Rodney flails a hand that says, "busy" and "go away" and "go away now," and goes back to his monitor.
"Raaaahhhhddddddddnnnnneeeeyyyyy," whines Sheppard in a way so calculated to annoy that it completely hits its mark. As John knew it would. Rodney ignores the tee hee coming from the direction of Miko's workstation.
"For crying out loud, can't you do anything by yourself? An entire company of Marines at your beck and call, with enough ammunition to kill the entire population of Texas, and you need me? This has 'grunt' written all over it. Hello? Slaving scientist here!" If he keeps stalling, he has a six-in-ten chance of putting off John until after lunch. Those aren't very good odds, but they were exponentially better than anyone else's odds. If John put the "p" in pigheaded, Rodney put the "r" in really pigheaded.
"They don't have your toys," he admits, while running a lazy hand over his P-90. "Plus, it was you who insisted that the absence of any energy readings was weird."
Which is, of course, true enough, but still.
"Weird. My original statement—less than two hours ago—was that these voids in the electromagnetic field were an anomaly, and, if we had a moment, we should check it out. At some point. In the future." True, he had been interested two hours ago at breakfast, but if they went on some hare-brained, pointless excursion halfway around the base, then they'd probably miss lunch. "Trust you to translate that into monosyllabic surfer speak, as in 'now.' I'm surprised there wasn't a 'dude' in there somewhere."
"Now, dude," John coos. The toothpick sticking out of the corner of his mouth bobs up and down. "The spikes the spikes are calling," he sings in a truly awful rendition of "Danny Boy," complete with the fake Irish accent.
How on earth can John sing with that toothpick in his mouth? The physics of that... No, he mustn't get distracted.
He gives John the once over to assess the situation. Even John's little "hi ya" wiggle of fingers has a sarcastic twist to it.
Clearly John is bored and, as usual, sees Rodney as the perfect excuse to extricate himself from the hated paperwork. Rodney is sympathetic to a point; however, he really doesn't appreciate being co-opted into John's plans for slacking off when it conflicts with his private date with the stroke he is currently flirting with. He looks at the monitor. Looks at John. Looks back at the monitor. Looks back at John and gets a smile. Rodney might as well give it up; he doesn't have a hope in hell. John looks really bored, as in bored with several exponentials attached to it, which means he'll have no compunction in playing dirty. They are ten seconds away from John segueing into a bastardized version of "Rodney Malone." Radek had sung it for months, until Rodney had pulled out the big guns and had threatened to make him the IT liaison for the Marines.
Rodney gives his screen a longing backward glance and then stands up. Maybe some fresh air will kick start his brain. On this pointless excursion with John to the East Tower, he can run over the numbers in his head...
That doesn't mean he is going to make it any easier for John.
"It's like fifth grade all over again, except we are much taller and you don't smell like Ding-Dongs and bologna. Radek, can you hold down the fort? Colonel Whiney Pants and I have to check out some room on the East Tower that is like every other room in the East Tower. Filled with nothing but allergens."
"But no spikes," John reminds him.
Rodney huffs. "Would you quit it with this 'spikes' business?"
"You started it."
There is a collective a chuckle. Rodney glares at Miko, then Simpson, then Radek. "Silly me. Little did I realize that Atlantis was nothing more than clown college, with my staff masquerading as astrophysicists. Poke the genius. Mock the brainiac. Do I not bleed—"
At which point John grabs Rodney's arm and yanks him into the corridor.
"I am filing a complaint with Woolsey. Man-handling me like some—"
"Girl? Cause you're acting like one."
A faint "Thank you, Colonel Sheppard," in a Czech accent, follows them.
"Traitor!" Rodney shrieks so that Radek will hear him even as John continues to literally push him down the hallway. "Stop pushing me; I'm coming. I suppose it is too much to hope that you might actually attempt some semblance of maturity for the duration of this pointless excursion. I'm not in the mood today for your usual grade-school antics. I am extremely busy."
"Didn't look busy." John voice sounds slightly mollified. There is an implied "sorry" in there.
"Very, very busy. Something's going on in Sector 17."
And this is why he and John are friends. Because John actually stops hustling Rodney along. "Sector 17?" Rodney tries to ignore John's slouch evaporating and his posture snapping into battle mode in a half second. "Let's do this later."
Sector 17 is basically the Bermuda Triangle of Atlantis. A portion of the city that has always been off limits because none of the drones that they've sent in there have ever returned, it had been dormant for five years with a nary a peep. Given the other demands on their time, like being domiciled in an outpost four million light-years from Earth, where every day they had faced the threat of death from space vampires, militaristic psychopaths with blasters, and viruses that made the bubonic plague look like a sniffle, it seemed prudent to leave it alone. Now that they were back on Earth, it had started peeping. Tiny peeps, but Rodney doesn't like it.
"It's okay. I need more numbers before I go to Woolsey, but I have a bad feeling about this."
They walk to the transporter in silence.
Rodney McKay does not believe in God. Hello? How can anyone believe that a Supreme Being has devised a universe that includes the Wraith? Plus that "in his image" nonsense? This meant that in America, God is a beer-swilling, gun-toting moron who smacks his wife around on Saturday night during half-time, plastered to the eyeballs on Bud. When people ask him to explain the creation of the universe, as if the only possible answer is that some higher power is responsible, he never bothers to hide his scorn. Not that he ever hides his scorn, but bring God into a sentence that pertains to science and Rodney goes ballistic. Attributing ignorance to faith is a sure-fire way to be on the receiving end of one of Rodney's rants. Clearly, science just hasn't evolved yet to the point where he has that knowledge or understanding, emphasis on he.
Rodney just can't wrap his mind around faith. It's so imprecise. You pray and maybe God answers your prayers? In physics, you do "A" and then "B" happens, then you add "C" and factor in some "D," and then things go kaboom. The universe and its laws comprise an orderly little cosmic alphabet. When things go FUBAR, it always boils down to human ineptitude or ignorance; God does not enter into the equation.
He's watched too many people die to believe in God.
"Sort of like one pill makes you small and one pill makes you tall. Maybe."
"Thank you so much for your invaluable insight, Colonel. What would we do without you?"
"You'd probably go into Jello withdrawal because you couldn't steal mine."
"Very funny. It would be more than compensated—"
"Gentlemen." Woolsey's voice has that same "Beam-me-up-Scotty" tone that Elizabeth used to adopt at least four times a week. Sometimes ten.
"Now that we've established that Colonel Sheppard is a Lewis Carroll aficionado—which is disturbing on so many levels—"
"How about Jefferson Airplane, Dr. McKay?"
"Yes, drug-addled, sixties, summer-of-free-love icons. That is so much more reassuring."
Rodney glares at John, who sticks out his tongue at him.
"Colonel, you don't mind if I actually try to introduce some science into this conversation?" Before John has an opportunity for another snide remark at his expense, Rodney continues. "You enter the room and a green light beams across the threshold. When you leave, a blue light beams across the same threshold. I have no idea what either light does, but I am guessing they have different functions. The only thing that I can conclude is that one or other of the lights is the memory zapper."
"A zapper. Love those scientific terms, McKay," John says under his breath. Rodney kicks at him under the table.
Woolsey glares at John first, Rodney second, and then turns to Jennifer. "Dr. Keller. Your take on it?"
Rodney and Jennifer's relationship is now in third-base territory. He thinks he's falling in love with her. What's not to love? But they are taking this slow, because the ramifications if this relationship implodes are considerable. Unlike Katie, who had been from the completely marginal scientific hinterlands of botany, Jennifer is senior staff.
"Rodney is correct. Brain scans of both men showed marked activity in their pre-frontal lobe and the hippocampus. I have to assume that since they have no memory of what happened in this room, one of the light beams acts as a memory eraser. I have no idea what the second light beam does."
"Small, tall," Rodney mocks under his breath. John kicks him back.
"All their other vitals were normal."
Rodney gives Jennifer a little smile. She gives him a small smile back. How had he gotten so lucky?
"Colonel Sheppard? Dr. McKay? Can you add anything?"
"We've surmised that the East Tower was one of the first towers built. It's less..." Rodney doesn't quite know how to put it, but, basically, the architecture wasn't as refined.
"Thank you, Colonel. Frank Lloyd Wright is weeping in his grave that the world has lost yet another architectural genius to the military complex. The rooms are small and utilitarian. It isn't much more than a very large closet with a supremely uncomfortable couch and some tables and chairs thrown against the wall. It reminds me of the graduate student lounge at MIT." It never hurts to throw in a few references to his academic record.
"Dr. McKay, I'd like you and Colonel Sheppard to re-enter the room with an external camera feed. Run some diagnostic tests. I've decided that this room will be off limits—the potential for abuse is staggering—but I want to know exactly what sort of animal I'm making off limits." This is what he likes about Woolsey. Behind that bureaucratic facade is someone with an organized brain. Rodney is beginning to think that Woolsey has cultivated the veneer of being a paper-pushing drone just so he can actually get things done. "Sector 17, Dr. McKay?"
It is now a standing bulleted item at the Monday morning staff meeting. The numbers have stabilized to a level that in any other sector would just be slightly higher random variations in basic radiation levels. Woolsey doesn't share Rodney's paranoia, but John does. A lot of Rodney's trepidation is admittedly intuition. And as much as Rodney is always about the numbers, Atlantis has forced him to pay attention to his gut. Until the numbers worsen substantially, Woolsey has made it clear that he's determined to keep Sector 17 as a bullet point until he's forced to act. In other words, at this point Rodney's mounting hysteria over the energy readings in Sector 17 is still merely that: Rodney's hysteria.
Rodney has always made excuses for his neuroses, even knowing full well that he is a complete nerve ball. But his neuroses are always small potatoes when stacked up against the genius factor, thank you very much. Heightmeyer had put it down to his being out of sync with his peers, emotionally and physically; he'd cobbled together a psyche best he could, being a twelve year old burdened with a fifty-year old mind and twenty-two year old peers. Rodney had never disabused her of this little theory because who in their right mind admits to being a flaming neurotic? With the exception of Jeannie, McKays are notoriously crazy. And not nice-crazy, but tin-hat crazy. As in sitting-on-the-front-porch-with-a-twelve-gauge-shotgun-because-the-aliens-are-landing crazy. (Given Rodney's experiences in Pegasus this made his Uncle Angus seem prescient instead of bat-shit insane. It didn't, however, absolve his Great-Aunt Janet of her truly terrifying fixation on ventriloquist dummies.) Obviously in Rodney's case, nature has channeled a majority of that nuttiness into genius, but he is still a nerve ball. Albeit a nerve ball with an obscenely high I.Q.
Until something occurs that forces Woolsey's hand into sending in an expedition, he is going to let sleeping Marines lie. Because no one wants to go into Sector 17. Not even John.
However, the memory-swiping room appears essentially benign, so they send a team in that very afternoon, flanked by Lorne and a bunch of Marines. Based on their last visit, Rodney isn't surprised that he can't remember walking around with his scanner, or that he had sneezed forty times, or that he had remarked that this must have housed the second-rate or at least the earlier Ancients, because this is the WalMart of accommodations: cheap, functional, and only marginally comfortable. Thank you, God, that he hadn't remember John spending nearly the entire time sprawled on a couch, trying to balance a pencil on his upper lip, or that he hadn't remembered snatching it off John's face. The camera caught all this, plus one of Marines trying to hide a raging hard-on for the other Marine standing next to him, pausing every three minutes to bring his gun up in front of his crotch so he could adjust his dick.
"Given the myriad of problems we've had in the occupied towers, we haven't paid much attention to the unoccupied ones. Radek's tapped into the computer for this quadrant, however, and confirmed that once the green light is activated, the blue light siphons off all short-term memory and then feeds it into a database, whereby it resides in hologram form. I've gone through several hours of the holograms and it seems that they used this room for Atlantis' version of open mike night. There is an audio component. Unfortunately. Think Don't Cry for Me Argentina in Ancient. Joy. I have no idea what in the hell was the purpose of such a room. File it under 'We Can Do It Therefore We Did.' One fascinating aspect of this is that you lose your memory only upon exiting. Once back in the room, you remember exactly what you did on the previous visit. If you look at both holograms, you'll see that I remark on our previous visit—"
"Squawking about the dust again—"
"While the Colonel's hologram from the previous visit will show him playing rock, paper, scissors. With himself. In our second visit, he tried to balance a pencil on the end of his lip. For forty minutes."
Woolsey's eyes first rest on Rodney and then on John. He doesn't bother to hide his exasperation. "Doctor, it is possible to rig the room so that it's off limits to all personnel?" Woolsey believes in cutting to the chase.
"Of course." Rodney can't help the minute roll of his eyes. "Although you know how Atlantis feels about Sheppard. Probably everyone but him."
All eyes swivel directly to John, who is balancing a pencil on the end of his upper lip. "I theen I have thish dow."
"Gentlemen, it's time for lunch," Woolsey says with a visible measure of relief.
One night at dusk, his laptop cradled under his arm, he stands on the pier with his back to the ocean for once. He has committed every spire and curve to memory. Goddamn Ancients. They have the technology to build a device that zaps his memory and stores it in a database as a hologram, and yet they haven't provided schematics for Sector 17. Sometimes he hates them.
It takes him two minutes to type the memo to Woolsey recommending that a team of Marines and scientists do a recon because the energy spikes in Section 17 have now reached an unacceptable level. All his attempts to determine what is causing these readings have been ineffectual. His intuition tells him that this is going to be bad. Half of him doesn't want Sheppard there, and half of him knows that he has to have Sheppard there. John is the most effective weapon against Atlantis that they have. Not that it matters what he thinks. John will be leading the team no matter what Rodney thinks because this is what John does. All of which puts him in a super pissed-off frame of mind. When he feels like that, he often goes down to the botany to terrorize them. For some reason they are much more amenable to being terrorized. The linguists just tell him to fuck off in Esperanto.
Rodney doesn't get off more than a few well-placed rants until the head of botany—a total bitch—mikes John and demands that he remove Rodney or she will juice up a gallon of lemons herself and then douse him in it. John is down in the botany lab within three minutes, followed by Jennifer, her mouth pursed in dismay and something close to disgust. Rodney's date on Saturday night just vanished. He can't explain why he had been terrorizing the botanists. For one thing, he is too embarrassed to admit that this ire was fueled by the memo he just sent, and the fact that botany wouldn't be required to send any representatives because there is no way in fucking hell that plants are responsible for the numbers coming out of Sector 17. No, the team has to be composed of several of his scientists, with the understanding that Radek will not be one of them, because if Rodney can't contain what might come down, then Radek needs to assume his job.
He can't say any of this. Instead, he tries to argue that they deserved to be mocked because they are nothing more than a bunch of gardeners with PhDs. Apparently Jennifer is BFF with the head of botany, a fact that has never come up in the three months they have been dating.
The night before the reconnaissance mission he dreams of being humiliated repeatedly in front of a tribunal composed of all the scientists he'd lambasted over the years—it is a very large room, no, actually, an amphitheater, filled with hundreds of people—and the following morning his mood can only be described as vile, even as he suits up for this mission. Everyone except John, Ronon, and Teyla refuse to meet his eyes. It is obvious those pathetic scientist-wannabes in botany—who have had it in for him every since his break-up with Katie—haven't wasted any time spreading the word that McKay is working the asshole factor. Of course, nothing bothers Ronon (unless it involves the Wraith and even then he doesn't get upset so much as go into "kill" mode); John isn't avoiding him, no, glaring at him is more like it (clearly still in a snit because he and Lorne had been in the final round of the Grand Theft Auto playoffs when his mike had gone off, and John had had to forfeit to stop the botanists from beating Rodney to death with plant fronds); and when Teyla sees him she brings their foreheads together (in her usual gesture of affection and concern). Pretty much business as usual.
Unfortunately, it goes exactly as he thought it would. Some sort of dirty bomb that's all of a sudden woken up is primed to detonate for some unknown reason. The millisecond they realize what is going on, the Marines begin ripping off panels searching for the bomb while the scientists are frantically typing on a cadre of laptops, with Rodney typing the fastest he's ever typed in his whole life. None of it matters. The blast obliterates two Marines and three of his scientists into pieces. He is spared because Sheppard's reflexes are phenomenal and his ATA gene warns him a split millisecond before the bomb explodes; he tackles Rodney to the ground and all Rodney ends up with is a bloody knee. Mathers, Wosniak, and Krum aren't so lucky.
At some point he finds himself back in his quarters, sitting on the floor, propped up against a wall. Even making it to a chair or the edge of his bed had been too much of an effort. The shush of his door sliding back registers in a very small part of his brain, but he doesn't care enough to see who it is.
Rodney looks up to see John in leaning over him, a hand hovering near Rodney's shoulder. To his horror, Rodney begins to cry. Rodney opens his mouth and nothing comes out. He can't even voice his failure to John, to own up to it. This is a million times worse than Gaul, which had been a Wraith-orchestrated ambush, and a zillion times worse than Doranda, which had been an ego-generated fail. Sector 17 is simply about not being smart enough.
Suddenly he is hoisted up off of the floor. John shoves his aviators on Rodney's face, hustles him to the nearest transporter, and drags him down a bunch of hallways until Rodney finds himself in front of the no-memory room. The door opens.
"In," is all John says.
Three hours later, Rodney is back in his quarters lying on his bed with a terrible sore throat. Bone weary but calmer, his finger traces the end piece of John's aviators. He now understands why John wears them. Cheap freedom. You can see, but no one can see you. Like shouting out your greatest fears where no one can really hear you. Or at least remember that they heard you.
It isn't until his shower the next morning that he sees that John has written on the underside of his forearm in black Sharpie: "It's okay, buddy."
They don't revisit the room until after the debrief on Sector 17. When two Marines and three of the best and brightest scientists die—Rodney is horrified but not surprised that the death of the Marines is barely mentioned—there are bureaucratic repercussions. Rodney and John are recalled to Cheyenne and basically told they are total fuck-ups, this despite Sam's assessment that all protocols had been followed to the letter. This despite Rodney's two-hundred-page memo detailing how all fail safes were employed and how an exhaustive two-month search of the database has not turn up a single schematic for that sector. Sam tries to defend Rodney and John by stressing that the loss of the three scientists was regrettable, but no one's fault. Sam's efforts pay off to a certain extent. They squeak by without a demotion or reassignment.
Rodney and John are submitted to individual and joint ass-reaming sessions. During their joint session, if it hadn't been for the minute jerking of John's foot under the table right next to his, Rodney would have been none the wiser. But that tight, rapid back and forth tells him that John is about to lose his shit in the most spectacular way possible; Rodney isn't going to let anyone see that. He places his foot over John's and presses. This quiets John down to his usual level of guilty scorn. Because in his heart John knows that the blast had been out of his control, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't feel guilty about it. At no time on the flight home or the transport back to base does John make eye contact with anyone. The second their feet plant on the pier, Rodney steers John in the direction of a transporter, and once they step in, Rodney punches in directions for the East Tower. John leans his head back against the wall and nods.
They are in there six hours and fourteen minutes. Rodney walks John back to his quarters, points to the bed for John to sit, and opens up the bottle of Alberta Premium Special Reserve sitting on the bedside shelf —the one Rodney had given John for Christmas. Rodney squishes next to him, leg to leg, shoulder to shoulder, and they pass the bottle back and forth until it is empty. A couple of minutes after Rodney has drained the last of the whiskey, John whispers, "'M okay."
Rodney hauls himself to his feet and doesn't look back. Stumbling back to his quarters, tanked to the eyeballs, he is so grateful that all he can think about is how drunk he is. And not anything else.
He wakes up ten hours later: an arm trailing over one side of the bed, the other pinning his pillow against the mattress like he always does, as if it were going to run away. Had he even moved since he'd passed out? Unlikely. He raises his head, turns it to the left, then the right. Considering that he had downed half a bottle of whiskey, he doesn't feel too badly. This is why he always drinks high-end booze. The hangover factor is usually minimal. But why are his lips so chapped, and, ow, he rubs one cheek with the flat of his palm. What has caused this rash on his face? He lies there absentmindedly rubbing first one cheek, then the other, resolving to give shaving a miss that day because the little bumps hurt. He dozes in and out for a few minutes, ignoring his bladder until it's down to either peeing on the floor or hauling his ass out of bed. Moving slowly, he pads to the bathroom, wondering if he should tempt fate and have coffee first, then breakfast, or breakfast first, then... Reaching into his boxers, the smell of stale semen hits him in the face.
It doesn't happen too often, but every now and then Rodney hates being a genius. Because right now his brain makes those leaps and bounds it normally does, which is so very, very bad. Because...
Room. John. Sore lips. John. Rash. Semen in underwear. John. Sex. Beard burn. Kissing. John. Room. John. Sex. John. Sex. Sex. John.
OH MY GOD, HE HAD SEX WITH JOHN SHEPPARD.
Rodney mikes Woolsey to report ill, which he knows will be followed by query from John to see if he is all right, and, yes, not two minutes later there is a knock, and his door slides open.
"You okay, Rodney?"
John doesn't sound too much the worse for wear, or, more to the point, he doesn't sound like he'd just discovered he and Rodney had had big bad gay sex. Normal, Rodney tells himself. Sound normal.
"Yes, I'm fine," he barks. Which must have sounded Rodney-esque enough, because John chuckles and then teases, "Just a little hangover, McKay. Lightweight."
Again Rodney scrambles to think what his usual response would be. Petulant? Probably.
"Downing half a bottle of whiskey, which is Canada's finest I might add and nothing that you Americans produce in that sad part of the country called Kentucky is half as good, is not being lightweight. Out!" he shouts and groans into his pillow with relief when he hears the door whoosh shut. But not before John puts a glass of water and a container of aspirin at his bedside.
Since John isn't matching his breakdown with a breakdown of his own, Rodney assumes that the knowledge that they'd had sex of some kind is his burden to bear. Which he resents like hell at first, but the alternative—both of them actively acknowledging they'd had sex—is much, much worse. Being Rodney, he can't help but lie there and bullet point his way to a nervous breakdown.
- While he is convinced that John has relationship and intimacy issues with a capital "I," he has no evidence that John is anything but completely hetero. Five years, six miracles, and numerous Wraith attacks later, Rodney would have bet his right hand that John is straight.
- While he knows that he has relationship and intimacy issues with a capital "I," he has no evidence that he is anything but completely hetero. Five years, six miracles, and numerous Wraith attacks later, Rodney would have bet his left hand that he is straight. Thank god, these sorts of bets are metaphorical or he'd be totally maimed by now.
- Based on how chapped his lips are, they'd gone after each other like lions on the Savannah. Rodney could have passed off the beard burn as some sort of anonymous reaction to something—his skin is ridiculously sensitive—but his lips are REALLY chapped, indicating that they'd basically mauled each other with their mouths. Back seat of a stationwagon level of mauling.
- Turning on the lights, he does an inventory. Bingo, there are a series of bruises near both of his hips, indicating that rough clutching had occurred—wow—plus a thorough examination of his dick reveals extensive chaffing from the fabric of his shorts.
So they had kissed while frotting against each other. How very high school of them. Well, not his high school, because he had graduated from high school at ten, but he'd heard stories. If it weren't for the beard burn and the chapped lips, he would have put down the smell of goat emanating from his crotch to a wet dream. While dead drunk. At forty. He assumes that John had surmised that very scenario, which is beyond stupid, but there is no other possible explanation.
BECAUSE THEY ARE BOTH STRAIGHT!
Rodney takes a shower, has a couple of MREs, and then proceeds to wonder why he isn't freaking out more. Yes, he's freaking out—on a scale of one to ten this is hovering around an eight, ten being catatonic—but the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that he is freaking out dreading John's reaction to their closeted collective homo gone wild, not his reaction to what they'd done. He's never considered his sexuality particularly fluid, as in not at all, but with all this evidence to the contrary...
He touches his lips. Chapped, yes. But aside from that and the bruises on his hips, Rodney feels, um, good. Like he'd just had spectacular sex. So great that the perpetual knot in the small of his back had temporarily unraveled. That hadn't happened in years. Not even with Jennifer and although they'd not yet matriculated beyond Clinton-esque sex, what they had done had felt wonderful. Except. His lips had never chapped up, though. Not once.
The thought of kissing so John so violently that his lips were basically rubbed raw gives him a hard on. Which he ignores. He is not going there. He is never, ever, thinking about it ever again. He is never, ever, returning to the no-memory room.
"How you feeling today, McKay?"
Rodney glances up from his cereal and glares. "Fine," he snaps. "You?"
"Peachy," John coos back, clearly assuming that the reason why Rodney is in a horrible mood is because he is still suffering from the remnants of the hangover. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reason why Rodney is poised to hurl his coffee cup across the room has nothing to do with Alberta Premium Special Reserve and everything to do with John Sheppard.
Yesterday's previous resolve had been shot to shit the minute John had ambled into the mess. It isn't any different from any other morning. John had loaded up on a yogurt/fruit cup like he always does, had flirted harmlessly with a couple of the staff as he often does, frowned when there hadn't been any coffee left because Rodney had drained the pot as usual, and then had smiled when told a fresh pot was brewing, because, "Well, you know. Dr. McKay came in before you." Yes, it is a repeat of all the other mornings on Atlantis save for one thing.
Rodney might not remember what they did, but that doesn't mean that Rodney's body doesn't remember. The lean arch of John's back as he bends over to grab a bran muffin, the elegance of his fingers as he stifles a pre-coffee yawn, the curve of his mouth as he smiles at all of them before he sits down hits Rodney in the sexual solar plexus. His nipples hardened under his tee-shirt, sweat begins collecting in the small of his back and on his temples, and his dick begins twitching.
"You really okay?" John insists after he had plonks down opposite him. Because he might be clueless, but John Sheppard has ridiculously sharp eyesight, like 15/10 vision, so while he might not recognize that Rodney is going into heat, but he can see that something is off.
This is like being fifteen again and not having any control over his completely inappropriate responses. His body is saying, "Yowzah!" while his mind is yelling at his body, "Are you insane?" John continues to study him, concerned and obviously worried, and, at least as far as Rodney's nipples are concerned, as hot as hell.
"Yes," Rodney manages to choke out. "Um, dehydrated?" That sounds like a question, which it shouldn't have done, but even getting out a semi-coherent sentence while his dick is lurching violently in his pants is something of a victory.
"Maybe you should see Jennifer."
Rodney shakes his head. His conscience can't handle that right now.
"I'll be fine," he assures John and hoists his coffee cup to take a gigantic gulp, because his mouth needs to do something completely appropriate, instead of the really inappropriate things it apparently wants to do.
"Diuretic, McKay. Gonna give you a headache for sure. Senior staff meeting in fifteen." At which point John gets up and shoves his chair in, giving Rodney one more worried glance before heading out the door. The loose swivel of those slim hips renews Rodney's hard on with a vengeance.
Rodney finishes his coffee, adjusts his dick so he can walk, thanks a god he doesn't believe for putting on a jacket before he had left his quarters, and curses his body for the sixteenth time that morning. Because lusting after John Sheppard is, first off, monumentally stupid—a total affront to his own heterosexuality, not to mention John's—doubly stupid given his current courtship of Jennifer Keller (which has been moving along quite nicely), triply stupid given that he really values John as a friend and he'd do anything to avoid jeopardizing that friendship, and, finally, fourthly stupid because Sheppard is hetero and even if he isn't as hetero as Rodney is convinced he is, he is military, and therefore as hetero as Rodney thinks he is on principle.
At memory of those hips, Rodney's body tells him to go to hell.
He spends the entire senior staff meeting confirming his previous sexual orientation by taking surreptitious sneak peeks at Jennifer's tits. Although somewhat hidden behind a lab coat, they are absolutely lovely. Firm, full, and perky, they are pretty much the wet dream of breasts. Yet not even the most perfect set of knockers in the world can compete with the aroma of Sheppard mixed in with Aqua Velvet. Between the two of them, Jennifer's fantastic body and John's fantastic smell, it is a miracle that Rodney doesn't emerge from the senior staff meeting with a fatal case of blue balls. This is bordering on ridiculous, not to mention dangerous. By the time he returns to the lab, he's made three resolutions:
- He'll grovel at botany's feet for an awesome bouquet of whatever, agree to run that simulation Radek is always bleating about in exchange for a bottle of that ridiculously delicious French burgundy Radek keeps for those occasions when Rodney needs to bribe him, and, hopefully, have awesome sex with Jennifer so that this whole fascination with Sheppard sex will die a quick death. Sex he can actually remember must be more powerful than sex he can't remember. Yes?
- He'll limit the amount of time he and Sheppard spent together. Racing cars out on the pier is probably a no go for a few weeks. Meals will be harder to avoid. Breakfast and lunch with the team is a given but he would start spending his dinners with Jennifer by themselves. Their relationship is heading in that direction anyway.
- If that doesn't work, he'll jerk off. A lot.
All these resolution become pointless not three days later. Rodney catches John's reflection in some glass as they are walking down a corridor. He is staring at Rodney ass. He looks confused. And hungry. John sees Rodney watching him watching Rodney in the glass, sees Rodney's subsequent blush, answers with a blush of his own, and that's that.
If that tortured stare at Rodney's ass hadn't convinced him that Sheppard had been having a little deja sex of his own, John's studied avoidance of him over the next two weeks cinches it. Rodney tells himself that it will blow over, eventually. He has already put his plan in motion, secretly dubbed Operation Kill Beard Burn, by spending whatever spare chunks of time he has with Jennifer. She is so smart, funny, and sweet. Plus she has tits. Which had never been a specific requirement in the past—more of a given to be honest—but now seems to be negotiable. He so much wants to fall in love with her.
They are having lunch in the mess with Rodney trying to explain wormhole physics in layman's terms using napkins and a fork and a mangled spoon, when he looks up and sees John putting the moves on one of the more recent arrivals, a brunette from one of those God-forsaken states like Missibama or Georgissippi. The first thing that Rodney had noticed about her are her super-white teeth, which is not much of a ringing endorsement as he puts it down to an addiction to teeth-bleaching agents and not a genetic predisposition. She isn't a scientist; perhaps a linguist? Anyway, her parents did her an enormous disservice by saddling her with one of those hyphenated hillbilly names that southern women often have, which is so wrong, because he can't remember people's names, period, and if they have a hyphenated name, like Mary-Eleanor or Cathy-Jo, he has twice the chance of offending them when he calls them by the wrong name or "you." John is leaning over her as he chats her up, twirling a brown curl around one of his fingers. Based on the way this woman is giggling and shoving her breasts in his face, John is going to get lucky very soon. Like in the time it takes for them to run down to hall to the closest door that John can mentally open and then mentally lock.
Rodney can't bear one more second in this room. Not that he can fault John for hetero-ing up, because, hello, he is doing the same exact thing, but watching John smiling at this woman in his fake I'm-not-amused-but-you'll-never-know-that smile causes Rodney's chest to tighten up, as if he'd eaten a lemon.
"Come on. Let's get some air," he says and grabs Jennifer by the hand.
Another week went goes by; they continue to avoid each other. Sort of. Both of them are critical to the operation of Atlantis, so staff meetings happen. The bottom line is they can't ignore each other entirely. Conversations in staff meetings are little more than "Colonel Sheppard, if I may..." and "Sure, Dr. McKay..." and are kept to technical discussions about Atlantis and engineering issues and whatever the CMO and CSO have to talk about to keep the base up and running. Unfortunately, although technically they are not talking to each other, Rodney can still hear and see John. Plus now that Rodney knows that he's kissed John, he wants to know how it felt. His rampaging curiosity is a salient part of his genius and apparently that also has a corresponding sexual component. He'd tasted and felt that mouth, but not.
It is driving him crazy.
His relationship with Jennifer hits a wall. It always feels like it could and should go further but doesn't. One day she says to him, "When you're ready, Rodney." Which tells him that this is all down to him. That she senses his emotional and physical hesitation. This is both a relief and also a little humiliating, because what if she thinks he's got performance issues. In fact, he has the opposite of performance issues. A little impotence wouldn't be amiss right now. Rodney might be a narcissistic bully, but he'd like to think he's not a skank. Until he can resolve this business with Sheppard, he actually doesn't want to cross that line from relationship to R.E.L.A.T.I.O.N.S.H.I.P. Something needs to happens or stop or resolve or go away, whatever, before he can take that step.
Showing a maturity that surprises him, he has a very adult, if semi-articulate conversation with Jennifer on the East pier about their growing intimacy.
"Jennifer, I would like to, um, you know, but I think that given that we, um, are professionals being professional in our professional fields, which means that we have to be professional, so we should, um, go slow. Maybe take it back a few notches."
"Slow?" she replies in a throaty, Lauren Bacall sort of rasp, and runs a hand over one bicep.
"Yes, slow. Please!" he begs. She sits up straight and all of a sudden he is terrified she is going to stomp off. This happens to him a lot, and he is always clueless as to why. "I-I-I don't want to get hurt and I don't want to hurt you." Which is definitely true.
The tension dissipates and she cups the back of his neck with her hand.
"Is kissing allowed?"
Oh God, Jennifer is being coy. Why does he find that so alarming? Normally, he likes his women coy. It is usually a precursor to sex.
She's such a nice kisser. Lots of tongue with the occasional bite. She keeps her hands above his waist, even though they've actually had their hands down each others' pants in past encounters. Framing his shoulders with her palms, she runs her hands over his shirt, pinching his nipples through the cloth. A surge of desire in his groin is welcome on a bazillion levels, and when she brings his hand up to her breast—which is heavy and the nipple taut, Christ—he groans in appreciation as his dick strains against the seam of his pants. And yet. Even as he takes over, doing a little nipple pinching of his own, sucking on her bottom lip with just enough force to elicit a moan, he can't help but wonder: What is it like kissing Sheppard?
Week four and they are still not talking to each other, and his dick is still shouting, "I want that!" every time John walks into the room.
"Gentlemen, a word," Woolsey murmurs as that week's staff meeting comes to a close.
For the first time in weeks he and John lock eyes over the conference table. In dread, of course, but it is nice to be on the same side again.
In the beginning, Rodney had pegged Woolsey as one of the interchangeable bureaucrats hovering around SGC's administrative structure. Anyone associated with IOA had an I.Q. of around twenty—on a good day—so in Rodney's opinion the very best Atlantis can hope for is that Woolsey is a bureaucratic Switzerland as opposed to being a bean-counter Germany. Granted, Woolsey had impossible shoes to fill: Elizabeth's ghost and Sam Carter's brains haunt him where ever he turns. Woolsey's failure is assured. But Woolsey doesn't try to prove he is a better civilian commander than Elizabeth or has bigger intellectual cojones than Sam. He just does his job the best he knows how. Rodney is pleasantly surprised to find that it's enough.
"I have no idea what is going on, and, frankly, I don't want to know. But it stops. Now. Do I make myself clear, gentlemen?" Woolsey lowers his glasses to look at both of them in an unmistakable gesture of authority.
The first thing that comes to mind is to bluff. Bluff, yes, yes, they must bluff at all costs—
"Yes, sir," John says in his clipped military best, does some flawless, double-jointed move where he slips out of his chair, stands up, and salutes, seemingly all at the same time, and then leaves the room as he commands the doors to whoosh open.
Rodney is too horrified to even sputter. How dare John leave him with this mess?
"Dr. McKay?" Woolsey asks in an exhausted murmur, as if he really doesn't want to hear the answer but is determined to go through the motions.
While mentally cursing John from here to Arcturus, Rodney mumbles a few words about how it isn't a big deal and of course they'll work it out, and, um, well, um, how are things in Glocca Morra?
Rodney can't believe he'd actually had said that, and he, too, flees out the open doors. Straight into John.
"We have to talk," grounds out John, as they basically sprint down the hallway to get away from Woolsey. Every word out of John's mouth sounds like the equivalent of eating glass.
"No, we don't!" he challenges. "We just ignore the whole damn thing. I'll ignore it if you will."
John jerks his head to the side as if someone had slapped him.
"I can't," John growls out.
Which Rodney understands, because his hands are aching to grab John's ass. A part of Rodney is gratified to learn that he isn't the only one suffering from sex flashbacks. Another part of him is not so gratified, because while he had been agonizing exactly where his sexuality lay on the Kinsey scale, that tortured rasp had told him that John isn't questioning how gay he might be; more like how sick and perverted he is.
"Okay, we go to the room and talk. Because we can't talk about something neither of us can remember."
This seemed imminently logical until you factored in the lust thing they have going on. Because Rodney doesn't know what sort of talking they do, but based on the hickeys covering his torso, he suspects it had been nothing more than John saying, "Take off your shirt."
Conversely, that makes things better between them. They return to something of the status quo, even while the longing and yearning on Rodney's part worsens. It gets so he can't be in a room with John without getting at least a nominal hard on. At the last staff meeting, while Jennifer and Teyla have a spirited discussion on vaccines for the Athosians and is this ethical, Rodney begins cataloging all the possible sexual scenarios regarding their last encounter. John had shaved that morning so there hadn't been any beard burn, but Rodney is something of a kissing whore, so he imagines that they'd kissed, a lot, and then the biting. Although his shorts hadn't stunk, his body had had that loosey-goosey feel to it when he'd had a good orgasm. Hand jobs then. At Woolsey's call of his name, he starts, looks up, and sees John twirling a pencil through his fingers. He nearly comes in his pants right there and then.
This makes his courtship of Jennifer problematic.
Rodney has a fairly decent track record of being a jerk in the romance department, and while his limited number of relationships had never failed to articulate a lengthy laundry list of his personal failings before dumping him, ninety-nine percent of the time he really didn't get their complaints.
Like the time he was finishing up his second PhD and was in the middle of the simulation that would tip the statistics on his research from smart guess to genius. And Martha had called to say she thought she'd broken her leg falling down the stairs at her dorm. Could he take her to the hospital? Well, no, he couldn't because, hello, the simulation, but he did the very next best thing and called an ambulance. When she got her walking cast she dumped him.
Or the time in Siberia and that brief relationship he had with Irina, a gorgeous Russian astrophysicist who had curves to rival a Barbie doll. Brains and breasts, it didn't get any better (explaining his never-ending passion for Sam Carter). Unfortunately, she was working on a subset of wormhole physics whose basic premise was wrong, wrong, wrong, not to mention woefully inept. Considering that he was/is the world's leading authority on wormhole physics, he felt compelled to tell her so. She didn't appreciate being told that ten years worth of research was total shit. Rodney's rationale was, well, do you want to do five more years of this very same research and then find out it's total shit? The answer was apparently yes or something other than no.
Obviously, what Rodney considers acceptable dating etiquette is made of complete fail, but even he knows that lusting after John while dating Jennifer is skanky by anyone's measure. He fully believes that he is courting her in earnest, but his desire for John remains. Plus now he knows that John has something of a biting fetish, and if that doesn't turn his crank... And yet he feels it is a legitimate gray area, because he isn't gay, although he is becoming less and less sure about the possibility of being bi-sexual, and he really does like her and the possibility of actually loving her doesn't seem like a bizarre notion. And hello? Future. Any future with John would be brief and most likely entail getting his nose broken.
So no more clandestine trysts with John. Despite the biting thing.
Jennifer versus John or John versus Jennifer. This isn't even a question. It's a statement of sorts that he can't answer. So he tries to find the answer to a question he should be able to answer. Where are the schematics to Sector 17? Because if he's not thinking of Jennifer or John, he's thinking about Mathers, Wozniack, and Krum.
When Rodney has his mini-psychotic break at three in the morning, the lab is empty—everyone else had gone to bed hours ago—but Rodney had kept pushing: one more directory, one more file. Thirty directories and five thousand files later still no schematic.
"Help me out here!" he screams to the walls. "Goddamit! I need to know what happened and how to stop it from happening again." There isn't a response, not even so much as a light flicker from his monitor. "FUCK!" he screams at the top of his lungs. "DAMN YOU SMUG, SUPERCILIOUS FUCKS!" he begins throwing whatever comes to hand. His coffee cup. "FUCK!" The back-up coffee cups. "FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!" Reports and clipboards. "GODDAMN ANCIENTS!" He throws his chair against the wall, and is about to pick up his laptop when he is clasped from behind and completely immobilized. The small rational part of his brain that is still functioning says, "Hmmm, that feels rather military."
"I got you," whispers John. "I got you."
Oh, John is here. John, who loves Atlantis even more than he does.
"I can't find those damn...I can't... Krum. Mathers." He slumps against John, letting all of his weight go. John doesn't even flinch, just holds him while he babbles on in some semi-hysterical ramble about sectors and dirty bombs and all that blood and...
Without him even realizing it, John has shuffled him to a transporter.
He rouses himself. "No. Absolutely not, it's not what you want and—"
"Sleep, McKay. That's all. Sleep." John doesn't look at him, even as he pushes the buttons for the East Tower.
Okay, he can deal with that but why did they have to...
"Yes, good idea, but—" he flails a very tired hand.
"Maybe I can do things in there I can't normally do."
Rodney's brain isn't working very well, and he probably wouldn't have said this if his defenses hadn't been stripped raw.
"Obviously, but I really can't handle exactly what we do in there right now, so perhaps a subject for another time. Like when I'm not having a psychotic break. Could you cuddle me? I'd like that. You really don't strike me as the cuddling sort. Normally."
That gets the first honest smile Rodney has seen in ages. God, he's handsome. Rodney had always rated John's physical attributes on a logarithmic scale compared to his own physical deficiencies. He'd never let himself appreciated how so goddamn beautiful this man is.
"I can do cuddling. In fact. I'm a damn good cuddler." John sounds royally insulted.
"This is a bet I can't lose. A Snickers bar says you're a lousy cuddler. I know you have a bunch of them stashed in your desk drawer. Cuddling does not share a skill set with skiing, surfing, golf, skate boarding, basketball, baseball, or football." Rodney doesn't have the energy to roll his eyes but he trusts the scorn in his voice conveys his sentiments. "I'm sure that the military pretty much annihilated whatever latent cuddling ability you might have once had."
"You're on. And if I win?"
"God, Sheppard, you're such a competitive asshole. A six-pack of Keith's."
John narrows his eyes. "You've been holding out on me, McKay."
"Cry me a river."
"Hope that beer's cold." The door slides back.
Rodney slumps against John's shoulder, fighting to keep his eyes open long enough to make it into the room without tripping over his own feet.
"Cock-sure bastard. I'm really tired, John."
"Yeah, Rodney, I know."
He must have been alone when he woke up because when he finds himself outside in the corridor, he is walking by himself, with no sign of John. He looks at his watch. He'd been out fourteen hours. On his wrist, written in Sharpie, is: "At gym. Find me."
Having been trounced by Teyla, sticks still in hand, John's hair is limp—for once—from sweat. He is leaning against the wall, smiling, watching Ronon, who isn't even trying, kick the shit out of three Marines.
"Keeps them humble, don't you think?"
At the sound of Rodney's voice, the smile gets bigger.
"Just what we want. Humble Marines. You get some sleep?"
"I know this is ironic coming from me, but finding those schematics won't bring them back."
"I know, but if—" Rodney doesn't finish his sentence because John brings his arm up in front of Rodney. On the inside of John's arm, in Rodney's own hand, barely legible, as if written while half asleep, is: "John Sheppard is an excellent cuddler."
"Told ya," he crows.
Something breaks in Rodney at that. The question that has no answer just got answered. He manages to mumble, "I'll... Um. Yes. Beer," before hightailing it out of the room.
He waits until it is fairly late before he sends his email. Most of Atlantis is asleep. It says, "I have your beer. Meet me at the usual place so you can claim your ill-gotten gains."
That sounds general enough, should anyone happen to be monitoring their emails. He thinks not, as it would be virtually impossible to break into his firewalls, but this is the American military. He has underestimated them a couple of times to his detriment.
Rodney hits "send."
John is already there. Rodney braces himself for the rejection, the "Jeez, McKay, I don't think so," or even worse, not saying anything, just grabbing the beer and walking down the corridor with it. He doesn't look at Rodney but opens the door and goes in first.
They have matriculated to blow jobs. Apparently. His jaw aches and the inside of his mouth, behind his teeth, tastes like really stale—like one thousand years worth of stale—popcorn. Even if he hadn't received a blow job in return, whatever John had done had certainly received Rodney's seal of approval. His muscles, basking a post-orgasmic glow that stretches from his toe nails to his hairline, protest the entire walk from the transporter to his room. The first thing he does when he gets back to his room is brush his teeth.
The next day he breaks up with Jennifer Keller.
Rodney isn't actually choosing John over Jennifer, because he assumes that every time he enters that room, it will be the last. So, no, it isn't one over the other. But he needs to want Jennifer just as much, if not more, than he seems to want John. Any day now John will come up to him and say, "Take your room and shove it up your ass," at which point Rodney will go into peals of laughter. As if to prove the point, as he is walking to the med bay trying to sort all this out, he wonders what it would feel like to have something up his ass and maybe some experimentation with fingers should be on the agenda for tonight's hand job.
As always, Jennifer greets him with her oh-so-beautiful smile and readily agrees to take a break and have dinner with him. In between bites of honest-to-God real beef (not the near steer they'd dined on for years and years), they gossip about the latest dirt—Zelenka's crush on his counterpart on the Daedalus, a fellow Czech scientist who has so much hair it makes John look bald by comparison. It's companionable and she's so lovely and has a laugh that tickles Rodney underneath his ribs, and even though he knows he must break up with her, for a brief moment he really hopes like hell that this business with John is a freak anomaly because life with her would be so easy and safe. Rodney blurts out a bunch of questions, just to keep her talking; she has such a beautiful voice.
"I heard that Stevens has requested a transfer back to Earth. Is that true?"
Jennifer sighs. "Yes, just after she'd been trained. Apparently she had her thirty-fifth birthday last week and has decided that the boyfriend back in Kansas, who sounds like a first-class jerk, is now perfect daddy material. Not that I don't understand..."
That is a scary trail-off.
"Well, the children thing," she says with some snap. "I can't see myself having children here. They wander into a Sector 17 situation and get blow up or encounter a nano-virus. This is jumping the gun, but ..." and here she blushes, god, and that simple blush is so refreshingly innocent that it hits Rodney so deeply that he can't help but gasp a little. "I thought we'd go home in a couple of years, and, you know..."
As he opens his mouth to screech, "Leave Atlantis? Kids?" he sees John Sheppard standing in line, horsing around with a couple of Marines.
"Jennifer." He takes both of her hands in two of his and squeezes. "We need to talk."
"So why is Keller so glum these days? Don Juan McKay off his feed?"
That sounds snide, but that is John's tone toward him these days. They are walking toward the armory. In a weak moment Rodney had agreed that despite being currently domiciled on Earth, all members of the Science Division need to maintain a certain number of hours a month at the shooting range. Rodney, of course, hadn't meant himself, and is quite chagrined when he sees his name on a list of people who have to hightail their heinies to the shooting range or else.
Normally Rodney would bluster at a comment like that, but what did it matter?
"We broke up. Just...you know. It, um, happens. Sometimes."
As he predicted, when John hears the news, his entire body language changes from slouch to battle-ready mode. He looks right, then left, to see if anyone is listening, and hisses, "Not because—"
Infuriated because that grimace on John's face says volumes, Rodney hisses back, "No. This isn't about you." Which is a half-lie, but John doesn't need to know that. "Thank you so much for your concern, Colonel. Jennifer and I had different visions of the future: hers included us living in some suburban hellhole surrounded by strip malls; mine was here. Hand me that gun, will you?"
John teases and pokes Rodney for the next few days, trying to make it better, but Rodney refuses to play. He's just broken up with the hottest and nicest woman he's ever met—while he could go on forever about Sam Carter's intellectual and physical charms, she is too smart to be nice—Jennifer, miracles of miracles, had seemed to really like him, despite all his quirks.
And the man who has called into question his entire sexual identity is being a first-class asshole about it all.
Even as he glares at John's stupid attempts to apologize, he knows that breaking up with Jennifer had been the right thing to do. Because they'd watched movies, necked, and strolled around Atlantis in the moonlight, and it was nice. Very nice. But it isn't anything to how he feels leaving that damn room after a couple of hours with John. Besides the sex aspect. He'd been having orgasms for over twenty-five years, and he'd never feels the way he does after being with John. Filled, sated, and—goddamn John's hetero—happy. Rodney wishes he were the type of person who could settle for second best. But being content with being second best doesn't make you the world's authority on wormhole physics, nor does it get you two PhDs before you are twenty-four. Not even considering the Atlantis issue, marrying Jennifer would be settling. Not as bad as Katie Brown settling, but still. And Rodney isn't built to "settle."
He still has no idea what in the hell happens in that room. Sure, he has physical evidence, but the emotional and psychological ABCs? Sorely tempted to access the holograms, he decides no. Oddly, it seems like a fundamental breech of John's privacy. Rodney's cluelessness is profound, not a state that he deals with well, but consoles himself with the certainty that no way had he initiated things. Not because of the gay business, because clearly in the right setting he has no problem dialing up his homo, but because it is John. And Rodney would never go there first.
When his email pings at around midnight and it is from John, he expects another lame attempt to apologize. A guy-ish apology, like, "Picked up a cool knife for your Tac vest." Something along those lines. Rodney does not expect an invite.
"Want your Snicker's bar?"
Rodney debates not going, ending this right now. If he doesn't show, that will be it. John will never offer again. And if he offers again, John will turn him down.
Rodney has never not asked "why" in his entire life. He suspects that a small percentage of his genius is actually phenomenal curiosity. The answer to one why only generates another why, which generates another why, and so on. While he thinks he might be able to deal with the why of John and Rodney, he is pretty damn sure that John can't. And won't.
Still. He brushes his teeth and grabs a tube of lube on his way out the door.
After that, it goes from meeting every now and then to nearly every night. Some nights Rodney is convinced nothing happens. Some nights he returns to his quarters and checks for bites or bruises, yucko mouth, and nothing. Other nights his body is one big bruise. One time he had emerged from the room with a black eye, obviously the result of some sort of sexual experiment gone wrong. John has very pointy elbows. At John's alarmed stare when he arrives at breakfast sporting this gigantic shiner, Rodney grins and shrugs his shoulders. John sprays coffee all over Ronon.
All this convinces Rodney that John is more or less okay with the gay thing. The first time he returns to his quarters with lube dripping out of his ass and his sphincter muscles loose, he isn't freaked so much as frustrated. Because the knot is so gone and his normal level of anxiety temporarily erased; butt sex his ticket to Ascension? He wishes he could have felt that, not just bask in its afterglow.
Rodney might be the most neurotic son of a bitch in five galaxies, but when he is faced with incontrovertible evidence—the scientist in him at work—he tends to roll over, so to speak. He comes back from these encounters with John fucked out and happy or just happy and content. Radek asks him if he's taking anti-depressants. This is working. He doesn't know how, he doesn't know why, he just knows that it works.
So when John stops having breakfast with him, stops visiting the lab, and worst of all, leaves his e-mails unread, he doesn't know why. They go from full throttle to stop. But. They have long passed the point where he can let it go. After first blow job, yes, but not now. Because it isn't just about the gay sex anymore. John Sheppard can just fuck himself.
He mikes John so that he will have to respond, which is really low, but Rodney doesn't care.
"Colonel, I need to speak with you about the agenda for the senior staff meeting tomorrow."
"Now, McKay? Kinda late." John's voice is so cold it's like an ice storm blasting through Rodney's ear piece.
"Yes. See you in three."
There must have been something in Rodney's voice that says don't fuck with me right now, because John doesn't bar his entrance. He is standing six feet from the door though, arms folded, clearly determined to let Rodney say his piece and then kick him out.
"You," Rodney points a finger at him, "do not get to do this. You can say, 'No I don't want to meet you there,' or you can say, 'This is over.' Fine. Well, not fine, but I will have to deal with it. You do not," Rodney walks over to John and cuffs him on the shoulder, hard, "get to treat me like some tired piece of ass because you're freaking out about the gay and—"
"I had lube and come dribbling out of my ass!"
Christ. So, not fine with the gay thing. Safety in numbers?
"Oh. Well. Me too. Um, often. Couple of times a week."
There's no answer for a full solid minute and then, "I... I...do that?"
"Fuck," Rodney says under his breath. He closes his eyes because he can't bear to see John's face as it crumbles into a horrible mixture of surprise and disgust. "Yes, we do. And I think I really like it because I always have a shit-eating grin on my face afterwards. How did you feel? Afterward."
Rodney opens his eyes, expecting to see anger, possibly directed at him.
"I don't know." John's voice has this quaver in it that makes him sound about fourteen years old.
"Do you want to stop?"
As if John were a computer and going through a fail-safe shut down, Rodney watches as his shoulders tighten, and his head tips to the side. Then his eyes dull and his lips pull tight into a grimace. It is time for the "Hail Mary" Rodney doesn't have a clue how to make. But maybe this is the thing about Hail Marys. He looks down at his shoes because he has to say this, but he doesn't think he can say it and watch John's reaction.
"Before you say yes, I will tell you how I feel. I come out of there happy, plus in physical nirvana, like I've had the best sex of my life because of the happy factor and not because you're a phenomenal lay. Not that I know, but based on your phenomenal sense of timing and physical ability with anything that has to do with sports, you're probably an athlete in the sack as well." Rodney ignores the choking noise coming out of John's mouth, "I don't know. It doesn't matter to me. I am never forgiving you for this, for making me sound like a goddamn girl. John, I come out of there and I'm happy. Do you know what that's like for someone like me?"
That gets no response, although with John that might be a positive. Rodney brings his head up. He's seen John Sheppard look frightened three times in the entire six years they'd known each other. Now four. A man who has stared down a Wraith Queen is terrified.
"How do you feel?"
"The same? Happy?"
That got the briefest jerk of his head, then, "I just... I just want to know what in the hell is happening in there. How we got..." John begins pacing in circles. "You know, because, dammit, I'm straight. I can't. Do what you want me to do," he says to the floor and begins pacing again. John stops, then does his own intense scrutiny of his shoes.
"You have! Do I need to tell you exactly what I think has been going on in there. It doesn't take a genius—"
John turns around, his back facing Rodney, and says out of the side of his mouth, "Dammit, Rodney. I cannot do this!"
At that Rodney braces to throw the pass and hopes like hell John catches it.
"Christ, even now, when I want to hit you, as in really hurt you, I can feel this," Rodney throws his arms up in the arms, "this goddamn 'ping,' for lack of a better word, between us. We have been doing it. For weeks, I might point out. I will not compromise your command. I don't want to lose—" He throws that metaphorical football with everything he has. He steps forward. With one finger he turns John around so that they are facing each other. With the other finger he smoothes out the deep furrows on John's forehead. Then he tugs on John's ear lobe. Then he cups the back of John's head with his hand and brings their foreheads together. "This. Sometimes, John, in fact, a lot of the time, I don't think we do anything. I think we just hang out and talk and do this a lot. Steal some happiness when we can."
Before the first Wraith siege, when they had finished taping their goodbyes, Rodney had asked Ford whether all of his tape had made it. Ford said, yeah, mostly, but that had only been because Major Sheppard didn't use up any minutes. That floored Rodney. Even considering how emotionally asbestos Rodney is, he had had a message for Jeannie. He had been floored again once he found out that John's father and brother and ex-wife had been on Earth and that John had had nothing to say to them.
Everyone needs one person to say goodbye to. Rodney wants to be John's person. As much as it is agony watching John play this ping-pong between his duty and his desire, Rodney knows, even with his woefully abysmal social abilities, that it says something about how much John needs this that John is even discussing this, them—if you could call manic pacing with a few words strung here and there discussing. John is doing some monumental bargaining of his own. While Rodney needs their this so much that he is willing to bargain away his heterosexuality without a second thought, maybe for John the whole sex thing is the tip of the iceberg. That being gay is nothing compared to being intimate. But how much easier it is to make it about the gay.
It isn't just the sex. Nothing will ever convince Rodney of that. If it had just been about sex, he wouldn't have jeopardized his relationship with Jennifer. The kick between them is so fierce that Rodney's a little breathless from their very proximity. He wasn't falling in love with John Sheppard, he is in love with him. By the whispered "oh" from John, he is as much in thrall as Rodney is.
Rodney has three seconds of Hail Mary bliss before John brings his hands up and grabs Rodney's shoulders. "Maybe we keep going to the room and—"
"No—" John's breath, hot on his face, smells like toothpaste. That curvy, sex, bottom lip is so close. He wants it so badly, but...
"It will be okay," John's hand, sweaty from desire or nerves, maybe both, slides up along Rodney's neck to reach for his chin, "we'll—"
"No and no. I am not going to lie to you. Or myself. Anymore." Rodney pulls away. "Sometimes I think we are the same two people in there, sometimes I think maybe we're better people in there. I don't know. But—"
"Rodney," John says in that low warning voice that is usually the precursor to getting a P-90 shoved in your face.
"No!' he shouts."You listen to me. I don't know if this," he flaps both hands, "us, the sex thing, we, together, will work out here. In our real world. Such as it is. But we cannot stay in there. It's cheating both of us. And—"
"What happens if it doesn't work? Do you really think that the senior military officer and the senior scientist should be fraternizing? Think maybe Woolsey might have a problem with it. I would, if I were him and—"
"FYI. It works, asshole. We've so left fraternizing in the dust by this point." Rodney refrains from adding that anal sex is just about as fraternal as it gets.
John ignores him. "And if, if we skirt that entire management issue, because you know I'm the type of guy who can't say management with a straight face, we just park our straight?" If John voice had been any more snide, it would have singed Rodney's eyebrows clean off his face.
"Yes and yes!" Rodney has never had any patience for stupid people and John is really pushing it. "Would you please, for five seconds, power down that anti-intimacy force field that surrounds you and face the fucking facts? I don't know why those insane Ancients built a room where your memory gets zapped. And yes, you can now face a military tribunal and have them dope you up and you won't remember a thing. You can honestly say, 'No, General, I have no memory of that incident.' Great. They won't know that you sucked my dick." John jerks, as if Rodney had hit him. "But I will know."
Rodney turns around and leaves.
This breech between them is so serious that not even Woolsey says anything. In what Rodney can only call an act of contrition, the schematics for Section 17 show up one day in a standard directory that had been scanned a zillion times. After satisfying himself that the devastation could have been a hundred times worse, that all his typing hadn't been completely pointless, he forwards the schematics to Sam. Then he realizes that it's not just a peace offering but maybe a ransom of sorts, but Rodney's not the one who's being held hostage
This cold war lasts for two weeks. Then one night when Rodney is sitting at the pier, debating whether or not he should resign, John moseys on up and sits down.
John doesn't say anything for twenty minutes. Then he blurts out, "I watched the holograms."
Rodney is furious. How dare he? How dare he?
"That was completely out of line, you fucking asshole. How could—"
Warm fingers encircle Rodney wrist.
"Shitty of me I know, but I had to know who I was in that room. And the only way I could find out was to watch those holograms. I'm sorry. I don't know that man. I think I might like to get to know him." The fingers shift and try to thread themselves through Rodney hand. Rodney's resists for a second then opens his hand to let John's fingers interlace with his. "You were right. We're different people in there."
Rodney has always had a problem with filters and doesn't think that he's that different at all. He opens his mouth to protest. John cuts him off.
"Correction. I'm different."
"You're such an asshole, McKay," John says with affection. "I deleted our holograms."
Rodney would have liked to have seen them, but he understands why John did it. It's not fair to build a relationship on the person John might be. Although it's physics and numbers that are Rodney's strong suits, and not introspection and self-awareness, the last two weeks have been little more than a massive evaluation of who they are, both individually and collectively. Rodney's sure that he's straight but with a latent bi-sexual streak that has been waiting for the right guy to tap into—hello, John Sheppard—and that John is probably gay and has been gay all of his life. Not that John knows that. But the room had given him the freedom to do what his psyche has been longing to do for several decades. He was finally free from himself. Which makes Rodney really sad, so he's not as mad as he should be. Still, he's not letting John off entirely.
"Never again pretend that your computer savvy begins and ends with Grand Theft Auto," Rodney snaps. Even as he says this, he tightens his hand within John's. John brays that ridiculous laugh in response, which gives Rodney the courage to say, "Are we good?"
"Good as in now we can be mutually gay and you won't go into some sort of psychotic denial or—"
"Slow, buckaroo. Let's take it slow. But basically, yeah, on board with the happy. I think."
Rodney can't help but harrumph. "Where do you come up with these expressions? Buckeroo? And is happy some sort of euphemism for blow jobs? Because I might have the emotional maturity of a thirteen-year-old boy, but I really believe in—"
John brings their foreheads together and then pulls back just a second before kissing Rodney's disappearing hairline.
"I like happy. I want happy," Rodney whispers.
"Me, too," John whispers back.