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This story is a sequel to Julad's wonderful Beneath The Roses, which you should read first.

If There Be Thorns
by shalott

It was nothing, and it kept on being nothing; at least, that was what John told himself, until about six weeks later on M3X-J89, where the natives apparently objected to his hair, or the tone of Rodney's voice. Or maybe to the weather, which was admittedly terrible: steaming hot rain pouring down like ark-building wouldn't have been a bad idea. Whatever the cause, they were very ceremoniously thrown into a pit with a whole bunch of sleeping red crocodile-type things with a lot more teeth than John ever remembered seeing on the Discovery Channel, and water rising rapidly around the little hill that was all the dry ground they had left.

And it wasn't that he thought they were going to die: Ford and Teyla had gotten clean away, and John was reasonably sure that they were going to come racing to the rescue on schedule. But Rodney, stripped of all the equipment he could have tried to do something with, hair plastered down and t-shirt soaked dark to the skin, a trickle of blue-grey dye running down his arm, was already deep into the usual litany of regrets: theories he hadn't proven, movies he hadn't seen, places he'd never gone.

"You haven't mentioned sex," John said, and he thought it was going to be a joke until it came out of his mouth full of sharp and bitter edges. Rodney, missing the tone, gave a small smug cough and said, "Well," and John grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him because he couldn't bear for Rodney to say anything more, and then kept kissing him because he couldn't bear to stop.

John could feel Rodney's surprise in the movements of his mouth, working jerkily under his own, trying to say something, but he just took advantage to slide his tongue over Rodney's teeth; he curled around Rodney's tongue and held Rodney's wet face between his hands so he could stroke his thumbs over Rodney's cheekbones. Rodney stopped trying to talk and opened up to him, leaned into his hands, but even through the grey curtain of the rain John could still see Rodney's eyes open wide, staring at him.

Then Teyla was yelling, "Major!" from the top of the pit wall, nothing but a dark shape looming. John shoved Rodney away and at the dangling rope just as the first crocodile-thing woke up and got interested enough in dinner to pull itself out onto their little corner of land. They had to scramble up and away, fast -- the crocodiles could leap pretty high, it turned out -- and then he forced the pace all the way back to the jumper. There he invented a technical problem with the navigational systems and ordered Rodney to go troubleshoot in the back, and when they were safely home he used the excuse of being wet and covered with mud to put off the debriefing and hide in his room.

Not really hiding, though, in the back corners of his head: waiting, hoping, even if that hope did taste like guilt and worse things besides, small and mean and selfish; still he showered and brushed his teeth, shaved against the grain, and sat down on the bed in nothing but a pair of loose sweatpants that rode low on his hips, pretending to read. He stopped pretending when the door chimed, let his hands clench around the closed book in his lap while the light of the lock flickered.

The door finally gave up and opened, and Zelenka stormed into the room. "So either you are incredibly cunning, or incredibly stupid."

John hunched his shoulders around the tight knot of shame and jealousy clenching in his chest, and he didn't follow right away. "What?"

"Thanks to you, Rodney is now convinced he is irresistible gift of God to all humanity," Zelenka said, with profound disgust. "He is busy refining lottery scheduling algorithm for fair allocation of shares of his free time."

"You've got to be kidding me," John said, and then added hastily, "Okay, never mind," when Zelenka glared.

"Now he and his ego will have exclusive relationship," Zelenka said. "Nobody wins! Unless you have significantly more tolerance than I do, in which case congratulations, he is all yours."

"Um," John said, thinking about exactly how smug Rodney could already get. "Can I go with stupid?"

Zelenka folded his arms. "Yes, I thought so."

"Look, I didn't mean to do this," John said.

"You are a miserable liar," Zelenka said.

John shut his mouth, because Zelenka was right, and he hadn't even realized it until now, hadn't known that he'd been waiting for an excuse, for a chance.

Zelenka kept glaring, until he apparently got satisfied that John was well and truly aware of their respective positions as far as the moral high ground, and then he sighed and pulled out the desk chair to sit down. "I was not really expecting competition."

"I wasn't expecting to be competition, so," John said, morosely. His self-awareness was working overtime to catch up, too, because he was also realizing he hadn't been expecting to lose, so his own ego needed some deflating. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to -- okay. I did want him. I do," he said, giving the honesty though it stripped him bare; he owed Zelenka that much. "But I didn't want to screw things up for you. Either of you."

"Intelligence is the ability to hold contradictory beliefs, so you are doing well," Zelenka said.

John looked away. "I'll tell him something," he said, though it made his ribcage feel even tighter, like his lungs were straining to break out. "Just some near-death reaction -- "

"Oh, that is brilliant idea," Zelenka said. "Because Rodney is so stupid, he is going to believe you, and then neither of us are going to notice you moping around afterwards, or care, of course."

"You're not responsible for me," John said. "Either of you." "Of course we are," Zelenka said. "We are all in one another's hands here. I am supposed to ask you to risk your life to protect me, but not to care if you are unhappy?"

John didn't have an answer to that, too goddamn aware that he hadn't been thinking about the reverse at all.

The door pinged and slid open again. Rodney took his hands off the access panel outside and took out the powerbar he'd been holding in his mouth. "Hey, have you talked to -- oh, here you are," he said, coming in and seeing Zelenka. "Listen, forget the scheduler -- "

"If only I could be so fortunate," Zelenka said.

"It's not like you had any better ideas!" Rodney said. "Okay, there isn't a good way to automatically handle a random swap occurring in the middle of sex, but -- "

"You are not going to have this problem because I will never have sex with you again if you keep talking about this!" Zelenka said. "I am not participating in your fantasy harem."

"Stop exaggerating, two people is not a harem," Rodney said. "Anyway, that's not the point, I had an even more brilliant idea -- "

"Dear God," Zelenka said, throwing up his hands.

"I realized, dividing my time is stupid." Rodney kept going. "Not because of your ridiculous objections, but because it's totally inefficient. Clearly the answer is -- "

"You are not serious!" Zelenka said.

"Of course I am, it's the only obvious solution," Rodney said, and John caught on and said, "Okay, wait a second," which neither of them paid any attention to at all.

"The only thing which is obvious is that you are insane!" Zelenka said, standing up.

"Oh, please," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "Don't even tell me you don't think he's hot," and both of them turned to look right at John; he stared back at them, abruptly aware again that he was naked except for the sweatpants, which suddenly didn't feel like very much protection; and he had the sensation he was on a train heading straight off a cliff with no brakes.

"That is not the point," Zelenka said, but halfheartedly.

"Stop being so negative," Rodney said, "Remember last week, when we couldn't -- "

"Oh," Zelenka said, sounding contemplative all of a sudden.

"Ha!" Rodney said, triumphantly.

"Yes, all right, you have a certain point," Zelenka said, irritably.

"He what?" John said, feeling betrayed. "No! No, he does not! There is no point here!"

"And you recall," Zelenka said to Rodney, "There was that device we couldn't activate -- "

"Oh, yes, very good thought," Rodney said, nodding.

"Hey!" John said. "I think I get a say in this!"

"You're about to have the best sex of your life, shut up," Rodney said. He crammed the rest of the powerbar into his mouth and unzipped his jacket, dropping it on the floor.

Zelenka shrugged at John with a wry twist to his mouth, also taking off his jacket. "Actually, he is right for once," he said. "It will be very very good," which wasn't anything like reassuring, and also it was a little alarming how fast the clothing was coming off.

"And hey, did I ever tell you he passed the Mensa test?" Rodney asked, head muffled in his t-shirt.

"Your obsession with that little club is very sad," Zelenka said. "I have worked with him on the puddlejumper systems, I do not need some ridiculous test to be impressed."

"You really need to get over your resentment," Rodney said, getting himself free. "It's nothing personal, we just can't let anyone in who hasn't taken the test, and since nobody brought an official one along -- "

"This is not effective method of getting me in the mood, Rodney," Zelenka said.

"Fine, fine, forget it," Rodney said, with an air of generosity. "So what do you think, first?"

And the way they looked at him was the way they looked at the chair, the puddlejumpers, the transporters, all the thousand and one wonders of the city and the galaxy at large: the same intensity, the same glitter, the same twitch in their fingers, like they wanted to take him apart and put him back together better, and all John's objections quietly rolled away; because maybe what he'd wanted most was to be looked at just like this, and anyway, he wasn't stupid.

"Okay," John said. "Where do you want me?"

"Let's not start with anything too acrobatic," Rodney said. "Just lie down here, on your back. Radek, what have we got?"

Zelenka was already rummaging around inside the bathroom. "Do you actually use all of these?" his voice came floating out. "There are more nonbiodegradable substances in this cabinet than in Kavanagh's laboratory." He came out carrying hand lotion, shaving gel, and mouthwash.

"Shouldn't we use that in the bathroom?" John said, eyeing the last.

Rodney only smirked and got on the bed, pushed John flat and tucked the pillows under his head and the small of his back, rolled up the blanket and put it under his knees. "Comfortable?"

"A little cold, actually," John said, trying to sound as casual, but it was hard with Rodney's hand, broad and warm and heavy, resting on his thigh.

"Ah, a moment," Zelenka said, going to another access panel in the wall; he turned down the lights, which John was grateful for, and in a few seconds a wave of glowing heat came radiating upwards from the floor.

They started just with touching him, exploratory, murmuring half-comments to each other if he twitched or shivered, until he knew their hands with his eyes closed: Rodney's blunt fingers with the nails trimmed to the quick, Zelenka's narrower and more heavily callused. They went everywhere, sometimes in patterns of slow touches: running up his legs, tracing his ribs; sometimes randomly: one moment at his lips, the next a thumb running methodically up along the vein in his cock, firm pressure; and just as soon as he'd arched into that, gone again to stroke the inside of his elbow.

"Here, is this -- " Zelenka said, running a nail lightly under the edge of John's pectorals, and John squirmed and said, "Yes -- " and then Rodney leaned over and licked the nub, then blew cold air over it, and John said, "Oh, god yes."

"Hm, how far do you think -- " Rodney said, and Zelenka said, "Ah, good question," and they each slid a hand down one of John's thighs to the knee and drew his legs up, bent them to his chest. "Is this comfortable?" Zelenka asked John.

"Yeah, I'm good," John said, dazedly. He was still shivering, his nipple hard and tight; Rodney had kept his thumb over it, rubbing idle circles.

"I haven't been this flexible since I was thirteen," Rodney said wistfully, running his hand up and down over John's thigh.

"I have never been this flexible," Zelenka said. "Is this -- " he said, and touched John's perineum lightly, rubbed back and forth, and John made a bunch of embarrassing involuntary noises and nearly knocked them both off the bed.

"Oh yeah," Rodney said, appreciatively, half-pinning John down. "Do that again."

"Um, guys," John said, panting, "not that I'm not having a good time here -- "

"Yes, of course, sorry," Zelenka said, abashedly. "Do you think -- " he said to Rodney.

"Yeah, like this," Rodney said, and Radek settled between John's thighs. They eased John's legs back down and pushed the pillow back farther beneath him to tilt him up until he was resting partly on Zelenka's hips.

"Hand me the lotion," Zelenka said to Rodney, and then went straight for John's balls with both hands, slick and warm, working them gently from side to side, and Rodney leaned down and kissed him open-mouthed and wet. John closed his eyes, cupped the back of Rodney's skull and pulled him down so he could stroke Rodney's back, feel the new muscle corded along his shoulders and biceps.

Zelenka was opening him up, textbook methodical, and it was getting hard not to start writhing against his fingers. "Ready?" Rodney asked, between kisses, and John said, "Yes, God," and then gripped Rodney's shoulders hard as Zelenka pressed into him, long and not too thick, just right.

Nice and easy to start, Zelenka working in slow and deep and screwing him with sweet little thrusts until he loosened up; John was still holding Rodney down, gasping against Rodney's shoulder while Zelenka really started to go at him, and jesus, he hadn't really suspected Zelenka had it in him, John thought, a little hazily, wow.

"Let me -- " Rodney said, squirming. John let him go and let his head fall back, making a noise of protest. But Rodney was just turning around to lie in the opposite direction, brilliant idea; John got an arm under Rodney's hips and pulled him closer, and tilted Rodney's dick for his mouth.

Zelenka stopped abruptly, panting and muttering to himself in Czech, which was clearly going to be a turn-on from now on, and then went back to the spectacular fucking while Rodney groaned deeply and tried to thrust. John kept a firm hold on his hips, loving the heavy swelling weight of Rodney's cock on his tongue, Rodney's warm breath against his hip; Zelenka's hands clenched on his thighs. His own dick was stiff and flat against his belly, the slick head rubbing back and forth in almost unbearably good teasing little shifts with every one of Zelenka's thrusts.

"Rodney, close," Zelenka said, gasped really.

Rodney said, wobbling, "Yeah, okay," and John heard the mouthwash gurgle; then Rodney's mouth slid down over his dick, slow, lips snug, and jesus, fuck, holy shit; if they hadn't both had most of their weight on him, he would have come straight up off the bed, mint tingling all over. Rodney's tongue swirling around the head of his dick, Zelenka still fucking him, and he was just gone, shaking, coming apart under them.

"So," Rodney said some time afterwards, stretched out with his hands behind his head, "the next time either of you feel the need to question my genius -- "

"Shut up, Rodney," came from the bathroom and the bed in unison, though John's was a little muffled; he had an arm thrown up, covering his face.

Zelenka came back from washing up and crawled in on the other side of the bed; John shifted to make room for him, shoving Rodney over. It was nice, the two of them on either side; better than nice, especially with Rodney nudging him onto his side, spooning up behind him, and Zelenka tentatively reaching out to stroke his side and hip.

It made his eyes smart a little; brought home the generosity he'd never really expected to find. John covered Radek's hand with his own, tugged him in closer and kissed him deep and sweet. A single startled twitch, but then Radek kissed him back, enthusiastically, and slid his hand deep into John's hair, strong fingers rubbing his scalp.

They broke apart, Radek looking vaguely surprised and pleased, both of them half-smiling at each other almost shyly. Then John frowned. "Shut up, Rodney."

"I'm not saying anything!"

"You do not have to. You have actually achieved degree of smugness which is palpable," Radek said.

"I don't think there's enough room in this bed for all three of us and your ego," John said.

"I didn't notice you complaining before!" Rodney made a hmphing noise against the back of John's shoulder. "You know, if I'd realized the two of you were going to be ganging up on me -- "

"So, not that brilliant after all, I guess," John said, smirking at Radek.

Radek grinned back, and pulled the covers up over them all.

= End =

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