Warnings (highlight to view): warnings here
A/N: Set during The Return, Part I and II, with spoilery details from The Game and Sunday (though this is set before those two latter eps). Includes a couple of lines from Return I, penned by the lovely and talented Martin Gero.
A note on the timeline for those who care about that kind of stuff: I know that because of Elizabeth's comment in Return I, it's generally believed they were on Earth for six weeks, but I'm taking her line to mean she'd been six weeks in the apartment. I'm pretending she took, oh, three weeks before that touring Earth and visiting Disney World. Total time: about two months.
As soon as he managed to escape the debriefing from the latest disastrous mission, John high-tailed it for his office, where he spent twenty-one minutes slamming darts into the board as hard as he could. The last vicious shot he made caused something in his elbow joint to thwang unpleasantly; cursing softly, he dropped the last dart on the desk and flung himself into his chair like a petulant twelve-year-old. He then spent the next eighteen minutes contemplating new careers, maybe something along the line of lifeguard or circus performer.
He wasn’t an expert on the symptoms of mental illness, but he was fairly sure these were the first signs that there was a screw loose somewhere.
John leaned back in his chair and stared at his phone. With only a moment’s hesitation, he picked it up and dialled.
Rodney answered on the third ring. “Hello, Colonel.”
“How did you know it was me?” It wasn’t like the secure Cheyenne Mountain phones broadcast caller ID.
Rodney snorted across the miles. “I recognize your heavy breathing.”
“Ha, ha,” John said, trying not to sound as pissed off as he felt. “You get many obscene phone calls down there, Rodney?”
A pause. “No,” Rodney said, almost wistfully.
John scrubbed a hand over his face. God, he wanted to punch something. “So.”
“What’s wrong?” They’d been calling each other at least once a day for three weeks, and Rodney had never asked him that. John had always figured he knew.
“I don’t – nothing.” John stared up at the ceiling. “Nothing I can fix.”
“Yeah, I – uh, I know how you feel.”
John blinked; this wasn’t their usual conversation. “Wow, we’ve graduated to talking about feelings,” John murmured. “This is serious.”
There was a beat too much silence, and John mentally kicked himself for letting his own frustrations bleed through into his conversations with Rodney. The guy had his own headaches to deal with; he didn’t need to hear John bitching across the state line. “Look, I – ”
“No, you’re right,” Rodney interrupted, his voice high and brittle, the way that it got when he was really hurt about something instead of just complaining to hear himself complain. “We don’t do that. I’m sorry.”
“Hey,” John said, “it’s just been a rotten fucking day. Can I call you later, when I get home?”
“I won’t be – I’m not going home. I have a – a date.”
John’s head tried to follow the changes in this conversation. “You have a date?”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“Wait! Rodney – ” There was a decisive click at the other end of the line, then silence.
“Well, fuck,” John muttered, slamming down the phone and hearing his elbow joint crack right before the pain hit him broadsides.
Considering that John woke up every morning wondering what the hell he was doing on the planet Earth, he reasoned that it was really not much of a stretch to spend the evening in a bar with Cam Mitchell and some of the other SGC officers and wonder what the hell he was doing there.
“I can't believe this guy! He survives the mission and breaks his arm playing darts!” Another roar of laughter, and only the fact that Bixby had just bought him a beer prevented John from using his good arm to plant his fist in that laughing face.
“I sprained it,” John said for the thousandth time, as mildly as he could manage.
“Oh, so you'll only get the Purple Heart, not the DFC!” Bixby said, roaring at his own joke.
Screw it; one beer wasn't worth that much. John took a step forward -
- and Mitchell's arm was suddenly a warm, steady presence across his chest, halting him.
“The Colonel already has one of each,” Mitchell said easily. “He doesn't need any more.”
Maybe it was Mitchell's words, maybe it was the murderous look in John's eyes, or maybe it was the weird tableau the two of them made, but the conversation suddenly dried up. John held Cam's gaze to avoid looking at Bixby until he'd calmed down some, because he didn't want to scare the guy. Much. When he figured it was safe to look around again, he realized he and Mitchell were the only two left in the immediate vicinity.
“You sure know how to clear a room, man,” Mitchell said, letting his arm drop.
“Sorry,” John muttered. “I shouldn't have come.”
“'Sokay,” Mitchell said easily. “This isn't where you want to be.” John looked up sharply; something in Mitchell's steady gaze told him he wasn't just talking about the bar.
“Yeah,” John said, because there was nothing else to say. “Thanks for the invite, anyway.”
“You're welcome to join us anytime,” Cam said, but they both knew damn well John wouldn't take him up on the offer. Nodding, he turned to go, ignoring the persistent throb in his arm. He'd refused to put it into a sling, but when he got home he'd promised to put an ice pack on it. Right now, that prospect was looking like the high point of his day.
Something to look forward to, he thought wryly.
“Don't tell me you're leaving already.”
John turned back swiftly toward the bar, searching for the voice that had spoken. His gaze swept over several people, none of whom were paying any attention to him, before he encountered a pair of blue eyes attached to a very attractive woman.
She was maybe a little younger than John, maybe not, and she was a knockout. Tall, leggy, with a haircut that framed her face and highlighted her cheekbones. She was shapely, with lush, full breasts that were barely contained by the lace camisole hidden under a form-fitting jacket and miniskirt combo. John told himself he didn't want to get into this right now, here, on this planet, but his feet were obeying a different master, and he found they were bringing him closer to her.
A small, thin smile twitched at the corner of her already upturned mouth. “So, you're not leaving?”
“Guess not,” John murmured.
“Well, that’s a ringing endorsement,” the woman drawled. She took a sip of her drink, and John noticed her fingers were long and slender, absent of paint or jewelry.
“I’m John Sheppard,” he said, because he couldn’t think of anything better to say.
“I know,” the woman said absently, then stammered, “I – uh, I heard you talking to your friends.” She extended a hand. “Daphne Robertson.”
John took the hand, and found that her grip was firm but not excessively so, and her fingers were warm to the touch. He looked up into her eyes, which were wide and startled, kind of like a deer in the headlights. He had no idea why he found that attractive.
“Canadian?” he asked suddenly.
Daphne blinked. “What makes you think so?”
“You have an accent,” John observed. “Also, the Robertson.” Rodney's mother's maiden name was Robertson, and he had no clue how he knew that.
“Oh, well, yes, I – ” Daphne flipped a hand. “It’s odd for an American to pick up on that.”
“Yeah, well, I work with – used to work with one.” He looked away from Daphne’s expressive eyes.
“So,” Daphne managed after a moment, “I was watching you – I mean, I noticed – I – ”
John leaned his good elbow on the bar, intrigued in spite of himself by the odd combination of chutzpah and uncertainty. “I have a stalker. Cool.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, I wasn’t stalking you - ” Daphne, now totally flustered, cut herself off abruptly and took a deep breath before continuing. “I mean, I have to admit I was curious, but that’s not quite the same thing, is it?”
“Curiosity works too,” John said easily, at the same time the alarm bells were going off in his head. Where did he think this was going, exactly? It wasn’t like he was going to start up a relationship with some strange, albeit gorgeous, woman he picked up in a bar in Colorado Springs. If – when, when they got the all-clear to return to Atlantis – he couldn’t have any encumbrances, any –
Okay, now he had proof positive he was losing it. You don’t have to marry her, he heard Mitch saying in his head.
“Look, can I buy you a drink?” John said. “Or how about dinner?”
Daphne’s eyebrows climbed. “What do I have to do for dinner?”
John grinned in what he hoped was a non-threatening way. “Laugh at my jokes for a couple of hours.”
Daphne seemed to think about it. “I have weapons training,” she said finally.
John nodded solemnly. “Okay, no laughing necessary.”
John took her somewhere else for dinner, a place he’d seen his first night back that he’d gone to with Rodney. It had great steaks, and he ordered a porterhouse, rare. Daphne gave him a look, then ordered the filet mignon.
“I’ll laugh at whatever you want me to,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” John said, because by now he was entertained enough by Daphne herself that he was glad he’d done this. She was kind of an odd bird, like a few women he'd known in the military – one of those big-boned types whose comfort level vacillated in a social situation. She wasn’t butch, exactly, but she was most at ease when she was forgetting she had to be ladylike; whenever she remembered and trotted out the feminine affectations, they seemed forced. He wanted to tell her not to worry about it, but they didn’t know one another that well.
His ex had always been comfortable in her skin, from the moment she'd met him to the moment she'd left. He’d never realized how much that had irritated him until now.
John tried to draw Daphne out, to get more of her life story, but she was evasive. She’d driven her own car to the restaurant, a rental, and when John remarked on it, she said she was in town for a visit.
“Who are you visiting?”
Daphne smiled at him crookedly. “Right now? You.”
She was working under contract for the government, but she couldn’t tell him what she did. “Well, I could, but I’d have to kill you,” she said airily, waving a forkful of chocolate volcano torte.
“Same here,” John said, grinning. “See? We’re perfect for each other.”
It was harmless flirting, John told himself, but his brain kept telling him it was more than that; there was something here, something familiar and yet strange, something just beyond the reach of his awareness. If he’d still been in Atlantis, he could have reached out with his mind and the city would have whispered the answer. Here, there was only silence.
John looked up, startled, to find Daphne looking back at him with those big blue eyes, now full of sympathy, as though she knew exactly what the problem was.
“Nothing I can fix,” John said softly. Daphne drew back slowly, her gaze on him the whole time, reassuring him when there was no reason it should have.
“Listen,” John began, “you have no reason to trust me – ”
“I know,” she answered hastily, “but I do.”
John eyed her. “You're kind of crazy, you know that? What if I'm a creepy serial killer?”
Daphne rolled her eyes at him. “Yes, because some serial killers aren't creepy.” She popped the last piece of chocolate into her mouth and chewed. “But you're not, and I've finished my dessert. And also? Weapons training. So lead on.”
“I'm sorry,” John said, “the place is kind of –“ He searched for a word, and finding none, gave up. It wasn't that it was a mess or anything, it's just that the furnished one-bedroom apartment the Air Force had found for him was pretty much the definition of impersonal.
“Hm,” Daphne commented. “Looks like my place.” At John's look, she added, “I haven't been there for very long.”
John didn't say that he doubted the apartment would look that different if he were still here in a year's time. God, a year. The thought chilled him to the bone.
“Hey.” Daphne was suddenly standing closer to him, that familiar-unfamiliar look on her face. John could smell the faint trace of her perfume, something woodsy and clean-smelling, and heat flared in his belly. Without giving himself time to think better of it, he leaned forward and kissed her, just a soft brush of lips, his hands remaining at his sides.
When he pulled back, she looked dazed, and he knew he was totally insane.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “I – ”
This time, Daphne was the one to kiss him. She made more of an event of it, one hand resting gently on his chest while she tilted her head. Some of her lipstick rubbed off on his mouth when they pulled away; John darted out his tongue and tasted the soapy, chemical flavor of it.
“I didn't think this would – oh, never mind,“ she breathed, curling her fingers in the front of John's shirt and tugging him toward her. Their kisses quickly turned hot and dirty; surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, Daphne got right into it, opening beneath him and giving as good as she got. John found himself struggling to keep ahead of her, and then just said fuck it and let her take the wheel.
His shirt was hanging loosely off his elbows when she started backing him toward one of the doorways leading off the living room. “That’s the bathroom,” John supplied helpfully.
“Oh. Well – ?” Daphne raised an expectant eyebrow.
“Are you sure you want to…”
Daphne ran a hand over his chest, down to his waistband, where she popped the first button on his jeans. “I’m sure I don’t want to go to the bathroom,” she said petulantly.
John had never really found bossy women hot before, but somehow the sardonic lilt of her voice got him hard in about five seconds.
He ended up flat on his back on the bed while Daphne wriggled out of her clothes; the bra seemed to give her extra trouble, and she uttered a muffled curse before flinging it off and away. Her breasts really were spectacular, and they spilled into John’s hands obligingly as she leaned down over him.
“You like them?” Daphne asked, like she’d just bought a new set yesterday and was trying them out.
“They’re beautiful,” John said simply, feeling kind of dumb, but what else did you say to a question like that?
The answer seemed to satisfy Daphne, though, because she beamed and said, “Yeah, I know,” and then John’s thumbs brushed her nipples and she closed her eyes and groaned.
When John woke up just after dawn Daphne was gone, but there was a note on his pillow that promised she’d call him sometime. He was surprised to find himself disappointed; he’d been looking forward to lazing around in bed with her all morning, then maybe going somewhere for pancakes. He was willing to bet she was a pancake kind of girl.
He picked up the phone and called McKay, who didn’t answer. Huh. Maybe his date had gone as well as John's.
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully; John went to the latest James Bond movie (Sean Connery was still the one and only, though this one wasn’t bad) and cleaned his apartment (not that there was much to clean). On Sunday he drove to Target and poked at curtains, but he kept putting them down when he realized they wouldn’t be long enough for his windows on Atlantis.
Wow, and he’d actually forgotten how much he hated his life there for a few hours.
Sunday night he called Rodney again, and found him even more irritable and cranky than usual.
“So I’m guessing your date didn’t go so well?” John asked.
There was a pause. “It was – fine,” McKay said finally.
John smiled lazily. “Did you get lucky?”
“What kind of a question is that? Is that some kind of demeaning question that guys ask of one another behind some poor woman’s back, elbowing one another jocularly the whole time?”
“Jesus, Rodney,” John breathed.
“Did you get lucky?”
John frowned. “I didn’t say I had a date.”
Rodney made a derisive noise. “Oh, please. Women practically attach themselves to your legs as you walk by.”
John hesitated. “Well, I did meet this woman Friday night…”
“And nothing. She was very nice. We had a nice time.” Actually, she hadn’t been nice, and they’d had an incredible time, but he wasn’t telling Rodney that.
“And you had sex with her.”
“Aren’t you being, I don’t know, completely hypocritical with that question?”
“It wasn’t a question, it was a statement of fact,” Rodney answered, voice cold enough to freeze a penguin’s ass. And before John could think of anything else to say, Rodney hung up in his ear.
“Okay,” John sighed, “Talk to you later.”
The week that followed was – predictably – crappy. He didn’t talk to Rodney all week, although he picked up the phone to call a few times, always thinking better of it before he let it ring through. He did try to call Elizabeth a few dozen times, giving up after three days of listening to her answering machine tell him it was full.
For one crazy second, he found himself wondering why he couldn’t remember Teyla’s number.
When Friday rolled around, he couldn’t summon the interest to go to another movie, so he stopped off at the Blockbuster on the way home and rented the first season of the original Battlestar Galactica. Maybe he could get a laugh out of it.
He took the stairs to the sixth floor – he’d been lazy about getting into a training regimen here, and he really needed to start one. Whenever he thought about working out, though, he'd remember running with Ronon or stick fighting with Teyla, and the little motivation he'd managed to scrape together would go sailing out the window.
He turned the corner near his apartment and nearly ran smack into Daphne, who was standing outside his door, staring at it as though she were trying to develop x-ray vision.
“Oh, God,” she gasped when she saw him, holding a hand to her chest, “you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Were you waiting long?” John said, biting back a smile.
Daphne pointed at the door. “Waiting? Oh. No. I hadn't knocked yet. I was thinking about – knocking.” She paused. “After all, I did say I'd call first.”
“Yeah, I – ”
“You probably have plans.”
“Well, I did have this hot date with Lorne Greene.”
Daphne blinked. “Excuse me?” John waggled the Blockbuster box at her. “Oh. The original, huh?”
John shifted from one foot to the other. “We can go out somewhere - ”
“Are you kidding? I haven't seen those cheesy shows in twenty years. We can order pizza or something.” She looked up at him from under her naturally long lashes. “Unless you and Lorne would rather be alone.”
John stared at her for a moment, mouth slightly ajar.
It was entirely possible, he thought, that he was just a little bit in love.
They got through the pilot, which actually wasn't too bad, then skipped to the episode with the disco dancing.
“There was only one?” Daphne asked, skeptical. She'd kicked off her high heels, and there was a spot of pizza sauce on her blouse. John thought she looked better this way, more like herself.
Not that he knew what she was really like after one date, a couple of hours of incredible sex, and two episodes of Battlestar Galactica. So why did he feel as though he'd known her for years?
“You don't want to watch the show any more?”
John shook himself at Daphne's soft question; he'd been staring at her like a goof. “We can watch it for as long as you want,” he said.
She tasted like bay leaf and basil, and John buried one hand in her hair and wrapped the other around her waist to pull her on top of him. She went willingly, her breath hitching as he ran his tongue over her bottom lip.
“Just so you know,” she murmured as he palmed the curve of her hip through the thin material of her skirt, “I’m not usually this easy.”
“Neither am I,” John answered, teeth grazing the line of her jaw.
She was gone again in the morning, but John tried not to let that interfere with his buzz. For the first time since he’d stepped through that wormhole, he was actually feeling – well, okay. He wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, but thinking about whatever he'd gained with Daphne was infinitely preferable to thinking about everything he'd lost.
On Wednesday he tripped and went for a tumble on an away mission, cutting a three-inch gash in his forearm on a particularly vicious tree branch. The doc cleaned him up and gave him a tetanus shot, and he went home early and drank a beer while watching an old Rose Bowl game on ESPN Classic. McKay called him on Thursday afternoon, their conversation at first stilted and awkward. John considered telling him about the fall, then vetoed it; Rodney’d probably go nuts, babbling about how those things could get infected and turn gangrenous and he could lose his whole arm. Instead, he mentioned renting Battlestar Galactica.
“Why didn’t you rent the new one?” Rodney complained.
“Why would I rent the new one?”
“Because the women in it are totally hot.”
“Old Battlestar Galactica has hot women.”
Rodney snorted. “Please. Dirk Benedict was the prettiest thing on that show.”
“Rodney, I’m seeing a whole new side of you,” John said, biting back a laugh.
Rodney ignored him. “Still, I can’t believe you sat at home and watched an old TV show instead of going out.”
“Well, I – ”
“I kind of – she came over and watched them with me.”
“What, the same woman from last week?”
“She watched Battlestar Galactica with you.”
John smiled. “Yeah.”
“Well, that’s nice. And weird. I don’t know many women who would enjoy an evening of cheesy sci-fi, but then I’m forgetting the hypnotic power of your charm.”
John frowned, his bubble popping loudly. “Listen, I don’t know what kind of sex god you think I am, but I think she actually – ”
“Sex god!” Rodney crowed. “I don’t – I never think about you and sex. Or you and women. Or – you and sex!”
“You said that already,” John muttered, but Rodney had hung up.
Daphne called him that evening, and that pretty much made up for the bizarre conversation with Rodney. They agreed to go out again Friday night – almost a regular thing now, and John surprised himself when the thought didn’t panic him – and this time she promised to take him out.
They ended up sitting on the bleachers at the El Pomar sports center, watching the Colorado College Tigers lose to the Lewis & Clark Pioneers. The game was terrible, but it made something in John’s chest expand to sit there in the cool fall air, his ass going numb on the hard plastic benches, the shrill screams of the whistles and the muffled crunch of the tackles wafting toward him across the field.
They didn’t bother with supper, having eaten overdone hot dogs and underdone fries that were almost as good as the game. John’s body was humming the whole drive back to his apartment, and this time he was the one to take the lead, shoving her up against the wall of the elevator and kissing her slack-mouthed and panting from the ground all the way to the sixth. They were practically clawing at one another by the time John kicked the front door closed behind them.
Then John frowned as something occurred to him. “I don’t remember telling you I liked college football.”
Daphne didn’t bother looking up from her task of unzipping his jeans. “Hm? Oh, didn’t you? Well, I just figured every man likes football.”
He felt a nagging tug at the back of his brain at that, but considering Daphne now had both of her hands in his pants, one palm caressing his dick while the other snaked around behind, he sort of lost track of his higher brain functions for a few seconds. Giving up, he shrugged the rest of the way out of his shirt and lifted his hand to cup her face.
“Oh, my God,” Daphne breathed, hands leaving his body abruptly.
“What?” John looked down to see that Daphne was staring at the bandage on his arm. “Oh. It’s no big deal.”
“How did it happen?” Daphne’s voice was tight, strained. Her fingers brushed over the skin around the bandage with a feather-light caress.
“A big bad tree branch,” John said, suppressing a shiver at her touch.
Daphne’s jaw worked. “You didn’t tell me about that when I – when I called.”
John shrugged. “Like I said, it wasn’t that bad.”
“I hope you got a tetanus shot,” Daphne muttered.
John couldn’t help it; he laughed. “God, you sound just like – ” Daphne raised her head then, blue eyes worried under furrowed brows, and it suddenly hit John like a body blow.
“Just like who?” Daphne’s chin lifted slightly, then lowered, almost self-consciously.
John shook his head and kissed her. “Nobody. And yes, I got a tetanus shot. Happy?”
“Ecstatic,” she snapped, and John had to kiss her again to keep from freaking out completely.
Nearly three years of living under constant threat meant that there was no slow, easy transition from sleep for John; he snapped into every morning like a rubber band rocketing across the room. This time, though, he didn't so much soar as slam into a wall.
Daphne was still here.
She was lying on her stomach, which he wouldn't have thought to be comfortable, or even possible, for her. Nevertheless, she was hugging the pillow, one cheek squashed against it as she slept. She was still beautiful, but with her makeup either smudged or gone altogether, she looked –
– well, she looked even more like Rodney.
Once the similarity had finally smacked him between the eyes, John had started noticing it everywhere, from the slight lopsided tilt of her mouth to the way she chewed her pizza to the eager little sounds she made as she came. Not that John knew what Rodney sounded like when he came; he just had an astonishingly similar reaction to butterscotch pudding topped with Cool Whip.
The thought that he'd gone out and gotten himself involved with a woman who looked and acted like Rodney should have weirded him out a lot more than it was currently doing, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't summon up much of a reaction. When Rodney wasn't trying so hard to be, well, Rodney, he was fun to be around; after all, they'd been playing that Ancient version of Civilization for over two years and John hadn't killed him yet. Rodney had his own kind of integrity, and even a fair helping of bravery when he really needed it. He was a good guy.
John just hadn't been expecting to come to the conclusion that Rodney was also everything he could want in a girl.
Sure, he'd always known he'd been attracted to brainy women, but this was different. Underneath the killer body, Daphne was Rodney, right down to the casual sarcasm and the willingness to debate the relative merits of classic Trek versus the Next Generation. And they had the same eyes, huge and blue and incapable of keeping their owners' secrets. It wasn't a big step to wonder if this was his subconscious' way of letting him know he was carrying a big, dorky torch for Rodney McKay.
John sighed. While he was casually working out his issues, Daphne, a completely different human being, was lying in his bed. Not the most sensitive moment he'd ever had.
As if reading his thoughts, Daphne's eyelids cracked open slightly.
“Nnnnggghhhhh,” she said.
John pasted on his best smile. “Good morning to you, too, sleepyhead.”
Daphne's eyes popped all the way open at that. “Oh, no,” she breathed. John tried to ignore the fact that she pronounced her 'o's the same way Rodney did.
It was harder to ignore the way she pointed sideways, indicating the door before stammering, “I – I have to go.”
John frowned. “I was hoping to take you out to breakfast. You like pancakes?”
“I love pancakes, it's just that – I can't stay.” She threw back the covers and swung her legs over the edge of the mattress. “Damn. Where are my clothes?”
John pushed himself up on his elbows. “Uh. I think they're kind of strewn along the floor.” He reached down beside the bed and snagged a pair of panties, then handed them to her. “There's probably a trail you can follow.”
“Oh, God,” Daphne moaned, holding her head in her hands. “Every week I swear – and then suddenly I'm naked again – ”
John's frown deepened. “What are you saying?”
Daphne rose to her feet, snatching the underwear from his hand, then grabbing the comforter and wrapping it around herself. “Nothing. It's not you, it's me.”
“Wait a minute,” John said, sensing that something was rapidly going tango uniform in this fledgling relationship. “I think we need to talk,” and jeez, those were words he didn't think he'd ever hear coming out of his mouth.
“I'll call you,” Daphne reassured him. Considering she was waving a hand at him while she disappeared out the doorway, John wasn't all that reassured. He leapt up and followed her, first grabbing his own boxers and stumbling into them.
“Look, I don't think you should leave like this,” John wheedled as she wriggled into her top without bothering to put on her bra. “At least tell me what I did wrong so I can try to make it up to you.”
That stopped her; she turned to him, her skirt half-zipped and her hair wild, and stared at him for a long moment before speaking. “You did everything right,” she said finally. “That's the problem. I'm sorry, John. I'm so sorry.”
And while John was still reeling from that, she gathered the last of her clothes and let herself out.
It was another three weeks before John gave up trying to figure out a way to get in touch with Daphne. He hadn't had her phone number, where she lived, or her e-mail address; he didn't know what she did or which branch of the government she worked for. When he checked with the phone company about the call she'd made to his apartment, he was told she'd blocked the originating number. He seached for Daphne Robertsons on the internet; none of them sounded like her, but that didn't stop him from e-mailing a few of them. None of them e-mailed back, because of course he came across like a crazy stalker freak. For the same reason, he resisted the urge to call around to the various car rental agencies. When he started thinking about using his Stargate connections to have her tracked down, he knew it was time to let it go.
His conversations with Rodney slowly returned to normal again, at least on Rodney's end. There was no recurrence of the weird behavior McKay had exhibited while he'd been dating Daphne; unfortunately, John was now feeling more than a little weird himself. When Rodney asked him tartly about his love life, John heard himself tell Rodney quite calmly to fuck off.
It had taken another two days of leaving apologies on Rodney's voice mail before Rodney would pick up and talk to him. “Just so that you quit clogging up my machine,” he'd said grumpily. To make it up to him, John had let him bitch about his work for the hundredth time, and it had been good, fine, and then Rodney had said he missed certain people.
“Me?” John had asked, casually, though he didn't feel the least bit casual; he felt like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff, waiting for the inevitable push.
“You I'm talking to on the phone right now and having dinner with tomorrow, so not so much,” Rodney snapped.
This time, John was the one to hang up on him.
They'd left in such a hurry that noone had been able to pack up their apartments before leaving; now, thankfully, the Daedalus was obliging them by sending them their personal effects, packed with the utmost discretion by members of the USAF with top secret clearance.
John winced when he reached the bottom of the box and drew out the only memento Daphne had left him, the mint-green double-D cup bra she'd been too rushed to put on after their last night together. He could only imagine what the airman assigned to the duty had thought of that little item.
Sighing, he stroked the material with his thumb for a few moments, then flung it on the bed and went in search of Rodney. He was in his quarters, but when he didn't answer John's knock, John palmed the door control.
Rodney was hunched over a crate similar to the one John had been sent, muttering to himself. When he heard John's footsteps, he whirled and stared at him, then snatched up the lid of the crate and jammed it back on.
“What, you've never heard of knocking?” Rodney snapped, crossing his arms and trying as best he could to block the crate from view with his body.
“I knocked, Rodney. You didn't hear me.” The hairs on the back of John's neck were prickling. This was more than Rodney's garden variety rudeness; his body language told John he wanted him to be gone, now.
John took a step closer. “Whatcha got in the box?”
Rodney's chin lifted. “Nothing you'd find interesting.”
John snorted. “Bet nothing you've got in there can top the bra they packed in with my stuff. I'm sure the rumor has already got around the SGC that Colonel Sheppard is a cross-dresser.”
Inexplicably, Rodney turned bright red. “I'm sure it will only cement your reputation as a ladies' man. Now, if you don't mind, I've had enough sharing for the evening...”
“Aw, come on, Rodney,” John wheedled. He wasn't sure why he was pushing the issue, but he couldn't seem to help himself. “You're just trying to hide all the chocolate you hoarded.”
Rodney shook his head. “There's no chocolate in here.”
“A new Playstation 3?”
“Will you please – ” Rodney stabbed a finger at the door.
“Okay, going, going,” John muttered, turning.
“Yes, good. Go back to your own quarters and enjoy yourself fondling Daphne's lacy underthings.”
John stopped dead in his tracks, his gaze fixed on the door six inches in front of his nose. “I never told you what her name was.” He turned back slowly and saw that Rodney's cheeks were even redder than before. He looked like was going to have a stroke.
“No, of course you didn't,” he blustered, mouth twisting. “Because I'm psychic.”
John crossed the room in under two seconds. Before Rodney had the chance to react, he'd reached around him and flipped the lid off the box, sending it clattering to the floor.
“Don't – ” Rodney began, one hand wrapping around John's bicep, but John had already caught a glimpse of mint-green satin.
“Well,” John said weakly, stepping back, “that explains a lot.”
“Please,” Rodney said, his hand still gripping John's arm. “It's not – ”
“Not what? Not what it looks like?” John stared at him, and God, how could he have been so stupid? Just because he'd been back on Earth, he'd assumed crazy, impossible shit would suddenly stop happening to him? “It looks like you found some Ancient device or other and used it to change yourself into a woman.”
Rodney gulped. “No, well, okay, it is what it looks like, actually, but I – it was supposed to be a joke! Wait, no, that sounds bad, I mean – ”
John's gut clenched. “Just so you know, I think it would be safer for you if you took your hand off my arm right now.”
Rodney didn't let go. “Please, if you'll just let me – ”
“Right. Now. McKay.”
“Letting go, letting go,” Rodney babbled, releasing him. John turned on his heel and marched out the door without looking back.
Over the course of the next three days, Rodney sent John one hundred and thirty-six e-mails begging him for the chance to explain. John ignored all but the one hundred thirty sixth, which said that the Daedalus was leaving tomorrow and Rodney had decided to be on it. He was going to speak with Elizabeth in the morning, he wrote, and then he'd be leaving Atlantis for good.
John showed up at his quarters that night. “Don't be stupid,” he snapped. “What are you, thirteen? You can't resign from the mission.”
“I've given it a lot of thought,” Rodney said, his body language defensive and his tone flat and miserable. “I've compromised the mission already with what I've done. The unauthorized use of Ancient tech is bad enough, but my abuse of your trust is inexcusable. It's not fair to you to ask you to continue to work with me under those circumstances.”
“So why did you do it? Just tell me that.” You owe me that, goddammit, he added silently.
Rodney's eyes widened, and he took a deep breath before speaking. “Don't get mad – I mean madder than you already are.”
“That's not possible,” John growled.
“It started out as a joke, at least that's what I told myself. I took the device with me when we left Atlantis – we gathered up all the small, easily portable tech, even the stuff we hadn't had time to test yet, and packed it in our suitcases, since the Ancients wouldn't let us take anything from the labs that wasn't Earth-made. Zelenka had one device stuffed in his pocket when he walked through the gate.” He cast a nervous glance at John. “Anyway. When I got to Area 51, I started testing them in my spare time.”
“And you just strapped on a device that made your dick disappear? That doesn't sound like you, McKay.”
“No, I know,” Rodney said, almost wryly. “But it was one of the few things we'd found that came with an instruction manual; we found it in its original packaging in one of the luxury apartments near the East Pier. The nearest I could figure, it was a rich Ancient's version of a Hallowe'en costume. You could put it on and take it off like a mask, with no harmful effects. The physics is astounding – it turned out my mass was the same when I was a woman, and you saw me, I was a lot smaller. I think it actually increased bone and tissue density somehow, and of course the breasts helped to compensate – ”
“Right, y-yes,” Rodney stammered. “Anyway, I was kind of shocked at how, well, good I looked, and suddenly I found myself booking a flight to Colorado. At first, I was going to show you the device, and then I thought it would be more fun to – well, to surprise you. I thought that I'd see if I could get you to pick me up, maybe get you to buy me a drink,and then I'd tell you, and we'd have a good laugh over it. That was as far as I was going to let it go, I swear.”
John had a startling flashback to their last night together, Daphne's nails digging into his shoulders as he fucked into her almost savagely. “Yeah, well,” he snarled, “it went a little further than that, didn't it?”
“Yes, and I'm so sorry – ”
“For Christ's sake, don't be sorry, just tell me why!” John exploded.
“Because I did miss you!” Rodney shouted. “Because I missed spending time with you, and having you grin at me over some dumb-assed science fiction reference. Because I worried every day that you were going to die because you didn't have the right team with you. Because I think I went slightly crazy at being forced to leave this place, and that made it possible for me to rationalize the most irrational, deceitful behavior.” Looking away, Rodney added in a near-whisper, “And because I think I've been a little in love with you for a very long – ” Rodney cut himself off abruptly. “Well. That's neither here nor there.”
John stared at the line of Rodney's profile, the tense set of his jaw, the tight press of his mouth, so much like Daphne's as she'd touched his bandaged arm. “Rodney...”
Rodney barked a short, high-pitched laugh. “You want to know when I realized I was going nuts?” he said. “When I started getting jealous of myself. That last night, you looked at me as though I were – God. Everything you wanted.”
The bottom dropped out of John's stomach. “Rodney – ”
Rodney shook his head violently. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know you don't want to hear this. Look, it's fine, really. I can still contribute to the project from Earth, and I'm sure Zelenka will make a fine replacement. He's a little skittish, but remember what I was like in the – ”
John took a step forward, then another. “Don't go.”
Rodney shook his head again. “I have to. Even if you can eventually forgive me, you'll never trust me again, and – ”
“Listen,” John said, and how had his hands ended up on Rodney's arms? Looking into Rodney's huge, terrified blue eyes, he decided to just go with it. “I already had it figured out.”
Rodney stared back at him, uncomprehending. “Well,” John added, “not exactly that it was you, but that she was a lot like you.”
Rodney frowned. “She wasn't like me. She was a girl.”
John's mouth twitched. “I can't believe you won an award for your acting.”
Rodney's shoulders slumped. “All right, my aunt was on the selection committee.” He looked up at John again, startled. “Wait, so what you're saying is – what are you saying?”
John slid one hand to the back of Rodney's neck and held him steady while he leaned in and kissed him. Rodney's mouth was stiff and unyielding at first, but when John pressed harder, it softened on Rodney's gasp.
“Oh,” Rodney breathed, “that's what you're saying.”
“Yeah,” John said, getting used to the rasp of stubble against his lips.
“Oh, thank God,” Rodney murmured, his whole body seeming to go boneless with relief. John nuzzled his way back into another kiss, getting used to the feel of Rodney's wider mouth. Rodney let John in, let him explore and experiment for long, molasses minutes, minutes where John satisfied himself that the kissing thing was as good with Rodney as it had been with Daphne.
It would have been better, but Rodney seemed determined not to initiate anything, as if he wasn't sure he was allowed, as if John was going to break and run at the first sign of anything he couldn't handle. Frustration growing, John turned up the heat, stroking his tongue into Rodney's mouth; Rodney grunted, but only touched his own tongue tentatively to John's. His hands remained at his sides like he was standing at attention.
John had had just about enough. His hands sliding down Rodney's back to his ass, they latched on and tugged Rodney's hips forward. Rodney groaned when his very interested erection pressed snugly against John's hip.
“C'mon, McKay,” John growled into his mouth, now open and panting, “you used to kiss back.”
“Oh,” Rodney breathed, “oh, I don't think I – ah!” He threw his head back when John ground his hip against Rodney's dick; pressing the advantage, John shoved him backwards until his back hit the wall, then proceeded to lick a broad stripe up the length of his neck. McKay had a nice neck, just like Daphne's, only sturdier; John closed his lips over the pounding pulse and sucked.
“Oh Jesus, that feels so – ” Rodney trailed off into incoherence, but his hands were now most definitely on John's body, one buried in his hair, the other cupped over his hip, encouraging John to make more of those sinuous grinding motions. Feeling kind of like he was juggling, John concentrated on keeping up what he was doing while his free hand went to the hem of Rodney's t-shirt and began pushing it up. After a minute, Rodney pulled back and helped, lifting the t-shirt over his head while John started on his pants.
Rodney's body wasn't anything like Daphne's, but John found similarities: Rodney's skin was very warm, almost hot, and he trembled when John touched him. “I want – ” Rodney pleaded, hand clenching in John's t-shirt, and John remembered that too, the way Daphne had wanted him, the way it had seemed to go far deeper than attraction or simple lust, right from the beginning.
“You can have it,” John said, giving permission and absolution, and Rodney let out a gust of air that was frighteningly like a sob and practically tore at John's clothes, and when his mouth closed around John's cock, John looked down and realized Atlantis hadn't been the only thing he'd come damned close to losing.
John blinked awake in an instant. “Hey yourself,” he said, voice rusty from sleep.
Rodney was propped up on an elbow above him, his expression unsure. “I, uh, I was hoping to take you out to breakfast. You like pancakes?”
John tugged at Rodney, urging him to settle on top of him. He was warm and heavy and real, and John enjoyed watching his blue eyes widen in surprise when he spread his legs to make room for him.
“Crazy about 'em,” he murmured, grinning like a goof.
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