A Ribbon at a Time

by The Grrrl

Title: A Ribbon at a Time

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: Peace breaks out in the Pegasus Galaxy.

Author's Notes: Written for Team Home in the 2008 McShep Match Challenge. Prompt was "a place in the sun". Thank you very much to my betas mmmchelle and lamardeuse for their comments, suggestions and encouragement.

***

"Rodney!" John shouts as he ducks down, darts buzzing loudly overhead.

"Dialing," Rodney shouts in return. "I'm dialing, believe me, I'm--" He's flattened himself against the DHD and when a dart flies close, kicking up dirt as it fires, he ducks down beneath the rim.

John fires at the dart but it's moving too fast. He misses it but Ronon doesn't, and the dart goes down in a burst of flames just beyond a grove of trees. "Any time now--"

Without rising, Rodney reaches up over the edge of the DHD and presses one last key. The gate springs to life and the whoosh of the activated wormhole is a welcome sound to John's ears. Ronon and Teyla fire at the Wraith soldiers storming down the hill, another dart is bearing down on them and John's heart is racing, this one's a little too close for comfort but they're almost there. He activates his GDO and sees that Rodney has already sent his code. He receives the signal indicating the shield has been deactivated.

"Go," he shouts to Rodney, motioning with his weapon.

Rodney doesn't hesitate. He disappears through the gate at a dead run while John lays down cover with a burst of rounds. John nods at Teyla and she moves in closer, firing rounds until she too turns and runs though the gate. Ronon takes down the last two Wraith racing toward them and then he and John make a mad dash for the puddle together. A burst of light and they're in the city, skidding across the gate room floor.

"Get that shield up," John barks out.

The shield blinks on, and a second later there's a flash of light, probably a dart disintegrating against it. Ronon grins--he seems to take special joy in enemies slamming against the force field--and John grins back because yeah, they made it.

The gate deactivates and all is quiet as the guards stand down.

"Colonel." Carter hurries down the stairs, worry creasing her forehead.

"Yup," John says in response to her unasked question. "Couple of wraith on the planet."

"A couple?" Rodney repeats, incredulous. "A couple?"

John shrugs. Another day, another mission. "Couple...hundred. Seems like our intelligence was a little off."

"Or out of date," Teyla suggests. "It appears more were arriving while we were there."

"Interesting. Activity has been increasing. There's something going on." Carter looks thoughtful, then checks her watch. "If everyone is all right, we'll debrief in an hour. Go and get cleaned up."

They check their weapons at the armory, tracking muddy footprints down the corridor and then it's just the two of them, Rodney at John's side as they unpack their gear. "Nice going out there, Rodney," John says.

"I hate that. The transport beams." Rodney shakes his head. "Did you see how close it was? It was too close. I really hate those things." He rubs a bit of dirt from the back of his hand. "Silent. But they're there. It's just--"

The beam had swept the ground barely a foot from where Rodney had been standing and even now it leaves a sick feeling in the pit of John's stomach.

"I hate that," Rodney finishes, and his voice cracks.

John hates it, too. "You did good. Quick on your feet."

Rodney glares. "I tripped."

John nods. "In the right direction. Good instincts." He forces a grin and pats Rodney's shoulder. Then rests his hand a moment before squeezing the firm muscle. Rodney is tense, his body almost vibrating beneath John's hand.

John slides his hand away and picks up his pack of C4. "Come on. Let's get these back to storage." He nudges Rodney with his shoulder.

Rodney stares at John for a split second, then snatches up his C4. "Yes. Let's."

John heads for a storage room, Rodney at his heels. They slip inside, and as the door closes behind them, John locks it with a wave of his hand. The room is cool and dark, no windows at all, and it's lined with metal shelves stacked with cardboard boxes and the only sound is Rodney's harsh breathing.

Rodney places the C4 on a shelf and John is right behind him, sliding an arm around Rodney's waist.

"Yes," Rodney says. He grabs John's hand. "Yes, yes yes."

Rodney's neck is warm and sweaty, he tastes like dirt and he's real, he's alive, he hasn't vanished in a flash of light. John pulls him close, pressing his already-hard cock against Rodney's ass as he slides his hand down over Rodney's cock. Rodney groans and shivers against him.

"Shhh," John warns against Rodney's skin. He sucks on an earlobe and Rodney is still moaning, his sounds muffled now and all the more desperate, echoing what John feels.

He's still surprised by how willing Rodney is, the way he pushes against John's hand, writhing against John's body. John loves the way Rodney gets buzzed on an adrenaline high, and even though guys aren't Rodney's thing, it's pretty clear Rodney needs this, with the way he hurries to unfasten his pants so John can reach in to get hold of his hard, hot cock and okay, this is what John needs too, be touching Rodney, to feel Rodney move in his arms.

It's already wet at the tip and when John squeezes another shudder runs through Rodney's body. "Sheppard," Rodney gasps. "Could you just--I need--"

John slides his fist down the shaft and pushes his own cock against Rodney's ass, his mouth on the side of Rodney's neck, sucking and licking, the taste of Rodney's skin making him dizzy with want, the feel of Rodney in his arms, the smoothness of Rodney's cock against his palm, the heat of his skin--

John turns Rodney around, drops down onto his knees and sucks Rodney's cock into his mouth. Rodney flails above him, grabbing hold of a shelf to steady himself, and John sucks hard, running his tongue along the length of it, tasting Rodney's sweat and fear.

"Oh god," Rodney whispers, as if awestruck. "The way you do that--it's--oh my god--"

A hand clumsily pats John's head and John's breath catches. He's used to taking care of business with guys who are quiet and efficient. Even though it's been a few months now he still finds Rodney's rambling, squirming appreciation an enormous rush. It's almost as good as the sex itself.

John sucks and licks, presses his nose into Rodney's pubic hair and breathes, licks again, until Rodney is a trembling wreck. Then John sucks hard and steady, head bobbing as he brings Rodney off, swallowing neatly, and from the sounds Rodney makes John knows it's a good one.

He pets Rodney's hip until he calms, then lets Rodney's cock slip from his mouth. He tucks it back into Rodney's shorts, his hand pressing against his own eager cock but already he feels like something has loosened inside of him, some of the tension unwinding.

"Whoa." Rodney melts down next to him, hands still clutching John's shoulders. "Thank you."

"Good, huh?" John grins as he unfastens his own pants.

"Great," Rodney replies, and it's honest and heartfelt and entirely endearing. "Here, let me--"

John closes his eyes, and sits back as Rodney slides a hand down his pants--oh yeah, that's what he needs, Rodney's big, capable hands on him.

Rodney puts his arm around John's shoulders and pulls John over to him. "Can I--can we kiss?" Rodney asks, pressing his nose against John's cheek.

"What?" John opens his eyes and blinks down at Rodney's hand. "Rodney, you don't have to."

"I know, it's just weird without the kissing."

"Oh. All right," John says easily, hiding his surprise. It's not how these things usually work, and not what he expected from Rodney.

Rodney presses his lips to John's cheek first, then hesitates before moving on to John's lips. A brief kiss, then another.

"Oh," Rodney says. "That's kind of nice."

John snorts. "Gee, thanks."

Rodney grins and kisses him again. Truth is, it really is nice. John appreciates the little things like kissing, and Rodney's lips are soft and his kisses are surprisingly delicate but he clutches at John's shoulders like he's afraid to let go. Then his hand moves to John's cock, his grip firm and steady. Rodney is less clumsy about this than he used to be. He's learning what John likes, how to get John off. He's learned to lick his hand to get it good and slick, that John likes squeezing just as much as stroking, that John's balls are sensitive and that reaching down to stroke them with his fingertips will make John grunt and lift his hips eagerly.

And maybe these are things John normally wouldn't share, he's used to be quiet and efficient too. But it's easy with Rodney. Maybe a little too easy.

When John comes, it's with his face pressed against Rodney's cheek, his hand wrapped around Rodney's forearm and it's good. Damn good.

"Nice," John says when he can speak again.

"Yes, it was, wasn't it?" Rodney is clearly pleased with himself.

John rests his forehead on Rodney's shoulders, chuckling. "Just what I needed."

"Always glad to lend a helping hand, hmmm?"

"You're a stand-up kind of guy, Rodney." John kisses Rodney's neck, then sits back to fix his clothes.

"Um," Rodney says, reaching a hand into his jacket pocket. "Do you have any napkins or tissues?"

So maybe Rodney doesn't completely have the hang of this thing yet. John is prepared, though, pulling a handful of tissues from his pocket and offering them to Rodney. Rodney wipes his hand gratefully and John has to tuck his still-sticky cock back into his boxers but it's not a big deal. When he's done buttoning up, he notices Rodney is still leaning against the shelves, eyes half-closed. His expression is one of such dreamy bliss that it brings a sudden warmth to John's chest.

"Come on," he says, patting Rodney's thigh. "Things to do. Debriefing coming up." He stands up, moving a bit slowly but it's not like they can hang around the stockroom all afternoon.

"Right." Rodney rises to his feet too, grunting. "I think I pulled something when I fell." He rubs his thigh, frowning.

"Need to walk around a bit. Work out the stiffness."

"I thought that's what we just did?" Rodney asks with a grin.

John laughs as they exit the room. The haunted look is gone from Rodney's eyes. One bit of post-mission business taken care of. John checks his watch. "See you in the conference room in thirty."

***

Rodney lifts the top piece of bread off his sandwich and picks off the leafy green lettuce. "Lettuce is supposed go in salads, not sandwiches," he grumbles. "You going to eat that?" Ronon asks. He plucks the lettuce from Rodney's tray and stuffs it in his mouth.

Rodney rolls his eyes.

"Just don't touch the cookies," John warns, and Ronon reaches a hand out, teasing.

"Hey--" Rodney pulls his tray closer, away from Ronon's outstretched arm.

"Oh, cookies. For me?" John asks as the tray gets closer to him.

Rodney glares. John grins in response, although he suspects it might be more of a smirk than a grin. He glances up to see Teyla settling into the seat beside Ronon. "Hiya, Teyla."

She greets them with a nod, then leans forward. "Did you hear about the Hive ship?"

"What Hive ship?" Rodney asks.

"Major Lorne had the geology team out, they were returning to M6G-909 for a follow-up, and they found a hive ship on the ground." She sips her tea.

"Like, say, crashed on the ground, or landed?" John asks, intrigued. There've been changes in the Wraith behavior; something is up with them and he doesn't know what.

"Were they attacked?" Rodney asks. "I didn't hear of anyone coming in hot, did you?" He turns to John.

John shakes his head.

"It was not crashed," Teyla says. "They didn't have the manpower for further exploration, but it appeared to be abandoned."

"Huh," Ronon says. "We should check it out."

"Sounds suspicious," Rodney points his sandwich at John. "Doesn't it sound suspicious?"

Teyla nods. "It's quite unusual."

"Could be a trap." Rodney takes a bite of the sandwich. "Either way, it's worth checking out. You have a go, Colonel."

John glances up to find Carter standing beside him. "Cool," he says.

They finish their lunches and are suited up in less than ten minutes. John finishes his apple in the puddle jumper as Rodney dials out. He finds himself watching Rodney's hands as they move gracefully over the keys. And then they're moving through the gate, emerging into space.

They cloak as soon as possible. John holds his breath, waiting for darts to swoop in--he really wishes they could cloak through the gate.

But there is nothing. Just empty space, and the planet below them, white clouds swirling across the blue-green surface. "Are we clear?"

Rodney calls up the HUD. "I'm not seeing anything."

"No darts?" Teyla has come up behind them, eyeing the HUD readout.

"Maybe the ship was damaged," John said. "And they can't detect the gate activity?"

"Maybe." Rodney pulls out his tablet, then points down at the planet. "It's in the southern hemisphere."

John guides the jumper in as Rodney peers worriedly through the windshield, as if expecting a swarm of darts to come at them any minute now, even though they're cloaked. "Relax, Rodney," he finds himself saying.

"Right." Rodney shoots him a look of disgust mixed with disbelief .

He takes the jumper in for a low flyover. The ship looks intact; there's no visible damage. "Teyla?" he asks.

She shakes her head. "I'm not detecting wraith presence."

"Energy readings are low," Rodney adds. "The ship is powered up, but just barely."

John lands the jumper near it, still cloaked. "So they just left it here. Maybe this is a parking lot. But I tell you, it sucks to have to park this far away from the show. I'll bet they had to take a bus from here."

Teyla cocks her head to one side.

"The other lots must have been full," John says to her.

"Of course."

"Seriously, this is weird, there are no life sign readings at all." Rodney shows him the tablet. "It's definitely a trap."

"Perhaps they are hibernating," Teyla suggests.

"Good," Ronon says. "Let's blow it up."

"No," John says, rising from his seat. "We go in and check it out."

With a resigned sigh, Rodney packs up his tablet. Ronon grins and pulls his gun from his holster, adjusts the setting and then twirls it once before placing it back in. Teyla is at the door already, face set in a determined frown. She seems unsettled, and so is John. This is weird, and he doesn't like it one bit.

"Let's go." He nods to Teyla, who lowers the door and then they're out on the planet's rocky, barren surface, hiking toward the looming ship. It takes some searching to find an entrance. They finally do, at a dart bay, and only after Rodney spends a good five minutes poking at the controls.

"Come on, Rodney," John complains, casting a worried eye at their surroundings. They're exposed out there, no place to take cover should an attack come and whatever might have happened to the wraith in the ship could happen to them, too.

"Believe me, I'm working as fast as I--ah, there."

The door slides open and they slip inside, one by one, weapons at the ready. John blinks in the darkness, waiting for his eyes to adjust after the bright sunlight. He determines quickly that the dart bay is deserted. They make their way to the control room, through the dark, damp ship--John hates the inside of these ships, with the slimy wet walls, webs of stinky organic material wrapped around everything. Rodney explained once how they grow, and it didn't make a whole lot of sense to him.

"I've got something," Ronon whispers, peering down a corridor. "Bodies."

Five wraith, dead on the ground. "I see no sign of injury," Teyla says, crouching down beside them.

Ronon nudges one with a foot. "Yup, dead."

"They don't look so good," Rodney says. "I mean, worse than usual."

John cocks his head, then shines the light from his P90 on them. It's hard to tell, but it's possible they are thinner than usual, faces haggard and sunken. "Depends on how long they've been dead."

The closer they get to the control room, the more bodies they find, warriors and drones alike, slumped on the ground. Yet there is no sign of violence and John grows more uneasy as they step over each one--it's one thing to get shot at, to get chased back to the gate but the silence is eerie, as if the damn ships aren't creepy enough in the first place.

"It's like a ghost ship," Rodney says, as if reading John's mind.

"Nothing creepy about a bunch of dead wraith," Ronon insists. "I like it."

"I'll like it better when I know why they're dead," John says.

Rodney nods rapidly, his face pale in the dim light.

They reach the control room. John is in the lead and he flattens himself against a disgusting wet wall but there's nothing but silence and the low hum of the computers. He peers in, weapon raised, but there is no motion in the room, just bodies. He spots the queen immediately, slumped dramatically over her chair, white skin contrasting against bright red hair.

John approaches her and tentatively pokes her with the barrel of his P90.

Then jumps back as she slides down onto the floor.

"Huh," Rodney says from across the room. "The queen, too?"

John turns to find Rodney and Teyla at a control panel. Rodney's tablet is out, and he's connected it to the panel. "Can you find out what happened?"

"They were trying to transmit a message," Teyla says, studying Rodney's tablet. "It appears to be a warning of some type."

Rodney nods. "I'm not sure about the translation--" He taps a few more keys, then his head jerks up. "Oh, crap."

John tights his grip on his weapon. "What is it?"

"A virus. The warning is about a virus."

"A virus?" John repeats. "What, like the retrovirus? Shouldn't they all have turned human then, rather than dying?"

"Maybe they just got sick," Ronon says, and his grin is just this side of nasty. "Caught a bad cold."

"Yes, isn't that wonderful, except now we've all been exposed to it, whatever it is." Rodney places a hand on his forehead. "I think I'm feverish."

"Come on," John says. A chill runs through his body. "Let's head back. Before one of us gets a scratch and--you know."

"Turns into a bug?" Rodney asks, brow furrowed with worry.

"Yeah. That."

"I do not think that is the kind of infection we are looking at," Teyla chides him. "There is no sign that the wraith are being transformed. And the queen was stricken, too."

"Good point. But we're not taking any chances," John says, and Rodney nods enthusiastically. "We'll send a medical team to follow up. Now let's get the hell out of here."

***

"Okay, this sucks." John taps his fingers on his thighs. It's been three hours and he's bored, bored, bored. He sort of wishes they had at stayed to explore the creepy ship.

"No kidding." Ronon stalks the perimeter of the quarantine room.

"'Suck' doesn't even begin to describe it." Rodney is curled up on one of gurneys, looking utterly, absolutely miserable. "This is going to be a really stupid way to die."

"Rodney," Teyla says sharply.

"Come on, Rodney," John says. "It's not likely anything that can infect a wraith can cross over and infect humans. You said so yourself. Our DNA is too different."

Rodney nods. "Right." But he sounds unconvinced.

"The city didn't detect anything when we came in," John adds. "And we know how the city reacts to any outbreak of infection."

Now Rodney looks more thoughtful than worried. "True." He sits up.

They're all dressed in white hospital scrubs, and the white makes Rodney's skin appear even paler. The v of the neckline exposes the small brown curls of Rodney's chest hair, and John finds it appealing, too appealing so he turns away but there is nothing to distract him from thinking about pressing his lips to that vulnerable V of skin. That's not what he's supposed to think about, nuzzling Rodney's throat. If anything he should think about Rodney's cock, or Rodney's hands on his, but those thoughts make his cock stiffen and he's only wearing thin, shapeless scrubs and they don't hide a damn thing so maybe he should just be worrying about the virus instead.

He takes a breath and hops off the gurney. "Come on, a ship full of dead wraith, that should be something to celebrate."

Ronon grins. "I'm with you on that."

"Teyla?" John asks. She's been sitting quietly the whole time, cross-legged on the gurney, almost as if meditating. "You okay?"

She ducks her head for a moment. "I must admit, I am concerned."

"Why? I mean, sure, you have some wraith DNA, but that can't be enough to make you susceptible to the virus."

"It is not for myself that I am concerned." She speaks quietly, her voice grave in a way that sets off alarms in John's head.

"What?" Ronon asks.

She sighs. "I am pregnant."

"What?" John blurts. "Who--when? Wait, who?" Rodney echoes his questions, looking just as astonished as John feels. He had no idea she'd even been seeing anyone, he must be blind, and suddenly feels tremendously stupid.

"No one that you know."

"Kanaan," Ronon says and she nods her head in confirmation. He sits beside her on the bed. "Congratulations."

"You should have told me--" John has taken her out on missions, put her in danger and apparently her baby too.

"I only just found out," Teyla says. "Yesterday."

"But--" John jumps down from his gurney and he can feel Rodney's eyes on him as he paces the length of the room. He comes to a stop in front of Teyla. He needs to talk with her, to explain to her why he's upset, but not here, not now. "Congratulations?" he says.

She places a hand on her stomach. "Thank you, John."

"Yes," Rodney says. "Congratulations." He's staring at her stomach, which looks the same as it always has. "Wow. You're going to have a baby."

They all look up when the door slides open. Keller is there. "You're all clear."

An aide comes in with stacks of clean clothing for them. Relieved, John takes his clothes and asks, "So, what is it? Is it a form of Carson's virus?"

Keller shakes her head. "It's not even a retrovirus. It's DNA-based, and looks similar to something in the Ancient database. But it's listed as naturally occurring."

"It evolved to be more virulent?" Rodney asks, clutching his clothes to his chest.

"It's possible. I'll have a full report in a couple of hours--oh, and Teyla? I'd like to run a few more tests, would that be all right?"

Teyla nods, hops lightly off the table and follows Keller out, leaving John with Ronon and Rodney. Ronon is already stripping off his scrubs and getting into his clothes, right there in the middle of the room. Rodney turns his back and heads for a corner, and John tries not to watch as Rodney slips his shirt off, exposing the broad width of his shoulders before pulling his clean t-shirt on.

John has to pull his gaze away as he loosens the drawstring of his pants. They fall to the floor and he steps out of them, acutely aware of the cool air on his bare ass. He fumbles with his boxers, unable to locate the waistband and his cock is half hard, and while that's not anything he'd have to explain, it's just a thing that happens, he can hear the rustle of clothing across the room and now there's an aide clearing away their food trays and John would really like just a bit more privacy.

He takes a breath and pulls his shorts up, grabs his pants and steps into them. When he steals a glance at Rodney, he finds that Rodney is staring straight at him, expression speculative. John's face goes warm.

"Dead wraith--pretty cool, huh?" John says, trying for casual and cocky.

Rodney nods. "And we didn't even have to kill them ourselves. I like that."

"Nah," Ronon says, slipping on his boots. "I like doing it myself. Up close and personal."

Rodney rolls his eyes and finishes fastening his pants. John changes his shirt, grabs his shoes and soon they're all dressed and ready to go. "See you guys later," Ronon calls out as he leaves.

John waits as Rodney finishes tying his shoes, then falls in step beside him as they leave. "So," John says.

"Yes." Rodney grabs John's sleeve. "Please, yes."

John should have realized Rodney would be freaked out by the prospect of disease. He had been more than a little concerned, himself.

An empty balcony this time, overlooking the city yet hidden from curious eyes. In a moment he has Rodney's pants unfastened and then their hands are on each other's cocks, John pushing in close, coveting the warmth of Rodney's body. Rodney's breath is warm against his neck, and then his lips find John's and John can't seem to hold him close enough and when they're done John ducks his head and kisses the soft skin of Rodney's throat.

***

Three days later, they return to the planet where John's team was ambushed. John puts the jumper in a low orbit as Rodney scans the surface. "No life signs," he reports, even though there are three hive ships on the ground.

They send a medical team in.

Four days later, a derelict hive ship is found in orbit of an inhabited planet. They remove the bodies, and Teyla pilots the ship back to the city and the scientists and engineers are beside themselves with joy.

Two weeks later, there are no more reports of live wraith in the galaxy. Reports come pouring in from various planets of dead and dying wraith, of darts falling out of the sky.

John spends their next three missions trying to explain, with varying success, to the native populations that they have not launched a biological warfare agent on the wraith.

***

"Definitely cinnamon. And cardamom?" Rodney asks, taking another bite. "Maybe a hint of cardamom?"

John frowns, then takes another bite his cake, crumbs trickling down the front of tac vest. "Nutmeg?" he suggests. He brushes crumbs off the butt of his P90.

"Who cares?" Ronon says in a deep rumbling voice. "It's good."

Silence falls as they continue eating. A bird soars overhead, its song echoing through the valley. A warm breeze stirs the grasses and the small pink flowers lining the path to the gate sway gently.

"It is very good." Teyla arrives at the DHD first and wipes her hand off before reaching for the keys. "Buttery." "I like butter," Rodney sighs.

Ronon grunts in agreement.

Teyla finishes dialing, and John hangs back for a moment, watching them step through the gate, Ronon with his hands full of carefully wrapped pieces of cake, head bent as he listens to Rodney wax poetic on the qualities of good, milkfat-heavy butter. Teyla smiles at him, apparently waiting for him, so John steps lightly onto the path and passes through the gate with her at his side.

Carter greets them in the gate room. "Welcome back. How'd it go?"

"Good," John says. "They're a friendly bunch. And again, mistakenly attributing the wraith deaths to us."

"They baked us a cake," Ronon says.

Rodney holds up what's left of his square of cake. "It's got the crunchy stuff on top. Like coffee cake."

"We tried to explain to them that it was not our doing," Teyla adds. "Yet they still felt the need to celebrate our presence."

"What's the harm in letting them believe we're the saviors of the universe, hmmm?" Rodney asks. "Just for a little while at least."

"Rodney," John says.

"You have to admit, it was our doing that woke them all up at once when they didn't have enough food," Rodney insists, "which in turn caused fighting between hives and all kinds of things that weakened their population and made them susceptible to disease."

Carter shakes her head, but she's grinning. She's been doing that a lot lately, grinning and smiling. It's a nice change. "I don't think we can take credit for this one, Rodney."

Rodney huffs, clearly disappointed.

"Come on," John says. "Lets drop off the gear."

As they reach the armory, Teyla cocks her head at Ronon, then asks, "And where are you going with that extra cake?"

"Nowhere," Ronon growls. He carefully sets the cloth-wrapped package aside and removes several knives from his coat, stashing them away in his locker.

"You can't possibly be eating all that yourself," Teyla continues.

Rodney grins at Teyla as he unfastens his tac vest.

"It's none of your business." Ronon slips his coat back on and grabs the package, hurrying out of the room.

"Say hi to Jennifer for me," John calls out after him.

Ronon ignores him. Teyla laughs, and it's such happy, joyful laughter that John has to join in.

They return their weapons, and Teyla checks her watch. "I must get to my poker game," and with a wave she's off.

"I hear she's a real shark," Rodney whispers.

John doesn't doubt it. "I wouldn't want to go up against her." He follows Rodney out into the corridor, nodding a greeting to Lorne's team, about to gear up for their next mission. "We got cake," he points out to them.

"Hey, we got barbecue last time," Lorne tells him as the pass in the hallway.

"Where was that?" Rodney asks. "Can we go there next time?"

John has a mental image of Ronon stashing away a slab of ribs for Keller. "I think we just might need to. In the name of diplomacy and all."

Rodney grins and nods his head. "Absolutely. Diplomacy."

Rodney looks pleased. It's always a good look for him. A crooked grin, cake crumbs on his black t-shirt and there's a bit of a bounce in his step. As they round a turn and step through a doorway, John's hand goes to the small of Rodney's back, just a brief touch, nothing that would raise the eyebrows of anyone around them. Coming to a halt, Rodney raises a finger, pointing into the air, then activates his earpiece. "Radek, what's the ETA on the Daedalus?" He listens for a moment, then nods. "Oh. Okay." He turns the radio off. "They're here already."

"Another new shipment of scientists?" Disappointment lies heavy in John's stomach.

Rodney nods. "I have to go and meet with them. Give them the lay of the land, so to speak. Come by later to introduce yourself?"

"Sure," John says. "Go. I'll catch up with you later."

It's not like they'd gotten all worked up on the mission anyway. No need for stress relief when you have cake.

Then again, maybe the new scientists will stress Rodney out. Anything is possible.

John has enough work to keep him busy for the rest of the afternoon. He writes up his mission report, reviews the final report on the wraith virus, submits his recommendations for post-wraith goals in the Pegasus galaxy. For the latter he first writes, "stay alive, find cool stuff", and then deletes it. A moment later, he replaces it with "to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no Milky Way Person has gone before." And sends it to Rodney for his review.

It's early evening by time John wanders down to the labs. He pauses in the doorway. The newbies, about fifteen of them in all, are seated in a half circle facing Rodney. Radek is sitting on a desk beside Rodney, legs swinging. The words "ascension machine" are written on the marker board in red. It's underlined several times.

"...And that is why we do not touch, much less activate any kind of unknown device." Rodney taps the board with his marker, leaving behind little red dots. "And that goes double for those of you with the gene. No, make that triple."

The scientists nod solemnly.

John knows the moment Rodney catches a glimpse of him in the doorway. His expression softens and there's a warmth to his eyes that wasn't there before. "Ah, Sheppard. Come in, come in and say a few words to the newest members of my science team."

Strolling over to Rodney, John grins at the group as Rodney introduces him.

"This is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, military commander of the base."

"Hiya." John waves a hand at his audience. Then shoves his hands in his pockets and nods to Rodney.

"That's it?" Rodney asks in a stage whisper.

John shrugs. "Yeah."

"One word? One word is all you can come up with?"

"Pretty much."

"Hiya." Rodney crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. Behind him, Radek is grinning. "'That isn't even a word."

"Is too." John turns to the scientists. "It is, right?"

They nod enthusiastically.

"Oh, right." Rodney heaves a sigh, looking more disgusted than ever. "Can you please just say something?"

"All right." John eyes his audience, then announces, "If you can make Rodney look like that--" he points to Rodney, arms still folded over his chest, chin in the air, one corner of his mouth curved downward, "then you're doing something right."

"Oh. Oh. Very funny," Rodney says. There are audible snickers in the room, but uncrosses his arms, his glare has softened and he's looking more amused now. "Thank you Colonel Helpful."

"Anytime." John grins at his audience, they grin back at him. "Welcome to Atlantis."

"Okay," Rodney says, stepping squarely in front of John. "I will leave you in Radek's oh so capable hands to finish up the orientation."

"Yes, yes," Radek slips off the desk and makes shooing motions at Rodney. "Go."

"See you later, Dr. McKay." Blond hair pulled back in a pony-tail, wire-rimmed glasses and a bright sunny smile.

"Oh yes," Rodney says, brought up short. "Bye." He hesitates, then waves a hand awkwardly.

"Bye," she says, her smile growing broader.

There's a sinking feeling deep in John's gut.

Rodney turns and nearly collides with John. "Whoa there, buddy." John grabs Rodney's arm, steadying him. "Come on."

As they head out to the corridor, John says, "They seem like a nice bunch."

"Hmmm? Oh yes, they are, well no, I mean--they'll do." Rodney looks distracted.

"She seems nice, at least." It was inevitable, of course. After all, Rodney had proposed to Katie, and even though that didn't work out, it was pretty clear that Rodney was ready to settle down.

"Yes, Mara is very nice, quite--nice. "

"Mara?" John asks.

"Geologist. She was at the SGC, we chatted a little last time I was there." Rodney shrugs, elaborately casual.

"Geologist, huh?"

"Yes. Does this thing with isotopes. Interesting. If you like that kind of thing."

John decides that he doesn't. Not one bit.

There's an unoccupied pilot room just around the bend. The corridor is deserted so John pulls Rodney over, waving a hand in front of the door to open it.

"Oh," Rodney says. He sounds surprised. "Okay."

John pulls him across the room, past lab benches stacked with unused equipment, blown circuits, cracked crystals and burnt-out motherboards. He kisses Rodney hard.

"John," Rodney says. He slips a hand under John's shirt and runs his hands up John's back. His hands are warm and his touch steady and soothing. "Hey."

John pulls away abruptly, then drops down to his knees. He reaches up to unfasten Rodney's pants, but Rodney thwarts him by sliding down the wall and sitting on the floor, hands on John's shoulders. "Doesn't that hurt your knees?"

"No," John says. He rubs Rodney's thighs, frowning. "You don't want me to blow you?" That is how it works, he blows Rodney, Rodney jerks him off.

"Of course I do." Rodney sounds sincere, yet he leans forward and kisses John and John wants to point out that he can't blow Rodney and kiss him at the same time. But there's no rush this time, no pending briefing and Rodney's kisses are not frantic, just sweet and intent so John goes with it, letting Rodney nuzzle into his neck, nip under his chin, curl his fingers over the back of John's neck while he kisses the line of John's jaw.

John's a little bit dazed when Rodney finally pulls back. "Okay," Rodney says, almost talking to himself. This time he lets John unfasten his pants, spreading his legs wide. John stretches out on the floor to suck him and Rodney's hands cradle his head the entire time, hands moving with gentle touches. Rodney's cock is full and thick and fills John's mouth just right and after Rodney comes he lies back against the wall, eyes heavy-lidded and mouth drooping.

Then with a grin he reaches for John, pulling him close, practically onto his lap and jerks John off like that, holding John close to his chest while moving his hand so damn slow and John has to actually bite back his own urge to moan, the pleasure is exhilarating and John feels like he's been turned inside out by time he comes.

***

"When do you expect to get telemetry back from the probe?" Carter asks.

John stirs his coffee. "What probe?" he asks worriedly. If they're gathering intelligence from somewhere, he should know about it. Maybe he missed an email?

Rodney glances up from his sandwich. "The probe we just launched."

"Oh thank you, that's very helpful."

"Purely scientific," Rodney says with a wave of his hand, dismissive of John's concerns.

"There's a white dwarf star colliding with a red giant, near the edge of the Pegasus galaxy," Carter explains. "There's a gate nearby, so we've sent a probe through to gather data."

"Cool," John says. "Can we take a jumper there?"

Rodney shakes his head. "Radiation level's too high."

"You can't modify the shield?" John is disappointed. He thinks it would be pretty neat to see two stars smashing into each other.

"It's not like going to a demolition derby," Rodney points out. "The merged stars? Have a large enough mass to go supernova."

"I can't believe we're actually getting the probe out there," Carter says, and she seems almost Rodney-like in her excitement. "With peace breaking out in the galaxy, we can push for an investment in real scientific exploration."

Rodney nods. "Until war breaks out again."

John frowns. "Between who?"

From Carter's amused expression, he suspects she's had this conversation before.

"Anyone. Come on, matter loves to fill a vacuum. There's no overreaching power out there, so someone's going to make a grab for it, sooner or later."

"How very pessimistic of you, Rodney." John shakes his head.

"Oh, like you're just finding that out. Knowing our luck, it will be something like an army of indestructible Wraith Replicators." Rodney sighs, mournful as ever. "But even so, the human populations have the potential to cause just as much trouble. Kolya, anybody?"

"Hopefully," Carter says, "we're now in a position to prevent those kinds of situations from arising."

Rodney gives her a bemused look. "Humans from Earth as peacekeepers. That's rich."

Carter shrugs. "Maybe we've learned from our mistakes?"

John shakes his head. "All I'm saying is that we should just enjoy the moment for what it is."

"I'm not saying I'm not. It's just that we need to stay mentally prepared for the next big thing." Then he brightens as something catches his eye. "Oh, hi."

Mara the geologist is strolling past their table, empty tray in hand. Her hair is down today, soft curls flowing past her shoulders. "Hi Rodney. Colonel," she nods at Carter. "And uh, Colonel," she says with a small frown, as if she's not sure she's following the proper etiquette. "Hi. Mara, right?" John asks, even though he knows perfectly well what her name is. It's hard not to, with Rodney mentioning it so often. "Settling in okay?"

"Yes, it's very exciting, there's so much do, to study, I don't know where to begin." She's genuinely excited, which is kind of nice.

John wants to point out to her that it's not always like that here, that's there's times you have to run back to the gate under fire, that there have been scientists blown out of space or had the life sucked out of them and that Rodney doesn't always sit at the table in the mess grinning at people and the mess isn't always like this either, with the noise and the talking and laughing, sometimes it's quiet and somber and mournful and people speak only in whispers.

"Yes, yes," Rodney says. He opens his mouth, then closes it again, clearly at a loss.

Carter rises to her feet. "I was just about to head over to the lab," she says, picking up her empty tray. "We'll see you later, Rodney?"

"Yes," Mara says. "I was hoping you had time to go over my proposal?"

Rodney nods rapidly. "Sure. Yes. I have time. I definitely have time."

"Maybe over dinner?"

Rodney points a finger at her. "Yes," he says emphatically.

John picks at his lunch, pushing the pasta around his plate. He's not particularly hungry anymore. "Sounds like someone just made a date," he muses.

"You think? I mean, maybe."

"Who has a date?" Ronon asks as he slides into the chair vacated by Carter. He drops his tray, loaded down with food, on the table with a thud.

"Rodney," John says.

"Oh, I do not. It's work."

"Over dinner," John points out.

"We eat dinner together all the time," Rodney says.

Not tonight, John thinks. He sits back and starts to peel his orange.

"With who?" Ronon looks from Rodney to John and back to Rodney again.

"One of the new scientists. Mara," John says.

"Do you really think she likes me?" Rodney asks, and his gaze is intent, questioning. "Is it a date?"

John returns Rodney's gaze steadily. "It should be."

"Oh." Rodney frowns.

John is frustrated. He can't say what he means with Ronon here, but Rodney surely has to know that this is how it has to be. What they do was never meant to be anything more.

"Hey," Ronon says. "When's Larrin getting here?"

Rodney's frown turns speculative. "That's right, their ship is arriving this afternoon, isn't it?"

John rubs the back of his neck as his muscles tense up. "Yes."

"Huh." Rodney tears the top off his pudding cup and regards its contents thoughtfully.

"She's trouble," Ronon says

John nods.

Rodney glances up, spoon in hand. "Think she'll be wearing the leather thing again? With the--" Rodney cups his hands in front of chest, indicating breasts. "Cleavage?"

"Rodney," John scolds.

"What? It looks nice." Rodney looks to Ronon for confirmation. Ronon shrugs, then nods.

"Not bad," he agrees.

"She's hot," Rodney says, finishing his pudding and sitting back in his chair. "Scary, but hot." He eyes John for a moment. "Is that why--okay, yes, I see."

"No, Rodney, you don't." And John has to catch himself before he says more.

Rodney folds his arms over his chest and stares at John.

John is acutely aware of Ronon's eyes on them both so he focuses instead on his orange, peeling apart the segments with care. He glances up in time to see Rodney shake his head with a sigh. "Okay, I've got to get back to the lab. See how that probe is doing."

"See you later, Rodney," John says, and watches as Rodney walks away. He finishes his lunch in silence. Ronon seems distracted. He's never much of a talker, especially when compared to Rodney, but this seems different, more introspective.

"Teyla with the Athosians again?" John asks.

Ronon nods. "Yup. Spending time with Kanaan."

"They must all be excited about the baby, huh?"

"Yup."

John gives up and finishes his orange in silence.

When they leave the mess, there's a group of scientists waiting for the transporter. Two men lean against the wall, laughing effortlessly as a petite blonde regales them with a story of collecting something--insects, it sounds like--on her last mission. John pats Ronon's shoulder and points to the next one, just down the corridor.

"Place is different now," Ronon says, glancing over his shoulder at the scientists as their laughter rings out again.

"Yeah." John swipes a hand over the door control. "It's kind of nice, isn't it?"

Ronon grunts, and John is pretty sure it's in agreement.

"Where to?" John asks as they enter the transporter.

"Armory."

John selects the their destination. A bright flash of light, and the door is opening again.

"Kind of weird, though," Ronon says.

"What is?"

"The wraith, being gone."

"I would think that would be a good weird?"

Ronon stops in his tracks, face intense. "I grew up with the threat of the wraith. It was always hanging over our heads. We knew they were coming. They attacked in the past, and we knew they were going to attack again. And then they did." Ronon looks away and takes a breath.

John waits, unsure of what to say.

"Everything I've done since then has been to wipe them out."

"And now they're gone," John says gently.

"It just feels weird," Ronon says. "It's like pushing and shoving against a door to try and get it open and then it gives way and you fall down because there's nothing holding you up."

John thinks he gets it now. Worried, he says, "Do you want to leave ? Because you are still needed here. You're a valuable member of my team."

Ronon shakes his head, dreads flying. "No, I'm not going anywhere. I don't know where I'd go. I'm just--I'm just not sure what I'm doing here, either. I don't know what to do. Without that door to push against."

"You want my advice?."

Ronon frowns, then nods. "Sure."

"Have dinner with Dr. Keller out on the balcony by the west tower. Go for a walk together. Sit by the pool and hold hands."

Ronon smirks at the last one.

"Okay, maybe do more than hold hands. What I'm saying is, live your life. Do everything you've been holding off doing because there was a war going on."

"Yeah." Ronon does not sound convinced. "Not sure I remember how."

"I bet you'll figure something out." It sounds lame to John's ears--he has no frame of reference for what the people here have lived through and he has no idea what to say. He's seen what war does to people, though.

"You should take your own advice, Sheppard," Ronon says, just before he enters the armory.

John stares after him. Maybe Ronon is right. He checks his watch--Larrin will be arriving soon. She's definitely interesting. And hot. He's not particularly fond of the fact she's constantly tying him up, but other than that, it's possible they could make something work.

***

"So, Sheppard. Thank you. It's been fun." Larrin is indeed wearing the leather, with the cleavage, along with boots and the long curly hair and John can't help but think she looks just this side of trashy.

Still, Rodney's on a date with Mara and Teyla is starting a family and Ronon is sort of dating Jennifer and trashy isn't bad, it really isn't. Trashy can be kind of fun.

"Think you've found any suitable planets?" he asks as they head toward the west pier, where she's parked her transport. They're outside, clear blue sky and endless ocean all around them.

Larrin holds up the flash drive. "There's a few possibilities here. I really appreciate your letting us have access to this information."

She sounds almost sincere.

"Hey, anything we can do to help a friend." The Travelers still have bigger and better ships than they do, so it had been decreed from above that the Travelers were definitely friends.

She stops and smiles at him and it's definitely flirty and just a little bit scary. "Friends, huh? That's really nice."

"We're nice that way." John nods, squinting in the sunlight. It's the first time they've been alone together all afternoon and he's not sure if he likes it or not. She doesn't have any reason to tie him up this time, but still, he's uneasy. "So you all are really going to settle down on a planet somewhere?"

She turns away from John. "Maybe. I don't know if everyone will want to--it's possible my people may split up and I don't really like the idea."

"Don't you have settlements on planets already?" John asks. "Can't you just join them?"

"I'm not so sure they'll be glad to see us. Let's just say they weren't happy about being dropped off like that. Not that there are many of them left at this point."

"You mean you didn't give them a choice?" John asks, incredulous.

"There weren't any choices available to give them," she snaps. She spins around eyes raised to the towering spires. "It was war. Resources were running out. It's not like we have a the city of the ancients to fill up."

John has nothing to say to that. "I'm sure you'll find some nice planets to settle on."

"I'm sure we will."

Suddenly John is afraid for all the small enclaves out across the galaxy, none of them are as technologically advanced as the Travelers. "Larrin, don't make trouble out there. There's enough room for everyone."

"Don't get yourself all worked up, Sheppard." Larrin laughs. "We just want a home we can call our own."

"Of course. And we're happy to help. As long as it isn't anyone else's home already."

"I think I like you better when you're tied up."

John scowls at her, which only seems to amuse her more. "Oh look, here's your transport," he says as they step onto the landing platform. "Waiting to whisk you away."

"If I didn't know better I'd say you were trying to get rid of me." She folds her arms under her chest and John can't help but be distracted by the long line of her throat, leading to the generous curve of her breasts.

"Nah," he says.

"We'll be in touch, John."

And to his surprise she steps forward and kisses him on the lips. Just a light touch and the sea breeze blows her hair against his cheek and he catches the scent of something spicy on her skin, or maybe in her hair. She doesn't clutch at his shoulders or hold him close and John's not really sure why she's kissing him and he's pretty sure she's up to something but has no idea what.

He really really hates that.

"Huh," John says when she draws back.

She grins slyly. "Goodbye, Sheppard."

He watches as she enters the transport, and with a sense of relief waves as it passes overhead. "Goodbye, Larrin."

***

It's late at night and John is settled on his bed with an year-old issue of Golf Magazine. There's a knock on his door and then Rodney is standing in the doorway, peering in cautiously.

"What, Rodney."

"Just making sure--" Rodney still doesn't come in.

"Larrin's ship left hours ago." Rodney surely must have known that.

"Really?"

"Yes, really. Are you going to come in or do you plan to just stand in the doorway all night?"

"Sorry." Rodney steps into the room. He looks good in his blue button-down shirt. The first button is open at the collar, and his cuffs are unbuttoned. too. "I thought that maybe--"

"No, Rodney."

"Was she wearing the leather?" he asks.

John nods, wrinkling his nose. "Kind of tacky."

"Really? You think so?" Rodney's hands are at his side but they're moving, clenching and unclenching in unison. "Hmm. Still--" he says.

"She tried to kill me, Rodney."

Rodney's eyes widen. "She did?"

"No, no, not today." John shakes his head and considers strangling Rodney. "I'm talking about when we first met. It's not the kind of thing I find attractive in a woman."

"Ah. Good point." Rodney rubs his hands together and comes closer. After a moment's hesitation, he sits on the edge of the bed, near John's knee. "But she is, you know, hot."

"Sure she is. But I don't trust her," John says, putting a note of finality in his voice.

Rodney nods, fingers thrumming his thigh now. "Okay."

John flips a page of his magazine and finds a particularly interesting ad. "So, how was your date with Mara?" he asks casually.

"Fine. It was--fine." Rodney sighs. "I guess."

Rodney does not sound happy and when John glances up he sees that Rodney is frowning at him. "What?" John asks. Mara is pretty, and she obviously likes Rodney; he doesn't understand why Rodney would be troubled by either of these things.

"It's just that, I mean I should, it should have been--" Rodney takes a deep breath and lets it out with a huff. He looks out John's windows at the brightly lit city spires and the moons beyond, hanging low in the sky. "It was fine. Oh hey, did I mention that we got some initial telemetry back from the probe?"

"Rodney--"

"It's going to be big." Rodney turns back to John. "The nova. Really big. Huge. The amount of energy being released is huge. Bigger than any supernova we've ever seen."

"Cool." John closes his magazine, still puzzling over the issue with Mara.

"Yes, very cool," Rodney assures him. He grows more animated, hands fluttering in the air. "Over a thousand times bigger than your average supernova."

"So," John says, intrigued in spite of himself. "It's like a super-duper nova."

Rodney scowls. "Super-duper nova?"

John nods.

"There's no such thing."

"There should be."

"The term is 'hypernova'," Rodney informs him.

"Hypernova? You've got to be kidding. That sounds dumb."

"Unlike super-duper nova."

"Yes, Rodney." John leans back on his pillow, pleased with himself. He's back in his comfort zone now. "Super-duper nova." He likes the sound of it.

"You--" Rodney puts a hand on John's leg, eyes fixed somewhere around John's mid torso. "You can't call it that."

John stares as Rodney's hand slides down his calf and curls around his ankle. "I can call it anything I want to." He lets his legs fall open, bumping Rodney's chest with his knee.

Rodney slides his hand back up to John's knee. "It might actually be a collapsar."

"You're kidding me," John says. Rodney's hand reaches his thigh and the glossy pages of the magazine are starting to stick to John's damp palms. "Collapsar."

"Uh huh." Rodney's hand settles at the crease of John's thigh. "A collapsed star."

John shifts. He's wearing loose track pants which do very little to hide his interest in what Rodney's hand might be up to. "And you say super-duper is--is dumb."

Rodney runs his thumb directly over the swell of John's hardening cock. "Oh," he nods. "It is."

"Rodney," John says, and his voice is rough and low and doesn't sound like his own at all.

Rodney flattens the palm of his hand over John's cock. "How come you always get to name things?"

The magazine is getting crumbled in John's hands, and he quickly closes it and drops it to the floor. "Rodney, what are you--"

"Can we?" Rodney asks, meeting John's eyes for the first time. His own eyes are bright and intense and very very blue.

This is wrong--they're all alone in his room, on his bed and anything can happen here.

"Yeah," John says.

When he sits up, Rodney reaches out, his hands going to the hem of John's t-shirt.

"Rodney, what are you doing?" John asks, even as he raises his arms to allow his shirt to be removed.

"This. I'm doing this, okay?" Rodney actually sounds belligerent, as if John has done something to annoy him.

"I get it," John says. "We just--we don't have to--" Then the shirt is up and off, over his head.

Rodney holds the shirt in his hands, as if surprised to see it there. A moment later he tosses it aside and gazes at John as if he's never seen him before. "Okay," he says quietly, as if to himself. He moves his hand onto John's naked shoulder.

It's not okay, but John can't help leaning into Rodney's touch, especially when Rodney slides his hand to cup the back of John's neck, thumb stroking the skin just at the hair line, tickling a little and it's electric, the way it sends shivers down through his body. With a frustrated noise John kisses him, which is entirely Rodney's fault there wasn't supposed to be kissing.

He can't understand why Rodney won't do this the right way.

Rodney pushes him back, onto his stacked pillows, still kissing and John has to hold onto Rodney's shoulders to keep from breaking the kiss but then Rodney slips away, nuzzling down and kissing John's neck before slipping free of John's hands entirely.

He pulls back and looks at John, truly looks at him, watching his own hand as it slides down John's chest as if it's the most fascinating thing he's ever witnessed. Over John's belly and back up again, tracing the line of John's collarbone, curving to cup John's shoulder, then down over John's chest, fingertips coming to rest on John's nipple.

"Rodney," John murmurs. All this touching, and the way Rodney is looking at him, intent with a furrowed brow, it's weird and kind of hot and his cock is hard and he wants Rodney to touch it. He reaches down and unfastens his pants, hoping Rodney will take the hint.

"Oh," Rodney says. "Yes." He hooks his fingers into the waistband of John's pants and tugs, waiting expectantly for John to lift his hips from the bed.

"Rodney, you don't have to--" John protests, even as he complies. Then it's too late, his pants are gone, and his underwear too, tangled up around his ankles.

"Yes, yes I do." Rodney frees John's feet and tosses the clothing to the floor. Kicking off his shoes, he crawls over and kneels between John's legs.

John is naked now. Naked and breathlessly hard and more than a little uncomfortable. Rodney's eyes are still on him, scrutinizing every inch of him. Then Rodney touches a finger to the mole on John's thigh, runs it over the line of hair on John's belly, brushes it across the raised curve of a scar on his hip.

Then finally, finally, Rodney wraps his hand around John's cock. John's hips jerk, pushing up into Rodney's hand, and it's not right that Rodney is still fully dressed, the unbuttoned cuff of his blue shirt draping down to tickle John's thigh.

John sits up and Rodney takes that as an invitation to kiss, and he does, kissing John slow and thorough as John fumbles with Rodney's shirt, which apparently has grown fifty thousand buttons since Rodney first came in and John can't even manage the first one.

"Here, let me," Rodney says. He pulls back and pulls the shirt off over his head.

His chest is broad, his skin smooth and pale, a sharp contrast to John's tanned skin. Small brown curls decorate the center of Rodney's chest, and they're soft to the touch, everything is soft, Rodney's skin, his hair, his smile but he's hard underneath, there is definite muscle, even under the curve of Rodney's belly and John likes that.

"Pants," John says, hooking a finger through a belt-loop.

Rodney nods, and backs off the bed. He's breathing heavy now, lips parted, cheeks flushed pink as he unzips and drops his trousers and boxers. He pulls his socks off, cock bobbing as it juts out from between his legs and then Rodney is back on the bed, unhooking the radio from his ear and dropping it on John's table before climbing over him, fierce and determined and god, it's an incredible turn-on.

John wants to wants to suck Rodney's cock but Rodney stretches out on top of him, thwarting him once again. It's a shock of sensuality, Rodney's body pressing down on his, warm skin and a hard cock pushing against his thigh. John wraps his arms around Rodney and hugs him tight, spreading his hands flat over Rodney's back. He hooks his legs around Rodney's thighs, arching his back, grabbing Rodney's ass with both hands as Rodney moans into his mouth, hand on John's head now, gripping John's hair as he kisses John deeply.

John shudders with delight. Rodney makes a desperate noise and rubs his hands over John's chest. Eyes shining bright, his skin is shiny and damp with sweat now and Rodney kisses the center of John's chest before moving over to a nipple, licking and then sucking hard.

John squirms, hand going to Rodney's head, fingers moving through Rodney's hair as Rodney kisses and sucks and this is just crazy, John needs to come, wants to come right now, whatever happened to those nice little hand jobs, simple and to the point--

Rodney moves down John's chest, his mouth on John's stomach now.

"Hey," John complains as Rodney slips free of his hands. John's cock bumps up against Rodney's chest as Rodney slides down the bed, further and further, licking John's hip, kissing his thigh before pushing on John's thighs, spreading his legs apart.

Rodney pauses, breath steady on John's thigh and John props himself up on his elbows, watching curiously.

Cradling John's cock in one hand, Rodney rubs his cheek along the length of it.

John is afraid to breathe. He never imagined that Rodney would do this, would want to--oh god, lick him, to run his tongue over his cock and taste him.

Then Rodney puts his mouth over the head of John's cock and sucks. John moans at the crazy rush of pleasure, thrusting up, and Rodney jerks back, coughing. John wants to say he's sorry but he can't talk, he can only make small embarrassing noises because oh god, Rodney's mouth.

Thank god Rodney isn't easily deterred. He leans on John's hip, holding John steady as he fists the base of John's cock and sucks again, his mouth wet and slick and hot and so fucking good and John shakes all over as if he's coming apart at the seams. Rodney's blowing him with that sharp, smart mouth and it's the most fantastic thing ever and he wants to tell Rodney but all he can manage is "oh god oh god" with maybe a "Rodney" thrown in there too and then he feels it coming, his balls drawing up tight, the sensation coiling up from deep inside.

He pants out an "I'm gonna--" as a warning and then he does, coming hard, a bright burst of pleasure that goes on and on and it's possible he's making a lot of noise but he just doesn't care, it's that damn good.

When it's over he lifts his head and blinks, bleary-eyed, at Rodney.

"Oh," Rodney says, looking stunned. His hand is on John's dripping cock and there's come on his chin. "That was good. I mean--uh, was it?"

John blinks again, then nods.

Rodney wipes his chin on John's thigh. "I liked it, too."

John nods again, then sits up, head still woozy. "Come here," he says, because Rodney deserves a blowjob for that, he truly does.

Rodney sits up and kisses John. Then kneels between John's thighs and grabs John's hand, placing it on his cock. "Please," he says.

"No, no, I could--" And John puts a hand on Rodney's chest. "You should lie down."

Rodney shakes his head. "Like this. I want it like this. Kiss me?"

John nods, then kisses Rodney's warm, welcome mouth. He runs a hand through the come on his stomach before stroking Rodney's cock and Rodney makes a happy sound, putting his arms around John, pulling John closer.

"Here, why don't you--" John tugs at Rodney's legs, and with an awkward shuffle of knees and elbows Rodney is straddling his lap, moving in even closer, chest pressed against John's which makes the jerking off a little bit difficult but John is willing, very willing to deal with it. Rodney smells so good, sweat and sex and in this position Rodney's throat is right up against John's face so John licks and sucks and nips at Rodney's delicate skin.

Rodney gasps and rises up on his knees and oh, there's Rodney's small, perfect nipple. John sucks, and Rodney shudders, cock stiffening even further in John's hands. John plays his tongue against Rodney's nipple and Rodney seems to really like it, moving his hips and pushing his cock through John's fist.

One hand on Rodney's cock, the other on his ass, John's cheek pressed against Rodney's chest and Rodney comes with a surprised gasp. John grins as come splashes onto his stomach. He can feel the pleasure as Rodney strains and trembles against him, it's fantastic, skin against sweaty skin, Rodney's chest vibrating as he moans.

"Oh wow, oh wow," Rodney mumbles as he slumps back down again. He takes a breath, and then another, leaning heavily against John. "Thank you?"

John thwaps Rodney's shoulder before wrapping his arms around Rodney's waist, hands clasped together at the small of Rodney's back. Rodney is settled nicely in his lap, John's own hips are nestled between Rodney's thighs, sticky, spent cocks pushed close together. It's ridiculous, really, to be snuggling like this--and snuggling is the only word for it--and it doesn't help that he's kissing Rodney's neck again.

But Rodney sighs blissfully and John can't bring himself to disengage just yet. Holding Rodney is easier than talking. John has no idea what to say, anyway, he can't believe they actually did this but he's too sleepily content to think much about it. He just wants to feel Rodney lean against him and to hear Rodney's happy content sigh.

Which he does, for several long minutes and John finds himself wondering what is supposed to happen next when the city-wide address system sounds.

"Dr. Rodney McKay, please report to the lab."

Rodney starts in John's arms, his body tensing up.

The message repeats.

"What the hell--" Rodney slides off John's lap and reaches for his radio. "What," he says into it, as irritated as John's ever seen him.

John frowns. He's cold from the lack of body heat, cold and sticky and naked and Rodney is next to him, just as naked and arguing into the radio and it feels kind of surreal.

"What? No, it's not--of course it didn't respond to the command, did you remember to set the--oh, you did? So why it is--oh yes, that's possible. Okay. Okay." A heavy sigh. "I'll be right there. Give me five minutes."

He disconnects the radio, and turns to John. "I have to--" he points a finger at the door. "Problems with the probe."

"Oh." John is relieved and disappointed at the same time.

"Nothing too serious, I don't think--well, it's possible Zelenka has already come up with a solution but we need to check a few things first."

John nods.

"I should, uh," Rodney eyes the mess on John's stomach. "I need to go."

"Sure," John says. He leans back on his now disarrayed pillows. "No problem. There's towels in the bathroom."

Rodney nods, then disappears into the bathroom. John hears the water running, and Rodney comes out a few minutes later, his belly pink and pubic hair fluffy, as if he's just run a towel over it. He finds his shirt on the floor and pulls it on over his head. "Hey, you should come down to the lab. We have some pretty cool images."

"Yeah?" John is pleased by Rodney's invitation, which makes no sense at all, because John wanders into the lab all the time to see what Rodney's up to.

"Spectacular," Rodney says. He steps into his pants. "You can see the stream of plasma jetting out, the gamma emissions, it's all very cool." He shoots a hopeful look at John.

"Yeah, I think I will," John says. "I've never seen a super-duper nova up close."

Rodney rolls his eyes. John grins at him.

"Think I might shower first, though."

"You think?" Rodney grins back at him. Then leans in and kisses John, casual and familiar. Like it's no big deal. "See you in a few, hmmm?"

When Rodney leaves, John stares at his door for a long minute before heading to the bathroom to clean up.

***

John uses his wristband to wipe the sweat from his forehead, then strikes the dirt with his shovel, stamping his foot on the rim to force it in deep. Scooping up the dirt, he tosses it into a nearby wheelbarrow.

Or rather, the Athosian equivalent of a wheelbarrow.

The sun is warm on John's back, his muscles ache from the exertion but it feels damn good.

"John," Teyla says as she approaches. She has a shovel in her hand, her hair is tied back and there is fine sheen sweat on her skin. "Thank you again. I truly appreciate your helping us out."

"It's our pleasure," John says, straddling the ditch. There's disparaging snort from nearby--Rodney, also toiling away in the bright sun, shirt collar stained dark with sweat.

"You're helping to feed many refugees, Rodney," Teyla adds, grinning at John.

"Yes, yes, of course," Rodney says, pausing to drink from his water bottle. "Interplanetary good will and all that."

John watches as Rodney tilts his head back. There's a red mark on Rodney's neck near his throat, and John's cheeks flush warmly.

"...and the irrigation ditches will allow us to access more land," Teyla is saying.

John jerks his attention back to her. "Yes. Irrigation." He nods, then looks over the land, the green rolling hills, the patchwork of an earlier planting of crops just beyond. The sun is so bright that even with his sunglasses he has to squint. "It'll be a nice place to raise a family." He casts a sideways glance at Teyla.

She nods. "Of course, my child will know this land, as well as the fine city of Atlantis." She places a hand on John's shoulder. "I'm not leaving the team unless I'm told to do so."

"Who would do that?" Rodney asks, approaching them. "Seriously, who would?"

"Not me," John says, relieved. "Or Colonel Carter."

"Exactly." Rodney produces a small jar and begins rubbing cream on the back of his neck.

"It is difficult to comprehend that I'll be bringing a child into a world without the threat of wraith." Teyla nods as a small boy runs up and retrieves the wheelbarrow of soil.

"Pretty cool, huh?" John says and Rodney looks like he wants to point out that doom is just around the corner with the replicator wraith or wraith replicators rising from the ashes so John scowls a warning at him.

Rodney closes his mouth with a huff. Then says, "You know, your nose is a little pink."

John rubs his nose. "It is not. I put on sunscreen."

Pointing a finger at John, Rodney clucks and shakes his head. "Is too."

"I am not--Teyla, is my nose red?" John asks.

She cocks her head to one side, but before she can answer Rodney's outstretched finger is touching his nose, spreading cream over the tip of it. "Rodney," John says, but he doesn't move.

"There." Rodney says. "That's better."

Teyla is smiling now, and John wonders what she knows, if she knows anything, but strangely enough he's finding hard to really care. "Thank you," John says.

A freshly emptied wheelbarrow has appeared in front of him. "Okay, back to work," he says to Rodney.

"And I will see to the roasts," Teyla says.

"Oooh," Rodney says, visibly perking up.

John points Rodney's portion of the half-dug ditch. "Dig."

"Right." Rodney shrugs. "Hey, beats the hell out of running from the wraith."

"Sure does."

John watches as Rodney heads over to his spot, bending over to put his water bottle down and even with the sunglasses on John shouldn't be watching Rodney's ass like that but he can remember what it felt like to have his hands on it, to hold Rodney's body close, Rodney's naked body--he's still not exactly sure what happened between them the night before but he really needs to stop watching Rodney dig in the dirt and flex his muscles under sweaty skin before everyone on the damn planet notices.

Rodney truly has a lot of nerve.

John jams the shovel into the ground and continues with the digging. A few more yards to go before their separate ditches meet and John can't help stealing another glance at Rodney, still digging energetically, attention focused on the ground.

John bends down, picks up a small clod of dirt, and tosses it over.

It hits Rodney square in the back.

John quickly turns away and lifts a shovelful of dirt into the wheelbarrow. A startled exclamation, and John bites back a smile. He waits a good five minutes before tossing the second one.

"Oh, for god's sake--who?"

John straightens up from his shoveling. "What, Rodney," he asks in his best long-suffering tone of voice.

Rodney narrows his eyes. "Nothing."

John nods. "Don't you have a ditch to dig?" He gets back to work, pushing his shovel into the ground.

One minute, maybe two, and something thumps him on his left shoulder. He wipes at his neck, and his hand comes back covered with mud.

He grins. Rodney would have to escalate, wouldn't he?

***

"Let us raise our glasses in a toast," Teyla says as they gathered around the long tables.

Rodney slips into the space next to John and eagerly holds out his cup to filled.

"How did you guys get so dirty?" Lorne asks as fills the cup.

"Yes," Rodney says, looking directly at John. "How did we?"

John brushes the dirt from his shoulders. "Ditches gave us a bit of trouble," he explains solemnly.

Lorne frowns, looks from John to Rodney and back to John again. "Glad you got it under control, sir."

"It was touch and go for a few moments there," John says. "Didn't know if we'd make it out alive." He has dirt down his shirt and maybe even down his pants and he firmly blames the overly-abundant sunshine for making him giddy. And, of course, Rodney.

"To a new era in the Pegasus galaxy," Teyla says. "May we never forget the darkness behind us, while celebrating the bright days to come."

John lifts his cup. "Here, here." He drinks down the cider and it's pleasantly fizzy, not too sweet and definitely alcoholic.

"That smells good, doesn't it?" Rodney says, shifting this way and that in his seat to try and spot the oncoming food. "Really, really good."

Ronon climbs into the seat across from Rodney. "It is good. Trust me." He frowns. "How did you two get so dirty?"

"What?" John looks down his shirt, caked with dried mud. "I think the more important question is, how did you stay so clean? I don't think you worked very hard, Ronon."

"No," Rodney agrees. "Most certainly not."

Ronon laughs and refills their cups.

The platters arrive, piled high with meat and bread and roasted vegetables and John realizes he's absolutely starving. The table grows quiet, filled with happy grunts and murmured requests. John's definitely tired now, shoulders aching already, he's going to be stiff and sore tomorrow but as he tilts his head left and right, trying to work out some of the stiffness, all he can think is that it's a job well done.

"Oh by the way," Rodney looks up from the rib he is chewing on. "Jeanie is going to be visiting in a few days. She wants access to the hypernova data. Easier to bring her here, since she's just not set up for the kind of analysis she needs to do."

"Cool," John says. Rodney had shown him the images of the nova and it was truly spectacular. "It'll be good to see her again."

"She wants to build another probe and use it back in the Milky Way." Rodney drinks deeply from his cup.

"She's just jealous that we have bigger novas then they do," John points out. He spears the last of the little purple potatoes on his plate.

"Probably." Rodney frowns. He doesn't look happy and John wonders what new argument is going on between the two of them.

"Hey," Ronon says, "How did things go with that scientist?"

John goes still, folk halfway to his mouth.

"You mean Mara?" Rodney puts his cup down. "She was nice. Very nice." He waves a hand, almost dismissive, then picks up his fork and digs into the pile of meat on his plate.

Teyla raises an eyebrow.

"Turns out, though," Rodney says through a mouthful of food. "She really wasn't my type at all."

"No?" Teyla asks.

"No. It's funny how these things can change. You think you have a type for the longest time, and then one day it turns out that your type is actually something altogether different. I mean, really different." Rodney bumps John's leg with his. "So, no, she wasn't my type at all."

John lets out his breath and shoves the potato into his mouth.

Ronon laughs. "You're really weird, McKay."

Rodney nods. "Probably, yes."

John stares down at his plate for a moment, then carefully presses the length of his thigh against Rodney's.

Rodney presses back.

***

When John steps back through the gate, Rodney at his side, it's mid-morning on Atlantis. "Oh wow, bright." Rodney rubs his eyes and squints.

"Hi Chuck," John says, waving up at the technician on duty. It's possible he shouldn't have had that third--fourth? cup of cider.

"Welcome back, Colonel, Dr. McKay. Colonel Carter is having lunch--I'll inform her you've returned."

"Thanks. Let her know Ronon and the others will be along soon, they're helping with last of the cleanup." John grins.

"Sure thing." Chuck leans on the railing and gazes down at them, eyes wide. "Wow, they sure worked you guys hard."

"Yes," Rodney says proudly. "They did. And we did."

"Irrigation," John points out.

"They're totally irrigated now," Rodney adds.

"That's--that's very good." Chuck rubs his nose. "I'll let Colonel Carter know you're taking the rest of the day off."

"Good idea." With another wave, they head out of the gateroom.

By time they reach the living quarters Rodney is yawning as he rolls his shoulders, stretching out his muscles. He rubs the back of his head. "Oh, great, I even have dirt in my hair."

"I have dirt in my pocket," John confides in a whisper.

Rodney nods approvingly. "You know what's going to feel good? A shower. A long, hot shower."

"Oh yeah," John agrees.

They've reached Rodney's door. "So," Rodney says. He rocks forward on his toes and grins.

"You bet," John answers, waving a hand over the control to open Rodney's door.

In less than five minutes John is naked, hot water streaming down on him as he leans back against Rodney's naked soapy chest. "Wow, you're really dirty," Rodney says, nuzzling John's neck.

John leans his head back on Rodney's shoulder and laughs.

Getting clean requires sudsy hands and lots of rubbing, rubbing together of all sorts of body parts and John wants to purr when Rodney lathers up his hair, big hands moving over his scalp, thumbs pressing into back of his neck, coaxing tight muscles into easing up. John then takes it upon himself to make sure Rodney's back is clean, especially his lower back and maybe he overshoots it a bit and his hands end up on Rodney's ass. When they slip down between his cheeks, Rodney moans and pulls him close.

Soon Rodney's hand is on his cock, and his hand is on Rodney's, their hips pressed together, soapy, slippery skin sliding against soapy, slippery skin. They're tired and uncoordinated --Rodney stumbles when he pushes against John but still they manage, snickering against each other's shoulders, Rodney leaning in until John is pushed flat against the cool tile wall, kissing him all the while. And when John comes it's sweet and slow and almost soothing, his fingers sliding along Rodney's wet skin as he flexes them trying to hold on.

Rodney comes with his cock pressed against John's hip, groaning in John's ear.

They spend a few more minutes rinsing themselves clean, and then kissing, before kissing some more and John's afraid he's going to end up a melted puddle on the floor of the shower when Rodney finally turns the water off. John staggers out of the bathroom, wiping himself ineffectively with a towel before collapsing on Rodney's bed.

Which is actually bigger than his. Rodney might be on to something with this 'prescription mattress' thing.

"Oh, god," Rodney says, stretching out on the bed beside him. "I don't think I can ever move again."

"Me neither." John rolls onto his side, propping his head on a hand.

Rodney's eyes flutter open, clear and blue and steady as he regards John. "Good day, huh?"

John nods. "Real good." He ducks his head and kisses Rodney. Kissing was definitely a good idea. Rodney always has good ideas.

Despite the midday sun the ocean breeze is cool on damp skin. John presses closer, soaking in the warmth of Rodney's body. "Don't have any clean clothes here," he mumbles against Rodney's cheek.

Rodney ruffles John's hair. "I'll get you some later."

John nods his approval and with a content sigh, settles in with his head on Rodney's chest. The decision is out of his hands, after all, it's not like he can go anywhere without his clothes. His fingers drift up to play with a nipple. He likes Rodney's chest. He could stay here all day.

The curtains shift in the breeze once again, and Rodney nudges John aside. "Covers," he says.

"Oh." John rolls onto his back, lifting his feet so Rodney can retrieve the blanket from the foot of the bed. "Hey, when is Jeanie getting here?"

"Not till tomorrow," Rodney says, and his mouth settles into a thin, flat line as he shakes open the folded blanket.

"What's going on with you two now?"

"It's nothing." Rodney shakes his head. "She's just been stuck on this thing, ever since Katy. Says I need to find someone and settle down. That I'm not getting any younger. Family--they can be a real pain sometimes."

John sits up and kisses the top of Rodney's shoulder, skin red and rosy from showering. "You could always tell her you are seeing someone." He pulls Rodney back down on the bed and drags the blanket up over them both.

"I suppose," Rodney rolls on to his side to face John, his expression troubled. "But that really wouldn't be fair to Mara. It's not like she's nursing a broken heart, believe me, but I can't really imagine asking her to--"

John takes a breath. Then steps over the edge and into the unknown. "I mean us, Rodney."

Rodney goes silent, mouth open with no sound coming out. "What?" he finally asks.

"You could tell her about us," John says, heart beating faster. "If you want to."

"If I want to?" Rodney's lips curve into a smile. "If I want to? Of course I want to."

"Good." John is getting that giddy, sun-dazed feeling again. He pats Rodney's hip, then rests his hand there. "Then do it."

"And what exactly should I tell her, hmmm?" Rodney asks, edging closer to John.

John shrugs. "That we have a...thing."

"A thing."

John nods, and Rodney's smile grows blindingly bright.

"Okay. I can do that." Rodney snuggles closer. "You do know she'll probably tell Caleb."

"I can live with that."

Rodney cups the side of John's face and kisses him. "A thing," he repeats.

John nods solemnly as he slides his arm around Rodney's waist. "A thing. Maybe even," he presses in to kiss Rodney, "A super-duper thing."

"Oh." Rodney raises his eyebrows. "Super-duper?"

"Yeah." John tucks his head against Rodney's chest and Rodney's arms slip around him and hold him tight. "Super-duper," John repeats and he begins living his life, right there and then.
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