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With many thanks to cesperanza, giglet, and giddygeek for beta, and to the #pnp crowd for additional encouragement.

And check out the super-awesome cover art by liviapenn!

No Refunds or Exchanges
by astolat

It had seemed like a small sacrifice to begin with. Really, who wouldn't trade a handful of conveniences for the glory of living in the lost city of the Ancients, not to mention running the single most important research lab ever, with the prospect of winning at least one if not several Nobel Prizes and utterly crushing the rest of the field. Rodney had signed on the dotted line without a second thought. The only real twinge had been leaving his cat behind, but the biologists were too afraid about potential impact on an alien ecosystem, so domestic pets had been disallowed.

Nothing else had even registered. And, for the first few months, everything had been fine. Laundry piled up, but if you left a shirt lying around long enough, it got mostly aired out, and an engineering background was useful for assessing the stability of piled dishes. No Chinese food, that had been a wrench, but really, Rodney liked MREs just fine, and there were twenty-four varieties, so how much more did you need? It wasn't worse than graduate school, anyway.

Except -- well, he wasn't twenty anymore, and he'd gotten used to regular if generally incompetent maid service, and he couldn't even just go buy new clothes, because the bulky supplies were rationed, and in practice, there was something wildly depressing about coming home every night to a dark, empty mess of an apartment and a cold MRE. Sometimes he even felt lonely.

It shouldn't have been that hard to get good help -- there were a lot of people who were wildly excited about the idea of traveling to new planets and being on the new frontier. But even now the Goa'uld had been wiped out, it was still hard as hell to get clearance to go through the Stargate, and doubly hard to get clearance to come to the Atlantis Research Facility. If you didn't have a couple of PhDs and security clearance out the wazoo and serious funding from some government or university, you could pretty much forget it, unless you won the long-odds support staff lottery and were willing to scrub floors to get into space.

And though the lottery was theoretically supposed to take care of all the support requirements, you couldn't make someone stay in a menial job once they were out here. Every research facility was constantly short-handed, so you could only get about three weeks of work out of a maid before she was suddenly a lab tech or a network administrator or an office manager or something. You were better off just promoting her yourself before she got stolen by the genetics place three city blocks over. Rodney mentally cursed Carson Beckett once again.

Like everyone else, he had the right to bring over family, but when he'd finally tracked down Jeannie, she'd flatly refused to move to Atlantis to cook and clean for him, even though he'd assured her she would be contributing to the scientific advancement of humanity and would certainly have merited at least a note in his encyclopedia entry, possibly even a mention in his Nobel acceptance speech. She'd even turned down his last-ditch offer to name the first new particle type he discovered after her.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. After blowing several thousand dollars of wormhole time on internet searches, he'd finally found an agency that would handle people stationed offworld. Of course, he should have known it would end in disaster; their questionnaire had been totally inadequate, and when he'd given them a much more thorough and objective list of qualifications, they'd complained and wanted him to do ridiculous things like download photographs and read interviews.

"If I had time for that, I'd have time to just go out and date!" Rodney had snapped over the crackly phone line. "What? What was that? Oh, just forget it. Tall, blonde, IQ of 150 or above, that's all I ask, now stop bothering me and take care of it." And then he'd hung up and gone back to work.

Now the tall, dark-haired man standing in the doorway shrugged, impressively casual considering the duffle slung over his other shoulder. "Two out of three isn't bad?"

"One out of three, or else you wouldn't be saying that!" Rodney said.

"Hey," John Sheppard said, "can I come in? This thing's kind of heavy."

"No!" Rodney said.

"Well, okay," Sheppard said, and pulled out a sheaf of papers from the inside pocket on his battered leather jacket. "Just so you know, under the terms of the agreement, if you're rejecting me, you don't get a refund, plus you have to cover my return fare through the wormhole -- "

"Wait, what?" Rodney said, and grabbed away the papers. He hadn't paid much attention to the fine print; he was desperate, that was why he'd even gotten himself into this in the first place. He looked up and stared at Sheppard, outraged. "It costs $3.5 million to send someone back through the wormhole! It's only done for medical emergencies!"

Sheppard shrugged again. "I don't have clearance to be here now except under the temporary exception for engaged couples, and the Daedalus doesn't leave again for another month. If I stay and we don't get married, I'm subject to military arrest. By the way, so are you, for that matter."

"That's ridiculous," Rodney said. "No one is going to arrest me for being the victim of this -- this -- farce. Oh my God, that sales agent was behind this, wasn't she! You call someone a complete idiot just a couple of times -- "

"Maybe you should have specified gender," John said.

"I thought that was implicit, seeing as how I can't marry you anyway!" Rodney shouted.

"Sure you can," Sheppard said. "Gay marriage was fully legalized in Canada last July, and under the international treaty of Atlantis, a marriage valid in either partner's nation of jurisdiction is valid in the city." He helpfully reached out and flipped back about half of the stack of papers in Rodney's hand.

Rodney looked down at the marriage license: thick crackly paper embossed with the Canadian seal, Rodney Adair McKay and John William Sheppard already typed in, just waiting for signatures and witness names and the date. It looked ominously official and legal.

And yes, he did have the money, but he'd have to tap into his retirement savings for it, and spending that much to send his already ridiculously expensive mail-order bride straight back to Earth was just unbearable, not to mention he'd be right back where he started.

"Look," Sheppard said, clearly scenting blood in the water and moving in for the kill, "I just spent a month in a cabin about the size of an airplane bathroom, you just spent about half a million getting me here, I'm tired, I'm hungry, and I need a shower, and Canada has no-fault divorce. Why don't we give it a month and see how things go? If it's not working out, we fill out some fresh papers, I catch a ride back on the Daedalus, and you're only out the hundred grand that trip will cost. How about it?"

"That's the most ludicrous suggestion I've ever heard," Rodney said.

"God, I needed that," Sheppard said, coming out of the bathroom toweling his hair (which was standing up at angles that openly defied all known laws of physics). "Okay, let's call the governor."

"Huh?" Rodney jerked up from the couch, where he'd been sitting morosely eating stale potato chips. "Dr. Weir? Why do you want to call her?"

"I met her when I came off the Daedalus," Sheppard said. "She said she could take care of the marriage for us."

"What, right now?" Rodney said.

Sheppard lowered the towel and stared at him. "Did you bother reading any of the rules about this?"

"I'm incredibly busy!" Rodney said defensively. "If I had time to -- "

"Never mind." Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Let me spell this out for you. If we're not married by tonight, you'll just have paid a lot of money to get me here for sex, which would make us both guilty of solicitation."

"Sex?" Rodney squeaked. Back when his wife was going to be a gorgeous well-endowed blonde with incredibly long legs, he'd vaguely planned on being noble and restrained and winning her trust by saying of course they would wait until she was ready, and then naturally, after a few weeks of being increasingly impressed with his genius, she would have reached across the dinner table (candles, china, wine, fabulous meal prepared by her) and taken his hand and shyly said --

"Well, we might as well get it out of the way," Sheppard said, unfolding a garment bag out of his big duffle and shaking it out. "If it's going to be a deal-breaker, better to know that up front."

"Maybe we should get to know each other for a little while first," Rodney said feebly.

Sheppard eyed him critically, and Rodney was abruptly conscious that he was still wearing the t-shirt he'd slept in and baggy old pants, he hadn't shaved in two days, and the time since he'd gotten any exercise was asymptotically approaching infinity, not to mention the apartment was kind of a disaster area. He'd meant to clean up on both fronts, but Simpson had found some kind of unexplained fluctuation in the power readouts on the ZPM monitor that morning, and anyway, he'd reasoned that it was just as well to present a realistic picture instead of something artificial.

Except with Sheppard standing there, looking ridiculously model-pretty with his tousled hair and faintly amused mouth, buttoning up a loose white shirt over his -- objectively speaking -- extremely attractive body, getting into a suit of all things, which he'd somehow managed to keep from getting hideously wrinkled despite a month-long trip, Rodney was realizing he'd planted himself firmly on the moral low ground, and that was looking like an increasingly dangerous place to be.

"I don't think putting it off is a good idea," Sheppard said. "You strike me as the kind of guy who can get worked up about stuff in his own head. Don't worry," he added, "it'll be fine. We'll get married, have some dinner, have sex. It won't be a big deal."

"Oh, God," Rodney said.

"Oh, God," Rodney said.

Sheppard lifted his head briefly and grinned at him. Ordinarily, Rodney would have immediately come up with at least a dozen different remarks to fling at anyone who looked that unjustifiably smug in his immediate vicinity, but, well, it wasn't exactly unjustified, and oh. Oh.

He let his hands settle into Sheppard's -- John's -- hair, which wasn't just gravity-defying but thick and sleek and soft, and just amazingly good to stroke through, especially given the way it induced Sheppard -- John -- to make low pleased noises while he sucked. "Oh," Rodney said. "Oh. Sh-- John -- John -- " Sheppard made an encouraging noise and squeezed Rodney's thighs with his big, long-fingered hands, and Rodney came and came. "Oh God," he said again, dazedly. It had been a long time.

Then Sheppard eeled up next to him and nudged Rodney over onto his side. Rodney meant to say things like "wait" and "hang on" and "no," because he knew he wasn't going to like this. But instead when he opened his mouth what actually came out was "wow" and "please" and "yes," because Sheppard was careful and slow and it all felt shockingly, amazingly good, and Rodney knew you couldn't let theory stand in the way of solid experimental evidence.

"Hey, not bad," Sheppard said, afterwards, stretching out long and lean like a satisfied cat, and then he yawned, rolled over onto his side, and fell asleep instantly. Next to him, Rodney lay flat on his back, mouth hanging open, and stared up at the ceiling for a while. Sheppard breathed quietly and didn't move much; in the dark, Rodney almost could pretend he was still lying there alone and it had all been some kind of freakish dream, except for the unfamiliar pressure of the warm gold band around his finger.

With a rising tide of hysteria, he realized he'd just tried out a new sexual orientation and gotten married within a five-hour period, to a totally unwanted complete stranger, and, what was by far the worst part, he had very definitely not planned this, and now that he thought about it, he couldn't even remember having made a conscious decision on any part of it.

Before falling asleep, he made firm plans to reassert some control over his own life the next day, but Sheppard was a morning person, of all hellish things, and by the time Rodney had managed to get vertical and start forming complete sentences, he had already made bacon, scrambled reconstituted eggs, and coffee. It was a diabolically clever move: Rodney couldn't argue effectively with his mouth full.

"So," Sheppard said, turning a chair around backwards and sitting down easily, folding his arms along the top of the backrest, "I thought maybe after breakfast you could show me around."

"Mmmph mm mpmh!" Rodney said, which meant, "You've got to be kidding me, I have twenty hours of work to do today," but which Sheppard apparently took to mean, "Of course, I'd love to spend my entire day being your tour guide."

Actually Rodney ended up spending most of it yelling, "No! Don't touch that," every time Sheppard drifted towards yet another piece of unknown Ancient technology: he seemed to have an unconscious gift for sensing which things they hadn't been able to figure out yet and an unconscious desire to fry himself to a crisp or worse by touching them. Plus, given any choice of direction, he instinctively made a bee-line down the hallways leading to classified or restricted sections, like the gateship bay or the command chair or the gateroom, and Rodney, who wasn't used to paying attention to the restrictions, kept having to remember and haul him back to safe parts of the city.

Also annoyingly, the things Sheppard could be allowed to touch, he seemed to manage intuitively, even the stuff like the transporters that had taken Rodney a week to finally get the hang of. Sheppard just stepped in, touched the screen once, and bang, they were out at the single most spectacular place in the city, the eastern observation tower, just as the sun started going down.

"Cool," was all Sheppard said, but he was staring out at the wide-open view, the enormous alien sky, the two moons just beginning to come into view overhead, with bright longing on his face. Rodney, who would cheerfully have killed a half-dozen rival scientists to get his own job if they hadn't given it to him, was mollified a little, and also relieved: he'd been starting to wonder what the hell someone like Sheppard would have come out here for.

Sheppard turned around and smiled at him, real warmth that made Rodney feel oddly squirmy inside and about thirteen years old. "You ever get tired of this place?" Sheppard asked softly.

"No," Rodney said, honestly. Then he cleared his throat hurriedly. "Anyway, now you know the transporters, so you can get around; I really do have to stop by my lab -- "

"Lead on," Sheppard said, cheerfully.

Rodney gulped. He wasn't really looking forward to introducing Sheppard to the horde of savage vultures otherwise known as his staff; he just knew they would have heard about the wedding by now, somehow, and would undoubtedly be lying in wait to torment him mercilessly. Which was spot-on accurate, but it turned out to be highly satisfying to see them all stare when they saw Sheppard -- soft faded blue jeans today, and an almost threadbare black t-shirt, his bare feet in nothing but old flip-flops and his hair still making taunting gestures in the face of gravity. There were several doubtful double-takes in Rodney's direction, which he realized with growing indignation were not because Sheppard was a guy, or because Rodney had married him the same day he arrived, but because they didn't understand how he had landed Sheppard.

"So, um, how did you and Rodney meet?" Simpson asked, uncertainly, and Rodney felt a moment of horror: he hadn't thought to agree on a story beforehand.

But thankfully, Sheppard just said easily, "We met over the Internet," smiling at her with that improbably charming lopsided tilt of his, which was apparently enough to distract her from asking any tougher questions.

Predictably, Kavanagh wasn't that easily diverted, and made some audible snide remarks about how fast everything had happened, and the probable state of Rodney's bank account. But before Rodney could even think of a response that would crush him appropriately, Sheppard casually put a hand on the back of Rodney's neck and stroked his thumb along the tendon, which had the dual effect of shutting Kavanagh up tight and turning Rodney on so much that instead of getting down to some actual work and sending Sheppard back to the apartment alone, like he'd planned to do, he said, "Um, so, we should get back home," with a helpless little whine in his voice.

And also on the bright side, Sheppard actually looked surprised that night when Rodney pushed him back against the pillows and gave him a blowjob, especially once Rodney figured out that the mechanics of going all the way down were pretty much the same as those of pouring an entire two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew down your throat, a skill he'd perfected in college. "Oh, Christ, yes," John said, almost drunkenly, hips trying to thrust.

Rodney swallowed -- hardly worse than Mountain Dew in that respect either -- and crawled back up the bed. Sheppard was looking extra-rumpled, heavy-lidded and panting, mouth red where he'd bitten at his lips, all of which turned out to be an incredible turn-on, and it hadn't seemed all that complicated when Sheppard had done it last night, so Rodney nudged at him hopefully.

Sheppard rolled over onto his stomach and put his head down on folded arms, his body all sleek and golden on top of the dark sheets, legs spread apart a little, invitingly. Rodney had a moment of unexpected delight, just looking at him: this was all his to play with, he realized, this gorgeous piece of human machinery, which before now he'd always considered too complicated and unpredictable a system to invest a lot of effort into. He swallowed hard, mouth watering, and put a hand between Sheppard's legs. But the second he touched skin, he felt something shift, minutely: he couldn't figure it out at first, but when he touched Sheppard's thigh again, he realized it was the back muscles, tensing up so briefly he could barely feel it happen.

Experimentally, he lightly stroked his thumb along the crease, and watched the knots tie themselves along Sheppard's shoulders and and ease out again fast: unnaturally fast, forced relaxation. Rodney sat back in rising indignation, and moved away. "What kind of a jerk do you think I am?" he demanded, grabbing a tissue from the bedside table to wipe his hand clean.

Sheppard rolled back over, looking even more insultingly surprised. "I didn't exactly stop to ask you last night."

"If I had had objections, you would have heard about them," Rodney said, stiffly, ignoring the part of him that had just been making that exact same point in his own head and being annoyed over it; not to mention, what exactly did it mean that he had no issues with rolling over, and Sheppard, who'd knowingly come out here to marry a guy and clearly knew what he was doing, apparently did--

Except he couldn't get pissed off, because Sheppard had gone from surprised to weirdly tense and ashamed, staring down at the bed, his hands gripping fistfuls of the sheets: the first time Rodney had seen him anything like off-balance, and he said, "Hey," awkwardly, and half reached-out, uncertainly.

"Look," Sheppard said, without looking up, "I appreciate it, but I knew what the deal was when I took it. Let's just -- let's just get it over with."

Rodney dropped his hand, feeling like he'd just been hit with an electric shock. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize I actually was buying sex here," he said, when he trusted his voice again. "I must have missed that part of the contract too." He got out of the bed and grabbed one of the pillows, and picked up one of the blankets that had gotten thrown onto the floor.

"Where are you going?" Sheppard said, sitting up.

"To sleep in the other room," Rodney said, and marched straight out, which would've been more impressive if the dragging blanket hadn't tangled up his feet and almost tripped him in the doorway.

Sheppard was already awake the next morning, sitting at the kitchen table staring into his coffee cup. He looked up when Rodney came in, straightening his shoulders back.

"Okay," Rodney said, "Let me make something clear. I am in fact willing to trade my good name and a place here in Atlantis for maid service and cooking. I'm assuming, since you were willing to buy those things with sex, that the revised terms shouldn't be a problem."

Sheppard flushed red, and his hand tightened on the coffee cup. "I guess I deserved that," he said, after a moment. "Rodney, last night -- that's not what I meant -- "

"Really not interested in talking about it," Rodney said, tightly. He already felt humiliatingly stupid for not having realized to begin with -- yes, Sheppard had put on a good show of being into the whole thing, but it was perfectly obvious in retrospect that someone as ridiculously hot as Sheppard wouldn't actually want sex with him. "Let's just establish some ground rules. The guest room is yours; there are sheets and things somewhere in one of the closets. If you need anything, all the stores on the base work on a cash-card system, and my spare is in the key basket by the door. Pick up a little around the place, leave the papers alone, make coffee in the morning, leave something for me to heat up at night, we'll call it even."

Sheppard said quietly, "That's not much of a fair trade."

"I'm sorry, did you want a pension and a 401-K?" Rodney snapped.

"I meant for you, all right?" Sheppard got up and faced him. "Look, back up a second here, okay? It's no secret that I signed up for this whole mail-order thing because I wanted to be here, and don't tell me you don't get that. Don't tell me you wouldn't do pretty much anything to stay."

Rodney didn't have an answer for that, because Sheppard wasn't wrong, and yes, Rodney probably would have sex with someone to get to stay in Atlantis. "So, fine," he said shortly. "I've laid out the deal. Do you want it or not?"

Sheppard said, "And at the end of the month, that's going to be enough for you?"

"What, as opposed to maid service plus extorted sex?" Rodney said incredulously. "Not to crush your ego or anything, but seriously, you are nowhere near hot enough for me to actually want to demean myself that way." Sheppard looked offended at that, which made Rodney feel better. "Also, once again, not that much of an asshole!"

"That's not what I -- " Sheppard stopped and ran his hands through his hair. "I'm just saying, you could get somebody else -- "

"Somebody who'd be better at faking it than you are?" Rodney said, bitterly.

Sheppard looked away. "Somebody things could work out for you with."

"Yes, since it's worked out so well this time," Rodney said cuttingly, and left for the lab.

He stayed at work until 5 am on the high-octane fuel of righteous indignation (and to be sure Sheppard would be asleep by the time he got back), but it left him flailing and half-conscious when the alarm woke him up at 8 the next morning. The first thing that penetrated the fog was the smell of coffee, and after letting Sheppard pour him three cups of it in succession -- with exactly the right amount of cream and sugar, meaning none -- it was too late to reestablish the proper stern and lofty mood.

Rodney was silently cursing his own inattentiveness and wondering if he could get away with pretending he'd just been trying to be kind, and then he noticed that Sheppard was barefoot today, and from there that the floor actually looked clean, and from there he realized, in real horror, that the living room had been straightened up.

"Oh my God!" he yelled. "My journals! My papers! What did you do?" Sheppard hadn't just cleared away the old dirty dishes and the clothes and dusted, he'd put things away. The tables, the counters, were all empty, everything was on the shelves -- all the books, all the research materials --

"Relax!" Sheppard said, pouring another cup of coffee, but Rodney wasn't that easily appeased when it came to a real disaster.

"I told you not to touch the papers!" he yelled. "I had everything precisely arranged! The lives of everyone in this city might depend on my being able to lay my hands on a specific reference at a moment's notice! Do you not understand that I am the single most critical person in this entire city, that my work is, on frequent occasions, all that stands between us and disaster -- "

"Yeah, I know!" Sheppard said unexpectedly, taking some of the wind out of Rodney's diatribe, and shrugged at Rodney's gape. "Those people at your lab are way too smart to work for you unless you're actually as important as you claimed to be in the questionnaire material."

Rodney shook himself off and got back on track. "And it didn't occur to you that I might have some kind of system for -- "

"Hey!" Sheppard raised his voice again, cutting him off. "I got it, okay? Journals organized by last name of the important author on the article you're interested in, your papers by progress towards completion grouped with the photocopied references for each one, books by the chapter that you're interested in. Right?"

"Um. Yes?" Rodney stared uncertainly. "Wait, how did you know which article or chapter I cared about?" he demanded.

Sheppard shrugged. "There was pretty much only one in each journal or book that seemed to stand out. The ones that I couldn't figure out, I put over there," he added, pointing at a small stack on the kitchen counter, maybe two books and five journals.

Suspicious, Rodney got up and wandered around the room looking at the shelves, testing it by thinking up a reference and trying to find it. And it worked, freakishly; he could find everything he needed, even Johanneswald and Xi's animal biology paper on observations of flocking patterns in birds (had useful models for predicting the behavior of AI nanobots); Rodney couldn't figure out how Sheppard had guessed that one was the important one, and not Kaminsky's article on string theory in the same book (utterly and completely wrong, but only if you understood eleven-dimensional mathematical representations of space-time).

"I just went with my gut," Sheppard said.

"You understood string theory mathematics on an intuitive level?" Rodney sneered.

"The diagrams just felt off," Sheppard said. "Especially that one on the third page." He took it out of Rodney's hands to put back on the shelf.

"Oh," Rodney said. He'd spent five hours working out the calculations which proved that model was completely flawed; the other mistakes hadn't been nearly as bad. "Um, the last one, did you -- "

"I couldn't tell with that one, actually," Sheppard said, thoughtfully.

Rodney's eyes widened. "Oh my God, he was on to something! I knew it!" He lunged to grab the book back off the shelf, and started scribbling equations. He'd have to work backwards from a more complete mathematical description of the model, Kaminsky had obviously just stumbled onto something right in a completely wrong way --

Several hours later, Sheppard leaned over his shoulder and said, "Huh."

" 'Huh?' " Rodney said. " 'Huh' what? What is that supposed to mean?"

"No, no, I think you're on the right track -- " He pointed at one of the model sketches Rodney had in the top corner.

"Oh, huh. Really, that one?" Rodney said; he'd put that branch aside to explore later.

"Well, maybe, I don't know, it's just a feeling," Sheppard said.

Rodney dived into the math; Sheppard wandered away and back a few more times to point along; his gut was wrong once, which took Rodney about an hour to prove, but other than that he was spot-on-target, and the vague roadmap had probably saved Rodney more than a week of work. "Wow," he said, almost religiously, looking over his revised model; this would finally explain the minor variation they sometimes got in the wormhole dynamics, where the wormhole would take a path slightly off from where predicted.

"Cool," Sheppard said. "Hey, dinner?"

"Oh, yes, thank you," Rodney said, and went to the table to eat, telling Sheppard excitedly about the proof, which he mostly seemed to follow, leaning forward intently and nodding every so often, or stopping Rodney to ask an intelligent question, and then halfway through the meal Rodney realized what he was doing, dropped his fork, and stared across the table in horror.

Sheppard raised an eyebrow at him. "Something wrong?"

"Um, actually," Rodney stammered, "I forgot, I, uh, have to go to the lab, and," he got up from the table, nearly knocking over the chair, "and do some work, uh, anyway, I'll be back later, don't wait up -- " and then he fled, cursing the universe, because of course Sheppard had to be brilliant as well as gorgeous, talented in bed, and not only willing but eager to hand over his body for an exploitative relationship that would be hollow and demeaning and unsatisfying and more importantly end up with Rodney falling in love with someone who didn't really want him in the least and inevitably getting his heart crushed into small bits.

"So what has he been doing?" Zelenka asked, a week later.

"Huh?" Rodney said absently, tweaking the settings on the gateship simulation. He just knew there was some way to access the secondary controls -- "Who?"

"Who do you think?" Zelenka said, exasperatedly.

"Oh, uh," Rodney said. "He's, um. You know. Keeping busy." He waved his hand vaguely. He wasn't actually sure what Sheppard had been doing; he'd been carefully working late every night. Rodney was well aware of his own limitations: if Sheppard actually did offer him another blowjob, he was afraid he'd say yes. The apartment was clean, there were meals, other than that, he didn't know. "Reading?" he offered. He'd seen Sheppard with some giant hardcover, some kind of fiction, definitely not off Rodney's own shelves.

Zelenka gave Rodney the look that said for a genius, you are an incredible moron, with a Czech accent. "What?" Rodney demanded.

"Is he stupid or incompetent?" Zelenka said.

"No, of course not!" Rodney said. "So?"

"So," Zelenka said, "I have had to put the level 3 transporter repairs off three times now because I cannot do it without a second pair of hands that no one else has the time to provide, and if all he is doing is sitting around your apartment reading -- "

Rodney couldn't actually come up with a decent excuse that would not make it blindingly obvious that he was trying to avoid Sheppard, and from there lead him into many potentially excruciating avenues of questioning.

"You don't have to," he said hurriedly the next morning, when he passed on the request.

"Sounds cool," Sheppard said, bouncing up from the kitchen table so fast that it belatedly occurred to Rodney that he was probably bored just sitting in the apartment all day; also, he really had to be gotten out of the place, because it had reached almost scarily clean levels now, and an order approaching military precision.

The transporter repair went off without a hitch, and when they came back to the lab, it turned out that Kavanagh needed help on a circuit board reconfiguration, and then the next day Zelenka and Simpson needed another hand on the grounding station repair, and by then it was clear that Rodney was going to be seeing Sheppard around the office anyway, so it really didn't make sense to do anything but take advantage of his bizarre ability to intuitively process mathematical models to get more theoretical work done.

But that meant Rodney had to go home with him, because otherwise it would have looked weird, and since Sheppard had very definite ideas on the reasonable length of a work day, they ended up at home, together, in the early evenings, and Rodney did get to do more work while Sheppard made dinner, but afterwards he couldn't help feeling guilty, because Sheppard had been working all day already, and so he ended up helping with the dishes and cleanup, and then Sheppard liked to kick back on the couch and watch some of the downloaded tv and movies off the shared central server.

It was horribly easy to forget this wasn't real, wasn't true, with Sheppard's long legs stretched out next to him, and Sheppard's warm side pressed up against his, and Sheppard's smooth drawling voice in his ear. It was too easy, and it was too good, and Rodney didn't say anything when John's hand, stretched out across the top of the couch, accidentally brushed against the back of his neck; and he kept not saying anything when Sheppard's fingers started more deliberately stroking. His whole body still remembered that first night, full of delight and heat and astonishment; he wanted this, so badly. It had just been so long since he'd had this, since he'd had anyone at all to want, to care about, and Rodney closed his eyes and let John turn his head and kiss him, slow and thorough and deep, and he kept them closed while he came in John's sweet, hot mouth, and then also while he went down on John in turn.

He gave up, after that, gone reckless and gladiatorial. "Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," he told the mirror under his breath, while he shaved against the grain so he wouldn't give John beard-burn. They stuck to oral sex; John didn't go for anything more again, and Rodney wasn't about to try again from his side, but they both got inventive and practiced. They squabbled a lot, and more often than not tumbled into sex mid-argument and finished it up in a sleepy post-coital grumbling afterwards: arguments over food and schedules and math, over John's execrable taste in popular entertainment -- for someone who could grasp mathematics on a level beyond most college professors, John was willing to swallow the most ludicrously unbelievable pseudoscience as long as it was shiny and on-screen and went really fast.

"You're pathetic, you do realize this?" Rodney said, while John watched the Delorean leave fiery tracks with a dreamy, even glazed expression. "You would probably have a spontaneous orgasm if you saw a gateship."

"Gateship?" John said. "Wait, are you talking about those little ziti-shaped things, the ones that fly to the mainland?"

"Wait, how do you know about those?" Rodney said, belatedly realizing he'd been indiscreet. "And did you just say ziti-shaped?"

John rolled his eyes. "I like to go up to the tower to read, I see them going back and forth all the time. You call those little things gateships?"

"It's a ship, it's designed to go through the gate!" Rodney said.

"You can't call something that looks like a piece of macaroni a gateship," John said. "It's smaller than a freaking Pave Hawk."

"It is not!" Rodney said. "All right, in absolute volumetric terms maybe, but capacity-wise -- "

"A Pave Hawk can take twenty thousand pounds, Rodney," John said.

"Maybe, but it can't achieve escape velocity," Rodney said triumphantly, and was rewarded with John's face going soft and unfocused and hungry.

"Two-man crew?" he asked. "Pilot and flight engineer?"

"Oh," Rodney said, "No, just a single pilot, you interface directly with the Ancient control systems."

"Have you ever taken one up yourself?"

"I have," Rodney said, smugly. John started bombarding him with more questions, and he finally had to say, "I can't tell you this stuff, it's classified! Also," he admitted, when John's face fell, "I've only done it, um, once or twice. So I don't really know."

"Oh," John said, wistfully. "I guess they don't exactly have a problem finding guys to fly them."

"You're a pilot?" Rodney said, abruptly, feeling stupid for not having figured it out before.

John shrugged, half-hearted. "I used to be."

"Pave Hawk; that's Air Force," Rodney said. "Enlisted or officer? Wait, no, you couldn't make pilot as enlisted -- "

"They demoted me to Captain before they kicked me out," John said, shortly, and stood, picking up the empty popcorn bowls, and went to the kitchen.

"Oh," Rodney said, to the empty room.

He abused his security clearance the next day to look up the records: Major John Sheppard, Master Pilot, Air Force Cross, Purple Heart, dishonorably discharged with demotion in rank -- for insubordination, not for being gay. Rodney felt a slow, nervous sensation, and hunted down more detailed background checks. And then he closed the files, feeling sick, and went to hunt down Dr. Weir.

"We could really use a pilot just specifically dedicated to the research department," he argued, "and he'd be supervised by one of my staff at all times, and you don't have to pay him, I've got it covered out of the funding for the lab, so it's just the cost of the gene treatment, if he doesn't have it -- "

"Rodney!" Elizabeth said, holding up her hands. "I'm sold. His discharge was for risking his life attempting to rescue three other soldiers," she added, when he stopped. "He doesn't strike me as a big security risk."

John stared at him speechlessly for a full minute when Rodney told him, grabbed Rodney's face in both hands and kissed him, and then ran to get dressed and pretty much stood bouncing beside the door until Rodney caught up and went to the gateship bay with him. "Just, remember, don't get upset if it doesn't work, that just means you need the gene treatment," Rodney cautioned, but the second John stepped onto the loading ramp, all the lights came on and the engines hummed to life.

"Wow," John said, and sat down in the pilot's seat: a dozen readouts sprang up onto the screen, layers upon layers, some of them things Rodney had never even seen, sensors he hadn't even known were there. He sat down a little limply in the co-pilot's seat and just stared, while next to him John stroked the controls, drank in the screen, murmured sweet nothings to the purring ship. He looked over. "Can I take her up?"

Four hours later they came back from orbit: John had a look on his face Rodney had never seen, something like utter peace, like he could have died happy right then; Rodney felt weird and knotted up inside, looking at it. The gateship had obeyed John like he was its rightful owner: he'd broken the speed records without even trying, while Rodney made muffled squeaks from the passenger side; he'd found the cloaking device and the weapons systems in under ten minutes; he'd brought up long-range sensors and done massive sweeps of the solar system, far beyond what they'd managed to do so far.

Zelenka was going to have a fit, Rodney thought numbly, watching John come out of the ship, trailing his fingers over the hull. Then he woke up a little and grabbed John's arm and said urgently, "Come with me right now," and dragged him through the hallways, disabling the checkpoints that kept unauthorized personnel out, yelled at the two Marines on duty at the door in a fury when they wouldn't let them through, and then radioed Elizabeth directly on the emergency channel.

She came down herself and brought along Colonel Sumner, who eyed John narrowly. Rodney felt the stiffening go all through John's body: shoulders going to attention, eyes focusing into the distance. "No, this can't wait," Rodney said, shrilly, and finally she said, "All right, gentlemen, stand down," nodding to the uncertain Marines.

"Dr. Weir, may I speak with you privately?" Sumner said, never taking that cold, unfriendly gaze off John.

"After Dr. McKay and Mr. Sheppard have had a chance to show us what they have in mind, of course," she said, pleasantly, and gave him her iron-laced smile; he looked back at her and then nodded shortly.

Rodney dragged John in and pushed him towards the chair. "Wait, what am I supposed to do?" John hissed at him, resisting.

"Just sit down and think about city diagnostics," Rodney hissed back, shoving harder. The moment John sat down, the chair stretched itself out and glowed welcomingly, and a shockingly beautiful array of schematics unrolled over the ceiling, violets and pinks and deep brilliant blues, and then shivered and twisted and coalesced into a giant map of the city, fragments glowing bright yellow and green and red.

"The yellow ones are weapons launching stations," John said, distantly. "The green are shield generators; I think the red spots are danger zones, something's gone wrong there."

"That's one of the areas where the shield was breached, before the city surfaced," Rodney said, staring at one of the sharp sparkling red zones, half reaching out towards it.

"What kind of weapons?" Sumner interrupted, crisply.

"Not sure," John said, after a moment. "Feels like -- some kind of a missile, but guided -- "

"Those must be the same kind of drones we found in Antarctica," Rodney put in, ignoring Sumner's scowl; Elizabeth only nodded.

"There aren't a lot of them left," John said. "Actually, the whole thing kind of feels like it's running low, like they pretty much spent everything they had, like -- "

And abruptly the city was shrinking away, vanishing into a tiny spot on the surface of the round sphere of the world, and then that dwindling down to one small ball among many others circling the sun, and then the whole solar system was vanishing away too, and together they were flying through a long endless black, to zoom in on a cluster of massive silver ships floating in the void: quiescent and dark but not dead, with cold blue lights flickering out of windows, waiting.

"Oh, believe me, Colonel," Rodney said, bitingly, "I'm tremendously sorry that the Ancients didn't think to build in a natural respect for the U.S. military chain of command into their equipment. Really, it's an unconscionable oversight. However, given that it's also reality, do you suppose you could stop raising these stupid objections?"

"Rodney," Elizabeth said, reprovingly.

"No, I'm sorry, Elizabeth, I won't shut up!" Rodney said, "I've wasted hours of time listening to him complain about John's supposedly obvious unsuitability, when five seconds of observation should have made it clear that not only is he not unsuitable, he's as far as we know the only person who is suitable. You know as well as I do that no one we've found interfaces with the Ancient technology even remotely as well as he does. So give me a reason, a rational one, why we shouldn't be using him now that we know the Wraith are still out there and it's only a matter of time before they find out we're here and come after us!"

"Use him, fine," Sumner said. "But he's not getting reinstated. He's in active violation of regs anyway," he added, looking pointedly at McKay.

"You mean, in active violation of your closed-minded, homophobic -- "

"That's enough, Rodney!" Elizabeth said sharply. "Colonel, I've discussed this with the Pentagon, and they agree with you that reinstating Mr. Sheppard would be inappropriate." She held up a hand when Rodney drew breath to protest. "However, the President agrees with me that it's questionable to put an ordinary civilian with no official standing in charge of our primary defense systems. Fortunately, we have a convenient solution."

"And it's already cleared Parliament, in a special session, and, um," Rodney cleared his throat, "anyway, if you take the dual citizenship, then the Prime Minister can give you a commission as a major in the Canadian Air Force -- officially you'll be assigned here as a liaison under Colonel Sumner's command, which granted will suck beyond the telling of it, but better than nothing, and -- of course, that assumes you want to stay, now that we know the Wraith are out there, and probably I should have discussed this with you first, but I thought, maybe, if it fell through, I didn't want to give you any kind of -- I didn't want to raise hopes -- "

"Yeah," John said. "I mean, yes. I want it. Yes. Thank you," he added.

"Oh," Rodney said uncomfortably, "I didn't do -- it was all you. We need you. We've needed you all along, I don't even want to think what would have happened if we'd come here without a ZPM, in the first place -- if we'd gone wandering around the galaxy here, chances are we'd have woken up the Wraith before now, I bet. Though, Elizabeth's talking about sending some expedition teams out, now, to try and make contact with other people in the galaxy, collect some intelligence -- anyway." Rodney stopped, aware he was babbling.

John nodded, a little jerkily, and went back to staring at his hands, spread out on the table.

Rodney swallowed hard, and went away. The next day all the various papers arrived at his lab, faxed via wireless through the Gate. Rodney picked them up, the official ones and the personal ones, and carried them into his rarely-used office to fill out his sections, with the windows darkened so no one would see his hand shaking over the pages.

He took them to the apartment: John was sprawled on the couch, back from yet another day of workouts and security protocol briefings: Sumner still wasn't happy about the arrangement, but he wasn't letting that interfere with getting John trained, at least. "Hey," he said, lifting his head.

"I, um, brought the paperwork," Rodney said. "This part is for the dual citizenship, this part's for the commission, this part -- " He stopped; he wasn't going to let his voice break on this, he wasn't -- "these are for the divorce," he finished, and put them down on the coffee table, with a pen for John to fill them out. "And that's your assignment; for your own quarters, I mean; they're on the third level."

"What?" John said, sitting up.

"You've been given security clearance," Rodney said. "You have your own assignment here now, you don't have to be married to me anymore to stay."

John stared at him and then he said, jerkily, "I'll pay you back the agency charges."

"Oh, please," Rodney said. "First of all, your salary is going to be in Canadian dollars, and secondly, the bad guys who basically wiped out the Ancients are still around. That means our life expectancy pretty much just plummeted to depths unknown in human history since the Black Plague. The chances that we'll both live long enough for you to actually save that much money and give it to me are so ridiculously small that if it happens, who cares about the money; it'll be like winning the lottery." He was babbling again, but he couldn't help it; it was better than doing something really pathetic like begging John to stay.

"Right," John said, and bent over the paperwork. Rodney went to the kitchen to get away from the slow scratch of his pen on the paper. He rested his forehead against the refrigerator and tried to tell himself it was better this way. He'd known this was coming one way or another; he'd be able to get over John now, when they weren't living in the same apartment anymore; probably they wouldn't even have to see too much of each other. That was a bad thing to think about, though; it made his throat feel tight and clenched and swelled up inside.

"Rodney," John said, from the kitchen doorway, and he straightened up, trying for a poker face. Seeing it, John flinched and reached out towards him with his free hand: the paperwork was in the other.

"Don't!" Rodney said, hating the crack in his voice, stepping back.

"Rodney," John said, "if you don't want to -- "

"Stop it. I know, all right?" Rodney interrupted, very fast, because he couldn't let John make the offer. He couldn't trust himself to turn it down. "I know you're straight. I read your background check, the ex-girlfriends. The, um, the pictures were very nice. Kathryn, Julie, and, um, what was her name, Anne? But I guess women don't really send away for mail-order husbands that often, statistically speaking."

John drew a sharp breath. "Not so much," he said, after a moment.

Rodney nodded, short jerky movements. "So, the agency told you if you wanted offworld, your best shot was to be willing to turn gay. Makes sense; it was only sex, a few lies, no big deal." His voice was wavering a little again.

"Rodney," John said.

"Please leave now," Rodney said, in calm desperation, because he could feel the last shreds of his dignity going.

John stood there motionless for another moment, and then he turned and left the kitchen. A few minutes later, Rodney heard the front door slide open and shut, and then he could let himself lean back against the wall and slide slowly down to the floor, and put his face down against his knees.

After a while he picked himself up, washed his face, and took off the ring and put it in the medicine cabinet, on the top shelf. He opened up an old MRE from the cabinet, only a couple of days past its expiration date, and ate it. He thought about going into work, but instead he lay down. After a minute, he got up, stripped the sheets and pillowcases off into a heap on the floor, and lay down again on the bare mattress.

He got up and went in to work the next morning. There had always been twice as much work as they could do; now there was ten times as much, with all the new systems just unlocked or discovered. He kept busy, and kept busy some more, and ignored the odd sideways looks Zelenka kept throwing him. He took catnaps in the lab and avoided the apartment for days until finally Kavanagh made a remark about body odor, and he went back long enough to shower. He didn't open the medicine cabinet door and shaved just with soap. His face hurt, after, and he still had stubble left, but he didn't care.

A mess hall opened up at the end of the week: more efficient than letting people do their own cooking, and at this point, time was becoming their most critical resource. Rodney walked in at lunchtime and saw John sitting at a window table with Elizabeth and a tall, dark-skinned, beautiful woman, one of the off-world representatives who'd been invited back to Atlantis: her photograph would have fit perfectly into the background file. He smiled at her, light in his eyes, easy and relaxed in his chair, and Rodney put down his still-full tray and walked out and went back to his apartment and slept for the rest of the day.

He woke up disoriented: it was dark outside, and he was incredibly hungry and had a headache, too. He staggered up and went to the kitchen and ate another MRE standing up, thankful he'd thought to lay in a fresh supply before the mess hall opened and rationing started, and then he took a second one out to the living room, screamed, and flung his arms up into the air.

John, who had jumped up off the couch at the yell, looked down at his chest, now dripping Chicken Tetrazzini and jelly. "Nice to see you too," he said.

"What are you doing here?" Rodney demanded, heart still racing. "How did you get in?"

"The doors let me in pretty much anywhere," John said, which was just adding insult to injury.

"And so you decided to just sit there in the dark?" Rodney said. He folded his arms and didn't offer him a towel. If John was just going to break into his apartment and ambush him, he could take the consequences.

John shifted his weight back and forth uncomfortably. "You were out cold, and just now you looked kind of groggy. I figured I'd let you wake up a little first."

"Well, I'm certainly awake now!" Rodney said.

"Yeah," John said, and just stood there not saying anything. The room was still too dark; Rodney couldn't see his face well enough to read anything off it. He was standing so close Rodney could smell the dehydrated onion and peppers in the pasta sauce.

"So," Rodney said, after another minute of silence, "this is a scintillating conversation. However, I'm still a little tired, so I think I'll go lie down again."

"I brought the papers," John said abruptly.

"What?" Rodney flinched. "You didn't need to, I already signed. They just need to be filed."

John held up the papers. They were covered with sauce and bits of chicken and noodles. "I don't think they'll take them this way."

Rodney swallowed. "Fine. I'll call my lawyer and get a new set. Sorry to waste your time. Goodnight."

"I saw you at lunch today," John said.

"So what, you figured that wasn't enough humiliation and misery, so you'd stop by to deliver an extra dose?" Rodney snapped. "Thank you, really, leave now."

"I'm not the one who ended things!" John said. "I wanted -- "

"Shut up!" Rodney said ferociously. "Stop lying because you think you owe me something. Yes, okay, I'm miserable and lonely and I miss you -- "

"So for Christ's sake, why are you saying no?" John yelled. "You let me off the hook two months ago; you think I just kept sleeping with you out of masochism?"

"No," Rodney said, suddenly calm and clear, things coming into sharp focus like the parts of a theory coming together. "I think you like me, and I give good blowjobs, and also I gave you everything you ever wanted and you're grateful. And that wouldn't actually be a bad foundation for a successful and mutually satisfying relationship, except you're not in love with me, and I'm in l-- love with you."

His voice broke on it, once, and he couldn't see John's face anymore at all, just a smeared pale blur against the dark blue shadows of the room, and he hoped like hell that John couldn't see anything more of his own face.

"Rodney," John said, after a moment, thickly. "Rodney, listen, I do -- "

"Oh God!" Rodney said. "Do you think you're being kind to me by doing this? Look, I am not all that selfless a guy, okay? If I thought I'd actually be happy with you under these terms, I'd take it. But I'm reasonably sure that I'd feel even worse than I do now."

He could hear John swallow, could almost feel his fists clenching, tension radiating out from his body. And, God, he wanted so badly to just reach out and touch John's arm, to curl his hand around the back of John's head and pull him in for a kiss, to draw him back to the bedroom and let John lie to him again and over and over, for the rest of his life. Instead he curled up his hands and stepped back, once, twice, and he didn't turn around to watch John walk quietly out of the apartment.

Repairing the structural damage the chair had shown them wasn't the absolute most critical thing on Rodney's rapidly lengthening to-do list, but it did take him as far afield as possible, and at the time, that seemed like the very best place to be. He reconsidered that judgment after they stumbled onto the virus research laboratories and several of his staff died screaming, but at that point it was a little late.

When he saw the first glimmering black shadows at the edges of his vision, he snapped at Carson and crept away into a corner and radioed John, because he thought he would really like to be lied to for ten minutes or however much time he had left, and maybe also some little part of him hoped that John would be extremely sorry, and figure out that he had loved Rodney all along, and possibly even make a small choked-off sob, except when John went utterly silent and then said, "you can't -- you can't -- Rodney -- " brokenly and unashamedly gasping, it felt to Rodney like having his head explode would be less painful, and he babbled, "John, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean -- I don't -- I love you, I'm scared, please be happy -- "

And then Hays died across the room, and Rodney couldn't speak any more, throat closing up, and John was yelling over the radio, "Rodney! Rodney! Keep talking to me, don't you fucking dare -- don't you dare -- " while Carson and Dr. Biro and the rest of the team all stared at him, watching, waiting. Then abruptly Rodney blinked and said, uncertainly, "I didn't. I'm not dead, I didn't -- why am I not dead?"

Then of course, once they'd tracked it down to the nanovirus, John had to play insane galactic space hero and go on his own personal cannonball run to set off the EMP pulse over the city, while down in the lab Rodney was counting down the minutes until he lost Zelenka and Miko and Kavanagh, swearing at himself for not making them all keep trying at the gene treatment.

When it was all over, he felt weird and shaky and confused: he wanted to go to the gateship bay, to meet John coming back in, but -- but -- for one thing, it hadn't exactly been fair; he'd been dying, what was John supposed to do, how was he supposed to act? And worse than that was the utter conviction that it hadn't been fake at all -- that John really did love him, even if not in quite the right way, and god, how easy would it be to pretend that it was good enough, close enough --

He crept back to his apartment instead. He'd added a new layer onto the door lock system; it didn't seem to make any difference, though, because ten minutes later the door slid happily open for John, in total disregard of Rodney's several hours of programming time, which Rodney would probably have been more indignant about if John hadn't crossed the room straight to him and hauled him up off the couch and kissed him, deep and hungry, hands spread wide over Rodney's back and pressing him up against the full length of John's body, eager and hard and yearning.

"Oh," Rodney said, panting, kissing John some more, "Oh, yes. And, wait, wait, you are in love with me, right? This means you're in love with me?" and John stopped and glared and smacked Rodney upside the head once before grabbing fistfuls of his shirt and dragging him feverishly towards the bedroom, both of them tripping over the heap of bedclothes on the floor and tumbling onto the mattress.

They struggled haphazardly out of their clothes. Rodney managed to get rid of his shirt, and John's hands slid onto his bare skin, the gold band a bright smooth line of warmth. "Wait, wait!" Rodney gasped, and struggled to get off the bed.

"Forget it!" John said, biting at Rodney's jaw, trying to pin him down. "I'm not giving you any more chances to overthink this, goddamnit -- "

"No! No, that's not, oh," Rodney said, squirming under John's weight, the lovely nipping bites to his neck, his earlobe, the hot moist breath in his ear. "I just, I just need to get something -- "

He managed to heave a still-complaining John off, hopped a couple of times to get his feet the rest of the way out of his pants, and ran into the bathroom to grab his wedding ring out of the cabinet. John was kicking his own pants and boxers over the side and peeling his shirt up over his head, and he pulled Rodney back onto the bed and on top of him while Rodney was still jamming the ring back on.

Rodney wanted to touch him everywhere, kiss him everywhere, along his poky hips and his collarbone and his neck and his elbows, all the tender places he'd stayed away from, and when he was done with that and John was gasping and shuddering under him, saying, "Christ, Rodney, you were holding out on me, you son of a bitch," Rodney squirmed down the bed and reached for him, and John said, "No, wait, wait, I want -- "

"Oh my god yes," Rodney said, sitting up immediately, and then he hurriedly added, "Um, but only, only if you're sure, I mean -- if you're ready for -- "

"Rodney!" John shoved him the rest of the way off the bed. "Go get something and hurry up."

"Right, yes," Rodney said, and ran to the bathroom again, flinging jars and and pill bottles and shaving cream everywhere, where the hell had he put it, anyway -- and then back to the bedroom and climbing up between John's sprawled legs, leaving shiny fingerprints all over John's thighs, stroking inside while John wriggled and shivered and sighed around his fingers. "So, wait, out of curiosity, this is -- is this the first time--?"

"Yeah," John gasped, hips making tiny eager jerky movements, pushing back. "Yeah, it's, it's, oh god this is good."

"Really?" Rodney said, gulping, absurdly turned on by the idea. "Because, you know, that first night, you seemed -- "

"It's -- oh, Christ -- it's not that complicated," John said, panting. "I read some stuff, I watched Man Academy a few times -- oh -- "

"What? Wait, you jumped me based on watching porn?" Rodney said. "What if you'd done it wrong!"

"Rodney," John groaned, almost a whine. "Rodney, please, now."

"I'm just saying," Rodney said, and rubbed a little more, to watch John's face go all vague and glazed with pleasure, and then he carefully started working into him, stopping every little bit to ask, "Is this still all right?" until John yelled, "Rodney!" and he said, "Okay, okay!" and gratefully just pushed all the rest of the way in, one long hot blissful stroke with John arching up to meet him.

"Oh," Rodney said, small and breathlessly, and closed his eyes to enjoy it a second, because wow, he was really really glad he hadn't died before getting to do this, and also it was a good thing that he hadn't known just how spectacular it would feel, because he probably would have let John talk him into it before, and also, he'd passed this up, which was quite possibly a sign of serious mental problems that he should have checked out by a doctor --

"Rodney!" John said, and shifted impatiently underneath him, and Rodney hurriedly said, "Right, yes, sorry," and started moving on him, in him, and John let his head sink back against the pillows and said, "Oh, yeah," low and satisfied in a way that made Rodney have to stretch down to kiss him, and oh, John was just grinning up at him now, a well-kissed lopsided curve, full of affection and wide-open as the endless ocean view.

= End =

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