It's late when John runs into Rodney in front of their quarters.
They haven't had a moment alone since John got called out of bed to deal with the latest round of Marine stupidity, and Rodney, after determining the radio wasn't for him, rolled over and went back to sleep.
It wasn't what John would call quality time. Usually, if people aren't being dicks, John wakes up first and goes for a run with Ronon. Then he comes back, collapses on the bed, and curses the filthy lies his ego tells him that make him think he can keep up with Ronon. Once the feeling returns to his extremities, he rolls over and snuggles Rodney awake until Rodney rouses enough to complain about how sweaty John is, and then maybe some wrestling and a shower. Today they didn't even have a chance to say hello.
What started as a fight between two Marines—one was having a problem accepting the recent changes to the uniform code while the other was having a problem with being called a faggot—turned into a small riot as every Jarhead on cee deck decided they wanted to share their opinion on the subject. With their fists. Which was when Lorne apparently thought fuck this, I am way too straight to deal with this shit and woke John up.
He got dressed in the dark, Rodney still mostly asleep and muttering about how criminally stupid you'd have to be to call anyone a faggot when your boss is gayer than a tree full of unicorns. John had to agree.
Dealing with the parties involved took most of the morning and meant breakfast was a cup of coffee and whatever was lying around his office. The best he could do was a powerbar (previously rejected by Rodney for being banana nut flavor), a potato-like fruit, and half a bag of wasabi peas, all of which he ate with varying degrees of enthusiasm in between disciplinary meetings. The first chance he got, he left to grab an early lunch, hoping to find Rodney in the mess. Rodney wasn't there, but Teyla was, and John spent the better part of an hour with her, eating a sandwich and talking about important team stuff, like the deputy mayor with the freckles who'd been flirting with Ronon on their last mission. It wasn't until John got up to leave that Rodney walked in.
It was like that for the rest of the day. Rodney couldn't make it to the monthly jumper maintenance work party; John had to bail on senior staff, and both of them skipped dinner.
They must have passed each other a dozen times, always on their way somewhere else, but now they're finally headed in the same direction. John smiles, looking forward to spending some time together. Now that he can kiss Rodney anywhere he wants, he still likes it best when they're alone.
He leans against the wall and tries to look seductive. "Hey."
"Oh," Rodney says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder, apologetic. "I was just getting my iPod. I have to get back to the lab."
He looks endearingly rumpled, hair standing on end, the hood of his sweatshirt flipped inside out, one earbud dangling against his chest. It's the way he always looks in the middle of a long night, and John knows he won't see him again until morning.
John swallows down his disappointment. "Okay."
"Really?" Rodney says. "We haven't seen each other all day and now I'm—"
"Are you mad?" Rodney asks fretfully. "I can never tell when you're mad. I can get Radek to babysit the—except I can't because he's in the infirmary—um, Zhou could easily handle measurements for an hour or two; I think. We could mess around?" Rodney scoots closer and puts a hand on John's hip.
"Is he all right?"
Rodney looks confused. "Zhou's female."
"I meant Radek," John says patiently.
"Oh, yeah, he'll be fine. He cut his arm open on a broken crystal and I had to send him to the infirmary to get some stitches before he bled to death on the floor of the lab. He's almost as bad as you are when it comes to ignoring personal injuries. You tough guys, so macho with your concussions and second-degree burns."
"It's true," John says. "I see him at all the tough guy meetings."
Rodney rolls his eyes and leans into him. John rubs his back.
"Did you fix your dumb Marines?" Rodney asks.
"All signed up for a sensitivity course with the Rem," John says.
Rodney's face scrunches up while he accesses his read-only memory. "The androgynous monks with the beer?"
"And the goat farm. Yep."
Gerstner's squad is in for a long week of brushing goats and talking about their feelings. The Rem have a lengthy dialogue perfect for the occasion, all about how violence and aggression should never be the first response to conflict among peers, and that treating others with disrespect reflects a sad lack of confidence in yourself. John got an abbreviated version of the speech when Team Sheppard first met the Rem—before he and Rodney were together, back when John still felt like he had something to prove—and John made the mistake of swatting Rodney upside the head for stealing one of his steamed dumplings. After John apologized to Rodney, Teyla, Ford, and himself, the Rem were happy to discuss a trade agreement, and though it cost Atlantis an outrageous amount of chicken wire, the team left with a deal for barley and cheese, as well as a standing offer to come study patience with the Rem.
Over the years it's become John's favorite place to send troublemakers. Marines expect to be punished with hard labor, but the combination of wet goat, gentle disappointment, and grueling emotional work has turned out to be surprisingly effective. John's rarely had to send anyone there twice for the same problem. What John can't understand is that some expedition members actually choose to spend their leave there.
"I remember the goats." Rodney's grin is sudden and gleeful. "I hope those mouth-breathing homophobes enjoy getting kicked in the junk."
"I'm sending everyone who was involved," John says tightly.
"What?" Rodney's smile fades. "But Hammar and those guys weren't wrong. They were just standing up for themselves, or their teammates, or you, and you sent them to live with goats? Not even I would do that, and I'm a terrible manager."
John scowls. "I have to, Rodney. They were fighting—for whatever reason—and it can't be tolerated. I can't tolerate it, even if I understand why they did it. Do you think this is easy for me?"
Rodney pulls back to look at him. "Of course not!"
"I've been there, you know," John says. "Someone calls you a fag like that, you want to punch them. Used to be there wasn't much else you could do about it, but things are different now. I'm in a position to make them different, and I could have, if Hammar had come to me."
"Did you ever—hit someone over it?"
"Once," John says.
Rodney waits, but when he realizes John isn't going to say anything more, he volunteers: "After I graduated from high school, I spent most of my time in the lab. Scientists are pretty much universally horny, and we'll try anything twice, so being a little gay was hardly remarkable in that environment. Even after I started working for the Air Force, I was still in a lab, and, honestly, SGC scientists are some of the kinkiest people on Earth. I mean, I knew a guy who built himself an organic Asgard sexbot—"
John cringes. "Rodney!"
"Ah, you don't want to hear about that," Rodney says, interrupting himself. "Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that I've been stared at, called names, and shoved into lockers for liking guys, but if anything was going to get me fired or reassigned, it was going to be my own mouth; I knew it and I still couldn't keep a lid on it. Ask me how I got sent to Siberia! So, I sort of get it, but not really, and I'm sorry. I can tell you've put a lot of thought into this whole," Rodney waves his hands around, "situation, because you're all tense and unhappy, and I shouldn't have said what I did. I know this is hard for you."
"Okay," John says, once he's sure Rodney's done.
Rodney looks at him, forehead wrinkling with concern. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
John shrugs. "Whatever I do it's going to look bad. I punish Hammar, I'm overcompensating because I secretly hate myself and think he deserved it. I let him off, I'm going easy on him because we belong to the same club."
Rodney considers this. "I don't actually know the official procedure for this kind of thing because when my people screw up I usually just put them on sewage duty so I don't have to look at them for a while, but can't you write his name on the blackboard or something?"
"Maybe if this were grade school."
"You know what I mean!"
"Yeah, I know, and I tried to find a way to let him off with a warning. He was provoked, and as far as we can tell the other side threw the first punch, but he engaged and drew others into the fight." John rubs his face with both hands. He's been thinking about this all day, and he'd really like to stop, but he's still not sure he made the right decision. "I don't want people thinking it's cool to go around punching folks just because they said something nasty. Besides, it would look like favoritism if I gave him a pass, and when I got there, Vicks and Mosbey were already shouting about my gay agenda undermining unit cohesion. Though not in those exact words."
"They obviously have no idea who they're dealing with," Rodney says. "I've seen the agendas you put together—they have about three and a half bullet points and then rapidly devolve into doodles of fighter planes."
Despite himself, John smiles. "In the end, I decided it was best to just send the whole squad. Maybe they can bond over what a lousy CO they have."
"I hate that these idiots made their stupidity your problem," Rodney says, quietly angry. "If they're so disgusted by us, they could at least have the decency to keep it to themselves. You're sure you don't want me to sign out for the night?"
John shakes his head. It'd be nice to have some time with Rodney, but whatever he's working on will be nice, too, the first and second and third time it saves their asses, and John doesn't want to be the one to take him away from it. He can wait.
"Go back to the lab," John says. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Okay, diagnostics should only take a couple more hours. I'll try not to wake you when I come in." He fumbles around for his dangling earbud and tilts his head up for a quick kiss.
"Actually," John says, getting an idea, "go ahead and wake me up."
"Really? You mean, like—really?"
"If you're up for it."
Rodney gets a calculating look like he's trying to figure out a way to shave some time off his testing protocols, and John gives him another kiss, fixes the hood of his sweatshirt, and sends him on his way.
Rodney only makes it a few steps before he turns around and comes back. "It might—in the interest of full disclosure—be more than a couple of hours. We've still got a lot of code to go through, and with Radek out I have to do everything myself even more than usual. Which isn't a problem, obviously, except we're still losing power and I can't find the leak."
John feels like he missed something. "Excuse me?"
Rodney cocks his head at him. "Oh, that's right, you weren't at the staff meeting. We finally plugged in that box that Teldy's team brought back from the weapons lab on Beth Claxus, and it launched a subroutine that appears to be randomly opening every file in its memory. It's drawing a lot of power from the ZPM, and we'd really like it to stop before it melts itself into slag. It's nothing you need to worry about, but it's taking a while to isolate the cause, and I didn't want to give you the impression that I—"
"It's okay, Rodney," John says. "Whenever you get back is good."
Rodney flashes him a crooked grin and hustles off down the corridor. John watches him fondly as he takes the corner a little too soon and rebounds off the wall, clutching his arm and swearing in what sounds like Ancient, probably cursing the long-dead architect who had the audacity to put a wall there in the first place. Rodney tries the corner again and succeeds this time, his angry muttering trailing out behind him even after he disappears from view.
John palms their door open and steps inside.
Their quarters are dark and cool—John must have left a window open—and so quiet he can hear the whirr of Rodney's second-favorite laptop as it crunches numbers somewhere in the room.
He turns on the lamp by the couch and checks that everything's more or less in the right place. Chances are good Rodney will fall asleep in the labs once all the excitement dies down, but he'll stumble home eventually, and John doesn't want him tripping over the project he has piled up on the floor next to his desk. The last time John asked, Rodney swore he was almost finished, but that was several months ago, and John knows better than to touch anything.
The kitchenette looks like hungry bears have been at it, cupboard doors open, coffee beans on the floor, six different kinds of cereal strewn across the counter. A mug filled with a dark, viscous substance lurks in the sink. John puts the cereal away and makes sure the coffee pot is ready to do its job in the morning. He avoids the thing in the sink, unsure if it's one of Rodney's experiments or just something he found under the couch.
In the bedroom, John turns on the light and discovers Rodney's pants flung everywhere, like he had a wardrobe crisis and couldn't decide which pair of cargos to wear that morning. John toes his boots off and gets undressed, adding his uniform to the "mostly clean" pile on the chair in the corner, and goes to take a shower. He leaves Rodney's pants to fend for themselves.
The bathroom is, of course, immaculate. Rodney treats the place like a level four hazmat lab. John's the one who leaves wet towels on the floor and beard stubble in the sink. It's not that he doesn't intend to clean up after himself, it's just that somehow Rodney always gets there first.
After his shower, John climbs into bed, squeaky clean, naked, and alone. He stretches his legs out and rubs his face against his pillow—Rodney's 800 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets much nicer than John will ever admit—and thinks about waking up to the news that more than one of the people who serve under him hate him for being gay and were dumb enough to say so out loud. He thinks about tomorrow, about shipping the Marines off to the Rem in the hopes they'll learn something, about Lorne, unwilling to step into that mess without John at his back, which maybe wasn't the cowardice John initially thought, but a desperate need for the support of someone he trusted. It exhausts him all over again and for a moment he wishes he had taken Rodney up on his offer to sign out for the night, to have his big, warm body there next to him.
John rolls over and stares at the glowing face of his alarm clock.
From the open window he can hear the rhythmic slap of the ocean washing against the city's piers and, closer, the almost subliminal hum of Atlantis itself.
A short time later he hears the front door swish open. The light goes off and Rodney comes into the bedroom.
John props himself up on an elbow. "Done already?"
"Ah, no," Rodney says, looking shifty and ethereal in the moonlight. "Not exactly."
"No?" John says, ready to be disappointed again, but Rodney's making a big show of untangling himself from his iPod, like he's just way too busy to answer. He sets it down on the dresser, puttering around there for a moment, then moves over to the bed. John watches him balance on one foot and then the other to pull his shoes off.
"So, what, you just came by to charge your iPod?"
"I came back early," Rodney says. "What's the big deal?"
"Or maybe," John says, just being a dick now, "you're here to pick up your pants?"
"Look, I know you told me twelve times that you didn't need me to hold your hand or whatever," Rodney's saying as he wiggles out of his sweatshirt, "but in reviewing our earlier conversation I came to the realization that instead of repeatedly asking you if you wanted me to stay, I should have just...stayed." Rodney's head pops free.
John rolls over onto his back and tucks one arm behind his head. "Really."
"So here I am." He makes a little two-handed ta da gesture.
John is impressed, but suspicious. He waits. Rodney pulls off his shirt and pushes his pants down to join all his other pants on the floor. By the time he looks up again, he's only wearing his boxers and a confused expression. Probably expecting more gratitude on John's part.
"And," John prods.
"And," Rodney says, reluctantly, "Radek came back from the infirmary and kicked me out of the lab. Told me to go home to my husband." He makes a face, trying, and failing, to hide how pleased this makes him.
"Shut up," John says. "You love it."
Rodney gives him a shy smile and leans in, one hand flat on the bed by John's waist, like he's going to pull some Prince Charming maneuver and wake John with a kiss, except he only gets as far as John's nose before he comes to an awkward stop, unable to lean in any further or straighten up without over-balancing and falling on John's face.
John hooks an arm around Rodney and flips him safely onto the bed.
"Too bad," Rodney says with a sigh. "That would have been cool if it'd worked."
John, if he responds to that, is going to bring up Disney princesses, which he'd really like to avoid since he's obviously Sleeping Beauty in this scenario. He kisses Rodney instead, making up for the hello they missed that morning, the little elbow nudges and knee bumps they usually indulge in over lunch, the technical dirty talk while repairing the jumpers, the flirty smiles snuck in during staff meetings.
Rodney likes to be teased with his kisses, and John starts out with short, prim kisses that just barely connect and make Rodney shift impatiently beneath him, chasing after John's mouth. John lets the kisses linger, short and polite gradually turning long and dirty.
"Are you naked under there?" Rodney's hands start to wander under the sheet. "You know what that does to me."
"Yep," John says. He rarely sleeps naked, preferring to have something on in case of emergencies. Rodney tolerates it, but doesn't have the same hang up about flashing his subordinates. John's seen him run to the lab in nothing but his robe and send out one of his minions to bring him back clothes. "Special occasion."
"Ugh, you are so hot," Rodney says. He pulls John's leg over his own hip and holds it there, one hand stroking the back of John's thigh up near his ass.
John likes how greedy these slow kisses make Rodney, how grabby he gets. Tonight he can't seem to touch John enough, running his hands up and down John's back, kneading his ass and shoulders, but always going back to that spot on the back of his thigh. John gives Rodney a deep kiss and pushes his hand into Rodney's boxers to palm his cock. He's still mostly soft, but harder than he usually is after only a few kisses.
"Were you thinking about this?" John asks.
"Are you kidding?" Rodney says, squirming against him. "I walked into a wall thinking about you lying in bed waiting for me. I thought that was the point."
"I had no idea I was so distracting," John says, which is a lie, but he hadn't meant for Rodney to walk into a wall. "What did you have in mind?"
"Please—you know exactly how distracting you are." Rodney tries to look at his watch. "I had plans for your ass, but we probably don't have time for much more than sloppy handjobs if we want to get any sleep. So, sloppy handjobs?"
John's about to make a joke about their sex life having to be scheduled around muster calls and catastrophic system failures when he realizes that: 1) it's not funny, and 2) unlike the clusterfuck of this morning, this is something he can actually fix.
He looks down at Rodney, waiting impatiently for John to answer him, still with one wrist in the air and probably only a moment away from tapping the face of his watch—tick tock, Sheppard—like he does in the field when John's weighing all available options and Rodney's already settled on the one he likes the best and can't understand why it's not a foregone conclusion.
It's just Rodney all over: bossy and excited and not particularly interested in what anyone else is feeling at the moment, but still trying his best in his blundering Rodney way. John knows how lucky he is that he's able to see that part of Rodney—otherwise John probably would have stuffed the guy down a trash chute their first week in Atlantis, and that would have been a crying shame.
"Hey." John leans in and gives him a kiss. "Thanks for, you know—coming back early."
Rodney smiles, looking shy again, and pleased. "I wanted to. I just wasn't sure if—I thought you might have wanted to be alone."
"Nah, it was a good idea, and I'm thinking we should make the most of it." John lays a trail of suggestive kisses down Rodney's chest. "Take the morning off...sleep in..."
"Oh," Rodney says, eyes big and round, like John's invented something wonderful. "Coffee in bed," he says, dreamily. "And the crossword!"
"And sex," John reminds him.
Rodney's fingers clench on John's hip. "Now that Stanczyk's got first shift, she gets a head start on the puzzle every day. I'm getting so sick of her false modesty. I need to put her back on nights."
"Yeah," John says, "that seems reasonable."
The daily crossword is put up on the network every morning at 0830. Peppered with obscure Pegasus references that only get more difficult as the week goes on, it often requires a thorough search of the database to find the answers. It's Richard's sneaky way of encouraging intercultural literacy, but to others it's all about search string superiority. And since Rodney's competitive nature only allows him to start the crossword if there's a good chance of him being the first to finish—followed by, of course, endless bragging all over the intrawebs—he only gets to work on it on his day off.
"Stanczyk won't mind," Rodney insists. "I've seen her give Chuck hints when he gets stuck, and he's nearly as fast as I am."
John's still got his hand in Rodney's shorts and they're talking about crossword puzzles. He slips his fingers down to tickle Rodney's balls. Rodney spreads his legs in encouragement, but otherwise continues unimpeded.
"Though, as a gate tech, it stands to reason that Chuck would be good at database queries; he's probably got thousands of addresses memorized. Plus he's got a slight advantage over me when it comes to military trivia."
Rodney loves to talk during sex, but unfortunately for John it's not always stuff he finds arousing, or relevant.
"But I have a secret weapon," Rodney says, sliding his fingers into John's hair. "I've got you to help me with the military questions."
"Isn't that cheating?"
"We're married," Rodney says smugly. "What's yours is mine, including the contents of your brain."
It's ethically dubious, not to mention legally questionable, but it's also one of the nicer things Rodney's said about John, or John's brain—intentionally or not. Plus he's playing with John's hair, combing his fingers through it slowly just the way John likes; it's not as if John's going to say no to him.
John pulls Rodney's boxers down and climbs on top of him. "Whatever."
"We are going to destroy Stanczyk," Rodney says, using his grip on John's hair to pull him down for a kiss, then letting go to grab his radio off the nightstand. "Control? This is Dr. McKay—Oh, Amelia, yes, hi. Could you let Woolsey know Col. Sheppard and I will be unavailable in the morning?—Uh huh—right. And tell Ronon not to expect—yes, great. Thanks."
Rodney holds the entire conversation looking directly into John's eyes and dragging the tips of his fingers along the crack of John's ass. By the time Rodney hangs up, John's rocking against him and trying hard not to develop a fetish for Rodney talking on the radio. Because that would be seriously inconvenient.
"Now," Rodney says, "I want to get you on your back, finger fuck you until you come, and then roll you over and rub off between your thighs. What do you think?"
John will never get over how blunt Rodney can be about sex. John's happy to, say, slide down Rodney's body until his dick is in range and then lick his lips and look up to see if maybe Rodney's in the mood for a blowjob—and Rodney will let him know if he's not—but to stop and talk about it? John can't think of anything he'd rather do less. Rodney loves it, though. Few things make him happier than being able to discuss his physical needs in lengthy and exhaustive detail. John's heard it all. If Rodney wants something, he asks for it, whether that thing is a back rub, or to be held down and fucked until he comes and then fucked some more until he's so fucked out he no longer needs to be held down. John thinks he can communicate his needs just fine with his eyebrows and a handful of words, but Rodney's complained the method lacks rigor and is almost totally useless in the dark, which, John has to admit, is something he's noticed himself. So even though coming right out and saying what he wants still makes him feel kind of weird and sweaty, he's been making an effort to speak in complete sentences. That doesn't mean he's not above stalling, though.
"Can we use the good lube?" John asks.
"The silicone stuff? I don't know where it is, but I'll find it. You're good with the rest?"
"Yeah," John says, and just thinking about it makes his face hot, but he says it anyway, "I like it when you get me off with just your fingers."
"Good," Rodney says. "Me too." And John's rewarded with a kiss before Rodney shoves him off and goes looking for the lube.
John folds a pillow behind his head and watches Rodney pad around the room.
Tomorrow's already looking more bearable. He can spend the morning lazing in bed with Rodney, drinking coffee and doing the crossword. Then as soon as it's daylight on M5Z-223, he'll send his problematic Marines off to the farm, have lunch with his team, and maybe catch up on some paperwork as a silent apology to Lorne.
"The shower!" Rodney says suddenly, and leaves the room.
For now, all John has to do is lie back and relax, and wait for Rodney to come back with the lube.