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You & Me & The Pegasus Galaxy

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“He’s weird. You go to joke around with him and it’s just like, I don’t know, man. Sheppard says the right things, sort of? Half the time it’s like he’s got this off-ness in his eyes. Like he’s looking at you. And he’s also looking into another dimension at the same time. But I guess you can’t argue with results.”

He’s weird. John Sheppard opted for the fishy sandwich over the noodles. The weeks when a new crop of recruits came through the iris could be tough. The loud talker, Franklin, was some kid only a few months less green than the wide-eyed idiot in line next to him. John himself stood only two scientists away behind them in the mess hall line. If they turned their heads, they couldn’t miss him. He considered clearing his throat, giving them a scare. Then he thought about all the times he’d been the new kid in town and decided to let it go. The marines moved off. But the weird stuck in John’s head. 

He finished putting together his tray, grabbed silverware, and instinctively looked toward their usual team table, where Ronon sharpened his biggest knife and Teyla sipped both tea and soup. John ambled over and sat down.

“John,” Teyla greeted him with a smile. It faded slightly. “What’s wrong?”

He’s weird. “New batch of marines,” John said. He shook his head. “They don’t know how much they don’t know.”

“Idiots,” Ronon pronounced.

“Everyone needs to start somewhere,” Teyla said. She cut a glance at John. “But in some years, the Yulla trees yield more thorn than fruit.”

John gave her that one. He ate and read over the day’s reports. The newbies were settling in. Aside from that, it was business as usual on Atlantis. Might end up being a nice, quiet week.

“Atlantis has a hook-up board?!” Rodney McKay’s initial conversational blast could be heard in every corner of the mess hall as he approached their usual table. His accusing glare skated from Teyla to Ronon and landed on John as he sat down with his full tray. “How am I just finding out about this? We’ve been here literally years. How long has this been going on? It isn’t even online, in a city where even the moppingest floor-mopping moron can write code. When were you going to tell me about this?” Rodney demanded of them all, but John especially.

John took a slow bite of his fishy sandwich. Pegasus catfish tasted like Earth catfish in every way, but the texture was off. It took a little more chewing than normal. This gave him a few extra seconds to decide whether or not to admit he had no idea what Rodney was talking about.

Teyla stepped in. “This is the board near the northwest pier?” she asked.

Ronon’s fork twirled up a load of noodles. “In the porn room.”

“The porn room?!” Rodney whisper-shrieked, suddenly recognizing his own volume. He ducked his head and glanced around. “Are people making porn here?”

John gave up pretending and looked at Ronon. “Are they?”

“No,” Ronon said. “They leave it to be borrowed.” His lip curled. “You and Sheppard are lucky those aren’t the first movies I saw here. I might not have stuck around.”

“All that stuff is… You see, when two adults… See, people pay to…” John tried to think about how best to explain porn. “You might need to ask somebody else.”

Ronon made a face. “The kissing is strange in those movies.”

“The books are better,” Teyla said, between serene spoonfuls of soup. “But can be worse. I am fairly certain if one were actually ‘ravaged by pirates’, it would not end in a joyous wedding.”

“Romance novels are probably not a great example of real relationships either,” John added. Not that he’d read a lot of romance novels. But he’d always grinned at stumbling upon the occasional Fabio-covered paperback. Nancy, his ex-wife, had liked them. Passionate, muscled farmhands were her thing. He’d tried to play into the fantasy once, but she’d just laughed. That had been toward the end, when nothing much between them worked.

“How come everyone else knows about the porn room and the hook-up board?” Rodney’s blue eyes blazed with betrayal. He pointed a fork at John. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

John stuffed another bite of fishiness into his mouth to buy more time. The strategy had been working so far. He gave Rodney a half-shrug.

“Oh my God! You didn’t know about them either!” The fork stabbed at him once more before landing in Rodney’s food. “You are such a liar. Did they want to keep them from the command staff? I suppose those in charge might be considered the people who’d be responsible for shutting down things like porn rooms and hook-up boards - do you think there’s a secret casino we don’t know about? A distillery?” Rodney found his appetite and shoveled in the noodles. “Radek’s got a still somewhere. We could start a secret speakeasy,” he said between bites.

John considered this. “Who’d be best at fabricating a roulette wheel?”

The plans grew in scope until the secret speakeasy had a jazz lounge, gambling area, VIP room, a secret basement fight club, and a fully-equipped hotel. John found himself grinning as he egged on Rodney’s ever-more-elaborate plans of setting up Atlantis’ new hottest night spot. Even Ronon and Teyla got in on the action, though Teyla seemed to be more enjoying pointing out all the staffing and logistical issues that’d crop up when attempting to create what had gone from a speakeasy to a full-on Pegasus Galaxy Venetian Resort.

Of course Rodney had an answer for all of it.

“When is the science staff going to be able to build android waiters?” John asked.

“We’ll tell Woolsey it’s a technical issue and backburner other projects for a couple of weeks.”

Ronon snorted. “Be really happy with that choice when the Wraith show up.”

“Well we’ll give them combat training, too,” Rodney explained.

John chewed and swallowed. “All I’m picturing is fighting off an army of combat-trained robots.”

“You people lack vision,” Rodney said, twirling noodles.

John laughed. Watching Rodney’s brain work when he was really, really excited never got old. Other people let themselves get distracted by the bluster, John thought, and dismissed the fact that he really was one of the most brilliant minds in the entire universe. Okay, he could be petty, mean-spirited, arrogant, and socially inept. But that John could keep up with him at all, that they were friends, sometimes blew John’s mind.

Some days the fact that he had real friends at all blew his mind. You had to enjoy these things while they lasted, he knew from experience. Of course Ronon and Teyla and Rodney weren’t like the semi-disposable friends he’d had to make every other year growing up moving from town to town with his Dad’s job. They were family. They were better family than even his actual family had been, where sitting down for dinner meant at least one tense, angry exchange over the last bread roll that wasn’t about the bread roll, Jesus! John, can’t you please stop being so weird?

“Movie night?” John suggested.

Rodney shook his head mid-wolf and spoke around a mouthful. “Lab results. Maybe next week. Speaking of, it’s about time for me to teach one of the latest arrivals to do their very simple job, if you’ll excuse me—oh, and now that I’m thinking about it, the real reason it’s pointless to have a secret speakeasy is that no one here would keep it secret and if just any of the rabble can get in, what’s the point?” With that, he stole a cracker from John’s plate and took his tray back.

John shook his head and watched Rodney bluster out. He lingered over his tea until Ronon left too and leaned over to Teyla. “So the Northwest Pier…?”

Teyla stirred her tea. “Such knowledge has a price, Colonel.”

 

*****

They settled on four pudding cups, even though John was pretty sure he could’ve ordered any one of the Marines to give up the location. Better to be discreet, though, if they’d been trying to keep leadership in the dark.

Teyla led him to a door in a tower near the northwest pier.

A door John recognized. “Hey, it’s the one-at-a-time room.” So named because when anyone walked in through its front door, the door slid shut behind them and barred anyone else from entering. After ten minutes, a door at the back of the long room opened. Once whomever was inside exited into the outer hall, the front door would open up again. After an hour of trial and error they’d discovered that once the back door opened, as many people as wanted to could come tromping in through it. But that front door stayed shut until everyone left. They hadn’t figured out what the room had been for, and it wasn’t a big safety concern considering all the other fun surprises hiding in the depths of Atlantis, so they’d just put up a sign outside the front door with a warning and instructions.

Now, underneath that sign, John spotted another handwritten sign taped to the wall. It read:

RULES

1 at a time

10 minutes max

Bring back what you borrow

Donate before you ship out

NO WAITING BY THE EXIT

John read it. “Seems organized.” Like the kind of thing one of the scientists would set up. He made a mental note to tease Rodney about it later.

“I will leave you to it, then,” Teyla said. “Remember, we like the chocolate and vanilla layered variety best.”

“I’ll do my best.” He could probably trade his butterscotch for it. “I can’t believe you’d stoop to bribery like this.”

“They are excellent for picnics.” Teyla said. She waggled her eyebrows at him as she backed away. “Enjoy your evening, Colonel.”

“I’m not…” John’s defense died in his throat. He didn’t really have one anyway. I’m just here for security reasons, was technically true. Just that I’m incredibly curious and do you have any idea how single I am percentage-wise really dominated his motivational pie chart.

Once Teyla stepped out of sight, John braced himself and entered the room. Immediately the door behind him slid shut, trapping him alone in the Atlantis porn room for a full ten minutes.

John had only been to adult stores a few times in his life, and this, thankfully, was missing the naked movie posters, strange smells, and awkward presence of a cashier and other patrons. It looked like a library. Bookshelves along the room’s wide wall were filled with stacks of DVDs and even a few VHS tapes.

For a minute John wondered who would be insane enough to lug a VCR to Atlantis. Then he remembered he’d hung onto his to watch his Hail Mary tape for far longer than it was deemed cool. “Okay,” he said to the library, deciding he’d allow it.

The shelves had labels, too. Babysitters, MILFs, Interracial, BBW, Lesbian, Gay. There was actually a pretty large selection of gay movies. Which couldn’t have been the work of scientists alone. For a marine to smuggle gay porn to Atlantis - that took guts. He was kind of proud.

Smaller but more plentiful racks held novels and erotica. Dozens hung in the air in revolving zero-gravity displays scavenged from what might have been the Ancient equivalent of a convenience store. Plenty looked like plain old Harlequin romances, but some had covers featuring people in leather, strange costumes, and a few even showed nudity. Others were jacketed in brown paper or suspiciously plain covers that somehow made them look more lurid.

Magazines, too, filled up shelves. They had a huge selection of Playboys, but also plenty of other publications occupying varied places on the decency spectrum.

Apparently nobody came to Atlantis without their favorite porn. And from the looks of the mass amount of content, nobody left Atlantis with it, either. Which John guessed he understood. Plenty more to be had on Earth, but light years away? Isolated? With no easy access to more? You might want to bring a little viewing or reading material. Make that a lot, John thought.

Then, beyond a rack of Penthouses, he saw it.

The hook-up board.

It was three whiteboards, actually, all hung vertically and side by side. Masking tape sliced up the available space into sections. Dustings of pale yellow post-it notes covered each one. Packs of unused notes and ball-point pens sat underneath the boards for easy use.

John caught himself wondering who’d quietly made them disappear from inventory. Whiteboards were warred over by different departments. Rodney doled his out like the Pope of Science, blessing his employees’ most worthy projects with the finest office supplies. And post-its, especially in the labs, were traded like a commodity. So many of his had gone missing that McKay had finally screeched until he got his own personal set in a bright orangey-yellow color. He left the notes around covered in passive-aggressive (and sometimes aggressive) threats.

The largest section, labeled M4W, took up most of the first board. W4M’s space was as big if not as populated by notes, but it looked like the women tended to write more. There were also robust M4M and W4W sections. Also one intriguingly marked OTHER.

John couldn’t help himself. He read a few. There were mostly basic ads you’d find in any personals section, some pretty PG, some worthy of a porn room. Looking for a blond, a brunette, someone tall, no strings attached, dinner and a movie, breathplay--

John didn’t recognize some of the terms.

Requests to fulfill Athosian fantasies, Genii fantasies, Wraith fantasies, holy shit--

A few feet away from the hook-up board, the one-at-a-time room’s back door popped open.

John realized he’d lost track of time. He had a sick lurching feeling at the thought of a handful of Marines sweeping into the room through the back door, guns drawn, asking him what he was doing there. But he also didn’t want to have gone into the porn library without borrowing something.

He grabbed a few magazines from the closest rack, stuffed them inside his jacket, and exited the library into a totally deserted corridor. John’s heart stopped racing only when he’d made it back to his quarters.

The magazines he’d grabbed were themed around busty women in six-inch heels “accidentally” getting caught naked on film. John had seen security footage and photographs of all stripes and varieties, and generally when women were caught on camera naked, they didn’t pose with their hips thrust to one side, their breasts pushed forward, their mouths open in surprise. The women weren’t bad looking, but it was a weirdly specific kind of magazine. The kind of thing someone had to have special ordered.

He bet whoever it was? Was really, really into it.

John flipped pages carefully, imagining someone, some Marine or nerdy scientist, getting a package from overseas wrapped in brown paper, clutching it to their chest, running to their quarters with it lest they get caught and--

Oh, John thought, okay. Okay, he could work with that.

John pressed the heel of his hand against his crotch. He pictured the magazine’s owner checking twice to make sure his door was locked, deciding where its hiding place would be before he even looked at it, reverently turning the pages, mouth open in arousal and shock at actually seeing each new—

John unbuttoned his pants and took himself in hand. He came in about a minute.

After he’d brought the magazines back to the library, he couldn’t recall much about them beyond impressions of surprise and high heels.

John didn’t think too much about it. But something needled at him.

*****

Of course Rodney brought the library back up. “So have you seen it?”

“What?” John asked.

Rodney lowered his voice. “The porn room.”

“You mean the library?” John drawled, stealing Teyla’s eyebrow waggle for emphasis.

Rodney spluttered. “That is not a--we have a real library in Atlantis.”

“We do?”

Rodney’s mouth dropped open. The lab warmed in the afternoons, and McKay usually shed his jacket after lunch and worked in only his shirtsleeves. This gave John a better view of his compulsive arm-waving and hand-gesturing. “Of course we do! Miko helps organize it.”

John sat atop the nearest unoccupied lab table. He’d brought Rodney coffee after his afternoon briefing with Major Lorne, his excuse to come poke his head in and visit for a while. He’d finished his own cup and busied himself swinging his legs back and forth and providing light switch support. “Do you think she also helps organize the ‘other’ library?”

A small silver disc on Rodney’s lab table whirred to life, sparked, and abruptly died. Rodney frowned at it, John, and back at the disc again. “I barely approve of the time spent on our actual library! None of my scientists have time for that sort of thing. I yell at them until they understand that they’ve already got a girlfriend and her name is Atlantis. She doesn’t appreciate distractions. Here, turn this back on.”

John focused on the silver disc and thought ON.

The disc laid there.

“Are you thinking hard enough?” Rodney asked.

“Trying to.” John shrugged. “Everyone needs an outlet,” he ventured.

“You’d think. And yet here I am, single as the day we arrived.” Rodney picked up the disc and turned it over in his hands, as if to find some invisible button or lever.

John grinned. “So you have been to the library?”

McKay focused suddenly on his computer screen. “Well I was curious. I wanted to see what everyone’s been trying so hard to keep secret. It’s in the one-at-a-time room, you know.”

“Oh?” John asked. Even though he knew.

“What am I - of course you’ve been there, you’ve renamed it the library. You’ve probably been there every night of this week to collect all the hook-up board’s post-its asking for the John Sheppard experience--”

“That’s not a thing.”

“What did you do, check to make sure?” Rodney finished the dregs of the coffee John had brought him and reached for a back-up thermos. “Wait. Did you actually check to make sure?”

The tips of John’s ears felt hot. “I only read a few of them.” If by few, he meant all over the course of several nights, one 10-minute increment at a time.

“Because why wouldn’t you? If someone were advertising for me on a post-it, I would be curious. I was curious. No specific requests.” Rodney’s shoulders slumped. After the next sip of coffee, he brightened again. “Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t fit at least some of the criteria.”

John’s heels paused in mid-swing. “You’re not… actually going to try and meet someone through the hook-up board, are you, McKay?”

“Look, Colonel,” Rodney said pointedly. “Not all of us have your options.”

John bristled at the way Rodney emphasized his rank. “What options?”

Rodney rolled his eyes and pointedly looked John over. “You have options the rest of us do not.”

For whatever reason, John noticed Rodney’s nipples were hard underneath his t-shirt. John’s stomach twisted. Too much coffee. “McKay, I can’t ‘hook up’ with anyone.”

“Why not?”

McKay could be really dense. “Who would I ‘hook up’ with? One of the marines I command? Fraternization. One of the scientists--”

Rodney shook his head. “So many terrible choices there, you’re right.”

“--Whose fates you control?”

Rodney gazed into the middle distance. “I wouldn’t fire or demote someone for poor personal life choices. I would mock them mercilessly, but I don’t think it would necessarily be unethical. And I mean we’re talking about a hook up, not a relationship. Do you still think it would be unethical? There are plenty of so-called ‘scientists’ here that I barely know exist.” His eyes widened. “Do you already have one picked out?”

“No, McKay, of course not. But it’s not like Atlantis is a…” John tried to find a term. “Sex buffet.” He regretted saying it instantly. “Most of the raunchy post-its have those anonymous email addresses anyway, so it’s not like you could tell in advance.”

“Oh. Sure.” Rodney sidled over to his latest crate of Ancient tech and plucked a wobbly set of green cubes from it. He peered deep into the cubes. “I guess it might be traumatizing if you advertised for sex and got your commanding officer. Though I’m sure plenty of the women here are into that.” Rodney pressed a few computer keys. “So you’ve read more than a few of the raunchy post-its, huh?”

Now John was pretty sure his entire face had turned red. He cleared his throat. “Briefing tomorrow morning, then PX-890? You ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever--” At a poke with a stylus, the green cubes suddenly vomited more cubes. “Huh. Interesting,” Rodney said. He jotted a note to himself on one of his personal orangey-yellow post-its.

 

*****

 

Being the Chief Military Officer of Atlantis could be an all-consuming job – but it came with stretches where his biggest worries were meetings, paperwork, and keeping up with Ronon on runs around the city.

And on his more bored, restless evenings, John found himself wandering down to the Northwest Pier. Just to look around. But at a certain point, he realized he stopped there more often than maybe he should be comfortable with. He’d also… learned something about himself.

Before the library, he’d never been too much into porn. A magazine, an old tape, dirty pictures online, a DVD rental once in a while. It was good; it was fine. It was an outlet. Perfect for those nights when your own thoughts raced by so quickly that even to jerk off you needed a distraction.

It took him a couple of weeks before he figured it out. MILFs and babysitters were all well and good. But what John Sheppard liked best? Was the weird stuff. And not because he liked it, but because other people did.

The more esoteric, the better. Forget the hot blonde 3-ways; John left the library one night with an unlabeled DVD he’d found stashed in a pile. It turned out to be a bored nude woman smoking. She had short brown hair and looked like any middle-aged woman you’d pass on a street corner or in the grocery store. All she did was sigh and smoke. For two hours! And a member of the expedition deemed this essential enough to smuggle it all the way to Atlantis. John liked to imagine the mystery engineer--and that felt right to him, an engineer--stashing it in amongst a bunch of other DVDs for camouflage, half-terrified of being caught.

Then he found a coffee table book of weird bondage photos concentrating on people who’d had their feet bound together with lattices of what looked like rainbow dental floss. One of the pictures showed a hand with a Q-tip swabbing the toenails. What? That wasn’t remotely sexy to John.

But somehow knowing someone else thought it was? That a current or former member of the expedition, maybe one of the botanists, probably had a coil of yarn somewhere for emergency foot-bondage purposes to go along with her huge erotic book that barely fit into John’s jacket? That was, to use a Rodney word, stimulating.

It was a little weird, John thought, to find out you had a thing you didn’t know about. Especially at nearly forty years old. Maybe the thing itself wasn’t that weird—other people were the ones liking the weird stuff, he just liked that they liked the weird stuff—but he’d up until this point considered himself pretty standard. Women who liked him and liked sex had always been his type. Now, in the face of his newly-discovered thing, he wondered if what he’d really liked about them is that they’d known what they wanted.

On one visit, John found a magazine devoted to sexy forest rangers. And yeah, they were guys. But the corners of the pages had been well-worn and so he’d tucked it into his jacket. John hadn’t been sure. But when he spread it out on his bed and imagined the hurried way its buyer must’ve turned the pages, he felt instantly hard and got off in record speed, imagining strong hands wrapped around a throbbing cock to match the ones in the photos.

Sexy forest rangers. What was that?!

And he’d barely cracked into the magic of the APL. He was sure of it. The ten minute timer added a strange urgency. Look, grab, and go - otherwise you risked someone coming around to see who was holding up the line. (Not that there was a line - John had only seen a few others casually strolling a bit close to the library. Nobody made eye contact.) When John made the trip to the library, he usually focused on combing through the shelves as quickly as possible, stopped to read the latest posts on the board, and then left.

Except that night, a bright orangey-yellow post-it clung to the hook-up board.

It stood out amongst the other pale yellow post-its, its color blaring like a siren. John had once woken up from an impromptu nap in the labs with a post-it that color on his forehead. It had had ‘Don’t you have quarters?’ scrawled on it.

Look at me, the one on the board called to John.

John abandoned his search of the books. He crossed the library until he stood in front of the hook-up board.

The post-it had been placed in the center of the M4M board.

John’s breath caught. For a split-second he paused because he knew, knew that there were things you could learn about a person that you couldn’t un-know. But he also couldn’t stop himself.

Avg build w/ great DSLs seeks cock for worship. Come fuck my slutty mouth all night long. It had one of those anonymous email addresses, an impersonal string of letters and numbers followed by atlantis.net, at the end.

John’s mouth felt dry. He was pretty sure the DSLs referred to here weren’t internet lines. He could paste it all together pretty well with context clues anyhow. Come fuck my slutty mouth being the biggest.

Also, trust Rodney McKay, the guy who never stopped talking, to have a slutty mouth.

John reeled. He steadied himself with one hand on the board, then snatched it away like someone might dust the place for fingerprints. It was too late to stop the sudden flood of arousal, the image of Rodney on his knees, his mouth open wide, nipples hard through his uniform shirt. And then it was really easy to imagine himself standing in front of Rodney, one hand on his zipper, slowly opening his fly while Rodney whimpered and begged for John to fuck his slutty mouth--

John’s dick felt painfully hard.

The back door swung open. Somehow ten minutes had come and gone, and John didn’t have anything except the image of McKay on his knees, which wasn’t, which couldn’t--

John snatched the post-it off the board, stuffed it deep in his pocket, and left the library as fast as he could, adrenaline and panic at war with what he’d just discovered.

 

*****

 

John couldn’t sleep.

He’d found the idea of other members of the expedition furtively sneaking and hiding their treasures pretty exciting. Up until now.

Now, John had the post-it tucked deep into his copy of War and Peace. He’d tried to pick up where he’d last left off reading, but dense Russian literature couldn’t erase the words from his brain.

He’d only made it worse when he found the definition of DSLs in a slang dictionary in a data cache on one of the Atlantis servers. Somehow knowing that McKay felt he had ‘dick-sucking lips’ wasn’t much of a comfort.

It had to be a mistake. Had to. Rodney McKay practically shouted to the world about his love of hot blonde women. Someone was playing a prank. They’d stolen McKay’s carefully guarded post-its and were going to use them to spam some… anonymous email address.

John rolled over and pressed his face into his pillow. He felt uncomfortably warm.

What people liked in private wasn’t necessarily what they said they liked. It also didn’t mean they didn’t like other things. The engineer who liked the smoking woman might now be back on Earth and happily married to a non-smoker. Maybe Rodney McKay still dreamed about marrying Samantha Carter--

John snickered into his pillow.

…And maybe he also liked to suck cock.

Not just suck, John thought, worship. He’d written worship. Which sounded much more active than a standard blowjob. Like all tongue and head-bobbing, sloppiness and gasping for breath.

Fuck my slutty mouth, John thought, and pressed his traitorous hips into the mattress. He heard Rodney saying the words, imagined him leaning over the table in the lab while they were surrounded by Ancient tech and scurrying scientists, his lips grazing John’s ear as he whispered the words too quietly to be overheard. Imagined following Rodney into one of the storage rooms, his best friend dropping to his knees, his blue eyes bright and hungry.

I want it. I need it, he heard Rodney saying. I need your cock in my mouth.

They couldn’t, John would tell him.

Please, John.

John thrust his hips against the mattress. If he kept his eyes closed tight, it was like he could feel Rodney’s hot, wet, greedy mouth sucking his length, hear his eager moans and gasps—

“Fuck, Rodney,” he panted into the pillow, and came helplessly in his pants.

*****

The next morning, John threw the post-it in the trash. Or rather, he meant to. He opened War and Peace and looked at it. He touched one corner with the edge of his thumb.

He shut the book.

When the team gathered for their mission to MX-1291, John nodded his head in greeting at Rodney, who blustered in a minute late, coffee in hand, his hair sleep-ruffled, looking positively annoyed at having his morning interrupted by having to go through a wormhole in space to visit an alien planet.

John was still sometimes caught off guard by how insane and amazing their daily lives were.

“I know, I know,” Rodney started, hands waving. “Radek was all set to blow out seventeen control crystals because the treehuggers—oh right, excuse me, the botanists—have suddenly somehow become electrical engineers, and they decided their new grow-op needed to drain all available power reserves—”

“All right, McKay,” John said.

Teyla, Ronon, and Rodney all stopped what they were doing and stared at him.

John’s mouth snapped shut. He maybe had said that too loudly.

Teyla tilted her head. “Are you feeling all right, Colonel?”

“We don’t have to do this today,” Ronon added.

Rodney just frowned.

John felt very aware of his own body. The heat of his skin, his quick pulse, the rush of air through his nostrils. “No, it’s.” His voice sounded rough. He cleared his throat. “It’s fine. Wrong side of the bed. This is a milk run anyway. Should be simple, right?”

Rodney’s frown deepened. “Those are like the most famous of famous last words around here, Sheppard. Did you fall off a balcony and hit your head?”

Teyla’s gaze cut through him. “You do look flushed.”

“I’m fine, I feel fine,” John insisted. “Docs checked me out. I’m good to go.”

And thank God it really was a milk run, because Ronon’s expression clearly said I can turn this car around right now, Mister.

They went through the gate and back to Planet Klunge, where rain came from above only to then come back up from the swamps and spouts below. But the Klungers themselves, despite all the damp or maybe because they needed distraction from it, loved guests and especially the beautiful witty ones who made good trades, tall and broody ones who knew all the goriest Satedan war stories, and especially the mouthy ones that could fix the Ancient systems embedded in the mostly dry ruins they lived in. John just hung back and tried not to look, well, weird.

As Teyla made nice with the Mayor of Damptown, John stole a glance at Rodney.

He’d donned a navy blue poncho and rocked back and forth on his heels. Rodney’s mouth tended to turn down a little at the corners. Not quite a frown, but on the negative side of neutral.

Now that his mouth wasn’t moving, John found himself trying to categorize Rodney’s lips. They weren’t the kind of lips that would make a person do a double take. They were just lips. Pink, often bitten in one corner when McKay worked on something deadly. They seemed normal. They were probably warm and soft. But normal. Still, maybe it wasn’t the size or shape, but how you used them.

John imagined that kissing a guy was probably not that different than kissing a woman. It probably smelled different.

“Do I have something on my face?” Rodney asked him.

John started. He shook his head. “Just thinking.” He tried to bring his attention back around to Teyla’s negotiations.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Rodney whispered. “Because we’re about to be sent down into a pitch black Ancient sub-basement that’s likely booby-trapped and full of swamp water, so if you have contracted an alien parasite you should let us know now.”

Leaning closer, John could smell Rodney. Coffee, breakfast, fresh sweat, soap. Hairs on the back of his neck stood up. “It’s only a small, friendly alien parasite.”

“What?” Rodney squeaked.

“His name is Kevin. He says hi.”

Rodney figured out he was joking half a second later, but the half-second when John had him going sent Rodney into an annoyed sulk. He stayed quiet as a party of Klunger warriors escorted them through a maze of sloping tunnels, over floating bridges crafted from huge, boat-like petrified leaves, and into a darkened section of tunnels. Finally by process of prying open a dozen identical wall panels, they found the offending circuits.

John took turns with the warriors to angle lights and pass McKay tools from his pack. When Rodney really concentrated, he sometimes stuck just the tip of his tongue out between his teeth. John’s mind flashed on what might’ve happened if they weren’t surrounded by the Klungers. If it were just him and Rodney, after Rodney fixed the controls he could turn around and pin John to the wall, snake a hand down the front of his pants and kiss him until—

All around them, soft blue lights blinked on.

The Klungers cheered.

John put his hands in his pockets and slouched to hide any evidence. “Good job, McKay,” he croaked. His tongue felt thick in his mouth.

Rodney crawled out from underneath the panel. “You’re welcome, Kevin,” he said.

John’s own laughter caught him by surprise.

Rodney smiled at him.

They were kind of nice-looking lips, John thought.

*****

He felt better once a few days had gone by, and John realized that his life hadn’t fallen apart because he’d, what? Added a few blowjob fantasies to his collection of weird things? And so they did star his best friend, Rodney McKay, and not some adult movie maven, but really that seemed like Rodney’s fault for putting up the obvious post-it in the first place. For Pete’s sake, why not borrow a standard pale yellow one? John felt the occasional twinge of guilt, especially after a particularly intense orgasm, but it wasn’t hurting anyone. It was just a new piece of information. It was fine.

Until McKay looked over at dinner and suggested, “Movie night?”

Teyla’s family gave her built-in social excuses, and this time she blamed Torren’s recent cold for wanting to spend a relaxing night in. Ronon had what was either a date or a personal training session with a towering dark-haired female marine from the last crop of recruits. He wasn’t sure which and didn’t mind either way.

Just him and Rodney? John couldn’t think of an excuse. He looked at Rodney’s lips, then down at his own half-eaten food. He stammered something about paperwork and got up to leave. He noticed how McKay’s mouth turned down. “How about tomorrow night?” he offered.

Rodney perked up like he’d just had coffee. “That works.”

It’s a date, John didn’t say, but he thought it and then thought about having thought it until he got back to his quarters, where he quietly freaked out.

He was not going to look at the post-it again, he promised himself. Maybe he just needed to get out more. Maybe it was time to go back to the library, John thought. This plan seemed sensible. Why wear out a good thing? Why not inject a little variety? Atlantis had plenty of other options.

He remembered Rodney then, eyeing him, telling John that he had options.

For once, the door to the library was closed when he arrived. John stuffed his hands in his pockets and wandered down the hall to other rooms either being used as storage or earmarked for future projects, and then out to the pier, where two marines dangled fishing poles off the far end. Neither looked back at him.

In ten minutes, the one-at-a-time room had opened again.

John went inside. The library hadn’t changed much. He considered going through a couple of the DVD shelves nearest the ground, where the odder, less popular and weirder titles collected.

There was another bright orangey-yellow post-it on the hook-up board.

“What the hell?” John asked the library. All thoughts of movies and other media went by the wayside as he approached the board.

Maybe you shouldn’t, a voice in his head said. It reminded John of Teyla.

He leaned in anyway.

Wanted: big hard cock to punish my throat. Flexible schedule; can meet anytime. No names, no strings. Along with the same anonymous email address on the post-it in John’s copy of War and Peace.

“Jesus, McKay,” John whispered.

In all of his fantasizing, it had somehow not occurred to John that Rodney would try again. That this new post-it might’ve been up for days, and anybody could’ve used another post-it to copy down the email address by now and answered me, you can blow me and Rodney could’ve met them. Somebody big, like that newish marine, what was his name? Stanhauer, a tall, muscled blond who Rodney had said reminded him of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. That guy, that huge, brutish, hulk of a trained soldier could’ve met Rodney in some disused room in some unused corner of Atlantis, pushed him to his knees, and shoved into his mouth.

Shit, this could be dangerous, John thought. What if Ivan wanted to do more than Rodney wanted? What if the guy tried to rough him up?

But right after he thought it, John’s logic caught up with his panic. Yes, it could be dangerous. He could get hurt. But Rodney McKay had command level access to most of the city’s systems, was much tougher than he complained he was, and he could be incredibly petty. If somebody hurt Rodney? John had a feeling that person would be suffering hell on Atlantis. Heck, John would do his part with a pitchfork if he got wind of anything.

Wanted: big hard cock

How big was big, John wondered. How big did Rodney like cock? Throat-strainingly big? Big to the point he couldn’t wrap his lips around it? Or was it just dirty talk? Would he love it if someone forced him to his knees? How long had the new post-it been up? Had it taken Rodney a few days to notice the old one was gone? Or did strings of horny marines send him messages all day, and he’d only noticed something was wrong when the offers dried up?

No names, no strings.

How many people were currently on McKay’s to-blow list? Had John turning down movie night moved the blowjob line up? Had John just made Ivan Drago’s night by coming to the library instead of watching Wormhole Extreme in Rodney’s quarters—

The back door pinged open.

John ripped the new post-it off the board, shoved it into his pocket, and left.

*****

“Oh, hey, Sheppard.” Rodney answered his door in his Pegasus pajamas – a pair of silky Athosian-woven lounge pants and a t-shirt with the word ‘sarcasm’ picked out in elements of the periodic table. He waved John in without a thought, so likely he wasn’t hiding a line of erect marines waiting to be serviced.

Had John actually expected that? Of course not. And yet it had felt urgent on the way over to check, to know.

Rodney topped off his coffee with his own personal carafe and waved it at a cluster of three laptops. “I was just working on the salinization tank problem. Or rather, inefficiency, since they work, they just don't work as well as they could...”

John stepped far enough into McKay’s quarters for the door to shut behind him. He’d been here dozens of times, slouched and watched movies or TV shows right there on Rodney’s own rumpled bunk. And yet now it felt like trespassing. John’s right hand tucked inside his jacket pocket, where it clutched the latest post-it. “So just a little busy work, huh?”

“You can’t save the universe every night,” Rodney said.

“Though we try.”

Rodney shrugged and sat back down at his laptops.

He must’ve put on a little weight, John thought, probably in equal parts fat and muscle, since he’d bought the t-shirt. It fit snugly around his chest and biceps.

Rodney’s gaze flicked from his computers to John. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Sheppard. But have you been feeling okay lately? Not like you seem sick—it’s just that I rely on my team to set me up for witty one-liners and lately you’ve been falling down on the job.”

John got it. Rodney was trying to seriously ask and yet give him an out at the same time. He opened his mouth to insist he was fine. “I don’t know,” he said instead.

This piqued interest. Rodney swiveled in his chair to face John. “What do you mean?”

The hand around the post-it felt clammy. “I don’t know.” Since McKay was at his desk, it seemed safe to perch on the foot of his bunk. John shrugged. “You ever felt kinda… weird?”

Rodney’s fingers tapped. “Physically? Mentally?”

“Like… as a person.”

“So just—weird, on the whole?”

John nodded. His heartbeat hammered in his chest. At any moment he could take out the post-it, lay it out in front of McKay in all its crumpled glory. He could say, I know what you like, Rodney. Everything would be different.

“Well, yes. All the time. I’m exceptionally weird. But when you’re exceptionally weird and the other side of the coin is weirdly exceptional, I think that’s a fair trade. You, though? I’ve always thought you were weird, Sheppard. In a good way,” Rodney said. He paused. “Wait, is this a new weird? Are you saying you feel weird-er than usual?”

That was a way to say it. So John nodded.

“Been touching any Ancient devices? Do you know when it started happening?”

With McKay’s laser-like gaze on him, John did his best to answer without answering. Just being there and talking to Rodney started to help. His quarters, his rapid-fire questions, the way he moved, the way he couldn’t not spill coffee on himself—this was his friend, Rodney McKay. It all had to be a crazy mistake. He wasn’t blowing guys all over Atlantis.

And if he were, surely he would’ve asked John, too.

John clamped down on the thought, but like every thought lately it was too quick. And while he shook his head no and shrugged his way through Rodney’s questions, it was really easy to imagine McKay offering to help ease his pain by spreading him out on the bed, helping him out of his pants, and sliding the slick heat of his mouth down over John’s dick.

“I’m—I need to go. I’m really—I’m okay,” he told Rodney.

“Do you still want to do movie night tomorrow?” Rodney asked.

“I—sure. That’d be great, buddy. Thanks for—thanks for listening.”

Rodney’s frown followed him out.

*****

But the next day it was decided that the team should re-investigate MX-1928, thanks to a tip gathered by Major Lorne’s team. They found some promising Ancient ruins and swarms of black flies whose bites stung like needles. Ronon and John wanted to turn back; Teyla thought they should get deeper into the ruins to avoid most of the flies.

“McKay, what do think—” John had begun, only to find out that Rodney hadn’t spoken because his entire face had swollen up. John stuck him with an epi-pen and they all high-tailed it back to the jumper.

So instead of watching movies, Rodney would be spending the night in the infirmary sleeping off extra-strength Benadryl and letting the swelling go down.

John went back to his quarters and collapsed into his bunk. He would go straight to bed, he promised himself. Then he’d get up early and snag Rodney some breakfast and as much coffee as they’d let him grab as an apology for—well, everything.

Five minutes later, he opened War and Peace and studied both orangey-yellow post-it notes.

*****

Join blowjobs anonymous, the third post-it said, where your cock meets my mouth. Serious offers only.

Blow your load down my throat or on my face, said number four, I like both. Which urged John to incorporate a new element into the fantasies.

Number five arrived the night after John had stolen number four. Make me choke on every inch of your big fat dick.

Number six was absolutely filthy, even for slutty-mouthed Rodney McKay. After John read it the first time he complained to the empty library, “Well if he does that, he’s going to get it in his eyes.” He still took it.

It was like the faster John collected them, the faster they appeared on the hook-up board. Like someone was watching him.

And John couldn’t help but get snappish with Rodney on missions, even though the guy was just trying to get laid—and essentially, John was cock-blocking him. It was totally unfair, but that didn’t make it easier to stop. John started to feel angry just looking at Rodney sometimes. What the fuck is wrong with you? Go find a nice woman, he wanted to shout. Stop trying to give Ivan Drago nasty blowjobs.

John cancelled with Rodney’s rescheduled movie nights twice, torn both times between not feeling like he could sit there next to McKay – even with Ronon and Teyla right there as chaperones – and worrying that because Rodney now had a night free, he was all over Atlantis introducing interested marines to his oral skills.

Meanwhile, John spent his lonely nights looking to anyone who might have a secret security camera trained on him like he found Russian literature intensely erotic. Every post-it saved inside his book became the opening of a different and yet strikingly similar fantasy. Sometimes McKay took his time, licking and sucking just the tip of John’s cock before swallowing him down, a look of bliss on his face. Other times Rodney could be incredibly bossy and impatient about the whole thing, jacking John’s cock furiously with his hand between gulps, telling him that he should feel lucky, since Rodney was the most important and busy man on Atlantis, and he could have any cock he wanted just like that.

Around number nine, John decided he should be polite about the whole thing and blow Rodney, too. The post-its didn’t indicate that this was a part of any of the fantasies, but they also didn’t exclude the idea.

It took two weeks for number twelve to appear after number eleven. Two full weeks of x-rated speculation that left John feeling desperate. John didn’t check the library’s DVDs anymore; he came for the post-its. When he spotted it, he made a beeline for the hook-up board.

It read:

STOP IT

You asshole

John studied the note for a while. He could feel the shame coming before it hit, like ocean water pulling you up before the wave struck and knocked you down. And this wave knocked him down.

Rodney wasn’t wrong. John was an asshole. He was deliberately screwing with his best friend and his team because why? Because how dare someone try and be happy? Because it wasn’t okay that Rodney was having the best time ever doing whatever and whoever he wanted as often as possible? It was fine, all of it was fine, everyone else could go and do whatever. And John would just be here by himself going through the old cast-off DVDs in the porn library like some disgusting, pathetic scavenger (and how in the world could he have rationalized how weird he’d been, with the porn in the first place and now his obsession with Rodney McKay’s sex life, Christ, the guy didn’t need interference; a good friend, an actual friend would’ve gone out and tried to introduce him to Ivan, maybe tried to find out if Ivan liked guys or even just opportunistic blowjobs). Sooner or later someone would catch on and he’d be Crazy Old John Sheppard, watch out for that guy, he’s got problems, doesn’t have any friends, had a couple but was a complete asshole and torpedoed that just like he did all his previous jobs, posts, and his marriage, which he might’ve made fucking work if he’d just not been so goddamn weird

John ripped the note off the board. Asshole. He crushed it into a tiny ball of orangey-yellow paper and threw it, but it was so light it just tumbled out of his hand. So he tried again, ripping off a handful of notes from the board, wadding them up, letting them fly. Better that time. Better with another handful, multiple handfuls, until John decided that what would really fly was the hook-up board itself. He ripped it down off the wall and flung each of its three whiteboards into the library like huge, heavy Frisbees, where they crashed into racks and displays and tumbled to the floor along with their contents.

Before the last DVD had settled, the back door popped open.

John surveyed the damage for a few moments. He nodded to himself. Asshole was about right.

*****

John decided not to go back to his quarters. Instead he stalked along Atlantis’ outer perimeter and thought about how much it would hurt to lose the city when they decided to use this as an excuse to finally get rid of him. He wondered how long it would take. Maybe he would just desert, hop onto a shuttle, head out to the mainland, build a cabin up in the mountains somewhere. Or a hut near the beach. Or why not both? Summer hut, winter cabin. He’d have the rest of his life to get the carpentry right. No one would have to see him anymore.

Around four a.m. he turned back, the word asshole ringing in his head. By five-thirty he found himself outside Kate Heightmeyer’s office door, hoping today was one of her early days. By six he’d convinced himself this was an idiotic move and he should just handle everything by shoving it down and ignoring it completely. But though his body felt physically exhausted, his brain might as well have been on fire. He was also fairly certain that going on the way he had been meant everything would fall apart in an even more terrible way later.

She arrived at 6:10. “John,” Dr. Heightmeyer said, not missing a beat. “It’s good to see you. Coffee?” She waved him into her office.

 

*****

John kept his arms folded. Heightmeyer’s office was filled with the gentle hum of surrounding city systems. It lulled him. Other people, normal people, would be just getting up for the day. He felt like a rat in a trap.

“Why do you say that?”

He’d explained how he’d lost it and destroyed the hook-up board. Then he’d explained how he found the library. Explaining about his weird thing had been harder. Revealing his fixation on McKay’s post-its had left him sweaty and shaky. “I dunno, Doc. Because a normal person wouldn’t do what I do.”

“Therefore, weird?” Kate Heightmeyer’s waves of blonde hair and soft eyes belied the scalpel-like way her words cut. “That’s a useful label. ‘I am weird, so I do weird things, which makes me weird.’ It could shield a person from having to examine his own motives.”

Fuck you, he wanted to say. “Look, Doc, we could go back and forth all morning. Why don’t you just tell me I’m a psychopath, or I’ve got a personality disorder, or I’m gay, or whatever it is you’re going to use to dismiss me.”

Kate smiled kindly. “This is the second time you’ve used the word gay.”

“You’re the one picking gay over psychopath.”

Kate pressed her hands together and steepled her fingers. “I don’t think you’re a psychopath at all, John. I think you feel very deeply, that you very much care about your job and your people and your responsibility.”

“Great,” he said flatly. This had been a terrible idea. He should’ve gone back to his quarters, reported sick, and tried to sleep it all off. Who broke the hook-up board? Not John Sheppard, no sir. Deny, deny, deny.

Heightmeyer must’ve been able to smell the fear on him. She leaned closer, her elbows on her knees. “Do you feel lonely?”

It took twenty minutes of circular questioning before she broke him and John admitted that maybe, just a little bit, he was lonely. And a further half hour before he went into an angry tirade that would’ve made McKay jealous about just how alone he was and how he had to be in order to be effective at his job.

“You told me earlier that you’ve been less than effective lately, though.”

Crap. He tried telling her she didn’t understand what his positon was like.

“Do you think anyone here understands you, John?”

A few people, he conceded, would understand more than others.

“Rodney?”

Maybe. “Aren’t you shocked that a guy you used to date was leaving up blowjob ads?” Sheppard asked.

But Kate didn’t flinch. “If it really is him leaving them? It’s surprising to me. Rodney’s always seemed to me—tender,” she said.

“Maybe he gives really tender blowjobs.” John sounded crass, even to his own ears.

She didn’t budge. “Maybe he does.” Kate shrugged. “I mean we were never very physical together. But I just attributed that to personal chemistry.”

John’s fists clenched against his sides. That was Rodney’s private relationship, and even though surely his own behavior had been far worse, the revelation rankled him. “Are you allowed to tell me about this?”

“It was our personal relationship, outside the bounds of doctor-patient confidentiality. Do you think that’s why you became a little—zealous? About Rodney?”

John blinked at her.

“Because he’s someone who might understand you. He’s someone you trust. Someone who could potentially help you feel less alone.”

If Kate Heightmeyer’s office had been equipped with whiteboards, John decided he would’ve thrown them, too.

Kate spread her hands. “This could also be jealousy.”

“I’m jealous of McKay?”

She didn’t smile. “He put up ads. He’s looking for company—whatever form that takes. Whereas you don’t seem to think you’re free to do so.”

“No. I mean.” There was sweat on his brow, but no way would he give her the satisfaction of wiping it away. “Most people here are off limits.”

“But not everyone.” Now she leaned in even further, like the chair could barely contain her and she might spring up and attack him. “Can I ask you an odd question? Growing up, did your parents ever call you ‘weird’?”

After about fifteen seconds of silence, John wiped away the sweat on his brow. The room wasn’t hot. “Sometimes,” he said.

*****

When Kate finally took her hook out of his lip and threw John back into the waters of Atlantis, it was hours later and all he could do to stagger back to his quarters and crawl into bed.

I think you’re pretty normal, she’d said. Especially for the lifestyle you lead.

John tried to push his boots off with his toes. He was too tired to reach down and untie them. He ended up leaving them on.

You’ve been under a lot of stress. You have a major birthday coming up. It’s a normal thing to take a look at your life and reevaluate your situation, John. It’s a normal thing to want to be understood.

John thought his lights off. He had not been thinking about his fortieth birthday; she was way off-base there.

In fact, it strikes me that your ‘weird thing’ might not be so much about your sexuality as it is about craving acceptance. You like that they’re ‘weird’ because it makes you feel less so. It makes you feel ‘normal’, a bar you were repeatedly told in childhood that you couldn’t reach. You wear ‘weird’ as your label. Which likely helps you—but you know it also hurts you, right?

John squeezed his eyes shut.

I think you should get some rest. Ponder the nature of normal versus weird. Give the library and the post-its a break for a while. And think about—if you were to put an ad on the hook-up board—what yours would say.

John had no clue. He reeked of old sweat; he needed a shower.

I sent a message during our earlier coffee break—a discreet friend is handling the damage to the board. Come back. We’ll talk again. It won’t take five hours next time, either.

*****

The door chimed. Again. Again.

John levered himself out of bed. He groaned; his back hated him and so did his feet for leaving his boots on. He staggered to the door and opened it. “What?” he asked, closing one eye and squinting the other at the hall’s bright light.

“Colonel!” Rodney seemed jumpy. “Are you okay? You weren’t answering your radio. Or messages. Are you ill? Do you actually have an alien parasite this time? Were you just asleep? Did you sleep with your boots on? I bet that was uncomfortable. Did you hear what happened?” McKay waved him aside.

Without thinking, John stepped back and let Rodney into his quarters. He thought the lights up. John’s sight adjusted and he saw what Rodney held in his left hand. “You have beer.”

McKay hoisted the—well, the four-pack left of what had once been a six-pack. “I have beer. Canadian beer. To share. Want one?”

“That’s a rhetorical question, right?” John asked.

Rodney passed over a bottle. “Someone trashed the porn room and destroyed the hook-up board.”

So much for Heightmeyer’s discreet friend. John twisted the beer’s cap off. “Oh yeah? What for?”

“Who knows! Radek has a bag of Funyuns on it being one of the security officers, what was his name—not important enough to remember, the one with the jaw—he was seeing a woman in maintenance and caught her on the board. Or she caught him. Jealous rage ensues.” Rodney paused for a swallow of beer. “Radek knows we’ll never prove it though, hence betting the Funyuns. Too rich when you might lose. And next resupply won’t be for a while. Of course he’s lost either way because now I know he’s holding out Funyuns.” Rodney hummed happily and took a long swallow of beer.

John watched his throat work. Hey, it was my jealous rage, actually. “Why won’t they be able to prove it?”

“Someone wiped all the security footage.” Rodney dropped into John’s desk chair as if it were his own. “And the whole thing was unauthorized anyway and nobody wants to have some kind of embarrassing drawn-out investigation getting in the way of our life-and-death jobs. But there’s good news, which is why the celebratory beers—” Rodney raised his. “We are retooling and putting everything on the servers. We’re going to scan and upload all the DVDs and magazines so nobody has to walk across the city to share. And we’re making a totally anonymous online hook-up board with encrypted messaging capabilities. No more post-its.”

The beer tasted sour. “What do you mean ‘we’, McKay?”

“Okay, so I was late to the game, but it’s the closest thing Atlantis has to a secret speakeasy so I made inquiries and joined up.” Rodney made his bottle of beer do a happy little conspiracy dance. “We’re a loose collection of rogue shadow archivists.”

“You’ve been helping organize the library? I thought that was a waste of time?”

Rodney sniffed. “It’s relaxing. Anyway it’s not like my spare time was filled with eager answers to my personal ads.”

He almost choked on the next swallow. “You put up ads?”

“Yeah. I thought they came across as very obvious and accommodating. But they kept getting torn down.”

A shiver rippled from the crown of John’s head to his toes. Did Rodney know? Did Heightmeyer tip him off? Rodney would be one of the few able to hack the security footage. Had he figured it all out? Had he come here with beer and confessions to… what, get an apology? Make an offer? Both? John wished he’d skipped the beer in favor of coffee. He needed to be able to think straight, but right out of bed after Heightmeyer, the previous night's events, and with an empty-stomach buzz developing fast, he felt dangerously out of control. “Sorry,” he said. It was a weasel’s apology, though, and John knew it, and hated himself for it and everything else he’d put Rodney through.

“Well.” Rodney shrugged a shoulder. “Here’s to better luck next time, huh?”

No, John thought, suddenly furious. “I can’t keep doing this,” he blurted.

“Not much alternative,” McKay said. And then he wasn’t saying anything, because John put down his beer, slid off the bed and onto his knees, grabbed Rodney by the sleeves of his soft t-shirt and pulled him down into a desperate kiss.

John hadn’t ever kissed a man before. But kissing Rodney McKay was like—it was like kissing Rodney McKay. His lips were soft, softer than John had thought, and when he made a noise it felt strange and exciting and addicting. John opened his mouth and licked his way into Rodney’s heat.

For a second, Rodney resisted. But in the next moment, he melted into John.

John loosened his grip on Rodney’s shirt and let his hands explore a surprisingly muscled chest. Rodney’s nipples were hard underneath the cotton, and when John’s thumbs found them he moaned into the kiss and suddenly broke off.

“Woah, hold on,” Rodney gasped like they’d just come back from a run. He leaned back from John, but only an inch or two. His eyes searched John’s face for… what?

John felt the echo of Rodney’s kisses on his lips. He’d planted himself on the floor, kneeling up between Rodney’s spread thighs, effectively pinning Atlantis’s chief scientist into his desk chair. John’s heart thumped in his chest. One of Rodney’s post-its had said no strings, another had said anonymous. This was hardly anonymous. “McK—”

“Did you just kiss me?” Rodney squeaked.

“Uh. Yeah,” John whispered. He half-waited for Rodney to shove him away. Then they could make an alien parasite joke and John could quietly die inside.

“This is you. Right? John Sheppard?”

John dropped his hands to Rodney’s knees. He wanted to run his hands over Rodney’s entire body, to memorize him before everything exploded. “Uh. Yeah.” John made himself meet Rodney’s eyes.

Rodney blinked hard. He took a short, sharp breath. “I didn’t know this was a thing. A, uh, a thing you did. And with, um, me? You do have other options, Colonel—”

“Shut up, McKay,” John said before he could stop himself.

Rodney’s mouth dropped into an ‘O’ of surprise. “Excuse me, Kissee here. Trying to make sense of—of—” Rodney’s gaze cut from John’s eyes to his lips. “This was not my vision for the evening!”

“You don’t have to stay.” Even as he said it, John leaned in, letting his lower lip graze Rodney’s cheek.

“Well, obviously, but I’m trying to make the right decision.” Rodney’s eyes closed as he leaned into the press of John’s lips. “I think… I think…” He pulled back and opened his eyes. “Collect more data. Let’s move this to the bed.”

“Um,” said John, suddenly swamped by all the images of what could happen in a bed.

This earned him a patented McKay eyeroll. “Relax, Captain Kirk. I’m just getting a crick in my neck. Come on.”

And whoa, because this was what it was like to make out with Rodney McKay. Who dragged them both to the bed and flopped down like he owned the mattress. He even had the nerve to wiggle around on it until he was comfortable.

John just looked down at him for a moment. A touch of softness around the middle. Hairline receding, but not by all that much. Big blue eyes. Soft mouth. Fully dressed, but maybe that was good for right now. He also looked surprisingly at home on John’s rumpled sheets. John got one knee on the bunk before either he slipped or Rodney grabbed him, and suddenly they lay side-by-side, not unlike a hundred nights they’d spent next to each other in sleeping bags.

Hard to tell if Rodney closed the distance or he did; hard to think about anything except the way Rodney’s mouth tasted, the barest scratch of stubble against his own, and the way John couldn’t quite catch his breath. His hands wandered down Rodney’s arms, his chest, his back and stomach. Their clunky, booted feet tangled together and John couldn’t hold in a hard, loud laugh at how un-suave it all was. Un-suave and yet great.

Rodney’s hair stuck up at odd angles against John’s pillow. “Is this commentary on my performance? Because I don’t have to stay,” he declared dramatically and with a hint of a southern accent. Like a character in a Tennessee Williams play, John thought, before he realized Rodney was making fun of the way John had said it earlier.

John grinned and shrugged a shoulder. He used his left index finger to find Rodney’s erect nipple through his shirt. As he touched it, Rodney’s eyelids lowered, and his hips stuttered. There he was again. The guy who’d left the dirty post-its. “If you stay,” John said, utterly failing to keep his tone light and flirty, “I will do whatever you want.”

Somehow that was the wrong thing to say. Rodney stiffened under his touch. He grabbed John’s hands in his and it occurred to John that while he’d been touching Rodney, Rodney hadn’t been returning the favor.

Now Rodney stared at him.

John’s mouth felt dry. It couldn’t be, he couldn’t have already ruined it—

“Whatever I want…?” Rodney repeated faintly. “What if it’s not what you want?”

“Won’t be a problem,” John assured him. McKay didn’t look convinced. How to say it? “I have a weird thing.”

Rodney’s eyes went wide. His gaze darted below John’s waist.

“I’m anatomically correct, Rodney, geez. I have a sex thing.”

“Sex thing,” squeaked Rodney. He let go of John’s hands.

Not better. You’re losing him, John thought. He sighed. “I like what other people like. Whatever they’re really into. I’m really into them being into it.”

“Oh.” Rodney nodded, though it seemed like he wasn’t getting it. “I’m, um, noticing some gender neutral pronouns?”

John had done some thinking on the subject. “That’s not as important a factor as you’d think it would be.”

“What about all the alien priestesses?” Rodney demanded.

“All two of them? They liked me,” John said lamely.

“That’s all it takes?” Rodney blinked. “Is that why—how did you—what made you think I—” He began inching away, closer to the wall. His eyes opened wide when he hit it.

Shit, John thought. He spread his hands out in front of him. “I saw one of your post-its, okay?” It was easier to admit that than tell him that all eleven of them were in the book on his nightstand.

McKay paled. His mouth drew into a thin line.

John couldn’t tell whether he was embarrassed or furious or both. He turned away and sat up, swinging his clumsy, booted feet onto the floor. It was easier not to look at Rodney right now anyway. “It’s—I mean you can’t not recognize them. And I just thought… if you wanted a guy.” John shrugged. “I’m a guy. Maybe I could give you what you wanted and I could, uh, have a good time, too.”

Behind him, Rodney made a strangled sort of noise. Then, “Okay.”

John held very still. “Okay? As in…?” He risked a glance back.

Rodney’s hair was mussed, his lips kissed, his face red. He stared up at the ceiling. “Okay as in okay.” He sat up on his elbows. His brow creased. “But I should warn you. The ad. I may have, um, exaggerated a few things.”

“You mean you don’t actually run a support group for people who need blowjobs?” John asked, aware of his smell and Rodney’s smell and before he thought too hard, he leaned over and kissed Rodney again.

“Mmph,” Rodney said. And then, “Mmfm.”

This time, Rodney’s hands got into the mix. Once they started moving, they couldn’t stop touching John everywhere, mapping his entire body. John slipped his own hands underneath Rodney’s shirt and made him shiver.

John had been semi-hard since he’d begun kissing Rodney. But now his interest strained at the front of his pants. And he wasn’t alone. He felt McKay's erection through his BDUs, and it seemed instinctive to urge his hips closer until his heat pressed against Rodney's. It provided just enough friction to drive John slightly crazy, and it felt fucking incredible. It was rollercoasters and Ferris wheels and saving the day. And he wanted, needed more. "Tell me," he gasped against Rodney's mouth, only a little sure what he was asking for.

But Rodney's eyes were closed, his lips parted. He looked gone, even as his hips ground into John's.

Oh, John thought. Right. Not blowjobs, but maybe that was good, too. Those had to be tougher in real life than in his fantasies. He also didn't want to stop and work out the logistics of getting out of a pair of boots, not since Rodney was looking like—like John felt—but he found it easy to work a hand down to his own belt, slip open the buckle. Then he reached for Rodney's and repeated the motion. John couldn't resist reaching inside. He found Rodney's impossibly warm shaft through a layer of cotton boxer briefs.

And then an equally impossibly warm palm was somehow in his underwear, wrapped around John's own cock and jerking him in a slow, steady rhythm that made John cry out for more, oh fuck Rodney. Until he felt crazy and dizzy and shoved Rodney onto his back, clambered on top of him and shoved mutual clothes down out of the way until their bare cocks slid against each other, hard and hot and throbbing against groping hands. And as Rodney's mouth found his again, John flashed on weeks of fantasies and imagined dirty talk, and he couldn't hold out. He thrust up into Rodney's fist once, twice, three times and spurted into the air, onto Rodney's hand, arm, and the shirt he still wore.

Which struck John as a little messy and unfair, but then Rodney's face twisted and John felt his balls draw up as he sped his own stroking fist on Rodney's dick. And then Rodney was coming, too, thick jets of semen immediately going everywhere, all over John's hand and both their groins and pants, and something wild inside John growled yes.

As they both panted and shivered and shook together, John felt like kissing Rodney again. So he did. Rodney kissed him back, lazily, sloppily, with almost too much tongue.

The sticky wetness of being covered in both their come didn't hit until a couple of minutes later, when John figured that if one of them was going to have to stop and actually look at the other at some point anyway, it might as well be him. He broke the latest kiss, slid wetly and ungracefully off Rodney, and surveyed the damage. "Yeah." His voice sounded rough. "You're probably going to need to borrow a shirt."

Rodney's hair stuck up in odd directions. He blinked at John. "What?" he asked, sounding breathless and looking vaguely shell-shocked.

"Hold on," John said. He got up, awkwardly shimmying back into his pants and underwear. He went into his bathroom, wet a washcloth, and gave himself a quick wipe down. Then he felt ridiculous about still being in his boots so he stopped, unlaced them, and stepped out in sweaty socked feet. Wow, he needed a shower. But first, he wet another washcloth and re-entered the bedroom.

Rodney hadn't moved. He'd flung one arm up over his eyes. His shirt had been rucked up by John's explorations and both of them jerking each other off. A stretch of pale stomach appeared above his groin and flushed and softening cock. He yelped when John touched him with the washcloth. "What?" He asked again.

"Hey, free wash with every wax," John said, some inane local car wash commercial he'd used to see on TV playing in his head. He used the washcloth to wipe up as much of the mess as possible from Rodney's skin, marveling at the warmth, the feel, the smell of this much concentrated guy in one place. He made Rodney's dick twitch, and John was seized with the urge to immediately try again, or at the very least use his tongue to lick Rodney clean.

"Very polite," Rodney said, looking down with interest at the movement of John's washcloth. "This is almost Canadian levels of politeness."

"Must be the Molson," John replied.

"I forgot about the beer," Rodney said, a dreamy, unconcerned lilt in his voice. "Okay, you can stop, you're right, I don't think there's any saving this shirt. I'll have to borrow a clean one of yours and just hope no one notices that it fits like a sausage casing and smells like hair gel."

John found him a clean shirt, and by the time he'd changed his own Rodney had popped the top on his second beer and passed John the last one. It felt really normal and yet not normal at all when Rodney suggested they watch something. John put something on his laptop and they stretched back out on the bed that smelled like the both of them and was slightly damp if John moved his hand into the right spot and drank the beers in near silence. But it wasn't a painful, childhood-dinner-table kind of silence. It felt... all right.

When Rodney finally got up to leave, he seemed okay. Or at least not shocked or angry. He gave John a kind of half-wave and indicated the hall before he left.

John treated himself to one of the longest, hottest showers of his life, then laid down in a bed that smelled like sex and slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.

*****

The next day at breakfast, Rodney McKay blustered in, already in mid-monologue, accidentally flung oatmeal at Teyla (she dodged it), and was pulled away from the conversation by an alarming email that probably meant Rodney needed to rush off and crush a spirit or two.

John watched him leave. I totally had sex with that guy, he was not going to say out loud, but it would've been true and this knowledge made his stomach flip.

"Somebody smashed up the porn room," Ronon mentioned.

"Oh yeah?" John buttered an English muffin.

Teyla stirred her tea. She narrowed her eyes at Ronon.

"Wasn't me," he said. "I still don't like most of it, but Denise showed me a good one."

John cut through the static that was Ronon talking about porn. "Denise?"

"Is this your new sparring partner?" Teyla asked.

Ronon found his breakfast extra-interesting after that.

Over the next two days John heard a few different yet uniformly incorrect porn library rumors and didn't actually see much of Rodney, except at meetings.

For the first day, it wasn't enough to puncture John's good mood. Until he started wondering if maybe Rodney was working himself up to give John a long-winded speech about mistakes having been made.

So naturally, John's move was to grab coffee for both of them, something normal he did once in a while, and bring it down to the lab.

Which was literally on fire.

John spotted the jets of blue-green flame through the lab's doors. He barged through, shoved aside a frazzled white-coated scientist, and looked for the fire extinguishers that should've been in range before he spotted Rodney wearing goggles and what looked like a fanny pack with a garden hose-like sprayer coming out of one side. The flames plumed into the air in shimmering arcs. Abruptly they fizzled out, and the lab went quiet.

Zelenka appeared at John's elbow. "Today, McKay does not need that. I need that," he said, indicating John's cups of coffee.

John passed him one.

The smile on Rodney's face lit up the lab even more brilliantly than the weapon, in John's opinion.

Rodney spotted John and lifted his goggles. The manic glee in his eyes would've played well in a mad scientist movie. He cackled. "We have a super flamethrower!"

Zelenka shook his head. "I will warn the botanists," he said quietly.

Miko and some of the others were already spraying the blast area's lingering flames with foam as John made his way through the chaos.

Rodney grinned. "It's got an adjustable range and temperature, weighs next to nothing, really, I have laptops that weigh more than this thing, and with a little naquadah power we should be able to juice it up even more. You could burn down a forest with this thing!"

"Whoa, there, Rodney, trigger discipline," John warned.

McKay glanced down at his finger, still on the trigger of the flamethrower nozzle, and removed it. "You've got to try this. Is that coffee for me?" he asked, smiling at John with pure, naked joy.

"It's all yours, buddy," John said, happy to surrender his cup.

*****

The 'Thrower could set almost anything on fire. They discovered it could also be turned down to a pleasant crackle. Someone located marshmallows and a box of unused styluses to poke into them. John and Rodney sat on a lab table while others took turns roasting marshmallows with Atlantis's latest terrifying death machine.

"It's not smores, but I'll take it," Rodney said, licking his fingers.

John caught himself looking at Rodney's hands. Hands that just two nights ago had been wrapped around him. He felt hot and dizzy in a way that couldn't be blamed on the flamethrower. "It's cool," he agreed.

The tip of Rodney's index finger left his mouth with a barely audible pop. His smile faded somewhat before he cleared his throat and looked from John to the latest batch of slowly browning marshmallows. "You could, um, come by my quarters for a movie later? If you don't have plans. Radek gave me some of his moonshine to distract me from his latest mistakes. It's not good, but it is alcohol."

A movie. A drink. Something else? The briefest condensed version of John's post-it-related fantasies played in his head. "Sure. After dinner?"

"Yes. Unless someone finds chocolate and graham crackers, in which case dinner is happening here early. But, um, still, yes, after dinner. My quarters." Rodney gave him a look.

It was only for a second, but it felt speculative and curious and made John want to grab the super flamethrower and turn it up to eleven. Instead, he eased off the lab table, put his hands in his pockets, and said, "Sounds good."

*****

Seven o'clock, John decided. Not early, not late. Rodney was supplying the drinks, so it seemed right to bring snacks. John brought along a box of Cheez-its he'd been holding back. He paused in front of Rodney's door before he hit the bell. He imagined his life on Earth, what seemed a thousand years ago, and coming to a date's house with flowers.

Not that Rodney was a date. Not exactly. John wondered what a date with Rodney would even look like. He found himself thinking about testing the jumpers, the personal shield, the flamethrower, grabbing coffee in the afternoons, having breakfasts, lunches, dinners together.

John hit the bell. The door rushed open, revealing Rodney McKay, who was definitely not his date. But maybe sort of was? John thrust the box of Cheez-its out in front of him.

"Oh hey, great, original flavor," Rodney said, taking the box from him. "There are imposters floating around. Who wants gouda-flavored artificial cheese crackers? Come on in."

John stepped into Rodney's quarters behind him. It was reassuringly the same as it had been the last time he'd stopped by. Most available surfaces were covered in books, papers, laptops, and less murderous bits of Ancient technology. He had pulled the covers up over his bed, but hadn't made an effort to get them straight.

Rodney was in his uniform, but he'd already taken off his boots. "Want a drink? Make yourself comfortable." He poured clear liquid from a beaker into a set of short plastic tumblers.

John saw the open desk chair. He bypassed it and sat down on the end of Rodney’s bunk. His prescription mattress felt as good as it had the last time John had flopped down on Rodney’s bunk and listened to him work up a head of steam over some petty science team turf war. As casually as he dared, he unlaced his boots and toed them off. He set them aside and looked up, only to find Rodney holding both tumblers.

“Here,” Rodney said, offering one.

John took it. It smelled like jet fuel. He raised an eyebrow.

“It’d be a good idea to drink it fast and try not to taste any.” Rodney sat down on the bed next to him. He raised his tumbler in the air. “To…” He trailed off.

John couldn’t think of anything. He stared at the drink in his hand. “Dr. Zelenka’s Fun Time Party Juice?”

Rodney snorted and clunked his plastic cup against John’s.

They drank. It burned worse than the cheapest rotgut, like... “I take it back. We’re calling it Flamethrower,” John gasped. “Wow, that is – barely fit for human consumption.”

Rodney’s eyes watered. He thumped his fist against his chest. “This might actually be industrial cleaner. Or poison. He could be trying to off me and steal all of my research, now that we’ve produced enough to steal. Joke’s on him, though, I’ve seeded my hard drives with flawed dummy research. It’ll take him years to figure out what’s real and what’s fake.”

John set his empty tumbler aside. “Isn’t that a little paranoid?”

Rodney looked into the bottom of his empty tumbler. “Probably. He knows I’m more useful to him alive than dead. Still.” He paused, then smirked. “He needs to work on his, you know, still.”

A canyon of quiet opened up between them. The burn left John’s throat. The alcohol wouldn’t hit him for a couple of minutes, but in spite of knowing that, he felt tingly and alive. His head buzzed. His heart beat faster than normal. And something inside John told him that he could just open up the box of Cheez-its, put on a movie, and Rodney would laugh along and never say a word.

John’s voice caught in his throat. The orangey-yellow post-its had been burned into his brain: a dozen filthy invitations, each to an encounter John would happily sign up for. But he couldn’t translate those words into his own, or any words at all. His nerve was failing him. In a minute Rodney would give up on him, too, he just knew it. He’d never been good making the first move, and it was going to cost him everything.

Just do something, do anything, his brain screamed at him. In a series of non-suave motions, John jerked his hand into the air, hovered it there for a half-second, and then rested it on Rodney’s knee.

Breath whooshed out of Rodney, as if he’d been holding it. His hand covered John’s. “Oh, thank God, I was beginning to think I imagined it—"

John turned his head. “No.” He couldn’t shake his head because his lips found Rodney’s. The kissing, this time, started slow, almost chaste, just brushes of warmth and shared breath, but Rodney opened his mouth and John sucked on his tongue and somehow he found himself flat on his back on Rodney’s prescription mattress, a weight straddling his hips. John was hard, of course he was, he’d been hard on and off since the marshmallows, since the invitation, hell since two days ago right after they’d jerked each other off in his bed.

Rodney’s eyes seemed dark in the dimmed light of his quarters. “Take off your shirt,” he told John.

And how was it that John had missed up until now that Rodney had gone for mood lighting? That he’d shaved since dinner? John grabbed the hem of his shirt and pulled it off overhead.

Rodney looked him over. “Are you sure you’re not Italian?”

John might’ve been offended, but he could feel Rodney’s hard cock through his pants and he was pretty certain he met with approval. So he grabbed Rodney’s pillow and swung it up at him.

He deflected it. “Oh come on, it‘s not a bad thing, I just forgot how hairy you are.”

“You want to see hairy? I’ll show you hairy.” John traced fingers down his own chest, right to the buckle on his belt. A flick of his wrist unbuckled it, then the button at his fly, the zipper. Rodney joined in, lifting up and moving aside to help him shimmy out of his pants. And then, what the hell, John figured, boxers too. Oh, and socks. Then there was nothing more to do than stretch out on Rodney’s bed. He felt sensitive everywhere. John felt the gentle rasp of the comforter against the back of his neck, his back, even his heels. He was aware of how his cock jutted upward at an angle, and even more aware of the way Rodney stared.

“I take it back,” Rodney said quietly, tearing his eyes away from John’s dick. “You’re not that hairy.”

“Just hairy enough?”

“Goldilocks amount of hairy,” Rodney said, without a trace of humor. “Can I...?” he began.

“Yes,” John said, because that was how far gone he felt already, again, the unspoken whatever you want hanging there.

Rodney skipped the strip show. He pulled his shirt off overhead and kicked off his pants. But his boxer briefs stayed on, even though they weren’t doing anything to hide his obvious erection. He seemed not to be aware of it, but rather to be mesmerized by John’s - Rodney studied it, adjusting the tilt of his head, wetting his lips.

John’s cock twitched. He took a deep breath. If he wasn’t careful, this would be over before it really began.

“Tell me,” Rodney said. “If I’m doing something you like. Or if I’m not. People are different, you know? It can take a while to get, you know, synched up with someone.”

“Just please touch me,” John said. He hadn’t meant to beg. He could see and feel a drop of precome seeping from the tip of his cock.

Rodney nodded. “Yeah,” he said to John’s dick, or maybe himself.

But just when John decided that a man could die of waiting, Rodney’s lips closed around the tip of his penis. He’d meant to keep his eyes open, to really enjoy Rodney enjoying himself, but the minute he felt himself surrounded by warm, wet suction, John lost his ability to think rationally. He grabbed the comforter and twisted it in his fists. His head thumped back into the mattress. “Oh, fuck, yes, Rodney,” he moaned.

Rodney must’ve taken this as encouragement. He let out a pleased little hum that made John’s toes curl. He brought his hand into the mix, stroking the base of John’s cock while he bobbed his head up and down on the tip. He broke off for what sounded like a breath. “You like that?” he asked in a low, throaty voice.

“I like it,” John said. When Rodney’s hand resumed stroking, John revised his opinion. “I love it.” He opened his eyes, only to be greeted by the sight of Rodney lowering his head and slipping the tip of John’s cock back between his lips. His fantasies hadn’t prepared him for what it actually felt like – the heat, the suction, the incredulous ‘wait, what’ of it all being real. “I fucking love it, Rodney.” John dared to risk threading his shaking fingers through Rodney’s soft brown hair. He wanted to grab hold and fuck Rodney’s mouth with abandon, and he also wanted McKay to go as slowly as possible, to suck John until he couldn’t stand it and shook apart. But neither mattered, because fingers pressed behind his balls and John arched up and came and came.

The world whited out for a few moments. John’s head swam, but he reached out and somehow drew Rodney’s mouth back to his own. He tasted just on this side of bitter. John recognized it as his own taste lingering on Rodney’s tongue and that made it better. He wanted to touch Rodney all over, and why was he still wearing his boxer briefs? John slid his hands under the waistband.

“Wait,” Rodney gasped into his mouth.

John tried. In his defense, it felt like Rodney’s cock thrust itself into his hand. In the post-orgasm calm, John got a much better sense of just how big Rodney was. Not incredibly long, but no slouch either, and he made a good showing in terms of thickness. It felt like he had less hair there, too, and John was hit with the fantasies where he’d returned the favor. “Let me blow you,” he murmured. “I haven’t done it before, but I want to.”

Rodney’s blue eyes went wide, and then squeezed shut. “Holy shit,” he wrung out as he thrust into John’s tight grip and came into the front of his underwear and all over John’s hand.

Afterward, Rodney collapsed onto him and buried his face in John’s shoulder.

He wasn’t heavy. John loosely cupped his softening cock and looked up at the ceiling. It was easy to use his other arm to hold Rodney. The weird part was how much of it felt familiar.

“Oh my God,” Rodney muttered into John’s shoulder. “I swear I have more stamina than this usually.”

John patted him on the back. Above him, the ceiling seemed to stretch to forever in every direction. “You lasted longer than me.” He smiled.

Rodney snuffle-snorted. “Been a while.”

“Yeah,” John told the ceiling.

After a while, Rodney raised his head. “You want to clean up, then watch The Goonies and eat Cheez-its?”

John blinked. The Goonies? He almost asked. “Yeah,” he said.

Rodney needed the most cleanup, but he handled that himself. John swabbed down his hand with a wet washcloth. They re-dressed, except for boots, stretched out on Rodney’s mostly dry bed, and shared a bowl of Cheez-its. Dr. Zelenka’s Flamethrower Special tasted better diluted with root beer. John was glad he’d seen the movie before, because he spent the first hour or so with his eyes pointed at it while his awareness stayed firmly on the man next to him, who’d just given him one of the best blowjobs of his life and was now hoovering down cheese crackers like John was going to suddenly snatch them away.

Abruptly, Rodney reached out and hit the laptop’s space bar, pausing the film. He didn’t quite look at John. “So. I am terrible at this sort of thing. The protocol. Are you...” He breathed in. “Is this kind of thing something you wouldn’t mind doing again? With me,” Rodney clarified, still not looking at him.

John batted Rodney’s hand away long enough to grab a couple of the Cheez-its for himself. “Yeah,” he said quietly. The word felt dangerous every time he said it. But suddenly he thought of Ivan Drago. “Uh. You’re not, uh, taking any more answers to your personal ads, are you?”

“What? Constantly, I’m fighting them off with a stick.” Rodney rolled his eyes, then stilled. “Oh, you’re serious. No. Well.” He cleared his throat. “No. Not that there were—wait, what about you? Are you on the hook-up board?”

John grinned. “No, Rodney.” He let himself lean in a little bit, so his shoulder touched Rodney’s.

Rodney relaxed slightly into him. “Okay, then. Good. We should--it’s good, you know, to know where we stand. Because diseases, and other things not disease-related—I promise you I do not have any diseases. Full disclosure, I did have mono once in high school, but that was likely an unclean drinking fountain’s fault—"

Sometimes, the loud sound of John’s own laughter embarrassed him. But the honking laugh he unleashed just made him laugh harder.

“Are you secretly a goose, Sheppard?”

John couldn’t stop. He almost turned over the bowl of Cheez-its.

“You are literally a human donkey. We should start testing donkeys for the Ancient gene.”

By the time John had gotten himself under control and wiped his eyes, Rodney had poured them another round of diluted Zelenka juice.

He settled in next to John, his legs splaying wider than usual, his shoulders taking up extra room so John had to get in closer to be comfortable. As Rodney reached for the space bar, John thought about what it meant that Rodney had asked if he’d be interested in another round. And the implications of ‘this kind of thing’. ‘This kind of thing’ covered a wide area, John thought.

They watched the rest of The Goonies. Before John left, he had to lace up his boots. When he’d finished and stood, Rodney was in front of him.

He leaned over and kissed John. Just a peck. Almost to the side of his mouth.

John refused to turn bright red. “Uh. Yeah, so, next time?”

Rodney nodded. “Next time,” he said.

*****

John cancelled his next scheduled session with Heightmeyer. She sent him a couple of emails. He deleted them without reading them. Though he did sit for a few minutes with a blank post-it note and pen and tried to think about what he would put in a hook-up board ad. But he ended up thinking about the purloined post-its and Rodney’s mouth and Rodney’s cock instead.

He almost went to find Rodney in the labs, but stopped himself. There would be a third time. Best not to wear out his welcome, John thought, and busied himself with endless amounts of reports and neglected scheduling. He also found time to spar with Ronon, who paid him back for his and Teyla’s needling about Denise with an extra-vicious session.

As John staggered back to his quarters, he caught himself humming.

And then the power failed throughout the city.

Lights blinked off all around him. Abruptly the contented hum of the city ceased, leaving behind an ominous silence. John ignored the nagging twinge in his knee and broke into a run toward, of course, non-functional transporters. The silence broke as backup generators kicked in, giving the hallways just enough light to see by. Voices squawked in his ear; John answered but could give only non-answers to the question of what was happening. The calls came so fast he could barely shake them off long enough to try Rodney.

“NOT NOW,” was the total of the first response.

“This is all Zelenka’s fault, he’s too busy making fun time party juice to pay attention to his job,” Rodney snarled the second time, before again cutting John off.

John found the stairs and took them two at a time while reports came in. There had been no suspicious gate activations, no casualties had been reported, even the Athosians on the mainland had called in to say hello and ask if everyone was okay.

Another call came. “Colonel,” Zelenka whispered in his ear. “He is going to murder the botanists with his flamethrower.” In the background, metal crashed into metal. “I realize this could be taken as hyperbole, but I would urge you to treat McKay as a very real threat.”

“Where is he now?” John asked.

“Botany,” Zelenka said. “Hurry!”

*****

John expected bedlam and ceiling-high jets of flame. Instead, he intruded upon the quiet of a packed church on Sunday during a prayer – breath, the shuffle of shoes against floor, but otherwise? Silence.

A wall of people stood in front of the doorway into the botany labs, their backs to John.

He shoved past them, ready for…

“Oh,” John said.

On a raised dais in the center of the lab, a delicate crystalline tree grew from a silvery pool, its three delicate branches some strange melding of glass or crystal and metal, or maybe something else entirely. Huge cables hooked into ports around the pool. The tree’s branches couldn’t have extended more than four feet high, but raised as the tree was, its three fist-sized, what were they, fruits?, dangled from stems just above John’s eye level.

They were flat on top and pointed down in vertical columns of golden crystal. They weren’t full-sized, or weren’t fully grown? But the shape couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

John found himself standing near Zelenka in the crowd, who gazed open-mouthed at the tree.

He noticed John. “Ahh, Colonel,” he whispered. “Good of you to come. But you see? All is well.” Zelenka beamed at the tree.

John stared, too, in wonder. “Where’s Rodney?” he whispered.

“Down in front,” Zelenka said.

“Thanks.” John wove his way through the crowd, who let him through with no issues.

Several botanists, including a doe-eyed brunette who had once flirted with Rodney in the mess hall at breakfast, made up the throng closest to the tree. They looked as serene as Teyla after an hour of meditation.

Only one figure kneeled before the pool, his arms folded on its edge, his head tipped up to take in the sight above him.

John knelt next to Rodney. He avoided treading on the flamethrower that had fallen to his side.

Rodney seemed to know it was him without looking. “I’m not getting the first Nobel,” he told John quietly.

You’re thinking about your professional reputation now, John wanted to ask, but all that came out was, “Rodney.”

Rodney turned to look at him. “I’m not getting the first Nobel, and it is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said earnestly, his voice rising above a whisper until it turned into a boisterous shout. “Because the botanists went crazy, violated every rule in the book to hijack all the power, and grew us three baby ZedPMs!”

“Look, if you’d only approved our requests,” an owlish botanist squawked.

Rodney leapt to his feet. He grabbed the woman by the shoulders. “Tonight, I am the galaxy’s biggest idiot. I humbly apologize to you, whichever one you are, and all of your colleagues. Thank you,” he said, shaking her shoulders to emphasize his point. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And then he planted a kiss right on her lips.

She disentangled herself and let out a shocked, “Doctor McKay!”

But there was another male botanist within Rodney’s grasp who also got one, and then the doe-eyed brunette was in the line of fire. Only she kissed back. And Rodney’s cheeriness and volume seemed to break the reverent mood. People were clapping each other on the back and exclaiming about weekly gate trips home, not waiting for news or letters, being able to defend themselves, being able to finally destroy the Wraith—

John knelt beside the pool and felt weird.

Suddenly a hand seized him by the upper arm, dragged him to his feet, and Rodney McKay planted the showiest, sloppiest, smackingest kiss right on John’s lips.

John froze for two seconds.

“We have three baby ZedPMs, Colonel!” Rodney crowed. And then his voice dropped to a barely-audible whisper. “Now shake your head at me and ask me what the hell.”

John snapped into action. “McKay, what the hell?” he said loudly. He shook his head, and tried a chuckle. No one seemed to be concerned with anything but celebration.

“I am the happiest person in the entire Pegasus Galaxy. Really,” Rodney said. “My life? Is amazing. You know, lots of our surprises? Not great. But some of them? They make up for all of it. Hello baby ZedPMs in your magic tree,” he crooned at the tree. “I’m your Uncle Rodney and I love you. This is your Uncle John and he’s going to set up the tightest security detail in the world so you stay nice and safe until you all grow up to be big, bad, adult ZedPMs. If you can do that,” Rodney amended. “I realize we’ve just met.” He turned to John. “Really, though, botany is only concerned with security that can stop tomato and pot theft; they need help or someone will steal my babies.”

“Rodney,” John said. You kissed me in front of everyone, is what he’d meant to say. There were rules. Rules that he, Military Commander of Atlantis, was expected to follow. What you did on your own time? That was one thing. Don’t ask, don’t tell. But no one had to ask if you hauled off and kissed your—your what?—in public. Then again, if you kissed ten different people the same way… well, that did inject one hell of a dose of plausible deniability. And, come to think of it, Rodney had started when he was over there by the pretty brunette botanist. They weren’t—he and John were hooking up. McKay could go out there and use his slutty mouth on anyone he wanted. And he had.

“Don’t freak out, Colonel,” Rodney said. “You’re good at your job. I’m sure you can protect them.”

John marshalled his spinning thoughts. “Speaking of jobs? The power is out.”

Rodney blinked and glanced around. “Oh, you’re right. Radek!” he hollered. “Come on, we need all hands to figure out what the universe’s best botany team did to fry the city’s circuits.”

*****

Less than an hour later, the engineers had killed the power-disrupting failsafe that… growing? The tree had automatically triggered. And since it was before most of the city’s bedtimes and the radios had been working during the outage, news of the baby ZPMs had traveled far and fast. So John had crowd control to deal with.

And then there was Rodney, babbling in John’s ear every few minutes from wherever he and his team worked. “Apparently the tree just sprouted when they activated the machine. Oh, and after they found some kind of recipe for it. Maybe we can grow drone trees? Though I don’t know why we’d grow anything but more ZedPMs. The tree does appear to still be growing, they say—we don’t know about the babies. For all we know, they’re finished and we have to pick them and let them sit on a counter to ripen like bananas. This is fascinating, even if I’m a little miffed that the Ancients decided to meld botany into real science—”

But after the power had been well restored and everyone awake had had a gawk at the Pegasus Galaxy’s latest arrivals, John was able to hand off guard duties and make his way through lit hallways back to his quarters.

He undressed, showered, and got into bed. He thought about the tiny glowing ZPMs, and how Rodney had kissed him in front of everyone in the room, and also how he’d kissed a bunch of others, including the pretty brunette.

And what a sight that would be, Rodney and Dr. Pretty, double Nobel Prize Winners, each accepting an award together and beaming proudly from a dais in some European country. Sweden? Norway? Before they went back to their chalet to their children and to tend their own version of the shimmering ZPM tree.

John realized what his brain was doing as it was doing it, but it was difficult to stop. He made himself close his eyes. “You’re just tired. Sleep,” he ordered himself.

The door chimed.

John’s pulse leapt. He sat up and thought the lights on, door open.

Rodney had a laptop under one arm and an empty coffee tumbler clutched in his opposite hand. “Oh, hey, I can come back tomorrow,” he said, spotting John in bed.

“Or not,” John said.

“Or not,” Rodney answered, and stepped into John’s quarters.

John hadn’t put on any clothes after he’d gotten out of the shower. But he flicked the sheet off himself and stretched out on the bed.

Rodney looked. He didn’t stop looking as he fumbled his laptop and tumbler onto John’s desk, or as he paused at the desk chair to unlace his boots.

John had known Rodney didn’t find him repulsive, but even when he’d looked before there’d been wisecracks about him being hairy. Now, though? There was no hiding it. Rodney was watching him like, well, like John was on a DVD from the library. He stretched one arm up over his head and ran his other hand down his chest and stomach to cup his balls and rapidly hardening cock. He gave himself a few pumps, nice and slow.

“God,” Rodney said. He tore at the laces of his boots, pulled them off, and yanked his shirt off overhead. “It is not fair that you can look like that. Nobody should be able to—” He got his pants off. His own hard cock tented the front of his boxer briefs.

“Come here,” John said.

“Yes, absolutely,” Rodney agreed, joining John on the bed still wearing his underwear.

“You shy, Rodney?” John asked, still lazily jerking himself as he watched Rodney watching him.

“I can see you aren’t.”

John could be shy; it’s just it was easy to be shameless while Rodney looked at him. The word slutty stuck in his head. When he’d first read it on the post-it, it had seemed incredibly dirty. Now, it seemed like a good word for how he felt with Rodney. Yes, do me, whatever you want, more, please. He remembered how he’d pushed Rodney over the edge last time. “I want to blow you.”

“Ngh,” Rodney said, and kissed him.

John kissed back. He skimmed his fingers down Rodney’s chest and hooked them in the sides of his boxer briefs. Except Rodney grabbed one of his wrists, stopping him.

“Okay,” Rodney said, his eyes closed. “I really want to do this. But actually I, ah, am. Shy,” he admitted. “It is really bright in your quarters.”

Geez, Rodney. John dimmed the lights with a thought. Low, not quite full dark but getting close. “No problem.”

“Sorry,” Rodney said, opening one eye.

“It’s no big deal. But for the record…” John maneuvered Rodney onto his back. He’d thought about doing this since, well, since shortly after he’d started heavy post-it collection, and John knew he’d need some room. “I think you look good.”

“You’ve had a few significant head injuries,” Rodney said, without rancor.

John rolled his eyes and enjoyed how solid and smooth Rodney was. He leaned over and kissed his neck, down his chest. This time in the dimmed light, Rodney lifted his hips and let John strip him naked. John could hear shaky breaths as Rodney’s hugely erect cock appeared. In John’s hand, he hadn’t felt so big. But here, now, he seemed like a lot to handle.

Still, John had had blowjobs. He’d seen plenty of blowjobs, thanks to the Earth internet and the Atlantis library. But he’d never given one. Even Rodney, who had probably blown a few guys, said it could take a while to get good at it. John held his breath as he stared down at Rodney’s thick, throbbing cock and his full balls. He slid onto his stomach between Rodney’s legs, his own dick still stiff, and took the tip of Rodney’s cock into his mouth.

Rodney gasped, a good gasp. John’s nervousness vanished as he took a few experimental licks and realized Rodney’s taste was nice, sort of clean skin with a salt tang. It was okay; this was Rodney. He wasn’t going to grab John’s head and push. Though as John dipped his head lower, taking more of Rodney in, the thought of that, of Rodney holding his head down so he could fuck his throat was pretty hot. He tried going lower—okay, too low, he almost gagged—but soon John found a rhythm and lost himself in the bob of his head, the taste of hard, hot flesh, and the wet sounds of his mouth on Rodney’s cock.

“Fuck,” Rodney said quietly.

A bolt of want shot straight to John’s dick, which pushed against the edge of the bed as he kept sucking on Rodney’s cock. He snaked his hand down to squeeze it. He broke off for a breath. The lower light and jutting cock made John forget this was Rodney, his neurotic best friend, and not the guy from the post-its and filthy fantasies. He wanted to hear more. John raised his head. “Tell me I’m lucky to be blowing you,” he blurted.

Rodney blinked at him.

Before he could crack a joke, John wrapped his lips back around Rodney’s cock, his cheeks burning a little. Now he was grateful for the dark.

Rodney’s voice was quiet. “You’re lucky to be blowing me.”

John had to grab his own cock to keep from coming. Rodney’s hips rocked now, too, and it was harder to keep sucking, licking, stroking. He got up onto his knees for better leverage.

“You’re so lucky, John. You’re lucky you get to blow me.”

John hummed his approval around Rodney’s cock. He felt hands in his hair and moaned at that, too. They didn’t push, but they helped hold him in place as Rodney’s hips rocked upward.

“I bet you love this. Giving your first blowjob ever. Were you thinking about it? About blowing me?” The voice dropped lower. “About sucking my cock?”

John tried to say yes with a moan, because no way was he going to lift up and away from the rhythmic motion of Rodney’s shaft pumping into his mouth. He caught himself stroking his own cock in time to the motions.

Rodney’s hips sped up. “Fuck, John, you’re so good. You’re so lucky.” A ragged edge entered his voice. “You’re going to make me come.”

In my mouth, John wanted to tell him. But he also didn’t want to let go. He kept up the suction, kept bobbing his head just the way Rodney’s hands guided him.

“Oh God, I’m—I’m—” Rodney’s hands tensed in John’s hair. Hips stuttered underneath him, and suddenly jets of thick, slick liquid shot between John’s lips, filling his mouth with the bitter tang of come.

John kept up the suction. His own arousal flared every time Rodney thrust up and unleashed more into his mouth. He swallowed it all, and after Rodney groaned, loosened his grip, and stroked John’s hair, John still chased spare traces at the corners of his mouth, at the tip of Rodney’s cock, the top of his balls. And how had he missed giving Rodney’s balls attention? John felt the rasp of soft pubic hair against his cheek as he explored with his tongue and lips. He laved Rodney’s balls and his tongue drifted lower, lower—

And then John had to turn his head and bury his face in Rodney’s thigh because his own orgasm wracked him from head to toe. He stroked himself through it, half shooting into his hand and half onto the sheets. The force of it left him gasping.

A couple of minutes later, Rodney’s thigh twitched. “Much as I don’t mind being used as a pillow, my leg is falling asleep.”

John levered himself up. He staggered to his feet, went and grabbed a washcloth for himself, and considered that Rodney probably didn’t need it this time. John had done a pretty thorough job. He’d even asked for… and Rodney had told him…

It was tough to walk back out of the bathroom. Somehow the dimmed lights helped. As did the fact that Rodney had already gotten up and into his shirt and underwear.

Rodney froze. “Oh, hey,” he said. “Not like I’m trying to flee or anything. I mean.” He stepped into his pants. “It’s just I only came here to check in with you about the security rotation for tomorrow. I have to get back to the lab—”

Just to level the playing field, John grabbed a clean pair of boxers from his dresser and put them on. “Why didn’t you call me on the radio?” Quiet answered him. John turned to look at Rodney.

He seemed interested in the ceiling. “Because that was a flimsy excuse. I thought you might also be in the mood to celebrate?”

Oh. “Well, yeah,” John conceded. He tried to use words, even though saying them felt like gargling glass. “I don’t want to—I didn’t mean to freak you out. With the, uh, ‘lucky’ stuff.” 

“What?” Rodney waved that away like he was swatting aside a fly. “No. I freaked out the first time with the ‘whatever you want’ stuff. That’s too much to manage. But an obscene amount of kissing, some dirty talk, letting you stick your tongue into places—”

“Jesus, McKay.” John ducked his head.

“Oh, you can do it but I can’t say it? Okay. Do keep in mind that if we keep doing this, it’s probably going to get weirder from here on in. Because this is you and me and the Pegasus galaxy.”

John’s mouth ran dry. He swallowed. He leaned his hip against his dresser. “Are we? Going to keep doing this?”

“I mean if I’m not a giant asshole who ruins it.” Rodney sat on the edge of the bed as he put on his boots. “Which I am, sometimes. Because I should probably have waited and not come here tonight, so some other time we could watch a movie and have a real—evening—of it, but instead I decided to come and see if you were still awake while my simulations were running, and now that it’s over and it’s late, I am not going to be able to stay awake for a movie and check on them, also I don’t really feel like watching a movie, me sleeping here I’m guessing wouldn’t be the best career move for you, not that you’ve invited me to do so, nor would I be very comfortable squeezed onto that mattress that’s barely big enough for you all night long.” Rodney tied his laces. “And for whatever reason I am feeling guilty about kissing botanists.”

John tried to ignore the little shiver that ran through him. “Well, you shouldn’t go kissing everybody. That’s how you end up with mono.”

Rodney stared at him.

“That, and unclean drinking fountains.” John dodged the pillow Rodney threw at him.

“All right. I’m going to check on things at the lab and then go to sleep for at least five hours so I can get up and spend the day with baby ZedPMs.” He stood. “But look, after tonight? I owe you one booty call.”

“Are you—” John began.

“What?”

He felt reckless. “Interested in… other things? Beyond hands and mouths,” John said.

Rodney thought about this. “Provisionally. Are you?”

Yeah, I’d be into you fucking me, stuck in this throat. “Yeah.”

“Okay.” Rodney nodded. He stuck his thumb at the door. “I have to—I’m going to—go, then.” But he didn’t move.

John went to Rodney. He leaned in and kissed him. They hadn’t done very much of it that night. He let his mouth open, felt the answering brush of Rodney’s tongue against his own. Finally, he broke the kiss. “All right, get out of here. No more making out with botanists.”

Rodney nodded, taking John’s attempted joke seemingly at face value. He grabbed his laptop and coffee tumbler. “Good night,” he said.

“Night, Rodney,” said John.

*****

Their time on Atlantis had had its good periods and bad ones. But this? It was better than all John’s Christmases combined.

Maybe John’s Christmases weren’t a good yardstick.

The mood was jubilant. The Wraith had been quiet, as had all their other enemies, their missions had been productive and had only lately resulted in minor injuries like cuts and scrapes, and there were baby ZPMs. Or Zed, Zoe, and Zack.

“Should you name them?” John asked Rodney, who’d basically moved into the botany labs.

“It’s too late; Miko is knitting them special hats.”

“Hats?”

Rodney frowned at his laptop. “Well, koozies. With their names on them.”

“Do they get cold?”

“I don’t know. Ask them.” Rodney waved his hand at the tree. “They’re not telling me much, but they might talk to you.”

John thought at them. “…No.”

“Shame.” Rodney looked up from his laptop. “Hey, if you’re coming back down this way after dinner, would you snag me something? A sandwich? Apple? Extra helpings of dessert? An MRE?”

John hadn’t planned on coming back to botany. John had been hoping to steal him away from the mobile baby ZPM command center Rodney had built by the tree out of seized furniture and shouting. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promised.

John’s mood was also… really, really good. He and Rodney were hooking up. That was what the hook-up board was for.

And yet sex with Rodney McKay was some of the least casual sex he’d ever had. Rodney “Blowjobs Anonymous” McKay hadn’t put up some wall between friendship and… the other stuff. Some of John’s initial post-it-inspired fantasies had involved meeting Rodney in a disused section of Atlantis, of being blindfolded and, one time, tied up. No names, just a hot wet mouth around him that John would’ve discovered was Rodney. But as it had gone on, better fantasies, ones where Rodney held eye contact and made John beg for him, or where he’d fucked John’s mouth with abandon while moaning his name, had displaced most of those. And in actual reality, Rodney was the kind of guy who’d kiss you, suck your dick, and then want to hang out in bed with you. Which did not feel casual.

Even that last time. Running off afterward should have felt casual. But he’d had to go and say that stuff about kissing botanists. He’d given John an IOU. And the way Rodney had looked at him. Also, he’d promised it would get weirder from here on in.

John had not failed to notice that in ninety-nine percent of his fantasies, Rodney called the shots. He might’ve been alarmed by this if he’d been having sex with anyone else. But since it was Rodney? That seemed fine. He already trusted Rodney with his life. And based on their experience so far, and even taking the post-its as bravado – the guy knew what he was doing.

So if he fucked John. When he fucked John. It would be good. And if Rodney wanted John to fuck him? Sure. He could do that. But mostly John thought about Rodney on his knees sucking his cock until he was almost ready to come, then bending him over the desk in his quarters and telling him how much he was going to love it. And other filthy things, of course.

But reality and fantasy were two different things, John knew. Lube was easy enough to get, as were condoms – but even two of John’s fingers didn’t stack up to Rodney, and it was tough to find a good angle.

Neither Ronon nor Teyla were in the mess hall that night, but John didn’t mind. He had Radek Zelenka in his sights. He grabbed food and plopped himself down in the empty seat across from Atlantis’ chief supplier of stomach-churning moonshine. “Hey, Radek.”

Zelenka blinked away from a thick book and up at him. “Colonel?” He laid a finger in the book and shut it. “What do you want?”

John considered teasing him, asking why couldn’t he sit with his old buddy Radek, but once in a while it was nice to cut to the chase. “I’m looking for contraband. To purchase,” he said quietly. “Not trying to bust anyone or cause any trouble.”

Radek drank from a cup while he considered this. “The chemists have the stimulants and hallucinogens, the botanists have the marijuana and—”

“Sex toys,” John interrupted.

To his credit, Zelenka only looked a little surprised. “Your surest bet would be to order officially and have them delivered next run. Otherwise, for that…” He took a long breath. “You should post on the unofficial trades and for sale board. Not to be confused with the official board.”

John thought about asking how many boards Atlantis had. “That’s the one on the way to Medbay?”

“Yes. But this one is located near the jumpers.” Without taking his finger out of his book, Radek’s left hand found a pen in his pocket and sketched John a quick diagram on a napkin. “Understand, I did not tell you about this. But is okay, since I never heard for what reason you asked.”

“Thanks, Radek,” John said, and made himself scarce.

*****

With an extra sandwich and slice of blueberry pie (no citrus) in tow, John detoured on his trip back to botany. In a storage room quite like the others surrounding it, he found a single bulletin board absolutely packed with pale yellow post-its.

“Can’t be as bad as the hook-up board,” John murmured to the empty room.

He was wrong.

The hook-up board was about hooking up between mutually consenting adults (without or without Wraith fantasies). But the Unofficial board had people looking for and selling drugs and paraphernalia of most types, selling their sexual services, recruiting people to jump someone - John yanked this post-it down for investigation – as well as offering things like illicit jumper rides – John yanked this down, too.

When his heart rate had gone down somewhat, John took a second look and noted how many of the posts were about mundane things. Services like caricature drawing, haircuts and manicures, interior decorating, and cleaning services were offered, as well as all manner of lessons. DVD, book, and novel trading occupied many posts. John didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t try and trade their Buffy The Vampire Slayer DVDs through official channels, but okay.

He was about to leave his own post when he came across one that read: Sex Toys 4 Sale. It advertised new and used items. John wondered if the used-ness was a bug or a feature, but he found a pen nearby a stack of post-it notes and copied the address onto Radek’s napkin anyway before heading back to botany.

Rodney was effusive over the pie. He ate that first. It turned his mouth a purple-blue. And it wasn’t like John could kiss him anyway, right there in front of the glowing tree as others came and went, measuring and testing. But John wondered if he did kiss Rodney? If he’d carry away some of the purple with him.

*****

The delivery cost him chocolate, coffee, a set of disposable razors, and the electronic transfer of five hundred dollars. The money didn’t matter to John, whose salary just ballooned in accounts back home while he lived in Atlantis rent-free; it was the supplies and bargaining back and forth that cost. He occupied the time between leaving his payment in a nondescript locker and waiting for his delivery by helping Major Lorne follow up on the unofficial board’s more egregious activities.

A shoe box held a slim black silicone anal plug and a much larger and firmer bendable stick made of stacked beads, both new in packaging. Selection had been dealer’s choice, but John wasn’t disappointed.

Well-lubed, the plug slid into him easily, but the feeling of fullness and pressure surprised John. It might take some getting used to, he thought. He tried jerking off, which started out fine, but the sight of the beads out of the corner of his eye kept distracting him. Really, he should start out slow and work his way up. Really, those beads looked pretty big. Probably as big around as Rodney.

John left the plug in while he tore open the packaging and discovered, upon a more careful examination, that the bead stick vibrated. It came with a USB cable for recharging, but John didn’t think he’d be able to wait for it. Luckily the makers had sent it pre-charged, because when he pressed the power button it buzzed in a low, throbbing way that made John shiver. He got back into bed, lubed up the tip, slid out the plug, and slowly began working the larger toy inside him. He couldn’t imagine the oddly-shaped buzzing toy was Rodney, but imagining him being the one easing each bead into John’s ass, coaxing him to go further, deeper—

“Rodney,” John gasped as the buzzing tip of the toy struck something sensitive. His cock jerked in response. He wrapped his hand around it and stroked, picturing Rodney blowing him while he pumped his ass with the toy—and that was about all it took.

When John had caught his breath, he decided he would’ve paid double.

*****

For the next several days, he didn’t see much of Rodney, though. The baby ZPMs were adorable in their knitted koozies, but the tests and communication between departments weren’t going well. Rodney’s mouth had been a hard line when John had last seen him.

And that was kind of okay. The first day with the toys, John had overdone it and ended up walking a little funny. He still went back to it the next night, and the next, and thank goodness the beads were rechargeable because the search for batteries would’ve gotten annoying.

Ronon noticed. “You doing something different?” he asked after a workout.

“No,” John said.

“You seem different,” Ronon said.

“How’s Denise?” John asked, changing the subject. He’d seen them together in the mess, heads bent low over their trays, a smile on her lips.

“How’s McKay?” Ronon asked.

Trying to keep up with Ronon’s regimen had already left John sweaty and flushed, but he was sure his face let something slip.

“Forget it,” Ronon said.

John racked a set of dumbbells. He considered his options. Deny everything, laugh it off, get upset? But this was Ronon. And if he saw it… “Am I obvious?”

Now Ronon looked embarrassed. “No.” He put up his own dumbbells, which each had about twenty pounds on the ones John had been using. He shrugged. “You look at him sometimes. But I don’t think other people see it. I don’t think he sees it. For a brain, he’s kind of dumb about some things,” Ronon finished.

Oh. So Ronon thought that John was what, pining? “Well. That’s Rodney.”

“You should go for it.”

Oh. John toweled off his face while he considered his response. “Supposing I ever did. You know that’s not something you could spread around? I could lose my job.”

Ronon nodded. “Your people are kind of dumb about some things.”

John nodded back. He thought maybe they were having a moment. “Hey. You know we want you to be happy, right? You can see whoever you want. We’re glad you found somebody.”

Ronon found something outside on the horizon interesting. He let silence widen between them, then said, “Once I swore I would never love another.”

John thought about his own once-made wedding vows. “Me, too.”

Ronon grunted.

John interpreted it as something close to life is pretty fucked up, huh? He had to agree.

*****

Movie night? My place? Bring snacks, the email from Rodney read. It had not copied in Ronon or Teyla.

John packed both toys, lube, and condoms in a gym bag. He camouflaged them with a box of Raisinets and two full sleeves of Ritz Crackers.

The door to Rodney’s quarters wooshed right open for him. Atlantis’ Chief Science Officer was hunched at his desk, three laptops running at once. But instead of furiously typing on any of them, he leaned on one elbow, hand propping up his head, and just stared.

John came inside. “Rodney?”

“This is the worst,” he told the laptops. He swiveled himself and his office chair toward John, but left his elbow propped on the desk. “So I’m not deliberately trying to ruin everything but I may have just discovered that the baby Zeds are never going to grow up.”

John sat on the edge of Rodney’s bed. “They’re not?”

“No. They’re prototypes. They’re pre-pre-pre-pre ZedPMs. Still wildly powerful, using the same subspace energy, but charging much more slowly and with a fraction of the capacity of your standard ZedPM.” Rodney let out the world’s most disconsolate sigh. “They’re an amazing discovery and one more step up the ladder to cracking ZedPM technology—I mean based on this discovery we could be looking for seeds—we should be very happy about it—but they’re not what we hoped. And I get to break the news tomorrow.”

Suddenly John wished he hadn’t brought the bag. “When did you find this out?”

“About an hour ago.”

John nodded. “After you sent the invite.”

“Oh? Oh, yeah.” Rodney straightened up. “I mean, we could still totally—you know. If you want.”

Rodney looked distracted at best. “We could,” John said. “Or we could, you know, just watch a movie. Did you get dinner?”

“Not very hungry right now.” Rodney looked back at his laptops. He shut the first one. “You don’t have to stay. I’m probably bad company.”

Now John had the song ‘Bad Company’ in his head. “Come on. You’ve been working non-stop. Take a break. Let’s watch something light.” He grabbed the one of McKay’s laptops that usually had movies and shows on it. In a folder marked ‘TV shows’ he found it: Wormhole X-Treme.

“No,” Rodney said.

John clicked on the first episode. “Too late.”

Even though Rodney grumbled, in a few minutes they’d both sprawled back on Rodney’s bed, as fully-clothed as they’d ever been, though sans boots. For a minute John worried that this was somehow Rodney’s way of quietly walking it all back. But then Rodney complained about the scientific accuracy of the show’s plot and managed to relax against John’s side in a way that was definitely not platonic. By episode two John managed to chime in with a few pretty zingy one-liners and the perma-frown on Rodney’s face had faded. Rodney scrounged for drinks and produced Sprite and Flamethrower, which didn’t taste too bad if you went heavy on the Sprite. 

After episode two, John excused himself to use Rodney’s bathroom. As he dried his hands, he heard a familiar buzz from the other room. John watched his own eyes widen in the mirror over the sink. He flung down Rodney’s hand towel and rushed back through the door into Rodney’s room.

Rodney, for his part, seemed to be doing his best to try and shut the vibrating beads off, but John saw that he kept pressing the settings button instead of the power button, which made it pulse and buzz through an array of patterns. Finally he slumped, clapped one hand over his eyes, and held the buzzing vibrating sex toy out towards John.

John took it and pressed the power button. Rodney’s room plunged into silence.

“I was looking for snacks,” Rodney explained.

“I brought those, too.” John sat on the bed. He fought the impulse to tuck the toy away. Clearly Rodney had been interested enough to turn it on. “Want to see how it works?”

Rodney looked up, his expression hungry, his eyes dark.

John had just meant to show him how to turn it on and change the settings. But Rodney lowered the lights and John took off his shirt and had Rodney’s hot, wet mouth teasing his nipples. Which he’d considered mostly utilitarian up until now, but somehow the way Rodney’s tongue moved against them sent a bolt of arousal straight to his dick. Pants came off, and John’s boxers, and then he had to grip his cock tightly while Rodney slicked lube onto the beads. The first one burned a little going in; John usually stretched first with his fingers or the smaller plug, but he relaxed quickly. And when Rodney turned on the vibrations, John was aware of the odd, needy noises he was making. He also felt powerless to stop, especially when Rodney began sliding the beads slowly in and out. John’s fist moved around his cock. He needed to stroke himself. But then Rodney’s mouth closed around him, all sweet suction and pressure, and John could only moan, “Yes, fuck me, Rodney.” And caught between both sensations, John came hard, his entire body shaking as he thrust himself into Rodney’s mouth and rode the vibrations through twitching aftershocks of pleasure. He almost cried out when the vibrations finally stopped.

Rodney didn’t remove the beads, though. He left them inside John as he climbed up the bed, his boxer briefs gone, his erection hard and throbbing.

John raised his head and took Rodney in his mouth. Rodney held John’s head as he sucked and licked his cock. He pumped deep into his mouth, to the point where John had to time his breathing with when Rodney slid out, and then Rodney pulled away altogether. Rodney’s fist moved fast around his cock. His hips thrust hard, and he groaned as he shot his come all over John’s chest and neck. Rodney collapsed back onto the bed.

John laid there for a while and listened to both of them breathe. Harder at first, especially Rodney, but then as they relaxed it became soft and even. John closed his eyes when he felt Rodney stir. He let Rodney wipe the come off his chest and even spread his thighs wider as he felt Rodney remove the beads. Rinsing sounds came from the bathroom. Along with the sounds of tooth brushing. And then John felt Rodney’s weight again on the bed, leaning over him. Rodney’s lips on his.

This made John want to move again. He leaned into the kiss, pulled Rodney down against him—and when had he gotten back into his boxer briefs again?—and indulged himself in the kind of deep, lazy making out that was only possible in an afterglow.

Finally, they broke apart, both breathing a little harder again.

John heard cellophane. He opened one eye.

Rodney, looking thoroughly kissed, his hair ruffled, opened the box of Raisinets. He poured a few into his palm and ate them. He shook the box in the air, an offer.

John angled his head and opened his mouth.

Rodney tipped the box and poured a few straight into John’s mouth.

John chewed and swallowed.

“So have you had that for a while?” Rodney asked, indicating the now-clean sex toy on a towel on his desk. “Or is it new?”

“New. Sort of.” John yawned. “I got it from someone on the board.”

“You got vibrating anal beads from somebody on the hook-up board?!” Rodney sat up and demanded.

“Whoa,” John said, aware of the sudden tension. “No. The Unofficial trades and selling board. Someone was selling them.”

Rodney blinked. “Wait, there’s another board nobody told me about? How many secret boards does one city have?”

“Hopefully just the two,” John said. He told Rodney where the second board was, and about how it mostly seemed to be for acquiring recreational drugs and trading DVDs.

Rodney frowned somewhere a few feet in the distance. “Hey, you don’t still go to the porn library, do you?”

John, naked, decided to mess with him. “That’s kind of a personal question, Rodney.”

But Rodney’s mouth turned down. “Look, don’t go there anymore, okay? There was that thing where someone smashed it up—there’s no telling what kind of element hangs out down there. Plus, I can get you whatever you want in terms of viewing material. We’re putting it all online. Though I haven’t had much time for extra projects lately. But you don’t need to go back there.” His voice rose in pitch and increased in speed as he spoke.

Geeze, was Rodney jealous of porn? No, wait. He propped himself up on his elbows. “Rodney. I’m not using the hook-up board.”

“Of course you’re not,” Rodney huffed and rolled his eyes. “But just—do me a favor? Don’t go back there. I will get you porn if you want it. Just don’t—don’t get it from there.”

If John had had spider-senses, they would’ve been tingling. But it wasn’t like it was a tough promise. He hadn’t been back there since they’d begun… this. “Okay,” he said.

Rodney relaxed. “So what kind of porn do you like?”

John thought for a minute. “Send me something you like.”

“How do you know you’ll like what I like? What if all I like is anime tentacle porn?”

John closed his eyes. “If you like it, I’ll probably like it.” He let himself luxuriate in the softness of Rodney’s superior prescription mattress, and tried to put the tiniest hint of worry out of his mind.

*****

Atlantis took the news about the baby Zeds well. Life returned to mostly normal; missions went back on the schedule. John took breaks from reports and duty rosters to help recalibrate the Jumpers.

More often than not, he’d end up in Rodney’s room, or Rodney would end up in his, and though they’d sometimes watch a movie or put on a show, more and more often they’d end up fooling around and then talking about the day’s minor triumphs and annoyances. The anal beads stayed in John’s quarters; the smaller plug lived at Rodney’s. Blowjobs, hands, and toys were just about always on the menu. John loved feeling Rodney’s fingers inside him, but no matter how he begged during the act it didn’t seem to go further. John had tried to broach the subject afterward – would Rodney be interested in fucking him? Would Rodney be interested in John doing things to him? That same shyness took over. Which John respected but didn’t get; Rodney was a good-looking guy. He had fantastic shoulders, a broad chest, was well-endowed, and his butt… John had an appreciation for it, especially since it wasn’t often on display. Maybe Rodney just wasn’t interested in more.

And Rodney sent him porn. As the rogue shadow archivists worked, he sent John’s anonymous email address links to different videos that had made it onto the server. His comments ranged from now there are some skills to why GOD why, someone bleach my eyes, please but Rodney never came out and said which ones he liked. Which was a little frustrating.

But if this was the price of admission? Shyness, coyness, limited anal stuff, and in return John got to have some of the hottest sex he’d ever had with someone who made him laugh until he snorted Sprite? One ticket, please.

It should have been perfect. Except that some nights, Rodney seemed really tired and like he maybe would’ve rather gone to bed instead of fool around, but he always denied it and John never had the strength to refuse him. And if John even obliquely mentioned the porn library or the hook-up board, Rodney got this furtive, guilty look that made John wonder how in the world he’d managed to keep a top-secret clearance.

Also.

John got hints of the blowjob-worshipping guy captured in the post-its. He saw how an orgasm could floor him, caught Rodney humming happily while sucking him. But that ballsy, filthy confidence was not really a part of what they did together. It made John wonder. What Rodney did with John was not anonymous or impersonal. And maybe that’s what Rodney actually wanted. The thought became like a pebble caught in his shoe. And no matter how he tried, he couldn’t shake it.

“Look, do you want to keep doing this?” John blurted one night as he was putting on his boots.

Rodney had already switched his laptop on, probably to check his email one more time before he went to sleep. “What?”

“If you want to go and, I don’t know, blow other guys, just tell me.” As he said it though, a wrench twisted John’s gut. He felt like he needed to throw up.

“Sheppard, what the hell are you talking about?” Rodney sounded vaguely annoyed as he glanced at John over the top of the laptop. He sat cross-legged in bed with it on his lap.

After a while his legs would get hot and he’d move the laptop to the desk, John knew, or just shut it down and curl up with it in bed like a kid with a favorite toy. “Like in the post-its. If you ever wanted, you know, anonymous, no-name...” He searched for a word. Affairs? Encounters? “Hook-ups.”

This got Rodney’s attention. “What makes you think I would want that?”

“Because once you wrote down that that’s what you like,” John explained. “And you’ve been, lately, kind of squirrelly.”

“Squirrelly?” Rodney shut the laptop. “First, I have not. Second, are we fighting now? I’m sorry, was there a moment during you coming all over my stomach twenty minutes ago where I zigged when I should have zagged?”

“No, Rodney, I can do whatever you need me to do,” John said. “I’m trying to say—”

“Yes, that you’re a super-hot sexual chameleon who’s capable of changing his preferences based on whoever’s dick he’s sucking at the time. Which sounds good, except it’s a total lie.” Rodney folded his arms.

“Excuse me?” John asked.

“You know exactly what you want, and it’s more. You want more, constantly, all the time, send me porn, do things to me, and none of it is apparently enough,” Rodney said. “Frankly, if you want to break up with me? Do it. Because having to make up a bunch of weird accusations to justify—”

John found himself on his feet, fists clenched at his sides. “They’re not weird, Rodney, there’s something going on—”

“But there’s nothing going on. There never has been and there never was,” he said, chin stuck out as if daring John to challenge him further.

“Fine,” John said at last. “I’ll see you, Rodney.”

Rodney didn’t call after him as he left.

John wanted to go back to his quarters and sulk. He wanted to chalk it up to a bad night and forget about it, because that’s probably what it was, explained the voice in his head that sounded like a cross between Teyla and Heightmeyer.

Almost of their own accord, his feet steered him to the northwest pier. The library was occupied; still time to turn back.

But John only made it twenty feet before he heard the door slide open again.

Inside, the library looked much as it had prior to John’s outburst. Same DVD racks, novel assortments, magazines lined up neatly. And in the back? Three vertical whiteboards covered in pale yellow post-its.

And one orangey-yellow one.

John couldn’t hear anything but the sound of his own breath. The library’s quiet strangled him. He crossed through the racks and stood in front of the board.

Cock stiff and swollen? Call Dr. Blowjob! read the post-it. There was more, but the words blurred.

John looked at it for a while. The back door slid open, but John stayed for a few more minutes. He took the post-it down and stuffed it into his pocket.

“You asshole,” he whispered, and left.

*****

John had had many terrible birthdays, but the big 4-0 was shaping up to be extra terrible.

He barely slept that night. He went to work and ended up nodding his way through three meetings, zombie-like, until Major Lorne suggested he stop by the med bay and get checked out. He went there, too, although he knew what was wrong, and it had nothing to do with physical sickness. They gave him some ibuprofen and a pat on the head. John went back to his quarters, then decided he couldn’t stand to be cooped up, and so decided to take a lap around the city. The entire city. Because why the hell not?

Somewhere around the eastern pier he decided the radio chirping in his ear was annoying, so he took it out. Then he decided his feet hurt, so he sat down on the edge of the pier.

It was a windy, choppy day. The kind of day that chased away swimmers and people fishing. Which was good, since it meant he was alone.

He took the post-it out and looked at it again. Rodney had never stopped putting up the post-its, most likely. Maybe he wasn’t unhappy being with John. But clearly he needed something John just wasn’t bringing to the table. And he’d lied to John’s face about it.

Which sucked, John thought, because at some point he’d fallen in love with Rodney.

Not that they’d ever actually even established what they were as being in some kind of relationship. Rodney could publically do whatever with whomever; John’s own position meant anything between them would have to stay a secret. John had never been great at relationships, either, and he’d never tried to have one with a man before.

But since it was Rodney it had all seemed like it would be okay. He trusted Rodney. He loved being with Rodney. He loved having sex with Rodney. He loved Rodney.

Just that Rodney loved something else.

He’d feel sorry for himself for one night, he decided. His last night of year 39. And then tomorrow he’d cut things off with Rodney and maybe keep some of his appointments with Heightmeyer and ask Teyla to hit him repeatedly with her Bantos rods—

His sulking was interrupted by the sound of tinny voices coming from the radio in his pocket. John put it back in his ear.

“—nel Sheppard, emergency, please report to the Gate—”

John took off at a run.

*****

John and his team stepped through the iris and into a disaster. An inch of water lapped at Planet Klunge’s stargate, despite the fact that it was well above the water line.

Crowds of Klungers around them waited just long enough for them to step through before they fled through the gate, evacuating their flooding city.

“The pumps failed,” one of the city’s bureaucrats explained to them as they splashed through damper-than-usual hallways. “Catastrophically. We haven’t seen rain this hard in a century! Usually we evacuate to the higher ground, but we worry there may be no higher ground here if we wait any longer—”

“Where’s Rodney McKay?” John demanded.

“Below, with the rest of your people—please.” The bureaucrat grabbed John by the sleeve. “Get them out. They’re fighting a losing battle.”

John nodded. He and his marines forded through what felt like a mess hall, escorted by two grim-faced Klunger warriors. On all their visits before, they’d joked about the omnipresent water. Now it felt like a malevolent, living thing.

Water rushed down a staircase. “Take it easy,” John called as he descended with it and into ankle-deep water. The halls around them groaned. There was less quick-moving water here, but that just meant the noises were worse.

Out of the darkness, a light splashed toward them. Teyla.

“What’s happening?” John asked.

She beckoned them and led them down a darker hallway, her light showing the way as the water crept up to their knees. “This civilization has been using an auxiliary pumping system since its main ceased operations centuries ago. It has malfunctioned and cannot be repaired until the rain subsides—which it shows no sign of doing. But Dr. McKay believes that the main system is functional.” Teyla held out a hand to stop them and spit a lock of wet hair out of the side of her mouth. “It is simply out of power.”

John did the math. “We had three baby ZPMs handy.”

“They are here with Dr. McKay. John—you will have to swim from here.” Teyla turned to the rest of John’s team. “Take off whatever will weigh you down.”

“Wait. Teyla—does McKay need muscle?”

She shook her head. “Ronon is with him.”

“All right. You all get back up to the gate, help with evacuations,” he said as he stripped off his extra gear and passed it over. He flashed teeth at the Klunger warriors. “I assume you guys know how to swim?”

They nodded.

“You’re with me, then.”

Teyla mentioned the location to the Klungers and they separated. John and the warriors plunged into just-above-waist-deep water. You could walk, but it was easier to swim, though floating debris and furniture slowed them down. John didn’t know if his eyes were playing tricks on them, but he felt like he could actually see the water rise. They reached an antechamber where the floor had caved in, creating a treacherous whirlpool as the water drained on one side.

One of the Klungers turned back.

“Coward!” the other yelled after him.

“You still good?” John asked.

The remaining warrior marshalled herself and led the way. They passed through by gripping the edge of the outer wall. John could feel the water sucking at his legs.

Beyond it, and blessedly up a short flight of stairs, they found Ronon stooped over a control panel. “Sheppard,” he called. “McKay’s got two of three rigged. We’re almost ready to go.”

“Great. Where is he?” Even here, the water pulled at them. It rushed somewhere nearby.

“Down there.” Ronon shone his flashlight at a darkened shaft.

John’s stomach dropped. At the bottom, it was full of water.

“Is that Sheppard?” came a familiar voice over the radio.

John’s knees felt shaky. “McKay, what’s going on?”

“Nothing, trying not to drown or accidentally detonate the system. It’s really hard to repair anything under this much water. Speaking of, only came up for a breath, gotta go.”

“Rodney,” John shouted. He turned to Ronon and the warrior. “I’m going down there.”

They didn’t try to stop him. John splashed and slid down the sloping shaft; on a hot day, it would’ve been a fun water park ride. In the dark, its chill felt deadly. At the bottom, he found that the water reached almost to the top of the chamber. There were a few precious inches between it and the ceiling.

A light shone distantly through the murk. John activated a pair of emergency glow sticks to help guide him around debris and plunged into the water.

The water lightened as he went, until John swam into a wide and deep circular chamber lit not by the waterproof lantern bobbing at the water’s surface, but by two glowing baby ZPMs. As John approached, he could see a figure slowly kicking its legs as it attempted to install the third into what looked like a Rodney McKay hastily-welded original power converter. Whatever ancient power the pump took, the baby Z’s didn’t fit. And it looked like the last one didn’t fit the modification.

John swam closer. As he did, he watched Rodney fumble the baby Z and surface.

John surfaced too. Here, there was about a foot of air between the water and the ceiling.

A waterlogged Rodney gasped for breath. “You scared the—face like a—who knows what’s down here!” he hollered.

“Calm down, Rodney.” You asshole, he thought.

“Me calm down? What were you, off playing golf? We have an emergency situation down here!”

“I know! And I’m here!”

“Day late, dollar short! And your hair looks really stupid!” Rodney shrieked.

“Yeah? Well I’ll go see my stylist in the morning!” John snapped. It was harder to fight while you treaded water.

“Oh, what the—whatever—I have to fix this, once again, by myself.” Rodney huffed. His head dipped so his mouth was underwater. He came back up. “We don’t have time for this.”

“Then let me help,” John said.

“Okay, but seriously? We have to hurry. And not because of the city. It’s just—” Rodney’s voice sounded small as he bobbed in the water. “I’m getting tired.”

Shit. “Okay,” John said. “What do we have to do?”

“I need to widen the port for Zack. You watch what I’m doing and take over as needed.”

“So follow your lead, got it,” John said.

But Rodney just looked worried. “Hey, I’m sorry,” he said, gulped air, and slid back underwater.

John followed him. The runoff water was murky, and there’d probably be broad-spectrum antibiotics in their future when they got back to Atlantis, but for now John did his best to help. He had more strength so dove for the fallen baby ZPM and brought it back to where Rodney hovered above the lattice that held the others. The last portion of the frame looked bent, as if it had been dropped or bumped. Rodney’s Ancient-designed metal saw flared brightly in his hand as he painstakingly carved away a sliver of the frame. He flicked it away and gestured for John to try the baby ZPM; it almost fit into the wider slot.

They both resurfaced. “One more time should do it,” Rodney said. “I hope. If I cut away too much, the converter won’t hold together. If we can’t get Zack in, I can’t start the pump. It’s designed to hold all three.”

“Okay, one more time,” John said. They gulped air and dove.

Rodney’s hand slipped halfway through. He shut down the saw, shook his hand, and flailed toward the surface. John had to help him the last part of the way up.

“You need to take over,” Rodney said, passing the saw to him. “Just keep the slice thin.”

“Deli meat,” John replied inanely.

“Sure.” Rodney smiled a little.

John nodded, took a breath, and dove. He could see the fallen shavings, follow Rodney’s last half-made cut. The saw was lightweight but a little cumbersome, and the kind of thing you wouldn’t dream of using without gloves or eye protection—unless you were underwater on an alien planet with air, strength, and time at a low. John turned it on and found the cutting slower work than Rodney had made it look; by the time he’d shaved off a tiny piece, his lungs ached. He shut down the saw, pulled the baby ZPM from under his arm, and slotted it into place.

It fit.

The babies surged with light and energy, and below them the cradle the converter fit into—possibly designed for a full-sized ZPM?—groaned and ground and as John surfaced he heard an earth-quaking chug chug chug rumble up from the ground underneath them. “It’s working. Rodney, it’s w—”

Rodney wasn’t on the surface.

John’s blood ran cold. He dropped the saw and dove for the man just under the surface. He pulled Rodney up to the ceiling and air; to his relief Rodney gasped for breath. “Come on, Rodney, stay with me. You won. You did it.”

“I’m really cold,” Rodney mumbled.

The water was cold, damn it, and they couldn’t sit around in the floodwaters waiting for the city to drain before Rodney got warm. “Come on, we’re going.”

Swimming alone through dark and debris-filled water? Not fun. Swimming while trying to drag another semi-conscious person through the water? Definitely making John’s top ten list of Things To Never Do Again.

Ronon and the Klunger warrior waited for them at the bottom of the shaft. “The pump is working!” the warrior exclaimed.

Ronon’s face was grim as he helped pull them both out of the water.

“He’s really cold,” John said. “He needs medical help.” Water was draining, but not fast enough. “Is there another way around that whirlpool back there?”

The warrior thought, then nodded. “I cannot guarantee it’s passable.”

“We need to try.”

The warrior led them through a twisty maze of tunnels that extended from the back of the chamber. Ronon and John supported Rodney, who walked some and stumbled more. They must’ve gone double the distance of the straightforward route, but the vanished floodwater made the trip fly by.

The evacuations had already stopped. The gate room’s water level was rapidly receding. John and Ronon elbowed past the line. He glanced at the warrior who’d stayed with them. In the light of the gate room, John saw she was much shorter than she’d first seemed, and had stunning green eyes. “Want to come through? See Atlantis?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve never been,” she replied.

Teyla met them. She cast a worried eye on Rodney and ushered them all through.

They gated back into a chaotic room where security herded the evacuees. Teyla commandeered a stretcher and a medical team; Rodney stretched out and passed out on the way to the med bay.

John held his hand during the trip. Even though he still thought Rodney McKay was an asshole.

He’d been right about the antibiotics, and passed his post-mission check with flying colors, as did Teyla, Ronon, and Yudca, their newest friend from Planet Klunge, who brushed the back of her knuckles over John’s hand and smiled at him before she went back to find her people.

The nurses let him sit with Rodney, who’d been deemed exhausted and hypothermic but otherwise fine and got to sleep through his antibiotic injection.

“I have to break up with you,” John said when they’d been left alone. “Not that we were ever… But hey, you used the term ‘break up’ first. So.” John shrugged at him and listened to his deep, even breathing and wished he’d spent the night with Rodney once. Sleeping near him on missions would be hard for a while.

Eventually, John got up. He took one last look at Rodney and walked out.

*****

The next morning was spent sending back the last of the Klungers, who were grateful and busy boasting about how the last time this had all happened, they’d had the best harvest ever the following season. He, Ronon, and Teyla had breakfast with Yudca, who was delighted to be singled out for her bravery and also kept trying to flirt with him. John kept it light and polite and told no one it was his birthday.

At some point med bay had discharged Rodney.

John knew he was delaying the inevitable. He would’ve rather faced just about anything besides Rodney McKay, especially smug recovering-from-heroism McKay.

He wasn’t in his lab, or in the lab in front of botany that’d been mostly dismantled. Even the silver tree was missing. John looked at the space where it had been. He felt bad for the tree. He hoped they did something with it.

So John headed for Rodney’s quarters. Which opened up for him instantly, even though Rodney wasn’t there. He stopped to take back an extra shirt and some socks he’d left, plus a DVD. Oh, and a couple of comic books. The plug? He decided to leave it.

He decided to check the mess hall after he dropped his things back at his quarters.

Except John found Rodney lying on his bed, his face buried in dense Russian literature.

Realization dawned. “Rodney,” John said.

Rodney lowered the book, a cool expression on his face.

John saw the first half of his collection of orangey-yellow post-its.

Rodney looked at him, looked down, and carefully turned the page to the second half of the post-it collection. He cleared his throat and read, “Who sucks? I do! Fuck my face and blast your load on my…” He trailed off. “Wow.”

John’s face burned. And then he remembered something. “You know what, Dr. Blowjob? Why don’t you go and take all those post-its with you? You can recycle them, put them back up. Because I saw the last one you left up the other night and I ripped it down. That’s why I wasn’t right there with you in the water, okay? Because I guess I got the idea somewhere that you gave a shit. Except you’re off blowing Ivan Drago and whoever else—”

Rodney leaned forward. “Ivan Drago? Rocky Four?”

“Stenhauser or whatever the blond guy’s name is, I don’t know, Rodney, I apparently don’t actually know much about you even though we spend like every night together. Where do you even find the time? Honestly.”

Rodney looked down at the post-its and back up. His eyebrows knitted. “Hey. Um.” He shut the book. “So I lied.”

“Oh, really?” John put his reclaimed things away and began hunting for things Rodney had left at his place. “Hadn’t noticed.” A couple of science journals, a windbreaker—he could have them all back.

“The only post-its I ever put on the board went onto the man for woman section. And I used the regular post-its so I wouldn’t be incredibly obvious,” Rodney said quietly.

John froze.

Rodney picked at a seam on the edge of one of John’s blankets. “This was around the time I was trying to get involved with the library? Because I just didn’t see why everyone wouldn’t want to convert it to an online system. It’s so much easier! Click, click, watch your adult entertainment in the privacy of your own quarters. But I pissed someone off, I think. All my ads got torn down and that’s when they pilfered my private stash and, um.” Rodney’s shoulders sagged. “Someone started leaving dirty post-its with them because of course everyone would know that they’re mine. Usually blowjob-themed. Which, come on. Like it’s the biggest insult in the world or something to give a blowjob.” His laugh came out short and nervous. “But they just wouldn’t stop. And I even wrote them a note—‘Stop it’—”

“‘You asshole’,” John finished.

Rodney nodded. “Yeah.” His brow furrowed. “Hang on.”

John’s chest felt tight. “You never wrote any of the post-its. Except the one asking them to stop.”

“Well it wasn’t really a polite request,” Rodney said, after a beat. He opened the book back up to the pages of post-its. “And just when I was feeling pretty low and kind of embarrassed and lonely, my friend comes along and kisses me and suddenly there’s this… thing. That I never considered before. Even though I’ve always thought he was ridiculously hot, I mean, who wouldn’t, right? And of course I’m terrible at relationships and I’ve never had gay sex, but he’s a forgiving guy so I figure what the hell, right? It’ll be a neat experiment and he’ll let me down easy and I’ll get to see what it’s like to be Kirk from the other end of it.” Rodney smiled ruefully. “But he didn’t let me down easy and it was kind of great and I was suddenly rethinking everything. Which I didn’t expect I’d be doing at this age.”

John agreed. He sank down into the desk chair.

“Only I lied and let him think I was the one who wrote the ads. First because it seemed like how I’d get the ball rolling, so to speak, and then because—I liked being the experienced one, okay? And I thought if I came clean you’d… email this guy.” Rodney tossed the book and the post-its toward the foot of the bed. “Who I am not.”

John felt like the world had tipped sideways. “You don’t have to be that guy.”

“Don’t I? You seem to be a fan. A big fan.” Rodney spread his hands. “I do like giving blowjobs. Way more than I thought I would. But I’m not this guy.”

“Rodney.” John shook his head. Rodney hadn’t written any of the post-its. Rodney had never been lining up guys. Some other guy was Dr. Blowjob. Or there wasn’t even a Dr. Blowjob, just an angry anti-McKay troll. “That’s why you wanted to keep me out of the library. Because this guy was still putting up post-its?”

“Yeah.” He let out a breath. “Also, look John. I know you have an extremely high libido. And while mine is—very healthy—there may be some nights when I can’t, or, um, might not be terribly interested in—”

John blinked at him. A smile crept slowly onto his face. “Rodney, I don’t need you to have sex with me every night.”

“I just work a lot! And I’m under a lot of pressure. Also I need to watch my diet and drink less caffeine. And get more sleep. Anyhow—”

John’s grin became full-blown. “Rodney, where did you get the idea that I needed to have sex every night?”

“You were bringing the—the toys! You kept asking about—the other stuff. That I have not done and frankly I thought would definitely blow my cover,” Rodney explained. “And you never turned me down.”

“I like you,” John said.

“Oh,” said Rodney. “Hang on. How did you know what my post-it said? I put that one up right before—”

“I tore apart the hook-up board and trashed the library,” John finished.

Rodney’s mouth dropped open.

“I was kind of obsessed with you.” John rolled the desk chair closer to the bed. He nodded at the book and the post-its. “I thought there was this whole other you I didn’t know. I kept stealing his post-its. Then I thought he was calling me an asshole. Which I deserved. Had a really rough night that night.”

Rodney’s mouth stayed open.

“If it makes you feel any better, Heightmeyer made me talk to her for like five hours the next day. I’m pretty weird,” John finished.

Rodney’s mouth opened and closed. “I’m pro-weird,” he said.

“Good,” John said. “Because I decided I don’t want to break up with you.”

“You were going to break up with me?”

“Not you; Dr. Blowjob.” John got up from the desk chair. He made Rodney scoot over so he could flop down next to him. “I thought you were cheating on me.”

“Oh no, I’m a liar and an opportunist. Not a cheater. Except at Battleship.”

“It was so easy to move the pieces.” John found Rodney’s hand. He laced their fingers together.

“Thanks for saving my life again,” Rodney said after a minute.

“You’re welcome. Thanks for risking yours to save an entire city.”

“Yeah.” Rodney reflected. “Sad to lose the little ones. But you know, we’re young. We can have more.” 

John laughed. Then the last two days seemed funny, so he laughed some more.

“Sometimes I can’t tell whether I’m hilarious or you’re mocking me. But maybe it doesn’t matter,” Rodney said. “Also I need to warn you: they’re throwing you a surprise party tonight at dinner.”

John stopped laughing.

“Consider the warning the first part of my gift to you.”

*****

40, it turned out, was the best birthday John had ever had.

The mess served mostly-spaghetti and a giant sheet cake with a puddle jumper made of a smaller cake perched atop it. A punch bowl had been liberally spiked with Zelenka’s moonshine. People slapped John on the back, wished him a Happy Birthday, and John said thank you and chatted while he kept an ear out for Rodney’s involuntary chocolate-induced moans.

It wasn’t the most formal of parties, which John appreciated. But at one point those remaining in the mess clinked forks against cups and called for John to speak.

He stood up from his spot at his usual table with Rodney at his side, Teyla (a little tipsy for the occasion) across from him, and Ronon with Denise in tow.

“I’m kind of a weird guy,” John began. “Maybe that’s why this weird city of ours on this weird planet in this weird galaxy feels so much like home. It’s a privilege to be here with such great people. Such great friends and family.” He found his cup and raised it. “Hey, thanks for the cake. Thanks, everybody,” he said, and sat down. It wasn’t the most eloquent of speeches, but from the raised cups and the calls of ‘Happy Birthday’ it had gone over just fine.

After the party, Rodney made John stagger to the labs, where he’d hidden John’s ‘real’ present.

It was a surfboard. Gleaming and silver, and so light John could balance it on a finger. “What’s it made out of?”

“Remember the tree? The one that grew the baby ZedPMs? It turns out we need to grow a new one along with every new batch—once they’d used it, the Ancients used to break down the leftover ‘tree’ into its component parts—”

John hugged it to his chest.

“So you like it?” Rodney asked.

The third part of John’s present came the next day, when Rodney kidnapped him. He’d managed to finagle a jumper out of Major Lorne and had invited along Ronon and Denise along with Teyla’s family. John flew the jumper to a beach on the mainland. His new surfboard was absolutely incredible. He took it out over and over, and only limped back to the beach when he wiped out particularly badly. Rodney helped re-apply sunscreen to John’s back at one point.

Ronon gave him a thumbs-up from where he and Denise lounged on towels. She was very tall and spoke so softly John could barely hear her. But Ronon couldn’t tear his eyes away.

John returned a discreet thumbs-up. There was a picnic lunch.

And later on that night, after they’d returned the jumper and had showered off all the sand, Rodney came to John’s room.

They kissed and undressed and John got out the beads.

Rodney stopped him. “Not tonight?” he suggested.

“What’d you have in mind?” John asked.

Rodney licked all the sun-kissed places on John’s body first. Then he sucked John’s cock until he was almost ready to come. He lubed up two fingers, bent one of John’s legs back, and pressed one, then another inside him. He kissed John hotly, with just the right amount of tongue, and finger-fucked him until John couldn’t help but touch his cock.

“Don’t come yet,” Rodney whispered into his ear. “Not until I’m fucking you.”

It took longer to get him in than John thought; Rodney was thick and John was tight. He eased in excruciatingly slowly. By the time his cock was fully inside John’s ass, they were both breathing hard.

John had turned the lights down almost all the way. He could still smell the coconut in the sunscreen they’d used, even after a long shower. He looked at himself, spread wide and eager, and at Rodney trembling between his thighs, deep inside him.

“You like this?” Rodney whispered.

John nodded. And when Rodney began to move, he couldn’t hold back the moan. It felt fucking incredible. “Yes, Rodney,” he urged.

“You want more?”

“Yes,” John chanted. That was his only answer. Yes, yes, yes.

Rodney’s broad, strong hands held his thighs. He fucked John with long, languorous thrusts that seemed to go on forever, as satisfying as they were slow torture.

John initially lost his erection, but it came back full-force. Especially when Rodney sped his thrusts. John had been a quick study of the wonders of prostate stimulation, and Rodney might’ve been doing some reading too, because his wonderful, amazing, fantastic cock seemed to know exactly where John needed it.

Rodney pressed John’s knees back towards his shoulders and the angle got even better. From this angle, Rodney had more of his own weight to add to each thrust, which sent him even deeper and made John’s entire body shake with the sheer force and power and— “Fuck me, Rodney,” John growled out.

Rodney dropped a bruising kiss on his lips and did just that. He drizzled a little lube into his palm and wrapped it around John’s cock.

John gasped. He wanted—he wanted. “I want you to fuck me, Rodney,” he confessed as Rodney stroked and fucked him. “Fuck me this way. Bend me over, fuck me over the desk. In the shower. Fuck me. I’ll get on top and you can just lie there and fuck me while I ride your cock. And I can fuck you, too. If you want me to,” John gasped. He felt totally exposed and filled and he could feel intense pleasure building in him with every thrust and stroke.

“John,” Rodney moaned. “I’m—”

“Do it,” John begged. “Come in my ass.”

Rodney’s grip tightened on John’s leg and on his cock. He fucked John hard, then, pinning him to the mattress with each thrust until his eyes squeezed shut and shudders wracked him as he did as directed.

John was barely a stroke behind; he felt the thrill of Rodney letting go and it was all he’d been waiting for. He came in a sticky rush thrusting up into Rodney’s still-slick and gripping fist, Rodney’s name on his lips.

Rodney slipped out of him pretty quickly as he softened. John noted that the bed had wet spots. Someone would have to get up eventually and go get a towel.

“Hey, Rodney?” John asked.

Rodney sounded dreamy. “What’s that?”

“Tell me I’m lucky.”

He did.