He wasn't shivering anymore.
Somewhere, deep in the ancient lizard-part of his brain still vaguely occupied with his survival, John Sheppard knew this was a bad thing. A very bad thing. He couldn't remember why, though.
He couldn't remember what he was doing here, either, or where 'here' was, or anything much beyond the steadfast certainty that if he stopped moving he was toast. No, not toast. Toast was warm.
Dead meat, then. Frozen, dead meat. Yeah, that was better; that worked. Rodney always appreciated descriptive accuracy...
John stopped, teetering in the knee-deep snow. Something about Rodney had triggered a soft but insistent alarm in the same part of his brain that was keeping him upright. Rodney should be with him--that was it. Rodney should have been with John, and he wasn't, and that was another Very Bad Thing that John knew he should remember.
"Teyla," John murmured experimentally. "Ronon." Their names didn't set off any alarms, so maybe they were all right. Because John wasn't all right, he knew that much. He was so cold he couldn't feel his feet or his hands and he wasn't shivering. And his head hurt badly. And if he was worrying about Rodney, maybe that meant Rodney was somewhere not-shivering and hurting, too.
That was the worst of all the Very Bad Things. If Rodney was somewhere that John wasn't and hurt and not shivering, then John had to find him. But when John tried to take another step, his foot didn't move but the rest of him did: face forward right into the snow.
The same sort-of functioning lizard brain made him roll over so he could breathe, but it kind of gave up after that. John lay on his back looking up at the leaden grey sky; pretty sure he should be trying to get up but completely lost as to how to do that. He watched, mesmerized, as the snowflakes drifted down in the perfectly still air, landing softly as kisses on his forehead and cheeks and lips. His skin was so cold he couldn't feel them touch his face. He wondered how long it would take to be buried here, and if anyone would ever find him.
He woke up shivering violently and in terrible pain, buried in something that was white as snow but was soft and warm--unbelievably, horribly warm. Every part of him hurt like white-hot cables were threading through his veins, but his hands and feet were the worst. It felt like his feet were clamped between two branding irons and his hands had been shoved into an oven. He was burning. Someone was burning him alive.
The scream crawling out of his throat barely qualified as a whisper, but the soft thing just held him more tightly when he wanted to pull away. John struggled harder, trying to get his all-but useless muscles to obey him and get him away from the pain.
"Stop it! For The love of God, John, cut it out! I swear, only you could be easier to deal with when you're unconscious!" John heard a sound like an angry yowl and then he was held more tightly still, like being clutched in the arms of a bear. "Do you want your fingers and toes to fall off? Because they will if you don't stop moving and let me warm them up!"
John stopped moving, trying blearily to focus past the pain. He knew that voice. "Rodney?" He blinked, trying to see him, but there was only the white everywhere. It felt like he was sinking in it, boiling. "Where are you?"
"I'm right here, you nitwit," Rodney said. "Who do you think is keeping you from freezing to death, despite your own efforts otherwise? How on earth did you manage to get a concussion during an avalanche, anyway? Weren't you in enough danger already? You didn't have to play dodge ball with a rock for bonus points!"
Yeah, that sounded like Rodney, with the worry and sarcasm all squished together. But his voice seemed to reverberate right through John's body, like he was enveloped in it just like he was enveloped in the hot, fluffy thing. Maybe he'd been trapped in ice, and it only felt soft and this warm because he was freezing?
"No, the freezing part was before I found you. And thank God for your ridiculous shaggy hair or I never would've even seen you, considering you were already mostly buried. I can't smell a damned thing either, because my nose is all stuffed up. Unless I'm coming down with pneumonia, because it only makes sense that the Pegasus version of Hoth would destroy my immune system..."
"Rodney?" John's head felt like it was full of bricks, but he forced himself to lift it until it lolled back enough for him to look up, into the largest, bluest pair of eyes he'd ever seen. Incredibly blue eyes surrounded by snow-white fur and perched above the white muzzle of an albino lion.
His scream was a little better than a whisper this time, and he was warm enough that managed to yank his hands free and then kick his feet out of the vice holding them and throw himself into the snow. His head spun with vertigo, and after the unbelievable warmth the shock of suddenly being cold again was like being dropped into a frozen lake. John gasped as his heart lurched in protest, and his hands and feet started aching again as his blood cooled. He hadn't known his boots were gone. Clever lion, to take his boots.
He tried to stand up, to run, but what little strength he'd regained deserted him and he just fell on his side, trembling uncontrollably.
"John!" The white lion scooped him out of the snow like he was a clumsy toddler. Something about a lion picking him up didn't make sense, but everything hurt too much for John to figure out why. "John, can you hear me? Answer me, please!" The lion began to lick frantically at the side of John's head with big, rasping lashes of his tongue. It scraped over a place on John's skull that really hurt and John flinched. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, John, but you have to wake up. Can you please open your eyes?"
His eyes were closed? "M'awake," John murmured. He tried to do what Rodney wanted, wrenching his eyes open a crack.
The big, blue-eyed lion was looking back at him. But that expression wasn't hunger or bloodlust, John realized. The lion was afraid. Afraid of him?
Maybe he'd said that out loud too, because the lion answered him. "I'm not afraid of you! I'm afraid for you! Do you have any idea how injured you are? Or how far we are from the gate? No, of course you don't. You probably can't even tell me your own name right now. Just, please, don't go diving into the snow again, okay? I didn't mean to hurt you, but your fingertips were blue and I'm sure your toes were worse and the rest of you was so cold--"
"Rodney." John slapped his hand clumsily over the lion's muzzle. His pink triangle of a nose was wet and very warm. John thought that might mean he was sick, or maybe that was just with dogs. "Why are you a lion?"
Rodney-the-lion blinked his big, bright blue eyes at him. "Yes, I'm probably getting sick, thank you. But I'm not a lion. I'm a long-haired cat." He sounded kind of embarrassed about it.
"Oh," John said. "That's okay, then." Cats probably didn't eat people.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, considering you're sharing everything going through your extremely addled head, but at least as long as you're talking you're not dead. So don't stop."
"'Kay." John was actually beginning to feel warm, snug against Rodney the kitty-furnace. It was like being rolled in a thick plush blanket next to a fire. He could hear the quick but steady thud, thud, thud of Rodney's heart and the gurgling of his stomach. "Don't eat me."
Rodney snorted like a cat spitting. "As if I would. You'd be too tough and stringy. Not that I'd ever consider it," he added quickly. "I'd never eat anyone, but especially not my friends."
That was nice. John smacked his hand against Rodney's muzzle again. "Good kitty."
Rodney huffed wet, warm breath against John's face. "You are so out of it." He looked around them then made a sound like a worried whine. "The snow's not getting any lighter. We can't stay here. I'm going to have to carry you to the gate."
"'Kay," John murmured. His was dimly aware of Rodney shifting his weight, then being lifted. Rodney carried him in his arms like a child, which probably should've been humiliating but John didn't have the energy for it.
"I'm sorry I can't keep your hands and feet warm like this," cat-Rodney said. "But night's coming and even I won't be able to keep us both warm after the sun goes down." He made a very Rodney-like grimace with his cat muzzle. "I wish we both hadn't lost our radios."
"Mmm," John grunted. He was barely listening. Instead his whole focus was on the thick fur of Rodney's chest. He could sink his fingers in it up to the knuckles. He ran his hand up and down, fascinated by the texture and the warmth. "Soft."
"Yes, cats tend to be, Colonel," Rodney sighed. "And under other circumstances I'd probably really be enjoying what you're doing, but right now it's just annoying. So could you stop, please?"
"I wanted a cat," John said. He kept rubbing Rodney's fur. "One of our neighbors had barn cats. I got to play with the kittens, once. Their fur was the same."
"You seem like more of a dog person," Rodney said. He wasn't being sarcastic, John knew, just observing.
John shrugged. "Never had anything. Just horses. I wanted someone to keep me company at night, but we weren't allowed. Too dirty."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Rodney said.
"Long time ago," John said. The years didn't erase the hurt of it, though, or the sadness of the little boy he'd once been: crying in his bed in his dark room after a nightmare; too frightened to go back to sleep but even more scared of waking up his parents. John smirked, feeling Rodney's fur against his lips. "I sneaked out to the barn, one time. Slept with the horses." He'd been six years old, and more afraid of staying in his room than of braving the dark for the warm promise of the barn. Orion had been lying on his side so John had curled up between the gelding's legs with his head on Orion's stomach.
"Why does that not surprise me?" Rodney said. He grunted and shifted John's weight. The snow was falling faster now, the flakes bigger. "You're lucky he didn't step on you."
"Orion wouldn't hurt me," John said. He'd known that to the depths of his six year-old soul, but his parents hadn't believed him. His father sold the horse, to make sure John never tried sneaking back to the barn. John had loved that animal so much, and he never saw it again. And when he had nightmares there was nowhere to go and no one to help him. He was always alone.
"Oh, no. No, John, it's okay. You're all right. You're not alone. I've got you. I'm right here, eh? I'm right here."
John sniffed with his very cold nose and for a moment couldn't understand why it was winter and he was outside when he should be under his blanket in his room. He knew that's where he fled to after he'd gone to the stables after school to see Orion, only to find his stall empty. He swallowed, wiping his eyes. "Rodney?"
"Yeah, it's me. I'm right here. The big kitty, remember?"
"Kitty?" John repeated, trying to connect the word to anything. He gripped the white fur he was being held against, trying to find an anchor when nothing around him made sense.
"John?" Rodney sounded worried. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Orion's gone," John said.
"After that," Rodney said. He sounded scared. "Do you know where you are?"
"With you," John said. "We're going home."
The big white cat licked his hair with a dry rasp of his tongue. "That's right, John, we're going home. We'll be at the gate soon. Just...stay here, okay? Stay with me. Your name is John Sheppard and you're 38 and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. You know that, right? Right?" he repeated when John didn't answer him. "John?"
"Right," John said. He couldn't concentrate enough to really understand what Rodney was talking about, but sometimes it was easier just to agree instead of arguing.
"Thank God," Rodney said gustily. "And, uh, I won't tell anyone anything. About Orion, I mean. Don't worry."
"Okay," John said, closing his eyes. Their new warship was cool, but John didn't know what Rodney wasn't going to tell anyone. But whatever it was, it'd be fine. Rodney was his best friend. John knew he wouldn't betray his secrets.
"Just hang on, okay? I'm going as fast as I can, but you need to stay with me, all right?" Rodney said. "John? Don't fall asleep, okay? John!"
John just grunted, too tired to answer. Then something rough ran painfully over the side of his head, laving at the wound. "Ow." He squinted his eyes open enough to bat at Rodney's mouth. "Quit it."
Rodney licked his head all the way to the gate.
When John woke up in the infirmary, Rodney was Rodney again. There was some reason that was important, but John couldn't remember it.
It didn't make sense, anyway. Rodney was always Rodney, right? How could he be anything else?
John just chalked the weird feeling up to the concussion and tried not to worry about it, along with all the other stuff that apparently happened on the planet that he couldn't remember. All John could actually recall about their trip to what Rodney had naturally dubbed 'Hoth' was being wrapped in a fuzzy white blanket. Carson said he'd probably just hallucinated being in a warm blanket when he was really in the freezing snow, because he'd gotten so hypothermic that his brain had lost the ability to gauge his temperature. It seemed like a reasonable explanation.
It didn't seem like the right explanation, but it seemed like a reasonable one, so John went with it. That made Rodney happy, for some reason. Maybe he was just relieved his team leader wasn't losing his mind.
John wasn't sure he hadn't already lost his mind, though. Because once in awhile he'd look at Rodney and have this bizarre sense that there was something missing, like Rodney had forgotten an important part of his own body in his quarters, which was just ridiculous. And sometimes John would have a dream about a big white cat, of all things, though occasionally it was a big white lion.
Nothing would really happen in the dream. He'd just be there, and the lion/cat would be there and maybe he'd pet it or it'd lick his head or whatever and that would be it. Just a stupid dream about an overly large feline; it didn't mean anything.
But John would always wake up happy after one of those dreams, and since more often than not all the shit they dealt with in Pegasus gave him nightmares, he figured he could use as many stupid, happy dreams as he could get. He never told anyone about them either, not even Heightmeyer, even though hearing about stupid dreams was part of her job. John kept it to himself because he didn't talk about stuff like that, and it was nobody else's business, anyway. It had nothing to do with him being superstitious that if he told someone maybe he wouldn't have those dreams anymore. They were just private, that was all.
That wasn't the only new way John started looking at Rodney, though: like there was something missing. It wasn't like John had never watched Rodney before, or maybe thought about those big, capable hands on his skin or those mobile lips covering his own. That was another thing he didn't tell anyone, but that wasn't the way John started watching Rodney now. Now, John wasn't just looking at Rodney, he was noticing him, in ways he hadn't before the avalanche.
Now John was noticing things like how he was the only person Rodney actually seemed to want to hang out with, despite how he was supposed to be crazy about Katie Brown and he was Carson Beckett's best friend.
Or how much Rodney worried about John, if he got hurt or even if it just seemed like he might get hurt; Or how Rodney talked about them taking turns saving each other's lives like it was really important to him. No, not just important; sacred.
Or the way Rodney still looked at John sometimes, even months after the clusterfuck of Doranda: like he kept expecting John to walk away again.
John began to wonder if Rodney hadn't started noticing him, too.
They were on planet 46M-39, making nice with the locals. Usually that meant exchanging pleasantries and mutual distrust until Ronon growled too much or Rodney said something stupid or John smiled at the wrong person's daughter.
Sometimes making nice meant they were welcomed with open arms and a party, which was awesome, especially when it didn't involve a harvest festival or using the guests as dinner and/or ritual sacrifices.
"I love this galaxy," John said, grinning at Ronon. Ronon grunted in agreement and held out his cup for the pretty girl with the pitcher. The pretty girl offered the pitcher to John next, but he just gave her a smile and a languid wave. He'd only had one cup of the homebrew, but he had a feeling it packed a hell of a kick hidden under the deceptively innocent sweetness, because he didn't remember the happily crackling flames being quite so fascinating half an hour ago. Teyla was sitting on the other side of the fire, having a conversation with the village elder. Whatever they were talking about was apparently hilarious. Ronon was lazily necking with the woman sitting on his lap, though they both looked too sleepy to take it further than that. John was lying on the fur rug the villagers had thoughtfully put down around the big fire pit. He had one hand under his head and was running the fingers of his other hand through the fur, watching the incredibly fascinating fire.
Rodney had drunk two cups of the homebrew really fast, and now he was on his back next to John with his hands on his belly and a goofy smile on his face.
"I love this galaxy too," Rodney said, and John had to blink a few times before he remembered that Rodney was responding to what he'd said.
"Yeah," John said, which was about as profound as he could manage right then. He turned his head so he could smile at Rodney, because Rodney was definitely one of the reasons he loved this galaxy, maybe the biggest one.
He was running his hand through the fur and looking at Rodney and his incredible blue eyes as they reflected the firelight, and then all of a sudden he remembered being carried through the snow by a big white, blue-eyed lion.
Cat. Big, white, blue-eyed cat. Who was also Rodney.
John sat bolt upright, gaping.
Rodney blinked up at John gaping down at him, looking sleepy and confused. And then Rodney's eyes flicked back and forth from the warm, fuzzy rug to John's face, and John saw the exact second that Rodney realized that John knew. Rodney's big blue eyes got even bigger and he struggled to get up. John automatically reached to help him, taking his arm and hauling him the rest of the way.
He should've let go when Rodney was sitting more-or-less straight, but he didn't. They stayed connected like that, with John and Rodney staring at each other: John in wonder and Rodney in obvious fear. The color drained from Rodney's already pale complexion until he looked as white as the rug they were laying on, or like the giant humanoid cat he'd been.
Rodney swallowed, still staring. "John," he said, but then stopped as if he didn't know what words to use after that.
"It's okay, Rodney," John said, because Rodney looked so scared and John couldn't stand it. Okay wasn't the right word, but John knew that none of the other words in his head--astounding; unbelievable; crazy; amazing--would be right either. And John definitely knew that blurting, What the hell are you? would be the worst, and Ronon was already looking at them like he was considering being curious about what the fuck they were doing.
Rodney was obviously getting more panicked by the second. "I have to go," he said, shambling clumsily to his feet. "Um, I'm really tired. I'll see you in the morning!" He sounded like he was trying to talk someone out of shooting him.
"Rodney, don't," John said. He stood as well, wanting to stop him, but terror had sobered Rodney up really fast and he was already gone.
"What's his problem?" Ronon asked.
"I think he's not feeling well," John said. "You know how much of a lightweight he is when it comes to alcohol." He tried to shrug like it was no big deal. "I'm going to check on him. You know, make sure he doesn't throw up in my kit or anything."
Ronon just gave him a look like he was totally on to him. "Just keep it down if you're going to fuck," he said, then went back to kissing his temporary girlfriend, completely ignoring how John was standing there pole-axed.
"What..? No. No, that's wrong," John stammered. "Rodney and I--we're not--"
Ronon gave him a grunt that distinctly sounded like, 'whatever' then turned his head away from the woman on his lap with an audible slurp. "You two've been looking at each other like you're fucking for weeks," he said, like that was the only relevant point.
"Ronon, don't," John said, voice tightening with fear. "Don't say that!"
On the other side of the fire pit, Teyla pulled herself from her conversation to look at him too. "John, we are not asking, nor telling, nor particularly interested, other than in you both being happy," she said. "Please let us know if Rodney is unwell." She gave John one of her rare, truly dazzling smiles before focusing on her friend again.
"Oh," John said, rocked to the core. He hadn't really thought they'd mind that he was into guys, not that he'd thought they even knew, but this casual acceptance was so anti-climatic it was almost disappointing. "Um, thanks," John said to both of them. He gestured vaguely in the direction Rodney had gone. "I'm just going to..." He waited to see if Ronon or Teyla looked up again, but they didn't. He doubted they were even listening anymore. "Goodnight," he said over his shoulder as he trotted away from the fire pit.
By the time John found Rodney, John needed to turn his flashlight on to navigate the dark streets of the village. Rodney was already more than halfway to where they'd pitched their tents, well out of reach of the warm illumination of the fire. He looked strangely small and very alone, walking with his shoulders slumped and accompanied by nothing except the small halo of his own flashlight, and the distant brightness of the alien stars.
"Rodney! Hey, Rodney!" John put on a burst of speed and caught up to him, and then put his hand on Rodney's shoulder when the other man didn't stop. He'd touched Rodney lots of times--well, okay, a few times, maybe--before, but he'd never really let himself admire the feel of the strong, heavy muscles underneath Rodney's warm skin. He hadn't dared, not before tonight, but he'd already been hit by two bombshells in the last ten minutes; one more wasn't going to hurt.
Rodney's skin was very warm, like always. "Hey," John said. "It's all right."
"No, it's not," Rodney said stiffly. "I thought you're forgotten!" he added, then looked around wildly to make sure no one had heard them. There was nobody else at this end of the village, just their tents, but Rodney lowered his voice anyway. "I mean, I was well on my way to another ulcer, all set to beg, bribe or threaten you to keep your mouth shut, and then I found out you'd decided the whole thing was a hallucination and I didn't have to worry about it. And now out of the blue you get an epiphany from some stupid smelly animal hide, and I have to worry again." He put his hands over his stomach. "God, I can already feel the acid burning a hole right through my abdomen. I'm probably going to hemorrhage or throw a blood clot and die."
John rolled his eyes. "You've probably got indigestion from all the food and the two huge mugs of alcohol you had. You're not going to get an ulcer, Rodney."
"Like you'd know," Rodney huffed, but he didn't do more bitching the way John hoped. Instead Rodney just flattened his lips until they went white, looking miserable and afraid. He ducked into their tent and when John followed him in, Rodney was just sitting on the hide mat their hosts had generously provided for the night. Another white one, John noticed. Rodney had his legs and arms crossed, still looking like his world had ended.
John put his flashlight down next to Rodney's, leaving them both on so they could see. "Rodney--"
Rodney shook his head sharply, cutting John off. "It doesn't matter what you say, so you might as well not waste your breath. You can tell me all you want how it doesn't matter and how you're not going to be frightened of me or treat me like I'm a freak, but everyone always says that and it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. The next thing I know, I'm being kidnapped by the CIA or shipped off to Area 51, and it's always, 'Please just try this, Rodney'. Or, 'don't worry, this won't hurt a bit, Rodney'. Or, 'Why are you being so uncooperative, Rodney? We've only put you through the same fucking series of tests fourteen times'!"
John stared at him. "You were kidnapped by the CIA?"
Rodney made a dismissive gesture then went back to crossing his arms. "They pretended they were offering me a job, but somehow it ended up involving a hell of a lot more blood samples and genetic swabs than computer programming. Not to mention the biopsies and endless fucking physical and mental tests. Or how they kept telling me I could go home 'next week', until my parents finally decided to care enough to get the Canadian government involved. And then I got to do the same thing all over again, only this time under the guise of,"--he made air quotes--"helping my fellow Canadians."
John winced. "That sucks. I'm sorry."
Rodney shrugged. "They eventually let me get on with my life when it became obvious that even if they could sequence the right genes for the were-cat--and this was the 80s, so they really couldn't--they'd never be able to replicate it with anyone else. So I finally got to go to university and then had to work my ass off to make up for lost time. But it did have the added benefit of bringing me to the attention of the Stargate program."
"I'm sorry," John said again. He sat in front of Rodney on the mat. "So, does everyone at the SGC know you can do this?"
Rodney shrugged again. "Maybe? I know General Hammond knows, and the Canadian representative of the IOA knows. And of course Carson knows, because he has to. But I don't think O'Neill does, or Sam. At least, no one's ever mentioned it. I certainly haven't."
"You could've mentioned it to me," John said, trying to sound indignant and not hurt.
"I didn't mention it to anyone!" Rodney shot back. "Not you, not Elizabeth, not Ronon or Teyla, and I sure as hell never told Aiden!" He scowled. "Do you think I wanted people whose company I could actually stand to start looking at me the way you are now? Or asking me all the same fucking questions over and over again?" He put his voice into a sarcastic falsetto. "Does it hurt when you change form? Why a big cat? Why you? Is it just you, or everyone in your family who can turn into ridiculous, useless animals?"
"I'm looking at you the way I've always looked at you!" John retorted, and then made sure to school his features just in case Rodney was right and he wasn't. "And I think I'm allowed to be a little surprised, here! It's not like all my other friends are were-cats!"
Rodney opened his mouth, expression belligerent, but then seemed to wilt all at once. He looked down at the white fur beneath them. "I just wanted to be normal, with you." His mouth quirked. "Well, as normal as possible, given my towering intellect. But I've spent my whole life being a freak, either for my brains, or this." He made a gesture that seemed to mean his whole body. "And you, and Elizabeth, and Teyla and Ronon...You guys didn't treat me like I'm a freak. And I didn't want to lose that." This time his shrug was apologetic. "It wasn't anything personal. Well, all right, I guess it was. But it wasn't because I didn't think you deserved to know, or anything like that. I just..."
"Wanted to be normal. I get it." John patted Rodney on the arm. He still didn't like it, but he really did get why Rodney had never said anything. John had his own secrets too, after all. Though considering what Teyla and Ronon had just told him, maybe John had fewer secrets than he'd thought.
"Thanks," Rodney said distantly.
"You weren't ridiculous when you rescued me," John said. "Especially because you knew it meant I'd find out about you, but you did it anyway."
Rodney snorted. "Yeah, like that was what I was worried about, when I was trying to dig you out of a fucking avalanche. My precious secret instead of your stupid life."
John smirked to hide how he was a little amazed that Rodney would care about him that much."Well, for the record, I've never thought you were normal. And if I'd have to choose between a Wraith or you turning into a big cat for what's weirder, I'd definitely choose a Wraith."
"Yeah." Rodney shuddered. "They eat with their hands. What the hell is that?"
"Exactly!" John nodded, and then put his hand on the back of Rodney's neck, shaking him just a little because he kind of actually wanted to hug him. "So, don't worry about it, okay? I promise I'm not going to freak out or tell anyone else. This'll be just between you and me."
"And Carson," Rodney added.
John rolled his eyes. "And Carson."
Rodney was finally smiling again, even though it was small and tentative. "So, ah, we're good?"
"Totally," John said very seriously. He realized he still had his hand on Rodney's neck and reluctantly let go. He licked his lips. "Um…"
"Okay, here we go," Rodney said, sounding put-upon, "before you ask--no, it doesn't hurt when I change. It barely feels any different than my regular body. I have no idea why it's a cat, or why me, except I do have a theory that a Goa'uld used my ancestors as guinea pigs in their quest to make themselves an ideal host. Which might also account for my exceptional genius intelligence, though if you ever tell anyone I said that I will end you. And finally, I'm the only one in my family who can do this, though I admit my sister is kind of smart. I think my niece may be able to change, though, because she was walking by seven months, which is what I did."
John stared at him. "You were walking at seven months?"
Rodney scowled. "I'm not that physically inept, you know! It's just that all the gun-firing and hand-to-hand shenanigans aren't my realm of expertise!"
"'Shenanigans'?" John repeated, and then smirked at Rodney's annoyed sigh. "Actually, that wasn't what I was going to ask you."
Rodney blinked, and John grinned at having surprised him. "It wasn't?"
"Nope." John's grin got bigger. "I was going to ask if I could see you like that."
Rodney blinked again. "You did see me like that. After the avalanche."
"Yeah, but I can barely remember it, so it doesn't count," John said. "Come on, Rodney." He used his best wheedling voice, the one that got Rodney to cave to everything. "I just want to see what you look like, that's all. I promise I won't laugh or run screaming."
"Oh, you'll probably laugh," Rodney groused, as he took off his tac vest and then this tee-shirt.
John tried to keep the smugness at getting Rodney to capitulate yet again off his face. "Were you naked when you dug me out of the snow?" he asked when Rodney started untying his boots.
"You wish," Rodney snorted as he pulled his boots off, and John bit his tongue so he wouldn't say something self-incriminating. "The way my body changes tends to rip shirts and wreck shoes, but pants are fine, though the tail can be a real bitch to deal with."
"Is that why you wear such baggy pants?" John asked him before he thought about it.
Rodney looked at him strangely, one sock half off his foot. "My pants aren't baggy."
There was no good way to answer that so John just jerked his chin at Rodney's foot. "Don't forget your sock."
"Thank you. I had no idea I still had a sock on," Rodney said. He shook his head, muttering to himself as he balled up his socks and stuffed them into one of his boots. But when he looked at John again his expression was nervous. "Um, you're sure you really want to see this, right?"
"Just do it, Rodney," John said, because goading was always easier than sweet-talking.
"Fine," Rodney huffed. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
John thought Rodney would close his eyes or at least take a deep breath or something, but there was nothing like that. It was just Rodney: bare-chested and huffy and annoyed like always, and then…a giant cat sitting on his haunches wearing dark grey pants.
"Wow," John said. Rodney was definitely bigger like this, though some of that might've been an illusion from his very fluffy white fur. He had a wide, triangular face with a white muzzle and an adorable pink triangle of a nose, underneath those astonishing eyes, big and blue as precious stones. Rodney's arms and legs looked more human than animal, though he had thicker fingers and toes and John could see the tips of very sharp-looking translucent claws. And thick, snow-white fur that looked so soft that John's fingers twitched with wanting to touch him.
"I know, I know, hilarious, eh? Feel free to laugh anytime," Rodney said. He sounded bored, but he'd crossed his arms again and it was easy to see the resignation in the way he turned his head away. And both his large, fluffy white ears were lying flat against his skull.
"You don't look hilarious, Rodney," John said. "You look cool."
Rodney snorted loudly through his cat nose, but his mouth curved up a little bit. "You think everything's cool."
"Not everything," John said. He leaned forward and put his hand on the white expanse of Rodney's stomach, unable to keep resisting. His fingers disappeared nearly to the knuckles in the fur.
Rodney made a noise like a startled mew and his head snapped up. "What are you doing?"
John ignored him. He started stroking up and down, enjoying the silky warmth under his palm. "I think I remember doing this before."
"You did," Rodney said. He uncrossed his arms, watching John's hand moving with an expression too subtle on his less-mobile cat face for John to name. "God, you're like a toddler, touching everything." His voice sounded strained.
John pulled his hand back, palm tingling. "Sorry," he murmured.
"You didn't have to stop," Rodney said.
John looked at him. "You liked that?"
Rodney nodded. "It was fine." He started licking his chest.
John grinned, because that was so completely Rodney, as well as being just like every embarrassed cat ever: feigning nonchalance and completely failing at it. He was still smiling as he moved closer and started petting Rodney again. This time he used both hands, pulling and pushing them in wide sweeps from Rodney's waist to the base of his throat and back.
Rodney made a noise half way between a meow and a happy groan. His large eyes slid shut. "Oh, that's good. That's so good. Don't stop."
John chuckled and kept petting him, moving closer when his arms got tired. He was watching his hands, so the sudden rasping lick across the back of his neck made him yelp in surprise.
"Sorry! I'm sorry!" Rodney exclaimed. He moved away to the back of the tent, kind of curling in on himself and looking dejected. "It's just…you. And your crazy hair. And the petting and--and your smell…I couldn't help myself. I'm sorry."
"I smell bad?" John asked. He looked down at his chest, but other than being covered in cat hair he didn't look any dirtier than usual after a day on another planet.
"No!" Rodney said. "It's, uh…it's exactly the opposite, actually." He squeezed his eyes shut, clearly mortified. "You smell really, really good. You always smell, uh, good, honestly. But like this it's kind of…amplified."
"Oh," John said. He smiled, moving closer to Rodney again. "Well, you didn't have to stop, either."
Rodney's eyes popped open. "Really? I thought it hurt."
"It did when I had a gaping wound in my head, Rodney," John said. "But no. right now it didn't hurt. It was…nice." He couldn't quite make himself say, I liked it, because that was maybe telling Rodney more than he needed to know.
"It was nice?" Rodney asked, speaking slowly like he was tasting the words. And then he said, "Come here, John," in a low cat-rumble that sent sparks up John's spine and he figured Rodney already knew anyway.
John swallowed. "Just a sec." He quickly yanked off his own vest and tee-shirt before he could think too hard about it.
The large, slit pupils of Rodney's eyes widened so much they practically went round again. "Wow. Really? You, uh…Really?"
John nodded silently; the idea of speaking made him feel far more naked than he was with just his shirt off. He bowed his head to expose the nape of his neck.
He could hear Rodney swallowing, and then felt the warm, wet pull of Rodney's tongue across his shoulders, just rough enough to be not quite painful. John shivered and closed his eyes.
Rodney kept licking him: down over his ribs then back up to his hair. It took John a moment to realize the loud rumbling noise was Rodney's purr, and then Rodney slapped his big paw onto John's back. He held John down, using just enough of his claws to let John feel it.
John gasped and arched into Rodney's hand, and Rodney's purr got louder. Rodney was so close to John that it rumbled right through him, setting his nerves on fire.
"Lie down," Rodney said, punctuating the command with a soft dab of his tongue against the hot skin of John's cheek.
John practically threw himself prone onto the mat, and then obediently rolled over when Rodney nudged him. He fumbled for his belt but Rodney growled so John kept his hands at his sides, breathing hard and clenching them in the fur of the mat beneath him. He half-expected Rodney just to use his claws to cut his pants off, but Rodney was surprisingly dexterous with his thick cat-fingers, taking John's boots and socks off first before he finally tugged John's belt open, then hooked his zipper in a claw and pulled it down.
John lifted his hips, shivering again at the slight scrape of Rodney's claws down his sides as Rodney pulled his boxers off. And then he was completely exposed to Rodney's eyes, lying there with his chest heaving and so hard he ached.
Rodney put a paw on John's stomach, still purring, then leaned over him with his whiskers quivering and mouth open as he sniffed. If anything Rodney's purr got louder, and he bent his head to lave at John's chest and where his sweat had pooled in the triangle at the base of his throat. Rodney's tongue dragged over a nipple and John groaned and arched, feeling the barest sting from Rodney's claws on his abdomen as Rodney licked across John's chest. John panted, squirming helplessly under Rodney's paw.
Rodney rubbed his muzzle over John's chest and John reached blindly for him, petting his face, behind his ears, anywhere he could reach. The softness of Rodney's fur on John's skin in the same place where Rodney's rough tongue had been was almost more than John could bear. He reached for his cock, desperate to come, but Rodney growled again.
"Please," John said, groaning around the word. "God, Rodney. Please…"
Rodney lifted his head and his paw away and John managed a noise of disappointment and then Rodney swiped his tongue from the base of John's cock to the tip and John cried out at the sudden bolt of pleasure right at the edge of pain. Rodney did it again and again until John was thrashing his head and gripping the fur of the mat so hard his hands were shaking.
And then Rodney barely touched the sharp point of one single claw to the slit as he rasped John's cock again and John came so hard he striped his chest and chin.
Rodney kept purring as John trembled through the aftershocks. He hissed as Rodney cleaned him, the roughness of his tongue uncomfortable now on John's over-sensitized skin. He vaguely heard the rustle of Rodney taking off the rest of his own clothing, but was too warm and satiated to bother opening his eyes. He rolled over when Rodney nudged him again, feeling loose and pliant and more than willing to do whatever Rodney wanted.
He spread his legs when Rodney touched his ankles, smiling as he felt Rodney stretch out over him, covering him in soft, heavy heat. Then Rodney closed his jaws over the back of John's neck, and John's eyes flew open. Rodney lifted himself up on his bent arms and thrust against John's body, keeping his teeth locked around John's nape. It hurt and John knew he'd have a bruise there come morning, but that was perfect; that was hot as hell. He wished he could get hard again, or that Rodney would fuck him for real, but he hadn't exactly anticipated this when he'd packed his gear, and he was sure Rodney hadn't either.
Next time, John thought, smiling as he imagined it. Above him, Rodney's purrs and growls vibrated down John's spine and the short sweep of Rodney's fur back and forth was like a burr of electricity over his skin. Rodney's thrusts became erratic, and then he gave a muffled yowl and came.
Rodney collapsed on top of John, still purring and licking sloppily at the back of his neck. When he got up John shivered at the sudden chill, though the tent wasn't anywhere near cold in the mild night and after what they'd been doing. He shivered some more when Rodney cleaned him again and he thought about putting his clothes back on, but that would mean getting up and he was too relaxed to want to bother with it.
He figured he should probably get out his sleeping bag though, because it was bound to get colder overnight, and he was just working up the energy to do that when he heard the flashlights clicking off. Then Rodney, still furry, flopped down beside him and pulled John into his arms. He threw a leg over him as well, and John was sure he could feel Rodney's tail slap gently against the back of his leg. He hoped Rodney would let him see it in the morning.
"Is this okay?" Rodney whispered. It was pitch-black inside the tent now, but John could still picture the uncertainty in Rodney's big cat eyes. "I mean, I'm not suffocating you, am I? Or crushing your or making you too hot, or anything?"
"I'm fine," John said, smiling to himself in the dark. "You might not have noticed, but I like your fur."
"I noticed," Rodney said. His voice was dry, but John was sure he'd be blushing if were-cats could do that. "But, um…was that okay, before? You seemed, um…"
"Yes, Rodney," John said, sure he sounded far more fond than impatient. "That was very okay. I liked it. A lot," he added, because he could tell Rodney was still worrying. "I'd like to do it again."
"Really?" Rodney sounded so astonished that it made John sad. "Because I would too. A lot. If it wasn't obvious. I just…well…I know I was kind of hurting you--"
"And I just said I liked it," John said, trying to ignore that he was the one blushing now. He wondered if Rodney could smell it. "So since we've both agreed that we liked it, could we please stop talking and go to sleep?"
"Fine," Rodney huffed, but he belied his annoyance by licking John's head, then curling even more tightly around him. "Goodnight."
"'Night," John said. He put his hand on Rodney's paw over his heart and closed his eyes.
He fell asleep like that: surrounded by softness and Rodney's steady purring in his ear; feeling warm and safe and loved.