Unanticipated Outcomes

by The Grrrl

Title: Unanticipated Outcomes

Author: The Grrrl

Author's email: thegrrrl2002@gmail.com

Author's URL: http://thegrrrl2002.slashcity.org/

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Pairing: Sheppard/McKay

Summary:Rodney was exactly where he belonged. It was the last place he ever expected to find himself.

Notes:

A big squishy hug to mmmchelle, who bravely encouraged me through another long fic. Thank you sweetie, for the betaing and the feedback and the hand-holding. And a special thank you to reedfem, who knows all kinds of cool things about guns weapons and how to fire them. She's fabulous.
Again, notes on first time:



There's two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery. -  Enrico Fermi

 

***

Rodney opened his eyes to find himself on his back in the middle of a field, staring up into a clear blue sky. "Huh," he said, nonplussed. The stunner slid out of his still-tingling hands onto the grass. At a low whining sound he turned, and through the grass he could see a dart landing a few hundred yards away. Holding his breath, Rodney waited, body tight with tension as the dart skidded to a halt.

The canopy slid back, and Sheppard sprang up from the pilot's seat, all mussed hair and cocky smiles.

Rodney could have hugged him.

Instead, weak with relief, he closed his eyes.

"Rodney?" Sheppard called. "How you feeling, buddy?"

Warm, Rodney thought, even though the air was cold. Whenever Sheppard called him that it made him feel ridiculously warm inside. Especially when Sheppard said it in that breathless tone, as if Rodney's well-being was the most important thing at that moment. While Rodney himself always felt that way, it warmed his heart to know someone else thought so, too.

"I'm good," he said, opening his eyes as Sheppard crouched over him. "Just a little woozy from the whole rematerializing thing."

Sheppard helped him up into a sitting position. "You should have seen it," he said in an awed voice. "I know you said it would explode, but man, it just--wow."

"Really?"

"Boom." Sheppard spread his fingers out, approximating an explosion. "Total destruction. Lit up like the Fourth of July. Barely got us out of there in time."

Rodney wished he could have seen it. Then again, he had been spared the 'getting out of there just in time' aspect of it, for which he was very grateful. "Any other darts survive?" he asked, frowning up at the sky.

"Nope. Took them all out." Sheppard patted Rodney's shoulder. "We better get moving."

Nodding, Rodney allowed Sheppard to help him to his feet. He looked around, puzzled, taking in the wide field, small, scrubby trees and the rolling hills beyond. "So--Colonel, where's the gate?" he asked with a growing fear.

"Well, you see, that's the thing." Sheppard picked up the discarded stunner, and slung it over his shoulder.

"What thing? What do you mean, that’s the thing? We're on PX-903, right?"

"Yes, Rodney, we are. Only we took a few hits, and the dart was losing power, so I figured it was more important to rematerialize you as soon as possible."

"Ah, yes, good thinking. Thank you." Rodney didn't want to think what might happen if a dart lost power while he was stored in its memory unit. "So, the gate?"

"A couple of klicks."

"A couple? How many is a couple?"

Sheppard patted his shoulder again, in a way that Rodney supposed Sheppard thought was encouraging. "About ten or so."

"What?" Rodney scowled, disbelieving. "How many? Oh, that's just--that's just great. We survive being captured by the Wraith, we spend god knows how long in a smelly, damp cell, I come up with a brilliant plan to get us out of here, and now I'm cold and tired and hungry and I have to walk. Where the hell is the gate anyway? I can't see it." He spun around, taking in the annoying lush countryside, then glared at Sheppard. "Well?"

"Calm down Rodney. It's just down in that valley." Sheppard said. The wind gusted and he zipped his coat, hunching down into it.

"Maybe I can fix the dart?" As Rodney got closer he could see the damage more clearly. It was extensive--Sheppard had taken a direct hit. "No, maybe not."

"Only one of us can fit into it anyway, unless you're willing to be sucked up again?"

"No, thank you," Rodney said quickly.

"Come on then. The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be back in Atlantis. Dinner, hot shower, a good night's sleep in our own beds. So let's get moving, all right?"

"Okay." Rodney followed, then hesitated. "Sorry. I have no idea why I'm so upset." It was ridiculous, considering the circumstances. They were alive. They had escaped from the Wraith. What was a little bit of a hike compared to all that?

"Hey, I'm ready to get back, too."

'I think it's the whole 'dematerializing' thing. It's not good. Leaves me feeling--" Rodney waved his hands. "Not right."

"Well, you look right." Sheppard looked him over. "Or, at least, the same."

"Oh, thank you." Rodney fell in step with Sheppard, who still had a glimmer of amusement in his eyes as they set out on the path. "Not helping, you know?" Even though actually, it did. Sheppard's teasing was comforting, even if annoying. Much like the man himself.

Sheppard bumped shoulders with him. "But we did blow up a hive ship," he said.

Rodney grinned happily. "We did, didn't we? Or rather, I did."

He pulled a power bar from his pocket and ate with quick bites as they made their way down the hillside. While it made him feel marginally better, the increasingly cold air and gusting wind did not. He crammed his hands in his pockets when he finished and wished they were standing in front of the gate, dialing Atlantis. Everyone would fuss over them, marveling over their safe return, and Rodney would get to explain again and again how he rerouted the hive ship power, taking advantage of the ship's damage to destroy it.

"So, exactly how big was the explosion?" Rodney asked. "I need details. For, uh, scientific purposes."

Sheppard grinned at him, then launched into details. They spent a happy half-hour estimating the size of the blast, the power released, the number of Wraith destroyed.

Despite the wind and the cold, Rodney felt warmer.

They walked for an hour, then two, pausing to drink water and reconnoiter. The temperature dropped steadily as the day wore on. Rodney's ears were cold and his back ached from shivering. Sheppard grew quiet, saying little and by time they entered the valley Rodney found himself concentrating on simply walking, putting one tired, aching foot in front of the other. Sheppard had been wrong, the gate wasn't ten klicks away. It was a million miles away, because they had walked at least a half a million already. "Do you know where we're going?" he asked, coming to a halt. Because if Sheppard had gotten them lost he would somehow find the energy to get really, really pissed.

"Huh? Yeah." Sheppard stopped beside him on the trail. "It's, uh--there's a rise, just past these woods. We'll see it when we get there." His voice slurred.

'You don't sound so good," Rodney told him, fighting back a prickle of fear.

"I'm just cold and tired, that's all." Sheppard looked utterly miserable, pale and hunched into his jacket, arms wrapped around his chest in an effort to keep warm.

"No kidding."

"Let's keep moving, okay?" Sheppard took a step, and stumbled. "Whoa."

"Hey--" Rodney grabbed with numb hands to steady him. "Oh god, you're going hypothermic, aren't you?"

"What?" Sheppard swayed against Rodney. "No. Maybe. Am I?"

Worried, Rodney went through the symptoms. "Stumbling, incoherent--I mean, more so than usual--do you even know how to speak in complete sentences? You take laconic to a whole new level. Are you still shivering? Because shivering is good, if your core temperature drops too low you won't shiver." He put an arm around Sheppard's shoulders and yes, Sheppard was shivering, unless that was his own shivering vibrating through. "We need to find shelter."

"Right. There was..." Sheppard's voice trailed off and he frowned at the trees. "I think there was a village to the east."

"Okay, come on, let's go." Rodney tripped over his own feet as he tugged on Sheppard's arm, and crap, that wasn't good at all. "It would be really stupid to die of exposure after everything we've been through."

"Relax, Rodney. We're just...cold." Sheppard tucked his hands into his armpits. "Very cold."

They reached a clearing, and Rodney was thrilled to see a small wooden dwelling, constructed with logs, topped with a thatched roof. Primitive, but it was shelter, and they'd be out of the wind. "Think anyone's around?" he asked, trying to peer into the windows.

Sheppard shook his head. "Didn't see any life signs on the dart display."

Rodney drew back. "There's a life signs monitor in the darts?"

"Maybe? It's hard to tell, all the squiggles, but I think so."

Rodney tried to remember back to when he was fixing the dart while held captive by Ford and his men. "I think you're right. I can't remember." His brain felt sluggish. It was unsettling.

Sheppard was already pushing the door open. "Hello?"

The interior was dark and empty. A single small room, with a low bed next to what might possibly be--if they were very, very, very lucky--a wood burning stove. They slipped inside, closing the door, and Rodney headed straight for the large metal object with the chimney. Crouching down in front of it, he rubbed a cold, stiff finger along the inside surface.

Ashes.

Just a hint, on his finger, but he could smell traces of wood smoke, too. "I think we're in luck," he said.

"Good." Sheppard's voice was faint. He was sitting on the bed, head hanging down, arms tucked into his lap and it was entirely possible he was the most pitiful thing Rodney had ever seen. "I like luck."

"Right. Okay. I'm sort of on my own here, aren't I?"

Sheppard lifted his head. "Firewood?"

"Yes, we'll need firewood, thank you, Colonel, that's very helpful. But first things first." He hunted around until he found a thick blanket. Small creatures scurried away as he unfolded it. "Those better be mice." He shook it out, then draped it over Sheppard's shoulders. "Although knowing our luck they're some kind of Wraith mice. When was the last time you ate something?"

At Sheppard's puzzled look, Rodney pulled out a power bar from his meager supply and unwrapped it with clumsy hands. It took some coaxing to get Sheppard to hold onto it but then he caught on, holding it with both hands, leaning down to take a bite and chewing thoughtfully.

With Sheppard settled, Rodney set to building a fire. He was surprised that Sheppard was in worse shape then he, but he supposed there were variations in the body's reaction to stress, because bodies were like that, completely illogical and unpredictable. And Sheppard had been taken away by the Wraith for questioning several times during their captivity. Each time Rodney had watched in horror, thinking it would be the last time he'd see Sheppard alive.

Rodney felt a chill beyond the low temperatures.

There were no logs inside, but Rodney was tearfully happy to find a supply of dry logs stacked outside the cottage, along with twigs for kindling. As he carried armfuls of the wood in, shivering violently, he told Sheppard, "No, no, don't get up, I've got it."

Sheppard didn't respond, which was worrisome. The powerbar was gone, presumably eaten. One positive sign. As long as he could get a fire going they'd be okay, Rodney told himself. He dropped the wood beside the stove.

"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing here," Rodney said over his shoulder, because he was getting anxious, and when he got anxious, he talked. "Six months in Russia, you get very good at building fires. Oh, wait, crap, there should be a flue--maybe this lever, ah, yes, good, feel that? Cold air, we're in good shape here."

He rattled on as the positioned the logs and added the kindling. By the time he struck the first match he was telling Sheppard about the time he sat in front of a roaring fire drinking vodka with a totally hot Russian scientist, a blonde who didn't speak English and could drink him under the table. He had had no idea if the date ended well or not but he suspected he had a really good time.

The kindling took, and soon there was a small fire crackling and glowing and warming Rodney's heart, if not the room. When Rodney was satisfied that smoke was going up the chimney and they weren't going to die of carbon monoxide poisoning, he turned to Sheppard, who, to his dismay, was curled up and apparently semiconscious. "Shouldn't your core temperature be rising right about now?"

Sheppard didn't respond.

"Oh, crap." It was going to take some time for the room to heat up, but Sheppard needed to be warmed immediately and Rodney was pretty damn cold himself. Shrugging off his jacket, he sat on the bed, placing the Wraith stunner on the ground beside them, just in case they should need it, even though the door was bolted shut and the planet was, for all he could tell, deserted. "Come here," Rodney said, taking Sheppard by the shoulders and pulling him over. "There's no way around this, sorry. But you need direct heat transfer."

It took some maneuvering, but eventually Rodney got them both situated under the musty blanket, Sheppard beside him, all knees and elbows.

"Rodney, what are you doing?" Sheppard mumbled.

"Invading your personal space, what do you think I'm doing," Rodney huffed, pulling him closer.

Sheppard caught on, unwinding his arms and legs in order to flatten himself against Rodney. With an abrupt shiver, he tucked his face into Rodney's neck.

"Don't be shy," Rodney said. Cold nose and bristly cheeks, Sheppard's hair tickling his chin and yet there was something pleasant about having a body next to his, even if it was Sheppard's. He pulled the blanket up over his head, and tucked it underneath them wherever he could reach.

When Sheppard sighed and relaxed into him, body growing heavy, Rodney was touched. Comforted, even. It was relatively warm under the blanket, and Sheppard's steady breathing was calming. He was surprised to find himself rubbing Sheppard's back, trying to ease still-shivering muscles.

As feeling slowly returned to Rodney's extremities, the pain started, aching and throbbing and hurting like hell. Yet despite the pain Rodney couldn't keep his eyes open. He probably should stay awake and keep watch--he wasn't entirely sure about those mice---but he couldn't remember the last time he had slept and he was warm and comfortable and safe for the first time in days. Safe, he and Sheppard both. Soon his eyes fluttered shut and he slept.

***

Rodney woke to movement beside him.

Sheppard was propped up on an elbow, staring down at him, brow furrowed. He looked utterly bewildered.

"Hi," Rodney said. "Cabin? Shelter? Cold? Hypothermia?" he prompted, trying to remind Sheppard why they were cuddled together on the bed, even though Sheppard seemed like a low-key, easy-going kind of guy.

"Oh."

For a guy, Sheppard had nice lips.

It was an odd thing to notice, but his mouth was right there in front of Rodney's face, hanging partly open, which should have looked kind of dopey but didn't.

Sheppard looked around the room, taking in the blanket, the bed, the roaring fire. "Nice going, Rodney," he said in a breathy voice.

"Yes, I thought so."

Then, displaying a complete lack of concern for Rodney's close proximity, Sheppard dropped down and snuggled back into place. Even though the room had warmed considerably, thanks to Rodney's fire-building abilities.

"Comfy?" Rodney asked, amused.

Sheppard nodded. A moment later, he slid an arm around Rodney's waist. Which meant that Rodney had no place to go with his arm except to put it around Sheppard's shoulders. Which he did, with a pointedly annoyed sigh, the effect of which seemed to be lost on Sheppard, who pulled him even closer.

"We'll head back out in the morning," Sheppard ordered, his voice muffled.

***

They made it to the gate in less than an hour; the walk being much more pleasant in the warm sunshine. Even warm and rested, they moved more slowly than usual. Rodney kept his eye on Sheppard and breathed a sigh of relief when they emerged from the wormhole into Atlantis' control room. And into a warm welcome.

Sheppard glared when Rodney immediately called for a medical team, and continued throwing him dark looks as they were hustled to the infirmary.

"Hey, nice going, taking out the hive ship," Ronon told Rodney as they sat on the beds. He even patted, or maybe rather slapped, Rodney on the shoulder.

Rodney gaped at him. "Yes, yes, uh, thank you," he stammered.

"We are glad you have both returned safely," Teyla added.

The curtain drew back and Sheppard emerged, frowning. "You had to tell them about the hypothermia thing, didn't you? I've been poked and prodded and poked some more, even though I feel--"

"I can still hear you, Colonel," Carson sang out from the back of the infirmary. "And yes, Rodney was right to tell me. It's a very serious condition."

Sheppard rolled his eyes at Rodney.

"You're on light duty for the next ten days," Carson said as he approached. "No off-world missions, mind you."

"What?" Sheppard looked incredulous. "Oh, come on, doc--"

"Ten days? Really?" Rodney was excited. A chance to catch up on work, a chance to rest and recuperate. Time to settle into the lab, follow up on all the discoveries made by his staff while he was out getting shot at, risking his life to discover exciting new technologies. A solid chunk of time for him to accomplish something truly worthwhile. Maybe even write a paper expanding on his theories, while it might not be published for years, it would still prove how far ahead his scientific achievements were compared to all those other poor saps back on Earth.

Well, those not involved in the Stargate program, at least.

He patted Sheppard's shoulder and grinned happily. "Too bad, huh?"

***

Rodney paged through the data. It looked right, but it wasn't. He tapped his foot, then drummed his fingers on the edge of the datapad. Maybe he needed more coffee.

A shadow fell over his monitor. "Did you check on the data?" Radek asked.

"Checking now."

He leaned in, peering over Rodney's shoulder. "But it shows my theory is correct, yes?"

"I don't know, because I have not yet completed the simulation," Rodney told him. "And hovering over me is not going to make it go any faster."

With an annoyed sound, Radek moved off.

A moment later the door slid open. Rodney didn't have to look up from his computer to know it was Sheppard. He recognized the sound of his footsteps, the pacing of the long, easy strides that grew closer and closer until they stopped, just behind his left shoulder. "Colonel," Rodney said without glancing up. "What can I do for you?"

Sheppard sighed. "Convince Beckett that I'm healthy enough to be on full duty?"

"Believe me, if I could, I would." Rodney sat back.

"Yeah." Sheppard came around and parked his ass on Rodney's desk, right beside his computer, which never failed to irritate. Especially since Sheppard was bearing neither coffee nor donuts, two things that might have made Sheppard less irritating.

"Just make yourself at home."

"Thank you, I will."

Rodney rolled his chair away from the desk and gazed up at Sheppard, who was slumped on his desk with an almost mournful expression, swinging one foot. "Don't you have something to do?" Rodney finally asked.

Sheppard shook his head. "No."

"So, you figured you'd come down here and bug me?"

Sheppard nodded. "Pretty much, yeah."

"Oh." Rodney felt an unsettling rush of affection. "You could have brought coffee," he said, trying to cover his fluster.

"Yeah, but I would have ended up drinking it all before I got here, and believe me, I think I've had enough for one day." Sheppard gestured toward the datapad. "What's going on there?"

"Trying to figure out why the MALP readings on M4X-354 are fluctuating. Dr. Vogel thinks gamma radiation--"

Radek leaned in. "But is not."

"--and some of us seem to be taking our competing theories a bit personally."

"And by some, we mean Dr. Vogel," Radek explained.

"Oh right," Rodney said. "And you're the very epitome of reason, Radek."

"I don't know," Sheppard said. "He seems reasonable to me, Rodney."

Radek nodded to Sheppard in acknowledgment. "Thank you Colonel, yes, I believe I am. I am always reasonable."

"He's got a point there."

"Unlike certain other scientists around here," Radek continued.

"Excuse me?" Rodney asked with disbelief. "What, was today designated 'Annoy McKay Day' and I wasn't notified?"

"You know what you need?" Sheppard jumped down off Rodney's desk. "To shoot something. That will make you feel better."

"That's your solution to everything, isn't it?" Although, while he hated to admit it, the idea of blowing holes in a paper target was strangely appealing. Checking his monitor, he saw the simulation was only half-finished. "I do have some time to kill."

Sheppard beamed at him. "Good. Come on, let's go."

"Yes, yes, go," Radek said with a wave of a hand. "I will keep an eye on the simulation."

As they left, Rodney leaned in and told Sheppard, "Don't let that Eastern European gravitas fool you. Radek can be totally unreasonable. And flighty."

"Of course," Sheppard said.

"You're patronizing me, aren't you?"

"Of course."

Rodney glared as they stepped into the transporter.

When they reached the armory they both signed out Berettas, gathered up safety glasses and hearing protection, and headed for the target range. The acrid smell of gunpowder and machine oil, the weight of the weapon in his hand, and the room was empty and quiet. It was a completely different ambiance thanHe wathan his lab, with its familiar hum of high-tech alien devices and low buzz of voices. Yet the gun did not feel as foreign as it once did.

Sheppard put on his safety glasses, the ones that should have made him look ridiculous, but they didn't, not when he had a weapon in his hand. Sheppard actually looked pretty cool. Rodney thought that maybe if he practiced enough with his weapon, he might look cool, too. But not nearly as handsome and dashing.

Life just wasn't fair sometimes.

Sheppard dumped out the ammo and Rodney began pushing bullets into his magazine. "Ow, damn it," he exclaimed, catching his hand in the slide. "That hurt."

"Rodney," Sheppard said with a sigh. "You're still not holding it right. Here, look. You have to have a firm grip. Slide your hand tighter."

Sheppard demonstrated, holding his gun in one hand and racking the slide in one easy motion with the other.

"That's what I did," Rodney insisted.

Sheppard gave him a look.

"Well, kind of."

"Do it again."

Rodney did it again, this time mimicking Sheppard's hand movements as best he could. "Oh," he said, surprised that it worked.

"Good. Now do it one more time," Sheppard ordered.

Rodney opened his mouth to protest, then closed it, deciding that doing as ordered might be the smart thing. Especially since doing it wrong and catching his skin hurt like hell. He practiced it a few more times, keeping the image of Sheppard's hands in his mind, moving smooth and graceful over his gun.

At last they were ready to fire. Aware of Sheppard's eyes on him, Rodney's first shot went wide. "I know, I know, hold it tighter."

"See, you're catching on," Sheppard said.

Rodney tightened his grip, raised his arm, and tried again.

"Don't anticipate the shot. You're tensing up," Sheppard told him. "Relax your shoulders." He demonstrated by shrugging and then rolling his shoulders.

"Okay, right. Relax. That's something I'm sure to do in the field when under fire." He shrugged and rolled his shoulders, too, convinced he looked utterly ridiculous.

"Muscle memory, Rodney. Do it enough times and your body will respond correctly without you having to think about it." With a glint his eye, Sheppard added, "Or maybe your muscles aren't smart enough?"

"I'll have you know," Rodney said, raising his gun and sighting down the barrel, "that my muscles are brilliant."

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sheppard nodding, lips curved in a peculiar grin. "I'm sure they are."

Rodney focused his attention on firing, and to his delight, some of his shots actually hit the target.

"There, see? You're doing better."

"Really?" Rodney asked, peering down at his target. "You think I'm good?"

"I said better, not good."

"Oh." Rodney watched Sheppard empty his gun, hitting the target each time, his stance picture-perfect.

"You just need to work at it," Sheppard continued. "Here, reload."

"I've been working at it."

"No, you haven't."

Rodney sighed. "No, I haven't. I'm not so good at working at things." Which, he realized, might actually be true, because either things came easy, or he didn't do them at all.

"Well, there's a first time for everything."

"And there you sum up my entire experience on Atlantis," Rodney said as he released the magazine. "Although this whole gun thing? I never would have thought it, but it's actually kind of fun. When there's no one trying to kill you."

Sheppard leaned toward him. "It is fun, isn't it?"

"Can we do the P90's after this?" Rodney asked. Pistols were okay, but the P90's were even better.

"Oh, absolutely." With a happy smile, Sheppard reloaded.

***

"You know, I was thinking," Sheppard said to him over lunch.

Rodney looked up as he mixed two pats of butter into his mashed potatoes. "First time, huh?"

Sheppard ignored the jibe. "The personal shield."

"What about it?"

"Have you managed to get it working again?"

"No, I have not, nor have we found any others. It looks to be a one-off, a test model that didn't pan out. And for obvious reasons--the power drained too fast, as evidenced during my rather heroic effort to save everyone in Atlantis." Rodney tried not to shudder visibly, but that black energy-sucking cloud had been damn creepy.

"So there's nothing in the database?" Sheppard asked. "No design schematics that a brilliant person like you might improve upon?"

"No, at least, not that I can tell. The Ancients put every damn bit of information they had into that database, but their indexing system? Not so good." Rodney didn't add that one of the problems was that the index was in Ancient.

"Because, I was thinking..." Sheppard paused to sip his iced tea, and Rodney could see his lively, furrowed brows over the edge of his cup.

"Yes, yes, you mentioned that previously. And?"

"You know how you and Radek hooked up the jumper's cloaking device to the shield generator for the city?"

Rodney nodded, shoveling a forkful of buttery mashed potatoes into his mouth.

"Wouldn't it be cool if you could hook up the cloaking device to the personal shield?" Sheppard sat back, proud as could be.

"And cloak a human being?" Rodney shook his head. "Yes, that would be cool, but no, not possible."

Actually, it would be very cool. Incredibly cool.

Sometimes Sheppard truly surprised him.

. "Oh, come on, Rodney." Sheppard pointed his fork at him. "You say that all the time."

"Well, yes, because sometimes it's true--"

"And you always manage to make it work, no matter what it is. You cloaked the city, right?"

"And that was an entirely different--"

"Fixed a Wraith dart, got the Orion's jump engines running, blew up a hive ship," Sheppard recited in a singsong voice.

"While I'm very touched by your faith in me, Colonel, this is not--" Rodney paused, because maybe those mach three naquadah generators, and the microcrystals they found, which of course would have to be redesigned...

"See, see, you're thinking about it."

Rodney shook his head. "No, Colonel, not possible, because the shield we have right now is completely drained of power. That was the problem in the first place, they used this miniaturized power cell--just, just no."

"I think if you just put your mind to it, you could."

"No."

"If it were a matter of life and death, you'd manage to do it."

"No," Rodney repeated emphatically.

"Have you asked Elizabeth to look in the database? She can read that stuff, most of the time."

"No, I haven't asked her, because I've been busy with more important things, science type things that I should be doing right now, rather than having this inane conversation."

"It would be just like invisible man." Sheppard leaned forward on his elbows. "Only you wouldn't have to wrap yourself up in gauze bandages in order to be seen. Think of the tactical advantages."

"It's just not going to happen, okay?" Rodney went back to eating and tried not to look thoughtful.

However, he couldn't stop thinking about it, and the fact that Sheppard was an incredibly annoying man. Clever, yes, but annoying, because now he was totally distracted, when he should be thinking about the paper he was going to write. But to be invisible, completely, utterly invisible--that would be an amazing feat and the Ancients had obviously never even considered it, thus proving that they really weren't as brilliant as everyone made them out to be.

Finally Rodney sighed and mumbled around a mouthful of stringbeans, "Maybe it wouldn't hurt to ask Elizabeth to check."

"Hah. I knew it was a good idea."

"You know what?" Rodney asked. "You need to be back on active duty."

Sheppard's shoulders slumped. "You're right. I really do."

***

A week went by, and Rodney found himself stalking about the lab restlessly. "Oh, come on, you call that science?" he exclaimed over Dr. Vogel's shoulder.

Vogel shifted so that Rodney could no longer see his laptop screen. "Rodney, isn't it time for you to go out on another mission?"

"No, it's not," Rodney said, as snide as he could be. "I'm working on a paper."

"Looks like you're wandering around the lab bugging people."

"You know what? I'll go work somewhere else." Rodney grabbed his laptop and marched out of the room.

An entire week and he had written two paragraphs. Two brilliant paragraphs, granted, but at this rate the Stargate program would be public by time it was finished.

Samantha Carter probably already had a stack of papers ready to go.

Rodney considered the mess but then opted to work in his room, figuring he needed the privacy. It took only a few moments to organize his desk, readjust his chair to the perfect height, and set the lamp to the precise angle needed. Then he opened the file and settled in to work.

A knock sounded at this door.

Rodney sighed. "What?"

The door slid open, and there was Sheppard, leaning against his doorframe, laptop in hand. "There you are."

"Yes, here I am. Very observant of you, Colonel". Despite his best effort his words didn't have the bite intended. "What can I do for you?"

"I was thinking we should reprioritize the next few missions," Sheppard said as he invited himself in. "We've gotten more of the database translated. Plus with the information from Ronon and Teyla and their contacts, there's a lot more to be taken into consideration."

"And you want to do this now?"

Sheppard gestured at Rodney's computer. "That can wait, right? Unless," his expression grew hopeful, "you're working on the personal cloaking device?"

"No, I'm not. It's a proof of my theory of--" Rodney frowned at the screen. "Well, nothing you would understand. It's all theoretical."

And somewhat pointless, in that it wouldn't keep them alive should they be under attack. Not only that, but it was a lot less fascinating than poring over a catalog of gate addresses with Sheppard.

Rodney wondered if he should find that worrisome.

"Well?"

Rodney waved Sheppard over. "Grab a chair. I'll call up the database."

"Cool."

A moment later the list of addresses was on display, and Sheppard was sitting next to him, tapping his finger on the monitor. "Don't do that," Rodney admonished.

"What?" But Sheppard pulled his hand away. "Okay, this next planet, PX-979? That's the one Teyla calls 'the mud planet'."

Rodney wrinkled his nose. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that."

"Yeah. Me neither. The Ancients had trading partners there once, but Teyla says it hasn't had a permanent settlement for as long as she can remember."

"Maybe we can recommend bumping that one back?"

"I think so. Especially since there's this one, here, move--" Sheppard leaned over and used Rodney's keyboard, calling up an entirely new planet, one that was not on their current list. "Lorne was out with his team and they ran into some folks who told them this planet has a huge marketplace, with everything you can imagine for sale. Including some items that sounded very much like they could be Ancient."

"Really? What kinds of things?"

"From what they described, it might have been a life signs detector."

"How would they get that?" Rodney asked. "And who had it?"

Sheppard shrugged. "One of the vendors. The information was sketchy."

"I think we should go there. Don't you think we should go there?"

"I think it should be our next mission," Sheppard told him.

"I wonder if there's another ancient settlement out there somewhere." Rodney patted Sheppard's arm excitedly. "It might have a ZPM. Do you think?"

"We could definitely use one of those."

"When can we go?"

With a doleful sigh, Sheppard said, "Not for another three days."

"But you're fine," Rodney protested. "Have you talked to Carson? You're fully recovered. I don't want to wait three days. What?"

Sheppard was grinning at him, a grin of pure delight. "You know what I think, Rodney? I think you love going through that gate. That rush of adrenaline, not knowing what's on the other side--"

"Well, as long as there's no Wraith, or people shooting at us, yes, I suppose there is that aspect of discovery."

"Exploration. Danger. Adventure."

"Oh, please, let's not get carried away."

Sheppard leaned close, and slyly added, "You like the excitement."

And Rodney felt that tingle of excitement. "No," he insisted. "Maybe."

But it was true. Rodney wasn't sure when it happened, but somehow physical exploration was no longer a necessary evil for making new discoveries. It had taken on a thrill of all its own, and his fear of getting killed or maimed or injured had taken a back seat to simply finding out what was out there.

"Well, come on, I know there's more planets in that database," Rodney said, ignoring Sheppard's smug grin.

***

"Okay, dial her up."

Rodney watched the gate dial, their special gate with the pretty blue lights--he was sure their gate was far better than the SGC's. Sheppard had been right. He loved this, being part of Team Sheppard. All suited up and ready, the four of them standing in a line. Rodney rocked forward on the balls of his feet, because this was the best part, the kawoosh--

"Let's move out," Sheppard said.

Rodney stepped into the puddle.

And stepped out into the edge of a crowded marketplace. Tents everywhere, vendors hawking their goods out loud, livestock pens to their right, textiles to their right, it was crazy, a sea of colors and noise, and something else, something rather--

"Hey, that smells good," Ronon said, sniffing the air.

"Barbecue?" Sheppard asked.

Ronon spun slowly, then pointed. "That way."

"What are you," Rodney asked. "A bloodhound?"

"I believe you are jealous, Dr. McKay."

Rodney scowled at Teyla, then admitted, "A little, yes."

Ronon smirked.

"We'll save the feasting for later folks, okay?" Sheppard pulled out his sunglasses. "We have a lot of ground to cover. I say we split up. Teyla, you're with me; Ronon, you're with McKay. Keep in radio contact."

They separated, pushing their way through the crowds. Rodney was glad to be with Ronon, since the crowd parted easily for him, people stepping aside to allow Ronon to pass, and if Rodney kept close, he could squeeze through the opening. Together they examined table upon table of various goods, listening as Ronon asked the questions, or more like muttered them in a low voice, but the vendors seemed eager to help.

Rodney surreptitiously scanned each stall, glancing down at the scanner tucked inside his jacket. After over an hour of searching, they found only countless bric-a-brac, clothing, flasks, pottery and beads. Then they came across a seller of knives.

Sheppard's voice came through the radio. "Sheppard here. How's it going?"

"I think we may have lost Ronon," Rodney told him. "He found a 'purveyor of fine bladed weapons'." He watched Ronon examine one, feeling the heft of it in his hand, balancing it, running his finger along the blade as the vendor smiled ingratiatingly. "We may be here a while."

"Well, keep at it. We haven't had any luck yet either, but Teyla has run across some acquaintances, so I'm hopeful we'll get some intel, if nothing else."

"Will do." Rodney signed off. Money exchanged hands, and Ronon carefully tucked away his new, deadly-looking purchase. "Happy?" Rodney asked.

"Thrilled."

Another long row of stalls, and Rodney was growing hungry. "Think we should take a break for lunch?"

Ronon brightened. "I'm all for it."

"Which way was that barbecue place?" Rodney activated his radio, "Colonel? What do you think about some lunch?" He clicked it off, and waited for a response.

There was none.

"Colonel? Come in, Colonel?" Worried, he tried again. "Teyla? Are you there? Please report, damn it."

Ronon tried his radio, then shook his head.

"This is not good," Rodney said.

"I'll find them." Ronon's voice was dark like thunder. He darted through the crowd, and Rodney could barely keep up, breathless and heart pounding. No, he didn't like this kind of excitement, he didn't like it at all. Sheppard had been totally wrong, and when they found Sheppard, he was going to point that out to him in no uncertain terms. "This way," Ronon said, yanking his arm.

"How do you know?" Then Rodney saw the crowd gathering around something, looking down at the ground with concerned expressions.

They pushed their way through and almost tripped over Teyla, lying unconscious on the ground. Hopefully just unconscious, and nothing worse. "Oh crap." Rodney knelt beside her as Ronon questioned the crowd.

"Teyla?"

She stirred, blinking her eyes open. After a moment she focused on Rodney. "What happened?" She tried to sit up, then closed her eyes, wincing.

"What's wrong? Are you okay? Where's the colonel? Here, lie back down."

"They took him," she said.

"Who?"

"I did not see their faces before I was stunned."

Ronon crouched down beside them. "No one saw anything." He sneered up at the crowd. "I don't believe them."

Rodney sat back on his heels, feeling stunned, too.

***

Elizabeth sat down, tightlipped and pale. "Here's the situation. They're asking for guns, C4, and two puddle jumpers."

Caldwell leaned forward, face equally grim. "That's unacceptable."

"I know that, Colonel."

"Wait a minute, just wait," Rodney said. "What about Sheppard?"

"We don't even know he's still alive."

Rodney glared at Caldwell. "He is. But he won't be for long if we refuse to even talk to these people."

"We're going to talk," Elizabeth said gently but firmly. Caldwell opened his mouth, then shut it. "I need to buy us some time so that we can find him."

Rodney clenched his fists, fighting the urge to dissolve into total panic. Sheppard was alive, of course he was alive. Sheppard had gotten into worse scrapes than this, and came through with flying colors, because he was the hero, and that's what heroes always did.

"Ronon and Teyla are out working their contacts at this very moment," Elizabeth told him. "Apparently there are certain societies out there where hostage-taking is a cottage industry."

"And what happens to the hostages?" Rodney asked.

"It depends on who does the taking. Gentlemen, I'm not ready to give up hope yet. Not by a long shot. We're going to find him."

And the nightmare began.

***

Two weeks later they had investigated seven false leads, scanned six different planets from the Daedalus, even transported down to two of them to search. Each lead brought Rodney a surge of hope, only to have all come crashing down again. After a while Rodney couldn't even bring himself to rant over it.

He had analyzed the one fifteen second vid sent as proof of Sheppard being alive in every way possible, looking for clues to Sheppard's location. Rodney watched it so many times that he memorized every move Sheppard made as he sat dejectedly in the corner of a featureless cell, elbows resting on his knees, talking to someone off camera. There was a moment at the end, just before it went dark, where Sheppard closed his eyes and sighed, and Rodney's heart wrenched each and every time he saw it.

Rodney wanted Sheppard back. He wanted to look up and see Sheppard sauntering into the lab. He wanted Sheppard to be across from him at the briefing room table, raising his eyebrows and making ridiculous faces at him. He wanted Sheppard to disagree with him, to argue, to roll his eyes, to be exasperated. He wanted Sheppard to snap at him and tell him to get a grip. He wanted Sheppard to come up with ridiculous suggestions for combining bits of Ancient technology.

He wanted to make a personal cloaking device for Sheppard, and combine it with a personal shield, so he would stay safe for once and for all.

And then he'd make a second one for himself.

***

"It wasn't your fault," Ronon said. "You were ambushed."

Teyla put her fork down. "I should have been more alert."

"They had been planning this," Ronon said. He shoved his empty plate aside. "Waiting for us. Even if we hadn't split up they still would have taken him."

"He's right, you know," Rodney told her. He speared his chicken with a fork, then regarded it with distaste. It was hard to eat with the gnawing pain in his gut. He wasn't sure why he had joined Teyla and Ronon for lunch. The mess was noisy and bright and it was getting on his nerves in a big way. "I should go and see if Dr. Weir--"

As Rodney turned away from the table, he saw Elizabeth coming toward them, and his heart sank at her grim expression.

"Still no word?" Teyla asked.

Elizabeth approached their table, Lorne at her side. "No," she said with a sigh. "It's been over three days now since they were due to respond. I'm worried."

"Yes, aren't we all," Rodney snapped. As everyone turned to glare at him, he added, "Hey, I'm a little tense, okay? Sorry, Elizabeth."

"Wraith attack, you think?" Lorne asked.

Great. Sheppard could have survived being hostage only to be killed by the Wraith.

Ronon said, "There has been Wraith activity in the Torlis system."

"Maybe we should search there," Rodney said. "Assuming he hasn't, you know--" Rodney's voice caught in his throat.

"Been taken captive by the Wraith?" Elizabeth said. "Good idea."

Rodney appreciated that she didn't say 'killed'. He wasn't sure he could have taken that.

"There's a small planet with underground tunnels--people hide out there," Ronon said. "I say we check that one out first."

"Terrestrial gate?" Lorne asked, and both Ronon and Teyla nodded.

"All right. We'll check it out," Elizabeth said. "Take a jumper, but I want the Daedalus in place as a backup. Go."

***

"Well, where is it?" Rodney asked as Ronon stalked along the rock wall. "I'm not getting any energy readings. Are you sure it's even here?"

Ronon ignored him. Spreading hands over the stone, he pressed down.

One door-sized section of the stone slid away, revealing a dimly lit interior.

"Oh. Nice going." Eager and impatient, Rodney tried to go through but Lorne held up a hand, stopping him. "Fine, fine." Rodney hung back allowing Lorne's team to go through first.

"Clear," Lorne announced a moment later.

"Okay, if the Wraith had come here," asked Rodney as he stepped into the large open room, "why aren't there people hiding in these tunnels?" He looked around the room--smooth, featureless walls, lighted with glowing tubes along the ceiling--not quite up to the level of Ancient technology, but definitely not primitive, either.

"It goes a lot further back," Ronon answered. "See, that back corridor branches out."

But Rodney wasn't listening. "Hey, hey, hey," he said, sweeping his arms around. "The walls--this kind of stone, it's the same as in the vid with Sheppard."

Ronon looked. "They're just blank walls."

"Exactly." Rodney couldn't figure out why no one else got it. "Sheppard has to be here. The walls, the level of lighting--"

Teyla was nodding. "Assuming they haven't moved him. It's possible."

"Let's split up and do a sweep," Lorne ordered.

Rodney pulled out his life signs detector. It lit up, little round dots representing the search team, but then the image wavered and blinked out. "What the hell?" He left the room, stepping back out into the sunshine, and the device reactivated.

"What is it?" Lorne asked.

"Crap. There's something in the stone that interferes with the detector," Rodney told them. "Just to make things even more difficult. God damn it."

"Then we will search every room," Teyla said. "No matter how many rooms are here." She spoke with quiet determination.

Rodney chose the center corridor. Empty rooms on either side, each checked carefully but they yielded nothing, no sign of recent habitation, no furniture, no devices, floors swept clean. Maybe a little too clean, which might mean something, or it might not. Or maybe he was simply clinging to the desperate hope that this was the right place, because those walls were the same, even though there were probably a billion plain flat walls in the galaxy.

A half hour later Rodney was deeper into the mountainside, still trying to convince himself he was right. He couldn't take another search like this.

He was sure something inside him would break if they had to return to Atlantis empty-handed.

Again.

He glanced down at the biosign detector, trying to catch a reading as the image flickered in and out. No signs other than himself, everyone was out of range, spread out in the mazelike tunnels. He had been listening to the team checking in on the open channel, but their voices were now fading into senseless static. Any other time Rodney would have been curious as to what in the stone was causing the interference, but now it was just another hindrance.

The detector flickered again.

A round dot flashed in the upper left quadrant.

Rodney stopped in his tracks, staring at it. But the detector remained dark.

"Damn it," Rodney growled, slapping the detector. "Come on, come on, light up for me."

When the detector refused, Rodney took off down the corridor, running, and yes, there was another passageway off to the left. As he turned, it occurred to him that the dot may not necessarily be a friendly, so he tucked the detector away and pulled his sidearm from the holster. A turn to the right, and another empty corridor stretched out before him. Panting, Rodney held his gun up, arm trembling slightly, and he tried to remember everything Sheppard had taught him, straightening his shoulders, steadying his arm as he crept forward.

The first room to the right was empty.

And the second, too.

Then he saw the door.

A simply made door with a heavy bolt and a slot on the bottom, the kind of slot you might use to slide a tray of foot though.

Rodney rushed to the door, raised himself on his tiptoes and peered through the small window.

"Oh, god," he breathed. "John."

Sheppard was on the floor, curled up tightly, so still that for one awful moment Rodney thought he was dead. Then he saw that Sheppard's chest rise as he took a breath.

"Sheppard," Rodney said. "Hey--" He tapped his radio frantically. "Sheppard, I found Sheppard," he said, holstering his gun before tugging at the large crossbolt and pulling the door open.

He bounded into the room. Sheppard opened his eyes, his body uncurling. "Rodney?" he whispered in a rusty, unused voice.

Rodney could hear the wonder and the uncertainty in it, and god, how long had Sheppard been in there, abandoned to die? He knelt and slid an arm around Sheppard's body, raising him up. Sheppard stank of sweat and piss, and his arm was shaky as he grabbed onto Rodney's tac vest. "Rodney?"

"Yes, yes, yes, oh, thank god." Rodney helped Sheppard sit up, bracing him with an arm around his shoulders and then Rodney got something in his eye--both eyes--and he had to blink rapidly to clear his vision.

"Hey," Sheppard said.

"Yeah, um," Rodney said, pressing his face into Sheppard's matted hair. "Hey."

Sheppard raised his head. Rodney's lips brushed against his temple, almost like a kiss. He lingered there, so happy he couldn't speak, so thankful to be able to touch Sheppard, to feel his warm body. His warm, living, breathing body. Sheppard leaned against him, a hand twisting in the sleeve of Rodney's jacket and Rodney thought he could sit with Sheppard forever and be perfectly content.

A burst of radio chatter brought Rodney around.

"Yes, yes, the Colonel, I have the Colonel," Rodney responded.

Sheppard roused himself. "Water?"

"Oh god, yes, I should have thought--stupid of me--" Rodney babbled as he awkwardly reached for his bottle with one hand and unscrewed the cap. Sheppard grabbed for it and Rodney had to hold it steady as Sheppard drank, throat moving convulsively as he swallowed. "Whoa, careful, not too much."

Sheppard coughed and Rodney pulled the bottle away. For a moment Rodney thought Sheppard was going to lose it and he didn't even care if Sheppard vomited all over him. "Okay?" Rodney asked when Sheppard relaxed against him.

"More."

Rodney held the bottle for him again while he drank. Sheppard looked like hell, face bruised and haggard, and the hand on Rodney's arm was unsteady and suddenly Rodney was furious. He hoped to hell that the Wraith had gotten hold of the kidnappers and sucked the life out of every last one of them.

The sound of running footsteps drifted in from the hall, and Rodney glanced up to find Ronon and Teyla at the door. "Colonel Sheppard," Teyla exclaimed.

"What took you guys so long?" Sheppard said. His voice was weak but they all grinned at each other.

Rodney's world righted itself.

Then it was chaos all around, with Lorne and the rest of the search team crowding into the small cell, helping Sheppard up, trying to radio the Daedalus and the team waiting with the nearby jumper. "Can you walk, sir?" Lorne was asking as Sheppard rose unsteadily to his feet.

"I can carry him," Ronon said.

"I'm fine, I'm fine." Sheppard still clung to Rodney, a hand fisted in his jacket. "I can walk to the jumper, damn it."

"If Ronon feels it is necessary to carry you, then he will carry you," Teyla said sharply.

Sheppard blinked. "Yes, ma'am."

"I'd listen to her if I were you," Ronon said.

"However we do it, let's get the hell out of here before we have company, okay?" Lorne hustled them out of the room.

Sheppard was determined to walk, supported by both Rodney and Ronon. They ended up half-dragging him down the corridors, and finally they were safe inside the jumper and heading for the gate.

It was only after the medical team greeted them and Carson shooed Rodney away that Sheppard released his grip on Rodney's jacket.

***

Exhausted, Rodney went back to his room and showered. Such a rush of emotion to find Sheppard, and now he felt drained of all energy and emotion. All he could think of was way Sheppard reached for him; he couldn't get it out of his mind, Sheppard reaching for him, whispering his name in wonder, and Rodney's throat grew tight as he turned his head into the spray.

Rodney was sure he wouldn't have survived such an ordeal, locked up and alone, waiting to die, waiting for rescue, waiting helplessly for something, anything.

But now it was over, Sheppard was going to be okay, as soon as he got some sleep.

When Rodney sprawled face down on his bed, eyes closed, nothing happened. He didn't drift off. Instead his mind raced, replaying the moment when he peered into that heavy wooden door again and again. If he hadn't gone down that hallway, if he hadn't kept his eyes on the flickering life signs detector, he would have missed it and maybe they would have left that planet without ever finding Sheppard, leaving him to die alone.

Which was ridiculous, because they would have checked every single room, as Teyla had said.

Rodney flipped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Sheppard was safe, he reminded himself, tucked away in the infirmary.

Alone, perhaps, much like he had been in that cell.

Punching his pillow, Rodney rearranged his blankets, pulling them up under his chin, and determinedly closed his eyes.

Sheppard was probably asleep, anyway.

A moment later Rodney got up, threw on some clothes and headed to the transport.

The infirmary was quiet, lights dimmed for sleeping. Rodney nodded to the nurse on duty as he strolled in, and she didn't stop him. As he made his way to the curtained-off area where Sheppard lay, he could see a small figure sitting in the chair beside the bed.

Teyla rose to her feet and acknowledged Rodney with a tilt of her head as he approached. "He has been sleeping," she said in a whisper. "Although he is very restless."

"That's certainly understandable," Rodney whispered back. Face bearded, hair flat and greasy, Sheppard looked pale and sickly against the white sheets. Yet the sight comforted Rodney.

"And now I believe it is time for me to rest."

Rodney turned to her. "Yes, go on, I'll take over from here."

She flashed a lovely smile at him as she left, and Rodney found himself smiling back.

Sheppard was back, Sheppard was fine, and everything was going to be okay.

For the time being.

Rodney settled into the chair, arms crossed over his chest, and watched. At first Sheppard slept soundly, but after a time he grunted in his sleep, then twitched. He made another noise then jerked his head and opened his eyes, blinking wildly.

"Hey," Rodney whispered, leaning over Sheppard and placing a hand gently on his shoulder.

Sheppard's eyes focused. "Rodney?" he said. His lips curved with a hint of a smile. "Hi."

"Hi, yourself. How are you feeling?" Stupid question, but it was all he could come up with, especially since Sheppard looked happy to see him.

"Okay. Tired. Had a weird dream," Sheppard explained with a frown.

Sheppard was groggy and out of it, understandably so. "Yeah, well, go back to sleep now," Rodney told him, patting his shoulder. "I should go."

Sheppard's eyes widened. "No, wait--"

"Hmm?"

Hesitant, Sheppard asked, "Talk to me?"

"Oh," Rodney said. "I can do that. Um, what about?"

"Anything exciting happen while I was gone?"

Rodney dragged the chair closer. "Okay, let's see--turns out Radek was right about it not being the gamma rays that affected the MALP readings, but we still don't know what the problem is, so he wasn't entirely right, or entirely reasonable, either, mind you. Um, oh--you'll like this--Elizabeth found some information in the database on the personal shields."

"Really? Cool."

"We haven't deciphered all of the technical information, so I don't know if it's worth recommending to her that we pursue the technology," Rodney warned.

"I'll put in a good word," Sheppard whispered, as if it were some great conspiracy between them.

"I'm sure you will." Rodney grinned. Even though he thought the technology was a wash, he was happy to see the haunted look had left Sheppard's eyes. "What else? Let's see...oh, it seems that Lt. Cadman...."

As Rodney filled Sheppard in on the gossip, Sheppard's eyes flickered shut and his breathing grew steady once again. Rodney stopped talking and simply sat, not thinking about anything, and watched Sheppard sleep.

***

A few days later Rodney found Sheppard in his room.

"Rodney, come in, come on in." Sheppard sat up in his rumpled bed and waved Rodney over. Freshly showered and shaved, dressed in running pants and a tee-shirt, Sheppard looked much more like himself. Even with the bruise marking his forehead and the shadowed circles under his eyes.

"So, Carson set you free?" Rodney said.

Sheppard nodded. "As long as I take it easy. And it looks like Team Sheppard is going to have at least two weeks of downtime. Again. Sorry."

"Right, Colonel, you should definitely apologize for being taken prisoner, and nearly starving to death."

"Dehydration," Sheppard pointed out. "That would have killed me first."

Rodney felt a sudden chill. "Can we not talk about that?"

"Why? You saved me, Rodney." Sheppard's voice was remarkably warm. "Again."

"Yes, well, no, it was a team effort, but yes, and I'm getting tired of it. It's all very--" Rodney sat on the bed next to him and sighed. "Stressful."

And it was. He felt exhausted. Sleep deprived and punchy, his emotions stretched thin and he was pretty sure the knot between his shoulders was there to stay. For no reason at all he flashed back to being in an primitive, thatched-roof cottage, wind howling all around, huddled under a warm blanket with Sheppard.

Safe.

"Okay," Sheppard was saying. "Next couple of situations that arise, I'll rescue you."

"Good. See that you do."

Sheppard watched him, amused, but there was something else in with the amusement, something a little more thoughtful than his usual manner. "Rodney," he said, then hesitated.

"What?" Rodney grew concerned when Sheppard didn't answer immediately. "What is it?"

"When I was in that cell, when I looked up and saw you there, in the doorway--" Sheppard shifted, pulling his legs in and moving closer to Rodney. "It was nice, it was really, really nice."

Rodney frowned, certain that he was missing something, with the way Sheppard was speaking, slow and deliberate. Of course it was nice to be rescued from a dark, stinky cell, one that you were about die in. "I was pretty damn happy to see you there, too."

"You kissed me." Sheppard seemed oddly hopeful.

"Oh, right. That." Rodney's cheeks grew warm and he cast his eyes down at his hands. "I was kind of hoping you wouldn't remember that bit, you know with the being half-conscious and all."

"No, no, no, it's okay, really, Rodney."

A warm hand on Rodney's shoulder, and when Rodney looked up, Sheppard leaned in and kissed him.

On the lips.

Sheppard's lips, touching his lips.

Sheppard was kissing him.

Sheppard was apparently under the mistaken impression that Rodney had kissed him kissed him, when really all Rodney had done was hold his head and while perhaps his lips accidentally bumped against Sheppard's forehead, Rodney didn't really kiss guys, not like that. He wanted to explain the 'not kissing guys' thing to Sheppard but he couldn't talk because Sheppard kept pressing small, tentative kisses to his lips and whoa, wait a minute--Sheppard, gay?

For a guy, Sheppard's kisses were nice, and Rodney found himself leaning in and kissing Sheppard in return. Interesting thing was, Sheppard's lips were as soft as they looked, and it had been way too long since Rodney had kissed anyone. He liked kissing; he liked being close to Sheppard; he had missed Sheppard so god damn much and there was something sweetly intimate about the way Sheppard's breath puffed against his face. When Rodney slid his hand up onto Sheppard's neck, fingertips brushing against warm vulnerable skin, it was possible that they both sighed.

"I'm not gay," Rodney explained as soon as Sheppard pulled back.

Sheppard licked his lips. "Are you sure?"

"I think so." Rodney frowned, perplexed. "I mean, maybe. I didn't used to be."

Sheppard pointed a finger at him. "You didn't used to be into adventure and danger, either."

"I know I didn't, but I do, sometimes, but--but--" Rodney flailed, because he had no more words. He was all used up, with the worrying and searching and rescuing, and he really didn't like danger, no, not really, or worrying, especially worrying about Sheppard, and he had always been sure he knew exactly who he was and who he wanted to kiss. Yet with Sheppard right there in his face, earnest and sincere and handsome like the great big hero that he was, and Sheppard had scared the hell out of him by being gone for so long, and Rodney's brain was spinning right out of his head and nothing made sense and what the hell was he supposed to do now?

"Do you want to kiss some more?" Sheppard asked. "Just to be sure?"

"Okay".

Sheppard's lips met his again, and this time his fingers cupped the side of Rodney's face with a surprisingly delicate touch. When Sheppard pulled back his fingers lingered on Rodney's cheek, eyes bright with hope and yearning, like nothing Rodney had ever seen before, and so this time he kissed Sheppard, wrapping a hand around the back of his neck. It was kind of cool, because Sheppard breathed in sharply and made a little noise and then it got even cooler--no, no, make that hot when Sheppard's lips parted and Rodney touched his tongue to Sheppard's.

He was making out with Sheppard.

Eventually Rodney had to break off the kiss so he could breathe, his heart beating so fast that he was growing lightheaded. Sheppard used the opportunity to kiss Rodney's jaw and to nuzzle his ear, which sent shivery sensations all through Rodney's body. By the time Sheppard found his way to Rodney's neck, sucking and kissing, Rodney's cock was taking notice. Feeling bold--adventurous, even--Rodney began touching, sliding one hand up into Sheppard's hair, envying the thickness of it, the other hand moving over Sheppard's chest and shoulders, all flat, hard muscle and bone, no soft curves, except maybe the curve of Sheppard's cheek when he smiled and pulled Rodney down to lie next to him on the bed.

"Oh," Rodney breathed. "Okay." He could do this.

He stretched out next to Sheppard, and explored Sheppard's neck with his mouth. Warm skin, smelling fresh and shower-clean and, judging from Sheppard's response, very sensitive. Sheppard clutched at Rodney, and it was a total rush, Sheppard wanting him so much, and Rodney wanted Sheppard, wanted to have sex with Sheppard, even though Sheppard was a guy and he was a guy and they both had penises but heck, it probably wasn't at all complicated to get each other off. Rodney was smart, if he could figure out that sucking just beneath the collar of Sheppard's shirt made him moan, he could certainly figure out how to make Sheppard come.

"Control room to Dr. McKay".

Rodney jerked away from Sheppard, and tapped his earpiece. "Uh--McKay here." He winced at the raspy quality of his voice.

Sorry to disturb you, but we seem to be having a slight problem with the DHD this evening.

Sheppard's hand slipped under Rodney's shirt to rest on the naked skin of his stomach.

"Uh, uh, say again?"

The Control Room tech repeated his message.

He was in Sheppard's bed. He was in Sheppard's bed with Sheppard. Sheppard was lying next to him, rumpled and, if the bulge in his trousers was any indication, horny. Sheppard was horny, breathing heavy, cheeks flushed and those lips and he wanted to have sex and he was a guy and so was Rodney and it was weird, weird, weird.

....kind of like a sticky key on the computer, if you catch my drift. Probably nothing serious, but it makes dialing kind of hard...

Rodney sat up, and Sheppard's hand slid away. "I'm, on my way," he said to the tech, and turned his radio off. "Sorry, I need to go take a look at the DHD," Rodney explained, backing away from Sheppard, and trying very hard not to stare at the evidence of Sheppard's erection.

Sheppard expression turned downright sulky, and that was sweet, and a little frightening, too. "Damn it. Anything serious?"

"I don't think so, but," Rodney shrugged.

"Come back when you're done?"

"If, ah, if it's not too late."

"Promise?"

Rodney nodded as he stood, smoothing his clothes--disarrayed from making out. Making out with Sheppard. He had to tuck his cock back down and straighten his briefs. Sheppard watched him, grinning in a way that made Rodney want to dive back down onto the bed and--and--

"Gotta go, okay?" Rodney turned and fled.

***

A DHD with sticky keys, and a science team waiting impatiently down on the floor. Rodney was grateful for the distraction, even going as far as to wave off the apologies of the gate tech. It was a simple repair job--purely mechanical--yet he managed to drag it out for two hours, and then the diagnostics needed to be run. It was nearly three hours before Rodney was finished.

He wrote up his report of the incident immediately afterward.

Finally, out of options, Rodney headed toward Sheppard's room, hesitating when he reached the door. It was late, and he was exhausted. Sheppard was most surely asleep. Rodney had promised him, but if he was asleep, well, he was still recovering from his ordeal, and Rodney really should let him sleep.

It had nothing to do with being coward. Nothing at all.

Rodney turned away.

Of course, it was entirely possible that Sheppard was lying awake and waiting for him. He'd know that Rodney didn't stop by. And Rodney would have to explain why in the morning, when he didn't know why himself. He wasn't sure he knew anything anymore.

Rodney took a deep breath and palmed the control to Sheppard's door.

It slid open to reveal Sheppard stretched out on his bed, sound asleep, thank goodness, a book laying open beside him. The tension drained from Rodney's body. He had gotten a reprieve. Creeping closer, he heard the door slide shut behind him as he moved in to take a good look at Sheppard.

No, not at Sheppard, at John.

The man he had kissed.

John looked young when was asleep, lips parted, chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Shirt riding up to reveal a pale belly, scattered with dark hairs, and his arm draped over it, so hairy--a guy's arm, a guy's body. It was all strange and new, yet when John kissed him it was John kissing him. Not some guy.

Rodney's brain hurt. Or maybe it was his heart.

Confused, he backed up out of John's room and headed back to his own.

***

After a restless night Rodney woke early and headed straight for the lab, grabbing coffee and a donut from the mess on the way in. He had spent half the night wondering why it felt so good to kiss John. And the other half wondering why it felt so good to have John kiss him.

He was pretty sure another half was spent wondering if he'd like being naked with John.

Maybe about a quarter of the night was dedicated to a "Oh god, I'm gay" panic. Although maybe panic was too strong a word. He couldn't quite summon up the energy for a full-blown panic attack. The best he could do was a mild, confused agitation. Finding out he might be gay was nothing compared to, say, a Wraith attack, or drowning in a jumper thousands of meters below the sea, or being swallowed up by molten lava.

Either way, it all added up to much tossing and turning and very little sleep and when Rodney dragged himself out of bed in the morning the only thing he was sure of was that it was entirely Sheppard's--no, wait, make that John's fault.

The city began to wake after a few hours and fellow scientists wandered into the lab, chattering and arguing and laughing. His peaceful haven disrupted, Rodney escaped to the jumper bay to follow up on repairs and general maintenance.

No, he wasn't avoiding John, because that would be ridiculous.

When he was finished with the jumpers he thought he might as well check the on the MALPs. MALPs were a critical piece of equipment, and expensive at that, so keeping them in working order was very important. But when he rounded the corner there was John, strolling by, and Rodney's heart beat faster at the sight of him.

"Hey, Rodney," John said, sounding nervous and happy and tentative all at the same time.

"You were asleep," Rodney blurted, disconcerted by how much he wanted to kiss John again.

"Oh." John brightened and touched Rodney's arm. "You should have woken me up," he whispered.

"No, you know, with what you went through, you needed to sleep." A group of technicians went by and Rodney drew back sharply.

John was still beaming at him. "Carson said I can go walking now. As long as I don't try to run."

Rodney nodded. "I'm very happy for you, Colonel.'

"Come with me?"

"You mean now?"

"No, Rodney, yesterday." John cocked his head. "Yes, now."

"I was going to..." Rodney pointed down the corridor, because the MALPs, yes, the MALPs might need his help.

"Do it later?"

A walk through the city--very innocuous. "I can do that."

Rodney followed John into the transporter, and they emerged into bright sunshine. "Where are we?" Rodney asked, squinting.

"Just below the main tower. Ronon and I run this way sometimes." John motioned for him to follow. "Although, it's more like Ronon trotting and me running after him. Damn he's fast. You should come with us, though."

"Oh, please, I don't think so," Rodney said, even though he was gratified that John thought to include him. "Unless you just want me there so that someone will be slower than you."

"Nah. Would I do that?"

"Yes."

They walked around the base of the tower, then took a path alongside the water. The air was still, the hot sun soothing. They strolled to the sound of water quietly lapping at the seawall. Rodney breathed in the ocean air and maybe that knot between his shoulders was finally loosening up.

Then John's hand touched the small of his back.

Startled, Rodney came to a halt and hissed, "Careful, someone might see."

"Who?"

Rodney realized they were in a cul-de-sac facing the water, out of view of the entire city. "Um, the whales?"

John grinned and slipped an arm around Rodney's waist. "I keep thinking about you."

Rodney pulled away, startled. "Uh, I'm sorry, this still kind of weirds me out."

John froze, then dropped his hands. "I'm sorry," he said, "I thought--well, last night you seemed to be into it."

"I was. And I am, I just never thought I'd be interested in a man this way," Rodney said, talking fast because he hated the way John's face was closing down, eyes distant as he retreated and damn it, Rodney wanted that attention. He grabbed John's arm as John turned away. "What made you kiss me last night?"

For a moment Rodney thought John was going to pull away. But instead he took a deep breath and said, "Because I thought you were interested in me. In that way."

"You did? Seriously?"

"Yes, I did. What with all the flirting," John said, as if he were stating the obvious.

"Flirting?" Rodney asked. "I've been flirting?"

"Not to mention the cuddling," John added. "Back at that cabin." He tried to free his arm.

Rodney tightened his grip. "You were freezing to death. I was keeping you alive."

"Well, it felt like cuddling to me," John said with a mulish expression. "You could have moved away when the place warmed up. And then you found me in the prison cell and you kissed me. What the hell was I supposed to think?"

"That I like you a lot?" Rodney answered, confused.

"Exactly. But apparently that freaks you out. You're straight. I understand, okay? We can forget it ever happened."

Angry because John had it all wrong, Rodney closed in until they stood nose to nose, close enough that Rodney could see the green flecks in John's ever-changing eyes. He slid his hand up onto John's shoulder and squeezed. "Listen. It doesn't freak me out. Well, maybe it does. A little. It's just--unexpected. I never wanted to kiss another guy, but now I want to kiss you and I don't know why. It doesn't make any sense."

John's expression softened. "Maybe it's not supposed to, Rodney."

"Oh, now see? I hate that."

To his surprise, John grinned.

Even more surprising was how sexy John looked when he grinned. Rodney had no idea why he had never noticed that before, but that grin definitely made him feel warm all over. "Come here," he said, pulling John in for a kiss.

Sun-warmed and willing, John leaned into the kiss, sliding his arms around Rodney with something that might have been a sigh of relief. John's very male body pressed up against his, strange and exciting yet somehow familiar, which also didn't make a whole lot of sense, but then Rodney decided that he didn't care what made sense and what didn't. All that mattered was the sensation of John's mouth on his and how good it felt to be touching John. When Rodney slid his hand under John's shirt he found warm, damp skin, and he spread his fingers out over the small of John's back just to feel more of it. John took it as an invitation to grasp Rodney's hips and push his thigh between Rodney's legs.

"Oh," Rodney breathed, amazed at all the closeness and touching and the ridiculously thrilled expression on John's face. His fingers slipped under the waistband of John's pants, and there, right there, was the curve of John's ass, his for the fondling. "Oh wow."

"Want to go back to my room," John breathed against his ear, "and make even less sense?"

"Um, you mean, like, to have sex?" Which was a very stupid question, considering that John's very erect cock was pushing against his hip.

John nibbled the side of his neck. "Uh huh. If you're comfortable with that." He reached under Rodney's shirt and slid his hand up to find a nipple.

"Just for the record? I can't think when you do that," Rodney said, covering John's hand with his, wanting him both to stop and to keep going.

Someday his life would make sense again.

"Really? You like that?" John slipped a second hand under Rodney's shirt.

Laughing, Rodney pushed both hands way and backed off, followed closely by John, who looked all too pleased with himself. Rodney continued backing away until his back bumped up against the wall.

John rested a hand on either side of Rodney's head and kissed him with a light, feather-touch of a kiss. "Come on, let's go back to my room. We can do as much as you're comfortable with."

Rodney's hand was still flat against the center of John's chest, standing out sharply against the black tee-shirt. He could feel John's heart racing. Racing because of him, because John wanted to have sex with him. Rodney slid his hand lower, over John's stomach and then moved it even lower. After a moment's indecision, he cupped John's erection.

"Rodney," John breathed. His cock twitched, pushing into Rodney's hand.

Fascinated, Rodney pressed down and rubbed his palm against the hard flesh. He was touching another man's cock. Through layers of clothing, granted, but it was a cock, and it was John's, and it was hard. He squeezed, and John let out a little gasp.

Rodney liked it, too.

He figured he might like it even more if they were both naked.

"What do you say we go back to your room?" Rodney asked.

John nodded rapidly. "Good idea. Very good idea."

***

John's room had apparently been relocated to the other side of the city, because it took forever to get there, even with the quick-as-a-blink transporters. They ran into every single damn person in the city, all of whom needed to stop and have a word. Lorne was setting up training exercises, Parrish wanted his equipment back from Simons, the gateroom tech needed to assure Rodney the DHD was working perfectly, and Elizabeth needed to schedule a briefing with the Colonel. By the time John's door closed behind them "Colonel" was ringing in Rodney's ears, along with all the implications of John being a member of the military.

"John, maybe we should--" Rodney started, but before he could finish John spun around and embraced him. He held onto Rodney with a fierce determination, his grip so powerful that the air rushed from Rodney's lungs and the only thing he could do was hold John in return.

"I'm aware of the risks, Rodney. I had a whole hell of a lot of time by myself to think about it." Unlike his grip, John's voice wasn't entirely steady.

"Oh. I just--okay." Of course John knew what he was doing. Rodney tucked his face into John's neck and breathed, wondering just when he had started craving the smell of John's skin. "As long as you're sure about this."

John's hands slid down Rodney's back and onto his ass. "I'm very sure."

Hip to hip with John, and it was very a interesting position--John's cock pushing into his hip, his cock wedged happily between their bodies. When John moved against him everything rubbed in all the right places. Excited, Rodney kissed his way to John's mouth. This was it; they were about to have sex and it really wasn't so strange, it was more like a damn good idea. "Maybe we should take our clothes off?"

John pulled back. "You think?"

"That's how it works with women, so I'm assuming for the homosexual version it's the same, hmmm, yes?" Rodney grinned at John, expecting John's typical eye-roll in response.

But John surprised him by taking hold of his head and kissing him, hard. "Yes, Rodney, it's the same between guys."

Hand to the small of Rodney's back, John pushed him toward the bed, laughing. Rodney sat, bouncing down onto the mattress and watching John kick off his shoes and pull his shirt off over his head, revealing a nice-but-not-overly-muscled chest, wide and hairy with dog tags hanging down. Rodney's breath caught at the sight of the tags. He had always had this little fantasy of Samantha Carter's tags nestled into her cleavage, tucked between soft, rounded breasts and maybe she was wearing one of those lacy bras, and maybe she wasn't wearing anything, but in his mind it was almost unbearably sexy, the way the tags would look against her glowing skin.

He had never imagined that tags would look just as hot bumping against John's hard, hairy chest.

To his disappointment, John slipped the tags off over his head and tossed them onto the bedside table. "You still with me, Rodney?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "I thought we were getting naked."

"You look good," Rodney said, pulling himself out of his reverie. He reached for John, dragging his fingers over warm skin and solid muscle. "You look really good."

John blinked at him, almost uncomprehendingly. "Oh." A small smile. "Oh, well, come on, let me see you, then." He sat next to Rodney and tugged at the hem of Rodney's shirt.

Rodney complied, pulling his shirt off and John gave a little sigh of "oh Rodney," which was utterly sweet, as was the way John touched him, tracing his collarbone with the tip of a finger as if Rodney was something precious and delicate.

Rodney kissed him again, because the sweetness was a surprise, a surprise of the good kind, and it seemed like everything about John was surprising. "What do you like?" he asked, realizing that aside from the naked part, he didn't know what he was doing and he wanted more than anything to do it right. "How do you like to do it?"

"I like, oh, "John made a show of thinking it over. "Hmmm. Let's see. Basically--everything."

"Everything?"

John nodded. "Blow jobs, hand jobs, rubbing--everything. I'd even let you fuck me. I like that."

"That's, um, I think I need to work my way up to that," Rodney said, flustered because maybe that was what John wanted to do and also because John's arm was around him and John was hugging close. All that skin-to-skin contact and, whoa, John liked to be fucked? "You really like that? Being--you know, the receiver? "

"Yes, Rodney, I do." John seemed amused. "I like it a lot. But we can take things one step at a time, okay?"

"Good, good yes. But--oh, that feels good," Rodney said, distracted as John cupped his cock through his pants. John's hand, on the crotch of his pants, rubbing. "How much experience do you have? You've done all that, you know," Rodney waved his hands. "Stuff."

"What do you mean?" John stilled his hand.

"I was just wondering how many guys--boyfriends? Do you call them boyfriends? Rodney asked, feeling entirely out of his depth.

One corner of John's mouth twitched. "I guess a couple of them were boyfriends. All before I joined the military. Since then, not so much." John sighed. "More like none."

"I'm sorry," Rodney said, because it wasn't fair, and it was all he could think to say.

"Oh, I plan on making up for it with you."

A thrill of anticipation ran through Rodney at John's words. John was gazing at him with a hungry, greedy expression, still groping his cock. Everything John had done so far felt damn good and Rodney was definitely ready for action. "I'm all for that. Let's, um--" Rodney reached for the waistband of John's pants. "Get rid of these?"

John hopped out of bed and shucked his pants in an instant, then stood there naked and grinning as if being naked was the most fun thing ever. His cock was big and hard and erect, and Rodney liked how it looked, poking out from between John's thighs, in a forward, friendly kind of way, much like John himself. Rodney reached out to touch it, to take it in his hand, to feel the warm weight of it against his palm. Slippery smooth, skin like silk and when he squeezed it, John gasped.

"Naked," Rodney said. "I like you naked."

"Me, too," John said in a breathless voice. "Your turn?"

Rodney struggled to unfasten his pants, then pulled them off, along with his briefs and his socks and everything, so he could be naked too, naked with John, in John's room, in the middle of the morning with the sunlight streaming in through the window over the bed. The only thing strange about it was that it felt like the most natural thing in the world for them to be doing together and how come it took him so long to discover this?

Then John moved, pushing Rodney down onto the mattress and stretching out over him. Hard naked body, entirely naked and hard, and it was the best thing Rodney had ever felt, especially when John rocked his hips, his cock sliding right up next to his. With a gasp, Rodney grabbed hold of John's ass and John shoved down hard onto him, skin sliding against skin.

"God, I missed this," John said, pushing an arm under Rodney's shoulders and holding him tight, muscles straining as he pressed their bodies together. "I just really, really--god, Rodney, you feel so good."

It was incredible to feel John's strength, the power in his arms. An unexpected turn-on, and Rodney moaned and kissed him, hands digging into John's flesh, holding on tight in return. John seemed to like it, rubbing his cock on Rodney's hip, his kisses growing wet and frantic, lips sliding over Rodney's mouth and onto his neck to suck on his skin. Then John slithered further down, nipping at Rodney's chest and Rodney buried a hand in his hair, squirming and desperately rubbing his cock against John's stomach, because so good--so god damn good, especially against John's slick, sweaty skin.

When John's mouth reached a nipple, he sucked hard, and Rodney moaned again, shoulders curling up off the bed but John pushed him back down and sucked even harder. He licked Rodney's chest, leaving a wet trail on his skin. "Rodney," he said, eyes dark and dazed. "I want to suck you--can I suck you?"

"Oh god yes, what, you think I'd say no?" Rodney watched in awe as John lifted himself and moved down his body, pausing to kiss and nip at his stomach. His cock was so hard it ached, and he couldn't remember the last time sex was like this, frantic and hot.

"Look at you," John said, running his hands over Rodney's hips. The friction heated up Rodney's skin, and he was already unbearably hot, and John was just looking at his cock, and admiring it was all well and good but--but--

"Can you suck now, and look later?" Rodney asked, voice rising up high. John grinned delightedly, as if Rodney had just given him a gift and maybe he had, by wanting John as much as John wanted him. "Please?"

John dipped his head. Rodney moaned out loud at the warm, wet suction all around his cock, such a shock of exquisite pleasure that Rodney thrust up into John's mouth. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," he whispered, because that was rude, so rude, but John chuckled low in his throat and that was fucking amazing, he felt it against his legs and in his cock. Even more amazing were John's arms wrapping around his hips, hugging him close, John's hands gripping his ass as he sucked even harder.

"Oh my god," Rodney moaned. He was held firmly in place. He could barely move and that only made it more exciting, the thrill of it sizzling up and all through his body until his hands twisted in the sheets and he moaned shamelessly. Looking down, he could see John's head bobbing, John's arms around him and then it all was too much and he came, all light and heat as he poured himself out into John's mouth.

And when he was done John didn't release him. He held Rodney's cock in his mouth through the aftershocks, licking delicately until Rodney reached for him, gently touching his cheek. "John, please."

John let him go and then he released his iron grip around Rodney's hips. "Touch me?" he asked, crawling up next to Rodney.

Rodney's hands were already on him, even though he was lightheaded and maybe a little giddy from what might have been the most intense orgasm of his life. John looked so needy, so desperate and so hard, his cock jutting straight out and when Rodney slid his hands down John's body, John moaned, desperate for his touch. "I'm not going to be any good at this," Rodney said, shifting his weight and drawing his legs in underneath. "Not like you because that was the best damn blow-job ever but--"

He knelt next to John's hips and wrapped his fist around the base of John's cock. It was wet at the tip, a glistening drop of precome and after a split-second of hesitation Rodney put his lips to the head and tasted it. Sharp and salty, Rodney found it not exactly pleasant but not awful, either. The smooth, resilient flesh felt odd, unlike anything he'd put his mouth on before. But John's soft little "oh" of astonishment was encouraging, and he wanted to make John feel good, as crazy-good as John made him feel so he licked and tasted again, then closed his mouth over it and slid as far down on the shaft as he could.

John went stock still, so still that Rodney was afraid he had stopped breathing, but when he glanced up he saw John propped up on his arms and watching, mouth slack and hanging open, eyes wide. "That feels really good, Rodney," he said.

Such obvious delight, and Rodney had to fight a grin as he slid his mouth back up and then down again. He decided it would be better directly between John's legs. Crawling over one leg to settle directly between them, he hunkered down. "Ah, much better."

John had spread his legs wide. His balls looked soft and vulnerable. Rodney touched them carefully, cradling them in his hand and John smelled so good, so John that Rodney pushed his nose into the hair and sniffed, thrilled when John let out a whimper. More confident now, he held John's cock steady and licked it, all the way up the underside and then sucked on the head again, trying not to scrape with his teeth as he moved his mouth down and it wasn't exactly easy. He was even more impressed with John's cock-sucking abilities now that he had his mouth wrapped around one.

He ended up licking his palm and fisting the shaft as he sucked only on the rounded, flat head, but John seemed okay with that, making small desperate noises and squirming beneath him, occasionally whispering Rodney's name, telling him how good it felt, asking for faster and harder, and Rodney tried his best to oblige.

Then John pulled his legs up, digging his heels in and moaned low and loud. Rodney knew John was about to come, he could already taste it, but he wasn't exactly sure he could deal with an entire mouthful of the stuff, so when John's hips jerked he pulled back and stroked the full length of the shaft with a saliva-slicked fist.

Two strokes and then John came, come spurting all over his stomach and Rodney's hand. It was fascinating to see, all those muscles twitching and straining, hips lifting powerfully.

He had made John come.

When he finally let go of John's dripping cock, John tugged on his arm. "Come here, come here, Rodney, please--"

Rodney didn't know what to do with his wet, dripping hand, so he not-quite-surreptitiously wiped it on John's stomach as he moved back up the bed. "How was that?" he asked.

John rolled over and into him, heedless of the come on his stomach, smearing it over Rodney as he nestled in close and kissed him.

It was a lush, lingering kiss and Rodney sighed contentedly, interrupting only to pull a pillow under their heads. John draped a leg over his hip and they fit together amazingly well, only maybe Rodney shouldn't have been surprised by that, not at this point.

"Rodney," John said with a sleepy-eyed smile. "You sucked my dick."

"Yes, I did."

"I can't believe you did that. It was amazing." John kissed him again, sliding his hand up and down Rodney's side, petting him.

"I know, wasn't it?" Rodney kissed him, despite his snickering. It was fun to kiss John while he laughed.

Growing serious, John drew back and with an intent gaze, asked. "How are you feeling?"

Rodney thought for a moment. "Kind of sticky."

"Rodney--"

"Okay, okay," Rodney said. "How about--of all my new experiences here in the Pegasus galaxy, this one is, hands down, my absolute favorite?"

A sly look. "I'll bet you say that to all the boys."

"Only the pretty ones."

John laughed and pulled Rodney closer. "So, we're good?" he asked, pressing his forehead against Rodney's.

Utterly endearing, and Rodney's heart lurched. "We're good. We're very good."

"Good."

"And you know what? I think I might be gay."

"No, really?" John's eyes went wide with mock astonishment. Rodney nodded gravely, and that earned him another slow, sweet kiss. "See, you never know what you'll discover out here in the Pegasus galaxy."

"You're absolutely right. " And John had been the best discovery of all.

"Stay for a while?"

Suddenly aware of his lack of sleep, Rodney yawned. "To be honest? You may never get me out of this bed."

"I was kind of hoping for that," John said.

His voice was earnest, maybe a little shy and it took Rodney's post-coital mind a moment to process. "Oh. Oh. Well, yes, of course."

John tucked his face into Rodney's neck. "Good. You're where you belong." He slung an arm around Rodney's waist, and Rodney's arm instinctively slid around John's shoulders.

John was right. This was exactly where he belonged, even if it was the last place he ever expected to find himself.

***

"No, no, no, that's wrong, the level's too high, it's not going to work," Rodney said. Adding, when Radek didn’t answer, "You're ignoring me, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am ignoring you."

"You're going to burn out the main power conduit."

Radek flipped the switch. The instrument lit up, and hummed along happily, and the jumper's power reading remained in the normal range.

"Or, maybe not," Rodney admitted.

"You're going off-world soon, correct?" Radek asked, peering at Rodney over the top of his glasses.

"Yes, we are," Sheppard said, from the open door of the jumper. "Tomorrow."

"Colonel," Rodney exclaimed, his heart leaping, which was utterly ridiculous since it had only been six hours since John had climbed out of his bed. "Radek, the Colonel and I have a meeting, it's very important and--"

"Go, go, please. I'll have this ready in time for tomorrow's survey mission."

Rodney patted Radek's shoulder, and hurried off.

"So, are you all set for more action and adventure?" John asked as they left the jumper bay.

"Um," Rodney leaned close and whispered, "are you talking about tomorrow's mission, or our upcoming 'meeting'?"

A broad smile. "Both," John whispered back.

"Ready and willing. I've become quite the intrepid explorer, hmmm?" Rodney hesitated, and checked the hallway to make certain they were entirely alone before adding, "Can I be on the bottom this time?"

John's face lit up. "Really?"

"Yes, really."

He laughed as John hustled him into the transporter.

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