Spoilers: Hmm... references to Trinity, Aurora/The Hive, Epiphany, and Grace Under Pressure
John doesn't say it. He can't. Really, really can't. Rodney figured this out a long time ago. He'd intuited it before he ever had evidence to support the idea, before he'd ever had evidence that there would be evidence, actually. The hypothesis has been borne out, though. In almost two years of light banter and just over five months of heavy sex, John's never said that particular combination of words.
He's said each one singularly, though, and sometimes even in pairs, and Rodney's had a fleeting thought or two of taping them to splice together later. This idea has quickly been followed by the realization that he would then officially change generations as well as genders, so there hasn't been so much follow-through. He comforts himself with the knowledge that he still has no affinity for the color pink and positively despises boybands, and therefore cannot have gone too far to the dark side.
It shouldn't bother him. He knows that. He's a guy, and - all gay sex aside - in general, he thinks he lives up to the usual stereotypes rather well. He's casually messy, likes hockey, could live on beer and Easy Mac (if they had either in this galaxy, and how wrong is it that they subsist on MREs when any college student could tell you the basic survival foods are produced by Kraft and Ramen), and has been known to happily spend days camped out in boxers and a t-shirt. And if Atlantis doesn't count as the biggest geekboy toybox ever, he'll eat those shorts.
So, given all that, he feels perfectly manly admitting that John's omission worries him sometimes. It's completely fine for him to question, in the privacy of his own mind, what John thinks they're doing. It's totally okay to wonder whether their separate understandings of the situation are compatible, or even in the same book. He knows they're not on the same page, because Rodney wants to say the words. Very much. As much as he wants to hear them. Underneath it all, though, he's afraid John doesn't; doesn't want to say them, doesn't want to hear them, doesn't have them.
Rodney knows he was born a verbal creature. It gets him into trouble often enough. With Genii leaders of dubious morality, for one. His first response to any given situation is to speak, and it requires an effort not to. He can't afford it now, though. He usually gives in, because he's allowed to. He has a backup system in place at all times, if not of his own design, then in the form of John Sheppard. John saves them, John fixes it, John is there. He's not willing to change that last fact no matter how much the silence grates. Sometimes a theory shouldn't be made law.
Then again - all hair preparation tendencies aside - John's pretty accomplished in the art of manliness himself. Granted, he leans more toward the Bond end of the spectrum than the testicle-scratching, uncouth sector, but old Sean Connery is still lady-killing even now that he actually is old Sean Connery. Plus, John pulls off rugged just as well as he does suave. There's also the football obsession to consider, and the facility with guns and ammo. The Johnny Cash proclivity may be a bit much, though, and Rodney would think it's a blatant attempt to compensate for something, except John's never that obvious. When John wants something hidden, it's never there to begin with.
Rodney likes to think John's specific silence is a byproduct of his upbringing. That a military father - and yes, Rodney's read his file, because John sure as hell never talks about it - and an adulthood spent in the Air Force have made John emotionally stilted, or at least uncommunicative. Rodney cheerfully blames command structures and American cultural indoctrination and macho, bullshit brainwashing for the absences in John's vocabulary. All the while, though, he quietly wonders if the words are absent, or just not applicable.
John's got the strangest look on his face right now. If he didn't know better, Rodney would call it gobsmacked. His eyes are almost comically wide, mouth hanging open, eyebrows stunned into immobility. Oh, but there it goes, disappearing into the more familiar lines of tense and pale. His jaw locks tight, and that can't be good for his teeth. They don't have any orthodontic specialists in Atlantis, and even Beckett can't be expected to excel in all areas of medicine. It's already mildly ridiculous the number of specialties he's been rapidly acquiring, without adding dental matters to the mix. Then again, he probably has at least a working knowledge of floating practices...
Where was he? Oh, yes, teeth. Specifically, John's teeth. John has very nice ones. They aren't always employed to very nice purposes, but overall they are exceptional structures. They come in particularly handy sometimes. Rodney's borne their impressions occasionally, and liked the marks. The single biology class he'd been forced into in undergrad had mentioned that bite patterns are as unique as a fingerprint. Rodney likes the idea that the crescent-shaped bruises on inconspicuous parts of him are coded specifically to John.
John's teeth have a wide range of skills, though. They aren't confined to bedroom exploits. They've had many other functions in the span of John's life. For instance, when John had bared them at their guard just recently. The man had withdrawn rather dramatically, suitably impressed by their gleaming uniformity. If he hadn't been coming to release them anyway, Rodney firmly believes the teeth would have convinced him.
Which was what led to Rodney extolling the virtues of John's teeth to John. Not that John isn't familiar with them and their handiness, but sometimes the man needs to hear good things about himself. Rodney knows that John doesn't hear those often enough, and tries to sneak them in whenever possible. Of course, they usually have to be given ass-backwards to make an impression, but Rodney's a master at being covert. Really. Or maybe just at being ass-backwards.
So, when Rodney'd started out on his list of all things wonderful involving Sheppard dentition, John had shown off the items in question in a wry grin. They'd been trudging back to the gate, followed distantly by the get-the-hell-off-our-planet squad, Rodney leaning a little on John for balance. Just a bit, mind you. After all, what was a trace of manly hunger between - well, whatever they were. With their last meal coming almost 48 hours earlier, the hypoglycemia had been making its presence felt for a while. Now that they were heading home, though, Rodney was definitely perking up. Alright, maybe marathons weren't in his immediate future, but his mouth was a well-seasoned distance runner.
He'd listed off eating, sex, primal displays of dominance, and overall attractiveness before he'd been forced to admit the one shortcoming of those pearly whites. They seemed to keep things in, sometimes, that they really shouldn't, and he couldn't help noting it. Somewhere in there he must have hit a conversational landmine, because John isn't looking very entertained just now.
John had kept the amused look when Rodney'd asked, "Is it just with me?", so that wasn't the cause. It was afterward, then, when he'd gone all blank-faced. When the conversation had died a messy death.
John had asked, "Is what just with you?" with a trace of a smirk in his tone, possibly even a leer, so it wouldn't have been there either.
Then Rodney had said, "The whole... thing. You know, with the...The 'shalt not speak its name' thing. Or the anti-display thing. Or whatever. Is it just with me, because I'd really like to be clear, you know? You're confusing, and - much as I love you - I'd like to know where I stand, actually."
Oh, yes. Okay. That's when Sheppard had gotten that look on his face. Huh. Nice to know, and he'll have to remember to think this through later. Right now, though, the gate is looming large up ahead, Ronon looming slightly less large beside it, and Teyla is looking lithely furious by the DHD. Also, he seems to be about to pass out. Oh well. Plenty of time to contemplate while Carson restores his blood sugar.
He wakes in the infirmary with a splitting headache and the sinking feeling he's done something monumentally embarrassing. So, basically he's flashing back to every morning-after of every college party in history. Without the compensation of a really good buzz. He feels like the God of Hangovers, and wonders if Death could hurry things along a bit.
It gets better, though, and Beckett is only mildly sympathetic. He's learned to fear a conciliatory Carson; the man's only openly concerned about him when he's two steps and a stumble from dying. When there are barbs with his aspirin, he knows he'll survive.
Elizabeth stops by to get his version of events - depressingly short as it is - and to make sure he's alive, probably in that order. By afternoon, he's back in his room reviewing status reports from his crew and trying to sneak up on the vague memories crouching in the back of his mind. They're sly little bastards, however, and he never quite catches them.
Later, he files his abominably brief report, and is gratefully surprised to see that John's is nearly as short. It doesn't give him any clues about what happened, but since John's not bringing it up, it can't have been anything too bad. Sheppard would tease him for months if it were, if only in private. Rodney shrugs it off, and gets on with the business of being alive and productive.
It starts with a comb. Knowing Sheppard, he should have predicted that.
"What, you're afraid of my hair germs now?" He's standing in the bathroom doorway, arms crossed, watching John at the sink-approximation. And that device alone makes him constantly thankful he has the gene now. It's an unmitigated pain in the ass to manually operate a water dispenser made to be primarily thought-controlled. It's part of the reason he's never insulted Radek's hair.
Speaking of which. "I have hair tools, you know. I highly doubt you've got anything I haven't seen before."
John smirks suggestively at him. He also places the comb to the side, and changes the subject.
A few days later there's a razor. Then two t-shirts and a pair of boxers. By the close of a fortnight, he's feeling colonized. He raises an eyebrow at the copy of Moby-Dick on the nightstand, but decides he's above such childish humor. He forgets that the next time they have sex, when he thinks, "Thar she blows!" at a particularly inappropriate moment and winds up laughing on the floor. John, of course, is neither pleased nor sympathetic.
He's fully aware that John's doing this deliberately. Sheppard may be the original rebel without a cause, but the military life peeks through in the little things. He's not careless with his personal effects. Rodney himself was prone to more neatness than usual when they first came to Atlantis. With the nearest drugstore far out of reach, every item became precious. Now that the Daedalus has become their own personal Walgreens, however, John hasn't lost that instinct, and Rodney figures it's a permanent fixture of the man. Given that, every bit he leaves behind here is a statement. Their selection isn't random, either. Every piece is chosen to be comfortable and anonymous, nothing that would draw suspicion from anyone stumbling across it. Overall, Rodney's pleased by the migration - absurdly so, if the truth were known - but also rather confused. He's not sure whether it's a mark of intent or a placeholder, or something else entirely, and there's no way in hell he's going to ask. In the end, he shrugs it off as a weird Sheppard mating ritual, and accepts it as is.
It's after Arcturus that things change. Specifically, fourteen days after.
He's not expecting instant forgiveness - not anymore, at least - but he doesn't know how to make any progress at all when Sheppard won't even look at him.
John hasn't spoken to him in twelve days. He says, "Yes" and, "No" and "Got any ideas on how we can all avoid dying?", but these are words to the chief of science and none of them are Rodney's name. He's not sure when John stopped making eye contact, but it was more than three days ago. He can feel it slipping, and there's nothing he can do.
He goes quiet. He's been loud and forceful, and look where it got him. He's not deluded enough to think this will be a lasting condition, but retreat is a legitimate military tactic. Like all such maneuvers, he's not good at it, but he can make it work long enough to survive. He's picking up the pieces of himself and examining them for salvageability, but he doesn't know what's worth keeping right now. It all feels like broken glass in his hands.
In the meantime, he keeps long hours and stays in the labs as much as possible. He's got just enough sadism left in him to enjoy making the rest of the department uncomfortable, and there's some humor in the fact that now he doesn't even need to open his mouth to do it. Radek, of all people, may be the one who has forgiven him most completely. They'd been awkward for a few days after his apology - and it was a damn good one, if he does say so himself - but then a filtration system had needed fixing to prevent several kinds of messy death and in the heat of the moment they'd linked minds. Radek had handed him the correct wrench without his asking, and Rodney had understood him without translating the unconscious language switches. Afterward, they'd just forgotten to regress. Rodney made the good coffee for a few days for good measure, and Radek drank the first cup of the day while going over schematics with him, and they were fine.
He doesn't sleep in the labs because Radek will call him on that, and because he's not feeling quite masochistic enough to do that to his back. He puts it off as long as possible, but finally goes to his room when three in the morning threatens to turn into four. He stops dead just inside his door, eyes on the silhouette sitting on the end of his bed. The door slides closed behind him, and it's too dark to see much of anything.
As his eyes adjust, he can see the glint as Sheppard's head comes up. It's the only movement from either of them for a while, and Rodney wishes he could read John's eyes. Then there's a shape moving toward him slowly, and he doesn't know whether to step toward or away. In the end it doesn't matter, and he can't breathe let alone move.
He doesn't see the hands coming until they are on either side of his face, hold light and warm. That's all, just that touch, and he's shaking with it, leaning into it. Then there are lips against his, soft and closed. His own open on a sound that catches in his throat. John licks into his mouth, slow and gentle, and Rodney's dying with the will to take, to demand. He won't, though.
John backs toward the bed, and Rodney follows undirected. John turns them at the last moment and pushes down on Rodney's shoulders until he sits. John's hands shift, and he gets Rodney to inch up the bed, one fist of blanket at a time. John crawls up his body and Rodney sits up to meet him halfway. John pulls Rodney's t-shirt over his head and pushes him back, slipping away down him even as Rodney reaches to return the favor. John's lips leave a path down the midline of Rodney's body, stalling briefly while his fingers deal with fastenings, and then tracing over his left hip and thigh. They pause again on the inside of his knee as his shoes are unlaced and pulled off, as his socks follow. They follow the waistband of his pants as they travel down his calf, and finally stop on his ankle as the last of his clothes hit the floor. John's tongue flicks out to taste the bone there before taking the same trail back up, breath exhaled long and hot against the skin.
It isn't until John reaches his inner thigh again that Rodney realizes his own voice has been speaking all this time. Suddenly, he can hear himself whispering things like please and so sorry, god, John, I'm sorry, and he realizes that John's been breathing shushing sounds all this while. He tries to keep his voice inside himself, but it's not answering to him anymore and it doesn't stop until John pulls his own shirt over his head and settles between Rodney's legs, cutting him off by taking the air from his lips. This kiss is deeper, but no less gentle, and the care in it is breaking Rodney down to his component parts. It's no surprise that all of them want John, any way he can have him.
John pulls back slowly and shifts to take his pants off. Rodney lies beneath him and breathes shakily, hands on John's sides just above his waistband. John's already barefoot, and Rodney has a fleeting thought to give to how long John might have been here, waiting, and how much of this is planned. It's absurdly comforting to know that this isn't an accident, that it isn't a last-minute weakness. It just might mean there won't be regret later.
Then John is naked and reaching past Rodney's shoulder to the nightstand, and Rodney knows this was definitely premeditated. John holds himself on one arm and watches Rodney's eyes as he reaches down. Rodney locks his gaze and shifts one leg to the side. He fights to keep his eyes open as John pushes inside slowly, slick and careful. His breathing gets faster with the second, stutters with the third. John never goes faster, never takes his eyes away. Finally, he crooks a finger and Rodney's eyes slip closed against his will. He feels John's lips against his forehead as his hand pulls back.
John pushes into him with the patience of drifting continents, and Rodney's thinking vaguely about fault lines and sinking when John makes a sound low in his chest. Rodney's hands have been passive until now, afraid to make themselves known, afraid to break whatever moment this is. He can't help it anymore, though, and traces his fingers over the muscles in John's lower back, tight with strain. He maps the ridges of his spine, just barely there, and lets them guide him up to John's shoulder blades. He feels the way they pull together as John goes deeper, how they separate as John pulls back.
Every move is deliberate and full, nothing halfway. When John shifts just right, the roof of Rodney's mouth vibrates with the sound caught behind his teeth. John buries his head in Rodney's neck and thrusts harder, but to the same even beat. His hand slips between them, working Rodney to the same time and making his blood sing with this tempo. Rodney can feel the swing in it, the careful attention to syncopation.
He's waiting for John's direction, holding and straining with it. John flicks his thumb and the signal is given, and Rodney chokes out a moan at the release.
He comes back to himself to realize the direction is his now. He lays his hands broad over the flat stretch of John's back, the faint feel of staff-line ribs under his palms, and raises his hips. John's teeth rest on his shoulder, just enough to be felt and not hard enough to mark, as he breathes fast and sinks into him. Rodney tries to set a new rhythm, but John's not giving up on the old yet.
Rodney feels the sound against his skin before he hears it.
At first, he thinks it's a whimper. The desperation in it is right, but the tone is too low. Gradually it becomes a word. Just I, over and over and over again, with a pause between that eventually fades. It's Rodney's turn to hush him, one hand coming to John's head and stroking through his hair.
I'm sorry. I can't. I can't.
Rodney whispers that it's alright, and doesn't ask. He doesn't want to know. It seems to be enough, though, and John goes still inside him, his arms clenching around Rodney as he shakes. Rodney holds on, fingers still light down his spine.
He's not sure he could make himself let go, and John doesn't make him try. He just rolls himself to the side without releasing his hold, and Rodney shifts with him. They're on top of the blankets, and he'll regret that eventually, but not just yet. John's head is against his, nose pressed to the spot just below his ear, and Rodney realizes John is breathing him in. He recognizes genius when he sees it and returns the favor.
Later on, John wakes first with the chill and stirs Rodney enough to get them both under the blankets. Rodney's not awake enough to worry, but is relieved anyway when John wraps his arms around him and stays.
It takes some time, but things stop being strange between them. John starts kissing him without reservation, and Rodney stops expecting him not to.
Of course, being them, things go to hell more than once in their daily lives. They find Ford and lose him, they find the Wraith and lose them considerably more gratefully, and they lose John for a while as he loses faith in them. That's a blow, and Rodney comes closest then to saying what he's sworn he won't. Instead, he mouths words against John's skin without voicing them, and tries his best to convey you're an idiot and never with his hands and eyes. Sheppard comes out of the encounter with more bruises than he ever has before, but he also makes something close to a scream when he comes. From the way John lays there blinking and wide-eyed after, Rodney's cautiously optimistic he got the point across.
Two months later, Rodney firmly establishes that he doesn't like water anymore. Carson keeps him for gratuitous observation for two days before letting him leave. The long period might have something to do with the nightmares he refuses to explain to Carson, but he'd rather chalk it up to witchdoctoring sadism. He wakes in the middle of his first night back in his own bed with the feel of water in his nostrils and a chill seeping into him from every direction. He breathes deeply until he falls back asleep, and wakes for the second time to the feel of John slipping an arm over his side. John's chest is solid against his back, and his palm spreads wide over Rodney's chest. Rodney nestles himself a little closer and evens his breathing back out. It's strangely harder to slip away this time, as though he's reluctant to give up the awareness of comfort. He's almost there, though, when the hair on the back of his head stirs. Breath ghosts over the nape of his neck, and he's suddenly not sure that he is awake when the words register. They are soft and barely there, but he hears them all the same.
He does his best not to react, keeps himself from moving, and John sighs and strokes his fingers down Rodney's chest lightly. Finally, the tension goes out of John, and Rodney knows he's asleep.
When morning comes, he won't say a word about this. He'll do his best not to let on that he heard, and to show that he knows all the same. John needs the illusion, and Rodney needs John, and he's surprised to find that it really is that simple.
Not surprisingly, they're on a mission when it all suddenly gets complicated again.
The Farnurians are apparently experiencing some government restructuring issues, and they are equally apparently willing to share them. Rodney thinks it's very generous of them. The fact that they have decided to do this in the form of some rather unpleasantly effective projectile weapons is a bonus.
Things had started out fairly well, really. The Atlantis team had been welcomed with open arms, and Rodney thinks that should have been their first clue. Statistically speaking, that only rarely ends well. Unbeknownst to the newcomers, however, their arrival had been the first sign of the planet's prophesied apocalypse, with several fun-filled days of feasting and merry-making culminating in a ritual suicide. As near as the four of them can guess, somewhere along the line a worst-case scenario for Wraith attack was mistranslated and too many intervening centuries led to a serious misunderstanding. They had all tried to impress this on the Farnurian leadership - well, John and Teyla impressed, Rodney ranted a lot, and Ronon's shoulders expressed their disgust eloquently - but the council had refused to be moved.
A large faction of the population, however, had been rather insistent on investigating the Atlanteans' claims. Rodney would have been greatly inspired by their intelligence if they hadn't chosen to do it via militant coup. He might even have been alright with that strategy, were he and his team not caught between the fighters.
All of which led them to here. Currently, Rodney is following John as they play a new and inventive form of hide and seek in the Farnurian capital city. Teyla and Ronon have split off from them, in the interests of dividing their pursuers. They aren't quite sure how to tell the factions apart, so they're hiding from everyone that isn't one of them. As far as plans go, they're going with the extremely basic but hopefully effective end-run on the gate. Considering that the council has announced them in need of immediate termination, it seems like a good plan.
The city itself reminds Rodney of Siberia, except that it's warm and dry and there is no borscht. He'd count that as an improvement if it didn't also mean that he feels hunted and exposed, and they have no idea where they are. This section seems to be very old, the buildings crumbling and the streets themselves no more than packed dirt. So far, they've been remarkably lucky and no one is paying them much attention as they weave through alleys and duck around walls. They've lost their packs in the interest of speed, but they're still armed and that's more than they can sometimes say about situations like this.
They are peeking around a corner, trying to decide where to head next, when their luck runs out.
He doesn't feel the shot. He's just suddenly on the ground, staring at a sea of blue. There aren't any clouds above him, and it's disorienting to have no landmarks. He blinks and Sheppard is crouched over him, face up and gun firing, and Rodney still can't find his place. From here, Sheppard is just a clenched jaw and hands on a gun. Then the Colonel holsters the weapon and grabs handfuls of Rodney's vest to drag him back into the nearest doorway. Rodney feels the pain then.
He doesn't think he actually passes out, but not much is clear for a while. When it does start to filter through, he's in a darkened room, propped against a wall, and John is working on him. Rodney's vest is open, and he can't see much with John's head in the way, but there's definitely blood. John's hands are steady as he reaches for gauze and the pressure bandages in his own vest. He doesn't hesitate as he packs the wound low on Rodney's back, nor when he winds the bandages around the exit just above Rodney's left hip. John is calm and competent, the gun lying within easy reach next to him and his eyes flickering to the barricaded door.
"You'll be fine, McKay. It's just a scratch. Doc'll slap a bandaid on it and send you home." His eyes aren't meeting Rodney's, and it isn't even because Rodney will know he's lying. He already does, and they both know that.
And then John looks up and touches Rodney's face. There's a fine tremor running through the fingertips against Rodney's temple, and something breaking in John's eyes.
He's glad he didn't know this was coming. He might have done something stupid and melodramatic. As it is, he leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes and thinks god, I love you as loud as he can. "So, what's our next move?"
He waits until John starts rattling off very bad lies before letting his mind wander.
I'm sorry, he thinks, and realizes that he really, really is. For not understanding. For not believing. For leaving, now that he finally does. Not for John, though. He's not at all sorry that John is fact, or that he will be that way after Rodney ceases to be.
It's the first time he's ever wanted to go first. Not that he wants to go at all, but he wants to watch John die even less, and that's new to him. He'd already figured out, of course, how much he didn't want John to die. Watching the man get rather convincingly vaporized a few times brought that home. This is beyond that, though, and as far as epiphanies go, it's a damn big one.
Of course, it's interrupted. John's radio crackles, and Lorne's voice emerges. John answers, and Rodney hears, "Sir, we're directly overhead and prepared for extraction."
Rodney thinks that the locator beacons in their vests were an excellent idea and congratulates himself on them. He's listening to John detailing the plan with Lorne, and everything is pleasantly numb.
Then John is slapping his face and saying his name in a tone Rodney's never heard from him before. Rodney would protest the rough treatment, but he doesn't have the energy right now to do more than raise his head and look at John. The slapping stops, at least, and John's thumb sweeps over his cheekbone instead.
John's just opening his mouth when there's gunfire outside. A few minutes later Lorne is calling out to them from the other side of their door, and John moves to shift their defenses away. The light streaming in casts him in sharp relief, and it's the last thing Rodney sees for a while.
He doesn't remember much of the trip back to the gate. He spends it on the jumper floor, leaning against John, who's in turn leaning against the seats in the back. John's hand over his side is pressing down hard, and he's sure it should hurt. Strangely, it's the other one that he feels more securely. John's left arm is snaked around Rodney's chest, and his hand is gripping the outside of Rodney's shoulder hard enough to bruise. Rodney's body isn't submitting much data just now, but he feels each of those fingertips individually. Rodney's chin is on his chest, pressing his lips to John's forearm. It puts his nose against John's skin, where he can smell the sweat and dust and gunpowder with each breath. It's oddly reassuring.
The space around them has been quiet for some time when he hears it. The words are barely there, right against his ear, and there's a thread in them that isn't anger at all. "You want to hear it, Rodney? Fine. I'll make you a deal. We get back, and I'll blast it over the comms. Fuck, I'll skywrite it." Then, softer yet, "Just stay here."
It annoys him when he doesn't have the energy to tell Sheppard he'd make a lousy wicked witch. The hat would hide the hair, for one thing. He's drifting again, but he tries to remember that thought for later, along with the feel of those fingertips.
He's in the infirmary for two weeks before he's both alone with John and conscious enough of it to be appreciative. In the meantime, John sits beside him sometimes and brushes their hands together when no one is watching, and Rodney fights the urge to blush embarrassingly. It's a simple thing, to stand outside on this balcony together, but he's grateful for it. He doesn't mention those last minutes in the air. As it turns out, he doesn't need to.
John's not looking at him. He's staring straight out to sea, eyes mapping the waves and their movement. "It's not because I don't."
It takes a second to register, and then Rodney tries to stop him. "You don't need to explain. I get it. It's -"
Sheppard's hands are white-knuckled on the railing. His gaze doesn't flicker from the very empty ocean. "No, really don't think you do."
Rodney stops, swallows, hands moving as the right words try to form in his brain. This one time, the ones that will make John understand are amazingly elusive.
Before he finds them, John continues. "I never have. It's not something... It's not something I've ever had to do."
Rodney's just considering whether to be mildly offended by that when Sheppard sighs and drops his head. "Shit, I'm saying this wrong." He bites his lip, rubs the back of his neck, and Rodney will stop finding that distracting any day now. "It's never been an issue before. Not since I was a kid, when it was stupid and didn't mean anything."
He's twisting his hands on the rail. "It does now."
And that's... well, huh. Chalk one up to command structures and American cultural indoctrination and macho, bullshit brainwashing. And maybe Rodney's not the only one who needs to say the words.
"It doesn't count if it's just us." His hand has slid stealthily over onto Sheppard's, fingers lying in the hollows between knuckles. "Closed system, right?"
Sheppard's hand is still clenched on the metal, and Rodney thinks of ways he could take the words back, take the request back. Then John's hand flips quickly over beneath his own, fingers interlacing with his. The grip is painful, and incredibly welcome.
"From secret to conspiracy, huh?" John is smiling, faintly. "Sounds dangerous."
Rodney's lips respond in kind, as usual. "Oh, but danger is my middle name." John's snort is undignified, and vaguely insulting. "We're living in a galaxy far, far away on the dime of a bunch of nations' worth of taxpayers who have no idea we exist. I think we have plenty of practice with lurking in the shadows. Plus, it's worked for the whole Kennedy-killing crew for years."
John shakes his head, grinning now. "Great. You're gonna tell me there were Canadians on the Grassy Knoll?"
"No, of course not. Then I'd have to kill you, and that would be a shame." He waits a beat for the sake of comedic timing and his own nerves. "I've finally gotten you properly trained, after all. Plus, I'm strangely fond of you." He wants to be shifty and avoid eye contact, but this means too much for that.
The look that comes to John's face is not what Rodney had expected. It's not even what he feared. John's lips lose their wry tilt, melt into something much softer, and the faint lines around his eyes get deeper. The eyes themselves are gentle.
Rodney could never have anticipated this, really. He's never seen it before. He's seen John excited and pleased and even - on a few memorable occasions, most of them involving weapons of some nature - almost gleeful. None of those are like this. This isn't having fun. This is having joy.
When John leans forward and whispers against the shell of Rodney's ear, it isn't a secret at all.