by Speranza and Resonant

On Xia they kiss on the mouth. They do it for every possible occasion: to greet, to part, to seal an agreement. They do it at dinners, where normal cultures would have toasts. They do it spontaneously, like a pat on the shoulder, like shaking hands.

John doesn't even shake hands if he can avoid it. In the private depths of his heart, he thinks it's rude: in that way, saluting's always been convenient. On Xia, John keeps his distance: makes the trade, waves, and gets the hell out of Dodge. But Rodney stays to learn about their extraordinary power systems and to teach them everything else, and when he comes back to Atlantis a couple of weeks later, he's picked up the habit.

Worst thing is: he doesn't even realize. Rodney being Rodney, he's just doing it out of expediency: he's got no sense of propriety and wouldn't know a social nicety if he fell over it. It's just the fastest way to get from A to B. Hello, yeah, nice to see you too: is that the power coupling? Yeah, great weather: could you get me a sandwich?

John didn't know that it was possible to kiss like that until Rodney does it: coming through the automatic doors and brightening when he sees John and clapping him on the shoulders with both hands and kissing his mouth before saying, "Hey, great! I need you to fly to the mainland and get me some rocks." John is more deeply shocked than he's ever been in his life, so shocked that even Rodney notices and says, "They're special rocks, actually. It's not like any moron could do it. I need you."

"I," John says, and then, "Kissing, what the fuck, Rodney?"

"Kissing?" Rodney repeats, and then: "Oh, come on, seriously? Spare me the American macho freakout, Colonel; it's only phatic, and you know it."

"Phatic? Is that even a word?"

"Of course it's a—God, are you being pretend-obtuse or is this the real thing? Phatic. Phatic," as if he weren't just thrilled at the opportunity to explain something obscure. John rolls his eyes so hard he nearly falls backwards. "It means it doesn't mean anything," Rodney says. "It's just something you do, like asking people how they are when you don't care, or telling people to look you up when they're in town."

"So, pretty much your whole life, then," John says sincerely.

"Oh, fuck you," Rodney groans.

"Wait, is that phatic, or—" but now Rodney's stomping off, probably to make some other moron get his rocks. He doesn't kiss John again, but he kisses a surprised Zelenka when they rig a transporter between the command chair and the jumper bay, and he kisses Ronon when Ronon gives him a cinnamon roll. Ronon just shrugs and chugs down a mug of Bruskan ale, but Ronon's been around the block five or six thousand times, and Rodney's not the weirdest thing Ronon's dealt with today.

And that's true for John, too: he lives in another galaxy, after all, and there are space vampires and humanoid robots and he kind of turned blue for a while. He's flown from one side of the galaxy to the other and he's seen a lot of strange stuff, but the one thing he can't get over is Rodney's kiss: the warm firm pressure of his mouth, the way he smelled like cinnamon, the way his hand rested briefly on John's arm.

He thinks about it far too much, and every time he comes near Rodney he braces for it, slightly queasy, palms sweating. And then one day, Rodney just loses the habit and goes back to normal. Except John is now alive to his every gesture: every clap on the back, shoulder bump, touch. And each time their bodies collide, John thinks about what it would be like if Rodney kissed him on the mouth again.

At the reception after six Marines get promoted, Rodney shakes everybody's hand carelessly on his way to the buffet table. John gets lost in a daydream of Rodney going down the receiving line giving them each a kiss on the mouth. In the daydream the kisses are a little more involved than the idle passing Xian kisses, and they get slower and deeper as he moves down the line. By the end, when it's Rodney and McNair—a short, fit woman with cropped blonde hair, just Rodney's type—they're clutching each other's shoulders and swaying. Or they would be: John is sure of it.

They're almost back at Rodney's room before John realizes he's been following Rodney around. He immediately thinks of excuses: this is on his way to—the chemistry lab; no, the munitions storeroom. In front of his door, Rodney looks at him and rubs the corner of his mouth, first with his finger, then with his thumb. Then he raises his eyebrows and says, impatiently, "Well? Did I get it?"

John blinks and says, "Yeah, no, it was some, you've got," and as if in slow motion he sees himself reaching out, skimming his finger over Rodney's lower lip.

The touch is too light to remove a crumb, if there were actually a crumb there in the first place. Too light for John's fingertip to register much more than that Rodney's lip is warm and soft and miraculously, for a moment, still.

But only for a moment. Then the sputtering begins. "Are you—you are not still on about—" but yes, yes, he is, so John blurts, "Yes. Look. Shut up," and leans in to kiss him: just once, quick.

Rodney stops talking. His mouth falls open. John grips Rodney's arms and kisses him; clasps his shoulders and kisses him; moves a hand to his neck and kisses him again. Testing the waters, feeling each kiss as a small shock, and then there is a sharp tug at his shirt, Rodney's grasping hands and the sudden fierceness as he understands.

The next kiss is all sensation--the soft wet inner surface of Rodney's lower lip, the feel of his breath on John's face, the long moment suspended in time as their mouths barely touch—and then they're moving forward, backward, through the door, kissing. John blindly reaches a hand out, feeling for a wall, the bed, anything. When they bang against Rodney's dresser, John shifts and anchors himself against it: this is fine, good enough.

John puts his mouth everywhere on Rodney. Nuzzles his neck and his temples, tugs his shirt up and off and licks his nipples until he gasps. Sucks his fingers, makes him come with his pants down around his knees and John's mouth open over the top of his cock like some obscene sort of offering. And Rodney tries to do the same, grabs at John's waist with strong fingers and says, "no, wait—" but John won't let himself be moved: all he wants is to rub off on Rodney's hip while Rodney kisses him and kisses him. "Christ, okay," Rodney explodes finally, and then there are hands in his hair and a tongue in his mouth and his open zipper scraping between them and fuck, bliss. He makes helpless, embarrassing noises and comes over everything.

"You are pushy and insane," Rodney says a little breathlessly, once they've collapsed on the bed.

"Yeah, maybe." John looks up at Rodney's ceiling, then frowns when he realizes there are notes written there: a few scrawled equations, some random numbers written in black Sharpie. "Takes one," he says, almost automatically.

The bed creaks as Rodney shifts position and then John feels Rodney's eyes on him. "I didn't know you were gay," Rodney says with disarming frankness—or rudeness. John's never quite sure which.

"It's not something I," but there are too many ways to finish that thought. Talk about. Think about. Admit. John just lets it hang there. "I didn't know you were."

"Oh, I'm not," Rodney says, then adds: "I mean, not that I'm not. I'm not anything, really. I'm mostly just horny," and John laughs. Rodney laughs too, and for a moment, it's so easy, and John is so totally unwound, every muscle weak with the release of four years' worth of pent-up sexual tension, that he forgets all the reasons that this is something he can't do, that this isn't something he does.

"Hm," Rodney says, propping himself up on one elbow and taking John's dick in his other hand, and John is instantly, ragingly, embarrassingly hard. Rodney's impressed, though. "Huh," he says, and strokes his thumb over the head of John's cock; John gasps and his hips rise up off the bed. "It's like driving a really good piece of machinery," Rodney says. "Something German. A Mercedes or a BMW. V8, V12."

"That's," and it's hard to talk, because Rodney's hand is still on him. "I think that's the nicest thing anyone's," Moving. Jesus. "You know, Jaguar also makes a—" but Rodney's leaning down and taking him into his mouth, and fuck, they are doing this; they are so doing it. Somehow, he is doing this. In fact, he might be in love.

The next time Rodney goes to Xia—bringing two spools of wire made from a metal smelted from all those stupid rocks – John goes with him. He kisses the wry female Senator who heads the delegation that meets their jumper, and he kisses the guy who heads their research department before handing over the two tiny spools. Phatic or not, it's all pretty terrifying, but Rodney's there beside him, a hand on his arm or the small of his back. Most of his casual touches are for John, now, and all of them mean something.

When they're finally brought to their room and left alone for the night, John's drained with the effort it's taken not to pull back or run away. He sits down on the bed, rolls his neck. Beside him, Rodney begins absently to knead his shoulders.

"Did you see what they were working on?" Rodney asks dreamily, strong hands clenching and releasing. "Organic batteries, grown in the lab. Ridiculously brilliant: all in the resiliency of the cell structure, I'd imagine. But they need me to finish it—God, this is beyond Nobel Prize territory: this is Galileo, Newton, Einstein—"

John lets his head roll back. "Shut up and kiss me," he says, and Rodney bends to plant a quick kiss on his lips. "No, really," John says, unable to stop his voice from going husky, but Rodney's eyes widen. "Really," John says again, and this time, when Rodney kisses him, it's not phatic at all.

The End

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