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Summary: It all started with a very bad joke. That, unfortunately, turned out not to be a joke at all.

Categories: Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard
Characters: Carson Beckett, Elizabeth Weir, John Sheppard, Radek Zelenka, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, Teyla Emmagan
Genres: Angst, First Time, Hurt Comfort
Warnings: Adult themes
Chapters: 1 [Table of Contents]
Series: None

Word count: 19247; Completed: Yes
Updated: 10 Sep 2006; Published: 09 Sep 2006

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A/N: Huge thanks to my betas: Pennydreadful and Xanthe:)


It all started with a very bad joke.

"You're pregnant."

"What?" Rodney shrieked.

That, unfortunately, turned out not to be a joke at all.

"I'm sorry, lad, but we ran the tests twice. You're pregnant."

Rodney collapsed into the nearest chair, half of his brain looking for a hidden camera, the other half trying to figure out what rat-bastard had knocked him up. Not to mention: "But...but how?"

Carson perked up. "It's quite fascinating really. You see, it appears that a pseudo-uterus has attached itself to your colon, which--"

"Not how, Carson, I mean how. How does a thirty-eighty year old man become pregnant?" Carson started to open his mouth, but Rodney stopped him with a waving hand as the obvious conclusion presented itself. "Never mind," he said wearily. "We both know how."

Carson nodded sympathetically. They knew. Maybe not which device it had been, but they both knew it had something to do with the Ancients. For beings that managed to turn themselves into pure energy, male pregnancy was probably just some high school kid's science project.

They sat in silence for several long minutes, Rodney's impregnating rat-bastard theory hitting a wall when he realized that, as he hadn't ever had sex -- much less in the recent past -- it was highly unlikely that there was a second genetic donor in this situation. As if reading his mind, Carson asked, "Is there anyone you'd like me to tell?"

"No!" Rodney said quickly. After a moment, he repeated, more calmly. "No. There's no reason anyone needs to know about this till after."

Carson frowned, because even Rodney's smarter friends could sometimes be shamefully slow. "After?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "After the abortion, of course."

Later, Rodney would wonder how things would have turned out if he had just gone ahead and had the kid.

***

Rodney let himself into his room and thunked his forehead on the wall next to the door. What an unbelievable day.

"Hey."

Rodney gasped and spun around to find Sheppard sitting on the bed. "What are you doing in here?" he asked, clutching his heart dramatically.

Sheppard smirked, of course, and ignored his question. "What'd the doc say? Are you going to stop throwing up any time soon?"

"I'll be fine," Rodney said, sitting as casually as he could in his chair. "It's just an intestinal disorder caused by a small growth in my colon. Carson's going to remove it tomorrow and I should be fine in a couple of days."

Sheppard's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Growth?"

"Just a small one," Rodney said. "Nothing to be worried about."

"Right," Sheppard drawled, sounding entirely unconvinced. Rodney held his breath, knowing that Sheppard knew something was up, but hoping the Colonel would decide to let it go. "Okay," Sheppard said abruptly, getting up with an easy smile. "Guess that means you'll be missing tomorrow's mission. We'll see you when we get back."

As Sheppard left, Rodney scowled fiercely. That had been much too easy. Which was why he wasn't at all surprised when Sheppard showed up at his door five hours later. Damn Scottish doctors and their loose tongues. "Are you sure?" Sheppard asked without preamble, stepping into the room as he spoke. The door slid silently shut behind him.

Rodney didn't try to pretend that he didn't know what John was talking about. "You're kidding, right?"

"No," Sheppard said, sounding exasperated. "Rodney, an abortion's a big step. It's a very final step. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Of course I'm sure," Rodney snapped. "Colonel, I appreciate that you have good intentions here, but this is a textbook case for why abortions are legal. I didn't knowingly engage in any behavior that could cause pregnancy; the pregnancy itself is inherently high-risk; there is no way a child could safely be gestated and raised in Atlantis; and even if there could, I don't want a baby. And don't you dare tell me I could go back to Earth." His voice wobbled on the last words, and Rodney realized with horror that his eyes were stinging. He stopped to take a deep breath and to get his voice under control. More calmly, he continued, "While it's true that I made the decision quickly, trust me when I say that I considered all of the implications first."

Sheppard sighed and slumped. "Okay, okay, I see your point. Just...if you decide you want to reconsider, or if you just need someone to discus this with, I'm here."

"Right. Well, uh, thanks."

Sheppard nodded. They stood in awkward silence for several seconds, then Sheppard turned and left without another word.

***

"Rodney, can we talk about this?"

"No," Rodney said flatly, pulling the sheet higher up his naked body and silently cursing the vagaries of doctors. They were only operating below the waist, for crying out loud. Why couldn't he at least wear a shirt?

"What about the baby's other father?" Carson asked. "Or mother?"

"You did those tests earlier," Rodney pointed out. "Did you see any evidence of a second genetic donor?"

"No," Carson said reluctantly. "But it's too early for the tests to be conclusive."

Rodney sighed. "Radek's investigating the device we think caused the pregnancy." Rodney would have done it himself, but apparently all it needed to activate was the touch of someone with the ATA gene. The last thing Rodney needed was twins. "However, considering the fact that I haven't had sex since we got to the Pegasus Galaxy, it's most likely that the baby is a clone."

"But--"

Rodney cut him off. "It doesn't matter if there is another genetic donor, Carson; I'm still not having this baby. We're in Atlantis, where there's a new crisis every week. I'm not spending nine months gestating a baby when the Wraith could attack at any moment."

"You could always go back to Earth," Carson offered.

Rodney pulled his knees up to his chest and glared at Carson miserably.

Carson sighed. "It's just that this surgery's going to create some scar tissue, which will likely impact the body's ability to -- Rodney, if we do this, you might never be able to carry another child."

Deciding that it wasn't a good idea to assault his surgeon an hour before delicate rectal surgery, Rodney bit his lip and restrained himself to a scowl.

***

The first thing Rodney saw when he woke up was Sheppard's face. Then he saw Teyla, Ronon, and Elizabeth's faces. "Aren't you supposed to be on a mission?" He hoped he didn't sound as groggy as he felt.

"We would not leave until we were sure you were out of danger," Teyla said earnestly.

"Lorne's team went," Sheppard said. "They said it was boring."

Oh. "Well, good."

Carson fortunately chose that moment to come in. "Okay, you've all seen that he's fine. Now if you could excuse us, I have to examine my patient."

Based on the speed with which the room emptied, everyone knew what part of the body Carson would be examining. Great. Sheppard was the last to leave; waiting till the rest had gone before asking, with a surprising amount of gentleness, "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," Rodney said, confused.

"Good," Sheppard said, and quietly left.

//Well,// Rodney thought. //That was strange.//

***

If Rodney had known that he was going to be stuck in a diaper and confined to his room after surgery, he might have considered a little longer before having it done. Certainly he would have suffered morning sickness for a couple more days so that he'd have time to finish his latest round of energy efficiency simulations. Now with Zelenka focused on preventing another unwanted male pregnancy, Kavanaugh was running rampant, suggesting such idiotic ideas as group showers and encouraging more use of natural light.

Rodney had planned to return to his lab the second Carson had released him from the infirmary, but Sheppard had been tasked with making sure Rodney obeyed Carson's strict instructions to stay in bed. Not only had he escorted Rodney to his room, but he'd even sweet-talked Atlantis into locking Rodney in with nothing more entertaining than a non-networked laptop and a stack of DVDs.

Sheppard was going to pay, Rodney decided as he found himself faced with the choice of Back to the Future or one of a dozen Meg Ryan movies. It was one thing to strand a man in his room. It was quite another to strand him with Michael J. Fox and romantic comedies as the only source of entertainment. This time Rodney meant business. This time he was targeting the hair.

***

Apparently the Pegasus Galaxy was attached to Sheppard's bedhead, because between the perpetual Wraith problems, sharing a body with shudder Cadman, and oh yeah, blowing up most of a solar system, Rodney never did have time to attack the hair. The only positive result of the madness was the fact that in comparison, Rodney's brief pregnancy quickly became just another bit of Atlantis weirdness. Even the jokes dried up after Doranda, and Rodney learned the hard way that being the perpetual butt of questionable humor was better than being a social pariah.

In fact, emotional stress was starting take a toll on him physically. Rodney was finding it harder and harder to drag himself out of bed in the mornings and one time he found himself crying without even being aware of it until he scratched an itch on his cheek and found his fingers wet. It would probably have freaked him out, except freaking out was tiring and Rodney's energy levels were too low to sustain even a minor panic attack. Even something as simple as eating in the mess hall became a huge task, and Rodney took to eating more and more of his meals in his room.

One night, after over a week of being ignored as much as humanly possible by everyone in Atlantis, Rodney was surprised to hear the chime to his door ring. He verified that his communicator was on and working correctly before answering the door. "Radek?" he said, frowning. "Is something wrong?"

Zelenka didn't answer right away, and the ball of not-rightness in Rodney's stomach tightened into worry. "What is it?" he asked, turning back to grab his communicator. "Why didn't anyone call me?"

"No," Zelenka said, his hand holding Rodney's shoulder, preventing him from going back into the room. "It is not an attack."

Rodney glanced at Zelenka's fingers, his heart racing. The unexpected sympathy on Zelenka's face was terrifying. "What's wrong?" Rodney asked, his voice higher than usual.

Zelenka released Rodney's arm and held up a mini-disc. "I have finished analysis of the artifact. Here are the results."

Rodney's hand shook as he took the disc and, angry at himself, he immediately shoved it in his pocket, feeling the plastic edge of the disc digging into his skin of his palm. "Thanks," he said gruffly.

"I am sorry," Zelenka said, and he fled.

Swallowing a lump of dread in his throat, Rodney loaded the disc and skimmed its contents. Halfway through the analysis, he found it, though he had to read the sentence three times before it really sank in. An unintended side effect, it said. A result of the body's need to protect the fetus.

He was sitting in his chair, staring blankly at the screen when he heard the door chime. Probably Carson. The science staff was required to report any potential medical issues resulting from interaction with ancient technology. Zelenka had no doubt gone straight from Rodney's room to the infirmary.

Rodney stayed in the chair and the door chimed again. Carson wouldn't be able to get in if Rodney didn't let him, but it was only a matter of time before someone got Sheppard. With that in mind, Rodney got up and numbly walked to the panel next to the door. It only took a couple of minutes, but it was effective enough. No matter how good Sheppard's gene was, he couldn't open a non-functioning door. Of course, neither could Rodney, but right now Rodney couldn't find it in himself to care.

Still feeling strangely detached, Rodney moved to the bed and curled up into a fetal position above the covers. His usually agile mind limped along, broken by one too many blows and all he could think about, over and over again, was how little he had to live for. His best friend didn't trust him, his coworkers lacked confidence in his abilities, and his superiors had lost all faith in his value to this mission. And now...now...

He was the smartest man in two galaxies, but even he had limits. Rodney gripped his head with his hands, his fingernails digging into his skull, and tried to forget everything he'd just learned.

***

John rounded the corner to find an already crowded hallway. Zelenka knelt in front of a disassembled door panel, playing with the crystals. Carson was standing next to him shouting for Rodney to open the door. Standing back were Elizabeth and Dr. Heightmeyer and as John walked up, he heard Elizabeth ask quietly, "Do you think he'll try to harm himself?"

Dr. Heightmeyer shook her head. "He's certainly not the type but," and she sighed, "everyone has his breaking point. Dr. McKay's suffered a lot of emotional trauma in the last few weeks—"

John ignored the rest, because McKay's emotional trauma? Not so much, when compared to what he'd put the rest of them through. What he'd put John through. And now the self-absorbed drama queen was making everyone's life even more difficult. High on anger, John strode right up to the door and banged on it with his fist. "McKay! Open this door, right now!"

No response. John's nostrils flared. Fuck it. He told Atlantis to open the door. Surprisingly, that didn't work.

"He's disabled it," he told Zelenka.

Zelenka glared at him. "I am aware of this. Not just disabled it, but destroyed the circuitry. Not only can we not open the door, but neither can he."

John frowned again, but this time his anger was tempered by a niggling feeling deep in his chest that he flatly refused to call worry. Turning to Elizabeth and Dr. Heightmeyer, he folded his arms and allowed himself to look just as pissed as he felt. "Okay, somebody tell me what the fuck is going on here."

They held out longer than he thought they would, pleading patient confidentiality and privacy concerns. When all was said and done, however, John was the military commander of Atlantis, and, with Rodney out of commission, he was also number two in the chain of command. Elizabeth was the one to finally tell him.

"Sterility?" John said blankly, staring at Elizabeth, Kate, and Carson in turn. Three grim faces looked back. "How? From what?"

"It was a side effect of the pregnancy," Elizabeth said when it became clear that no one else was going to volunteer information. "Also, the high levels of testosterone in a male body are potentially damaging to an embryo, so as a failsafe..." Her voice trailed off.

"What? Instant vasectomy?" John asked, his voice sharp.

"It's worse than that," Carson said quietly. "I can't be sure until I run tests, but if Radek's research is correct, Rodney's body is no longer capable of producing testosterone. He'll need testosterone injections for the rest of his life." Carson turned to Zelenka. "We need to get in," he said, sounding a little desperate. "It's been at least eight hours since Rodney's eaten."

Jesus. John closed his eyes and took a deep breath, working to calm himself down. He could continue to be angry later. Right now there was a problem to be solved. "Okay," he said, his voice steady as he opened his eyes. "Call Cadman. We're blowing the door."

When the door blew in, John and Carson ran inside and in the haze of dust and smoke and rubble, managed to walk right past Rodney. John swore and turned and ended up in the hallway again, standing with the others as they watched Rodney walk calmly down the hall, not so much sparing a glance for anyone else around him.

John and Elizabeth exchanged a glance, and then hurried down the hallway after Rodney, Carson, Heightmeyer, Zelenka, and Cadman right behind them. "His hands are shaking," Carson said, sounding slightly out of breath. Despite his casual appearance, Rodney was moving.

It was hard to tell while Rodney was walking, but after a second, John saw the trembling fingers. "McKay," he called. "Rodney!" Nothing. He glanced back at Carson. "Hypoglycemia?" Carson nodded. "Is that why he's not responding?"

"That's not a typical symptom," Carson said, which didn't help at all.

John wasn't willing to literally run after Rodney, and no one else seemed inclined to either. The result was that they didn't catch up with him until he stopped on his own, next to the printer at the lab. They all watched silently as Rodney took a sheet off of the printer, flipped it over, and grabbed a pen to scribble his signature on the bottom. Then he passed the document, which looked like a letter, to Elizabeth.

"Radek is the best choice to replace me," Rodney said in a horribly flat voice. "I'll return to Earth next week with the Daedalus."

Then he collapsed.

***

The next few days John learned more than he ever wanted to know about testosterone and what exactly it did in a man's body. There was the expected of course: Rodney probably would never have a normal sex drive again. Less expected was the potential for Rodney to develop small breasts and to lose most of his body hair. Strangest of all, however, was the high likelihood that he would be suffering from symptoms similar to those seen during menopause in women — brittle bones, hot flashes, increased irritability, inability to concentrate, depression. It all sounded even worse when Carson pointed out that these symptoms would remain for the rest of Rodney's life.

John shuddered at the thought. Rodney in a snit was bad enough. Rodney hormonal...well, it was probably for the best that they'd converted one of the infirmary's closets into a private room.

Before the Daedalus arrived, Carson, Elizabeth, and John met in Elizabeth's office for an off-the-records meeting and despite everyone's best efforts, they were soon shouting.

"He asked to go back to Earth," Elizabeth repeated for the third time, sounding exasperated.

"He also resigned," John snapped back. "I don't see you in a big hurry to accept that."

"That's different," Elizabeth said huffily and John choked down a completely inappropriate smile. "Rodney wasn't in his right mind at the time. He'd just received very shocking news while suffering from a massive shift in his body's chemistry."

"All of which was true when he asked to go back to Earth," John pointed out.

"His family is on Earth," Elizabeth shouted.

"He doesn't like his family," John yelled back.

Elizabeth took a deep breath and let it out in a rush, her face lined with exhaustion. "Maybe this is something he doesn't want to face alone, John," she said quietly.

John matched her tone. "He's not alone, Elizabeth. He has us."

She just looked at him with a sad smile, and he knew what she was thinking. Rodney had refused all visitors since he'd woken up three days before. Even Carson was asked to leave unless he could come up with a valid medical reason for being in the room. No matter what John said, Rodney was alone right now, and nothing John could say was going to change that.

Carson cleared his throat, and John turned to him, grateful for the interruption. "I don't want to go against Rodney's wishes any more than you do, Elizabeth, but I do have to consider what is best for him. Earth technology won't be able to fix this."

John's heart thudded in his chest. "Are you saying there's an Ancient cure?"

"We don't know for sure," Carson said quickly. "But it stands to reason that these are unintended side effects that the Ancients must have tried to correct. Radek is going through the database, looking for anything that might help."

"What if you don't find anything?" Elizabeth asked.

Carson sighed. "I don't know. We've started testosterone injections, but so far they have made no difference. In fact, it seems as if his body is filtering the testosterone out. The only other treatment I can offer is to treat his symptoms, especially the depression and osteoporosis. That isn't a permanent solution, however. If we can't find something in the Ancient database, Rodney will have to return to Earth."

Elizabeth started to say something, but John spoke over her. "Just give Carson and Zelenka some time. If they can't find anything by the time the Daedalus returns in a few months, then he can go back. If he still wants to, of course."

John held his breath while Elizabeth considered. Finally she nodded, "Okay, but unless he voluntarily decides to stay, he will return next time."

"Fair enough," John said, letting out his lungful of air in a rush and not worrying too much about what he was agreeing to. They had a stay of execution. If they needed more time, they could worry about it later.

John turned to follow Carson out the door. "Oh, John," Elizabeth called.

He stopped and looked back, then closed the door behind Carson when she gestured him back into the room. "Yeah?"

"Have a seat," she suggested. He sat down warily. "We need to talk about the team."

He knew he should have expected it, but it still felt like a punch in the gut. Still, it was something that had to be done, so he sat back in his chair and tried to imagine who could possibly replace Rodney.

***

When they stumbled through the gate, they were swarmed with medics. John waved them over to Teyla, Ronon, and Zelenka. They were the ones who'd taken the enzyme, after all. All he did was watch helplessly and pray that Radek was half as good at engineering as Rodney was.

Speaking of, John glanced around the room, searching for a familiar face and feeling a familiar hot flash of anger when he didn't see it. Sure, Rodney was depressed, but there was nothing physically wrong with him. He could have at least dragged himself out of bed to see the semi-miraculous return of his abducted teammates.

Layered over the anger, however, was a hefty helping of guilt. Rodney was depressed, and had been for a long time before John ever noticed. After Doranda, John had punished Rodney for taking advantage of their friendship by avoiding any instance where they might meet or have to talk. It had worked. So well, in fact, that he managed to avoid saying one word directly to Rodney from his last cutting statement in the transporter until over a week later, when Rodney had locked himself in his room. It wasn't until he'd had to call in Cadman and her explosives that John had realized something was seriously wrong.

Worse, the pregnancy had been over a month before Doranda, which meant that for four weeks Rodney had been sinking deeper and deeper into depression and having to deal with it entirely alone. John had had no excuse then. Some friend he was.

Worst of all, however, was the memory that the last thing he had ever said to Rodney was that he didn't trust him. Now Rodney couldn't even stand to be in the same room as John and John couldn't blame him one bit.

Yet John was still angry. No matter how much Rodney had gone through, John still wasn't able to forgive him for the way he had taken advantage of their friendship and almost gotten them both killed on Doranda, all because Rodney's ego couldn't accept that someone other than himself might have been right. Even now, remembering it, he felt the resentment smoldering in his gut.

Of course, the anger just made John feel even guiltier.

Elizabeth's soft voice broke through his self-pity party. "John, we need to talk."

John glanced at the rest of the team, assuring himself that they were in capable hands before turning and following Elizabeth to her office.

She went straight to the point. "Rodney tried to escape last night."

John's heart skipped a beat. "I didn't realize he was a prisoner," he said carefully.

Elizabeth sighed. "He isn't, of course. I should have been more clear. Rodney tried to leave Atlantis last night."

John frowned. "Where was he trying to go?"

"PX6-429," Elizabeth said quietly.

"That's an orbital gate."

Elizabeth nodded.

John realized where this was going, and his whole body suddenly went cold. "Was he taking a puddlejumper?" he asked tightly.

"No," Elizabeth said and John closed his eyes. Jesus. "Carson has him on a suicide watch," Elizabeth continued after a heavy silence. "Simpson's reconfigured the door to keep him from getting free, and I've posted guards because...well."

Because Rodney was smarter than Simpson and they both knew it.

John's brain was running in circles, reaching out again and again to try to try and find a coherent thought, but coming right back to the idea that Rodney, Rodney, had tried to kill himself. "Is he still refusing treatment for the depression?" Rodney had agreed to the thus far ineffective testosterone treatments, but he'd refused anti-depressants because he'd been worried about side effects. At this point, John didn't think that would matter any more. No side effect was worse than being dead.

"He's refusing to speak to anyone," Elizabeth answered. "So his original refusal stands."

"Damn it!" John snarled. "Can't we treat him anyway?"

"Probably," Elizabeth said in her neutral diplomat's voice. "But he'd never forgive us."

John's head throbbed with anger, frustration, and fear as he pointed out: "At least he'd be alive."

***

Rodney was tired of being sick. He was tired of being hungry and having no appetite, of being bored and having no desire to actually do anything, of trying to think and ending up staring off into space. He was tired of counting off the minutes to the end of another pointless day, of pathetic attempts to motivate himself into getting out of bed, of stewing in his own humiliation to the point where he couldn't even look Carson or that wretched red-headed nurse in the eye. Most of all, after less than a day, he was thoroughly fucking tired of being on suicide watch.

All those times he'd been taken prisoner before, he'd never felt anywhere near as confined as he felt now, locked in a converted closet with two massive marines just outside and Nurse Wretched checking in on him every fifteen minutes to make sure he hadn't managed to smother himself with his pillow. Rodney was kind of surprised that he got to keep his pillow -- they took every other potentially lethal device away, including the knife on the dinner tray, the safety razor in the bathroom, and the copy of War and Peace that had appeared in the room one night. Rodney had never been able to focus his attention to the point that he could read, but he had found it strangely soothing to run his fingers over the book's cover and to flip through the first fifty well-worn pages and thousand pristine sheets that followed.

Yet, as much as he missed the book and as stupid as he felt cutting his chicken with the edge of his spoon, he knew he'd do it all over again if he had the chance. Only this time he'd make sure the command center was completely empty, maybe by forcing Atlantis into quarantine mode by...well, he didn't have that part worked out yet. It had taken him two weeks to figure out his last attempt, and knowing that before this whole mess started he could have come up with that plan in ten minutes just made him even more depressed.

A vicious cycle, one that he was more than ready to stop if he could only figure out how.

There was a knock on the door, and Rodney called out, "Go away." His words didn't have the anger they'd once had. Anger required energy.

The door opened anyway, and Sheppard stepped into the room. Rodney stared at him. He distinctly remembered the last time Sheppard had looked him in the eye. Sheppard had said that he no longer trusted Rodney, but said Rodney might be able to earn that trust back if he were willing to "really, really try." Rodney remembered the week that followed, him chasing Sheppard around like a puppy, desperate to please and getting kicked to the curb every single time. Rodney dug deep and found a tiny flickering ember of emotion. "Get out," he said harshly.

Sheppard closed the door and moved farther into the room. There wasn't a chair any more so he leaned against the wall, looking disgustingly casual. "Hey, Rodney."

Rodney bit his lip hard enough to draw blood and turned on his bed until he was facing the wall opposite the colonel. After a moment, he crossed his arms over his chest and, under cover of his back and arms, dug his fingernails into his bicep. This wasn't fair of them. He couldn't deal with this right now.

Behind him, Sheppard cleared his throat. Rodney didn't turn around. "Okay," Sheppard finally said, his voice irritatingly light. "We'll do it this way." Rodney heard rustling noises, but stubbornly stared at the blank wall in front of him. "I heard that you tried to take a spacewalk without a suit yesterday. I have to admit that I never thought..." Sheppard trailed off and for several seconds it was quiet. "No," Sheppard eventually said, his tone different now, quieter, more intense. "That's not why I came." A loud, harsh swallow. "Rodney, a month ago I said something to you after Doranda, something about trust. I'm sure you remember it. It was pretty fucking memorable." He took a breath so deep that Rodney could hear him from the bed. "I was angry, Rodney, angry and hurt, and what I said was out of line."

Rodney froze and in his surprise his hand relaxed, releasing his bicep. Where his nails had dug in were five perfect crescents and he focused on the tiny slashes of red that began to well up as Sheppard continued to speak. "Don't get me wrong, Rodney, you screwed up and you used me to do it, but...well, we both know that I've screwed up, too. Anyway, I'm sorry. I just wanted you to know that."

There was a long silence now, so long that Rodney found his brain once again drifting off the way it did these days, his old focus so far in the past that he could barely remember what it had been like to be able to start a project and think of nothing else until the project was finished. The crescents in his skin were all filled with blood now, but they weren't overflowing. The bright red was already starting to darken, growing tacky in the air. Rodney dug his nails in again, lower than he had the first time, and tried to force his mind to focus. Keeping his body angled to hide his clenched hand, Rodney twisted halfway around and looked at Sheppard.

At some point during his speech, Sheppard had slid down till he was sitting on the floor, and his eyes were focused on his boots. As Rodney watched, Sheppard ran a hand through his hair, which perked it up a bit, though it was still kind of flat. The hair looked sad, Rodney decided. Of course, everything looked sad to Rodney these days.

"I spoke to Carson," Sheppard finally said. "Teyla and Ronon are grounded for the foreseeable future and Radek -- well, Radek's nowhere near 100%. I know you resigned and I'm not asking you to take that back, but repairs are starting to fall behind and right now we are desperately short of hands. Carson's agreed to let you out if someone keeps an eye on you, and you won't have to see me if you don't want to, but Teyla and Ronon really miss you and I know Radek misses getting yelled at and...and really you'll be helping us out by keeping an eye on them because they've been under the enzyme and that's a long story, but." His head dropped lower, until it was almost touching his knees. "We really need you, Rodney. Whatever you feel up to, we need you to do it."

"Okay," Rodney said, and then stopped, surprised. He hadn't meant to agree to that, had he? He hadn't meant to give Sheppard any slack. But this room was so damn lonely, and he was growing to hate Nurse Wretched's little visits.

John lifted his head and stared at Rodney. "Okay?" he asked tentatively.

Rodney swallowed hard and made himself nod firmly. "Okay."

***

Teyla (hauling a large toolbox as if it weighed nothing) showed up the next morning before Rodney had managed to drag himself out of bed. It could have been early, it could have been late. The wall clock had been a victim of the suicide watch.

She waited quietly in the room as Rodney quickly washed up in the tiny excuse for a WC that Carson had used as justification for calling this converted closet a private room. He was nervous, he realized as he tried to brush his teeth and his hair at the same time. He was nervous because of Teyla. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

Carson was waiting to catch them when they passed through the infirmary, a breakfast tray in one hand. Rodney stared at it balefully. In the last couple of months he'd gone from being hungry but having no appetite to not being hungry at all, and the last thing his queasy stomach needed was food. Still, he knew better than anyone that his hypoglycemia was a serious issue, and stress only made it worse, so he took a piece of toast with minimal grumbling and made himself eat it as Teyla led him to the nearest transporter.

They ended up in one of the most distant parts of the city, and Rodney let out a silent, relieved sigh. Maybe he could do this after all.

"I believe the malfunction is over here," Teyla said, leading him to a small conduit. "Radek said that you should be able to identify the problem."

Which meant Zelenka had more confidence in Rodney than Rodney did at this point. Taking the toolbox (and almost dropping it -- the damn thing weighed a ton), Rodney walked over to the nearest access panel and hoped the problem was something a kindergartener could identify.

Fortunately, it was. The cracked and charred crystal made it obvious that a power surge had short-circuited the surrounding matrix and while Atlantis had no doubt rerouted energy through a secondary pathway, it was a good idea to fix this matrix just in case the secondary pathway failed as well. There was no such thing as too much redundancy in ten thousand year old technology.

To fix the problem, Rodney had to replace the crystal, test all of the connecting nodes individually, and solder patches on those that had been damaged. Then someone, probably Zelenka, could run a diagnostic to verify that everything was in order. The work itself was simple, but tedious, and Rodney kept losing track of which nodes he'd already checked. Finally he'd had to resort to marking them with a Sharpie. Hopefully no one would have to repair this matrix again.

Before the pregnancy, Rodney could have done a patch job like this in half an hour. Now it took four and a half hours, and his hands were shaking as he finished the final patch. Teyla silently handed him a power bar. "Thanks," he muttered, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the food. It was chocolate peanut butter, his favorite. He managed to finish half.

It was enough though; his hand didn't shake at all as he took the communicator that Teyla gave him and pressed it into his ear. It felt awkward, almost as strange as it had when they first arrived in Atlantis. His fingers fumbled as they found the right channel. "Radek," he said, his stomach churning almost as badly as it had this morning. He wished he hadn't eaten that power bar.

There was a brief pause, then, "McKay," Zelenka said, sounding pleased. "Rodney, it is good to hear your voice."

Rodney's stomach grew a little less turbulent. "Yours, too," he said, and he was surprised to find that it was the truth. "I finished the repairs. Can you cycle the power and run a diagnostic?"

"Of course," Zelenka said. "It will take just one moment."

Rodney half-smiled at Teyla while they waited. She'd been great today, offering her support with her presence but without imposing conversation as if she realized how much his impaired focus required silence. Now she reached forward and rested a hand on his shoulder and for the first time in two months, Rodney thought that this entire nightmare might turn out okay.

***

According to Teyla, off world missions had been scaled way back due to a severe shortage of available scientific personnel. Apparently with both Rodney and Zelenka working at less than optimum levels, Atlantis was starting to fall apart. Maintenance went from being a perpetual but necessary annoyance to a series of escalating crises that were starting to impact even the most basic aspects of Atlantis life. Rolling brownouts in the living quarters, a temporary halt in city exploration, and the hint of salt in the drinking water were just a few of the signs that they were slowly falling behind in their struggle to keep Atlantis viable.

Rodney tried not to think about that, however, as solid evidence that he had gone from vital member of the Atlantis expedition to glorified repairman just made him feel more depressed. Most days he was able to ignore the world around him and concentrate just on that day's repairs, but occasionally his overwhelming sense of failure was too much and on those days even Ronon couldn't force Rodney out of bed.

Teyla and Ronon were Rodney's usual minders and after a few days he found himself grateful enough for the company that he forgot to be annoyed that he was under constant supervision. After that first near-silent day, Teyla began speaking more and more and while Rodney didn't always follow every word, he gradually became reacclamated to the sound of human speech. Ronon, of course, said very little, but having his solid bulk standing just over Rodney's shoulder was wonderfully reassuring. On the days when he was with Ronon, Rodney found he was better able to look people in the eye, though he still avoided conversation.

One time Teyla had suggested that they take lunch in the mess hall. Rodney's subsequent panic attack was so powerful that he'd had to return to his room and he hadn't left his bed for the next two days.

Rodney frequently saw Sheppard, either in the halls, or in rooms that Rodney passed. Sometimes Sheppard would try and catch Rodney's eye and nod, or even smile. Other times he would look away with a pinched expression, and pretend not to notice Rodney as they passed. Rodney didn't know the reasoning behind either reaction, but on the days when John smiled Rodney's hands didn't shake and the repairs went smoothly.

One day Rodney woke up to find Cadman in his room. "Up and at 'em, McKay."

Rodney took one look at her and lay back down on his bed, his arms folded across his chest. "I don't think so."

"Not my choice either, but I've got orders." She sat down on the edge of the bed with her irritating familiarity. "SGA-1's out on a mission."

Rodney frowned, but he'd known that was going to happen eventually. The Daedalus may have taken care of the food and medical supply shortages, but Ancient technology wasn't thick on the ground in the Milky Way. With all of the repairs that they were doing, the few stores of spare parts they'd found in the city were running dry. That meant either cannibalizing currently unused portions of Atlantis for parts, or, better, scavenging Ancient tech from the dozens of outposts they'd found on uninhabited worlds in the Pegasus Galaxy. Obviously Elizabeth had decided on the latter.

A few days before, Teyla had gently informed Rodney that Miko was temporarily taking the vacant spot on the team. After a bit of prodding, Ronon had told Rodney that Miko had been chosen because she could run fast and for hours at a stretch. Her standing orders in times of crisis were to run like hell for the gate and call in reinforcements from the safety of Atlantis. Marines could be replaced, but the SGC was running out of world-class scientists.

"Fine," Rodney said when it became clear that Cadman wasn't going to leave. "But you're carrying the toolbox."

When he came out of the bathroom, he noticed Cadman's assessing glance. "What?" he asked as he pulled his pants higher and started threading a belt through the loops.

"You've lost weight," she said, cocking her head to one side. "And your face looks...I don't know. Softer, maybe."

Rodney turned away to hide his flush. He knew he was losing weight; it was impossible not to, considering how little he was eating. However, he was hoping no one else could see the other changes taking place in his body -- his thinning body hair, for example, or the suspicious globes of fat that seemed to be developing under his nipples. Carson had explained that these symptoms were perfectly normal and to be expected in cases of low testosterone. With the injections still not having any effect, Rodney's testosterone levels were virtually nil. That didn't make his body's changes any less humiliating.

Cadman still wasn't leaving, however, and Atlantis was unfortunately not equipped to repair herself. Muffling a curse, Rodney jerked a second shirt over his head and walked out of his room without bothering to look back to see if Cadman was following.

***

It was Ronon who finally got Rodney into the mess hall. They'd been repairing a console near the east pier, so Rodney didn't even notice how close they'd gotten until they were almost at the door, at which point he immediately balked. "No," he said firmly.

"McKay," Ronon grumbled. "They made you cookies."

Rodney raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "Why?"

Ronon just glared back.

"Oh, fine," Rodney said. "We'll pick up lunch here, but we're not staying to eat."

Ronon shrugged. Rodney shook his head in disgust and opened the mess door.

Two hundred people turned to stare at him. Rodney stared back, then his eyes drifted up to see the banner hanging from two pillars. He turned to Ronon. "You bastard."

Ronon grinned. "Happy birthday, McKay."

He shoved Rodney from behind, and Rodney stumbled into the room. All around him, people stood up and slowly started to clap. Soon he was surrounded by a standing ovation and yet another fantasy bit the dust. Rodney was learning that fantasies rarely lived up to their hype.

For a half second he considered trying to make a joke or a speech or any one of those stupid things people did when someone threw them a surprise birthday party. The fact that his throat was so tight he could barely breathe cured him of that impulse, and he just headed for the food line, trying not to jump back from every person who wished him happy birthday or patted him on the back.

Teyla met them at the food line, and Rodney relaxed a little. Then Sheppard showed up on Rodney's other side and Rodney tensed right back up again. This time Sheppard had both the pinched look and the smile and Rodney just shook his head and reached for the cookies (chocolate chocolate chip). They almost looked appealing.

Unfortunately, duty and Ronon's determined impression of a guard dog prevented Rodney from taking the cookies and running. Fortunately, Teyla, Ronon, and Sheppard closed ranks around him as they headed for their old table, holding back the well-wishers. By the time they sat down, Rodney was thinking this might be doable.

Elizabeth, Carson, Zelenka, and, despite Rodney's scowl, Cadman gradually made their way to the table and though no one said anything beyond "hello" or "happy birthday" or "geez, McKay, you're getting old", everyone looked pretty pleased to see him. Rodney relaxed a little and listened to the conversation that flowed comfortably around him. By time he left, he'd eaten two cookies and (under Carson's watchful eyes) a few bites of meatloaf and was feeling more energetic than he had for weeks.

***

It was at the birthday party that John realized that he had truly forgiven Rodney for Doranda. The revelation came as John watched Rodney fending off dozens of well wishers, and instead of his usual thought about how Rodney hadn't abused these friendships to blow up a solar system, he found himself jealous of each hand that brushed against Rodney's shoulder and of each open smile that Rodney accepted and even tried to return. John hadn't touched Rodney in months, and any time Rodney caught John smiling, he'd look away.

John was aware that these were not rational thoughts a man had for a platonic friend, and he was more than a little disturbed by this unexpected reaction. True, his teenage rebellion against his father had taken the form of liberal leanings so extreme that they made the average Canadian look like an especially tight-assed Republican (the only reason John had joined the Air Force was because MIT didn't let you fly billion-dollar fighter jets, no matter how good your grades were), but he'd never considered himself particularly gay. Just flexible. Especially since it wasn't only your safety you had to consider when getting involved with women in the Middle East. A lot of guys had given each other a hand rather than risk getting a woman stoned to death.

He was rethinking his sexuality now. 'It's great as long as it feels good' didn't seem to be enough to explain these new and disturbing feelings toward Rodney McKay. Maybe John was gay after all. Talk about having a mid-life crisis.

Of course, none of this mattered anyway, since John may have forgiven Rodney, but Rodney had clearly not forgiven John. They hadn't spoken since that night that John had proposed Rodney's reintegration into Atlantis's workforce and even now, Rodney refused to look at John directly, despite the fact that John was sitting directly across from him.

John picked up a chocolate chocolate chip cookie and nibbled on it, reminding himself that Rodney was getting better, and that was all that mattered. Surely if he repeated the sentiment enough times, he might even begin to believe it.

***

A few nights after the birthday party, Carson stuck his head into Rodney's room. "Rodney, could you come with me, please?"

Rodney frowned, but obeyed. They ended up in Carson's office, joining Elizabeth and Sheppard who were quietly arguing. They abruptly fell silent when Rodney stepped into the room. "Hello, Rodney," Elizabeth said. Sheppard just looked pinched. Rodney was starting to hate that expression.

"I see I've been ambushed," Rodney said, glaring at Carson. "Before you ask, no, I haven't changed my mind about the Prozac."

"This isn't about that," Carson said. "Have a seat, lad."

Not seeing any better options, Rodney sat down. He scowled at Elizabeth and Sheppard in turn. Elizabeth stared back. John looked away. Interesting. Disturbing.

"As you know, the Daedalus returns next week," Elizabeth said once everyone was settled. "In the past you've expressed a desire to return to Earth when the opportunity arose. I called this meeting to discuss your options at this juncture."

That didn't sound promising. "What options?"

"Well, for one, your medical options," Carson said. "We have already tried every form of synthetic testosterone currently available on Atlantis, without success. The Daedalus is bringing us every other form available, including the experimental ones. Not to mention the fact that the Ancient equipment in the infirmary is superior to comparable devices on Earth. Medically speaking, your treatment here is more likely to produce a cure than treatment on Earth."

"That's not the only reason I--" Rodney started, but Sheppard interrupted him.

"Tell him about the device."

All three of them looked at Sheppard, who had lost the pinched expression and now just looked stubborn. "He should know all the facts before deciding."

Rodney turned to glower at Carson. "What device?"

Elizabeth answered first. "We haven't actually found the device yet, Rodney," she said gently. "We didn't want to get your hopes up." He opened his mouth to say something angry, but she kept going. "However, John's right, you should know what we did find. According to the database, there was research into creating an instrument to counter the effects of the, um, male impregnation device. However, we don't know for sure if the instrument was ever actually built. We do know that nothing we've found so far looks anything like the schematics Radek found, and there's every chance that even if the Ancients did build it, it didn't work or it's been lost."

"Or it could be in a lab we haven't found yet," Sheppard said, sounding angry. "Or in one of the rooms we've scouted, but haven't had time to fully explore. Or even in—"

"The point is, we don't know," Carson said quickly. "But if we do find this artifact and you aren't in Atlantis, it will be at least three months before we can even begin testing the device. If you're here, we can try it immediately."

Everyone stopped talking and turned to Rodney. Rodney looked at Carson. "You want me to stay." Carson nodded. Rodney looked at Elizabeth. "You want me to go."

"It's not that I want you to leave, Rodney, it's just--" Rodney held up a hand, and she stopped speaking, though her face tightened in that quiet, stubborn way she had.

Rodney turned to Sheppard. "What about you?"

At that moment, Rodney would have given anything to be able to read people. If he had that ability, he'd know what it meant when the pinched look briefly returned to John's face before Sheppard took a deep breath and sat up straight in his chair, his expression blank. "I think you should stay," he said firmly.

Rodney thought about that and about the potential device and about the two hundred people at his surprise birthday party. "Okay," he said. "I will."

***

Rodney was starting to think guy piloting the puddlejumper -- whatever his name was -- was deliberately being annoying. All the way to the mainland and halfway back, he had chattered away, describing old world scientific hypotheses that had eventually been proven incorrect. If the obnoxious twit wasn't so beneath Rodney's notice, Rodney would have pointed out that the whole point of science was trying to prove your own theories wrong. That's why science was useful. Otherwise it'd just be religion.

As it was, however, Rodney just hunched over his laptop and counted down the seconds till they landed. Once they got back, he'd have a word with Teyla and she'd have a word with Sheppard and then Rodney would never have to see this asshole again.

Which of course, of course, was when they crashed into the ocean.

Rodney regained consciousness first, just in time to hear Zelenka report the obvious, namely that they were sinking. Then the obnoxious pilot did something incredibly stupid by sacrificing himself to save Rodney, and suddenly the fact that he didn't know the pilot's name seemed like a big deal. About the same time, Rodney lost contact with Zelenka and that's when Rodney realized he was going to die.

It was about fucking time.

***

"Well, it's good to see that in the face of danger, at least you don't sink into self pity -- oh, wait."

Rodney forced his eyes open and looked up to see Samantha Carter standing over him. She crouched down next to where he had stretched out on the floor of the jumper. "See, this is why we shipped you to Russia," she added.

Rodney groaned. "I remember you as being nicer. And you weren't nice to me at all."

"That's because you were wrong all the time. Besides, you don't deserve nice right now, McKay. Now, get on your feet."

Rodney snorted. "Right. Nice try, but I'm not about to be bossed around by my hallucination."

"Yes, you are."

"You seem very confident of yourself."

"Oh, I am," Sam said with a dangerous smile. "Because if you aren't on your feet by the time I count to five, I'm turning into Daniel."

Rodney blinked and Sam's smile became downright wicked. "Just imagine," she said, her voice almost a purr. "Spending the rest of your life trapped a tiny, enclosed space with Daniel Jackson."

"I always knew you were evil," Rodney said with a scowl, but he dragged himself up. "Why are you here, anyway? I'm ready to die. I want to die."

"Well obviously that's not true," Sam said. "Now, it's cold and you're probably going to need oxygen soon. Get to work on that."

Muttering about pushy figments of his imagination, Rodney groped around until he found a flashlight. As he flicked it on, it occurred to him that he had been able to see Sam despite the complete lack of lighting and he wondered what it said about his subconscious that his hallucinations defied the laws of physics.

Working with the same deliberate slowness he learned to use on city repairs to counteract his inability to concentrate, Rodney managed to get the carbon dioxide scrubbers online and the heat turned up to the point that he would at least not die of hypothermia. Hallucination Sam was surprisingly helpful, and Rodney found himself comforted by that, despite his best efforts to be pessimistic. Part of him had feared that his recent difficulty in concentrating had meant that he had suffered actual brain damage from the hormonal imbalance in his body. Apparently that wasn't the case. His brain worked just fine – it just wasn't as accessible as it used to be.

Still, this might be his last chance to fully utilize his mind before he died. Might as well take advantage of it. "So," he said, trying for casual as he sat down opposite Sam. "About this slight hormonal problem I've been having."

Sam snorted in a distinctly unattractive manner. "Shouldn't you be working on the puddlejumper? Maybe you could get communications back up."

"Why?" Rodney asked with a shrug. "It's not like there's going to be a mad rush to rescue me. I'm not vital to Atlantis's survival anymore. Actually, I'm a liability, since I can't be trusted to work on my own, which means someone else's valuable time has to be spent keeping an eye on me."

Sam rolled her eyes. "And we're back to the pity party. Seriously, you're boring yourself here."

"You know, you don't have Sam's personality at all."

"Right, because you've done so well dealing with my personality in the past."

Rodney had to admit she had a point. "Couldn't you have been Teyla? She's comforting."

Sam looked around the battered jumper. "I don't think comfort's what you need right now."

"Are you kidding me? Comfort's exactly what I need right now." Sam just looked at him. "You are the worst hallucination ever."

"Enough with the insults. I can still turn into Daniel."

Rodney snapped his fingers. "Oh, I know who you remind me of! Jack! You've got Sam's body but Jack's personality."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "Jack hates you."

"Exactly!"

"Would you rather I looked like Jack?" Sam asked doubtfully.

"No," Rodney said quickly. "Sam's much easier on the eyes."

"Charming," Sam said dryly.

They were silent for a couple of minutes. "You're easy to talk to," Rodney said suddenly, and he sounded wistful even to himself. "It's been a while since I've talked to anyone."

"Rodney," Sam said gently. "You're talking to yourself."

"It's been a while since I've done even that."

***

Sam stayed with him even after they hit the bottom and the jumper started to fill with water. At her insistence, Rodney increased the interior pressure of the jumper, which helped slow the flooding, but the water continued to rise. Rodney found that he didn't mind. He used to think drowning was one of the worst possible deaths (number three on his top five, after burning alive and death by allergic reaction), but at least he wasn't alone. Sort of.

In the end, they never did discuss the pregnancy, or the hormones, or the depression. Instead, they reminisced about life at the SGC, laughed at some of the more wacky alien hijinx that Sam had come across (which Rodney had read about in her mission reports), and compared teams. Rodney found himself telling her about what it had been like to be exiled to Russia and then to Antarctica and then to Atlantis. He told her how angry he had been, though now he was perversely grateful, even after these last few months. He told her about Teyla and Ronon and Ford. Finally, when the water was up to his waist and he was trembling uncontrollably from the cold, he told her about John, about their experiments with the personal shield, about how Rodney had screwed up and blew up a solar system and lost his best friend at the same time, and about the way John had avoided Rodney ever since. He told her that he had loved her, almost from the moment he'd met her, but now...but now...

The banging on the door caught him by surprise. "What is that?" Rodney hissed, swimming closer to Sam.

She rolled her eyes, which Rodney had already noticed was a particularly bad habit of hers. "It's your rescuers."

"Are you sure?" he asked. "What if it's another hallucination?"

"Trust me," she said. "If there were another hallucination out there, I'd know about it. Besides, what have you got to lose? You're going to drown soon anyway."

Which was a very good point. Rodney reached out and brushed a shaking finger over Sam's cheek with the hand that wasn't busy treading water. "Thank you," he whispered.

"Don't thank me," Sam answered as the banging grew louder and more desperate sounding. "I'm just a figment of your imagination. Now open that door." She smiled. "Or I'll turn into Daniel and this time I really mean it."

Rodney smiled at her, then deliberately turned away and opened the door both above and below the water. The water rushed out, carrying him with it, but John was there on the other side to catch him.

***

John hadn't expected Rodney to cling to him. Hell, after the way Rodney had acted for the last few months, he didn't think Rodney would want to touch him at all. Yet here they were, two grown men jammed into a chair designed for one, Rodney holding on to him in an iron grip as if he thought John would disappear if Rodney let him go, and John awkwardly holding Rodney close while trying to fly one-handed. After draping the first aid blanket over Rodney's shoulders, Zelenka had disappeared into the back of the jumper and shut the door, which was probably for the best for everyone.

Every few minutes, John would feel Rodney's lips moving against his neck, but the words were too muffled to make out. Finally, when Atlantis was in sight, John leaned a couple of inches to the side and listened.

"I don't want to die, Sam. You're right, I don't want to die. I don't want to die, I don't want to die, I don't want to..."

Rodney shoved his face back down into John's neck, muffling the words again, and John let him. Rodney was obviously delirious, but John still tightened his arm around Rodney's back and allowed himself a small, relieved smile. He could totally get behind Rodney's sentiment.

Zelenka won a lot of points in John's book by keeping everyone but Carson out of the cockpit of the jumper. Carson raised his eyebrows when he saw the way Rodney was holding onto John, but he didn't say anything other than, "Come on, lad, help me get him on the gurney."

Carson took Rodney away and John went to check in with Elizabeth. Then he had that conference with Lorne about ammunition rationing that he'd been putting off. Then he systematically worked his way through three months of paperwork, even though there was at least another couple of days till Caldwell came to check up on him. Finally, when he decided it was late enough that there would be no interruptions short of an unexpected Wraith attack, John went to the infirmary to see Rodney.

He stared at the empty room for almost a minute before the perfectly made bed and complete lack of self-absorbed geniuses registered. Then he shouted for Carson.

"What's the matter?" Carson asked as he jogged up, looking like death. John hadn't ever thought about it before, but Carson must get even less sleep than Rodney. "Who's hurt?"

"No one," John said, feeling like a heel. "I, uh, was just looking for Rodney."

Carson's shoulders slumped with obvious relief. "Oh. He, uh, he--" Carson hesitated, glancing around quickly before continuing in a lower voice, "I let him go back to his room."

"What?" John hissed. "Why would you--oh." He looked around as well. "He agreed to take the Prozac?" Carson didn't say anything, which John took to be a yes. "Okay. Thanks, doc." He patted Carson on the shoulder and headed out of the infirmary, controlling a sudden urge to whistle.

Rodney didn't answer the door, but John overrode the lock without a qualm. After today, they needed to talk, and John wasn't putting it off any longer.

The lights were still on, anyway, and Rodney was sitting on the bed with his knees drawn up to his chest. He was rubbing his face with his hands, so he wasn't asleep. On the nightstand were a small pill bottle and a full glass of water. John wondered if Rodney had taken the pills yet, or if he was still working up to that.

John cleared his throat quietly and Rodney's head lifted up. For better or worse, he wasn't crying, though his eyes were wet and red-rimmed. "Hey," John said gently. "You okay?"

Rodney shook his head.

John nodded and carefully made his way to the bed, easing down until he was sitting a few inches away from Rodney's feet.

They were silent for a long time.

"I can't have children," Rodney finally said.

"I know," John said softly. He hesitated, then tentatively reached out to rest his hand against Rodney's bare ankle. When Rodney didn't pull away, John let his thumb move, rubbing gentle circles into Rodney's skin.

"No sex, either," Rodney said, his voice clinical. "Not that I have much desire left in me any more. Haven't masturbated in months."

John swallowed hard, but remained silent.

"My brain--" Rodney started, and for the first time his voice cracked. He paused, and took a deep, shuddering breath. "My brain doesn't work like it used to. I can't...focus."

Rodney was crying now, tears streaming over pale cheeks, and John felt his own eyes stinging as he reached out. It wasn't hard at all to pull Rodney into a hug. "I know," John murmured into Rodney's soft, thinning hair. "I know."

Rodney's arms wrapped around John's back and tightened until it was hard to breathe. His tears soaked through John's shirt. "I want to go home," Rodney said, his voice muffled.

John held back just as tightly, his hands clenching into fists against Rodney's back. "You're in Atlantis," John said hoarsely. "You are home."

After a while, Rodney cried himself out, and when John pressed a couple of capsules against his lip, Rodney opened his mouth like a child. John held the glass for him as well, and Rodney meekly swallowed the medicine.

"Do you want me to stay?" John asked when Rodney didn't loosen his embrace, even though he looked on the verge of sleep.

"Please," Rodney said softly.

"Okay," John answered. He thought the lights out and then shifted them on the bed until they were somewhat comfortable, Rodney pressed tightly against his side.

***

Maybe sleeping next to McKay made you smarter, John thought as he crept out of bed the next morning. Or maybe it had been there all along and John just hadn't been ready to see it. Whatever the reason, when he woke up that morning, John knew what he had to do.

As he strode through the corridors of Atlantis, nodding at the few people who were also up at the crack of dawn, John considered the question of Atlantis's AI. It was a point of considerable debate among the scientists, half of whom believed the AI was just a complex computer program, the other half of whom believed that it had learning capabilities far beyond any current Earth design. John thought Atlantis was much, much more than either of those interpretations. The problem was simply finding a way to interface with her.

With everyone focused on keeping Atlantis functioning (a battle they were losing -- the desalination system was so far behind usage that they were now bathing in salt water), research into the Atlantis control chair had been placed on hold, along with city exploration and first contact missions. John was grateful for that now, as there was no one to see as he sat back, stretched his hands out on the arm rests, and prepared to kiss Atlantis's pretty blue ass.

***

"So where is it?" Rodney asked as he burst into the infirmary. John sighed, not nearly as surprised as he probably should have been.

Carson immediately stepped in front of the small Discman-like device. "Now, Rodney, we haven't had a chance to test it yet."

"The hell with testing it," Rodney snapped. "Pass it over. Or, wait, not you. You have the gene. Radek, give it to me."

Carson shifted so he was between Zelenka and the device. Zelenka cleared his throat. "I did research the database entry on this device thoroughly."

"Still, to use it without proper testing--"

"What's the worst that could happen?" Rodney asked. "My testosterone levels can't get any lower than non-existent."

"He has a point," John said and was rewarded with a grateful smile from Rodney.

Which promptly turned into a scowl as Carson said, "For all we know, it could increase your estrogen levels."

Rodney appeared to consider that for half a second. "I'll take the chance. Hand it over."

Carson sighed a long-suffering sigh, but they'd all known that there would be no stopping Rodney once he found out that they'd discovered the device. He stepped aside.

Rodney immediately snatched up the device, which flickered briefly. They all stared at it, but it didn't seem to be doing anything else. "Interesting," Zelenka said, taking the device back and frowning at it.

"How do you feel?" John asked Rodney.

"The same," Rodney said, patting various parts of his body as if he could detect returning testosterone through touch. "Maybe it ran out of power."

"Perhaps it has done what it was intended to do," Zelenka said. "It did flash for a moment."

"One way to find out," Carson said. "Rodney, roll up your sleeve."

Rodney groaned.

***

John had never in his life spent this much time thinking about another man's libido. In the week since Atlantis had led John to the device that was supposed to fix Rodney, John found his mind constantly turning to Rodney's sex drive. Namely, the possible recovery of said drive and just how long that recovery might take.

It didn't help that since that night, he and Rodney were spending as much time together as they had before this whole mess began. Having gone from months of no Rodney contact at all to seeing him several hours a day was making John giddy, drunk with Rodney, and all he could think about was how to keep that high going. Rodney was doing better as well, despite having only taken a single dose of Prozac. Apparently even the prospect of getting better was enough to lift him out of his funk, to the point that he started hinting at the idea of returning to his lab. Rodney hadn't worked up the courage yet, but John knew it was only a matter of time.

For now, however, Rodney seemed content to repair increasingly complex malfunctions in remote parts of Atlantis. Though he seemed to have overcome the worst of his depression, Carson still wanted someone around Rodney at all times, at least until the chemical imbalance was under control. Teyla and Ronon usually did this, but after three months of continual Rodney exposure, John decided that the two of them deserved a break. After packing them off with Lorne's team to kick some pseudo-dinosaur butt on MX7-387 (the planet with the Jurassic-era rain forests and the ZPM-esque power signatures), John joined Rodney for a fun day of city exploration (and, if necessary, repair work).

Rodney was buried up to his neck in a console at one of the grounding stations when he said in a suspiciously casual voice, "You know, Colonel, you're my best friend."

John felt a rush of pleasure. He'd known that, of course, or at least suspected it, but Rodney had never come out and said it before. "Thanks, Rodney."

"And, as my best friend, I know that if I ask you a question, you won't be upset with me, even if it's something you might feel strongly about." John froze. After a moment, Rodney's voice continued, hesitantly, "Right?"

John swallowed hard. "What's the question?"

Rodney's hands stopped moving, but he didn't push himself out from under the console. "You promise you won't be angry?"

Oh, this did not sound good. "I promise, Rodney. What's the question?"

Long pause. "Are you bisexual?"

John flinched. "What?"

"Don't worry, it's not like you're acting outside heterosexual parameters. In fact, all evidence points to you being straight. However," and now Rodney's hands joined the discussion, "I'm also aware of your country's asinine objections to non-traditional sexual orientation, and I just thought that maybe there was a chance, though of course -- and you don't have to worry, I won't tell anyone anything, whatever your answer turns--"

"Rodney," John said abruptly. "Shut up."

Rodney shut up. John felt like a dick. "Yeah," he said tightly. "I'm bisexual."

"Oh." Rodney's hands fell to the floor. "Oh. Well, in that case, I have a favor to ask."

John froze.

"I'm sure you're aware, since my medical privacy for the last few months has been at best a joke, that my testosterone levels are slowly returning to normal. Which means that my sex drive should theoretically be returning as well." John's mouth was dry as bone. "Unfortunately, experimental efforts in that regard have been--" Rodney's voice lowered, as if he were repeating something shameful. "--unsuccessful, and I thought that a partner might be helpful in increasing stimulation. I know I'm not in your league, since you pretty much set the standard for attractiveness in Atlantis, but as a favor, I was hoping, maybe--"

John couldn't take any more. "Rodney, come out from under there."

There was a long pause before Rodney edged out from under the console. John stared at him for a minute. Rodney'd lost a lot of weight in the last few months, which looked good on him, and quite frankly John thought Rodney had seriously underestimated his appearance even before the pregnancy. For a man so impressed with his own mind, he was surprisingly lacking in confidence when it came to his looks. Unfortunately, there was nothing John could say to make Rodney believe he was attractive, so John said the only thing he could: "Yes."

Rodney let out a pent-up breath. "Yes?"

"Yes."

"Yes."

John crossed his arms and frowned. "Okay," Rodney said quickly. "Thank you. I can't tell you how much I appreciate--"

John dropped into a crouch and put his hand over Rodney's mouth. "Trust me, it won't be a hardship."

***

Of course, since aside from Atlantis the entirety of the Pegasus Galaxy hated John, Lorne's team managed to get trapped in a cave by a giant dinosaur that made your average T-Rex look cuddly. When Ronon had come back for reinforcements (Ronon! Had come back for reinforcements! Which meant they were never, ever going back to dinosaur world again), John had only had time to pack up Cadman and a shitload of C4 before Ronon hurried them back through the gate and directed them towards the universe's biggest carnivore.

By the time he got back to Atlantis, John was starving, exhausted, and covered in dinosaur guts. He figured he'd take a shower, then call McKay to reschedule their...whatever it was...for tomorrow night.

He should have known better. As he stepped into his room, he immediately spotted McKay sitting on his bed, wearing his nicest t-shirt and looking anxious. Rodney's expression quickly shifted to disgust, however. "What the hell happened to you?"

John slumped. "I was standing too close to the dinosaur when it exploded."

Rodney snorted. "I blame the Pegasus Galaxy for the fact that nothing in that explanation surprises me." He swallowed hard and stood up. "I should go."

"No," John said, before his brain caught up with his mouth. Great. Now he was committed. "Just, uh, let me take a shower and then we can talk, okay?"

Rodney nodded and sat back down. He still looked nervous. John could totally empathize.

Dinosaur guts were the nastiest guts in the world, John decided as he scrubbed at his skin, blinking rapidly to keep the salt water out of his eyes. Next time someone had to plant a charge on a dinosaur's butt, Ronon was going to get to do the honors.

By the time John stepped out of the shower, he'd come to the reluctant conclusion that nothing was going to happen tonight. The mind might be willing, but an attempt to get a rise in the shower demonstrated that the flesh was too exhausted to follow through. John didn't think it would help Rodney's sex drive to have their first sexual encounter end with neither of them able to get it up.

Still, John thought as he turned off the shower and grabbed a towel, maybe this is for the best. He hadn't forgotten those overnight missions before everything fell apart, when the team would sit by the fire and chat about anything and everything under the sun. Often, especially before the siege, when Ford directed most of the fireside chats, the conversation turned to sex. Ford always told the most outrageous tall tales that John suspected were lies, John would offer a few buddy-buddy tips without getting too explicit, and even Teyla would get into the act by telling them what women really wanted out of men (turns out Athosian women weren't that much different than the Earth variety). Only Rodney, famed throughout two galaxies for his readiness to talk about himself to anyone within earshot, stayed quiet or, if Ford pressed, would mutter some abbreviated story that John thought he'd recognized from some of the tamer porn he'd seen.

John hadn't been surprised by the idea that Rodney was a virgin; the only thing that actually surprised him was that Rodney was doing such a crappy job of covering it up. Although, he didn't think Rodney had many friends before Atlantis. With all of his running monologues about his intellect, maybe Rodney had never had to come up with sex stories before.

Despite Rodney's inexperience, or maybe even because of it, John knew Rodney was going to approach his short-circuited sex drive as a challenge to be overcome. That would bring focus, which was good, but it would also bring his impossibly high expectations and a rush to get it fixed ASAP. So maybe it was good that, for tonight at least, it would be impossible to rush things.

With that in mind, John finished drying his hair and wrapped the towel around his waist. Time to get this show on the road.

When he entered his room, he found that Rodney had removed his shoes, socks, and BDU's and was sitting on the bed in his t-shirt and boxers, looking like he was about to throw up in sheer terror. John sighed and sat down next to him. "Just so you know, nothing's going to happen tonight."

Rodney relaxed, then immediately turned indignant. "Why not?"

"Because I just blew up a dinosaur and now I'm about to pass out from manly exhaustion," John answered dryly.

"Oh," Rodney said, looking mollified. "So, we're just going to sleep, then?"

John smiled and brought up a hand to stroke Rodney's cheek. "Well, sleep, and maybe this." He leaned forward slowly, giving Rodney plenty of time to prepare for the kiss, before pressing his lips to Rodney's.

For several long seconds, Rodney just sat there like a block of wood, and then he grabbed John's head and started mauling John with his mouth, which sounded much sexier than it actually was. John pulled back quickly, before Rodney's teeth did something irreparable to John's tongue. "Hey, hey," he said in his most soothing voice, running his fingers over Rodney's lips. "We've got plenty of time."

Rodney nodded jerkily, his breathing coming in harsh pants. John realized with a start that Rodney was trembling. Shit. "Why don't you lie down?" John suggested. Rodney did so without question, and now John was nervous.

"Okay," he said, rubbing suddenly sweaty palms on his towel. "Here's the plan. I'm going to get dressed and then we're going to get some sleep. We'll pick this up tomorrow." He tried to leer on that last sentence; hopefully it looked better than it felt.

Rodney nodded and hunched over on his side, hiding his face from John.

John sighed and went to his footlocker to pull out his boxers. This was just going swimmingly.

***

For the second time in as many weeks, John woke up draped in Rodney. Like the kiss, it wasn't as sexy as it sounded. For one thing, Rodney was on his back, and his elbow was digging into John's neck as if John were a pillow that had been too heavy to knock off. For another, Rodney's hip had scooted over in the night until it had pushed John to the edge of the bed. Only the nightstand and John's firm grip on the mattress was preventing him from falling to the floor.

On the other hand, Rodney was still half-naked and presumably still interested in sex so John figured he came out ahead in the end.

Grimacing at the sticky feeling of dried salt on his skin (even if John hadn't wanted to sleep with Rodney, he probably would have traded a few sexual favors to get fresh water in the showers again), John wriggled out from under Rodney and dropped gracelessly on the floor. Ouch. For however long this thing lasted between them, Rodney was either going to need to learn how to share, or they were going to need a bigger bed. John glanced at Rodney, who had scooted over to take the last remaining inch that John's departure had freed up. Bigger bed, apparently.

By the time he'd peed and brushed his teeth, he was feeling a bit more generous towards the bed hog and after a second of silent debate, he crawled into bed on top of Rodney, who promptly woke up.

"Major?" Rodney asked blearily.

John managed not to smack him. "It's Colonel," he growled. "Except when we're in bed, in which case it's John."

"Okay, um, John." Rodney glanced down, trying to see around John's shoulder. "What were you, raised by bears? You're lying on top of me."

John chose not to dignify that with an answer. Instead, he cupped Rodney's head and softly pressed kisses onto Rodney's lips. When Rodney tried to deepen the kiss – and, incidentally, bring teeth into play – John held his head gently but firmly, holding Rodney down. Once Rodney stopped struggling, John slowly deepened the kiss, teaching Rodney with his tongue and his lips. Rodney, who wasn't a genius for nothing, quickly figured out what he was doing and soon his own tongue was stroking deep and shallow, exploring John's mouth as if it were a new piece of technology that could power all of Atlantis if he could just figure out its secrets.

Once Rodney had mastered Frenching without bloodshed, John let his hands wander down, brushing over Rodney's arms and hands, then casually drifting to Rodney's groin for an exploratory grope. Rodney immediately went stiff. Unfortunately, it wasn't in a good way. "Relax," John said soothingly to Rodney's panicked face. "This is what we're here for, right?"

"Yes, right," Rodney said quickly, though his body didn't get any less tense. In fact, the only part of Rodney that didn't resemble a piece of wood at this moment was his dick.

"Hm," John said, massaging Rodney's crotch to depressingly little effect.

"I'm sorry," Rodney said, his face flaming. "I mean--"

Whatever he was about to say, John was pretty sure he didn't want to hear it, so he shut Rodney up the most effective way he knew how. The kiss had a secondary benefit, however, as Rodney slowly began to unfreeze. John lifted his head to look down at his scientist fondly. "Relax, Rodney," he repeated. "You don't have to prove anything. All you have to do is enjoy yourself."

"Okay," Rodney said, and maybe his voice was a little too high, but his hands finally came up to start exploring John's bare back.

John arched back into the touch, thrilled that something was finally going right. He gave up on Rodney's dick for now, and instead ran both of his hands up underneath Rodney's t-shirt. The skin was smooth and soft and the layer of fat underneath was much thinner than John had anticipated. He was stunned to find that he could feel the outline of Rodney's ribs under his fingertips.

John lifted his head from Rodney's mouth, took a desperately needed breath, then looked down sternly. "You are going to eat more, if I have to sit on you and force-feed you cookies."

"Chocolate chocolate chip?" Rodney asked hopefully.

The eager, wide-eyed look on Rodney's face was just too much. John laughed helplessly, even as his hips thrust forward and just like that he came, humping Rodney's thigh.

Rodney hugged him tightly until John lifted his head from Rodney's shoulder, trying to look cooler than he felt. "So, um," he said, feeling his face burn. "It'd kind of been a while for me." Because really, non-corporeal sex with Chaya just didn't count. Still, to have lost control like that, like a teenager--

"That was so hot," Rodney said earnestly.

"Yeah?" John asked softly.

"Yeah," and just like that John's hair trigger orgasm wasn't a problem anymore.

John thought about taking another crack at Rodney's still soft dick, but decided that teaching Rodney to relax during sex was enough progress for one day. Instead, he snuggled up a little closer to Rodney, trying to get all of his body, including his ass, fully onto the bed. "Wanna do it again sometime?"

"Yes," Rodney said emphatically and John grinned.

They lay there in silence, John lost in a comfortable post-coital daze and Rodney...well, John didn't know what Rodney was thinking, but right now he was just going to trust that it was something good.

"I should go."

Then again. "What? Why?"

"The day shift is going to start soon," Rodney pointed out and, yeah, okay, so he sort of had a point.

"See you at breakfast?" John asked, rolling over so Rodney could get out of bed.

"Yeah," Rodney said, dressing quickly. "Are you my babysitter today?"

John frowned, but Rodney sounded matter-of-fact rather than upset, so John just answered, "No, I think it's Ronon."

Rodney nodded. "Zelenka's got me working on the desalination problem starting today." He grabbed his boots and pulled them on while standing up.

"Really?" John sat up. "You fix the showers and I'll blow you every night for a month." Rodney's hands fumbled with his laces as if he'd forgotten how to tie a knot. John grinned. What did it matter that he'd never given a blowjob before? For this, he'd learn.

Rodney finally got his boots somewhat tied and stumbled backwards towards the door. "Well, Colonel--John. Um, thank you. It was...really nice. And, um, I'll see you later."

The door slid open before Rodney could fall against it and the scientist just barely managed to keep his feet. John's grin widened for half a second until he heard Rodney's voice again, this time pitched high and fast-paced with nervousness. "Lieutenant Cadman. Good morning. Um. What are--" At which point the door closed.

John dropped his head to his pillow with a groan. So much for being discreet.

***

The news that Rodney had slept in John's room spread like wildfire and John was starting to wish that someone had caught him the night he'd slept in Rodney's room. At least then they could have denied that they were involved. Now, they were stuck, since Rodney couldn't lie for shit and John refused to lie when there was no way for him not to get caught at it.

On the plus side, the gossip mill also spread the information that Rodney was working on the desalination project. Since past experience had taught everyone that Rodney worked fastest when well supplied with junk food, piles of candy, chips, and chocolate started appearing in front of John's door. As John ate a Snickers for the first time in months, he decided that there were worse things than being the guy Rodney McKay was sleeping with.

The chocolate came in handy that night, when John straddled Rodney's stomach and forced him to eat some peanut butter cups, though Rodney admittedly didn't look very threatened when he swallowed the third cup and pointed out, "You're skinner than me, you know."

"Ah, but I'm naturally skinny." John shoved the last cup in Rodney's mouth and then leaned down for a kiss, chasing the chocolate and peanut butter taste.

As he sucked on Rodney's tongue, John reached down for Rodney's crotch. Still nothing, but the tongue-sucking gave him an idea and he pushed Rodney's boxers down. "Hey, Rodney, I've got an idea."

Rodney groaned and grabbed John's shoulders when John tried to scoot down on the bed. "Trust me, the kissing is better. Your ideas suck."

"Jesus, Rodney," John said, shaking his shoulders free and continuing to scoot. "Anyone would think you don't even want to get laid."

"Well, of course I--ah--" His voice cut off mid-protest when John took Rodney's dick into his mouth. "Oh, God." Rodney lifted himself up on his elbows and stared at John. "You know, I haven't actually fixed the showers yet."

John lifted his head off of Rodney's lap. "I'm just getting a head start on when you do." Then he reclaimed Rodney's dick, which still wasn't hard, though Rodney was making pretty convincing 'I like this a lot' noises. John sucked hopefully, but no dice.

After a while, John's jaw was starting to hurt and he decided nothing was going to happen tonight. As soon as he released Rodney's spit-slicked dick, Rodney's head came up. "Are you done yet?"

John glowered at him and forcibly restrained himself from committing violence. "Yeah."

"Good, because I want to try." Rodney bounced around the bed until he was lying over John's crotch.

John decided he really wasn't that offended after all. "Well, okay then. Just don't use your teeth."

Rodney just hummed while studying John's hard, leaking cock.

John lifted his head up. "Seriously, Rodney. No teeth."

"Yes, yes, yes," Rodney said, waving in a way that John figured meant he was supposed to lie back down. John continued to watch Rodney suspiciously until Rodney opened his mouth up wide, covered his teeth with his lips, and went down on John's cock. Then John leaned back, shut his eyes, and tried not to come as quickly as last time.

***

John was flattered when Rodney chose one of John's babysitting days to make his triumphant return to the lab. Well, perhaps not so much a 'triumphant return' as a 'grim-eyed death march', and not so much 'chose' as 'desperately needed a tool that was in the lab and unable to con anyone into getting it for him'. Still, it was John who was at Rodney's side for this momentous occasion and John wasn't about to complain.

For a second no one noticed them when they stepped into the room and John saw Rodney begin to relax. Then Miko let out a cut-off yelp and everyone turned to stare. John quickly grabbed Rodney's shoulder to stop a run for the door.

Zelenka saved the day. "Ah, Rodney," he said, and John could tell his casualness was fake only because it was a minute before he had spoken in the first place. "I am glad you are here. We have a debate regarding solar neutrinos interacting with wormholes. Perhaps you could examine our math?"

John held his breath. Hell, everyone held his or her breath. Slowly, as if someone else were moving his legs for him, Rodney stepped up to the white board and examined the complicated equations. "Here," he said, after an agonizing minute of silence. "The ratio is reversed. It's a common mistake." And maybe Rodney wasn't quite himself, yet, but John released his pent-up air and finally allowed himself to think that everything would be okay.

***

Returning to the lab hadn't been nearly as hard as Rodney had thought it would be. At least no one had applauded, so it was far and away better than his first trip to the mess hall. Rodney still made sure Ronon was with him when he visited the labs a second time. John was great and all, but there was nothing like having a mountain of genuine super man warrior at your back for boosting your confidence.

He was also a pretty good pack animal, Rodney decided as he dumped another load of filters onto the pile of equipment currently sitting in Ronon's arms. At this rate, he wouldn't have to return to Zelenka's lab for at least another couple of weeks.

Cheered by that thought, Rodney led Ronon towards the nearest desalination tank to drop off some of the supplies. Repairs were going to be much easier if he had everything he needed already at hand next to each tank.

All things considered, it was a pretty good day, and Rodney found himself humming softly as Ronon dropped him off at the infirmary for his weekly checkup. He stopped abruptly, when he saw Carson looking at him strangely. "What?"

"Nothing," Carson said immediately. "Hold out your arm."

As Rodney watched the vials being filled with his blood – and no matter what John said, Rodney knew it was a bad thing that he'd gotten so used to this sight that it didn't bother him anymore – Carson asked casually, "How have you been feeling lately, Rodney?"

"Good," Rodney said. "I've been working more efficiently, though my productivity is still well below normal."

Carson had the audacity to roll his eyes. "I meant emotionally." He pulled out the needle and pressed a piece of gauze to the wound.

Rodney held down the gauze with one hand and glowered. "Well, I haven't had the urge to dial any orbital gates lately, if that's what you mean."

"Delighted to hear it, lad." Carson glanced around the infirmary, then hopped up on the bed next to Rodney.

Rodney raised his eyebrows, but refrained from comment. Carson hadn't asked for a urine test yet, but Rodney wasn't out of the infirmary yet.

"As you know, your lab results last week were very encouraging, and I have no reason to think that this week's results will not be the same. From what I have heard, you are better able to focus on your work, and have even begun eating regular meals in the mess hall."

"John makes me go," Rodney pointed out.

"Still, you are showing a lot of improvement, lad, and as long as you agree, I believe it's time to let Teyla and Ronon return to their regular tasks."

Rodney stared, not sure if he heard that right. "You mean, no more babysitters."

Carson nodded.

"Yes!" Rodney said. "I mean, Teyla and Ronon are great and all, but neither one is adequately equipped to assist me in the...um, I mean, I'm sure there talents are needed elsewhere."

Carson smiled. "Aye, that they are. I'll inform Elizabeth and John of the change."

"Great." Rodney slid off the table. "Thanks, Carson. I promise to lay off the bloodsucker jokes for at least a month." Rodney turned to go.

"One other thing, Rodney."

Rodney turned back. "But it's meatloaf night."

"I'm sure they'll save you a plate."

Rodney wasn't sure of that at all, but he wasn't about to risk his newfound freedom, so he just crossed his arms and waited.

"There's one aspect of your condition we haven't yet discussed." Carson turned slightly pink. "It's a more common affliction than most men believe, because of the social taboos—"

"Oh my God, Carson, stop there."

"But you don't know what I was going to say," Carson protested.

"You were going to give me the sex talk." Carson's flush deepened. "Believe me," Rodney added, "I'm fully aware that my testosterone levels are impacting my sex drive and I'm working on it. I don't need to discuss it, however, not now, not ever."

Carson reached into his pocket and pulled out a tube. "Just in case."

"Oh my God," Rodney said, staring at it. This was more embarrassing than that time he caught Jeannie and Rod Johnson making out in the basement. Though, it might be useful.

Avoiding Carson's eye, Rodney snatched the tube and nearly ran out of the infirmary.

***

That night, John managed to coax Rodney's cock to half-mast, the best performance to date. Rodney stared down at the spiky top of John's bobbing head and wondered what John would say if Rodney handed him the lube and offered himself. Would John be shocked? Excited? Disgusted? Please God, not that last one.

Finally, when it became clear that Rodney's erection wasn't going to get any harder, John lifted his head, his lips red and swollen. "Rodney, I've been thinking."

"Hmm?" Rodney asked languidly, enjoying the feel of John's hands running up and down his thighs. The little tube was still in his pants, which was just a few feet--

"Maybe we should try Viagra."

Well there was no way Rodney was letting John fuck him now. "What?"

"Just hear me out," John said in his 'placate the natives' voice. Rodney hated that voice. "It would just be temporary. You know, till your own body finishes healing itself."

He might have been planning to add more, but Rodney flipped them over and quickly slid down to John's crotch. He considered giving John a lousy blowjob in retaliation. Then he decided that the best revenge would be to make John come as quickly as possible.

Above him, John groaned. Rodney smirked. Viagra indeed.

***

A week, a week after Carson announced to John and Elizabeth that Rodney no longer needed constant supervision, Rodney got himself trapped in a flooding desalination tank while replacing a filter, the last step in resolving the desalination problem. It was a task that even the most junior scientist could have done and one that would have been assigned to whatever scientist was in disgrace back when Rodney was running the labs.

As John paced back and forth in front of the door, all he could think about was that this was just like the jumper and, God, what if it set Rodney back again? What if he came out of this situation in no better shape than the nearly-catatonic man they'd pulled out of the ocean? John wasn't sure if he had the strength to start this all over again, not now, not when Rodney was finally beginning to act like his old self.

Zelenka was crouched in front of the door, fiddling with crystals and frantically typing on his laptop, and John wanted to yell at him for assigning Rodney to this task, even though John knew perfectly well that Rodney had been given the entire desalination problem to solve and that this was just one tiny aspect of the bigger project. It just made it worse that Rodney had been so damn pleased to have gotten this project, seeing it as a big step in the direction of getting his old job back, and John had been happy for Rodney, happy to see him so energetic and just plain alive.

If only they'd had more time, John thought, stifling the urge to kick the unresponsive tank door. If only he hadn't been such a fucking coward. If only he'd just told Rodney, told him that--

The door to the desalination tank suddenly slid open, releasing a wave of water and one very smug Rodney McKay.

The medical team swarmed forward, and John stayed long enough to ensure that Rodney was going to be okay. Then he snuck off to have a quiet nervous breakdown.

***

By the time Rodney was released from the infirmary, John was feeling enough like himself to meet Rodney at the door. They walked through the halls silently, nodding to the people they passed and occasionally bumping each other's shoulder, as if by accident.

The moment the door to John's room shut, however, John shoved Rodney against the nearest wall and kissed him fiercely, proving to himself in the most visceral way possible that Rodney was okay, that he had survived his encounter, more than survived, triumphed. One of John's hand's slipped down from where it was cupping Rodney's head to press down on Rodney's chest, and John felt some of his terrible fear slide away as he felt Rodney's heart beating strong and sure under his fingers. Then, out of habit, John slid his hand down to Rodney's groin to see if there was any response to the ravenous kiss. His fingers brushed against a hot, hard length and Rodney, who had been giving as good as he got, moaned.

John froze for a beat, almost unable to believe after so long, and then he was sliding to his knees, fumbling with the fastenings to Rodney's BDUs and finally jerking them down just enough to release Rodney's swollen cock. The blowjob was quick and dirty, John sucking with everything he was worth and employing every trick he'd ever seen or heard about, just in case this was temporary, just in case this was his only chance to make Rodney come. He was so lost in the moment that when the hot, bitter liquid did flood his mouth he froze, unsure of what to do, and quite a bit of spunk dribbled out. John tightened his lips together, thought frantically of something else, and swallowed hard.

Then Rodney slid down the wall and leaned forward to lick the come off of John's chin. John's dick, which hadn't been sure of the whole swallowing thing, was unequivocally in favor of this and John surged forward, pressing Rodney against the wall as his tongue plundered Rodney's mouth, chasing the taste of Rodney come. Maybe it was an acquired taste, because it didn't taste so bad any more, not when he was licking it off of Rodney's tongue and lips.

Rodney pulled back for a second and whispered, "Fuck me."

He went back to kissing, apparently not noticing the way John had frozen, at least until John pulled back to say something intelligent, like, "Gack."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. We've been building up to this for weeks. Anyway, I'd do it to you, but I already came." A huge grin lit up Rodney's face.

John would walk through fire to see that grin but the fact was: "I've never done that before."

"Neither have I," Rodney said cheerfully. "But I've read Simpson's real person slash and you've seen Queer as Folk. I'm sure we can figure it out."

John blushed violently, but this wasn't the first time he regretted his fireside confession that he had watched Queer as Folk with one of his ex-girlfriends and it probably wouldn't be the last, so when Rodney stood up and started toward the bed, stripping as he walked, John followed and tried not to over think what they were about to do.

So. Right. First step, preparation. John considered rimming for half a second, but he knew he wasn't ready for that, so he asked the obvious question. "Lube?" Knowing Rodney, there was probably a bottle of lotion or sunscreen around here somewhere.

Rodney fumbled for his pants and pulled out a small plastic tube. John frowned at it, wondering why Rodney, of all people, had lubricant. Rodney flushed, but met John's gaze. "Carson gave it to me."

Oh God, he was never going to be able to look Carson in the eye again. Except John knew that wasn't true, since he managed to get seriously hurt twice a month on average and it's not like he had a choice of hospitals to go to. Hopefully Carson would employ a medical version of don't ask, don't tell next time John came for a visit.

"Have you fallen asleep?" Rodney asked. "Don't just stare at it, do something with it."

John rolled his eyes. "God, you're pushy."

"Oh, like that's a surprise." Rodney spread his legs a little further. "Any day now, John."

John felt an embarrassingly sweet rush of heat at the sound of Rodney saying his first name, and that was enough incentive for him to open the tube and slick a finger with the resulting clear gel. Taking a deep breath, John positioned himself between Rodney's legs. "Okay, here goes nothing. Tell me if it hurts."

"Yes, yes, yes." Rodney waved his hand in a hurry-up gesture. John just shook his head and pressed the finger between Rodney's cheeks. It only took a second to find the opening, but the finger would not go in, no matter how hard he pressed.

"Um, Rodney, I don't think this is going to work."

"Not if you're just going to rub me, Colonel Macho Man. You've got to use a little pressure."

John glared and pushed harder and suddenly the tip of his finger went in.

"Oh," Rodney said, his face going slack.

John stopped, his heart racing from its new home in John's throat. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Yes." Rodney's lips twisted into his thinking frown. "It's...odd, but not bad. Keep going."

Okay. John pushed a little harder and now the finger was in up to his knuckle. Rodney squeaked and John stopped again till Rodney nodded. At this rate, it was going to take all night and most of tomorrow to get to actual fucking.

Things got easier after the knuckle, however, and soon John's whole finger was pressed into Rodney's body. John stared down at his hand, flush against Rodney's balls, and was suddenly amazed at the strange twists of fate that landed him here, in bed with his finger deep in another man's ass. And he was actually enjoying it.

"Okay, I think we're good," Rodney said. "Now, find my prostate."

John turned his incredulous gaze on Rodney's face. "You're shitting me."

"Ha, ha, Colonel, you made a funny. Now just—" Here his hands moved in an especially obscene gesture and John winced. "Dig around until you find the prostate. It can't be that hard."

By this point, both John and his cock were starting to wonder if this was worth it, but they'd gotten this far. Besides, the first time was going to be the worst, right?

Tentatively, John stroked Rodney from the inside, trying to guess what a prostate felt like. Suddenly Rodney jerked. "Oh, oh! Stop! Go back!"

Apparently that had been it. John went back a millimeter and grinned when Rodney moaned. There might just be something to this. "Like that?"

Rodney flapped his hands in response. "Add another finger."

The second and third finger went in easily enough and, after a brief discussion of condoms wherein Rodney asked John how many people he'd slept with, to the nearest order of magnitude, and John told Rodney to go fuck himself before slicking a condom on just in case, John found himself trying to shove his respectably (if he did say so himself) sized cock into Rodney's pretty damn small hole. "Remember, tell me to stop if it hurts."

"Why do you persist in assuming that I've suddenly developed an enjoyment of pain?" Rodney asked, sounding exasperated. "I hate pain. Pain is my enemy. I will prevent you from introducing pain into my body. Now, fuck me before I close up and we have to prep all over again."

That was enough to get John moving. Remembering some of the more enlightening scenes from QaF, John lifted Rodney's legs until they were draped on John's shoulders, guided himself into position, then slowly started to push inside.

It was both easier and harder than he had anticipated. Easier, because Rodney's prepared body accepted his cock far more readily than it had initially accepted his finger. Harder, because every time Rodney tensed, John had to stop, when all he wanted to do was thrust in as deep as he could. By the time he was fully sheathed in Rodney, John was panting. "This is killing me," he said wryly.

"It'll be better next time," Rodney gasped, his voice strained. "I think you should move now." He illustrated his words with another obscene hand gesture that made it clear what he wanted.

So John moved. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled out. Then, with a bit more force, he thrust back in. "Okay?" he asked Rodney.

"Shut up, shut up," Rodney growled. "And move."

Emboldened by Rodney's words, John began thrusting as gently as he could. As Rodney grew more vocal, John moved faster, until he was pistoning into Rodney, his balls slapping against Rodney's ass, the heels of Rodney's feet digging into John's back. It felt fantastic, tighter and hotter than a woman, and narrated by Rodney's familiar, beloved voice. John felt himself getting closer, and he glanced down at Rodney's half-hard cock. "Can you come again?" he grunted between thrusts.

Rodney shook his head. "I want to see you, though," he said and his hand came up to run fingers through John's sweat-drenched hair. "Come for me, John."

So John came.

Afterwards, John lay half-draped over Rodney, listening to Rodney's heart beating beneath his ear. "So you think it'll be better next time?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"I don't know," Rodney said. "That was extraordinarily good."

"Yeah," John said, flush with a strange combination of smugness and tenderness. "I thought so, too."

***

The next day found John walking around Atlantis with a bounce in his step. In that morning's staff meeting, Rodney had surprised everyone by graciously proposing that Zelenka remain head of the research division. Zelenka, who'd apparently seen this coming, had made a counterproposal for the two of them to share leadership duties. An argument followed, since Rodney had a pathological need to be right, even when he wanted to be wrong. Zelenka won out, primarily because he said he'd quit if he were stuck running the labs by himself, and the way Rodney's face had lit up when he learned that he was going to get his old job back had made John's heart fill with empathetic joy. Even better, Rodney's weekly trip to the infirmary had shown that his testosterone levels had stabilized, which meant Rodney could go back on full active duty, including missions if he wanted. Best of all, after last night's fantastic sex, John and Rodney had taken advantage of the newly freshwater showers to have fantastic sex again this morning. Life was good and, barring any new attacks by the Wraith, only likely to get better.

When dinnertime rolled around without Rodney emerging from his lab, John decided it was time to pull him away for his own good. After all, it'd been almost half a year since Rodney'd worked regular eighteen hour days. Better to nip this in the bud before Rodney reacquired the habit.

He heard the voices from halfway down the hall, and he broke into a run when Rodney's shouting overrode the rest. "--fell apart while I was gone. Not that I expect you all to do anything extraordinary, but if you had only demonstrated common competence, we wouldn't be in this situation--"

John stopped at the door as the words of the rant sank in and he knew he was grinning like a madman as he caught sight of Rodney pacing before a crowd of scientists. The scientists all looked happy, as if Rodney berating them was better than chocolate, ice cream, and coffee all rolled into one. John had to agree, and with that in mind he strode right up to Rodney and kissed him full on the mouth in front of God and everybody. Someone started clapping and cheering and then there were catcalls, and even though John's eyes were closed, he could feel Rodney's eyes rolling.

John pulled back a half inch, his smile so big it felt like his face was about to split. "It's good to have you back, Rodney McKay."

"Yeah, well, it's good to be back," Rodney said gruffly. "Because obviously you couldn't survive without me."

John had to laugh, because after all, it was true. And it was a beautiful thing.