by Speranza

Author's Note: Thanks to Terri and Lim and Res for their beta work on this. I'd hoped this would be finished for the sga_flashfic "Comfort Challenge," but alas, not to be.

John stumbled through the event horizon. Food. Shower. Sleep. He wasn't sure which he wanted more, and he was pretty sure he was only going to get two of them: he was either going to fall asleep in the shower or end up faceplanting into a plate of reconstituted mashed potatoes. Teyla and Ronon and Rodney were already drifting off toward the locker room, wearily unshouldering their weapons and shrugging out of their tac vests, but Sgt. Nichols was waiting to brief him and to get his provisional report.

He was trying to get it into the fewest words possible--mission accomplished, treaty signed, their head of state is a dick--when he saw Nichols' face. Nichols didn't waste his time: "Sir, we lost two guys on the mission to MC4-551. It was an accident, sir. The locals are called the Neasdiac, and they're currently fighting the Ruodin of MC4-557. After the most recent battle, they booby-trapped the--"

"Oh, that's great," John said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Clusterfuck."

"For what it's worth, sir, they seemed pretty sorry." Nichols's lips twisted into a grimace. "They don't want us for an enemy; they've offered us anything we want as reparations. We've stationed some men there, sent a negotiator down."

John jerked a nod, then steeled himself to ask, "Who'd we lose?"

"Henderson. Shiff," Nichols said, and John winced. "Dr. Keller's already certified them. The paperwork--"

John cut him off; he didn't want to hear about the paperwork. "Thank you, Sergeant," and he had just turned toward the locker room when he was brought up short by Nichols' brief, apologetic cough.

"Sorry, sir," Nichols said, "but I need to get a statement from--"

"Mission accomplished. Treaty signed. Their head of state is a dick," John said.

Rodney was still in the locker room, one foot up on the bench, looking like he'd forgotten how to tie his laces. He'd changed out of his BDUs, but his hair was still standing on end from the ionized decontamination chamber. He looked up at John and said, "Oh, hey. Teyla said to tell you..." He trailed off, blinked. "I have no idea," he said. "Something something. It couldn't have been very important."

John unholstered his own weapons, checked them, put them in the safebox in his locker. "She's calling it a day? She wants me to stop by? What?"

"Yes, I don't know, something like that. I thought I was listening, but I wasn't." Rodney frowned at his shoes, then doggedly tied them like a four-year-old, knotting the loops together. "My brain's not--I'm about two minutes away from hypoglycemia, actually."

John slammed his locker shut, then heard himself say: "We lost two guys today." It felt good to tell somebody. "A local conflict, they booby-trapped the gate."

"What?" Rodney's head jerked up. "How could--don't we check for that? Booby-trapping the gate: it's an obvious idea. It could be any of us. It could be me--"

John rolled his eyes and unzipped his tac vest. "Yeah, well, it wasn't you. It was Shiff and Henderson."

"What?" Rodney said, and then he blinked a bunch of times and said: "Who?"

"Shiff and Hen-der-son," John said irritably, over-pronouncing their names. "Shiff was a big guy, balding, thick through the chest. Henderson--"

"Kevin Henderson?" and something in Rodney's voice made John look at him.

"Uh-huh," John said, curious now; he wouldn't have thought Rodney knew Henderson.

"Oh," Rodney said, pale. "Oh, that's terrible. That's--"

"I didn't know you knew him," John said.

"We were friendly," Rodney said, and then suddenly, savagely, when John raised an eyebrow at him, nearly spitting out the word, "Friendly, all right?"

John blinked and said, "Oh. Oh, uh..." and all at once, Rodney was up, off the bench, and crackling with enough anger that John instinctively went to the balls of his feet. For a moment, he thought that Rodney would actually throw the punch, but then Rodney's shoulders dropped and all the fight went out of him.

"Christ," Rodney breathed. "Just--fuck off, John," he said and walked out.

John watched him go, and then pressed his shoulder against the metal locker to steady himself, because what the fuck, what the fuck?

John hurried through decontamination fast and went to the mess. Rodney was at a table near the window, bent low over his plate and shoveling food into his mouth. John didn't know whether Rodney's claims of hypoglycemia were true, but for the first time since they'd started working together, he hoped they were. It would explain so much.

Rodney looked up as he approached. "No," he said, mouth full of stew, "no, no; seriously, scram, get out of here, I--" Rodney swallowed, then sucked in another big mouthful of stew before he finished, "--don't want to talk to you."

John ignored him and sat down. "Okay, look, I don't know what's--" but Rodney swallowed, raised his arm and snapped his fingers furiously. "Hey!" he yelled across the mess. "You! Come over here and translate some simple English sentences for your commanding officer."

John turned and saw Lieutenant Mike Cooper approaching; he was blank-faced and carrying a tray. "Doctor McKay," Cooper said cautiously, and shot John a swift, nervous look, "is there something I could do to--"

"You're on Petrov's team, right? Tell the Colonel--" and Rodney circled his fork in the air a couple of times, "--about those exciting rocks you guys just found on MC7-889. The Colonel's an intelligent man, interested in all manner of things, rocks included. And they must be pretty special, those rocks; Petrov couldn't shut the fuck up about them."

"Um," Cooper said, and cut his eyes toward John, who sighed and shook his head minutely; he didn't want to hear about Dr. Petrov's goddamn rocks. John rubbed his scratchy eyes and said, wearily, "It's all right, Lieutenant. You can..." but Cooper surprised him by putting his tray down and looking at Rodney with concern.

"Dr. McKay," Cooper said, "do you want me to--or I mean, I could call someone. From the infirmary, or--" Rodney sighed and sat back in his chair and said, "No, Michael, I'm fine. I'm just being a pain in the--" "I'd be happy to escort you back to your quarters, sir," Cooper insisted. "Or to get someone else, if you'd rather--"

Rodney shoved his plate away and got unsteadily to his feet. "Really not necessary, but thanks," he told Cooper, then looked at John. "I'm going to sleep," he said pointedly. "Goodnight," and John just jerked a nod and watched him go.

A moment later, Cooper picked up his tray again, then hesitated and looked at John. "Sir?" he asked. "Is there anything you....?"

John tilted his head back to look at him and said, "Nah," and then: "Actually, yeah. Tell me, Lieutenant: is it 'Mike' or 'Michael'?" John thought he knew the answer to that; he'd heard the marines yelling nicknames at each other in the barracks, in the gym. "Hey Paulie! Jimbo! Jackie!"; he also heard, "Hoochy, Demon, Numbnuts, Fuckwit."

Michael Cooper was poker-faced, but John could see the glint of panic in his eyes and immediately regretted the question. "Never mind," he said dismissively. "Enjoy your dinner, Lieutenant," and Cooper nodded tightly and headed off to a table of Marines, where he was greeted by someone saying, "Hey, Mikey: what the fuck was that about?"

The first week they got to Atlantis, the Marines took over a remote room and made it into--not a chapel, but a mourning room. It was just a bunch of chairs, all facing one direction so you didn't have to look at anybody. Mostly it was a place to go when someone died and you didn't know what to do with yourself. Enough guys died that they didn't all get fancy gateroom funerals, but if the guy who didn't make it was a friend of yours, the moment of silence at roll call wasn't quite enough.

John stopped in whenever he could. They were all under his command, and even if he stayed for a moment: it mattered, the guys noticed. The day after Shiff and Henderson died, a quarter of the chairs were occupied. Guys were sitting in clumps of two and three, doggedly staring toward the front of the room, like it was school and the teacher wasn't there yet. There was no casket--almost nobody got caskets; they were lucky if someone yanked their dogtags off--but there was a small table with some stuff on it. A baseball cap (Oakland), a catcher's mitt. A scattering of photos, a battered and creased greeting card.

It was mostly marines, but there were civilians, too: a couple of scientists, some of the infirmary personnel. He recognized Rodney's bowed back; Rodney was sitting by himself, staring down at his empty hands. John headed up the aisle toward him before abruptly losing confidence in his welcome and taking a nearby chair instead. He sat down a couple of rows behind Rodney and stared at the back of his head for a while.

People came in, drifted out, moved. It took a while for John to notice that something else was going on under the regular routine. Most guys just walked in, sat down for a while, and left, but one or two of them took the long way round before heading out. There was some kind of subterranean communication going on, loaded glances being exchanged in the silence. Two marines got up and went to sit next to a biologist; a moment later, Rodney joined them, and then another marine. John tried to watch them without being obvious about it. He strained his ears, but he could only hear the low murmur of voices.

The three marines got up and left. Then the biologist sitting with Rodney left, too, and John took a deep breath and went over before anyone else could sit next to him.

John kept his eyes front and center. Still, he could feel Rodney's gaze moving over him.

"What?" Rodney's voice was pitched low. "What the hell do you--?"

"You could have told me." John kept facing forward and spoke without moving his lips. He knew how to do this; shit, he remembered this. "Jesus, Rodney--"

"I couldn't." Rodney's voice came back, quiet but clear. "Even now--I shouldn't."

That hurt more than John would have expected. He shot an angry glance at Rodney, but Rodney was turned away, his face blank. John forced himself to look forward again. "I would have told you," John said, unable to keep the note of accusation out his voice. "If I had someone who mattered to me like that. You could have trusted me to--"

"What?" Rodney said, and then he shocked John by putting his hand on John's leg and giving it a quick, hard squeeze, fingers digging in. By the time John looked down, Rodney had yanked his hand back. "You've got it wrong," Rodney said, and bit his lip. "I wasn't--it wasn't like that."

Enough of this bullshit. John turned, drew one knee up onto the chair, and looked Rodney full in the face. "How was it, then?" and Rodney turned to him with an pleading expression that read: Don't do this to me. Then he stared down at the floor.

"I can't," Rodney said finally. John's throat went tight and sore. He felt alone, angry--shoved away--and okay, yes, that was par for the course with everyone else, but this was Rodney. Rodney had always been there for him: right there, in his face, close up.

John blundered to his feet. He vaguely heard Rodney's muttered, "John," felt Rodney reaching for and missing his hanging shirttails, but he was already blindly making his way up the row. Sgt. James Merritt was standing in the aisle, staring at him, and John detected a faint whiff of disapproval before he slid past him, to the door and out.

Things with Rodney were strained afterwards, but now John knew what he was looking for. The science departments were the heart and soul of Atlantis. People went in and out of the labs all day long: not just the scientists, but marines, doctors, support staff. And as Head of Science, Rodney was at the center of it--forever yelling about how he couldn't get a thing done, could you all just shut up, go away, close the door, did it have to be now, and would you please just give him a goddamned second to--

A lot of people came in and out of Rodney's lab, John realized. A lot more than you might think, considering Rodney's personality and the odds of getting yelled at. That shy botonist guy, Parrish, came by a couple times a week, and Rodney would stop what he was doing to talk to him--about what, John didn't know. He couldn't see where anything botanical needed Rodney's regular attention. Two of the chemists, befuddled and bespectacled in their white lab coats, stopped by regularly. A handful of marines came around like clockwork, for no reason John could discern: Sean Hister. Danny Knox, Christopher Granger, James Merritt. John nearly crashed into Michael Cooper, who was coming out of Rodney's lab without looking where he was going; he was tucking a brown paper package inside his jacket. John quickly averted his eyes. Cooper hurried away.

He wondered how often Kevin Henderson used to come by.

John palmed the keystrip as he went into Rodney's lab. "Look, we've got to talk."

Rodney barely glanced up from whatever he was doing. "Okay? Talk."

"Not here. In private."

That got Rodney's attention. He looked up, saw John's face, and started shaking his head. "No," he said. "Seriously: no--"

"Rodney," John said in his most-dangerous voice. "We are going to talk about this--" and Rodney made a frustrated sound and launched into action, coming around the lab bench and grabbing John by the shoulders. "John, you are the military commander of Atlantis!" Rodney shook him in time with the words. "Say it with me, now: military commander of Atlantis! Like it or not, it's the truth, so no, I'm sorry, we are not going to talk about this. We can't, okay?"

John took a breath, ready to argue with him, because fuck it to hell, that wasn't fair. But Rodney's hands were tightening on his shoulders, and Rodney was staring into his eyes and saying, with weird, intense sincerity: "John, they can't talk to you. They're not going to talk to you," and "I know you want to help, but you can't," and all John's words dried up. He stared back, furious and mute.

Rodney just nodded slowly, letting it sink in, then let go of John's shoulders. "Look, I just act as go-between with the infirmary," he explained wearily. "God knows I'm there enough. And someone's got to... you know, jigger things, make explanations, run interference when necessary. And I'm a civilian, and not American, so I don't have any of that baggage." Rodney laughed suddenly, and ran a hand over his head, making his hair stand on end. "I have other baggage."

John tried to collect himself: to breathe deep and get a grip. "Keller knows?"

"Yeah. I mean, no," Rodney amended. "She doesn't know who-- She knows me. She knows I don't use sixty boxes of condoms a month by myself."

"Is there--a place?" John's voice dropped to a whisper. "A backroom or a..."

Rodney's face was red. "We shouldn't talk about this." John stared him down, and Rodney shifted under his gaze and said, "Don't judge, all right? Everyone in this expedition's under tremendous pressure, constant threat of death and all that. Look," Rodney said, his mouth slanting downward unhappily, "I know you mean well, and you care about everyone and you're not a bigot, but you, in your position..." Rodney shook his head: a slow, damning negative. "You can use as much hair gel as you want, John, but they're gonna look at you and see a Lieutenant Colonel in the goddamned U.S. Air Force. And they need this. We--I need this. It's pretty hard being here some days, but now we've got this fragile little network and...oh my God," Rodney said, his mouth falling open, and John sucked for air and tried to blink back the fucking pinpricks of tears; fuck, fuck, fuck.

"John," Rodney said, and then his arms were coming around John; John stood there numbly, trying not to fall down. "Shit," Rodney hissed. "Shit, shit, John, I'm an idiot, I didn't realize--" and John hugged Rodney hard, clutching him tight, half out of skin-hunger and half to stop him from saying --that you needed this, too.

Rodney was solid and warm where John was plastered up against him, and John gave in to the impulse to kiss him, lips sliding along Rodney's mouth and chin. Rodney jerked away, then reconsidered, clutched John's head with both hands and kissed him all sweet and messy, hot and slick and with lots of tongue. John closed his eyes and moaned, but all at once, it was over, and Rodney was gasping and pushing their bodies apart.

"Stop, we can't," Rodney said, his mouth twisting. "It's too dangerous," and John couldn't help the sick giggles escaping him, because holy Christ, was Rodney shitting him?

"This?" and John's voice was embarrassingly high-pitched, even to his own ears. "You think this is dangerous? After everything we've been through, all that's--?" and then Rodney was gripping his biceps, stroking up and down his arms, and saying, in a tight voice, "Yes, all right, I--definitely see your point but--not here. Not here, okay?" and John took a breath because, yeah, okay, that made sense.

Rodney was still talking softly but urgently, his eyes flickering between John and the door. "Later. Tonight," Rodney said, "I'll meet you, show you where--" and then he was fumbling on the lab bench for a life signs detector and thrusting it into John's hand. "Take the transporter to--" and then they both jumped as the door slid open and Zelenka said, awkwardly, "I am sorry to interrupt, I waited, but the situation has become--"

"Five minutes, can't you--dammit, I'll be right there," and Zelenka ducked out again, the door sliding shut behind him. Rodney took a deep breath, forced his shoulders to unclench, and then said, with focused deliberation, "Take the transporter to the northwest arm, tower nine, first level, and then use that--" he jerked a nod at the life signs detector, "--to find me. I, er, don't need to tell you not to mention this to--"

"No," John said, having recovered himself enough to use sarcasm. "You don't have to tell me." He was gripping the life signs detector so hard the casing creaked.

The transporter let him out in a dim, deserted foyer at the hub of three different corridors. John detected Rodney's hand in this choice; Rodney had never been one for fifty-fifty odds. He pulled out the life signs detector Rodney had given him: a single dot blinked. He hadn't understood why Rodney had given it to him, life signs detectors being ubiquitous in Atlantis, but then he'd checked into it, and found that this part of the northwestern arm had quietly been taken off the grid. Rodney had jiggered the first level of tower nine right off the map.

He turned right toward the blinking dot. The only sound was the occasional squeak of his boots against the floor. He would have believed the entire building was deserted: the initial scan had found nothing useful here and there had never been a reason to come back. He passed through one door, then another, and then went down a long passage with high, beautifully architected windows all along one side. They were dark now. John made a mental note to come back in daylight.

Another door, and a scuffle of startled movement on the other side: two people leaping to their feet. For a moment, John was sure one of them was Rodney, but only because he was expecting Rodney. He'd forgotten that the life signs detector was jerry-rigged. Of course there were other people here: that was the whole point.

Still, he was surprised to see Major Will Oster--he hadn't seen Oster at Henderson's memorial, or hanging around Rodney's lab--but not nearly as surprised as Oster was to see him. He was standing next to one of the new doctors who'd come over on the Daedalus after Beckett died: Lissom? Lister? John had a vague memory of the guy giving him stitches after some damn mission or other, but he'd been exhausted and woozy from painkillers at the time. Linton, maybe? John took in the scene in a glance--Oster had his radio in one hand and a tin mug in the other. Behind him, there was a small table with two chairs pulled up to it. Sandwiches in plastic boxes, chips, fruit, a flask--

John raised his hands awkwardly. "Just passing through," he said, and nodded toward the far door.

Oster shifted uncomfortably. "Sir, I--I'm sorry, this area is restricted," and all at once John realized that Oster and Linton weren't having a picnic here by accident: they were on guard. But Oster obviously hadn't been expecting John. Major Oster could have ordered anyone else away without question, but--the military commander of Atlantis, Rodney whispered--presented a problem.

He could see Oster spinning his wheels: he was trying to think of some way to outflank a Lieutenant Colonel. It was Linton who came to his rescue, butting in to throw down a trump card: "Dr. McKay put this whole area off limits," he said, and beside him, Oster's shoulders relaxed a millimeter or two. "I'm not sure what it's about," Linton continued earnestly. "Some kind of contamination, I think, but you should talk to him."

Oster took his cue and nodded seriously, and John could feel how badly they both wanted him to go. He nearly did go, nearly gave in to the impulse to just turn back and forget all about it, except something inside him was on the verge of cracking, and if Oster and Linton didn't understand, who ever would?

He held up the life signs detector. The light blinked, reflected in Linton's glasses. He said, "I came here to meet him," and then he said it again, with a distinct shift of emphasis: "I'm meeting McKay here."

Oster and Linton looked nervously at each other, and John could see they were dubious: there was too much at stake here to let the military commander of Atlantis just stroll on through. "Sir," Oster said carefully, "that was not my understanding," and all at once, John knew what to do: he took off his jacket, which was embroidered with his rank and insignia, and let it drop to the floor. "I--sir," Oster said worriedly as John began undoing the buttons of his long-sleeved black shirt with its silver oak leaves, but John stripped down to his black t-shirt, and then moved his hands to the buckle of his holster.

He dropped his gunbelt onto the pile and bent down. He tugged off his boots, then stripped off his socks and stuffed them inside before standing them neatly beside his gun. When he straightened, Oster and Linton were gaping at him. John wiggled his toes, then took a single, deliberate step away from the pile of "Lieutenant Colonel" he'd left on the floor. "Keep an eye on that for me, will you?"

"Yesss--s'okay," and John smiled helplessly as Oster abruptly yanked back on the "sir." Oster blew out a breath and smiled, too. "Sure thing," he said, and nearly laughed.

"Thanks, Will," John said.

"No problem, John," Oster replied, and then John crossed to the door in his bare feet.

John heard the ocean echoing off the walls well before he stepped through the wide, high arch onto an outdoor walkway overlooking the sea. The walkway snaked around the side of the tower, mirroring the clover-like shape of this particular arm of Atlantis and reminding John of old stone seafronts in European towns. There were wide benches every few yards, massive and faintly glowing with the reflected light of the city. The curving balustrade looked like no other he'd ever seen: alien in ways he couldn't put a finger on. Rodney was there, leaning over the railing and looking at the reflections of the dual moons in the black water. He straightened and turned when John came over.

"Hey. John." Rodney looked nervous. "I'm glad you--" and then he frowned and said, "What's the matter with you, where are your shoes? You didn't come without shoes!"

"I left them inside," John said, shrugging. Rodney was visibly fighting the urge to lecture him, and so John helped him by saying, in a low voice, "Tell me about this place."

"Oh," Rodney said, blinking. "Yes, well," and he gestured down the glowing expanse of promenade before turning to look up at the building itself. John turned with him and, taken aback, tilted his head to look up. The tower rose slim into the sky; its lower levels, jutting out like a wedding cake, were ringed in silver--balcony railings, John realized a moment later--and behind them were rows of luminous doors.

"Whoa." John's voice was thin in the night air.

"I know, I know, it's beautiful, right? I would totally live here if it wasn't so far from the command center," and Rodney was leaning back, too, face turned up and alight. "I think it must have been residential, a hotel or something. There's nothing here of any value, it's just a bunch of empty rooms, but you can see where--" Rodney caught John staring at him, stopped, swallowed. "You could see where that would be perfect for..."

"Yeah," John said. "I see."

Rodney unselfconsciously licked around his mouth. "I, uh..." and then he blinked and abruptly snapped back into lecture mode. "This place offers a lot of plausible deniability. You could understand why someone might..." he waved down the promenade, "want to take a walk. Or something. And then if--" and Rodney glanced nervously at John, his neck flushing red in the open collar of his shirt, "--if a person should happen to run into someone they, um, wanted to spend some time with..." and then Rodney ran out of steam and flung his hand in the direction of the tower, all those rows and rows of doors.

John stepped close and kissed him, clutching his head in both hands and coaxing his mouth open. Rodney groaned and did something incredibly dirty with his tongue before pushing John so hard he staggered back against the balustrade. "So, uh," Rodney said; he was panting, his hard-on clearly visible against the front of his khakis, "I may have failed to mention that this particular location is visible from many different vantage--"

A gust of wind blew off the water, ruffling John's hair. "Did you sleep with Henderson?"

"What?" Rodney was taken aback. "That's none of your--okay, yes, once or twice, but it didn't mean anything. He was a kid, he wasn't--it wasn't ever going to be anything."

Something moved in John's peripheral vision. Above them, a door opened and closed. "Are you seeing anyone now?" John stole closer; the smooth stone was hard and cold under his feet.

"Jennifer Keller," Rodney said, a little defiantly.

John rolled his eyes. "Are you seeing anyone?" he asked again, and this time Rodney said, half swallowing it, "No."

John was close enough to hear Rodney's tiny hitch of breath when he touched his arm, and then Rodney was saying, in a low, desperate voice, "Come upstairs with me. Get a room with me," and John felt a rush of arousal. His cock pressed hard against his pants.

"Kiss me," John begged, and leaned in for his mouth, but Rodney strong-armed him and said, irritably, "I told you, we're visible here. We're in public, people can see us, that's the whole point of cruising," and John ground out, "I know, I know, Jesus, would you fucking kiss me already?"

"Oh," Rodney breathed. "Oh," and they came together clumsily, mouths overlapping, arms banging as they tried to hold each other. Rodney knotted one hand in John's hair and gave him deep sucking kisses hot enough to make his toes curl. His other hand was warm against the small of John's back, and then he slid a finger beneath John's waistband and pressed into the soft hollow at the top of his ass. John trembled and groped at the front of Rodney's pants, finding and squeezing his cockhead just to hear the noises Rodney made: strangled, desperate.

They kissed like that for a long time, winding each other up with kisses and touches until John's hair was damp with sweat and his thigh muscles were jittering. Rodney broke off to gasp, "John, please," but John took his mouth again, kissed his lips and his slick chin, fingers worming into Rodney's belt loops to pull their hips together. Their mouths burst apart as they groaned, cocks dragging against each other. John squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to come, but Rodney was gasping and rutting against him and rambling, "Now? Can we--please? Upstairs? Now?"

"No, wait, here, let me--" and he steered Rodney back toward a bench. "Sit," he said, though Rodney's legs were already giving way. John was immediately on his knees between them, pushing Rodney's thighs open, fumbling to unbuckle his belt.

"Oh, what, no--oh my God," and Rodney's hands were gripping John's arms, John's shoulders. "John, you can't--" but John already had him unzipped, was carefully threading Rodney's cock through the gap in his boxers. It was beautiful: tapering to its flared, rounded tip and flushed a deep dark red. John helplessly stroked his thumbs over the soft head before bending to take it into his mouth, ignoring Rodney's soft gasps.

He slid over the top few inches, gently sucking the head on the upstroke, his mouth tight under the ridged lip. Rodney breathed raggedly, his thighs flexing under John's hands, and John sucked him off in a kind of lazy stupor, dizzy with the scent of pre-come and spit. So long, too long, and he'd been so hungry for this--for guys, for Rodney. He pulled off, lingering over the head, and then kissed and nosed his way down the shaft. John slid his fingers into Rodney's boxers and tangled them in the harsh crinkle of pubic hair. He wanted to push Rodney's pants down more, wanted to hold Rodney's balls, wanted--

"John--" and John immediately lifted his head, because Rodney's voice had broken on his name. His face was naked and desperate, and John barely had time to close his hand around Rodney's cock before he was coming, face contorting and his chest heaving wildly. John bent down to lick come off the head, and Rodney stuttered, "Oh, f-fuck--fuck!" and came again, on John's tongue, on his slick, swollen lips.

Rodney let out a long, slow groan. He sagged; he sounded spent, but he grabbed John by the shoulders and hauled him up for a kiss. John closed his eyes and just went with it, let Rodney tug him almost into his lap and lick the come from his mouth. His whole body was tingling, and he hoped that Rodney would take him somewhere and do him already.

He became aware that Rodney was stroking his hair and murmuring, "You have to do everything like a daredevil, in the riskiest way possible, is that it? No halfway measures," and John opened his eyes and said, almost defensively, "I had to. You're the one who said--I have to offer them something. I have to give them something to hold over me, or they'll never...I'm the military commander of Atlantis," he told Rodney.

Rodney raised his eyebrows. "Huh," he said. "I didn't think you were listening."

John slid off Rodney's thighs and onto the hard stone of the bench. "I listen." He was still shaking with unspent sexual energy; he absently wiped his hand across the come-sticky corner of his mouth. "Do you think word'll get around?"

"Ohhh, yes," Rodney said. "Yes, I should think so, yes," and then he pressed both hands to his mouth and laughed into them, muffled and high pitched. And then John was laughing too, braying with it, bringing his arm up and giggling helplessly into the crook of his elbow. Rodney bent over double and wheezed for a while, but then he straightened up and wiped his eyes with his fingertips. "Don't worry," he said, and put a reassuring hand on John's leg. "They're good guys; they won't sell you out. I mean, don't get me wrong: every gay man in Atlantis is going to have pictures of this on his hard drive within the hour, but most of them know the value of a strong password."

"Great." John rolled his head forward. "Just awesome," and then he banged shoulders with Rodney, knocking him sideways, and said: "Are you going to do me, or what?"

"Sure." Rodney's smile seemed to waver. "I'd love to. Or, well..." He tilted his head first one way and then the other, and John looked and saw a guy strolling aimlessly along the promenade, another hovering in the archway, a third just loitering on a bench. "You'll have no shortage of offers," Rodney said, and stared down at his interlaced fingers.

For a moment, John couldn't think what to say. Then it came to him: "Dumbass," he said, but there was an embarrassing shake to his voice, so he cleared his throat and tried again. "Dumbass. You are such a--I don't even know why I hang out with you."

The corner of Rodney's mouth twitched. "I am hopelessly uncool," he admitted.

"You are," John said fervently. "Seriously. It's embarrassing," and then he added: "Only your best friend would tell you, Rodney."

Rodney looked up fast, and everything was right there on his face. Then he swallowed and busied himself with zipping up his pants. "I have a room," he said. "In the tower. You could share it with--"

John stopped his mouth with a kiss, and murmured, "Let me just get my boots."


He didn't regret it, because it made him feel more like a real human being and less like a robot: stealing moments behind closed doors; meeting Rodney's eyes over the conference table and feeling the hugeness of everything between them; casually kneading the juncture of Rodney's shoulder and neck in a way that meant, oh, I am so going to fuck you later. Long afternoons in the tower, fucking until their muscles were sore or sometimes just sleeping, curled up in the sunlight. Having dinner, sometimes, with other guys; talking like a person; knowing gossip. Rodney was good at scheduling meetings that weren't exactly meetings, where you could talk more or less openly.

The down side was human, too; it was the other side of having feelings. John had never been good at losing soldiers--he'd never been good at losing, period--but when they lost Sgt. Granger, John had felt it like a stabbing pain, because Christ, poor Knox. Poor Danny Knox walking among them like a ghost, though someone was always more or less within arm's length of him. Someone went through Granger's locker, and one of Rodney's minions deleted his email and wiped his password-protected section of the shared drive, where he no doubt had pictures of his commanding officer blowing Dr. Rodney McKay outside Tower 9. ("You're like Paris Hilton," Rodney said.)

John watched all the wheels turn from inside this time, unsure of what to do. He sat in the marines' mourning room and heard the low murmur of voices, but this time he knew that Cooper was reassuring Oster that Granger's locker was clean, and Linton was telling them that Knox wasn't going to be firing on all cylinders for a while.

He got up and went over, then said quietly: "I could jigger his schedule. Put him somewhere low pressure, with minimum access to firearms." There were significant glances and surreptitious nods, and then Cooper said, "Yeah. That would be good."

"Hey, are you all right?" Rodney looked up worriedly.

John braced his forearms on Rodney's lab bench and muttered, "Yeah, it's just--Knox."

"Yeah." Rodney blew out a breath. "There's nothing you can do. There's nothing anyone can do. Losing a--friend like that, nothing's going to make it better."

"Yeah," John said. "I know." He lowered his voice. "Can you meet me later? I really need to see you later," and Rodney bit his lip and said: "I can't: it's too far out and I'm on call."

"My room, then. Or your room: I'll come to you," and before Rodney could protest, John insisted: "We've always been friends; we practically live in each other's pockets. Believe me, no one will think we're being any friendlier than usual."

Rodney looked hard at him and seemed to think about it. "Yes, all right," he said finally. "Fine. God, it's always the riskiest way possible with you," but it was Rodney who leaned over to plant a kiss on his mouth: warm and sweet and in broad fucking daylight.

The End

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