Author's Notes: Betaed by Shalott and Lim and Giddy and Resonant and Terri. Thank you guys!
Now that the Daedalus makes its runs so infrequently, its arrivals and departures have become Lantean events. The ship's return brings badly-needed supplies, news from Earth, the occasional émigré or new recruit, and sets off a festival atmosphere: the closest thing the city has to a carnival. The Daedalus's departure, on the other hand, is both more serious and more reckless: a communal grieving that's half-funeral, half-drunken bender. All of Atlantis assembles and stands with their heads bowed as the Earth-born dead who requested Earth burials vanish in the golden light of the transporter beam. There is a similar sadness when expedition members leave, especially if they're part of the original two hundred, who have bonded with clannish intensity.
If the arrival of the Daedalus is a festival, its departure has the character of an Irish wake.
So John's more than a little buzzed by the time he decides to go through with it. But unlike the others at the party, he's pretty sure he doesn't seem drunk; he just moves a little slower, leans on things a little longer, grins and lets his smile stretch out. All around him, people are dancing to the Athosian band's riotous playing. John knows this one, the Kha Vrata De Sorti; he's danced it with Teyla. Hell, he knows them all now, all the Athosian dances of celebration and mourning.
They're sending off eighteen people tomorrow, eight of them in coffins.
He drains the last of his ale and sets the mug down, conscious that Lieutenant Tommy Gibson is pacing on the other side of the room. He doesn't even need to look in the lieutenant's direction; he can sense him, the heat of his gaze, the way he's looking for an opening. Gibson is shipping out tomorrow; he's only been here for nine months, a standard tour. John knew right away that he wouldn't be staying: too normal, too connected to Earth, too something.
Teyla is dragging Sgt. Keller out to dance with her; Keller's best pal, Ryan, is shipping out, too, killed on mission last month. Ronon slouches at one of the banqueting tables and grins behind his hand as Elizabeth whispers in his ear. She's leaning on one elbow, flushed pink with laughter and wickedness; she's a pisser when she's drunk. Lorne is standing in a corner with his arms wrapped tight around Dr. Nichols and his face in her hair. She could be laughing or crying, John can't tell. Rodney's standing by the feast table, licking powdered sugar off his fingers and nodding at something Zelenka is saying—and then suddenly, he looks up, and his eyes catch John's. Rodney stares at him for a moment, then holds up a donut; it's a question. John suppresses a smile, shakes his head no—
—and Lieutenant Gibson's coming closer. John knows he can ward him off with a single hard look or an abrupt shift in body language, like raising shields. Instead, he uncrosses his arms and lets them drift to his sides, opening himself up to it, inviting him in.
Gibson responds by coming over quickly but casually, skirting the edges of the crowd and not drawing attention to himself. Still, it's a familiar dance to John: how he moves, how he stands, the way the air charges between them.
"Sir," Gibson says, when he gets there, and he's standing just a little closer than is strictly necessary, John thinks. "Colonel Sheppard, sir. I just wanted to tell you that—"
John can hear him perfectly well, even over the dance music, not to mention that he's pretty good at reading lips. Still, he smiles vacantly and twirls his hand in the air as if to say, Sorry, hey, not getting a word. Gibson stares at him for a moment, obviously debating the wisdom of raising his voice, and then he puts a hand on John's arm and leans in. "Sir," he begins, bringing his mouth close to John's ear, but John steps away and jerks his head toward the door as if to say, Let's step outside, shall we?
Gibson's face breaks into a smile; a private conversation is more than he bargained for, because Colonel Sheppard doesn't normally do private—hell, he doesn't really do conversation. John heads out first, knowing that Gibson will follow, and pushes through the silver door with its bas-relief symbols. The hallway outside is quiet. John begins to walk away rapidly, past a few tardy Lanteans coming late to the feast: Markham, Reynolds, Feingold. The music dimly rises and falls as the door opens behind him, but he keeps walking and doesn't look back.
He goes through three doorways, turns a corner and waits, parking his shoulder against the wall opposite one of Atlantis's many glorious stained-glass windows. This particular corridor doesn't lead anywhere, though it's lined with a few empty rooms. The metal staircase on the other end is unusable, twisted into modern sculpture by the force of some long-ago flood. It's been inspected and sealed off, and John probably never would have come in here again if it hadn't been for Rodney, who discovered that the Ancient equivalent of a choirmaster once lived here, and insisted that John find her collection of music.
Around the corner a door shushes open, and a moment later, Gibson turns the corner and stops, considers, licks his lips. John, already leaning against the wall, relaxes even further and puts on his most conspiratorial smile. Gibson is blond and young and built like his high-school football coach; like Lorne; like Rodney, come to think of it. He's good looking, anyway, not that John lets himself notice those things much anymore.
"Sir," Gibson says in a low voice, and swallows hard. "I just—" and John tilts his head expectantly, uh-huh, yeah, go on, "I just wanted to tell you how—grateful. I am. That you chose me. For this mission," and John stifles a smile and tries not to look skeptical. Gibson might even be sincere, though from the way his eyes keep dropping to John's fly, John kind of doubts it. "Sir," Gibson manages, coming closer in the dim light, "it's been such an honor to serve with you," and yeah, all right; Gibson's not the first person to get desire and duty tangled up. John cups Gibson's neck, pulls him in, and kisses him, and then it's like something in Gibson snaps, and they're making out against the wall.
Gibson's mouth is hot against his; he's a good kisser, slow and kind of dirty, and his hands are fumbling over John's chest, his ass, groping his cock. John can't help but respond; his heart is pounding blood through his system, making him tingle, making him hard. He nudges his dick against Gibson's muscular leg and hears the answering groan—and then grabs Gibson's ears to hold their mouths together, because Jesus, if Gibson calls him "sir" again, he's going to start giggling.
But Gibson takes this as his cue to deepen the kiss, and for a moment, John forgets what he's doing, why he's here, because fuck, Gibson's good at this. His hands are all over John, stroking him, and suddenly John's hard and desperate; he wants to shove Gibson to his knees and fuck his face. Christ, it's been so long since he's done this, this random fucking of random strangers. He's too old for this shit, but—
He's lost enough in the moment that he doesn't hear the door open, or the sound of footsteps in the hall. But Gibson must have heard something, because he goes tense under John's hands, and when he twists his mouth away, his eyes are wary. "It's all right," John whispers, cupping the hot skin at the back of his neck. "It's just McKay. McKay's all right, he's one of us," he says, and when he kisses Gibson again, it's hot and deep and all for Rodney's benefit, his own personal show.
Gibson moans softly, and the kiss gets wetter still, deeper still. Now John's in control, and he pushes Gibson back against the wall and gropes his cock through his pants. His own dick leaps to attention—he's only human, after all—but in his mind, he's strategizing, considering the angles, wondering if Rodney would rather watch him blow Gibson or watch Gibson blow him. He's gone this far, he might as well get it right, because this is a one-time deal. McKay wants him to do this, so he's doing it. Once. That's it.
When John pulls his mouth away, Gibson takes a deep breath and darts a nervous glance in Rodney's direction. "Sir," he says, in a low voice, "are you sure that—" and John can't blame him for asking. The fear of entrapment runs deep.
"Yeah," John says, almost fondly, using his thumb to ruff the guy's blond hair. "I'm sure," he says, and assures him the only way he knows how: by tugging McKay out of the shadows and kissing him on the mouth in front of Gibson. And for a moment, that's so exciting that John can't think of anything else: it's Rodney who's obsessed with turning John into some kind of porn star, but John thinks he could get into this. The irony of the situation isn't lost on him; five years, and the first person to see him kiss Rodney isn't Teyla or Ronon or even Elizabeth, but Second Lieutenant Thomas J. Gibson, who isn't team or clan or anybody he even cares about.
He's so caught up in the weird, bizarre thrill of kissing Rodney in front of someone else—and why the hell is it so weird, anyway? Straight people do it all the time—that he doesn't immediately notice the strange taste in Rodney's mouth. It's an unhappy taste, bitter and sad, like salt, or— and John groans and breaks off the kiss. Rodney instantly yanks him close, clutching him tight so John can't see his face.
"I'm sorry," Rodney says in a low, broken-sounding voice. His arm is slung over John's shoulder, his fist tight in the back of John's shirt. "I didn't know it would hurt."
John closes his eyes for a long moment, hugging back hard. Then he turns his head and puts his mouth on Rodney's ear. "Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot."
"I know," Rodney says miserably.
"No, really," John whispers into the shell of his ear. "You're a total idiot."
"Yes. Absolutely. I'm sorry. In my head it was like time travel: I'd get to see everything I missed. You, drunk and beautiful and twenty-four, having casual sex with—"
"I'm not twenty-four, Rodney," John murmurs wearily. "And it wasn't that great."
"— someone who isn't me, which is the part I forgot." Rodney's breath is hot in his ear, and Rodney reaches up with his free hand, the one that isn't gripping his shirt, and strokes through John's hair. John can't help but shudder; he loves that, always has. "In my head, it was—but in reality, I—" and the hand tightens in his hair and pulls and John just goes with it, lets Rodney tilt his head to the side and kiss his mouth open.
The first thing Rodney says when their mouths ease is: "So. Can we countermand that—"
"No," John murmurs against his lips. "We can't," because they can't; he can't do that to Gibson. He pulls his mouth away and finally looks Rodney in the eye. Rodney's face is tense with unhappiness, but he jerks a nod; he gets it, he knows. "Gibson," John says, raising his voice and turning back to where Gibson is still braced against the wall and watching them both with wide eyes, one hand cupping his dick. But certain things are off the table, and John supposes he'd better be honest about that: come clean and ask the guy what he wants. He steps back into Gibson's personal space, about to ask—What do you need out of this?—when Gibson says, "Oh. Oh," and before John can blink, Gibson's crossed the hallway to Rodney and cupped his head for a rough kiss.
John stares, feeling strangely, overwhelmingly, homicidal, and he's just about to drag Gibson away and punch him in the face when Gibson stops and says, panting eagerly: "It's okay with me," and then, with a hopeful look at John, "You know, a threesome."
"No," Rodney says, shoving Gibson away.
"No," John says immediately, almost lightheaded with relief.
"In your dreams," Rodney says, and crosses his arms, and glares. John quickly steps between them; he's glad that Rodney nixed the threesome, but trust Rodney to be rude about it when this was all his idea. John hasn't been twenty-four for a while, but Gibson's not much past that, and John remembers like it was yesterday how people could mess with you, and how that could hurt.
Gibson's actually looking a little stung, and so John cups the side of his face and absently strokes a thumb across the corner of his mouth; whatever else you wanted to say about the kid, he sure was pretty. "Don't mind McKay," John says, blocking off Gibson's view of Rodney with his body. "He's just McKay," and then he leans in and kisses Gibson gently, because it's still so fucking hard to be twenty-four. "You're leaving tomorrow," John says when he breaks the kiss, and it isn't a question; it's a fact, it's the context for this, the context for everything, "and so you need to tell me what you want out of this."
Already he's thinking that the easiest thing to do would be to push Gibson against the wall and jerk him off, and his fingers are already moving over the waistband of Gibson's pants, searching out the button. But Gibson's staring into his face with unabashed longing, and then he's licking his lips and saying, in a voice too low and too hoarse for Rodney to hear, "I want to suck you. Sir, please—" and John feels something inside his chest go tense, because of course that's what he wants, that's his kink, all yes, sir and no, sir and I'd be honored to suck your cock, sir.
"Gibson," John sighs, his shoulders slumping. "Tommy—" but Gibson's sure of his ground; he's acting like he's owed this and he's maybe even right. Gibson kisses him swiftly, then pushes him up against the wall, and this is it, now or never: stop this or not? He doesn't, and he doesn't look at Rodney, and Gibson slides to his knees and unzips John's pants. John closes his eyes and blindly flattens his hands against the wall to steady himself. Atlantis warms under his palms.
Gibson is shoving his underwear down and pumping gently, because he's almost hard but not quite. Still, when Gibson's soft, wet mouth closes over his cock, he can't help but jerk forward; he's only human after all, and Jesus, all blowjobs are good.
Then it's all desperate wet slurping and his own ragged gasps, and then, beneath that, a soft, pained sound—and John opens his eyes. Rodney's shrunk back against the opposite wall of the corridor, and while his body has curved into itself defensively, his eyes are wide open. Rodney's watching them, watching him, his face blank with shock, and John lets out a soft groan of pleasure-pain and doesn't know how to feel. Something in his chest aches for Rodney, but some part of him is bitterly satisfied, too; maybe now he'll lay off, forget about—
But then there's another soft moan and John's eyes spring open again, his hand flying out. "Rodney," he says, without thinking. "Rodney—" Gibson gives him a long, sensuous suck, and John shudders and looks down; Jesus, Gibson's totally into it, eyelashes fluttering, all blissed out. There's a blur of motion, and when John looks up, Rodney's there beside him, eyes boring into his. Right, John thinks wildly. Don't look down, Rodney, don't look— and then he roughly curls his arm around Rodney's neck and yanks him in to kiss him.
Rodney's mouth is hot and wet and achingly familiar, and John melts into it. Gibson's hand tightens on his hip, his lips sliding tightly over his cock. Rodney shoves John back and pins him to the wall with both hands, one on his shoulder and one on his waist, just inches above where Gibson's hand is gripping his hip, hot, burning into his skin. Rodney's tongue slides into his mouth just as Gibson's strokes over his dick, and Jesus, two mouths, he's fucking into, clutching at the warm, solid muscle of—Rodney, Rodney, Rodney, John thinks blindly, and comes, shaking.
Rodney's got him, though, and holds him through the aftershocks. John can't look down, but he feels Gibson slurping, gasping through his nose, swallowing. He hears the soft whisk of flesh on flesh, and knows that Gibson is jerking himself off. Rodney whispers, "John. John, I'm sorry," and he sounds split open, completely wrecked. John cups his head and whispers back, "It's okay, it's okay, just hang on," because this will all be over in a minute, and things will go back to normal between them.
And that's what happens. Gibson hauls himself up to his feet, looking starry-eyed, mouth swollen and shiny. "Sir," he says, and his voice catches. "Oh, sir," and John has to kiss him then, despite everything. It's quick and very sweet, and then Gibson squeezes John's arm and says, "It's been such—"
"—an honor, yeah, I know," John says with gentle irony. He steps away, pulling out of Gibson's grip, trying not to notice the way Rodney's turned himself into the wall, deliberately not looking. "You should get going," he says, straightening into a military posture as he looks at his watch. "The Daedalus leaves at 0600."
Gibson's a soldier, and instantly responds to his tone. "Yes, sir," he says, tucking himself in and zipping up. "Thank you, sir," and then he shoots a nervous glance at Rodney and hurries off down the hall, door noiselessly opening and closing behind him.
"'Thank you, sir,'" John repeats, rolling his eyes a little as he turns back to Rodney. "Can you believe he just—" but when Rodney raises his head, John sees that he's just barely holding himself together. Rodney's eyes are red-rimmed and glassy, and John sighs and slings an arm around Rodney's shoulders.
"All right, so, next time I have a brilliant idea like this?" Rodney says, straining to sound normal.
John grins and pulls Rodney into something that's half-hug, half-headlock, enjoying their ordinary, casual intimacy. "Yeah, I won't listen."
"I mean, there's no question that I'm brilliant, but I'm not always smart. Especially in the fuzzy areas of human relationships, where, let's face it, logic doesn't give you much of an advantage." There's a glint of wetness on one cheek, but Rodney doesn't seem to notice. "Besides, I don't share well."
"You don't say," John says dryly.
"No, really. Ask Jeannie. Actually," Rodney adds, glaring at him, "don't," and then he's clutching John and kissing him fiercely, nipping possessively at his lips and his jaw.
John gives it back with equal ferocity, shoving Rodney up against the warm walls of Atlantis. It's a relief to have Rodney's mouth, his hands, Rodney's strong thigh pushing against his. He likes being bossed around and manhandled and loved; always has. He strokes Rodney's hair and licks salt off his face, murmuring insults and promising never to fuck anyone else ever again. Rodney leaves stinging kisses along his face and hickeys on his neck and makes threats he's incapable of carrying out. John doesn't mind.
It's only when the window above them starts to glow that Rodney says, breathlessly, "The Daedalus. We'll miss the—" the launch, shit, and then they're kissing raggedly, unable to stop. John has to practically fling himself across the hallway to make himself let go, and Jesus, okay, Rodney's hard-on is outlined beautifully through his worn khakis, practically bursting through his pants. John gulps and turns away.
"I've got to get—" John says, just as Rodney says, "I need to—" and then they make silent promises for later and part ways without kissing, because they can't, because they have ten friends to see off and eight more to bury; an engineer, a chemist, and six Marines.