chelle

Atlantis

Disclaimer

No copyright infringement is intended or should be inferred. No money was made from the writing or posting of any content on this fan site.

chelle's site is maintained by chelle.

Place Your Hand

chelle

Title: Place Your Hand

Author: chelle

Author's email: chelle@chelle.slashcity.org

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

Fandom: Atlantis

Archive: Ask first

Pairing: John/Rodney

Rating: NC17

Warnings: This story deals with the aftermath of sexual violence.

AN: Thank you to Rachel Sabotini and Rivier for the helpful betas, and to The Grrrl for her encouragment, patience, and friendship.

The amazing cover below is by Steammmpunk. Click on her name to tell her how terrific it is.

John woke with a start, taking a moment to register the knocking. "Coming," he called. Pushing aside the covers, he snagged a t-shirt he kept next to the bed and pulled it over his head.

He pressed the door control and the door slid back. "Rodney?" John asked.

"Will you have sex with me?" Rodney asked, his eyes immediately locking onto the wall behind John's shoulder, giving John the impression that it was an effort for Rodney not to look at the floor.

John stared at him. Rodney couldn't have said what it sounded like he said, but he looked uncertain. Uncertain wasn't a good look on Rodney. He was wringing his hands, the way he did when he was nervous. Maybe Rodney had asked John to have sex with him. "Why don't you come in?" he suggested carefully, taking a step back.

Rodney entered and the door slid shut. "I understand if you don't want to," Rodney said, still wringing his hands, "I just couldn't think of anyone else. It's not like I could ask Elizabeth, or Teyla, and certainly not Ronon. Ronon naked, that's just something I'd rather not think about. Zelenka would think I'm nuts, and…"

"Rodney," John said, cutting him off. Resisting the urge to take hold of Rodney's hands and stop them from moving, John rested a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Why don't you sit and we'll talk?"

Rodney nodded. Walking over to the small sitting area near the windows, he sat on the couch. "Can I get you something to drink?" John offered, even though he didn't have anything but water from the bathroom tap.

"No, no, I'm fine." Apparently having heard what he'd said, Rodney stopped. "I'm not fine, but I'm not thirsty."

"Okay." John walked around the couch and sat on the low table in front of it, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Tell me what's going on."

"I can't think, that's what's going on. I just space out." Rodney stopped wringing his hands and waved them in the air. "I can't concentrate. I used to be able to think for hours. Now, I just sit there. Staring." Rodney stood, pacing the three feet to the window and then coming back. "I sleep all the time. Yesterday, I slept for 12 hours."

Rodney stopped pacing, looking at John expectantly, clearly thinking that John was going to be as appalled as he was at 12 hours of sleep.

Knowing it was best not to suggest that Rodney's body was making up for years of sleep deprivation, John asked, "What does Heightmeyer say?"

Rodney snorted. "Give it time. How much time am I supposed to give it? I want my life back."

John wanted Rodney to have his life back, too. He wanted Rodney's life not to have changed. "A month isn't very long," he said, standing.

Rodney responded with his "you're an idiot" look, which John was perversely happy to see. He hadn't been on the receiving end of that look in what felt like forever.

"Given what you went through a month isn't very long."

Something flickered in Rodney's eyes, then it was gone. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "If you don't want to help, just say so."

"You know I want to help. I just don't think sex is the answer. You were--" John stopped because he couldn't say the word.

"Heightmeyer says they took away my control. If I have sex with you, by choice, then I'm in control again. Once I have my control back, I'll be able to think and I'll stop sleeping all the damn time." He paused, drawing in a breath. "You're the only person I trust enough to do this. I know men aren't your thing. They aren't my thing either, but--"

"Rodney," John said quietly.

Rodney stopped talking.

"You were raped," John said as gently as he could. "Sex isn't going to fix it."

"You don't know that."

Which was true, John didn't know that for certain, but it seemed likely. He doubted there was any way of convincing Rodney that he was right. When Rodney got an idea in his head there was rarely any talking him out of it, only experiential proof would do. Hopefully, John could provide the necessary proof without having to go too far, because while he liked Rodney, he didn't like Rodney that much. "I'll make you a deal. We can have sex--"

"Great," Rodney said, but he didn't look particularly pleased.

"But not tonight."

Rodney's expression turned suspicious. "When?"

"When we're both ready."

"Right, of course, and you'll decide when we're ready. You don’t think I know what I need," Rodney accused.

"We'll decide when we're ready. Sex is about two people, not just one, and as you pointed out, I haven't done anything like this before. I need some time to work up to it."

Rodney's suspicion hardened while John spoke.

"I think we should start with kissing," John added.

"Kissing?" Rodney's expression shifted to mildly puzzled.

"I'm sure you've heard of it. It's when two people press their lips together." John crossed his own arms. "You weren't planning on having sex without kissing, were you?"

"I hadn't thought about it," Rodney admitted.

"Take your time. I can wait."

"Fine. Let's start now."

Rodney could be damn single-minded when he chose to be. Telling himself that at least Rodney wasn't expecting sex, John took Rodney's hand and backed toward the couch, tugging Rodney with him.

Looking at him through narrowed eyes, Rodney sat beside him. "I still think you're trying to get out of this."

John leaned forward, pressing his lips quickly to Rodney's. "I'm not."

Rodney stared at him, wide-eyed, for a moment, and then kissed him. It was a little off-center and just as quick as John's kiss had been. "Okay, we've kissed."

"And what scintillating kisses they were," John answered before he could stop himself.

Rodney leaned against the back of the couch. "I'm going insane, aren't I?" he asked, closing his eyes.

John leaned back, too. "No."

Turning his head and looking at John, Rodney said, "I asked you to have sex."

"Which is most emphatically not a sign of insanity." Desperation maybe, but not insanity.

Rodney snorted softly, the corners of his mouth turning up in a sad smile. "I suppose not."

"You'll get through this."

"Right. Of course, I will. It's not like I have a choice."

John rolled his head to the side. "You can kiss me again if it'll help."

Rodney laughed.

John hadn't heard Rodney laugh in a long time. "You want to watch a movie? I've got Young Frankenstein."

"Why not? It's not like I need to sleep."

"Great." John hopped up to get his laptop and the DVD. A few minutes later he was sitting next to Rodney on the couch, shoulders brushing as they watched Gene Wilder insist his name was pronounced "Franc-un-steen."

 

John was tired the next day, but it had been worth it, John decided, taking a deep sip of his coffee. Rodney had laughed, a lot. It had been good to hear him laugh.

The sex though, he hadn't been prepared for that. He supposed it made sense in a weird, Rodney-like way. They take away his control. He has sex where he's in control, problem solved.

If it was really that simple, John would have done it in a heartbeat. He wanted Rodney to be himself again. This disconnected version who wasn’t thinking five times faster than everyone else and getting irritated when they couldn't keep up was strange and unsettling.

Although he'd managed to annoy Rodney last night, and that had to be a good thing.

"Good morning," Rodney said, approaching his table and drawing John from his thoughts.

Smiling up at him, John said, "Good morning." Rodney sat and John added, "How did you sleep?"

Rodney tilted his head and glared slightly. John smiled. "Cute," Rodney said, digging into his scrambled eggs.

John leaned back in his chair. "I try."

"How did you sleep?" Rodney asked.

"Fine, once I got rid of this guy who woke me up and made me watch movies with him," John said. Rodney grinned and John shifted in his seat, leaning forward slightly. "We should do it again."

"I have some Monty Python," Rodney offered.

John wasn't surprised. "Life of Brian?"

"Holy Grail."

"Almost as good," John said.

"Better," Rodney countered.

"Tonight?" John asked.

"Sure."

***

"I asked Colonel Sheppard to have sex with me."

"What happened?"

"He thought we should kiss first. For someone as good looking as he is, he doesn't kiss very well."

"That's disappointing."

"It really is. But I suppose it worked out for the best. I don't think I could have gone through with it."

"So why did you ask?"

"I want my life back."

"You're getting it back, Rodney."

"Not fast enough."

"Why Colonel Sheppard? Why not ask a woman?"

"It wouldn't be the same. Women don't have… They wouldn't be able to…"

"I see. Are you sure that's what you need?"

"I was."

"And now?"

"Now it's not one in the morning."

***

"Why is it that the hungrier you are, the slower the cafeteria line moves?"

"It's McKay's Law," John answered, reaching for a bowl of mixed vegetables.

"I finally get a law named after me and it concerns food."

John grinned. "Seems appropriate." He was glad to see Rodney so hungry. He still hadn't regained all of the weight he had lost. A skinny Rodney didn't take up enough space, wasn't solid enough. They needed a solid Rodney.

"I skipped lunch," Rodney said, eating a piece of broccoli with his fingers. "I was working." In typical Rodney fashion, he managed to chew, talk, and smile all at the same time.

"On what?"

"Gravitons," Rodney said, clearly pleased.

"Gravitons?" John repeated.

"They’re like photons, only they carry gravitational force instead of EM."

"Photons?" John said, moving his tray down the line and deciding to bypass the canned pudding. "Those are the opposite of electrons, right?" Rodney glared at him and John grinned. "I know what photons are." Rodney's glare didn't soften, and John's grin widened. "So, gravitons," he prompted.

"According to general relativity, gravity should consist of gravitational waves."

"Like EM waves."

Rodney nodded and nudged John with his arm. John slid his tray further down the line while Rodney snagged a butterscotch pudding. "No one's been able to find proof of gravitational waves, largely because the force is so weak that its effects are difficult to measure. But," Rodney paused and grinned smugly, "I was examining some data from the long range sensors and it looks like there are two black holes colliding in one of the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster." He finished with the pleased little hum he made whenever he explained some bit of science he found particularly interesting.

John found it interesting too. "And the gravitational waves from the collision should have a measurable impact."

"Exactly," Rodney said, and John wasn't sure if he was happier with the discovery or that John had understood. He hoped it was the latter.

"We should celebrate." Leaning close, he pressed his shoulder into Rodney's, and whispered, "I have Star Trek films," in a conspiratorial tone.

"Which ones?"

"All of them."

Watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Rodney, who for some reason found the phrase "watery tart" inordinately funny, had been so much fun that John had immediately set out on a quest to find a copy of Life of Brian. He figured it wouldn't be too hard to find in a city full of geeks.

He'd been right. And once word had spread that John was borrowing movies to show Rodney, he'd had a backlog of loaned movies. So far they'd watched The Matrix, Princess Bride, and the extended editions of all three Lord of the Rings films. John had been saving the Trek movies for a special occasion and Rodney being able to focus on work seemed like a pretty good one.

"After dinner?" Rodney asked.

John nodded. "Right after."

 

"Didn't they do this as an episode?" John asked as the final credits for Star Trek: The Movie began to roll.

Rodney nodded. "The one with the Voyager probe."

"Veeger," John said.

Turning his head to look at John, Rodney said, "But the movie had a hot lieutenant."

"She was hot, although a bit hair-challenged."

"There is nothing wrong with being hair-challenged," Rodney replied loftily.

John chuckled and Rodney smiled. John hadn't realized how much he liked Rodney's smile until he hadn't seen it for a while.

They were both leaning against the back of the couch, heads turned toward one another, smiling. It lasted a fraction of a second too long and the mood shifted. Rodney's smile faded and John began to lean forward, shifting slightly away from the back of the couch. Rodney leaned too and their lips met.

Rodney's lips were soft, but John pulled back almost as soon as they touched. "Sorry," he muttered, trying to figure out what he thought he was doing, kissing Rodney.

Rodney didn't answer. He simply placed a hand on the side of John's neck and drew him back. Rodney kissed him lightly and John kissed him back just as lightly. By the time they parted, his heart was pounding.

Rodney was gazing at him, all blue eyes and parted lips. John leaned in again. This kiss was less tentative, the two of them sharing a lingering caress. When they parted, John found himself smiling, again.

"We, um," Rodney said, gesturing between them, "we kissed."

John swallowed before answering. "Yeah."

"It wasn't bad this time," Rodney said, still gazing at John.

"No," John agreed.

Rodney nodded and then shifted his gaze to the side. "I should," he pointed at the door, "go."

"Right," John said, because they'd kissed and if Rodney didn't go they might do it again.

"Have you lost the ability to say more than one word at a time?" Rodney asked, looking back at him.

"Maybe," John offered feeling a little giddy. They'd kissed, he and Rodney, and it had been good.

Returning John's smile, Rodney rose from the couch.

"You okay?" John asked, as they walked to the door.

"I think so." Rodney frowned. "Are you?"

"I'm okay."

"Good. Well, I should…" Rodney pointed at the door that was less than a foot in front of him.

"Right," John said, nodding again. "Good-night."

"Good-night."

John leaned toward Rodney, tilting his head to the side. Rodney tilted his the same way. John shifted to the other side, so did Rodney. John drew back with a small shake of his head. Leaning in again, he kissed Rodney on the cheek.

Rodney looked startled, but then he kind of lit up, somehow managing to look abashed and happy at the same time.

"Good-night," John said again.

"Good-night," Rodney replied and opened the door.

 

Rodney was having breakfast with Zelenka and Beckett when John entered the mess. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a muffin, he headed toward their table. "Good morning," he said, taking the seat across from Rodney.

"Good morning," Rodney replied with a smile that could best be described as goofy.

John was pretty sure his smile was just as goofy. Fortunately, the need to acknowledge Zelenka and Beckett's greetings kept him from simply sitting there smiling goofily at Rodney. "Sleep well?" he asked casually, breaking off the muffin top and taking a bite.

"Not really," Rodney said, picking up his coffee cup. "I couldn’t stop thinking."

"I had the same problem."

"Thinking about anything in particular?" Beckett asked.

Very carefully not looking at Rodney, John said, "Not really."

Beckett glanced from John to Rodney, but didn't say anything further. John focused on his breakfast, only glancing up at Rodney once.

Eventually, Zelenka and Beckett finished eating and started to leave. John waited until they were out of the room and then leaned forward. "We have got to be more careful."

"You were the one who kept smiling," Rodney whispered back, leaning forward, too.

"I was only smiling because you were smiling."

"Well I was only smiling because I was happy."

John smiled. "Happy's good."

"Just not when it comes to public smiling."

Leaning back in his chair, John said, "Want to watch The Wrath of Khan tonight?"

"Of course I do."

 

John had seen Star Trek 2 before. He'd even taken a date to see it the night it had been released. Shirley, Shirley something, and there was nothing like forgetting the name of someone you'd once dated to make you feel old. He'd kissed her good-night and she'd tasted of Diet Coke and movie popcorn.

Since the movie didn't require all of his attention, he was able to focus on Rodney, who was sitting next to him, his shoulder resting against John's. Rodney was fidgeting more than usual, one leg bouncing up and down, up and down.

John put his hand on Rodney's knee, encouraging him to stop. Rodney stopped, turning to look at him, and suddenly John was very aware of the warmth of Rodney's leg beneath his hand. "Sorry." John pulled his hand away. "You were bouncing."

"Sorry, I'll stop."

"It's not a problem," John said, even though he'd just tried to get Rodney to stop. Desperate for a way out of the increasingly awkward moment, he added, "Do you think Kirk and Spock were together?"

Rodney frowned. "You think Kirk and Spock were lovers?"

"No, not necessarily. I was just asking if you did."

Rodney's frown shifted into one of his infinite number of thinking expressions. "I never thought about it."

"Me neither, but Kirk is pretty devastated when Spock dies."

"Spock was his best friend."

"Right," John said.

Rodney looked back at the laptop and John let out a long breath, relieved that he'd managed to dig his way out of that one. Well, sort of.

"Have you ever…" Rodney asked.

John didn't need to ask what Rodney meant, and he answered even though they'd talked about this once before, the night Rodney had come to him. "No, never. Well, not never, just not, you know, with a guy, except you. Not that we've--"

"I haven't either," Rodney said, sparing him. "At least not willingly."

Willingly. John didn't want to think about the things Rodney had been forced to do unwillingly and he was pretty sure Rodney didn't either. Rodney wasn't looking at him, but John could see his profile. The nervousness was gone, replaced by something else. Isolation, maybe. He hated the thought of Rodney being isolated.

"You want to kiss again?" he asked, hoping it wasn't too abrupt.

"Yes," was all Rodney said, but it was all the answer John needed.

Rodney turned toward him and John shifted, leaning in to kiss him, almost moaning at the sweetness of it. Rodney had a generous mouth, not just wide, but giving. He gave John all kinds of things with his mouth--sensations, caresses, tenderness. John did his best to give back.

Apparently he did like Rodney that much.

By the time they stopped kissing, the credits had rolled and John was so hard he ached. It was a good ache, not one he minded at all. Resting his side against the back of the couch, John reached up to touch the side of Rodney's face.

"I have to correct what I told Heightmeyer about you," Rodney said.

"What did you tell her?"

"That for someone so good looking you weren't a very good kisser."

John moved his fingers across Rodney's cheek. "Should I be flattered or insulted?"

"Both, but mostly flattered, since I was wrong about the bad kissing."

"It takes two," John said, shifting so he could kiss Rodney again.

Rodney made a happy little humming sound and kissed him back.

"I should go," Rodney said when they parted.

"Yeah."

Rodney rose and John followed him to the door. This time kissing good-night wasn't a problem.

***

"I was wrong about Colonel Sheppard and kissing."

"Oh?"

"I told him I'd tell you. Clarify things. He actually kisses quite well."

"You've been kissing Colonel Sheppard?"

"We made out on his couch last night."

"You enjoyed it."

"Are you kidding me? Have you looked at the man? Of course I enjoyed it."

"I thought you preferred women."

"For him, I'll make an exception."

"It doesn't bother you that he's a man?"

"All we've done is kiss, but, well, the thing of it is, he's John."

"And that makes a difference?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I trust him."

***

Over the next two weeks, in between discussions of who was the best captain, a lengthy explanation of why transporters had to compensate for the Heisenburg uncertainty principle, and a spirited debate over who was hotter, Kira Nerys or 7 of 9, they watched Star Trek movies three through six and made out on John's couch like teenagers.

John couldn't remember the last time he'd spent this much time just kissing, although there was necking--John now knew all of the sensitive places on Rodney's neck and Rodney had managed to find a couple on his that John hadn't even known about--and touching. He figured they'd made it three, maybe four, feet past first base.

He was okay with that. Rodney needed to take things slowly and John kind of did, too. This was a big deal and he'd rather take it slowly than rush things and have one or both of them get hurt. The last thing Rodney needed was more hurt.

The last thing John needed was for Rodney to hurt more.

Still, he had to remind himself that slow was good when Rodney's hand slid under his shirt and all he could think about was what it would be like to have that large, warm hand on his cock. Needing a distraction, he pressed his mouth to Rodney's, kissing him slow and deep.

Rodney's fingers brushed a nipple and John arched into his touch, groaning a little.

"Is this okay?" Rodney asked, sliding his hand across John's chest.

"Yes."

"You're so warm."

There wasn't anything John could say to that, so he kissed Rodney again.

Rodney left when the movie ended, leaving John with his shirt up under his arms, an aching cock, and the Star Trek theme stuck in his head. Leaning forward with a groan, he closed his laptop and then made his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Crawling into bed, he pushed his boxers down around his knees and took his still aching cock in hand, closing his eyes. Rodney's hands had felt good, big and warm, and his touch had been just the right mix of firm and soft.

John wanted Rodney to touch him like this, wanted Rodney's hand on his cock. It would be so good.

Rodney would stroke him a little too gently at first. John stroked himself softly. Slowly, as Rodney saw how much John liked it, his touch would become firmer, and he'd stroke a little faster.

John would pull him into a kiss, a hot, slightly wild kiss, groaning into Rodney's mouth as Rodney stroked faster and right there. John came, fluid landing on his chest as his shoulders curled up off of the bed.

Falling back against the pillow, he relaxed, his breathing slowly evening out. He'd just jerked off while thinking about Rodney. And not for the first time. He should probably be freaking out, having a sexual identity crisis, but he couldn't quite seem to. Wanting Rodney didn't feel wrong and John was too old to get bent out of shape about something that felt right.

Wondering what it would feel like to touch Rodney the way he imagined Rodney touching him, John drifted off to sleep.

 

Their sessions always started like this, with John looking out the window, checking the perimeter, his back to Kate. The view was essentially the same here as it was everywhere else in Atlantis, ocean as far as the eye could see. Still, he was glad he only had to see it once a month or so.

"Colonel."

John turned. Kate was standing near the grouping of chairs where she talked with patients. Maybe it was clients. He wondered which he was, a patient or a client. He joined her at the chairs, not bothering to ask.

"What's on your mind?" she asked, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her legs. It was an oddly male pose.

"Nothing much, just thought I should check in."

She nodded and leaned back. "How is your team, without Dr. McKay?"

"McKay's a tough act to follow, but Harrison is doing okay. I think he's scared of Teyla," John added in a confiding tone.

"What's it like, going into the field without him?"

"Weird, but it's been a couple of months. I'm mostly used to it." John leaned back in his chair, stretching out his legs. "The hardest part is telling Rodney about the missions afterwards. It's this big reminder of why he's not on the team right now."

She nodded. "That must be difficult, being reminded."

Active listening, shrinks were good at it. Good enough that John responded. "I think he feels like it'll never be completely behind him."

"What about you?"

"Me?"

"Yes. Do you think it will ever be completely behind you?"

"I'm not the one who was assaulted."

"No, but Rodney is important to you."

John sat up. "Look, you know and I know that Rodney and I are involved so let's not dance around it."

"Okay. How do you feel about your relationship with Rodney?"

That's what he got for opening up his relationship with Rodney for discussion, John thought with a sigh. "I feel good about it."

"Why?"

John frowned at her. "Why?"

"Yes. Why do you feel good about it?"

"Why does anyone feel good about being involved with another person?" John answered, knowing he was evading the question.

"Let me put it another way. You are risking your career in order to be involved with someone who was taken prisoner and sexually assaulted while on a mission under your command."

"Cut right to the chase, why don't you?"

Kate didn't answer and John rose from his chair. Returning to the window, he stared out at the ocean, and it occurred to him that while looking at the ocean from the beach was soothing, looking at it when ocean was all you could see wasn't. "I care about him."

"And you feel responsible for him."

"I feel responsible for everyone on Atlantis. Possesses an overweening sense of responsibility, isn't that what it says on my chart?"

"I don't keep charts."

John snorted softly and turned around. "He kisses well. So you can stop thinking that this is all some act of contrition on my part."

"I never said I thought that."

"You didn't need to," John replied and Kate smiled her professional smile. John wondered what her non-professional smile looked like. Returning to his seat, he leaned forward in his chair, mimicking her earlier position. "Can I ask you something about Rodney?"

"You can ask. If I can answer without violating his privacy, I will."

"Fair enough," John said with a nod. "Is our relationship hurting Rodney? I know he thinks it's what he needs, but what we think we need and what we really need aren't always the same thing."

"That's true, but the only person who can decide what is best for Rodney is Rodney. I can't make that decision for him and neither can you."

"I don’t want to do anything to hurt him or make it harder for him to get through this." Saying that was a lot harder than it should have been.

"I don't think being involved with you is hurting him."

Relieved, John leaned back in his chair. "Good. That's good. He's holding so much in and that's really not like him. It worried me."

"It’s not an uncommon reaction. Some victims need to talk about the assault over and over again, while others have trouble talking about it at all."

John nodded. "I read that in the stuff you gave me. I just thought Rodney would be one of the talkers. Instead, he's just quiet about it, like he's hiding."

"Maybe he is," Kate said.

"Is that bad?"

"For now, no. If he never stops, then it could be. It depends on the person."

"He's happy," John said abruptly, not sure who he was defending their relationship to, Kate or himself. "Not all the time, but when we're together he smiles and laughs. And it's not like we have all that much sex. Or any really. And he knows I'd never push him. He knows he can say 'no' whenever he needs to."

"You've talked about it."

"No," John admitted, "but he knows."

Kate nodded. "I see."

John sighed again. "You think we should talk about it."

"Yes, I do."

Leaning back in his chair, John looked up at the ceiling. It wasn't as though he and Rodney never talked. They talked about stuff all the time. Movies and science, and just last week they'd had a lengthy discussion about The Twilight Zone. "I'll talk to him."

 

John was going to talk to him, but first Rodney was going to have to stop kissing him, and take his hands out from under John's shirt. Rodney sucked on that spot just under his ear and John groaned.

"So good," he whispered. "You feel so good."

Rodney lifted his head, smiling down at him before kissing him again. Rodney had such a good mouth, perfect for kissing. John opened for him, eager and wanting. Judging by the ache in his cock it was just about time for Rodney to pull away and leave.

"I should go," Rodney said, sitting back.

Cupping Rodney's cheek in his hand, John brushed his lower lip with his thumb. Then he sat up from his making out sprawl and kissed Rodney again, slow and deep, letting all his desire seep into the kiss.

"What…" Rodney asked, when John ended the kiss, "what do you do when I leave?"

John frowned a little. "You mean do I?"

Rodney nodded.

"Yeah, I do."

"If you wanted to now, while I was here, before I go, that would be okay. With me. If you wanted."

John stared at him, the ache in his cock intensifying at the thought of having Rodney there with him, even if Rodney didn't touch him. "Are you sure?"

"I wouldn't have suggested it if I wasn't sure," Rodney answered, just testy enough that John believed him.

He reached for the belt on his pants, conscious of Rodney watching his hands. Opening his pants, he pushed his boxers more or less out of the way, and looked up at Rodney. Rodney's eyes were on his cock, his gaze intent. He seemed okay, so John took himself in hand and started to stroke.

It should have seemed unreal, leaning against the back of his couch, fully dressed, with his cock in his hand and Rodney's eyes on him. But it didn't. It felt like one of the most real things John had ever done.

He usually closed his eyes when he did this, but he couldn't look away from the sight of Rodney watching him. Part of him wanted to put on a show, to make it really hot and sexy for Rodney, but instead he just stroked, touching himself the way he always did at first, with measured strokes that hit all of the right places.

Reaching out, he rested his other hand on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney turned toward him, his own arousal clear in his face, and John had to kiss him.

There was pleasure everywhere, and it was all for Rodney, because of Rodney. He needed Rodney to understand, needed to show him or tell him, but all he could do was touch himself and cling to Rodney's lips with his own.

Rodney drew back and John was about to reach for him, but Rodney whispered, "I want to see."

One hand resting on Rodney's upper arm, John stroked himself faster. He was so close. Rodney's eyes flicked from John's face to his cock, and John came, fluid landing on his shirt as he groaned Rodney's name.

He was still shaking slightly when Rodney slid an arm around John's waist and leaned forward, burying his face in John's neck. Wrapping an arm around Rodney's shoulders, John held him.

***

"How is Colonel Sheppard?"

"Fine."

"You haven't mentioned him in a while."

"I didn't need to."

"I see."

"I hate it when you do that."

"Do what?"

"Agree with me when you really think I'm being defensive."

"Are you being defensive?"

"Of course I'm being defensive."

"Why?"

"How should I know? You're the psychologist."

"You want me to tell you why you're being defensive?"

"Yes."

"All right. I think you rushed into a physical relationship with Colonel Sheppard thinking that it would give you some measure of control over your body and your life again and it hasn't."

"And you would be wrong."

"Would I?"

"Yes, wrong, wrong, wrong."

"So what is bothering you about your relationship with the colonel?"

"Nothing."

"You're defensive over nothing."

"Do you think they knew? That I was really gay? Is that why they picked me?"

"No. I don't think they knew. Rape isn't about sexual orientation. It didn't matter to them if you were gay or straight. It was about having power over you, inflicting pain and humiliation."

"Right, right, of course. How would they know? I didn't even know."

"Are you sure you desire men?"

"Men, no, but him, yes."

"Why?"

"You have looked at him, right?"

"Aside from his looks. What about him attracts you?"

"He's smart, really smart. He passed the Mensa test, you know."

"I know."

"He flew a jumper into a hive ship to protect us all. He's a hero. Who wouldn’t fall for the handsome hero?"

***

John wasn’t at all surprised to find Rodney waiting when they stepped through the gate, Zelenka beside him, both of them practically vibrating with excitement. You'd think an alien space ship was something completely new.

"I see good news travels fast," he said, sauntering up to where they waited, Abbott and Costello with doctorates and blue shirts.

"What are the power systems like?" Rodney asked.

"What about propulsion, could you tell what they used?" Zelenka added, not even waiting for Rodney to finish.

"What's it made of?"

"How many people can it hold?"

"Were the makers human or humanoid?"

"What about navigation?"

Fighting back a laugh, John held up his hands. "I will tell you everything I know at the debriefing, and so will Harrison." He tilted his head in Harrison's direction. "Right, Harrison?"

"Yes, sir."

Rodney rolled his eyes.

 

The best part of coming back from a mission was the post-mission shower, and John was thoroughly enjoying this one. He ducked his head under the water, running his hands through it in an effort to make sure all of the dust was out of his hair. Whenever you imagined discovering an abandoned space ship, it was never full of dust, but whenever you found one, it was. Alien space ship, just the words made him happy. Add in how happy they made Rodney and John Sheppard was a very happy man.

Turning off the water, John decided he'd get dinner for them both and head to the lab, where Rodney was undoubtedly reviewing the information they'd collected on the ship for the third or fourth time. He almost felt sorry for Harrison, trapped between Zelenka and Rodney, both of them wanting to know everything he knew. Drying himself quickly he hung up his towel and stepped out into the main room.

To find Rodney sitting cross-legged on his bed, a laptop resting on his thighs.

"This is amazing," Rodney said without looking up. "This metal is unlike anything we've seen before. We could be talking a new element here, at the very least it's a new compound. Of course we'll know more when we--" Rodney looked up, his voice trailing off. "You're naked."

"I just got out of the shower."

"Shouldn't you have a towel or something?"

"Why would I bother with a towel when I'm alone in my own quarters?" John resisted the urge to go back into the bathroom and get one.

"You're not alone." Rodney hadn’t stopped staring at John since he'd looked up and realized John was naked.

"I thought I was."

"Good point," Rodney conceded. John expected him to look back at his laptop, but he didn't. He just kept staring with an intensity that was a little disconcerting.

"You're beautiful," Rodney said suddenly. "Like a statue, the way your muscles just fit together, all smooth and elegant."

John flushed. He knew he was attractive, but no one had ever described him in quite that way before.

Rodney dropped his eyes. "Guys probably don't say stuff like that to other guys." He sounded embarrassed.

"Since when are we like other guys?" John asked.

Rodney's smile returned. "True."

John smiled back and went to his closet to get some clean clothes, turning his back on Rodney.

"Do you have to get dressed?" Rodney asked.

"Only if I want to eat dinner," John answered, looking over his shoulder at Rodney.

"It's early yet," Rodney said, and John knew him well enough now that he could hear the arousal in his voice.

It wasn't that early. "Yeah, it is," John agreed.

Rodney closed his laptop and put it on the floor. John walked towards him, his cock starting to stiffen. Rodney shifted to the far side of the bed, resting his weight on a hip and an elbow, not quite sitting, but not lying down either.

John settled onto the bed on his side, facing Rodney.

"I want to touch you. Can I?" Rodney sounded nervous and excited, and he looked like a kid who had just asked if he could open his birthday presents.

John kissed him gently, then whispered, "Anything. You can do anything."

Rodney smiled, big and broad, and John realized that Rodney found him more interesting than an alien space ship. He was about to point that out when Rodney kissed him. By the time Rodney drew back John was fully hard, his whole body one big mass of anticipation.

Placing a hand on John's shoulder, Rodney urged him onto his back. John went willingly, staring up at Rodney, who stared back. Lifting a hand, he traced the side of John's face with his fingers and John closed his eyes, savoring the caress. Rodney's fingers moved across his forehead, and then he stroked the backs down John's other cheek. John opened his eyes as Rodney slid his fingers down to John's neck, tilting his head back.

Rodney returned to his face, tracing John's eyebrows and nose. "Your nose isn't symmetrical."

"I know."

Rodney smiled and moved his fingers to John's mouth, tracing his lips with broad warm fingers. Then he leaned down for a kiss and John just gave it up for him, like he always did, letting Rodney kiss him lightly, teasing John's lips with his own. And then letting Rodney go deeper, letting Rodney in.

Rodney's touch was familiar, but John had never been naked with Rodney before and somehow that made it feel different, almost new. Rodney's hands went everywhere, shoulders and arms, chest and stomach, his mouth following. And there shouldn't be anything erotic about lips trailing over your biceps, but there was.

Warm, gentle suction on the inside of your wrist was erotic too, and John didn't know how it was that he'd never known that.

He kept still, certain that Rodney needed to do this, needed to touch John at his own pace and for his own pleasure. It wasn't easy. He wanted to touch, too. Wanted to kiss and explore, wanted to make Rodney feel as good as he felt.

Rodney's hands slid up the backs of his legs, his fingers teasing the inside of John's knees, and that was just nuts. Having his knees touched shouldn't make him moan, but it did.

Then Rodney slid his hands around to the inside of John's thighs and that was too close to his cock. John had to spread his legs just a little farther apart as Rodney's big hands moved upward. He paused with his hands splayed on John's hips and rubbed with his thumbs, caressing the crease between his legs and groin, almost brushing John's balls.

John stared up at him, wanting, but not willing to ask. Rodney had touched his cock a few times since the first time he'd jerked off for Rodney, but it always been while John was touching himself. Rodney would cup his balls, or place his hand alongside John's on John's cock. It was hot. It was really hot, but this time John wanted Rodney to touch him, almost as much as he wanted to touch Rodney.

On the next stroke, Rodney's thumbs lightly brushed against his balls, and John gasped. Rodney touched them again, and then moved his fingers up the center of John's balls to his cock.

"Is this okay?" Rodney whispered.

"God, yes."

Rodney smiled a little and his hand closed around John's cock. John kept his hips still, but he couldn't contain his groan. Rodney touched him with long, slow strokes, all the way down to the base, and then up over the head, before going back down.

It was too slow and too light and utterly perfect. Rodney's gaze moved from John's cock to his face and back. John's stayed on Rodney's face.

Then he glanced down and found himself mesmerized by the sight of Rodney's hand moving up and down his cock, so big. Rodney tightened his grip. So strong.

John was close to coming and Rodney must have known because he increased the speed of his strokes. Not a lot, but just, just enough.

His hips lifted when he came. He couldn’t stop them. He was too caught up in the pleasure shuddering through him as Rodney kept touching him, almost relentless in his determination to make John feel good. John just stared at him and shuddered and felt, until the shuddering eased and Rodney stopped stroking.

Rodney lay down beside him and John reached for him, pulling him close. Rodney was still dressed but John could feel his warmth. And his erection. "No one's ever touched me quite like that before," John confessed when Rodney didn't say anything.

"You liked it though, right?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Good."

John drew back enough that he could see Rodney's face. Rodney looked turned on and turned on was a really good look for him. John kissed him slowly, encouraging Rodney's arousal.

"John." There was a hint of anxiety in Rodney's voice.

"It's okay," John said, stroking his face. "Do you want me to do something for you? To touch you? I wouldn't mind."

Rodney smiled at little. "I don't know."

"You can touch yourself if you want, and I'll just kiss you, touch you a little, like you've been doing with me. Only if you want to, no pressure." John was sure Rodney knew that, because they'd talked about it, but he felt he should say it anyway.

"Okay," Rodney said after a moment. Rolling onto his back, he undid his pants.

The head of his cock was peeking out above the waistband of his boxers, and John swallowed, resisting the urge to reach out and touch it.

Rodney pushed his pants and boxers down below his hips and John stared. Pale skin. There was lots of pale skin, but mostly there was Rodney's cock, thick and heavy, dark with arousal. And Rodney's balls, the skin protecting them looking soft and touchable. And dark, curly hair that John wanted to slide his fingers through.

Rodney's hand curled around his cock and John moaned.

Rodney looked at him and John flushed. "Sorry, I just… I've thought about this, what it would be like to touch you."

"You have?"

John nodded. "You don't want to know how many times I've jerked off pretending it was you I was touching."

"John, that's--" Rodney's voice trailed off, and John suspected it was because he didn't know what to say.

John kissed him, lingering, and then looked down at Rodney's cock and Rodney's hand. He was touching himself the same way he'd touched John, with long, slow strokes. "I've thought about other things too," John confessed, his voice low.

"Tell me."

John raised his eyes to Rodney's. "That drop of fluid on your cock, I've thought about what it would be like to lick it off, to taste you, to feel your cock under my tongue." He paused for a moment, drinking in the sight of Rodney, aroused and beautiful. "I wondered if you liked to have that spot just under the head sucked on. The one on the back, where all the nerves come together?"

Rodney nodded. "I like it."

"Cool," John said, then added, "I like it too." He looked down again just in time to see the head of Rodney's cock disappear within the circle of his hand. "I've thought about taking you in my mouth, sucking you, tasting you."

"You really… you want…"

Almost stung by the surprise in Rodney's voice, John kissed him repeatedly before answering. "Yes, I want. I want to know what it's like to slide my mouth up and down your cock, to look up and see pleasure in your face and know I put it there, that I made you feel good. I want to make you come. And I'm going to swallow--"

"John." Rodney lifted his hips, thrusting into his own fist with short, sharp movements, and then he went still, fluid spilling from the end of his cock. John tore his eyes away from Rodney's cock and looked up to find Rodney staring at him, pleasure exposing him, making him vulnerable.

John watched him, feeling bizarrely like he was keeping guard. Then he snuggled against Rodney and wrapped an arm around Rodney's waist, enjoying the fact that part of his arm was resting on bare skin. "You're beautiful, too," he whispered.

"Did we bring an optometrist? Because you need your eyes checked." There was no bite in Rodney's rejoinder.

"I have 20/20 vision," John answered, kissing Rodney's cheek, back near his ear.

"There's come on my shirt," Rodney said in a clear change of subject.

"I'll loan you one."

"Like that won't be obvious."

"It'll be less obvious than come stains," John pointed out, telling himself that the fact that he liked the idea of Rodney in his clothes did not make him sixteen.

"I'll just tell people you spilled something on me during dinner."

"No one will believe you."

"Sure they will."

"No they won't, because I have table manners."

"My manners are impeccable," Rodney insisted, looking so cute that John had to kiss him.

***

"I want to go on missions again."

"Do you?"

"I wouldn't have said I wanted to if I didn't."

"Testy."

"Yes, yes I'm testy. Maybe I'd be less testy if I could go on missions."

"You want to investigate the spaceship Colonel Sheppard and his team found."

"I'm the head of the science department. Investigating things like this ship is why I'm here."

"You're not afraid."

"Of course I'm afraid. I was afraid before this. Anyone with half a brain is afraid when they step through the gate. But I'm better. My concentration is back. I even have a sex life. Sort of."

"And you think that's a sign that you're better?"

"A rape victim having a sex life? Yes, I think that's a sign that I'm better."

"What happened when Thompson screwed up this morning?"

"What?"

"When you first came in, you said that Thompson screwed up. What happened?"

"Nothing. Zelenka handled it. I don't see what that has to do with… Oh, I get it. You think that because I didn't berate a member of my staff that means I'm not fit to go on a mission."

"You're still suppressing."

"I'm having sex. Okay, making out, it depends on your definition. Still, how is that suppressing?"

"When was the last time you were angry?"

"I'm pretty annoyed right now."

"Not annoyed, angry, really angry, when was the last time?"

"I don't know, a while ago. You think I'm suppressing my anger."

"I'll talk to Dr. Weir, but I'm not promising anything."

"Thank you."

***

By the time they landed, John was feeling out of sorts and heading rapidly towards pissy. He had no reason to be pissy, except that Rodney had barely spoken a dozen words to him over the last two days. He was in back with the other scientists, reviewing their plans for examining the ship. Harrison was sitting behind John, in Rodney's chair. He'd been sitting in Rodney's chair for the last four months, but with Rodney on board it felt more wrong than usual.

The ship came into view, and John yelled, "Hey, McKay, get up here."

Rodney clambered into the cockpit. "What are you--" he started to say and then stopped, his mouth literally falling open.

John brought the jumper down lower, flying directly over the ship. It was long and not really elegant, but definitely prettier than any ships the Ancients had designed.

"Oh, wow," Rodney said, and John grinned. "Radek, you have got to see this," Rodney called.

John's grin faded slightly.

Zelenka came into the front of the ship and stood next to Rodney, his hand on the back of John's chair. They'd reached the end of the ship and John turned the jumper around, taking another pass.

"Amazing, huh?" Rodney said.

"Yes, very," Radek answered, leaning over John for a closer look.

Veering away from the ship, John flew the jumper into the same clearing they'd landed in before. He'd barely opened the doors when the scientists were down the ramp, talking excitedly as they walked. "Hey," he yelled, following them. They stopped and turned to look up at him. "As far as we know the planet is uninhabited, but that doesn't mean you can go running off without checking with Teyla, Ronon, or myself first. Now I know you're all anxious to get your hands on the ship, but camp first, exploring second."

John could have sworn every single one of their faces fell, at least a little. "Fine," Rodney said after a moment, "where do you want to build this camp?"

"Right this way," John said, stepping down the ramp, and taking the lead.

 

An hour later the tents were pitched, and even though John was tempted to make the scientists help dig the latrine, he didn't. Instead he and Teyla escorted them to the ship, while Ronon and Corporal Longwell handled the last of the camp set up. John would have preferred to return to Atlantis every night, but since the planet's daily rotation was almost the exact opposite of Atlantis', he had agreed, reluctantly, that staying on the planet made the most sense. Even though they'd left sensors near the gate to alert them if anyone came through, their position still felt too exposed for John's comfort.

Rodney didn't care about any of that, and watching his face light up as they approached the ship was almost enough to make John not care either.

Standing back, he watched Rodney issue orders and remind his team of their assignments. The scientists went to work and almost every five minutes Rodney was being called over to look at something. He seemed surprisingly unbothered by the interruptions.

When the sun started to set John called a halt to their exploring, sending everyone back to the camp. Rodney and Zelenka talked excitedly the entire walk back, not bothering to finish most of their sentences. John listened closely, happy that he understood about half of what they were saying.

Assigning Corporal Longwell first watch, John sent everyone to bed not long after dinner had been eaten and cleaned up. Only Rodney complained.

"I have planning to do for tomorrow," he grumbled as he and John entered their tent.

"You and Zelenka haven't done anything but plan since we left the ship," John said. Rodney had spent all of dinner engrossed in conversation with his team, but mostly with Zelenka.

Rodney sniffed. "We were reviewing what we found, and setting priorities for tomorrow's work."

Taking off his jacket, John folded it in half and placed it on top of his duffle. "The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner you'll be able to get up and play."

"That's what your parents used to say to you on Christmas Eve, isn't it?"

"No, they used to say that the sooner I went to sleep, the sooner Santa would come," John answered, bending to undo his thigh holster.

Rodney looked away.

"Are you going to sleep in your clothes?" John asked, putting his gun within reach of his sleeping bag and squatting down to remove his boots.

"Of course not." Rodney sat on his sleeping bag and untied one of his boots. "We're not…" Rodney started and then stopped. "I mean you don't want…"

"No," John said, a little hurt at how relieved Rodney looked. "Not on a mission."

"Right, of course, sorry," Rodney replied without looking at him.

John watched as he removed a boot with great concentration. "Is there something we need to talk about?"

"No. Why would we need to talk? Everything's fine. Unless you…"

"No." John shook his head. "I’m fine."

"So we're both fine," Rodney said, unbuckling his own holster.

John stopped watching and removed his pants, climbing into his sleeping bag. Once Rodney was safely tucked into his, John turned out the lamp. Fluffing up his pillow with a quick and completely unnecessary punch, he prepared to sleep.

 

He woke a few hours later to find Rodney sitting up in his sleeping bag, shoulders hunched.

"Rodney?" John asked quietly. "You okay?"

Turning to look at him, Rodney nodded. "Fine, I just need to use the facilities."

"You want me to come with you?"

"I think I can go to the bathroom on my own, thank you."

"Right." John watched as Rodney pulled on his pants, the moonlight coming into the tent outlining Rodney's thick, strong thighs in a way that made John's throat go dry. Pants on, he shoved his feet into his boots, picked up the flashlight, and left without a word.

John lay there, his arm over his eyes, and tried not to think about Rodney's thighs, until it was time for him to go on watch. Then he dressed and went out to relieve Longwell.

The corporal stood and saluted as he approached. John would never understand the need Marines seemed to have to salute so damn often. "No signs of hostile activity, sir. Dr. McKay is at the latrine. Everyone else is in their tents."

"Thank you, Corporal. You're relieved. Now get some sleep."

"Yes, sir."

John sat on the log the corporal had just vacated and looked up at the sky. With no pollution or lights, there were stars everywhere. He wondered how many of them had worlds they had visited. Then he wondered how many of them the Wraith had visited.

He stopped looking at the stars.

Minutes passed. John looked around, keeping his attention on the shadows surrounding the camp. When he looked at his watch, he realized that McKay had been gone for nearly an hour. Fighting back an urge to run, John walked quickly in the direction of the latrine.

He found Rodney before he reached it, leaning against a tree. "I was beginning to think you had fallen in."

Rodney stiffened, no longer leaning. "As you can see, I didn't."

"Good thing, since it's a little late for a bath." John gestured with his flashlight in the direction of the camp. "Come on. Just because the place seems uninhabited, that doesn't mean you can just hang out in the middle of the night."

"Wouldn't want to do anything unsafe," Rodney said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"No, we wouldn't." Like getting cut off from your team and captured. Like listening when the rest of your team insisted that you were outnumbered and outgunned and you wouldn’t be able to rescue anyone if you were dead.

"Shouldn't you be asleep?" Rodney asked but it sounded more like a demand.

"I’m on watch."

Rodney nodded. "Well then, good night." His tone was formal, almost dismissive. Rodney started off in the direction of their tent and John followed, wondering what the hell he'd said.

 

Whatever it was, Rodney was still pissed about it the next day. Normally John liked watching Rodney work, liked watching him get excited about science, but Rodney sniping at him every time John got within five feet of him was making John pissy. No, not pissy, pissed.

Leaning against the wall, he watched Rodney and Zelenka fiddling with one of the consoles on what was undoubtedly the bridge.

"Maybe it's a transportation system," Zelenka suggested.

"Like rings," Rodney added, nodding.

"Rings?" John asked, walking over and standing behind them, looking between them at the console. "Like the Goa'uld use?"

"Yes, like the Goa'uld use," Rodney answered in that tone, the one that implied the person he was speaking to was dumber than dirt.

John frowned. "You don't think this was a Goa'uld ship, do you?"

"Does this look like a Goa'uld ship?"

"How would I know?" John answered, irritated. He was used to Rodney's impatience when interrupted, but this wasn't mere impatience or even annoyance.

"Mission reports."

"The ones I read weren't illustrated."

"Rings only work between established stations," Zelenka said. "I believe Rodney was suggesting that this system might work in a similar fashion."

John nodded. "I see."

Rodney snorted and turned back to the console. Zelenka gave him a sympathetic look and a puzzled shrug. With a shake of his head, John walked away.

Rodney's behavior didn't make any sense. He had expected Rodney to be anxious and afraid his first time off world since getting back. When Rodney was anxious or frightened you knew it, none of that macho, concealing your emotions stuff for Rodney. Rodney, however, seemed perfectly fine with being off world. It was John he had a problem with, and John had no idea why.

 

The Air Force, and John was certain Elizabeth, regarded it as part of John's responsibilities as head of the mission to be part of decisions concerning the allocation of personnel, so John felt no compunction at all about making himself part of Rodney and Zelenka's evening conversation about the next day's work.. John had no intention of countermanding Rodney or Zelenka's choices. He simply felt he should be part of the conversation. Rodney felt otherwise.

And he was making those feelings quite clear.

After the third insult John had had it. "What the hell crawled up your ass and died?" he demanded, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth.

Rodney looked like John had struck him, surprised and hurt, then his expression hardened. They were standing just outside the circle of logs surrounding the fire, where the rest of the mission team was finishing up dinner. Everyone else had fallen silent, so Rodney's next words carried. "Maybe nothing would have if you'd done your job. You remember your job, don't you, Colonel? Protecting the rest of us? Protecting your team?"

John wanted to protest, wanted to point out how impossible the situation had been but the words wouldn't leave his mouth.

"You're not even going to try to defend yourself are you? Why is that? Guilt, perhaps. Not that guilt is a new emotion for you. There's Sumner and Ford, mustn't forget Ford, and now me. At least with me, you can make up for it. That's the reason for all of the attention, isn't it? The movies, the…"

"Don't say it." John took a step toward him, so angry that he was almost shaking and completely unaware that Zelenka had backed away, leaving them facing one another. "Don’t you dare say it."

Rodney tilted his head, sending his chin into the air. "That is the reason. Guilt."

"Fuck you," John said, turning and walking away as slowly as his anger would allow.

 

John took first watch and Rodney pretended to be asleep when he entered the tent. Undressing without speaking a word, John crawled into his sleeping bag and stared at the top of the tent, determined not to think about Rodney's words or Rodney's anger, and whether or not it was deserved.

When he woke to find Rodney sitting up in his sleeping bag, John remained quiet,

The next day Rodney split the scientists into two teams. Zelenka's team remained on the bridge, while Rodney's team concentrated on the remains of the engines. John sent Teyla and Ronon to watch over Rodney's team, while he and the corporal stayed on the bridge. It was a cowardly thing to do, he knew, but he figured that this way no one would have to be distracted from their work by the tension between the two of them.

That part of his plan, at least, was successful. Unfortunately, it didn't keep John from being distracted. He took periodic walks around the bridge, listening in on the scientists' conversations, asking the occasional question. Eventually boredom forced him outside. Walking the perimeter of the ship, he heard Teyla's voice, low and urgent. Following the sound, he spotted her talking with Rodney. Neither of them seemed to have noticed him and John ducked back.

"…not know what it cost the colonel to leave without you," Teyla said.

Rodney's response wasn’t quite loud enough for him to hear.

"I am telling you there was nothing any of us could have done," Teyla said, and John could hear the anger in her voice.

John turned away, heading back inside the ship. He didn't blame Rodney for blaming him. He shouldn't have listened. He should have stayed behind, done whatever it took to save Rodney. Just because Ronon and Teyla thought that there hadn't been a way to get to Rodney alive, that didn't mean there hadn't been. John could have found one.

Realizing that Zelenka was frowning at him, John cleared his head with a deep breath and a quick shake before going over to find out what Zelenka needed.

 

Once they were back in camp, John pulled Teyla aside. "I don't need you to run interference for me with McKay," he said, leaning over her, not that it was possible to intimidate Teyla.

"I was not speaking with Dr. McKay for your sake. I was speaking with him for his," Teyla replied. Then she walked away, leaving John to stare after her.

 

Following dinner, John informed Teyla that he was going to the jumper to check in with Atlantis. He had barely left the camp when Rodney jogged up to him.

"I should be part of the report," Rodney said, falling into step next to him.

John shrugged. Rodney should be part of the report, since the bulk of the mission was his responsibility.

The walk to the jumper was unpleasantly quiet, as was the short flight to the gate. They radioed in, and if Elizabeth noticed anything odd in their manner she didn't let on.

It wasn't until they were halfway back that Rodney burst out, "I was an ass."

"Yes, you were," John said.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did, and I know I've been treating you badly."

"Yeah," John said. "Why is that?"

"I'm really, really angry."

"At me."

"No," Rodney said quickly, adding after a moment, "Yes. I kept expecting you to rescue me. Every day I thought, 'today is the day,' but you never came."

"I wanted to." He had wanted to, but Elizabeth had insisted on negotiating Rodney's release, leaving John with nothing to do but stand at her side and glower. And he didn't glower nearly as well as Ronon. "If I had known…"

"It's probably best that you didn’t."

"Probably," John agreed. Any attempt to take Rodney out by force would have been bloody. And if John had known he wouldn't have been able to just glower.

"I know you couldn't stop them from taking me," Rodney said quietly, his eyes straight ahead.

"I tried." He had tried, but they'd gotten separated and there was no way John could have gotten to him, not alive anyway.

Rodney nodded, but it wasn't enough. "Do you believe me?" John asked.

"Of course I believe you." Rodney turned to look at him, his expression more guarded than John was comfortable with, at least with Rodney. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Do you really believe, deep down inside, that I would do anything to protect you?" John wasn’t sure why he needed Rodney to answer, but he did.

"I know--"

John cut him off with a shake of his head. "Knowing isn't enough. Do you believe it?"

Rodney studied him for a long moment. "Yes," he said at last, "I believe."

"Okay," John said, maneuvering the jumper into a landing position. "Okay."

 

Things were still weird between them and John found himself waiting for the other shoe to drop, wanting it to happen so they could deal with it and move on. Rodney was all careful words and even more careful smiles. It made John want to say something sharp and thoughtless just to break the tension.

After two days he couldn’t take it anymore. He waited until they were lying in their sleeping bags, as close to alone as they could get. Then he just had to find the right words. He could do that. "What's wrong?" John whispered. It seemed like as good a start as any.

"Nothing," Rodney answered, his voice just loud enough for John to hear.

So much for good starts. "I'm pretty sure something is still bothering you. What is it?"

"Nothing, I'm fine."

So much for gambit number two. "Rodney," John said, dragging both syllables out.

"Fine, fine," Rodney snapped. He was the only person John knew who could snap while whispering. "I'll talk, just don't whine."

No wonder Rodney was terrible with kids if the slightest whine could make him give in. John filed that information away and waited for Rodney to talk. "Well," he prompted after what seemed like forever but was probably only a couple of minutes.

"Why do you want me?" Rodney asked, his voice tight.

It was the last thing John had expected him to say and there was something about hearing Rodney ask it in the dark, when John could barely see him, that cut into him. "You're smart and you're funny--"

"Oh, please," Rodney said, cutting him off, "that's what everyone always says. No one ever says, 'I want someone stupid with no sense of humor.'"

"Well, no," John conceded, "but you are smart and you are funny."

"Let me put it another way," Rodney said, "what is it about me that makes other men want to do things to me?"

The anger is his voice caught John completely by surprise. "I don't want to do things to you. I want to do things with you. There's a difference."

"Is there?"

"Yes."

"Sometimes it doesn't feel that way."

John stared at him, wishing he could make out more of Rodney's face in the dark.

"Not all the time," Rodney added, a little more softly, less belligerent, "just sometimes."

Looking away from Rodney, John tried to process the comparison. "Heightmeyer said our being involved might complicate things," he said at last.

"You talk to Heightmeyer about me?" Rodney asked, his tone sharp.

"No, I talk to Heightmeyer about me. Last time I checked our relationship was part of my life."

"Relationship," Rodney repeated, his tone softening slightly. "I don’t even know what we are. Friends with perks or am I your boyfriend?"

"I think I'm your boyfriend."

"Oh."

There was something about that 'oh' that made John feel a little better. "Lovers, partners," he said, tossing out words. "Maybe lovers who are becoming partners."

"Lovers," Rodney said, finishing with his tiny, interrogative hum, the one he made when he was willing to consider your point.

John waited for him to say something more, but the silence stretched until at last John heard the soft snore that meant Rodney was asleep. He had watch in a couple of hours. He should sleep, too, but all John could think about was how they could be lovers if Rodney couldn't tell John apart from the men who had assaulted him.

 

The next morning John walked the perimeter of the camp. Normally checking the perimeter was Ronon's job. He didn't really have the temperament to spend the entire day with the scientists and his outdoor skills were far better than John's. Switching assignments wasn't an ideal use of manpower, but it was better than spending the entire day with Rodney.

Every time he looked at Rodney part of John wanted to kiss him. Another part wanted to tell him to just get over it all ready. Mostly he wanted to place himself between Rodney and the rest of the world. He couldn't do any of those things.

The entire situation was confusing and frustrating. John was beginning to wish they'd brought Heightmeyer along.

"Colonel," Rodney's voice sounded in his ear and John pressed the button on his radio.

"Yes, Rodney."

"I've been thinking."

"Okay," John said slowly, dragging it out.

"I think I'm angry with you because it's easy to be angry with you."

"Oh really?"

There was a pause and then Rodney said, "I don’t think that came out quite right."

"You think?"

"What I'm trying to say is that it's easy to be angry with you because you won't go away. No matter how angry I get you'll still be there."

"Yes, I will," John said. After all, it was what he had been trying to be for Rodney, a place where Rodney could feel safe. He'd just expected it to involve a little more sharing and a lot less anger. "But, you know, I think Zelenka would be, too."

Rodney laughed a little, sounding more anxious than amused. His laughter subsided and the silence stretched, but John didn't close the radio channel. "Plus, you're here. I can hurt you."

And he couldn't hurt them. John got it, but he wished he didn't. "Yes, you can," he said.

"I'm sorry about last night."

"Don't apologize if you meant it," John said, wanting Rodney to say that he hadn't meant it, that John touching him was nothing like them touching him.

"I only sort of meant it. It's a sometimes thing. I don't feel that way all the time, or even most of the time, just sometimes."

Realizing that he'd stopped walking, John took a step, "Okay." Sometimes was better than all the time.

"So we're good? Still… friends?"

John could picture Rodney looking around, checking to see who was near, before settling on the word friends. "You tell me."

"It's what I want."

Letting out the breath he'd been holding, John said, "It's what I want, too."

"Good," Rodney answered, sounding relieved. "Good. I'll see you when you get back to camp."

"See you then, Rodney."

"Right, um, bye." Rodney broke the connection and John smiled. He smiled the entire rest of his walk.

As soon as he finished checking the perimeter, John took Ronon's place with Rodney's team. Rodney smiled broadly at him and John smiled back. They really had to work on this public smiling thing, but not today. Besides they were surrounded by scientists studying an alien space ship, it's not as though anyone was likely to notice.

The afternoon went the way John had hoped every day would go, with Rodney sharing his discoveries and his excitement, letting John get a little caught up in the science and a lot caught up in Rodney.

He was still feeling good when he got back to their tent after his watch. Sitting on the edge of his sleeping bag, he started removing his boots.

"Hey," Rodney said, not sounding sleepy at all.

"Shouldn't you be asleep?" John said glancing at him.

"I was, but now I'm awake."

John stuffed his socks into his boots and stood. "I see that."

"We probably shouldn’t do any making up making out off world, should we?"

"No, we shouldn't." John tugged his shirt off and then removed his pants before sliding into his sleeping bag. "I'm kind of surprised you want to."

"I know I'm being really weird about this."

"It's understandable," John said, because it was.

"But you don't understand."

John rolled onto his side, facing Rodney. "I know what we do and what they did involve the same body parts, or some of them, but other than that I don't see the similarity."

"It's hard for me to be wanted sometimes, because they wanted me. I know here," Rodney pointed at his head, "that they wanted to hurt me, that it wasn't really desire per se, but that's not how it feels."

"Did I do anything? I know last time…"

"The last time was good."

"Are you sure?"

Rodney hesitated. "Touching you was good. I liked that, a lot." He paused. "It was the first time I've had an orgasm since…"

"You never?" John asked. He knew Rodney often left his quarters as aroused as John was, and John had just assumed Rodney was taking care of it the same way he was.

"I can't." Rodney sat up in his sleeping bag and John stared at his hunched shoulders. "I have flashbacks sometimes, and I can't… I don’t like letting go."

"It's okay," John said gently, at least now he knew why Rodney wouldn't let John touch him.

"No, it's really not. It's there all the time. They're there, with their hands, and their--" Rodney stopped and John sat up, wanting to say something, wanting to reach out, but he had no idea how.

"I wish you were a Vulcan," Rodney said softly, not looking at John.

"So I could use the mind meld to make you forget," John answered just as softly.

Rodney nodded.

"I would, you know."

"I know."

John squeezed his shoulder. He could feel hunched muscles beneath Rodney's t-shirt. "I like being around you. You asked why I'm attracted to you and that's why. I wish I could explain it better.

Rodney covered John's hand with his. "I like being around you, too."

"Good." John tugged lightly on his shoulder. "We should get some sleep," he said, lying down. Rodney followed him, settling onto his side facing John. Reaching out, John squeezed Rodney's hand. "Good-night."

"Night, John."

Listening to Rodney's slowly deepening breathing, John drifted off.

***

"How did the mission go?"

"It couldn't have gone better if I'd planned it myself."

"You did plan it."

"So I did."

"It wasn't difficult, being off-world again?"

"I had a couple of nightmares, nothing I couldn't handle."

"You're feeling pretty good."

"I really am."

"I'm glad."

"You'll be glad to know that I got angry. I know you thought I was suppressing."

"And now you're not?"

"Nope."

"What changed?"

"I don't know."

"What made you angry?

"John."

"What did he do?"

"He kept hovering."

"I thought you liked that."

"Well, yes, I like it when he does his job, keeps me safe, but he was being a mother hen."

"Unlike the time he didn't do his job, didn't keep you safe."

"There was nothing he could have done. I know that."

"But that's not how it feels."

"No."

"And you told him that."

Rodney nodded.

"Did it help?"

"We talked. We talked about a lot of stuff. I guess it was good, right? If we talked, cleared the air?"

"Do you feel better?"

"It wasn't cathartic, if that's what you mean."

"You're still angry."

"Not at John."

"Why not at John?"

"Because he did everything he could. There's no rational reason to be angry with him."

"Anger is rarely rational."

***

John ran his fingers across the books on his shelf. He'd brought some of his favorites back with them on the Daedalus, although he still hadn't decided if having them here made Atlantis feel more like home or less. Either way, he needed to escape for awhile, needed to not think about Rodney, or their relationship, or his own feelings. He pulled a slender paperback off the shelf, and Monterey, California was the perfect place to visit.

Settling into bed, he began to read. He'd only made it through the first two chapters when the door to his quarters slid open and Rodney came in. "Hey," John said, lowering his book.

"Is it too late?" Rodney asked.

John shoved aside the mild annoyance created by Rodney's uncertainty. "Have a seat." Sitting on the edge of John's bed, Rodney asked what he was reading. John held up the book with the spine visible. "Sweet Thursday, it's the sequel to Cannery Row."

Rodney nodded as though he was familiar with the books, but John doubted Steinbeck was required reading in Canada.

"It's an old favorite," John added.

"Why?" Rodney asked. John frowned and he added, "What do you like about it?"

"Parts of it are really funny. Steinbeck was great at capturing the absurd yet human things we all do." John paused. "It's the humanity of it that I like, the connections between the characters, and the way everything that's good in their lives comes from those connections."

"So you're a big, ole soppy romantic," Rodney said with a small smile.

"I wouldn't go that far. Listen," John said, and picking up his book began to read to Rodney from the beginning of chapter three.

After a page or so Rodney lay down on his side next to John. John kept reading.

"That reminds me of you," Rodney said suddenly.

John looked down at him. "What does?"

"That description."

John read it again, "Doc liked himself, not in an adulatory sense, but just as he would have liked anyone else. Being at ease with himself put him at ease with the world."

"That's the one," Rodney said.

"I don't think I'm at ease with the world."

"Keep reading."

John resumed reading, going through Steinbeck's description of Doc's discontent. "Men seem to be born with a debt they can never repay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him, and if he tries to make payments the debt only increases, and the quality of his gift is the measure of the man." John paused. "Doc's greatest gift had been his sense of paying as he went. The finish line had meant nothing to him except that he had wanted to crowd more living into the stretch. Each day ended with its night; each thought with its conclusion; and every morning a new freedom arose…"

"Definitely you," Rodney said, interrupting.

John lowered the book and gave him a questioning look.

"The paying as you go thing, that's you. That's why you like this book. You're the protagonist."

John didn't see the comparison. "Doc is a much nicer guy than I am."

"Read."

John read. Rodney interrupted him again to comment approvingly on Steinbeck's description of the inductive leap. Then he subsided. By the time John was halfway through chapter four, he was snoring softly.

Leaning down, John kissed his cheek. Then he closed his book and settled down to sleep.

When he woke, Rodney was gone.

 

John turned off his radio and started toward the gym. Ronon took his radio off when he was training and since he wasn't answering the gym was the logical place to start. The door slid open just in time to reveal Ronon dodging a blow from Rodney and responding with a quick jab to the stomach.

John was between them before Ronon could land another blow. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he yelled, keeping Rodney behind him.

"Sparring," Ronon said simply.

"Sparring," John repeated.

"Yes, sparring," Rodney said, and John turned enough that he could see Rodney, keeping Ronon in his peripheral vision.

"I thought you were training with Teyla."

"I am. This is more venting." Rodney was breathing harder than usual.

"Venting."

Rodney shook his head at John, in a gesture he usually used to imply that the person he was speaking to was denser than rock. "Yes, venting, blowing off steam letting things out. I'm sure you've heard of it."

"You're blowing off steam with Ronon." A guy who could break you in two. John didn't say that last part. He didn't think he needed to.

"I trust him," Rodney said, and John immediately wondered why Rodney didn't trust him enough to spar with him.

"I'm going," Ronon announced and started toward the door. John let him go, his earlier need to talk to Ronon forgotten.

The door slid shut and Rodney went over the wall, picking up a water bottle and taking a long drink before holding it out to John who shook his head. "He didn't hurt me," Rodney said, putting down the water and picking up a towel. "He wouldn’t hurt me."

John knew that, even if his instincts didn't.

"And I can't hurt him," Rodney added, wiping his face with the towel.

"You can't hurt Teyla either," John pointed out.

"I know." Rodney wrapped the towel around his neck. "But with Ronon I can vent."

"And not hurt him," John added, the pieces coming together. "Even though you want to."

Rodney nodded and slumped against the wall. "I've never felt like this. I've never wanted to hurt someone. I don't like it."

John wanted to say something, to offer some bit of comfort or reassurance, but he couldn’t find the right words, didn't even know where to start looking.

"I can't control it. The anger. It's there all the time, like low level radiation, but then it flares up and I can't… I just…"

"I know, Rodney. I know."

Rodney studied him for a moment. "Yeah, I suppose you do." He pushed himself away from the wall. "Usually I get annoyed, then I insult the person who annoyed me, and I move on. This…"

"Wanting to hurt someone is a horrible feeling," John said, drawing a penetrating look from Rodney.

"Who do you want to hurt?"

"Other than the men who hurt you, and the Wraith, and most of the Genii?"

"Other than them."

"Afghans. Not all of them."

"Just the ones who killed your team," Rodney said softly.

"Yeah, just them." John drew in a deep breath. "Why didn't you come to me?"

"You can't fix everything."

John stiffened, the intimacy of a few moments before starting to slip away. "I know that."

"That's not what I meant." Rodney put a hand on his arm. "I can't turn to you for everything. Some things I need to deal with on my own."

"Okay," John conceded, but he didn't like it and maybe he did want to fix everything, but Rodney was his lover.

"But you were very manly, coming to my rescue like that."

"I'm a very manly man."

Rodney laughed at him.

 

Rodney had an amazing mouth and at this very moment Rodney and his mouth were working their way across John's stomach. He'd never thought of his stomach as an erogenous zone but apparently it was. Rodney sucked gently and John reached for him, cupping Rodney's head in his hands.

Immediately, Rodney sat up, capturing John's hands and pushing them to the couch.

"Rodney?" John asked, sitting up himself. Rodney's eyes were a little wild.

"Don’t, don’t do that."

"I won't do it again, I promise." John wanted to reach for him, but he didn't dare. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Rodney said, shaking his head and standing. He stopped talking, looking around until he spotted his shirt and pulling it over his head.

"Rodney," John said again.

"I'll see you tomorrow. I just…" Not bothering to finish his sentence, Rodney left.

John stared after him for a long moment and then began looking for his own shirt.

 

It was probably wrong of him to follow Rodney to his quarters. In fact, John was sure it was. Rodney had been through hell. He needed time and space and understanding. But John just couldn't let it go, not this time.

He was tired of being understanding.

Rodney didn't look any better than he had when he left John's, but he nevertheless took a step backwards out of the doorway.

John stepped inside. Now that he was here he had no idea what to say. So he stood there, just inside the door, while Rodney stood a few feet away, arms crossed, looking angry and alone.

"Five months," he said at last. "We've been together five months and you've never invited me here."

"I didn't think you needed an invitation. Clearly, I was right."

"I think you just wanted to be able to leave whenever you wanted to."

Rodney didn't answer.

"You wanted to be able to run," John added, regretting the words as soon as he said them.

"Because we both know I'm a coward." The words were spoken in a tone John had never heard before. Rodney was always some degree of heat, even when he was disdainful, but now he sounded cold.

"That's not what I meant." John had to explain this. "You never stay with me. You always leave." Rodney's expression softened slightly, and John added, "I just wish you would talk to me."

"And tell you what? What it felt like to be on my knees, hands holding me still, while men I hated forced their way into my mouth, knowing that if I fought back, if I even flinched, they'd kill me? Do you want to know what it felt like to be helpless and used and degraded? I can tell you, if that's what you want to know."

The room was eerily quiet for a long moment. Then John found his voice. "Yes, I want to know. If I have to choose between being shut out and knowing, I'd rather know."

"Excuse me for not being willing to lay out my violation for your titillation."

Rodney's earlier words had sliced into him, but these were like a blow. "Is that what you think?" John asked. Anger suffusing him, he took a step toward Rodney. "Is that what you honestly think of me?"

Rodney glared at him, chin in the air, eyes glittering.

"Is that what you think?" John asked again, taking another step, steel in his tone. Capturing Rodney's gaze, he held it.

Rodney merely lifted his chin higher and John faltered. He wanted to hit him. He'd never wanted to hit Rodney no matter how high in the air his chin had gone. Turning on his heel, he left.

He didn't stop walking until he reached his quarters, where he leaned back against the wall, heart pounding, and wondered what the hell was wrong with him.

 

John was distracted and ill tempered the next day, but being a professional, he hid it. Sort of. He'd expected Rodney to seek him out to apologize, but he didn't, and the longer it went on the more frustrated John became. Having narrowly avoided snapping at Cadman over a duty roster John himself had set up, he decided it was time to find Rodney.

It wasn't difficult. Rodney was in the lab overseeing the staff analyzing data from the ship. Rodney was alone at his bench and John walked straight to him.

Rodney glanced up at him and then back at his laptop. "Colonel."

"McKay." John didn't say anything further. He simply stood there, looking at Rodney, painfully aware of the other people in the room, all of them carefully not looking at him and Rodney.

"What?" Rodney finally snapped.

"I'm just waiting for you to apologize."

"You're going to wait a long time."

"In that case, I might as well wait somewhere else," John said, anger stripping the warmth from his voice. He turned to go.

"John."

He stopped walking but he didn't turn back.

"I didn't mean it, what I said. That's not what I think." Rodney's voice was just a hair too high. "And I'm sorry."

John turned slowly around. "Accepted," he said with a slight nod, studying Rodney. He looked brittle, like if something hit him in the right place, he'd shatter. John couldn't see that and not respond. He tilted his head to the side. "You want to watch a movie later?"

"Depends on what it is."

"Give you a hint. 'Generally, you don't see that kind of behavior in a major appliance.'"

"Ghostbusters," Rodney said with a small smile that only made him look more brittle. "Who'd you con out of that?"

"Lorne, and I didn't con him. I simply suggested that an entertained commanding officer was a more pleasant commanding officer."

"Smart Lorne."

"Very," John agreed. "So?"

"I should be done here by six."

"Great. I'll get us some dinner from the mess."

"Okay."

John smiled, relieved, then he remembered that too much public smiling wasn't a good thing and schooled his face into a more serious expression. "I'll see you then."

 

They talked about the ship while they ate, and they watched the entire movie without saying a word, except to quote their favorite lines. There were inches between them on the couch, and absolutely no kissing.

It was the least fun John had ever had while watching Ghostbusters.

Wondering how many ex-girlfriends would faint from womanly hunger at the thought of John Sheppard initiating a conversation about feelings, John turned, facing Rodney and drawing a leg up onto the couch. "I felt helpless," he said, because if he didn't say something the whole thing was going to be swept under the rug and that wouldn't help either of them. Rodney sure as hell wasn't going to bring it up

Rodney turned to look at him and John added, "Last night, when you left. I’m not good at helpless."

"You wouldn't be," Rodney answered, his gaze heavy on John's face.

John ran a hand through his hair and waited for Rodney to say something else.

Rodney shifted his gaze to somewhere above the laptop screen. "I don’t want to lose your respect," he said, his voice quiet.

"You won't. Not ever. No matter what you tell me."

"Some of it's really ugly, and it's not that I want to shut you out. I just don't… I can't… I don't want to think about it. I just want it to go away."

"Me, too," John said softly and Rodney turned to look at him. He studied John for a long moment and then nodded once. John drew in a deep breath. "I've been thinking about what you said about not being able to tell the difference between them and me. The thing is I don't desire you."

Rodney looked surprised and, oddly, hurt. John ran a hand through his hair, squeezing it between his fingers this time, and tried again, "What I mean is, I don't desire you for my own pleasure, not that I don’t enjoy…" Looking away from Rodney, he took a moment to gather his thoughts and try to find the words. "I want this to be about us, all of it, the sex, the friendship. It should be about both of us. I want to be close to you. I want to share things with you." Having run out of things to say, he looked back at Rodney who was watching him intently.

"Okay," Rodney said.

John was out of words, but Rodney saved him, adding, "So do you have Ghostbusters II?"

John did.

***

"How is the sparring with Ronon going?"

"It helps. I didn't think it would, but you were right.

"Thank you."

"John found me with Ronon. I think he was hurt that I hadn't told him."

"Why didn't you tell him?"

"There are things I need to do on my own."

"And by telling John you wouldn't be doing it on your own."

"Exactly."

"I'm not sure I see your reasoning."

"He'd want to help, offer advice."

"And you don’t need help or advice."

"There are some things I need to do on my own. I can't get better if I don't take control. Right?"

"I think there is a difference between surrendering control and confiding in someone."

"I confide in John all the time."

"Okay."

"And I am not being defensive."

"I didn't say you were."

"You say a lot of things you don't say."

***

John walked into his quarters and stopped. Rodney was sitting on his bed with his back against the headboard, legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. He was reading. "Rodney?"

Looking up, Rodney smiled. "I decided to finish it." He held up John's copy of Sweet Thursday. "It's not my usual thing, but it's not bad."

"Glad you like it," John said, sitting on the edge of the bed and bending over to take off his boots.

"I see what you mean about the absurdity."

Turning so he was facing Rodney, John said, "Read about the butterflies, did you?"

Rodney answered him with a kiss. John leaned into it.

"Wanna fool around?" Rodney whispered.

"Yes." John kissed him, savoring the feel of Rodney's lips pressing into his and the vaguely coffee-tinged taste of him.

"You should take off your jacket," Rodney said when they parted and John tugged it off. Dropping it to the floor, John stretched out on the bed next to Rodney, who put away John's book and shifted so they were both lying on their sides.

"Hey," John said.

"Hey." Rodney smiled and John kissed him again, slow and deep. Rodney groaned. The sound of it made John feel lighter and he rested a hand on Rodney's hip.

Several kisses later Rodney slipped a hand under John's shirt, his fingers brushing a nipple and making John sigh. John touched, too. His touches were a little more tentative than Rodney's, but John was too happy to be touching Rodney again to care.

When Rodney tugged at his shirt, John pulled it off and dropped it to the floor, happily surprised when Rodney did the same. Lying with his head resting on one arm, John touched Rodney's cheek with his free hand. He slid his fingers over the rasp of Rodney's whiskers and down along the side of his neck. Rodney's skin was soft and strangely vulnerable.

His fingers brushed one of the sensitive spots on Rodney's neck and John paused, stroking back and forth for a moment, before sliding his fingers down to Rodney's shoulder and replacing them his mouth. He started with the lightest of kisses. When Rodney made a small, pleased sound John sucked softly, eliciting a groan that went straight to John's cock.

With a last kiss to Rodney's neck, John drew back. Rodney placed a hand on his jaw and guided him into another kiss.

Desire so sweet it almost hurt. For an instant John was tempted to pull away, but he couldn't, not from Rodney, not from this.

More kisses followed, along with more touches. Finally Rodney eased him onto his back, his hand sliding down John's chest to his pants. "Please," John said, and Rodney undid the button.

Together they pushed John's pants off. His cock was sticking as far in the air as his boxers would allow and as John lay back on the bed, Rodney's hand covered his cock at the same moment as his mouth covered John's.

They parted and John buried his face in Rodney's neck, groaning as Rodney rubbed that place on the back of John's cock with his thumb. Pressing a quick kiss to John's cheek, Rodney moved so that he was between John's legs and carefully lifted the elastic of John's boxers.

John eagerly lifted his hips and Rodney pulled his boxers down, moving with them until he was standing at the foot of the bed, John's boxers in his hand, staring down at John. John had never felt more naked in his life. He lifted a hand and Rodney dropped his boxers, crawling back onto the bed and into John's arms.

His arms around Rodney's shoulders, John kissed him deep and hungry, his earlier restraint forgotten. He needed this, needed to feel Rodney, to be close to him. To be with him.

Rodney kissed him back, just as unrestrained. He pushed with his hips, sliding his cock against John's. Except his cock was still inside his uniform pants.

"Ow," John said and Rodney pulled back, looking down at John questioningly. "Pants," John explained, "they don't feel so good on sensitive places."

"Sorry," Rodney said. Then he shifted onto his knees. Quickly undoing his pants, he pushed both pants and boxers down around his thighs. "This should be better."

Staring at Rodney's cock, John nodded.

Rodney stretched out over him again, keeping his weight on his hands. John looked down at their cocks, side by side, touching, and tried to figure out how something so simple could be so erotic.

"It's weird," Rodney said, and John lifted his eyes to Rodney's face. "How good we look together," Rodney added.

"Yeah," John said, smiling. Then Rodney kissed him and the sweetness faded into a desire so sharp John could feel it cutting into him. Lifting his hips, he half-rubbed, half-pushed himself against Rodney.

Rodney rubbed and pushed back.

Soon, they had a rhythm going and it was better than John had imagined, moving with Rodney, the two of them making each other feel good. Rodney had to know that this was good, that this was right. "Rodney," John said, "please… don't stop… please."

"I won't," Rodney whispered back.

John tightened his hold on Rodney's shoulders. Rodney felt good on top of him, the bulk of him pushing John down, keeping him in place. John could move against Rodney's bulk, could move with it. Rodney's face was pressed into his neck, and his breath was hot on John's skin.

"So good, Rodney," John said, because he needed to say something, needed another connection between them. "So good. Need this… need you… love you." Then he started to come and the words tapered off, lost in the intensity of his release.

He was still shaking when Rodney gasped his name and went still. After a moment, Rodney's hips jerked. John felt Rodney's fluid on his stomach, and the tremble in Rodney's shoulders. He was coming and John was holding him.

Rodney collapsed against him and John stroked his back, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. "That was amazing," John whispered.

"Yeah." Rodney moved to the side, the bulk of his weight shifting from John to the bed.

"You okay?" John asked, studying his face.

"Fine," Rodney answered, but his smile was more convincing than his words.

"Good," John said, giving into the need to hold Rodney close. "Good."

 

John wasn't angry about waking up alone. He wasn't. He understood. Rodney had issues to work through. John had to be patient and understanding. Except this was sleeping, not sex.

And maybe John was a little angry.

And, okay, hurt.

He stared into his coffee cup. There was only one swallow left. Once it was gone, so would be his excuse for lingering in the mess hall. He hadn't seen Rodney all day. He'd chosen not to go looking for Rodney and Rodney hadn’t appeared in any of the places they typically ran into one another. It was surprising, how easily they could avoid each other in the relatively small space of Atlantis.

Except he didn't want to avoid Rodney, not really.

Swallowing the last of his coffee, John stood.

Rodney was in his lab and as soon as John looked at him the anger drained away. John couldn’t stay angry with Rodney; he'd never been able to stay angry with Rodney. Rodney had once nearly killed them both with his hubris, and John had been smiling at him within hours.

"Hey," he said, sliding his hands into his pockets, all of the things he'd considered saying vanishing as he took in how tired Rodney looked. "Making any progress?" He wasn't even sure what Rodney was working on.

"Some."

"That's good." Neither of them said anything further, and John stayed where he was, a couple of feet inside the door, hands in his pockets.

"I'm sorry for leaving," Rodney said at last.

"It's okay. I understand," John said, even though he didn't understand and it wasn't okay.

Rodney nodded, but John could see he had already moved on to something else. "Did you?"

John frowned. "Did I?"

"What you said." Rodney had been looking that the Ancient device that lay in pieces on his lab bench and he lifted his eyes to John's. "Did you mean it?" When John didn't answer immediately, Rodney dropped his eyes back to the bench. "I understand if you didn't. People say things in the heat of the moment all--"

"I meant it," John said and Rodney stopped talking, his mouth still open. "Every word."

"Oh," Rodney said, staring at him. After a long, breathless moment he began tinkering with the pieces in front of him. "I have a meeting with Heightmeyer tomorrow at eleven. Would you like to come?"

John was tempted to ask why, but he restrained himself. "I'll be there."

"Good, good, that'll be good." Rodney didn't sound like he thought it would be good.

"You going to take a break tonight?" John asked.

"I don't think so," Rodney said. John wasn't surprised.

"If you change your mind…"

Rodney nodded.

John started to turn toward the door and then switched direction, going to Rodney instead. He kissed him briefly. "Good-night."

"Good-night," Rodney answered, his smile unsettlingly sad.

 

Kate was alone in her office when John arrived. She stood when John entered.

"Rodney asked me to come," John said.

Kate simply nodded and gestured toward one the chairs, coming out from behind her desk to sit in a chair opposite John's.

"I'm not sure why," John added, folding his hands.

Before Kate could answer there was a knock on the door. Rodney entered without waiting for Kate to respond.

"Good morning, Rodney." She smiled up at him.

"Good morning," Rodney answered, his eyes shifting to John, who smiled in a way he hoped was reassuring. Rodney didn't smile back, but he did take the seat next to John's.

Kate leaned forward. "You invited Colonel Sheppard."

"Call me John," John said, after all she called him John during their sessions, and Kate glanced at him, nodding once.

"I figured it would be easier to talk about this once, and it's something John should know." Rodney didn't look at him, or at Kate, and he didn't say anything further.

"What is it John needs to know?" Kate prompted.

"When I was…" Rodney started, then he paused, took a deep breath and tried again. "One of the guards, he… he had this thing about…" Rodney stopped. He was breathing rapidly and he couldn't seem to get an entire thought out, which was completely unlike Rodney who usually couldn't keep his thoughts in.

"Rodney, you don't--" John started, but Rodney cut him off with a shake of his head.

"I do. You deserve to know."

John was about to argue that he didn't deserve to know anything, not if telling him was going to hurt Rodney, but Heightmeyer spoke first.

"What did the guard do?"

"He touched me, while he was… He liked getting me off, making me enjoy it."

Cold fury settled inside John, making it a strain just to keep still.

"He used to gloat, claim it proved I was--" Rodney stopped.

John was glad he stopped, because if he didn't know what he would do if Rodney finished that sentence.

"All it means is that he knew how to make your body react," Kate said gently. "It doesn't mean you liked it, or enjoyed it, or wanted it."

"I know, I know." Rodney dropped his head and John could barely make out his next words. "I'm just so ashamed."

John was out of his chair and kneeling in front of Rodney before he'd had time to even think about moving. "You didn't do anything to be ashamed of."

"You don't know everything," Rodney answered his voice strained but quiet. It made John's chest ache.

"Tell us," Kate said.

"I used to pretend that I was somewhere else. It made the time go faster. I tried working on math or physics problems in my head, but that didn't keep me distracted enough so I started pretending I was back in Atlantis and we'd found that weakness in Wraith technology, or more weapons, or figured out how to make a ZPM, something happy. I imagined you a lot," Rodney said to John.

"Yeah?" John said gently, wanting to reach out and forcing himself not to.

"We played a lot of chess."

"Was I any good?"

Rodney nodded. "But unpredictable."

Any other time John would have smiled at that.

"At first it was only when I was in my cell, but when he started touching me... " Rodney closed his eyes. "I pretended it was you, that instead of being raped I was with you. I'm so sorry." His voice broke, and John reached for him.

"Don’t be sorry. Please don't be sorry." John wrapped his arms around Rodney's shoulders, pulling him close.

John felt Rodney shake his head. "I used you."

Needing to see Rodney, John shifted, loosening his hold. Rodney drew back. "Look at me, please." When Rodney lifted his eyes, John said, "I'm proud of you. You survived. You did what you had to and you survived. You survived and you came home. And I am so proud of you."

Rodney closed his eyes again. "I wanted to be stronger," he whispered.

"You were strong." John's voice was tight. "You were strong."

Rodney shook his head. "I couldn't… I tried to stop him from touching me, but they tied my hands and I couldn't stop him. I couldn’t stop him. He touched me. And he pushed himself inside me, and I couldn’t stop him." The last word was lost in a sob and John pulled Rodney back into his arms.

"No one could have," John said, his voice low and urgent. "No one could have. You weren't weak. You were strong. You were very strong. You are strong."

Rodney slid from the chair to the floor, his own arms going around John.

John could feel Rodney's tears sliding down his neck. "I love you," he said tightening his hold. "So much." He stroked Rodney's back, his own tears beginning to slip free. If he couldn't fix things, at least he could offer Rodney this.

Only dimly aware of Kate leaving the room, he kept stroking Rodney's back, trying to comfort Rodney in the only way he could.

Rodney's tears were shaking him, shaking them both, but John held on. Held on, and whispered that it was okay, that tears were good, that Rodney had survived and John was grateful for that.

Gradually, Rodney's tears began to slow, finally stopping altogether. John continued to hold him until Rodney pulled back.

"Well that was cathartic," Rodney said, his eyes on the floor.

"Good," John said. Brushing his thumb across Rodney's cheek, John wiped away the remains of Rodney's tears. "You have nothing to be ashamed of," he said quietly. Rodney looked up at him, and John added, "Nothing."

Rodney blinked a couple of times and then nodded once.

Giving him a gentle smile, John leaned in and kissed him quick and light. "Do you want to go flying?" John couldn’t imagine spending the rest of the day here, working. He was too raw. He was certain Rodney was, too.

"Flying?"

"Yeah, flying, in a jumper, one of those spaceship things you found."

"I didn't find them. I just showed them to you."

"That was the important part," John said.

The corners of Rodney's lips turned up just a little. "Okay."

"Was that okay to the flying or just okay to me being the important part?"

Rodney's smile broadened a little, but it was still too sad for John to consider it a real smile. "Both."

"Cool." John kissed him quickly. "Meet me in the jumper bay in 45 minutes."

 

Forty-five minutes later, John walked into the jumper bay to find Rodney waiting for him. "Elizabeth has agreed that you need to spend an afternoon practicing your flying skills, and," John held up a knapsack, "I snagged us lunch from the mess."

"You're very efficient," Rodney said.

John grinned, hoping it looked more genuine than it felt. "I am." Walking past Rodney he started up the ramp into the jumper. Rodney followed. John settled into the pilot's seat.

"I thought I was supposed to be getting a lesson," Rodney said, sitting in the passenger side.

"Maybe on the way back, unless you want to?"

Rodney shook his head. "I'm good."

"I know," John said in a too warm voice, causing Rodney to smile and shake his head. Mentally awarding himself a point for successful bad flirting, he spoke into his radio, "Gate room, this is Jumper One. Want to open her up and let us out?"

"Happy to, Colonel," the tech responded. "Have a good flight."

"We will. Sheppard out." Closing his radio connection, John pulled up on the controls and the jumper began to rise straight into the air. He loved the fact that it flew like a 'copter, but made none of the noise.

They were well away from the city when Rodney asked where they were going.

"There's this nice little beach I saw the last time I was flying over the eastern edge of the mainland."

"A beach, I should have guessed," Rodney said with a slight roll of his eyes.

"What's wrong with a beach?"

"Sand."

"Sand is nice. It feels good between your toes."

"And gets into places it shouldn't."

"Well, that depends on what you do on the beach, now doesn't it?" John asked, raising his eyebrows in a way intended to help make his point.

"All I was doing was making sand castles."

"We can play in the sand if you really want to."

Rodney snorted. John smiled and concentrated on his flying.

 

John landed the jumper right on the beach. Rodney grabbed a blanket from storage and John carried the food. They found a shady spot beneath a tree and spread out the blanket.

Leaning back against the tree, John opened the knapsack, holding out a sandwich to Rodney who was sitting cross legged, at an angle to John, positioned so he could see the ocean. Rodney took the sandwich and John dug back into the bag, removing a second sandwich and two bottles of water.

They ate in silence, which was kind of nice. It felt as though they'd said enough for one day.

"The ocean is kind of soothing," Rodney said, wiping his hands on his pants.

"Yeah," John agreed, studying his profile. Rodney looked pensive. John tensed slightly.

"I'm sorry I left, the other night, after… I know you wanted me to stay."

Rodney had already apologized for that. He was about to tell Rodney that it was okay, when Rodney spoke again.

"I needed to think. I…" Rodney turned and looked at him. "I love you, too."

"That's a relief," John said. "Unrequited love is no fun at all."

"No, no, it isn't," Rodney agreed and John waited for him to continue. After gazing out at the ocean for a long moment, he turned back toward John. "I realized that I had to tell you. That you should know, and that maybe I needed to tell you."

Rodney's hand was resting on his thigh and John covered it with his own. "I'm glad you told me. I think I understand better now." Rodney nodded and John said, "Talking about it took a lot of courage."

"Dr. Courageous, that's me."

"It really is," John said.

Rodney turned his hand so that they were palm to palm. "I had a good example to follow."

John squeezed his hand. "That Beckett is one brave guy."

Rodney smiled and shook his head.

"So, when are we gonna build that castle?" John asked.

"Maybe later."

Still holding Rodney's hand, John resumed leaning against the tree. Later was fine with him.