Rating: NC-17 — for adults only
Excerpt: "It's actually kind of surprising that this hasn't happened to us before. I mean, not the part where you didn't get the girl, obviously, just, you know, we've stayed in a lot of strange places together and a lot of them didn't have private rooms. And I'm not saying I don't have any self control, but I certainly have a healthy libido, and—"
Thanks: To Tex, Lamardeuse and WPAdmirer for beta.
Warnings: graphic (but imaginary) het sex, general spoilers for Season 5
Notes: This story owes much of its current shape to a conversation with Cupidsbow. I just write slower than she does. Also? Not mine.
It was disgusting, really. The First High Minister of Tiramuk—the one with the cheekbones and the cleavage and the incredibly long legs—hadn't so much as spared Rodney a glance. Oh, no, she'd made a beeline for John like he was the chocolate for her peanut butter, and seriously, what was up with that?Of course, John wasn't exactly discouraging her, not even after they'd secured a nice little trade agreement (thanks pretty much entirely to Teyla). John was still smiling and leaning and looking ridiculously easy while the First High Minister made absolutely no secret of how much she was enjoying the view. "Thanks," John told Her Excellency. "We'd love to stay." "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a sec," Rodney said. "Sheppard, there's no compelling reason to spend even another hour on this—" "Sure there is. Minister Xora says she can give us a tour of their mining operations in the morning." "Mining operations?" Rodney said, and yes, thank you, he had remembered to lower his voice, so John had no call to be dragging him off into a dark corner of the curtain-draped ceremonial hall. "Okay, look," Rodney said, waving his hand-held scanner. "I know what you're thinking, but they can't possibly have a source of naquadah, because if they did, I would have detected it already." But John was shaking his head. "No naquadah, but just last week I heard Zelenka say he'd give his right arm for some raw titanium or even copper. I say we give these people a chance." "Look," Rodney said, "I understand that you want to get into the Lady High Minister's admittedly very hot pants, but you do realize that you're dragging the entire team along on your romantic exploits, right?" "Fine," John said, "we'll go home, and you can explain to the entire science team that we don't have a new source of raw materials because you were too busy obsessing about my sex life to know a good thing when you saw it." "I am not obsessing about your so-called sex life. I don't care about what you do or who you do it with as long as it doesn't start affecting your judgment." "My judgment is fine, Rodney. Both Teyla and Ronon think we're safe here, and I concur. And I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to help Atlantis just because you're getting weird on me." Weird? This was weird? Obviously Colonel-can't-keep-it-buttoned had no concept of what weird was. "All right, fine, whatever, we stay the night. Are you satisfied?" "Thank you," John said sarcastically, and then turned back to the Lady High Minister to assure her of the good news, while Rodney stood there with his arms over his chest and wondered how on earth he'd managed to lose an argument when he was entirely in the right. * * * Of course there was a banquet, and of course John ended up sitting next to Her Excellency and laughing it up over bottomless cups of wine. Rodney had the good sense to stop drinking at half a glass—he had brain cells to preserve, thank you—but that only made it harder to watch John smirking and flirting. By the time the gathering moved on to dancing, Rodney had had more than enough. "I'm afraid you are not enjoying yourself," one of the local girls said at his elbow. "Do you not want to join the dancing?" Unfortunately, she really was a girl—not a day over fourteen from the look of her. "I'm sure it's a perfectly delightful party," Rodney lied, "but certain of us apparently have work to do in the morning. Not that certain others of us can be bothered to acknowledge that." "Oh!" the girl said. "I will show you to your room at once." "Right. Thank you, that would be, ah, acceptable," Rodney managed. He craned his neck, trying to catch John's eye, but John was too busy showing Xora something that looked frighteningly like a John Travolta move from Pulp Fiction. Teyla looked up, though, and gave him a small wave from her spot on the dance floor, so Rodney figured he was covered, and followed the girl out of the hall. His room turned out to have a single small, shuttered window, a large fireplace complete with a crackling fire, and no furniture. "I hope you will be comfortable," the girl said, and bent to add another log to the fire. "If there's anything you need, just ring this bell." And with a quick bow, she was gone. Rodney crossed his arms over his chest and surveyed the room. This was just fantastic. Apparently he was supposed to sleep on the . . . yes, excessively hard floor. Like the Tiramuki didn't believe in back pain, or courtesy to guests. There were two mats, laid out a good ten feet apart and piled with quilted comforters. Rodney sighed and sat down. It was just as hard as he'd feared. But there were two sets of bedding, and it didn't take a degree in mechanical engineering to figure out how to take advantage of that. It was the work of a few moments to pile the two mats and four comforters on top of each other, and if the resulting mattress wasn't exactly prescription, it was still surprisingly comfortable. Rodney stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers and lay down, pulling the top comforter over him and turning his back to the fire, which was blazing brightly. He was tired, but not quite exhausted enough to sleep. Not that he was regretting leaving the party. John was probably still dancing with the First High Minister, and yes, okay, maybe John wasn't the best dancer in the galaxy, but she hadn't seemed to mind. Of course, for all Rodney knew, maybe they were done with the dancing and had moved on to the more private part of the evening. Rodney twitched and stuck one foot out from under the covers, on the side of the bed away from the fire where it was cooler. She could be dragging John off to her quarters right now. Given the way she'd been drooling over him for hours, it wouldn't exactly be a surprise, and of course he wouldn't say no. She was incredibly hot, and whatever else he was, John Sheppard was no idiot. So he'd go with her. To her rooms, which were no doubt a lot nicer than the guest quarters. And she'd look at John and laugh at his stupid jokes and then she'd kiss him and pull him in tight and make herself perfectly obvious. And John would know what to do. There wouldn't be any awkwardness or fumbling, just heat and desire, and he'd probably know exactly how to drive her wild before he even got her clothes off. But he would. He'd get to that part. He'd take his time and do it right, and the whole time she'd be kissing him, which would only slow them both down. But eventually she'd be naked . . . and then it would be John's turn. He'd peel out of his vest, first, get the belt off, and the holster. And maybe she'd undo the buttons on his shirt, why not? She'd been looking at him all evening like she wanted to unwrap him like candy. And then, yeah, the pants. John wouldn't take his time with that, just pop open the buttons and slide them right down, and maybe Rodney hadn't ever seen him naked, but he'd seem him shirtless that time on M3V-174, so the rest wasn't that hard to imagine. John was kind of hairy, but women in the Pegasus Galaxy probably liked that, probably liked combing their hands through a little chest hair to find a guy's nipples, and wow, she might be sucking on John's chest right now, sliding down to suck on other things and Jesus, God, Rodney was hard. He groaned and rolled over onto his back. He shouldn't be thinking about this. It was seriously pointless, and dangerous to boot. He was going to have to face John in the morning, and the last thing he should be thinking about right now was the hot alien babe John was nailing. It was warm in the firelight, too warm for the comforter, so Rodney kicked it off. That was the problem with barely-industrial technology—it was a little short on conveniences like thermostats. Of course, John probably wasn't complaining, but then, John was probably naked. John was probably pulling Xora down onto a mat in front of another fire—her fire—kissing her and touching her and driving her wild, until she couldn't help herself, until she had to stroke him, taste him, suck his cock right in. And then she'd just go for it, go to town on him, cheeks hollowed with the effort, and John would lean back, his neck arched, his eyes closed. Or maybe he'd look at her, maybe he liked to be reminded who he was with, maybe his eyes were dark and hot, and she would look back up at him, and when their eyes met he would groan and do his best not buck up into her mouth, and she would smile around his cock and feel ridiculously pleased with herself. Rodney shoved his shorts down; there was no point in pretending this was about anything else, and Christ, he needed this. Right here, right now, and John and the First High Minister of Tiramuk could damn well provide a little fantasy material. It wasn't like they would ever know about it. It wasn't like it meant anything. It wasn't like— "Jesus, Rodney, don't you believe in locking the door?" "What the—?" Fuck. Rodney scrambled up to a sitting position, yanking the comforter over his lap. John was in the doorway—of course it was John, because apparently no one had bothered to notify the universe that Rodney didn't believe in ironic twists of fate. "What are you . . . you can't . . . you're supposed to be naked." John was staring at him, his eyes wide and his jaw loose, and that was really not an expression Rodney had ever seen on his face. "You want to run that by me again? 'Cause I'm pretty sure you didn't just say what I thought I heard." Rodney's heart was hammering and his face was hot and the only saving grace was that John didn't know what he'd been thinking about. Or rather, who. "With the . . . with the First High Minister. Xora. You're supposed to be with her." John crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. "I danced five dances with her. I'm pretty sure that's enough schmoozing for one night, even by Teyla's standards." "But you were . . . she was . . . I mean, seriously, you were flirting like . . . oh, please. Don't tell me she turned you down. How is that even possible? She was all over you." "Okay, look," John said, shifting on his feet. "Maybe I should just, you know, go for a walk or something. I'll be back in half an hour, and you can . . . do whatever you need to do, here." Rodney's face went hotter. "There's not really any point to that. I mean, it's not as if I'll be able to . . . with you . . . I mean, you'd know." John grimaced and looked away. "Yeah, sorry about that. I would've knocked, but I figured you'd be asleep." "You want to explain why you're here? Because if you didn't expect to find me awake, I don't . . . oh. Right." There had been two sleeping mats laid out. He should've figured that meant he was expected to share. "Here, I'll just, um . . ." And he slid out from under the covers so that he could rearrange the bedding. Only he'd forgotten he still had his boxers shoved down beneath his balls, which meant John got an eyeful until he managed to yank them back up. It was totally not his fault that he was still more than half-hard. Really, really, not. "I can help you with that," John said, and he was close, way too close, oh, right, he was pulling the second mat over to lie next to Rodney's. Rodney shook out two comforters for him and got back under one of his own. It was safer there, especially given the fact that his erection really didn't seem to be subsiding. After a moment, John took off his vest and holster and boots and stretched out stiffly on top of both comforters. It was still pretty warm in here, at least on the side that was closest to the fire. And of course he wouldn't want to strip down any further, under the circumstances. Rodney could understand that, even if . . . Oh, God. Rodney hadn't noticed it earlier, when they were standing, but now that the firelight was playing across John's body, the tent in his pants was obvious. "I can't believe it," he heard his own voice say. "She really turned you down. She got you all hot and bothered, and then she shot you down in flames." "Rodney," John said. "I mean, seriously, what kind of woman would—" "Rodney," John said again, his forearm over his eyes. "Leave it, okay?" "Wow," Rodney said. "I never thought I would say this, but I really don't envy your luck with women right now." "I'm going to sleep," John said, and rolled over onto his side, facing away from Rodney. But still close, really, surprisingly close, because he hadn't bothered to drag his share of the bedding any further than he'd had to in order to get it off of Rodney's. It was almost like sharing a single wide bed. And they were both hard. Which was just . . . okay, this was probably the most awkward situation since the invention of awkwardness, but there was something weirdly intimate about it—not that Rodney had ever asked for that, and not that John had, either, but they'd been living and working so closely together for so many years that it didn't feel as shocking as it probably should have. "You want to know what's funny?" Rodney said. "It's actually kind of surprising that this hasn't happened to us before. I mean, not the part where you didn't get the girl, obviously, just, you know, we've stayed in a lot of strange places together and a lot of them didn't have private rooms. And I'm not saying I don't have any self control, but I certainly have a healthy libido, and—" There was no warning, not even a telltale rustling of the comforters, but suddenly John was on top of him, hands hard on his shoulders, pinning him to the sleeping mat. "Rodney," John growled. "Shut up." "Hey!" Rodney said, but John was looking at him, and his eyes were as dark as they'd been in Rodney's fantasy, which was a trick of the firelight, of course, but still, oh God, Rodney could feel a hard ridge against his thigh, even through the thick comforter. Which could only mean that . . . right, obviously, John could feel him, too. But John wasn't moving. John was just staring down at him, still pinning him to the sleeping mat, and Rodney could hear him breathing like he'd just run up two flights of stairs. Rodney opened his mouth to speak, but for once in his life, he had no idea what to say. In the golden light of the fire, John looked turned on and hungry and a little bit lost, and Rodney felt something inside him break. He jerked his hips up, and oh, yes, that was what he was aching for, friction right there. John's eyes went wide and he let out a little grunt of surprise, his hands tightening on Rodney's shoulders. "Jesus, Rodney." "Come on," Rodney said, squirming under him and tugging at the comforter between them. "Come on, we can . . . seriously, this isn't going to take very long, and then we'll both be able to sleep." John let out a huff that sounded halfway between a laugh and a rather painful cough, but then his hands were yanking the comforter away and oh God, that was better, that was a lot better, but it still wasn't enough. Rodney reached down and pushed his boxers to his knees, then fumbled for the buttons of John's fly. He couldn't get them because John wasn't helping; John was rocking against him and making odd little breathless noises, and damn it, that was just . . . okay, John was helping, John was tearing at the buttons with his fingers, and then there was skin, warm, hairy skin, against Rodney's cock, and he could rock his hips up and oh, Jesus, that was it. That was exactly what he needed. That was perfect. "Rodney." John's voice was low and breathy and muffled against Rodney's shoulder as he twitched his hips, just once. "Yes," Rodney said. "Yes, like that, absolutely, you could, oh wow, you could do that again," and then John was grinding against him and Rodney was shoving back, hard. John's hands locked around his upper arms, and Rodney scrabbled for John's shoulders, burying his fingers in the fabric of the shirt John was still wearing. "Fuck," John said, panting against his ear. "I know," Rodney said. "I know, I . . ." And he hooked one leg around John's and hauled John's shoulders up until their cocks were lined up against each other and he could feel John shudder with every roll of his hips. God, he needed this. They both needed this. And it was no one's fault, unless you counted Xora, for turning John on and then turning him down and making him show up at the worst possible moment. Only Rodney didn't feel like blaming her right now; Rodney didn't feel like blaming anyone, not when he felt like this. John was making little broken noises, now, and they were holding onto each other so tight they were both going to have bruises, and Rodney didn't care. He didn't care about anything but the ragged sound of John's breathing, and the wild, sweet slide of their cocks together. "Oh, God," Rodney whimpered. "Oh, God, I'm—" And John groaned and arched up, every muscle in his body tight, and there was a hot flood between them that was . . . Jesus, it wasn't even Rodney, because he was coming now and the world whited out except John was still there, still holding him, and he could feel both of their hearts pounding out a thunderous, syncopated rhythm. "Crap," John said, and dropped his head onto Rodney's shoulder. Rodney drew a long, shaky breath. "Yes, actually, that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?" Because what the hell he'd been thinking, he had absolutely no idea. This was John and he'd just—they'd just, because John hadn't exactly been a passive participant—but, God, this was a disaster. "Um, John? You do realize that you're a lot heavier than you look, right?" "Sorry," John muttered, and rolled off of him and onto his own bedding, his face turned away so that Rodney couldn't even read his expression. He fumbled for a moment with his pants, sliding them up over his hips and presumably buttoning the fly, then lay still. Rodney pulled up his own boxers, wiped the worst of the mess off his stomach with a corner of the comforter, and stared at the ceiling. "So I'm thinking the best course of action would be to never, ever speak of this again." John gave another of those weird laughs that kind of sounded like he was in pain. "Works for me." "All right. Okay then. I guess that's . . . that." They lay like that, while Rodney's heartbeat finally slowed and John didn't even twitch a muscle. In the dimming light from the fire, Rodney could see the slow rise and fall of his shirt, as steady as if he were asleep already. It didn't count as sex. Rodney knew that. They'd just both been horny, and seriously, he'd never even thought of John that way, and he was pretty damn sure John hadn't ever thought of him, either. So it didn't matter, and it wouldn't change things, and John would never mention it again. It was fine. Everything was fine. It was no big deal. And maybe if he repeated that enough times in his head, he'd be able to sleep. * * * There was something tickling his nose. Rodney turned his head, and got tickled again. By . . . oh, God, it was John's hair. Which was in his face because John's head was on his shoulder and John's body was curled against his and John's arm was slung across his chest like . . . oh. Right. John probably thought he was with the First High Minister of Tiramuk, and while it was fascinating to see how unguarded John could be in his sleep, it was also astonishingly uncomfortable. Well, not entirely uncomfortable, because the fire was dead and the room was cold and John was pleasantly warm, but damn it, his hair was about to make Rodney sneeze. "Sheppard," Rodney said, and John twitched. "John," he tried, and John twitched again and tightened his arm around Rodney's chest, which of course made his hair brush Rodney's nose again. Rodney rolled his face away and John made a tiny whimpering noise, then sat up with a jerk, pulling the comforter off both of them. "Hey!" Rodney said, and John looked down at him, his face sleepy and confused. "Sorry," John said, and rearranged the comforter. Then he ran a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes, looked at Rodney, and rubbed them again. "Crap." "Yes, good morning to you, too. And do I need to remind you that staying here overnight was entirely your idea? Maybe you should think about the risk of sleeping on the floor the next time you get the hots for some alien priestess, hmm?" John made a face, climbed to his feet, and began buckling himself into his field gear. "She's not a priestess. She's a civic leader. And she's going to take us on a tour of her mines this morning, so up and at 'em." Rodney stretched and groaned. There was no way he was getting up now; he still had his morning erection, and unlike John, he hadn't slept in his pants. Of course, now that John had his holster on . . . huh, that was interesting. Rodney had never noticed that John dressed to the right before, but the way the straps were pulling the fabric— "McKay?" Rodney jerked his eyes away. Not that he'd been staring. Not that there was anything worth staring at, and besides, they weren't talking about that. "I'm getting up," he said. "Really. I just need a minute. Or, you know, twenty." John tipped his chin up so that Rodney couldn't really read his face. "No problem. I'll catch up with you later. Just don't take so long I have to send out the posse for you." Rodney's ears went instantly hot, because Jesus, John thought he was going to . . . but it wasn't like he was still horny after last night—at least, he hadn't been before he'd started thinking about it. "I just need to clean up a little," he said, because damn it, he'd been on the bottom last night, and he could still smell it. "Washroom's just down the hall. On the left," John said. "See you later." The door closed behind him, and Rodney sat up with another groan. He really wasn't a morning person, and this was more than he wanted to cope with before his first cup of coffee. If there was any coffee to be had on this godforsaken planet. He took a deep breath, lifted his chin, and reached for his pants. * * * When Rodney finally made it to the banquet hall for breakfast—damper and smelling slightly less incriminating—John and Xora were chatting pleasantly, like last night's rejection had never happened. Of course, John didn't even spare Rodney a glance, like the rest of last night hadn't happened, either, so maybe Rodney wasn't the one who should have won an acting award in high school. Breakfast consisted of pickled fish, a pink vegetable, and something that looked and thankfully tasted like little square corn muffins. Rodney stuck to the muffins and let Ronon and Teyla eat the weird stuff. There was tea that might or might not have had caffeine in it, but he was desperate enough that he drank three cups. He was just finishing the last one when he glanced up to see John looking at him. Not in an annoyed-let's-hurry-up way, either. Just kind of staring, almost absently, with a very un-John-like soft expression around his eyes. "Hello?" Rodney said, waving the last bit of muffin in his direction. "Earth to Sheppard?" And just like that, John snapped out of it. The tension came back to his face—the tension Rodney hadn't even known was always there until just now—and he climbed to his feet. "You ready for the tour?" "One more minute," Rodney said, because, God, he was not getting hard. It was John, for Pete's sake, and yes, okay, they'd gotten each other off last night, but that had been pure expediency. It wasn't like he'd actually . . . seriously, he'd done stuff with guys before—a fair number of hand jobs, and a few drunken blow jobs—and it had never bothered him, afterward. Of course, usually the other guy had been just as embarrassed about it as he was, which made the whole not talking about it thing much easier. But John was, well, John, so of course he wasn't embarrassed. Anyway, John probably hadn't even been looking at him—from his expression, he'd been miles away—so he'd probably pushed last night so far out of his mind he'd practically forgotten about it. Which was what Rodney should be doing, right now. He stuffed the last piece of muffin into his mouth, took a final gulp of tea, and pushed back his chair. "Okay, show me to the mines. Might as well get it over with so we can get home where I can actually do something useful." "That's what I like about you, McKay," John said. "Your unfailing optimism. C'mon, let's find our tour guide." Ronon and Teyla were already on their feet and chatting—well, Teyla was chatting—with one of Xora's minions. John stopped to talk to them as well, leaning against a handy pillar with his hip cocked at a angle that showed off his ass. Which was . . . actually not nearly as flat as Rodney had always assumed, and oh, God, he was thinking about John's ass. He was thinking. About John's ass. Like he was . . . like they were . . . like he actually wanted . . . Jesus, he needed to get laid. * * * By the time they got home—with an agreement to trade for minuscule quantities of copper, iron, and aluminum that were probably too impure to be useful, anyway—it was a refrain in the back of his head. He really, really needed to get laid. Although why the hell he was so horny when the thing with John should have taken the edge off, Rodney had no idea. But he was seriously pretty desperate, here, desperate enough that he'd looked at John's ass more than once, and that was just wrong. So the moment he was out of debriefing—and honestly, Zelenka had no reason to be so pleased about tiny amounts of impure metals—he holed himself up with his second-best laptop and pulled up the triple-encrypted file where he kept his most important notes. Katie's information was deleted—thank goodness—so he didn't even have to think of her. Lieutenant Narha was next, but right, she'd been transferred back to the SGC. Jennifer still had an entry, but he'd screwed that one up big time, so no chance, there. So that left Karin Zipperlin, Nialla Parker, Lakshmi Hong, or one of the most recent arrivals from the Daedalus, assuming any of them would give him the time of day. It didn't look promising. Zipperlin barely knew he existed, and he was pretty sure he'd overheard Hong saying something uncomplimentary about him to one of her lab mates. But Parker had smiled at him over breakfast a few days ago, and he was pretty sure she hadn't been laughing at him. Well, mostly sure. And it wasn't like he had any other options other than his own right hand. It wasn't like John was going to stop by and say, "You know, that wasn't so bad. You want to try it again?" and in any case, the whole point was to forget about John, and, Jesus, he was starting to lose it here. So, Parker it was. And there was no time to waste. Rodney zipped up his jacket—no, unzipped it a little, but straightened the waist a bit—and headed down to the geology lab. "Dr. McKay," she said, looking a little flushed, which could be a good thing. Maybe. Maybe she'd been thinking of him just now. "Dr. Parker. Yes, ah, how are the rocks today?" Parker stepped back and wiped her hands on her hips. "Okay, I can explain about the samples from M5R-6B2." She squared her shoulders and tipped her chin up, her cheeks even more flushed. "You see, Jeremy—I mean, Dr. Fletcher—only meant to borrow them. It really wasn't his fault that the ambulatory cephalopod escaped from the bio lab, and it was a complete coincidence that Lt. Chavez happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and anyway, we were able to salvage a few pieces for preliminary analysis, and Dr. Parrish promised he'd get us new samples when his team goes back to M5R-6B2." "I'm sorry," Rodney said, squinting at her. "What?" "Oh!" Parker said. "Oh, so you're not here about . . . well, great! I mean, there's nothing to worry about in any case. Certainly nothing important enough to bother you with. So, can I help you with something? Surely you didn't come all the way down here just to chat with me." "Right," Rodney said, because this wasn't how the conversation had gone in his head at all. "Well, actually, I was wondering, well, thinking, really, that is, ah, I was hoping . . ." "Yes?" Parker cocked her head, her eyes bright and interested, and this really should not have been so hard. Rodney had no idea why it was so hard. With John it had been shockingly easy. "I think they're showing some sort of movie down in the crew quarters lounge on Friday," Rodney managed. "A comedy, I believe? I could stop by your quarters at seven to pick you up." Parker blinked at him. "You want to take me to a movie?" Okay, that was really not the response he'd been hoping for. "Um, yes?" Parker dusted her hands on her pants and flushed again. "Wow, I, uh, well, I guess I'm free," she said with a little laugh. "Seven o'clock?" "Yes," Rodney said. "I'll stop by. You're on level five?" "Eight, actually," Parker said. "The north tower, at the end of the hall." "Right, great, well, I'll just . . . see you then, I suppose." At least she was smiling at him—even if it was a rather surprised and possibly confused smile—when he left. * * * By the time Rodney settled into the seat next to Parker—Nialla, he really should be thinking of her as Nialla—he was feeling cautiously optimistic. She'd smiled at him at least three times over the past few days, and was now happily sharing an extra-large tub of popcorn with him. If he played his cards right, he might even get a chance to take her back to his room tonight. Or the next date, of course, he wasn't going to get greedy. He couldn't exactly expect her to roll on top of him and hump him like a crazed teenager, because that would be . . . Jesus, he had to stop thinking about that. The movie started, and Rodney leaned back in his seat, not paying all that much attention, because comedies were invariably stupid and anyway, he wasn't here for the flick. He took a nice big handful of popcorn and had half of it in his mouth already when he heard John's incredibly distinctive laugh. John, of course, laughed when everyone else was quiet, and oh, God, he was nearby. He was somewhere in the row behind them, possibly only one seat to the left, and Rodney only just managed to stop himself from turning around to see. John could see him. John couldn't help seeing him. John knew he was with Nialla, would know if he so much as whispered in her ear, and Jesus, if that wasn't mood-dampening, Rodney didn't know what was. Except—oh, wow, there was another snicker—except Rodney didn't feel dampened, he felt . . . Right, well, he was sitting next to a beautiful woman who might possibly eventually consider sleeping with him, so of course he was feeling like this. Of course he could feel his blood in his veins and a slight air current on the back of his neck and just to prove it was about Nialla, he leaned back and kind of rested his arm halfway across the back of her seat. There was a noise from behind them, which could have been anyone, really, only it sounded like a softer version of the grunt John sometimes gave when he was trying to lift something heavy. Rodney grabbed for another handful of popcorn with his free hand. He was imagining things. And there was absolutely no point in being distracted, here. So what if John saw him? John was probably with a beautiful woman, himself. Except, wow, this was weird, but Rodney had never actually seen John date anyone on Atlantis. Of course John flirted with just about every alien woman he met, but he never seemed to take anyone to movie night. Or eat with anyone unexpected in the mess. Or, really, have a social life at all, apart from hanging out with the team. Which meant . . . okay, Rodney had absolutely no idea what it meant. Well, obviously Rodney had first-hand evidence that John had a pretty powerful sex drive. So maybe John didn't need to date. Maybe the women lined up at his door. Except . . . Rodney had knocked on that door at pretty much all hours of the day and night, and he'd never once caught John with anyone. And John's bed was . . . too small for a single grown man to sleep in, never mind any kind of sexual activity. It was odd. Really, incredibly puzzling. But maybe John had some kind of weird rule about not dating the people he was in charge of protecting. Or maybe he was still carrying a torch for the ex-wife Ronon had mentioned seeing at John's father's funeral. That was hard to imagine. Actually, it was hard to imagine John being in love with anyone. He was just so— "Rodney," Nialla whispered, much louder than necessary and right in his ear. "What?" "Your hand?" Rodney blinked and, oh, oh dear, his hand had somehow slipped off the edge of the seat and was hanging down behind Nialla's back, making it impossible for her to lean back in her seat. "Sorry," Rodney said hurriedly, and yanked his arm back to his own space. He didn't hear any reaction from John, not that he was listening for it. Not that he cared, not that anyone cared, and at least John wasn't laughing at him. Well, not too loudly, anyway. "Popcorn?" Rodney said weakly, and offered the almost empty tub. Nialla picked out a few limp kernels and Rodney settled back and tried to watch the movie. He wasn't going to think about John watching him. He was going to think about Nialla, and what the chances were that she'd say yes. Because sex with her would be great. Of course it would. She was lovely, and she hadn't even complained that he'd hogged the popcorn. What more was he looking for, really? The movie turned out to be just as stupid as he'd feared, even if Nialla laughed at the parts that were supposed to be funny and John laughed at completely random moments. And then finally, finally it was over, and Rodney could stand up and brush the stray bits of popcorn off his pants and file out with everyone else into the crew quarters atrium. As soon as they were in the open space again, Rodney turned to Nialla and gave it his best shot. "So, I, um, don't suppose I could interest you in some coffee, could I? I have my own coffee maker. It's, ah, useful for working late at night, which of course I end up doing all too frequently when there's a crisis. It's a tough job, you know, but someone has to save the city from imminent destruction every week." Nialla smiled at him, and then reached out to pat his arm. "Thank you, Rodney. But I'm a little tired. Maybe not tonight." Oh, God, he was crashing and burning. "Well, perhaps another night. I can get wine, too, if you like wine. The Athosians make this stuff from roos berries that's actually kind of—" "I'm sorry," Nialla said, right there in the open hallway, with people walking by them and everything. "I don't want to lead you on. I really enjoyed tonight, and I'd like us to be . . . friends." "Oh," Rodney said, because he might not always understand women, but everyone knew what that line meant. "Oh, yes, of course. Friends. I'd like that." "Great," she said with a dazzling smile, and it was totally unfair that she saved that smile for when she was shooting him down. "I'll see you around, then. Thank you again, and good night." And she turned and disappeared into the crowd. Rodney shook his head slowly, and then turned to leave, himself, only to find John in his way. "I suppose you saw that," Rodney said. The corner of John's mouth twitched. "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride." Rodney made a face at him. "Very funny." "You know, some things just weren't meant to be," John said. Rodney rolled his eyes. "Okay, enough with the platitudes already. I don't suppose you have any beer?" "I've got a six-pack of Bud in my fridge. That do?" Rodney made another face, but it wasn't like he was in any position to be picky. "Sure, whatever, let's go." It occurred to him only when John's door had already closed behind him that he'd just invited himself over to the one place where he shouldn't be, to do the one thing he shouldn't do, because alcohol was really not going to help with the whole forgetting-about-John thing, especially not if he was drinking it with John. But John was already leaning to root around in his fridge, and obviously this wasn't bothering him, so that meant Rodney ought to be able to handle it, too. "Here you go," John said, handing him a can, and took his own over to the couch. No drinking out on the pier tonight, which was probably for the best, since getting shot down in public was bad enough without everyone seeing you drowning your sorrows, too. Rodney sat down next to John and stretched his legs out. He popped the top on his beer and lifted it up. "To all the women who don't know what they're missing," he said, and took a long swig. John didn't answer, just kind of snorted, and took a swig of his own beer. "Sorry your date didn't work out." "I can't believe I sat through the whole movie for nothing." John snorted again. "Did you even watch it? It was actually kind of funny. Well, maybe not intentionally funny, but still worth the price of admission." "Which was free," Rodney said. He wasn't about to admit he hadn't even caught the movie's title. "Exactly." John leaned back, his legs crossed at the ankles. He was wearing jeans rather than his BDU pants and they were . . . noticeably tight. Not that Rodney was looking. "So you were there to watch the movie," Rodney said, and whoops, that was probably asking too much, but damn it, now he wished he'd turned around, because he had no idea if John had been with someone. Although obviously John wasn't with someone now, because he was here with him. "Yup," John said easily. "Hey, you want something to eat? Chips? Fruit bowl?" Rodney took another gulp of his beer. It didn't taste quite as awful, which was a sign he'd drunk too much of it, already. "Uh, no thanks. Just had, you know, a whole tub of popcorn." One of John's eyebrows went up at that, but all he said was, "Suit yourself." And uncrossed his legs, which only emphasized the shape of his . . . oh, God. Rodney was staring at John's crotch. And he almost wanted to . . . Okay, seriously, why was this a bad idea? He'd just been shot down. He needed sex, and John was right here, and maybe they weren't supposed to talk about it, but talking wasn't exactly what he had in mind. Rodney leaned over and cupped his hand right there, right on the bulge in the crotch of John's jeans. John froze, his beer can halfway to his mouth. "Jesus." Rodney jerked his eyes up. John's face was soft with surprise, his eyes dark, his lips parted. "Don't say no," Rodney said, quickly, before John's expression could change. "Seriously, hear me out a second." He gave John a little squeeze—and wow, there was a fair amount there to squeeze—before letting his hand drop. "I'm not asking . . . I just . . . okay, I'm horny as hell and I just got shot down and I helped you out when you got shot down, so I really think you could see your way to . . . okay, I am asking, here. I'm asking you to return the favor." John's face went tight as he set his beer can down. "It's a bad idea." "No, no, no, it's a good idea. It worked the last time, and it can work again, and then we don't have to talk about it ever again." John's eyes narrowed. "So we'll be even, is that what you're saying?" "Exactly. Even Steven." John shifted, pulling his feet in and splaying his knees. It did nothing to hide the bulge in his jeans, which was clearly not complaining about any manhandling. "Okay, look," Rodney said, "I really . . . I just . . . I really need this, and I . . . please, John." And something in John's face changed, something Rodney couldn't name, but in the next moment John was kneeling on the floor in front of him, taking off his shoes. "What are you . . . ?" John glanced up at him. "This'll work better if you're out of your pants." Which, okay, Rodney couldn't really argue with. Because apparently John was saying yes after all, and that was astonishing and amazing and a little bit scary. Not that he was going to back out, not now. Not when John's hands were unfastening his fly and then urging his hips up and sliding his pants and boxers down, and wow, John wasn't wasting any time here. Of course he probably just wanted to get it over with, but he wasn't taking off any of his own clothes, which was a little odd. Unless he wanted Rodney to do it for him. Rodney reached forward, only to find John's hand on his chest. "Lay back," John said, pushing a little, as if he needed to do that to make his point. "C'mon, Rodney." "Wha— what are you doing?" Rodney said, because somehow he'd managed to completely lose control of what was happening here. "Hey," John said, "you're the one who asked for this." "Oh," Rodney said. "Right, I did." And he let John push him down until he was lying lengthwise on the couch, with John still kneeling beside him. Except he hadn't asked for this, not exactly. He'd been thinking of a repeat of the humping, or possibly an exchange of hand jobs. He hadn't expected . . . This. Oh, God. John was caressing him. A hand at the base of his cock, stroking lightly upwards, and then down again to cup his balls. John's face was still and intent, like he had to concentrate on what he was doing, and then, fuck, John leaned in and licked him. "Christ, John," Rodney managed. "You don't . . . you don't have to do that." John's eyes lifted slowly to his face. "You don't want me to?" "Oh, God," Rodney said. Because John was offering . . . something he'd never imagined, but now that he'd had a taste of it, he couldn't possibly say no. "No, you can . . . you can do whatever you want." "Cool," John said softly, and leaned in to lick him again. This time it was a broad sweep of his tongue—soft warmth that left a cool trace all the way to the head of Rodney's cock—and then a light flick against the underside, right where it sent a bolt of pleasure up Rodney's spine. Rodney held his breath, but John didn't suck him in, just licked again, this time down the shaft to his balls, and John's hand came up again, cupping and stroking where his tongue had been. Rodney let his head fall back. He'd never thought John would . . . that John had . . . but surely John must have some experience with men, to offer a blow job so casually. Only, this wasn't exactly a blow job. John was still just licking him, short little licks now, up the side of the shaft, and then, oh, a long swipe over the head. John made a soft noise and tipped his head, swirling his tongue around once and then pulling back. Rodney could feel his heart in his chest. Any minute now John would suck him in. But no, that was just another lick. So maybe John didn't have any experience with men. Maybe this was all some sort of experiment, and he'd wanted to do it because . . . because . . . okay, Rodney had no idea why. But John had chosen this. Rodney hadn't asked for his mouth. Rodney would have been perfectly happy with just about anything, but this was . . . this was . . . God, he didn't even know what this was. John's licks were getting, if anything, slower. He was lazily swirling his tongue around the head of Rodney's cock now, his head pillowed on Rodney's stomach so that all Rodney could see was the tousled mess of his hair, and there was no way to read John's expression, no way to see his eyes. It was some kind of tease. Payback, for conning John into doing this in the first place. Only John had a very strange idea about what constituted payback, because this was the sweetest torture Rodney had ever experienced. The licks were unpredictable and maddeningly light, but every time John paused, Rodney held his breath until he felt the soft, wet slide again. It wasn't nearly enough, and yet somehow it was everything he needed right now. Rodney closed his eyes and let the waves of almost-pleasure wash over him. He could say something. He could lift his head and beg John to get on with it. But then it would be over, and as much as he wanted to come . . . yeah, okay, he could stand a little more of this. John's tongue would get tired eventually, and he'd move on to something different. Only John's tongue didn't get tired. John's head stayed right where it was, warm and heavy against Rodney's stomach, and his tongue kept on moving, sweet and easy, around and around, until the whole universe was focused on that one point, until there was nothing but a single, wet source of sensation, swirling one way and then another, as predictable as the fall of a snowflake, and just as amazing. And leave it to John to invent the chaos theory of sex, where no single action made sense, but the aggregate moved inevitably toward its predetermined conclusion. Because slowly, almost imperceptibly, Rodney could feel the sensation building, could feel his balls tightening and his heart rate picking up and John wasn't moving any faster, wasn't doing anything different, and yet somehow, he was. There had to be a mathematical model for this. Input a few variables for the initial state, map out the coefficient of tongue speed and pressure, run it through a simulation a few times, and get . . . No, that was impossible. There was no logical explanation, no way to quantify all of the contradictions that added up to John Sheppard. No way to map the variables that led from a disastrous date with Nialla Parker to John undressing him and pushing him down and licking him and driving him breathless and insane at the same time. There was no equation that could predict John. John was just John. And Rodney . . . Had to tell him. Had to make him understand, because this was a revelation; this was important; this changed everything. "John," he said, and it was his own voice, it had to be, but it sounded broken, wrecked, like someone else's voice entirely. "Yeah," John said hoarsely, and then there was wet heat everywhere, surrounding Rodney, engulfing him, and oh, oh, John had finally, finally sucked him in, and he was coming with a gasp, an explosion of pleasure ripping through him and leaving him panting and sweaty and utterly destroyed. John's head dropped back onto Rodney's stomach and just lay there as Rodney drew in long, shaky breaths and willed his heart to slow. And then John turned his head slowly, dragging his mouth across Rodney's belly hair, and finally lifted his head. For a long moment, all Rodney could do was stare. John's mouth was pink and swollen, his eyes were dark and sleepy, and there was an imprint of something—God, the hem of Rodney's t-shirt—against his left cheek. "I can . . . I can take care of you," Rodney said. "Just give me a second." "I'm good," John said, not taking his eyes off Rodney's. "No, I mean, I can . . . whatever you want. I'll even suck you if you want me to, although I can't promise, I mean, I'm not exactly an expert, but I'm perfectly willing—" "Don't worry about it," John said softly, and climbed to his feet. "I told you, I'm good." Rodney pushed himself up to sitting, his eyes following the long lines of John's body, down the rumpled black t-shirt to the tight, worn jeans that were . . . oh, God. There was a wet spot, a big wet spot, just to the right of John's fly. Which meant John had . . . "You didn't have to do that," Rodney said, because John hadn't even unzipped. He must have rubbed himself off through his jeans, and that was just wrong. "Seriously, I would have reciprocated. I mean, I realize that I can be occasionally, well, petty and possibly even a little selfish, but I would have hoped you wouldn't think that badly of me." John's face tightened, some of the sleepiness fading from his eyes. "I don't . . . look, it's not like that." "Oh, no?" Rodney lifted his chin to meet John's eyes. "Then what is it like?" But John just looked away. "I think it's time for you to get dressed." "Wait," Rodney said. "Seriously? You're going to kick me out, just like that?" John glanced back at him. His lips were still swollen, but his eyes looked tired. "You want to stay?" Rodney couldn't help a sideways look at John's bed, which was no bigger than it had been yesterday, so clearly John didn't mean that as an offer. "No, no, of course not. I just—" "Here," John said, and handed him his pants with the boxers still inside them. "C'mon, don't make this any harder than it has to be. We're even, now." Rodney stuck one leg into his pants, boxers and all, and pulled them up. "Yeah, well, about that . . ." He put the other leg in and pulled until he could stand to fasten the fly. "This, ah, didn't work out so badly, after all. So I was thinking, you know, not that we'd want a regular thing of course, nothing like that, just, maybe if one of us gets desperate again, we could kind of have a standing agreement to—" "No," John said, low and almost harsh. He turned away again, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. "That's not going to work for me." "Oh," Rodney said stupidly, and just stood there with a cold feeling pooling in his gut. "Look, you didn't even give me a chance. I can do better than this; really, I just need a little practice. I mean, I realize you're used to me being just about perfect at everything I do, but you can't expect me to—" "You were fine," John said without turning around. "It isn't you. It's me." Crap. That was another line—hell, that was as old as I just want to be friends, and it meant pretty much the same thing. So apparently it meant absolutely nothing that John had just spent the better part of an hour licking him. "You didn't have to do that, you know. I would have been happy with anything." "Rodney," John said. "Just go." "Right," Rodney said hopelessly, and bent to yank his shoes on. "Are we going to not talk about this again?" John turned slowly to face him, but his eyes flicked away as soon as Rodney met them. "I think that's probably safest." "Great," Rodney said sourly. "So I'll just . . . see you around?" "Something like that," John said. "Goodnight, Rodney." And moments later, Rodney found himself standing in the hallway, staring at John's closed door and wondering what the hell had just happened. * * * Rodney woke with drool on his pillow and a hand in his boxers, and wow, it was deeply unfair that the one time he managed to have sex twice in a week, he ended up hornier than ever. He gave himself a conciliatory squeeze and sat up. He had no idea what he'd been dreaming about, but it must have been good. Just his luck, it was probably John. Crap. John. He had no excuse. He'd only drunk half a beer, and he hadn't been that broken up over Parker; he barely knew her. It was time to face the facts, and whatever else he was, Rodney McKay was not one to shy away from facts. Okay, so he'd wanted John. Not just sex. John. And he'd been right—not that the sex hadn't been completely bizarre, but it had also been the best sex he'd had in ages. He'd probably be rating it best ever if John had actually let him touch him. Which brought him to fact number three, which was that, sure, John had said yes, but he'd also been seriously weird about it, and he'd regretted it afterward. Which meant . . . huh. Actually, Rodney had no idea what it meant. If John hadn't wanted to do it, why had he said yes? Rodney hadn't twisted his arm, well, not too hard, anyway. And John wasn't exactly the kind of person who let people push him around. He was, in fact, one of the most annoyingly stubborn people Rodney knew. Rodney shoved the covers back, slid out of bed, and made his way to the shower. Of course, as far as he knew, John was always weird about sex, which might explain the not dating thing. Or maybe it was just the fact that Rodney was a guy. Rodney stripped and stepped into the shower, setting it for nice and hot. It wouldn't be all that surprising if John were freaking out about the guy thing. Maybe he really hadn't ever blown a guy before. Except he'd seemed like he knew what he was doing, even if it hadn't been like any blow job Rodney had ever experienced. And John had swallowed, hadn't he? Rodney was pretty sure he hadn't heard any spitting, although come to think of it, he hadn't exactly been at his most alert and observant right then. Of course, it wasn't like it really mattered whether John had done it before or not. Either way, he'd decided he didn't want to do it again, which was just . . . yeah. There was a reason something in Rodney's chest was hurting this morning. And now he was going to have to face John, and he had no idea how he was going to do that. By the time he was done scrubbing, his erection was gone, and he wasn't even regretting the lost opportunity. * * * Rodney stumbled into the mess early—not that he was trying to avoid anyone. He just didn't want to waste any of his personal stash of coffee beans on a morning like this one. The crowd was a little different than what he was used to: more marines, fewer scientists. And John wasn't there, which was, all in all, not such a bad thing. Teyla was, though, so Rodney sat with her. "Rodney. I am glad to see you. There is something I have been hoping to talk to you about." "Really?" Rodney set his tray down and sliding into the opposite seat. "Something you've been wondering about wormhole physics, perhaps?" "No," Teyla said, setting down her coffee cup, and when had Teyla started drinking coffee, anyway? "It's about John." Rodney's stomach did an inexcusable flip. "John," he said as flatly as he could. "Yes. Have you not noticed that he has been . . . unlike himself? I first noticed it after our trip to Tiramuk. I thought he was merely experiencing the aftereffects of overindulgence in the local wine, but now I am not so sure. He does not appear to have recovered as he should." Rodney gulped down a suddenly dry piece of French toast. If Teyla had noticed something, he was well and truly screwed. "You really think there's something wrong? 'Cause he seems pretty normal to me." Teyla frowned. "He has been . . . subdued. And this morning he was most inattentive in our sparring session. I fear it is some physical ailment, but Dr. Keller performed a full post-mission exam, did she not?" "Yes, yes, of course," Rodney said. "He was fine. We all were. I'm sure he's just . . . having a bad week." Teyla cocked her head. "So you do not think we should approach Dr. Keller about this." "No," Rodney said firmly. "No, I really don't think that would be a good idea." "What's not a good idea?" John asked, setting his tray next to Teyla's, and how the hell had he made it all the way across the mess hall without Rodney noticing? "The, ah, oatmeal," Rodney said, doing his best to hide the way his pulse was reacting to John's presence. "I was just saying to Teyla I think they burned it again." "Huh," John said, and took a spoonful, because of course he had oatmeal, and the next time Rodney lied like that he was really going to have to work on the plausibility factor. "Tastes fine to me." "Oh, well, perhaps they've made up a new batch," Rodney said inanely. John was freshly showered and shaved, his hair still damp and smelling of shampoo, and Rodney wanted to touch him so badly it hurt. "It's all about timing," John said, and bent his head to eat. Rodney did his best to exchange a significant look with Teyla, because John seemed perfectly—completely unfairly—normal to him, but Teyla just frowned and shook her head. Like she wasn't buying it, but what wasn't to buy? John was just John. But maybe that was the problem. Maybe John was working so hard to suppress his inner freakout that he was suppressing everything else, as well. But John didn't look freaked out. John looked . . . wow, bruised. He had a big welt on his forearm and another across his cheekbone. Which meant Teyla wasn't kidding about him being distracted. So what if . . . strange thought, here . . . what if it were a good sort of distracted? What if John had actually liked what they'd done last night? What if he . . . oh, right. He didn't want to do it again, and the sooner Rodney got that through his head, the better. "McKay?" John said, and it kind of sounded like it wasn't the first time he'd said it. "Hmmm?" "I said, did you want to give me your input on mission priority before we meet with Woolsey? 'Cause I already got some thoughts from Teyla and Ronon." "Oh," Rodney said, "yes. Yes, of course. I'll, um, send you an email." "Briefing's at 0900," John said. "A quick email," Rodney said. "Haven't you seen me type?" That got an odd little smile, one that flashed on and off so fast that Rodney wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't been looking. "Just get it to me." It was completely unfair what that smile did to Rodney's insides. "Is that all," he said, maybe a little more sharply than was strictly necessary, "or is there something else you need from me?" And John, completely unaccountably, froze. Staring at him, like he'd just said . . . oh, God, he had. Even if he hadn't meant it that way, he'd apparently just broached the topic they weren't talking about. Except John didn't need anything from him—wasn't that what he'd said last night? "No, that's it," John said, but his eyes slid away from Rodney's and his voice sounded weirdly strained. Okay, so John wasn't normal. John was freaking out. But that still didn't answer what kind of a freakout, and oh, God, Teyla was looking at them. At John, and now at Rodney, and her expression was . . . speculative. "That's good," Rodney said as brightly as he could. "Glad to hear it, because it just so happens that I'm busy today. Very, very busy. And what do you know? Done with my breakfast. I'll, ah, see you later." John didn't even look at him as he got to his feet to go, but he could feel Teyla's gaze all the way out of the mess hall. * * * John didn't crack again. He treated Rodney exactly the way he always had—easy and friendly, annoyed and sarcastic. On M5T-633, he got downright pushy about the scanner reprogramming, but that might have had something to do with the fact that Rodney was paying more attention to the shape of his mouth than the words he was saying. So, right, Rodney was a little distracted. But he was alone with John for the first time in a week and a half, and he was thinking about all the things he hadn't gotten to do—like kissing, and touching, and damn it, John had never even taken off his clothes, which meant Rodney had managed to have sex with him twice without seeing him naked, and that was just . . . Okay, wow. Was it possible John had some kind of weird body thing going on? Sure, he liked to roll his sleeves up, but Rodney could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen skin that wasn't usually covered by a t-shirt and BDU pants. Of course, John had spent a lot of time in the infirmary over the past four and a half years. He probably had more than his share of scars. But the idea that he might be self-conscious about them was utterly incongruous. Or maybe that was just John's way of keeping himself to himself, making the sex not real, making it not count. Maybe John really— "McKay," John growled, right at his ear. "The scanner?" "Almost done," Rodney said when he'd recovered from the shiver down his spine. There were only a few more alterations to make. "Okay, I think this should do it. I'll give it a go." "Thank you," John said pointedly, and leaned in so that he could see the screen. Rodney suppressed another shiver, but damn it, John was close. He could feel John's breath on his neck, the warmth of John's chest behind his shoulder. All he would have to do was turn his head and they'd be able to kiss. Of course, that was when the scanner made a decidedly unmusical noise and flashed an error message at them. "Son of a—" Rodney said, but John had already stepped away. "Okay, right, I see the problem." And he hunched over the scanner and did his best to forget about his cock, full and heavy in his pants. * * * In the end, Rodney was the one who broke. Well, he didn't break, so much as come up with a cunning plan. A brilliant plan. A stellar plan. A plan that just had to work. It came to him when John was making arrangements for them to stay overnight on M9G-471. John was busy chatting up the innkeeper and offering aspirin in exchange for four rooms for the night when Rodney spotted the barmaid on the other side of the room. She was tall and brunette and just John's type, not that Rodney had been paying enough attention to know John's type, except maybe he had been. But more importantly, she was watching the transaction with a little amused sparkle in her eyes, and yes, oh, yes. She was perfect. Rodney checked the pocket of his vest as he sidled over to her. John was still busy at the bar, and there was a convenient nook just out of view of the bar, over to the left. "Ah, hello," Rodney said, doing his best to seem unthreatening. "I'm wondering if I could interest you in a little proposition." The barmaid cocked her hip at him and rolled her eyes. "Dream on, loverboy. There's none of that for sale here." "Oh," Rodney said, feeling his cheeks warm. "Oh, no, that wasn't . . . seriously, I didn't mean . . . that. I just, you know, wanted to know if you'd be interested in playing a little joke on my friend over there. I'll make it worth your while." The barmaid raised an eyebrow, and then went back to wiping the table. "Which one?" "The good-looking guy by the bar." She straightened and squinted over at where John was still standing with Ronon and Teyla. "Sorry, sweetie, but I'm not getting on the wrong side of that. He could wipe the floor with both of us, one in each hand." "No, no, not Ronon," Rodney said. "The other guy. With the vest and the hair." "Hmph," the barmaid said, and moved on to another table so that Rodney had to follow her. "Don't you people believe in combs?" Rodney ran a hand self-consciously over his own hair, which he'd spent far too much time on this morning, anyway. "Okay, look, are you interested, or not? I'll give you a couple of chocolate bars, and all you have to do is flirt with him a little." The barmaid's eyes rolled again. "I told you, that's not what's for sale, here." "Oh, no, no, no," Rodney said. "I don't want you to have sex with him. I want you to not have sex with him. In fact, you can go ahead and use that very line on him if you like. After he's all hot and bothered." And then, suddenly, the twinkle was back in her eyes. "So you're that kind of friend, then?" "Yes, well, apparently so," Rodney said, not really sure what he was agreeing to and not really caring. "Does that mean you're interested?" "I might consider it," the barmaid said. "I'd like to see what this 'chocolate' is, that you're offering." "I've got a better idea," Rodney said, motioning her over toward the out-of-sight nook. "I'm going to let you taste it." * * * By the time he'd secured the transaction, the rest of the team were settling down at a table for dinner. Rodney joined them, doing his best to look innocent and pretend it had just been a bathroom break. John, of course, gave him a narrow-eyed look, and even Teyla looked disapproving, but fortunately the barmaid arrived before either of them could say anything. "So what can I get you folks to eat? A snack, or a full meal?" Rodney gave her an encouraging smile, which earned him another glare from John. Rodney ignored him pointedly. "I'd like the full meal, provided there's no citrus in it. I'm deathly allergic." "Citrus?" The barmaid frowned. "Yes," Rodney said. "It's a fruit, tart and sometimes sweet, with a rind. Even a drop of the juice could be deadly." The barmaid put a hand on her hip. "It's meat stew with mashed tubers. No fruit. You want some?" "Yes, yes, that will be fine," Rodney said, and smiled at her again. She really was remarkably pretty. "We'll all have the full meal," John said, and the barmaid swiveled to face him. "Don't worry about McKay; he's always like that. I'm sure we'll be real happy with whatever you've got." And then, right on cue, the right corner of John's mouth curled up and his eyes went all flirty, like he had a charm switch somewhere, and he'd just flipped it on. And the barmaid . . . was either a very talented actor, or not immune, because she smiled back at him like she meant it, which was not the plan, seriously, so not the plan. Rodney tried to catch her eye, but she was too busy telling John she'd be right back with their food and sashaying her way back to the kitchen. It was almost enough to make him want to call off the deal. And it only got worse when she came back and gave John another smile before leaning over the table to distribute the plates of food in such a way that her cleavage ended up right in front of John's face. Of course John looked. And of course she caught him at it and smiled again, and that was just . . . "So," Rodney said brightly. "Have we made any progress? You know, with the mission?" John exchanged one last far-too-warm look with the barmaid and turned back to him. "Everything's under control. Which you would know if you'd actually stuck around while we were making contact." "We will meet with the Eremni in the morning," Teyla said, and Ronon added, "We checked the place out. Got six exits figured, if that's what you're worried about." "Wait," Rodney said, "I thought this was a milk run." "It is," John said. "Ronon just likes to be thorough." "Of course he does," Rodney said, and dug into the stew, which turned out to be surprisingly tasty. It was almost enough to distract him until they were all done and the barmaid came back to clear their plates. "Is there anything else I can get you?" she asked, with another ridiculously simpering look at John, and okay, yes, Rodney knew he'd asked for this, but he just hadn't counted on having to watch it. "We are quite sated," Teyla said, and John nodded. "If you could just tell us how to get to our rooms, we'll be out of your hair." "I'll do better than that," the barmaid said. "I'll show you." She hooked her arm into John's and led the way up a sturdy wooden staircase to a long hallway full of doors. Through some sort of telepathic link, John, Ronon, and Teyla agreed on which room would be whose without even discussing it, and Rodney ended up at the far end of the hall. John checked the room out for him and waved him in, and then he was stuck. There was no excuse to linger in the hallway, and if he did, it was going to look suspicious. As it was, Teyla was giving him the eye. Teyla was shaking her head at him, like she knew something he didn't, and okay, it was time to go into his room, now. Rodney set his pack on the floor and sat down on the bed. The room was lit by a single lamp that smelled like kerosene, but at least it wasn't cold. Of course, that just meant his fickle barmaid friend would have an easier time getting John out of his clothes. The sad thing was, he couldn't blame her. He would've taken John over a chocolate bar any day, too. He just wished it weren't so excruciatingly obvious that John preferred her to— There was a quick, rat-a-tat knock on the door. "Mr. McKay?" Rodney yanked the door open, scarcely believing his eyes. "You owe me some chocolate," the barmaid said. "Wait, you really turned him down?" She rolled her eyes at him. "I thought we had a deal." Her clothes weren't even the least bit rearranged, and given the number of laces she would have had to undo and redo, she had to be telling the truth. "I can't believe you turned him down. I thought you were—" But she just wrinkled her nose. "He's old enough to be my father. And I have plans for that chocolate." "Oh," Rodney said. "Right." And he pulled the remaining bar out of his vest pocket. "Wait, are you sure you turned him down?" "Slapped him in the face," she said, pocketing the bar smugly. "Although, honestly, he didn't deserve it. Whatever bone you have to pick with him, you might want to consider, y'know, talking to him about it. He might even say he's sorry." "Right," Rodney said, sitting down hard on the bed. "Um, thank you. I think." "You're welcome," she said, and with another shake of her head, she was gone. It took John exactly thirty-seven seconds to show up at the door. "What the hell, McKay?" he said, barging in and jerking the door shut behind him. "Did I really do something to deserve that?" Rodney stood and crossed his arms over his chest. In the flickering lamp light, John's left cheek was noticeably redder than the right. "I don't know what you're talking about." John stepped closer, glowering at him. "Can the innocent act, okay? She told me everything. Even showed me the chocolate bar. So I want to know what the hell you thought you were doing." Crap. Rodney took a step backward, and then another, which brought him right up against the bed. Obviously his foolproof plan had one little weak link. "Okay, look, I did not tell her to slap you. That was total improvisation on her part. All I asked her to do was flirt with you a little." John's fists were clenched at his sides, but he didn't come any closer. "So you could, what, bring me down a peg? Humiliate me a little? Get back at me for fucking everything up? You couldn't just, I don't know, blow up a solar system or something?" "Don't be ridiculous," Rodney said. His heart was pounding and his palms were sweating and this was so not the way this conversation was supposed to be going. "If I blew up another solar system, there's no way I'd ever get you to have sex with me again." John . . . stared. His eyes narrowed and his thumb made a quick jerk toward the door. "Wait, you thought I'd . . . that if she . . . you paid her to turn me down so I'd have sex with you?" Rodney crossed his arms tight across his chest and pouted, because John was making it sound nutty. "It worked the last time." John just stared at him, his mouth open, but no words coming out. "And what's that about, anyway?" Rodney heard himself say. "You only go for the alien women? That's seriously short-sighted, you know. There are plenty of women scientists on Atlantis—hot ones—who'd probably be hanging onto your every word if you'd just—" "Christ, McKay," John said, jerking his chin up, his expression halfway between disgust and incredulity. "Really thought you knew the answer to that one already." Rodney cocked his head. "You're afraid of commitment?" John snorted and looked away. "For fuck's sake, Rodney, I'm gay." "Oh," Rodney said quietly, as alternating waves of heat and cold washed through him. He should have known that. He couldn't believe he hadn't realized. "Yeah," John said. "Oh." Rodney sat down heavily on the bed. "So I guess you didn't . . . with the barmaid. She didn't really get you very hot and bothered then, did she?" "Not really, no." "But the First High Minister," Rodney protested, because he hadn't imagined that. He couldn't have. "On Tiramuk. You were horny as hell. Come on, you can't deny that one. I saw it." "Rodney," John said, shaking his head. "I walked in on you jerking off. How do you think I reacted?" "Oh, God," Rodney said. Because that meant . . . oh wow, that meant it had been him all along. John had been turned on by him from the start. Which was amazing and heady and . . . right, well, it would have been, if John had actually wanted to have sex with him again. "Crap," John said, and scrubbed his face with his hands. Rodney rubbed his hands on the quilt that covered the bed. He needed to understand this. It wasn't so hard, well, it wouldn't be hard if John would only start making sense. "So all the flirting with alien women is just . . ." John glanced over at him long enough to make a face. "It's called being friendly." "Right," Rodney said, and John didn't say anything. He didn't leave, either, which made for an awkward silence that put all other awkward silences to shame. "Can I ask a question?" Rodney said, because it wasn't looking like he was ever going to get another chance. "That thing with the, with the licking. Was that some sort of . . . standard technique? Something I could look up in The Joy of Gay Sex?" John's cheeks looked equally flushed, now. "Not exactly." His eyes met Rodney's, and then stuttered back down and away, like the kerosene lamp was the most interesting thing in the room. "Look, I just . . . I wanted to make it last, okay? I know I fucked up and I . . . I'm sorry." "Are you kidding me?" Rodney hopped down off the bed and took a step toward him. "That was the second most amazing sex of my life, and if you'd only . . . well, you didn't let me touch you, but I'd be willing to forgive you if you'd give me another chance, and seriously, why the hell can't we try it again? I think we've established that you find me sufficiently attractive, and I swear I'll do better this time. I may not be very experienced, but I think you'll find that my learning curve is as steep as any you've ever encountered." For a long minute John didn't say anything. He just breathed in and out and stared at the too-bright hurricane glass. "It's not like that," he said, finally. "We're not like that." "Like what?" Rodney countered, because that wasn't even an argument. There was no logic to it at all. "Look, it doesn't have to be a big deal. I mean, I'm not asking for a lifetime commitment, here." John . . . flinched like he'd been hit. "I know that." "Wait," Rodney said, because black was apparently suddenly white, and night was looking pretty much like day. "What?" John bit his lip. "Rodney." "No, seriously, what the hell, John? You want me to?" Because he hadn't even considered that, hadn't even dreamed it was a possibility. John's shoulders were hunched, his hands shoved tight into his pockets. "I didn't say that." "No, but you . . . wait, you said you weren't interested. When I asked you, you said . . . oh, right." Because what John had turned down was an agreement to be each other's last resort, which meant it was perfectly possible that he'd been holding out for . . . something else. John gave a rueful snort. "I think I liked this conversation better when you were yelling at me." "I think I might possibly have a cure for that," Rodney said, still scarcely believing. But it wasn't hard to close the distance between them, wasn't hard to put one hand on either side of John's face and look into his wide, startled eyes, wasn't hard to bring their mouths together for the very first time. For a moment John's lips were slack and soft, and then a breath escaped him and he tilted his head in Rodney's hands, pressing and seeking with quiet, desperate eagerness. "Oh my God," Rodney said against John's mouth. "You really . . ." "I'm sorry," John said. "No," Rodney said, and kissed him again. "No, that's . . . that's amazing. You actually . . . this is about me." "Don't let it go to your head," John said, but the dryness of his tone was kind of negated by the way his lips were melting against Rodney's again. Rodney opened his mouth and sucked on John's tongue and decided that sometimes surprises were the best thing ever. "After careful consideration," Rodney said when they came up for air, "I think we should be over there on the nice, soft bed." John's eyes were dark, his face soft and lax. Rodney tugged on his arm, just to make his point a little more clearly, but John wouldn't move. "Wait," John said. "Are you saying you're okay with this?" "Am I okay with the fact that you're an idiot, but you're going to have sex with me anyway? Strangely enough, yes." "Hey," John said, but this time he let himself be pulled all the way over to the high, wide bed. Rodney's hands found the zipper on John's tac vest and eased it down, then helped John shrug it off. John's chest was warm beneath it, even through the two layers of shirts. "Oh, God," Rodney said. "Please tell me you take off your clothes. Please tell me you don't have some kind of weird hang-up about having sex naked. Because it is entirely possible that I will go stark, raving insane if I don't get to touch you this time." "Jesus, Rodney," John said, and his hands came up to strip his buttons, faster than Rodney could help him. "Oh, wow," Rodney said, when John lifted the t-shirt over his head, because he could touch now, and look. "Okay, yes, the pants, too, pants are good, pants need to go off, no, not my pants, your pants, come on, we can both, yes, yes, that's better, that's much better." Because, God that was John's cock jutting out, pink and plump at the head and thicker than Rodney had imagined, and wow, hard enough he could probably hang a towel on it, and did his look like that, all eager and tempting? John was just standing there, watching, waiting, like he was ceding all control, and okay, Rodney got that. The ball was in his court now, and maybe it had been easier when John had just pushed him down and licked him, but this was his turn. And really, it was the easiest thing in the world to reach out and run his fingers up the shaft of John's cock, to circle the head, so soft and warm, to stroke back down and then up again as John made a little broken, gasping noise. Rodney needed to be kissing, was kissing in one quick lunge, and then his hand was between them and John's arms were around him, pulling him in tight, which made the hand job part more than a little difficult, but God, he wasn't complaining. He switched to squeezing rather than stroking and twitched his hips up so that his own cock was rubbing against John's skin, and oh wow, if he did this long enough, he could probably come, but right, this wasn't what he wanted to do. "Bed," he said, and gave John a twisting shove. John fell back onto the mattress, his face soft and kind of dazed, and Rodney wasn't above taking advantage of the situation. John's cock was right there in front of him, and maybe he'd never given a blow job sober, but there was a first for everything, and wow, John tasted smooth and salty and good. Rodney pushed and tugged until there was room for him on the mattress, too, and then climbed up between John's legs and sucked John's cock in again. "Fuck," John whispered, and Rodney couldn't help it. He had to look up with John's cock still in his mouth. John had lifted his head to watch, his eyes dark and hot, and oh, God, oh God, it was Rodney's fantasy, the one from Tiramuk, the one with the First High Minister, only he hadn't been fantasizing about her at all, he'd been wishing he could be her, and how the hell had he not realized that? He'd wanted this, had wanted John all along, and he had no idea when it had started or why, except John was John, and that was probably reason enough. And John was . . . everything he'd imagined, only he hadn't gotten the details right, the exact shape and taste, the stretch of his lips, the soft, intoxicating noises John was making, the tentative hand on his head, stroking his hair as Rodney bobbed his head up and down. He concentrated on the feel of it, on the way John's cock filled his mouth, on the easy slide of it against his tongue, but eventually Rodney had to look again, had to see John's cheeks flushed and his mouth open and his chest rising and falling as he strained not to thrust. He had to flick his tongue across the head of John's cock, once and then again, just to see the way John's eyes rolled back, just to feel John's hands tighten, momentarily, in his hair. "Rodney, Rodney, damn it, I'm gonna—" Right, that was a warning, he got that, but it was too late, because his mouth was already full of bitter and salt, and he'd never swallowed before, but he'd never blown John before, either, and he wasn't going to let go for anything, not until it was good and over. "Fuck," John said, and dropped his head back on the bed. "I did mention my learning curve, didn't I?" Rodney finally let go and crawled up on top of John to grin down at him. "You might have said something about it, yeah," John said weakly. He closed his eyes and Rodney bent to kiss him, but his lips never actually made contact, because John's hands came up to his shoulders, and John's body went from limp relaxation to coiled action in the space of a heartbeat, and the next thing Rodney knew, he was on his back and John was sliding downward with intent, and Rodney was shivering in anticipation before John's mouth even touched him. And then John's mouth closed around his cock, wet and hot and oh, God, John had totally been holding out on him with the licking thing, because this was . . . this was . . . "Oh my God," Rodney said. "I can't believe you . . . well, if you'd done it like this the last time, I would obviously never have been confused about the . . . about the gay thing. Oh . . . oh, wow, that's . . . that's really . . . " John was sucking hard now, with quick, tight jerks of his mouth that sent shocks of pleasure all the way to Rodney's scalp. "John," Rodney said. "Okay, wow, John. If you . . . if you want to make this last, you're going to have to . . . ease up a little. Oh, God." "Mmph," John said around him, sucking harder, and damn it, that just wasn't playing fair. In fact, that was downright, oh Jesus. His orgasm hit like a tidal wave, tumbling his heart over and over in his chest, and oh, he seriously hoped he hadn't been reading in about the commitment thing, because he wanted to keep doing this forever. John gave him one last, gentle suck and then dropped his head on Rodney's stomach. They lay like that for a long moment while the pounding in Rodney's chest slowed and he started to feel a little cool everywhere that John wasn't touching him. "C'mon," Rodney said, and twisted to yank the bed covers down. John lifted his head slowly and turned away. "Yeah, I guess I should be—" "Oh, no," Rodney said. "No, you're not going to run out on me. You're going to get under the covers with me so we're both warm, and if you say one word about pretending this never happened—" "Rodney," John said as he crawled up to burrow under the covers "Shut up." "Hmph." Rodney pulled the covers up and then slid over and wrapped an arm across John's chest. Not that he thought John was going to bolt, well, not really, although a little insurance never hurt. But John just turned away from him with a quiet sigh, easing closer until Rodney was wrapped around him, spent cock snug against John's ass. The nice thing about being a genius was that even when your plans didn't go exactly as you expected, you usually managed to save the day, anyway. Rodney let out a contented breath and nuzzled the back of John's neck. "So you've thought of me . . . like this . . . before. A lot?" John snorted softly. "Not like this." "Really?" Rodney said, because damn it, John hadn't admitted anything, but he'd been pretty sure . . . "Like what, then?" John shifted on his pillow, but didn't try to pull away. "Well, you're usually a lot crankier in my fantasies." "Seriously?" Okay, fantasies sounded pretty damn amazing, but cranky was just weird. "Wait, you get off on that?" John let out a little huff and rolled over onto his back, looking up at the ceiling with Rodney's arm still around him. "It's not always about sex, you know." "Oh," Rodney said, and then, "Oh." Because wow, that really sounded like he hadn't misinterpreted the commitment thing, after all. "Not that I have anything against sex," John said. "Good," Rodney said. "That's good. Because I fully intend to have a lot of sex. With you, I mean." John didn't look at him, but the corners of his eyes crinkled up. "Sounds like a plan." Rodney leaned in and brushed his lips on the sweet spot below John's ear, just because he could. "So, cranky, huh?" John rolled his eyes. "Don't get too excited. It's not exactly a turn-on." "Oh, please," Rodney said. "We're talking about fantasies, here. You could imagine me any way you wanted, and apparently you wanted me cranky. Which is actually kind of, well, I mean, as long as you're not the one making me cranky, I suppose I'm not going to complain, because, hello, you're fantasizing about me, but still, I think most people? Might find that a little odd." John shifted against him, stretching his legs out and turning his head away, exposing the long cord of his neck to the lamplight. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and a little gravelly. "I just needed it to feel real." "Oh," Rodney said, and there was a sudden, strange tightness in his throat. "Wow. I could . . . it could be real." John swallowed. "Yeah," he said, but he sounded almost wistful. Rodney tightened his arm, pulling John against him. "It's not just about sex for me, either, you know." And finally, finally, John rolled his head back to look at him. "Although," Rodney added, "I think you'll find me noticeably less cranky when I'm getting laid on a regular basis." John laughed out loud at that, and lifted his head to kiss the tip of Rodney's nose. "Okay," he said softly, and found Rodney's lips. "I think I could learn to get used to that." * * * It was a morning like any other morning offworld. Rodney had even woken up alone, because John had snuck back to his own room in the wee hours, for appearance's sake or whatever esoteric code of conduct he seemed to think was necessary. It was almost enough to make Rodney wonder if he'd dreamed it. And when John opened his door, he looked like he always looked: ready for the day and all business, no secret smiles or stolen kisses. So, Christ, what if it really had been a dream? What if John hadn't actually meant . . . "Good morning," Teyla said. "You are both looking well this morning." And then her lips curved up into a knowing, positively smug smile, and okay, obviously she was seeing something Rodney wasn't, and that was wonderful. "We're good," Rodney said, and he might have bounced a little on the balls of his feet. "Yeah," John said softly, right next to him. "Yeah, we are."