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McKay was the perfect object for a crush you never intended to do anything about.

For one thing, he was socially inept and incredibly self-involved and could not keep even the smallest secret, and all the signs suggested that he'd probably be a real asshole in a relationship. But if you weren't going to be in a relationship with him, and none of that mattered, then he was actually kind of fun.

Second, if John got clumsy and gave himself away -- if he stared too long, sat too close, spent too many of his off-duty hours hanging out in the labs -- the one explanation that nobody was ever going to suggest was, he's panting after McKay. Because, seriously, McKay? The idea of anyone nursing a secret passion for McKay? That was crazy talk. Sometimes even John had a hard time believing it.

And third, McKay himself was completely oblivious. It didn't seem to occur to McKay that there were personal relationships. As far as he was concerned, he and John were colleagues. Just like all of them on Atlantis: colleagues. Even at three in the morning, loopy on some raw Athosian hellbrew and talking about dogs that had been dead for years. Even slipping on each other's blood between the gateroom and the infirmary. A good team. Partners.

It started out pretty tame. He hung out with McKay as much as he did with anybody, maybe more. He thought about McKay when he jerked off, because McKay would never guess, so what was the harm? He enjoyed McKay's weird ideas and McKay's quirks and McKay's ass in ill-fitting pants.

And because it wasn't a real relationship, he could see McKay's many flaws without really letting them get to him. Except when they threatened the team or the city, naturally, and nobody would see anything unusual in that, any suggestion that John was maybe taking things a little too personally.

He was still enjoying it even after a year had gone by, and everybody's ego had gotten taken down a peg, and the only person who thought the old rules still applied was Caldwell, and mostly everybody ignored him.

So when McKay was in the infirmary, woozy on pain pills, John just picked up his hand and held it. Not because his injury was so serious -- it was only a simple fracture, the sort of thing most guys got the summer they got their first bikes -- but because it was sort of thrilling to get away with it. Carson smiling indulgently, Teyla saying, "You are very kind," and Elizabeth smiling down at him and saying wryly, "Enjoy the quiet while it lasts."

And when McKay woke up, he looked down at their joined hands, blinking, confused, but John just acted like always, ribbing him about how he'd enjoyed his first try at spelunking, and McKay simply stopped paying attention to John's hand, even when it moved in his while he was gesturing to underline his indignant response.

So intentional touching was OK, apparently. Apparently he could get away with that. That was cool; that gave him some new fantasy material, what with the strength of McKay's hands and the way he smelled up close. John could work with that.

It might very well have been the most satisfying romance John had ever had. It was certainly the longest.

With one thing and another, as the months passed, even John kind of stopped noticing that there was anything unusual about him and McKay. When he laid out their bedrolls so close that they slept back to back. When he lost a lot of blood in an abandoned but still functional Wraith trap, and called for McKay even when he wasn't conscious. When their seats in staff meetings were so close together that they touched from shoulder to elbow.

Aside from all that, their relationship remained pretty ordinary. Sometimes they hung out and sometimes they didn't. John had other friends; he didn't spend all his time with McKay. When McKay was an idiot, John was ready to call him on it, and McKay certainly didn't hesitate to express his true feelings regarding John's intelligence (woefully underutilized) and John's command decisions (suicidal).

From the outside, it probably looked perfectly normal.

In a way, his downfall was the same as it had been in every other long-term relationship he'd had. He got a little too comfortable. He pushed the limits.

One night after the two of them finished watching "Aliens" on McKay's laptop, John had a sudden impulse. He'd gotten in the habit of following impulses. He turned to McKay with a move so smooth it was like he'd rehearsed it: one hand folding the laptop shut, the other hand tipping McKay's head back to bring his mouth on a level with John's, and leaned closer --

And they both froze, because holy shit. McKay's mouth. For real.

John couldn't even move, just sat there with his lips pressed to McKay's, gently enough that they slid against each other a little. McKay smelled really damned good. This could only lead to trouble.

John sat back, feeling a bit like he'd been stung on the mouth by a bee. McKay sat there for a second with a shocked look on his face -- John had seen him wear that look quite a bit when they'd first come to Atlantis, and then less and less as time went by -- and then he frowned, and then he landed a good-natured but solid punch on John's shoulder and said, "So that's it!"

This was so far from any of the expected responses that John said stupidly, "What?"

Rodney was sitting up straighter, looking excited, but the lab kind of excited, not the bed kind. "That's it!" he repeated. "That's what it takes to make sense of this relationship! You have no idea how baffling this has all been, baffling to me, a man who eats quantum anomalies for breakfast -- figuratively speaking, of course, though in Pegasus it's just a matter of time. And here I was faced with, well, you, a person who could spend half of a staff meeting greeting my ideas with an exchange of exasperated looks with Elizabeth, and don't think I don't notice these things, and the other half staring at my mouth with an expression that I would have to call proprietary --"

"Jesus, McKay, take a breath."

McKay took a big, deep one; he made it count. They were sitting close enough together for John to be able to feel his chest expanding. He did not, of course, stop talking.

"But if you and I have some sort of secret love affair going on, then suddenly all the pieces fall into place, and --" He trailed off, frowning, and then his face lit up again. "And, hey, there's sex at the end of this, am I right?" He pulled his shirt off over his head, then paused with it still hanging from his forearms. "Or maybe that's not what you meant. People never seem to be quite clear about wanting to have sex with me; why is that, do you suppose? Do you need a little extra time to make up your mind?"

And John, who for a year and a half had been telling himself that he enjoyed having Rodney in his imagination precisely because he had no interest in having Rodney in reality, grimly said, "Hell, no," and flung his own clothes off with violent haste.

Rodney was already naked when he looked up, one knee on the bed. Hard, breathing a little fast -- John's eyes skittered away from his body and landed on his face, which was pink and grinning. "This is, I've been so confused -- you have no idea what a relief this is."

John put his knee on the other side of the bed and reached across it -- it felt, with Rodney looking at him, like sticking his hands through the gate without knowing what was on the other side -- and put his hands, and then his mouth, on Rodney.

God. God. John had been thinking that he was getting pretty much everything he wanted from this relationship; he'd had no idea how many things he was longing to do. Lick Rodney's ear and feel him shudder, lick his neck, pin him down with a leg across his thighs and just rub his whole body against him.

He was amazing. Grabby, noisy, without the slightest trace of dignity or ironic distance or anything that would stop him from saying, "Oh, god, yes, yes, that again only harder, yes."

God, this, John thought incoherently, and then: No, more than this.

He gave Rodney's nipple a lick, just in passing, because it was sticking out like always and it caught his eye; he hadn't planned on doing much with it because the couple of guys he'd tried that on had seemed to find it irritating. But the minute his tongue made contact, Rodney sighed out, "Oh, yes," and John took that as permission to keep going until Rodney stopped him.

Rodney didn't stop him. He squirmed and sighed and choked and twisted, and then after a few minutes he said, "Jesus, would you please," impatiently, and hauled John's leg up a little further, until he grunted as his cock made contact with the inside of John's thigh.

John had been using two fingers to plump up Rodney's nipple and then warming it in his mouth until it went down again; now, without moving his fingers, he looked up at Rodney's face and said, "It's that good?"

Rodney didn't even answer, just panted, shoving with his hips until his cock slid along John's leg, leaving a wet streak behind.

"You want to come like this?" John said, and Rodney's hips jerked again, and he pinched Rodney's nipple and smoothed his thumb over it and added recklessly, "This time?"

"Yeah," Rodney said. "No, don't," he added when John went to move to the other side. When John raised an eyebrow at him, his cheeks went pinker. "You've got that one all sensitized."

"Christ," John said thickly, and bent his head back down.

He began to taste fresh sweat on the crinkled skin, and Rodney pulled his leg down and thrust harder against it, and then Rodney sighed out, "John, John," and John could feel his cock throbbing as he came against John's leg.

"God, I needed that," he said happily, and then without shifting position he got one hand down where John was still rubbing his cock against his hip. His hand was slick, how -- oh, jesus, he -- "Tighter," John said between his teeth, "faster," but he was coming before Rodney could change anything at all.

He panted into the side of Rodney's neck while Rodney rubbed his back, not paying much attention; clearly his brain was already elsewhere, which gave John a cold feeling. It was pretty normal at this point for John to be restless and nervous, wishing he could get his clothes on, wishing he'd never taken them off. Not having that feeling with Rodney had been one of the chief advantages of having this relationship exist only in his head.

"OK," Rodney said finally, "here's the situation. My guy experience is pretty much limited to desperation handjobs, so I don't rule anything out but the learning curve will be steep in places. I want to stay on the team; Teyla will back me up on that, I'm pretty sure, and maybe Ronon, too. I'm not prepared to lie in response to direct questions, but I'm perfectly comfortable lying by omission. And frankly, given the very obvious way you've been pining after me, if no one's asked yet, I think it's safe to assume we can do anything short of fooling around in the gateroom without raising any eyebrows."

John blinked at him.

"Comments? Questions? Objections?" Rodney said.

"Pining?" John said, when he could speak.

"Oh, please, it's obvious," Rodney said.

He looked so smug, so pleased with himself, and for a second John waited for the annoyance that he'd always figured that smirk would generate if he were actually involved with Rodney. But maybe these things were easier to take from a guy who was not only naked but had one nipple still visibly redder than the other. Or maybe it was just because he was Rodney, and somehow over the past year and a half John had gotten in the habit of thinking of all these things as, God help him, charming.

"I take it your indirection means you figured a relationship with me would be less complicated if I weren't actually involved?" Rodney said.

"Well, yeah," he said.

"And there is some truth in that," Rodney said. "But I think -- that is, I hope you'll find that there are compensations."

Rodney's hand had slowed down. John nudged it with his elbow and it started up again. "Oh, I have no doubt," he said.