by Kass


Written for chase_acow as part of SGA Santa 2007. She requested a cut-off-from-Earth story; I did my best to oblige. Many thanks to Sanj, Lamardeuse, Sihaya Black, and Shoshanna for the beta work!

The sun had just risen when Colonel Carter's voice piped up in his ear, asking him to report to her office stat. "On my way," John said, and headed in. The sunrise had been beautiful; he was glad he'd gotten up early. He'd have to thank Ronon for the tip.

He took the fastest route he knew to the heart of the city, but when he climbed the steps to Carter's office he saw that Rodney had beaten him there. Rodney was leaning back in his chair, alone, contemplating existence. Or something. He turned when the door opened, and looked momentarily nonplussed to find John entering rather than Sam. "Oh. Hi," he said.

John could almost hear the cartoon poit! as Rodney's 'Sam calls me to her office early in the morning' fantasy evaporated.

"Good morning, sunshine," he said, and pulled up the chair next to Rodney's.

"Glad you're both awake early," Sam said, entering and closing the door behind her. "We've got a bit of a situation. The gate bridge is down."

"Down? What do you mean, it's -- how?" Rodney looked like he'd just realized he was on a rollercoaster and it wasn't entirely agreeing with him.

Sam glanced at John for an instant. John gave a little shrug, as if to say, 'You had to know McKay wasn't going to take that well.'

"Oh, very helpful," Rodney said.

"What? I didn't say anything." John put on his most innocent voice.

"You didn't have to."

"We're not actually clear on what's gone wrong," Sam said, breaking in. "Last night's databurst didn't arrive on schedule. For the last few hours we've been trying to get a ping back from the space station, but -- no dice."

"You really don't sleep, do you?" John empathized; Atlantis command wasn't exactly an easy post.

"Women need less sleep than men do," she said.

Rodney snapped his fingers. "Focus," he said. "Gate bridge? Hello? The inability to connect with Earth is a little bit problematic."

"The dialing sequence wouldn't initialize at all, which leads me to think the problem isn't hardware but rather --"

"Somewhere in the code?" Rodney bristled. "Oh, please. There's no way --"

"I hate to interrupt," John said, as sweetly as he could, "but how exactly am I supposed to be helpful here?"

"You're going to fly me as close as we can get to the midway station," Rodney said, as though it were obvious, "so I can fix whatever's gone wrong."

"Actually," Sam began.

"No way," John said.

"Excuse me?" Rodney, taken-aback.

"If something's wonky with the gate bridge, we can't gate to wherever the problem is, right? I don't know how far we'd have to fly to get there. A puddlejumper road trip of unknown duration isn't exactly my idea of a good time. " Actually, it could be kind of fun, though he couldn't really imagine Rodney going for it. Not to mention the part where the military commander of the city really wasn't supposed to pick up and abandon his command like that. "-- anyway, wouldn't that be a better task for the Daedalus?"

"The Daedalus is otherwise occupied," Sam said. "There have been signs of trouble brewing with the Fai'os. Colonel Ellis took the Daedalus to their homeworld about a week ago, and there's no way to reach them."

John didn't have any idea who the Fai'os were, but that didn't seem to matter. "When's their next scheduled visit to Pegasus?"

"Not for at least two months," Sam said.

"So you want me to debug the problem from here," Rodney said.

"That's about the size of it, yes."

"Fine," Rodney said. "I expect I'll have it fixed within a day or two." He sounded exasperated. John spared half an instant to wonder when exactly he'd learned to gauge the fine gradations of Rodney's annoyance, and whether the skill was worth anything on the open market. Probably not. "Anything else?"

"I just wanted to let you both know before I announced it to the city," Sam said. "People might be a little freaked-out."

"Thanks," John said, smiling. "If that's it...?" She nodded. "Want some coffee, McKay?"

"When is the answer to that question ever not 'yes'?"

"Have a good morning, gentlemen," Sam said, as they headed out.

"Attention all personnel." Carter's voice rang through the early-morning halls of the city.

On some barely-conscious level John always expected to hear a crackle, but the Ancient comm system still worked like a charm. He watched as Rodney filled a travel coffee mug and headed for the table where John was already twirling a coffee stirrer idly around in his fingers.

"The intergalactic gate bridge is down for maintenance purposes," Carter's voice explained.

"Good luck getting anyone to believe that," Rodney muttered dismissively, yanking out his chair and sitting down.

"Travel to and from the Milky Way is suspended for at least the next two weeks, possibly longer. Please adjust your plans accordingly. Thanks, everyone; Carter out." Two weeks? Guess she didn't trust McKay's timeline of 'a day or two.'

The buzz of conversation rose back up around them.

"This is going to be interesting," John said, deadpan, and broke his muffin in half like a geode, revealing the chocolate chips inside. It released a little waft of fragrant steam.

"I doubt most people will even notice," Rodney said loftily, and stole half of John's muffin.

"Yes, you can have half my muffin," John said, putting on a long-suffering voice as Rodney stuffed the first bite into his mouth.

Rodney swallowed. "Oh, I'm sorry, did you want me to ask?"

"Nah," John said, and grinned. "Enjoy."

Watching Rodney savor food was one of John's secret atavistic pleasures. The look on his face, the little noises he made, the way he sometimes closed his eyes to focus more closely on texture and flavor: these were a few of John's favorite things.

And fortunately, when Rodney was in that kind of pleasure headspace, he was generally too lost in it to notice John watching him.

Getting a crush on one of your own team members was a one-way gate to disaster. John knew that.

In his own defense -- not that he'd ever had to defend himself on these grounds, but he thought about it a lot -- John hadn't yet developed the crush on Rodney when he asked him to join the gate team. Rodney was capable, that was all. Obviously good with Ancient tech, even without a natural ATA gene. Smarter than John, which frankly put him on a pretty short list. Not that John made a policy of letting most people figure that out.

The crush had started sometime around the time they boarded the downed Wraith transport ship, on the planet otherwise inhabited by little glowy bugs that liked Powerbars. Something in Rodney had shifted, and suddenly John found him unreasonably attractive.

Combat could do ugly things to people, especially people who weren't military. John had seen it before. Losing colleagues in some grisly way could tip a guy over into fear, or leave him marinating in bitterness until he basically imploded.

But not Rodney. Rodney responded to the deaths of two of his scientists by stepping up, even when he didn't know what the hell he was stepping up to. Rodney had fired his 9mm into that advancing Wraith until he ran out of ammo, and for a second there John had thought he was going to bean the guy in the face with the empty gun before John could yell at him to re-load.

That night in the shower had been the first time John caught himself thinking about Rodney, with hot water beating down on his bruised and aching ribs and his soap-slick hand tugging at his dick in a desultory way that became a lot more focsed when he got Rodney on his mind. Something about Rodney, dirt-smudged and afraid, coming over that hill anyway: not in self-defense, but to try to protect John...

John had a policy of not letting himself fantasize about men. He'd broken it occasionally over the years, usually in war zones and extreme crisis situations, but Wraith notwithstanding this was neither of those things. Sex with men was a different story; there had been a few anonymous one-night stands, though not in recent memory. But fantasy was a problem. It meant he was already more invested than was safe.

The obvious solution was to distance himself from the man in question until the crush went away. But that wasn't really possible. Rodney was already too an integral a part of his team to cut loose.

Fortunately, Rodney was not only straight but oblivious. As long as John took care not to let on that he was interested, they'd be fine. What Rodney didn't know wouldn't hurt him. If John could keep the goddamned Air Force from figuring out that he was attracted to men, he could keep it from Rodney McKay.

"Are you out of your mind?"

"No more than usual." Baiting Rodney was always fun, and today was no exception. There was a smudge of chocolate at the corner of his lips, left over from breakfast, which John really wanted to reach over and lick away. He kept his hands jammed in his pockets as they walked.

Temptation aside, John was in a good mood. The gate bridge being down didn't really impact him much; it wasn't as if he had any reason to want to return to Earth anyway.

"Why would Pegasans want to run marathons?"

"Marathonning is fun."

Rodney shuddered. "I'm not even going to have this conversation with you."

"You kind of already are," John said, though by then they were at Rodney's lab, where a handful of people were waiting to talk to Rodney the instant he put his laptop down. It seemed churlish to leave without giving Rodney the chance for a snappy last word, so John stuck around for a minute.

"Dr. McKay, I'm supposed to get next week off," a guy said, as soon as Rodney sat down at his desk.

"What?" Rodney sounded distracted.

"I filed for it months ago. My sister's daughter is having her First Communion." Szabo, John remembered. He was pretty sure that was the guy's last name. He was from Illinois.

"Bridge is down," Rodney said, waving a hand dismissively.

"But I told my sister --"

"Do you expect the bridge to fix itself while you're pestering me?"

Szabo looked startled. "Fix? I thought it was routine maintenance!"

Oops. Way to keep that secret, Rodney.

"Whatever," Rodney said. "If you want any chance at making it back there next week, shoo."

Szabo turned away and bumped into another one of Rodney's staff, Marja-Leena Virtanen. John secretly thought of her as the Ice Queen, because she was tall and blond and bitchy.

"Watch it," Virtanen hissed at him, and then she leaned on Rodney's desk.

"What," Rodney said, obviously irritated.

"I need to gate back to Earth," she said.

"No can do. You heard Colonel Carter."

"My father is sick."

"I'm sorry to hear it, but healing the sick? Not exactly part of my job description. And neither is dealing with your personal crises."

"Dr. McKay, you don't understand," Virtanen began.

Rodney stood up, ignoring her. "Listen up, people!" The low hum of chatter in the lab ceased. "Anyone wanting to discuss your intentions of returning to Earth, for any reason --" Was it John's imagination, or was resolve visible in the eyes of half of the new lab staff? "--talk to Dr. Zelenka." Rodney sat back down and the throng of scientists moved, like the pack animals they were, to the far end of the long Ancient laboratory.

The IM from Zelenka popped up on Rodney's screen not half a second later. "Thanks so much," the cursor spelled out slowly, followed by an ASCII raspberry. John bit back a snicker.

"I need to figure out what's up with the gate bridge," Rodney typed back. "Can't do that with everyone bugging me."

"You might want to apologize for deluging him with leave requests," John said cheerfully, right behind Rodney's ear.

Rodney jumped. "Are you still there? What are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to tell you to have a great day," John said. This was too much fun; Rodney glared.

"Go away," Rodney muttered, and turned to type "sorry" to Zelenka.

"Polib mi prdel," Zelenka replied, and signed out of chat.

Scrubbing a hand through his hair, Rodney pulled up a set of gate logs. Green glowing columns of characters started scrolling by.

"I'll leave you to it," John said, clapping him on the shoulder, and headed out.

"What a morning," Rodney said, sitting down at John's lunch table.

"Do not even talk to me." Zelenka joined them, scowling.

"I said I was sorry for foisting the science staff on you." Rodney didn't sound sorry.

"Two thirds of the science personnel on this base had requisitioned time on Earth!" Zelenka poked a spoon at his stew, morose. "And every one of them wanted to argue with me about it. As if there were anything I could do."

"I didn't think it would be that bad," Rodney said, digging in. He liked beef stew with dumplings, John knew. So did Ronon. Teyla always seemed kind of dubious when it came up in the mess hall meal rotation.

"You signed all of their paperwork in the first place!"

Rodney grimaced. "I don't actually pay a lot of attention to that kind of thing."

Zelenka muttered something in Czech that sounded like another curse. Then again, everything in Czech sounded like a curse as far as John was concerned.

"If it's any consolation," Rodney offered, "I've been going over the most recent patch to the gate bridge code and I'm not finding a damn thing."

Zelenka grunted, noncommittal.

"I didn't have any trouble with my staff," John offered, blithely. Both men turned to look at him, as though startled he was at their table. Strictly speaking they were at his table -- he'd been sitting there first -- though there didn't seem to be any merit in pointing that out.

"Oh?" Rodney asked.

"Yep. Nice thing about working with military -- they don't question this kind of thing."

Rodney rolled his eyes and ate more stew.

"Mind if I join you?" Keller stood over their table with her tray.

"Fine," Rodney said, through a mouthful of roll.

"What a morning," she said, settling into her chair wearily.

"Sorry to hear that," John said.

"Half my staff was freaking out over not being able to go back to Earth," she said, ruefully.

"You, too?" Rodney asked.

Zelenka shot him a look. "Do not pretend you've been dealing with this all day."

"I just don't see what the big deal is. So they can't gate back for a week or two; so what?"

"Most of my team is fairly new to the station," Keller pointed out.

"Science staff likewise," Zelenka said.

"Of course! They're all second-wavers," Rodney said. Realization lit his features. "That makes perfect sense, why didn't I notice the correlation? They've never been out here at a time when they couldn't easily go back again. It's a whole different mentality."

"I -- didn't realize people saw us like that." Keller's face had fallen.

"That's not -- I didn't mean it in a bad way." Rodney looked uncomfortable.

"It's a different expedition culture than it was when we first started out," John offered.

Rodney threw him a grateful look. "Yes. Thank you, Colonel."

"No sweat," John said, and smiled his most winning smile at Keller, who rolled her eyes.

"Well! I'd best be getting back to work," Rodney said. Somehow he even managed to stand up officiously.

"Good luck with that gate code," John said.

"Thanks so much, I'd almost forgotten I was working on something important."

"Anytime," John said easily, and grinned as Rodney walked away.

When John stopped by Rodney's lab late that evening, Rodney was sitting in his usual place at his desk, his largest coffee mug empty by his side and three laptops open all around him. Which could have been a good sign, but his body language didn't point to any kind of success.

"How's it going?"

"Terrible." Rodney leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

"Don't sugar-coat it," John chided him, which yielded a scant quarter of a smile.

"There is nothing -- nothing! -- in the logs that looks even remotely out of place to me. I've spent all day setting up a network that mimics the gate operating system, wiping anything of Terran origin from it, and installing the code I wrote. It takes six hours to compile, even on our fastest machines, but once it fully loads it works fine."

"It works fine," John repeated. "Wow,"

Rodney all-but rolled his eyes. "When I'm trying to mimic a problem so I can figure out how to fix it, yes, it does."

There was a momentary silence.

"C'mon," John said, and jerked his head toward the door.

"What? Some of us don't get to leave work whenever we happen to feel like it," Rodney said, sourly.

"You're the last one here," John pointed out.

Rodney's look plainly said, so what?

"And as long as we're grounded, the team is having mandatory combat practice at 2100 hours."

"We are? Whose idea was that?"

Now it was John's turn to look at Rodney as if he'd dropped 20 IQ points. "Whose do you think? Mine, Rodney."

"Why, exactly?"

"I think it's good for us." Besides -- it felt weird not to have seen his team all day. The military contingent was made up of good people, on the whole. John liked most of them a lot. But he missed his team.

"Oh, come on, I have fifteen different things to do --"

"All of which can wait for tomorrow. You need to exercise something other than your mind. Get out of your chair. We'll stop by your quarters for your gear."

"Fine," Rodney grumbled, though he winced when he stood.

"You haven't moved since lunchtime, have you?"

"I was working!"

John stifled a smile. "Yeah, well, time to get that body loosened up."

"Not my favorite words," Rodney muttered, preceding John out the door.

More's the pity, John thought ruefully, and indulged himself -- just for a second! -- in admiring Rodney's ass.

"Okay, here's what I'm thinking," John said. "A few rounds of one-on-one, just some basic sparring; then maybe we can try some two-on-two."

Ronon shrugged. "Fine by me." Teyla was already stretching, her long legs splayed on the floor.

"Just -- let me get warmed up," Rodney said.

"I'll wait," Ronon said. It sounded vaguely like a threat.

"John, when you are ready," Teyla offered.

So after a few desultory stretches, John took ready position opposite Teyla. They bowed to each other, and then paused, hands open, waiting to see who would move first.

Out of the corner of his eye John saw Rodney stand up, step onto the floor, bow to Ronon.

"Ready?" Ronon asked.

"As I'll ever be." Rodney sounded vaguely apprehensive.

As John parried an open-hand strike and a loose kick, he heard the sound of flesh connecting flesh, a laugh from Ronon, and then bam! Suddenly John was lying on his back on the floor.

Teyla reached a hand down to help him up. "Perhaps you were not paying attention," she said sweetly.

"Good," Ronon said to Rodney approvingly.

"I didn't think that would work," Rodney huffed.

"Go for the groin next time."

Good, John thought, teach him to fight dirty; he needs that.

John and Teyla bowed again. This time, he decided, he was going to go on the offensive. He threw a right-hand jab and a reverse-punch, which she parried. A side-blade kick toward the hip, which landed softly; she raised an eyebrow, impressed.

Then the sound of Rodney hitting the floor distracted him; he turned his head and Teyla moved in for the kill. Or what would have been the kill if they weren't going easy on each other. One of her hands was at his throat, the other brushed his abdomen. In a real fight he'd be wheezing for breath and his internal organs would be rearranged by now.

"Ow," Rodney said, breathing hard, lying on his back.

"You okay, McKay?"

"Fine," Rodney said, staring up at the ceiling like he really didn't want to move again.

"Perhaps we should trade partners," Teyla suggested.

"Sure," John said, and gave Rodney a hand up as Teyla and Ronon started their match.

She fought Ronon a lot harder than she fought John. Which maybe should have been insulting, but it wasn't. Ronon had several inches on him. He didn't have any illusions about being able to out-fight Ronon Dex.

John and Rodney faced off. John tried to ignore how Rodey's shirt clung to his chest, the droplet of sweat on his temple that made John want to reach out and taste.

"Can you teach me to do what Ronon just did to me?"

"What was that," John asked.

"How he got me on the floor so fast."

"I can teach you a basic take-down, sure," John said. "Okay, stand like this. No, facing me, hands at your sides. Good."

He paused. It had been so long since he'd learned it, he wasn't sure he could break it down. "Hang on -- let me do it to you once, slowly, so I can remember how the steps go."

Rodney waited.

John gripped his shirt with both hands. "You grab mine, too," he said, and Rodney fisted his shirt tight.

"Now -- see how my right leg is next to your right leg? I slip it just slightly to the side, so my heel is hooked behind your ankle." There. "And I push your left shoulder back, pull your right shoulder forward, and sweep."

Push and pull and sweep the leg and there, Rodney was off-balance, and John lowered him gently to the ground. "And it ends here, like this." From his kneeling position over Rodney's body, it was easy to mimic a punch to the face, to the groin.

"Hey, watch it," Rodney said, but it was perfunctory; he hadn't flinched. He trusted John implicitly.

John stood up, fast, and offered Rodney a hand. Thinking about bodies and trust felt way too dangerous here, when they were touching, when his own body might give him away.

John took him down one more time, and then it was Rodney's turn. They stood facing each other, hands clenched in each others' shirts. "Now the leg," John prompted, and felt Rodney's thigh slide alongside his.

"And push," Rodney muttered, "and pull, and -- " A sweep with his foot, slightly jerky but it worked, and John was heading fast for the ground.

"Don't forget to follow through," John said, and Rodney knelt over him, mimimg a blow to the belly.

"Way to sweep a guy off his feet," John said, quietly. Rodney's grin was so open, so proud, it took John's breath away. For an instant they stayed frozen there, Rodney kneeling over John's body, John warm every place there was contact.

"Nice," Ronon said, approving, and that broke the spell: Rodney was up on his feet in a flash.

"Let's try some attacks," John said. Something group-oriented that would take his mind off of Rodney. "How's this: two attackers, one defends."

"I'll watch this round," Rodney said, fast.

So John and Teyla ganged up on Ronon and tried to take him down. It was a challenge, even with Ronon pulling punches.

Knowing Rodney was watching him, staying focused beneath Rodney's regard, was a different kind of challenge.


Whatever was wrong with the gate bridge code, it turned out not to be something Rodney could easily fix.

Within 24 hours it became obvious to everyone on base that the gate bridge wasn't just under maintenance, it was down. It still worked for local travel; they weren't isolated within Pegasus. But the Milky Way was beyond the pale. Entirely out of reach.

Sam and John met to draw up new duty rosters for the military contingent and the gate teams. Rodney was working full-time on the gate bridge problem, and John didn't even want to consider temporarily replacing him, which meant SGA-1 was grounded. For the time being, Lorne and his team were at the top of the totem pole.

"Thank you, sir." Lorne said when John told him the news.

"It's good experience for you, Major," John said, a little stiffly. Which was true. He was just...envious. Which Lorne obviously knew. Wow; this was awkward. "If you'll excuse me --"

"Sure," Lorne said, too fast, and John made his escape.

Reluctantly, John let his days take on a new shape. He thought about asking to go offworld with Lorne and his guys, but that didn't seem right; they had a rhythm, a way of working together, and the CO joining them would screw that up.

In the absence of gate travel, he had to find other ways of keeping busy. There was plenty of time for fleshing out the details of old mission reports and taking long runs along the piers.

John ramped up his physical activity in general, because it gave him something to do. He was on his way back to his quarters after a late-night extra sparring match with Ronon when he stumbled across Kate Brown kissing Sergeant Kuofor on a balcony, in the light of the second moon.

John backed away quickly. He didn't think they'd seen him. Which was good.

The fact of the kiss was arguably not so good. Though if John were honest with himself...well, he had mixed feelings there. Rodney's relationship with Katie had never quite seemed to work, and John was tired of watching Rodney tie himself in knots over it. They'd been on-again, off-again for more than a year. John was pretty sure they were ostensibly "on" at the moment, but the fact that Katie was sucking face with one of the Air Force guys would presumably put an end to that.

Of course, the fact that John had witnessed it meant he was obligated to tell Rodney what he'd seen. Which wasn't going to be a whole lot of fun, but it was the honorable thing to do. (John ruthlessly quashed the fantasy that Rodney might respond to the news by tumbling directly into his arms. Not only wasn't it likely, it also wasn't helpful.)

While he was thinking about that, his feet took him to Rodney's quarters; next thing he knew he was standing in front of Rodney's door. "Sheppard to McKay," he said.

"What is it?" Rodney answered instantly; good, he was awake.

"I'm outside your quarters. Can I --"

The door slid open; Rodney stood in front of him in plaid pyjama pants and a faded T-shirt that read "Why Yes, I Am A Rocket Scientist." John couldn't help grinning at that.

"Come in," Rodney said, looking slightly dubious as he stepped out of John's way. There was a paperback book face-down on the bed (Robinson's Mars trilogy, which Rodney dismissed as "bunk" but obviously still enjoyed rereading) and the blankets were mussed. Rodney sat down at the far end of the bed, leaning against the wall.

"I, ah --" Hell. There was no good way to say this. John sat down on Rodney's desk chair, turning it around to face the bed.

"What's the matter?"

"There's something I have to tell you," John said, not meeting Rodney's eyes.

"Oh," Rodney said, his voice gentler than John was used to, and there was a rustling of blankets. When John looked up, Rodney had moved to the edge of the bed nearest to the desk chair where John was awkwardly sitting. His face was open, and he just sat there in silence, waiting. He looked -- hopeful?

God, it made John feel like a total heel. "I saw your girlfriend kissing Kuofor," John said, in a rush. No clever phrasing, no finesse, just the naked fact.

"Oh," Rodney said. "I was expecting you to -- oh." His mouth snapped shut, face shifting from anticipatory to miserable.

Wow. So that was what heartbroken looked like on Rodney McKay. Not something John had ever in a million years wanted to see.

John hadn't expected the news about Katie to hit him so hard. "I'm sorry," John offered.

"Not your fault." Rodney bit off the words. His expression was already shuttered, like he hadn't meant to show even as much emotion as he already had.

"I know it's not my fault," John said. "I just -- you deserve better." He wanted to say so much more than that -- you deserve someone who's really into you; ever considered, oh, me? -- but that was a bad idea, a risk he couldn't take.

"Thanks for the pep talk, Colonel." The bitterness in Rodney's tone was painful to hear.

"Look, I --" He wasn't even sure what to say, but he wanted so badly to say something. Anything that would make Rodney look less like his heart had been ripped out and pulped.

"Good night," Rodney said, and stood up.

There was nothing John could do but stand up too. He wanted to reach out somehow -- a manly squeeze of Rodney's arm, maybe -- but it was pretty obvious Rodney didn't want to be anywhere near him. Which made sense; he'd just brought Rodney really shitty news.

Having an unrequited interest in someone really sucked sometimes.

"Yeah," John said, "g'night," and let himself out.

He barely saw Rodney the next day. Or the day after that. When they did interact, Rodney was subdued, which made John's heart ache. Rodney got the crap kicked out of him during their nightly combat drills, and didn't even complain. Teyla tried once to help him up from the mat, and he brushed her hand away as though accepting help were a sign of weakness. After that, she just took him down like she would any opponent.

Clearly the relationship with Katie, however flawed it might have looked, had meant more to him than John had realized. Rodney was acting like somebody'd shot his cat, and John couldn't escape the recognition that he was the one who'd done the shooting. Or at least the one who'd delivered the news, which was bad enough. Still made him the bad guy.

John kept thinking about the moment just before he'd blurted out what he'd seen. For a second there, before John had told him what was on his mind, Rodney had seemed eager to hear whatever John was going to say. Obviously he hadn't figured it was going to break his heart.

Maybe there was some better way he could have said it. Maybe he should have asked Teyla's advice, or something.

But he hadn't asked Teyla, and now he'd put his foot in it. Rodney couldn't even look at him without shutting down, shutting him out.

Fine; if Rodney needed space, John could give it to him. He was a little out of practice, but he'd spent plenty of his life as a loner. And he wouldn't even be alone here, not really. He had Ronon and Teyla, and Lorne, and maybe Keller too. Spending a few days apart from Rodney was no big deal. Really. It wasn't. He was fine. He had books to read anyway.

"I just don't understand why the diagnostics aren't telling me anything useful." Rodney's mouth was pressed into a tight line.

John fiddled with his pen. He was in the meeting for form's sake, but he didn't have anything to offer, and watching Rodney be cranky didn't seem like a great use of his time.

"Would it be helpful to have some standard for comparison?" Sam asked.

"Ah, yes, we should compare our gate bridge with all of the other gate bridges out there in the galaxy. Why didn't I think of that."

When Rodney was getting that snippy with Sam Carter? Things were really not going well.

"We could send a team to check out other gates in Pegasus," Sam offered. "There might be something useful we can glean from the ways different gates are configured."

"Send us," John said, automatically. Hope rose in his chest. This was what they needed; go on a mission, be a team again.

"No can do," Rodney said, dismissively. "I need to be here to run the diagnostics at this end."

"Oh." So much for that idea. "We can send Lorne and his team, I guess."

"Excuse me if I don't think the average trained military monkey would be capable of the kind of work --" Rodney began.

"Wait just one second," John said, starting to get angry, because this was Lorne they were talking about, Rodney liked Lorne, so what the hell --

"We'll send Lorne's team plus you, John," Sam said. That shut them both up. "Rodney, you can fill John in on what needs to be done in order to run the tests that would be useful to you."

"Right," Rodney said. He looked a little embarrassed.

They walked out of her office in silence. "Look," Rodney said finally. "I know Lorne's a smart guy."

"Yeah, he is." John did not feel inclined to accept that kind of half-assed apology, especially since Rodney hadn't said a word that indicated contrition yet.

"I'm just -- having a hard time not being able to fix this," Rodney said.

John didn't reply.

"It's been kind of a shitty few weeks," Rodney added. His posture was slightly hunched, as if he was unconsciously trying to protect himself from anything else going wrong. When John spared a glance at his face, he noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the exhausted slant of his mouth.

Despite his resolve, John's anger melted. "Yeah," he said. "I know. Get me whatever specs you can on what you need me to do."

Rodney nodded and they parted ways.

Gearing up in the locker room with Lorne and his men felt weird. Standing in the gateroom with the wrong team felt even weirder. John had wondered whether Ronon or Teyla might show up to wish him luck, but they didn't. Rodney was there when they dialed out, but he didn't look happy about it.

They stepped out of the gate on L95-RS3, a planet they'd never been to before. The air was chill and a wind was blowing across the sand-colored stone and the desert scrub. There was no sign of habitation.

"Simmons and Weinberger, take point," John said, just as Lorne barked out "Frith and Simmons, perimeter!" All three of the men started to move, then caught themselves and turned back to the two of them, waiting.

"Belay that," John said, as quickly as he could. Frith and Simmons went to scope the perimeter, Weinberger stayed by the gate with his gun raised, and John followed Lorne to the edge of the ravine beside where the gate stood. "Major," he said. "I'm sorry about that."

"No problem," Lorne said, looking around as if he were inspecting their surroundings. John suspected he just didn't want to meet John's eye.

"I didn't mean to disrespect your command. Giving the order was just force of habit," John said.

"I know."

There was a pause. "Okay, I'd better get to it," John said, and made a beeline for the pillar where he knew the control crystals would be.

Taking the front panel off was easy. Figuring out which crystals Rodney wanted him to test was harder, since the configuration didn't quite match the diagram Rodney had sent him with. John kept turning his head to ask Rodney for help before remembering that Rodney wasn't there. As far as this mission was concerned, he was Rodney. That didn't make him feel any better.

Being offworld without Rodney and Ronon and Teyla was disconcerting. John kept expecting to hear their voices. Man, it was a good thing he hadn't tried to come out with Lorne and his guys before now; he felt like a fifth wheel.

The diagnostic work took almost three hours. By the time they stepped back through the wormhole, all of them were shivering, and John's hands were numb. The warmth and light of Atlantis were a relief.

"What the hell took you so long?" Rodney's voice was irritable.

"Thanks, it's nice to be back," John said, curt, and handed Rodney the datapad.

"How'd it go?" Sam asked, coming down the stairs to greet them.

John kept his mouth shut and gestured to Lorne, deferring.

"We didn't meet up with anyone planetside," Lorne said. "Quiet. Nice and easy."

"Right," John muttered.

Rodney was scrolling through data, frowning. "You didn't try the test with the fourth and eleventh crystals swapped?"

"The layout didn't exactly match," John began.

"Never mind," Rodney said, and stowed the tablet under one arm. "I'm off to the labs. Don't expect me at combat practice tonight, this could take a while."

"Okay," John said, feeling suddenly weary, and watched Rodney walking quickly away.

If the away mission yielded them any useful data, John didn't hear about it the next day, or the day after that. When he caught himself starting to feel glum about it, he told himself it was because the gate bridge investigation was screwing everything up. It didn't have anything to do with Rodney avoiding him, at all.

When Rodney finally sat down at John's breakfast table again and offered him half a donut, John took it even though he wasn't hungry anymore.

"Have you run out of comic books yet?" Rodney said, with no preamble.

"Actually, I've been re-reading," John said. He took another gulp of coffee to keep his probably-dorky smile of relief from view. Guess enough time had passed for Rodney to be through with his misery. It was a little bit ridiculous, how good it felt to be sitting across a table from Rodney again.

"Mmm, because there's so much to glean from a re-reading of Cosmic Capers," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.

And just like that, things were back to normal again, or what passed for normal between them, anyway.

The only trouble was, John's guard kept slipping. He'd snap into alertness, suddenly realizing he was standing right next to Rodney. He kept catching himself resting a hand just a second too long on Rodney's shoulder or his arm. It was stupid and risky but John just couldn't resist.

Friday morning he cancelled their nightly combat drills. They were getting pretty tight, starting to anticipate each others' moves and weaknesses, and it just made John hungry to get offworld again.

He had a whole speech planned out when he knocked on Sam's door.

"Come in, sit down. What can I do for you?"

"It's like this," he began. "I think we're starting to feel a little cooped-up around here."

"You want me to green-light your team going off-world," she said.

"Is it that obvious?"

Sam smiled. "I've been in the Air Force a long time, Colonel. I recognize the signs of pilots going ground-crazy."

"We don't have to go far," he said. "It doesn't have to be for long. We're just -- we need to be a team. And a change of scene might help McKay think in new directions," he added. It sounded like an afterthought, because it was, but maybe it would help.

"Do you have a destination in mind?"

"Teyla was telling me about a harvest festival on F92-RK4," he said. "Honestly, it doesn't matter that much where we go; I just think it would do wonders for morale."

"You don't have to explain that to me," Sam said. "SG-1, remember?"


There was a pause.

"So --"

"I could authorize a daytrip."

"Thank you," John said, and meant it.

"You'll have to get your own team on-board with the idea."

"No problem," John said, instantly, and rose.

Though as he thought about it, it was possible there might be a small problem with that. Rodney wasn't getting anywhere with the gate bridge macros -- it didn't look like anything was wrong with the code anywhere -- but he had been known to be stubborn from time to time. If John didn't broach this right, Rodney would dig in his heels and refuse to leave until he'd solved the problem. Which was exactly what Rodney didn't need. But how to make him see that...?

He found Rodney in his lab at dinnertime, eating a sandwich at his computer.

"Hey," he said, leaning against the desk.

"Mm?" Rodney said, his mouth full.

"It's been a while since we've hung out," John said, as casually as he could manage.

Rodney swallowed. "Yes, well, somebody orchestrated these ridiculous nightly combat drills."

John didn't dignify that with a response. "Want to watch a movie tonight?"

Rodney's smile was so immediate, and so real, that it brought an answering one to John's face. "I'd like that," Rodney said. "My room's a disaster area --"

"My place, name the time."

"I was planning to work late -- is eleven okay?"

"Eleven's fine, no problem." God, he felt like he was making a date. The flirty kind. "See you," he said, and escaped before he could say anything lame about how much he was looking forward to it.

From 2200 hours onward, John was jittery and couldn't focus on his book. He kept checking his watch, waiting for the hour to turn. He made popcorn too soon, and ate a third of it without realizing, and had to make another batch so the bowl would be full.

Rodney showed up on the dot of 2300 hours, as though he'd been waiting for it too. He was carrying his binder of pirated dvds under one arm. "Brought these," he said, smiling.

Wait, was that a...different shirt than he'd been wearing that afternoon? Had Rodney changed clothes just to lounge on John's floor and watch movies on a laptop screen?

He must have spilled something on the first shirt, John decided. "Great," he said. "Did you have anything in mind?"

"Let me see," Rodney said, and sat down on the bed and started absently flipping pages.

"So I was thinking," John began, cautiously.

"Oh? How unprecedented."

John threw a popcorn kernel at Rodney's head. "Ronon's getting kind of antsy."

"Is he."

"And Teyla tells me there's a harvest festival coming up on one of the planets where the Athosians used to trade."

"Ah, well, wouldn't want to miss that."

"You like harvest festivals!"

"Depends on what's being harvested."

"Assuming neither citrus nor killer ragweed pollen is involved," John amended, graciously.

"Doesn't make any difference. I'm busy, remember?"

"Sam okayed it," John said. "For a day. You deserve a break. Fresh air. Food. Sunlight."

"Contrary to popular belief, we do not, in fact, photosynthesize," Rodney protested.

"C'mon," John wheedled. "We can hang out. Stop thinking about work for a few hours and just...enjoy ourselves."

For an instant John saw barely-contained longing on Rodney's face. It made John swallow hard. Rodney looked at him like that in one of his favorite fantasies. Like he'd just been handed something he really wanted.

But then Rodney's face turned suspicious. "What's the catch?"

John shrugged. "No catch. You'd just have to free up your time."

"If it means that much to you, I suppose I could hand the gate bridge investigation off to Zelenka."

Leave it to Rodney to make it sound like he was doing John a favor, when he was obviously as excited about the prospect of getting offworld again as John was. "That's big of you."

"I'm a big-hearted guy," Rodney said, and grabbed a handful of popcorn.

"Big-hearted enough to let me pick the movie?"

Rodney groaned but acquiesced.

John picked Rounders. Even though it always made Rodney swear up and down that he would never play Texas Hold 'Em with John again.

The morning they were slated for offworld travel again, John woke up as happy as if he'd just gotten laid.

It had been way too long. Honestly, all four of them got irritable when they weren't out in the field on a regular basis. Heightmeyer used to call him on it, on the rare occasions when they'd been grounded for more than a day or two. That was a depressing memory; he pushed it out of his mind, because he felt too good today to mourn.

Atlantis wasn't the problem. Atlantis was home. Nothing in the universe could be better than waking up to the sight of his city, the feel of his city, the subtle subterranean hum of his city. It was the people who were the problem. It was weird, but it seemed like people were pairing off again.

Katie Brown kissing Philip Kuofor had been the first sign. But there were others. Hendricks and the Ice Queen. One of the RNs (was her name Jill?) and the short butch pastry chef, who he'd seen holding hands. Sure, they could be out and proud, they were civilians. It wasn't against their regulations. But his...

Pegasus was far enough away that it might be safe to test the limits of don't-ask, don't-tell. He didn't figure Colonel Carter really gave a damn. But it still rankled a little, being reminded of how easy this was for people who weren't part of his world.

Anyway, the whole pairing-off thing was annoying. It was getting to where John didn't want to move through the city alone at night anymore, because if he wasn't talking loudly with Ronon or Rodney as he went, odds were good he'd stumble on some late-night assignation. He was learning things about the Lanteans' proclivities that he really didn't want to know.

All of which added up to why it felt so very good to be strapping on his tac vest and hefting his P-90, checking and rechecking his gear, and meeting his team in the gateroom bright and early for their first offworld visit in...well, about three weeks, though it felt like forever.

"Be careful out there," Sam said over the comm system.

"It's a harvest festival," John said again.

"Ah, yes, what could possibly go wrong?" Rodney, chipper and sarcastic all at once.

"I wish you wouldn't say that," John stage-whispered to him.

Teyla rolled her eyes.

"We ready?" Ronon asked.

"Back tonight," John said. As he stepped into the wormhole, he couldn't help grinning.

They were met by a man wearing some kind of leafy wreath around his head. He had curly dark hair and a Mediterranean tan and he smiled very broadly at all of them.

"I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard," John began.

"Teyla!" the man yelled happily. The forehead press that followed lasted just a little bit longer than John was strictly comfortable with. From the looks of things, Ronon felt similarly. Rodney just looked discomfited, like he was steeling himself for some stranger to plant a forehead-press on him.

"This is Shalak, of the Plorans," Teyla said, when they parted. She looked slightly flushed, which John decided to ignore. "We knew each other many, many years ago."

"I had heard you might be coming! Come, the merriment has already started," he said, and they followed him on the narrow path through the stubbled fields.

"I can't wait for you to meet my wives," he said excitedly, and John exchanged a raised eyebrow with Rodney: wives, plural?

"This could be interesting," John said, sotto voce, and Rodney snorted a laugh in response.

After a few minutes' walk they arrived at a settlement, neat farmhouses separated by fields and small groves of trees. A big tent with drink and food under it, and more tables of food under the larger deciduous trees. People talking in clusters, with little kids running around everywhere.

Fortunately, they hadn't missed lunch; the feast seemed to be ongoing. John and Rodney both helped themselves to some kind of roast beast and tankards of lightly hoppy beer. The centerpieces were a little bit troubling, though. John wasn't sure he'd ever seen gourds quite so phallic. But he ignored them, and smiled at everybody while he filled his plate.

"There are contests of strength in the lower field," Shalak said. Ronon's grin was vaguely feral and made John grin in return.

"You should go try your hand at--" John trailed off, wondering what the local sport was.

"Tree-tossing," Shalak filled in.

"Tree tossing?" Rodney looked like he was going to choke on his sandwich.

"The pilik tree! We fell it in its fourth year," one of the children piped up. "And then men throw them. Papa says I can try when I am seventeen." He looked about eleven, and he was looking up at Ronon like Ronon was some kind of deity.

"You cut off the branches?" Ronon asked, and the kid nodded vigorously.

"And shave off the bark," kid said, eyes wide.

"Sure. I'll toss some trees." And with that Ronon headed down toward the field, kid in tow.

"That should be fun," John said to nobody in particular; Teyla was following Shalak to meet his wives, and Rodney was investigating another buffet table under another stand of trees.

Eventually John sacked out on a blanket in the shade, because the day was getting kind of hot, and the beer was maybe stronger than he'd realized. But hey, no one would be offended if he just took a little nap, right?

He woke up from a particularly tantalizing dream -- in which Rodney had been tracing his earlobe with a finger in between kissing his neck hungrily -- to find one of the local girls plastered to his side. Tracing his ear with a finger and, yeah, sucking on his neck.

"Hey!" he said, jerking out of her grasp and scooting back on the blanket a couple of feet.

"Am I not pleasing?" she asked, her lower lip quivering in a textbook adolescent pout. Oh, God, there was no way she was legal. Maybe on this world, but John's scruples had been formed a trillion miles away, and this was just not okay.

"That's not -- you're very pleasing," he said, backing away further as she advanced. "I'm just -- spoken for."

That was it; he was spoken for. He was congratulating himself for coming up with the perfect excuse when she shrugged. "It's the Autumn Equinox," she said. "Transgressions are not transgressions." The words had the ring of an oft-quoted proverb, or maybe Scripture. Which was not a good sign.

"I really didn't see this coming," John muttered, tapping his earpiece. "Hey, you guys out there?"

"What's that, John?" Rodney sounded lazy and sated. Oh no, if they'd sic'd one of their farmgirls on him, too --

"I've got a -- situation here," John said, increasingly desperate as Lolita crawled towrd him on her hands and knees, a flash of breast visible through her tunic as she moved.

"Keep your pants on, I'll be right there," Rodney said. He rounded the corner of a barn and came into view. "Jeez, I guess I wasn't kidding about the pants."

"Shut up, McKay," John gritted. Backing away from the girl slowly, trying to make placating gestures, he grabbed Rodney by the arm and they put a few tables of food between him and his would-be assailant, who pouted one more time just for good measure and then turned to one of her friends, probably already telling the story of the big mean offworlder who wouldn't let her molest him.

"My day has also taken a turn for the peculiar," Teyla said in his ear. "Shalak has made a...proposition...with which I am not comfortable."

"Yeah, this tree-tossing thing?" Ronon said. "I'm winning, but I think winning might come with some...wives."

"Let's get out of here," John said.

Rodney was laughing so hard he was clutching his sides.

"Thanks for having us," John said, loudly, to the gathering-at-large, and pulled Rodney after him onto the path toward the gate.

"We will meet you at the gate," Teyla said in his ear.

"For a guy who was chomping at the bit to get away from Atlantis this morning," Rodney began, still chuckling.

"Shut up and let's get home," John said.

The four of them wound up at their usual table in the mess hall. Teyla and Ronon were drinking an Athosian herbal infusion; John fixed cups of instant cocoa for Rodney and himself.

"Well. That was an adventure," Rodney said, still looking smug.

"I don't see how you managed to escape unscathed," John said, feeling a little put-out.

"Evidently the Plorans find me eminently resistable," Rodney said, shrugging. "Their loss."

"I did not remember that the Ploran harvest festival had such a focus on fertility," Teyla admitted. "I was much younger last time I was there; the symbolism must have been...lost on me."

Ronon snorted. "How you could miss those gourds?"

Teyla whacked him on the arm hard enough that John had to resist the urge to rub his own bicep.

"So we came back here to be around people who are pairing off, instead?" Ronon's eyes were amused.

"It is bizarre," Rodney agreed.

"This is the way people respond to uncertainty," Teyla said, gently. "Among the Athosians, renewed interest in courtship always followed a culling."

"But we haven't been culled! We're not in danger!" Rodney sounded offended by the lapse in logic.

Ronon shrugged. "What's wrong with people wanting to have sex?"

Teyla looked like the cat who'd gotten her canary. John smirked. "That's not the point," Rodney said, hastily, and -- hey, was he blushing? Wow. "It's just weird to see this kind of commitment-crazed siege mentality around here again."

Ronon threw a glance John's way. Uh-oh; John really didn't want to field questions about his love life or lack thereof. So he deflected.

"You harboring any inappropriate crushes since the news about the gate bridge came down, McKay?" John leaned back in his chair.

He expected Rodney to bitch at him, and he was already Not Thinking about what it said that the combination of Rodney bitching him out and Rodney blushing like a schoolgirl turned him on something fierce. But instead Rodney's mouth settled into an unhappy line. "Thanks for the reminder, Colonel." Uh-oh; if he'd just been demoted from 'John' to 'Colonel,' Rodney was not a happy man.

Rodney pushed back his chair.

"Hey, wait," John began, but Rodney had already picked up his coffee cup and headed for the door.

Ronon and Teyla exchanged another look.

"What was that about?" John asked them, as if they knew.

"If I had to guess, I would imagine that Rodney is interested in someone he perceives would not welcome his advances." Teyla looked at him as if he were a particularly slow child.

"Well, yeah, but..." John's voice trailed off. "I didn't mean to piss him off."

"Perhaps you should follow him."

"Talk this out," John said, making a face.

"That's one option," Ronon said. "Hey!" He put his arm out, blocking Teyla's strike to the hip.

"Okay, you two clearly have some energy to burn off," John said. In the momentary silence that followed his words, a mental image flashed before his mind's eye. Ronon and Teyla burning off that energy. Mostly unclothed.

Oh, God, had they paired off too? How had he missed that?

"Y'know what?" he said, hastily. "I'm gonna go after Rodney. We need to work this thing out."

"Good idea," Ronon said. Teyla just smiled.

"Night," John said, and set off.

He didn't go to Rodney's quarters, though. He went back to his room, stared at the walls for half an hour, and tried to fall asleep.

It didn't work; he was awake for hours.

The Atlantis expedition was officially non-denominational. A couple of small religious groups met on their own time -- Zen meditators, the Society of Friends, an assortment of Christians who seemed to have worked out some kind of compromise between their different variations on the theme. But most of the people who'd chosen to come to Atlantis weren't particularly religious, per se.

They had an annual holiday party, though. Roughly around the time Earth's northern hemisphere was experiencing midwinter. The first year, Elizabeth had decided that people needed a way to feel connected with home. Like they were in synch with loved ones who were gathering to enjoy togetherness despite the dark and the cold. That was the year Jacobson had posted an email to the @lantis listserv about Chanukah -- something about a small band of rebels prevailing against mighty forces of evil; it sounded kind of Star Wars-y -- which had moved John so much he'd never deleted it.

The Athosians had gotten right on board. They were good guests, too: showed up with food and drink and traditional instruments. Carson had tried to teach them to play a traditional Highland reel...

By year two, they'd reestablished contact with Earth, which changed things. That year, even though Colonel Caldwell had sworn up and down that the Daedalus was not anybody's delivery truck and it sure as hell wasn't any kind of sleigh, it had arrived just before the party, bearing an assortment of gifts and foods. Including a crate of good coffee John had ordered for Rodney, which he'd left anonymously outside Rodney's door. Rodney had speculated for weeks about who his secret admirer might have been.

This year they were cut off from Earth again, and the party seemed more important than ever. It felt kind of like a tribute to Elizabeth's memory. John didn't say that to anyone out loud, but he wondered how many other people were thinking it too.

One way or another, they'd pulled out all the stops. Lorne and about eight other guys had spent hours decorating the mess hall with twinkling lights, Ronon had brewed an enormous batch of Satedan mulled wine, and the kitchen staff had outdone themselves baking cookies and making canapés.

By the time John arrived, half the people there seemed mildly tipsy. The place was crowded, and everyone was talking a little too loud. Music was playing, some indie-sounding band John couldn't identify.

He made his way over to Ronon, who was entertaining a steady stream of people who wanted to sample his hot spiced wine.

"You want some?" Ronon offered, holding out a steaming cup.

"No thanks, I'm the designated driver," John said, just to see Ronon give him the look that said 'you people and your crazy Earth references.' Ronon didn't disappoint.

"I'll have another," Zelenka said, holding out his glass, and Ronon refilled it, splashing a little down the side.

"You're a fan, huh?" John asked.

"It is similar to the hot mulled wine they sell from street carts in Prague," Zelenka said, enunciating a little bit too carefully, and raised his glass to Ronon and John before walking away.

"Why am I guessing your version is a little stronger than the stuff he's used to."

Ronon shrugged, grinning. "It's good. You should try some."

"Maybe in a minute," John said, and looked around the room.

Tinsel, check; lots of people clustered in knots, talking and eating canapes, check; Rodney outside on a balcony alone, check.

"I'll be right back," John said, and headed for the door.

He grabbed a little sausage on a stick from one of the trays that whizzed by him, and proffered it to Rodney with a flourish.

"Mmm, thank you," Rodney said, and took it from him, looking back out at the moonlit sea.

"It's a traditional 'I'm sorry I was a dick' offering among my people," John said seriously.

Rodney gave a little laugh, which turned into a coughing fit.

"Hey, easy," John said hastily, whacking him on the back.

"I'm -- ow -- fine," Rodney said. "Really."

"You want another one?"

"Maybe I ought to hold off," Rodney said.

There was a pause. "Look," John said, "the thing I said the other night was way out of line, and I'm sorry."

"Which thing was that, again?" Rodney turned to lean on the railing, finally facing John. The casual thing was totally an act, but John let him get away with it.

"Asking if you were interested in someone." John held up a hand, quickly, to forestall whatever Rodney was about to say. "It's none of my business. And I'm sorry."

Rodney regarded him with mild suspicion. "Did Teyla tell you to say that?

"Kind of," John admitted, "but I was going to anyway."

"Sure you were," Rodney said, but he seemed mollified.

"We okay?"

"What? Of course we're okay."

"Good." John felt good, knowing that. Whatever secrets Rodney was keeping from him, they couldn't hold a candle to the secret John was keeping from Rodney -- but either way, it was good to know that they were all right. That if something awful happened, they had each others' backs. That John could return to fantasizing about Rodney without feeling like quite so much of an ass.

"You're cold," Rodney said suddenly, putting a hand on John's arm. John shivered, though whether from the chill air or from Rodney's touch he couldn't have said.

"Ronon made mulled wine," John said, inanely, and pulled away to head toward the indoors again, because this was exactly the kind of moment that made him want to just plant one on Rodney, consequences be damned.

They'd just made it back inside the doors when the string of lights festooning one third of the room went dark. A bunch of people chorused "aww," in stereo.

"Oh," Rodney said, in response to nothing in particular. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me." He tapped his earpiece. "Zelenka, where the hell are you?"

"Am here," Zelenka said, from the corner of the room where Ronon had set up shop, and Rodney fought his way through the crowd to reach him, bumping into people indiscriminately and almost spearing one of the younger scientists with his sausage skewer. John followed, making conciliatory gestures in his wake.

"Series circuit," Rodney said, urgently, and Zelenka muttered something that sounded like "oh, muy boze" before the two of them took off at a run.

"What was that about?" Ronon asked.

"I think that may have been a breakthrough," John said. "Pour me one of those, will you?"

"I haven't seen McKay all night," Sam said, holding a plate of cookies and looking concerned. "Was he here?"

"He was," John said, "but he and Radek took off about an hour ago. Looked like they figured something out." He gulped down the end of his second mulled wine.

"And it couldn't wait until morning?"

John shrugged, spreading his palms. "Scientists," he said. "What can you do?"

"Careful there, John," Sam said. "You don't want to --"

"Colonels," said a slightly drunken Radek beside them, "your gate bridge is --"

"Fixed!" Rodney chimed in.

"What?" Sam looked back and forth from one to the other, startled and delighted. "What happened?" She set the cookies down on a nearby table and waited.

"I can't believe we didn't think of this sooner," Radek began.

"Yes, yes, of course it was obvious, but the way the problem was initially framed," Rodney cut in.

"I still think you should have considered," Radek said.

"That's hardly the point, is it?" Rodney, snippy.

"Somebody want to fill us in?" John asked.

"Oh, yes. Sorry." Rodney looked sheepish for an instant. "It turns out the problem wasn't in the code after all -- which, by the way, I knew it wasn't. That code is impeccable, it's some of the best work I've ever done."

Radek muttered something in Czech.

"The reason the gate bridge wasn't initializing had to do with the way the bridge is linked; it's a flaw in the system, something we should have anticipated really."

"The problem was localized at P24-Y2L," Radek said. "That's the eleventh gate in the series of jumps."

"That's one of the gates in planetary orbit, isn't it?" Sam asked.

"Yes. It's also, at this moment in time, entirely nonfunctional, thanks to that planet's star going supernova," Rodney began.

"At least, that is one theory," Radek added, holding up a finger as if to demonstrate, "though it's also possible something simply damaged the gate -- asteroids, comet, some other kind of collision. Point is, that gate is the culprit."

"You mean redundancy isn't built into the system?" John couldn't believe it.

Rodney and Sam both looked embarrassed. "Adding parallelism was always in the plan," Sam said, "but other things took priority. How did you diagnose this?"

"It took some rejiggering," Rodney said, his chest proud and his smile so self-satisfied it was all John could do not to lick it off his face. "We had to convince the system it was okay to send a test pulse through even though it wasn't capable of reaching its destination."

"Having one gate down," Radek began.

"Was like a broken bulb in a string of Christmas lights." John got it.

"Exactly." Rodney beamed. "Once we were able to isolate which gate was down, and reconfigure the system to go directly from gate ten to gate twelve, it worked like a charm. We can dial the midway station again."

"That's wonderful news. Thank you both," Sam said, clasping Rodney's arm and then turning to Radek, who -- ebullient -- pulled her into a hug.

John just stood there for a second. The hell with it; they'd all been drinking, nobody was even going to notice this. He reached for Rodney.

"Nice work," he murmured into Rodney's hair. Rodney's body was solid against his, and he hugged John like he meant it.

"Thanks," Rodney said.

Was it John's imagination, or did Rodney hold on just a little bit too long?

"I should go send a message." Sam's voice made them jump apart. "SGC's probably been panicking this whole time."

"The system still requires a little hand-holding," Radek said. "I will accompany you."

"Thank you again," Sam said, and she and Radek made a beeline for the door.

John looked around; the party was wrapping up. About half the people who'd been there were gone now, back to their quarters, their post-celebration assignations. Ronon and Teyla had gone. Lorne was gone. Keller was sitting in a corner with one of her RNs, laughing, surrounded by empty wine cups.

"I guess I missed the party," Rodney said, sounding mildly regretful.

"The night's still young," John said, on impulse. "I've got some decent scotch stashed away. You want a drink?"

"Here's to getting the gate bridge working again." John raised his coffee cup to meet Rodney's, and the inch of whiskey left in it sloshed slightly as their cups touched.

The scotch felt good going down, hot and sharp with the faintest hint of sweetness. They'd drunk toasts to Carson, and to Elizabeth, and to Ford, and now they were on to happier things.

"Returning to normalcy," Rodney declared, holding up his mug, and John clinked cups with him and they each took a long swig.

"You emailed Jeannie yet?"

Rodney looked mildly embarrassed. "I might have sent a quick email from the lab before we came to tell Sam we'd fixed it."

"Good for you," John said, approvingly. "To family!" He raised his cup, which was getting surprisingly close to empty.

"To family," Rodney echoed. As their cups met, John glanced from their hands to Rodney's face, and something in his eyes took John's breath away.

John took a quick gulp, finishing his scotch, but the sudden ache of longing in his chest didn't die down.

"We're family too," Rodney said, a little unsteadily.

John had to close his eyes for an instant, because if he kept looking at Rodney he was going to make an enormous mistake. "Yeah," he agreed.

He felt Rodney's hand pulling the mug out of his, and heard Rodney set it on the floor beside them. "Hey," Rodney said, and his voice was too close -- he was right there. "You okay?"

"Sure," John said. He opened his eyes, meaning to plaster on his usual façade, but Rodney was right there, looking at him with such tender concern that John felt his heart crack right open, and he couldn't help himself: he leaned just the slightest bit forward, staring at Rodney's lips.

"John," Rodney murmured, and closed the gap between them.

Rodney's lips were soft, and he kissed John like he'd been dying for it. When John kissed him back he made a tiny broken sound and clutched at him, one hand fisting his sleeve.

John sensed the moment when Rodney was about to pull back, and it terrified him. Like this might be some crazy one-time thing, a single kiss and that's it. Or when they pulled apart Rodney was going to drop some kind of bombshell: I've never done this before, John, I can't. So John kept going: kept kissing him, his hands roaming over Rodney's broad shoulders, and Rodney sighed into his mouth.

When they did finally pull apart John rested his forehead against Rodney's, wordless.

"If I'm dreaming right now, please don't wake me up," Rodney muttered, and John felt himself laugh, his tension starting to dissipate.

"You have dreams like this often?" John asked.

Rodney pulled back far enough to look at him, and John felt a frisson of anticipation at the naked hunger in Rodney's eyes. "Do waking dreams count?"

Rodney admitting he had fantasies about John--! That was an incredible rush.

Before John could figure out what to say in response, Rodney was scrambling back and pushing himself to his feet. "We are not doing this on the floor," Rodney said, and John ignored the relief that suggested that for an instant there he'd thought Rodney had changed his mind.

"We're not?" John said.

"Maybe you Boy Scout types are comfortable down there, but I for one would frankly prefer something with a little more give," Rodney said, his fingers flashing fast as they unbuttoned his soft blue shirt.

John knelt up and knee-walked his way over to where Rodney stood. "Floor's not so bad," he said, and leaned in to press his face against Rodney's thigh.

"Oh God," Rodney said, and his stance widened. John felt Rodney's erection hot and hard against his cheek, and shifted slightly to mouth it through his pants.

"Oh, oh, oh," Rodney murmured, a chant of desperation, and when John reached up to unfasten his belt buckle his fingers tangled with Rodney's.

"Here, hang on, I've got it," and Rodney did, and John tugged everything down as far as he could with Rodney's legs just slightly more than hip-width apart, revealing Rodney's dick. It was beautiful and right in front of him and he leaned forward to lick at it. Rodney gasped and started pleading, instantly, a low stream of words that made John ache.

John let Rodney's voice wash over him as he urged Rodney to fuck his mouth. Honestly, it didn't take much; Rodney wasn't the kind of guy who had to be asked twice. Rodney going after exactly what he wanted was strangely thrilling, and John sucked harder, wanting to encourage him. He wrapped his arms around Rodney's thighs, one hand kneading Rodney's ass, and Rodney groaned.

The sudden touch of Rodney's hands made him shiver. One hand on the back of his head, the other one cupping the side of his face, fingertips lightly brushing the line of his jaw. "Oh," Rodney gasped. "John." And that was it: John was swallowing, his mouth burning with salt.

Eventually he let go and rocked back on his heels, wincing a little as the movement trapped his erection tight.

Rodney sat back on his bed, tugging his boots off and kicking his pants down and away. "Get up here."

"Yes sir," John said, although he couldn't help grinning, which kind of spoiled the effect.

"Please get naked right now," Rodney added, and John had been about to give him grief for needing to run the show until that "please," which took him right back to Rodney begging for more as his dick slipped between John's lips. John had to look away to strip his clothes off because he felt dangerously close to coming already.

Getting naked in front of Rodney hadn't been a big deal before. They'd gone swimming a few times, they'd been half-dressed in the infirmary when one or both of them was hurt. But this was different. This time John felt like he was naked in a whole new way.

And Rodney scooted over to make room for John on the perilously narrow bed, and climbed on top of John to kiss him. Like their first kisses, but slower and dirtier. Like he was trying to fuck John into incoherence just with his mouth.

Rodney's body was heavy over him. It was a little bit alarming how much John liked that. He'd always needed to be on top, on the rare occasions when he'd done this before. Leave it to Rodney not to even ask, to just arrange him where he wanted him. In a burst of recklessness John let himself go boneless beneath Rodney, let Rodney take control.

Hot wet kisses along his jaw to his neck, and oh, God, Rodney's tongue on his iratus scar. John jerked up, gasping, but Rodney was surprisingly heavy, Rodney held him there. "Do you have any idea," Rodney murmured, biting the side of his neck, "how long I've wanted this?"

There was no answer to that, not one that felt safe. If he tried to respond, he'd wind up admitting things he wasn't sure he was ready to acknowledge. So instead he just said "Fuck me?"

Rodney jerked above him, thigh brushing John's erection, and John hissed with pleasure at the contact.

"Jesus," Rodney murmured fervently. "Damn it, I can't." He gave a self-deprecating little laugh. "Too soon." He thumbed one of John's nipples, and it felt so good John let his legs fall even further open.

"Just your fingers," John said. Some part of him hardly believed he was this shameless. He was all but begging for it, not because he could pretend Rodney needed it but because he did. "Please," and his voice cracked, and Rodney kissed him hard and sweet for a second before pulling away.

"Lube," Rodney said, a little wild-eyed, and John found it for him. Watching Rodney slick his fingers was almost unbearable. As though, having admitted the desire, he was going to spontaneously combust of it before it could be filled.

And then oh, oh God, Rodney's finger. John gasped for breath.

"Oh fuck," Rodney said, in what sounded like wonderment.

John moaned.

"You're so hot," Rodney murmured, "so tight, I can't -- oh, fuck, you like that?" His thrusts were getting harder, deeper, and John couldn't help working himself on Rodney's fingers, aching for more.

And then Rodney brought his other hand up to his mouth and licked it, and John tensed up trying not to come, but it was a losing battle: as soon as Rodney added the other hand to his cock, that was it, John was flying.

"Nice to have you with us, gentlemen." Sam sounded more amused than annoyed, but John still felt the tips of his ears turning red. First morning back to the normal routine and he and Rodney were late to the senior staff meeting -- not exactly how he'd intended to mark the transition back to active duty.

"My fault," Rodney volunteered.

Damn right it's your fault, John thought. They wouldn't have been late if John hadn't come out of the shower to see Rodney lying on the bed, knees up and feet firmly planted, working himself with slow hard strokes. Waiting for John to join him.

Sam gave him an appraising look, as if she were considering asking, and then picked up her tablet. "Okay, everybody! Let's start with department reports, and then I want to talk about what our priorities are this week."

Getting offworld, John thought, as Keller launched into her spiel about what was happening in medical. That's my priority. He could already hear the watery sound of stepping through the gate, could already feel the wormhole tunnel oscillating around them. He grinned.

"We're glad you find the new organ scanners so exciting, Colonel," Sam said. Her voice was brusque but her eyes were laughing.

"Sorry," John said, a little sheepishly. "I didn't mean to space out, Doc. I'm just looking forward to getting back out there with my team."

"All right, let's talk about where you're headed," Sam said.

New worlds. Wild adventures. John thought about where they were in the universe -- the map of the Pegasus galaxy spiraling out around them -- and he looked over at Rodney, and he smiled.

The End