Your Inevitable Unhappy Ending
by Helen

The first time John thought Rodney was sexy, he'd just suffered a blow to the head, so he didn't give it much thought, afterwards, Rodney's anxious face, the abrupt downward curves of his mouth, his shoulders, his hand brushing John's cheek just before John closed his eyes.



The second time, Rodney was crouching next to him on the bottom of boat, looping a tourniquet he'd made from his shirt tightly around Teyla's arm.

"Will they cut it off?" she said, her voice a little slurred, imprecise. Ronon cut wide and swung past the big boats at the head of the harbor, rudder in one hand, gun in the other, spray flying over the bow and into their faces.

"What? Of course not," Rodney said. He was breathing hard, still, but his voice was unruffled and brusque. "Flesh wound."

"When will we go home?" she said.

"Soon," John said, while Rodney bundled what was left of his shirt into a pillow for her head. Blood was smeared on his hands and up his forearms, on the hilt of the knife John had tossed to him when they'd first lifted her into the boat, when Rodney had shucked off his vest and yanked his shirt off over his head without hesitation. He was wearing a thin undershirt; it was kind of tight across the chest, the sleeves and collar frayed and old, a small rip in the shoulder seam.

"You okay?" John said.

"Sure, sure," Rodney said.

Ronon pressed the boat faster, Teyla took slow, careful breaths, Rodney scooped some water into his hands and rubbed at his arms, and John sat back against the edge of the boat and watched: the hollow of Rodney's throat, the stubble on his cheeks, the goosebumps rising on his upper arms. He didn't look away.



The third time, he couldn't even see Rodney, and Rodney was talking, just talking, a low, unsteady hum in his earpiece.

"You gonna freak out?" John had said, checking Rodney's air tank, the carefully looped knots in his harness.

"Well, let's see," Rodney had said. "Obviously, I adore disarming bombs that have a fucking megaton of whatever radioactive waste the Genii have managed to get their hands on, and I've always felt that the only thing that could possibly make the experience more enjoyable would be if I were lucky enough to get to do it in an enclosed space under several hundred cubic feet of water, so why on earth would I be freaking out?"

"You're fine," John had said. Rodney's hands looked a little shaky, but he'd nodded, and let himself be lowered into the black water.

That part was normal, regular, fine.

They were alone on far south side of the city, radio silence, Bates and Weir managing the evacuation.

"Talk to me," John said.

"I'm fine," Rodney said thinly, his voice a little too high.

"You sound fine," John said, settling back against the wall.

"Yeah, well, I am fine," Rodney said. He was breathing pretty heavily, but the underwater gear wasn't light, and the com units tended to amplify that kind of thing anyhow.

"You sound f—"

"Yeah, I got it," Rodney said. "I know you're trying to help, but you're not, and it's really dark down here, and there are probably lamprey eels, I—" Rodney's voice was crawling up the register, getting tighter and louder, and then there were a few underwater thumps and bangs, and Rodney sucked in his breath and stopped talking.

"McKay," John said sharply, rolling to his knees, "Rodney, hey, are you—"

"Fine, I'm fine," Rodney muttered.

"Yeah, you're fine," John said. He was breathing hard himself, his heart racing, but he pitched his voice as low and slow as he could.

"Yeah," Rodney said thoughtfully. John could almost see him pulling himself together. "Yeah. I'm good at bombs, actually although I've always felt very slightly bad about it; I'm actually a bit of a pacifist—"

"What, really?"

"Yes, incredibly radical to think increasingly powerful weaponry might not quite be the answer to earth's—well, this was before I knew about the Stargate and incredibly powerful alien races wanted to eat me, you understand, but, yes, as a general rule, I'm against cruelty to animals and children, blanket bombing, nuclear power and jaywalking—oh, here it is," he said softly, and the fuzzy blinking dot on John's life-signs detector stood still. His voice was almost normal, again, funny how he never thought of Rodney as having an accent anymore, even with the way he chomped his consonants in the back of his mouth.

"Okay," Rodney said, and sighed. "Okay, okay, okay—"

"Do you need help?"

"I can handle it," Rodney said, "I'm gonna just—huh, right, I can—" His voice had gone a little fuzzily distracted, soft now, right in John's ear, nothing he wasn't used to, nothing new, but it felt private, just the two of them on the com channel, the sound cranked up enough that it sounded like Rodney was mumbling his quiet thinking noises right against John's ear.

"Fuck," Rodney said.

"What?"

"Fuck, nothing, I can fix it," Rodney said.

"If it's something you can't handle, if you need Zelenka, we can—"

"I can handle it, hush up for a minute," Rodney said, his voice clipped, precise, almost gentle, the way it got when he was concentrating on something else entirely, and John found himself sucking in a heavy, confused breath, cheeks going hot—

People made sex jokes about the coms all the time. "You wear them all the time?" Ronon had said, and John had lifted one eyebrow just to make Private MacAvoy, who was a sour, sad kid, crack up. Ford thought—Ford had thought 1-900-Atlantis jokes were the height of comedy, and that memory left a distractingly bitter taste in his mouth, enough to take his mind off Rodney's—off Rodney. John smoothed his hands down his thighs, swallowed, and then said,

"Hey."

"Oh, come on, you bitch—" Rodney said, exasperated, rough, rude. John bit the inside of his cheek in surprise. Rodney exhaled loudly and muttered something under his breath.

"Easy there, tiger," John said, forced himself to say, working to keep his voice light. His voice sounded weird to him, off, too serious, but Rodney just said,

"You know, this is actually one or two orders of magnitude more complex than just clipping the red wire. There isn't, in fact, a red wire. So if you could maybe hold that thought until I save us all from an ugly death—"

"Fine," John said, and made sure to never, ever bring it up again.



The fourth time, Rodney ran two fingers down the back of John's neck and into the collar of his shirt as they left the conference room.

"Tag's sticking out," he said.

"Oh," John said.



The fifth time didn't count, because everyone on M5X-251 thought Rodney was sexy, possibly due to questionable airborne intoxicants. They'd been in the village for maybe three minutes when the first girl saw Rodney, flushed red, and ran across the cobblestone square and into a shop.

"What—"

"I didn't do anything," Rodney said.

"Sure you didn't," John said, as the girl ran back out of the store with three others, all giggling and blushing and staring at Rodney.

"Huh," John said.

"If you think this is the first time a bunch of ten-year-old girls have thought I'm a figure of fun with absolutely no provocation, you're sadly mistaken," Rodney said. He stopped to take a breath and another girl—this one older, perhaps twenty—came out of the store and walked directly across the square towards Rodney. She was wearing a pale dress and sandals; like almost everyone they'd seen, she had a lot of dark glossy hair spilling down over her shoulders, and was wildly, improbably, ridiculously lovely. She stepped around Ronon, ignored John, and stopped in front of Rodney. Rodney took a small step back. She smiled.

"Hello," Rodney said uncertainly.

"I'd like a kiss, if I may," she said.

"Erm," Rodney said.

"It is our custom, when such a one comes to our planet," she said. Ronon was staring at her and then at Rodney in frank disbelief, but Teyla smiled.

"We know and honor this custom," she said, bowing slightly, from the waist.

"We do?" Rodney said.

"Sure do," John said, firmly. "Do we?"

"It is a renewal ritual," Teyla said. "When the right man comes to a village, any unmarried girl may beg a kiss. In return, visitors are given whatever it is that they may require."

"Like indigenous naquadah?" John said.

Teyla inclined her head.

"Nice custom," Ronon said.

"I don't want to," Rodney said. "Do I have to?"

"Close your eyes and think of Atlantis," John said, unsympathetic. There were more girls now coming across the square in groups of two or three, arms linked, talking excitedly. The two nearest to John were tall and golden and smelled of flowers.

"Some of them are really young," Rodney said. "I don't think—"

"You must be of age to participate in the welcome ritual," a girl broke in. She grinned at John, a little absently, her eyes already sliding past him towards Rodney.

Rodney smiled stiffly. "The next time you get chosen as a love-slave by a priestess, I'm not rescuing you," he said.

"So it is settled," the first girl said. "Come—"

They formed an impromptu parade through the streets—first just the four of them and the small crowd that had accumulated in the square, and then more and more people, spilling out of their houses, trailing behind them, laughing and talking. Someone began banging on a drum, and then there were lutes and tambourines as well, girls linking hands and weaving around them in complicated shapes. Above them, people threw open shutters and rained down red-petaled flowers on their heads, and by the time they got to the great hall at the top of the hill above the village, they were covered in petals and Rodney was wearing a garland on his head, rakishly askew over his left eye.

The girl from the square caught Rodney's hand and pulled him away from them, up onto a low dais at the front of the room. He cast one glance back over his shoulder, but went. There was a small mountain of red cushions on the dais, and she pulled at his hands until he sat down, clumsily. It was silent—great rafters soaring into darkness overhead, dust motes in the late afternoon sunbeams sliding across the floor. John could hear the girl next to him breathing—sharp, quick, quiet, as though she were holding herself still with some effort.

The girl on the dais helped Rodney open his vest, slowly, their hands tangling together on the clasps as Rodney realized what she wanted. She was kneeling, leaning towards him, smiling slightly. Rodney licked his lips. John realized he was holding his breath and forced himself to stop.

It wasn't a long kiss, but it wasn't exactly short, either. Her hands were on his face, fingers curled around his jaw, one hand just cupping his cheek. No tongue—John could see Rodney's face clearly, and his lips were barely open, but when she pulled back she was trembling a little, eyes blurred and soft and satisfied.

The hall exploded into cheers as she stood, people stamping their feet and shouting, grinning at each other. Someone pressed a goblet of something sweet and faintly alcoholic into John's hand and waved him towards a low table. Soon they were eating little bits of smoked meat with their fingers, drinking, and watching Rodney kiss girl after girl after girl.

He was nervous at first, obviously flustered, holding the girls gingerly by their shoulders, his kisses brief and impersonal, but by the time their glasses had been refilled, Rodney was grinning, pressing his mouth softly against lush mouths, letting girls coil their arms around his neck, taking requests, kissing one girl on her throat, her head tossed back against the scarlet cushions, another high on the inside of her forearm, his mouth lingering, the girl flushed with daring, tracing her fingertips down his face.

One girl stumbled after her kiss, standing up, and Rodney caught her, said something that made her laugh, and she darted in and kissed him again, her mouth parting against his. John stared down at his drink; Teyla sighed next to him, smiling to herself.

"What are you smiling about?" John said, wanting to be distracted.

"I am remembering my first kiss," she said, a little dreamily. "It was much as this."

The sun had set when Rodney finally sat down next to them, his eyes dazed and happy. Teyla, who had been drinking all afternoon, laughed, and then leaned over and kissed him, one lazy hand flung up over his shoulder. It looked like Rodney aimed for her cheek, but Teyla caught his jaw gently and met his lips with hers, her mouth open and gentle. There were still red petals caught in Rodney's hair.

"This planet sucks," Ronon muttered, next to him.

"Right," John said.



After that, he stopped keeping track.

The fraternizing rule was a good rule that made a lot of sense, even if you were stranded on an alien outpost with 250 people and one day the Daedalus just stopped coming, so you were really trapped with the same 250 people and then a few hundred-odd other people whose planets you had fucked up by mistake who might want to move in, and everyone else got to the hot displaced alien princesses before you did because you were so busy jerking off over the way Rodney's pants fit across his thighs.

He didn't say anything. They were frantically busy in the first months after the Daedalus, trying to keep everyone fed and clothed and alive, stepping up diplomatic missions, stockpiling weapons and food. They needed—Atlantis needed—Rodney; John couldn't let himself take the risk. He wouldn't see Rodney for days at a time, and then Rodney would burst into the briefing room, red-eyed from lack of sleep, his shirt untucked. It gut-punched him every time, Rodney's thick shoulders, the rough curves of his jaw. It was easy to imagine fucking Rodney, the way he'd groan and clutch at John's arms and be too bossy about the whole thing; it was easy to imagine the problems it could cause. John decided not to get obsessive and weird about it.

It wasn't the first time he'd had an idiotic crush on a guy, but it was certainly the most inconvenient. Lucky, then, that Rodney never noticed, not even when John timed dinner for two months so he could eat sitting across from Rodney, not even when he found excuses to touch Rodney, shoulder, elbow, chest, once, not even when he took Katie Brown on four dates and tried to fall in love with her because Rodney had liked her. Not even when he dated Miko for five weeks because he liked to hear her talk about Rodney. Rodney seemed to find it convenient that John was around the lab more; then Miko dumped him because she said she just didn't feel a spark, and began dating Lorne, who, after the first three weeks, walked around with an expression of stunned good fortune on his face. Rodney didn't notice that either.

"What happened with Miko?" he said, easily a month after she had patted John's knee gently and left him sitting alone in his quarters.

"We broke up," John said, not bothering to open his eyes. He was sprawled on the couch in a deserted common area, trying to summon up the strength to get up and go to bed. He'd spent the day sod busting on the mainland; without oxen, everyone had taken turns pulling and guiding the ploughs and laughing at the Lanteans' slow progress and jagged, meandering rows. Ronon had been a natural, of course. John ached from his shins to his collarbones, a sharp weariness he knew would turn dull and unpleasant in the morning; there was a constellation of fat blisters on the palms of his hands.

"You dumped Miko?" Rodney said, collapsing next to John on the couch and putting his feet up on the table. "Are you aware that she won the Baxter Prize when she was nineteen?"

"So?"

"So, it seems incredibly unwise," Rodney said. "You're not going to find anyone who has a better grasp of unified harmonic theory than Miko—"

"She dumped me," John said. They'd had sex six times, nice sex, good sex, and before that he'd gotten to make out with her on her little narrow bed, kiss her neck and take off her bra and almost forget that he didn't know what the fuck he was doing dating her.

"Really?"

"Maybe she found out I didn't get unified harmonic theory," John said. He still hadn't opened his eyes, but he could feel Rodney breathing next to him; he'd been excused from farm duty, but he sounded tired anyway.

"Could be," Rodney said, yawning a little. He smelled good, warm. "If someone's willing to sleep with me, I tend to overlook small defects like that, but Miko's more discerning about these things," Rodney said.

"She is," John said. Rodney tipped his head onto John's shoulder and John felt his heart stutter that this-is-it-now rhythm and almost put his hand on Rodney's thigh, had his hand open, fingers grazing the worn material at Rodney's knee, before he realized that Rodney was asleep, breathing softly against his neck.

"Hey," John said, resignedly, trying to slide out from under him. It wasn't the first time it had happened.



When he jerked off, he let himself think about cock. That was new, mostly.



They kept the Stargate dark for weeks at a time, conserving what power they had for the shields; John spent as much time farming on the mainland as he did off-world. A bad sickness killed fourteen of theirs and twenty Athosians. Elizabeth lost most of her left hand in a trade gone wrong. They ran out of sugar, out of advil, out of uniforms, slowly—it stopped being strange to see marines wearing badly laced, homespun Athosian shirts beneath worn tac vests on duty. Everyone lost weight. It was a bad year, a dark year, and having a harmless, pathetic fixation on Rodney McKay was John's one selfish bright spot.

The wraith came, of course. Again and again, that first year, on every world, but they won, mostly, every time. There were new ways to kill wraith, and Rodney found new ways to hide, to blow hive ships out of the sky, gave them the means to build a life on Atlantis, as best they could, and learned how to shoot, finally. P-90, M-9, the pulse weapons Ronon bargained for on PX7-593. Rodney always practiced late, after the beginning of second shift, and John found himself going by the shooting range on nights he knew Rodney would be finishing up, pressing his lips together in concentration, his eyes like punched out holes in the shadows. After, they'd sit out on balconies, even into winter, to look out over the ocean, alone in the dark.

"Still alive," Rodney said once.

"Damn right," John said. There was a girl in Birmingham he'd dated once, for a while, with the softest skin he'd ever touched, dark, soft skin, big brown eyes, and she wasn't anything next to Rodney, Rodney's crack-knuckled hand nudging his to pass him the bottle of watered-down hooch they were sharing, the deep groove between his eyes, his weary face that meant they were alive, still.

John made himself take it easy on spending time with Rodney, tried to limit the number of times he walked him to his quarters and didn't get asked to stay. He took the occasional hugs, though, after a close call, Rodney's body tight against his, one arm flung around John's back, his face against John's shoulder, their gear crushed between them. Rodney usually ruined it by hugging Teyla next.

By the time spring rolled around, he had it mostly under control. Maybe he lay awake to hear Rodney breathe in the dark in the tent they shared on missions or saved up the really good parts of the city he found to show to Rodney first, like a gift. Maybe he couldn't eat for a week the time Rodney took a bullet in the chest and Carson wouldn't admit how close he'd been to dying and maybe he agreed so quickly the time Rodney said he couldn't figure out why he wasn't getting laid that Rodney assumed he was being made fun of, and snapped at him in wounded dignity, but no harm done.

John slept hard at night and dreamt about bodies, danger, wraith coming; the occasional dream where Rodney bent down over him, his face curious and happy, was welcome, even if it made John's chest ache a little in the morning. Sometimes, for fun, John tried to separate the people with the rare ability to tolerate Rodney from the people who actually enjoyed being ridiculed, interrupted, or brusquely ignored. There weren't many. For a long time, in fact, it was just him.



Then:

John dropped by the lab, bored and out of sorts. He'd had the flu, flat on his back for a week, swim-headed and weak in the infirmary, his head aching too much to even read before Carson had let him out. He wasn't cleared for duty, his chest still hurt from coughing and he was restless and irritated and his defenses were low and Rodney was holding a baby against his chest with one arm, the palm of his hand curled protectively around her skull. Babies weren't fair, and also, it wasn't the baby anyhow, because John wasn't a fucking girl. It was more that Rodney was waving a dry erase marker at him and saying,

"This thing is an unbelievable chick magnet, did you know that? It's not that I didn't understand in a purely academic way that women like babies, but good god."

"Where did you get that?" John said.

"hm? Oh. Someone left her around, look, that's not the point."

"Rodney—"

"Look at her!" Rodney said, tipping her back handily so John could see her.

John looked. It was a baby. Rumpled around the edges, wearing a smock and a diaper and only one sock, her cheek flushed from being pressed against Rodney's chest.

"It's a baby," he said.

"Well, right, obviously, it doesn't work on you," Rodney said, sliding her securely back up against his chest, rolling his eyes and scrawling a few calculations on the whiteboard. "But if we could get some women in here to demonstrate the process, I think you'd see that this thing is, in its essence, the a-bomb of dating."

"Where's her other sock?"

"Who cares?" Rodney said. "I changed her diaper earlier and I thought Simpson was going to take me savagely on the floor of the lab."

"That's great."

"I'm saying, the animal tension was incredible," Rodney said happily. The baby made a contented burbling sound and fisted her hands in Rodney's shirt. They were in the big open-plan conference room; when John turned one way, he could see across the ocean clear out to the horizon. When he turned the other way, he saw Katie Brown almost walk into a wall because she was waving at Rodney's baby, making a cutesy little face.

"That's it," John said, reaching for the baby. "Give me that."

"Okay, but—" It was little and wiggly and damp and started to scream the minute John touched it.

"What?" he said, staring at it, its crooked vacant watery eyes, the string of drool sliding down its chest, the thin tufts of hair on its head.

"Give it," Rodney said, grabbing a little. "It's just for a week or so. There are some new refugees from P3X-351, her mother's sick, I graciously offered my time."

"Graciously."

"That's right," Rodney said, rocking back smugly on his heels. The baby stuffed most of Rodney's collar in its mouth, and let out several triumphant grunts.

"Did that sound like she said 'Rodney' to you?" Rodney said.

"No," John said.



"I don't think it's such a bad idea," Ronon said at lunch the next day.

"Okay, what?" John waved his sandwich reprovingly. "Rodney with a baby defines bad idea."

"I'm a wholesome influence," Rodney said. He was eating his sandwich with one hand and spooning applesauce into the baby's face at alarming speed with the other. "I'm exposing her to higher math and physics, and—yes, applesauce, yum, yum, yum—it'll give her an edge over—"

"What did he give you?" John said, stabbing his fork at Ronon.

"Nothing," Rodney said.

"He let me borrow it to show Dr. Weir," Ronon said, sounding not even a little bit ashamed of being an idiot. "She likes babies."

"Yeah, I bet," John said.

"Just because you don't like babies," Rodney began sanctimoniously.

"I like babies," John said. "I'm just not fucking—"

"Hey, no swearing," Rodney said, even though just that morning, John had seen him wearing the baby in a sling, fixing a puddlejumper with Zelenka, taking turns shouting 'fuck' and 'Jesus fuck' at each other.

There weren't a lot of babies on Atlantis, not yet, although Zelenka's wife was pregnant, and John thought Miko was probably next. He'd already put in a few days looking for some kind of Atlantean preschool building, something like a christening gift for Zelenka and Premalu, who had come to Atlantis a year and a half ago in a beaten up star-cruiser with seventy-five people, all that was left of her planet.

"I heard you were taking in refugees," she had said, calm and tall and graceful on the landing pad on the far pier of Atlantis, even with her hands laced together on top of her head, even though she smelled like someone who'd been trapped a star-cruiser built to accommodate forty people for several weeks.

"Depends," John had said, holding his gun, easy, on her, Ronon a still, menacing presence behind him. They had learned to be careful, finally.

"Everyone's saying it's the Millennium Falcon down here," Rodney had said, tumbling out of the transporter with Zelenka on his heels.

"Careful," John had said. Rodney had ignored him and walked over until he was standing in the shadow of the star-cruiser, holding one hand up to shield his eyes from the sun.

"What a—that flies?" he'd said, squinting up at the patched hull, the black, half-corroded engines.

"Got us here," she had said.

"Through outer space?" Rodney had said.

"You must be hungry," Zelenka had said. Her eyes had been on John the entire time, wary, polite, but now her eyes flickered past him to Zelenka, a little startled.

"I could eat," she had said, and even though her hands were still up on her head, her body rigid, she smiled, enough to show crooked teeth, lopsided smile in her long, grave face.



"Here's the thing, I think I'm feeling a connection with this baby," Rodney said, stumping busily through the hall with the baby tucked under one arm, a tablet in the other. "It's like nothing else I've ever felt before—"

"No," John said.

"You don't even know what I'm going to say."

"You're not allowed to steal someone's baby."

"You don't understand," Rodney said. "I can't go back. Maybe we could work out some kind of timeshare—"

"What, are you insane?"

"John, babies are magic," Rodney said, gravely, and then stepped into a transporter and disappeared before John could do anything constructive, like call the authorities or punch him in the face.



"You're going to have to confiscate that baby," John said, sliding in next to Elizabeth at dinner.

"Why's that?"

"He's—"

"He's incredibly good with her," Elizabeth said, staring across the mess hall to Rodney's table where he was sitting, surrounded by women—eight doctorates, three unblemished mission records, two all-Atlantis ping-pong championships between them—all fondly watching Rodney coax the baby into eating a spoonful of mashed vegetables.

"I never even knew Rodney liked kids," Elizabeth said thoughtfully. She was still staring, picking absently at a corn muffin.

"He doesn't," John said. "He's using them to meet girls."

"Oh, I think that's a little far-fetched, John," Elizabeth said. "He's been very accommodating about disrupting his schedule—"

"Oh good Christ, not you, too," John said.

"What?"

"You think Rodney's adorable and sweet because of that baby," John said. He had never even once considered, before this moment, that women might be unfit to hold command posts.

"Don't be ridiculous. Rodney is the same abrasive, um, difficult member of our team he's always been," she said, but her heart wasn't in it. She was too busy watching Rodney play puddlejumper-goes-through-the-gate with a baby carrot. Elizabeth smiled, cradling her cheek in her good hand. John noticed Ronon standing frozen at the end of the food line, looking first at Rodney, and then at Elizabeth, and smirked maliciously at him.



"Have you seen Rodney with that baby?" he said to Cadman, when she was teaching him how to rig a door to explode.

"Yeah, so?" she said, handing him a pair of pliers.

"Thank you," he said. "Exactly."

"He's completely desperate," she said. "But cut him some slack—he's not like you."

"Oh," John said. "That's—how?"

"You know. loner," she said carelessly.

"That's me," John said. He held the pliers in his teeth and fumbled through the duffle bag for the timer.

"You should really consider—" Cadman began. She looked a little serious, or maybe she always looked serious. She had liked to laugh, before.

"What?"

Cadman sighed and reached across him, "You should—why did you wire up the detonator that way?"

"It's the same as yours."

"Same as mine, and yet completely wrong," she said. "At least you can run pretty fast."



He was a loner, was the thing. When it had become clear that they wouldn't be able to return to earth it had been perfectly natural for people to pair off, settle down. Elizabeth had made a series of graceful announcements about forging personal connections and shared living quarters, but had, herself, stuck it out alone, as though she hadn't given up hope. Maybe it was difficult for her, but it had never been difficult for John, who liked being alone. He went over to eat dinner at Zelenka and Prem's once a month or so, but he didn't mind eating alone in the mess, sleeping alone in the narrow bed he'd never bothered to replace. He had never minded being alone; just one less person to disappoint, one less thing to fuck up.

Not like Rodney.

"I just want to you know, you're being ridiculous and I see through it," John said, stopping by Rodney's quarters after dinner.

"What's your beef with this, anyhow," Rodney said. He was sitting on a blanket on the floor with the baby against his chest, flipping madly through lab reports. She was chewing on his jacket, but Rodney didn't seem to notice, holding her absently with one hand against her back.

"I just—"

"Look, I'm probably going to get a girlfriend out of this," Rodney said. He draped the baby against a pillow and stood, rifling through the stack of papers on his desk. "I'm lonely as fuck, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Yeah, but—"

"So, you know, if the ladies of Atlantis need a little nudge to remind them that Rodney McKay is grade-A boyfriend material, I'm willing to play along."

"You're going to end up with a woman who wants to get married and have children," John said.

Rodney shrugged. "That'd be okay," he said. "Who knows what could happen?"

But John could already tell what was going to happen: Rodney would get attached, and he'd miss the kid when it was gone, just enough to get used to the idea of having a family. It was a lot easier for women to love you when you wanted kids, John had found, it made you look like someone who believed in long-term future plans, or at least like a slightly less selfish asshole, like someone who might do the dishes or have sex with you when he was fucking beat and would really rather just go to sleep. Liking kids meant you believed in something, and Rodney was going to meet some woman and fall in love and mate for life and look fat and happy at the party for their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and John wouldn't even be able to dislike her because she'd be smart and love Rodney and fuck him even if she was beat and would really rather just go to sleep, so John stepped in close and kissed Rodney's surprised mouth. Rodney didn't stop him, so it went on for kind of a long time, until the baby broke into an angry sniffling wail and Rodney pulled his hands out from underneath John's shirt and scooped her up into his arms. He jiggled her against his chest, making funny faces at her until she subsided into anxious snuffles and pressed her face into his shoulder. John put his hands in his pockets and leaned back against the wall.

"So the baby thing does work on you?" Rodney said.

"No," John said, stung.

"Okay," Rodney said. He was stroking his hand down over the back of her skull, his thumb running along the small, unformed edge of her cheek. "The timing is suspicious," he said quietly.

"So what?"

"So, if it's just because of the baby, I'd really rather not, um—"

"Two minutes ago, you were all about scamming women with that thing—"

"Excuse me, it's not scamming if you're informing a few gorgeous women that there's more to you than a brilliant, very very occasionally irritable, but with good reason, outer shell, which they might not have noticed prior to—"

"So it's fine for women to like you because of the baby—"

"Right," Rodney said.

"But—"

"How long has this been going on?" Rodney said.

"I've. since M3X-434," John said.

"Oh," Rodney said. He wasn't looking at John. "Well, I think—you'll probably get over it pretty quickly."

"Yeah," John heard himself say. "Probably."

"Turns out the mother kind of wants her kid back," Rodney said. "You'll be fine by the end of next week."

"I told you, it's not that fucking baby," John said.

"I know, I know, I know," Rodney said, and John just got out of there as quickly as he could.



"Hi, hello, P3X-434?" Rodney said, without any warning the next time John was down in the lab doing something or other for Zelenka. "With the poisonous berries and the angry teenage mutants?"

"They weren't poisonous," John said.

"Are you sure you don't mean 343?" Rodney said.

"I didn't mean 343."

"It had the plants—"

"I know which one M3X-343 is," John said.

"But 434 was two years ago," Rodney said.

"Yes, it was."

"When you got punched in the head," Rodney said uncertainly.

"Right, yes."

"But."

"Never mind," John said. He tried the next permutation of crystals that seemed to make sense and two lit up happily. The rest did nothing. Rodney slammed himself down in a chair at the next workstation and began to fidget with the computer keyboard.

"I have e-mail, you know," he said. "I check it 128 times a day, minimum. You could have just—"

"I wasn't going to e-mail you."

"Dear Rodney, I have a big hard-on for you, love John," Rodney gabbled out, so quickly that the words ran together.

"Rodney—"

"So you were just never going to say anything," Rodney said.

"Don't you think that's best?" John said. He'd let himself dwell on what a bad idea telling Rodney might be, about the best-case awkwardness and worst-case ugly freak-out, but he hadn't thought it would be this depressing, Rodney's face locked down, arms wrapped over his chest.

"But you did—"

"Well, you were going to meet women and get fat and I—"

"wait, what, I'm fat now?" Rodney said. "Now I'm fat?"

"Not now," John said, heart stuck in his throat. "Later. You'll get fat."

"This conversation made more sense when you just liked babies," Rodney said, after a minute.

"I don't like babies."

"What if I like babies?"

"Then we'll get a fucking baby," John snapped back.

"Maybe just the sex first," Rodney said faintly.

"Yeah, okay," John said.



Be cool, John thought. Sheppard cool, ice cold, three-hundred-pushups-before-breakfast cool. Killing fields, can't handle the truth. Not the guy who'd started his own Rodney McKay fan club over sixteen months ago. Cool. He'd killed a man in Reno just to watch him—

"So are you going to take your clothes off, or—" Rodney said, already stripped to the waist, his boots and socks in a jumble by the door.

"Um," John said. "I—yeah, sure. yeah."

He had to sit down on the bed to get his boots undone, fingers stumbling against the knots. His stomach was tight and nervous, and it only got worse when Rodney knelt down to help him and John kissed him, his tongue in Rodney's mouth, Rodney's hands on his knees and then sliding up to cradle his hips—

"I'm in love with you," John blurted out, the minute Rodney pulled back and rubbed his fingers up John's chest underneath his shirt. Rodney's hands stilled.

"Oh," he said. John yanked in a single humiliated breath and tried not to meet Rodney's eyes.

"You want to fuck me?" he said

"Yeah, sure," Rodney said, sounding relieved.

They'd gone back to Rodney's quarters because John had said they were closer, although really he'd wanted to be able to leave if Rodney got clingy or weird, after, or wanted him to stay. Rodney had some lotion-stuff in a jam jar. The label was gone, but when Rodney fished it out from under the bed, John recognized the red checks on the battered lid.

"Where'd you get that?" he said.

"Made it, it's perfectly safe," Rodney said absently, palming John's cock through his underwear, his voice quiet and low. John slid down impatiently on the bed, opened his legs, and then realized he was still wearing his socks, big stupid white ones that were losing their elastic and falling down his calves. Rodney—completely naked, his cock bouncing a little in a way that should have been funny, but just made John's chest tight with anticipation—didn't seem to notice.

Rodney did him face down on the bed, nothing fancy.

"You're really—tight," Rodney said, near the beginning. "Are you sure—"

"Yeah," John said. He bit his lip and shoved back.

"Fuck," Rodney said, breathlessly, his hand on John's hip tightening. John pressed his hot face against the pillow and let it happen, nice and easy.

"Jesus, you feel—" Rodney said, and "I—John, fuck," and then he got quiet, breathing hard. The bed rattled. John's knees slipped wider against the blanket. Rodney groped him a little, hands sliding down sides, on his waist and ass and dick, fucking him still. John groaned, made too much noise, stuffed his hand in his mouth, tried to grind back on Rodney's cock, but Rodney pushed him back down with one hand and went at him, greedy, almost rough. He finished quickly, leaving John humping back against his softening dick in dismay.

"Sorry, sorry," Rodney said, pulling at John's shoulder until he turned over. He grinned sheepishly, face flushed, eyes still heavy-lidded.

"Real nice, McKay," John managed.

"I can be nice," Rodney said, and kissed him. Rodney's mouth against the hot spot just below his jaw, wet hand on his cock, and John came inside sixty seconds.



"I'm taking off," John said, after, when he'd found his pants, crumpled up, half underneath the bed.

"Okay," Rodney said.

"Um," John said, and tugged his shirt down over his head. "See you around."

"Will do," Rodney said.



Way to go, jackass, John thought, when he was safe in his quarters. Way to bring the motherfucking heat.

He showered and crawled into bed, but he didn't sleep.

He waited. For weeks, he waited for Rodney to want to do it again, but Rodney said nothing—or, of course, said, "The timeframe for these repairs is completely unrealistic, even given the almost frightening competence displayed by myself in these difficult times," and "Did you tell Ronon to asphyxiate me as part of physical training, because if not, I've now learned more about hilarious Satedan life-threatening practical jokes than I ever wanted to." and "I never thought I'd ever have occasion to say this, but there are too many naked breasts in this room," this last, in a museum on PX4-345, where they were being shown the Ataxian's greatest cultural treasures, which included plenty of many-breasted statues, and no ZPMs. John grinned at him and Rodney raised his eyebrows and cut his eyes sideways at Ronon, who was staring at the statues, ears bright red. Sateda, it turned out, had confusing and conservative taboos about sex and nudity, which they'd learned the first time Lorne had stripped off his shirt in the locker room and Ronon had banged his head on a locker, eyes a little wide.

"I beg your pardon?" the guide said to Rodney.

"The workmanship is extremely impressive," Rodney said, smiling blandly. "Perhaps you could tell us more about the materials used in the sculptures?" It was at times like this that John thought that it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that Rodney was just playing it cool. It wasn't what he'd come to expect from Rodney, whose usual mode of social interaction seemed to be to make sure to say the worst possible thing at the most inconvenient moment, but, then again, there was obviously a niche for a guy who could play it cool in whatever had happened between them, because John, who had a security feed photograph of Rodney tucked one of his desk drawers, who had worn socks the first time they'd had sex, wasn't that guy.

He had thought Rodney would be horny and desperate and grateful, he had assumed—well.

He had thought, at the very least, that Rodney would talk about it more—talk and talk and talk, corner him, make him wish nothing had ever happened, but Rodney was improbably silent about the whole thing. He found he didn't enjoy looking at Rodney as much anymore—his hands or his eyes or the one t-shirt he had left from earth which was thin, shot with pinholes on his left shoulder—it reminded him of the socks he'd felt too guilty to throw away, balled up in his bottom drawer, blameless. He fucked the first person who asked him after that, just a woman on some planet with a lot of pretty hair, someone Rodney could never in a million years have gotten into bed. She seemed to think his name was Jonas. Close enough. He made sure Rodney didn't find out, just in case.



The good thing that came out of it was that John was over his little infatuation. If he'd known a quick, embarrassing screw would have done the trick, he would have hit up Rodney months ago. He was logging ten clicks a day, working his way around the long piers before the sun was fully up, learning rib-separating Satedan abdominal exercises, catching up on his backlogged paperwork. He put on seven pounds of muscle, convinced Zelenka to teach a basic puddlejumper repair course, and gave his dessert ration to Elizabeth, who had been looking a little thin, lately.

"I'm fine," she said, the second time John slid his cookies onto her plate.

"I know," John said.

"Do I look not fine?"

"You look fine," John said.

"Is there a reason you're not giving these to Rodney?" she said. John shrugged.

"Maybe I like you better."

"Who likes who better?" Ronon said, sitting down next to John.

"John considers me more worthy of cookies than Rodney," Elizabeth said.

"Do you want my cookies?" Ronon said, very seriously.

"That's not necessary," Elizabeth said, "but thank you."

Ronon pushed across his cookies anyhow. "He's trying to fatten you up so he can eat you," John said.

Elizabeth laughed. Ronon smiled uncertainly.

"That's a joke, right?" he said, after a minute. Elizabeth laughed some more, her mouth beautiful. Her mangled hand, still a mess of raw scar tissue, the knuckles of her two remaining fingers red and twisted, brushed Ronon's brown fingers and he bent closer.

"I—need to go check on the—thing," John said, starting to his feet and grabbing his tray.

"Have a good night, John," Elizabeth said, a second or two too late. Ronon didn't look at him at all.



Because John wasn't the kind of person who was dishonest with himself, he didn't tell himself that McKay was unattractive or weird looking - it was just that it didn't bother him anymore, the way Rodney looked. He didn't think about it much; he was busy. He saw McKay most days, went on missions with him, ate and joked and tried to talk him into reverse engineering a plasma rifle Ronon traded a stapler and two boxes of binder clips for on PX4-352.

"First of all," Rodney said, while Ronon flipped open the blanket on the lab bench to display the gun, "those were my binder clips, and I needed them. Second, for reasons that are too complicated to explain, you could not come up with a stupider waste of time than a plasma weapon, even if it worked, which it isn't going to, because plasma can't be contained by—oh. Hm."

"Can you fix—"

"Quiet, thinking," Rodney said, and two weeks later they had three plasma rifles that mostly gave people second degree burns, but sometimes emitted a cloud of noxious, but ultimately harmless, gas.

"I was hoping for something a little less—"

"Disappointing, I know," McKay said. He looked like shit, the skin beneath his eyes unnaturally pale and shiny, his jaw uneven with stubble.

"Well. Good effort," John said, after an awkward silence.

"Oh, thanks," Rodney mumbled. "Look, I need to—" he said, jerking his chin back at the lab. "If you want to keep testing them, that's fine."

"Fine," John said, and watched Rodney wander back into his corner of the lab and slump down over his desk, big round shoulders bowed with fatigue. Rodney was obviously one of those people who just didn't get too excited about sex. Beyond a lot of bitter complaining, he didn't put any effort into trying to get laid, ever. Sex didn't interest him as much as work—

"He shouldn't sit like that," Ronon said, coming up behind him by the long observation window. "Bad for his back."

"Yeah, that's what I was. thinking," John said.



Winter came again—their third, alone. Winter didn't mean the same thing when you could gate to a tropical climate, but the Atlantis winters were bitter, all the same. Most of the Athosians moved back to the city for the deep winter months and the city seemed crowded. Teams went back out in force to negotiate for food, textiles, medical supplies, blankets, thread, tea, empty bottles and jars. They traded skilled labor, medicines, hybrid plants, pesticides, simple machines the engineers made in their spare time - cameras, telescopes, apple-peelers. On P6X-461, Elizabeth mediated four divorces, one will, and one dispute over land rights. One P3X-525, Ronon and John tracked and killed a Malvern pack that had begun to prey on the sheep and goat herds in the village and brought back enough wool to make sweaters for half the staff.

They were having to range further afield to make the trades they needed this year; too many worlds had had poor harvests, or were disinclined to trade with strangers.

"I'm beginning to sense a pattern, here," Rodney muttered, the fourth time they were very politely escorted to the Stargate and left with not-very regretful smiles, and not much else to show for whole afternoons of polite inquiries.

"You should learn to be more optimistic, Dr. McKay," Teyla said, but she looked tired, too.

"They didn't shoot us," Ronon said.

"Yes, that part was terrific," Rodney said, "almost as good as the part where I wasted fourteen hours of my very valuable time squatting in goat shit and complimenting the innovative architecture of their really lovely shantytown," but his heart wasn't in it. They needed medical supplies, edible protein, clothing; John woke from dreams where he found new rooms in Atlantis, filled with nutrition bars, with syringes, with ammunition, with shoes.

"P4X-619," he said, digging the list out of his pocket and passing it to Rodney, who sighed and hunched over the DHD. "Then we'll call it a day."



P4X-619 was a prosperous world, peopled with stolid, friendly citizens, who insisted on feeding them lunch before offering to exchange canned and cured vegetables, soap, paper, ink, pens, scissors, sturdy cloth, and seeds, in exchange for live yeast cultures and two crates of the aspirin Haskell and Shapiro had synthesized from the poplar trees they'd found on P2X-351.

"This is very—generous," John said, cautiously.

"My head no longer aches," their headman said. "Your coming is truly a miracle for which we must all give thanks."

The other negotiators nodded more emphatically than politeness required. "Truly, truly, thanks," their lead negotiator said, a cheerful man who had insisted they call him Uzbem, as though it were an honor. "Thanks for all. It is approaching late afternoon, however, and I'm sorry to say our Skolan Chamber is a bit of a hike."

"A hike," John said slowly.

"Yes, yes. I'm afraid it was a mistake to put it up on such a hill, but the gods—" Uzbem broke off and rolled his shoulders elaborately. "truly, they do not choose to convenience us with their actions."

"We are not familiar with the Skolan Chamber," Teyla said, "can you perhaps—"

"A formality only," Uzbem said, gesturing vaguely across the sun-drenched square. "To bring our partnership favor."

"Ah," Teyla said. "Of course."

"You must climb the hills to the—do you see the building on the hill?" Squinting, John could just make out a distant boxy shape on the lush green slopes that surrounded the village.

"Yes."

"As you enter the house, there are blessings on the threshold, and then you have sex—at least once, although it is traditional to celebrate for the entire night, naturally, but we are not all of us so young as we once were, I suppose, and then—come back down and we will complete the trade."

"I, um, I'm sorry, pardon me—" Rodney said, leaning across the table, waving his hands around politely, "I thought you said we were supposed to have sex."

"Yes, of course."

"Sex?" Rodney said. "We're supposed to have—"

"No, no no no, no, no, no," Uzbem said, laughing loudly. "No."

"Ah," Rodney said, and exchanged a relieved glance with Teyla.

"Yes, you see, you have misunderstood. You are most certainly not required—" Uzbem paused to chuckle. "Only two of you," he said. "Any two, of course, any two at all, you are free to choose."

"Oh, great," Rodney muttered.

"Uzbem," Teyla said, brightly, taking his arm and steering him away from the table. "May I speak with you privately on this matter?"

"Well, okay, great," Rodney said. "You know what this day was missing? Date rape and complete loss of personal dignity, so—"

"What's date rape?" Ronon said, crossing his arms and scowling.

"and hiking," Rodney continued, as though Ronon hadn't said anything. "We can't forget about my great love of hiking—"

"Since when do you get to decide who anyone fucks?" Ronon said.

Rodney opened his mouth, and then closed it. "Since never, I guess," he said.

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

"So you and Sheppard can do it, then," Rodney said. "Be my fucking guest."

"Fine," Ronon said.

"Cut it out, both of you," John said.

Rodney shut up and began searching through the pockets of his tac vest, opening and closing Velcro flaps mechanically. John turned to Ronon. "You've never had sex with someone you weren't in love with."

"No," Ronon said, a little abashed.

"McKay has," John said. Rodney's face was unreadable; he didn't flinch. "And I have. So we'll—take care of it."

"But—"

"No big deal," John said. "Right?"

"Nope," Rodney said.

"Teyla will probably talk him out of it anyway," John said, just as Teyla smiled and bowed to Uzbem and walked back over to them.

"I am sorry," she said. "There is—it is required."

"How will they even know what we did?" Rodney said. "We'll just go up there and—"

"They say their god will know," Teyla said. "I—it is said that this region of the galaxy is peopled with truth-readers—"

"Mind-readers?" Rodney said. "You believe in mind-readers."

"Truth-readers are real," Ronon said, and Rodney's head jerked back as though he'd been personally insulted.

"You—"

"It would be unwise," Teyla said, cutting him off, "to risk not doing as they require. We may also leave, if you do not—"

"We need this deal," John said. "Their terms are good."

"Is this their religion?" Rodney demanded. "The freaky non-consensual one-night stand religion?"

"Do you not eat your earth gods once every seven days?" Teyla said, in her most maddeningly reasonable voice.

"What?" Ronon said, sounding startled.

"Symbolically," Teyla said, one eyebrow twitching north.

"Well, not all of them," John said, a little weakly.

Teyla nodded, looked first at Rodney and then at John, her expression polite and bland. "I would like to offer—"

"Absolutely not," John said. "No."

"Rodney—" she said.

"That's okay," Rodney said.

"The profound bias against women in your culture is quite distasteful," she said, but she didn't push it any further.



The hike was long, but not steep, up a slow winding dirt track, through fields of yellow and red flowers.

"I take it every sexual encounter on Sateda is a consummation of glorious love, then," Rodney said, halfway up.

"Something like that," John said.

"Good for them," Rodney muttered. "That's—great."

He didn't say anything else.

It would have been a pleasant hike if John hadn't been on his feet for twelve hours already, if Rodney hadn't been frowning, next to him, his face set. Uzbem had been genially vague about what, exactly, they were supposed to do, and John figured a blowjob would probably do the trick. He'd offer, when they got inside, be nice about it, cool—it didn't have to be a big deal. Or Rodney could fuck him again; that'd be okay. They could maybe even have some fun, fool around, if Rodney wanted.



"Jesus Christ, let's just get this over with," Rodney said, the minute they were through the door. He yanked off his tac vest and pack and threw them on the chair next to the door. It wasn't much of a ritual blessing chamber; John had been prepared for big pillows and candles and incense. On P6X-815, Ronon had had to ritually anoint Teyla in order to allow her to enter the temple of the ancestors: There had been a lot of silky bedding and marble and little bowls of oil and heavy, hushed silence in the room when John and Ronon had swept it for weapons, and Ronon had come out of the room at the end of it with oil up past his elbows, blissed out and quiet.

The Skolan chamber looked like a rustic Best Western, like an EconoLodge in a not very prosperous part of Nevada or Colorado—one lumpy bed in the middle of the too-small room. The bedspread was floral and scratchy under John's hands when he sat down.

"Fine," he said. He meant to ask if Rodney wanted a blowjob, right then, but Rodney was pulling his sweater off over his head, and John hadn't sucked a guy off in years. He wasn't sure if he even knew how to do it without fucking it up.

"Are you just going to sit there?" Rodney said.

"Um—"

"I know you don't want to," Rodney said, glaring at him. "Objection noted, thanks. Because I think you're right, it's important to make this situation as awkward as possible—are you taking off your clothes, or do you plan to go back to Atlantis with—with semen all over your—" he turned away and yanked his shirt off over his head, crouched to unlace his boots, and John got his clothes off, fumbling, determined, and shoved them into a heap on the chest of drawers at the end of the bed.

"Okay, how," Rodney said, leaving his pants in a crumpled lump on the ground and turning back. He looked uncomfortable, harsh, his cheeks a dull red. There were red scars on his chest that hadn't been there the last time they'd fucked; they looked painful, hot to the touch. "On the bed?" Rodney said. John shrugged. "Great," Rodney muttered. "Dream date."

"McKay—"

"Shut up," Rodney said. He was hard, his cock thick and curved, and then he nudged John's ankles apart with his knee and came down on top of John, his cock bumping and sliding right up over John's thigh, their hips grinding together, Rodney's breath hot on his temple, his body almost crushingly heavy.

John exhaled quickly, his breath rough in his throat. Rodney touched him, curled one hand around his waist, and John lifted up underneath him, gasped when Rodney's fingers tightened a little, made a choked, messy noise against Rodney's shoulder and then pressed his lips together, hard. Rodney ignored him, or didn't hear.

"I don't want to ever talk about this again," he said, staring past John, his eyes flat and impersonal. "I don't want to think about it. We're just going to take care of it, and then we'll put on our gear and go back to Atlantis and take a fucking shower—" His voice was chopped, angry, but his fingers were warm and gentle on John's stomach, thumb slapping down over the head of his cock. John shoved up against him and tried to get his own hand between them.

"I can—"

"Don't touch me," Rodney said suddenly, his eyes snapping to John's face, and then away. "I don't want you touching me."

"Yeah, I'll try to avoid that," John said. He knew his face must be bright fucking red, his cheeks were burning, but his voice sounded fine, at least.

"You know what I mean," Rodney said.

"McKay—"

"Will you just—" Rodney said, not looking at him, working him harder now, his other hand braced against the bed, his own cock sliding, neglected, against John's stomach. John shut up. He couldn't see Rodney's eyes, but he could see his forehead, his cheek, the corner of his mouth, the edge of his deep chest, and he could turn his face into the cradle of Rodney's shoulder.

He paid close attention. He hadn't been able to see Rodney's face, the last time, and it probably wasn't—well, obviously wasn't going to happen again so—

"Sheppard," Rodney said sharply.

"Huh?"

"Keep up."

"I—" Rodney had been working both their cocks with one hand, rolling his hips a little, jostling his dick against John's, but now he dropped his own and wrapped one hot palm around John's. His hand was—good, it was good, and John twisted one hand in the bedspread and tried to make it last.

Maybe he greyed out a little when he came—he felt lightheaded, useless, watching Rodney bring himself off, his eyes closed, his chest heaving with effort. John lifted one hand, put it on Rodney's smooth hip, slid it up his side, reached for Rodney's face—

"Keep your hands to yourself," Rodney said.

"Sorry," John said, dropping his hands back to his sides, his stomach lurching with shame. It seemed to take a long time before Rodney groaned and pitched forward, came on John's legs, stomach, cock. He pressed John into the bed for a moment, panting hard, before rolling off him abruptly and cleaning himself on one of the stack of towels that had been left on a sideboard. He tossed another one on the bed next to John's hip and was already buckling his belt, his back to John, when John pulled himself together enough to sit up and start trying to clean himself up.

"You know we're supposed to stay here all night," he said, for no good reason.

"Yes," Rodney said, pulling his shirt over his head. "That'll be a first for you, I guess."

"What's your problem, McKay?" John said, yanking on his own pants. His hands wouldn't stop shaking; he was a mess. He should have let Teyla do this with McKay, let her bring him up here and touch him, wrap her legs around his waist and hold on, kiss him.

"No problem here, Colonel," Rodney said. "What's one more shitty lay—"

"You said not to touch you—"

"You shut the fuck up," Rodney said. "I didn't want this, and I don't want you, and I only did this because it was unconscionable to ask Ronon and Teyla when we'd already—"

"Fine," John said.

"So don't think—"

"I think you made it perfectly clear that you weren't interested months ago," John said, forcing himself to look Rodney in the face.

"You're goddam right I did," Rodney said, pointing viciously. "Wait, what?"

"It's not a big deal," John said roughly. "I don't mind. I know you don't feel—"

"'See you around,'" Rodney said. "'See you around' is what you said, so—"

"So?"

"So I saw you around," Rodney said, biting off each word. "and then you fucked the next girl you saw—"

"You weren't supposed find out about that."

"Well, great, I guess it makes it all better, then," Rodney yelled. "If you just wanted to fuck, I would have, anytime, I was—you didn't have to pretend, you didn't have to feed me some line about having a thing for me."

"Fine," John said. "Sorry."

"Okay," Rodney said.

"Okay."

John pulled on his sweater, which was brown and soft, one sleeve a little longer than the other; it was the newest thing he owned, and the cleanest. He hadn't even gotten blood on it yet. Fighting with Rodney was a fucking bad idea, especially about sex. Get a fucking grip, Sheppard, John thought. Mission objectives. Those vegetables would feed them for a month, and there were more where they came from.

"You want some food or something?" Rodney said quietly, rifling through the boxes and bowls left on the sideboard.

"'m fine," John said. He jerked the covers straight on the bed and forced himself to lie down on top of them. It was still light, the sun streaming in through the windows, high summer. He wasn't going to be able to sleep for hours. He smelled like Rodney; it was—it was fine. Part of the job. Rodney ate a few crackers, idly, and then dug his laptop out of his pack. He looked at the rickety chair by the door, his face tightening wearily for a moment, and then squared his shoulders and sat down carefully on the other side of the bed, leaning back against the headboard. John closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. At first, he could only hear Rodney clicking impatiently at the mouse pad, all the little clicks and hums and muted bink-binks that meant the computer was moving too slowly to catch up to Rodney, but soon enough he settled down and started writing, keys tapping busily. It was soothing. John let his eyes close, dozed a little.

He woke up in the dark, half underneath a blanket; his feet were freezing, the inside of his mouth was dank and sour. There was a small, institutional bathroom where he held his hands under the thin trickle of scalding water and gave himself a long, freaked-out look in the mirror. As soon as they got back to Atlantis, he was going to start dating, maybe one of the Athosians or someone from Prem's crew, some nice woman, someone smart who wanted some babies, someone he could move in with, maybe get married and have some kids after a while. That'd be great.

Rodney was asleep on top of the covers, curled in tightly on himself, shivering. The tablet was on the floor, turned off, one light blinking in a lazy rhythm.

"Wake up," John said. He could barely see Rodney in the pale light cast from the bathroom, and his breath was spidery white smoke between them. Rodney turned away, muttering sleepily. "McKay—" John said, raising his voice. Rodney had had a bad bout of pneumonia a year ago, and still caught cold easily. "Come on, you need to—" John put one careful hand on Rodney's shoulder and Rodney jerked awake.

"What," he said, too sharply. John pulled his hand back. "Fuck, it's really cold," Rodney said.

"You need to get under the covers," John said. Rodney blinked at him, scrubbed one hand across his mouth.

"right, yeah," he said. "You too."

There were two thin quilts in the chest at the foot of the bed; John dumped them on top of the blanket they already had while Rodney scrambled underneath the covers. John's teeth were chattering by the time he slid back into the bed. Rodney turned on his side, facing the middle of the bed, and yanked the covers up higher over his shoulders, his breath harsh. The bathroom light flickered out, leaving them in the dark. John shook out one of the quilts and pulled it up to his ears. When he tried to spread it out, his hand brushed Rodney's bare arm; Rodney flinched.

"Sorry," John said. It was too dark to see the expression on Rodney's face, but it was probably weary annoyance. John lay down and shoved his hands into his armpits instead. Rodney sighed.

"I didn't—your hands were cold," he said.

"I said I was sorry," John said. "It's not a big deal."

The wind howled fiercely outside, rattling the roof, cold air leaking in under the window at the head of the bed. John tucked his face beneath the blanket and waited to warm up. Rodney was all shifting shadows and heat, even with the careful distance between them. John slid back until he could feel the edge of the mattress.

"I'd like to apologize for what I said, earlier," Rodney said evenly. John couldn't see it, but he could imagine the exasperated, determined twist of Rodney's mouth. "It was—unprofessional. We have to work together, and—"

"Apology accepted," John said, cutting him off. Rodney shifted restlessly; John could just make him out looking at the luminescent dial on his wristwatch.

"We'll be out of here soon," John said.

"Yeah," Rodney said.

"Then we can just—forget about it. Like you said."

"Can't wait," Rodney said tightly. "Are you warm enough?"

"Yes."

"You can have my sweater if you want."

"I'm fine."

"It's just in my pack, I know you get cold—"

"I don't get cold—"

"You're always cold—"

"Mind your own fucking business," John said. "Just. Leave me alone."

"Sorry," Rodney said. He rustled around some more; it let cold air in under the covers and John gritted his teeth and didn't say anything. "I didn't mean. I'm sorry."

"It's fine."

"John—"

"It's not a big deal."

"Yeah," Rodney said slowly, a little thoughtfully. "You said that already."

"Well, sorry."

"You said that too."

"I'm tired," John said. "I'm—"

"You—are you in love with me?" Rodney said.

"Fuck off," John said, grimly, without any real hope that Rodney would drop it. He turned over onto his stomach and pushed his face into the crook of his elbow.

"But—"

"I've been awake for twenty-three hours," John said. "Say what you need to say, and then I'm going to sleep."

Rodney said nothing, but John could hear him breathing, jagged, quiet. He watched the shifting patterns on the insides of his eyelids and tried to think about inventory, about grouping the living quarters to better conserve heat. He was working on a preliminary strike plan for their next contract job when Rodney kissed his ear.

"What—McKay, you—" Rodney kissed the edge of his cheek, quickly, his mouth impossibly warm, a few fingers steady, gentle, on the nape of John's neck, sliding higher.

"I'm not in love with you," John said.

"That's okay," Rodney said hoarsely. He wrapped one hand around John's wrist and pulled him into a nervous, eager kiss, their knees banging together clumsily, Rodney's mouth soft on John's, and then he kissed the corner of John's mouth, his chin, his cheek.

"I don't even know that I like you that much," John said, just to feel Rodney's smirk bloom against his jaw. Rodney pinned his open hands against the bed and kissed his neck, tangled up his fingers in John's and nuzzled at John's collarbone until John pulled his hands free and folded himself up around Rodney, pushed his nose into Rodney's temple, breathed easy.

"For God's sake," Rodney said, his voice muffled against John's cheek. "why didn't you ever say anything?"

"I did," John said. Rodney was still breathing pretty hard; he'd gotten one hand under John's shirt, and his thumb traced over John's waist, tenderly along his lowest rib. John resisted the urge to slide down and press his mouth to Rodney's throat, to bite him a little. His knees were watery with relief or joy, happiness, some alien emotion he couldn't categorize. "I said. And you said 'oh'."

"You said 'see you around'," Rodney said.

"After, yeah, but—"

"Well, I wasn't listening," Rodney admitted. "You were about to have sex with me, I was—distracted."

"Oh," John said, and Rodney jerked the covers up around their shoulders, kissed John again in a billowy pocket of warmth and clean linen, deliberate and affectionate, his teeth so careful on John's lower lip

"Right, so—and I shouldn't have said you were a shitty lay," he said. "It was completely untrue, erroneous, in fact, an inaccurate exaggeration, and also not very nice. It's true you weren't—I mean, you were fine—"

"Thank you," John said dryly, and Rodney obviously didn't care that he sucked in bed because he clutched at John's shoulders when John rolled over on top of him and mashed his face into Rodney's neck, slid hot hands down John's back and got one hand in John's pants, and then there was a bad moment when they both almost fell off the bed before Rodney yanked John back by his shirt.

"Okay," he said, one arm still locked around John's waist. "So, tell me."

"What?"

"Right, right, right, yes, I should go first," Rodney said. "Look, if your DNA got harvested to make babies with the ancient gene, I would steal and raise your kid. I would do fucked up sex stuff I hated if you wanted it, because you kind of seem like maybe, but—you know, never mind. I would voluntarily get in a physical fight for you with someone bigger than me—"

"What—"

"hey, I'm trying to give you a heartfelt declaration of love, here," Rodney said. "I'm trying to—"

"You love me," John said.

"Obviously." Rodney rolled his eyes, but only a little. "Sorry you pined for two years."

"It was really just a sex thing for the first year, McKay," John said. He shifted his hips on top of Rodney and watched Rodney's mouth go slack.

"Or a head wound," Rodney said gamely.

"Right, head wound."

"But after that—"

"Yeah. I was," John said, hesitating stupidly. "I loved—I was."

"Sheppard," Rodney said. "I'm trying to have a nice romantic evening, here. We've had some pretty awful sex, which, okay, was possibly partly my fault, and we've had a fight, and now you've finally realized that fighting your tremendous hard-on for me is impossible, so quit being a pussy. You love me."

"Okay," John said.

"Stop forcing me to be the stable non fuck-up," Rodney said, sounding almost worried. "I'm not—I think you'll find I'm not too good at it."

"You're doing all right," John said.

"You think?" Rodney said. The sun was finally coming up. In the soft grey pre-dawn light, John could see that Rodney looked mollified.

"Yeah," John said. Rodney grinned and pulled his head down for a smacking kiss that got serious, fast, Rodney's hands skimming roughly up under his clothes, his thigh rocking up between John's.

"I want to blow you," Rodney said, when John lifted his head to take a frantic breath.

"You don't have to—"

"Shut the fuck up," Rodney said, and dumped him back on the bed, one hand flat on his chest. He reached down and yanked open John's pants, stuffed his hand inside John's underwear and jerked his dick.

"I wasn't going to say no," John said, his knees falling open.

Rodney slid down under the blankets to blow him, his hands curved tightly over John's thighs and after, Rodney climbed up on top of him and rubbed off against John's stomach, muttered quiet promises into John's neck, bit his collarbone.

"Oh, crap, I got come on your sweater," he said, blurrily, afterwards, and then tucked his head against John's shoulder and fell asleep.

"That's okay," John said. Rodney was warm and heavy and gave great head and was probably going to dump him, but John had always been good at ignoring inevitable disaster. Rodney sighed and pressed closer; John let himself put one hand on Rodney's hip.



"Why am I not raising my DNA harvested kid, again?" John said, in the morning, scrubbing at the semen crusted on the bottom of his sweater.

"I meant, hypothetically. If you got hit in the head and incapacitated or had no arms or believed in astrology or whatnot," Rodney said. He finished lacing his boot. "Are you ready yet?"

"I guess."

"Be more sure," Rodney said, staring at him until John said,

"Christ, fine, I'm ready."



John moved in with Rodney the next day, stopped by in the afternoon when he knew Rodney would be in the lab and dumped a duffle bag full of clothes in Rodney's bottom dresser drawer, found a place on the overburdened power strip for his laptop plug, brought over the pillow he'd been given on PX5-168, which was soft and deep with tlik-tik feathers. He worked late with Lorne in the greenhouse, staking seedlings and talking idly about changing up some of the teams. When he got back, Rodney had moved the pillow to his side of the bed and was dozing, face down, one hand still on his tablet.

"Oh, hey," he said, without lifting his head, and then, "hey, do you want to have sex?" and pulled John down into bed and kissed his throat while John was still saying yes.

It snowed in the night, a thick wet slush that froze over the jumper bay exit and the meteorological data collection tower and made the shortcut between the living quarters and the new labs impassible. By the time he and Ronon and a half dozen marines had chipped off the ice, it was nearly nightfall, and Rodney was working still. The next day, the weight of the snow dropped the city a foot and flooded six energy conduits, and by the time everything got straightened out and John never wanted to see a bucket again in his life, Ronon and John had a contract job leading a hunting party on PX4-581. When he got back, Rodney was wearing his socks.



No cheating, John thought, the first month, the first two. No screwing around, no looking. No being an asshole. His instincts weren't the greatest; without even trying hard, he could imagine a thousand ways to screw it up with Rodney. He had a terrible, inglorious track record, bad relationships followed by bad breakups; it probably would have been a good idea to keep his mouth shut, but if he messed it up, he wanted, at least, for Rodney not to be too surprised. Rodney, however, wouldn't be warned; he seemed to regard the whole thing as some kind of friendly competition, or possibly an attempt at foreplay.

"so then you slept with her sister," he'd say, pushing his thumb firmly into the arch of John's foot until John's whole body twitched with pleasure. "Of course you did."

"Yeah, well," John said. Rodney slid his thumb down slowly to put pressure on the stiff spot just above his heel, stroked his other hand over John's Achilles tendon. "It wasn't very nice," John mumbled.

"No shit," Rodney said, grinning, bright-eyed. "right, okay, once I dumped a girl with a post-it on a paper of hers I was peer reviewing."



"Do you think about earth?" Elizabeth said, tipping her head back on the couch, staring at the ceiling. No one said 'home' anymore.

"No," John said. There had been a monthly meeting, recurring, on their calendars, to discuss earthside rotations, developing political situations which might have an impact on their staff, personnel and equipment requisitions; issues which had mostly become obsolete or been reassigned to department heads, but John kept showing up, 1500 hours, every fifth Thursday, because he didn't want to be the one to stop. Now and again they talked about work.

"I slept with Ronon," Elizabeth said.

"What?" John caught himself throwing up the way his hands the way Rodney did when he was uncomfortable or nervous, and forced himself to put them quietly on his knees. He wished Elizabeth had more friends.

"I know, I know," she said. "I know."

"Elizabeth—"

"On the one hand," she said, "why shouldn't I sleep with him? I never get to sleep with anyone and I just wanted—I needed—something," she said.

"It'll be fine," John said.

"I know you're lonely too," Elizabeth said.

"Yeah," John said, but he wasn't, not even a little bit.

Maybe sometimes they didn't have enough sex or John moved things Rodney needed so he couldn't find them, and sometimes Rodney talked and talked and talked about his day while John was trying to read, and Rodney always said he wasn't hungry when John cooked up some noodles or seeded sections of arak fruit but then ate three quarters of it, but he was easy to be with, easy to touch, unexpected.

"Love you," John said on the comm. once, absently, signing off, they way they said it just before they fell asleep or when they weren't in danger. No one said anything, so he didn't realize he'd done it until hours later.



"How do you feel?" Rodney murmured, when they were fucking, once, trying something new, John face down on the bed, his wrists tied above his head, Rodney's dick in his ass.

"Grateful," John said, without thinking about it.

"You—" Rodney gasped against his neck, shoving John further down into the mound of pillows. "I was working up to telling you about how you were a dirty slut," he said, his cheek pressed, stubble-soft, against John's spine.

"You can still—"

"Me too, I'm grateful too," Rodney said quickly, wrapping his arm around John in a quick hug that pulled the tie around John's wrists—Rodney's bathrobe belt—almost painfully tight. "I'm, I've been—" Rodney's hips were moving still, little thrusts, almost there, teasing, and John groaned and bit his lip. "maybe you want to move in?"

"I—"

"You don't have to decide right now," Rodney said. "but I just—I thought maybe."

"I'll think about it," John said.

"Sure," Rodney said. He pulled out a little and traced his hands over John's waist and ass, his blunt fingernails leaving thin, shivery tracks of sensation on John's skin. John hooked one foot over Rodney's calf and pushed back against Rodney, hard.

"hey," Rodney said. "You know, you're really not supposed to—this is against the spirit of the—" John tightened his leg against Rodney's, trying to get more of him and Rodney sighed deeply, and then yanked John back along the pillows until he was pinned between the tie holding his wrists, Rodney's heavy body, the cock in his ass, and Rodney's hand, low, tight on his hip.

"If this your pathetic way of asking for rough kinky sex or a spanking or what have you—"

"It's not—"

"then just be a man and ask for it—"

"Fuck me," John said.

"yeah, that's—" Rodney said. His next thrust lifted John's knees off the bed and the one after that one dumped John awkwardly forward on the pillows, Rodney's thighs between his, forcing his legs wider. It wasn't really new, to have Rodney on top of him, fucking him; it was what they did most of the time. John hadn't quite figured out if it was because it was what Rodney liked or what he liked, but he did like it, the way Rodney's hands cradled his ribs, his shoulders, the way Rodney's dick felt—working inside him, unbearable, amazing—Rodney's fervent mouth on his skin—

"Wait," John said. Rodney faltered, stopped.

"Are you hurt?" he said, his hands smoothing down John's shoulders. "Are you—look, I told you I needed to look up the knots before just tying some knot that'll cut off your circulation—"

"I'll move in with you. Yes."

"Oh," Rodney said. "Okay."



John finally cracked when Rodney cleared off a shelf in the medicine cabinet for him.

"You just wanted me to ask, right?" he said, picking up the jar of aspirin on the counter and centering it on his shelf. All his other bathroom stuff—toothbrush, razor—was jumbled in with Rodney's; he'd brought back the fingernail clippers he'd stolen from Rodney in the first place and they shared the first-aid stuff: arnica, disinfectant, bandages.

"What's that?" Rodney said, already in the other room, shoving around in his closet and muttering to himself.

"You just—I moved in with you six months ago," John said. Rodney's back went quiet. Then he turned around, still half in the closet. "You didn't notice?" John said, faking a smile. Rodney fixed him with a patient, puzzled stare.

"Would I have asked you to move in if I thought you already lived here?"

"Maybe. I don't—"

"If you live here, where the hell is your stuff?" Rodney said. "All your books and pictures and stupid huge surfing paraphernalia, which I really don't get—can you even surf at all?"

"My stuff is here," John said. "My laptop and clothes, and I sleep here every night and use your shower, what did you think—"

"I thought you liked having sex with me," Rodney said loudly. "and taking showers. Jesus Christ."

"Do you not want me to move in?" John asked carefully.

"You already live here," Rodney said. "remember?"

"I don't have to," John said.

"I want you to," Rodney said. "It's just that you might have mentioned—"

"I didn't want to bother you," John said.

"You were trying to be helpful," Rodney said tightly. "I see."

"You wore my socks—

"I thought they were mine—"

"I thought you'd say no," John said, quickly, like ripping a band-aid off.

"And you just wanted to be with me that badly," Rodney sneered, his mouth twisted into an incredulous, disbelieving shape.

"Fuck you," John said. Rodney didn't try to stop him when he left.



It was John's day off—they'd gotten strict about downtime when people started having nervous breakdowns—which he'd meant to spend pretending to move and then fucking Rodney's brains out. Sleet was coming down hard, outside, pinging against the windows and roofs in a monotonous, uncertain rhythm, and Ronon had learned to ask "what's wrong?" when someone looked upset, probably from Elizabeth, so a run was out, and he didn't want to be anywhere where Rodney might find him. Finally he just ended up in the fifth level common room, trying to get drunk on two bottles of cider he'd been hiding in his old room for a special occasion. Booze was hard to come by on Atlantis, which meant everyone had become a lightweight, but John was barely tipsy by the time Rodney showed up, his eyes tired and solemn. He stared at John for a long time, just outside the doorway, the door hanging and stuttering, gently, trying to close between them.

"You just wanted to be with me that badly," he said, finally.

"What tipped you off?" John muttered, taking another swig of cider. Rodney came inside, the door coming together behind him with a satisfied click, stepped around coffee table and sat down next to him, sighed. "Sorry," John said.

"What? No, I like this fight," Rodney said. It was a long couch, but Rodney was sitting close enough that their knees bumped. "We've had it before, I don't have to worry about what to say, I always hurt your feelings—"

"My feelings are fine," John said.

"I've never lived with anyone before," Rodney said. John waited for him to look sideways, but Rodney just stared down at his knees, frowning slightly. "I really—I thought we'd have a lot of sex and it wouldn't work out and I'd still—love you and everyone would say, look at McKay, what an idiot, fucking it up with Colonel Sheppard, or not even ever know we'd been—" he shrugged. "I didn't know we were going to maybe work out."

"No," John said.

"You mean no, as in, I'm screwing it up and you're going to move out, or no, like, I'm the great love of your life and you're going to stop telling me beautiful stories about all the times you screwed women over?"

"You're the great love of my life," John said. The cider was stronger than he'd thought.

"Look," Rodney said. "Bring over some more of your stuff."

"I have everything I need," John said.

"You don't even have all your clothes."

"I meant, in a romantic way, jackass," John said.

"I knew that," Rodney said.




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