Weddings, Plural, and a Yak

by Speranza

for giddy

Author's Note: Thanks to Julad, Terri, Shalott, Resonant, and Lim for beta work. This story was written for the SGA Zine Surfacing published by Val and Stormy of Duet Press.

The first time John Sheppard married Rodney McKay, it was sort of an accident. The High Priestess of Ouisha had stipulated that only one of his teammates could accompany him to the sacred temple, and so John had chosen McKay. This had seemed like a reasonable enough decision at the time: McKay knew stuff, and would be most likely to recognize any useful tech or Ancient weapons. Things got rapidly less reasonable once they reached the temple mound, where the High Priestess slaughtered a goat, anointed McKay with the blood ("Okay, what the--ew? Seriously, ew?") and then asked John if he would take McKay's life in his hands.

"Uh, yeah! Okay! Jesus!" John yelled, staring at her big, bloodstained knife, convinced that he did in fact have McKay's life in his hands. The High Priestess came to stand before him, and John stared stupidly at her for a moment before realizing what he was supposed to do, and nervously cupped his palms together. She poured a warm stream of goat's blood into his hands, and then, while he was still trying to figure out what to do with the thick, stinking puddle of it, reached out to smear her blood-slick thumb back and forth across his forehead. John recoiled and winced and swallowed and tried not to throw up.

"Rodney?" the High Priestess asked, turning back to McKay, "Will you take John's life in your hands?" and McKay, looking pale and blood-smeared and absolutely and totally revolted, glared at John with a look that said, clear as day, that it was John's fault that they were currently trapped in the last reel of Carrie and that he wouldn't take John if John were the last human being in the Pegasus Galaxy and holding the last two hotdogs in existence, and John glared back at him and then looked significantly down at his handfuls of warm blood and then over at the goat carcass, and McKay blew out a breath and rolled his eyes.

"Yes, yes, yes; all right; fine," McKay said, wincing visibly as the High Priestess came back and poured blood into his far, far outstretched hands ("Ew. Ew. Ew. Oh, God...") before raising her own hands to the sky. And it was only then, as the High Priestess sang in eerie, alien tones, asking her goddess to bless their union, to protect their fragile bodies and even more fragile hearts, that John understood what had happened and looked over at McKay, who was staring back at him, equally horrified.

The second time John and Rodney got married, John at least knew it was happening. He had been whispering to Rodney about what he was pretty sure was an antenna up there on the cloister roof when the Bishop suddenly came toward them with extended hands and a broad smile. John smiled awkwardly and stepped away, though Rodney was still looking up and gnawing his lip and saying, "...possibly some sort of early warning system--" John tapped Rodney on the shoulder, and Rodney jerked, startled, and stared at the Bishop with wide eyes. John briefly let himself hope that the Bishop was there to tell them all about whatever was hooked up to that antenna, but instead, the Bishop said, "O Brothers, come and receive our blessing."

"Uh, thanks," John said as tactfully as he could manage, "that's very nice of you, but--" and then Rodney stepped close to him and murmured, "Whatever it is, it's in the chapel," and John smiled and said to the Bishop, "--we'd really like that." They followed him into the chapel's cool, dim interior, and the Bishop directed them to stand at the altar and hold hands while he went to bang a large ceremonial gong.

Ronon and Teyla were at the door in moments. Ronon smirked when he saw them, but Teyla elbowed him, bowed her head, and nudged him into a nearby pew. Other villagers began to arrive in twos and threes.

Rodney looked down at their joined hands and snorted with faint impatience. "You know, I don't think you even like me."

"Sure, I like you," John said as earnestly as he could manage. "You've got pretty eyes."

"I bet you say that to all the astrophysicists," Rodney said. John grinned and was about to reply, but there were monks filing in through the chapel doors, and holy crap, they were singing. John looked away from Rodney's face so he wouldn't burst out laughing, and bit the inside of his cheek while the monks sang to them of the rarity and strength of their special love. "God, this is so humiliating," Rodney hissed.

"Re-lax," John whispered back, "and think about that antenna. What do you think it is?"

"Early warning system. Anti-missile satellite. Cable television, how the hell should I know?" and then suddenly the singing stopped and the Bishop raised his arms and said, "May Piltera bless your union. You may kiss," and Rodney actually took a step backwards, his mouth falling open and his face turning red, before John could grab his arm and stop him from running away.

"Cable television," John whispered, glaring, and then he leaned in and touched his lips to the corner of Rodney's mouth. He hoped that would be enough to satisfy the monks, but Rodney grabbed him by the ears and gave him a quick, hard, mouth-to-mouth kiss. John blinked, but Rodney had been right, because now there was a smattering of applause and a few shouted blessings. Rodney pulled back and shot him a half-panicked look, which John waved away.

Rodney couldn't meet his eyes for a few days after that, but the antenna generated a pulse that disrupted the engines of Wraith darts, so it was well worth it.

Their fifth wedding almost didn't happen.

"Forget it," Rodney said angrily. "I'm busy. Marry someone else for a change."

John rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah? Like who?"

"Teyla," Rodney said. "You can marry Teyla. Hell, marry Ronon for all I care--"

"I can't marry Teyla, it would be weird. I mean, she's a girl--"

Rodney crossed his arms. "You like girls."

"Right, so it would be weird," John said snidely, and crossed his arms to mirror Rodney's posture. "Look, I'm not really asking you to marry me--"

"You know, after four weddings, I actually figured that out for myself."

"--I'm just asking you to go through with it so that our people can have fresh fruit and vegetables for the winter. So suck it up, McKay, all right?"

Rodney tilted his chin up defiantly, and John began to wonder if he was having a blood sugar reaction or something. "Why does it have to be me? Give someone else a shot at the goddamned privilege--"

"Because it does have to be you," John said, exasperated. "Everybody else is from this stupid galaxy, so this ritual crap might actually mean something to them." Rodney's mouth fell open; he looked absolutely, incredibly infuriated. John tried to forestall further argument. "I can make it an order."

For a moment, Rodney was actually speechless. Then he recovered and said, "I don't take orders from you."

John groaned and let his head roll forward; he so didn't need this. "Jesus, McKay, you want me to get down on bended knee, or--"

Weirdly, that seemed to work; Rodney looked oddly horrified at the thought. "No," he said. "Jesus, please don't," and then his shoulders slumped and all the fight seemed to go out of him. "All right. Fine. Let's just get it over with," and John exhaled, relieved, and clapped him on the shoulder.

The ritual was short and to the point, which was just as well, because Rodney was totally unconvincing in the role of bridegroom, barely looking at him and saying his vows in a monotone. Afterward, Rodney shook off his hand and headed straight to the banqueting table, avoiding all well-wishers and refusing to smile during the ceremonial toast. John leaned over and whispered, "C'mon, Rodney, it wasn't that bad," but Rodney turned to him and said, "I'm really tired. Please go away," so John sighed and went off to dance with the Chief's daughter, who apparently had a thing for married guys.

By the eighth time John Sheppard married Rodney McKay, they were old pros at the wedding thing, having weathered not only an Ouishan blood wedding, but also a twelve-hour Avalonian handfasting, a Malanese necklace-exchange, and a Thurtu joining ceremony that invoked a fire-god and featured seven kinds of cake.

So when the Yerulian Ambassador explained that his people liked to mark the formation of a political alliance with the celebration of a wedding, John just elbowed Rodney and said: "Want to get hitched?"

Rodney hardly looked up from his computer tablet. "Sure, yeah, whatever," he said.

The Yerulians took Rodney somewhere to get dressed, and the Village Elder was right in the middle of going over the ceremonial vows with John when the shouting started, and suddenly everyone was running. John pulled his gun, burst out of the hut, and followed the crowd to the edge of the village, and when he finally pushed his way through the thick pack of spectators he found Teyla and Ronon standing over Rodney, who was collapsed flat on his back on a rough-hewn bench, one hand clasped to his heart.

"It is all right," Teyla said, turning to him. "It is over."

"What is?" John asked.

"I think I'm having a heart attack," Rodney gasped.

"Rodney has been very heroic," Teyla said calmly. "He has saved a child from a bear."

"More of a yak," Ronon said.

"It was not a yak!" Rodney said, starting up from the bench in outrage. "Or if it was, it was a yak with--with huge teeth! Fangs and claws!"

"It was a large and fearsome animal," Teyla agreed. Ronon looked at John and rolled his eyes.

"You didn't see it!" Rodney shouted, turning purple. "You weren't anywhere near us--"

John was just about to break up the fight when the Village Elder hobbled up beside him and said, breathlessly, "It was a tremara. They have killed four of our children this year," and Rodney instantly said, "See? See? What did I tell you? It was a terrifying, child-killing beast!"

"Rodney really was very brave," Teyla admitted in a low voice. "The animal had the boy cornered in the grove, and so Rodney had to get quite close in order to carry him away," and only then did John notice that two of the village women were fussing over a squirming, hollow-eyed boy of six or seven.

"Well, way to go, Rodney," John said, and punched his shoulder. "Bonus points for saving a village child," and just then the boy in question broke away from his keepers and nearly knocked John over to get to Rodney, who surprised John by picking him up one-armed and hoisting him up onto his shoulder.

"You've got to stay away from those trees!" Rodney nearly shouted. "There are monstrous killer-yak things in those trees!" and John wasn't sure what Rodney was trying to accomplish exactly, because the kid couldn't look more afraid if you gave him, like, a year of lessons at it.

"We have told him so," the Village Elder said sternly, "many times. But those are chorda trees, and they bear a sweet fruit which attracts our more gluttonous children, as well as the tremara."

"Oh," Rodney said, and looked at the boy.

"Maybe we can return him to his parents and get on with it?" John suggested, hopefully tactfully.

"His parents were taken from us during the last culling," the Village Elder explained.

"Oh," Rodney said again.

"The children are supposed to stay on the orphanage grounds," the Village Elder said and glared at the boy, "where they will be safe. Martine will take charge of him," and hey, great: there was Martine, a large woman wearing a cloth cap. The boy squirmed resentfully and Rodney tightened his arms around him.

"Rodney, he'll be fine," John insisted, and the Village Elder quickly said, "Yes, do not fear. We will be sure to keep him on the grounds," and reluctantly, Rodney dumped the boy into Martine's waiting arms.

The rest of the day was a blur; John read his long and elaborate vows off a card, and then Rodney started to read his, and it was just the same old, same old until Rodney suddenly stopped talking. Time stretched out, and John heard the nervous shuffle of feet and a cough, and just as he was about to nudge Rodney, Rodney mumbled, "Sorry, I got--never mind. Where was I?" and then: "'--that Ulra has blessed me and entrusted me with you, and I hereby swear to protect and provide for you to the best of my ability for the rest of my life.'"

"May Ulra bless you both," the Village Elder said, and John bowed his head and stared down at the ground.

Rodney disappeared in the middle of the wedding feast, and when he returned, he had the boy he'd rescued firmly in tow. "Stay here," Rodney told the boy, and parked him next to John. "I'll be right back," and the boy said, "Yes, Rodney," and John said, "Um," because he'd had three glasses of Yerulian cider by then and couldn't quite form coherent sentences. Rodney ignored them both and wandered off, one hand on his radio.

Rodney surprised him by radioing for permission to relocate a native to Atlantis, and then Elizabeth surprised him by granting Rodney's stupid application, and John said, "No way," and "Rodney, what the hell," and "Seriously, would you stop and think about this for five minutes?" until Rodney suddenly stopped halfway to the gate, turned to him and said, "Look, what's it to you?"

"What?" John asked, taken aback.

"I'm serious," Rodney said, almost angrily. "We've taken in refugees from half a dozen worlds: are you telling me that this is the kid who stretches our meager resources to the breaking point?" John shot an awkward look at the kid, who was standing right there, grasping Rodney's hand tightly. His eyes were trained fixedly on the ground with that deference that seemed to characterize so many village cultures, and John felt suddenly angry--great, Rodney, thanks: way to make me look like an asshole. And Rodney was still laying into him: "I mean, are you afraid he's going to eat your pudding or something--?"

John's face felt hot. "No!--for God's sake! Look, do what you want; I don't care," and Rodney snapped, "Fine," and John retorted, "Fine," and then John strode ahead and caught up with Ronon and Teyla.

John had vaguely thought that Rodney would park the boy on the mainland with the Athosians, but instead, Rodney moved to larger quarters and installed the boy in a sort of side-chamber on the far side of his new living room. This set off a flurry of gossip about how Rodney McKay ("of all people!") was the first to adopt an alien child ("that poor kid!") and how really, someone ought to go in and rescue the boy before he was scarred for life.

The gossip stopped once it became obvious that Rodney was a really good parent in his weird, yelling way. The kid visibly flourished under his care, losing his hollow look practically overnight, standing up straighter, seeming to grow taller and more confident. Soon he was yelling at Rodney like any normal kid would ("Oh, come on!"--to which Rodney would inevitably yell back, "Forget it!") but this bickering was tempered by what seemed to John to be a truly unusual amount of physical affection. John was, in fact, vaguely shocked the first time the boy interrupted a meeting to plant a sloppy goodnight kiss on Rodney's cheek, and Rodney was unashamedly demonstrative with the boy, swinging him up into his arms and hugging him fiercely. These interludes often ended with Rodney dropping the kid to the ground and saying, brusquely, "Okay, now go away," and that might have sounded abusive, except the boy would be grinning and happy-looking. John himself had shaken hands with his father maybe twice, so he just didn't know what the hell to make of it. It all seemed excessive to him: uncomfortably extreme.

But Rodney's caretaking style seemed to be built on extremes. He was very strict about bedtime (8 o'clock or die) but allowed the kid to wander around the city entirely at his will and on his own recognizance. Rodney gave the kid a weirdly high level of autonomy in other areas as well; John and Teyla had actually been in the lab when the boy appeared at Rodney's elbow and said, "I don't like my name. I want a normal Atlantean name." John stifled a smile, because what the hell was a normal Atlantean name in a city that had Americans, Canadians, Czechs, Russians, Japanese, Athosians, Satedans, Rarpitians, Ardentans, and a frequently visiting Asgard? Teyla was smiling indulgently, too, and so John figured that he'd leave it to her to give the speech about everybody being special and cultural sensitivity and all that. But it was Rodney who spoke, though he hardly glanced up from his computer. "Call yourself whatever you want," Rodney said, still typing. "What do you want me to call you?" "Peter," the boy said, and then, Rodney did look up, studying the boy's face for a long moment and then nodding, almost to himself.

"Okay, fine; whatever," Rodney said, and went back to work. "Peter."

"Great, thanks," Peter said, and made a beeline for the door. John's mouth fell open.

"Hey, wait, hey!" Rodney yelled, lifting his head. "Go help Dr. Parrish with his cuttings!"

"Okay, fine; whatever," Peter called back, and then he was gone.

"Rodney!" Teyla said, in a low shocked voice, which John understood--because where the hell was the whole cultural sensitivity discussion? "You are letting him abandon his Yerulian heritage?"

Rodney just looked at her. "I don't own him," he said, with a deep under-note of duh. "I'm not going to tell him what to call himself," and though John waved his hands theatrically when Teyla turned her outraged glare on him, he secretly thought that was pretty cool. So did other people, apparently, because suddenly the boy--whose Yerulian name had been Vishnok--was known all over Atlantis as Peter McKay.

The ninth time John Sheppard married Rodney McKay, the ritual involved them getting really drunk and then doing an elaborate hand-clapping, patty-cake thing which required precisely the motor coordination skills they had just lost. The result was, John realized as he giggled and tried to hit McKay's wavering, outstretched hands, a lot like the moment in a wedding where the bride feeds cake to the groom and everyone fondly goes, "Aww, what a couple of idiots"--except right now, he and McKay were the idiots du jour.

Finally, with dogged concentration, he and Rodney managed to complete the joint hand-clapping song (supposedly a testament to their new partnership) and people swarmed around them to start the formal dancing. Rodney reeled a little and nearly tripped over some people doing a whirling alien version of the polka (or was that redundant?) and John flailed wildly and managed to steady him--or at least, get him as steady as John himself was, which was to say: not very at all, really.

Suddenly, the smiling, moon-shaped face of the Mayor's wife was looming above them. "I think you two need some rest," she said, with the most fantastically lewd wink John had ever seen, and then she grabbed them by their elbows and steered them to the brightly festooned bridal hut, the inside of which was one giant wall-to-wall pillow. Rodney collapsed first onto his knees, then onto his face. This, John had to admit, seemed like a pretty good idea, and he let himself crash down onto his side next to Rodney.

Outside, carried on the wind, he could hear music and laughter. "Well, hey," John said, his voice sounding strangely thick to his own ears. "People seem to be enjoying our latest wedding."

Rodney's face was still buried in the giant pillow. "Uh-huh. Great."

John rolled onto his back. There was a stripe of moonlight on the ceiling. "How the hell are you, anyway? I feel like I haven't seen you lately." A moment later, he added: "Wow, I'm pretty toasted."

"...been busy," Rodney mumbled. "Work. God, I hope I don't throw up..."

John turned to look at Rodney. "Peter settling in okay?"

At this, Rodney raised his head and peered at him, and maybe John was imagining it, but he thought Rodney looked oddly cautious, his face almost shuttered. "He's fine. He takes care of himself."

John would have let the subject drop, except that was so clearly what Rodney wanted that he felt a little ornery about it. "That can't be true," he said in as neutral a voice as he could manage.

John had maybe been trying to provoke Rodney a little, but he wasn't prepared for the tirade that followed. "It is true," Rodney snapped, drunkenly struggling to sit up. "Yerulian society is pre-industrial; the children don't sit around watching Sesame Street. They haul firewood, they harvest crops, they wash clothes at the riverbank. Peter can dress himself and get his own meals--"

"Okay," John quickly interrupted, putting his hands up. "Okay, I'm sorry I--"

"--and that was before he had a full-service cafeteria doling it out to him. The only thing I've helped him with lately is long division--"

"Long division?" John repeated, and that, of all things, made Rodney pause.

"Well, yes," Rodney said, looking away. "He was a little behind to start with--not that that was his fault, math in Yerulian culture being counting and advanced counting--but he's catching up fast. He got multiplication no problem, but he had trouble seeing the conceptual reversal into division, though we're past that now and into simple algebraic equations. I figure, let him finish out the Baker book," Rodney was talking more to himself now, and John just stared at him, "and by then, the geometry texts should arrive, and we'll be doing calculus by Christmas: is that reasonable, do you think?"

"You're homeschooling him?" John asked stupidly.

"Just in math," Rodney said, lying down again; he was looking a little green. "There's no one else to do it. But I've got Serti tutoring him in biology and Perrault in basic chemistry--"

"You said Perrault was a terrible chemist," John objected.

"Hah. He is. Grade Five is right about where he belongs."

John rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling again: the music was fainter now, the patch of moonlight had moved on. He felt weirdly irritated by this whole conversation, maybe because Rodney hadn't thought him worthy of teaching math to his stupid kid. Not that he had the time for that, being as he was the military commander of Atlantis and everything. He took a deep breath. "Look, don't rush analytic geometry," he said finally. "The more comfortable he is on the Cartesian plane, the easier he'll find--"

He was interrupted by an indelicate snore.

When they got back to Atlantis, John and Ronon and Teyla went to the mess to have coffee and cake and decompress, but Rodney just waved vaguely at them and headed off in the direction of his quarters. John didn't think it was possible to see any less of Rodney McKay, considering that Rodney was the head of the science division and a key member of John's team, and yet, in the days and weeks after their ninth wedding...somehow he saw less of Rodney McKay.

Part of it was that Rodney stopped coming to anything that wasn't directly work-related, so he was always at senior staff meetings and key briefings, but never at movie night. He didn't come to team breakfasts. He stopped showing up at the gym to watch John spar with Teyla. He even stopped coming to the jumper bay in the middle of the night to drag John away to the mess for a midnight snack. Oh, sure, sometimes John found Rodney and Peter in the mess together, with Rodney grinning and haranguing the poor kid to eat more of this and less of that, or else Rodney could be found in the lab, though usually Peter was there, too, getting a biology lesson, or just helping out, ferrying test tubes or checking readings. But it wasn't the same; Rodney was there, in that he was around, but he wasn't there there, not the way he had been.

"Is it me," John asked Ronon and Teyla, one day in the gym, "or is Rodney avoiding us?" He was lying on his back and panting, feeling the good ache of having just had the shit kicked out of him, and he hadn't really meant the question seriously--except Ronon's amused whipflick of eyebrow was a serious answer. "What?" John asked, pushing up on one elbow. Ronon shot an impenetrable look over at Teyla, and so John looked at her, too. She didn't answer, but John thought she would give if he pressed. "Seriously, what?"

"He certainly has less time than he used to," Teyla said finally. "He is devoted to Peter."

Ronon rolled his eyes. "He's avoiding us. Well--you, anyway."

That shocked him, hard. "Really?" John asked, sitting up. "I mean, do you really think so, or are you messing with me?"

Ronon showed him a look that said, I'm always messing with you, man, but Teyla looked angry, so Ronon had to be at least a little serious. John looked at Teyla, and she sighed and tilted her head, admitting the possibility. Shit; Ronon and Teyla thought that Rodney was avoiding them, and okay, maybe Rodney'd always been a square peg in a round hole where the team was concerned, but so what? Team was team.

John said, helplessly. "I thought--I mean, I thought he was just busy with the kid."

"He has been," Teyla insisted. "Children take a lot of time, even those as self-reliant as Peter."

Ronon looked skeptical and bent to swipe a barbell off the floor. "He got what he wanted."

"What about the team?" John asked, worried. "You don't think he'll quit the team, do you?"

"Oh, no," Teyla said quickly, reassuringly. "I am certain that he intends no such thing."

"Not everything's about the team," Ronon said.

The Daedalus was scheduled to come in the next day, so John went to the offloading, hoping to just casually run into Rodney. The offloading of the Daedalus was the closest thing Atlantis had to an event: people would crowd around and wait for the ship's chief petty officer to disburse mail or personal items requisitioned from Earth, and there was a lot of laughing and shouting and kind of a carnival atmosphere. Sure enough, Rodney was there, taking delivery of four large cartons of books and enough chocolate, cookies, and candy to embarrass Willy Wonka. "Wow," John said, whistling respectfully, as Rodney signed for the boxes. "That's some serious loot, there. How are you going to keep it away from the kid?"

Rodney looked up with a frown. "What do you mean, keep it away from him? I got it for him."

John couldn't help but laugh. "Rod-ney, seriously, you can't let kids eat that stuff!"

"Well, not all at once! I mean, I don't want him to get sick or anything," and then, more defensively, "Look, I don't understand this pathologizing of sweets. I mean, taken in moderation, the body and brain need sugar to function. We're born with a preference for sweet things and--wait, did I ask you?" Rodney asked, crossing his arms. "Because I don't remember asking you," and ouch, geez, that felt like a sucker punch.

Rodney waved one of the lab techs over to help carry the boxes. He was pulling away, backing off--and Jesus, Ronon and Teyla were right. Except this wasn't about the team; this was personal. Shit, was this personal? John wracked his brain, trying to think--had it been something he'd said? Something he'd done? Had there been some moment when their friendship had tanked and he'd missed it?

"Look," John said, reaching out to put an awkward hand on Rodney's arm, "why don't you bring some of that candy to movie night?" Rodney shot a narrow look at him, and so John continued quickly: "You haven't been to movie night in a long time; you should come. We'll pick something kid-friendly so you can bring Peter."

Rodney's face was wearing that new, shuttered look that John hated so much. "He goes to bed at eight."

But John wasn't letting him off so easy. "Oh, come on--getting to stay up past your bedtime is the most exciting thing in the world at that age. Plus, hey, we'll run Star Wars or something."

John could see Rodney weakening at the mention of Star Wars, because, okay, yes, X-wings and other ships shouldn't make noise in space, but you had to take your kid to see Star Wars. Wasn't it a physical law of the universe or something? "All right, fine," Rodney said, relenting.

"Great," John said, and briefly clapped him on the shoulder. "Bring chocolate."

There was a momentary hush when Rodney came through the door on movie night with Peter in tow, looking about as excited as a kid could look. People had been claiming places on the sprawl of pushed-together sofas, or settling down on the floor with blankets and pillows, or dragging in their own chairs and coolers, and the room was abuzz with gossip and pleasant-sounding chatter. It stopped briefly when Rodney appeared, and John knew what that was about, because it was one thing to mock Dr. Rodney McKay, Head of the Science Division, but something else, something cheaper and meaner, to make fun of Peter McKay's dad. Rodney had a satchel slung over his shoulder, and was carrying a pillow, a blanket, and a large bowl. John raised his arm and waved him over--he and Teyla had called dibs on one of the sofas, with Ronon slouched on the floor in front of them. Rodney hesitated, but Peter made a beeline for them, and so Rodney began carefully picking his way round the people scattered on the floor.

Peter sat down on the floor next to Ronon, who smiled and said, "Hey, kid, how're you doing?" Rodney reached the sofa, dropped the pillow and blanket on Peter's head, and handed John the bowl he'd been carrying, which turned out to be full of miniature chocolate bars. "Here," Rodney said, and collapsed on the sofa beside him. "Enjoy," and John rummaged for a Nestle's Crunch. He found two, then handed the bowl on to Teyla, who glanced down at what John had taken, then found a Nestle's Crunch for herself.

She bent forward to pass the bowl to Ronon, though Peter gleefully grabbed a handful as it passed by--and it was only after Peter unwrapped one and shoved it in his mouth that John remembered that he'd risked a yak attack for sweets. It was hard to connect that village boy to the kid happily munching chocolate on the floor in front of them, though Rodney's decision to indulge Peter's sweet tooth suddenly made a lot more sense.

John was about to say as much when he heard the distinctive drumroll. The lights went out, and everyone cheered and whistled at the first crescendo of John Williams' score, though the room fell into respectful silence as the first words of the prologue scrolled up the screen. John slouched back into the sofa and fell into the familiar rhythms of the movie, which he'd seen six times in the summer of 1977, when he was ten and a movie cost two bucks. Right about when Obi-Wan Kenobi entered the picture, John felt something moving, and looked away from the screen just long enough to see Peter crawling up onto the sofa between them; by the time the tractor beam got hold of the Millennium Falcon, Peter McKay was slumped against Rodney's chest and (Jesus, how was this even possible?) sound asleep. Rodney, on the other hand, was totally engrossed, one arm slung carelessly around Peter's body, and John watched the movie flicker across his upturned face.

When it was over, the lights came on and people began to move sleepily back to their quarters. Rodney looked down and shook Peter's shoulder gently. "C'mon, wake up," Rodney said, and then John shifted and said, "Hang on," and then he stood and bent to hoist the kid up, off Rodney and onto his shoulder.

"Yeah?" Rodney asked, staring up at him, and John said, "Yeah. Come on. Get your stuff," carefully adjusting his hold on the boy while Rodney scrambled to get his satchel, blanket, pillow, and the empty bowl; there was nothing left of the sweets. Asleep, Peter was smaller and warmer than he seemed to be while he was awake, and he smelled oddly pleasant--like chocolate, John supposed, mixed with that really clean-smelling sweat you only had before puberty. He nodded for Rodney to lead the way and then followed him back to his quarters, first into the living room and then into the side room that was Peter's. John had never been inside Peter's room before--he'd barely laid eyes on Rodney's new living room, glimpsing it once or twice when he'd stopped by to collect Rodney on his way to somewhere--and he was surprised to see that it was genuinely a kid's room: bright blue sheets, models of the planets hanging from the ceiling, a small bookcase of bright, multicolored books. Peter's desk was covered with papers--math, John saw; equation after equation--but he also had toys: legos and tinkertoys and an erector set with which he was clearly in the process of building some huge Atlantean-style skyscraper. Not bad for a kid who'd been fighting killer yak for fruit not long ago.

Rodney pulled the blankets down, and John carefully laid the kid out on the bed, turning away as Rodney pulled off first Peter's shoes, and then his socks, and then his pants. A moment later, Rodney tucked the blanket up around his shoulders and gestured them both toward the door.

"Thanks," Rodney said in a low voice, as he waved his hand over the key-bar to shut Peter's door. "I appreciate that."

"No problem," John said awkwardly, and then: "You really took to this fatherhood thing, didn't you?"

He'd meant it as a compliment, but it turned out to be the wrong thing to say. "What?" Rodney asked, seeming genuinely upset. "I'm not his--Peter has a father. Or all right, fine, he had a father, at least before he was killed. I'm his guardian, or maybe his mentor, I can go as far as mentor, but I am absolutely positively not his--"

"It's not a dirty word, McKay," John said, but Rodney crossed his arms and snapped, "Oh really? Didn't you have one?" and John had to admit he had a point.

John and Rodney's tenth wedding was what you would call a shotgun affair, John having literally shoved his way past the throng of caftan-wearing spectators to find McKay on his knees with his hands behind his head and twelve guns pointed at him. John stared. "What the--"

"Do something, you idiot!" Rodney yelped. "These barbaric freaks want to kill me!"

"He was not granted access to the Great Hall," the Kalif said, almost sadly. "We will have to execute him."

"You see?" Rodney yelled, and John saw that he was trembling. "These murderous cretins--"

"Rodney, shut up," John muttered, rapidly assessing the situation; twelve guns to one, and even if he managed to take down everyone in the place, they'd still shoot Rodney--couldn't miss him, not at that range. He raised his hands and put on his most reasonable voice. "Now, let's just back up a second, okay? You invited me into the Great Hall--"

"Because you are their leader," the Kalif said sharply. "It was a very great honor."

"Oh, I know, I know!" John pressed a fervent hand to his chest. "A great honor: one of the great honors of my life, really. But you see, Doctor McKay--he's with me; never go anywhere without him. So when you invited me, I naturally extended the invitation to him."

The Kalif frowned at him, then shot a sharp look at Rodney. "Are you saying you are pair-bonded?"

"Sure, yeah, absolutely," John said, and it was true. "We've been married, like, eighteen times--"

"Nine," Rodney said in a tight, high voice; he was still on the floor, on his knees, trembling.

"Nine times," John instantly agreed, putting on his best smile, "but really, that's kind of a lot."

The Kalif drew himself up. "We do not recognize your union."

Rodney's voice was a low, hysterical echo. "He doesn't recognize our union!" and John had to take a slow, deep breath to stop Rodney's panic from becoming contagious.

"Well, then," John said as genially as he could manage, "why don't you tell us how to earn your blessing?" and there was a long, tense moment when everything quivered: Rodney's bowed head, the barrels of the guns aimed at him, the Kalif's long robes, John's hand on the butt of his gun. Finally, the Kalif nodded.

"Very well," the Kalif said, and the guards lowered their weapons. Rodney swayed and looked like he might fall onto his face, and so John took a quick step forward, grabbed him by the hand, and hauled him up to his feet. The Kalif turned in a whirl of robes and gestured for everyone to follow him, and so John and Rodney fell into step behind him, followed by a bevy of royal guards.

Now that the danger was past, Rodney was darting angry looks in his direction. John knew that pissiness was often Rodney's way of expressing relief, but still, it was annoying. He went on the offensive.

"What the hell were you doing, anyway?" John muttered.

"What do you mean, what was I doing?" Rodney's voice was tight and furious. "My job, that's what I was doing. My job is to look for technology and strategic materiel, whereas your job is to protect me while I'm doing it--so where the hell were you? Making eyes at the local princess?"

John said, "Jesus, Rodney, give it a rest," but when the Kalif frowned and turned around, he added, "--and don't run off on me like that," grabbed Rodney's face, and planted a loud, smacking kiss on his lips.

The Kalif turned away, looking satisfied, and Rodney rolled his eyes heavenward as if he were seeking intervention--or a merciful and imminent death--from a higher power.

"Thanks," Rodney sighed finally. "Oh, and--ew?"

"Right back atcha," John said.

The Kalif's ceremony was relatively painless, a simple exchange of vows wherein they agreed to be bonded to one another forever. But Rodney didn't come to the post-mission briefing, and then Rodney was the only no-show at the two-day training session John scheduled (Peter's stupid village was having its stupid annual festival), and then Rodney was bleary-eyed and useless for a week when Peter caught some stupid childhood disease at the stupid village festival, and John had to explore the south pier storerooms without him.

"What happened to forever?" John complained to Rodney over the radio. "You swore before seven village gods that you would stand by me till the end of time."

Rodney's voice was tinny and far away. "Hey, feel free to come stand by me. The kid's projectile vomiting."

It was only when John found himself beginning to fantasize about losing Peter offworld or maybe pushing him into the ocean that he realized he had to get a grip on himself. One of them had to be grown up about this, and he supposed that, all things considered, it had to be him. So he offered to teach Peter to skateboard, but he was only halfway through explaining what a skateboard was and how it worked and, you know, why it was fun when a short, sharp line appeared between Peter's eyebrows.

"I don't think Rodney would want me to do that," Peter said doubtfully.

John waggled his eyebrows and said, "Well, it's not like we have to tell him," but Peter's eyes widened in horror, as if he were realizing that John was the bad, bad man everyone had been warning him about.

"I don't want to lie to Rodney! I love Rodney!" and John stared at this declaration before stumbling to say, "No, look--" and "I didn't mean--" and "It's just that Rodney won't--" but was he really going to undermine Rodney in front of his kid?

"You're right," John said finally. "Just--look, just forget it, okay? Forget I said anything."

"Peter told me about the skateboard," Rodney said later, buttonholing him in the hallway, and John was about to say that he was sorry when Rodney added, worriedly, "Do you think I'm making him physically timid? I don't want him to be physically timid. I mean, I'm obviously--" and Rodney gestured back toward himself with a look of vague despair, "--but I don't want Peter to be afraid of anything. So maybe you should take him out," Rodney said, biting his lip. "Throw a ball at him or something. I'll tell him it's okay, that he's allowed--but you have to promise not to hurt him, all right? I'm serious, John; I'll kill you if anything happens to--hey, do we have any rubber mats? Maybe I can put down rubber mats." John groaned, but put in for a complete set of safety equipment: helmet, knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, everything.

Still, given permission to enjoy himself, Peter took to skateboarding like a duck to water, flying down the hallways of Atlantis with the awkward, angular grace of the young. John found himself eagerly awaiting the moment Peter McKay attempted his first 180 degree ollie, because one thing he knew for certain: give a kid a helmet, wristguards, and knee pads, and sooner or later he'd invent Extreme Sports.

But when the moment came--when Peter finally succumbed to what John knew was the inevitable urge to try flying a skateboard down the stairs--instead of the expected surge of triumph, John felt his heart leap into his throat. "Wait!" John yelled, breaking into a run. "Peter!" and he took the staircase in three bounding downward leaps. "Jesus Christ," he gasped, catching Peter at the bottom and squatting to grab him by the shoulders, "don't do that! Are you trying to kill yourself?" but holy shit, it was too late: Peter was glowing and happy, eyes alight with the all-too-potent combination of wonder and adrenaline.

John's stomach twisted and he tightened his hands on the boy's shoulders. "Okay, listen to me, Peter: do you want Rodney to kill me?" and Peter's eyes narrowed--holy shit, the kid totally wanted Rodney to kill him! John abruptly let go of Peter's shoulders and nearly fell back onto his ass, because he recognized the look in Peter's eyes, the calculating look that said, You know, if you were to get lost offworld or fall into the ocean or something, my life would be so much easier.

"Okay, wait, whoa, time out!" John said, making a T with his hands. "Forget about me; if you break your leg or something, Rodney'll go out of his mind." Peter frowned and seemed to consider this, and so John pushed onward and said, "You know I'm right; you know it's true. You want to learn tricks--it's fun, believe me, I get that--I'll rig up someplace safe for you, somewhere with," and John realized what he was going to say only a moment before he said it, and was filled with self-loathing, "rubber mats. Deal?"

Peter tilted his head and considered it. "Maybe," he said, though his expression said, What's it worth to you, old man? and Jesus, he was in so much fucking trouble, here.

He made the tactical decision to give Peter a wide berth for a while and to spend time with Ronon and Teyla instead. After all, Ronon and Teyla were his buddies; they shared his interests; they liked the great outdoors and working out and playing sports; they liked competitive target practice and the martial arts and...each other, Jesus, how had he missed that? Teyla smiled and twirled her sticks as Ronon slowly picked himself up off the floor, and John could feel the crackle of sex in the air; Ronon was maybe three minutes from throwing Teyla to the ground and fucking her stupid, or maybe it was the other way around.

He stumbled to his feet and jerked a thumb at the door. "I, uh--I forgot--I have to go--"

"Okay, Sheppard," Ronon said, without looking back at him. "We'll catch you later," and Teyla was smiling at Ronon and slowly licking her full lower lip--and John was gone, John was so fucking out of there.

He tried hanging out with the Marines, but they were fidgety and uncomfortable around him in a way that was sadly familiar; he knew that commanders who tried to be "one of the guys" just creeped everyone out. Elizabeth played cards a couple times a week with some of the scientists and two of Beckett's medical doctors, but they were seriously hardcore, grimly strategizing about suits and melds and what cards to lay off and honestly, he just couldn't get drunk enough to care. Lorne's team played a little pick-up basketball a couple of times a week, but he saw right away that it was a team game--and they weren't his team.

Finally, he went to Elizabeth and applied for a three-day pass, and when she granted it, he packed his camping gear, grabbed a jumper, and headed off alone to the mainland. He plotted out a difficult hike that took him up, out of the Athosian village and into the mountains. It felt good to sweat. The weather was perfect: almost as good as when he'd hiked the Rockies in '93. He hadn't hiked for pleasure since Antarctica; hell, even in Afghanistan, he'd found time to go off on his own. Except he'd never thought of it that way, "going off on his own,"--he'd just always been on his own: who else would have come with him? And then, he put a hand out and steadied himself against a tree, and Jesus, he was freaking out; why the hell was he freaking out? He'd never freaked out on a hike before, and he leaned back and took a deep breath of cool, mountain air and fumbled for his radio, but there was only static--and okay, right, that had been the point, hadn't it?

He came back without making camp. It was nighttime, and Atlantis was quiet. A skeleton crew manned the command center, and a couple of patrolling marines saluted him, but Rodney McKay's lab was dark save for the faint glow of computer terminals and ancient devices. He went to Rodney's quarters, knocked louder than he meant to, and then just barged in, waving his hand over the lock.

Rodney's head jerked up--he was awake, and working, sitting in a circle of light from his desk lamp and surrounded by papers and computers. He absently pressed a finger to his mouth, and then waved his hand in the direction of Peter's room. "Don't you knock?" he whispered, his attention visibly torn between whatever he was working on, and John, who was standing in front of him, almost vibrating.

"I did knock," John said.

Rodney stared at his laptop screen for another few seconds, and then he sighed, leaned back, and regarded John irritably. "Okay, fine; what? This had better be important."

"I need to talk to you," and Jesus, was that his voice?

Rodney seemed to hear it too, because his expression clouded and he pushed up, out of his chair. "Okay, fine," he said. "Talk," but there was a new caution in Rodney's voice, a kind of wariness. It was the voice of a man who didn't actually want to talk, but hadn't yet found a way to escape, and John knew it well: it was how he felt most of the time.

Rodney interrupted before he could figure out how to begin. "Do you want a drink or something?" he asked uncertainly, and John wondered if this was Rodney's way of derailing the conversation; if it was, it was a good one; he'd used it himself. He nodded wordlessly and Rodney moved into the side area that served as his kitchen, pulled down two coffee mugs, and took a flask from a high shelf. He slopped something strong-smelling into each mug and handed one to John, and then shot a sharp glance at Peter's bedroom door and nodded toward the balcony.

John stopped just before passing through the glass door, noticing that the window beside it was hung with-- what seemed like a whole load of junk. John raised a finger and touched what looked like a child-proof cap, and, okay, it was a child-proof cap, drilled with a hole and hung from a piece of string. It turned, and now John saw that it was balanced by a couple of metal gears, a broken piece of pottery, a tiny wrench, a roughly cut-out cardboard apple, a circle of paper-clips... It was a mobile, and John saw that there was one at each of Rodney's windows, each the work of a child, rotating slowly in the breeze.

"Peter makes them," Rodney said, from outside; he'd turned the balcony lights on. John stepped out and closed the door behind him. "I've bought him real art supplies, but he seems to like hunting down things for himself. What would the art world call it--collage? Found art, maybe? Like Duchamp's readymades."

"I don't know anything about art," John said uncertainly.

"But you know what you like." Rodney smiled a thin smile, lifted his mug, and then hesitated. "I really don't drink," he said, sounding almost embarrassed, "but some days, you know?"

"I know," John said, and clicked his mug against Rodney's. They drank, and then suddenly Rodney was jittering away across the balcony, his voice carried on the night air. "They won't let me bring a piano over on the Daedalus, can you believe it?" he said. "It's over the weight restriction, they say; since when is there a weight restriction? You can bet if it was a bomb, there'd be no weight restriction--"

"Rodney," John said.

"--or some new kind of cannon; they'd just crate it up and ship it. But not a piano--and I'm talking about an upright, not even a grand. I've had to get an electronic one, and while I'm hardly what you'd call anti-technology," Rodney was pacing, now, "some things just aren't the same. I don't care if the tones are mathematically identical--yes, go ahead, write that down, you can quote me: there's a difference between the sound of a hammer striking piano wire and the perfectly replicated tone of a hammer striking piano wire."

"Rodney," John said quietly, "what the hell is happening? I mean, I really need to know."

Rodney went still, and then looked at him, hard. "I don't know what you mean. Everything's fine."

John waved his mug toward the balcony door, meaning to take in the home office, the mobiles, the small boy sleeping inside. "What is all this?" John asked. "This came out of nowhere; this isn't you--"

"No, it is." Rodney's voice was sharp. "It is me, now, thanks for asking."

John opened his mouth to argue, but Rodney's chin was jutting out and--okay, wait, this wasn't how he wanted this to go. He took a deep breath, then slowly leaned against the balcony's railing and stared down at the inky black sea. "Okay, look, I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't say that right. Just--I don't understand what happened here, and I want to understand it. Everything was cool, and then everything went to hell, and I don't know why. I mean, I thought we were friends. We're friends, right?" he asked, looking over his shoulder.

Rodney's face was tight and unhappy, and John was suddenly sure he was going to say, "No, sorry to break it to you, Colonel, but we're not friends; we've never been friends," and that would be another way of saying, I don't owe you an explanation. I don't owe you anything.

But when Rodney finally spoke, he just sounded worn out. "Yes, we're friends," he said. "Of course we are."

John squeezed his eyes briefly but tightly shut. "So come on. Jesus. What gives?"

Rodney leaned on the railing beside him and sighed down at the ocean. "It's hard to explain."

"Try me," John said.

Rodney was still holding his mug, and he fiddled with it for so long, twisting it round and round in his hands, that John began to think he was avoiding the question. But then Rodney finally said, "I thought that certain things would just come to me, you know? All I had to do was wait. I figured that things would just inevitably fall into place, but they didn't, and now--well, I guess I don't believe they will."

Rodney turned to search his face for signs of understanding, but John didn't understand; not exactly. Still, he nodded and tried to look sincere, because Rodney was obviously trying to tell him something that was hard to say, and very personal. "Go on," John said quietly. "I'm listening."

Rodney blew out an explosive breath, turned to lean back against the railing, and crossed his arms, obviously irritated. "That's it, that's all; what else do you want me to say? Connect the dots, for Christ's sake! I wanted what everyone wants: a beautiful blonde who sucks cock and makes pot roast. But news flash!--she's not coming, and neither is anyone else, so either you let yourself go to waste, or you pick a person to care about and start taking care of them."

John fumbled for something to say; whatever he'd been expecting, it wasn't that. But Rodney wasn't finished. "Look, it wasn't a brain surgery kind of decision; the kid's here, and he's alone, and he's as good as anyone--better, really, because he's not stupid, and he's got almost perfect pitch. And I like having him here," Rodney said, and his chin was tilting upward again, as if he was daring John to say something. "He makes the day go, gives me something to think about that's not--" and Rodney waved his hand in front of John in a way that might have meant the balcony, city, or maybe even the galaxy: all the bullshit that was wrapped up in Atlantis. "And he likes being here, despite what people say. I mean, he's never said in so many words, but I know he--"

"He has," John said, finally finding his voice. "He does. He loves--living here with you. He told me so."

Rodney looked surprised, like John had just told him that half of Atlantis had fallen into the sea. "Really," he said. "Well," and when he turned to look out at the water, John could see that he was fighting not to show how pleased he was. Rodney braced his forearms on the railing, then laced his fingers and glanced down at them. "That's very..." and then he was sort of smiling down at nothing, like he'd forgotten John was even there.

Their eleventh wedding wasn't a wedding at all; it was an ambush. The Nij-ta had seemed like such a pleasant people when they arrived: they wore simple, toga-like outfits, had warm smiles, and had beguiled Rodney with the promise of a ZPM and a tray of appetizers that looked kind of like shrimp. There had seemed no reason not to follow them back to their village. They had been walking down the pleasant country road for about forty minutes when Ronon slowed, stiffened, and reached for his gun, and John pulled his own gun without asking questions. A moment later he saw what Ronon had seen--dark shapes hulking through the trees, moving to surround them. They were soldiers, huge and heavily armored, and John aimed and fired, fired, fired, swinging his gun around in a precise arc. All of his shots found their targets, but by the time the third soldier flew backwards, propelled by the impact, the first one was already lumbering to his feet. Christ, that was some body armor--and John began to back up, away, the way they had come. Ronon was aiming and firing even as he hurled bodies up, over his shoulder, and down with bone-crunching force. Teyla had her forearm wrapped around the throat of one of the toga-wearers and was using him as a human shield while she aimed.

"Pull back!" John yelled, rapidly backpedaling. "Get back to the gate!" and then they were all turning and running--Teyla in the lead, her hair flying out behind her, Ronon a blur of motion at her heels, and Rodney--and John turned his head, still running, scanning for Rodney, where was--and then John saw him, fuck, they had him, had Rodney by the arms and were forcing him down to the ground, and in a split second, John weighed Escape and get help against Leave no one behind and screamed, "Go! Keep going! Go for backup!" before spinning in a spray of gravel and running back.

The only advantages he had were surprise and the fact that what he was doing was essentially stupid, so he went with that, screaming and leaping on the back of one of the soldiers who had Rodney, and then firing point blank, muzzle pressed to the thin, exposed strip of neck between breastplate and helmet. There was a spray of blood, and John rode him down to the ground, noting in a flash of satisfaction that Rodney had taken advantage of the distraction to kick the other soldier first in the knee, and then in the nuts.

Then Rodney was grabbing him and saying breathlessly, "Sheppard! Hurry, I--" and then his face changed and he was tackling John to the ground. John barely had the breath to yell, "What the--?!" before Rodney was on top of him, pushing him down into the damp earth and pinning him there with his weight. John tried to shove Rodney off--I'm trying to save you, you asshole!--but Rodney had good leverage and his hands were tight around John's wrists. Then he felt Rodney jerk and heard his hissed intake of breath--and then Rodney finally let go, curling one arm around the back of his own head and the other around the top of John's. A moment later, he was flinching as the blows rained down on him, and no, no, no, Jesus, no.

John grabbed him, heaved, rolled--and took a blow to the ribs that knocked all the air out of him. He gasped and half-fell on top of Rodney, who was red-faced and shallowly gasping for breath. They were surrounded, armored soldiers kicking and beating them with some kind of truncheons, and to John's horror, he saw a boot flying towards Rodney's head. He launched himself forward, but never made it--there were suddenly hands on him, grabbing him, nearly wrenching his arms out of their sockets as they dragged him away through the dirt. John twisted his head backwards to see Rodney's limbs going loose and doll-like, and then he felt a sharp, explosive pain at the back of his own head and blacked out.

He came to, briefly, in a dark metal box--an elevator?--and then again when they dumped him out onto a fancy marble floor. "Speak, prisoner!" a voice boomed, and John lifted his head and was trying to focus when he heard Rodney say faintly, from somewhere, "Oh, go fuck yourself," and nearly laughed with relief.

They landed in a bare cell with no windows and a single, straw mattress, but at least they were together. John could hardly raise his head without feeling like his brains were leaking out of his ears, so he just curled himself into the fetal position and lay there, shivering with nausea. Rodney surprised him by pressing up behind him, one arm sliding around his waist, and that felt better, like a warm anchor in the darkness.

"God, you're such an idiot," Rodney murmured into John's ear, and shit, it hurt to laugh; fuck; Jesus; stop it. "You should have run; why the hell didn't you run?" but that was a rhetorical question, and they both knew it.

"Where the hell are we?" John asked, and Rodney sighed and explained that, from what he could tell, the village on the surface was a front; like the Genii, the Nij-ta civilization was advanced, martial, and holed up in a city deep underground. "And they're heavily shielded," Rodney said, "and didn't show up on any of my instruments, so I wouldn't expect help to come bursting in the door. If the Wraith haven't figured out these guys are down here, I wouldn't count on our people figuring it out any time soon."



The first couple of days, they could barely sit up long enough to gulp water; after that, they began to take stock of themselves. Rodney had a horribly black eye and a lump on his head the size of a goose-egg, and that was just what John could see; he could only suppose that Rodney's back and legs were purpled with bruises. He himself had a doozy of a contusion where he'd been kicked, and the back of his head was stiff and crackly with dried blood, though he was optimistically beginning to believe there was no skull fracture. Rodney ripped a piece of cloth from his undershirt, dipped it in their cup of water, and carefully cleaned out the wound.

John sat with his head bowed, trying not to wince. Rodney held John's shoulder steady in one warm hand and gently probed the injury with the other, daubing carefully with the wet cloth. John could feel Rodney's warm breath on his neck, hear his tsks of sympathy and low grunts of displeasure as he worked, and he tried not to move, even though he felt edgy and hot and weirdly tight in the chest, like he couldn't breathe.

When Rodney was finished, he threw the wet rag down onto the stone floor in disgust. John quickly reached out and caught up his wrist. "Let me see your back," John said thickly.

"It's fine," Rodney said, and looked down at John's white-knuckled hand. When he looked up again, his eyes were worried. "Really. John. It's--"

"Let me," John said and held on. "Rodney. I want to--" and then that thing in his chest shifted and he leaned forward and put his mouth on Rodney's. Rodney jerked back, but Jesus, John couldn't let him, and he slid his hands up Rodney's shoulders, and cupped his neck, and kissed him and kissed him. Rodney squirmed and twisted, trying to pull away, his mouth a tight, hard line, but John just leaned with him, following his mouth, and holding on. Then Rodney went still, and his mouth softened, and opened, and then he was surging forward--and that was when things went really crazy, as they tried to touch without hurting each other, to stroke the few square inches of skin that weren't bruised, kissing between little jabs of pain. He pulled Rodney down onto the mattress and half on top of him, trying to keep their mouths pressed together; blindly, he unzipped Rodney's fly and felt around in his pants. Rodney was gasping and kissing him sloppily, but he was only half-hard, and John panted and stroked and coaxed him fully erect before reaching down to work open his own pants. Rodney groaned and began to rub off against his belly--and God, yes, that was easier, that was good, and John wrapped his arms around Rodney's bruised back and held on, mouth opening as their kiss got wetter and deeper. Rodney's hand pushed up under John's shirt, fingers cool where they skated over his bruised ribs and rubbed his erect nipple, and then Rodney began to shudder--slowly, and then with more intensity, like he might shake himself apart. John hugged him tight and felt it when Rodney came, gasping and sobbing so unashamedly that he wondered just how long it had been for him.

He held Rodney through the worst of it, then nudged his cock against Rodney's thigh, desperate for Rodney to touch it. He kept having dizzying visions of things they could do together, things that were totally impossible in their current state of health. Still they kept him hard and breathing fast, wanting so much more than he could stand. He tilted his head up for a kiss, then blindly pulled Rodney's hand to his dick and held it there, pushing his swollen cockhead into the cup of Rodney's palm. Rodney groaned into his mouth and curled his hand into a fist--and John pumped up into Rodney's desperately-gripping hand until he was hot, until he was close, until he was there. He closed his eyes and came, bucking and almost shouting out with relief.

He vaguely heard Rodney gasping, "Oh, my God..." and then Rodney was pulling away and sitting up, panting like he couldn't catch his breath. John closed his eyes and tried to get his own breathing back under control; his body was thrumming with endorphins, and Jesus, it was good to feel something besides pain for a change. He tried to formulate some less dorky version of "So, was it good for you?" then opened his eyes, propped himself on one elbow, and reached out for Rodney...except, okay, maybe he wasn't always the best at reading people, but this wasn't good body language. Rodney had turned away and was hunched over, and John tentatively dropped a hand on his shoulder and felt him flinch. "Don't touch--" Rodney said, and then: "--just, please, give me a minute. I need to think," and John jerked his hand back and said, "Um. Okay."

What John wanted to say was: "Go on and think all you want!" and "Don't give me this shit," and "You wanted this, too; dammit, you came first!" but you couldn't argue with a person who looked miserable after having sex with you--and Jesus, this wasn't fair, this was not fucking fair. He took a deep breath and said the only reassuring thing he could think of. "Look, it--doesn't have to mean anything." To his relief, that actually seemed to help; Rodney turned and looked at him with a distinctly Rodney-type look on his face, and then Rodney snorted and said, "You know, some day I'm going to kill you with a brick."

"Oh, come on!" John shouted, and then it all came pouring out: "Don't give me this shit! You wanted it as much as--" and then Rodney was glaring and stabbing a finger at him and yelling, "You just stay on your own damn side of the mattress," and John shouted, "Fine!" and rolled over so that he was on his banged-up side with his back to Rodney. "One of us is crazy," he muttered as Rodney settled down behind him. "One of us is completely, bat-shit crazy, McKay," and Rodney snorted and said, "Oh really? When did you get that memo?" and John said, "You know, I hate you. I don't know what I did to get stuck with you," and Rodney said, "Probably something really bad in another life."

He didn't think he would be able to sleep, not with Rodney behind him all warm and breathing and about to kill him with a brick, but he fell asleep almost immediately. He dreamed that the guards burst in to drag Rodney away, and when he leapt up off the straw mattress to try and stop them, he found that he had been chained down, manacled at wrist and ankle. "Rodney!" John yelled--and Rodney murmured, "Shh. Shut up, it's okay," and sometime in the night, Rodney had rolled over and slung an arm around him after all.

They didn't talk about it the next day, which was just as well because John's head really hurt. Still, Rodney let John put his head in his lap, and sort of absently rubbed the part that didn't hurt so much. "I should have appointed a guardian for Peter," Rodney said, staring up at the ceiling. "I don't know why I didn't. Someone to take care of him if something happens to me." He frowned down at John and added, "Not so much you."

"Not so much me, no," John agreed faintly.

"I need someone who isn't crazy. Somebody stable, somebody who doesn't risk their lives all the time. Radek, maybe; Radek might do it, if I asked him."

"You should ask him," John said.

"Yeah." Rodney said, and let his head roll back against the wall. But his hand was still moving gently over John's scalp. "But if you survive and I don't--"

"That's not going to happen."

"No, of course not," Rodney said. "But if it does...I mean, you'll find somebody, right?" and then he frowned and said, "I think Peter named himself for Peter Grodin. Peter's stuff was in the lab--Peter Grodin's, I mean--and I think my Peter saw it and thought that there was maybe, I dunno, a Peter-shaped hole in Atlantis."

John thought about this for a moment and said, "I think maybe he was right."

"Peter Grodin?" Rodney asked, yanking his chain.

"Peter McKay," and it was weird to finally say it aloud, and then John turned his head and looked up at Rodney and said, "I would do it, Rodney."

"What?" Rodney asked, and then suddenly he abandoned the pretext of not understanding. "I'm not, I would never ask you to--"

"I know you wouldn't. But I'd do it anyway. If something happens to you, I'll take care of Peter. But that's--" and his mind was full of all the scenarios, all the things he would do to ensure that Rodney survived, if only one of them could, "--well, it's just not going to happen."

"No," Rodney said quietly, and stroked John's hairline once with his thumb. "I guess not."

The rescue, when it came, came fast: a small note under his plate one morning that said, "Get ready. We're coming," and then it was just like his dream; the guards bursting in, dragging them both up off the mattress and hustling them down the hall, and John said, "What?" and "You don't knock?" and "The service here is terrible," and then, to Rodney, "See? I told you we should have gone to Mexico," and then they were at the end of the hall and squinting into the sun, and Rodney breathed, "Oh, thank God," and there was Elizabeth Weir in a tac vest and looking deadly, and she was with Ronon and Teyla and about thirty marines.

"You see?" one of the Nij-ta warriors said, nervously gesturing back toward them. "They are unharmed," and Rodney stepped forward and said, "Uh, no; personally, I am extremely harmed," and John said, "Yeah, me too. Harm-o-rama," but Elizabeth didn't so much as look at them; instead, she waved Carson toward them and kept her eye fixed on the Nij-ta leader. "I want your men held accountable," she said, and John said to Carson, "What the hell happened?" and Carson looked nervously at him and whispered, "Elizabeth staged a coup."

It turned out that the Nij-ta's survival was dependent on a system whereby certain citizens were chosen by lottery to live in the decoy peasant village above their underground city as Wraith fodder. This had, understandably, caused some resentment, and ironically, the Nij-ta leadership's desire to choose fairly and randomly had insured that the resentment was spread among every class and every family. Elizabeth had made contact with the rebels, armed them, and promised them a highly advantageous trading deal.

"Yes, yes, whatever," Rodney said impatiently, "can I get some medical care, please?" John just stared at him; Rodney hadn't said a thing about his injuries while they were in the cell, but now that he had Carson for an audience, he was suddenly back to his normal, complaining self. Carson rolled his eyes and said, "Fine, then; what's the matter, Rodney?" but his eyes went wide as Rodney turned and tugged at the hem of his shirt to reveal a ugly band of purple and yellow bruises, and if they were this bad now, John could only imagine how they'd been a week ago. "Aye, I see," Carson said, blinking. "Right, then; let's get you to the infirmary," and Rodney arched an eyebrow, tsked, and added, "Oh, and by the way, Sheppard has a head wound."

John had almost forgotten about Peter until he turned up at the infirmary, looking old beyond his years and strangely hard-faced for a child. "Well, hello, there, Peter!" Carson said in that sickening, over-enthusiastic way some adults had with children. "Come in, come in! Rodney's a bit busy, at the moment--" in fact, Rodney was having his ribs taped and his scrapes treated with antibiotic ointment, "--but I'm sure he'll want to see you as soon as," and John didn't catch the rest of whatever Carson was saying, because Peter McKay had turned to glare at him, and John hadn't had someone look at him with that much dull and murderous fury since--well, since at least three commanding officers ago.

"Hey!" John said, raising his hands defensively. "I didn't, it wasn't my--" and then the kid made his move, striding forward and pulling back his sneakered foot and kicking John hard in the shins. "Ow! Jesus!" John yelled as Carson did a shocked double take. "Peter! Lad! What on earth are you--?" and good God, the kid was pulling back for a second go, and John groaned and sort of hobbled to one side to avoid him, and then took a deep breath, grabbed the kid by the meaty part of his arm, and pulled him toward the infirmary door.

"Colonel!" Carson said, anxiously trailing after them, "what are you--?"

"Peter and me need to talk," John said, half lifting the boy off the ground when he began to struggle.

"Oh my dear God," Carson said faintly.

John dragged the kicking, screaming boy past a bunch of startled-looking marines and onto one of the balconies off the tower, only briefly indulging in the fantasy of tossing the kid over the railing. Instead, he shut the door behind them, let go of the kid's arm, and, said, "Okay, seriously: what the hell?!" just seconds before the kid full-scale launched himself at him. It wasn't a fair fight, being that John was twice Peter's size and nearly four times his weight, though Peter seemed to have ten times John's energy. Not to mention that John had already been beaten up and worn down, so it was pretty much all he could do to protect himself from the kid's wildly flailing fists and kicking feet. And then suddenly, Peter seemed to collapse, his muscles going rubbery with exhaustion. He fell face-first against John, and he wasn't crying, exactly; instead, he was making a sound like a wounded animal: horrible, despairing, and terrifyingly inarticulate. It made the hair on the back of John's neck stand up, and John stared down helplessly, getting nothing but mindless waves of terror from the boy, and then he suddenly understood that that was it, that terror was all there was. The boy was terrified, and had projected all his terror onto John as its most likely cause--John who hadn't wanted him in the first place, who resented him still, who kept trying to take Rodney away from him. He grabbed Peter under the arms and gathered him up tight.

"Peter, I'm sorry," John said, meaning it. "I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt Rodney. I don't want to hurt you." Peter's skin was hot against his, and John found himself thinking that the kid was pretty goddamned brave to take on a terror that was twice his size and nearly four times his weight.

John had the boy half-draped over one shoulder, warm arms clutching his neck, and rocked him a little, his hand trying to rub reassurance between the boy's shoulder blades. Peter stopped making that awful noise after a while, and John held him tighter still, turning to look out at the glittering cold ocean. He heard, rather than saw, the door open behind him, and knew who it was even before he heard Rodney say, "Is he--"

"He's okay," John said, turning around; Peter was asleep on his shoulder. "He's fine."

Rodney came forward, and for a moment John was sure that he was going to snatch Peter from him, but then Rodney took a deep breath and seemed to rethink this. "Yes, all right," Rodney said, arms relaxing. "Do you mind if I...Carson is--" and John said, "Yeah, go ahead," and Rodney said, "I'll be back in twenty minutes."

John and Rodney's twelfth wedding was their last. It turned out that the Talosa liked to swear vows of fealty cheerfully and carelessly, as part of their rest-day festival, and suddenly happy-looking couples were declaring eternal love and swigging mugs of ale while people shouted weird blessings in their general direction. After three or four couples pledged themselves and kissed, Ronon surprised them all by swinging a laughing and breathless Teyla out of her chair and going to one knee at her feet. A giggling Talosa maiden passed him a small, leather-bound book, and Ronon opened it to a random page and read, in an embarrassed mumble, "I hereby take you for my own, this day and forever." Teyla's cheeks flushed as the assembled company yelled out, "Mirani!"--which seemed to be the local version of "Congratulations!" or "Ole!" and then Ronon kissed her hungrily, pulled her out to the dance floor, and began to whirl her around in his arms.

John looked across the rough wood table at Rodney, who was eating something that looked a lot like roasted chicken. "What do you say, Rodney?" John asked, trying to keep his voice casual. "Want to get hitched again?" Somewhere there was a burst of laughter and a joyous shout of, "Mirani!"

Rodney looked up, startled, like maybe they were under attack. "Why? What's happening?"

"Nothing," John said, quickly. "Just, you know, it's kind of the thing to do," he said, and gestured vaguely toward the festivities around them. "You know how I hate to be left out of things."

Rodney rolled his eyes and reached for another drumstick. "Yes, all right, fine," he said. "I suppose we wouldn't want to get out of practice."

The leather-bound book was making its way down the long table. When it came near, Rodney snatched it out of the air, then self-consciously wiped his greasy fingers on his napkin before cracking it open. "All right, here we go," Rodney said, and cleared this throat. "'My love for you is--" and then he stopped and scowled down at the page. His mouth slanted downward. He didn't go on.

John felt an unfamiliar jolt of nerves. "What does it say?"

When Rodney lifted his head, a muscle was twitching in his smooth cheek. "I can't do this," he said in a strangled-sounding voice. "I'm sorry." "Mirani!" someone yelled, very far away.

There were a number of sympathetic smiles as the villagers turned away, and John found himself fighting a rising panic. "Rodney--"

"No, look, it's not funny anymore, all right? Maybe it was never funny," and John took the book from Rodney's hand. He read the page Rodney had opened to, and no, Rodney was right: it wasn't funny at all. He felt suddenly, terribly sorry; all those pointless rituals, promises made and ignored. Except there hadn't been anything wrong with the ceremonies or the vows. There'd been something wrong with him, maybe.

"Look...Rodney, I..." and God, he felt tongue-tied and stupid, inarticulate. He looked down at the carefully lettered page, and that was what the book was for, right? To help when you were at a loss for words?

John took a breath. "My love for you is strange and wonderful," he read. "Your love for me is an odd and awesome gift," and Rodney snapped, "I said, it isn't funny," and John said quietly, "It's no joke." He closed the book and said, "I want to be in your life; yours and Peter's," and Rodney said, "What?" and John said, "I want to be part of whatever you do, and I'm afraid you're not going to let me," and God, that was a terror big enough to eat him alive. Rodney's mouth slowly fell open, and John closed his eyes and said, "I don't know how it happened. You're not who was I expecting, and I know I'm not exactly what you wanted, but--" but that was just how it was. "I'm sorry; I can't help it."

Rodney sat there dumbly for a moment. "Yes. Well," he said faintly, and then he grabbed the book back and flipped frantically through the pages. "My love for you is strange and wonderful," he read, rapidly running through the words. "Your love for me is an odd and awesome gift. Be my friend, lover, and partner," and it was like Rodney thought it was a spell or something, or maybe he was afraid he'd lose his nerve if he didn't say it all at once, "and I will give you--"

"--all of my heart." John reached across the table to take Rodney's hand, and Rodney squeezed back so hard that John thought that he might break his fingers.

They stared at each other for a long moment.


"Yeah," and then John was yanking Rodney's arm and half dragging him across the table to kiss him, the rough wood biting hard into his thighs as Rodney pulled him up, off the bench. When they broke apart, John fell back down and nearly overbalanced backwards into the dirt. "Well, all right," he said, breathlessly.

Rodney was red-faced and panting. "Okay, then," he said, and then John felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a gap-toothed young man standing beside him. "Hey, are you guys finished with that?"

John looked down at the small leather book and said, "You know, actually, I think we are."


When they came back through the gate, John automatically followed Rodney to his quarters, but he lost his nerve the minute they walked through the door. Peter McKay was still awake, sitting at the kitchen table doing something with great focus and intensity, and John felt suddenly out of his depth; he had no idea how this was supposed to work, any of it. Peter looked up happily when Rodney walked in--though his face closed down fast when he saw that Rodney wasn't alone. John waved awkwardly--hi, kid, nice to see you, too.

Rodney didn't seem to notice. "Sorry I'm late," he said, and headed over to the boy. He pulled out the neighboring chair, sat down, and began to ruffle Peter's hair--no, wait, it was more than that. John stared as Rodney's fingers gently slid over Peter's face, up his forehead, and into his hair, and then realized that this was half affection and half checking for a head wound; hell, he'd checked marines for shrapnel injuries exactly that way. Finally, Rodney seemed to have reassured himself that Peter was okay, and he leaned in and pressed a loud, smacking kiss to his forehead. "Tell me you ate something."

Peter wasn't really paying attention, he was gnawing his lip and pushing something into thick white glue with his thumb. "I did," he said. "I ate the beans."

"Beans, beans," John said by rote, though he shut up instantly when Rodney glared at him.

"Which beans?" Rodney demanded, turning back to Peter. "The green beans or the brown beans?"

"The green beans." Peter held up his project; another mobile. It listed pathetically to one side, and when Peter frowned at it, his expression was entirely, and frighteningly, Rodney's. "With vinegar and cheese."

"Okay, fine; that's good," Rodney said, apparently relieved. "Very good."

But Peter wasn't finished. "You promised me chocolate, though."

"I did?" Peter squinted up at him, and Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, all right; I guess I probably did." He got up and said, "What do you want?" and Peter half-said, half-chanted, "Something with nuts, please!"

"I'm shocked," Rodney said, and then he stopped by John on the way to the bedroom and said, in a low, pleading voice, "Twenty minutes, all right? He goes to bed in twenty--"

"Yeah, of course," John said instantly, and Rodney looked relieved and then--Jesus, leaned in to kiss him. The kiss was brief but intense, and John stumbled back and nervously jerked his head toward Peter just in case Rodney had maybe forgotten that the kid was in the room. But Rodney just raised an eyebrow and looked at him like maybe he was stupid or something. Maybe he was stupid.

John's breath came out all in a rush. "I don't mean lie to him," he said in a hushed voice. "I just--" but Rodney stopped his mouth with another kiss, this one longer, but gentler and less sexual. It left him feeling insanely desperate, and he groped at Rodney's shirt until his fingers closed around a small gathering of fabric.

Finally Rodney pulled away, and asked, a little breathlessly, "You want chocolate?"

"I--yeah." John swallowed hard and pulled his hand back. "Sure."

Rodney went into his bedroom, and John took a deep breath and drifted over to the kitchen table. He figured he maybe ought to have a private word with Peter, say something reassuring along the lines of, "I swear I'm not actually evil or anything," but that sounded really stupid, and so he just jammed his hands in his pockets and fidgeted. Peter ignored him, focusing instead on his lopsided mobile, grimly bending wire and doggedly straightening the ornament he'd just made, which was made of cardboard and tiny glued-on bits of plastic. Peter seemed to have found every piece of junk in Atlantis--beads and screws and broken bits of machinery--and John took his hand out of his pocket and handed Peter a set of keys.

There were two of them--both silver--on a tiny circle of wire. They didn't open anything in this galaxy--they probably didn't unlock anything, anywhere, now--but they had once opened the door to a second floor apartment in Austin, Texas, where he had lived happily for a year and a half. He'd shipped out in a hurry and forgotten to return them, and then they'd stayed on his key ring long enough that they'd gotten a kind of talismanic status, and so he'd held onto them through multiple deployments. In Atlantis, there were no keys to anything at all, but John liked having them in his pocket anyway. He wasn't the only one either; lots of folks in Atlantis carried keys they no longer used; house keys, car keys, lab keys. One of his marines was carrying the ignition key to a 1968 Mustang currently sitting under a tarp in his father's garage.

Peter's eyes widened at the sight of the keys, his hand reaching out to take them. "Where'd you get..."

"I had 'em from earth," John said, sitting down in the opposite chair. "They don't open anything here," and then, realizing Peter might not know what they were, he said, "They're keys, we use them to lock--"

"Thanks, I know what keys are," Peter said, rolling his eyes. He was already trying to see where they fit on the mobile, where they balanced, when Rodney came back.

"I told you, you should measure--" Rodney began, and Peter went instantly apoplectic with frustration: "No, no, no! I told you, that's not what I want to do!" and Rodney let out an outraged snort and said, "Excuse me! I don't mean to mess with your artistic process or anything," and Peter groaned, "Just, you always think you're right about everything." John leaned over and murmured, "Don't forget; he's got all the chocolate."

Peter looked up at John, his face first shocked, then wary, then thoughtful, like he was taking John's words under advisement. Then Peter turned back to Rodney and said, with a child's earnestness, "Well, of course, you are a very, very smart person," and broke into snorts of laughter when Rodney cuffed his head.

"You've got nine minutes and forty-three seconds remaining in your evening," Rodney said, dropping two Hershey's chocolate kisses in front of Peter, and two in front of John. "So you'd better enjoy them."

Peter glared down at the two bits of chocolate. "Oh, come on!"

"Forget it!" Rodney yelled back. "Like it's a good idea to give you a load of sugar nine minutes and thirty-five seconds before bed!"

"Two, though? Two is nothing!" Peter grumbled, unwrapping one of the kisses; they were, at least, the kind with nuts.

"Well, that's not true," John said reasonably, and popped a kiss into his mouth. "Two is more than one and less than three. It's the only even prime number. It's a Stern prime, a Pell number, and a Markov number," he said, ticking these off on his fingers. "It's the simplest base for writing numerals, and underlies the binary code used in computers. It's the first magic number and the atomic number of helium. Also," he added, turning to Rodney, "it takes two to make a thing go right." John lifted an eyebrow and added, "They never proved that, though."

Rodney tilted his head and looked at him. "You're pissed I didn't ask you to teach math to Peter."

"A little, yeah," John said.

"Can I have some milk or something?" Peter asked.

"Yes," Rodney said, and went into the kitchen to get it. John surreptitiously slid his remaining chocolate over to Peter, who quickly palmed it.

Peter spent the remaining nine minutes of his evening eating his chocolates and carefully placing John's two keys on his mobile, having decided to split them up for maximum balance. When he lifted the mobile, it turned without tilting, all the pieces staying horizontal and balanced. Peter looked unbelievably pleased with himself, and John found himself oddly compelled by the thing, the way everything floated and spun.

"It's good," Rodney said, approvingly. "Nice. Want me to hang it?"

"Tomorrow, maybe." Peter let it crumple into a heap of wire. "I want to work on it some more."

Rodney sent him off to brush his teeth, and when Peter returned a couple of minutes later, he was wearing brightly polka-dotted pajamas. Rodney hauled him up onto one shoulder.

"Say 'Goodnight, John,'" Rodney said, and Peter obediently said, "Goodnight, John," but John felt a kind of desperate need to come along, and so he did, pushing out of his chair and following Rodney toward the boy's room. He stopped and hovered outside as Rodney carried Peter through the door, kissed him a couple of times, and laid him down on the bed. "I need you to be unconscious now, okay?" Rodney said, and tucked the blanket up around the boy's neck before pressing one last kiss to his forehead.

"Can I stay up and read?" Peter asked.

"Not tonight," Rodney said. "Tonight, you need to go right to sleep."

Peter nodded slowly and then asked, "Is John staying?"

Rodney seemed taken aback at the question. He glanced up and met John's eyes in the doorway. "Yes," he said, after a moment. "Yes, he is."

"Can I ask him something?" and Peter must have seen Rodney's hesitation, because he added, quickly, "Please? Just one thing and then I'll go to sleep, I promise."

Rodney pointed a finger at Peter's face. "I'm not supposed to make deals with you. All the books say so."

"One thing," Peter repeated, and Rodney sighed and waved John into the room.

Peter sat up and looked at Rodney. "You can't be here," he said.

"Oh, I can't, eh? Can you spell 'ungrateful wretch'?" but then Rodney sighed and said, "Yes, fine." He went to the door, hesitated beside John, and dropped his voice to a bare whisper. "Obviously, you don't have to answer him. Children can be direct to the point of rudeness and very persistent, but I support people learning to take no for an answer," and then he added, with a faint smile, "so long as it's not me."

"Right," John murmured back. "Don't worry; I'll be out in a second."

Peter waited until Rodney was gone and then frantically gestured John over to the side of the bed. "I just wanted to know about the beans," Peter said, and John hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about. "The beans," Peter repeated, like John was an idiot, which; yes, well. "You said, 'beans, beans,' and then you stopped. What were you going to say?" and John burst out laughing.

"I--Peter," John said, grinning and sitting down on the side of the bed. "I really don't think Rodney would want me to tell you that."

Peter thought about this, and then said: "Well, it's not like we have to tell him, right?"

"Everything all right?" Rodney asked.

"Oh yeah," John replied, stifling a smile. "He's just figured out that he might be able to play us against each other."

"Hm." Rodney cocked his head to one side. "Will he be able to?"

"No," John said softly, and then thought better of it, and laughed: "Well, okay, yeah; maybe a little," and then suddenly Rodney was there, grinning and mock-jabbing him in the side, and before John could mock-punch him back, Rodney had clutched his face and was kissing him. John had a momentary, gut-level urge to fight for dominance, to take over, but somehow, it passed. Instead, he let Rodney coax his mouth open, let Rodney grab at his shirt and tug him forward, toward the bedroom. John let Rodney pull him along for a few stumbling steps before breaking off the kiss, afraid of tripping over something. Rodney yanked him forward impatiently and licked a long, sensual stripe up the side of his neck. John's cock went hard in his pants.

"Jesus," John breathed, taking Rodney's mouth again and physically shoving him over the threshold into the bedroom. Rodney flailed for the glowing latch, and the door slid shut behind them and locked with a click. They kissed and pulled roughly at each other's clothes--shoving at holsters, tugging at pullovers, unzipping zippers--breaking apart just long enough to pull each other's shirts off over their heads. Rodney's hands slid up over John's chest, thumbs stopping to flick and rub his nipples, and John groaned and leaned into the rough touch. Rodney bent to kiss his neck, over and over, hot and sweet, stretching up to tease his ear with the wet tip of a tongue--and God, it was so damn strange to be wanted like this.

"Rodney," John whispered; it was suddenly important to say this. "You shouldn't have given up so fast."

Rodney snorted softly against John's neck. "Sure. Right. Easy for you to say."

John shoved at Rodney's shoulder, pushing him away, and then looked at him, hard. "Do you really think so?"

Rodney stared back at him for a moment, and then said, "No. Okay. Maybe it wasn't easy for you to say," and then Rodney was kissing him again and groping him with strong and capable hands. John felt suddenly lust-crazy, and he pushed Rodney back against the wall and tongue-fucked his mouth. When Rodney moaned, John broke off the kiss and leaned forward to whisper breathlessly into Rodney's ear.

"I don't know how to make pot roast," John murmured, "but I suck cock just fine."

He pulled back to check the effect of this statement on Rodney. Rodney was kind of limp against the wall, but his eyes were flashing with amusement, and his mouth was pulled into a familiar, smug line.

"Not as well as I do," he said.

This, like most of Rodney's obnoxiously self-aggrandizing statements, turned out to be true.

When Rodney pushed him onto the bed and said, "Lie back," in a strangely thick voice, John assumed that it was merely about getting into a comfortable position and a good angle. Later, when John's limbs had turned to butter, he had been grateful to have Rodney's bed spread out beneath him. Rodney had bent his head and pulled John's cockhead onto the soft flat of his tongue, and Jesus, that had just been where it started, that slow, wet rubbing of Rodney's lips around the sensitive, flared lip of his cock. Rodney had taken him by slow degrees, so that by the time his cock was glistening with spit and slickly moving in and out of Rodney's mouth, John could only lie there, incoherently sobbing, "...oh God...yes...please..." His fingers had been sliding through the soft, baby-fine strands of Rodney's hair, and now he let his fingers drift down Rodney's face and holy Christ, he could feel himself inside Rodney's cheek, and that was it--oh fuck, oh fuck!

He tried to jerk back, managing only "That's--I," but Rodney wouldn't rush, just slurped off with slow deliberation, licked his palm, and reached down--and John came so hard he thought that he might have popped a blood vessel, a really important one, like the aorta, or maybe blown something in his brain. He lay there, gasping helplessly, as Rodney milked his come out of him with gradually lengthening strokes.

"Oh my God," Rodney said, sounding like he was strangling. "John. I--you have to let me fuck you," and John squeezed his eyes shut, heart slamming in his chest. Rodney must have misunderstood, because he bent down over John and kissed him awkwardly and murmured, "Let me. Please. I swear I won't hurt you--" and John hooked his arm around Rodney's neck and dragged his mouth down.

"Okay," John whispered, kissing the stickiness off Rodney's pink and swollen lips. "Yeah. Fuck, yeah."

Rodney groaned softly and turned him over, and--Jesus, he was shaking. Rodney slid behind him, arms curling around him, and then Rodney was kissing the back of his neck, warm breath making the tiny hairs stand up. "Jesus," Rodney mumbled, stroking into him with slick fingers. John pushed back easily, already pleasure-drunk. "John. Oh, Jesus," and it didn't take long before Rodney's strong hands were spreading his legs, thumbs holding him open, and then Rodney was pushing into him. John braced himself and took deep breaths, but all the pain receptors in his body seemed to be off the hook. Rodney's fingers were scrabbling on his hip, and then Rodney was grabbing him, pulling him back, pushing hard in. John bucked and convulsed, dry-coming as Rodney's cock filled him near to bursting, and then Rodney's sweaty hand was sliding up, over his jaw, over his mouth, and Rodney was groaning and whispering, "Shh. Shh," and then, "Oh my God, I want you so much," and then Rodney took him right there, huge inside him, and seriously, the thought that he could have had this twelve fucking weddings ago made him want to shoot himself.

The next morning was, understandably, awkward. He woke up with Rodney wrapped warmly around him and snuffling happily against his shoulder, and for a moment, that was enough. Normally, John got out of bed right after waking up, but now he felt sweaty and sated and unwilling to move. He lay there, drowsing and soaking in the heat that their bodies had created under the blankets, until Rodney stirred awake, kissed him haphazardly and sat up, rubbing his head. "Peter," he said. "I should--"

"Right," John said, determined to be grown-up about this.

Peter was sprawled on the sofa reading a book and gnawing idly on his fingernail. When he looked up at them, John was filled with the sudden, sick feeling that he knew, hi, kid, your father fucked my brains out last night, and he grabbed Rodney's shoulder and forcibly turned him away from the coffee machine. "Look, I have to go."

Rodney blinked at him and said, "Uh, okay."

"Just, I have to--" John began, and Rodney said, "I mean, there'll be coffee in a minute," and John said, "No, I'll get some at senior staff," and then, "I'll see you at senior staff, right?" and Rodney said, "Yes, of course," and for a moment, the impulse to run out the door was very nearly overwhelming. He took a breath and kissed Rodney resolutely. "I'll see you at senior staff," he said. Rodney just nodded.

John calmed down over the course of the day, so much so that when Peter McKay skated past him, he ran after him to correct his technique without even thinking about it. John had borrowed the kid's board and was actually showing him the footwork on a 360 flip when alarms went off in the distance, and then he spent the rest of the day crouched next to Rodney in the deafening chair room, trying to determine if the Ancient defense system was detecting otherwise invisible intruders or was just fucking broken or what?

Finally, the alarms stopped, and a thick and blissful silence descended over Atlantis. John nearly keeled over in relief, and Rodney actually did keel over, his arms curling protectively around his head.

"Holy shit," Rodney murmured. "I think I'm losing it," and John, ears still ringing, nodded without saying anything at all. Elizabeth appeared at the door and said: "GENTLEMEN, IS EVERYTHING--?" and John was hissing, "Shh!" and Rodney was moaning, "Christ," and Elizabeth winced and whispered, "Sorry, sorry," and backed out again. They neither of them spoke until their heads stopped buzzing, and then Rodney said, "...can we please just go home?" and John said, yeah, okay, and automatically followed him.

Peter seemed surprised when John walked in, but then Rodney bent, squeezed Peter's head between his hands, and whispered into his hair, "...for the love of God, please be quiet." Peter went wide-eyed and nodded and was actually pretty terrific about it, coming over to the sofa to bring Rodney a hot towel (which Rodney promptly draped over his eyes) and then, more awkwardly, bringing John a cold glass of water and dropping two small white pills into his palm. Aspirin. John looked up gratefully. "Thank you," he mouthed.

He and Rodney slept together that night without having sex, though they both woke up hard and kicked off the morning by giving each other quick and dirty hand jobs. After that, it seemed easier to fall into a morning routine: showering, stumbling out to make coffee, getting Peter fed and set up for the day, going over their own schedules--senior staff meeting at oh-nine-hundred, pre-mission briefing at ten, that day's away mission scheduled for twelve hundred sharp. Peter ate the oatmeal Rodney had prepared for him and watched them warily as they discussed the results of the MALP. Rodney was shoving oatmeal into his mouth and complaining about radiation readings when John interrupted and said, "Peter? You okay?"

Peter looked taken aback. "Yes, yes, fine," he said.

That night, after the mission, John fell immediately asleep on Rodney's bed, waking up only hours later when Rodney slid in beside him. "Go to sleep," Rodney murmured, and slung an arm around his waist, but John was restless and rolled on top of him and began to hump him. Rodney groaned and moved his hands to clutch at John's ass. John moaned, came on Rodney's belly, and passed out. Rodney's verdict: "Oh, very smooth."

Over the next week, John's stuff--his clothes, his toys, his laptop and his tac vest and his guns--began slowly migrating over to Rodney's place. Peter raided his stuff and put bits and pieces of it into his mobiles--a broken compass, empty tubes of John's favorite hair gel, pieces of the wristwatch his father had given him, which John had broken in combat but held on to. John took to helping Peter with math at night so that Rodney could get another couple of hours of work in after missions, and it was during one of those sessions that Peter glanced up at John and said, with a strangely forced casualness, "So, are you staying?"

"What?" John said, sort of taken aback.

Now Peter looked at him head-on, like maybe he was stupid. "Do you live here now?"

"I don't know," John said, fidgeting a little. "I mean. I guess you were here first, so."

Peter stared down at the equation he was working on, wrote a number, erased it, wrote in another number. "Rodney likes having you here."

"I like being here," John said quietly.

Peter tapped his notebook with his pencil thoughtfully. "So, okay," he said. "I guess there's room," and John thought that was maybe the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him.

The End

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