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With many thanks to terrio and giddygeek and cesperanza and misspamela and special_trille and, um, anyone else who looked over this thing during the last four months while it's been creeping slowly towards the finish line and who I have lamely forgotten in the interim.

This is for Merryish, who demanded pining, with a side order of wooing for giddygeek, and a special surprise for sisabet. (Okay, maybe not so much a surprise...)

Loves Me Not
by astolat

It was just such an obvious train wreck in the making.

Okay, John admitted, he wouldn't have liked it no matter what, but this was just unbearable, watching Rodney stammering his way through another set of dinner plans, Dr. Brown looking up at him with that anxious smile and hopeful eyes. John just wanted to shake her. She'd so clearly gotten the spectacularly wrong idea that Rodney was a shy, sensitive guy underneath it all, and if she could only get through to his soft chewy center they'd live happily ever after. She'd been in Atlantis more than a couple of months now, so you would've thought she'd have figured it out already, but apparently in her head the yelling and carrying-on was the way he hid his pain from the world.

She was in for a surprise treat when he relaxed around her and she finally did get Rodney: the real one, not this painfully awkward version who fumbled his cues and fidgeted through his lines, but the one who drank twelve cups of coffee in a row and bit your head off as a chaser, with a comeback for every occasion and a tact-to-brains ratio smaller than a peanut. It was going to be a disaster, and anybody could see she was going to dump his ass through the floor the second she realized her imaginary boyfriend was just that. Anybody except Rodney, of course, who probably thought he was a shy, sensitive guy underneath it all.

John's own goddamn crush had survived eleven months and counting now, not to mention at least ten disasters, seventeen movie nights (with Rodney hogging the popcorn), daily lunch in the mess hall, and a vicious running argument over who invented calculus, and he was starting to feel kind of pathetic. He'd been hoping that seeing Rodney get together with someone would speed things up a little, help him just get over it already, but instead it was just fucking painful, hearing him babble, "Uh, yes, I, great, tonight, I'll if you, right," while Brown smiled encouragingly.

"McKay," John snapped, "are you set to go? I'm not holding up the mission if you notice five minutes before gate time that you have to change all the batteries on your equipment again."

Brown threw him a reproachful look; but Rodney just lost the stammer and snapped right back, "Oh, I'm sorry, Colonel, I'll keep in mind you would rather experience a painful and unpleasant death than wait half an hour to fix the environmental sensors. Maybe you should recommend to Elizabeth we skip sending the MALP, too; it's such a waste of time, making sure the planet can actually support life before we go charging through."

He did start checking over the equipment, though. "I'll see you tonight, then," Brown said to him softly, laying a hand on his arm, and Rodney absently said, "Yes, yes," staring down at the readout, and completely missed the obvious opening she left him to kiss her goodbye.

John gritted his teeth and bent over his own gear.

M8X-77R didn't have much of anything to recommend it but the weather, which John had a full two minutes to appreciate before Rodney poked his head out of the jumper, said, "Oh, nice," and dumped his backpack on the ground so he could strip off his jacket and leave it behind.

John stared at the smooth, bare stretch of Rodney's neck, curved down over the handheld, one drop of sweat hesitantly rolling towards his collarbone. Wonderful. "Teyla, you and Ronon secure the area; we'll go check out those energy readings," he said morosely, and trudged off across the field.

About half a mile later, he noticed that Rodney had stopped in the middle of the field and was doing something with a plant. "What are you doing?" John demanded, and then realized Rodney was picking a flower.

"Well," Rodney said defensively, looking like he wanted to put the flower behind his back.

Jesus. John shook his head, turned around and kept going. Rodney trotted to catch up, still carrying the flower. It was pink.

"So, tell me something, do you think -- " Rodney said, in confiding tones, then stopped himself. "Um, nevermind."

John wasn't going to touch that. He wasn't a masochist. "How much further to the power source?"

"Oh, uh." Rodney poked at the buttons on his scanner. "Another half a mile, looks like. So listen, is a third date too soon to -- "

"What kind of levels?" John interrupted, desperately. "Are we talking spare ZPM?"

"Yes, because of course I wouldn't have bothered to mention something like that," Rodney said.

"So what are we looking at, then?"

"I'll tell you when we get there!" Rodney said. "But don't get too wound up, I don't think it's going to be anything too exciting. The power levels are barely worth -- oh. Oh."

The crater was about a mile across, and overgrown with grass, but from the cliff's edge where they were standing, you could still see the giant spaceship lying half-buried in the middle, glittering.

"And before you ask, no, we are not going to be able to make it fly again," Rodney said. He was unpacking his bag in the locker room -- half a dozen kinds of scanners, jumbled MREs, the carefully-wrapped small bits of equipment he'd brought back for immediate study, gently cradled one after another as he put them down on the bench, hands dirty -- there were dark smudges all over his arms, popping the veins into relief, and one along his cheekbone, a scattering of carbon specks edging towards the corner of his mouth. "Still, there's some chance we might want to adapt the engine design for use in another line of fighters, branch off from the X302."

"Cool," John said glumly, chin propped in his hand, watching him work.

"Mm, yes," Rodney said, beaming at him with great satisfaction, and then his face fell as he finally got to the bottom of the pack and lifted out the flower, hanging crazily from a broken stem, half the petals missing, pink faded to a sort of brownish-grey. He stared at it for a minute and said uncertainly, "I guess botanically speaking, it's still an interesting specimen?"

John sighed and leaned over to his own pile of gear and tossed Rodney the healthy flower he'd picked up on the way back to the jumper. "Here you go."

"Oh," Rodney said, staring at the flower. "Oh. Um. Thanks? Thank you." He looked confused. "You brought back -- ?"

John shrugged with great casualness, a what's a flower between pals kind of shrug, and broke in, "Aren't you going to be late?" Rodney jumped and looked at the time and ran towards the showers.

Once he was gone, John sat down on the bench again next to the heap of exciting alien artifacts and rubbed his face with both hands. Okay, so maybe he was a masochist. Jesus. He wasn't normally the kind of idiot who worked up crushes on straight guys just to torture himself; he knew how to draw the fucking lines.

What had tripped him up was Rodney didn't make any sense to get a crush on. He wasn't that good-looking, he was an arrogant jerk, he made more noise than a marching band, and in between episodes of doing vague genius-type things in the lab and, okay, saving everybody's lives, he was mostly a vast annoying presence. John had figured it was going to be a question of putting up with Rodney; then suddenly the bitching was making him grin, and the sporadic heroics were making his heart jump, and the corner of Rodney's mouth was making him lose track of important meetings, and John was well and truly screwed before he'd even realized there was any danger.

He wasn't stupid, he wasn't nursing some secret hope Rodney would figure it out and suddenly decide that he'd like to take a walk on the other side and bang, happy ending with blowjobs -- at least, not seriously -- but still John couldn't help but see exactly how it would all work, the two of them, how easy, how good it would be to take all that sharp crackling energy between them straight back to bed and burn it off; the way they'd fit together, as easily as he'd fallen for Rodney in the first place, not even wanting to.

He could taste it: Rodney muttering words against his mouth, half-protesting and groping at him awkwardly the whole time, hot as fucking anything, and god, he really was pathetic, sitting here in the locker room fantasizing about pushing Rodney up against a wall and sliding his hands under Rodney's shirt and his tongue into Rodney's mouth and making Rodney let him in. Except instead Rodney was on his way to Katie Brown's apartment, and he was going to stammer at her and knock over a wineglass and maybe he'd kiss her goodnight, and maybe she'd tell him to stay, and John stood up and slammed the fucking locker shut, breathing hard, and then he turned around and found Rodney standing in the doorway still clutching the flower, dripping, a towel around his waist, staring at him.

John stared back at him, unguarded, and he knew everything was on his face and he couldn't get it off quick enough, and Rodney was getting big-eyed, and in a second it would be too late to blow it all off, to make some excuse, and then it was too late, and Rodney stammered, "I, uh -- I have to go now -- " and sidled back out of the room awkwardly, and fuck. Just -- fuck.

John lay down on the bench and put an arm over his eyes and wondered how long it would take for people to notice if he just never left the room again.

It wasn't really all that comfortable on the bench, though, and John figured he still had plausible deniability, and maybe Rodney would convince himself he'd just imagined it. That hope died as soon as he got to the mess hall the next afternoon for lunch and Rodney spilled coffee all over himself, stammered through three different implausible explanations for being clumsy, and used the spill as an excuse to leave early, looking at him wall-eyed.

"Will you stop it already?" John said, cornering him in a hallway after another couple of days.

"Stop what!" Rodney said, edging backwards.

"Oh, for -- " John rolled his eyes. "Look, I'm not going to jump you in the goddamn hallway, McKay!"

Rodney gawked at him, and furtively looked up and down the corridor. "Wait, we're talking about this now?" He looked even more panicky, if that was possible.

"If that's what it takes," John said grimly. "Look, do you want off the team?"

"What?" Rodney said. "Wait, what? Oh my god, I don't believe this, I'm being sexually harassed!"

"What?" John said.

"You're going to kick me off the team unless I have sex with you!"

By the time John finished laughing himself sick on the floor of the hallway, Rodney had stopped looking panicky and was scowling, arms-folded, glaring down at him. "It was a reasonable conclusion!" he said defensively.

"Right," John said, "because I'm an asshole, and also that desperate."

"Apparently!" Rodney said. "Since when are you gay, anyway!"

"Pretty much since I started making out with the quarterback under the bleachers at sixteen," John said dryly.

"Oh," Rodney said. After a moment he frowned thoughtfully. "Huh, so that's why you like football."

"I like football because it's a great game," John said. "And you didn't answer the question."

"No, of course I don't want off the team," Rodney said, and, suspiciously, "Why?"

"Well, I drew the wacky conclusion, from the way you've been avoiding me and freaking out every time I come into the room, that you might be feeling a little uncomfortable," John said.

"Well, I'm sorry! I -- I just don't know what to do with this," Rodney said.

"Want to go out with me?" John said, trying to make it come out light.

"No," Rodney said, staring.

John shrugged and climbed back up off the floor, dusting off his hands; it gave him something to do besides look Rodney in the face. "See, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Oh," Rodney said. "That's it?"

John squinted. Rodney almost sounded huffy. "You wanted something more?"

"No! I'm just saying, that's a pretty pathetic attempt," Rodney said defensively. "Does the frontal-assault method actually work for you?"

"Pretty much," John said. "Besides, I already brought you flowers."

Rodney calmed down after that, mostly; he still kept shooting John sidelong looks and being jumpy around him in the field, until John was ready to smack him upside the head. "Excuse me, you were so checking out my ass just then!" Rodney hissed, for the third time that day, loud enough that Teyla threw them a bewildered look, and John was fed up.

He shrugged. "You can't blame a guy for looking," he whispered back, blandly, and Rodney made a kind of strangled squeaky noise and was careful to stay back the rest of the day, behind John. When they made camp, John made a point of stretching out next to Rodney and looking him up and down with a half-smile on his face. Rodney froze mid-chew, fork halfway to his mouth, staring at him.

"Swallow, Rodney," John said, and made a point of watching Rodney's throat work at it. "Hey, want my chocolate bar?" John said, holding it out just as Rodney finished and opened his mouth to say something. He could practically see Rodney torn between heterosexual panic and chocolate; chocolate won, and Rodney said, "Um, yes, thanks," and took it.

He stayed bought, too, and didn't fidget the rest of the night, even when John had to lean over him to get to the wood pile. John figured that was cheap at the price of a chocolate bar, so before their next mission he did some fast and loose trading back at base with some of the soldiers to lay in a supply of Kit Kats, Snickers and most importantly Milky Way Darks, which turned out to be the ultimate weapon of choice: when John pulled one of those out, Rodney actually moved around the fire to sit next to him of his own free will, like he'd been sucked in by its gravitational pull.

John really hadn't planned to take advantage, but Rodney made it so damn easy, and anyway, it seemed reasonably fair trade even if Teyla did give him a raised eyebrow when he ended up with his head in Rodney's lap. He didn't much care at that point, because wow had he been right about Rodney's hands, and life pretty much didn't get any better than falling asleep getting a scalp massage. When he woke up in the morning, Rodney had even covered him with a blanket and gone to sleep right next to him.

And after that -- hell, it was just irresistible. Rodney knew, after all, it wasn't like John was putting anything over on him, and if Rodney didn't mind a little inappropriate touching in exchange for chocolate, music files, Ancient-device-activation, and so on, that was his business, John figured. Although he did feel a little guilty for scheduling the flying lessons during Dr. Brown's day off.

Okay, no, he didn't, but he was aware that he should've felt guilty, which had to count for something, John told himself, waving bye to her insincerely as Rodney took the jumper up through the roof exit.

"Head for the far side of the mainland," John said. "We'll camp out there until dark. You need some practice at night flying," he pointed out innocently when Rodney opened his mouth to argue.

"Okay, yes, all right," Rodney said, and subsided, so John got not only a few good hours of flying -- Rodney was actually getting better at it, not that John planned to tell him that -- but a swim, a steak cookout on the beach, and a backrub with suntan lotion. He felt pretty damn self-satisfied until they got back to the city and Katie met them with a shy, happy smile, having traded shifts while they were away, and towed a stammering Rodney away for dinner in her apartment, followed at least in John's unhappily active imagination by the sex he wasn't having himself.

He gave up on sleeping and worked out for a couple of hours instead, telling himself it was time to cut his losses and quit fucking around with whatever the hell it was he was doing, but the Daedalus came in the next morning, carrying fresh supplies of microwave popcorn and the hot-off-the-presses Batman Begins DVD that he had dibs on. One last time for the memories, he told himself, and got Rodney to bring over the projector and speakers from his lab.

They watched from the bed, sprawled low with the lights down and the wind coming in the windows off the ocean, the movie taking up the whole far wall, subwoofer jacked up so the explosions made the floor vibrate. Afterwards, with the credits rolling, Rodney made some snide remarks about the structural integrity of the remainder of Gotham City and reached over into the popcorn bag, and John knew with perfect clarity that this was a bad idea, but he turned his head anyway and leaned in closer, and Rodney turned towards the movement and his mouth was right there, right there, butter-salt-popcorn shine on his lips, so close John could just breathe it all in. He wasn't going to do it, he wasn't going to -- and then his hand was closing around the back of Rodney's neck, and Rodney's mouth was opening for him, and popcorn was spilling all over his legs and the sheets and crunching under them, and John didn't give a fuck, because yes, yes, yes, and then Rodney made a desperate heave and sat up and said, "I can't, what am I, oh God," and John rolled over onto his back and let his head thump back against the pillows, and didn't say a word.

He managed to avoid Rodney for three days after that, and when the next mission came around he blew into the locker room at the last minute, said, "Let's go," brusquely, and stuck close to Ronon and Teyla. But then they reached the peaceful village and Rodney discovered the elaborate old statues all over the place were made out of refined naquada.

The natives were a little bemused by how excited they were over the decorative rocks, but shrugged willingly when John suggested they'd like to take a look at the mines. The jumper scans picked up two separate cave openings in the nearby mountains, but couldn't tell them which one was the mine. Naturally, they were in opposite directions, so they had to split up, and after losing Gaul and Abrams, John had gotten the memo on always staying with the most vulnerable member of his team.

He waited for Ronon and Teyla to leave the village and whirled around and pointed at Rodney. "Not a word."

Rodney's mouth stuck where it was, half-open. "But -- "

"No!" John said.

"I just -- "

"Do you want to check out the naquada mine, or do you want me to shut this mission down right now?" John said.

"You would not!" Rodney said.

"Try me," John said grimly.

He wouldn't, but he could bluff better than Rodney could. Rodney shut up, muttering, "Oh, so now we can't talk about it," and trudged after him.

It did seem to be a mine, but it clearly hadn't been touched for a long time. John ran his fingers over the old broken-down equipment and brought them away thick with black dust; Rodney grabbed his wrist and shone the flashlight on his hand, bending low over it. "Looks like naquada dust," he said, rubbing his thumb over John's fingertips back and forth to get the texture of it, and the fucking hell of it was he wasn't doing it on purpose, and didn't even notice John's breath hitching.

Past pathetic and all the way into insane, John thought, and pulled his hand away roughly. "Let's go find some more, then," he said, and started deeper in.

"Wait, hang on," Rodney said, trotting after him, trying to grab his arm, "this place hasn't been used in centuries, the framing has probably rotted; I need to check the structural -- "

John blinked into the darkness and wondered why Rodney had turned off the flashlight. Then he noticed he was lying flat on his back, his own light was off too, and there were a bunch of rocks jabbing him on all sides. Plus, there was a puddle of cold water on the floor soaking through his jacket and t-shirt. "Ow," he said, and then he coughed hard; there was dust all over his face.

"John? John?" Rodney's hands fumbled over him in the dark, found the wet fabric plastered to his side. "Oh God," Rodney said. "Don't -- don't move, hang on -- "

John opened his mouth to say he was okay, really, except Rodney was opening his pants and his jacket, and Rodney's hands were just so warm, so big and careful, fingers stuttering over John's ribs, broad palm smoothing down over John's belly, stirring up the soft hair, and John wasn't aware of the rocks at all anymore; his whole body was drawing up tight, fighting the urge to push himself into Rodney's touch, to reach up and lay his hand over Rodney's and slide it all the way down.

"I can't find it!" Rodney said. "John, come on, where -- where -- "

"I'm fine," he managed, shuddering. "Rodney, I'm fine."

"This is not a time to be stoic!" Rodney said, groping over him some more. "Look, you can't die, we haven't even had sex yet!"

"Oh, since when is sex on the agenda?" John said, rolling his eyes.

"Anything you want is on the agenda as long as you don't die, just shut up and tell me where you're bleeding so I can save your stupid life!" Rodney yelled, sounding increasingly desperate.

"I'm in a goddamned puddle; it's just water!" John yelled back, trying to push Rodney's hands away, abruptly sick of himself.

"Oh," Rodney said, up above him somewhere, and stilled.

Rodney hadn't meant it, obviously; he'd just been babbling to a dying man, and John wasn't stupid enough to take it seriously, but Rodney still didn't take his hands off right away. They rested against John's sides, just over the hips, thumbs up against the edge of his ribcage, fingers spread wide and making soft little dents in the skin. Rodney was straddling his legs, John realized; he could feel the heat of Rodney's legs on the outside of his own thighs, and he couldn't fucking stand it. He sat up to push Rodney off him, his shirt still rucked up around his chest and his pants slipping off his hips, but when his hands came up to Rodney's shoulders, Rodney leaned across the dark and bumped an awkward, misaligned kiss over his mouth.

"Rodney," John said, or tried to; he hadn't gotten half of it out before Rodney had found his mouth properly, and then Rodney's hands were cradling his head so Rodney could kiss all the breath out of his body, and Rodney was pushing him back down against the cave floor, rubbing up against him with no finesse and a desperation familiar because John had been living with it for months -- just like that, just like he'd been wanting to do this for so long, like he couldn't stand another minute without it --

"What -- oh," John groaned, hips jerking, his hands still tight on Rodney's shoulders, tense. "No, just, oh, wait -- "

"No, no, no," Rodney said, and he wasn't letting go, he was licking at John's jaw, mouthing hungry wet kisses over stubble and bruises, "no, please, let me -- " and John savagely grabbed at him, if Rodney was going to ask for it, fine --

And then Rodney's shirt was opening up for him, zipper curling down with a purr as John yanked on the collar ends, and he had his hand on Rodney's chest and the other one down the back of Rodney's pants, warm skin everywhere under his hands, and then Rodney started fumbling at his own waist, getting his fly open, and this was really -- they were really doing this, that was Rodney's cock bobbing and poking at him, oh, a little clumsy actually, nudging at John's belly while Rodney's hand awkwardly groped around pushing down his boxers, trying to line them up, and Rodney wasn't cut, and he was leaking kind of a lot, and his hand was -- he was --

"Wait," John said again, voice cracking, because it was good, it was just as good as he'd imagined, and he didn't want it, not here, dark and cold and wet and full of a thousand excuses.

"Oh, God, now? I'm sorry, all right?" Rodney said, sounding exasperated; he didn't stop. His wild lunge missed John's mouth completely and landed by accident just on the edges of the scar on his neck, the bright sensitive skin, and John made a small broken noise he couldn't quite recognize as his own. He clenched his hands on Rodney's hips, drawing him in tighter, even though he knew he wasn't going to be able to bear this, a one and only time to carry around with him like a fucking anvil --

"I'm sorry, but look, in my defense," Rodney continued, half mumbling against the skin between kisses, "I've been straight for twenty years! All prior evidence indicated -- okay, fine, yes, I was stupid, but it didn't occur to me I was really -- I mean, how was I supposed to know -- "

"Rodney," John said, trying to squash down the giddy effervescent rush, "I swear to God, if you're jerking me around -- "

"Excuse me?" Rodney said, offended. "I'm not the one who's suddenly getting cold feet after hitting on me for months, and what are you, the biggest tease in the history of -- wait, wait, was this all about the lure of the unattainable? Is that it? Oh my God," he sat up abruptly, leaving John exposed half-naked on the floor, though Rodney's hand was still wrapped around his dick, "you only wanted me as long as you couldn't have me, and now you're planning to turn me down and crush me -- "

He stopped, batting away John's hands as John, grinning, reached up for him. "Oh, fine, go ahead, laugh! You are so not getting a blowjob when we get back, assuming we don't asphyxiate and die in here anyway -- "

"Oh, I am," John said, hooking his arm around Rodney's neck, pulling him back down to kiss him quiet. "I really really am."

"Yes, all right, fine," Rodney grumbled, sliding into John's arms, "but only because I -- "

= End =

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