General & Dr Sheppard: 12. Sharing a Plate
“I hate parties,” Rodney McKay was saying through the closed bathroom door.
“I know,” John replied, leaning against the wall in Rodney’s quarters and playing with his PDA. “That’s why I’m here—to remind you that there will be food. Really nice food. Party food.”
“That’s the only reason why I ever go to parties,” Rodney told him.
“And that’s another reason why you never get laid,” John pointed out, and then he paused, head cocked, waiting for the inevitable torrent of protests.
“That’s not true! And how would you know how often I get laid, anyway?” came back the blustering reply. John grinned and rolled his eyes at the bathroom door.
“Oh, I have a pretty good idea,” he replied. “Besides, you’ll like this party. This party is special. We have to send the general and Dr. Sheppard off in good style, don’t we? Don’t want them going home tomorrow and telling all those leather people they live with that we don’t know how to throw a good party.”
There was no reply. John sighed and put his PDA away. It had been a couple of weeks since Rodney Sheppard had been shot, but he’d made an excellent recovery—which, John suspected, was due in no small part to the general. Now they were well enough to return to their own universe, and Elizabeth had decreed that a big party should be held in their honor in the big hall.
“Are you coming out any time soon?” John asked. “Because all the good food will be gone before we get there.”
The door opened almost immediately at that, as John had suspected it would, and Rodney stood there, looking, actually, endearingly shy. John didn’t think he’d ever seen this particular expression on Rodney’s face before, but over the past couple of weeks he’d become used to seeing these new expressions as Rodney had started trusting him enough to lower his guard with him. John didn’t linger too much on Rodney’s face, though…because he couldn’t help his gaze traveling up and down Rodney’s body—and, man, Rodney looked hot. He was wearing a pair of black chinos and a loose, pale blue denim shirt. His clothes weren’t exactly anything extraordinary, but they were so unlike anything John had seen Rodney in before that he took a moment to enjoy it. The shirt went well with Rodney’s blue eyes, and it hung pleasingly on the other man’s toned arms and shoulders. The pants fitted around his ass in a snug way, clinging in just the right places to make John’s cock stir in his pants, and…he’d done something with his hair. John wasn’t entirely sure what, maybe some gel because it was sort of spiky, but it looked good. In fact, Rodney actually looked…kind of cool, which, for someone as geeky as Rodney, was saying something.
“You look…really hot,” John told him.
Rodney flushed. “Thank you, Colonel,” he said primly.
John noticed he always reverted to calling him ‘Colonel’ whenever he thought things were getting too personal. Somehow Rodney didn’t seem to have noticed that they were actually dating, but John intended to enlighten him on that topic tonight. He figured he’d waited long enough, and although Rodney wasn’t quite eating out of his hand yet, he was definitely twining around his ankles and wrapping his tail around John’s leg.
“And you…uh, look okay, too,” Rodney added, glancing at John’s jeans and dark olive-green shirt ensemble. His gaze lingered just a bit too long when it reached John’s ass, and John grinned to himself. Oh, yeah, Rodney was so nearly there. Tonight was going to be very interesting.
“So—ready?” John asked.
Rodney nodded and they set off to the big hall. John swung into step beside Rodney and rested his hand on the scientist’s shoulder, noticing as he did so how Rodney adjusted his stride, almost imperceptibly, to match his own, and how his body leaned in towards his. John longed for the day when he could slide his arm around Rodney’s waist as they walked, or wrap his arm around Rodney’s shoulders and across his chest, or allow his hand to rest on Rodney’s enticing ass, but for now, he would settle just for being able to rest his hand lightly on Rodney’s shoulder.
“You have to admit you’re going to miss these guys,” John said as they walked. “I mean, I know we’ve had our differences with them, but I’ll be sorry to see them go.”
“I have become…accustomed to having them around,” Rodney admitted.
“Oh, come on. You and Rodney Sheppard have been inseparable these past couple of weeks,” John chided. “I know you didn’t get on with him to start with, but now you finish each other’s sentences all the time and nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about when you get going on the science gobbledegook.”
“It has been nice to finally have someone around here that’s my intellectual equal and can actually conduct an intelligent conversation,” Rodney commented, with a sly grin in John’s direction. John pinched his shoulder for that and Rodney giggled. John stopped short in his tracks.
“What?” Rodney said, looking back at John.
“You…. That sound you just made. Do it again.”
“What sound? I didn’t make any sound!” Rodney protested.
“Yes, you did. You giggled, Rodney.”
“I most certainly did not,” Rodney refuted.
“Oh, yeah. You giggled. I’m going to listen out for it and next time you do it, you are so busted.”
“There won’t be a next time because there wasn’t a first time,” Rodney said loftily. “I didn’t giggle—I was clearing my throat. Now, are we going to this damn party or not?”
They stepped into the big hall a few seconds later to find the party already in full swing. There were balloons everywhere, and a massive banner saying “GOODBYE!” strung across one end of the hall. The entire room—and it was a big room—was heaving with people.
“Is everyone in the entire city here?” Rodney asked, wrinkling up his nose.
“They’re popular guys—and it’s not just the city. We’ve been ferrying over Athosians all afternoon,” John told him. “The general made quite a few friends over there. Don’t worry, Rodney, I’m sure there’ll be enough food for everyone.”
Rodney looked relieved on that score and went running off to find it.
John watched him go, a wry smile on his lips, enjoying the sight of Rodney’s ass in those chinos he was wearing. He wondered what was going on in Rodney’s head right now. The other man was certainly much more relaxed around him these days – he confided in John in a way he never had before, and sometimes John would look up to find Rodney gazing at him, as if trying to decide something. Finding that other universe where they were also a couple seemed to have changed him in some way; it was as if he’d stopped resisting the idea of them being together, and was now seriously playing with the thought of it, even if he wasn’t yet ready to take the plunge. It had given John a lot to think about as well. He knew he wanted Rodney – wanted him fiercely and passionately, and he suspected that every John in every universe felt pretty much the same way, however they expressed it. The brief glimpse he’d had of Major Sheppard in the other universe had convinced John that he felt as strongly and possessively about *his* Rodney as John and the general felt about their own respective Rodneys. That didn’t mean they all had to have the same kind of relationship though – John was pretty sure that he didn’t want exactly what the general had with his Rodney, but he also didn’t think that he and the general or that other John were too dissimilar either. John wanted to love his Rodney and to protect him, wanted to make him *his*, but he didn’t need leashes and straps, and he didn’t need Rodney to swear undying submission to him either. At the same time he knew he definitely had sexually dominant feelings towards the scientist; he wanted the thrill of having someone that smart and with that much attitude surrender to him sexually; he wanted to feel Rodney go still beneath him and offer himself up to him. He longed to hold the scientist down and look into those wide blue eyes as he slowly showed Rodney just how good sex with another man could be. He had absolutely no doubt at all that Rodney was a virgin – at least as far as men were concerned, and he longed to be the first – and last – man in Rodney’s life, and in Rodney’s bed. He also suspected his Rodney would respond to what he could offer; he had seen it in Rodney’s eyes that time when they were wrestling, when Rodney had offered him his submission. Rodney longed to be claimed – he had just never trusted anyone enough to give himself up to them before. John had been patient though, and even though he wanted desperately to claim his prize he’d wait until Rodney was ready, because somehow he had a feeling that this was a prize well worth waiting for.
Rodney was now long out of sight, lost in the thronging crowd, and John turned—to find the general striding towards him.
“John! I’ve been looking for you!” The general grabbed him by the arm and steered him out onto the balcony. “Look, I don’t know how much time we’ll have in the morning and…well, I don’t know how long I’m going to be sober this evening,” he held up a bottle of beer with a grin, “so I wanted to say goodbye now.”
“I hate goodbyes,” John muttered, resting his hands on the balustrade and looking out on the dark Atlantean night.
“Me, too,” the general said with a grin. “Obviously. But…I just wanted to say that it’s been a pleasure and an honor meeting you, John. You’re a good man and you’ve done a fantastic job here.”
John gazed sideways at the other man, feeling a warm glow deep inside. He knew he wasn’t alone in his hero worship of the general—he suspected that most of the people in this city would throw themselves into the dark ocean beneath them right now if the general said it was necessary—but it meant a lot to him that he had the general’s good opinion.
“Any lessons you could give me on, you know, being cool before you leave?” John asked with a wry grin.
“Oh, I think you’ve got that pretty much covered,” the general replied, grinning back. They gazed at each other for a moment, and then the general shifted. “I mean it,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to your people and not one of them had a bad word to say about you. Well, except that Kavanagh guy, but I figure he has a bad word to say about everyone, right?”
John snorted. “That sounds about right, yes,” he agreed.
“But the rest of them think that as far as you’re concerned, the sun shines out of the proverbial….” The general shrugged and grinned again. “But you knew that, anyway—didn’t you?”
John thought about it for a moment, and then he gave a little nod. “Yeah. I knew it. They’re a great bunch of people,” he said softly.
“Now…there’s one thing I need to know before we leave,” the general said, a little grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
John sighed. “I’m working on it!” he said.
“Good. Because some things are different in our universes, like Radek being alive here, but there are some things that seem to be universal constants and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be the odd universe out. Any advice I can give you?”
“No, I think I can take care of it, thanks.” John made a face.
“Okay, but you know I’m going to, anyway, right? Always be honest with him. He can see through bullshit a mile away and he won’t trust you if you lie to him—and his trust is important, as I’m sure you’ve figured out. It takes forever to win it, but once you’ve got it…it’s a feeling like nothing else. He’ll make you feel special in a 101 ways every single day and you’ll wonder why on earth someone so incredibly smart would be interested in you—and then he’ll do something amazingly stupid and you’ll remember exactly why he needs you. Be firm with him, never allow him to retreat or push you away—and just love him, fiercely, with all your heart. He responds to that best of all.”
“I’ll try to remember all that,” John said, shaking his head ruefully.
“Do more than try. You’re too good a man to be lonely, John. I want to leave here knowing that you’ve got someone special in your life; someone loyal and loving who’ll take care of you.”
“This is Rodney we’re talking about here,” John commented, with a little quirk of his mouth.
“Just you wait—he’ll surprise you. He surprises me every day,” the general said. “He takes some taming, but once you’ve got him eating out of your hand, you won’t find anyone more loyal or, frankly, more fun to have around. And as for the sex…”
John grinned and rolled his eyes. “You know, one thing I’m not going to miss about you guys is the way you talk about sex so much in casual conversation. Call us old-fashioned—”
“Or hopelessly repressed,” the general grinned.
“—Or hopelessly repressed, but we just don’t talk like that.”
The general laughed out loud at that. “Well, our ways may not entirely be yours, but I think in some ways you and I are pretty similar—and we’ve both learned a lot from each other.”
“Really? You learned something from us?” John asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Sure. Things are different here and I’m not denying I’ve found them strange and complicated, but it’s been an amazing experience, and one I wouldn’t have changed for anything, despite its downside. You people are kind—kinder than we are, I think. You’re also extremely generous and although I’ve found your politeness irksome at times, I’ve since come to realize it’s just a sign of your fundamental decency and sense of honor. You’re less fierce than we are, but not less passionate, I think. You just keep the passion more hidden, whereas with us, it tends to be more on display.”
“Yeah. We had kind of noticed,” John grinned.
The general grinned back and then his expression changed, and became thoughtful and serious. “Most of all, though, I wouldn’t change meeting you, John,” he said. “That’s what’s made this whole experience worthwhile. Now, this might be my last chance to say this, so…it’s been an honor, Colonel.” And with that, the general stood to attention, raised his hand stiffly to his forehead, and saluted.
John gazed at him, a tiny lump forming in his throat. “Thank you,” he said softly.
Rodney McKay pushed his way over to the food, found a plate, and began piling it high with goodies from the table. Then he turned and edged away with his laden plate.
“Out of my way! Coming through!” he called impatiently to the throng of people blocking his way.
“Hey,” a voice said, and he turned to find Rodney Sheppard standing there with a plate also piled high with food. He was dressed in that blue silk shirt and his curly hair was longer than ever. The other Rodney looked him up and down and then gave a little whistle. “Wow. I never thought I’d say this, but you actually look pretty hot,” he said.
Rodney rolled his eyes, squirming inside, but peculiarly pleased by the compliment all the same. “Thanks. That’s what John just said.”
“Heh. How’s that going?” The other Rodney gave him an alarmingly lascivious wink and Rodney blinked.
“Fine. I think. In fact, I think we might be on some kind of a date tonight, but I’m not sure.”
The other Rodney grinned. “See, I told you,” he said, in a tone of some glee. “You two will be sharing a plate before we know it.”
“Sharing a plate?” Rodney frowned, as they walked over to the balcony together to find the two Johns.
“It’s a euphemism we use in our universe for when a couple get together,” the other Rodney explained. “You see, when a couple gets serious, often the first thing they’ll do is start sharing a plate of food at the dinner table. Sometimes it can be a real performance doing it for the first time. It means you’re sleeping together and you’ve figured out whether you’re topping, or bottoming, or switching in this particular relationship, and that you’re serious about each other and you want everyone else to know that. You have no idea how many stupid romantic comedies have been made about couples sharing a plate, or sharing the wrong plate, or not sharing a plate but wanting to, or seeing people they’re married to sharing a plate with someone else by accident and coming to the wrong conclusions.”
“Oookay,” Rodney said, faintly alarmed by the explanation. “Well, I think I can safely say that the colonel and I will never share a plate. I don’t care how much I like the guy, my food is my food and I don’t do sharing.”
They reached the Johns and the other Rodney handed the general his plate while Rodney’s John gazed at him with a little pout.
“You didn’t get me any?” he said.
Rodney sighed and shoved the plate at him. “Here, have mine,” he said. “I’ll go and get some more.”
“No need—you’ve got enough here to feed an army! Hey, aren’t these those meat roll things you like so much?” John picked one up and held it out and Rodney found himself opening his mouth and taking a bite, and then he groaned as he saw the expression on the other Rodney’s face.
“You were saying?” The other Rodney raised an eyebrow.
“This is not that…that thing we were just talking about,” Rodney hissed around a mouthful of food.
“Okay. If you say so. It’s just that it looks like the exact same thing,” the other Rodney said, with that little giggle of his.
Rodney decided not to bother protesting.
“I was just explaining to him about the origins of the phrase ‘sharing a plate’,” the other Rodney explained to the general, who was looking at them both with a raised eyebrow.
“Ah, I see. Did he explain to you about the phrase ‘buckling the belt’ as well?” the general asked.
“Nope, never heard of that one,” John said.
“I told Carson a while back, when we first arrived. See this belt….” The general pointed at the frankly impressive black leather belt with the large silver buckle he was wearing. “This is my wedding belt. Carson was my best man, so he buckled it for me the first time. He also made sure it was well stocked with all the kinds of paraphernalia I’d need to handle my husband —and it’s a good thing he did, because when we arrived here, we only had the clothes we stood up in. Thank God I had my strap and all the other things I need to keep Rodney here in order.”
The other Rodney snorted out loud at that. “Yeah, because I’m such a difficult sub,” he groused.
“You have your moments,” the general replied with a grin. “Half the stuff on this belt is business and half is for pleasure,” he told them. “And sometimes the line between those two concepts is a little bit blurred. So that’s why we sometimes say ‘buckling the belt’ when two people get married.”
“Supposing they’re both switches?” Rodney asked, feeling rather pleased with himself for getting to grips with the strange ways of this other universe.
“Then they both get a belt,” the other Rodney said. “As it was, I got a collar—which John put on me—and he got the belt. It’s all just customs, really, like your wedding rings.”
“And the pendants? Were they a wedding thing?” Rodney asked, gazing at the pendants around their counterparts’ necks, both of which were engraved with the same entwined J and R that was tattooed on their arms.
“Nope, we gave each other these the night we lifebonded,” the general replied, fingering his gently and smiling at his husband. He put his arm around the other Rodney and deposited a kiss on his forehead. “Hey, don’t you think this party needs some music?”
“I think Radek is setting something up.” Rodney gestured with his head across the hall at where Radek was fiddling with some kind of sound system.
“How about some live music in the meantime?” the general suggested. “I got Colonel Caldwell to bring something back on his last trip. Rodney played it for me while we were recuperating—music always calms him down and I love listening to him play.”
“Really?” John looked intrigued by this although Rodney had a suspicion he knew what it would be, and his heart sank when he saw he was right as the general led them across the room to a small baby grand piano.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” the other Rodney said, scrambling to sit down at the instrument. “I have no idea what John had to bribe Steven with to get him to bring her back, but I made sure he knew just how grateful I was.” He winked at his husband and Rodney found himself flushing again, although really he thought he should be used to this by now.
“Wait…he plays?” John asked, surprised.
“Like an angel…or sometimes like a demon,” the general said, with a little wink of his own.
The other Rodney paused for a moment, his hands poised dramatically over the keyboard, and then he brought them down on the ivories and his fingers began moving fast, like a dervish whirling its way across the board. Rodney closed his eyes, hating the way his own fingers were twitching.
“My God,” he heard John breathe beside him. “He’s fantastic.”
“He could have played at concert level, but some idiot piano teacher dented his confidence when he was just a kid,” the general growled. “If I could get my hands on that guy, I’d pound some sense into him. No, of course he didn’t play with a whole lot of soul when he was twelve years old—he didn’t have many life experiences to draw on back then! But he was technically brilliant and he still is, and I’d defy anyone to say he doesn’t pour his heart into his music when he plays. Sometimes, when he’s playing just for me…it can bring tears to my eyes.”
“He’s that good?” John said, in a surprised tone.
“Oh, yeah. He’s that good.”
“Well, I guess that’s something that’s different to our universe, huh, Rodney?” John said, turning to glance at Rodney.
Rodney opened his eyes, his entire body convulsing with longing to be part of the sound emanating from that piano. He’d always vowed he’d never touch a piano again, but the look of pure rapture on his counterpart’s face was a siren’s song he just couldn’t resist.
“Not so much, no,” he replied softly, and then he found himself walking over to the piano, and sitting down beside the other Rodney, who looked up briefly, then grinned and budged up to make room for him.
It had been over 25 years since he’d last played, but Rodney’s fingers still knew all the notes. He could sometimes hear the sounds in his head at night and would find his fingers sliding over imaginary keys, searching for the tune, and now it was as if he’d never stopped playing. He brought his fingers down on the keys, caressing them, teasing out a tune with his counterpart, and the music began to flow effortlessly between them. Rodney lost himself in the sound —it had been so long since he’d enjoyed this particular pleasure and he’d forgotten just how much he’d once loved it. Playing the piano had been a good way of avoiding his parents, and if he played long enough and loud enough, he had been able to drown out the sounds of their many arguments. As a child, he’d always been fascinated by both music and math, by how they brought order and harmony to what was, for him, a pretty chaotic world, and he’d perhaps been overly absorbed by the technical side of playing the piano, at the expense of the emotional side of making music. When his teacher had told him he’d never make it as a concert pianist because of the lack of feeling in his music, he’d turned his back on it irrevocably and thrown himself into science instead, with the same degree of dedication. But now…now it felt so good to be caressing those beautiful sounds out of the instrument in front of him. He turned and grinned at Rodney Sheppard, who grinned back excitedly, and they played together, their fingers tripping in tandem over the keys.
A little crowd gathered around them as they played and when finally they stopped, the room burst into a spontaneous round of applause.
“Well, aren’t you the dark horse,” John murmured as Rodney got up, feeling flustered by all the unaccustomed attention. “Seriously—that was amazing. I had no idea you could play like that.”
“There are a lot of things about me that you have no idea about, Colonel,” Rodney replied, and an unreadable expression flickered across John’s face and the atmosphere between them became suddenly tense with all kinds of unspoken thoughts.
A sudden loud blaring of disco music broke into the tension, and they both looked across the room to find Radek hopping up and down excitedly, waving his hands around. Elizabeth came up, a wide grin on her face.
“Looks like it’s time to dance!” she announced.
“Rodney?” the general said, holding out his hand to his husband. His Rodney took it and they began moving in time to the beat in a way that Rodney found frankly embarrassing.
“Oh, God,” he sighed. “It’s like watching your parents dance or something. If your parents were gay, that is.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Rodney,” Elizabeth said. “There are plenty of same sex couples dancing—these two have set quite a trend while they’ve been here.” She nodded her head in the direction of the sound system, where a throng of couples were now gyrating. Rodney made out Miko with her arms around one of the female scientists from the botany department whose name he didn’t know, and a couple of male scientists—the ones who always played chess together—whose names he also didn’t know, along with the usual multitude of heterosexual couples. “And as this is a party for our guests, I think we should all dance with someone of our own gender in honor of their relationship,” Elizabeth said, with an infectious little giggle that led Rodney to suspect that she’d had far too much to drink. “Teyla—would you do me the honor?”
“I would be delighted, Elizabeth,” Teyla said, with a gracious inclination of her head.
Rodney groaned. “Honestly, it’s excruciating.”
John turned to him, a wide smile on his face.
“What?” Rodney gazed at him, and then realization hit home. “Oh, no. No, no, no,” he said hurriedly, putting his hands up.
“Everyone’s doing it, Rodney,” John told him, advancing on him.
“That’s no reason for us to do it!” Rodney protested.
“You’re just playing hard to get,” John teased, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling him over to where everyone was dancing.
“We’ll never live this down,” Rodney told him.
“Rodney, this entire city has just spent several weeks watching two people who look and talk just like us kissing and fondling each other every five minutes. I really doubt the sight of you and me dancing will have them raising an eyebrow.”
“Shh,” John said, and then he wrapped his fingers around Rodney’s hand and swung him backwards. “And don’t say you don’t have any rhythm because I just heard you play the piano and you were never once off beat,” John told him.
Rodney sighed and began to do some cautious swaying. He hated dancing, but more because he hated making any kind of public exhibition of himself. His counterpart seemed to have no such qualms and was busy leaping around the dance floor excitedly, throwing himself around and singing along loudly. The general was more restrained—even while dancing he didn’t quite manage to lose that sense of cool. Rodney was relieved when the tune changed into a slow one, giving him an excuse to sidle away from John, but just as he was about to make a bid for freedom, John reached out and pulled him back.
“No. This is…definitely not…” Rodney protested, but then John pulled him close, so he was pressed right against his chest, and the colonel’s hands slid around his back and Rodney found that he was being…kind of held. “Oh, God,” he hissed into John’s chest.
“Just relax and go with it, Rodney,” John said, and those hazel eyes of his were warm and amused, fixed intently on Rodney’s mouth.
Rodney closed his own eyes and gave in to the sensation. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it was pretty good. The colonel’s body was hard against his, and his hands were stroking his back… and moving southwards…. Rodney jerked his eyes open.
“Oh, God,” he whispered again.
“Problem?” John asked.
“No, just…this is a date, isn’t it?” Rodney said. “I’m only asking because otherwise, what you’re doing with your hands…seems wildly inappropriate, Colonel.”
“Yes, Rodney, this is a date,” John told him, smiling.
“Okay. I needed to check because I haven’t been sure and it’s been confusing me. And, uh, that time on the puddle jumper with all the fish—that was a date as well, wasn’t it?” Rodney asked, because he thought it would be nice to clear that one up while they were at it.
“Yes, Rodney. That was a date, too,” John told him, still smiling.
“I knew it!” Rodney said, pleased with himself.
“And how do you feel about that?” John asked him, his hazel eyes watchful.
“Um. Surprised?” Rodney suggested. “I’ve never actually considered myself to be gay, but then again I never actually considered you to be gay, but you seem to be…well, not entirely straight, anyway…so I thought the least I could do was figure out whether that was true for me as well, and then—”
“Rodney?” John broke into the flustered monologue, a lazy smile on his lips.
“Shhh,” John told him, pulling him close.
“Oh. Right. Okay.”
Rodney nodded and closed his eyes again, willing himself to relax, and leaned into John a little, just testing out how it felt…and discovered that it felt good. Duly encouraged, he rested his head against the colonel’s shoulder and slid his own hands around the other man’s body and rested them on his ass. He liked what he could feel of it—it was firm and felt good under his fingertips. Rodney sighed and allowed himself to relax even further. So, this was a date, which meant that the colonel was actually interested in him, which, yes, he supposed he’d known on one level, but it wasn’t always easy being sure. And now he knew he could…what? Rodney had no idea, but decided not to think about it because he was enjoying himself far too much right now. He felt John’s lips brush against his hair and that felt so good that he found himself making a little mewling sound at the back of his throat, and then John’s arms were tight around his body and they were pressed as close together as two people could be and Rodney didn’t think he’d ever felt so content in his life before.
Several hours flew by, although Rodney wasn’t entirely aware of them passing; he was having too much of a good time. He thought he’d probably drunk too much, which wasn’t like him, but he didn’t care because it was such a great evening. Then there seemed to be fewer and fewer people around, and then he saw the general staggering off with a singing other Rodney under one arm, and then there was just him and a few other stragglers. He wasn’t sure where John was, but he thought the colonel had said something about going onto the balcony for some air. Rodney sat down at the piano and began to play a little song, teasing out the notes with his fingers. The music seemed to flow from his fingertips and he bent over the piano and just allowed the music to pour out of him. He felt as if something had been unblocked—as if he was letting go of a whole load of crap, just letting it free, sending it out with all the notes into the night air.
“Hey,” a voice said, and John sat down next to him.
“I think…” Rodney said, plonking his fingers insistently on the keyboard, “that I’m probably very, very drunk.”
“You are,” John told him.
Rodney nodded solemnly. “I thought so,” he said.
“It’s late,” John told him. “Time for bed.”
“No. I want to stay here…want to play,” Rodney said, fingertips fondling the keys like he was making love to them. Making love…. “Oh. You didn’t want to…. I…uh…I’m not….” Rodney stammered, looking up into a pair of intense hazel eyes.
“No. Do I look like the kind of guy who takes advantage of someone when they’re drunk?” John asked with a raised eyebrow.
Rodney giggled. “No. Such a gentleman. Gentleman John,” he murmured. “With the slow dancing, and the slow courting, and all the sloow, slooow, sloooooow….” He lost his train of thought and gazed at the piano keyboard vacantly.
“Rodney.” John took hold of his face between his hands, and his eyes were suddenly very serious. Rodney swallowed hard. “You must have figured out by now that I’m not playing a game here,” he said. Rodney’s eyes widened, wondering what was coming next. “I want you, Rodney,” John whispered intently, and Rodney felt an odd thrill course through his veins at that. “I mean it. I want you. All of you—not just for fun, or to try it out, or for a quick fuck. I want you, Rodney. Now, I’m a patient man, I’ve shown you that, and the next move is up to you. I’ll wait for you to be ready, but when you are, you have to be sure—and I mean you have to be really sure—because once you give me a sign that you’re ready, then there’s no turning back.”
“A sign…?” Rodney bit on his lip.
John caressed his cheeks with his thumbs, his hands hot and heavy on the sides of Rodney’s head. “Once you let me know you’re ready, then I’m going to be in your life—and we are going to spend a long time really getting to know each other—in all kinds of different ways,” John told him, and as he said that, he moved one of his hands down and gently brushed the side of Rodney’s arm, and Rodney felt a flare of pure heat run from where John had touched him straight to his groin, and he had no doubt at all what John meant by that.
“Okay?” John asked, and Rodney nodded, numbly. “Okay, then,” John said, getting up.
He looked as if he was about to go, but then he changed his mind, and leaned down, took hold of Rodney’s face again, and kissed him on the mouth. It was a gentle kiss. He didn’t open Rodney’s mouth with his tongue, just kissed him on the lips, firmly and lovingly, but all the same, the touch of John’s lips against his own made Rodney’s entire body quiver and burn. This wasn’t simply a kiss—it was a statement of intent—and he had no doubt at all that John meant it as such. With this one kiss, John had claimed him for his own, imprinting himself on Rodney’s soul. There was no going back now—John had finally come out into the open and declared his intentions and now he would wait, and the next move would be Rodney’s, and if it never came, then nothing would ever happen between them, but now it was up to Rodney to figure out for himself, once and for all, what he really wanted. The kiss ended, and Rodney gave a little moan as John moved away from him.
“I mean it, Rodney,” John said softly. “Once you give me that sign, I’ll make you mine, so be very sure.”
He caressed Rodney’s cheek with the tip of one finger, and then, with a reluctant smile, he left.
Rodney sat there, his fingers numbly picking out a sweet, plaintive tune on the piano. “I’ll make you mine”—the words reverberated around in his skull, teasing and arousing him.
“I’ll make you mine,” he sang under his breath in time to the little song he was composing. “I’ll make you mine, make you mine, make you mine…and all I have to do is say the word, give a sign, give a sign, give a sign….”
They gathered in the lab at eleven a.m. the next day, all of them looking somewhat the worse for wear. Rodney wasn’t used to drinking and had one hell of a headache, which normally would have made him irascible, but today just made him morose. He had never thought he would actually be sorry to see the general and his husband leave, but he was. He’d gotten used to having them around, and once they were gone, things would get back to normal…and he’d have to make a decision about what happened next with John and right now that was the last thing he wanted to face. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the colonel—he knew that he did by the way his entire body seemed to quiver and zing whenever the other man was around—but he had no frame of reference for someone loving him and wanting him this fiercely. He felt as if he was standing in front of a window to another universe, and before him, just out of reach, he could imagine many good things, but in order to get them, he had to step into the unknown, and it was safer to remain put, where he knew where things were and how they worked, where things were comfortable, and mundane, and…safe.
Rodney pushed these concerns aside and set to work making one final check on the QDD. He’d been over it a hundred times already, but he wanted to be sure. He couldn’t risk anything going wrong this time. He cared about these two men too much to want to send them off into the ether without being completely sure that he knew where they were going.
“Rodney, just to be clear,” Elizabeth said, “once the transfer is complete, you are shutting down the QDD, taking it down to the lower reaches of the city, sealing it in a room and putting a big sign on it saying DO NOT TOUCH. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Elizabeth. Very clear,” Rodney sighed. It would have been interesting to have played with it for a bit longer, especially now that they knew how it worked, but he had to concede that she had a point.
The general snorted, and came over to Elizabeth to wrap her in a bear hug and say goodbye. The other Rodney was saying his own goodbyes. Rodney saw him grab a startled Radek and hold him tight.
“I never got a chance to say goodbye properly before, but now I do,” the other Rodney said fiercely. “You’re so fantastic, Radek. From now on, it’s not going to be like you’re dead in my universe because I’ll know you’re here. It’ll be like you’ve gone on a posting or something. I’ll always remember you.”
“Why, thank you, Rodney,” Radek said, and Rodney could tell by the tone of his voice that he was touched. “We will miss you, too. You have been most fun to have around.”
“Yeah. Sometimes me and him were like the floor show, I think,” the other Rodney said with a wince, gesturing with his head in Rodney’s direction. “You’ll miss all the fireworks.”
“It was…inspirational,” Radek said diplomatically and the other Rodney snorted in amusement at that.
The general had moved onto Ronon and Teyla and was busy shaking hands and giving hugs. Rodney finished with the QDD and waited his turn, and when the general arrived at him, he held out his hand, a little shakily; he’d never really got over his fear of the general and still found John’s counterpart scary. The general looked at the proffered hand, then at Rodney, and rolled his eyes. He brushed the hand aside and enveloped Rodney in a warm hug, squeezing him tight.
“Take care, Dr. McKay,” the general whispered. “And take care of him for me, too—all right?”
“What? Yes…whatever,” Rodney squeaked, because you didn’t ever say no to the general.
The general drew back and grinned at him. “You know, I think you’ve got it almost figured out,” he said. “Take a chance, Doc. You won’t ever regret it.”
Then he moved on to say a final goodbye to John. Rodney turned…and found himself face to face with his own counterpart.
“So.” The other Rodney stood there.
“So.” Rodney gazed at him helplessly. “Do you think we could skip the sappy bit because I don’t think either of us is any good at that,” Rodney said.
The other Rodney grinned. “My thoughts exactly. I just want you to know I forgive you for sucking us over here.”
“Well. Great. Good. And I forgive you for…you know, being a bit of a jerk.”
“Ditto.” The other Rodney nodded.
“I think that’s everything, then,” Rodney beamed.
“Yeah. So long.” They shook hands and the other Rodney scampered off to join his husband in the taped-off area of the room.
“Okay. Are we ready?” Rodney asked, going back to the QDD and checking the readings for the millionth time.
“Oh! One last thing. I almost forgot!” Rodney Sheppard hopped back over to where Rodney was standing, grabbed him, and gave him a tight hug…and as he did so, he pressed a small parcel into Rodney’s hand. “I made them,” he whispered into Rodney’s ear. “You’ll know what to do with them. Oh, and I’ve left a box of stuff for you in our room. We’ve got plenty of our own back home, so we don’t need it. Don’t let me down, Rodney, or I’ll be forced to come back and irritate the hell out of you.”
“Yeah. Right,” Rodney snorted. “You heard Elizabeth—she’s making me shut down the QDD straight after you leave.”
“Ah, but you’re forgetting I have a QDD of my own,” the other Rodney said, taking a step back and grinning at him. “It might take me a few days to get it up and running, but just so you know, we could pop up again at any time.”
“Oh, God,” Rodney sighed.
The other Rodney grinned and patted his arm. “You’ll miss me, really,” he said and then he turned and ran back to his husband again.
Rodney slipped the little parcel into his pocket to look at later, and then he turned for one final glance at the two men. They were standing side by side, and the general had his hand wrapped firmly in his Rodney’s leash, and the other Rodney had his arm around the general’s waist, and they were both grinning like crazy…and that was his last image of them.
Rodney pressed the button and the beam flared into life. It caught them both and they took a step backwards and disappeared through the window.
“General?” John stepped forwards, tapping his radio while Rodney kept the beam open. “Did it work? Are you home?”
“John? It worked. Thank Dr. McKay for us. We’re home, right back in our quarters where we were when you found us. Rodney’s just gone out into the hallway and is yelling to everyone who can hear that we’re back…and, uh, now the room is starting to fill up with people!”
Rodney grinned. He could hear the noise through the window—it sounded like a horde of people were gathered around the returning men, welcoming them home and bombarding them with questions.
“Great. We have to close the beam now,” John said, in a tight little voice. Rodney turned to look at him in surprise. “Goodbye—and thanks.”
“You, too,” the general said, and John nodded to Rodney, and he cut the beam and then, finally, closed the window between the two universes.
They all stood there. Now that the moment was over, Rodney felt lost and empty. He stood and gazed at the spot where they’d been, and suddenly longed for them to be back.
“So. I guess that’s it, then,” John said, taking a deep breath.
“I guess it is,” Elizabeth said softly. “Rodney, remember what I said about the QDD.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I’ll do it, don’t worry,” he told her.
“Good. Then perhaps things can get back to normal around here,” she said. “Whatever normal is,” she muttered as she exited the room.
“You okay?” John asked, glancing at Rodney.
“Fine.” Rodney gazed at the other man for a moment, wanting to talk to him, but having no idea what to say.
“Just so you know, that thing we were talking about last night…I’m going to give you some space to think about it,” John told him. “I don’t want you to feel under any pressure.”
“Right. Okay.” Rodney flushed, deeply uncomfortable with having this conversation while Radek was standing beside him, even though the colonel was being very discreet. John gazed at him for a moment, his hazel eyes unreadable. Rodney gazed back helplessly, unsure what to do or say.
“Okay, then,” John nodded.
“Fine. Um…I have dozens of different projects I put on hold while we were working on this. I’ve got a massive backlog to get through, so if you’ll excuse me, Colonel.”
Rodney turned away, and when he looked around again, he saw John leaving the room, his shoulders low and dejected. Rodney considered running after him, but his legs wouldn’t move, and, in the end, he decided to do what he did best when avoiding anything he didn’t want to think about—he threw himself into his work.
Radek was like a quiet shadow by his side all day, bringing him cups of coffee while he worked, and the occasional donut. Rodney was surprised by how solicitous he was being, but he wasn’t in the mood to talk. He just got his head down and worked. It took them all afternoon to pack up the QDD, and then they carried it together down to one of the storage rooms on the lower levels. Rodney fixed the appropriate DO NOT TOUCH sign to it and then stood back with a sigh.
“It is a shame, yes?” Radek said. “It is such an amazing device.”
“Yeah…. But Elizabeth’s right, it’s too dangerous to have around,” Rodney said, still staring at it. “Ah, well, we’d better get back to work.”
They turned and began walking back up to the lab.
“I suppose you’ll miss having Dr. Sheppard around?” Rodney said as they went. “You and he seemed to get along well.” Rodney bit back his own jealousy as he said that. Radek gave a little shrug.
“He was a nice man, but I am pleased to have our universe back as it was,” Radek said, with a little grin. “With everyone in their proper place again. I am more comfortable this way.”
“Really?” Rodney was surprised to find himself a little heartened by that reaction.
Radek pushed his glasses a little further up his face and turned his head to look Rodney in the eye. “Really,” he said, and it wasn’t a big deal, but there was just something about the way he said it that made Rodney feel happy.
They returned to the lab and Rodney worked for several long hours. He hadn’t been lying to John earlier—there was a backlog of work to do. When he finally returned to his rooms, he threw himself down on his bed wearily, longing for the respite of sleep so that he wouldn’t have to think about how lonely the city felt without their counterparts around…or what he was going to do about John. Something dug into his hip, and he fished around in his pocket to find out what it was, and drew out the little parcel Rodney Sheppard had slipped to him as he was leaving. He opened it up, gingerly, wondering what the hell his counterpart could have made for him…and there, nestled inside the tissue paper, were two pendants, each bearing an entwined J and R. They weren’t the same as the ones the other men had been wearing, but they were similar, and Rodney recognized the other Rodney’s familiar flair for design. He turned the pendants over and touched the initials with his fingertips. The J and R were so elegant, and they looked just right together, the new design working perfectly. Rodney remembered that his counterpart had said that he’d made them and he felt touched that the other Rodney would have done something like that for him. What the hell was he supposed to do with them, though? He knew what he should do with them, knew what some part of him longed to do with them, but he wasn’t brave enough, so he wrapped them up again and put them under his pillow. He’d think about it again in the morning.
The morning didn’t bring any answers, though. Rodney had spent a restless night worrying about those pendants under his pillow, and by the morning he was still none the wiser as to what to do with them. He took them out, and examined them again for the hundredth time, his fingers caressing the black leather thongs, and shiny glass pendants. Then he took a deep breath and fastened one of the pendants around his neck. He examined himself in the mirror and felt a little thrill when he saw the pendant nestled against his skin; he knew it was ridiculous, but he couldn’t help it. He pulled his uniform shirt on quickly over the top and made sure the zip was fastened all the way up, hiding the pendant from view, and then he gazed at himself again. He felt like he was nurturing some guilty secret, but now that he was wearing the pendant, he didn’t want to remove it.
Rodney wore the pendant around his neck for the next few days. It gave him a little thrill when he was working to trace it idly with his fingertips. He knew it didn’t solve anything, knew he still had to make a decision, but he liked having it there, against his skin.
John kept his distance. In fact, he looked a bit like a lost soul, roaming the city without the general’s leather-clad presence at his side. There were dark shadows under his eyes so Rodney guessed that he wasn’t sleeping any better than he himself was right now. He was true to his word, though—he didn’t seek Rodney out at mealtimes, or drop by his lab late at night to chat. He didn’t escort Rodney back to his rooms in the evening, or put his hand on Rodney’s shoulder. He didn’t look at Rodney with that intent, purposeful gaze, either, and Rodney found he missed him; this was what life used to be like, before their counterparts had arrived in the city, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t want this lonely existence back. He’d become used to hanging out with the colonel, and had forgotten just what his life had been like in the old days. This wasn’t what he wanted—but the alternative was so irrevocable and life-changing that it freaked him out.
About a week after their counterparts had left, Rodney remembered what his doppelganger had said about there being a box in their rooms and he went along to check it out. It felt strange being in here, in this place which had been so much their place. Rodney glanced around the room—it had been left neat and tidy, but somehow their presence still lingered. He saw a box on the table, and supposed this must be what his counterpart had been referring to. He went over to it and found a note attached to the outside. He opened it—it was in his own handwriting although he knew that he hadn’t written it.
Hope you get as much pleasure from these as I did. Everything’s been cleaned.
That sounded ominous.
Just remember to relax and go with it — you’ll love it once you get the hang of it.
Rodney opened the box, and gazed at the contents with wide eyes.
On top was Rodney Sheppard’s blue silk shirt. There was another note attached:
This is for you, Rodney. Should fit — you’ve dropped a few pounds and are now almost as good looking as me. I’ve got dozens of things like this back home and, God knows, your wardrobe needs all the help it can get.
Rodney rolled his eyes. God, that idiot still had the power to be annoying, even when he was in another universe. Rodney put the shirt to one side and pulled out the black pants that his counterpart had worn with it. He fingered the lace up crotch, wondering if he’d ever dare to wear something this revealing.
Give them a try. John will enjoy seeing that ass of yours in these,
the note said. Rodney flung the pants on top of the shirt and then he looked back in the box and his mouth formed a wordless “O” as he saw what was inside. He reached in and pulled out a soft, hide flogger, with another note attached.
You have to get John to use this on you. It’s like being caressed with a pillow — so soft!
Rodney let the long, velvety strands slide through his fingers. It did feel nice, he had to admit, although he wasn’t at all sure about anyone using it on him. He had a sudden image of Rodney Sheppard, naked, being stroked with this implement, and he felt himself harden involuntarily.
Next out of the box was a much harder flogger, made of plaited rope.
This one’s kind of a companion to the other one, only this one bites where the other one kisses. They work well together in the right hands (and we both know whose hands those would be). The dual sensations are…. Well, try it and find out.
Rodney put that on one side and went back into the box. He pulled out a paddle.
I almost insisted we took this one with us because John made it for me, but he said he could make me another one when we got back and we’d look stupid carrying this through the beam. He knows what you guys are like about this kind of stuff.
“He was right about that,” Rodney snorted, slapping the paddle lightly against the palm of his hand. It made a thwapping sound, but it was quite light. Rodney put it to one side and looked in the box again. He was near the end now, but towards the bottom of the box were two pairs of soft cuffs and a couple of clips to tie them together.
The colonel will probably need to use these to keep you still because I expect you’ll be crap at that to start with. You have such trust issues. Learn to relax and you’ll see how good it can be,
was the written instruction. Rodney rolled his eyes at that one and tossed the cuffs onto the other pile. Finally, he pulled out a blindfold and a leather gag.
I expect the colonel will want to use this gag on you — can’t blame him. I know I’ve wanted to.
Rodney actually couldn’t stop himself laughing out loud at that, despite himself.
As for the blindfold, it’ll help you with your pathological need to always be in control. Sometimes it’s nice to just give it all up. I know you won’t believe me, which is why you need to try it for yourself.
Rodney was about to put everything back in the box and then paused, catching sight of another note, right at the very bottom of the box, nestled against some strong, lightweight chains. Rodney opened it.
Okay — there’s something else. It’s in the closet. Don’t leave it there in case the colonel finds it! Take it somewhere and burn it! Trust me on this. You never, ever want him to get his hands on it.
Intrigued, Rodney went over to the closet and opened it. It was empty, save for a long, whippy switch. Rodney reached out and picked it up, then swung it experimentally through the air. It made a whizzing sound and moved through the air so fast that he had no doubt how much damage it could do. Rodney winced, remembering the awkward way his counterpart had sat in his chair in the mess hall, ass resting gingerly on one crossed leg, the day after being on the receiving end of this particular implement. He put the switch back in the closet and shut the door, making a mental note to dispose of it later.
Rodney put everything back into the box and closed the lid, then took another glance around. His gaze settled on some hooks in the ceiling and when he glanced down, he saw their counterparts in the floor. He shivered, imagining the scenes that had taken place in this room. He could see the general, striding around the room, those long legs of his encased in those tight leather pants, wielding one of the floggers. He could see the other Rodney, tied up and blindfolded, and the image made him harden immediately. Was this really what he wanted? He had to admit that it didn’t sound bad. Rodney’s handwriting and his cheery, sarcastic notes, made it all sound so very normal, and even…enticing?
Rodney picked up the box and walked over to the door. Then he paused, took one last look around, and left. He went back to his own room, and put the box down on the table there, then opened it again and removed the ice blue shirt. He took off his own shirt, and pulled the silky garment on. He had to admit it felt good against his skin—soft and sheer, caressing him with the softest of whispering touches. Rodney went over to the mirror, and gazed at himself. He hadn’t realized that his hair had grown so much in the past few weeks. He’d been too busy to think about getting it cut, and it had started to curl at the ends. The pendant was visible through the shirt’s open neck and…the strange thing was that he should have looked like Rodney Sheppard, but he didn’t. He looked like himself, only his face looked a little softer, and his eyes a little brighter than usual and there was something about the way the shirt made him feel that loosened up his shoulders and made him think of sex. Rodney liked the way the shirt skimmed his nipples, making them harden into little points. His nipples were always fairly prominent, anyway—they were incredibly sensitive and stood to attention at the least stimulus. Rodney caressed them through the silk shirt, amazed by how sensuous the cool fabric felt against his warm skin.
What would it be like to be tied up, he wondered, to be tied up and to have John’s warm mouth slide across his naked, vulnerable body? Would he squirm and whimper and beg for release at the same time as begging for more? He moaned, aching with need, his cock rock hard. What would it be like to be exposed, overpowered, made to submit…? He remembered lying under John’s hard body, remembered saying the ‘s’ word, remembered how good it had felt to have his arms held above his head by John’s strong hands and the warmth of his breath on his face….
Rodney fingered the pendant around his neck. “I’ll make you mine….” The words danced in his memory. Did he want to belong to someone? Did he want to be claimed? To be held down, and kissed, and fucked, and…loved…?
“Yes!” a voice in his head said, and he found himself walking over to the bed. He grabbed the remaining pendant from under the pillow, felt it warm up in his hot, scared hand, and then he was running out into the hallway. He ran along to John’s office, but he wasn’t there. Then he ran along to the practice room, to find Ronon sparring with some Athosian man he
didn’t know—but there was no sign of Colonel Sheppard. Rodney left without saying a word, and ran along to the puddle jumper bay. He was so intent on finding the colonel that he didn’t realize that he didn’t have a clue what he was actually going to say to him when he did.
His heart did a somersault of relief and fear when he saw John, standing in one of the puddle jumpers, examining the console. Rodney hesitated, his hand closing even tighter around the pendant, but now was not the time to pause. If he stopped now, then he might never do this. Rodney ran up the ramp, into the puddle jumper, and John turned, a surprised look on his face.
“Rodney? What the…?” John stopped, and looked at Rodney’s silk shirt in surprise, then he caught sight of the pendant around his neck and his eyes widened. “Rodney?” he said
quietly, gazing at him so intently that Rodney found that his mouth had suddenly gone completely dry. He didn’t know what to say—and didn’t trust himself to speak, anyway, so he just grabbed the colonel’s hand, placed the pendant in it, and closed the other man’s fist around it. Then, suddenly appalled by the enormity of what he’d done, he turned and fled.
End of Part Twelve
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