much of Ancient technology, maybe it’s a rudimental type of mental scan, and it works with some sort of matchmaking software.”
John raised an eyebrow. “You said it was just an enzyme, no nanites in it.”
“We don’t know if this works outside of here, maybe there’s something in the lab, some sort of field that uses this enzyme to scan people and do an assessment of their compatibility.”
“Matchmaking mental scans almost sounds like a scientific explanation for soulmates.”
“That’s one theory. The other…” Rodney averted his eyes. “A more simple explanation would be that it’s actually just wish fulfilment. That the enzyme is made to stimulate the taste buds, but the actual taste is determined by the user, maybe even subconsciously. Someone tells you it will taste sweet when you find your soulmate, so when you try it with someone… maybe it tastes sweet because you want it to. Do you think that’s a possibility?” He sounded almost shy, and nervous in that way that made him talk too much.
John knew what he was asking, of course, and that it had nothing to do with testing the validity of his theory. Even with what he had said before, Rodney still wasn’t sure, and that was something John could relate to. He couldn’t say what Rodney really wanted to hear, but he knew he needed to say something, no matter how hard it was. “I didn’t believe, I didn’t think it would mean anything, but I still wanted it to taste sweet.”
“I wanted that too. Maybe… maybe we could test that? See if we can make the taste change?”
John smiled. If that was how Rodney wanted to play it… “If you want to kiss me again, you can just ask.”
“Oh shut up.”
Rodney went for the hair again, and John wanted to ask him if that was a thing for him, but he didn’t have a chance because Rodney was kissing him again and this time it had nothing to do with the formula. The kiss was better this time, the first time Rodney was too focused on his tongue, and John on not letting his feelings be known. John was surprised to learn that Rodney was a good kisser, and although he tasted just like someone who had kissed everyone in a bar, it was somehow better than the chocolate, because this was how he really tasted. Pulling their bodies together seemed natural, and when Rodney started to grind his thigh against John’s groin, John reflexively spread his legs, not even thinking about the situation. Only when Rodney pulled his head back by the hair and started kissing and biting his exposed neck John remembered they were in public, and realized they needed to slow down before he stopped caring about that.
“Wait, Rodney,” John said while pushing him back slightly. “People can see us.”
“What?” Rodney looked around confused, as if he had forgotten where they were, and then he looked hurt, misinterpreting John’s comment as made in shame. “Oh yeah, you wouldn’t want people to see that.”
It made John irrationally angry that Rodney would think that of him. “I wouldn’t want people to see me come in my pants, which is what would happen if you kept doing that,” John said dryly.
“Ooh. Right. Yes, that would be bad.” Rodney blushed and looked away. “They have rooms around the back, you know? For the festival. One of the natives told me. We could just…” he trailed off, pointing at the exit.
“We can’t, not offworld.” It almost pained him to say this. He wanted Rodney for so long, and now he was turning away this chance.
“But in Atlantis… we can’t risk letting the IOA know, they would love an excuse to get rid of you.”
John nodded. He knew that. DADT wasn’t enforced in Atlantis, and some of his officers even shared quarters with their same-sex partners, but officially they still had their own designated quarters, and everyone knew that if anyone from the IOA came, they should be careful. “I can’t spend the night, but we are in each other’s quarters often enough. Maybe tomorrow I could come by for some chess, nothing I haven’t done before.”
“Chess, why would I want to–oh, right. Chess. Why not tonight?”
John smiled. “It’s four am in Atlantis now, and tomorrow is a work day.”
“Every day is a work day, and I usually go to sleep later than that.”
“True, but by the time we get back, it will be morning already.”
“Fine, tomorrow night,” Rodney said crossing his arms, not at all happy with the idea of having to wait that long.
“Come on, you’ll sleep through most of the morning, then act like you should work the whole night to compensate, don’t even try to deny it, so I’ll have a great excuse to extract you from the lab, make sure you get something to eat.”
“Are you asking me out to dinner?”
“I was thinking something more along the lines of taking some food back to your room. I’m not so sure I can watch you eat dessert now and not feel like jumping you.”
Rodney blushed. In the past, John had made some rude remarks about the sounds he made eating sweets, especially things like chocolate cake. At the time, he had marked that down as friendly teasing, but John’s comment now made him think that there was more to it. “So, what now?”
John shrugged. “We should probably try to find Ronon and Teyla and head back.”
Rodney nodded. “Probably.” He didn’t want to leave just yet, but couldn’t explain that to John. He couldn’t find words to describe the fear at the bottom of his stomach, that this was just a heat of the moment kind of thing, brought on by the festival.
“On the other hand, we still have a couple hours before our next scheduled check-in.”
“There’s no need to offend the Katralla by leaving early.” He launched at the opportunity to stay a little longer, even though he couldn’t care less about the Katralla or their festival, except for the fact that they were the cause of what happened between him and John.
“We could test your theory about the formula, try to see if we can make the taste change.” It was a weak excuse, and he was almost sure the first theory was closer to the reality, but if they had to stop every couple of minutes to take more drops, things couldn’t get too heated between them.
“I like that idea, I like that idea a lot,” Rodney said, opening his vial.
When it was time to leave, Rodney and John had used so many vials that they almost forgot they were supposed to bring samples back for testing, and had to go around looking for more. However, every time they kissed, the taste remained the same: comfortable, familiar, delicious, and most importantly, sweet.