He was after a different kind of game this time, but the same rules applied.
It was after , and the labs were dark save for the glow of display lights and laptops. Rodney was running some type of simulation on one of the larger screens, a vision of one of the city’s turrets crumbling over and over. He was mumbling intently under his breath, making occasional notations on the electronic tablet in the crook of his arm. His back was to the doorway, and John quietly took a seat at the lab table behind him.
Rodney turned, eyes still on his notes, and reached absently for a cup of what John assumed was coffee. John nudged it forward into his hand. Rodney’s eyes snapped up and he froze, blinking. “Oh.”
“Yes… you... Should you be, you know, gallivanting?”
John grinned. “Nah. I’m cleared for moseying, though. Maybe even a little sidling, if I’m feeling adventurous.”
The corner of Rodney’s mouth quirked up. “Don’t strain yourself.” He took a sip from the cup, grimacing at the taste. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Same thing I was the last time.” John uncoiled from his seat. Rodney looked confused, but he wasn’t backing away this time.
“But, you’re not looking for anything.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“You have the destabilizer.”
“But it’s… there’s no reason to…but -“
“I can work with that.” John was pretty sure Rodney met him halfway on that last step. He was absolutely certain the hands fisted in his jacket were McKay’s.
There was no doubt in his mind that the lips on his were.
His last coherent thought was, Wow, that really was bad coffee, before he ceased to care.
His hands slipped inside Rodney’s jacket, calluses dragging slightly on the finer weave of the shirt beneath. Rodney hummed low in his throat and slid a hand over the back of John’s neck. His thumb stroked a light pattern in the hollow behind John’s ear. His other hand pushed the edge of John’s shirt up, fingertips ghosting over the inch of skin uncovered. They walked around to John’s back, palm splaying out low in the center, warm and broad.
Rodney pulled him in and John went easily, chest against Rodney’s and legs meshing. John’s left hand fisted the shirt in the middle of Rodney’s back, and the fingers of his right brushed the skin just under the button of Rodney’s pants. Rodney was breathing fast and warm on his lips, and John couldn’t have stopped the slow grind into the hips against his own if he’d tried.
Which was when his knee bumped the table. He didn’t catch the hiss in time. Rodney pulled back just enough to search his face, then rested his forehead on John’s and closed his eyes. “I think this might be a little above the moseying.”
John sighed. “Damnit.”
Rodney’s laugh was low, and it sent a charge skittering down John’s spine. “Same bat time, same bat channel?”
John pulled back and nodded reluctantly. Then he changed his mind. “No, wait. Raindate? My room, say, a week?”
Rodney looked… really good, actually. Flushed and a little flustered. “That’s… yeah. That’s good. Where there are horizontal surfaces, even. Not that I’m… oh, hell. Of course I am.”
John couldn’t help it. He laughed, and kissed him again, lingeringly. His hands stroked down Rodney’s sides lightly, and Rodney groaned as he pulled away. “‘Night, Rodney.”
This time it was John who walked out. Whistling.
Rodney was unaccountably nervous. Well, alright, so that was strictly untrue. Rodney knew exactly why he was nervous, he just had no intention of acknowledging the reason.
John Sheppard had kissed him. That in itself was a very good thing and no cause for anxiety at all. There was no thinking involved, and therefore no overthinking. John Sheppard had also made a date with him, however, which was considerably more of a source of worry.
Rodney had changed shirts three times before realizing that he couldn’t afford to look like he was on a date. It was all well and good for Sheppard, who carried off basic black like it was made for him, but Rodney wanted all the help he could get. He went with the grey shirt that set off his eyes and was just pulling it over his head when Zelenka’s voice came over his headset.
Five hours later he knocked on Sheppard’s door, sweaty, smudged, and tired. Sheppard answered looking amused and wearing black, and Rodney swallowed the apology on his tongue. Maybe not so tired after all.
“There was a thing.”
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. I guessed.”
He grabbed a fistful of Rodney’s shirt and pulled him into the room, smiling. Rodney let himself be towed as far as the bathroom before his brain engaged. “What are we doing?”
Sheppard released the center of his shirt to grab the hem, pulling it over Rodney’s head. Rodney raised his arms obligingly. “You are going to get clean. We are going to get dirty.”
For a second, Rodney just blinked. Then he nearly laughed himself sick. He was doubled over, hands on his knees, when he finally managed to squeeze a few words out. “Does that actually work somewhere?” He straightened up and wiped at his eyes, still chuckling periodically. “I mean, really, are there honestly people who fall for a line like that?”
He had just enough time to register the glint in Sheppard’s eye before he was shoved under the shower. The very cold shower. He sputtered for a moment before remembering that the damned things were thought controlled and applying himself accordingly. As the temperature rose, he was further distracted by Sheppard shucking off his clothes and joining him. When Sheppard reached for the soap and began removing the smudges on Rodney, he thought he might even forget to seek retribution.
Apparently, John liked his showers a bit warmer than Rodney did. By the time John had him out of his pants, Rodney had given up on trying to regulate the water temperature by flat-out willpower. He certainly wasn’t going to ask. It was time to use his brain more cunningly. He backed John against the nearest wall and kissed him as soundly as he knew how. He liked this plan better already.
A full two minutes later, John mumbled against his mouth, “This is all a ploy to get control of the water, isn’t it?”
By that point, Rodney had forgotten. “Of course. Do you mind?”
John’s hands wandered over his back. “Nope. By all means.”
Rodney stroked a hand over his hip in reward.
It was slow and sweet, and somewhere in the back of his mind Rodney was incredibly thankful for Ancient waterheating technology. Finally, John mouthed his collarbone and twisted on the end of a stroke. That same part of Rodney’s mind marveled at their grasp of acoustics as he thrust hard into John’s hand and came. He locked his knees and lipped John’s ear mindlessly for a moment as his breathing settled.
He held John carefully back against the wall and trailed his way down wet skin until he was kneeling, and his eyes stayed on John’s as he licked the spot where hip joined thigh and took him in his mouth. He was slow and thorough, and downright masterful if he did say so himself. Right up until John’s head thunked softly on the shower wall and his thighs started to shake. It brought Rodney back to considerations of injuries and recovery, and he picked up the pace a bit. He slipped one hand between John’s legs and flicked his tongue, and John went rigid as he came.
Rodney stood up slowly, leaning against John against the wall, both of them panting. After a minute, John laughed softly in his ear. “You know, I’m not sure how I’m going to get out of here.”
Rodney was actually rather comfortable where he was, but he had to acknowledge he couldn’t keep them vertical forever. “Lucky for you, I’m a physicist. Mechanics and all that.”
John laughed again. “And you say I have bad lines.”
Dr. Weir rarely came to the labs. When she did, it was generally because they were in crisis. If asked, Radek would say that was why his heart accelerated slightly at her presence. It had nothing to do with the fact that the labs were otherwise empty, or the slender arch of her neck.
“Radek. I’m glad I caught you on your own. I have a question.” She smiled, mouth closed and soft.
“Ah, yes, of course. How may I be of assistance?” His hands firmly did not fidget with the pen on his workstation.
“It’s about the destabilizer. More accurately, it’s about the possession thereof.” She tilted her head meaningfully, bringing him into her confidence.
He cleared his throat. “Yes. Ahem. Well, I do believe it is being shared, as it were.”
She looked dubious. “And that’s working?”
He chuckled. “All previous evidence aside, it seems they have reached an understanding.”
He carefully did not mention just how deep that understanding might reach. Rodney had been looking at the Colonel for some time now. Lately, the Colonel had been looking back.
The quirk of her lips made him wonder how much she already knew. “About time. I’m not sure how much more of that we could have survived.”
Radek couldn’t help snorting. “Do you think we are safer now that they have joined forces?”
She shrugged, grinning. “Maybe not. But it should make for interesting times.”
He responded to her goodnight softly, and thought interesting thoughts himself.
Things were quiet for a while.
They were off of mission rotation until John’s leg healed completely, and everyone took the given downtime to catch up on whatever needed doing. Teyla went to the mainland to visit her people. Proving subtlety was overrated, Ronon tagged along.
John used food as an excuse whenever possible. He wasn’t sure about the symbolism of dinner as a romantic gesture, but the practicality was working. Most days, he waited in the cafeteria for Rodney to arrive, hauling his own laptop along as a prop. Occasionally, Lorne would pass through. The carefully schooled features and occasional glint in his eyes said he wasn’t fooled. The fact that he ate with Parrish nine meals out of ten said he didn’t object.
On the days Rodney came to him, John struck up a conversation while they ate and let it carry them to one of their rooms. On the days Rodney didn’t appear, John grabbed whatever parts of dinner were easily portable and hunted him down. The end result was always the same, in so far as it involved nudity and pleasant lethargy.
There was really only one problem with it all. As near as John could understand it, they were good at being friends, and good at having sex, and damn good at being friends having sex. He just wasn’t all that clear on how to make them anything else, and the crazy thing was, he wanted to. John was still coming up with creative ways to test the waters without opening his mouth.
During the day, Rodney roamed throughout the city, tinkering with systems and mechanisms to his heart’s content and Zelenka’s consternation. John himself took up wandering the city’s outer reaches, getting reacquainted with her halls and caverns. Often, he brought the destabilizer along, mostly as a good luck charm. If nothing else, the walks were good for building strength. It didn’t hurt that Atlantis was beautiful in her own right.
He was in one of the towers on the western end of the city when he felt the rumble. He was just reaching to cue his mic when
Without really planning it, the destabilizer was in his hand and he was moving through the city before her words fully registered. She sucked in a breath quickly when he appeared next to her, but otherwise seemed unaffected. The strange thread of sympathy in her face sent ice down his spine.
He didn’t need to ask. She turned to Zelenka, who was shouting instructions into his headset and eyeing a schematic of the city. He broke off, putting his hand over the microphone to speak to them. “Rodney was approximately here,” he gestured at the screen, “when he reported the malfunction. We believe the underwater shielding in this section,” another gesture, “failed briefly. Rodney has managed to fix it, effectively generating a secondary shield around this entire area, but there was some sinking before he could do so.” He ran a hand through his hair, looking rattled.
“Oh, yes. The good news is, this is the outermost tip of this branch of the city, and a relatively small area at that. The result is that the rest seems to be stable, but what is inside the second shield is structurally unsound. Additionally, the second shield is draining power from the Z.P.M. at rates it cannot sustain.” His eyes flickered over the numbers scrolling rapidly by at the side of the screen.
John’s voice came out more ragged than he intended. “And Rodney?”
Zelenka sighed. “Is still within the shielded zone, yes.”
His eyes stayed too firmly on the readings, and John knew there was more. “He was in contact with us briefly even after the shield went up. Then the structure shifted again, and we have not heard from him since.”
John felt something in his chest go hard and cold. “Where exactly was he?”
Zelenka looked at him appraisingly and then nodded. He pointed to a spot on the screen. “Approximately here. You realize you will have very little time? We will need to cut power to the shield, and once this is done the sector will begin sinking again. You will have maybe minutes.”
John nodded and closed his fist tighter around the destabilizer. “Be ready to drop the shield on my mark.”
Zelenka nodded back. “Godspeed.”
John was gone before the word finished.
He stopped when he hit the new shield. Literally. It was roughly equivalent to running headfirst into a brick wall, and he thought he’d need to tell Rodney about the sensation later.
John turned off the destabilizer and took a single deep breath. “Do it.”
In front of him, the ground began to shake. He thought the destabilizer back on and went forward.
He found Rodney four levels down, lying still, pinned under a chunk of ceiling and next to an open control panel. By then, the whole place seemed to be shaking itself to pieces, and John didn’t have time to do more than rematerialize, haul Rodney out from under the rubble and destabilize them both.
He could see vague impressions of the world crumbling around where they should have been. Like being underwater, there was no direction that he could find in the chaos. He was forced to wait until it all seemed to calm before taking them forward.
There was no feeling of being torn apart this time. It wasn’t until John had them both solid again on the floor of the infirmary that it registered. Rodney was limp against him, covered in dust and streaked with blood. John was yelling
He watched them lay Rodney on a bed and then the bodies between them became too thick to see any more. John put his head in his hands and ignored the hand at his elbow trying to help him up and the voice in his ear trying to reassure him.
The final tally was a concussion one step away from a skull fracture, four broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, and two fingers on his right hand with hairline breaks. John already knew it would be the fingers that bothered Rodney most.
He waited for the bitching to start. Mainly because it would mean Rodney really was conscious and mending, but a little because it promised entertainment. God knew the infirmary was like a tomb at this time of night… and John was definitely not going to go there. Not with Rodney’s hand next to his on the bed, their fingertips just barely touching end to end.
John nodded, waiting for the punch line that Beckett’s tone promised. It wasn’t long in coming. “No thanks to using your brain, I might add.”
John’s rising defensiveness stalled.
John wasn’t quite sure how to handle that. “Mine, too.”
The look Beckett gave him was gently disbelieving, and vaguely amused. “Aye.”
John considered that his cover might be blown.
Never one to run from conflict, he straightened in the chair, head up and eyes serious. His fingers edged just enough forward to touch Rodney’s at the tips.
“There’s an empty bed to the left there. Use it when you’re tired. Don’t make more work for me by falling on your head.”
John was coming to like surprises.
They discovered the destabilizer was a casualty by accident. Rodney had been going ever more stir-crazy in the infirmary, and John had been willing to throw himself on the altar of boredom. He’d gotten Zelenka to help him haul some equipment down to Rodney, and figured they could spend a few hours playing with the kooshball in the name of science.
He closed his fingers around its spiny form and thought unstable thoughts. Nothing happened. He opened his hand, looked at the device, and tried again. Still nothing.
A solid hour of attempts went rapidly nowhere, even when Radek joined them to toss out ideas. Finally, they were forced to conclude that it must have been drained of power by John’s rescue mission. A great deal of matter had passed through their destabilized bodies, and, as Radek put it, “Shielding each molecule from separation under such kinetic stress must have been too much. Kaput. It is not Energizer.”
Privately, John thought it was a fair enough trade. But when he said so, Rodney looked so crestfallen that John wished he’d kept his mouth shut after all.
It was another six days before Rodney was allowed to go to his own room. John walked beside him, slowing his pace to an amble to keep them together. Rodney thought that it was very unfair that he should be just beginning to heal even as Sheppard finished.
The nearer they got to Rodney’s door, the more fidgeting Sheppard did, and it was making Rodney twitchy in turn. John’s right hand bounced something in his pocket, and his left tapped a tattoo on his leg whenever it wasn’t hovering just next to Rodney’s arm. Rodney cut one final, furrow-browed look in his direction before stepping into his quarters. Sheppard followed, and the door closed behind him.
Rodney sat on the bed with a sigh of relief and watched John trace a finger over the edge of a cabinet. John was artfully avoiding eye contact. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and sat the destabilizer on the set of drawers. Finally, he spoke. “I, uh, thought you should have this.”
Rodney was willing to blame exhaustion and drugs, but he wasn’t following. “That’s nice. I’m pretty sure it’s too small to be a decent paperweight, though.”
“No, I just… I wanted… Goddamnit.” He took a breath and let it out on a huff. His eyes met Rodney’s. “Jesus, McKay. I’m trying to make a gesture, here. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the chocolate supply is running a little low and nobody’ll deliver flowers this far out. Just shut up and go with it.”
Rodney felt flattened. Like he’d stumbled onto the Autobahn and into the path of everything with four wheels he could find. Possibly a moped or two in the bargain. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to find his brain linking a drive-by Shepparding with very fast cars. “Oh. Huh.”
“Yeah.” The tone was agitated.
“Well, I was hoping, what with the lifesaving and the showering and the sex and all, but… huh.”
Sheppard’s mouth quirked up at one corner. This time his voice was quiet. “Yeah.”
They stayed that way for a full minute, a few feet of space between them, just grinning at one another. Rodney broke the moment as best he could. “So, you want to watch a movie or something? I’m not exactly up to anything more adventurous yet.”
Sheppard looked to the side, still smiling, and nodded. “Sure.”
“Also, I’m pretty sure we’ve been doing this whole thing out of order.” John’s eyebrows rose as he carried Rodney’s laptop over. “Not that I’m complaining. But we totally skipped the necking stage.”
John laughed. “I kind of liked the naked stage, myself.”
Rodney held up his hands, at least as far as they’d go with his current rib configuration. “Oh, don’t get me wrong. Me, too. But there are certain conventions to consider, here.”
“So, you’re saying we should go back and hit them retroactively?” John pouted thoughtfully. “Yeah, okay. It could work.” He held up a few minidisks. “What do you want to see?”
Rodney let just enough lasciviousness creep into his expression to make it interesting before he caved to the weariness. “Honestly, anything works. I’ll probably be out by the time the opening credits roll.”
“You sly dog, you.” John sorted through the disks, making a surprised noise as he came across one in particular. “I can’t believe you own this.”
Rodney craned his head to see from his spot propped against the wall. “What? It’s a classic. Plus, he’s ruggedly handsome. Almost rakish.”
John just shook his head and put the disk in. He sat next to Rodney, shoulders touching, and they settled in to watch Harrison Ford run from large, rolling objects.
Hours later, John’s eyes went to the destabilizer across the room, glinting a bit in the evening light. It looked hard and lonely from this distance, like the ground when he flew a little too high. Next to him, Rodney was sleeping, just as he had been since long before
It was a damn good trade. John laid a hand on the back of his neck, just because he could.
Author’s notes (post-story):
The pairings in here are as follows: implicitly naked Parrish/Lorne, implicitly attached Ronon/Teyla, and implicitly shy Weir/Zelenka.
Incidentally, one more acknowledgement is due. Parrish’s first name is stolen entirely from casspeach, because it is far too perfect to pass up. She was kind enough to let me borrow David to play.