Joan thinks about getting up for an entire minute before she rolls onto her side. "You know," she tells the wall thoughtfully, "this could very possibly be a worse idea than waking up the Wraith."
From behind her, McKay makes a noise that's like a squawk but completely and hilariously different. The bed shifts unhappily and Joan rolls over in time to see McKay poke his head out from under the covers, brown hair a mess, and (she notes in interest), wearing two visible hickeys.
McKay gives her a withering look, but he just slumps back down, still exhausted, and she's not going to say that's not making her smug, because it really is. Grinning, she stretches out beside him, casually kicking the sheet and blanket aside, reaching one arm over her head while her other hand smoothes down the "I'm with Genius" t-shirt she stole from the floor. From the corner of her eye, she notes McKay's eyes have glazed over and there's a pretty good chance he just stopped breathing. Good times. "I hate you," he mumbles into the pillow.
"I think," she drawls, "that's a little obnoxious considering what you were saying about five minutes--"
McKay burrows under his pillow. "I'm not responsible for what I say when you're doing--" McKay stops short, breathing loudly, and Joan watches in fascination as the back of his neck turns very red. One hand comes out, flapping in her general direction. "The thing with your tongue."
She has to admit it; she is really good at that. Grinning, she rolls onto her side, pressing herself against him, warm and solid: Rodney. "Rodney," she whispers against his shoulder, brushing her lips over the warm, slick skin. Closing her eyes, she rests her chin on his shoulderblade, running a hand over his strong back, wondering if sex is always supposed to be this good. "Almost a year." Tomorrow, actually. Yes, she's counting, too.
Rodney really tries to hold out, but he gives up, head ducking out from under the pillow to glare. "Sleeping together is a worse idea than the *Wraith*?"
Joan grins back and shifts away enough to see his face, one leg thrown over his thigh. She's never had a lover quite like McKay--like *Rodney*; not a fellow officer or a soldier, bulkier, warmer, with wide shoulders and thick biceps and a stomach that has never quite met a six-pack, thickly muscled thighs and calves and so utterly unself-conscious when he's comfortable, like he is now. "I'm just saying," she says patiently when an arm sullenly circles her waist; he still touches her like he's not sure it's allowed. She supposes almost three years of conditioning (and Teyla's sticks of death) are pretty hard to get over. She inches closer, trying not to grin like an idiot teenage girl in love, though honestly, she feels like that pretty much twenty-four-seven and it should be getting old, but it's just not.
It's *not*, and she doesn't think it ever will. "Let's get married."
Rodney goes still, every muscle tensed. "Huh?"
Joan winces. "Three doctorates and a city light years beyond our known grasp of science and you still can't quite command the English--"
One hand goes over her mouth. Joan reminds him with a look that she can have him on his back for reasons other than sex, and some will be intensely painful, but he just stares at her. "What?"
When he moves his hand, Joan swallows. Somehow, it's harder now when he's looking at her like that. "Married. Us. Let's get married."
When she'd first though about this (in the shower, after a mission, with Rodney holding her up against the wall while his mouth performed new and startlingly acrobatic acts of cunnilingus between her legs, God, that had been good), she'd figured there were three possible ways this could go:
1.) Yes (Rodney variations including dragging them in front of Elizabeth immediately for the service, vaguely happy hysterics while he considered how he'd have to share his room with her and his laptops, or possibly handwaving.)
2.) Maybe (She has this feeling that Rodney just might still be holding out for Sam Carter, and she'd be jealous, but after three years of training with Teyla and the Marines, Joan's fairly sure she could kill Sam and hide the body without too much trouble. Rodney would get over it. It's not like he isn't getting all the sex his body can safely perform already.)
3.) No. (She still hasn't worked out a response for that one. Teenage-girl-love had its downsides; for all she knows, she might end up dying her hair black and writing a lot of poetry comparing her pain to the Wraith. It could happen. Two of her Marines do it twice a year.)
Rodney just looks at her and that was never on the list. "Should I take that as a no?" she says, as casually as she can, but she's not sure she sounds casual at all.
Then Rodney's suddenly going right over her, stumbling out of bed, and *going for his pants*. Gothic poetry, she thinks darkly. And I'm telling the Marines he steals my underwear, too. She opens her mouth to say something--God knows what--but Rodney's cute when he's fumbling and God, it's disturbing, he's trying to make a run for it, but she can't stop thinking that standing there, frantically dragging his pants on, hair a disaster area, with *hickeys* of all Godforsaken things, he's still mindbogglingly hot.
It's the oral sex, she thinks sadly. Stupid tongue.
Rodney's pants are tossed somewhere toward the door, and suddenly, he's on the floor and manhandling her to sit up and Joan gets about a second to process--huh, kneeling--before Rodney shoves something into her hand. "Right. Of course you'd ask first. You can't ever--" Rodney stops talking, but Joan's not sure what he was talking about anyway. There's a box in her hand, and she's fairly sure that a Tiffani label is something she should, on some level, recognize.
Flipping it open, she takes one look inside and blows out a breath. "Huh."
"I waited *two weeks*," Rodney says, looking aggrieved and flushed and mostly annoyed. "Two *weeks*, that's--and what, you *throw it out there* the *day before*--"
Joan checks the box again, just to be sure. Yes. Ring. Rings. Plural. Rodney and his uranium-class Visa had gone on an serious spending spree. After a second, Joan realizes his hands are shaking, then realizes that it's both of them.
So this is a moment, she thinks, lightheaded and nauseated and terrified. "I beat you," she manages to choke out. Rodney snatches the box away with a huff, but only to pry out the sparkling one that she assumes is Rodney's very subtle, understated way of staking his claim before they're both wearing rings that say "I own her *for life*, and if you look too long, I will destroy your soul."
Rodney will, too. She closes her eyes briefly when he takes her hand, as carefully and gently as if he's touching an Ancient artifact, sliding the ring onto her finger. She stares at it for a second, the large fingers slowly lacing between hers, and luckily, Rodney looks about as horrified as she does or she'd seriously not be able to get through this without saying something incredibly stupid.
"Let's get matching tattoos."
Or she'll say something stupid anyway. Rodney eases her knees apart with one hand, eyes fixed on her face as he licks a slow trail from her knee, tongue slick and silky and perfect, licking her open with long, careful strokes. She lies back on the bed, lazily pulling up her knee and spreading wider, but mostly, right now, she wants-- "Hey," she says, and God, her voice sounds good like this, low and broken, and Rodney jerks like someone just shoved a needle into his ass. "Fuck me."
He's climbs up on the bed, sitting back on his heels between her legs as she sits up, and Joan looks at him for a second, because sometimes, she wonders how she got here; Atlantis, command, space vampires, her team and her family, and well, Rodney.
"When," she says, straddling his lap, shivering at the feel of his cock grazing between her legs, "do you want," she closes her eyes, tilting her head back when his hands cup her hips, and--yes, right there, "oh yeah," she murmurs when he slides inside her, thick and heavy and perfect. He pulls her into a kiss that's supposed to be quick and isn't. "When--" she mumbles wetly, but for the life of her, she has no idea what she's saying. She starts moving slowly on him, feeling Rodney's hand on the back of her neck, between her shoulder blades, on her ass; she loves how he touches her, like he can't stop, when he's awake or sleeping or working, a brush of careful fingers or cradling her hip with one large palm, curled against her back, resting gently on the small of her back when they're together. She's used to it, likes it, misses in when she doesn't get enough. "Tomorrow," she manages to gasp, pressing her forehead onto Rodney's shoulder, pleasure sparkling through her like light. "I want to--"
"...takes two *weeks* for a license," he gasps out, teeth closing delicately on her collarbone when he nuzzles his shirt aside. She can feel him starting to shake already. "Even if--" he stops short, grabbing for her hips and holding them still, which is going to drive her nuts really fast and she'd hate to use her extensive and expensive Air Force training to kill her fiancé, but *what the fuck*-- "But we could--"
"Mainland," Joan agrees, because Rodney's not really verbal right now, and-- "And if you don't move *right the hell now* Rodney--" she gasps out; who knew engagement was such a motivator? Rodney licks her throat and finally they're moving again, slow and steady and easy, driving her nuts, and she wants this not so--
She licks Rodney's ear, then whispers, "You know I love you, right?"
Rodney jerks up into her and she gasps, wrapping her arms around his shoulders when he pushes her into the mattress, tongue in her mouth hungry and seeking. Rodney's hand slips between her legs, rubbing sharply on her clit, making her gasp, the slow stretch of pleasure finally snapping, and she bites Rodney's tongue and tries not to laugh, because tomorrow this time Halling is going to have just finished marrying them and Rodney only thinks she was joking about the tattoos.
Joan had once made the mistake of correcting one of the chemists in McKay's presence, which had, in hindsight, been pretty damn stupid, because McKay's been watching her for her to slip up since the first time she accidentally *maybe* hinted she could do a little more than shoot a gun and spit better than any Marine born. She's getting used to Mensa tests showing up in her email these days.
And just thinking about the backlog in her account right now is enough to make her want to run very, very far away.
She gets out of the infirmary post-bug about three hours before Carson was going to let her go by dint of getting up and leaving, because while they could take her clothes, they could never take her freedom; or rather, they didn't take her sheets and she's fourth-generation military. She's not afraid of being naked.
Being naked in front of a crowd, not so much. Joan closes her eyes and reaches the city, feeling it respond with slow enthusiasm, *don't let them find me*.
The city agrees.
She goes to her quarters first, grabbing a uniform from the closet and mourning the fact that she officially owns only one civilian outfit and it has Wraith blood on it. She has to move fast, because Carson's an ATA and can probably convince Atlantis to open the doors. Failing that, he'll call McKay and then she's kind of screwed.
In the bathroom, she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. There's nothing remaining of blue skin or yellow eyes, but she doesn't look too long, brushing her teeth and spitting before getting her boots and the Athosian beer Halling sent her in her duffle. Checking the life sign detector, the halls are clear, and she feels a little like a deserter as she goes searching for somewhere--anywhere--that's not here.
Suddenly, her radio comes to brilliant static life. "Colonel Sheppard!"
Jesus on a cracker, she actually put on her radio.
Pulling it out, she drops it in a convenient corner and jogs down the hall, letting Atlantis guide her instincts. West, she tells it. I need to see the ocean.
Five Athosian beers of maximum alcoholic content and two hours later, McKay's staring down at her with a combination of disgusted worry and envy, because Halling never sends him beer.
"Carson's got the Marines looking for you."
Joan observes McKay upside down for a second before closing her eyes again. "Lorne would not authorize that." She likes her new 2IC, and she hadn't expected that. Then again, Lorne had worked with SGC and Sam Carter a while. "Sam says hi in her last letter."
McKay's mouth tightens. "Lorne's your sex slave, isn't he?" and she honestly can't tell if it's Lorne or Sam, if it's envy or jealousy, and some tiny part of her--the part that she will *never willingly admit she has*--is a little wistful.
"I put out for all my senior officers," she says, stretching. McKay's eyes go to her breasts and knee-jerk away before she can offer more stick practice. McKay has become very, very good with the sticks from many, many hours of practice. "Perk of being an Atlantean Marine. That's why we get so many volunteers."
Instead of leaving now that he's confirmed her continued existence, though, he sits down, poking into her bag and finding one of her beer. "So I guess--" he stops, frowning down at the floor of the balcony. "All better?"
Joan thinks about it. "Sure."
McKay huffs unhappily, hands wrapped around the plain brown bottle. Shifting, she sits up, bracing her back against the balcony while he drinks erratically, looking at anything but her. It's weird, even for McKay. "Were you--" she starts, then stops herself before she gets maudlin. She's a very maudlin drunk.
"Worried? Of course not." McKay's mouth twists unhappily as he drains the bottle with a kind of petty satisfaction and goes for another. Joan joins him because in the lexicon of alcohol, it is wrong to drink alone. Very wrong, she tells herself, twisting off the cap and taking a swallow. "I mean, they'll just send another one of you and you're all interchangeable and who would ever--" McKay stops short, eyes widening briefly, then opens his bottle. "Yes, I was worried. Asshole."
"Bitch," she offers. McKay gives her a narrow look. "McKay--"
"It's just--" and he's off, on his feet and pacing the balcony. She's never met anyone like him, no one even close. "You know. You almost get blown up, with *my bomb*, and hey, I'm calm--"
"You called me an Ancient-chasing slut. Notice how you didn't get stick-time for that one?"
He waves it off. "I was high and you were--" he stops, finishing the bottle. Joan remembers vaguely that Rodney has the alcohol tolerance of a kumquat. A tee-totalling kumquat. And for that matter, so does she; she just fakes really well with the Marines. "And then you--"
"That's my job," she says gently.
Instantly, McKay's beside her, jerking her arm up, blunt fingers tracing down the length of her forearm, over the sensitive blue skin that's the last vestige of the creature she'd been. "This isn't your job," he says, voicing biting, fingers gentle. He's close enough to breathe, labs and burnt wires and way too much coffee and sweat, but there's something under it that's familiar, and Joan has a sudden, visceral memory of taste that hits her in the gut.
"Oh God." And also, fuck.
McKay drops her arm like he just discovered she's actually a Wraith. "Um, Colonel--"
"We had practice, didn't we?" Because she's looking right at his mouth and remembers--oh. Fucking. Hell. "McKay--"
"It wasn't you!" His ass hits the balcony hard enough to make *her* tailbone twitch, which would usually be worth a laugh, but God, she tried to *hit that*, and oh oh oh, so not good. "I mean, yes, it was you, and there was this moment in the practice room, but then you stopped and hey, no harm done--"
Joan stares at the collar of his shirt in horror. "*Is that a hickey*?"
McKay's hand goes up before he can stop himself.
It dawns on Joan that there are whole new depths of humiliation to reach, above and beyond being blue, unattractive, and deeply, deeply creepy, because she apparently sexually assaulted her sexually-harassing teammate while bug-possessed, and so much moral high ground just went down the drain. "I need to lie down," she says, and suits action to words, covering her face with both hands. "And I need more alcohol."
There's a second of appalled silence before Joan hears McKay get to his feet. Opening her eyes, she catches a glimpse of a tight, unhappy mouth and shadowed blue eyes, a familiar look of old hurt floating just below the surface, and something so close to resignation it makes her ache. "McKay, stop," she says, making herself look directly at him and not at his mouth, his hands, the parts of him she staked out a long time ago. "It's not--" You. Well, that's not true. Her life is far too complicated. It would be nice of the Genii if they could attack them right about now. "I'm sorry," she says finally. Genii attack. Please.
"Apology accepted," he says flatly. He waves toward the door stiffly, and right. She totally fucked this one up. "I'm--I have a simulation I need to get back to." Before she can get her thoughts together enough to explain--or at least, make it sound a little less like she'd rather be molesting Wraiths than him, which is totally untrue and also, no more alcohol, ever--he's out the door and she's staring up at the sky.
"You know," she tells Atlantis. "I miss Antarctica."
But it's a lie. Antarctica didn't have Atlantis, or her team, and it never had Rodney McKay. She doesn't miss it at all.
Rod gets two hours of stick time the day after he shows up, which Teyla graciously agrees to administer while Joan traps Rodney in her room and proceeds to explain, again, how golf is not a euphemism for wild affair on the balcony and also, seriously.
"*You* said I couldn't shoot him!" she says accusingly while Rodney sulks in the corner of her bed, her pillow clutched to his chest and looking so aggrieved that she'd usually be melting except for the fact, right, he *accused her of cheating*. "And did you not notice his shiny new black eye? Or did that escape your attention while you were doing DNA analysis on my underwear?"
McKay--*Rodney*, she tells herself again, Rodney, you fuck someone twice a day, you use a personal goddamn name--just gets more sullen. Which means he knows he's wrong and has no idea how to admit it. "I wasn't doing DNA tests on your underwear."
"Only because Carson would kick your ass if he caught you." Joan knows intellectually that Jeanie Miller is a nice woman and extremely smart, but right now, Joan would give a lot if she'd just dug her heels in and stayed on earth, because then they wouldn't be in this mess. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Joan breathes like Teyla taught her and waits until Rodney looks up. "Okay. We seem to have a failure to communicate."
Rodney scowls. "You're talking to Heightmeyer again!"
"I have to go three times a week! Believe me, I can only stare at the wall so long before she starts making shit up. Now. Look. At. Me."
McKay--*Rodney*--looks at her sullenly, not giving an inch, but the blue eyes are huge and bruised. Sometimes, Joan wonders who did this to him, who set these insecurities so deeply, that he'd assume that given another choice, she'd pick anyone but him.
On the other hand, he has an hour of stick time coming up for that shit with the cheating, too. "Rodney. I don't. Like. Rod."
And it's true, but she'd never be able to explain why, not in a way that wouldn't make both of them delve into things like feelings and sharing and Jesus, no. They can get drunk for that. But. "He's a lot like the guys I work with," she says finally, because that's as close to the truth as she can get.
Of course, Rodney doesn't read subtext. "What?"
Crawling across the bed, Joan pulls away the pillow and straddles his lap, leaning her elbows onto his shoulders. They do their best communication with sex, but she's still got the memory of Rod's hands on her ass and she wants a shower badly. So talking it is. "Look. I'm career Air Force, an officer, and I have breasts. What do you think I'm used to in terms of men hitting on me?"
Rodney frowns slightly. "But--"
"But nothing. In a one on one, most of the Marines can take me if they really want to. I walk into a room, the first thing I do is evaluate the men. I wear three knives when I go offworld because I can be good, but I'm never going to be as strong as a man. Or as Telya," she adds in an afterthought. "And I learned what to watch for before I finished officer training."
Rodney's hands close on her hips. "Joan," he says, and she tries not to melt when he says her name; just in the privacy of her quarters, of his quarters, murmured into her ear, against her skin like a secret. He really does love her, and she hadn't expected that, not even when he told her. "You--you haven't been--"
She'd lie for him, if she could. "I'm career Air Force," she says finally, as gently as she knows how. "I've served on seven continents and in two galaxies, and I served with men who respected me and men who thought my value was determined by what I had between my legs. I knew what I'd face when I put on the uniform."
And she got through it, because a long time ago, a woman like herself had told her that she'd fly planes that hadn't been even been invented, breathe air at forty thousand feet, and that she could, she *could* have it, if she wanted it. And she had. She did. And she still does. Nothing could ever change that.
Rodney's arms go around her so fast she almost pulls away, and it's odd, strange, that he's comforting her for something she's had to face all her life, odd that--she lets him pull her in, shaking hands smoothing down her back, her shoulders, breathing thickly in her ear. "I didn't--I never thought--"
She realizes she's holding on as tightly as he is.
After a few seconds, she pulls back and grins down at him, wondering again what the hell Rodney sees when he looks at her like that. She doesn't get it, and she doesn’t understand it, but she doesn't think she can live without it, either.
"Teyla's kicking Rod's ass," she murmurs, leaning down for a brief, friendly kiss. "Get your laptop and we'll hack security."
Rodney blinks up at her, one hand coming up to touch her face. "You know I love you, right?"
Joan swallows hard. She's going to say it someday. She will. She knows it. "I know."
Teyla holds her hand through the vomiting while Carson runs test after test after test, checking the not obvious because the obvious isn't possible.
Though God, does this explain the Wraith-worshippers.
"You're fine, Colonel," Carson says finally, coming back just as Teyla helps her straighten. She's shot through with adrenaline and energy that Carson's sedatives are doing jack shit to suppress; she wants to run and fly and scream and a lot of things that will not engender the confidence of her Marines in the least. "It looks like you've been regressed about three years--"
Teyla gets the basin to her just in time, and over her head, there are voices that sound loud and very unhappy. One of them, she's thinks from volume, has to be McKay.
A while later--she doesn't bother trying to tell time, her body's pounding on a rhythm that makes everything slow and annoying--she looks up again, and Rodney's in the seat beside her bed, staring at her from black-ringed eyes. "Hey," she says. Her mouth tastes terrible. "I'm starving. Wanna make a run for it?"
McKay takes a second to consider, but it's not like he won't agree. They've been breaking each other out of the infirmary for years. "I'll disable the cameras," he says, and she gets out of bed, stripping the pajamas away from the new skin that's not hers anymore. Even the air feels electric, slipping over her flesh and waking up every nerve, and she feels--God.
McKay left her a uniform, and after a quick detour to brush her teeth, she jerks on the shirt and pants, almost vibrating before McKay comes back and motions her out.
They go to the mess first, where she abuses her power of command and breaks into the pantry, sitting cross-legged on the floor while McKay feeds her fruit and cheese and tiny silver vegetables that taste like cucumber salad, bottles of juice and water and finally coffee, because she died by inches today and she's going to be selfish, just this once.
McKay doesn't say anything, just goes where she points and fetches what she wants to eat, staring at her like she'll vanish. "McKay," she says through a mouthful of pickled jthen beans, sweetly tart, almost overloading her senses. "You okay?"
He nods stiffly and she gives up, letting the sheer pleasure of food overwhelm her.
Everything's like this, though; she wonders if this is how Ronon and Rodney and Teyla had felt on the enzyme, wonders if she can ask and this time, that McKay will tell her.
He follows her, after, while she walks the city, seeking Atlantis out in walls and windows, tracing her hands over consoles that light for her touch, still know her even if she almost feels as if she doesn't know herself. The jumpers hum for her, recognizing her hands and her mind, and finally, the frantic edge is blunted and she drops into the pilot's seat, sucking in a breath that feels like a sob.
"I died," she says, finally, and when she looks up, McKay's standing over her, close enough to touch. She wonders vaguely when she got so used to him that she didn't notice him stand so close. "McKay?"
"We watched," he says, voice flat, and Joan closes her eyes.
"I--I thought Weir might--" Not show you, but she knows her team. There's no way they wouldn't watch. "I'm sorry, McKay. You shouldn't--"
"Are you--" McKay's voice breaks. "Are you apologizing for your own torture?"
Joan blinks, trying to clear her head; it's like being drunk, but with better reflexes. "Maybe?" she hedges, and McKay grabs her arm and jerks her to her feet before she can figure out what the hell she means, and then he's kissing her and right.
Right. She might never see it coming, but she's never not felt it.
He kisses her like he's searching for ZPMs, like he's building a nuke, like he's writing a theory; she's watched him for hours while he explained the world in math she pretends she doesn't understand, listened to him whiny and bitchy and smug and lost, brilliant and petty and as transparent as glass. He's utterly unlike any man she's ever met, any *person*, and she thinks of him like she thinks of the sky; this is something she wants, huge and wondrous and dizzying. That she can have.
So she kisses him back.
Abruptly back in the pilots' chair, Joan frowns. Somehow, McKay got to the back of the jumper. "Did I hallucinate that?" Wait, is this the infamous jumper of hallucination Sam? She licks her lips and tastes coffee. Maybe?
"I--" McKay tries to pace, but there's just not enough space. "Look, I--shouldn't have done that. You're--" he swallows hard, then lifts his chin. "Two hours of stick time?"
Uh. Joan touches her mouth. "No, I kind of wanted that. You'll notice by the fact you can still walk."
McKay waves it aside, but he's definitely flushed, and she can see he's hard beneath his cream colored science division pants. So. Not a hallucination. "You're--" he makes some kind of gesture that, if she squints, looks kind of like he's trying to do a shadow puppet of a dove in flight. "Vulnerable," he says finally, staring at the wall. "You're still--getting over--I mean, not getting over, obviously that will take years of therapy, but--"
Joan pulls off her t-shirt and tosses it on the copilot's seat. "I've never had sex in a jumper," she says thoughtfully. McKay turns around so fast she thinks he might have sprained something in his back. "McKay. *Rodney*. I'm thinking clearly. Carson cleared me. Get the hell back over here."
"You're *not thinking clearly*," he says desperately. In about a minute, he'll remember he has the gene and get the back of the jumper down, go jerk off in his room thinking about her, because it's not like she doesn't know he does that already. And she'll be here, and possibly getting herself off with Ancient tech humming in the background, which can't be healthy. "You'll--you'll wake up tomorrow and kill me in my sleep and I might even deserve it--but only a little, because my mind's important to humanity, but--"
"Rodney," she says. She wonders if taking off the pants would help. "I want to have sex. You want to have sex. If the way you're standing right now is any indication, now is a very good time. What. The. Hell?"
"I *can't*," he yells directly at the back of the jumper, sounding panicked. "Look, the thing is--I can't just--I can't just do it and then not--I mean. I could, but not with you."
It takes a second to parse that into comprehensibility, and a second more to work out the implications, but-- "Oh," she says slowly. Reaching over, she grabs her shirt, pulling it back over her head and gets to her feet. "You can let him out now," she tells the jumper, and the back opens with a disappointed sound. She hopes she's imagining that.
Reaching for McKay's belt as she passes, she pulls him behind her to the door. "Colonel?" he says, sounding bewildered and kind of pissy. "Where--"
"Just shut up, okay?" Pushing him into the transporter, she goes in and types in their level. "Just--" God, she wants to kiss him again; she remembers how he tastes, remembers a morning in a practice room and pinning him against the wall, warm, hard body and clever hands, remembers hating Sam a little and Katie Brown a lot.
But mostly, she remembers McKay in the infirmary a few short hours ago, looking at her with a hunger that had nothing to do with sex at all.
She feels high and terrified and thinks that if she starts running now, she'll never be able to stop. When she reaches for his hand, he takes it, fingers tight in hers, and he doesn't say a word when the door closes behind them in her room.
She's bad at this, but she figures Rodney's worse, so it balances. Licking her lips, she wishes she could just get him drunk, make it easier on them both. She opens her mouth, but for the life of her, she has no idea what she wants to say.
"I'm in love with you," Rodney says, sounding like he would rather be doing sanitation night shift than living through one more second of this. She'd rather be doing it, too. "I just--you're all--" he makes a gesture that's mercifully hidden by the low lights. "And I can't--" Rodney has room to pace, so she lets him, sitting on the foot of the bed, fascinated all over again, like the first time she met him, right before he propositioned her and she almost gave him a black eye and Sam had said "He's not that bad. He's just--himself."
It took her a while, but she figured that out. Well, a while and a lot of stick practice.
"--teammates!" he says desperately, and she nods, because he's looking at her. "And you're--" he stops, taking a breath to give her one of those once overs that she kind of still wants to hit him for, but he's under stress, and also, presex, so she figures it's allowed. "Jesus," he breathes, losing his train of thought. "I cannot believe I'm turning this down."
"I can't either," she answers honestly.
"Friends!" he says, sounding a little panicked. "Colleagues. We can't just--fuck around with that."
"Like with Katie?"
Rodney turns on her with a scowl. "I was dating Katie!"
She gives him a second to absorb that, then waits a few more. Then she gives up. "Do you want me to ask you to the prom first?" she says slowly. There's an annual dance thing that Weir makes them all go to. It's possible Rodney's the type to want to do it just like that.
He stops mid-stride, turning to face her with an incredulous look, hurt transparent in bright blue eyes. "This isn't a joke, Colonel. And I can't--"
"God," she says, feeling nauseated and like she wants to shoot something. Preferably Rodney right in the leg, *sans* shield. "Can you just--I want to sleep with you," she says, forcing every word out from behind the block in her throat. "I want to--to--" Jesus God. "I want to--to--to date. Okay? *Date*. God, McKay, is this payback for all that stick practice?"
Rodney stares at her, and for once, she thinks she might have left him speechless. Standing up warily, she crosses the space between them, watching him flush, pink to red, sweat at his hairline in the hollow of his throat, hands closed into hopeless fists at his sides.
I want this, she tells herself, and thinks of the first time she touched a jumper, the electric spark of recognition, *welcome home* humming through every nerve, the sky she'd sought since the day she was born wrapped in a city older than humans have measured time. She thinks of Rodney being stupid and brave, brilliant like the birth of a new star, and she wants to tell him--
--you're like flying and like the sky when it's wide and blue, and I think I've been looking for you all my life.
She can't say it; she's not sure what it even means. But she can show him, reaching to cup his face, terrified and disbelieving, slashed with hope like an Atlantean dawn burning white and gold across the world. She kisses him closed mouth and slow, their bodies less than a breath apart, and she's never been so terrified in her life.
When he kisses her back, just as slow, sweet and soft, the world opens up like the first time she took a jumper into the sky. "Rodney," she says, and "I want you," and "take off the fucking pants already or I'll cut them off," and he starts to laugh when she pushes him onto her bed like maybe he understands a little of what she can't say.
But she will. One day she'll say it, She knows it.
"You shouldn't hold it in like that," Carson says from her ankles, head ducked beneath the sheet. Joan opens her eyes incredulously. "I know your pain tolerance is unusually high, but Colonel, let it out a little."
Ronon, sitting just behind Rodney, gives her a sardonic look. "Ronon," she grits out. "Next two Genii we run across are yours, no questions asked. If my gun. Is in my hand. In the next five minutes."
Teyla, hand firmly wrapped around hers, shakes her head. "You would regret it when you feel better," and while Joan doesn't think so, she's willing to defer to Teyla's judgment.
Outside the infirmary, she knows most of Atlantis is gathered, filling the waiting room and spilling down the halls, waiting in breathless anticipation while the Athosians do the same on the mainland beside the comm, because it's been ten thousand years since a baby was born on Atlantis.
The next contraction ripples through her and steals her breath; she's glad she cuts her nails short or there would be bloodshed. Teeth locked, she breathes like Teyla taught her. Rodney's hyperventilating enough for them both.
"Almost there," Carson says, and steps back as Teyla gives up her place to Ronon. Joan watches Teyla duck beneath the sheet briefly, then a delicate touch that sends a shock of pain rippling up her spine. When Teyla emerges, there's a smile on her face. "The next contraction, push. Dr. McKay, please sit behind Colonel Sheppard and assist her--"
"And if you pass out," Joan says venomously, "you will never walk again, I swear to God."
Rodney, pale and vaguely green, lets Ronon help him into place, and finally, Joan feels like she's got some kind of traction. Pushing her feet into the stirrups, she leans against Rodney as the next contraction hits her like a tank and thinks of her mother, in a quiet grave on a planet Joan hasn't seen in three years, who said she had to want it.
"I see the head," Teyla says, voice hypnotically calm. "You are doing well, Colonel."
Joan gasps out an affirmative, slumping against Rodney, vaguely aware of the arm wrapped tightly around her, the low voice in her ear that she can almost--
"--I don't know how to--"
"Rodney," she says, tilting her head enough to see him. "Rodney, what--"
"I think about it," he says, voice low and fast and hard. "I mean, I didn't think you'd say yes, and I didn't think you'd stay, and I didn't--I never told you--"
"Rodney," she says urgently; the next contraction is close. "Rodney, sweetie, *baby*, you flake out on me now--"
"I never told you when I fell in love with you."
The world ends for Rodney when the light goes out.
It's a single blip, dark red surrounded in a sea of Wraith. His hand can still shape the parts of a nuclear bomb built from memory, and he sees her stand up from the chair in a loop that he thinks he might see until the day he dies.
So long, Rodney, she says with a grin and a flick of her head.
Sheppard, he says, and closes his eyes, and remembers her shooting him when he tested the cloak and at the foot of his bed after the invasion while he slept, woke him from Kolya's never ending knife, *I'll always come for you*, she said, and he believed her.
The world began again in a shimmer of light.
Teyla ran down the steps that Rodney couldn't walk, touched her the way Rodney never could, and she'd looked up at him for a second that would last the rest of his life, wide hazel eyes the green of the Atlantean ocean, filled with all the light in the room, all the light in the world.
Oh, he thinks, of course. Of course.
She's the universe with the first break of light when time began, the answer to every question he's ever asked and some he never knew he could. She wears a gun and a grin and walks like she's never understood how to be afraid.
He never knew he was waiting, not until now.
One day he'll tell her. He knows it.
Joan breaks two of Ronon's fingers when Meredith Sheppard finally condescends to appear, born into Teyla's hands while Halling murmurs prayers to the Ancients, blessings on the child that Atlantis welcomes with a surge of power that made the city light up like a bonfire; even those on the mainland could see it.
There's going to be one hell of a party tonight. Joan wonders if there's any chance she can slip downstairs to join in.
Joan takes her daughter with a grin and sigh, touching the tiny nose with the tip of one finger, and hears a woman's voice somewhere far away, telling her that one day she'd fly.
"You will, too," Joan says softly, looking into a face with her mother's mouth and Joan's nose and her husband's bright blue eyes. Rodney's leaning over her shoulder, chin sharp against the bone while he fights the urge to pass out, and she's impressed with him and will tell him so. Later. "I'll show you everything. You're going to light up the sky."