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Eyes narrowing, John tried to see into the darkened room. He couldn't be hearing what it sounded like he was hearing, which was the quiet smack of people kissing, multiplied several times over.
"Oh my god, they're all making out," Rodney whispered grabbing John's sleeve.
"Looks like fun," Ronon said. Of course he'd heard. It wasn't as if McKay's whisper was actually a whisper.
John looked around. Now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could see couples throughout the room, men and women, women and women, men and men, kissing. Some were sitting on couches, others were reclining on pillows. Some were laying down and John wondered how much other stuff was going on along with the kissing, even though everyone was fully dressed.
"I thought you said this was a friendship ceremony," John said, leaning sideways toward Teyla.
"It is. The Dra'wni believe that physical demonstrations of affection and regard carry more weight than words," Teyla said.
"Seems harmless enough," Ronon said.
"We don't really have to--" John gestured at the room.
"I believe Ronon is correct: the tradition is harmless. Participation will show our respect for their beliefs," Teyla said.
John grimaced. He'd known Teyla would say that. "How long?"
"Traditionally, the ceremony lasts for three hours, but I do not know when they began. A bell will be rung when the proper amount of regard has been demonstrated."
"Three hours?" Rodney said. "Do you get anything to drink? Because that's a lot of saliva." John turned to look at him and Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Well it is."
"Now I know why you never get a second date," John said.
"I'll have you know I kiss very-- Hey!"
Ronon had taken Teyla's hand and was leading her over to one of the couches.
Rodney pointed after them. "He--"
"Yeah, I see that." Pulling in a deep breath, John said, "Come on, Saliva Boy, we might as well show our regard." He started toward an empty pair of cushions without waiting to see if Rodney would follow.
Sitting on one of the large square cushions, John looked up to see Rodney standing about a foot away and watching a couple kiss. John followed his gaze, expecting to see two women. But Rodney was watching two men, two rather attractive men, who were kissing with surprising tenderness. John yanked his eyes away. "McKay."
Rodney turned, his face flushed, and walked over to John. Plunking himself down on the pillow next to John's, he said, "This is insane. You realize that."
People being good to one another didn't seem like such a bad thing to him, although John had to admit that hours of kissing might be taking it a little too far. "I've seen crazier," he said.
For a moment, Rodney looked as though he might argue, opening his mouth and raising a finger. Then he lowered the finger and closed his mouth. "We should probably just get on with it."
"It's not a death sentence, McKay," John said.
"I know that. Just--" He made a weird circular gesture with his hand and John reached out.
Taking hold of Rodney's hand, he gave it a gentle squeeze. Rodney's gaze met his and John leaned in until his lips brushed Rodney's. He drew back just enough to see the look of pure surprise on Rodney's face. Why Rodney was surprised John had no idea. He inched forward again. This time Rodney moved to meet him and the kiss lasted a whole heartbeat, maybe two.
Turning his head, John pressed his lips more fully against Rodney's. It was John's turn to be surprised, because Rodney's firm lips felt really good against his. Rodney slid an arm around his waist and John leaned into it as Rodney tugged slightly on John's lower lip. Leaning closer, John slid a hand up Rodney's arm, stopping when his hand reached the curve of Rodney's biceps.
John tended to forget how strong Rodney was, but the muscle beneath his hand was a dizzying reminder.
Rodney tugged on his lower lip again, a little more firmly. How had Rodney figured out he liked that so damn fast?
Responding with a tug of his own, John pulled back for a moment before returning, changing the angle. He brought his lips to Rodney's again and again, the sounds of the people around them fading away as he became more and more focused on Rodney.
It was Rodney who deepened the kiss, parting his lips and sliding a hand up to cup the back of John's neck.
John groaned, soft and breathy, when his tongue brushed Rodney's. He was holding onto Rodney's shoulder and his fingers tightened as he opened for Rodney's kiss.
Rodney did the tugging thing again, only this time on his tongue, still tentative.
Pressing closer, John reached out, wanting more of Rodney's mouth, wanting the feel of him, the taste of him, wanting to know what Rodney liked.
It was like being on an exploratory mission, a crazy kissing mission where the territory to be explored was each other.
Rodney kissed well, skilled and unhurried. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to lay back and draw Rodney down with him, to spread his legs so Rodney could settle between them.
It was only when Rodney's erection rubbed against his own that John realized what he'd done. Desire was seeping into Rodney's kiss, and instead of pushing Rodney back, changing their position, John wrapped his arms around Rodney's shoulders and lifted his hips.
A bell rang.
They kept kissing, but it rang again. Remembering what it meant, John drew back. Rodney did too, not meeting John's eyes as he turned and sat up.
In his head, John cursed every weird Pegasus culture they'd ever encountered.
Rising from the floor, John followed the rest of the participants out into the sun. Ronon and Teyla were waiting. Smiling smugly, Ronon slapped him on the back.
Teyla glanced between them and said, "We are invited to join Thera for dinner."
Pulling in a breath, John nodded.
Thera was a nice woman, with sun-burnished skin, gray hair and a welcoming smile. Her eyes twinkled in ways that suggested she knew things other people didn't. John hated that.
Dinner was a pastry filled with a sweet, mashed root vegetable whose name John couldn't remember, beans and spices.
"What did you think of our ceremony?" Thera asked, her eyes twinkling distressingly.
"It was most pleasant," Teyla said.
Thera smiled at Teyla then turned her attention to Rodney. "You did not enjoy the firagia, Dr. McKay?"
"I just don't think kissing is the best way to express friendship."
"Ahh," Thera said.
"Kissing is for lovers," Rodney said an edge in his tone.
"Are the two so different?" Thera asked.
John kept his head down and tried to focus on his pastry.
"Lovers are people you have sex with. Friends are people you don't."
"I've had sex with friends," Ronon said.
Thera nodded. "Among our people, friendship and love are not separate."
"I am never going to sleep with Ronon," Rodney declared, provoking a laugh from Thera.
"No one said you should. Not all friendships are the same, but if you insist on dividing your love for others into categories, how can you truly know the depths of your heart?"
John held his breath waiting for Rodney's answer, but none came.
Rodney had been quiet on the ride back to Pegasus, and had practically bolted from the debrief, much to John's relief.
Picking at the strings of his guitar, John ran through the melody line to the chorus of "Hallelujah." "I can't believe you're playing music from Shrek," Rodney had said when John had started working on the song.
John hadn't answered, not willing to explain how the lyrics had resonated with him the first time he heard them. I used to live alone before I knew you was a sentiment John got. The bit about love being a cold and broken hallelujah, he got that, too.
But tonight the whole thing felt off. His fingers were hitting the right strings, but the focus wasn't there. His focus was back on the planet laying on a pillow with Rodney.
Setting the guitar aside, John snagged a six pack from his fridge.
Rodney must've had the same idea because he was sitting on the pier, looking out at the stars, shoulders hunched, which always made John want to either hug him or tug on them until Rodney sat up straight.
"Hey," John said, sitting next to him and holding out the beer.
Answering with a "hey" of his own, Rodney pulled a can from the plastic and snapped it open.
John opened his own beer and took a drink. "So."
"I'm not having a homophobic freakout," Rodney said.
"Didn't say you were."
Rodney glanced at him. "Why aren't you freaking out?"
John shrugged. "Don't know."
"You don't know?" John took another drink as Rodney slipped into 'you're an idiot' mode. "We made out," Rodney hissed lowering his voice as if there was someone around to hear. "I was turned on. You were turned on. We were both turned on."
John waited a bit, until he was sure Rodney was done, then asked, "Why are you freaking out, aside from the non-homophobic, turned on by a guy thing?"
"I've been turned on by a guy before."
"Oh." Rodney wasn't freaked out that he'd been turned on by a guy. He was freaked out he'd been turned on by John. John felt his own shoulders slump a little, but didn't bother straightening them.
"I thought I knew my heart. I loved Jennifer and eventually I'd get around to asking her out. And you were my friend. One visit to an alien planet later and I'm wondering what you look like naked."
"And you're not even freaked out. Which is all kinds of wrong."
Wanting time to think about his answer, John took a long drink of his beer. "I already knew you were important to me. That I like kissing you is just--"
"Another piece of us, our friendship," John said, gesturing between them.
"But if we're kissing is it still friendship?"
"You really are big on categories, aren't you?"
"I'm a scientist, categorizing things is what we do."
"If you're a biologist."
"Now you're playing dirty," Rodney said, wagging a finger.
Turning, John grinned at him, his eyes meeting Rodney's.
Rodney looked at him for a moment then lifted a hand and brushed a fingertip across John's lips. "You have really soft lips. And you're--" Dropping his hand, Rodney looked out at the water. "I love you, and I was okay with loving you. As a friend."
"Now you're not okay with it?"
"Now I want to kiss you and not just on your lips."
"I'd be good with that."
"See," Rodney said, pointing at him. "That's what I don't get. How can you just be good with it? You're in the U.S. military an organization in which homophobia is regulation. How can you just be okay with kissing another man?"
Running his thumb around the edge of his beer can, John considered his words. "I've spent most of my life trying to live up to other people's expectations, or fighting against their expectations, usually both at the same time. I'm tired, and I..." John paused to take a drink from his beer. "You're important to me. And the kissing, it felt right. Easy. Nothing's felt that way in a long time. I don't want to fight it."
"You think we should go with it. See where this thing leads," Rodney said after a moment.
"If that's what you want."
Rodney leaned forward, shifting so he could see John's face. "What do you want?"
John pressed his lips to Rodney's.
"We should probably go in," Rodney said when John drew back. "It's getting a little chilly out here." Standing, he held out a hand to John. "I bet your quarters will be a lot warmer."
Taking Rodney's hand, John let himself be pulled to his feet. "I bet you're right."
As it turned out, John's quarters were warmer, especially with Rodney stretched out over him, his lips on John's.