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2012 was shaping up to be a good year for Dr. Rodney McKay. Not only had Colonel Elizabeth Weir asked him personally to join the IUS Mithras as Chief Science Officer on an exploratory expedition into the unknown reaches of space, but he’d hooked up with an almost ludicrously attractive Darzhyen dock worker the night before as he waited for his rendezvous with the Mithras.

While Rodney was far from surprised at the recognition of his exemplary scientific genius, his home planet, Darzhya, had joined the Intergalactic Union just thirteen months before he’d gotten the call from Elizabeth and no matter how brilliant Rodney McKay was, scientists from the Union’s best loved sons, Earth and Athos, were the only ones who really got recognition for their efforts in the field. This stint on the Mithras looked to be the crowning achievement for Rodney’s well-earned reputation and offered Rodney the chance to see first phenomena science had yet to explain and be the one to fill in the blanks. More than a few leading astrophysicists had rested on their laurels after stints aboard IU space ships – not that Rodney had any plans on resting.

And the fling with the dock worker – who had to be some kind of sexual guru – Rodney was by no means superstitious, but that had to be some kind of sign that the new year was going to bring everything he’d been hoping for. All in all, Rodney’s life outlook was ten for ten, and it was only the second of February.

The Viper touched down in Hangar Bay 1, soundless as a hummingbird in the air, and the pilot announced over the radio what the three souls aboard knew very well already – that they had touched down aboard the exploratory space vessel, the Mithras, and that they could disembark when the Viper was completely still.

Outside the dark windows, the mechanics crew sauntered up and began checking on the ship, and the navigator, a petite brunette, opened the Viper door. She looked back at Rodney. “All ready, Dr. McKay?” she asked.

Rodney looked up, distracted, and finished double checking his luggage. “Yes, yes,” he replied, “If you could get these trunks?”

Rodney stepped out of the Viper and onto the cavernous hangar deck. He scarcely had time to look around the ship before a slim, dark-skinned young man in uniform disengaged from conversation with a mechanic and approached Rodney. “Doctor McKay?” he asked with a bright smile.

“That’s me,” Rodney replied.

The young man nodded for an officer in a plain, gray uniform to take Rodney’s things. Then he assertively stuck out his hand. “Lieutenant Ford,” the young man introduced himself as the other man loaded Rodney’s trunks and bags onto a cart. “Colonel Weir asked me to meet you down here and show you around.”

“Right,” Rodney replied as he shook Ford’s hand. “It’s a pleasure.” He stared at the other officer’s departing form as he disappeared in the maze of aircraft repair equipment and towering tool boxes with Rodney’s bags. “Uh, where is he taking that, by the way?” he asked, jerking a thumb toward the man. “I have a lot of sensitive equipment in those, very fragile, very expensive—”

“Oh….” Aiden Ford’s brow creased and he glanced over at where the second man was walking away. He tapped his ear piece to activate his radio. “Jones, be careful with those bags,” he said. “Dr. McKay tells me they’re—”

Rodney impatiently shifted his weight from one foot to the other as Ford laughed at something apparently amusing the other man said, shooting a surreptitious glance at Rodney. “Yeah, that’s about it. Okay. Ford, out.” Rodney narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the Lieutenant.

Ford flashed his smile at McKay as he straightened up. “Don’t worry about him, sir. He’ll take your bags to the stowage deck for now.”

Rodney balked. “What?” he squawked, “The stowage deck? Are you saying you don’t have a room for me?”

“No, I didn’t say that,” Ford said carefully. His forehead creased. “You don’t have one now, but we’ll get you one.” Again, he smiled, but he seemed at odds uncertain and amused.

“Well, that’s comforting,” he groused.

Ford laughed. “Don’t worry, Dr. McKay, Colonel Weir gave very specific orders that we find you the best accommodations possible.”

Rodney waved a hand through the air, since dwelling on the subject obviously wasn’t getting anything done, either way. “Okay, where am I supposed to go?” he asked. “I hope you’re not expecting me to sleep in a common room.”

“Right now, General Emmagan’s holding a dinner for the new senior staff in her quarters.”

“Now?” Rodney asked. He’d been preparing himself for dry, flavorless mess hall faire for the next three years he was on the Mithras, but dinner at the General’s table actually sounded promising.

“Yes, sir,” Ford affirmed.

Rodney thoughtfully sucked on his lip. “Hmm, and that’s…?” He pointed toward the halls running in either direction from the hangar bay.

Ford smiled and clapped a hand on his shoulder, tilting his head back. “I’ll show you the way, sir.”

Rodney hummed approvingly. He appreciated the special treatment – after all, he was pretty special. “Very good.”

Ford led him out of the hangar deck and into the labyrinthine halls of the ship. Rodney kept his eyes open while they were walking, making a mental note to upload a map to his tablet or he’d never find his way around. The place was colossal. Ford pointed to this or that on the way, explaining that this flight of stairs led to the bridge and that door went to the officers’ barracks.

Rodney listened with one ear, following the young man as he took two lifts up to a hall that was, in most respects, as uniform as the others, except that midway down the corridor, there was a large window overlooking a wide and grassy park beneath a simulated setting sun. Rodney stopped, looking out at the silvery lake surrounded by tall, leafy trees. Back on Darzhya, he’d heard about the recreation on the Mithras – the garden and fields maintained by the botanists aboard but he was unexpectedly impressed by the beauty of the lush greenery in the coppery light of evening.  

“Dr. McKay,” Ford called him from the end of the hall. When Rodney looked up at him, Ford gestured to the heavy, metal door he stood in front of. “These are the General’s quarters.” Beside the door was a plaque that read GENERAL T. EMMAGAN. Ford keyed the button on the door panel and the heavy, steel door slid open for McKay to walk in.

Inside Teyla Emmagan’s personal quarters, there was a small crowd of twenty or so people dressed in uniforms and civilian dress clothes, sipping wine and talking before dinner was served. Their conversation was like a low murmur. A burst of familiar, braying laughter rang out over the ambient noise and Rodney’s heart missed a beat as he unthinkingly swept a glance around the room, but all the faces he saw were unfamiliar, which was only natural because the port over Darzhya was frequented by dozens of Darzhyen ships a day and the chances were slightly less than a hundred thousand to one that he’d ever see John again.

Ford smiled and tapped Rodney’s shoulder. “I’m going to find the General,” he said.

                                                                                       

Rodney spotted a table with some light appetizers in his periphery and lifted his brows. “Yes, that’s fine, Lieutenant,” he replied distractedly, glancing at Ford before heading over to the table. He was absolutely starved and the offerings looked surprisingly good for an Intergalactic Union Spaceship. He snagged what looked like a cross between a deviled egg and an oyster and sniffed it experimentally before popping it in his mouth.

“Rodney!”

Rodney chewed his bite and turned as Elizabeth Weir cut through the crowd toward him. He’d been in port over Darzhya for twenty four hours, but it was the first time he’d seen Elizabeth since she’d called via video-phone to ask him to join the Atlantis expedition last month. She looked tall and commanding in her navy blue IU uniform. “Elizabeth,” he said, swallowing.

She clasped Rodney’s arm briefly. “It’s been a while, Doctor.”

“Yes, well. I believe the last time was on the nal-Doreen-3 base three years ago.” He gestured, his hands making cartwheels in the air. “Seeing you is good, but let’s hope some of the other features of that post aren’t repeats. Like those nal-Doreen Sphinx-things with the—”

“The spears, yes,” Elizabeth finished for him. “I remember that.”

“Yeah, my ass remembers them, too!” Rodney cried. A visiting ambassador standing nearby turned to the scientist, looking ruffled by his terminology, but Rodney didn’t notice her stare. “Twelve stitches!” he exclaimed. “I felt like a pin cushion!”

                                                                                          

“Yes, yes.” Elizabeth smiled, her blue eyes twinkling. “But you have to admit, Rodney, it was kind of fun.”

“For you!” Rodney pointed at her. “For two weeks after I left, I was picking brambles off my—”

Elizabeth’s laughter rang out over the rest of his words. “Okay, okay!” She gave him a conciliatory pat on the shoulder and smiled. “Thanks for agreeing to come along, Rodney. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have as Chief Science Officer on this one.”

“Ah, yes, well – right, thanks.”

Elizabeth smiled warmly. “Let me give you the tour,” she said. She laid a hand on his elbow and guided him around the room, nodding to various people. “That’s Mia Sy, an ambassador from PX8-632,” she said, tipping her head toward a woman in a suit. “And I think you’ve met General Emmagan.” Rodney nodded. “Lieutenant Grodin,” Elizabeth nodded toward a slim, dark haired man in a navy Intergalactic Union uniform. “He works on the bridge. Actually, I wanted to introduce you to Major Sheppard. He’s our ranking pilot. When I met him, I thought of you. I know he’s around here somewhere.”

The crowd ahead parted, and Rodney glimpsed narrow shoulders clad in a black IU uniform and tufted dark hair. “Oh, here he is,” Elizabeth said. She touched the man’s shoulder and said, “Major Sheppard! I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.”

Rodney’s jaw dropped as Sheppard turned and fixed a blank, shocked expression on him. A jolt of surprise and pleasure ran up Rodney’s spine. He could’ve recognized his hazel eyes, furled brow, and full lower lip from across the room, had he been facing him. “Oh, my God!” Rodney cried, “John!”

Sheppard’s eyes were as wide as saucers and his mouth sagged open in an expression of naked shock that mirrored McKay’s. “Rodney,” he said dumbly. He looked from McKay to Elizabeth and back again. His hazel eyes were blank with surprise.

 “I had no idea you were stationed here!” A heady rush of excitement rose in Rodney’s chest as he regarded the other man, his cheeks suffusing with color.

Now John pointed his finger at Rodney, looking at the tag on the breast of Rodney’s new IU uniform and raising his eyebrows in disbelief. “You’re the new Chief Science Officer?” he asked.

“You two know each other already?” Weir interrupted, regarding the men in turn. Her brows shot up beneath the fringe of her dark curls.

Rodney broke John’s gaze as he looked at Weir, suddenly remembering that they weren’t alone. “We’ve met,” John confirmed, shrugging his shoulders as Rodney said, “At the Lobo in port.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Rodney threw his hands up in defense, but Elizabeth had already gotten the idea.

Her eyebrows shot up. “It must have been some meeting,” she deadpanned.

Rodney flushed bright red, gaping like a fish. He glanced at John and groped for a response to that. John looked entirely too bashful for Rodney’s comfort.

A grin spread over Elizabeth’s face. “Well, this solves one problem,” she announced cheerfully.

“Excuse me?” Rodney asked as John cautiously intoned, “Elizabeth?”

“I was wondering where we going to put you, Rodney. We don’t have any available space for the next few months the ambassadors are aboard. Since you and I go back, I didn’t want to have to put you up in a subordinate officer’s cabin temporarily, but since you two know each other—”

“Define ‘know each other,’” Rodney said as John said, “I don’t know if I’d call what we d—”

Elizabeth lifted her eyebrows. “Gentlemen,” she put her hands up, “I don’t know if I want to hear this.” She turned to Rodney and smiled as the dinner bell rang. “This is extremely fortunate and it’ll be so much better in the long run,” she said in a tone of genial finality. “Now, why don’t we sit and enjoy dinner?”

As she spoke, the door to the dining room opened up and the dinner guests began to file in. Rodney could feel John’s eyes on him and he shot him a distracted look as he went in after Elizabeth. The dining room was fairly small and dominated by a mahogany table and chairs in the center of the floor. There were places set with placeholders on each plate, reading the rank and name of the senior officers who were supposed to occupy the chairs in front of them.

Rodney found his place and sat down, his head swimming from the shock of the recent turn of events. Even as Rodney sat, John glanced at the placeholder beside Rodney’s and plucked it off the plate without so much as a moment’s hesitation as he slouched into the chair beside McKay. Rodney openly balked gaped at the Major, but John was turned away from him, shaking his head apologetically at the Mia-ambassador-whoever-she-was and handing her her misplaced placeholder.

Teyla stood up at the head of the table. Like Elizabeth, she was wearing the IU dress blues, her chest adorned with a myriad of ribbons designated her rank. “Thank you for coming,” she began evenly. “And let me be the first to say to those of you who are joining us on the expedition – welcome. As you all know, a ship is not helmed by one person alone—”

Rodney’s heart hammered as John leaned over in his chair. “You’re the guy everyone’s talking about?” John whispered.

John’s warm breath tickled the side of his neck and made him uncomfortably aware of his proximity. Rodney knitted his brows at him, not knowing whether to feel pleased with the recognition or offended by the disbelief in John’s voice. “If, by ‘the guy’ you mean ‘Chief Science Officer,’ that would be me,” he whispered back.

John made a weird face that was fairly indescribable. “Oh,” he said.

“But by all the members of the crew that pilots her,” Teyla continued. “It is that crew that makes a ship a vessel worthy of space and, of course, the Mithras would not be—”

“The guys upstairs said you’d be an alien,” John muttered, tipping his head left then right, “So I figured you’d be…,” he flicked at the cloth napkin on his plate, “y’know, like a little more alien.

Rodney narrowed his eyes at him. “Sorry to disappoint?” he asked.

John shrugged. “I mean, you look….” He gestured to Rodney.

“Please, go on.”

John didn’t seem to check the sarcasm in Rodney’s voice. “Well, for one thing,” he said. “You’re not green.”

“Oh, come on,” Rodney groaned loudly. “Are you kidding?” Everyone at the table turned to stare disbelievingly at him as he exclaimed and Rodney turned pink, sinking into his chair. At his side, John lifted his brows in a pristine expression of innocence and pointed to McKay for Teyla’s benefit.

***

They were done with dinner and in front of John’s cabin door at a quarter to eleven with the laughter and conversation of the officers in the common room echoing down the corridor and around them. “Home sweet home,” John announced. He withdrew his hands from his pockets and shoved the heavy door open.

Rodney stepped inside and looked around. The walls to the small bathroom in the corner formed an L. There was a low bunk against the right wall with built-in shelving above it. Along the left wall there was a built-in sofa and a collapsible table for private meals. Rodney’s baggage was at the foot of the bunk, taking up way too much of the available floor space.

When John came in and shut the door, the room seemed even smaller. Their arms brushed as he took off his jacket despite John’s valiant effort to make room as he did so.

Rodney made a face. “This is…,” he began. He didn’t know what exactly ‘this’ was. He wasn’t even sure there were adequate words to describe it – the words that came to mind were Intensely Claustrophobic. The room he’d shared with his half-sister when he was growing up hadn’t been that small. “Um….” He gestured abstractly.

“You know what they say,” John replied nonchalantly. He tossed his jacket on the sofa. “It’s where you hang your hat.”

“Do you have the space for that?” Rodney asked and John rolled his eyes. “Where am I supposed to, um…,” Rodney motioned around the room, “live?”

“I like to be living everywhere I go, myself,” John drawled. He raised his eyebrows emphatically. He was almost cloyingly adorable in such close proximity.

Rodney rolled his eyes in mild exasperation. “Yes, yes. That’s very funny, but, seriously – what is this? Ten by ten feet? My shower back home was bigger than this – you know, not literally, but—” He looked around. “Actually, it might have literally been bigger than this!”

John flicked his eyes up toward the ceiling. “Rodney,” he interrupted.

“And I like you and everything, Major, I do, but this place is way too small for two full grown men! It’s miniscule! We barely have enough room to stand in here at the same time and we’re supposed to live in here?”

“Well, thanks, Rodney. I like it, too,” John retorted.

“No, no, no, no, no!” Rodney waved his hands dismissively. “Okay, no offense, but…,” he swept his hands out toward the walls, “seriously? Do you see— Are you seeing this? I can’t even gesture in here! I don’t have enough room—”

John lifted his brows and pointed accusingly at Rodney. “Hey,” he said, “to be fair, for how much you talk with your hands, McKay, you’re lucky if you have room to gesture in the middle of the street.”

Rodney’s shoulders sagged, and he grimaced. He obviously wasn’t getting anywhere with this conversation. He glanced from wall to wall with an unhappy expression. “Why would you gesture in the middle of the street?” he asked finally.

John shrugged. “To hail a taxi?” he deadpanned.

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and sighed somewhat humorlessly.

“Sure, it’s not ideal,” John conceded as he spread his arms out, “but Elizabeth said herself that it’s not permanent. You’ll be getting your own cabin soon enough for all the standing and living you need, or want, to do in there. You might even be able to sit or lay down if you wanted,” he pointed out. “So why don’t we make the best of it for now and, y’know, try not to step on each other?”

“Make the best of it?” Rodney echoed.

“However you do that, yeah,” John replied. He patted Rodney’s arm.

Rodney stilled, his eyes fixed on John’s hand curled on his arm. That was interesting. “So…are you suggesting we have sex?” he asked hopefully. John swatted him in the arm. “I guess that’s a no, hmm?” Rodney demurred, “Too bad.” He tilted his chin up and peered at John hopefully. “So…I call the bed.”

“What?” John asked incredulously. “You can’t call the bed ’cause it’s my bed, Rodney.”

Rodney’s soft, sandy brows hiked up. “I just did,” he protested. “Didn’t you hear?”

John rolled his eyes and pointed to the corner of the room. “You get the sofa.”

Rodney slumped dejectedly. “Damn it,” he grumbled.

John picked up the blanket folded on the edge of his bunk and pressed it to Rodney’s chest. “And tomorrow we can see about getting a cot for a more semi-permanent solution.”

Rodney bent over and stole the pillow from John’s bunk. “Then I’m taking this,” he said.

***

After taking a shower and observing his nightly hygienic rituals, Rodney lay down on the sofa and wished John had cable. Against all odds, John had a television and a video game console, but John was lying in his bunk, idly flipping the pages of a comic book, and Rodney seriously didn’t think the Major was in the mood to play Havoc III.

His eyes followed the lean line of John’s legs, his ankles crossed at the foot of the bunk (maybe that was the head of the bunk, actually). He surreptitiously glanced at the Major’s lanky hips, the narrow torso in a black t-shirt, John’s head propped up on a rolled up jacket, just visible over the edge of the comic book.

Just yesterday, he’d been sitting on a stool in the Lobo on the space port, drinking a beer and making eyes at McKay. His hazel eyes passed over the page of his comic book, and he asked, “Want something, McKay?”

Rodney jerked his head up, a blush creeping across his face. “What?” he stuttered, opting to play dumb. His heart raced nervously.

John raised his green eyes to Rodney’s face and furled one eyebrow. He cocked his head skeptically.

“Oh, because I have to be looking at you,” Rodney retorted. “Please, good-looking people are so vain.”

John’s eyes scrunched up over the edge of his comic book. “Good-looking people?” he repeated incredulously.

“I’m going to bed. Can you try to quit keeping me up now, please?” Rodney asked, thoroughly embarrassed.

John dropped his comic book to his chest and smiled. “Usually you’d start by being quiet and closing your eyes.” As Rodney was queuing up to reply, he reached up over his head and hit a button, killing the lights.

***

Darzhya wasn’t part of the Interplanetary Union. The planet was located far off the map, on the edge of the Pegasus galaxy, so their space ports weren’t used for interplanetary trade like on other planets, but there was no shortage of ports over national capitals for international trade, spaced at regular intervals over the milky blue curve of the atmosphere and frequented by sky taxis from the planet’s surface.

E-9 was the largest Darzhyen port. It was easily as big as a metropolitan city, with a network of narrow roads between storefronts, hotels, tenements, and warehouses, which was why General Emmagan chose it for the Mithras to dock at for a weekend of shore leave before embarking into the deeper, unknown reaches of space.

Elizabeth had instructed Rodney to board the Mithras from E-9 a few days before their ETA, so he checked into a hotel early the evening before he was supposed to board the ship. He’d given his room a cursory glance. The rooms were small and shabby but fairly clean. Since he wasn’t staying long he figured it would do. He put his luggage in the corner and closed the blinds before going out for an early dinner.

That was when he saw John Sheppard walking down the 75th Strip, his hands shoved in his pockets in a pair of dark blue jeans and a t-shirt. He was attractive, to say the least, with spiky black-brown hair, hazel eyes, a pouty mouth, and the lean, toned build of a dock worker. He looked up at the neon sign for the Lobo and descended the stairs down to the bar.

Rodney assumed he was a worker from one of the warehouses getting a drink after work. Rodney glanced up the Lobo sign. The neon triangle hanging off the logo identified it as a gay bar. Rodney’s pulse hiked and he vacillated between going in and going back to his hotel room. What were the chances that this gorgeous guy would give him the time of day? Confounding as it was, not everyone could see his superior positive qualities. He queued on the sidewalk for a full minute before he decided to go in.

When he walked in, the bar was crowded with men talking or dancing together. Low music played over the din of conversation. Rodney spotted the guy sitting at the bar on a scarred stool, ordering a drink with a lopsided smile at the scrawny bartender. Rodney’s heart knocked around in his chest and he took a seat several chairs down from him. He waved to the bartender and ordered a drink.

Rodney stared surreptitiously at him over the rim of his glass, casting sidelong glances his way as he drank. The guy nodded at him and Rodney’s heart leapt. He looked at the guy’s fingers trailing in the condensation on his glass and then at the guy’s profile. He decided to walk over.

The guy politely pretended not to notice him as he took a drink from his glass and crossed his arms on the bar, his expression idle and a little bored.

Rodney cleared his throat. “Is this seat taken?” he asked, gesturing to the stool beside him.

The guy smiled. “Nope.” His hazel eyes flicked up and down over McKay as he sat down, but the smile didn’t falter, so Rodney assumed that he liked what he saw.

Rodney’s heart was in his throat, suddenly hot and flustered by the man’s secretive glance. The guy liked his looks, maybe, which was a good start (the whole point, actually). Rodney was shocked by how well this was going – the last time he’d tried to pick up a guy in a bar, he’d accidentally insulted him before the first drink and the guy had walked out when Rodney was busy choking on his second drink. From his experience, the first minute of conversation was a good determination of whether he’d get a drink thrown in his face and he was still bone dry – by his standards, this was going surprisingly smoothly. He settled on the seat beside him and put his glass down on the bar. “Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.

The guy leaned back on one elbow so he could meet Rodney’s eyes. He shrugged. “Why don’t you go for it?” he genially asked.

Rodney winced and the guy’s smile became simultaneously confused and amused. “Is that a trick question?” Rodney asked. He gestured in small circles with both hands. “Like, am I going to buy you a drink and then you send it back and I get embarrassed because—”

The man rapped his forearm lightly. “Come on. What do you think?” His green eyes were beautiful up close.

Rodney exhaled slowly and nodded. Okay. He waved to the bartender and when she came forward, he looked back to the other man. “A beer?” he asked. The guy nodded and Rodney relayed it to the bartender.

When she handed a chilled bottle to him, the man smiled and pushed his empty glass away. “Thanks,” he said, looking up at Rodney as he took a drink.

Rodney nodded awkwardly. “You’re welcome.” He had no idea what to say now that it seemed like he wouldn’t get shot down immediately. Everything that coalesced in his mind seemed like a bad idea. He swallowed and focused on looking intelligent. “So…do you come here often?” he asked.

The guy arched an eyebrow. “Do I come to a space port often?” he repeated. “Not really.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Okay, it was kind of a stupid question,” he admitted.

The man smiled humorously at him. “Hey, I could live here,” he said, pointing at McKay. “And if I did, I could come here all the time. If I lived here – which I don’t.”

His reply heartened Rodney and he was surprised to realize how much he wanted this guy to like him. “My name is Rodney,” he said. He offered his hand in the tight space between them.

The man looked down absently before taking his hand. “John,” he replied. It was an Earth name, which didn’t mean he was from Earth – Earth names were common in outlying galaxies that traded in Earth commodities.

It was unusual, though, and Rodney was intrigued. He hadn’t been to Earth since he was eight. “Are you from around here?” he asked. “Here, meaning ‘the planet of Darzhya’ rather than, like, the immediate vicinity.”

John shrugged noncommittally. “I’m here now.”

“Well, that’s not vague.”

John shrugged, favoring him with a mild smile, and Rodney’s heart raced. He took a drink to wet his dry mouth. “So, do you…?”

“Wanna go somewhere we can talk?” John interrupted.

Rodney turned on his stool and scanned the bar. It was pretty crowded. “Um….”

“Like a motel,” John said by Rodney’s elbow.

Rodney jerked his head back to stare open-mouthed at John. His face flooded with color and his crotch throbbed. “That would be ‘yes,’” he answered weakly.

John stood up and tossed a Union bill on the bar. “Okay,” he said.

They’d walked back down to the motel and John followed Rodney into the lift up to his room. They’d barely walked into McKay’s room before John’s hands were on his shoulders, pushing him back against the wall. He caught Rodney’s mouth and pushed inside, kissing him deeply. The weight and feel of his narrow frame in Rodney’s arms was electric as he plastered himself to Rodney, all lean muscle and slinkiness.

Rodney moaned into his mouth, his cock throbbing against the curve of John’s hip. “Oh, my God,” he mumbled. “That is….” Words failed him. He grasped the belt loops of John’s jeans and held him fast, kissing his way into John’s smudged and swollen mouth.

“Tell me about it,” John murmured against his lips in agreement, his wonderful, grabby hands at the hem of Rodney’s shirt. It bunched up, caught under Rodney’s arms with Rodney’s hands still on John, and heat blossomed between them.

When the shirt was gone, they were skin to skin, which was remarkable, and John’s hands were up and down Rodney’s back, scratching lightly over his spine. And God, he was a fire-cracker. Rodney shuddered against him and pulled back to feverishly kiss the column of John’s throat, pressing his tongue to the other man’s skin and tasting salt. He breathed in the scent of John’s aftershave, a feeling like fire lighting up through him. He manhandled John’s pants open and sank to his knees, pulling John out. John was already hard and wet and a surge of pleasure thrilled through Rodney at the thought that he’d done this – that this was how John was because of him.

Rodney couldn’t suppress a moan, his clever, crooked mouth full of John’s dick. His tongue slipped out against the underside of John’s erection, flushed, smooth skin visible as Rodney pulled back. His mouth was open wide, slick and pink, as he lapped at John’s cock. He seriously hadn’t remembered how good this was – he felt like he could do this all day, twinge in his right knee aside. The lamp light left shadows all over John’s face and it felt dangerous and sexy in ways Rodney had never had before. 

John groaned. His hazel eyes slipped shut as he bit his lip and furled his eyebrows. His fingers clenched on Rodney’s fine, sandy-brown hair, running the fingers of his right hand over the edge of Rodney’s lips absent-mindedly. Rodney glanced up at him, calculating the perfect angle, the place that would be best for both of them. His cock twitched at the sight of John’s down turned face and worried lip. Rodney redoubled his efforts and sucked harder, twisting his head so the low overhead light shone on his hollowed cheek.

“Je-Jesus, Rodney,” John gasped. “Just…,” he whined in his throat and jerked his hips forward, “just-just like that,” he panted.

He shuddered as Rodney parted his lips, lightly licking the crown of John’s cock. Pearly precome welled beneath Rodney’s tongue and ran down John’s length, dripping onto his chin. Rodney enveloped John in the slick warmth of his mouth – all voluptuous wet and silken. John tensed his fingers in Rodney’s hair.

Rodney wrapped the fingers of his left hand around John’s belt and pulled the other man’s jeans down. John’s lean legs were bare and shaking beneath Rodney’s left hand. He cupped himself through his pants, stroking himself slowly, a little pressure, just enough. He moaned around John’s cock, trying not to lose it, his forehead creased and his brows furrowing in concentration. His cheeks hollowed as he sucked. He could hear John over him, panting, whining, and he could feel John’s hand in his hair, encouraging him to take him deeper in his throat.

Rodney moderated his breathing carefully, trying to keep his composure by getting lost in mathematical equations, but the way John whimpered above him and rocked his hips in tiny jerks had Rodney’s heart hammering in his ears. He could hear John’s strangled breaths and saw the tension in John’s clenched jaw as Rodney snuck a glance up at him. John gripped his hair, white-knuckled, keening sharply, and that was just ridiculously hot.

The sound of Rodney sucking him rose on the air, underscored by the ragged catch of John’s breath, and Rodney swallowed, rubbing himself harder, because they sounded amazing together. John whimpered, caught between the hot, wet suck of Rodney’s mouth and the sure pressure of Rodney’s fingers stroking his entrance.

Rodney felt his climax building through him, in the helpless rhythm of his hand, shoving at his cock through his pants. He jerked his hips and felt pleasure like the catch of a key in a tumbler, and he fumbled as he slipped back and John whined in frustration. Rodney glanced up and he could see that John was nearly there, the warning note of his climax was shivering through his body. “Shit, sorry,” he muttered, and dove back in, swallowing John in one long, sure motion.

“Jesus!” John cried out, his hips jerking erratically. His face was flushed dark red, sweat gleaming on his brow. An electric thrill ran through Rodney and he sucked harder, keening and huffing, working himself through his pants.

John ran a hand up his chest, fisting his hand in the black fabric. He looked out of it, totally wrecked, and Rodney was almost alarmed by that – he’d never put that look on anyone’s face before John. “Like that – just a little,” he panted, “c’mon….”

Rodney bobbed his head and earned the same cry as before. He redoubled his suction. The next time he sucked John would have been like an experiment, if he hadn’t wanted John to fuck his mouth so much. As he jerked his hips forward and shoved his hand over his cock, John shuddered and moaned helplessly, thrusting his hips with abandon. It was so hot, Rodney lost it. He rubbed himself off and fisted his hand against John’s skin, sucking him hard and fast.

As Rodney sucked, John was undone, crying out, his fingers kneading Rodney’s shoulder as he demandingly jerked his hips forward, burying himself in Rodney’s mouth. Like electricity across a circuit board, John was lit up. He sagged, gasping, and bent over Rodney, fisting his hand in the back of Rodney’s shirt as he thrust into the velvety wet of McKay’s mouth. Climax was like a current. He shuddered and buried himself in Rodney’s throat, clenching his fists in the other man’s shirt with a sob. His cock jerked and wept his release. John moaned.

Rodney softened his mouth, touching John’s leg lightly, sighing softly as he sucked him once more. He was as dazed as John was, his mouth smudged pink and swollen. He blinked as John pulled out, pushing himself back into his pants with clumsy hands.  

John pressed his hands into McKay’s shoulders as he pulled back. “Just…just hold on a minute,” he slurred, pulling his pants up. He stumbled back against the bed. “Let me,” he gestured vaguely, “y’know, get my, uh…yeah.” He dropped back into the bed and slung an arm over his eyes.

Rodney’s heart raced as he caught his breath. He winced as he climbed to his feet. “Ow. In retrospect, maybe not the wisest decision for my joints,” he said.

John patted the bed beside him with a wan hand, slitting his green eyes open enough to peer over at him as he groggily waved him over. “C’mon over here.”

Rodney peeled his sticky pants off before they got too unreasonably uncomfortable and dumped himself on the bed beside John. It was still kind of hard to believe that less than an hour ago, he’d followed the dark haired man into a gay bar. He never did that – this never happened to him. His heart hitched as John groaned inarticulately and pat the bedspread with his hand until his fist bumped Rodney’s leg. He left his hand there, his fingers barely brushing Rodney’s bare leg.

Rodney worried his lip, wrung out and exhausted, but there was only so long he could go without talking. “Okay,” he announced, breaking the silence, “is it just me, or was I seriously good at that?”

John squinted at him, swatting him lightly in the arm. Rodney peaked his brows at him persuasively and John relented, rolling his eyes. “Okay,” he replied, “you were good.”

Rodney knit his brows. “Are you sure I wasn’t amazing?” he insisted. “Because to me, that felt—”

“Okay, okay! You were amazing,” John replied. “But don’t go getting a big head about it.” The corners of his mouth twitched and he looked generally mussed and rumpled in the best possible way.

Rodney grinned, settling back in bed. “Yes, well – genius,” he sing-songed, pointing to his chest. In retrospect, Rodney had twenty hours to glory in his ingeniousness before he walked into Teyla Emmagan’s quarters and found out that he’d be sharing the tin can John called a cabin with his spiky-haired, slouchy, slinky-hot one-night stand, and suddenly felt his IQ drop considerably because this was bound for awkwardness.

***

The first three weeks on the Mithras went by fast. Rodney plunged into his work in the science department, wrestling the department and its occupants up to his exacting standards as he adjusted to the new labs and the new scientists. He spent most of his time in the lab or hustling down to the engineering decks to make first hand inspections on the frequently subpar job his subordinates were doing.

Unsurprisingly, Rodney saw John all the time – not just in their sardine can but around the ship, sometimes unexpectedly. Rodney could go to repair a generator in the third deck and see John joking around with subordinate officers or in the hangar bay, instructing newer recruits on flying the Vipers. What was surprising was that, despite Rodney’s expectations, it never got awkward, which was great on one hand, but on the other hand, it gave Rodney the sneaking, offensive suspicion that John hadn’t been all that attracted to him initially.

Sometime between the middle of the first week and the end of the second, they fell into the routine of catching lunch or dinner together. It seemed kind of inevitable because they were living in the same cabin – they were usually heading the same direction about that time. Sometimes a couple soldiers would join them briefly (mostly a menacing giant with dreadlocks, Lieutenant Ford and sometimes General Emmagan when she wasn’t busy), palling around with John before heading off to wherever they were headed to. Most of the time, however, it was just John and Rodney, eating and ribbing each other or chatting about their plans.

Rodney was fast discovering that it wasn’t just sexually that they were compatible. John actually did own Havoc III and they marathoned on two Sundays when they didn’t have any pressing work to do.

Rodney spent most his time in the lab and John spent some evenings in the officers’ common room down the hall from their cabin, but John was usually back by the time Rodney came home. Like lunch, they had an unofficial standing date to play chess or card games and bicker in the evening until one or the other started yawning and they hit the sack (or John hit the sack and Rodney hit the couch more accurately).

Of course, they still didn’t have room to gesture or hang hats in the sardine can, and they both seemed to agree not to talk about the one night stand to forgo what could become awkward and weird so, unfortunately, there was no sex, and Rodney was as busy as he always was (probably a little busier, actually), but it was leagues better than Rodney had imagined. Life on the Mithras wasn’t the stick at the end of the carrot he’d been expecting. It was actually surprisingly pleasant and if things kept going the way they were going, Rodney would be tentatively thrilled.

***

“You wanted me, General Emmagan?” Rodney asked. He came into the control room and glanced around, looking to Teyla Emmagan. The General was standing at the tactical table in the center of the room, looking up at the view screens suspended above it. Elizabeth was leant over beside her, pointing at a display of a planet with a kind of smirk. Rodney nodded to Weir absentmindedly before looking at the General.

Teyla Emmagan looked up from the central display. “Yes, actually,” she said. She gestured to the view screen over her head. “We will be orbiting over PX3-895 in an hour. I would like you to join Major Sheppard’s away team.”

“Um, this is…?” Rodney squinted.

“A survey team of the planet’s mineral composites. I would like to know about anything of interest on the planet’s surface.”

 “Right,” Rodney replied primly. “Actually, I’m pretty busy right now so…,” Rodney jerked a thumb toward the door, “if you want one of my subordinates—?”

“No,” Teyla replied easily, her hands clasped at her back. “I would like you to go personally. I like all the members of my crew to have experience on survey teams. I have read in your file that you have had field experience on the nal-Doreen-3 expedition but I want you to continue your training on my vessel. I find that the field training for scientific posts is…,” she paused tactfully, “somewhat incomplete.”

“I feel comfortable with my experience, actually. And besides, you don’t really need me on this. If it’s just a survey team, I can send, uh, Barley or Babcock or Bryant, or whatever his name is. I could be doing about a hundred things more useful to you, me, and everyone on board in the lab in the time it would take for me to hike around the surface of whatever backwoods intergalactic rest stop we’re talking about here—”

“No,” Teyla repeated coolly. “I would like for you to go, Dr. McKay.”

Rodney slumped in defeat. Trudging around looking for Neptunium on some probably barren, possibly dangerous, and likely useless rock wasn’t precisely his idea of a good use for his valuable time and superior talent but he could tell already that Teyla wasn’t going to change her mind anytime soon. “Right,” he said. He paused before straightening up. “Anything else?” he asked

Teyla smiled. “No.” Beside Teyla, Weir grinned into her hand.

Rodney set his mouth unhappily and nodded. He turned on his heel and walked back through the control room into the corridor outside. One lift down and one backtracked path to the same said lift, and Rodney walked into the hangar bay.

The away team was standing beside a flight-ready Viper, dressed in black flightsuits. John was slouching attractively beside a dread locked Goliath with a suspicious smirk. A pang of nervousness and pleasure ran through Rodney at seeing Sheppard standing by the Viper with his hands on his hips.

Sensing Rodney’s stare, John looked up and nodded his head in Rodney’s direction. “Hey, Rodney,” John drawled. “What’s up?”

Rodney idly waved as he ambled up. He gestured vaguely in the general direction he thought best indicated the control room upstairs. “General Emmagan put me on the team,” he said. “What do you need me to do?”

John slowly looked Rodney up and down. “Usually, you’d start by suiting up,” he said.

Rodney nodded, humming affirmatively. He looked around. “And the flightsuits are…?”

A grin spread across John’s face and he clapped Rodney on the arm. “Y’know what, I’ll show you.” The warmth of his fingers left a wonderful tingly feeling over Rodney’s skin.

***

They set down on PX3-895 in a low plain bordered by trees a half mile from the mine and climbed out into the long grass. John pointed toward the mine and said, “Rodney, you’re with me. Markham, Ronon, I want you guys to move out toward the mines we passed on the way in.”

Rodney pulled his sensor out and tapped the screen. “I’m getting some energy readings a hundred yards from the mine and over,” He gestured, “By the gorge.” He squinted against the bright sunlight and looked over at Markham and Ronon by the Viper. “This particular mineral is notoriously difficult to keep a reading on, so keep your eyes peeled.”

“Okay, you heard the man,” John said. “We all meet back here at 1500. Got it?” The others nodded and headed off in the opposite direction.

Rodney headed out toward the gorge with John at his back. The wind shushed through the tall, blonde grass. The sky was a beautiful, pale blue with large, fluffy clouds overhead. Rodney looked up briefly and furrowed his eyebrows. “It should be maybe a half mile up ahead,” he said, turning his eyes back to his sensor.

Behind him, John knit his brows and picked a long stalk of straw to chew on. “All right. Keep an eye on the sensor,” he said.

Rodney shook his head and turned to roll his eyes at John. “Well, obviously,” he replied.

For a moment, John was quiet behind him with just the sound of the breeze through the tall grass and the crunch of their boots audible between them. “Hey, so where’d you learn English? College?” John asked.

Rodney was surprised by the question – not that no one ever asked him about his past (when he was screened for participation on the nal-Doreen-3 post, he’d been interrogated for five grueling hours without coffee or a decent lunch break) – he just hadn’t thought that John was interested. Did his question mean that he was interested in Rodney’s background or Rodney himself? Rodney briefly scrutinized John’s features, but couldn’t see his hazel eyes through his aviator glasses and couldn’t glean anything from his expression besides casual curiosity.

“My father was human,” Rodney replied. “I lived on Earth until I was eight.” He gestured outward. “Then we moved back to Darzhya and my mom remarried, had my half-sister, Jeannie.”

John nodded, pursing his lips thoughtfully around the straw on his lip. “So that’s the…,” he gestured vaguely toward the horizon with both hands folded over his gun, “Rodney McKay, perfect grasp of English slang thing.”

Rodney nodded wryly. “Yeah, that’s the European name, perfect grasp of English slang thing.”

John pulled up beside Rodney and stared at his profile as they walked. “So, wait – you’re half, uh….”

Rodney raised his eyebrows. “Darzhyen? Human? Both?” he asked.  

“So how was that?”

“Being alien and growing up on Earth?” Rodney asked.

John pointed to him. “Sure, that,” he replied.

Rodney cocked his head as he considered it. “A lot like being a full scholarship student at Yale.”

John guffawed into his hand. Rodney turned to look at him, pleased that John was amused by his joke. He smiled. “You know, up until last year, Darzhya wasn’t part of the Intergalactic Union,” he went on. “We’re one of the lesser known planets.”

John nodded sagely. “I hadn’t heard of it.”

Rodney made a face. “Figures. There’s, like, no tourism industry.”

John nudged him in the ribs with his elbow. “Think of it this way – no tourism, no guys walking around in sandals with socks.” Rodney scrunched his face up. John’s green eyes lingered on his face. “You look human to me,” he said.

Rodney arched an eyebrow. “Uh, do I say ‘Thank you’?” he asked.

John looked amusedly exasperated as he rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I’m saying,” he drawled. “I mean, what’s the difference?” He gestured between the two of them. “How are you guys any different from us?”

Rodney bit his lip thoughtfully. “Mostly in the reproductive and digestive systems.”

John laughed. “Having two stomachs would explain your appetite,” he teased.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Ha, ha,” he intoned dryly.

Before Rodney could say anything else, John hissed, “Shit. Get down.” The whine of a ship’s engine rose on the air. He yanked Rodney down in the grass as a ship darted across the sky from the opposite direction, beyond the swell of the hilltop a distance from the mine. A shadow crossed over the ground where they were crouched in the long grass as it flew above them and John’s features sharpened in vigilance. His hand was warm and flat on the back of Rodney’s neck.

As Rodney watched, the ship hovered above the mine on the opposite side of the copse they’d left the Viper in. It was fortunate the craft was flying in low from the opposite direction or the newcomers would’ve seen the Viper on the other side of the trees and would have immediately known that they weren’t alone. The ship hovered for a moment before it chose a small outcropping a couple yards beyond that to set down.

“Damn,” John muttered lowly as he raised his binoculars to get a better look.

Rodney turned to look into John’s face. “Who the hell are they?” he asked shrilly.

John didn’t look at him. His eyes were riveted to the distant shape of the craft, his binoculars in a loose fist at mid chest. “Ship’s made of cannibalized parts, an illegal Union bulkhead. I’d say they’re smugglers,” he replied. John looked over at him as Rodney jostled against his side, peeking over the grass. “Rodney, stay down,” he said, shoving him further down by the back of his neck.

“I’m not trying to get up!” Rodney protested. “Believe me, I don’t want to get shot. I’m staying down.”

John shook his head and tapped his ear piece to radio the others. “Away-2, we’ve got company,” he said lowly. “Find cover and wait for my instructions.”

Rodney straightened. He knocked John’s shoulder and pointed out across the field. “Hey, they’re landing!” he hissed. “Maybe they didn’t see us.”

John lifted his binoculars off his chest and peered through them at the distant shape of raiders disembarking their ship. “If we’re lucky,” he murmured as they both looked out over the grass. “The ship looks like the same one that attacked a Union science base in the Milky Way galaxy a couple weeks ago.”

Rodney’s heartbeat picked up. Sweat prickled on his back. “You mean they’re violent?” he asked nervously.

John set his binoculars down against his chest. “I mean, be careful,” he said emphatically.

Rodney felt sick. “Oh, that sounds fantastic,” he moaned. It just figured that his first off ship mission would involve bloodthirsty smugglers.

“Yeah, yeah,” John replied distractedly. “We’ve gotta get around these guys. If we swing back around, the tree line will give us cover and we can take them by surprise.”

“Are you nuts? You want to engage the vicious smugglers in a two-to-who-knows-how-many vicious-smugglers fight?”

“Three vicious smugglers,” John corrected. “And that’s kinda what we do in the States Air Force, of which I am part, Rodney.”

Rodney swallowed. “I don’t suppose I have a choice here.”

“Not really.”

Rodney grimaced. “Okay, okay. Let’s get it over with.”

***

The heroic capture was made at the cost of a twisted ankle (Rodney’s), a skinned knee (also Rodney’s), a gashed hand (Ronon’s), and the years of therapy Rodney would doubtlessly have to endure to deal with the psychological effects of the trauma. John had stayed behind in the hangar bay to debrief Teyla and Weir after the nurses waiting in the bay helped Rodney into a wheelchair that even Rodney had to admit (to himself) was a little unnecessary. In the clinic, a burly nurse helped him limp over to the full-body scanner to check his leg for fractured bones. In the meantime, Rodney tapped idly at his tablet as he waited for the doctor to come back with the results.

The nurses were a lot more helpful now than they had been regarding his many requests for prescription back pain medication (the sofa was misaligning his spine, surely causing untold long term damage to his back, which he kept John updated on daily) and some kind of non-addictive stimulant similar to coffee (which, due to a complete lack of foresight on someone’s part, the ship didn’t stock). In fact, everyone was being really generous ever since they’d come back from PX3-895 with the smugglers in custody and stepped off the Viper to a round of applause in the hangar bay, and if this was the reward for heroics, Rodney could really see the appeal.

General Emmagan had even been talking about a party with Weir’s enthusiastic support as Rodney was leaving. Alcohol, music and dancing had Rodney’s memory rewinding back to meeting John at the Lobo on E-9, his stomach knotted with nervousness more than excitement. John hadn’t shown more than friendly interest in him since they’d re-met unexpectedly the night Rodney came aboard the Mithras. On one hand, Rodney was just happy the two of them were even getting along, and he certainly wasn’t nursing anything more than a basic attraction, but on the other hand, the thought of John eyeing some guy over a beer like he had Rodney made his eyes feel uncomfortably itchy.

“McKay,” Dr. Cadman whooped as she pulled back the curtain surrounding his bed. She was a young, blonde Earthling with bright, humorous blue eyes. Rodney jumped and blinked as she dropped her electronic clipboard onto a nearby table with a raucous clatter. “I heard about the adventure earlier.” She punched his arm lightly. “You’re a hero.”

Rodney grimaced and rubbed at the place she’d hit, setting his tablet down beside him. “Yes, well.” Actually, he was surprised himself that he’d shot someone – more surprised that it actually hit – but when he’d seen the smuggler aiming at John’s back, he’d pulled the trigger before he had time to think about it. “Thanks?”

Cadman dropped onto a stool beside Rodney’s bed. “Why so humble, Rodney? You can afford to pat yourself on the back. This whole shindig tonight is partly in your honor.”

Rodney made a face. “Thanks for the compliment, but can we hurry this along, Cadman?” he asked.  He gestured with one hand, still holding the tablet in the other. Somehow he’d gotten into John’s personal itinerary while he’d been tapping away without thinking. Rodney quickly minimized the folder and turned his attention to Cadman. “It’s not like I don’t enjoy my time in your voodoo hut – though, actually, I don’t – but I want to get cracking on my warp drive accelerator, so if we could cut the chit chat—?”

Cadman smiled wryly. “Actually, Rodney, you’re going to want to take some time for this.”

That figured. Rodney rolled his eyes and sighed. “Okay, what is it?” he asked. “I know, you’re an attractive woman, but at this point, I’m really not interested in any long term—”

“Get real, McKay,” Cadman scoffed. “You’re A) not my type, and B) so not my type.”

Rodney held up a hand. “That’s almost disappointing,” he replied dryly. “What is it?”

 “It’s about your full-body scan—” Cadman bit the inside of her cheek and glanced down at her chart.

Rodney’s face fell and he shot to his feet. “Oh, my God,” he gasped, “I’m dying.”

“Rodney,” Cadman began impatiently, but Rodney cut in again. “I have some weird space disease, or—or…,” he stammered hopelessly.

Cadman smacked Rodney’s arm. “Calm down, McKay!” she said. “You’re not dying! You’re healthy as a horse! I’m just trying to tell you that you’re…well… Let’s just say that if you RSVPed to an invite, you’d have your guest already.” Rodney stared at her uncomprehendingly. Cadman gestured to his belly and Rodney looked down blankly. With an exasperated expression, Cadman made an incomprehensible shape in the air with her hands.

 “My what?” Rodney asked snappishly.

Cadman leaned back and clasped her hands between her knees. “Look, as weird as it is for me to say this to a guy, which, I guess, you’re technically classified as, you’re pregnant.”

A feeling of dread swept over Rodney as he blinked owlishly at the doctor. “I’m what?”

Cadman lifted her eyebrows. “Pregnant.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no!” Rodney burst out. “Check it again! There is no way I’m pregnant!”

Cadman spread her hands out. “Sorry, McKay, but the scanner doesn’t lie. You’ve got a bun in the oven. Look at it yourself – there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.” She flicked her fingers on the screen of her electronic clipboard and opened up a full color picture. Rodney craned his neck as Cadman tapped the screen and the picture printed out from the edge of her board. She handed it to Rodney and he looked down at a close-up photograph of a tiny thing, barely recognizable as a fetus, curled up and pink as a prawn. “Emergency conception,” she said. It was what they called it when a male Darzhyen formed a film that acted as a false egg around sperm. “You’re familiar with that.”

Rodney paled and felt sick. “No, no, no,” Rodney argued feebly. He flushed from his collar to his hairline. “I’m half-human! They’ve told me my whole life I’ll never have kids!” His heart was in his throat. He sat down heavily and Cadman fanned him with her clipboard, the two of them oblivious to the stares of the nurses and patients around the clinic. Cadman kept fanning him and Rodney swatted the clipboard away impatiently.

“Easy, McKay!” Cadman scolded. “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

Rodney stared blindly at the wall at the far end of the clinic, ignoring Cadman completely as the information sank in. “Oh, my God,” he whimpered. “I can’t believe I’m knocked up. I lectured Jeannie for three days when she got pregnant with that boyfriend of hers. I can’t believe this is happening to me!”

“Breathe, McKay, breathe!”

“How did this happen?” Rodney wailed.

Cadman snorted. “Well, in this case, when two men love each other very much—”

“I know that part!” Rodney cried. “Who’s the father? I’ve always been careful, anyway, I mean, there’s a hell of a lot more you can get from skin-to-skin contact than a baby! I always used protect—” He stopped short as suddenly, it hit him like a smack in the face: John Sheppard. “Oh, my God.”

Cadman leaned forward on the stool. “What? Is something coming back to you? Did you ID the baby daddy?” she asked.

“No – well….” Rodney cradled his head in his hands. “There’s only one person it could possibly be.”

Cadman rolled her eyes. “C’mon, McKay, I’m a doctor, not your prom date! Spill it,” she said.

Rodney rubbed his temples. Aside from the time they’d hooked up on E-9, Sheppard hadn’t shown the slightest bit of interest in him beside what Rodney presumed was his stand-by mode of friendliness. Rodney took it as an unspoken agreement not to talk about the one night stand on the space port – John sure as hell hadn’t brought it up and if John wasn’t bringing it up, Rodney wasn’t about to embarrass himself by seriously angling for a reprisal of the space-port shenanigans they’d gotten up to.

Rodney’s wounded ego aside, living with Sheppard for the last month had been totally surprisingly great, even if the Major walked around the room shirtless in his off time, which was, hello, inhumane unless he was planning on doing something to relieve Rodney’s resultant pent-up sexual energy. But things would change if the baby was John’s. Things would get awkward. There wasn’t space enough in John’s sardine can cabin for two men, a baby, and the loads of issues Rodney knew would crop up. Because something would crop up – something always cropped up and when it did, Rodney was left high and dry, picking up the pieces. It always worked out that way.

No, it was pretty clear to Rodney that Sheppard didn’t want a relationship with him and if a two night stand was too much commitment for him then a no returns, no refunds, lifetime guaranteed baby was way out there. Forget John wanting him, when things went south, Rodney would be lucky if John even wanted to be friends.

“Could I be four months in?” Rodney blurted out. The last guy he’d slept with before John was four months before he’d stepped on the Mithras. Even if he was on his own about it, if the baby wasn’t John’s, they could go on living in the same cabin without all the horrible baby-daddy drama Rodney just knew would crop up.

Cadman shook her head. “Rodney, you’re not four months in. You think you’re in your second bimester?” she asked entirely too reasonably.

“C’mon!” Rodney whined. Why the hell couldn’t he ever get anything he wanted? “I’ve gained, like, fifteen pounds and I’m having these cravings—!”

“McKay, McKay, McKay!” Cadman called over him. She shook her head and held up a hand. “The fifteen pounds – that’s your sedentary, science-y lifestyle, and as for the cravings….” She tapped his belly.

“Hey!” Rodney swatted her hand away.

“‘Hey,’ you,” Cadman replied breezily. “Let’s get real about this, McKay. The scan shows that you’re about a month along. It must’ve happened right around when you joined the crew, and it’s not like we’ve been here for eons, so….” She gestured toward Rodney.

“All right, all right, all right!” Rodney interrupted. “It’s not like I don’t know who it is. It’s just…,” he crossed his arms over his chest, “I don’t know how he’ll react to this, and it was mostly a one night stand, and oh my God, I don’t want things to get awkward!”

“Wait a minute!” Cadman smacked Rodney’s knee. “He’s a crew member?” she asked.

Rodney cringed, flushing red. “You absolutely cannot say a word!” he squealed as Cadman nodded eagerly.

“We met at E-9,” he grumbled as he absently folded the photograph and slipped it into his pocket. “I thought he was a local. And he was hot and I was, okay, not drunk, and he was maybe a little tipsy, and one thing just led to another – and that never happens to me and I have, like, no willpower – how was I supposed to say no to that?”

Cadman grinned, smacking Rodney’s knee harder a second time. “Rod-ney!” she exclaimed. “I’m surprised and a little impressed!”

“What are you, She-Hulk?” Rodney complained. He rubbed his sore knee.

“He sounds like a knock-out. Is he?”

 “What do you think?” he asked. “Ugh. We’ve been getting along well, which, I don’t know if I have to tell you, is actually pretty unusual for me, but now this…I have no idea how he’ll take this.”

Cadman drummed her fingers on the stool between her knees. She poorly affected a patient expression. “Rodney,” she said brightly, “quit being a tease. I am going to kill you if you keep holding out. Who is it?”

Rodney grimaced. “John Sheppard?” he uncertainly asserted.

Cadman’s eyebrows shot up and a grin spread across her face. “John Sheppard?” she asked incredulously. She snapped ramrod straight. “Wow, Rodney, when you go for it, you go for it. Sheppard’s, like, the most popular guy on board.” She looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “He’s not really my type but I can appreciate him aesthetically.”

Rodney waved his hands. “Okay, okay, that’s good to hear,” he snapped impatiently. It was enough he had to witness the unwashed masses slavering over the Major in the halls of the Mithras every day (not that he minded – not really).

“Are you going to tell John?” she asked.

“Tell me what?”

Rodney whipped around, reflexively shoved the picture in his pocket, and saw John Sheppard in the doorway, still muddy and flushed and unbearably attractive in his flightsuit from the mission on PX3-895. Rodney’s heart throbbed and his mouth went dry.

Cadman craned her neck, peering up at him. “Sheppard.”

Rodney swallowed. “Major,” he said, his face flooded with color.

“Hey.” John nodded toward him. “You’ve got something to tell me?” he asked as he strode over to stand beside Rodney‘s bed.

Cadman’s blue eyes went from Rodney to John. She opened her mouth. “Rodney just wanted to say—”

“Thank you!” Rodney interrupted hurriedly. He stared hard at Cadman as he spoke to John. “For the-the first aid assistance, I really appreciate it, and I wanted to thank you.”

“Okay,” John pronounced slowly. “No problem, Rodney. It‘s nice to hear that. Thanks for keeping me from getting shot.” One of John’s hands was on the edge of the bed, almost brushing Rodney’s uninjured leg.

“Yes, right. Anytime,” Rodney awkwardly forced out in reply. “Actually, though, hopefully you won’t take me up on that.”

“I’ll try to keep it to a minimum,” John wryly answered. “So the ankle’s good?” He looked over to Cadman, who waved a hand dismissively.

“Just a little sprain,” she said. “Nothing a little rest won‘t take care of.”

“A little sprain?” Rodney exclaimed, momentarily distracted from John’s distractingly close fingers. “It feels like a teemigh decided my foot was an entrée!”

“What is a teemigh?” Cadman asked the both of them.

“Tundra dwelling Darzhyen mammal, about yea high, white furred, three rows of teeth—”

Cadman nodded. “Okay, I get the picture.”

“Sounds like a yeti,” John said.

“The fictional animal?” Rodney asked skeptically. “No, not at all— Well, actually, that’s pretty accurate.”

Cadman furrowed her brows. “Seriously? You guys have yetis?”

Rodney snorted. “Why is everyone always surprised that we have things on Darzhya?”

John turned and bent at the waist, touching his ear piece. Rodney stared at his profile and thought of the baby and how John would take the news when Rodney got up the nerve to tell him. “All right, I‘ll get down there,” John said. He turned back and briefly (finally) laid his hand on Rodney‘s leg. The heat of his hand on Rodney’s bare skin was electric. “So you‘re good?” he asked.

Rodney colored. “Good, good,” he choked out.

John nodded at Rodney, then glanced over at Cadman. “See you around, Doc,” he said.

“Sure,” Cadman replied, nodding toward John. “Hey, you‘re going to that shindig tonight, right?”

“Got to. I’m a guest of honor,” he demurred, bouncing on the balls of his feet. He glanced at Rodney, scrutinizing his features. “You sure you‘re okay?” he asked.

“Yes, good.” Rodney forced himself to look in John’s eyes. “I‘m, um, good.” John nodded to them, and Rodney raised a hand in a skill-less mock salute. He stared after him as John wandered off.

“You like him.” Cadman’s voice issued lightly from by Rodney’s elbow as John disappeared through the infirmary doors.

Rodney snapped back to look sharply at the blonde. “What?” he cried. “I do not!”

Cadman snorted. “You so do.”

Rodney jabbed his finger at her. “No, I don’t. And do not say a word about this,” he warned.

Cadman rolled her eyes. “Please, McKay. I swore an oath. My lips are sealed. How about yours? Are you going to tell him about the baby?”

“Am I going to tell him?” he repeated, his mouth dry. “I don’t know. I don’t even know where to start if I did tell him!”

Cadman patted his knee and Rodney sniffed. He slouched on the bed and dug the glossy photo out of his pocket. He stared at the little pink thing in the print. It didn’t even look like a baby yet. It looked like a marine animal. He tried to wrap his mind around the impossible thought that this baby-thing was growing inside him. “I don’t know if he wants it. I don’t even know if I want it,” he muttered. “I hate kids. What if he hates kids?” It seemed unlikely, given the affectionate way Sheppard babied his younger cadets, but it was still a possibility. “What if he doesn’t want it, anyway? I mean, we’re staying in the same closet, for God’s sake! Best case scenario; there is no best case scenario.”

Cadman cocked her head. “Well, you won’t know either way unless you tell him,” she said. “Besides, he’s going to start asking questions when you start blowing up like a balloon.” She shook him by the shoulders. “Come on, McKay. Be a man – tell him you’re knocked up.”

“Ugh.” Rodney nodded doggedly and made a face. Cadman clapped his shoulder and stood up.

***

It was after nine and the lab was a ghost town, which was unsurprising given that it turned out the raiders they’d caught on PX3-895 were wanted in connection to a string of attacks on Union science posts throughout this and the Milky Way galaxy and everyone on board (scientists included) wanted to be down in the banquet hall to celebrate the capture. Rodney had distractedly granted special privileges (as in, the work day ending at eight forty-five rather than eleven thirty) to the whole staff.

The celebration had actually begun in the banquet hall hours earlier, but Rodney was still sitting in the blue wash of his computer screen, his expression tense and grim as he tried unsuccessfully to focus on the simulation he was running for the thirtieth time. He barely noticed when Radek Zelenka stood up from his own desk on the opposite side of the bank of computers running down the center of the lab and stretched his hands over his head.

“Oh, Rodney. I thought that you’d already left,” Zelenka said, rubbing his blurry eyes beneath the lenses of his glasses.

Rodney started at the sound of the man’s voice and peered over his computer screen at him. “What?” he asked. “I can’t. I’m still running these simulations.”

Radek frowned. “And you know that the celebration is partly in your honor, don’t you?” he asked.

Rodney had never been so unhappy with recognition for his efforts – he’d rather hide in the lab incognito for the next five months than be recognized for anything right then. As though it would solve anything to hide for five months – in a month, he’d be showing in a way no extra donuts would excuse. “Yes, well. Since Major Sheppard and the others are there already, I fail to see why my presence is necessary.”

“I don’t understand,” Zelenka said slowly. “You are passing up being honored and revered by the majority of the crew? I cannot believe it.”

“I don’t need to be recognized for every little exceptional thing I do,” Rodney sniffed. “And the majority of the crew? I believe that everyone is going.”

“Well, I am going,” Radek announced briskly. He nodded his head at Rodney and walked out.

The lab door whooshed shut behind Zelenka and Rodney sagged into his chair. Who was he kidding? He’d be down there in a second if it wasn’t for what Cadman had told him. It was unbelievable. Already, this kid was changing him. He turned his monitor off and looked down at his stomach. It appeared innocuous and mostly flat, covered by the soft gray science uniform jacket. He pulled his jacket up and stared down at the object of offense and suddenly thought about the gross little blob of babyness Cadman had shown him in the print… The little blob of Rodneyness. Johnness. A tiny little blob of Rodney-and-Johnness growing in there.

He tentatively put a hand to his stomach. The corner of his mouth drooped unhappily. It felt just like it always did, a little softer than it was when he was twenty, but it wasn’t sticking out yet and he wasn’t showing. Yet.

“Look,” he said to it quietly, “I need a little time, so just…you know, keep being small in there for a while and I’ll…I’ll do my part out here.” He looked around helplessly. What the hell was he doing? He was talking to his stomach in an abandoned laboratory. Worse, he had the feeling that his sister Jeannie would approve of seeing him like this. He sighed and pulled his jacket down. He might as well face the music. After all, if the months ahead were going to be rough, he deserved a little party. He stood up and walked out of the lab.

****

They actually had music playing and people dancing in the banquet hall, and what looked like a good sized buffet table up against the far wall. Under different circumstances, Rodney would be totally thrilled by the buffet and drinks, at least. He’d barely looked around before a technician he didn’t recognize smiled at him and hurried over. Rodney winced and tried to remember her name as she stuck her hand out.

“Dr. McKay,” she said, “Great job!”

Rodney absently shook her hand. “Yes. Thanks,” he replied. He arched his neck to scan the room over her shoulder. The dance floor in the center of the room was packed with marines, scientists, and techs, but the person he most wanted to avoid wasn’t on it. “Hey, have you seen Major Sheppard?”

The tech shook her head and her smile brightened. “I think he was by the punch bowl?” she asked uncertainly. She nodded her head at him and turned. No sooner had she scurried off, a woman Rodney didn’t even recognize came up to him. As he was shaking her hand, two marines walked by with far too familiar grins. For ten minutes, Rodney was completely surrounded by a mob of genial people, shaking his hands and congratulating him. Some of the marines didn’t wait for him to stick his hand out and just went ahead and jovially crushed his fingers without any kind of permission.

The broad shouldered behemoth from the mission earlier that day came over and loomed in what Rodney assumed must translate to friendliness from whatever Earth cave he’d developed in.  “Just heard, McKay,” he said. “Sheppard’s by the punch bowl. Congratulations.”

Rodney furrowed his brow. What the hell was his name again? Conan? Roman? Hulkman (probably not)? “Um, thanks?” he asked. “I did save him today, yes.”

The guy grinned, one thick brow hitched up. “Right,” he replied easily.

Rodney squinted at him and shook a blonde captain’s hand without looking at her. “Thank you,” he said in advance. “But I didn’t do it all on my own. I have to grudgingly admit that Major Sheppard deserves some credit.”

“I’m sure, Doc,” she replied.

Rodney suspiciously narrowed his eyes. Where the hell were these people coming from? He appreciated the appreciation, but there was a limit. He scanned the room for the Major’s slinky frame. As he looked around, he found the eyes of the crowd focused on him and a creeping feeling began to sink in that this might not entirely be about the valor he’d displayed on PX3-895.

“Excuse me,” he said and fended off oncoming well-wishers with a particularly forbidding expression. He picked his way toward the punch bowl, having caught a glimpse of Dr. Cadman by the refreshments table, her head thrown back as she laughed at something Aiden Ford said. He cleared a slender engineer named Katie Brown out of his way with a steely stare and terse nod and assumed her place beside the doctor. “Cadman, did you go blabbing?” he hissed.

Cadman narrowed her eyes at him over her shoulder. “Get real, McKay, I’m not interested enough in your personal life to blab about it. What are you talking about?”

“How everybody’s shaking my hand and making double edged references to baking,” Rodney shot back impatiently.

Cadman snorted. “And it has to be about you. It could be a new Crash Course in Cooking transmission. But with how loud you were shouting about being knocked up, I wouldn’t be surprised if word got out.” Cadman quickly lifted her hands at McKay’s murderous expression. “Hey! Nobody’s said anything to me about your,” she gestured vaguely stomach-ward, “situation, and if they were talking, don’t you think they’d be asking me about it? It’s probably just a funny choice of words. Relax! You’re so queued up, I bet you’re seeing the words pregnant in everything.”

Rodney groaned. “You’d better be right,” he grumbled.

“Relax, already! Enjoy yourself!” Cadman replied breezily as she made her way through the throng of people towards the dance floor.

Rodney grimaced and glumly navigated further into the hall. Just as Rodney had told Zelenka earlier, everyone was indeed there and everyone was talking. The refreshments table Rodney was standing beside was mobbed (but, again, no John). He winced as he glanced at two women quietly talking together some way down the table and they hurriedly looked away. If it really had gotten out, and John was still breathing, it would only be so long before he found out about the baby from some loose-lipped lieutenant and then Rodney would be doomed.

“Hey.”

Rodney jumped at the sound of John’s voice at his back. He whirled to face him and found the Major, all clean and fresh in his black uniform, two bottles of beer in his hands. Rodney’s pulse raced and his gaze dipped to take him in from head to toe. Behind John, twinkling star light was visible through wide, pewter-framed glass doors that opened out onto a veranda beneath an artificial atmosphere at the other end of the hall. It was just like him to choose the most scenic vantage point to approach from.

“Oh, hey,” Rodney choked out.

He loosened his collar and gestured nervously around the room, thinking about the picture folded up in his pocket, which was funny because the picture was just a picture and the baby was right there in its false womb, unbeknownst to John. “You guys seem to have a lot of parties around here,” he said. “I’ve been to two in the same month.”

John wrinkled his forehead, glancing up at the decorative orbs of iridescent light hovering around the room. “Teyla likes them,” he explained, “says it boosts morale. Team building, conflict resolution, stress relief through social interaction, that stuff.”

Rodney nodded absently. “I can objectively see the reasoning behind that.”

John grinned coolly and heat pooled in Rodney’s chest. “You want a beer?” the Major asked.

“Oh, my God, yes,” Rodney sighed, reaching for the beer John proffered. His fingers just kissed the cool, slick glass when Cadman appeared from nowhere, her hand wrapped around the bottle neck, pulling it away.

“No, you don’t,” she said smoothly.

Rodney screwed up his face. “I was just going to have a sip,” he complained at her, but Cadman was already turning back to Ford.

Beside Rodney, John scrutinized Rodney’s face as he leaned close to him. “Are you guys…?” he asked slowly, his eyes on Cadman’s retreating back.

Rodney blankly stared at the Major. “What?” he asked. John returned his gaze, raising his brows suggestively. An idea emerged in Rodney’s mind like some kind of primordial soup, coalescing into an actual theory. A big, gross theory. “Oh, oh!” he cried. “Together? No!” He waved his hands in disgust. “God, no! Oh, my God, no!”

A bit of tension eased around John’s hazel eyes and he tilted his head. “Okay,” he replied easily. “So you want a beer or what, McKay?”

Rodney caught a glimpse of Cadman in the corner of his eye and grudgingly shook his head. “No, I guess not.”

John shrugged. “Okay.” The song changed and the music blared out of the speakers, vibrating in the floor. John nodded his head nonchalantly in time with the beat. “Hey, do you wanna maybe…?”

Two people beside them separated, jostling Sheppard, who stopped and smiled embarrassedly at McKay as they pushed by, and Rodney really wanted to hear what he had to say.

“Do I…?” Rodney repeated impatiently. John’s mouth was open and—

“Dr. McKay!” General Emmagan called over the music as she made her way towards them. She nodded at John before returning her gaze to Rodney’s face. “I wanted to tell you in person how impressed I was with your performance today on PX3-895.” Rodney’s eyebrows shot up and John smiled at the General and then at Rodney, looking surprisingly proud. “I misjudged you,” she continued. “I have a tendency to expect…less field expertise from my science officers, but you proved me wrong, Dr. McKay.”

“Oh, well….” John nudged him with an elbow in his side and Rodney glanced at him then back at the General. “Thanks.”

General Emmagan grinned. “And let me be the first to congratulate you – and John, as well,” she teased the Major, grinning at him, “on the wonderful news.” Rodney’s stomach plummeted and he fidgeted uneasily by her side as the General continued heedless of Rodney’s suddenly sick expression. “Though yours will not be the first baby born on the Mithras, it is my hope that our relations with our new friends on Darzhya are as blessed and happy as your union will make you.”

The smile fell from John’s face and he looked blankly at her. “What?” he asked.

Rodney’s hands shook as he held them up. “Oh, um—” He groped for words but came up empty. “That’s—” He gazed into John’s face, his blue eyes wide and stricken.

Teyla looked slowly from Rodney to John, her brow creasing as she saw Rodney’s expression and John’s surprise. “Was this supposed to be a surprise?” she asked. Her features conveyed contrition and concern.

John’s stare on Rodney was penetrating. Tension crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Can you excuse us for a minute, Teyla?” he asked. He didn’t wait for her response before he curled his hand on Rodney’s elbow and led him out through one of the wide, glass doors. It was cool out on the veranda and the stars were wheeling brilliantly, a nearby galaxy glowing in a wreath of copper. John whirled on Rodney and narrowed his eyes.

“Rodney, what the hell was she talking about?” he demanded.

Rodney held his hands up defensively, his heart pounding through every part of his body. “Cadman only told me earlier today!” he cried.

“Wait a second, you’re telling me you really are pregnant?” John asked incredulously.

Rodney cringed. “I didn’t know I could have a baby before she told me!” he explained quickly.

John gaped, his eyebrows meeting. “Well, that makes two of us! I thought you were kidding about the reproductive thing.” He shook his head. “How is this even possible? I mean, I think I’d remember if we’d gone all the way at the port and even if we did go all the way—” He stopped and pointed a suspicious finger at McKay. “Wait a minute here, you’re not telling me you’re a girl, are you?”

“Of course not!” Rodney shot back. “I’m one hundred percent male! Possibly more so.”

John snorted. “I don’t know about you, but where I come from, this isn’t exactly routine guy-stuff, McKay!”

“Yeah, well, welcome to the Pegasus galaxy!” Rodney didn’t want to argue, he seriously didn’t, but there was something about the tense line of John’s torso that also made Rodney want to push him off the veranda.  

John planted his hands on his hips, eyeing Rodney hard. “So what the hell is up with the equipment downstairs if you, you know…?”

Rodney started violently, his mouth twisted savagely downwards and his cheeks flushing deep red. “It does exactly what it looks like it does! Darzhyen women get pregnant by Darzhyen men in what your people so charmingly refer to as ‘the old-fashioned way,’ but Darzhyen biology is a lot more complex than yours. Due to a shortage of women in the—”

“Cut to the chase, McKay!”

Rodney’s eyes were particularly stinging as he glowered at John. “Emergency conception!” he rapped out. “It preserved our species from total extinction in the middle ages. The men on Darzhya began to develop this film around ingested sperm that act as a—a false womb so that—”

 “Okay, okay, McKay, I get it!” John said, waving his hands.

You asked!” Rodney retorted.

“Look, what I really want to know is why the hell my damn CO knows about this before I do!”

 “I didn’t know what to tell you!” Rodney shot back and John finally looked him in the eye again. The Major’s expression was more dark than angry, and all of a sudden, Rodney really, really didn’t want to fight anymore and he felt miserable. He sagged back against the railing and hung his head, gesturing with both hands.

John stared at him for a beat, the anger defusing from his frame. He swallowed and said, “Well, how about starting with, ‘I’m a little pregnant, John’?” He shook his head and gingerly leaned against the railing beside Rodney.

“I was going to tell you, but I didn’t know how you’d react.” Rodney muttered stiffly. “And given your reaction, I think I was right to hesitate.”

“It’s not that. This is the kind of thing I’d like to know first thing, Rodney, but…,” John paused and ruffled his hair, blank with shock after the angry energy suffusing his frame dissipated. “Okay, so I’m surprised. You know, I’m surprised to say the least,” he amended.

Rodney flushed. “I didn’t want to—to foist it on you,” he mumbled and he was surprised at the depth of truth to the words. “I mean…this is all extremely unexpected.” His face was splotched with color as he rolled his eyes, gesturing widely as the tension eased from the two of them. “First, meeting at the bar – and, quite frankly, I was just surprised you let me pick you up.”

“I thought I was picking you up,” John said grudgingly.

“Please, you barely looked at me before I came over,” Rodney replied. John arched an eyebrow as though to question the point but Rodney went on. “First there was that and then the amazing sex, and I’d thought that was a one shot deal but then you showed up here—” John flinched imperceptibly at Rodney’s words and the scientist continued, “—and now we’re sharing this tiny closet you and the Intergalactic Union call a cabin, and for the first time in maybe forever, the universe and I seem to be on the same wave length. I mean, you and I are getting along surprisingly well and then this happens. I mean, the timing couldn’t get worse if I was trying to time it badly.”

John’s eyes softened. “Look, it’s a little…,” he gestured, “sudden. But this is….”

John didn’t seem to know what to say. He looked dumbly at the ground, shaking his head. The light from nebulas tipped the ends of John’s hair in gold, and Rodney’s throat tightened at the sight of him.

Rodney swallowed and forced himself to speak. “I’ll understand,” absolutely will not understand, “if you don’t want to have anything to do with this, or if this means an end to our—our arrangement, but…I’ve thought about this and I’m planning on seeing it through—”

“Rodney!” John interrupted.

“Yes?” Rodney asked weakly, swallowing against the knot in his throat.

John sighed. He opened and closed his hands by his sides, reaching for the words. “It’s not that, okay? Look, I’m just….” He put his hand out expressively. “It’s kind of a lot to swallow.”

The two of them were quiet and Rodney thought of John from the first time they’d met and of the baby, and the not-exactly-no that John just said made his palms sweat.

That is what got us in this mess in the first place,” Rodney said.

“Ha,” John replied wryly. Rodney smiled miserably and John fidgeted. John rested on his elbows against the railing beside Rodney and didn’t seem to know what to say. “It’s my kid,” John said finally. He shrugged his shoulders. “And I want to be part of his life if I can.”

Rodney whipped his head up, staring at John with disbelieving eyes as the Major shuffled his feet, pink and bashful. “Seriously?” Rodney asked. John nodded awkwardly. Rodney gestured widely. “Because I can get why you wouldn’t – I know this comes out of nowhere—”

And it was better than anything, better than Darzhyen women’s spring heat, that John put his hand up to cut him off. “Yeah, I’m serious, Rodney,” he said emphatically. His expression was awkward and earnest.

Cold relief flooded in on Rodney, his head throbbing and his limbs almost numb in the wake of such sudden emotional upheaval. His heartbeat was like cascading notes. “Oh, my God,” he gasped. “I’m so relieved.” He slumped against the railing and John settled back beside him. Their arms touched and electrified Rodney’s nerve endings. For a minute, he thought he’d cry, which was totally his stupid hormonal imbalance.

“Yeah,” John mumbled. “This is—this could work. I’ve always wanted a kid. I never saw it coming this way, but, yeah. This is—I’m good with this.” His hazel eyes were beautiful and reticent, but sincere.

Rodney’s gaze fell on his full lips, his heart dropping and his body alive with longing. “Okay,” he said softly. “So we’re doing this? We’re really doing this.” John nodded his head and Rodney blinked, terrified and weirdly happy and in way over his head.

***

Rodney’s first official check up was a whole two weeks after the mission on PX3-895, the confirmation of Rodney’s pregnancy, the nearly-disastrous party, and their conversation, a period in which Rodney was sure a colossal number of fetal risks might have cropped up. John grimaced when he brought them up and shook his head exasperatedly to quiet him, which was still more listening than Cadman did, who just reassured him with empty platitudes that weren’t really all that reassuring.

Surprisingly little had changed since he’d first found out about the baby – John and he still played video games as much as they used to, except now John sometimes got up in the middle of them and came back with a glass of water for Rodney. Honestly, everything was going shockingly smoothly, aside from his feet swelling and his pants not fitting right.

“Okay,” Cadman announced, spinning back toward them on a low stool. Her teeth glittered in the gleaming lights of the clinic as she grinned at John and Rodney seated side by side on an examination table. “Lucky for you, I dug out that old Darzhyen pregnancy calendar I had lying around.”

John arched an eyebrow. “You had that lying around?” he asked.

Cadman handed the calendar to Rodney. “I’m a doctor, Sheppard. I have a lot of learning materials.”

Rodney gave the calendar a disinterested once-over. “Okay, let’s get this over with,” he sighed, closing the calendar. He handed it to John. “What suffering is in store for me?”

John straightened up against his side. “Don’t feel like you’ve gotta get too detailed.”

Cadman narrowed her eyes. “Oh, yes, I do.” She gestured to a nurse by the door. “Hit the lights.” She looked back at John and Rodney. “I find that these simulations are clearer in relative darkness.”

“Oh, well, go right ahead,” John replied.

“Darzhyen pregnancy isn’t all that different from human pregnancy – aside from the obvious. That’s because reproductive and digestive systems differ pretty radically between Darzhyens and humans. The human male impregnates the human female, which is how it goes most of the time for Darzhyens, but there’s this little thing they call emergency conception, when a Darzhyen male creates a film around a sperm where it can get all cozy, cells divide, a fetus forms – he gives the fetus everything it needs to develop just like it should. Human infants are delivered vaginally, emergency conceptions are generally delivered by c-section as the other exit strategy’s a little risky. All of that’s old news to you, Rodney. Sheppard might be a little surprised.”

“I’m a little surprised,” John said flatly.

“Do we really have to hear all about this?” Rodney interjected. “I mean, I know this crap from middle school and John’s clearly an expert on the subject.”

John slouched on the table. “I feel pretty well informed, thanks,” he agreed.

Rodney raised his brows. “I mean, we’re already pregnant so I don’t see why we need the refresher.”

John stuck his bottom lip out and shrugged a shoulder in agreement. “Yeah, we basically beat the boss on the introductory level.”

“Fine, fine,” Cadman said. “Darzhyen fetuses develop more quickly – you know that, Rodney – the standard Darzhyen pregnancy lasts six months, as opposed to nine—”

John straightened like a snap. “Wait a minute, Doc, six months?” he asked.

“Yup. That’s all it takes. Then your little guy will be ready to come on out.”

John settled his shoulders. “And… Look, I know this is weird, but—” He glanced at Rodney and Cadman took a drink from her mug, staring at him. “The, uh….” He grimaced apologetically and gestured vaguely at his chest. Rodney’s face scrunched up.

Cadman shook her head. “It’s one of the interesting features of emergency conception – a pregnant male doesn’t lactate. We have formula here, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Oh.” John looked at Rodney, Rodney looked back at him like he was nuts. John shrugged. “Just so long as I’m not going to have to.”

“You’re totally insane,” Rodney muttered. John shook his head, making a face.

“During the first two months, the first bimester, you’ll see what you’d see in a human pregnancy,” Cadman continued. “Seventy percent of fathers experience morning sickness. Since you’re about a month and a half in, you should know if you’re one of the seventy, or the lucky thirty.”

John crossed his arms over his chest and settled back beside Rodney, a concentrative expression on his face. Rodney tilted his head toward him. “My mom always said she never got sick with me or my sister,” he said.

John shrugged. “Okay, so that’s covered.” Rodney nodded and folded his arms across his chest, unconsciously mirroring John.

“In the next couple of weeks, your little guy should start moving around, and you’ll feel some kicks when he does. It might feel like tapping or like popping – Darzhyen babies tend to be pretty strong, so you’ll probably have more of the popping than the tapping.”

John sat forward, his hands curling on the edge of the table by his knees. “And that’s going to be soon?” he asked eagerly. He looked at Rodney and Rodney looked back at him.

Cadman shrugged. “Well, it happens to everyone at different times, so don’t get worried if you feel it a little later than that,” she said.

Rodney set his mouth impatiently. “What about the rest of the symptoms?” he asked.

“You’ll get bloating, swelling, headaches, weight gain, obviously,” she said, ticking off the symptoms on her fingers, “Mood swings, weird cravings, you’ll probably have insomnia, aches and pains, you’ll need to pee a lot, bloat—”

Rodney waved his hands. “Okay, okay!” he interrupted.

John bumped him. “Well, you asked, Rodney,” he pointed out.

“I didn’t need to know about all of that,” Rodney retorted.

John tilted his head back. “Be careful what you wish for.”

Cadman held up a hand. “Relax, Rodney!” she cried. “What you’re going through is totally natural. Millions of fathers have gone through it before and it’s going to be fine. Okay, so why don’t you guys take a look at my 3-D simulation over here and we’ll be done in no time.” She turned the simulation on and the display threw colored lights over Rodney’s disgusted expression and John’s cringe.

“What the hell is that?” John asked more shrilly than Rodney had thought him capable of, pointing at the display.

Cadman appraised the display coolly. “That’s your baby at six weeks.”

“You sure that’s not a picture of a carnivorous worm?” John asked.

Cadman snorted. “Yeah, Sheppard, I just got them mixed up.” She shook her head exasperatedly. “Pay attention, guys, there will be a test after this.”

John and Rodney exchanged looks as Cadman’s voice droned on, flicking through images, each more horrific than the last.

***

The mess was crowded as hell at oh-eight-hundred. Rodney was at John’s back in the lunch line and behind him as John settled in a spot across from the hulking Union pilot Rodney recognized by the blatantly un-regulation dreadlocks from about two dozen previous meals and various encounters.

The giant grunted a salutation at John before spearing a bluish fruit with his fork and shoving it in his mouth. “Heard you got a kid on the way,” he said as he chewed. His elbow was on the table, sheltering his tray. There was positively no way he hadn’t gone to finishing school to enjoy that kind of polish.

John squinted at him, his fork poised near his chin as Rodney grimaced and shuffled the long way around the table. “You heard that, too? Does everyone know about that?” he asked over the din of the overcrowded and raucous mess hall.

“Yeah. Am I not supposed to?” the giant replied easily. He was apparently the only one on the ship who actually had been congratulating Rodney on saving John’s life.

“We were kinda keeping it on the down low,” John said. “But since it looks like word’s got out, you heard right, Ronon.”

Rodney sat down beside Ronon and across from John, setting his tray down with a clatter. “Why didn’t you get the blue Jell-O?” he asked. “Did you see it?”

“I saw the Jell-O and I remember passing on it,” John said disinterestedly.

Rodney shrugged. “Whatever. More for everyone else.”

“Everyone else?” John asked. He glanced at Rodney’s full plate. “You left some behind?” Rodney made a face.

“Really packing it away, McKay,” Ronon said. His teeth showed as he grinned.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “It’s called breakfast,” he retorted, “Thus named because I’ve been fasting all night. I’m starved.”

Ronon smirked, taking a bite of a biscuit. “Wasn’t a question.”

Rodney flicked a hand at him dismissively. “Hardy har,” he replied. “As you know already, I’m eating for two now, so….”

“Two what?” John asked innocently. He smiled when Rodney made a face.

Ronon nodded toward Rodney. “When’s it coming out?” he asked.

“When’s what coming out?” Rodney asked.

“Baby,” Ronon supplied shortly.

Rodney scrunched up an eye at him. “First off, my baby is not an it, it’s a he—”

“Doc could tell it’s a boy already from the scan,” John said, grinning. “He takes after me.”

“—And ‘when’s it coming out’? That just sounded like a new product line or a reclusive animal—”

John leaned forward, sliding a pink fruit over to Rodney’s tray. “Doc said we could choose the date Rodney goes in for c-section,” he said.

Rodney looked over in surprise at the gift, his spoon between his Jell-O and his mouth. “We chose July third,” he put in, forking the fruit and depositing it on his tray.

“We chose the third,” John repeated just after him. He nodded smugly and Ronon couldn’t affect a look of more potent disinterest despite the fact that he’d been the one asking.

But just as Rodney was ruminating on how rude Ronon was, a sudden realization hit him. “Geez, you think we should get a crib?” he asked through a bite of Jell-O.

Ronon chuckled and John screwed up his face. “It’s gonna be five months, Rodney,” he pointed out. “We haven’t even come up with a name.”

“Yeah, so? It’s going to be five months,” Rodney replied. “We should probably start looking now. And you should just agree on Meredith for a girl and Rodney for a boy.”

John tsked and shook his head. “Not unless we really do go with Jet as the middle name,” he retorted. When Rodney grimaced, John bobbed his head in something between a nod and a head shake as he took a drink of milk. “I’ll ask my guys if anyone knows where we can get a crib. You ask the science side. Someone’s bound to have a crib around here.”

“And if not?” Rodney asked.

“We’ll be stopping at Natori-5 pretty soon,” Ronon said from beside him.

Rodney opened his eyes wide and snapped his fingers, pointing at the hulking man. “That’s a great idea!” he pronounced. “We can get one new.” He lifted his brows questioningly at John, thinking about the dimensions of their tiny cabin and where (if anywhere) a crib would fit.

“Okay, okay.” John pointed at his plate. “Why don’t you eat your breakfast for now?”

Rodney obediently took a bite of egg and asked, “Oh, hey. Could you get me one of those little Danishes with the cream cheese?”

John was half out of his seat before Rodney suddenly said, “Oh, and some of that fish spread?”

He nodded, and Rodney gestured for him to stop. “And another milk carton – these things are half the size they should be. Who did they make these for – third graders?”

John wrinkled his nose. “Okay, okay.” Ronon’s laughter and Rodney’s gaze followed him as John headed back to the buffet table.

***

Natori-5 was in three months and by then Rodney would be a well over halfway along. In the meantime, everywhere he went, someone wanted to greet and congratulate him. If he shook any more hands he might get carpal tunnel – which would be a good excuse to give the doctor in the case it did develop instead of honestly citing how often he jerked off thinking about John when he was in the shower, which, frankly, Cadman really didn’t want to hear about.

It was nuts. Every time he turned around in their little sardine can, John was lounging in his boxer shorts or scratching his belly beneath his t-shirt or stepping out of the bathroom with damp hair and flushed skin or tonguing the corner of his mouth while he was solving a Sudoku puzzle on the sofa.

Rodney never would’ve figured pregnancy would jack him up like that, but his libido was in overdrive. During a check up, he asked Cadman if it might have anything to do with his recent hormonal flux but she’d waved her hands at him so she didn’t have to hear about it, and said, “Ew, McKay! It’s normal, okay? Your test results are all great!” Her dedication to her patients’ concerns was unparalleled.

Despite the downsides of an expanding waistline, perpetually half-full bladder, constant cravings, and aching feet, there were some benefits to being babied up. One such benefit was that John ceded the bunk to him and took up the sofa, though, in all honesty, it would’ve been preferable had John decided to just sleep in there with him and deal with the other, sexier side effects Rodney was experiencing.

Rodney couldn’t have asked for a better one night stand turned friend turned baby daddy. John was a good sport about the pregnancy, despite the fact that it was unexpected and that they weren’t really involved. He gave Rodney first dibs on the shower and he sometimes brought him food in the laboratory when Rodney worked late. But there was something nebulous and indefinable between them that kept Rodney from doing what he really wanted to do, touch John and get closer to him.

He’d surprised Rodney by wanting the baby. The question hovered on the edge of Rodney’s mind if John could want him, too. He told himself that the night on E-9 was a one-time thing and not to expect anything more, but the memory made his blue eyes slide inexorably to John’s frame when he was near him. It would be asking way too much for John to feel the same way and Rodney didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship by asking too much.

When he was sitting in the lab late at night, though, his mind shifted back to the night they’d spent together on E-9. He remembered saying goodbye in the motel, dawn gray in the windows through the blinds. And suddenly, he could feel the scratchy comforter beneath his fingers as he typed on his keyboard. The image of John buttoning his jeans at the foot of the bed rose in his mind.

Maybe it might have been his imagination, but John’s expression had seemed almost rueful.

“So…,” he’d said.

John had nodded, tugged his t-shirt down. His hazel eyes were on Rodney in bed and Rodney’s eyes were riveted to John’s hands, recalling that an hour before those hands had been on him. His cheeks were still flushed and his lips were still swollen, smudged with color.

Rodney remembered the slow, deliberate slide of John’s hand on his cock. In his lab, as in the motel, his heart dropped a beat, his stomach fluttering. Back then, he’d forgotten his train of thought. “Thanks for the….” He’d gestured around in a vague, all-inclusive way. John nodded and Rodney had nodded back.

“Sex,” John had supplied, sticking his bottom lip out.

“Yes, actually, that, too,” Rodney replied. “I’m still a little amazed, really -- not that I’m lacking in partners—”

“I could tell,” John drawled.

“Or – thank you – that I’m not possessed of my own charms, because I believe that many would consider me, do consider me, quite the catch, but, all things given, and because of your hair—”

John made a face, squinting one eye like he might be offended. Even his hair stuck up and out in weird, defensive little tufts. “You’re welcome. And thank you,” he replied heavily.

Rodney had pitched his brows up and felt almost helplessly charmed. “Um, right,” he said, “And, um, no problem. No problem at all, actually. It was, um, a pleasure…and I know that you have to go.”

John had nodded and his green eyes looked a little thoughtful. “Maybe I’ll see you around,” he’d said. Then he’d been at the door and he’d cast a look back at Rodney, and he’d been mussed and so good looking it almost hurt. It was one of those images that randomly rose in Rodney’s mind’s eye.

But there was absolutely no way John wanted him. Rodney came to that conclusion seven times per day from different angles. John was the father of his baby, he was his friend, but it was inconceivable that John wanted him. If he did, why hadn’t he said anything in all the time Rodney had been aboard the Mithras? Rodney sighed and quelled a sudden feeling of unhappiness, forcing his mind back on work.

***

Two days before Natori-5, Teyla stopped Rodney as she walked down the hallway with John. They were fresh from boxing in the gym, Teyla in a tank top and miniscule shorts and John in track pants and a fitted t-shirt, towels draped over their shoulders, looking like they’d strolled out of a meeting of the Ridiculously Attractive People Club, which was a load off Rodney’s mind because if ridiculously attractive people couldn’t form unholy social clicks, there was no hope for the rest of humanity.

“Dr. McKay,” Teyla called, waving to him. Beside her, John’s stride became loose-limbed and color rose from his neck to his cheeks.

Rodney nodded to her, glancing at the Major in the corner of his eye. “General,” he said. “Major.”

“Rodney,” John replied easily.

Teyla patted her damp skin with her towel, smiling brightly at the scientist. “I wanted to speak to you, actually,” she said.

Beside her, John tipped his head and glanced at her, apparently as out of the loop as Rodney was. He propped a hand on his hip and looked at her curiously as he ran a hand over his tufted, spiky hair.

“There is a practice among my people,” Teyla said smoothly.

“Your people?” Rodney asked curiously. Out of the way alien customs would explain some of the general’s weirdness.

“Earthlings,” she replied in a measured tone. “It is much like meditation and it calms the nerves, easing the pains of delivery.”

Rodney tilted his chin up, raising his eyebrows. It sounded good. “And this is…? Does it involve painkillers?” he asked hopefully.

“Hey, are you talking about lamaze classes, Teyla?” John asked, squinting at her.

Teyla nodded. “Breathing exercises gave me a measure of peace when I was pregnant with Torren several years ago.” John looked like he’d heard this story before. “This was during the conflict with the Genii on Pallas. I had hidden my pregnancy from the guards since my Viper was shot down and I was captured by the Genii, but as our fellow Union soldiers advanced on the base to liberate us, I could feel that Torren would not wait.” She smiled fondly. “When Colonel Caldwell opened the door of the cell, I decided to name my son in his honor, Torren Stephen Emmagan.”

“Yeah,” John said slowly. “That’s great.” He caught Rodney’s eyes and arched an eyebrow dubiously – the General was known for her epic Tao-like stories that, despite her meditative retelling, were pretty kick-ass.

“While we do not have these classes on the Mithras, I am told that they have a similar practice on Natori-5.” Teyla lifted her eyebrows and looked helpful. “I arranged with a friend for you to join a class of this nature, John, Dr. McKay.” She smiled warmly. “It is a gift to both of you.”

John made a face beside her and Rodney pointed to his own chest. “You mean…?” he asked. “Like for both of us?” John interrupted.

Teyla looked confused and patient despite it. “Of course,” she responded smoothly. “These are often classes for partners.”

“Oh, we’re not—” Rodney began, as John said, “When is it?”

“When we touch down on Natori-5, we can part ways from the embassy.” She smiled. “I hope that you will enjoy it as I did.” She nodded to both of the speechless men in turn before walking past them down the hall.

Rodney looked over at John, furrowing his brow. “Why can I never say no to her?” he asked.

John shrugged. “You’ve gotta learn to be more assertive,” he teased, bumping his shoulder softly.

***

Two days later, Rodney found himself in the back of the Viper, crushed between Aiden Ford and a lieutenant who fairly reeked of capability and athleticism as the two chatted (loudly) about a movie that sounded terrible.

“This is your pilot speaking,” John drawled over the radio from the cock pit. “We are approaching Natori-5. The weather is clear and forecasts indicate good surfing conditions. Please keep your hands and legs inside the Viper until we come to a complete stop.” Rodney shook his head. The man was truly demented.

Outside the Viper windows, the planet glowed, wreathed in soft blue light, its atmosphere a lacy miasma of wispy clouds, aquamarine seas, and mossy continents. It was a soothing sight. They pierced the cloud cover above the capital city, hovering over a cityscape of pale colored buildings skirting a pristine beach courted by waves of gem-blue water. They set down on the pad on the roof of the embassy. There was a clutch of representatives dressed in loose, shimmery clothes gathered at a distance, waiting for the Viper. As Teyla stepped out into the clear, bright sunlight, the delegate of representatives came forward, forming a loose ring around the slender woman.

Some Natorines around the edges of the group cast troublingly amiable glances at John by the wing of the Viper and Rodney watched John dubiously submit to one of them hanging a garland of flowers around his neck. He hoped that they’d be satisfied with just adorning John (on second thought, that wasn’t as enticing a notion as it originally seemed), but when another garland of orange and pink flowers came out, Rodney started grimacing in advance.

Luckily, they didn’t have to stick around for long – Rodney wasn’t much for ceremony and diplomacy and John wasn’t much for standing straight and looking serious. After a minute or two, Ford detached from the larger group and grinningly uploaded the directions to the breathing class into Rodney’s tablet from a thumb drive. It appeared that Teyla would be mired in peaceful exchanges with the representatives of Natori-5 for several hours at the least.

John and Rodney caught a sky taxi outside the embassy and rode to the address Teyla had given them. In the taxi, Rodney slid sidelong glances at John as the Major forlornly peered out at the cerulean blue sky and the gentle surf occasionally glimpsed beyond buildings, sunlight bouncing off the lenses of his aviator sunglasses. The hairs on Rodney’s arms stood up, his skin acutely aware of John’s lanky body in the seat beside him. He cleared his throat. “What are the chances she’ll find out if we skip this?” he asked.

John bobbed his head this way, then that. “Why don’t you give it a try first and see how you like it?” he asked. He arched an eyebrow sportingly over his sunglasses.

“Meditation?” Rodney asked dubiously. “That sounds productive to you?”

“You can practice sleeping sitting up,” he pointed out. He settled back into the seat and seemed to be trying to look impressive and nonchalant. “I’m getting pretty good at it.”

Rodney arched an eyebrow. “I don’t think that’s a talent you can trade on.”

John shrugged. “Obviously, we haven’t been going to the same senior staff meetings.”

They set down in front of a large, sea-shell pink marble building and got out on the crowded sidewalk. As Rodney stood on the steps, a woman in a transparent shift ran into him, jostling against his shoulder. He steadied himself with both of his hands on her shoulders, but when he glanced down and saw straight through her tissue-thin dress, he yanked his hands back sheepishly, flushing brilliant red. He kept his eyes at shoulder-level as he stuttered an apology, clumsily mirroring the girl’s cheerful bow.

As she hurried off, he darted wide eyes at John and found the pilot’s stormy, hazel eyes on him, his eyebrows furled. He felt an immediate impulse to deny responsibility and gestured wildly, gaping without a sound.

“So you didn’t notice the guy in the g-string at the UN?” John asked dryly.

Rodney gawked. “I thought he just didn’t know how sheer his pants were!” he cried. John wrinkled his nose and touched Rodney’s elbow, nodding up the stairs at the wide doors.

The door slid open as they approached it and they ducked into the shadow of the alcove around the door. As they walked in, a short, frail woman of seventy or eighty came out from behind a reception desk, bowing her head several times. Her shoulders were wrapped in a light green shawl but the rest of her dress was sheer and sea foam green, revealing some kind of terrible string-bikini thong underneath. Rodney tried not to cringe too overtly but judging by John’s bony elbow in his ribs, he wasn’t concealing it very well.

“You are the men Teyla talked about?” she asked. “I can tell from your uniforms that you’re our Union brothers.”

“That’s us,” John replied unevenly.

Rodney held up a hand, averting his eyes from the old lady’s sagging breasts. “Definitely Union,” he asserted weakly.

“Please,” the woman said, “come, come. My name is Rhi-Na – I’ll show you to the Teacher’s class.” She curled her arm around Rodney’s elbow, leaning into his side. “And you are the bearer?” she asked genially.

Rodney glanced at John over her head and grimaced. He liked to think he was a little more than an organic baby carrier. “Dr. Rodney McKay,” he introduced himself.

The woman smiled indulgently and patted his hand as she reached out and pulled John to her other side. “It is a beautiful thing to see two people in love.”

“I beg your pardon,” Rodney sputtered.

“It’s really not—” John interrupted bashfully.

The woman turned to them, surveying their expressions with a calm, amiable smile and John stopped, his face coloring. “It’s not…?” she asked as though she knew better.

Rodney’s pulse spiked when John looked over at him, the Major’s skin a little pink around his collar and his cheeks. Rodney’s blue eyes darted over John’s face and his eyebrows drew together, his forehead creasing.

“You know we’re not, uh…,” John faltered.

“Right, obviously,” Rodney interrupted. He smiled tightly.

The woman looked at them for a long beat. Rodney fidgeted, suddenly at a loss beneath the weight of her gaze, he looked to John but found the Major unaccountably silent and red. “I see,” the woman said finally, her tone as friendly as before. “Many young couples are this way,” she added cryptically. Her smile widened and she turned, waving a hand at a nearby door.

The door slid open and inside there were a dozen couples, all men and women, assembled in rough rows around a large, airy room. A series of pink marble columns partitioned the room from a wide balcony and the salty breeze carried through the open space. Rodney glanced at John, who seemed as unbearably uncomfortable as he was.

“Teacher Halling,” the old woman spoke to a tall, slender man in a lilac tunic and wide, fern-green pants. She bowed her head and gestured to John and Rodney behind her. “These are the men from Teyla Emmagan’s ship.”

The tall man turned and Rodney tried not to cringe as he saw nipples, a belly button and the most absurdly enormous member through the filmy fabric of his tunic and pants. The man faced them and bowed. “Welcome,” Halling said. “Any friend of Teyla Emmagan’s is a friend of mine.”

It was a bizarre rite of torture for Rodney to bow his head in greeting and focus on anything but the guy’s gigantic horse-penis. John nodded halfheartedly beside him with a mildly excruciated expression. “Thanks a lot for having us,” John grimaced weakly while Rodney was glad he was saved from the indecision about whether to address a silk clad glorified yoga instructor as Teacher (which he was unwilling to do on principle) or risk rudeness with just Halling.

A smile spread over the man’s face and he nodded his head. “Of course, my friend, of course.” As he turned, Rodney caught John’s eyes, communicating ‘what the hell’ as hard as he could. The guy’s sculpted ass peeked through his see-through pants. He clapped his hands to call the class to attention. “Peace to you, my friends,” he called out over the room. Everyone echoed it back, beaming as though they didn’t notice anything remiss about the man’s full frontal peep show and the man regarded John and Rodney over his shoulder. “Please, sit where ever you feel comfortable.”

John tipped his head back and arched an eyebrow at Rodney. He gave him a brief nod before heading off to the far end of the room. Rodney couldn’t agree more.

***

An hour and several hundred deep, measured breaths later, Rodney and John climbed out of the sky taxi on the steps of the embassy. Between the white marble columns trademark to Natorine architecture, long orange banners fluttered in the breeze.

“Well, that was interesting,” Rodney announced. He clasped his hands at his back and turned to look at John, hiking his eyebrows up playfully. “I never thought I’d get tired of another guy’s dick waving around in my face.”

John snorted, caught by surprise by his remark, and laughed out loud, ducking his head. He peered up at Rodney, the corners of his eyes crinkled as he grinned.

Rodney fairly glowed in response. His crooked mouth turned up. He turned on his heel, squinting up at the banners overhead. “Wonder if they’re done yet,” he said, reticent to let go of the moment.

John inspected the front of the embassy, a trace of his smile playing at the corners of his eyes and his lips. “Don’t know,” he mumbled. He tapped his radio. “Ford, you done in there?” he asked. He bobbed his head back and forth as the young man spoke over the line. His lower lip stuck out in that way it did when he was considering. “Okay,” he said finally.

He looked up at Rodney from the step below him. “They say it’ll be another couple hours.”

Rodney winced. “Wow, how long has it been?” He ran a hand through his hair.

“Huh,” John replied like it was actually an answer. His stare was friendly and somewhat inscrutable when Rodney looked back. “You wanna go to the beach?”

“Beach?” Rodney repeated dubiously.

John shrugged, shaking his head in mild challenge. “Unless you wanna hang out on the steps for a couple of hours?” he asked innocently.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Oh, in that case….” He peered down at John and curiosity blossomed in his mind. “What, in our boxers? That’s okay?”

John squinted at him. “Y’know, I don’t really think it’s a problem around here,” he replied.

Rodney snorted a laugh. “That’s true,” he conceded.

John’s fingers brushed the inside of his elbow briefly, directing Rodney back down the stairs. They walked back to the sidewalk and looked both ways at the steady crossing of small sky taxis in the air overhead. They ran across the street and came out on the other side, where the buildings were erected on scrubby, rocky terrain and between them, Rodney could see a path leading down onto the sandy beach.

They cut through between the buildings and took the path cut into blond-colored rock that led down to the sand. The beach was sparsely populated despite the beautiful conditions – there were a handful of large, brightly colored sun umbrellas and bathers at a distance. John was right – the bathers were nude, either fully or partially, and Rodney gawked.

John stood in the sand and whistled lowly, squinting out across the glittering waves. “If I had my board, I’d be out there.” He grabbed the collar of his shirt and yanked it over his head, unceremoniously dropping it to the sand at his feet. He teetered a little uneasily on one foot as he jerked at the laces of his boot.

Rodney stared at the smooth planes of his tanned back, a mixture of embarrassment and desire collaring him. He swallowed hard and hurriedly pulled off his jacket, rushing to catch up. His body remembered the night on E-9 and he winced uncomfortably, glancing to the other man again.

John had his hands at the hem of his pants as he cocked his hips and shoved them down. The pants caught on his boxers and pulled them low across his ass, revealing one cheek before he twitched them back up. “You coming?” John asked over his shoulder.

Rodney gulped. “Yeah, yeah,” he yelped. He took down his pants and got them tangled up on his shoes. Having stripped to his blue plaid boxers, he followed John out into the surf.

John waded out hip level in the jewel-blue sea and laughed out loud, gathering water in his hands. He flung the water up into the air and closed his eyes as it came back down, the cool droplets splashing over them.

Rodney held a shoulder up against the water, his uneven mouth spreading in a grin. He watched as John took off further into the water and stood up at chest level, the waves lapping at his pink nipples. Rodney swallowed, trying to stave off his arousal. When John beckoned him with the cock of his head, Rodney followed him into the waves.

They swam around for easily half an hour, horsing around in the water. Settling down, they waded back in and lay down on the beach, the sand warm and silky beneath Rodney’s cool, wet skin. He panted, grinning and shaking his head as John crashed down onto the sand beside him, his wet limbs sliding against Rodney’s own.

John leaned back on his elbow, visoring his eyes as he looked out at the waves. “The wave pool on the Mithras doesn’t hold a candle to this,” he said breathlessly. The sunlight glittered on the water droplets on his chest. When he crossed his ankles, his hips canted toward Rodney and the shape of his member was visible through the clinging fabric of his boxer shorts. Maybe Rodney wasn’t tired of another guy’s dick waving around in his face after all.

Rodney’s heart raced as his blue eyes dropped to John’s chest and narrow hips, as though he could touch by looking alone. His throat was suddenly dry, his palms itching to reach out and run his hand over John’s slick skin. His eyebrows peaked hopefully.

John turned a brilliant, lopsided grin on Rodney and his smile faltered, his hazel eyes dropping to Rodney’s crooked mouth. His eyes lingered on his lips and his tongue darted out, wetting his lips, and Rodney could imagine the taste of salt.

His heart throbbed and he felt his cock hardening. His mouth was too dry to utter a word while he thought of kissing John and kissing John. John swayed forward a little bit and the space between them was intimate. Suddenly, Rodney’s reserve broke and he leaned forward, closing the distance, his lips meeting John’s. It was the warm, silky slide of John’s mouth on his, the heat of his open lips a promise.

John’s hand caught on the side of his neck and pulled him in, opening his mouth beneath Rodney’s. His tongue was hot and slick against Rodney’s, salty with sea water. The slide of their lips kindled heat between their bodies.

Rodney knotted his hand in John’s unbelievable, awesomely spiky hair and pulled John’s head back enough to kiss the scratchy underside of his jaw, tongue at the shadow of stubble beneath his Adam’s apple. John’s low moan rumbled under Rodney’s lips. It had been too long since he was allowed to do this.

“Oh, oh, my God,” Rodney gasped breathlessly, breaking apart. He scrabbled at John’s wet boxer shorts, pushing a hand in through the fly. “Geez, get these things off.”

“God, yeah,” John replied, leaning back into the sand. His whole body tensed as Rodney worked his hand into his boxer shorts, grasping the long, lean line of his dick. He rasped as Rodney finally got enough leverage to clumsily palm him. He swallowed hard and tensed, jerking up on his side as if he’d suddenly thought of something. “Jesus, Rodney, there are people—”

Rodney couldn’t tear his eyes from John to glance up at the faraway bathers. “Do you want to stop?” he breathed against John’s throat.

“No,” John argued hotly. “Just—” he cocked his hips toward Rodney and shuddered from head to toe, “just be a little-a little discreet,” he panted. He gritted his teeth and wound his fingers in Rodney’s short, sandy-brown hair, bringing his mouth down over Rodney’s crooked lips.

Rodney whimpered an affirmative into John’s open mouth and tried not to be rough as he worked his hand up and down John’s member through the fly of his boxers. He jerked as John placed a hand on the curve of Rodney’s belly just as he felt something like a pop from the inside of his stomach. John pulled back abruptly, his hand still fanned on Rodney’s skin. “What? Oh,” Rodney breathed. “That’s just—”

“I felt it,” John replied, astonished. His laughter gusted on Rodney’s lips. The corners of his eyes crinkled. “Wow,” he breathed. “He’s kicking.”

Rodney dropped his head back on his shoulder, peering up at John. Rays of sunlight shone from behind John’s shoulder. He grasped John’s hand and brought it to the other side of his stomach. “Here. You can feel it better from this angle.”

John grinned, flattening his hand on Rodney’s stomach. “Oh, man.” He laughed and the wind whistled through his damp hair. Rodney smiled and John met his eyes, the edges of his lips upturned. His chest rose and fell against Rodney’s shoulder. Then he brought his mouth down on Rodney’s again, stroking Rodney’s soft skin tenderly. The kisses were softer for a moment and then Rodney got carried away, kissing harder and longer, more forcefully.

John’s knuckles trailed over the curve of Rodney’s stomach as he ran his fingers down to the front of his shorts. He cupped his hand over Rodney’s cock, flexing his hand.

Rodney thrust up into the curve and slide of John’s palm, the rough pads of his fingers. He closed his eyes and felt John’s hair against his cheeks. The sunlight bathed his face in warmth and John kissed him, rocking against his hand and his hip. It was fantastic. He choked, sensation building up in his body, and he worked his hand around John’s erection, wanting this to be as good for John as it was for him.

His heart beat hard, his pulse throbbing through his veins. He panted, rocking up against John, feeling slick, taut skin and John’s lips and tongue, John’s hardness against his hand. Then John jerked his hips and spilled out across his fingers, choking out a guttural moan, and Rodney followed helplessly over the edge.

For a moment, any question of what John wanted disappeared in a wash of pleasure and bittersweet happiness. They were together, against each other, panting in each other’s arms. Rodney’s lips were smudged and pleasantly numb from kissing, his cheeks and neck flushed from John’s stubble scratching his skin.

John cleared his throat, sagging back into the sand. From the sand nearby, John’s radio buzzed, low and barely audible over the sound of the waves and the wind. His eyes caught Rodney’s briefly before he turned and grabbed it, lifting it to his ear.

Rodney’s heart pounded unrelentingly, staring at John’s profile. He tried to appear unruffled by the recent turn of events.

“Yeah?” John asked. He paused, listening. “Right now?” He waited, his green eyes wandering over Rodney. “Yeah, we’re close. Okay, we’ll be there in a couple minutes.”

Rodney smiled uneasily as John returned his gaze to his face. “That’s convenient,” he offered half-heartedly. “A couple minutes earlier and we would’ve been caught in the act.”

“Yeah,” John agreed. The corner of his mouth quirked up but his forehead creased. “We should get dressed,” he said.

“Right, of course,” Rodney replied. “Right now.” He climbed to his feet in the warm sand and followed John’s lead, stripping off his wet boxers and pulling on his pants. In his periphery, he saw John’s narrow back, the sunlight glittered on the grains of sand on his back as he pulled on his flightsuit. A pang of forlorn desire struck Rodney as John buttoned his suit up. They barely looked at each other as they walked back to the embassy.

***

What the hell had happened there? As soon as the Viper touched down in the hangar bay, Radek Zelenka’s voice was in Rodney’s ear, radioing about the water filtration system which was, apparently, busted the moment Rodney wasn’t directly overseeing the engineers. Rodney caught one backward glance at John as he climbed out and they caught eyes briefly before one of Rodney’s minions whisked him away for two solid days miring in blueprints and the dark channels in the underbelly of the Mithras, figuring out what one of the dullard engineers had busted while he was gone.

They’d slept together. They’d totally slept together. Rodney’s brain resounded with the memory. As he was working in the engineering deck, he couldn’t stop thinking about John’s lips on his or the growing swell of his stomach where John had pressed his palm, the image of John, all loose limbed and adorable, and the curve of his dick beneath the wet cling of his boxer shorts. It was hopeless.

Was their sleeping together any indication that John actually wanted him? Love had been far from part of the equation in Rodney’s sexual history. Besides, if John had wanted him, he would’ve said it from the start – Rodney thought he’d been ridiculously obvious about what he wanted. No one could conceivably be that dense.

Not to mention that every time Rodney caught John’s eyes, John was looking at him with a weird expression that Rodney didn’t for the life of him understand but it tied his stomach in knots anyway. And it seemed like the more time John spent in the Officers’ Room or the gym or anywhere but their cabin, the better; the Major escaped at every possible chance, rubbing the back of his beet-red neck with his hand and making excuses about wrangling pilots.

It wasn’t his imagination that John kept looking at him like he had something to say, but all he did was avert his eyes with a look like his head was somewhere else. It set Rodney on edge. It was a little late for second thoughts about Natori, but that was exactly what it looked like to Rodney.

On Tuesday, after thirty-five hours of work, Rodney dozed off against the wall as Zelenka was taking forever rerouting water flow toward the far end of the ship and stopping it in the second and third decks. The second he closed his eyes, he was out for the count. All of a sudden, he was under and Cadman was telling him that it was perfectly normal that the baby had two heads. He woke up with a start when Radek shook his shoulder. “What?” He blinked his eyes. “Oh, you’re finally done? It’s about time.”

Zelenka rubbed his red eyes beneath the lenses of his glasses and said, “Perhaps you should go to bed and come back after you’ve rested, McKay.”

Rodney scowled. He was in no hurry to head back to the cabin – at least when he was working, things made perfect sense. “I’m good,” he replied impatiently. “Now that you’re finally done, we can actually get somewhere on this.”

Radek rolled his eyes and muttered something Rodney was certain wasn’t kid-friendly in Czech under his breath. “Please, go,” he said, pointing down the hallway. “I have no further need of you.” Without another word, he turned and inspected the schematics of the water mains.

Rodney squawked in offense. No one sent him away – he inspired fear, hatred, and, yes, bitter envy in his subordinates. “Excuse me?” he asked.

“I’ll radio in five and a half hours if the problem isn’t resolved by then, but I will definitely have it completed by then,” Radek breezily replied.

“You think.”

“I have full confidence,” Radek murmured before putting a pen between his teeth and tapping his tablet.

Rodney surveyed the deck with a haughty glance, taking in the scattering of engineers busy along the hallway, heads bowed over their work. Well, he was tired – and if not him, the baby definitely needed Rodney’s sleep. “Fine,” he relented. “Five hours.” He pointed at him and straightened up. “And if you’re not done by then, I’m coming back down here.”

“Yes, yes,” Radek sighed humoringly as Rodney turned and walked away. “And Rodney?” Rodney turned back and Radek said, “Good night.”

Rodney had to remind himself to thank him later because as he walked to the lift and pushed the button for the second deck, he realized that he really was exhausted. It was probably the embargo on caffeine his tyrannical doctor enforced and John slavishly adhered to.

As he headed back to the cabin, Cadman caught him in the hallway. “McKay!” she called.

Rodney waved his hand. “Can we postpone the meet and greet? I have an urgent appointment with my bunk, thank you.”

Cadman snorted. “Whatever. Don’t forget your appointment this week – not like you need one with how many tests you come in for, but just in case.”

Rodney frowned. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied.

“Five months down, one to go,” Cadman said. “We’re barreling up on it. Excited?”

Rodney winced. “Should I be?” he asked.

Cadman smacked his arm. “Oh, Rodney, don’t be such a worrier. It’ll all come up roses.”

“Excited about you cutting my stomach open and rooting around inside?” he asked. “Excited isn’t the word I’d use.”

“Well, start getting excited, McKay. It’s coming down to the wire here.”

“Hmm,” Rodney murmured. Her terminology just reminded him of John.

***

Rodney went back to their cabin, dumped himself in bed, slept ten straight hours, and woke up to the sound of his radio humming on the sheet beside his head. After groggily answering, Rodney sat up in bed and put his radio on, blinking blearily at the room around him.

“Rodney, are you busy?” Elizabeth’s voice buzzed on the comm..

“No – yes, um, not busy,” Rodney replied, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “What is it?” Suddenly it hit him and he sat up, ramrod straight, snapping his eyes across the room. “What the hell! We’ve been robbed!” He must have been blind-tired when he’d dragged himself to bed, because now that he got a chance to look around all of their stuff was missing.

“Robbed?” Elizabeth asked. “By whom?”

“I don’t know by—” Rodney snapped his mouth shut and the gears in his head clicked into place. “Oh, my God – those bastards Ford and Lorne! They must still be pissed off about the – just the—” It was absolutely not Rodney’s fault that he’d retaliated accordingly for their lousy cheating. “Never mind.”

“Oh? Something I don’t need to know?” Elizabeth asked sportingly.

Oh, those puerile bastards. He would totally get their stuff back – if John actually whipped those overgrown puppies into order in the first place, they wouldn’t steal senior officers’ possessions as a joke. “Yeah, never mind.”

Rodney found the note on the bathroom door when he pulled himself out of bed. It read, “Just borrowing it – back with interest.” He pulled it off and shoved it in his pocket.

“Then you can meet me ASAP in the west quadrant of the third deck,” Elizabeth said cheerfully.

“All right, I’ll be there,” Rodney replied and headed out to meet Weir, per her request, after a brief stopover in the lab.

Rodney turned the corner of the hall and almost ran face-first into a pilot’s very slouchy, narrow back. He pulled back just in time, impact t-minus one second, and slowed his gait. He could recognize John’s back from a hundred yards. His heart pounded and he felt his face heat. The Major looked over his shoulder, arching a brow, and Rodney nodded his head at him. He opened his mouth to speak but the Major beat him to the punch.

“Get some sleep?” John asked.

“It’s amazing how much more you appreciate it when you haven’t slept in thirty plus hours.”

John grinned (he had no idea what that did to Rodney). “So Elizabeth called you here, too?” he asked.  

“Yeah,” Rodney replied. He pointed to John. “You have any idea what she’d need both of us for?”

John shrugged his shoulders, but his suspicious look and arched eyebrow said he had an idea. “Nope,” he said. “Maybe she’s going to lecture you about being a good sport when the pilots beat you at checkers.”

Rodney scowled. “When they’re cheating by keeping all the good rules to themselves! Rig one locker room to run cold water for a week and you’re branded for life.”

“They don’t know you like I know you, Rodney – they don’t know that they have to give you the illusion of an even game—”

“Illusion?” Rodney balked. “I beat you, like, ten times out of three!”

“Rodney,” John replied sympathetically, “that’s a mathematical impossibility.”

“By the way, you and I have something to talk about,” Rodney announced.

John furled his eyebrows at him. “Yeah?” he asked after a beat. The moment stretched out while John looked furtively at Rodney like there was something on the tip of his tongue, and Rodney wordlessly handed him the note from his pocket to forestall it. John read over it, looking unreadable. For a second, he pouted a little then he arched an eyebrow. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Your unruly subordinates are among the worst I’ve seen,” Rodney sniffed.

John shook his head at him and shoved the note in his pocket. “They’re good kids with a lot of energy to burn, McKay. If they didn’t bug you, what else would they do?”

“Preferably bug someone else.”

They turned another corner and saw Elizabeth Weir standing by a closed door, checking her watch as she waited. She turned and smiled as she saw them approaching. “Rodney, John,” she called. “Thanks for meeting me here.” Elizabeth nodded to Rodney and John in turn. In reply, Rodney nodded shortly and John bobbed his head. A smile hinted at the corners of Elizabeth’s lips as she regarded them, laying her hand on the key pad of a thick, steel door at her back.

“No problem, Elizabeth,” John replied. “What are you showing us exactly?”

Elizabeth smiled. “You’re aware that Lieutenant Genet and her husband moved to the Daedalus at our last rendezvous.”

Rodney shook his head but John nodded. “Yeah?” John asked leadingly.

“Well, since she’s been transferred…there’s been a vacancy in the quarter.” She keyed a code into the panel by the door and the lock clanked as it slid back. The heavy door slid back.

Rodney leaned forward to peer inside and John tilted his head back, looking in. The west quadrant of the third deck was reserved for married couples. There were only thirty cabins and the waiting lists for them were as long as Rodney’s arm. The door opened onto a spacious great room. On one side was a compact but functional kitchen replete with a stove-top oven, a short, glass-front refrigerator, and a deep, chrome sink. On the other side were two doors, one opened into the master bedroom, and another to a small bathroom. Of course, the greatest draw for prospective roomers was the wide glass door at the end of the great room that opened out onto a balcony over the park. The simulated sunlight streamed through the glass door, and through it was the lacy green canopy of the trees below.

Rodney’s jaw dropped and he walked dazedly into the room, his eyes running over the long lost amenities he’d sacrificed for tenure on the Mithras. Behind him, Elizabeth grinned and John shook his head, a smile curving the corner of his lips.

Rodney turned and snapped his fingers, pointing exultantly at the XO. “You got me a room!” he exclaimed. His face crumpled in confusion as Elizabeth laughed.

“Rodney!” John scolded lightly, laughing into his fist.

Rodney turned to look at John, the smile dropping from his face. “What?” he asked.

John shook his head. “It’s a married cabin,” he stated emphatically.

Rodney looked from John to Elizabeth with a confused and disappointed expression. “So?” he asked. “I thought you were trying to show your appreciation for my contributions to the program.”

John rolled his eyes. “Married,” he repeated. When McKay looked at him vacantly, he said, “Like not for single McKays.”

“Well,” Elizabeth said, stepping inside, “we are grateful for the contributions you’ve made to the Mithras. Both of you.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Moreover, Teyla and I agreed that your cabin was a little small for three.”

Her words sent a ripple of tense anticipation through Rodney. He met John’s eyes and the Major seemed to be just as nervous as he was.

Rodney swallowed, turning back to Elizabeth. “But we’re not a couple,” he said.

Elizabeth grinned and tapped the bridge of her nose, winking. “Of course,” she replied easily. “Your secret’s safe with me.” She turned on her heel and threw a smile over her shoulder as Rodney gaped wordlessly and her walk to the door. “Why don’t you take a look around?” she asked, standing in the open door. “I think someone left you a house-warming gift.”

The moment the door shut behind her, Rodney whirled to blink at John, his mouth sagging open. Their eyes met, saucer-wide and shocked. “I call the bedroom,” Rodney blurted out.

John’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t call the bedroom,” he replied. “There’s only one. We’re still sharing.”

Rodney fumbled for the rational reason he should get the room to himself, but before he had a chance to say anything, John arched an eyebrow and dashed toward the bedroom door. “Hey!” Rodney shouted, tearing after him. Arguable love of his life or not, that spiky haired bastard was not calling the master bedroom.

The bedroom door slid open and John stumbled in with Rodney against his back. “Oh, my God.”

John’s eyes went from Rodney to the room surrounding them – there was a large, king-size bed and built-in shelves around a compact closet. The shelves were stuffed with their things from John’s cabin, Rodney’s trunks, and, in the center of the room, was a sand-colored crib with a large baby-blue ribbon tied around the rungs.

John stepped forward and bent over, inspecting the crib. “Whoa,” he breathed. They hadn’t had a chance to find a crib on Natori-5 and with two more weeks on the timer, it was looking like one of them was going to have to double up with the baby and Rodney was vocal about his fears that he’d quash the kid in his sleep.

“Who’s it from?” Rodney asked.

“A bunch of people signed the tag. Teyla, Elizabeth, Ronon, Ford, Cadman,” John raised his eyebrows, “Zelenka.”

Rodney shook his head, a light feeling of gratitude rising in his chest because the Mithras felt more like home than anywhere else he’d been.

***

The feeling of gratitude persisted for a week, which was about Rodney’s limit of cuddliness. On Wednesday, John brought back a cot and erected it in the living room – for some reason, just looking at it irritated Rodney. The same day, Ford, Ronon, Teyla and Weir came by with the rest of their stuff from the old sardine can, smiling in a way Rodney found distinctly unnerving.

“I do hope that you will invite us to your housewarming, should you choose to have one,” Teyla had said amiably, “after the third, of course.”

Ford, too, had been grinning. “Unless you guys are going to be busy,” he’d said teasingly.

Rodney had glanced at John, but the Major had rolled his eyes and cuffed the young Lieutenant. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t wait for a formal invitation,” he’d replied with a surreptitious glance in Rodney’s direction, “c’mon over whenever you feel like it.” Rodney realized abruptly that John wasn’t going to correct them about it – that he didn’t even realize how it looked that they were sharing a cabin like this, that they were having the baby together. He was, impossibly, just as dense as he looked.

Daily irritations meant the return of Rodney’s short temper, which John took in stride. Rodney started having trouble sleeping. On one hand there was the impending c-section on the third and with the deadline looming, Rodney was confronted with a myriad of baby-related worries – how the baby would affect his life, his health, the baby’s health itself. On the other hand, there was John and the fact that he hadn’t brought up what had happened on Natori-5, that Rodney thought that he seriously wasn’t going to bring it up at all. There was how it would be when the baby was born – if things would be the same or if they’d change.

And then there was seeing John standing in the hall with a good-looking, muscular brunet on Thursday, talking about something amusing. They weren’t doing anything that could be remotely construed as flirting, but Rodney’s throat tightened and the edges of his mouth twitched unhappily. For the rest of the day, the image lingered in Rodney’s mind’s eye – the idea that in a week, the baby would come and after that, after John was done being considerate about Rodney’s pregnancy (because it really was all John’s fault anyway), John really would be flirting in the hallway and then there would be the impossible situation of living together, of having to grin and bear what felt like an infidelity. He didn’t need to experience it to know he couldn’t take it.

Rodney managed his insomnia by swinging by the mess for midnight snacks, late-night work sessions, and walks around the Mithras when everyone else was in bed. Also, there were the midnight snacks, which, while not technically helpful, at least tasted good so that was something, anyway.

***

Rodney thought that the thermostat must be broken in the bedroom or something, because he woke up at eleven thirty, twelve forty-two, one oh-six, and two fourteen. The blankets were all messed up and his pillows were either crushed or way too fluffy, and, anyway, he was seriously not getting proper orthopedic support from them, and Rodney was not going back to sleep.

He closed his eyes and thought immediately about the check-up in a week, the last check up, and John flirting with the brain donor in the hallway, and had to get out of bed. He shoved his feet in a pair of sneakers and quietly shut the door behind him when he left.

He stopped off at the mess hall and grabbed a muffin or three before heading off again. The hallways were pretty deserted, and Rodney passed one or two officers as he walked around. The Officers’ Room was totally quiet and so was the Hangar Bay.

He ended up at the Banquet Hall where Rodney had told John about the baby in the first place. The doors were locked, but Rodney had the access code and he opened the door. The hall looked different when it wasn’t decorated for a party – it was quiet and dark. Rodney found the light switch on the wall and turned the lights on to a dim glow because he didn’t want to break his neck navigating a dark banquet hall at two AM.

He went out through the glass doors to the veranda and leaned against the railing. The stars twinkled against the black sky and far off, a smudge of blue light indicated a distant galaxy. Beneath and around the veranda, Rodney could see the dark side of the Mithras, coppery little lights shining through the windows. Rodney settled there and ran a hand over the curve of his stomach – the baby was sleeping, but Rodney could feel his every move by then.

“There you are.” John’s voice startled Rodney. “One of the guys in the hall saw you coming in here.”

Rodney swallowed, embarrassed because he’d just been thinking about John, oh, all the time, and he wasn’t prepared for him to show up unexpectedly. “I didn’t know you were up,” he said.

John came up and stood beside Rodney. He shrugged. “I heard the door close.”

Rodney rolled his head to the side. “The doors around here aren’t made for stealth.” John settled against the railing, his elbow touching Rodney’s, and handed him one of the bottles in his hand. Rodney looked at the label, surprised. “Yoohoo?” he asked.

John twisted the cap off his beer bottle and took a drink. “I figured it might be a hit.”

“Well, actually….” John glanced at Rodney and Rodney nodded distractedly. “I do like it.”

“Because you can’t have the harder stuff yet,” John replied, tipping his bottle toward Rodney.

“The baby,” Rodney agreed, rolling his eyes. He drank his Yoohoo, surprised that John had dragged himself out of bed and tracked him down, that he’d brought him a chocolate drink, of all things. His chest warmed and his stomach twisted nervously. “Thanks,” he said as an afterthought.

“No problem.” John looked off at the far away shining, blue miasma and took another drink of his beer. “Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.

Rodney shrugged. “He moves around a lot,” he lied, touching his stomach.

John leaned up on his elbow, his interest piqued. “Oh, yeah? He’s moving around right now?” he asked.

“Well, not now,” Rodney said. Was John nuts, just asking about touching his stomach like that? Didn’t he remember what that had led to on Natori? Rodney swallowed thickly, because maybe John didn’t.

“Huh,” John said, “too bad.” He leaned back against the railing and Rodney was irritated at how easily he gave it up.

Rodney fixed his gaze on John and his mind ticked away, pushing the pieces into the right place, but John was one big question mark to him. “Who was that new pilot you were talking to earlier?” Rodney asked, keeping his tone casual.

“When?” John asked.

Rodney gestured vaguely. “Dark haired, sculpted jaw, strong shoulders.” John was looking at Rodney strangely now and Rodney felt his face heat up. Did that sharp, watchful look mean he wanted him to drop it?

“You have a way with faces,” John deadpanned, watching his beer slosh around as he tipped his bottle from side to side.

“I happened to see you talking in the hallway earlier.”

“Can’t say I remember,” John replied evenly. His hazel eyes were a little narrow.

Rodney swallowed, fumbling suddenly, because why did John look stony? Did it bother him that Rodney, the father of his child, was asking about John flirting with some obvious manwhore in the hall (in broad daylight, no less)? Was that what Rodney had signed onto in sharing a cabin? “I wasn’t prying,” Rodney replied lamely. “I couldn’t help but notice. With my superior brain power, it’s hard not to take in details.”

“Because you were walking down the hall,” John finished for him. He looked skeptical, discreetly scrutinizing Rodney from the corner of his eye in a way that wasn’t nearly as discreet as he thought it was.

That look was way too focused for Rodney’s liking. “Mostly because of the, you know, giant sign hanging around his neck that said he totally does guys. You know, if it got any bigger, he’d have to pay rent for billboard advertising,” Rodney finished. He tried to make it sound like a joke, but his face was burning up.

“I didn’t notice any sign.”

Rodney flushed. “I’m a very perceptive person,” he fumbled.

“Your dick is a very perceptive person, you mean,” John replied with his lower lip stuck out.

Rodney floundered, thinking he was caught. “I was just going to say that if you plan on bringing anyone home, I’d appreciate the same kind of forewarning you’d expect from me,” he said awkwardly.

John started almost imperceptibly. For a second, he looked blankly at Rodney before his features closed off and he adopted a look of nonchalance. His shoulders were a little too tense as he leaned back. Rodney guessed that forewarning was more than John wanted Rodney to ask for and the thought made him feel small and hot-faced. “Sure thing,” John replied. “I can do that.”

Rodney swallowed. “Right, well,” he mumbled, “thank you.”

John nodded tersely and they didn’t say a whole lot on the way back to the cabin. But John’s words followed Rodney all the way into the next day.

***

The only thing was that Rodney didn’t want John to give him forewarning when he brought someone home. He didn’t want John to bring anyone home, period. He didn’t want the baby to be the only thing they shared and he didn’t want to lamely act like sculpted brunet pilots were the thing he was jealous about. John didn’t get it – John just didn’t feel the way Rodney did – John wanted to be friends, and Rodney really sucked at pretending. And if they kept living together, even pretending would be impossible – and Rodney was resolutely not sticking around for it.

John walked into the cabin just after eight thirty Friday night, calling out to Rodney as he shut the door behind him. He had his jacket in one hand and a bag from the cantina in the other. He tossed the bag on the kitchen counter and hung his jacket on a peg beside the door.

Rodney turned and glanced at him over his shoulder, his heart beating hard in his chest. “Hey.”

“Hey, let me get washed up and we can hit the mess hall—”

Rodney set his jaw. If he didn’t say it then, he would never say it. “Look,” he blurted out abruptly, “we can’t keep living together.”

John froze on his way toward the bedroom and looked at him. The corners of his lips tensed. “What?” he asked.

Rodney steeled himself and went on. “I think one of us should move out after the baby – you

know,” he repeated. “This arrangement really isn’t working out.”

John narrowed his eyes. “Rodney, this is my place, too. It’s a little more complicated than that to request room transfers, and it’s a little late for you to decide against moving in here—”

“It makes sense for a myriad of reasons that I shouldn’t need to explain to you,” Rodney retorted.

John scowled. “You can’t kick me out, Rodney,” he shot back. “It’s my place!”

Rodney swallowed and fisted his hand. “Look, everyone thinks we’re together.” Even to Rodney, the words sounded resentful and flinty.

John’s adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “No, they don’t,” he replied dismissively.

“Yeah, they do!” Rodney insisted. “Why wouldn’t they? We’re totally pregnant and we’ve been living together for half a year! Who wouldn’t think it—?”

“Yeah, so?” John asked. “So what? Let them think what they want to think about us—”

“So it’s not fair,” Rodney snapped.

John propped a hand on his hip. “How the hell isn’t it fair?” he demanded. “Because you don’t want to share anymore? How the hell’s that fair, Rodney? This is my place, too, Rodney. We decided to do this together and it’s a little late for you to change your damn mind—”

“It’s not fair to either of us!” Rodney blurted out. His face flooded with heat and color. “Say one of us decides to date—”

“And?” John retorted. His cheeks, too, were splotchy and red, and his chest seemed to be rising and falling too fast. “What about it?”

And it all came back to Rodney – the feeling of John’s hands on him in the motel or in the sand on Natori, the relief and happiness that rose in his chest when they’d talked on the veranda about having the baby – doing it together, the memory of John talking with the brunet in the hall. And Rodney realized angrily that maybe he’d always been in love with John – maybe even since that night at the Lobo – and the idea that all of that was irrelevant, that it didn’t bear consideration as a reason that this needed to stop before it got any further flooded him with anger.

“So this,” Rodney snapped. He grabbed John’s collar and surged forward, kissing John’s slack lips. John’s mouth was lax and unresponsive under his mouth. He pulled back and glared into John’s shocked, hazel eyes. John blinked, his mouth sagging with surprise and before anything else, a swell of pain blossomed in Rodney’s back and stomach. He jerked back and gasped, pressing his hands to his aching belly. “Oh, ow, ow!” he hissed.

John grabbed him by the elbows, switching gears, his green eyes bright and worried as he peered into Rodney’s face. “Rodney, what is it?” he asked. His voice was a little thin with alarm. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, my—” Rodney turned wide blue eyes on him, his face blank with shock. “I-I think I’m having contractions,” he stuttered.

“What?” John asked.

“I don’t know! It hurts like hell!” Rodney curled in, clutching his aching stomach. “What the hell? No one told me it would hurt like this!”

John grabbed his elbow and towed him back toward the door. “We’re going to see the Doc!” he said. Even as he pulled him through the door, he was on the radio, calling Cadman on the com. The argument would just have to wait – the baby was coming then.

***

“Well, what do you know?” Cadman said, frowning and leaning back on her stool.

Rodney gripped John’s hand in one fist and clutched his stomach with the other hand. “What?” he asked breathlessly. “Oh my God, am I dying?” John’s features tensed, his hazel eyes darting to Cadman beside the bed.

Cadman rolled her eyes. “No, Rodney,” she said. “Geez, you’re always the drama. Your little guy wants out. I guess his dads’ insistence rubbed off.”

“But Rodney’s scheduled to go under in a week, Doc,” John said.

Cadman clicked her tongue. “Look, no one can argue with the baby. Baby wants out, baby gets out.” She turned and called to a nearby nurse. “I need an operating room ready stat.”

“What the hell?” Rodney cried. “Make him wait!” A wave of pain twisted from his spine to his belly button and he curled his knees up as high as they’d go. “No, no, no!” he wailed. “On second thought, get him out! You—,” he gestured at John, who was intent on being wide-eyed and too considerate, “you’re so not getting out of our earlier conversation.” He felt John’s fingers curled on his arm and he closed his eyes, gripping John’s hand as he felt another contraction. This was just great. It positively figured that the very moment he chose to come clean to John, the universe would laugh in his face even worse than he had foreseen.

“All of my concerns are very valid,” he wheezed. His blue eyes were screwed up, tearing.

“Rodney, now doesn’t seem like the best time for this,” John reasoned and unfairly brushed his hand down Rodney’s shoulder, which just made Rodney feel like crying, or maybe that was the unbearable pain of child birth.

“We’re finishing this right now.”

John looked conflicted for a moment before he planted a hand on the bed beside Rodney with a disbelieving look. “You want me to agree with you, that we should move out, so you can date? No way. I like it how it is.”

“How it is?” Rodney repeated. “Are you out of your mind? How is this even remotely working out? You’re just going to get sick of it when you meet the next gorgeous alien with giant—”

“Breathe,” John interrupted. “Like the-y’know, the guy with the…,” he gestured to his crotch but Rodney seriously wasn’t looking, “like he said – breathe.”

“I’m breathing,” Rodney shot back impatiently. “Anyway, I’m not waiting around, watching you date and fall in love, being in love with you, damn it!”

“Being in…?” John asked. He absently nodded his head and slid his eyes to Cadman’s back at the sink. “You’re doing good,” he reassured Rodney half-heartedly. He turned back to Rodney and exhaled suddenly. “Like you’re the only one with-with—” He set his mouth in a firm line. “You’re not the only one who….” He faltered and flushed.

“What?” Rodney interjected. “I’m not the only one with what? Common sense? You don’t have to be a genius to see that this isn’t going to work out, John!”

“At first, I thought you and the Doc,” John confided lowly. His mouth was drawn and tense.

Rodney looked at him like he was a mad man. “What the hell?” he asked. “Like I’d ever. How many times do I have to say it before you get the message?” He gestured impatiently with his free hand and a little bit with the hand locked on John’s, too. “Okay, maybe I would, if it was a completely sure bet and we promised to never, ever, ever, ever talk or think about it again. Even then—” He grimaced.

“I heard my name and I’m ignoring it,” Cadman said, coming back over. “We’re ready for you.” Rodney glanced at John and John grimaced in frustration. Cadman cocked her head. “What?” Cadman asked. She threw her hands out. “Come on, guys, I didn’t get all dressed up for nothing.”

“Can you give us a second?” John asked impatiently.

Cadman furrowed her brow. “No!”

John turned back to Rodney, perspiration on his brow. “Rodney,” John said, but then he stopped again, his face almost comically frustrated as he searched for words. “I—” He tried another tack with a hectic look at the door. “You….”

“What is it?” Rodney asked. “Come on, John, what is it? We don’t have all night here!”

“Dr. Cadman, the room’s ready,” a nurse announced from the door.

“Just—would you wait one minute here! It’s—” Rodney said before he suddenly felt dizzy at the band of pain twisting in his stomach.

“No, Rodney, we can’t wait, otherwise this would be happening in two weeks and I wouldn’t be all dressed up! Sheppard, if you’ve got something to say, it’s now or never.”

“Damn it,” John swore. “This.” He grasped Rodney’s jaw and kissed his mouth. A shock ran up Rodney’s spine and his lips melted beneath John’s. Had he not been in excruciating pain, it would have been perfect – even so…. He curved his hand on the side of John’s neck and returned his kiss.

“Oh,” he said when they broke apart. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” John agreed breathlessly. “So just…about the apartment and the dating….” He swallowed. “I like it the way it is.”

Rodney winced as another contraction twisted his guts. “I can see where that would come in,” he gasped. John swallowed and smiled a little too tightly. “Yes, yes, I you too,” Rodney added belatedly, because he certainly wasn’t planning on leaving anything unspoken again. “About the unrequited and the—” He waved a hand.

Behind them, Cadman tsked. “Okay, now that’s a load off my mind,” she announced airily. Rodney and John lifted their eyes to her as she raised her eyebrows. “Now can we deliver this baby?” she asked.

“Good God, yes,” Rodney blurted out. He nodded repeatedly, gesturing with both hands. “Get it out already.”

John’s grin was adorably goofy. “We’re ready now, Doc.”

***

And as it turned out, the apartment really wasn’t too small for three when they brought the kid home the next day. And even after Oscar was born, John was surprisingly thoughtful where it really counted, and it totally didn’t matter that all of their friends thought they were together because they’d just seen what Rodney was surprisingly slow at catching onto. All the concerns that had plagued Rodney for six months, and all the sleep he’d lost over them, and all the nightmare visions of the imperfect future awaiting the Sheppard-McKay family in the indeterminate time to come – Rodney figured some of that had to do with hormonal flux.