The first time he noticed it, Rodney didn’t exactly—well, notice it.
He was sitting in the mess hall with Zelenka and Sheppard, and when the conversation/argument turned to the theoretical mechanics of interacting with objects moving in hyperspace, he experienced another one of those moments where he realized he was now living inside a science fiction movie. Such moments were sadly fewer and farther between these days, not because his life was becoming any less fantastic but because he was getting more and more blasé about the space vampires and the galaxy-spanning travel and the mind-bogglingly advanced technology. He wasn’t the only one who felt it; last week he’d walked into the lab and heard Vogel sigh, “Dear Lord, another Ancient gadget?” in that weary tone one usually reserved for reruns of Friends.
Being around Sheppard tended to rekindle his enthusiasm, because despite all that had happened to them Sheppard frequently enjoyed characterizing their situation as way cool, dude in that laid-back surfer style he had. The seven weeks after Doranda when Sheppard had kept his distance from Rodney had been rough; Rodney had found himself barely eating, sleeping fitfully, and spending his far too numerous waking hours immersed in his work, dry, dusty work that no longer had a single drop of wow left in it. When Sheppard had migrated back to his table a few days after rescuing Rodney from drowning under several thousand feet of ocean, Rodney had nearly sobbed in relief; he’d masked his reaction (and, in an odd way, shown his gratitude) by immediately engaging Zelenka in a debate about the likelihood that there existed a parallel universe in which Ringo had been a really good drummer.
Just as had happened that time, Rodney turned to Sheppard for one of those familiar expressions of his, the one that said whoa, neat, or you may be brilliant but you’re still dorks, always with his pointy ears practically wiggling in their search for a scrap of scientific knowledge that could be turned into a weapon or a bit of strategy down the road. But Sheppard wasn’t looking at him, wasn’t even paying attention to the conversation, and Rodney was surprised by the swift stab of disappointment that came on the heels of this realization. When it turned into a nagging ache that made further thought impossible, he twisted in his seat, following the line of Sheppard’s dreamy gaze to—
—Oh. Right. Of course.
“Sorry to disappoint you, James Tiberius, but she’s got two Ph.D.’s and no interest in floppy-haired flyboys.”
“My hair is not floppy,” Sheppard said out of the side of his mouth as he continued to smile ridiculously at Dr. Rodriguez. “And how do you know she’s not interested? She looks pretty interested to me.”
Rodney folded his arms. “Because I took a poll of my entire science staff last week and none of them, as it turns out, wants to sleep with you.”
Sheppard did look his way then, and the accompanying surge of triumph Rodney experienced was as surprising (and absurd) as the disappointment had been. “What was the margin of error and the standard deviation on that survey?” Sheppard asked, his eyebrows going their separate ways.
Rodney snorted. “Don’t try to impress her with your memory for random bits of math terminology. She’s written more papers on statistics than you’ve had hot lunches.”
Sheppard smirked obscenely in Rodriguez’ direction. “Stop it, you’re getting me all turned on.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Rodney huffed, irritation bubbling up in his blood. “Let me put this as plainly as I can. She will never, ever, fall for you.”
“Well,” Sheppard drawled, “why don’t I ask her out and we’ll see?”
“Fine!” Rodney snapped, scowling in what he hoped was a forbidding fashion.
“Fine!” Sheppard launched back, rising to his feet and marching off toward Rodriguez’ table. Rodney spun around in his seat to watch the proceedings.
“Rodney.” He whipped his head back around to see Zelenka eyeing him critically.
“Oh, all right,” he huffed, shifting over to the chair Sheppard had vacated so that he could observe without appearing too obvious about it. He’d missed Sheppard’s opening salvo, but it seemed he’d scored a direct hit if the bovine smile she was aiming back at him was any indication.
“I don’t believe this. That woman practically has an IQ in the quadruple digits and she’s about to be toppled by a charming smirk and a thigh holster.” He turned to Radek, expecting agreement; instead he only received a puzzled frown. “What?”
Radek shifted in his seat and seemed to search for words before speaking. “Rodney, I know that among—ah, that is, expectations are different when one is—but if you have a problem with Colonel Sheppard’s behavior, you should perhaps discuss it with him, yes?”
Rodney shook his head. “What are you talking about? I don’t have a problem with—”
“Rodney,” Radek interrupted gently, “it is clear that you are jealous.”
Rodney’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times before he could actually produce speech. “That’s not true,” he said finally, and it wasn’t; just because Sheppard and his hair could win over any gorgeous woman they wanted to, no matter how brilliant she was, and Rodney… couldn’t—
“Well,” Rodney sighed, “just between us, maybe I am a little.”
Radek reached out and patted the back of his hand. “Do not forget he is a good man,” he said, smiling sympathetically as he rose with his tray in hand. As Radek left the mess hall, Rodney heard Rodriguez giggle like an airheaded runway model.
“I should have just stayed in bed this morning,” Rodney muttered, stabbing his salad with his fork.
And yes, Rodney did think Radek’s last words and the hand-pat to be a little strange, but he simply chalked it up to the difference between new-world and old-world constructions of male friendship. He had a more difficult time explaining the conversation he overheard later that afternoon between Simpson, Kusanagi and Rodriguez.
“You’re going on a date with—Colonel Sheppard?” Kusanagi asked, a tone of awed fear in her voice. The tone itself wasn’t unusual, but the topic was. Rodney halted in his progress toward the lab, stopping a couple of feet from the doorway, just out of sight.
“Are you nuts?” Simpson hissed. “I can’t believe you haven’t heard; you’ve been here an entire week.”
“Why, what’s wrong with him?” Rodriguez.
Simpson sighed. “Unfortunately, nothing. But he’s taken.”
Rodney leaned closer to the doorway at that. He wasn’t normally one for gossip—the petty personal problems of his staff didn’t interest him in the least—but this he wanted to hear. Sheppard had a steady girlfriend and he was tomcatting around behind her back? That didn’t sound like him.
“That doesn’t sound like him,” Rodriguez said. Rodney scowled. Who the hell was she to say something like that? Just because she was a genius in particle physics didn’t mean she knew Sheppard as well as Rodney did.
“It’s different for them,” Simpson said baldly.
“For whom?” Rodriguez demanded. “Men? Military officers? Americans?”
When no one answered her right away, Rodney risked a glance around the doorframe and spied Simpson leaning in to whisper in Rodriguez’ ear. He drew back quickly when he saw Rodriguez’ eyes widen like supernovas.
“Oh,” he heard her say. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Simpson said grimly. “Do you really want to sabotage your career after only a week?”
“Because he’d do it,” Kusanagi said; he could practically hear her shiver.
“Well, I suppose it’s not—”
“Rodney!” A sharp slap on his back sent Rodney stumbling forward into the doorway of the lab; in his peripheral vision he could see all three gossips scatter like pigeons spying a hawk as he turned angrily to confront Sheppard.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he hissed. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“Now, Rodney,” Sheppard drawled, draping an arm over Rodney’s shoulders in a jock-like embrace, “would I do that to you?”
“You frequently have,” Rodney snapped. “What do you want?”
Sheppard’s gaze rose and tracked to the other side of the room, and Rodney rolled his eyes. “Some of us have work to do, Romeo,” he snapped. “Rodriguez is a valuable member of my team—”
“Who deserves a coffee break,” Sheppard said easily, releasing Rodney to approach Rodriguez. Never a student of human nature, Rodney couldn’t help but notice that she almost seemed to shrink from him.
“No! That’s all right. I mean—” She darted a glance at Rodney out of the corner of her eye, hands twisting against one another “—I’ll speak to you later.”
John shot a puzzled look at Rodney, who offered a minute shrug. “Uh, well, okay,” Sheppard managed. “So, eight o’clock, like we planned?”
Rodriguez’ cheeks pinkened. “Well actually, it turns out there’s more work ahead of me today than I thought...” she said quietly, and Rodney swiftly turned away, because even he knew of the unwritten guy commandment: Thou shalt not bear witness to thy friend’s crashing and burning.
Even though he kept his eyes on his laptop, he could still hear the smile in Sheppard’s gracious reply. Sheppard, it occurred to him then, had several kinds of smile, nearly all of them used to more easily achieve some desired result, like the catalyst in a chemical reaction. Right now he was trying to beat as hasty a retreat as possible, and the smile helped speed the process.
It further occurred to Rodney that he should be gloating right now, but instead he felt slightly queasy. Must have been the salad, he thought as he watched Sheppard leave the lab out of the corner of his eye.
“What do you want?”
Rodney blinked. When he’d decided on the spur of the moment to try to cheer Sheppard up, this wasn’t how he’d pictured it going. He’d pictured a smile, some manly punches on the shoulder, and whatever else buddies did.
None of which, of course, he could explain to Sheppard. “I, uh,” he started, faltering as Sheppard’s eyebrows climbed. He held up a data disk. “I brought The Mysterians.”
Sheppard cocked his head slightly at that. They’d discovered a mutual love of cheesy Japanese sci-fi after one disastrous team movie night where they’d spent half an hour trying to explain Starman to Ronon and Teyla before finally giving up.
“You know, Starman makes no sense to people from Earth, either,” Sheppard had said, and Rodney had been forced to agree. The next movie night they watched Indiana Jones instead, and all was well.
Now, though, it was clear that all was not well, especially when Sheppard waved a hand at the disk and said, “So you think that’s going to make up for the fact that you sabotaged my date tonight?”
Rodney gaped at him. “You—I—what?”
Sheppard folded his arms. “You heard me,” he said.
“But I—why would I—I wouldn’t!” And that much he knew to be true: he might complain about it, and let his jealousy run away with him for a while, but eventually he wanted Sheppard to be happy. It bothered him more than he cared to admit to learn Sheppard didn’t know that about him.
A pair of Marines walked by them; Sheppard licked his lips. “Look, let’s not get into this in the corridor,” he muttered, jerking his head to urge Rodney inside.
Once the door closed behind him, Sheppard turned to face him with his arms still folded. Rodney sighed. “She thinks you’re already involved with someone.”
Sheppard frowned, obviously put off guard by this. “And who told her that?”
“Simpson and Kusanagi. And before you try to lynch them, too, it seems to be common knowledge.”
Sheppard’s face contorted. “That’s crazy. Who the hell do they think I’m seeing?”
This time it was Rodney’s turn to fold his arms. “I didn’t get to hear that part, because someone interrupted me in the middle of my shameless eavesdropping.”
One corner of Sheppard’s mouth jerked upward. “If only I’d known.”
“Hm,” Rodney huffed. Sheppard was a piker; Rodney held an advanced degree in pouting.
“Okay,” Sheppard said, sighing, “I’m sorry, all right? Can we watch the movie now?”
Rodney absolutely, positively did not smirk. “Oh, so now you want to watch it?”
Rodney’s smirk nearly split his face in half as he placed the disk in Sheppard’s impatient palm.
“Y’know,” Sheppard mused later, as the Mysterians revealed their dastardly plan for world domination on Rodney’s laptop screen, “I may not be one to talk, but even I know these guys don’t have a hope in hell of convincing Earth women to mate with them.”
Rodney smirked. “I don’t know. Those curly-toed shoes and silver lamé capes are pretty attractive.” Sheppard had shared half a Caramilk bar with him, and he was feeling strangely mellow as they sat together on Sheppard’s bed watching the movie.
“Yeah, and the sunglasses and ginormous orange helmet combo just screams ‘babe magnet’,” John observed.
“It’s kind of sad when you think about it,” Rodney said after a few minutes.
“That we’re not getting any more action than they are.”
Sheppard blew out a breath. “You know, I was trying real hard not to think about that.”
Rodney turned to him. “Look, I, uh, I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t bright enough to date Rodriguez,” he said, then frowned; where the hell had that come from?
“Aww,” Sheppard drawled, holding a hand to his heart. “Thanks for validating me, buddy.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “All right, fine. You know you’re intelligent—enough,” he added when Sheppard fluttered his eyelashes at him. “So why didn’t you ever come out to a Mensa meeting?”
Sheppard actually appeared to consider it for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “Truth is, I’ve never been much of a joiner.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mensa isn’t the Elks; we don’t make you wear funny hats and ride around in tiny cars.”
“That’s the Shriners.”
Rodney flapped a hand. “Whatever. My point is, if you want to meet new people, you should consider it.” He paused. “I’m sure I could convince Rodriguez to come. She seems to be almost afraid of me.”
Sheppard scrunched up his face. “Not sure I’m all that interested in her any more, but thanks.” His gaze shifted back to the screen and he punched Rodney on the arm. “Hey, the final battle’s about to begin. I love that bit.”
“Me, too,” Rodney admitted, sharing a broad grin with Sheppard that was completely genuine. And in that moment before Sheppard turned back to the movie, Rodney did feel the effect of a catalyst, as though some unknown quantity inside him that had previously lain cold and inert was suddenly sent hurtling to collide and combine with another dormant and unexpected substance.
That was his last coherent thought before an elbow poked him in the side. Rodney shook himself, startled to realize he’d dozed off.
Sheppard was looking at him, a faint echo of the earlier smile on his face. “Stay with me,” he said quietly, as though he didn’t want to wake Rodney up all the way. “This is where it really starts to get good.”
“Yeah,” Rodney said, voice gone scratchy and unfamiliar to his own ears. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
Less than a week later, Rodney was in a puddlejumper with Simpson, Vogel, Rodriguez and Sheppard as they all flew out to the Orion to determine exactly how much of a disaster they’d inherited. Up to this point, Rodney had been dividing his time between devising nonexistent ways of stretching the ZPM power usage in the event of the inevitable Wraith attack and determining how best to jam his head between his knees in order to kiss his ass goodbye. Working on a derelict and probably useless Ancient ship was practically a Caribbean vacation in comparison.
Conversation in the jumper was stilted at best; Rodney was still smarting slightly from Sheppard’s blatant sabotage of his chances with Norina. He’d thought the Colonel to be above such schoolyard tactics, but clearly he’d overestimated his level of maturity. His suspicion that Sheppard had pursued her out of spite had been confirmed when he had failed to appear terribly saddened by her departure. That should have enraged Rodney, but truth be told he hadn’t been particularly broken up by it either. Considering he was possibly going to be dying a messy death soon, it was probably just as well: having spectacular sex right before getting killed, he imagined, would only serve to make death even more depressing.
Still, he wasn’t prepared to forgive Sheppard right away, particularly when Sheppard seemed to have no idea that he’d done anything to be forgiven for. Rodney tried to conduct himself as professionally as possible, but it was difficult when Sheppard insisted on engaging him in conversation every five minutes, asking him about the drone supplies aboard the Orion or the latest intel about the Wraith or the progress of Carson’s plans for weaponizing the enzyme.
“I really don’t know about Carson’s plans,” Rodney said shortly, which was pretty much a lie; he’d attended a strategy meeting between his team and Carson’s just last night, but since they’d ended it three hours later without any viable solutions he hadn’t bothered telling Sheppard about it. “You’ll have to ask him.”
“I’m thinking we’ve got to figure out a way to get that enzyme distributed throughout the ship, and fast,” Sheppard mused.
“Why don’t you tell him?” Rodney drawled. “I’m sure he hasn’t thought of that.”
Sheppard continued on as though Rodney hadn’t spoken. “Multiple warheads might work, if we could get the damned things past their shields.”
“More is always better with you, isn’t it?” Rodney sneered. “You’re not happy unless you’re contemplating massive overkill.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows at him. “Yeah, well, with the Wraith, massive overkill is a damned fine idea.” He appeared to think about it some more. “If we could get our hands on another dart, we might be able to get someone inside…”
The thin thread of Rodney’s patience finally snapped. “Yes, while we’re at it, why don’t we just get you a dart and a Wraith costume and have you fly in and beam a canister of the enzyme directly into their ventilation system?”
Sheppard’s eyes lit up. “Can we do that?”
Rodney stared at him. “You are a crazy person.”
Sheppard affected a wounded air. “I’ve heard that madness is one step away from genius.”
“You heard wrong,” Rodney snapped. “Madness is one step away from my great-aunt Tilly, who frequently tried to wallpaper her cat.”
At that, Rodney heard a giggle from behind him; he turned and saw Rodriguez wearing a saccharine smile. “What?” he demanded.
Rodriguez blushed and shook her head. “Sorry. You just—you reminded me of my parents.”
Rodney glared at her. Simpson patted Rodriguez on the arm. “You must have had a horrible childhood,” she said sympathetically. Rodney transferred his glare to her.
“Oh, no, they’re very happy,” Rodriguez said hastily. “They’ve been married for thirty-eight years.” She blinked, seeming to finally realize what she was saying. “Uh. That is, I…”
Rodney took in Simpson and Vogel trying to stifle laughter, their eyes everywhere but on Rodney, and the puzzle pieces that had been jumbled randomly in his head for the past few weeks abruptly slid into place. He glanced at Sheppard and deduced from the tense set of his jaw and the sudden fascination with the view ahead of them that he’d just put together the same puzzle.
Well, Rodney thought miserably, at least now we know why we’re not having any more luck with women than the guys in the orange helmets.
The ensuing days and weeks didn’t give Rodney much of an opportunity to contemplate the Atlantis gossip mill’s assumption that he and Sheppard were unofficially married: the race to keep one step ahead in their tenuous alliance with the Wraith was, justifiably, uppermost in his mind. And when it was all over and Rodney discovered he’d been outsmarted by a group of people who would have listed Marilyn Manson among their fashion role models, he was too pissed off at himself to give much thought to it then, either. Elizabeth ordered him to attend a few sessions with Heightmeyer, which was unnecessary since he had no qualms about going to see her, but when his appointment times rolled around he inevitably ended up sitting in his room contemplating the walls.
About halfway through his third missed session the door chime rang. Steeling himself for a confrontation, he strode to the door to find Sheppard standing on the other side.
“Did Elizabeth send you?” Rodney asked without ceremony.
“Not exactly.” Sheppard said, neatly stepping past Rodney into his quarters. When the door had shut behind him, he added, “But I thought I’d warn you she’s planning to send Heightmeyer after you in the morning with a lasso and a straitjacket.”
Rodney sighed. “Yes, all right, thank you,” he said wearily. He knew he sounded peevish, but he was exhausted and not in the mood to be social. Sheppard didn’t take the hint, however, because when Rodney looked up he was wiggling a data disk at him.
“I brought Starman,” he said.
Rodney folded his arms. “Which one?”
“Attack from Space.”
Rodney frowned. “Is that the one with the Nazi aliens on the satellite?” Sheppard nodded and Rodney wavered; he hadn’t seen that one in years.
“Come on,” Sheppard wheedled, sensing weakness and moving in for the kill. “A little mindless entertainment is just what the doctor ordered.”
“I seriously doubt that middle-aged Japanese superheroes in padded tights form part of any approved therapy program,” Rodney returned, but he was already powering up his laptop. When Sheppard handed him the disk, their fingers brushed, abruptly reminding Rodney of the conversation in the jumper all those weeks ago. “I, uh,” he began, looking at Sheppard reluctantly, “maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
Rodney fumbled for an explanation; they hadn’t actually spoken of it directly since it had happened. “Well, if you recall, it seems that certain members of my science team have jumped to conclusions, ah, that is about—”
Sheppard nodded at him until he trailed off. “Yeah, I was there, remember?”
Rodney took a deep breath, let it out; he himself didn’t give a damn, but he knew how uptight some members of the American military could be about this sort of thing. “Listen, with all of the Wraith business I haven’t had time, but I want you to know that I will now do whatever it takes to—to quash those rumors immediately.”
“Quash?” Sheppard’s mouth twisted in amusement.
“Yes, quash, it’s a perfectly good word.”
Sheppard shrugged. “Do what you have to do, but don’t worry about me.”
Rodney frowned. “Don’t you care about your—your reputation?” he demanded.
Sheppard shook his head. “Rumors like that are a dime a dozen; they don’t mean anything. On a peacetime base, where you have a lot of pencil-pushers with nothing better to do, someone might choose to investigate. But here everyone’s a little too preoccupied with not dying to waste time trying to enforce the Uniform Code.”
And then, to Rodney’s surprise, Sheppard broke into a grin. “Besides, my reputation’s pretty solid around here,” he said. “Haven’t you heard? I’m bagging the biggest genius on Atlantis.”
Rodney stared at him, then snorted. “‘Bagging’?”
Sheppard smirked. “Yes, bagging, it’s a perfectly good word.”
Rodney tapped his mousepad and the opening credits of the movie rolled across the screen. “The romance has certainly gone out of this relationship.”
This time Sheppard was the one to fall asleep about halfway through the movie. Of course he was too perfect to snore, so it took Rodney a few minutes to realize he’d nodded off, head slightly tilted against the pillow he’d propped up against the wall, squashing his stupid hair flat on the left side. Rodney considered waking him, then vetoed it when he realized he was finding Sheppard more interesting to watch than the movie, which was even more atrociously bad than he’d remembered.
His mind slowly scrolled through all the times he’d found himself gawking at Sheppard like an idiot, after being positive he’d never lay eyes on him again. It wasn’t only that there had been far too many occasions when the burden of saving Sheppard’s life rested on his shoulders; over the past two years, Rodney had developed a connection to this man that went beyond simple responsibility or even friendship. Watching him sleeping peacefully now, Rodney was astonished to realize he could no longer imagine his life without Sheppard in it, and the knowledge frightened him, because Sheppard had a penchant for repeatedly putting himself in harm’s way. If Rodney was finally going to form an attachment to something other than his work, he’d have been better off picking a goldfish with a nasty habit of jumping out of its bowl.
The final triumphant strains of the movie’s closing sequence roused Sheppard, bringing him instantly awake. Before Rodney could pretend otherwise, Sheppard’s green eyes opened and caught Rodney watching him.
“Hey,” he said scratchily, by way of greeting. “Guess I slept through the movie, huh?”
I think I might be in love with you, Rodney thought, semi-hysterically. “Yeah,” he managed. “You didn’t miss much.”
Sheppard slumped a little further against Rodney’s pillows. “Your bed is too comfortable,” he complained cheerfully.
God. Sheppard was talking about his bed in a sleepy voice, for the first time in what felt like forever no one was trying to kill them, and all at once Rodney felt something inside him shift dangerously. “It’s been a busy few weeks,” he murmured. “You’re entitled to some rest.”
“It’s a full-time job trying to keep you out of trouble,” Sheppard drawled. “Wears a man out.”
Ordinarily, Rodney would have risen to the bait, but instead he only quipped mildly, “I could say the same for you. Besides, I thought you were saving Earth from certain destruction, not rescuing me.”
“Well, that too,” Sheppard admitted. He paused, then said, “You gonna see Heightmeyer tomorrow?”
Rodney sighed. “Yeah, I will.”
“Good.” Sheppard smiled gently at him, and Rodney fought the urge to trace his lower lip with a finger. Christ, he really was losing his mind. As though he’d read Rodney’s innermost secrets off his forehead, Sheppard stretched out on the bed until he was lying down, his arms folded under his head. “Wow, this really is comfortable, you know?”
“If Simpson knew we were here like this…” Rodney heard himself say, and was that flirting? Was he flirting?
Sheppard’s gaze shifted downward, and Rodney didn’t have to look to know that their legs were only millimeters apart on the narrow mattress. “Yeah, but you’re gonna quash all those scary rumors and save my reputation, right?” Sheppard looked up at him again from under his eyelashes, a small smile curving his full lips, and God, Sheppard was flirting back.
“Thought you said you weren’t scared of a few rumors,” Rodney said softly. He deliberately shifted so that his thigh brushed briefly against Sheppard’s.
Sheppard arched an eyebrow and pushed himself up on an elbow, and for a horrible second Rodney thought he’d misjudged the situation.
And then Sheppard leaned toward him, and all the oxygen left the room. “I’m not,” he murmured.
That last nagging question in Rodney’s head—the one about whether or not his extremely sporadic attraction to men could extend to Sheppard—had now been answered, because Rodney was suddenly unable to do anything but stare at Sheppard’s mouth. He could feel Sheppard’s breath against his lips, could see the pink flash of his tongue tip as it briefly showed itself. Sheppard was going to kiss him, and he was going to kiss Sheppard, and he was going to enjoy the hell out of it.
“What about you?” Sheppard asked. “You scared, Rodney?”
Rodney opened his mouth.
“Yes,” he said. “I am.”
He blinked, surprised. That wasn’t what he’d intended to say.
Sheppard seemed as surprised as Rodney was, but he recovered more quickly; before Rodney could react he had pulled away and sat up. “Okay,” he said flatly. “Fair enough.”
“Wait,” Rodney said. “I—”
Sheppard shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I didn’t mean—”
“If you’ll just let me explain,” Rodney began, but the truth was that he didn’t fully understand it himself, and Sheppard was already on his feet and the mood was by now most definitely dead and buried.
“No need,” Sheppard said, in that affable surfer dude way of his, and Rodney had never wanted to strangle a person more. “It was a bad idea.”
“Oh,” Rodney managed, crestfallen. “Well yes, I suppose it’s probably for the best; I mean, we’re on the same team and all, not to mention being in positions of responsibility only second to Elizabeth’s, and what if we eventually broke up or got sick of one another? It would be—”
“Rodney,” Sheppard said, and Rodney’s mouth snapped shut. “Look, it’s cool, all right? I’ll catch you later.” And with a final nod and a smile that was definitely one of the fake ones, he was out the door and gone before Rodney could think of anything to say that wasn’t completely idiotic.
And Sheppard was—to Rodney’s great annoyance—true to his word; everything was indeed cool between them after that. He treated Rodney no differently than before, and their professional relationship was not affected in the least. They still went on missions together, worked together, ate together in the mess when their schedules permitted.
And yet, paradoxically, Rodney felt as though everything had changed. He wanted—well, he didn’t exactly know what it was that he wanted, but it wasn’t this; he felt an unexpected sense of loss for something he’d never truly had. Soon he found he was picking fights just to try to get a rise out of Sheppard, but every attempt was met by a wall of unflappable charm that drove Rodney to distraction.
As terrible as it sounded, he was desperate when he walked into the Botany lab one night to find Katie Brown sitting stoop-shouldered over her computer. He’d found that endearing a few months back, he recalled, but now it was only a dim memory. Regardless, he had to try. Katie, he’d realized, was the last woman he’d felt any kind of attraction for; logically, then, she was the only person who could save him from having to sort out the tangled mess that his feelings for Sheppard had become. Really, that would be easier for everyone.
“Hi there,” he said lamely, unsurprised when her startled expression soon yielded to a wary one.
“Hi,” she said, noncommittally. “Long time no see.”
Rodney rubbed his hands together, deciding he might as well get to the point. “How have you been doing?”
Katie lifted her chin. “Quite well. We’re cataloguing the flora of M3X-859; the residents there use natural medicine for a variety of—”
“I meant—you personally.”
She looked away. “Oh. To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought you’d be interested in that, Rodney.”
Rodney winced; he deserved that. “I’m sorry I let things—lapse—between us. That was wrong of me.”
Katie looked up at him then. “Well, I was hurt at first, but then I heard—” she blushed, obviously searching for words “—that you were involved with someone else.”
Rodney opened his mouth. “That’s not—it’s—”
Katie shook her head and stood. “Believe me, no one thinks badly of either of you,” she said hastily, reaching out to place a tentative hand on his arm. “Why, I was just speaking to Tyrone—Lieutenant Jefferson—the other day, and he said—”
Oh my God, thought Rodney.
“—that Colonel Sheppard was the most well-regarded commanding officer he’d ever served with,” she finished, oblivious to Rodney’s silent panic attack. “As far as he and the other Marines are concerned, the Colonel’s private life is no one’s business. So you have nothing to worry about.”
“Well,” Rodney managed weakly, “that’s good to know. So, you and this Tyrone—”
By way of answer, Katie blushed and smiled in that bashful way that had first attracted him. He was ashamed to realize he couldn’t remember much about that, either.
“Yes, well, I’m very—glad for you,” Rodney said.
“Thank you,” she said shyly. “I’m glad for you, too. It sounds as though you’re very happy together.”
“Oh, yes,” Rodney muttered. “So damned happy I can barely stand it.”
As though the universe felt that Rodney needed yet more proof that it loathed him, the next day they met Lucius. When it was all over, Rodney spent two full hours sobbing uncontrollably and berating the medical staff assigned to treat him, awareness returning slowly, his mortification at his own behavior growing with every minute as the antidote worked its way through his system.
“I’m sorry, Rodney,” Carson said, checking him over (at Rodney’s insistence) for the dozenth time, “I can’t understand why your withdrawal symptoms are so severe. By all rights, your transition should have been the easiest, since you were affected for the shortest time.”
Rodney didn’t think that answer was the least bit satisfactory, and told Carson so. Carson cast a glance around the medlab, then leaned in and murmured conspiratorially, “If it’s any help to you, I cried in front of Colonel Sheppard when I was suffering from the withdrawal.”
Rodney’s mouth thinned. “It isn’t, but thank you anyway.” He paused, then feigning nonchalance, asked, “What did Sheppard do?”
“He hit me on the arm and told me to buck up.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “That’s not the least bit surprising.”
“Actually, it did help a little. At least the pain distracted me from thinking of Lucius for a moment.”
“So, not much good at all.”
“Not particularly,” Carson said, smiling. “Well, he’ll be pleased to know you’re on the mend.”
“Why?” Rodney demanded, narrowing his eyes.
Carson actually simpered at him. “Rodney, I understand the need for discretion, believe you me, but I am your doctor as well as your friend. There’s no need to play coy with me, lad.”
Rodney opened his mouth to scream Jesus Christ, not you, too, but before he could draw sufficient breath Sheppard poked his head into the medlab. “Hey, look at you. You’re finally over the love of your life, huh?”
“Yes,” Rodney snapped. “Thank you for your concern.”
“Well, c’mon. We’re escorting Lucius back to his home planet.”
Rodney sighed. “When?”
“Fifteen hundred. Team’s briefing in the mess in thirty minutes. See you there?” And as soon as he’d received Rodney’s answering nod, he was gone again.
Rodney sat slumped on the examining table for a few moments gathering strength until Carson murmured, “You know, if you two ever need any condoms, don’t hesitate—”
“Oh, God,” Rodney groaned, “please kill me now.”
At first, Sheppard had been ready to rip Lucius limb from limb: Ronon, predictably, offered to help. The only thing that kept the bastard breathing was the fact that he hadn’t actually gotten around to sexually assaulting any of the women (or men) on the base. Once that had been established, Sheppard evidently decided to resign his role as avenging angel in favor of becoming a complete and total asshole about the whole thing. For some reason the incident brought out the adolescent boy in him, one who obviously had once taken great delight in pulling the wings off of flies.
In his own defense, Rodney wasn’t at his best by that point, either. The conversation with Carson had been even more humiliating than the infatuation with Lucius and his subsequent withdrawal—Carson had actually used the phrase anal health, for Christ’s sake—and he had never been so thoroughly unamused by Sheppard’s brand of humor. All of this made it astonishingly easy to make an impulsive detour to the stores on his way to the mess to grab a handful of Lucius’ wonder herb. He justified it by arguing that Sheppard deserved to find out what it was like to be on the other end of infatuation for a change.
Having only his own experience as a guide, he’d expected the effect to be more obvious and sudden, but all through the briefing Sheppard seemed completely immune to Rodney’s charms. Rodney was prepared to accept defeat until Sheppard absentmindedly reached up and swiped at the corner of Rodney’s mouth with a thumb.
“Chocolate pudding,” Sheppard said, sticking the thumb in his mouth and sucking it clean as if he helped Rodney clean up embarrassing food stains on his person every day.
Rodney darted a glance across the table, but Sheppard’s odd behavior only garnered the typical heavy-lidded look from Ronon and a fond smile from Teyla. Obviously the rumor had reached them, too, Rodney thought, as Sheppard and the others went on eating as though nothing had happened.
Rodney thought no more of it until he was back in his quarters getting into his BDUs and tac vest for the mission. They’d dump Lucius and return to Atlantis, and Rodney would proceed to have enormous amounts of fun before eventually releasing Sheppard from his bonds. Sheppard would be pissed for a while, but they’d have a good laugh over it afterwards, and in no time at all they’d be… right back where they started.
Precisely nowhere, in other words.
Rodney paused as he strapped on his thigh holster. Really, when viewed from that perspective, the whole idea sucked. He’d come up with a plan whose best-case scenario was a return to the status quo that was driving him around the bend? What had he been thinking?
His doorchime rang, cutting into his jumbled thoughts. When he opened the door he found Sheppard standing there, staring at him with an expectant expression. Frowning, he checked his watch, only to confirm that he still had twenty minutes left before they were scheduled to go through the gate.
“Colonel, what—” he began, but that was all that emerged before Sheppard planted one hand in the middle of his chest and firmly shoved him backwards. “Oh, God, okay, look,” Rodney stammered, because Sheppard didn’t look infatuated, he looked determined and focused in that way he did before he started shooting things, “it was just a harmless—”
Rodney abruptly stopped speaking when he heard a metallic snick and looked down to see that Sheppard’s deft fingers had just undone his belt buckle and were currently working on his zipper.
“What are you doing?” Rodney squeaked, and fine, that was probably the stupidest question in the history of recorded time. Sheppard evidently thought as much, because he shot Rodney a raised eyebrow before returning to his task.
“Well, yes, all right, I know what you— oooohhhhhhh,” Rodney groaned, because the backs of Sheppard’s fingers had just not-so-accidentally brushed against his dick, and okay, this was—this was—
—well, wrong, actually. It was wrong. He didn’t want Sheppard that way—which left the question of how exactly he did want him, but this wasn’t the time to get into that, especially considering Sheppard had suddenly dropped to his knees in front of him and was now favoring him with a smile so open and joyous that it hurt Rodney’s heart to know it wasn’t real.
“Get up, get up,” he pleaded, “don’t, we can’t do this now—”
Sheppard’s grin only widened. “We have twenty minutes. Plenty of time.” He leaned forward and nuzzled the front of Rodney’s boxers, and well, you know, maybe he could just—
No. No. Summoning every last scrap of his willpower, Rodney drew a deep breath and stepped back, then grabbed Sheppard by the vest and hauled him to his feet.
Sheppard stood there, pouting and rumpled, and Rodney was achingly certain that he’d just turned down the most spectacular blowjob of his life. “Jesus, your knees are all dusty,” he breathed, leaning down to brush at Sheppard’s pants until he’d wiped the evidence from his uniform. When he was finished, he straightened to find Sheppard frowning blankly as though he were searching for fresh input.
“Look, um,” Rodney said, desperately fishing for something that could replace oral sex in Sheppard’s drug-addled mind, “maybe later, after we get back, you could… clean my quarters. If you wanted,” he added lamely.
Sheppard’s frown deepened. “Is that what you want me to do?” he asked, and really, he didn’t sound nearly as worshipful as Rodney had imagined he would.
“Sure. It would make me—ah, very happy.”
At that, Sheppard seemed to snap out of whatever odd funk he’d been in for the past few moments; the smile returned, only slightly dimmed. Before Rodney could fend him off Sheppard took a step forward and hugged him, as though Rodney had just given him a puppy for his eighth birthday, and Rodney felt like a slimy, sleazy creep. Hours later, the combined weight of Elizabeth, Ronon and Teyla’s displeasure when they found out what he’d done felt no heavier than the burden that was already crushing him.
When he slunk back to his quarters late that night, he was relieved to find them empty (though he also felt vaguely nauseous at finding them scrupulously clean). He hit the bed without bothering to brush his teeth or even undress, and immediately fell into a deep sleep that bore a strong resemblance to a coma.
He woke an unspecified time later to find Sheppard sitting across the room and watching him silently, a patient ghost limned in starlight. Startled, he sat bolt upright in bed, heart hammering. “Wh—what are you—?” he stammered, half expecting Sheppard to vanish the moment he spoke.
But Sheppard didn’t vanish, only nodded at the room around them. “How do you like the job?”
“It’s—it’s top-notch. Really, very well done,” Rodney babbled. “Thank you.”
“No thanks necessary,” Sheppard said easily. “I was happy to do it for you.” He remained in the chair, unmoving; after a few moments of weighty silence, Rodney felt a small but powerful revelation thwap him between the eyes.
“Carson gave you the antidote, didn’t he?”
Sheppard shook his head. “He wanted to, but it turned out I didn’t need it.”
“Why not?” Rodney asked, confused.
Sheppard shrugged minutely. “Nearest I can figure, you canceled the effect of the herb when you turned down the blowjob.” He held up a hand. “Not that I shared that with Carson. Anyway, he’s just as happy to think I’m a freak of medical science.”
Rodney frowned. “So when you cleaned my room—?”
“I wasn’t your love slave, no. Just tired of watching you live in a pigsty.”
Rodney scrubbed at his face with his hands. “I shouldn’t have—well. The fact remains that I did it, and for that I am monumentally sorry.”
“Why did you turn me down?”
The soft question wasn’t the one Rodney had been expecting, and it startled him. Then the anger hit him, blindsiding him. “Because unlike Lucius, I’m not a rapist,” he snapped.
Even in the dim light, he could see Sheppard stiffen at that. “I wasn’t implying that you were. After all, it’s not like I’ve been the one turning you down,” he retorted.
Rodney grimaced at that. “Well. Nevertheless, I like my lovers to be fully in control of their faculties. Call me old-fashioned.”
Sheppard turned toward the window, and Rodney could see that the corner of his mouth was twisted. “Okay.” A pause. “Good to know.” He rose to his feet and began to step around the bed, but before he could get far Rodney grabbed him by the arm and held on.
“I, uh—are we cool?”
Rodney could feel the coiled strength in Sheppard’s forearm, the slight tremor in the muscle as he held himself still under Rodney’s touch. When Sheppard spoke, his voice was cold, distant. “I’m cool. You’re fine. Remember?”
Rodney nodded dumbly and released him, because it was late and he was exhausted and there was nothing else to say. He expected Sheppard to walk away at that point, and so he was startled when strong fingers cupped his jaw, urging it upward for a brief, harsh kiss that left him shaken and craving more.
“Still scared?” Sheppard murmured, hot fingertips branding Rodney’s skin.
Rodney shook his head as much as Sheppard’s grip would allow. “I don’t know,” he answered frankly. “I don’t want to be.”
Sheppard appeared to consider this. “I guess that’s a start,” he said finally, letting his fingertips trail over Rodney’s face and neck as he released him. Before he reached the door, he turned back, and Rodney sucked in a breath in anticipation.
“Remember, though,” Sheppard drawled, “none of us are getting any younger.”
Rodney nodded mutely, but by then Sheppard was already gone.
The day after John Sheppard nearly died of old age, he spent nine hours being poked and prodded by Carson to determine exactly what the hell had happened while Ronon, Teyla and Rodney sat in the mess, shell-shocked and exhausted, and stared at one another over their barely touched meals. The next day Sheppard gathered up his boogie board and a picnic basket and a puddlejumper and his team and flew them to a long-deserted planet they’d visited a couple of months ago, one with black sand beaches just like Hawaii’s and a surf that had made Sheppard stare with sharp longing at the water.
Rodney didn’t even think to complain, only packed his homemade sunblock and his swimming trunks and his resolve that he would not think about the way Sheppard had looked on the grainy video feed, fragile and crumbling before his eyes. The urge to batter at a solid surface with his fists until he bled had not entirely left him, though, and so when he saw the jagged cliffs that ringed the beach, he grimaced.
“Something wrong?” Rodney turned to see Sheppard watching him from behind his sunglasses. At least Rodney thought he was watching him; it was impossible to be certain.
Where do I start? Rodney thought, though he didn’t say it aloud. “I’m fine,” he said. “You?”
Sheppard nodded toward the water. “I’ll be fine as soon as I get out there,” he answered curtly. “You coming?”
“I’ve never surfed in my life,” Rodney said.
“Neither have Ronon and Teyla. I’m offering free lessons, today only.”
“What happens tomorrow?”
Sheppard hesitated before his lips twisted in a smirk. “Price is goin’ up.”
Rodney knew that wasn’t what Sheppard had been about to say, but he wasn’t going to call him on it. “I’ll keep that in mind. For now, though, I think I’ll just fall asleep under a convenient palm tree.” He pointed back up the beach. “That one looks promising.”
“Suit yourself,” Sheppard said, picking up his board and racing off into the water, Ronon and Teyla following him at a more sedate pace. Rodney sighed and shook his head, then turned and trudged back up the beach.
He tried to ignore their antics, but the sound of laughter carried to him easily over the water and bounced back at him from the cliffs on all sides. Ronon, surprisingly, was the more promising student; Rodney would have believed the board would be too small for him, or his center of gravity too high, but after only a couple of falls he rode the board all the way to the beach, a huge, silly grin on his face. Not for the first time, Rodney wondered how young Ronon was; at first, he’d seemed closer to Rodney’s age, but his time on Atlantis had peeled back the grimy surface layer of recent years to reveal a man who could behave like an uninhibited adolescent on occasion, his laugh untroubled and free.
Teyla, on the other hand, had once seemed painfully young to him, and in some ways still did; she bore so much responsibility on her slim shoulders that Rodney remembered being surprised when she never staggered under the weight of it. Later, the surprise had faded, because Teyla had more strength in her little finger than Rodney had in his entire body. She might not have his brains (who did, really?), but he lacked her heart, and there were days when he actually wondered if that might not be the more precious possession. Her progress as a surfer was slower, more cautious, but when she finally managed to stand upright on the board and stay there her look of serene triumph was one of the most beautiful sights Rodney had ever seen.
And that left Sheppard. Sheppard, who was as young as the partner in crime who threw Rodney off balconies and watched badly dubbed sci-fi movies with him, chuckling like a maniac the whole time. Sheppard, who was as old as the secret stored in every cell of his body, as old as a witness to the deaths of thousands, as old as a man who had shot another man through the heart to save him. He was about a hundred yards out, having left Ronon and Teyla far behind in the shallows, and was lying flat on the board as he paddled. When he was so far out that Rodney could barely see him he turned his back to an incoming wave, then raised himself up on the board and stood in one fluid motion. For a full five seconds, he was swept along, the kinetic energy of the wave transferring to blood, bones, flesh and heart, making him fly.
Five seconds was all the time the Wraith had needed to take a decade from Sheppard’s struggling body, Rodney thought, and it would take less time than that to tell Sheppard how he felt. Time was relative, a variable that stretched or bent or folded or compressed, but never in the way you predicted or wanted. Rodney knew that if he decided to let himself love Sheppard there would never be enough time in which to do it, whether he ended up having two weeks or fifty years. Regardless of how long it lasted it would be over in the blink of an eye, and Rodney would be left for an eternity with his thoroughly inadequate memories.
The only thing that would be worse than having Sheppard for an instant, Rodney realized, would be spending that eternity without any memories at all.
He was wading through the surf before he knew he was on his feet, and when Sheppard emerged from the waves with a wild, young smile, Rodney called him John because it took less time to say it, and took John’s surfboard from his hands and handed it to Ronon, and hooked an arm around John’s wet, salt-slick shoulders and drew him in for a kiss that surprised no one except Rodney himself.
It was entirely possible that Sheppard broke a few laws of spacetime physics getting them back to Atlantis, but Rodney didn’t mind, nor did he feel inclined to make observations to further the advance of science. The only advances he was interested in at this point were definitely not scientific.
After bidding an amused Ronon and Teyla good night they padded through the halls in their bare feet and swim trunks, Sheppard’s slung dangerously low around his hips. Rodney was acutely aware of the military and scientific personnel, of their gazes and their small, knowing smiles as they passed by.
As though John were reading his thoughts, he murmured, “Forget about them.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Rodney murmured back. “In a bizarre way, they’re the reason this is happening.”
Sheppard didn’t answer, and when Rodney thought it was safe he darted a look at him to see that he was smiling, honest to God smiling, and Rodney wanted to shove him up against the nearest convenient wall and have his way with him with all of Atlantis looking on.
They came to a stop outside John’s door, and then just stood there for a moment. “It is happening, isn’t it?” John said quietly, as though he couldn’t quite believe it. No, more than that; as though it were something—
—something he’d been hoping for, and didn’t think he’d ever get.
“Oh, God, get inside, now,” Rodney husked, and Sheppard sucked in a sharp breath and palmed the door control and stepped forward, then reached back and grabbed Rodney by the wrist and yanked. Sheppard’s mouth was on his before the door had completely shut, but Rodney didn’t care, because the kiss effectively shorted out every higher cognitive function in Rodney’s brain. He didn’t have much time to mourn the loss of his irreplaceable cerebellum, however, because John neatly turned him around and was now simultaneously pushing him toward the bed and sliding his hands up under Rodney’s shirt, exposing flesh as he went.
“Whoa, hold it, hang on,” Rodney panted, wiggling out of the kiss and away from the incredibly arousing hands.
Sheppard leaned in and kissed him again before Rodney could draw away, and Rodney groaned at the sensation of Sheppard’s warm, expressive mouth caressing his. “What?” Sheppard’s question was a puff of breath against Rodney’s lips, and Rodney shivered.
“I, uh… what are we going to do?”
John pulled back and stared at him. “You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re kidding.”
“No! I just—well, I’m not exactly experienced in—um, in this kind of—” Rodney gestured back and forth between them. “This. With a—”
John’s eyebrows climbed. “With a man,” he prompted.
Rodney pointed. “Right. Yes. I mean, I’ve thought about it, it’s not like you turned me or anything, I’ve even had a couple of very nice fantasy-type dreams, although that was years ago, really—”
“I don’t want to screw this up,” Rodney said softly. “I want to know what I’m doing.”
John’s hands came to rest on Rodney’s shoulders, thumbs gently stroking up the sides of his neck. “Well, buying you a manual at the local Borders is kinda out of the question,” he said.
Rodney stiffened. “I might have known you’d—”
“Hey,” John murmured, leaning closer, “I don’t know what you think of my vast experience, but I haven’t got much more than you do. A couple of hand jobs after lights out and one really bad blowjob—that was about it.”
“Were you giving the really bad blowjob or receiving it?”
John chuckled. “Receiving.”
“Well, that’s slightly reassuring,” Rodney said warily.
John brushed his lips against Rodney’s ear as his hands slid up his neck to tangle in his hair. “So what do you say we just kind of figure things out as we go along?” he murmured, sucking briefly at his earlobe before retreating again. “Together?”
Rodney nodded jerkily. “Together sounds good. I like the sound of together.”
“I like the feel of together,” John murmured. He tugged at Rodney’s still-damp t-shirt and rolled it up and over his head, and Rodney realized as he raised his arms that no one had ever undressed him before. Reciprocating, Rodney unbuttoned John’s shirt and peeled it off his slim shoulders while Sheppard trailed his fingers down Rodney’s chest, making him shiver.
John nuzzled his way into another kiss as he blindly fumbled with the knotted drawstring of Rodney’s trunks. After a few moments, John broke away and bowed his head to watch his hands work; Rodney could see John’s perfect teeth biting into his full lower lip as he concentrated, and God, that was unbelievably hot, really.
“Geez,” John muttered, “what did you do, knot this fifty times?”
“I didn’t want them to come loose!” Rodney said defensively, then blinked at Sheppard’s grin, which was half exasperated and half predatory.
“Oh, they’re comin’ loose, all right,” he promised, releasing Rodney so that he could walk to his dresser and rummage in a drawer. “All we need is the right—aha!” He turned back to Rodney with his automatic knife and a gleam in his eye.
“You’re not,” Rodney began, but Sheppard was already back and pulling the drawstring taut with one hand while he neatly sliced through the offending barrier with the curved cord-cutting blade. Rodney sighed. “You did.”
“Quit complaining. I know Marines. Marines always have rope.”
“Oh, I can just picture that conversation,” Rodney huffed. “‘Excuse me, Sergeant, but could I have a few feet of rope? I seem to have been so eager for gay sex that I—oh, oh, oh my God,” Rodney babbled, because John had just shoved Rodney’s trunks down to his knees and wrapped his right hand around Rodney’s dick.
“Wow,” Sheppard murmured, licking lewdly along Rodney’s stubbled jawline as he started a firm, steady stroke, “if I’d known this would shut you up, I’d have done it a long time ago.”
“It might have—oh yes, just like that—looked a little odd during briefings,” Rodney groaned, too aroused to even snipe back properly.
“Perfect for debriefings, though,” John drawled, grinning, and Rodney summoned just enough presence of mind to whack him on the back of the head before pressing his own hand to the front of Sheppard’s trunks, palm curving against the hardness. John’s grin vanished, to be replaced by an expression that was an odd mixture of pleasure and pain, and Rodney’s heart stuttered.
“Okay?” he whispered, and John squeezed his eyes shut and nodded, then tugged one-handed at the waistband of his own trunks. Receiving the message, Rodney undressed John, carefully easing the swimsuit down past his erection, though it was damned hard to exhibit fine motor control with John’s hands on him. John kicked the trunks off impatiently and Rodney did the same, and then they were shuffling the few steps to John’s bed.
“This is going to require some engineering,” Rodney murmured, eyeing a bed that was as narrow as his own.
“Hm?” Sheppard said absently, obviously too far gone to contribute to the solution; Rodney rolled his eyes and shoved him down onto the bed, then encouraged him to stretch out lengthwise. When he was settled, Rodney straddled him.
“Hey, how come you get to be on top?” John complained.
“When we’re on my mattress, you can be on top,” Rodney said generously; he wouldn’t mind being squashed under Sheppard’s bulk if he could be fairly certain his back wouldn’t suffer in the process.
Sheppard frowned at him. “Is this some sort of kink I should know about?”
In response, Rodney wrapped his hand around Sheppard’s dick and pumped strongly. “What does it take to shut you up, hm?” Rodney asked, smirking.
Sheppard’s mouth opened wide, as though he couldn’t draw enough air into his lungs. His back bowed as he pushed himself into Rodney’s hand, and then without warning he came apart, shattering and collapsing in on himself like a singularity and Christ, John truly was the most beautiful gift Rodney had never hoped to receive, vibrant and thrilling under his hands.
When it was over John tugged on Rodney’s free hand—“C’mere,” he murmured, and Rodney went, Rodney fell forward into another kiss, Sheppard’s arms wrapping around him and pulling him close. Rodney groaned helplessly into his mouth, his own unsatisfied erection trapped between their bodies.
“Whaddaya say we do something about that?” John growled in Rodney’s ear, and then Rodney felt John’s fingers gripping his hipbones, urging him into a slow rocking motion. When Rodney had taken up the rhythm, his erection caressed by the exquisite friction of John’s hair-rough belly, John turned his attention to his ass, using the tips of his fingers to spread torture over Rodney’s oversensitized skin. When Rodney tried to speed up, however, Sheppard’s hands flew to his hips again, insisting on the slower pace.
Rodney butted his head against John’s shoulder in frustration, because it felt so damned good but it wasn’t quite enough and the bastard had to know it. Sure enough, he could practically feel Sheppard gloating by the third soft whack.
“Hey, look at me, willya?” Rodney raised his head, startled to find that John’s face held no trace of smugness. “Together, remember?” John murmured. “You have to tell me or I might not get it right.”
Rodney licked his lips, trying to marshal his thoughts for a response. “You’re doing fine,” he said tentatively, and Sheppard smiled faintly, though his eyes were still too grave.
“I kind of blew it there,” John confessed softly. “Want to make it good. Take it slow.”
Rodney shook his head, amazed that two observers could have such opposing viewpoints of the same event. “Haven’t you heard?” he asked, burying his hands in Sheppard’s stupid hair and brushing their lips together. “Time is relative.”
John laughed and licked at Rodney’s mouth and Rodney opened to let him in, his whole body swaying as though Sheppard were the ocean under him, running the gamut from doldrums to tsunami, and when Rodney felt John’s fingers dip and flutter and press home he gulped desperate lungfuls of oxygen and fell overboard into John’s waiting arms.
The bed was too narrow for two full-grown men, though they made the best use of the limited area, John curled up against Rodney’s back like a hairy space heater. Rodney mourned the temporary loss of his prescription mattress, but resolved to arrange that the lion’s share of their sexual encounters begin and end in his quarters in the future. For now, though, he was savoring the moments of having John pressed so close to him Rodney swore he could feel his heartbeat, of having John’s arm casually flung across his chest and not-so-casually brushing a nipple every time Rodney inhaled.
Rodney shifted on the bed, feeling his hip protest the too-soft mattress. “You’re making it difficult to fall asleep,” he grumbled.
Sheppard’s hand immediately pinched his nipple, hard, making Rodney yelp. “Sorry,” he drawled in Rodney’s ear.
“You—” Rodney began, but John was already stroking over it with the palm of his hand, soothing the stinging flesh and arousing it at the same time. How did he do that?
“I’ll make it up to you,” John whispered in his ear, and God, that—that was, pressing against his ass—
“Are you sure you’re over thirty-five?” Rodney asked incredulously, voice going a little thready as Sheppard sucked on his earlobe. “Because you have the refractory period of a horny eighteen-year-old.”
“Must be a side effect,” John murmured, and Rodney’s blood ran cold, because suddenly he could see John on the ground, the Wraith bent over him, and in that moment Rodney had been sure it was all over, that they’d been too late, too late to—
“Hey. Rodney. Rodney.” Rodney was suddenly aware that he was shaking and clutching John’s hand between both of his, holding it tight to his body as though it would shrivel to dust if he didn’t. He let go abruptly, and John’s hand rose to card a little awkwardly through his hair. Rodney squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before rolling over to face him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just—I thought we were gonna—” lose you, he didn’t bother to say, because John had been through his own hell, and he didn’t need to know the full extent of Rodney’s. Nevertheless, John seemed to understand, because he said, roughly, “Yeah, me too,” and that was really all there was to say about it, so Rodney leaned in carefully and found his mouth in the darkness. Sheppard groaned and pressed close to him, and Rodney groaned back and said “oh” and “yes” and “anything,” and by the time he was lying on his stomach with John surrounding him like a warm ocean, he couldn’t have cared less about his back.
“God, are you—is this—”
“I’m fine, I’m good—oh, please, yes, there—”
John moaned and stroked in again, and Rodney felt that same electric jolt, the pleasure nearly overwhelming. A few more like that and he wouldn’t have to worry about outliving John.
Rodney felt the warm weight of John’s forehead pressed to his shoulder blade, felt the fine tremor in his body as he tried to hold himself back from the edge even as he continued to move. “Rodney, God, I can’t—”
Rodney shook his head jerkily and shoved back against John, hard. “No,” he gasped, “don’t wait. Don’t—” A sharp sting of teeth to his neck cut off his words, and then John was pulling out, leaving him.
“Roll over,” Sheppard commanded, and Rodney did, as carefully as he could given that all of his limbs had turned to overcooked spaghetti. When he was on his back, John hoisted his legs onto his shoulders and Rodney opened his mouth to protest, because what kind of acrobat did Sheppard think he—
A soft, low groan from John and he was sliding home, and suddenly Rodney knew he had to see him, had to know what John looked like when he came apart. His hand flailed for the bedside lamp, finally finding the switch and bathing the bed in a golden light.
John was staring right at him, gaze determined and slightly manic, lower lip pinioned by perfect white teeth. He was covered in a fine sheen of sweat, and he was moving with that same loping not-quite-grace, his prominent hips steadily bumping the backs of Rodney’s thighs. As Rodney watched, lost and transfixed, John reached down and trailed his fingertips over Rodney’s wide mouth.
“I’ve got time,” John murmured, “I’ve got all the time I need, right now.”
Rodney’s moan turned into John’s name as he shuddered and came apart under John’s steadfast gaze, his own eyes bearing witness to the moment when John followed him over, his joyous smile as open as the sea.