Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Length: ~25,000 words
Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Summary: John has a problem. Rodney really doesn't want to help.
Thank you: to Aristide/Mairead Triste, Rustler, and WPAdmirer for kick-ass beta.
Warnings: All the usual clichés without the usual fluff. Spoilers up to 3x15 "The Game," with an additional spoiler for 3x17 "Sunday."
Notes: Set after "The Game" and veers from canon shortly thereafter.
It was a room like any other in the, yes, still unexplored part of the city (which was getting smaller every day, but was nevertheless much larger than Rodney liked). It had an ordinary door and what looked like a set of innocuous looking consoles. So Sheppard, being Sheppard, raised his P90 and went in first to check it out.
Rodney was right behind him, and would have been in there two steps after him, except for the force field that shimmered into place, blocking the doorway.
"Hey," Rodney said, annoyed. "What the . . . ? Sheppard, you want to tell me what's going on in there?"
Sheppard didn't answer. Rodney could see him inside the room, like he hadn't even noticed the force field.
"Sheppard!" Rodney switched on his radio. "Colonel Sheppard, can you read me? Come in."
Inside the room, Sheppard leaned to look at one of the consoles without even glancing Rodney's way. He didn't seem to touch anything, but a panel in the wall opened up in front of him. It looked a little like the stasis chamber they had found the alternate Elizabeth in, but bigger, and Sheppard walked toward it, his head cocked, examining it.
"Colonel Sheppard, come in!" Rodney tried again. But either Sheppard was ignoring him, or he wasn't getting a radio signal at all. Rodney whipped out his data pad and hooked it up to the door's control crystals. He needed to get that force field down. He didn't know what Sheppard thought he was doing, but he sure as hell shouldn't be exploring on his own.
"Huh." Rodney rechecked, but the door control panel stubbornly maintained that the door was open and no force field was present.
Sheppard was standing in front of the chamber, looking at it. Rodney reached out carefully and . . . ow, yes, definitely a force field there.
Rodney went back to his data pad, tapped into the city system, and broadened his search. Weird, weirder, okay, that was just wrong. The sensors said nothing was going on down here, no force field, no stasis pod, no power drain. But inside the room . . .
"Sheppard, damn it, what are you . . . ? Oh, no, no, no, come on, don't—"
. . . Sheppard stepped forward into the chamber. Rodney gestured frantically, but Sheppard disappeared from his line of sight and the chamber door closed behind him.
Twenty minutes later, Rodney had Zelenka and an engineer named Kunene feverishly working on the problem with him. Forty minutes later he had Elizabeth, Teyla, and Ronon pacing in front of the door and getting in the way. An hour later . . .
Rodney nearly dropped the incredibly sensitive equipment he was using to try to figure out what the hell was going on. Elizabeth was standing in front of the force field, her hands splayed. Past her, the pod door had opened, and Sheppard stepped out, looking tousled and a bit rumpled, meaning basically just the same as he had looked when he went in. He shook his head, glanced around, and apparently saw them at once, because he came right over to the door where the force field still shimmered.
"Wait, don't—" Rodney started to say, but somehow the shimmer undulated and bulged as Sheppard stepped into it, and then he was standing there in the corridor, unscathed.
"John, what happened in there?" Elizabeth asked. "Are you hurt?"
Sheppard kind of blinked at them. "I'm good," he said, then looked around, taking in the crowd. "Hey, what's the party? And how come nobody invited me?"
"You were in there for over an hour," Rodney said with what was really remarkable restraint. "You weren't responding to your radio, and Atlantis wasn't even admitting to the existence of the force field. So you'll excuse us if we were a little worried about you."
Sheppard looked around. "What force field?"
"That one," Rodney said, pointing, because the shimmer was still there, subtle and implacable.
"Huh," Sheppard said, and held out his hand to it. Rodney was only slightly mollified when Sheppard jerked his hand back, shaking it out like it tingled. "Was that there before?"
"That's one of the things I'm trying to figure out," Rodney said. "I didn't see it until you were already on the other side. Actually, according to everything in the Atlantis system, it doesn't exist. But it's there, and it's real, and you were totally ignoring your radio in there."
"Can you tell us what happened?" Elizabeth said.
Sheppard put the hand that wasn't holding his P90 in his pocket, way too casual for the amount of panic Rodney had just invested in him. "Sure," Sheppard said easily. "Rodney and I were cataloging rooms in this sector. You cleared that, remember?"
Elizabeth nodded, and Sheppard went on. "So we found this room, and I went in first to check it out, like I usually do. Rodney was being slow, so I thought I'd be a little more thorough. I took a closer look at a room that kind of looked like a storage closet. It was, um, it was fine, so I came back out and found all of you acting like something just exploded." He turned to Rodney. "Did something just explode?"
Rodney shook his head. "Wait, that was it? Nothing else happened? You didn't feel anything when you went in there?"
Sheppard shifted and shoved his hand deeper in his pocket. "Uh, not really, no." But there was something weird about how he was acting. He looked . . . a little flushed around the ears, which was really not a normal look for him.
"What?" Rodney said. "Come on, Colonel, something happened in there, and I want to know what it was."
Sheppard lifted his chin. "Okay, it felt a little weird. But it wasn't a big deal, okay?"
"Could be a stasis pod," Radek suggested.
"Yes, or some kind of time compression field," Rodney mused.
"We should get you to the infirmary, just to be sure you weren't affected by anything," Elizabeth said, placing a strategic hand on Sheppard's elbow.
Sheppard managed to shrug off her hand without making it look like he was pulling away. "Hey," he said, "that really isn't necessary. I feel fine."
"Oh, please," Rodney said. "We have no idea what just happened in there. You could have been exposed to radiation."
"Or altered genetically," Radek added.
"Or exposed to a nanovirus," Elizabeth chimed in helpfully.
"Or nothing at all," Teyla said, "but we would all feel better if we knew that for certain."
"You're going," Ronon added, "if I have to carry you."
Sheppard lifted his hands. "Okay. Infirmary it is."
"I'll go with him," Ronon said, and Teyla and Elizabeth offered to go, too.
"Good, good," Rodney said. "Radek and . . . " Damn, he'd known half an hour ago.
"Dr. Kunene," Radek supplied helpfully.
"Yes, yes, of course, Kunene. Radek and Kunene and I will stay here and figure out what just happened. Let us know if you find anything out on your end."
"We'll be in touch," Elizabeth promised.
They turned to go, and Rodney was only half-paying attention to them, but, okay, no, something was wrong with Sheppard. Something was different; he really did look more rumpled than usual. And then Rodney saw it. Couldn't believe he'd missed it, with Sheppard standing right in front of him for the past five minutes. But of course, he hadn't exactly been looking for it.
Sheppard's uniform shirt was buttoned wrong, the buttons and buttonholes mismatched so that his collar was crooked and his shirttails didn't meet up. Like he'd rebuttoned it quickly, or without looking.
Okay, no. Just, no. Maybe Sheppard hadn't buttoned it right when he got up in the morning and Rodney just hadn't noticed. Yeah, that was more likely. Because what the hell Sheppard would have been doing shirtless in that pod, Rodney had absolutely no idea. He wasn't even sure he wanted to know, because that would be . . . that would be . . .
"Okay, come on, we can crack this thing," he said, more to pep up himself than Radek or Kunene. "I give us another hour, tops."
But eight hours later, they were no closer to an answer.
The report from the infirmary came back completely normal. There was no sign of anything wrong with Sheppard; all the tests indicated he was in the peak of health, and Rodney was really just imagining things when he thought Carson sounded embarrassed when he said that.
Radek and Kunene finally knocked off around midnight; Rodney spent another three bleary hours trying to figure out what he was missing. The force field showed up on a hand-held scanner, so it was real (not that he really needed proof of that). Atlantis was not admitting it existed, which meant it was a on a completely unconnected system. But Rodney had searched and searched for any sort of controls (and thought "off" at the damn thing about fifteen million times), all to no avail.
If it had been a code to crack, he would have cracked it. But this was a sheer physical presence, like a block of granite in front of him, and nothing he threw at it, no attempt at phase modulation or EM interference, seemed to affect it at all. Cutting power to the sector did nothing. There was no other way into the room, and according to the sensors, it didn't matter anyway because the force field wasn't just across the doorway, but surrounded the entire room, like the brig.
Actually, Rodney was starting to think it was another brig, a black brig, off the grid, off the collective consciousness, except that Sheppard hadn't been acting like that was it at all.
Sheppard had been acting like . . . God, he didn't know. Like he was hiding something, and okay, this was Sheppard, who was not exactly the most forthcoming person in the galaxy, but still . . .
Rodney stumbled back toward the closest transporter, and ran smack into someone coming the other way. He reeled back, cursed, and shrugged off the hand on his upper arm with a huff.
"Gotta watch where you're going, there," Sheppard said.
"It's three in the morning," Rodney said. "What do you think you're doing here?"
Sheppard shrugged casually. "Saw there was still someone down here on the life-signs detector, so I figured I'd check it out."
Rodney squinted at him. He looked disgustingly energetic for anyone at three in the morning. "Don't you ever sleep?"
"Not tired," Sheppard said, like that explained everything. "So did you get the force field down? Figure out what it did to me?"
"No," Rodney said testily. "No, I did not. I'm starting to think it's a secret prison. Or maybe a torture chamber. There is simply no way to lower that force field, because believe me, I have tried every means humanly conceivable. You're lucky you managed to get out."
"Yeah," Sheppard said thoughtfully. "So what do you want to do? Seal off the section and forget about it?"
"No, I do not want to just seal it off, Colonel. We don't know what that thing did to you. I am not stopping until we actually know something."
"Wow, Rodney," Sheppard drawled. "I didn't know you cared."
"Oh, please. You're the military commander of the city. Of course I want to know if you've been injured or compromised."
"Of course," Sheppard said with a roll of his eyes. "Seriously, I'm fine. It was nothing, okay? Just go get some sleep before you start scaring people you pass in the hall. We have a mission to plan tomorrow. 0900 hours, remember?"
"Oh," Rodney said. "Right." He scrubbed his tired eyes with one hand. "Don't worry, I'll be there."
"Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I hope," Sheppard quipped. He walked with Rodney to the transporter and pressed the location for the hallway near Rodney's quarters, and moments later, Rodney was headed down his hallway toward sleep, glorious sleep.
It was Sheppard who showed up late for the meeting the next morning. Rodney was on his fourth cup of coffee and feeling reasonably awake, but Sheppard looked like he had a hangover. The only thing about him that was perky was his hair.
It was bad enough that Elizabeth noticed. "John, are you all right?"
Sheppard twitched like he'd been half asleep, and he'd only just sat down. "What? Oh, yeah, fine. Just didn't get much sleep."
Elizabeth frowned. "Are you feeling ill? Maybe you should go to the infirmary again, just to get checked out."
"No, really, I'm fine. Rodney, tell us why we want to go to M9J-478."
But before Rodney could answer, Elizabeth cut in with, "I want you checked again before you go offworld. No arguments, John. We need to make sure you're really okay."
Sheppard waved a hand. "Okay, sure, I'll get checked out. Rodney?"
So Rodney went into his spiel and Sheppard eventually mostly woke up and things went back to normal. Only somehow they didn't.
Sheppard got yet another clean bill of health from Carson, but he still looked tired the next day. The mission to M9J-847 was relatively uneventful—the planet had recently been culled, and they ended up providing assistance rather than getting much in the way of trade—so they all came home tired and in need of distraction. But when Rodney turned to Sheppard after dinner and asked if he wanted to play a game of chess or something, Sheppard just shrugged.
"Actually, I've got something else I've got to do. Sorry. Maybe some other time."
"Right, yeah, okay." Rodney stood there holding his tray, watching Sheppard leave the mess hall. Not that they spent every evening together or anything, but he'd really gotten used to the chess games lately, and with Sheppard looking a little off his peak form, Rodney had figured it would be a good chance to snag the lead in their ongoing rivalry.
"You may join us in meditation if you like," Teyla said at his elbow.
"Sure," Ronon said. "I won't even let Teyla hit you if you fall asleep."
Rodney grimaced at them. "Hey, thanks, but I've got some, you know, important things to do. Really important. To do right now. So I'll just, uh, see you two later." And he escaped with his tray to the service area.
He thought for a moment about asking Radek to play, but Radek was a shark at chess, and Rodney was pretty sure he cheated. He could always ask Carson to watch a movie with him, but Carson liked tearjerkers and weird foreign films, and he wasn't up for dealing with either tonight.
Anyway, none of them were as easy to be with as Sheppard. Sheppard was just, well, Sheppard, and he never expected Rodney to be anyone other than Rodney, and that was really pretty much unique in Rodney's experience. In fact, if anything Sheppard wanted him to be more Rodney-like, über-Rodney, and okay, he had no idea where that thought was going.
R & R was overrated, anyway. Rodney dumped his tray and headed over to the lab—just for an hour or so—so he could run a few general scans on the Atlantis system. Power consumption was doing nicely—thanks to his recent reconfiguration of the city's power grid. The long-range sensors were clear. Internal sensors . . . hey, wait, okay, that was weird. The internal sweep showed a single life sign way out in a lower level of the Northeast Pier. Which was, right, the same corridor where Sheppard had—
The life sign suddenly vanished. For a moment Rodney thought he'd imagined it, or it had been a glitch, but no, he wasn't that tired. On impulse, he tapped his radio. "Colonel Sheppard?"
In some alternate universe, Sheppard replied and got annoyed at him or teased him for worrying. In this universe, the radio remained stubbornly silent. Rodney gritted his teeth and ran a scan for Sheppard's subcutaneous transmitter. Which, damn it, had also disappeared.
"Crap." Rodney's hands froze over his keyboard. Protocol probably said he should alert Elizabeth. Sanity said he should at least get one other brain working on the problem. But Elizabeth's involvement hadn't helped last time, and neither had the combined brains of the best Atlantis had to offer.
Rodney jerked to his feet, grabbed a life-signs detector and his datapad, and headed for the nearest transporter.
The corridor was dim, as was the room, but that just made it easier to see the faint glow of the force field. Rodney hooked his datapad up and reran every diagnostic he could think of, just to pass the time. He'd give Sheppard an hour, hour and a half tops, and then he was alerting everyone in the whole damn city. Or at least the senior staff.
It took forty-six minutes. The only warning Rodney got was a flicker in the light from the force field, and then Sheppard was right there in front of him, glowering at him.
"Rodney? What the hell do you think you're doing here?" Sheppard snapped at him, like Rodney was the one out of place here, and damn it, the force field was still there.
Rodney scrambled to his feet. "Don't you think that's my line? What the hell, Sheppard? Getting zapped once wasn't enough for you? Oh, no, wait, I get it. You're still jealous because I got turned into a super-genius and Elizabeth wouldn't let you try it. And that's perfectly understandable, but if anything, whatever's in there seems to be turning you into an idiot, and if you want to prove me wrong, you'll take that force field down right now."
"Can't," Sheppard said, like he really was an idiot.
Rodney was not a violent man, but right now he was actually starting to regret that. "What do you mean, can't? You just did!"
"There's some kind of built-in delay," Sheppard said. "It's at least six hours. Maybe more."
Sheppard crossed his arms over his chest. "I can't. I mean, I can show you it doesn't let me in automatically." And he reached his hand out until the energy of the force field crackled against his fingers and he had to pull them away. "But see, that doesn't prove anything, because we both know there's a mental component."
"Yes, yes," Rodney said impatiently. "So think it off."
"I'm trying," Sheppard said. "See? No dice."
So either he was telling the truth about everything, or he was lying through his teeth about thinking it off, and there was no way for Rodney to know for sure. "Okay, okay," Rodney said. After all, there was more than one way to work the problem. "Meet me here in eight hours. No excuses then."
Sheppard lifted his chin. "Rodney—"
"What? Is my concern bothering you? Or do you think no one needs to know what that damn thing did to you?"
"Look, it's not anything to worry about, okay? You're making too big a deal out of this."
"How do you know that? It could be anything! Drugs, mind control—I mean, it's obviously brainwashed you into thinking it's harmless already."
Sheppard made an impatient noise. "It's not like that," he said. "It's more like . . . Okay, you remember that virtual reality thing on the Aurora? This is kind of like that."
"Virtual reality?" Wow, okay, that was totally not what he was thinking. "Really? Is it cool?"
"Seriously cool," Sheppard said.
"Okay, okay. So eight hours, well, make it ten. We'll meet here first thing in the morning. If you can get the force field down, we can check it out together. Might even be more fun with two, hmm?"
"It's not that kind of virtual reality." Sheppard shifted on his feet. "It's not really something that can be shared, okay?"
"What do you mean? How personal could it possibly— Oh, my God." Realization dawned, hot in Rodney's face, and he had a sudden, shocking memory of Sheppard's misbuttoned shirt. Damn it, he'd been right from the start. "You found an Ancient sex toy, didn't you? Some kind of a virtual sex simulator. Admit it, you did."
Sheppard shrugged, not looking at him. "Something like that."
"Jesus. Was it good? Okay, right, it had to have been good, or you wouldn't be coming back." And wow, okay, that was a seriously weird thought; it was bad enough watching Sheppard charm the pants off of women all the time, but thinking of him, naked and panting, in some sort of orgasmatron . . . "Wait, it's not totally virtual, is it? Because you took off your clothes."
Sheppard's head snapped back to look at him, like he hadn't thought anyone would notice he'd buttoned his shirt wrong. "Actually, I uh . . . just didn't want to be stuck with a laundry problem."
Whoa. That was really way too much information, because now Rodney was wondering exactly how much mess Sheppard was talking about there. "Uh, so it was really good, then? Because, you know—not that I'm not exceedingly well acquainted with my own right hand—but I always thought it would be, I don't know, pretty sterile, to be having sex without another person there."
"Honestly?" Sheppard turned away again so that Rodney couldn't see his face at all. "Yes. It was good. It was amazing, okay?"
"Yeah," Sheppard said. "Really."
"Wow." Right, so that pretty much explained what Sheppard was doing down here. Except, well, it wasn't proof that it was safe. After everything they'd been through, Rodney didn't exactly trust the Ancients. "Look, are you sure this is such a good idea? Because, okay, I'm not saying you're going to catch an Ancient STD from it or anything, but isn't it, I don't know, just a little weird?"
"You could check it out yourself," Sheppard said. "Come back in the morning. It's not like you don't have the gene. You just walk right up to it and it lets you through."
"Um . . . " Rodney didn't even know why that felt weird. It wasn't like dating a friend's ex, not really. But Sheppard would know. And he would know what it felt like for Sheppard, which was just wrong. Still, somehow, the idea was strangely tantalizing. "I don't know. I mean, not that I'm sure it isn't really . . . but I just . . ."
"Suit yourself," Sheppard said. "You heading back?"
"Oh, yeah, sure," Rodney said, and turned to walk with him back toward the transporter. "So what's it like?" he couldn't stop himself from asking. "Do you get to pick your virtual partner? Choose a blonde or a redhead? What?"
But Sheppard shook his head. "It's not like that at all." His shirt was buttoned properly, Rodney noticed in the brighter light of the corridor near the transporter. But his hair looked kind of damp. Sweat, Rodney realized, which was just . . . okay, no. Not going there. "When it starts out, you can't see or feel anything," Sheppard said. "Like . . . sensory deprivation. So when you do feel something it's . . ."
"A lot stronger," Rodney supplied. "Huh."
"Yeah," Sheppard said, and ducked into the transporter. Rodney followed him and quickly touched the location nearest Sheppard's quarters. Not that he was all that worried. But still, he would be happier knowing Sheppard was safely back in his own room, and not . . . yeah.
Rodney still had questions, lots of questions, questions he hadn't even formulated yet, but the transporter doors were opening already, and Sheppard was heading out before he could even begin to ask any of them.
"G'night," Sheppard said over his shoulder, and all Rodney could do was nod back.
The damn force field wouldn't go down. Rodney had tried just walking into it. He'd tried thinking "off." He'd tried pushing on it with his hand. And all he'd gotten was a severe zap and a heavy dose of frustration.
Not that he'd been eagerly anticipating it or anything. He was just curious. But he'd gotten up early for this, and it was totally unfair that Sheppard got to do it and he didn't. What did Sheppard have, anyway, that made him so special?
Well, okay, he had the innate form of the ATA gene, and he was a natural with Ancient tech, whatever that meant. But it really shouldn't mean he got to have cool virtual sex when Rodney didn't.
Rodney gave the force field one last kick, hopped away swearing, and headed back to the transporter. He wasn't going to take this lying down. There had to be something in the database about it. And now that he knew what it was, maybe he had a chance of finding it.
It took him five days to figure it out, partly because there was a crisis with the city's recycling system—which was really not designed for Earth-origin plastics—and partly because the thing wasn't cross referenced to anything dealing with sexuality, but rather linked under failed ascension devices. So by the time Rodney actually got desperate enough to look there, it was well after the dinner hour on the fifth day, and he was exhausted from fishing polyethylene out of the biofermentation tanks all day. Really, it just figured that when Sheppard got zapped with an ascension-accelerator, it involved sex rather than death. But Rodney kept reading, and the more he read, the more he . . . okay, crap, he had to talk to Sheppard, right now.
Rodney switched on his radio. "Colonel Sheppard."
The moment of dead air stretched, while Rodney chanted, "Come on, answer, come on," under his breath.
"Yeah, Rodney. What can I do for you?" Sheppard sounded a little short of breath, and Rodney couldn't help himself, he checked the life-signs readings, but no, there was no one out in the lower levels of the Northeast Pier.
"Look, I really need to talk to you. The sooner the better."
"Oh." Sheppard sounded suddenly wary, like he knew what this was about. "I'm a little busy right now, but I can stop by your lab in about fifteen minutes. That soon enough for you?"
"It'll do. Only, um, make it my quarters, okay?" Because there was no way he was going to have this conversation where someone could walk in on them.
"Right. Fifteen minutes. Sheppard out."
Rodney spent ten minutes reading and checking cross-references and feeling grimmer and grimmer. Then he pulled up the most worrying statistics, arranged them in neat charts and graphics on his laptop screen, and headed back to his quarters.
Sheppard was already there, leaning against a column just outside his door . . . looking like hell. His hair was damp and even messier than usual, he had dark circles under his eyes, and his complexion managed to be gray and flushed at the same time. Rodney thought of the statistics, and swallowed hard.
"You better come in," he said.
Sheppard nodded and followed him inside. Rodney locked the door and turned around. Sheppard glanced around for a moment, then sat down on Rodney's unmade bed. Under the circumstances, Rodney wasn't about to complain.
"You have to stop," Rodney said, without any kind of preamble. "The virtual sex thing. You have to stop doing it."
Sheppard scrubbed a hand through his hair, looking down. "Yeah, I know."
"Wait, what? You know? How do you—what do you know? And why didn't you tell me?"
"It's pretty damn obvious," Sheppard said quietly. "Every night I tell myself I'm not going down there. And every night I do. Sometimes twice."
"God." Rodney set his laptop down and paced back to the bed. It was looking like he wasn't going to need those graphics and charts. And here he'd thought the hard part would be convincing Sheppard. "Look, it doesn't work, and even if it did, you don't want to ascend, anyway, right?"
Sheppard's chin jerked up. "Ascend? That thing's supposed to make me ascend?"
Oh, right. Sheppard hadn't read the stuff in the database. "I know, I know. It's nuts. But when the genetic manipulation project started to fail, the Ancients got a little desperate," Rodney explained. "They began arguing among themselves, and some of them tried some pretty crazy things. One of them—her name was Sirjah—decided that the way to become one with the universe was through prolonged, intense sexual stimulation. Her science was all wrong, of course. Well, okay, it's true that parasympathetic stimulation lowers brain wave frequency, but even assuming you got down to near-ascension levels, no one in that state wants to ascend, you just want to come already. "
"No shit," Sheppard muttered.
"And then, of course, orgasm triggers alpha waves and you're back where you started. With or without sufficient synaptic connections."
"So I'm not going to ascend by mistake," Sheppard said.
"No, you're just going to go insane." Rodney turned and paced again, just to have something to do. "Sixty-seven percent of the Ancients who tried it developed an uncontrollable, incurable addiction, to the point where they were put in stasis to prevent them from tearing the city apart to get back in there. That's the point of the force field, by the way. It's to keep the nutcases out. I still haven't figured out why it's letting you in."
Sheppard's face was dark and closed. "What about the other thirty-three percent?"
"Three of them—that's twenty-five percent—committed suicide. The last one was Sirjah herself, and as far as I can tell, she was the only one who could handle it. She left it behind when they gated back to Earth."
"Those are crappy odds, Rodney."
"I know! I just . . . look, the one chance you've got is if you quit now. The ancients who tried it all did it for months. It's only been a week for you."
"Right, whatever. Just don't make it nine, okay?"
Sheppard rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I wish I knew I could do that."
Something in the pit of Rodney's stomach went cold. If Sheppard was that far gone already, there might be no way to save him. "It's not a choice, Colonel. If you can't break the habit, we're going to end up sending you back to Earth, either in a straight jacket or a coffin."
"I got that, Rodney. But thanks for spelling it out." And Sheppard climbed slowly to his feet, like he was done here, like he was going to head out and . . .
"Don't go," Rodney said, and Sheppard froze. "We can, um, play a few games of chess. Or watch a movie. Hey, I can see if Radek has anything you haven't seen—he owes me a favor, anyway."
Sheppard looked a little wild-eyed, and for a moment Rodney thought he was going to refuse. But then his shoulders slumped. "Chess is fine."
Rodney got out his board and set it on the bed. Usually they played in the mess hall where there were convenient chairs and tables, but with Sheppard like this, he didn't want to suggest it. So he sat at the head of the bed, leaning against the wall with a pillow for lumbar support, and Sheppard sprawled at the foot, hand propped on his fist, making his moves quietly but steadily.
Rodney won all three games, and the worst part was, he couldn't even lord it over Sheppard, who was looking, if anything, worse as the evening wore on.
"I should go," Sheppard said finally, when Rodney had check-mated him for the third time and really only crowed a little.
"Wait, wait, not yet." He wasn't panicking. Really, he wasn't. "You should, I mean, we could—"
Sheppard crossed his arms over his chest. "To my quarters, Rodney. To sleep."
Right, but there was no telling what he'd do once he was on his own. If the itch came back, if he had trouble sleeping . . . . "You could, uh, stay here if you want. Sleep on my couch."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "I don't need you to babysit me. If I'm going to quit this thing, I have to do it on my own."
Rodney crossed over to stand in front of Sheppard, incidentally blocking the doorway. "I know you think you're capable of just about anything, and you know, that confidence is actually justified surprisingly frequently, but what if you can't beat this? We should at least tell Carson."
Sheppard's chin jutted out stubbornly, but he didn't try to get past. "What's he going to do? Prescribe methadone? Look, just let me try, okay?"
It was the sincerity that got him. Sheppard was asking him to trust him, and he knew what that felt like, knew that it didn't matter if Sheppard was wrong, because he'd been there, and damn it, this was totally unfair. "Okay, okay," Rodney said. "But if you can't do it, you have to promise me you'll come talk to me rather than just going down there. Deal?"
"Deal," Sheppard said. He reached up and clasped Rodney's shoulder, quick and warm. "Thanks, Rodney."
"Hey, sure. Just . . . good luck, okay?"
"Yeah," Sheppard said, "Looks like I'm going to need it," and headed out the door.
Rodney sighed and dropped into his desk chair as the door closed. He felt . . . completely helpless, and he hated that. But he couldn't just stand by and watch Sheppard try to fight this. He couldn't.
It only took a few minutes to rig his laptop to set off an alarm if any life signs were detected in the corridor in the Northeast Pier. It wasn't much, but it was what he could do.
"Rodney! Just the person I was looking for." Elizabeth fell into step with him. "Do you have a few minutes?"
"Oh, actually, I was looking for you, too. I wanted to talk to you about the puddlejumpers?"
"Why don't we step into my office?" Elizabeth said, which was kind of odd, because surely they could talk about the puddlejumpers just about anywhere.
"I've been rereading through some of the notes I made when I was, you know, a super-genius," Rodney explained as they headed up the stairs. "And while far too many of them are too advanced to be comprehensible, I did upload a virtual prototype for a hyperspace generator for the puddlejumpers that I'm pretty sure I can implement. It will take some external resources, but I'm thinking if Zelenka and I work on it together, it should only take us a week or two. Three weeks, tops."
They had made it to Elizabeth's office, and she turned to him as soon as the door was closed. "Actually, there's something else I need to talk to you about. I'm worried about John."
Oh. Right. This conversation. The one he'd been trying to avoid for three days. Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and attempted to look casual.
"I understand he hasn't been sleeping very well," Elizabeth went on, "and Carson says his stress hormones are all elevated. I'm concerned that this has something to do with that room you two were exploring."
Rodney tried to suppress a wince. Elizabeth was way too perceptive for his sanity, and he was really not ready to tell her everything. Damn it, that was Sheppard's job. "Actually, I don't really, um . . . I mean, he doesn't look that bad, does he? Nothing a little extra sleep wouldn't cure, right?"
Elizabeth still had her worried face on. "Have you managed to figure out how to get that force field down?"
Oh, thank God, a question he could answer honestly. "There is no way to get it down, and believe me, I have tried. It's running on some sort of internal power source and there is no code—there's no access point to even try a code—to take it down. It's like the brig, only we're locked out, not in."
"I see." Elizabeth frowned. "So there's no way to figure out what it did to him?"
Ask him, Rodney wanted to say, and then tried to imagine Sheppard telling her he was having dangerously addictive virtual sex. So, okay, maybe not. "The best I can figure, it was some sort of neural interface, like the stasis pods on the Aurora," Rodney said, which was still the truth, if not the whole truth.
"A virtual reality?" Elizabeth asked.
"Not exactly, but something similar. Which doesn't explain why it's sealed off, or how Sheppard managed to get in there in the first place."
"He does have a rather unique version of the ATA gene," Elizabeth said. "Perhaps that had something to do with it."
"Hmm. That's possible," Rodney said, because that was fairly close to what he was thinking. "Anyway, I think it may have affected him subconsciously." Okay, that wasn't totally a lie. "Maybe he's having bad dreams or something."
Elizabeth picked up one of the ugly little statues she kept on her desk and toyed with it. "I'll make sure he sees Dr. Heightmeyer," she said, "but I want you to keep working on that force field. And see if you can find anything in the Ancient database. There must be some way to figure this out."
"Right, okay," Rodney said. "I'm on it. Now about the puddlejumpers—"
"Yes, the puddlejumpers," Elizabeth said. "Go ahead and try it. Just make sure you don't disable more than one jumper at a time. And don't forget about John."
"Right," Rodney said. "Make astonishing advances in hyperdrive technology, fix Sheppard." He backed toward the door, making his escape. "Good thing I'm a genius, huh?"
The specs on the virtual prototype almost made sense. He was so close, so close to understanding. All he had to do was—
"What the hell, Rodney?"
Rodney jumped in his desk chair. "Hey! I am working on an extremely complicated problem here. You can't just barge in like that. The fate of this expedition could be resting on my undivided attention."
Sheppard parked himself against the lab table right next to Rodney's computer, completely unfazed. "What did you tell Elizabeth?"
Crap. So much for understanding the virtual prototype. Rodney gave Sheppard his best wide-eyed look. "Elizabeth? What makes you think I talked to Elizabeth?"
"Oh, come on," Sheppard said. He crossed his arms over his chest. "You had to have said something. She's on my case now, and she's making me see Heightmeyer."
Right, well, it wasn't like he was going to make any progress with Sheppard hovering like this. Rodney saved the notes he'd just made and looked up. "You do realize that Dr. Heightmeyer is a professional, and might actually be able to help you, right?"
Sheppard made a face at him. "What did you tell Elizabeth?"
"Nothing! She figured out it was the ascension device all on her own."
Sheppard's face went dark. "You told her about the device?"
"No! I mean, okay I might've said something about it being a kind of virtual reality, but I didn't tell her what kind. Whatever conclusions she jumped to, she jumped to on her own. Look, Colonel, I don't know how to put this, but you have a problem, and if Heightmeyer can help you with it, then you need to let her help you."
"If she can help me," Sheppard said. "That's a big 'if.'"
"I still can't figure out why it's letting you in," Rodney grumbled. "According to the database, the only one it was supposed to let in on demand was Sirjah herself."
"Really?" Sheppard suddenly looked a little queasy. "Christ," he said. "It thinks I'm her."
"What?" Rodney stared at him. "How do you know that?"
"I don't. I mean, not really, I just. . . ." Sheppard's frown went thoughtful. "Wait, you said she evacuated to Earth, right? So maybe she ended up with a kid or two."
Rodney made a face and rolled his chair back a bit. "You can't possibly . . . I mean, given the vagaries of mutation and genetic drift, even if you were her direct descendant, the probability that you'd have a significant number of her genes is infinitesimal."
"I had to get my ATA gene from somewhere," Sheppard said.
"Okay, whatever, the exact nature of your parentage is irrelevant," Rodney said. "What matters is that you're the only one who can get in there. Look, that thing has to have an independent power source, some kind of long-lasting, low-power generator. If you can remove it, it'll take the force field down, and then I can get in and dismantle the thing."
But Sheppard still looked queasy. "I can't," he said, low and desperate, like Rodney had just asked him to chew off his own foot or something.
"Oh, for God's sake. You'd rather have an incurable, deadly addiction?"
"No," Sheppard said. "I can't. If I go in there, I won't be able to resist it. Trust me, Rodney. I'm sure of this."
"Crap," Rodney said with feeling. "You can't just . . . grit your teeth or something?"
"Right, okay, okay. We'll think of something else. Just . . . don't do anything idiotic, okay?"
"I'm trying," Sheppard said.
Rodney only wished they could be sure he was succeeding.
It was late, late enough that Rodney was seriously thinking bed, when the door chimed. Rodney's frowned, because he couldn't think of anyone who would bother him this late, and it was . . . oh. Sheppard.
He looked like hell, face drawn, jaw clenched, eyes dark and hooded. "Rodney." His voice was low and hoarse. "You have to help me."
"Yes, right, come in. Like I said, I'll do anything you need me to. Um, you want to play chess?"
"No," Sheppard said, low and harsh.
"You didn't actually . . . " Rodney couldn't say it, didn't dare.
Sheppard shook his head. "I . . . managed to stop here."
Thank God. "Okay, so we just have to distract you. Occupy your mind with something else until the craving goes away. So, a movie maybe? Or, okay, I'll even watch football with you if you have anything. I'm afraid I don't have anything like that on my hard drive, but—"
"Rodney," Sheppard grated out. "I don't need a damn football game. I need to have sex. Preferably with a human being."
"Oh," Rodney said faintly. "Of course. So, right, you came to me, because obviously I'm the right person to, um, to find you a partner." Rodney gulped. He hadn't thought this part through, mostly because he didn't want to think it through, didn't want to think of Sheppard getting a pity fuck from . . . okay, from who? "I'm sure there are plenty of women who are attracted to you, we just need to find one . . ." One who was awake at two in the morning. "I can . . . I can go look around right now. I guess the marines are off limits, but there are plenty of—"
"No," Sheppard said, a little more desperate. "I can't ask a woman."
"Yes, yes, I know. That's why I'm going to do the asking for you."
Sheppard met his eyes. His hands were fists at his sides. "I can't have you ask for me, either. What are you going to say, 'Hey, come fuck John so he doesn't go batshit crazy?' That's not even a bad pick-up line. That's coercion, and I haven't sunk that low yet, okay?"
Rodney swallowed. "Okay, yes, I can see that. So you won't let me ask anyone, but you need to have sex. Preferably with another person. Um, I take it you've tried jerking off?"
Sheppard nodded wearily. "It doesn't seem to help at all. Please, Rodney."
"Please what? Please . . . oh, God." Rodney had never even thought of that, never considered it. "I didn't realize you were gay," he blurted out.
Sheppard looked away. "I'm not. I never even . . . but that damn thing . . . and I can't ask anyone else, okay?"
Rodney swallowed hard. It wasn't that he didn't want to . . . well, okay, it was that he didn't want to. Didn't want to see Sheppard naked, didn't want to see Sheppard needy, didn't want to deal with any of this right now. Right now, what he wanted was to go to bed and sleep. By himself, thank you very much.
"Let me just get this straight," Rodney tried. "You think the best solution would be to do it with someone you're not attracted to—someone who, just coincidentally, is also not attracted to you. On what planet does that equal a cure for a sex addiction?"
"It doesn't." Sheppard's shoulders hunched. "But it's the only option I've got."
Rodney flinched. This was totally unfair—not that it was any more fair for Sheppard, but damn it, there had to be a better solution. They should tell Carson, so Carson could . . . oh, right. Carson would probably strap Sheppard down to a hospital bed and make him sweat it out for days, like he had with Rodney and the Wraith enzyme, and Rodney wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Sheppard was watching him, face if anything darker. "You know what?" he said, before Rodney could find the words to explain. "Forget about it. I thought it would be different, asking you, but it's not. So I'll just . . ." And he reached for the door control.
"Colonel, wait." Rodney grabbed his arm as the door slid open. "I didn't say no."
Sheppard looked pointedly at the hand on his arm. "You should have."
Rodney moved his hand, but only to reach past Sheppard and tap the door closed again. "You think I'm going to let you go crazy?"
They were standing too close to each other, so close Rodney could see the pulse in Sheppard's neck, could smell the sweat-sour scent of him. "You don't want to have sex with me," Sheppard said softly.
"You don't want to have sex with me, either! I say that makes us even. And anyway, if there's a chance it could work, we have to at least try it. It's just sex."
Sheppard laughed at that, a short, strange sound that was halfway between a rasp and a bark. "Right. Just sex. And just sex is what got me into this in the first place."
"That's not sex," Rodney said. "That's closer to torture." He took a breath, steeling himself, because the decision was made. The decision was long past made, and it was time to get on with it already. "Well if we're going to do this, we need to get our clothes off. I understand even gay sex works better that way."
Sheppard didn't even smile at that, just rubbed the back of his neck and looked over. "Christ. This is going to be a disaster, isn't it?"
"Quite probably," Rodney admitted, and reached for the button of his fly. "Now, strip. Unless you want me to take off your clothes for you."
"What? No," Sheppard said, too quickly. "No, I got that covered." And he bent to unlace his boots.
Rodney didn't look up as he yanked off his own shoes and pants and yes, boxers, too. In for a penny, in for a pound. He sat on the bed to take his socks off, pulled his shirt over his head, and looked up. Sheppard was peeling off a sock, standing awkwardly on the other foot. He was naked from the waist down, and okay, at least he wasn't aroused, either. That shouldn't have made Rodney feel better, but it did.
"Um, bed?" Rodney suggested when Sheppard had the second sock off, and Sheppard came over slowly, looking hunted. He still has his black t-shirt on, but Rodney wasn't about to insist he take it off, even if it was making him feel a little self-conscious about his own bare chest.
Sheppard sat next to him, hunched forward, his hands dangling between his knees. "Right," Rodney said. "Where do we start?"
"I have no idea."
Okay, okay, he could do this. This wasn't about sex, it was about Sheppard, who needed his help. Rodney put a hand on Sheppard's back, which wasn't all that weird with the t-shirt still on. He rubbed his thumb against the base of Sheppard's neck, and Sheppard's head dropped forward. Okay, that could be a good sign, or a bad one. Rodney rubbed a little more, just in case it was the former, and then, whoa, Sheppard twisted toward him, cupped his shoulder with one hand, and pushed him backwards onto the bed. Rodney's head hit his pillow with a thump, and wow, this was really not like being with a woman.
Sheppard hovered over him for a moment, then buried his face in Rodney's shoulder, not kissing or licking or doing anything, just breathing against Rodney's chest hair. He stayed that way until Rodney wondered if he was supposed to do something, touch his back or stroke his hair or— but then Sheppard lifted his head and slid down until he was—oh, God—right there, taking Rodney's limp dick into his mouth. And maybe it was pretty weird to have a headful of short, unruly hair in his lap, but his dick didn't seem to notice, his dick was saying hello, mouth, and growing with every heartbeat.
Sheppard was just kind of messing around down there, licking a little, slurping a bit, because, right, he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. But it felt good enough, even if there was no discernible rhythm. It wasn't like Rodney was a connoisseur of blowjobs, anyway—he was generally so happy to be getting one, he wasn't going to be a critic. Except . . . okay, ow, those were teeth, and he couldn't stop himself from flinching.
"Crap," Sheppard said, and Rodney reached down to pet his hair, trying to reassure him.
"It's okay," Rodney managed. "Just try not to scrape with the teeth."
"Teeth, right, okay." Sheppard leaned his forehead against Rodney's hip, catching his breath for a long moment before he lifted his head again and sucked Rodney in.
Rodney gasped. He hadn't been expecting that, hadn't braced himself for the bolt of pure pleasure, because God, Sheppard had serious lung power and the suction was amazing. But then the sensation was gone and Sheppard was back to that slurping thing, which really wasn't doing much of anything for him. Rodney hitched his hips up hopefully, but Sheppard didn't catch on, just kept on doing whatever sloppy thing he was doing, and Rodney tried closing his eyes and imagining a spunky blonde down there, but that wasn't working, either.
After what felt like ages, Sheppard pulled off again and rested his chin against his fist. "That bad, huh?"
"No, it's good, it's, um, really pretty good, I just . . ."
"Rodney, I've known two-year-olds who could lie better than you."
"Yes, okay. Okay, it's not working. Could you just . . . that thing you were doing before, with the sucking? That was actually quite nice."
Sheppard arched a weary eyebrow at him. "You mean this?" he asked, and this time Rodney was braced, but it didn't make a difference, the heat and strength of it made him moan and lift his hips shamelessly.
"Yes," Rodney whispered, "yes, that," and Sheppard did it again, and a time after that, and he was clawing the sheets for something, anything, to hold onto. "That's good, that's good, that's . . . Oh, God," he whimpered, and came in Sheppard's mouth.
"Fuck," Sheppard said, and spat all over the sheets.
"Sorry, sorry," Rodney managed, because, right, he should have given a little warning there, only he'd barely had warning himself, and now, whoops, it was his turn, and Sheppard had really been pretty generous, given that he was the one who needed this.
Rodney took three long, slow breaths and then propped himself up on his elbows. "Hey, come here," he said, and when Sheppard didn't move, reached down to haul him up to the head of the bed. Sheppard was heavier than he looked, but he got with the program and finally scooted up.
If he'd been a woman, Rodney would have kissed him, or thanked him, or something equally awkward. But he was just Sheppard, which meant they didn't have to do any of that stuff. Sheppard had his eyes closed, which Rodney figured meant get on with it. So he just reached down and took Sheppard's dick in his hand.
It was funny how it felt different when it was someone else's. Sheppard's skin was shockingly soft against his fingers, and it went smooth and hot as it expanded to fill Rodney's hand. Rodney squeezed gently, brushed his thumb across the head, and felt Sheppard's whole body go unnaturally still.
Okay, what he really needed was some hand cream. It wasn't like he was going to try using his mouth, later—he had a feeling he'd be as bad as Sheppard at that, if not worse, but years of practice on himself had to count for something in the hand job department.
Cream, right, nightstand, there. Rodney got it out, got some on his hand, and turned back to look at Sheppard, who was still, amazingly, mostly hard, the head of his cock almost brushing the hem of his t-shirt.
"You okay?" Rodney asked softly, and Sheppard nodded once without opening his eyes, so Rodney reached down and touched him again. The hand cream helped, and hmm, yes, it was better if he sat up, less pressure on the wrist, so Rodney settled in, his thigh warm against Sheppard's, and set up a rhythm, squeeze and pull, pull and rub, listening to the sound of Sheppard's breathing.
It was a little ragged at first, but then Sheppard relaxed against Rodney's leg and his breathing evened out, low and steady with only the occasional hitch. So maybe this wasn't a thrill ride, but Rodney liked it nice and slow, so he had a certain amount of stamina, and Sheppard wasn't complaining. Sheppard's face looked better than it had in days, with just a hint of a flush along the cheekbones and none of the grayness he'd had earlier. He still looked exhausted, of course, but that was only to be expected. Maybe, just maybe, he'd sleep a little better tonight.
By the time Sheppard finally started rocking his hips to meet Rodney's hand, Rodney was getting a little tired; there was an ache in his right shoulder, probably from the position he was in, but he didn't know what else to try, so he just kept going. Sheppard rocked a little harder, so Rodney picked up the pace a little, and then Sheppard let out a little plaintive sound and let his knees fall open, his thigh pressing hard against Rodney's.
Okay, maybe he wanted something different, wanted . . . Rodney kept the rhythm going with his right hand and reached out to cup Sheppard's balls with his left because he liked that sometimes, himself. But when his hand brushed the skin there, Sheppard bucked hard, and Rodney's fingers slipped a lot lower than he'd intended.
"Oh God, sorry, I didn't . . ." he said, snatching his hand back, but Sheppard wasn't listening, Sheppard was too busy coming all over his black t-shirt and Rodney's bed.
"Oh." Rodney said, and sat there stupidly, watching the color rise in Sheppard's face. Sheppard just lay there with his eyes closed and his pulse pounding in his neck, until Rodney really had to say something. "It's okay, you know."
Sheppard shook his head and then heaved himself up and off the bed. "It's really not."
"It is if we say it is, and I'm saying," Rodney said.
But all Sheppard said was, "You have clean sheets somewhere?" and when Rodney pointed to the drawer, proceeded to pull them out and change the bed with military precision. It would have been a little less ridiculous if he hadn't still been half-naked, with come stains all over his shirt.
Rodney fished in another drawer, found a spare black shirt, and held it out just as Sheppard tucked the last hospital corner. "You could stay if you want," he offered. "The couch isn't too bad." Not that he'd ever slept on it, himself, but he'd sat on it a fair amount, and it was fine for that.
Sheppard glanced at him, then looked away sharply. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not fine, which is, hello, why you're here in the first place." Sheppard still didn't look at him. "At least take the shirt, okay? You can't walk through the halls like that."
"It's three in the morning. Who's going to see?"
God, he was impossible. "Take it," Rodney growled. "Or do I have to strip that one off you myself?"
Sheppard glared at him but took the shirt. He reached behind his head and pulled off the stained one in one easy move, and then he was standing there in Rodney's quarters, wearing nothing but his dog tags and his wristband. It really shouldn't have been that much different than half-naked, but somehow it was. There was just more skin. And body hair—a trail of it pointing downward, converging on the place where Rodney had just had his hands.
Rodney bit his lip and turned away, searching for his own clothes, which were heaped on the floor. He pulled on his boxers and his pants, and by the time he was dressed, Sheppard was, too, and he could think straight again. Rodney's shirt hung a little loose on Sheppard, but not so much that anyone would really notice.
Rodney had a sudden, awful thought. "You wouldn't go down there now, would you? I mean, I know this was pretty bad—okay, gruesome wouldn't really be an understatement—but you can't, you just can't, look, give me a day or two and I'll figure this out, just don't—"
"Christ," Sheppard said, and pinched the bridge of his nose like his head hurt. "I'm fine, McKay. You took the edge off, and I'm thinking I might be able to sleep if I leave now. If I stand here and argue about it, there's no telling."
"Right, sorry," Rodney said. "Go. I'll, um, I'll come up with a better solution in the morning."
Sheppard looked, if anything, more pained at that, but he turned back to Rodney as he passed his hand over the door crystals. "Rodney . . ." he said, quick and low.
"Just . . . thanks." And then he was gone.
The solution was, of course, obvious. Sheppard didn't want to guilt a woman into sleeping with him, fine. But he hadn't said anything about free-willed volunteers. If they didn't know anything about the situation, he couldn't say they were forced. And surely somewhere in Atlantis there had to be a woman who found John Sheppard attractive on his own merits.
The obvious person to ask was Radek Zelenka.
"That is a very nosy question, Rodney. Why do you want to know?"
Okay, maybe not so obvious. Rodney scowled at the back of Radek's head, which was bent over his laptop analyzing the schematics for the hyperspace window generator. "Look, he's having a bad week, okay? He's in need of a little female companionship. So I thought if we could find out who was interested in him, we could drop a few hints, and then everyone would be happy."
Radek turned his head and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "You know, the role of yenta really does not suit you."
"Oh, come on." Rodney turned back to his own laptop and stared blankly at the simulation he was supposedly running. He wasn't freaking out. He was fine. He just needed to solve this so he didn't have to think about it ever, ever again. "There has to be a woman in the city who wants to sleep with him. I know it's hard to understand, but women actually seem to like the unkempt look and the slouching."
Radek tapped a few keys on his computer. "Since when is this your business? I believe the colonel is capable of arranging his own love life."
Rodney swiveled his chair back around. It was his business because Sheppard had made it his business. Even if he wasn't thinking about it. At all. "I told you, he's having a bad week. If he weren't, he'd probably be up to his usual ridiculous amount of flirtation, but see, if he weren't having such a bad week, he wouldn't be in so much need of a little companionship, you know what I mean?"
Radek frowned. "Huh. You're right; he has not looked himself lately. You are certain this is what he needs?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure," Rodney said.
"Well. I will see what I can do. Now, about this prototype, I don't see how you have accounted for the amount of power required to open the hyperspace window. Without a power source like naquadriah, the sheer magnitude . . ."
And the deed was done.
The lab had been empty for an hour, but Rodney glanced around nervously anyway when Sheppard stalked in, his eyebrows thunderous.
"Okay, I have had not one, not two, but five women come knocking on my door this evening," Sheppard growled. "Something tells me they didn't just decide to show up on their own."
"Wow, five?" Sheesh, apparently there really were women around who liked Sheppard. Rodney abandoned his hyperspace model and swung his chair around to give him his full attention. "So how many did you, um, have to turn away?"
Sheppard grimaced and folded his arms over his chest. "All of them. Damn it, Rodney, I thought I told you I didn't want a pimp."
Rodney lifted his chin. That was completely uncalled for. He'd only been trying to help out. "What makes you think it was me? I didn't ask anyone to sleep with you."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Oh, right."
"Okay, okay, I might have mentioned something to Zelenka. But I didn't tell him anything about the—" Rodney waved a hand "—thing, so it's not like anyone is forcing them." He just didn't get it, didn't get it at all. After all, Sheppard had been willing to have sex with him. "What's so hard about saying yes? You don't have to sleep with them all, just pick one. Or two. Or, you know, three at the most."
Sheppard made a face and dropped into the nearest lab chair. "It's still using them. Lying by omission."
"What, even if all they want is to spend a pleasant hour or so with you?"
"Yes!" Sheppard leaned forward in the chair, shoulders hunched. He actually looked a bit better today—tired, but no longer quite so drained. "Look, say I pick one of them, and say she sleeps with me because she likes me. Best case scenario, I beat this thing, lose the craving, go back to being me. Then what do I do? I either say, 'hey, thanks a lot, see you around,' or I'm in a relationship with her, and trust me, she's going to be happier if I dump her."
Rodney blinked, because, wow, that was really not what he was expecting the inside of Sheppard's head to look like. "What?"
Sheppard leaned back again, elaborately casual. "You know, the whole relationship thing? Not really something I'm good at."
Okay, maybe that made a little more sense. Only it totally didn't. "How would you even know? Have you ever had a serious relationship? I mean, something that lasted beyond the 'Wham, bam, thank you ma'am' part?"
Sheppard raised a crooked eyebrow. "Does marriage count?"
"Well, of course marriage . . . wait, you were married?" He couldn't have heard that right, because that was really something he ought to know already. "You never told me you were married."
"It never came up. Look, I'm just saying—"
"It never came up?" What kind of excuse was that? "I've known you for two and a half years—come on, you know the name of my childhood cat—but I don't know you were married?"
Sheppard sighed and looked down at his legs, which were stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. "It only lasted eighteen months. And I believe her last words to me were, 'I don't ever want to see you again, John Sheppard, not even in a body bag.' So, not really fodder for casual conversation, okay?"
"Whoa. What did you do to deserve that?"
"No, really, I want to know. I mean, I've had my share of brush-offs, but usually they say the nasty things fairly early on, like when I ask them out."
Sheppard uncrossed his ankles, recrossed them, looked the other way. "It wasn't just one thing, okay? But, well, the final straw was when I kind of forgot to tell her I was going TDY until the night before I had to leave."
Sheppard made a face. "No, of course I didn't forget. I just couldn't face the teary good-bye sex. So this way I got the tears without the sex."
"Okay, wow, this is getting into Too Much Information territory."
Sheppard snorted. "We're not just there, we've set up camp and are starting to build infrastructure. Look, just lay off, okay? I told you, I can handle this on my own."
"Right, because handling it on your own just leads to you showing up at my door at two in the morning."
Sheppard's face went blank. "You don't have to worry about that," he said stiffly, climbing to his feet and kicking the chair under the closest desk. "It's not going to happen again."
"Sheppard, come on—" Rodney started, but Sheppard cut him off.
"I'll see you around, McKay."
"Right," Rodney said quietly to Sheppard's retreating back. "And excuse me for trying to actually help you."
Rodney did his best to keep an eye on Sheppard, which wasn't easy, given that he was working on the hyperspace window generator and Sheppard wasn't. His shirt showed up, clean and folded, on his dresser one day, so he didn't even have that excuse to stop by Sheppard's quarters.
They did make one disastrous mission to M1U-424 and ended up detained for eight hours while the natives asked them pointed questions about their religious beliefs, which was of course all Sheppard's fault. Well, mostly, anyway.
Over the course of the next three days, Sheppard began to look progressively worse. The exhaustion lines around his eyes deepened, and his face went gray again. It was bad enough that Elizabeth ordered him back to the infirmary, but Sheppard apparently wasn't confessing to anything, because he didn't end up strapped to a bed. Not that Rodney could blame him for the lapse, but Christ, there had to be something somebody could do.
On the second day, Rodney cut power to the sector of the Northeast pier and sealed off the corridor, locking the doors with a sixteen-digit code.
On the fourth day, an alarm woke him sometime after midnight.
For a moment he had no idea what it was. It was coming from across the room, where he'd left his laptop, and . . . oh, no. Sheppard.
Rodney grabbed his pants and struggled into them, hopping on one leg while he accessed the life-signs monitor through his laptop. And there it was, damn it, in the supposedly sealed corridor: one life sign that winked out mere seconds after Rodney saw it.
Rodney yanked the rest of his clothes on jerkily: shirt, socks, shoes. He did a quick scan for Sheppard's transmitter, but came up with nothing. Not that he'd been expecting to find it.
It just . . . wasn't fair. Wasn't fair at all. He'd tried. And yes, okay, maybe he wasn't exactly an expert at the gay sex thing, but Sheppard could have at least told him if things were bad again. Sheppard could have trusted him to come up with another solution. Because, damn it . . . they saved each other's lives. They took turns at it, for God's sake, and maybe he was wrong, but Rodney had really thought that meant something.
Rodney took his laptop, because he had some analyses to run, and he had no idea how long Sheppard was going to take in there. The door to the corridor was standing open and the control crystals were shattered, which, okay, made the door seal pretty pointless. Rodney sighed, dragged a chair out of a nearby room, and settled down to wait. He brought up the power to the sector—since turning it off was apparently as much of a joke as his sealed door—and lost himself in the hyperdrive schematics.
It took an hour and seventeen minutes. Rodney looked up in time to see that the force field didn't lower so much as form a bubble in the center to let Sheppard through. And then Sheppard was standing in front of him, loose-limbed and cynical.
"Rodney. What a surprise."
The sight of him—so loose and easy, like there was nothing wrong—made Rodney's gut burn. "Is this what you call handling it on your own? Are you insane?" He pushed himself to his feet, using his hands for emphasis. "You said you weren't going to do this. You said you—"
"I said I wouldn't show up at your door at two in the morning again," Sheppard said, leaning against the nearest wall like his legs were made of jello. "And I didn't."
"Christ," Rodney said. He stepped forward, right into Sheppard's space. "You honestly think I'd be happier to have you come down here? Oh, my God, you really have gone crazy."
Sheppard laughed and looked sideways. "You know, I think you're right."
"Damn it," Rodney said, grabbing his shoulders, "you can't do this. I'm going to tell Carson. I'm going to tell Heightmeyer."
"No," Sheppard said, some of the crazed look fading. "God, Rodney, don't do that to me."
"I have to," Rodney said grimly. He gave Sheppard a little shake and then let his hands drop to his sides. "You can't handle it on your own."
"I can," Sheppard said. He was still leaning against the wall, his head lolling back. "I'll do better. I lasted a week. I'll make it longer next time."
"And what if you don't? What then? Look, I have tried helping you with this, and I am completely out of ideas. This isn't exactly my area of expertise."
Sheppard smiled at him. He looked . . . God, drunk. Overdosed on pleasure. "Hey," he said, his voice low and furry, "I lasted four more days when I didn't think I was going to last ten minutes. So don't get a complex. You did your part, okay?"
"Really? It helped?"
Sheppard closed his eyes and nodded, a too-easy smile still playing over his lips. "Of course it helped."
"Then for God's sake, let me help you again the next time you start thinking about coming down here."
Sheppard's eyes opened and his brows compressed, the smile gone. "I can't do that. You hated it."
"I didn't hate it," Rodney protested, but Sheppard just gave him a look. "Okay, okay, it was pretty awful, but if you honestly think I'd rather have you tortured by that damn machine, you don't know me very well. Promise you'll come to me if the cravings get bad again."
Rodney took a step forward, right into Sheppard's space, close enough that he could feel the heat from Sheppard's body. "Promise me, Sheppard."
Sheppard rolled his head back and smiled. "Hey, it's not like I need anything tonight. I just, um, you know." He looked back down at Rodney, the smile defiant and self-mocking. "Three times."
Rodney's stomach sank. He hadn't pictured that, hadn't wanted to even think about it. "Okay, I get it." He took half a step backward. "I get that one crappy orgasm with me isn't much competition for that. I just . . . I was doing the best I could, all right?"
"Jesus," Sheppard said. "That wasn't a complaint." He pushed himself away from the wall, brushing against Rodney on the way past, then turned back to face him, eyes dark. "Okay, you win. I'll come to you if I can't handle it on my own. You happy now?"
Rodney lifted his chin. The relief was so sudden and sharp it hurt. "Yes."
Sheppard nodded abruptly. "Okay, then." And he turned to go so quickly that Rodney had to snatch up his laptop and trot to catch up.
Sheppard lasted only two more days, and when he showed up at Rodney's door, he was pale and sweating.
"Oh, God, it's bad, isn't it?" Rodney said.
Sheppard just nodded.
"So come in already. What are you waiting for? Don't be an idiot. Take off your clothes."
Sheppard barked a thin laugh and came inside the room. "God, Rodney, don't ever change, okay?"
"What? What did I say?"
But Sheppard was apparently too busy taking off his clothes to answer. Well, half his clothes, anyway. He kept the t-shirt on again, despite the fact that it was ringed with sweat around the neck and under the armpits.
"You don't want to take that off?" Rodney asked, without thinking. He had his own shirt off, and was working on the pants.
Sheppard's head jerked down to look at the t-shirt. "I just thought you'd be more comfortable with it on. What with the hairy chest and no—" He traced the outline of a rather generous pair of breasts the air in front of him. "—you know."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "You do realize that the deal-breaker is a bit south of that, right?"
Sheppard gave him half a smile. "Yeah, well, there's not much I can do about that. I just figured I'd spare you what I could."
The funny thing was, it had helped, or at least Rodney had thought so at the time. Now, for whatever reason, he didn't care. "Just take it off and get on the bed, okay?"
"Gee, McKay," Sheppard said as he hauled the shirt off, "I can see why you're so popular with the ladies."
"Do I need to remind you that you're the one who wants to have sex, here?"
Sheppard's face went still and the tightness came back, and Rodney kicked himself mentally. "No, I think that's pretty obvious to everyone involved," Sheppard said, and went to sit on the bed.
Rodney took off his last sock and went to sit next to him. It was, if anything, more awkward than the last time, which really shouldn't have been possible.
"Okay, why don't you—" Rodney started, at the exact same time that Sheppard put a hand on his thigh and said, "Look, you want me to—"
Rodney rubbed the sudden pain in his forehead with one hand. "Just lie back, okay?"
Sheppard looked like he was going to protest, but he took his hand away, swung his feet up on the bed, and settled back onto Rodney's pillow, one arm behind his head. There was nothing surprising about the tuft of his underarm hair, dark against his skin, but Rodney had to drag his eyes away. Because, right, it was showtime.
Last time he'd been taken by surprise, and, oh yeah, he'd been recovering from a blow job. This time it felt horribly premeditated. He wondered if Sheppard wanted him to use his mouth. Or do something else. Crap. He didn't want to think about that, about the fact that Sheppard had come when his hand slipped, and maybe that was what he wanted, only Rodney couldn't do that, not on purpose, anyway.
"Rodney?" Sheppard lifted his head.
"It's not a physics problem, okay? I have a dick, you have a hand. How hard can it be? Unless you want me to do you first, which was what I was trying to do in the first place."
Rodney reached for him, mostly to shut him up, and Sheppard's head thumped back on the pillow. His cock felt bigger this time, fuller already, and it grew obligingly in Rodney's hand. But Rodney couldn't help himself. "This is really what you want? Because I probably could manage, um . . ."
"It's good," Sheppard said. "It worked last time. Stop thinking, okay?"
Christ, it was like the clear blue skies thing all over again. "You know that's not exactly my strong suit, right?"
"Yeah, I know." Sheppard twisted and opened Rodney's nightstand drawer. "Here," he said, handing Rodney the hand cream.
"Right, okay," Rodney said, and slicked up his palm, feeling strange but relieved, because maybe it hadn't been so bad for Sheppard last time, after all, if he wanted the same thing again. He took Sheppard's cock back in his hand, gave it a good stroke, and was surprised when Sheppard's breath caught. Okay, so, not really the same as last time. He stroked again, and Sheppard's hips lifted to meet his hand.
God. Okay, yeah, he could work with this. Rodney shifted until he was nice and comfortable, his knee next to Sheppard's hip, and set to work. It was a hell of a lot easier with Sheppard giving him a little feedback and helping out with the rhythm, and it seemed almost natural to slide his left hand down to cup Sheppard's balls.
This time he managed not to slip and Sheppard grunted and pumped a little harder, and it was good, it was fine, except his mind kept wondering what Sheppard would do if he slid his fingers down just a bit more, and damn it, he wasn't going there, he wasn't—
"Okay, wait," he said, pulling both hands away. "I need to know something."
"Rodney," Sheppard groaned. "Can't this wait?"
"No, it can't wait," Rodney snapped. "You think I'd be asking if it wasn't important? Look, I just need to know one thing: does that thing hurt you?"
Sheppard squinted at him. "Hurt me? It gets my rocks off, McKay, and no, I'm not into pain."
Rodney closed his eyes. "Does it penetrate you? Is that why you . . . ?"
"It's virtual." Sheppard shifted against him, his hip pressing Rodney's knee. "It doesn't actually do anything. It's all in my head. I just . . ." His voice went low and rough. "I can feel it everywhere. Inside and out. And the closest I can get to that is, you know, with my fingers. When I jerk off."
"Oh." That made sense, more sense than anything Rodney had imagined. Not that it made the thing any less wrong. Rodney took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "I, um . . . well, okay, then."
"Yeah, yeah," Rodney said, and put his hands back where they'd been. It was easy enough to transfer a bit of the cream to his left hand, easy enough to rub a little at the spot behind Sheppard's balls, and it didn't take much before Sheppard was rocking into his hand again and making funny little whiny sounds.
So, okay, maybe it should have been weird to like that, but it was nice to know his efforts were actually doing something, nice to be appreciated. Rodney slid a finger down a little more, and Sheppard whined a little louder.
Inside and out, Rodney thought, and it was sick, it was wrong that some misguided Ancient device could make a person crave something like that, but if he was going to be Sheppard's methadone, here, he had to . . .
It didn't take much; he was already there. He felt the puckered skin and circled it with his finger, and then Sheppard spasmed against him, pushed against him, and wow, his finger was inside. It didn't feel like fingering a woman—it was smoother and there was a hell of a lot less room in there—but it wasn't bad. Actually, it was hot and tight and Sheppard was panting now, every muscle tight, his hips lifting up off the bed.
Rodney pumped a little harder with his right hand and pushed a little deeper with his left, and then—God, yes—Sheppard was coming, his muscles squeezing Rodney's finger in the same rhythm that was making him spurt all over his stomach.
Rodney pulled out as gently as he could and rested his hand on Sheppard's still-shaking thigh. Sheppard had managed to come mostly on himself this time, rather than the bed, so after a moment Rodney got up and went to the bathroom to wash his hands and get a damp towel.
"Thanks," Sheppard muttered when he came back, and mopped himself roughly. "I'll be with you in a sec."
"You know what? I'm actually okay," Rodney heard himself say, which was ridiculous, because what was he thinking, turning down an orgasm? Except Sheppard looked so tired and so relaxed, and he really was pretty much fine the way he was—if Sheppard left, he could jerk off on his own.
"What?" Sheppard pushed himself up, shoving the towel off the side of the bed. "You don't want me to . . . ?" Then he flopped back down on Rodney's pillow, staring up at the ceiling. "Right. Of course you don't. Look, I know this is asking a lot, but if you could just let me . . ."
"Really? You actually want to . . . ?"
Sheppard put a hand over his forehead, shading his eyes. "Listen, the difference between that . . . thing . . . and real sex, is that real sex is not all about me. I don't want this to be all about me."
Okay, that almost made sense, except that it really didn't, since this actually was all about Sheppard.
"You don't have to worry about the teeth," Sheppard added. "I can use my hand."
"Um, okay." Rodney thought about the teeth, and then about the suction thing, and almost asked him to reconsider. But maybe Sheppard didn't want to risk not getting a warning again. "Okay, yeah, we can do this."
"I'll try to make sure you don't regret it."
"You know, actually, regret's not really that big a part of my life. I mean, I've regretted a lot of sex I didn't have, but I've never really regretted . . ." He glanced over to see Sheppard looking at him with something that was either fondness or exasperation. "Oh, right. We should get on with this."
Rodney closed his mouth and dropped down onto the bed. He kind of expected Sheppard to sit up and do it the way he'd done it, but Sheppard just scooted over to give him room, rolled up onto his side, and reached for the hand cream. Rodney watched him get a dollop on his hand, and he wasn't getting hard already, not really, oh God, he was.
Sheppard settled down next to him again, his head propped on his left hand, his chest brushing Rodney's shoulder. His other hand reached down across Rodney's belly and closed around his cock, cool and slippery.
Rodney swallowed another babble that wanted out, closed his eyes, and tried to just let go. Sheppard's hand was firm and steady and a whole lot more experienced than his mouth, jacking him tight, quick strokes. It wasn't how Rodney usually did himself but felt good anyway. It was surprisingly gratifying to have someone else's hand on him, someone else caring that he got off.
Sheppard's hand grew warmer as it kept up its rhythm, catching the underside of the head with each stroke in a way that was really quite nice. Rodney tipped his head back and went with it, rolling his hips just a little to meet Sheppard's downstrokes, and wow, he could do this forever; he was floating; clear blue skies had nothing on this.
He might have made a few noises, then, and might have heard something that sounded like Sheppard smiling, but his eyes were closed, so he really wasn't prepared to feel something warm and wet on his . . . oh, God. Sheppard had just licked his nipple.
"You don't . . . I can't . . ." Too sensitive, he wanted to say, but he couldn't get the words out, because Sheppard was licking it again, and a bolt of unexpected pleasure shot straight down to the base of his cock. Rodney made an embarrassing little mewling noise and arched his chest up. He didn't even like nipple play—it chafed and sometimes even hurt, and even when it didn't, it got to be way too much, way too soon—but Sheppard was being really gentle, and okay, maybe he did like it, maybe he really, really did, because who was he to question irrefutable evidence, and oh, God, he was coming.
Sheppard gave his nipple one last, completely gratuitous lick, and then slid off the bed, leaving Rodney alone with his aftershocks. Moments later he felt the damp swipe of a towel across his mid section. When he opened his eyes, Sheppard already had his boxers on and was pulling on his pants.
"Oh, right," Rodney said, because of course Sheppard was leaving. He'd done what he came for, had gotten his fix, and it wasn't like Rodney wanted him to stay.
"Look, Rodney," Sheppard said, pulling his still-damp t-shirt over his head, "I'll make this up to you. I haven't figured out how, yet, but I will. When this is all over, when I'm back to being me, I'll owe you one. Anything you want, okay?"
Rodney sat up and resisted the urge to pull a sheet around himself, because now that Sheppard was dressed it felt a little weird to be naked. Yes, that was what it was, because this funny feeling in his gut had nothing to do with what Sheppard was saying. "Really, anything? I might hold you to that."
Sheppard shoved his feet into his boots without bothering to tie the laces. "You do that. Hey, I'll see you around."
"Just don't . . . do anything stupid, okay?"
Sheppard turned and gave him a look under his eyebrows before he said, far too mildly, "You got it."
Rodney spent the next five days thinking about Sheppard. Well, okay, thinking about Sheppard and building the hyperspace window generator and visiting a planet that smelled like sulfur and moldy carrots and had no redeeming characteristics like, say, advanced technology. But still, thinking about Sheppard.
The thing was, the more he thought, the more Rodney decided he was going about the whole thing the wrong way. Sheppard needed the equivalent of methadone—something that satisfied the cravings without being quite so addictive—and obviously a few lousy hand jobs weren't up to the task. No, clearly the thing to do was to try to recreate the experience of the ascension machine.
Of course, the database was remarkably uninformative when it came to experiential details, and Sheppard wasn't exactly chatty about it. But he'd let enough slip that Rodney had a few ideas. It didn't take much to come up with a plan. Hey, he was a genius, after all.
"I'm sorry." Sheppard looked like hell again, standing in Rodney's doorway. "I thought I could . . . I really didn't mean to do this to you again, okay?"
"Fine, fine, whatever, get in here," Rodney said, and okay, he was irritated, but mostly because Sheppard was so bullheaded, and what if waiting five days had meant he ended up in the Northeast Pier rather than here? Rodney bent to take off his shoes.
"I think it's getting a little better," Sheppard said as he unfastened his pants. "I mean, it's pretty bad tonight, but there were a couple of times I actually thought about women."
A couple of times. In five days. Rodney thought about women a couple of times an hour, at least. When he wasn't thinking about wormhole physics and puddlejumper hyperdrive modules and what to do about Sheppard, of course. "Like that means you're cured," he snapped, and yanked his pants down. "Look, I told you not to be an idiot, okay? You don't have to wait until you're ready to break. I'm a busy man. What are you going to do if I'm working on something when you need your fix?"
Sheppard froze, his shirt over his head but still tangled around his arms. "It's usually worst in the middle of the night."
"Sometimes I work in the middle of the night, or were you too busy sleeping to notice? I'm not saying you have to stop by every night. Just use your brain. I'm pretty sure you've got one in there somewhere."
"Do it, John." And maybe that was underhanded, using Sheppard's first name, but this idiotic attempt at what—stoicism? chivalry?—had to be nipped in the bud. Rodney tossed his shirt on his pile of discarded clothes and made his way over to his dresser.
Sheppard took off his watch and dog tags and put them in the pile with the rest of his clothes, but for whatever reason left his black wristband on. "Okay, okay. I got it. I won't let it get this bad again."
"Good." Rodney opened the drawer and took a deep breath. "All right, listen, I've been thinking about this, and I'd like to try something. You don't have to . . . I mean, if you don't like it, we can stop anytime. Just say something, okay?" And he pulled out his navy blue necktie.
Sheppard's eyes flicked to the tie, then back up to Rodney's face. "Whoa," he said slowly. "Kinky."
"Oh," Rodney said, because he hadn't been thinking that way at all. "Is that bad?"
"I don't know. I never really, um . . ."
"Right, right, you've been too busy having perfect sex with gorgeous women all your life to ever need to spice anything up. Hmm, okay, I think this will work better if you sit on the bed."
Sheppard came over and sat a little tentatively, like he wasn't sure he was going to like what Rodney had in mind. It wasn't very reassuring, but Rodney had thought this through, and he wasn't going to back out now.
Rodney leaned forward and wrapped the tie around Sheppard's head, tying it firmly so that it covered his eyes. "How many fingers?" he asked, holding up three.
"Twelve," Sheppard said, a little more sarcastically than was strictly necessary.
"Right, good. Just, uh, can you be a little careful with it? I only have two ties, and I already spilled soup on the other one."
"Okay, Rodney. I'll do my best not to chew on your good tie."
"Um, right. Well. I think this will work best if you have something to hold onto." There was a decorative wall panel near the head of the mattress. If he shoved the bed just a little, it would be in Sheppard's reach.
"Hey!" Sheppard staggered as the bed moved out from under him.
"Oh, sorry, forgot you couldn't see."
"I'm trusting you here, McKay."
"Yes, yes, okay, now lie down. No, on your back, and if you need to, you can grab on up here. There's one of those wall panels."
Sheppard reached above his head, found the panel, and wrapped his hands around one of the curved protrusions. He looked almost exactly the way Rodney had imagined, stretched the length of the bed, his eyes hidden and his lower face still. Only it wasn't how Rodney had imagined it at all. Sheppard looked . . . incredibly vulnerable. The weight of his trust was overwhelming.
"Rodney? Am I supposed to just lie here?"
"Yeah," Rodney said, and his voice came out thicker than he was expecting. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, like that."
Rodney perched carefully on the edge of the bed, then waited another minute, counting in his head. Sensory deprivation, Sheppard had said. So when you do feel something . . .
The first place Rodney touched was as innocuous as he could make it, the inside of Sheppard's ankle, but Sheppard's breath stuttered. Rodney brushed the opposite knee, waited a count of ten, then trailed a finger up Sheppard's ribs and was rewarded with a tiny gasp.
Right, okay, this could maybe actually work. Rodney cupped Sheppard's rib cage with his palm, then bent and touched the same place with his stubble-rough cheek and watched Sheppard's lips make a little O of surprise. He reached for Sheppard's opposite arm and rubbed a streak down the inside of his wrist, then leaned forward and—hey, Sheppard had done it to him—swiped his tongue across one of Sheppard's nipples.
"God," Sheppard whispered, and Rodney hadn't meant to talk at all, but he couldn't help himself.
"Is it okay? Does it feel anything like the, um, the ascension device?"
"Yeah, no. God, no, it's not like that at all."
"Oh," Rodney said, crushed. "Really, are you sure? Not at all?" So much for thinking it through and figuring all the angles, and damn it, he'd really thought it was working, here.
"Don't stop," Sheppard said, in that needy tone of voice, and okay, wow, maybe it was working, even if it wasn't working the way Rodney had planned.
"Right, right, not stopping," he said, and reached to run his fingers down the corded muscle of Sheppard's triceps. Sheppard turned his face toward the touch, like he was tracking it, but the tie was still in place, so it wasn't like he could see.
Rodney put a firm palm on Sheppard's sternum and held it still for a moment, then slowly slid it down to Sheppard's stomach. The hair made a thick trail there, but it wasn't as coarse as he'd imagined—none of this was as hard as he'd imagined. It was just Sheppard, and Sheppard needed this, and it was a—okay, maybe slightly demented, but nevertheless real—rush to be able to do this, to give him what he needed, to feel him tense and gasp and shiver.
Rodney trailed his hand down to Sheppard's hip, carefully skirting Sheppard's—wow, really quite impressive, there—erection. He lifted his hand, waited a moment, brushed it teasingly against Sheppard's knee, then stroked upward to Sheppard's inner thigh. When his thumb found the crease between Sheppard's balls and his leg, Sheppard gasped again and brought his knees up, opening, spreading, begging without words.
Rodney teased him for a moment, caressing the knee that was now pressing against his side, sliding a hand up to thumb Sheppard's opposite nipple. But Sheppard was actually whimpering now, and he couldn't resist that, couldn't deny it, not if he knew what Sheppard wanted, and he was pretty sure he did.
Rodney got up, stretched his cramped knees, and fumbled in his nightstand for the lube he'd swiped from the infirmary, because hand cream worked okay, but this had to be better. He squeezed some on the fingers of his left hand, teased a few random body parts with quick brushes of his right, then slid two of his lubed fingers down below Sheppard's balls and then, oh God, right inside him.
Sheppard groaned and arched off the bed, his whole body taut, hands still tightly clenched to the wall above his head. He tensed and released, working his hips, fucking himself on Rodney's fingers, and Rodney let him, let him take what he wanted, as fast as he wanted it. Sheppard's cock was leaking on his belly, like he could come just from this, and somehow the thought of that made Rodney's cock twitch.
"Rodney," Sheppard panted, "oh, God."
"It's okay, shh, it's okay," Rodney said, and touched the thumb of his other hand to Sheppard's lips just to make his point. He wasn't ready for Sheppard's reaction, for the way Sheppard's lips clung to his thumb, or the tongue that swept out to taste it.
Rodney stared at Sheppard's mouth and felt his own tongue come out to lick his lower lip. It was a crazy, crazy thought, and he knew he shouldn't do it, knew it was over the line, wherever the line was, but he couldn't help himself. Rodney stretched down and tentatively touched his mouth to Sheppard's.
Oh, God. Lips against lips was so much better, and then there was movement and tongue and wow, yes, this was what he'd wanted, even when he hadn't known he wanted it.
Rodney forgot his plan to tease Sheppard, forgot that this wasn't what he'd intended at all, forgot his fingers still up Sheppard's ass, and just kissed and kissed. There was nothing in the galaxy better than Sheppard's mouth, nothing more satisfying than the rasp of stubble on skin, nothing more astonishing than the fact that Sheppard was kissing him back just as hungrily.
Rodney memorized the shape of Sheppard's lower lip with his teeth, nipping, sucking, licking, opening his mouth so Sheppard could explore him, too. He felt drunk with the joy of it, the overload of sensation, the sweet, wet heat of mouth against mouth.
"Jesus, Rodney," Sheppard said against his lips, "fuck me already."
Oh, God, oh, God. Was that what they were doing here? He hadn't even thought . . . oh, wow, his fingers were still inside Sheppard, and Sheppard was rocking onto them. "I don't actually . . ."
"I brought a condom," Sheppard breathed. "Right front pants pocket."
"Okay, yeah, okay already," Rodney heard himself say, and he managed to wrench his mouth away from Sheppard's, slid his fingers out too, and stumbled to his feet. Pants, pants, right, there, and yes, there was the packet. Rodney's left hand was too slippery, so he tore the packet with his teeth, fumbled the condom out, and rolled it onto his cock with shaking fingers. He couldn't believe, hadn't intended . . . oh, God, he was really going to do this.
He climbed back onto the bed between Sheppard's knees. Sheppard still had his arms stretched over his head, still had the necktie knotted over his eyes. "You know, you really could let go of the wall," Rodney said. "Aren't you getting uncomfortable?"
"I'm good," Sheppard said, lifting his head like he was searching for Rodney's lips.
"You want the blindfold . . ."
"On," Sheppard said. "Rodney, come on."
Rodney swallowed hard and lowered himself onto Sheppard's hips, balanced himself as best he could on one hand so he could use the other one to guide himself. Sheppard rolled his hips up and wrapped his heels around Rodney's ass, and whoa, he was there, he was sliding in, and oh, wow, that felt better than anything. Rodney planted his hands on either side of Sheppard's shoulders and curled down to find Sheppard's mouth with his.
It was all a haze, then, tasting Sheppard, pumping into him, feeling him arch and twist, and God Sheppard was strong. Sheppard was using his legs to pull Rodney in harder, faster, and he wasn't going to last, he really wasn't, but he couldn't get ahead of Sheppard here. Rodney broke the kiss and pushed himself up until he could reach Sheppard's cock. He gave it a few quick, sharp tugs, and then, thank God, Sheppard was tensing under and around him, and Rodney could stop fighting it and just fuck and fuck until he came.
Sanity came back only slowly. Rodney rested his forehead against Sheppard's shoulder for a long moment, then slowly and carefully pulled out. Sheppard had finally let go of the wall panel—his arms had to be aching—but he didn't touch Rodney as Rodney got up and headed for the bathroom.
He almost didn't recognize himself in the mirror. His hair was a sweaty, spiky mess and his face was red with beard burn. Rodney tossed the condom in the recycler unit that also served as a toilet, then turned on the faucet so he could splash water on his hot face.
So he'd just . . . what? Fucked a man. Fucked John Sheppard. And liked it. And why had it been so much easier to deal with the fumbling stupid bad sex than it was to deal with . . . okay, no way was that even close to bad sex, that was the best sex he'd had in so long, he couldn't remember better, and how was that even possible, when Sheppard was using him and he was just taking his turn in the whole saving-each-other's-life thing they had going?
Rodney braced himself against the counter, willing his certified-genius brain to figure this one out for him. He didn't even know what he wanted, here. He wanted to march back out there and tell Sheppard, "This is ridiculous. We have to find you someone else." He wanted to wake up and discover this was nothing but a seriously kinky wet dream. He wanted to fuck Sheppard, just as soon as he could possibly manage to get it up again.
Oh, God, this was not what he'd signed up for. And he hadn't meant to do it; things had just escalated, and escalated again, and now he had no idea what he was supposed to do next, no idea what Sheppard was thinking in there, no idea how to handle this. Everything was totally screwed (now that they had screwed), and whoa, he was getting a little hysterical here, and what he really needed was to have Sheppard standing next to him telling him to take it easy, calm down, and breathe into a paper bag or something.
It was just sex. Never mind that it had felt like a forty-car train wreck. It was just sex. And he was perfectly capable of walking out the bathroom door and facing Sheppard, perfectly capable of telling him . . . what, exactly?
He had no idea. He only knew . . . if that vile excuse for an ascension-enabler made Sheppard feel anything like what he was feeling right now, he totally understood why the habit was so hard to break.
Rodney took a leak, washed his hands and face one more time, and stepped back out into the room. It was dimmer than it had been, and for a moment he thought Sheppard had left, but no, he was still there, still on the bed. Rodney came over, still not sure what he was going to say, and then he saw the tie, neatly folded on the corner of the mattress. Next to it, one hand hugging the pillow to his cheek, Sheppard lay sprawled on his stomach, sound asleep.
He looked different in his sleep, with his mouth half-open and the tension gone from his face. He looked peaceful.
"For the record," Rodney said quietly, "that wasn't what I meant to do at all."
Sheppard didn't so much as stir. Rodney bent and touched his shoulder, meaning to tell him to wake up already and put his clothes on, but Sheppard just sort of sighed and sprawled a little wider.
Rodney pulled his hand away and straightened. Didn't it just figure that when Sheppard slept, he used every inch of the mattress? Rodney reached down and found the crumpled covers at the foot of the bed, then pulled them up carefully to cover Sheppard to the shoulders. Then, with a long suffering sigh, he found himself a spare blanket and flopped down on the couch.
They could hash it out in the morning, he decided, too tired to worry anymore what he was going to say.
But in the morning, Sheppard was gone.
Sheppard wasn't in the mess at breakfast time. He wasn't in the gateroom or the armory or the gym. Rodney drew the line at checking the small but mostly empty room Sheppard technically used as an office, but it chafed all morning, even as he and Radek ran test after test on the prototype hyperdrive module in lab 12.
"This would work better," Radek said, "if we actually installed it in a puddlejumper. We would have a much better idea of how the interface would work."
"Hmm," Rodney said. He really had been thinking of the tests they were running. Really. "Yes, yes, that's a good point. Why didn't I think of that?"
"You are distracted this morning," Radek said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "Is something wrong?"
"What? No, no, nothing wrong. Let's just, uh, head for the jumper bay."
The module was nearly installed—filling up more than half of the jumper's rear compartment—when he thought of it. A brilliant plan, really, given the limited means at his disposal. "Colonel Sheppard," he said into his radio. "I need you in the main puddlejumper bay."
"What, now?" Sheppard sounded like his usual, annoyed self, and there was no reason why that should be surprising, no reason at all.
"Well, yes. If you can make it. I mean, it's not crucial, but Zelenka and I need to run some tests, and we could use your assistance."
"All right. I'll be there in a few."
Rodney left Zelenka to make the last few connections, and went to meet Sheppard outside the jumper. Sheppard looked . . . good. Better than he'd looked in weeks, actually. Good enough that Rodney really wanted to kiss him, and, God, he hadn't just had that thought, had he?
"Hi," Rodney said.
Sheppard narrowed his eyes. "What kind of tests do you need me to do?"
"We need to talk," Rodney said.
"Oh." Sheppard's chin came up, and maybe his face flushed a little, too, but it was kind of hard to tell. "Look, Rodney, I'm working on it, okay? I, uh . . . thanks for what you did last night. It was really helpful, and I think I might be getting to the point where I won't need it again, okay? So you don't need to worry about it."
"Oh. I see," Rodney managed. But that was good, really, of course it was good, because if it didn't happen again, he didn't have to worry about what he was going to say and how he was going to feel and . . . oh, God, but that would mean it never happened again, and he—
"Rodney, what is taking so long?" Radek's voice called out from inside the jumper.
Oh, right. The cover story. "I'm just explaining to Colonel Sheppard what tests we need him to run."
Sheppard lifted an eyebrow at him as Radek spoke again. "I do not understand why you have involved Colonel Sheppard. You have the gene. You could do it yourself."
Rodney rolled his eyes, not that anyone but Sheppard could see him. "He's a pilot. If anyone can run a thorough systems check, it's him."
"Fine, fine," Radek said. "Can we get on with it now?"
"Getting on," Rodney retorted, and gestured Sheppard toward the jumper's hatch.
"Thanks for make-work, Rodney," Sheppard said.
"It's not make-work. You're the best man for the job." Rodney followed him inside, only to be brought up short when Sheppard stopped to take a look at the drive module.
"That's a hyperdrive?" Sheppard tilted his head, like that might make it more impressive. "Seriously?"
"It was assembled from materials at hand," Rodney grumbled. "It's not supposed to look pretty."
Sheppard crossed his arms over his chest. "Does it work?"
"That's what you're here to tell me, remember?"
That got half a smile. "Right," Sheppard said, and made his way to the pilot seat. Rodney dropped into the co-pilot's chair while Sheppard brought up the HUD.
"See if you can get the hyperdrive to respond to the jumper's controls," Rodney said. "And tell me whatever you can about how it interfaces with the jumper's navigation system."
Sheppard was already scrolling through displays, faster than Rodney could follow, muttering something that sounded like "Sweet." And it was silly to be warmed by that—Rodney certainly hadn't built the hyperdrive to impress anyone, least of all Sheppard—but he was still pathetically happy to see Sheppard this excited about it.
In minutes Sheppard produced a schematic representation of everything he and Radek had missed, and okay, it was a little more extensive than Rodney had expected, but hey, at least it meant they figured it out before they tried to fire the thing up. Rodney uploaded it to his laptop and looked up to find Sheppard on his feet with his hands in his pockets, his expression unreadable.
"You need me for anything else?"
Yes, Rodney wanted to say, which was crazy and wrong and totally not true. "No. Thanks. I think we're good here. You just saved us a couple hours of work."
"Glad I could help," Sheppard said. "See you later, McKay." And he headed out without so much as a backward glance, like they hadn't spent an hour last night having kinky, sweaty, incredible sex.
Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose. The hyperdrive module. He had to think of the hyperdrive module.
"Rodney?" Radek said from the back of the jumper.
"Yes, yes, I'll be right there." Rodney took a deep breath and went to join him, marshaling every ounce of concentration that he had so he could start thinking of the project at hand and stop thinking of Sheppard.
Naked, blindfolded, panting Sheppard.
Oh, God. He was never, ever, ever going to be able to concentrate again.
Sheppard wasn't anywhere, except when he was everywhere. Like standing right outside Elizabeth's office when Rodney came out of a meeting, and of course, Sheppard being Sheppard, he managed to park that long body of his exactly where Rodney needed to walk.
Rodney reeled back. "Oh. Hi."
"Hi," Sheppard said. He looked . . . almost as off-balance as Rodney felt. "I, uh, have a meeting with Elizabeth."
"Yes, right, of course." It wasn't like he'd thought Sheppard was looking for him. "You okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Sheppard said, a little too lightly. "I'm good."
"Were you planning to, um, stop by tonight?" The words were out of Rodney's mouth before he even thought to stop them, and Sheppard . . . flinched. Visibly, damn it.
"You mean, for a game of chess?" Sheppard asked.
"What?" There was no way Sheppard hadn't understood that. There was no reason . . . oh, yeah, Elizabeth. "Oh, right. Yes, a game of chess."
Sheppard's chin lifted. "Actually, I've got a few things I need to do," he said. "Not really sure I can make it."
There was no sense in feeling rejected. He wasn't asking Sheppard to stop by. He was just trying to plan his evening. "Oh, right, right, then. Maybe some other time."
"Sure," Sheppard said casually, like it didn't mean a thing. "See you later."
There was nothing to do but say "See you," and head off while Sheppard went into his meeting.
"Okay, I was wrong." Sheppard shifted from one foot to another in Rodney's doorway. "I'm trying, but I can't . . . look, can I come in?"
"What, you think I'm going to say no?" It wasn't relief he was feeling. It was far more complicated than that. Rodney stepped aside to let Sheppard in. "I'm in this for the duration. I mean, unless you decide to find someone else."
"Right," Sheppard said dryly, "like that's going to happen," and reached for Rodney's pants. And, okay, wow, that wasn't something they did, was it? But apparently it was, because Sheppard's hands were undoing his fly and tugging at his boxers, and whoa, Sheppard was dropping to his knees.
Rodney didn't even have time to brace himself. Sheppard's mouth was on him, around him, doing that sucking thing and he could feel himself growing in Sheppard's mouth, filling it. Sheppard gave him two more quick sucks and then pulled his mouth away to yank Rodney's pants down and then fumble belatedly with his shoes. Like he wasn't thinking very far ahead here, and there was no reason that should make Rodney's chest go tight, but it did.
"Here, wait, let me help," Rodney said. He tried to bend down, but narrowly missed cracking his head against Sheppard's and ended up on his bare ass on the floor, while Sheppard gave up on his laces and just yanked the shoes off, and then the pants, too.
"C'mon," Sheppard said, and tugged on Rodney's shirt. This time Rodney managed to help him, and they got the shirt off over his head together. Sheppard didn't stop or pass Go, just slid down and gave Rodney two more quick, hard sucks, and then pulled back to strip off his own clothes with ruthless efficiency.
"Jesus," Rodney said. "Where's the fire?"
Sheppard didn't answer, just bent down again to do something with his mouth that made Rodney lift his ass right up off the cold, hard floor.
Sheppard's mouth pulled away, and when Rodney opened his eyes, Sheppard was rifling through the pile of discarded clothes. And then Sheppard was back and unrolling a condom onto Rodney's cock.
Rodney watched him, trying to catch his breath. Okay, apparently they were going to fuck again, and he was all for that, but he'd been hoping . . . He reached to rub a tentative thumb along Sheppard's jaw line, then leaned forward, but Sheppard ducked away before their mouths could touch.
Okay, so apparently kissing was out this time. And that shouldn't be a disappointment—he should be glad that Sheppard was still drawing lines somewhere—but damn it, that was the line he wanted to cross again, that was the one he'd been thinking about, and . . .
"Bed, Rodney," Sheppard said, and tugged his arm.
"Okay, bed. Bed's good. A lot more comfortable than the floor, anyway. You'd really think, with all their technology, the Ancients would have thought to invent rugs." Right, he was babbling, but Sheppard was opening his nightstand drawer, Sheppard had the lube out, Sheppard was, God, sticking his own fingers up his ass, and Rodney kind of whited out there for a moment.
"Yes, yes, I'm right here."
Sheppard was on the bed now, lying on his stomach, because, right, no kissing. But God, he had one knee bent up under him, and he looked . . .
Rodney took a step, and then another step, and then he was right there on the bed, between Sheppard's legs, guiding his cock to the spot where it really, really wanted to go.
Sheppard lifted up and pushed back against him, and Rodney pushed forward, and then he was right there, inside, and Sheppard was still pushing and he was still pushing and, oh, wow, he was all the way in.
Rodney held himself there, shaking a little, trying to let Sheppard get used to him, but it was hard and he was not a patient man, and after a few moments he started to pull back out.
"Do me slow," Sheppard said, low and rough. "Slow as you can."
"What?" Rodney froze halfway into his thrust. "You tear off both our clothes like the city's on fire, and you want it slow?"
"I need it now, McKay. But I want it to last."
"God." Rodney thrust all the way in, too hard, and Sheppard groaned.
"That's your idea of slow?"
"I'm trying!" He pulled out, steeled himself as best he could, and eased in again at a pace a snail would have been proud of. And Sheppard groaned again.
It was like taking only one cracker when there was a feast spread out in front of him, but Rodney gritted his teeth and thrust as slowly as he could, over and over, while Sheppard made soft little grunting noises and buried his fists in Rodney's pillow.
It was maddening. It was astonishing. He was doing this to Sheppard, doing this for Sheppard, sweating his way through every agonizingly slow stroke, but somewhere along the way it had become worth it, worth every ounce of self control. Sheppard's eyes were closed but his mouth was open, and the soft sounds he was making were slowly but steadily rising in pitch.
"You have no idea." Sheppard's hips hitched up a bit, changing the angle, and Rodney swallowed hard. Sheppard's cock was well up off the bed, and he wanted to touch it, to wrap his fist around it and pump it hard. But Sheppard wanted it slow. Sheppard wanted this to last. And Sheppard didn't want to kiss him.
That still niggled, even as Rodney's cock was sliding—slowly, excruciatingly slowly—in and out of Sheppard's ass. Sheppard had been perfectly willing to kiss the last time—hell, Sheppard had practically begged for it. So what was different now? Why deny that, when he wasn't denying anything else?
Rodney couldn't help himself. He curled forward over Sheppard's back, his cock deep inside. Sheppard's face was buried in the pillow, unreachable, but the back of his neck smelled good. Rodney pressed his mouth to it, tasting the warm, salty skin.
"Jesus." Sheppard bucked against him, hard and not slow at all. Rodney thrust wildly in response, and Sheppard whimpered.
"Sorry, sorry," Rodney said. "I didn't mean—"
"Do it again," Sheppard growled. "Rodney—"
"Like this?" Rodney asked, stroking in again, hard and fast.
"Yes, damn it, yes."
Rodney gave up all pretense of self control and just pumped, hard and fast and perfect. On the third stroke he reached for Sheppard's cock, which was, God, dripping, and gave it a squeeze.
"Oh," Sheppard said softly, and spurted all over Rodney's hand.
Rodney groaned and thrust, feeling Sheppard's muscles tighten and ease around him, and then he was there, he was right there, and he could flop down and just nuzzle and suck and lick the back of Sheppard's shoulder while he rode out the waves of his release.
For the longest time Rodney lay like that, feeling his pounding heart slow, his cheek nestled in the hollow between Sheppard's shoulder blade and spine. He didn't ever want to move, and Sheppard wasn't complaining, but he had to be getting a little heavy, here. He pulled back, pulled the rest of the way out, and flopped over onto his back, right on the edge of the bed.
"Hey," Sheppard said quietly. Rodney turned his head to find Sheppard watching him, looking sweaty and sated and wonderful.
"I should go," Sheppard said, not moving.
"You could stay," Rodney offered.
Sheppard's face changed too quickly for Rodney to catch all of the expressions, finally settling on something between pained and determined. "Can't," he said, and pushed himself up off the bed. "I have to change your sheets again."
Rodney rolled his eyes, although the wet spot really was quite impressive. "Leave it. Come on, we can take a shower first."
Sheppard . . . flinched. There was no other word to describe it. For a split second he looked startled and open and vulnerable. But then his face went tight and closed again and he turned and rooted in Rodney's drawers for a set of clean sheets. "Can't make the bed with you in it."
Rodney grimaced and climbed to his feet. At this rate, he was starting to think he'd rather have Sheppard fall asleep and hog the mattress. He found a tissue to pull the condom off, then crossed his arms over his chest and watched Sheppard make the bed as quickly and neatly as he had the last time.
"So I guess you're okay, then?"
Sheppard looked up, and his face softened a bit. "Yeah, Rodney. I'm okay."
"That's good," Rodney said. "That's really good. I mean, that's the whole point of this, right? To get you back to being okay?"
Sheppard nodded. "The whole goddamned point." He twitched the blanket smoothly into place, tucked the last corner, and then crossed the room to where he'd left his clothes in a heap and started pulling them on.
"Then I take it I'll just see you around." Rodney tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but he didn't really succeed.
"Crap," Sheppard muttered, and pulled his t-shirt over his head with a snap. "Look, I swear I'm trying. I know it doesn't look like it, but I am. If it is humanly possible, I won't be back, okay?"
"Yes, yes, okay," Rodney said, though it was exactly the opposite of what he wanted, and when the hell had that even happened? When had everything gone from clear to muddy to clear again?
Okay, not entirely clear, but he was sure of a few things. Like that he didn't want this to be over. He didn't want this to be the last time. He wanted to fuck and touch and yes, damn it, kiss John Sheppard, even if it didn't mean anything, even if Sheppard was just using him, and oh, God, he was just totally screwed here, wasn't he?
Sheppard was dressed already, his boots still untied, but he wasn't bothering to tie them. He just stood there for a moment, like he didn't know what to say or do.
"Go," Rodney said, with a wave of his hand. And it was relief he was feeling, really, when Sheppard gave him one more backward glance and left.
Rodney lasted four days, and actually, he thought that was doing pretty well. He and Radek worked on the hyperdrive. He saw Sheppard in the mess. They went on a mission to a backwater planet where all the trees were stunted, and strange, large-eyed, monkey-like creatures spat at them. Ronon stunned one with his gun, but Sheppard wouldn't let him take it back to Atlantis. Rodney wasn't sure whether he wanted it for food or a pet, and seriously didn't want to find out. So no one was really talking all that much when they got home.
Sheppard looked good. No more gray complexion, no more signs of exhaustion, and if he still looked flushed occasionally, it was probably too much sun on backwater planets. Rodney deliberately chose to sit next to Radek in the mess, and Sheppard sat with Ronon and Teyla. It was good. They were good. Everything was fine.
"Rodney," Radek said, "You look like an animated corpse. Have you been to the infirmary?"
"What? No, I'm fine. For your information, I did not pick up some sort of alien space bug on the Planet of the Mini-Apes."
"Are you certain? It wouldn't hurt to have a quick check-up."
"Oh, for God's sake. There's nothing wrong with me." Nothing that a quick—or slow, or really, anywhere in between—fuck with Sheppard wouldn't fix.
"Now you have me worried," Radek said. "It's not like you to turn down the chance to indulge your hypochondria. Are you sure you haven't caught whatever Colonel Sheppard had?"
"Oh, please." Rodney rolled his eyes and dug into his dinner, but he kept thinking about it, even after dinner was long over and he was checking on a few things in the lab.
Because what if Radek was right, and the addiction was contagious? Well, okay, not literally contagious, but transferable? The mechanism was obvious enough—hot sex, anyone?—and the fact that he'd gone into the situation thinking he was immune had probably only made him more vulnerable.
According to the alarm he'd set, it had been fourteen days since anyone had been in the corridor in the Northeast Pier. So maybe fourteen days was what it took. And if that were true, all he had to do was go fourteen days without touching Sheppard, and he'd be free of this craving, too.
Crap. Rodney propped his cheeks in his fists, blindly staring at his computer screen. He didn't want to go fourteen days without touching Sheppard. He didn't want to go one day without touching Sheppard. He wanted to be touching Sheppard right now.
Out of nothing but pure, idle curiosity, he linked to the city's life signs monitor on his laptop. The evening was settling down. People were heading for their quarters, one by one. In Sheppard's quarters there was one life sign. One quiet, unmoving life sign.
He didn't actually make the decision, but the next moment Rodney was out of his chair, heading for the transporter. And then he was outside Sheppard's door, passing his hand over the crystals to sound the door chime.
Nothing happened. Rodney stood there, waiting, but Sheppard didn't answer. Surely it was too early for him to be asleep. Rodney sounded the door chime again, and heard a muffled curse from inside.
Long moments later, the door slid open. Sheppard's face was definitely flushed this time, his hair sticking out at the sides as well as on top, and, oh God, his t-shirt was on inside out. Rodney couldn't help himself. His eyes drifted down to Sheppard's crotch, to the painfully obvious tent in Sheppard's pants, to the bare feet down below.
Rodney gulped and tore his eyes away. Sheppard had been jerking off. And, okay, maybe that shouldn't be any of his business, but Sheppard had made it his business, and he wanted, he wanted . . .
"Can I come in?" he asked, and was amazed that the words actually came out relatively intelligible.
"No," Sheppard said, short and unequivocal.
Rodney glanced around. The corridor was deserted. "Look, I could help you with that," he said, with a quick jerk of his chin downwards. "I'll make it worth your while."
"No," Sheppard said, a little less smoothly. "Rodney, don't do this."
"Oh, what, it's okay if you show up at my door, but not if I come to you? How is that fair?" Okay, okay, that was probably not the right word. It wasn't like fairness had ever had anything to do with this . . . thing . . . that was between then. "I could maybe try giving you a blow job." The words tumbled out, all on their own. "I mean, I'm sure I wouldn't be much better at it than you were the first time, but I might be able to figure out that suction thing, and trust me, that is worth experiencing at least once."
Sheppard closed his eyes. His jaw was clenched and his arms were crossed tight over his chest, his fingers shoved into his armpits. "Rodney," he said, in that tight, rough voice he got when things went really bad on a mission, "I can't. And I don't know what the hell you think you're doing, but whatever it is, stop."
Oh, God. Sheppard was right. He had absolutely no idea what he was doing. He wasn't acting rationally at all, and the thought was like a bucket of cold water poured directly over his brain. "Okay, right, that really wasn't why I stopped by," Rodney lied. He scrambled for a cover story, anything to get himself out of this mess. "Actually, I wanted to ask if you could run some tests on the puddlejumper again. Of course, I've already tried it myself, and it is highly unlikely I'm missing anything, but in the interests of thoroughness, I'd really like you to give it a run through."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed, like he could see right through that. "Right now?"
"No, no, tomorrow is fine," Rodney babbled. "I just wanted to, you know, give you a little warning, since I did kind of spring it on you last time."
Sheppard looked down and away for a moment, and Rodney couldn't help himself; he stole a glance at Sheppard's pants again. The tent looked just as impressive as before. "Okay, whatever. Tomorrow," Sheppard said. "Now, do you mind?"
Rodney took a deep breath. He was safe. Sheppard believed him, or close enough. They didn't ever have to talk about this again. "You know, I'd let you fuck me." Oh, God. He hadn't just said that. "I mean, if you wanted to. I wouldn't mind. In fact, I think I might like it." He hadn't even been thinking that. Well, not really. Not often.
"Christ, Rodney." Sheppard put one hand out to grab the door frame, like he needed it for support. "You don't get it, do you? Look, I have just traded one addiction for another, and you know what? This one is actually harder to fight. I've got this . . ." He made a short, choppy gesture with his hand. ". . . this fucking ache in my gut, and the funny thing is, sex was never that big a deal for me. I mean, don't get me wrong, I always liked it, but I didn't need it like this. It was never a craving before. But you're only making it worse by coming here, and if you want me to fight it, you're going to have to go away. Right now, Rodney."
Rodney stared at him, unable to find one word, not one single word to say to that. Sheppard was . . . Sheppard was torturing himself, denying himself, when it didn't have to be that way, when Rodney wanted it, too, when they could be addicted together, damn it, and what was his problem, anyway? It didn't take a genius to see that they would be a hell of a lot happier fucking than they were like this. But, damn it, Sheppard thought Rodney was part of the problem.
Part of the problem. After he'd worked so hard at being the solution. Rodney almost said that, almost blurted out the whole miserable proposition, and then he remembered.
Sheppard was straight. And the whole reason he'd asked Rodney rather than some random (but no doubt more appealing) woman, was that, oh yeah, he didn't want to be in a relationship. He didn't want to be encumbered. And even if Rodney wasn't asking for that . . . well, okay, he kind of was. He could see that. He was asking Sheppard to give him something back, to make whatever was between them a two-way street, and apparently that was enough to freak Sheppard out.
"Oh, wow, okay, sorry," Rodney said, and stumbled back away from Sheppard's door. "It, uh, won't happen again. You just go do your thing . . ." he waved his hand vaguely in the direction of Sheppard's tented pants ". . . and I'll, um, go do mine."
"You do that," Sheppard said, but his voice kind of cracked on the last word.
Rodney forced himself to look away, forced himself to walk all the way to the transporter without looking back. This wasn't what he wanted—he didn't even care if Sheppard was addicted to sex rather than anything to do with him—but it was what Sheppard wanted. And, God, he was pretty far gone if that was what mattered most, but it did.
Rodney pressed the location for the hall near his quarters and turned around. He was out of sight of Sheppard's door anyway. So okay, maybe he did care. Maybe he did want Sheppard to want him, for himself, not just as a means to an end. But he wasn't asking for that.
Mostly, he just really wanted to be having sex with Sheppard right now. Fucking him . . . or being fucked. And why was that even remotely appealing? It wasn't exactly something he'd wanted before. Except Sheppard seemed to like it. Sheppard really seemed to like it, and he wanted to know what it felt like, what the appeal was, and if it would work for him, too.
Inside and out. God.
It was only a few more steps back to his quarters, home sweet home. Rodney set the door to lock and sat down on his bed. Sheppard was probably jerking off again, right now. Taking it slow, because that was how he liked it. Rodney wondered if he did it on the bed. Lying down or kneeling? And did he remember to get a towel or something, or did he just make a mess and then have to change his own sheets?
Rodney swallowed hard. His pants were tented, now, as bad as Sheppard's. He took them off slowly, shucking shoes and socks along the way, then pulled his shirt over his head. Sheppard would be on his back, he decided, propped up on his pillow. Rodney arranged his own pillow, leaned back, and took his cock in his hand.
It wasn't the first time he'd beat off thinking about Sheppard. It wasn't a big deal. Except that somehow knowing Sheppard was doing the exact same thing made it strangely . . . intimate. Even if they were doing it like this because Sheppard didn't want to have actual sex with him.
Sheppard might be thumbing his head like this right now. He might be giving it a long pull. He might be . . . oh, God. He probably was. He probably had his fingers up his ass. Right now.
Rodney reached for the nightstand drawer and squeezed some lube on his left index finger. He leaned back again, pulled his balls up a little with his right hand, and slid his finger down into his crease. Okay, wow, that was cold and slippery and really not all that pleasant. He wondered if Sheppard liked that part, or if it was just something he put up with to get to the good part.
Right. The good part. Rodney circled his finger experimentally, and it felt . . . strange. Really not what he was expecting. But Sheppard had come from less than this, the first time. So maybe there was something he was missing.
Rodney circled again, then pushed, and that felt even stranger. He could feel his finger in there, and it felt bigger than he expected, only he kept getting distracted by the fact that it was his finger, and he could feel himself, and it was tight and smooth just like Sheppard was inside. So maybe this would work better if it was Sheppard doing it to him.
Rodney grabbed his cock, which had wilted down to half-mast already, and gave it a pull. If it were Sheppard's finger in him . . . okay, that worked. Yeah, that was better, because Sheppard would be pushing in a little more, slowly and carefully, and Sheppard would be watching him to see if he liked it. Sheppard might lean forward and suck on him while he did it, and his hair would be all fluffy and tweaky in Rodney's lap, and Rodney would reach down to pet it.
Sheppard would look up at him and do something with his finger and . . . oh, God. Rodney curled up off his pillow, driving his finger deeper, twisting it, and there. God, right there, that was what Sheppard meant by inside and out, that was what he liked, and yes, yes, okay, Rodney got that, Rodney really got that.
He wiggled his finger around until he found the right spot again, and when he did it was like when Sheppard had licked his nipple, two points of pleasure instead of one. And it was a relief, seriously, a relief, to understand, to know that there really was something to like there, and it wasn't just that Sheppard had been warped by the damn ascension device.
The hand on Rodney's cock started moving faster of its own accord. If Sheppard was still jerking off in his own room, he had to be getting close. Had to be aching for it, needing it. And Sheppard had to know what Rodney was doing. He was smart. He would have figured it out. And maybe he was even thinking about Rodney right now, since Rodney was thinking about him.
Rodney found the magic spot inside him, and the magic spot on the outside, too, and then he was coming all over himself.
It wasn't like having sex with Sheppard. But it was what he had.
Four more days meant eight days since they'd had sex, and Rodney was seriously starting to wonder if it was over, if Sheppard was cured or close enough, whatever he'd said about new addictions. He wasn't exactly avoiding Rodney—they had breakfast together one day, and dinner the next, and he dutifully came to test the puddlejumper hyperdrive when Rodney was finally ready for him.
"So," Sheppard said, swiveling around in the pilot's chair, "when do I get to take her out for a test run?"
Oh, right. That was next. Only Rodney really, really didn't want Sheppard to be the one testing it, which was irrational, because he trusted the design. He just . . . didn't trust Sheppard not to do something stupid and risk his fool neck out there. And maybe that was irrational, because there was no emergency, no one to save, no one to sacrifice for, but just the thought of it made Rodney's gut go cold. He'd always hated Sheppard's heroics, only now it was worse—much, much worse—and he didn't even need to think to know why, even if it was hopeless, even if Sheppard was cured and there was nothing more between them.
Rodney stalled. "Well, we weren't actually planning . . . I mean, obviously it's ready, since it checked out perfectly for both of us, but—"
"Hey," Sheppard said, with a little frown between his eyebrows. "There's no time like the present. And nothing more you can twiddle with without test data, right?"
"Okay, okay," Rodney said. "Take it up. Just . . . don't break anything, okay?"
"I won't harm a filament in its head. So how far can I jump? You want me to try for the nearest gate? What is that, M3D-847?"
"M3D-084," Rodney said. "And no, you can't jump that far. This is its first test flight. I don't want you to take it outside the Lantean solar system. Keep an eye on the stability of the hyperspace window. And stay in radio contact!"
"You got it," Sheppard said with a grin. "Now, are you going to get out of the jumper, or are you coming with me?"
Rodney swallowed. He wanted to go with Sheppard, crazy as that was. And Sheppard had offered like it was the most natural thing in the world, like he actually wanted to spend a few hours cooped up in a puddlejumper together, like they hadn't been kind of sort of almost avoiding each other for the past four days.
Sheppard frowned again. "Rodney?"
"Leaving," Rodney said, because someone had to monitor the test flight from the ground. "Look, just don't do anything idiotic, okay?"
Sheppard's eyes went teasing. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Anytime," Rodney said, but it didn't come out nearly as sarcastic as he'd intended. He forced himself to turn and make his way out the back hatch.
The puddlejumper lifted before he was even out of the bay, and by the time he was in the control room, it was through the roof and heading out of the atmosphere. Rodney tracked it onscreen, one eye on the blip that indicated where the jumper was, one eye on the numerical sensor readouts, which really didn't tell him much of anything.
"Rodney, you with me?" Sheppard's voice said from his radio.
"Yeah, I'm here." Damn it, this had better work.
"All right, here it goes, then. Opening hyperspace window in ten, nine, eight . . ."
"What's the stability?" Rodney demanded.
"Point-oh-two-three percent. We are all systems go. Three, two, one. Catch you on the other side." And the display showed a hyperspace window opening right in front of the jumper.
Rodney barely had time to see it before the jumper went through and both winked out on the display. He counted, heart in his mouth, and it wasn't . . . no, there it was. Halfway across the system. And all the numbers looked good.
Subspace sensors were instantaneous, but radio wasn't. He'd have to fix that, because theoretically it really ought to be possible to route communications through subspace as well. Rodney waited four long minutes, and heard, "Cool" on his radio, which was just so Sheppard that he wanted to . . . yeah.
"Everything looks good," Sheppard was saying on the radio. "Initiating second jump in eight minutes unless you tell me otherwise."
The jumper hadn't moved, which meant Sheppard was being good and waiting for a radio signal back. "Go ahead," Rodney said, "but keep your eye on the stability."
So Sheppard jumped. And jumped again. And made it all the way to M3D-084 and back (with Rodney's permission). And if Rodney's heart was in his mouth the whole time, well, that was his problem. Because it worked. Sheppard was fine, and it really, amazingly, astonishingly worked.
By the time Sheppard brought the jumper back down through the bay roof, Rodney was relieved and dazed and ecstatic and right there, waiting for Sheppard to open the hatch.
"Oh, my God," he said to Sheppard's bright, bright grin. "It worked."
Sheppard grabbed him by the shoulders, his smile so wide his teeth were showing. "Coolest. Thing. Ever, Rodney. Seriously."
"I can't believe it," Rodney said. "Carter said it couldn't be done without naquadriah, and I proved her wrong. I totally proved her wrong."
"You did," Sheppard said. "You really did." And Rodney had his share of willpower, but there was only so much temptation a man could take. Sheppard's hands were still on his shoulders and his eyes were still dancing and his mouth . . . his mouth . . . his mouth was just begging to be kissed. So Rodney did.
He was half expecting Sheppard to push him away, but Sheppard just whimpered and tilted his head and opened his mouth and kissed back, kissed back like he was drowning and never wanted to find the surface.
Rodney slid one hand around Sheppard's neck and pulled him closer. Sheppard wanted this. He really wanted it. Sheppard was, oh God, rock hard down there, and Rodney wanted to sink to his knees and blow him, right there in the back of the puddlejumper.
Right there in the jumper, with the hatch open where anyone could seem them, and shit, shit, Sheppard was straight. Sheppard was addicted to sex, and Rodney was using him, and if they got caught, it was Sheppard's career on the line, and damn it, none of this was fair.
"Jesus," Rodney said, and tore his mouth away. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that."
Sheppard just stood there panting and staring at him, like so much blood was in his cock there was none left for his brain. And then he muttered, "Crap," and looked away.
"Can we just pretend that didn't happen?" Rodney said desperately. "Maybe just rewind the conversation back to the part about the hyperdrive being the coolest thing ever? I liked that part."
Sheppard's head snapped back around, and he looked . . . thank God, relieved. "It is the coolest thing ever," he said. "Do you have any idea how many things we can use this for? No more sitting around waiting for the Daedalus when we need a rescue. And the potential for intelligence-gathering alone—"
"Rodney!" That was Radek, just outside the hatch. "It worked!"
Sheppard stepped away from him smoothly, and Rodney turned to face Radek, hoping the bulge in his pants wasn't too obvious. But Radek never even glanced down. He was too busy making a beeline for the hyperdrive readout and oohing and ahhing over the results.
Rodney barely heard him. All he could think of was Sheppard, who had crossed his arms over his chest and slipped back toward the hatch. He was going to leave, just like that, and maybe Rodney didn't have anything to say to him, but damn it . . .
Sheppard was gone.
Rodney turned back to Radek and forced himself to listen, but mostly what he was hearing in his head was "Coolest thing ever." Over and over again, in Sheppard's voice, warm and happy and impressed.
So maybe things weren't so bad between them, after all.
The sound of an alarm woke him, a steady beeping right next to his ear. Rodney shook his sleep-muzzed head and reached for the alarm clock, then woke up enough to realize he didn't own an alarm clock, and it was his computer beeping at him from the nightstand, where he'd apparently left it when he fell asleep.
Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit. It was the alarm for the Northeast pier. Rodney was fully, horribly awake in an instant, his heart pounding, his hands flying on the keyboard. One life sign, headed down the corridor. Rodney dove for his ear piece, fumbled the radio on, and shouted "Sheppard!" just as the life sign winked out.
Damn it. Damn it all to fucking hell. Why? Why would Sheppard do that, when he was cured? He had to be cured - he'd practically said he was cured—and God, how had things gotten so screwed up that he couldn't even ask Rodney for sex when he needed it?
Rodney grabbed for his shoes. It was stupid and wrong and idiotic and had he mentioned wrong? Even if it almost made sense why Sheppard didn't want to have sex with him. He still shouldn't go risking his sanity—his life—just to avoid some sort of emotional entanglement.
It wasn't like Rodney was going to insist on anything. He hadn't even asked for anything. Sheppard was being an idiot, and Rodney had no idea what to do about it, apart from the obvious rant he was going to let loose, just as soon as Sheppard came out of there.
He grabbed his datapad and headed out.
The corridor was only dimly lit, and Rodney was tempted to bring up the power to this sector. He was looking around, trying to catch sight of the faint shimmer of the force field when something grabbed him and yanked him, hard, behind a pillar. An arm around his waist—oh, God, Sheppard's arm, and Sheppard's voice in his ear, growling, "Fire in the fucking hole, McKay!"
An explosion rocked the corridor, debris flying past them, and Rodney jerked back against Sheppard's body, which was warm and real and alive and not in there. Okay, he was a genius, but sometimes it took half a second to process things, and Sheppard had just blown up the damn ascension device.
"Oh my God," Rodney said, still plastered hard against Sheppard. "You are insane."
"Yup," Sheppard said, laconic and smug. "Might've even used enough C4."
"Rodney?" That was Elizabeth's voice in his ear piece, sleepy and worried. "Was there just an explosion?"
"Oh, hey, yeah, actually, there was."
Sheppard elbowed him on his way to tapping his own radio. "Don't worry about it, Elizabeth. McKay and I have it under control."
Right, right, cover story. They needed Elizabeth mostly out of the loop, here. "Colonel Sheppard just figured out how to take that force field down."
"At two o'clock in the morning?"
Sheppard quivered against Rodney, and it took a moment to figure out that he was trying to keep from laughing.
"Oh, you know how it goes," Rodney said airily. "You never know when a brilliant idea is going to strike."
Elizabeth made a noise that sounded like a long-suffering sigh. "I'll expect a full report in the morning."
"You got it," Sheppard promised. "Sheppard out." He turned to Rodney. "Come on, let's check it out."
Rodney took a moment to bring the lights up in the corridor so they could see the damage. The force field was gone and the room was a smoking wreck, but on second look, Sheppard had placed the charges carefully, in the pod and under the consoles.
"Where was the power source?" Rodney asked, because there was no evidence that anything capable of fueling a force field for ten thousand years had blown. "It might have been interesting to take a look at."
"I took it out before I planted the charges. It's all yours, right out in the hallway. I figured under the circumstances, it was the least I could do."
"Oh, wow, thank you." But Rodney didn't go look at it, because his brain was too busy trying to sort out what was going on here. Was that supposed to be some sort of consolation prize? "So I guess this is it, then. You're free of it. All fixed now."
Sheppard looked up from where he was examining the twisted, blackened mess that was all that was left of the pod. "Close enough," he said. He had a smoky smear on one cheek which absolutely did not look good on him. "You're off the hook, McKay. You've done your duty, above and beyond, good going and all of that. Sorry, I don't think I can swing you any kind of civilian medal. The Air Force isn't really with the times on this kind of thing."
"You think I want a medal? What are you, nuts?"
"Rodney," Sheppard said with a roll of his eyes.
"Oh, right, you were kidding about that part." Funny how that didn't make him feel any better. "So, what? This means you don't need to have sex with me again?"
Sheppard looked away. "Yeah," he said softly. "That's what it means. I think, under the circumstances, it might be a good idea if you and I aren't alone together for awhile."
Rodney gritted his teeth. This was so wrong, so very wrong, so very different than the Sheppard who had kissed him back mere hours ago. "You mind if I ask you why? Because, honestly, that's going to pretty ridiculous extremes."
Sheppard turned back just to frown at him. "You need me to spell it out? I don't trust myself not to jump you, okay?"
"And that would be a tragedy exactly how? Okay, I get that you don't want any kind of emotional entanglement, but I'm not asking for one, here." Sheppard opened his mouth to protest, but Rodney cut him off with a quick wave of his hands. "No, wait, hear me out. We could make this work. We could be having lots of really, really great sex. We could be having sex right now. What the hell is so wrong with that?"
Sheppard ducked his head so that Rodney couldn't read his expression. "Well, for one thing," he said quietly, "you're straight."
Rodney snorted. "Based on the evidence of the past few weeks? I'm thinking, not so much."
Sheppard's chin jerked up and his hands clenched in fists against his sides. "Look, I can't," he said, his eyes wide and a little bit wild. "If I start now, I may never be able to stop."
Rodney took a step toward him, then another step, while the whole situation did a flip-flop in his brain and snapped into astonishing clarity. "Wait, is that what this is all about? You think you're more into this than I am? Because, wow, that would really take some doing. I mean, I'm not saying it would be impossible, but statistically speaking, it would be pretty close."
"Rodney . . ." Sheppard crossed his arms in front of his chest, and his face went dark. "I'm not cured, okay? I just transferred the damn addiction."
Rodney waved a dismissive hand. It wasn't like he didn't know that already. "Yes, yes, now you're addicted to sex. But I like sex. So, really, I'm not seeing the problem here."
Sheppard grimaced and rolled his eyes. "I'm not addicted to sex, you idiot," he said. "I'm addicted to you."
Oh, God. That was . . . seriously not what Rodney was expecting. Rodney gulped. "Really? Wow." That was . . . pretty damn amazing. "Okay, wow, that works." He'd just never thought that Sheppard could . . . that Sheppard was actually . . . that this was about him. "That really, really works."
Sheppard's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. "Are you nuts? Rodney, I want to lock us in your room together and not come out for a month. Maybe two months."
"Oh yeah?" Okay, that sounded pretty good. Really, he was up for it. "Tell you what. I'll lay in a supply of MREs."
"God," Sheppard said, and he sounded so amazingly, delightfully gobsmacked that Rodney just had to kiss him.
So maybe this wasn't the best time to have an epiphany—what with two fingers up his ass and Sheppard's mouth hot and wet around his cock—but a genius never knew when clarity was going to strike.
"Wait," Rodney said. "You really are straight."
Sheppard lifted his head, releasing Rodney's cock with a soft popping noise, and gave him a look. "Which part gave it away? The cock sucking or the finger fucking?"
"Okay, were straight. Whatever. Don't tell me you ever sucked a guy before me, because you were seriously abysmal at it."
"Way to set the mood here," Sheppard complained, and twisted his fingers.
Rodney gasped, but he was not going to be sidetracked here. "Come on, tell me I'm right. I bet you've been with hordes of women and not one single man."
"You want to list everyone I've ever slept with? Now?" Sheppard bent to lick him and curled his fingers at exactly the same time.
"A concise—oh, God—summary—Jesus—would do."
Sheppard lifted his head again and rolled his eyes. "Okay, yeah, you're my first guy. But it wasn't like I'd never thought about it. I told you, sex was just never that big a deal to me. I didn't figure I was missing that much."
Ha. Just as he'd thought. "Wow, were you ever wrong."
Sheppard made a face at him. "Yes, I was wrong. I was very, very, wrong. And now I'm ruined for anyone else but you. Are you satisfied?"
Rodney propped himself up on his elbows to see Sheppard's face better. His tone had been sarcastic, but his face looked . . . "Really? Ruined?"
Oh, right. Fond exasperation, that was the expression. "No, not really. Well, okay, maybe a little. Jesus, McKay, do I really need to feed your ego, here?"
Rodney fell back down onto his pillow with a self-satisfied plop. "I don't care what you do with my ego as long as you fuck me. You are going to fuck me, aren't you?"
"Damn straight I am," John said, and shushed Rodney's perfectly justified groans with a kiss.
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