If anyone had asked him about it, he would have tipped his cowboy hat back (if he'd had one) and said, "Well, it was a hell of a thing." But no one asked him about it, possibly because he wasn't wearing a cowboy hat, or maybe just because his men were wise (or dumb) enough not to notice the way that John had taken to staring at Rodney's arms.
The weird thing was that Rodney had always had arms. Two of them. Attached at the shoulder and ending in big square hands. They weren't tattooed or scaly or horrifically scarred (the Genii scar healed right up, thanks to the skin-knit cream that Teyla had made out of the last of her Athosian herbs) and so they hadn't especially caught John's eye. Until he watched Rodney prevent a Kindis councilmember from falling off a shoddily constructed dais. Rodney had been in the middle of accepting an honorary degree as as symbol of the Kindis people's appreciation for his overhaul of their failing water purification system when the dais, crowded with eager well-wishers and robed academics, gave way. The structure was only three feet high or so, and it wasn't likely that anyone would have been badly hurt, but Rodney had bounded forward, reached out and jerked one overbalancing guy from the edge, dragging him close. He peered over the guy's shoulder, staring at the buckled wood and practically clutching the guy to his chest. John figured that Rodney had thought it was some kind of assassination attempt at first. After a few seconds of hubbub, Rodney, who was shirtless under the ceremonial poncho the Kindis granted to their doctors of philosophy and whose arms had been tense with bunched muscle, and also wrapped around a sharp-faced man in his 30s, let go of the rescue-ee. Then he rolled his eyes and suffered several hugs and hearty back-slaps from surrounding people impressed with his actions, notably from the sharp-faced man. He'd seemed especially enthusiastic, and John didn't guess he could blame him. At the very least the guy had been saved a knock on the head and some nasty splinters. Still, John wondered if he'd been imagining the guy briefly palming Rodney's ass.
"I have half a mind to return the poncho," Rodney sniffed later. "It doesn't take an engineering degree to build a box."
Teyla helped Rodney out of the heavily embroidered cloth and chided, "The mantle of scientific principal is a very great honor, Rodney."
"And obviously they have good taste, as they awarded it to me, but still."
"Gib wants to talk to you," Ronon said. He wasn't smiling, but the tilt of his eyebrows suggested amusement.
"Which one is he again?"
"He's the Second Engineer."
At Rodney's blank look, Ronon clarified, "He's the guy you grabbed."
"Oh. Well, I suppose he wants to thank me. Teyla, if there's a, a, gratitude ceremony or something, you can get me out of it, right?"
"I will see what I can do," Teyla acceded.
But it turned out that Gib hadn't planned anything fancy, and didn't even take much of Rodney's time. He just presented Rodney with a palm-sized glazed tile and then laid a kiss on him that was somehow voluptuous yet courtly. When it was over, and John had repressed the bizarre urge to punch the guy in the face, Gib closed Rodney's slack fingers more firmly around the tile and flashed him a smile before striding away with a bounce in his step.
"What... what just happened?" Rodney asked. He looked genuinely confused, and also not a little weak in the knees.
John said evenly, "He kissed you. That's what it looked like from here, anyway." Granted, this was the second time he'd watched another guy kiss Rodney, but then, the first time, Rodney hadn't exactly been himself.
"But... oh god, I'm not, we're not married now or something, are we?" Rodney looked distinctly pale.
Teyla plucked the tile from Rodney's hand and patted his arm reassuringly. "You are not. This is a stone from his hearth window. You will know his home from the others by the matching pattern. If you wish to send word to him, you fold a letter here," and John saw the tile had been hollowed out, "and it will be taken to him."
"So he just gave me... his address?"
"He wants you, McKay," Ronon said in a matter of fact tone. Then he grinned ferociously and added, "To call him."
"Oh, god," Rodney said, staring at the tile Teyla had handed back. "If I don't... If I don't call him, we won't get arrested or anything, will we?"
"Rodney, you are free to contact him if you wish to do so, but it is not a requirement."
Rodney apparently seemed to consider it.
"Hmm. You know, he was the least idiotic of the bunch. If I sent him the plans, and followed up with him in a month or two, he could make some headway on construction of that new filtration screen for the north quarter."
"Ennis and Choi are supposed to come out in the next couple of days with bigger pipes. They can bring the diagrams then," John pointed out.
"Hmm," Rodney said again.
John suspected that Rodney had never been much for formal dress. In fact, until the funerals for Gaul and Abrams, he'd never even seen Rodney in a button-down shirt. Hadn't known he'd thought to bring any with him. Now, Rodney seemed to have forgone every longsleeved garment he possessed, giving up on jackets unless they were on missions. Even though John had seen him in black t-shirts every day for months, they now seemed to highlight his smooth, surprisingly muscular arms to a nearly ridiculous extent. Which lead to his staring at them. Or what felt to him like staring. He liked to think he was being discreet, but Ronon's indulgent expression seemed to disprove that.
"I think my shirts have been shrinking in the wash," Rodney said, and he tucked his fingers under the cap of his sleeve, pulling it taut against the muscles of his biceps. John felt his ears go hot and choked a little on the cornbread he'd been munching on.
"You're putting on muscle," Ronon said approvingly. "Told you working out with me would help."
"You didn't tell me anything, you sociopath. You drag me out of bed, literally, every morning! And make me do push-ups."
This was news to John, but Teyla seemed unsurprised. Ronon just shrugged and slurped at his juicebox. John spent the rest of lunch checking out Rodney's biceps out of the corner of his eye.
"How many push-ups can you do?" Rodney asked accusingly. John had come to the gym to work on the rowing machine, and had almost tripped over Rodney, in stiff but perfectly serviceable form, mid-push-up. "It's like, two hundred, right? Well, I hate you. If I do fifty I feel like Rocky. The one at the end of the movie, where he looks like he fell down the stairs?"
"You're doin' fine, Rodney." And he looked fine. Broad shoulders, thick arms, the back of his neck flushed with exertion. Damn it, John thought.
"Hmph," Rodney said, grunting through another push-up. John suddenly remembered some flight notes he wanted to make and left the gym.
If John really thought about it, it wasn't so much Rodney's arms as the fact that they'd been wrapped around a guy. Naturally. Like it wasn't any big deal to put your arms around another guy. It was confusing, because John had never seen Rodney accept any hugs with anything like good grace. John tried to remember seeing Rodney hug someone else voluntarily-- he'd heard about the miracle hug that had erased Ronon's scars, but he hadn't seen it. So he tried to picture it. Rodney, with his arms around Ronon. In his mind's eye, it was surprisingly cuddly. Even when he'd hugged Gib... it had looked strong, a little panicky even, but comfortable.
It turned out that Rodney was a good man to have around if you had a weird reaction to the punch on Phenon.
"Sheppard?" Rodney's voice sounded far away, like it was coming from a tin can strung on a cord. "What did you do to him?!"
"It is a passing vertigo, harmless, harmless, you'll feel better in a very few minutes," soothed a matronly voice. John had no idea what she looked like, but he was pretty sure that if he opened his eyes, she'd be upside down. Like his stomach. And his brain. He felt the world tilt and tried to remember if there was a throw rug close enough to soften his fall, when he felt arms close around his chest from behind, hoisting him up.
"John? She's sending for Ronon and Teyla. Hey, hey, keep your feet, Orjafi says it's better if you stand up."
"How the hell should I know?" Rodney shifted his grip so that John was propped against him, one broad shoulder wedged under John's arm.
"The room's spinning."
"How can you tell? Your eyes are closed." Rodney sounded distracted, slightly breathless.
"I just. I need to hold on to something."
"Oh. Okay." And Rodney wrapped his arms around him, his breath feathering against John's throat as he readjusted his hold. "Back up," Rodney directed, and John did his best. Then he had his back against the solid wall and his chest against Rodney, who had a fast grip on John's own biceps. "I guess. We ride it out. If I let you go, do you feel like you'll fall again?"
"Rodney," John said, and tightened his arms around the man, mouth pressed against the shoulder of Rodney's inevitable black t-shirt. There was a pause, and then a careful hand on John's shoulder, a single pat, then a short rub.
"She says you'll be fine," Rodney said nervously.
"Yeah," John said, and inhaled again, grounded by the familiar smell of Rodney's soap under the scent of sweaty cotton shirt and dry-board eraser.
When John could stand on his own again without wanting to throw up, he had some trouble meeting Rodney's eye. When they got back to the jumper, Rodney flew them home, and his team loitered in the lobby while Keller gave him the once-over and took a sample of the punch for study, along with a sample of his blood.
After she finished peering, she sent him off with a pat on the arm and a promise to add albret punch to his allergy sheet.
"So, you're okay? No lingering side-effects, no dizziness, no strange... compulsions?" Rodney's expression was a mixture of hope and apprehension. Maybe he'd been rooting for some convenient short-term memory loss. Because John had gotten the distinct impression that Rodney had sort of enjoyed propping John against the wall.
"Keller gave me the all clear." He aimed a friendly punch at Rodney's shoulder. "Hey, thanks for lending me a hand back there. It was pretty hairy for a while."
"Don't mention it," Rodney said. His anxious, huge-eyed face said, Really. Don't Mention It.
John hadn't really expected Rodney to show up at his place to talk it out, and it wasn't his own first instinct either, so he really didn't see it coming when Ronon cornered him in the hallway before their morning run and said, "You should let him know."
"Let who. Know what?" John had honed that precise combination of obtuse and irritating by his senior year of high school.
Ronon just folded his arms.
"I can't exactly--"
This earned him an eyebrow tilt.
"Ronon, seriously, I am not discussing my love life--"
A look of utter satisfaction.
"--in the hallway, or anywhere else for that matter, with you. Or anyone."
"He wants you. And I've seen you watching him. I just think you should do something about it."
"And I think you should take another swing at Keller."
Ronon narrowed his eyes.
"Not so much fun on that side, is it?"
"Rodney says you can be kind of a jerk."
"Well, takes one to know one."
"What does that even mean?"
"That Rodney's also kind of a jerk. And so, by the way, are you."
A grin split Ronon's face.
"Yeah." And he broke away, powering down the hallway at top speed, leaving John in his dust.
He grabbed a shower after the run, and when he opened his door to leave his quarters for the mess hall, Rodney was standing there looking curious.
"Ronon told me to tell you that you're a jerk."
"Thanks." John figured this was going to take some time and leaned in the doorway, folding his arms.
"Why are you a jerk, exactly?"
"Why don't you tell me?"
"Well, I wouldn't call you a jerk, really. Annoying at times, maybe."
"Aww, Rodney, I didn't know you cared."
"Hmm." Rodney looked distracted, which wasn't unusual, but his ears were red, which was. This made John feel obscurely guilty, so he cleared his throat and said, "Look, Rodney, about the vertigo thing--"
"I'm not going to apologize," Rodney said quickly. "It wasn't anything I could really do anything about, and while I do, while I would, regret any discomfort it may have caused you, it was entirely accidental and I never want to discuss it again."
"Rodney. Look, I am a jerk, ask any of my ex-girlfriends. Hell, ask my ex-wife. But I've gotta come clean about this: while I wasn't exactly in a position to do anything about-- anything. I liked it, okay? You didn't, you know, offend me or whatever. With your. Interest."
"Seriously? So. You'd be... interested?"
John grinned a little and reached out to hook a hand around Rodney's smooth, warm arm and towed him inside, sliding the door closed behind him. Rodney immediately crowded him, and John cupped a hand around the back of his neck. His dick was firming up pretty nicely, nudging against Rodney's thigh.
"I have to admit, you're a pretty interesting guy."
"Hmph," Rodney said, mashing his mouth against the line of John's throat before leaning up to kiss him, to wrap his arms around John's back. Strong, a little overeager even, but good, so good, and familiar. Right.