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The Shrine of Painful Memories

Chapter Text

The heartache of Rodney's second-childhood wasn't that he'd forgotten almost everything. It was that once the parasite had been removed and destroyed, Rodney carried the weight of each memory with him. From the beginning, when Keller recorded him reciting pi to twelve places, to his worst, when he barely recognized his sister when she came to him from Earth. Throughout his entire life, people were often awed by Rodney's memory. But as each thought played over and over in his head as Rodney tried to get to sleep, his feat of memory felt more like a curse than a blessing.

But the one thing that stood out to him the most was his memories of John. Rodney knew John was a close friend; had been ever since he let John push him over the balcony soon after stepping foot on Atlantis. But when all else had failed his memory, the one thing that remained was John. He was a constant in Rodney's life - good and bad.

Rodney sat up and wiped the frustration from his face. He thought the lights up 18%, which was enough to let him read, but not cause unnecessary stimulation and keep him up too late once he was tired enough to get back to sleep. He glanced around, wondering where his latest journal was; it was actually Jeannie's, but he'd swiped it from her because his list of periodicals had been on backlog due to delivery issues with Stargate Command. He finally spotted it on a nearby chair, then got up to grab it.

A momentarily sense of imbalance had him grasping at the back of the chair. Keller had warned it was a side effect of having a creature roaming around his brain for weeks. When he once again found his balance, he reached down and grabbed the journal, when something caught his eye.

John's jacket.

He'd never given it back to John after that night. They'd had beer on the pier. As the memories flooded back to him, so did the angst and the hurt. No matter what, John had been there for him. And as the evidence of that night - when he'd made light of his memory loss by calling John "Arthur" - sat crumpled on the floor behind his chair, the emotions overtook Rodney. With the journal now abandoned, Rodney sat down in the chair and pulled the jacket to his chest, inhaling the scent of leather, of the sea breeze, of John.

Before he could rethink it, Rodney was out of his quarters and walking towards Sheppards with the same sense of urgency that he'd done last time. That time that he'd woken up alone in the infirmary and sought out John in his quarters. He came to a halt just outside John's door, and froze, unsure of what to do. He held the jacket in his hands, and honestly, he'd come to return it. But it was just a few hours until dawn; Rodney had no business waking John up for something as trivial as returning a jacket.

Rodney turned back to his own quarters as shame filled him. But he only took a few steps when he heard a door open behind him, a quiet, "Rodney?" called down the silent corridor.

"John," Rodney said as he turned and found John Sheppard standing against the door in a threadbare panda t-shirt and sweatpants. He couldn't help but smile as he took the few steps back to John's quarters, though he noticed the dark circles under John's eyes. John was yet another person suffering from a lack of sleep. "I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No, no," John said as he shook his head. "I haven't been able to sleep all that much lately, and something told me to get up."

Rodney watched as John endearingly patted the walls of Atlantis, which made him a little envious about the special connection John had with the city. "Oh," he said, then held out the jacket. "I wanted to bring this back."

John took the jacket, a sad smile on his face as if he were reliving that night on the pier, too. "Thanks, buddy." He yawned, then said, "You wanna come in?"

"No, no," Rodney said shaking his head. "I just wanted to..." Rodney lost his train of thought as he searched the floors, the walls for what to say next when he suddenly caught John's eyes. He whispered, "You're my best friend. Did you know that?" And as soon as the words left his mouth, he couldn't hold John's gaze. Did he feel guilty? Ashamed? "Anyway," he muttered and then turned around to head back to his quarters.

Rodney stopped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. When he turned back, there was a multitude of emotions that seemed to play across John's face until finally he just smiled. "Me, too," John said, his voice quieted. He reached out his hand for Rodney to shake.

As Rodney smiled, he teased, "Kindof more than a handshake moment, Sheppard." He ignored John's outstretched hand and pulled his friend into a one-armed hug, which Sheppard returned.

When they finally broke, John took a slight step back. He gestured with his newly returned jacket. "Thanks."

"No," Rodney said. "Thank you," knowing that each of them was talking about so much more than just a piece of shared clothing.

Chapter Text

While John and Rodney had been close before Rodney's issue with the brain parasite, judging by how little time that they spent apart after the incident, Rodney realized John was hardly ever farther away than a shadow. Neither had a particular issue with personal space, as long as it was with each other. It was true; when Radek or Miko stood too close, Rodney had the instinct to step back a pace. It was worse when Keller was around; when his memories of the incident came back to him, and the times that Keller recorded him, it felt almost as if she had manipulated him in some way. It made him uncomfortable enough to request post-mission physicals from Biro.

"But Doctor McKay," Licia responded. "I'm usually just a coroner. Are you sure you don't want someone else?"

That had been an awkward conversation. But at least Rodney had gotten through it.

Rodney would have missed dinner, were it not for John stopping by his lab to check on him for the fourth time that day. "Mess hall. Now," John ordered. And when Rodney pulled a powerbar out of his desk drawer, John grabbed it, tossed it back in the drawer, and pointed his finger to the exit. "Don't make me get Chewie to carry you. He's already pissed off because one of the new recruits managed to pin him this morning."

He studied John's expression, which held a hint of playfulness, but also some angst. "Fine," Rodney huffed, and closed the lid of his laptop, then walked out of the lab.

As Rodney mopped up the last of his dinner with the Pegasus version of a biscuit, John asked, "You don't have plans, right?"

Rodney stuffed the doughy treat into his mouth, then crossed his arms. "I could have plans," he said around a mouthful of food. It would have sounded much more defiant if he hadn't pronounced it like a seven year old missing a handful of teeth.

John rolled his eyes. "I didn't think so," he said, then stood up. "Movie night. Your quarters. Half an hour."

It sounded more like an order than an invitation.

After swallowing, Rodney asked, "Please tell me we're not watching Raiders again, are we?"

"Somebody," John smiled as he stood up, "managed to get a copy of that new Angelina Jolie action flick." He patted his breast pocket. "Unless you've got something against action movies." But before Rodney could respond, John smirked and then turned to walk out of the Mess.

~*~*~

More than an hour later, Rodney was absently working on his laptop when his door chimed, and then immediately opened. He always had to open the door for visitors, but of course, Atlantis made an exception for John. He could go anywhere in Atlantis, with the city getting rid of any obstacle in his path and of course, she considered Rodney's door an obstacle. John walked in, the dark circles that remained under his eyes betraying his upbeat demeanor. "Everything okay?" Rodney asked.

"Sorry 'bout that," John said as he sat down on the bed. "Evan needed to talk about some stuff."

A look of concern grew on Rodney's face. "What's going on with Lorne?"

John shrugged. "Well officially, he didn't tell, and I didn't ask. But he's moving in with one of your guys."

"One of my guys?" Rodney asks. His mind reels as he goes through the expedition Rolodex in his head when he focuses on a gangly looking plant guy. "Oh god. Not the botanist, is it?"

John immediately took a defensive posture, sitting up a little straighter on the bed and crossing his arms over his chest. "Yeah, Parrish. What about him?"

"He's in the soft sciences," Rodney scoffs. "I mean at least Coleman's a physicist. And yes, she's a woman. So, okay, there's that new guy. Ulsh. He's a damned good mathematician. Not as good as me, but..."

John just smiled fondly as he shook his head, then chuckled lightly. "You can't help who you fall in love with, Rodney," John said, his eyes crinkling up at the sides.

Rodney shrugged. As he held John's gaze, there seemed to be a hint of momentary panic in his expression, but he managed to bury it again just as quick.

"How 'bout we watch the movie?" John asked as the tone of his voice shifted to a harder edge ever so slightly. He reached over and took Rodney's laptop, setting it on the bed between them, then inserted the USB key.

"Yeah, okay," Rodney lied. There was something in the conversation that he wanted to continue exploring, but at the moment, the emotional wall John seemed to erect between them felt insurmountable. "Are you okay here?" Rodney asked as he put a pillow behind his back and got settled.

"You've got, like, the largest bed in the whole city," John says. He made an almost comedic effort to look around. "So unless you've got a couch hidden in here somewhere in your quarters, this'll have to do." He leaned up and pressed a few buttons on the laptop, and the movie title sequence started to scroll.

Try as he might, Rodney couldn't get all that comfortable. Sure, physically he was okay. But he's never been this close to John when they were on their own. Okay, so there's the occasional off-world campouts, and then-

"Stop thinking so loud," John barked, interrupting Rodney's slide into a mini panic attack. "'s a movie. Watch."

So Rodney took a deep breath, let go, and just watched.

~*~*~

Rodney only bitches the first two times characters in the movie 'curve' the trajectory of a bullet. He's silenced the first time by John's "Rodney!", and the second time by just a look. When the credits finally roll, Rodney thinks the brightness of the lights up slowly, to let their eyes get adjusted, and finds John fast asleep. He couldn't help but stare; John looked at peace, and at least half a decade younger than he does when he was awake, carrying the burden of Atlantis' issues. Rodney knew he should wake John up, but also knew that John hasn't had much sleep lately. He'd never complain about it, but Rodney could tell when the Colonel needed more rest. So Rodney justified it in his mind as he lifted the laptop from the bed, and moved it to a nearby stand. Figuring his bed was much larger than most, and there's plenty of room, he decided to get some sleep himself. So he justified letting John sleep, and instead of waking him, reached for his nearby orange fleece, which he used to cover John up as best he could, then slipped under the covers.

Only sleep wouldn't come for Rodney - not for hours. He dozed fitfully, eyes opening every time John's breath hitched, or every time John's hand came out from under the fleece to scratch at his stubble-covered cheek. It wasn't until way past midnight, as Rodney stared at John's sleeping form, that John's eyes opened. "Sleep, Rodney," John muttered as he turned over. And just like that, he was out again.

Rodney focused on John's even breaths until he, too, was mesmerized into slumber.

~*~*~

When Rodney woke up, he was alone, the only trace of John Sheppard was a bunching up of Rodney's bedlinens, and Rodney's orange fleece placed neatly on the back of a nearby chair. And though it had been an innocent night, it awoke something in Rodney that he'd long thought he didn't deserve. He just hoped that John's early disappearance didn't bode poorly for their friendship.

After showering, Rodney was on his way to the Mess when he got an urgent call from Zelenka, so he diverted to his lab. It was a chilly morning on New Lantea, which made Rodney miss his fleece. He even missed the brown swill the SGC considered coffee rations, if only for the warmth. Still, after talking to Zelenka, he figured he'd try and get through the problem, and then head out for coffee and his jacket. Rodney was three pages deep into a mixture of Cobol and Ancient when he felt someone else's presence in the lab. He glanced around and found John Sheppard, a nervous look on his face even as he tried to look nonchalant, leaning against the doorjamb. He smiled, then walked up to Rodney, a cup in his hand. "Figure you might want some of this," he said and handed over the steaming cup. "I didn't see you in the Mess this morning."

Rodney lifted the cup to his nose and inhaled deeply, the aroma hitting him faster than the caffeine could. "This is..." He sniffed again. "Guatemalan?" he asked accusingly. "Wait." He sniffed again. "Kona?" Rodney took a sip and let it roll over his tongue, then put down the mug. "John Sheppard, I swear if you've been holding out on me-"

John just laughed. "Relax, Rodney," he replied. "'s actually something I had brought in on the last Daedalus shipment for your birthday this year. I was saving it, but..." He reached out and put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "I wanted to do something nice for you since you let me sleep last night."

And just like that, the awkwardness that Rodney felt last night completely fell away.

The look Rodney and John shared said much more than either man could express verbally. Rodney looked up through his eyelashes at John, and John just replied with a smile and a shrug. "So, we okay?" John asked quietly.

"Better than okay, yeah," Rodney said as he reached out and touched John's elbow.

Doctor Zelenka and Miko chose that moment to scurry through the opened door, each speaking over the other until they came to a halt in front of John and Rodney. It took all of half a hummingbird's heartbeat for Radek to read the situation. But before he could do anything, John hiked his thumb over his shoulder. "Hey, Doctor Z, Doctor K. I'm just gonna..." And with that, John smiled at Rodney, then briskly walked out of the lab. But not before turning back one more time as he rounded the corner and smiled at Rodney. It was a smile full of promise, and of things to come.

Chapter Text

Before John left the lab, there was so much that Rodney wanted to talk to him about, but he didn't get the chance. When Rodney finally broke for lunch, he tried to track John down - and managed to catch sight of him when he walked into the mess. Rodney smiled at John, who met his smile with an almost bashful smile of his own. They have to be on the same page, and at least John was alone. It would give them a chance to, maybe, talk. Rodney got in line, and just before he picked up a sandwich, the sound of a faraway explosion silenced the crowded room, the look of panic on the cook's face the last haunting image before Rodney dropped his tray and raced towards the explosion. Rodney joined the throng of people heading to help, running before he realized it as multiple voices vied for his attention on the radio. He rounded a corner when there was a beep - one he recognized as something he'd developed for use by senior staff only - which caused him to switch his radio band. "McKay," he barked as he hit the transporter with a couple of Marines.

"It's Sheppard," came John's voice. And how weird was it that they'd been using first names just a few hours ago, but suddenly they were back to a more formal basis? "There were two explosions on the lower level, sectors 11G, and 12C. We've got two teams trapped."

"I'm on my way," Rodney replied. "Where do you want me?"

There was a flurry of voices on the other end, then John's voice came back. "I'm with Zelenka at 12C. Can you grab Lorne and find out what's going on at 11G?"

"You got it," Rodney said. He stepped out of the transporter and caught sight of Lorne. He grabbed Lorne and gave him a quick update when his headset beeped another new tone, indicating his and Sheppard's private channel, so he switched frequencies again.

"Rodney?" John asked. There was a desperate, almost fragile quality to the tone of his voice that caused Rodney to stumble.

"John?"

"Just be careful, okay?"

Rodney couldn't help but smile, even amidst the crisis. "You, too."

~*~*~

It was two dozen Marines that were injured due to a training exercise that had somehow - mistakingly - involved live ammo. Rodney had never seen John so angry in all the years they had been on Atlantis together. Due to the extensive structural damage, it took hours until they could get medical help to the first survivor. Before Rodney knew it, it had been over ten hours since he'd dropped his lunch tray. So once all that remained was the cleanup, Rodney stumbled down the corridor to check on the second rescue area. It was still bustling with activity, with personnel coming and going.

Of course, John was in the middle of it. He overheard someone say Sheppard's crew was working on getting the last two Marines out, the rest of them either out due to surgery, recovering, or fighting for their lives in the Infirmary, ten stories above their heads. When John finally lost focus enough to see Rodney, there was the promise of a smile on his face., just buried under grime, sweat, and what looked like a scrape across his forehead. But at least it was there. John said something to a couple of Marines, then stepped away, and went to Rodney's side.

"How's it going?" Rodney asked.

"Last two," John said as he pointed to the work. "We've probably got a couple hours left."

"Sheppard!" someone called.

"Right there," John yelled back. He put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "You need to get something to eat and get some sleep. We're gonna have to deal with the structural analysis and reroute power, maybe water, and other stuff in the morning."

Rodney started to balk. "But-"

"No buts," John replied. "I'll see you in the morning, okay?" And with a nod and a wink, he went back to work.

Rodney watched for a moment, momentarily angry for the universe for throwing a wrench into his plans about finally getting to talk to John about... Well, whatever this was between them. But a sudden thud of a couple tons of building breaking free and slamming to the ground recaptured his attention. "Almost there, Freeman," John said, and in an instant, Rodney felt even worse. People were fighting for their lives, but here he was, yearning for something others from the expedition would never have.

As he walked back to his quarters, Rodney thought about the loss that had happened. He diverted to the Mess to get something to eat, not even tasting it as he chewed the stale sandwich. Instead, his mind remained focused on those that were lost. He didn't know who they were - but were they all different than himself? They came to a strange galaxy, left some loved ones behind, and became part of a new family. A family that, even in the face of loss like today, was slowly growing. Couples were pairing off. Children were being born.

Atlantis was more colony than outpost these days, and he was glad to be part of it.

Rodney entered his quarters and instantly felt like collapsing on his bed. But a glance in the mirror showed that he was just as filthy as John had been, so he thought on his shower, tossed his dirty clothes into a pile, and then let the water cascade across his shoulders as he mentally tried to relax.

But his mind just kept drifting to John; what time they'd spent together. What he was finally admitting to himself about what he wanted. From himself, and from John. By the time he climbed under the covers, he'd made up his mind about telling John exactly what he wanted - and hoped that it was the same thing John wanted as well.

He was asleep between one thought and the next, a gentle smile on his face.

~*~*~

Something stirred, drawing Rodney back to consciousness. He opened his eyes as the doors to his quarters closed and was awake enough to know John was standing on the other side of his bed. "John?"

"Cheng. Hallsey, too," he said, voice thick with emotion. As Rodney's eyes adjusted, he saw that the expression on John's face matched his tone of voice. "They were both just kids."

Rodney couldn't help but reach out to John. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. He knew just how much each loss weighed on John, something Rodney had seen several times over the years.

John took off his TAC vest, undid his thigh holster, and laid both on a nearby trunk Rodney used for his clothes. He sat down on the bed and let out a sigh, then scooted next to Rodney. "They barely had a chance to start their lives. Both graduated Annapolis and recruited into the SGC. Cheng said after her tour she was going back to Sacramento. Gonna start a family." John sighed. "Never got to know Hallsey all that well. Ronon said he was a good guy."

The silence stretched tight between them. Rodney finally broke it when he put a hand on John's shoulder. "Is there anything I can do?"

John sighed, then scrubbed at the frustration on his face with grubby hands. He stood, then said, "Sorry, sorry. I shouldn't have come. I just thought..." He glanced around, then said, "Sorry," and turned to the door.

Rodney watched as John fled his quarters. It happened so fast that he barely had time to react. By the time he was out the door, John was halfway down the corridor. And though it was past midnight, Rodney didn't hesitate, nor quiet his voice when he called, "Sheppard. John. John!"

John finally stopped, then slowly turned. He looked at Rodney, a pained expression full of sorrow and regret plainly on his face.

All Rodney could do in response was outstretch his hands as he gave John the barest hint of a smile. One that said the words he knew he would have a hard time expressing verbally.

And that's all it took.

Thick, fast footfalls echoed off the empty corridor as John double-timed it to Rodney's side. He stood a hair's breath away from Rodney, so close that Rodney felt the heat coming from John's body. Neither moved until Rodney slowly reached forward and wrapped his finger around John's pinkie, holding his breath until...when?

John raised his hands, Rodney instantly missing the presence of calloused skin against his own, and put his fingertips on each side of Rodney's face. Deep, hazel eyes gazed so deep into Rodney that he felt it in his soul. And then suddenly John's lips brushed against his own.

That was the moment Rodney knew what he'd been missing his entire life. And he didn't intend on wasting another minute without John by his side.

Their kiss was as intense as it was brief. John pulled back, and almost looked like he was going to bolt again, but Rodney took him by the arm. He pulled John into his quarters, then pinned him against the door as soon as it closed behind them. John tasted like coffee and strawberry power bars - which made Rodney smile. It was the one Rodney liked the least and explained how John always managed to have chocolate ones for Rodney; he must have traded for them. Just one more reason Rodney loved the man in front of him.

Love. That must be what he's feeling. Because while Rodney had been in relationships before, none had felt so real, so raw as the feeling growing in his chest.

"I'm sorry," John said when they finally broke apart.

Rodney looked around, confused. "Why? What's wrong?"

John shrugged, wiping his chin with his shoulder, and then reached out and rubbed what must have been a smudge on Rodney's cheek. "I'm filthy." John took a step back. "I really should go take a shower, but honestly, I'm too exhausted. I think I'm just gonna go to bed."

Smiling, Rodney took advantage of a distracted John by turning him toward the bed. He pushed him down, and then climbed over him, each man claiming the side that they'd taken the night before. "Lay down," he said.

"But I'm-" John protested.

"So I'll wash the sheets," Rodney replied. He reached out and put a hand on John's chest, then felt as John took a deep breath. As John exhaled, Rodney could practically feel the nervous energy leave his body. "C'mere," Rodney said. So John curled up on his side, and Rodney pulled him close, then pulled up the light blanket over them both. Like the night before, Rodney followed John's soft, even breaths until they were both asleep. But unlike the night before, their hands were clasped at John's chest, fingers entwined.

And they slept like that for hours.

Chapter Text

It had been a few weeks since the night Rodney's life changed. Looking back at it, it was like every aspect of Rodney's life had changed in that single moment. He'd kissed John, and held him all night, both men commenting that it was the best sleep they'd had since coming to Atlantis. And John had spent every night with Rodney ever since, patiently learning from each other every square inch of each other's bodies, and how a touch here, a lick there, could send the other into orbit.

But at the same time, nothing changed. They were still best friends and spent as much time together as possible. John still goaded Rodney during meetings, and Rodney still flicked John's ear when John got one over on him. The team hadn't changed at all, though Teyla had commented on how much more rested each man looked. And when they finally let Teyla and Ronon know, Teyla had expressed warmth and congratulations for their coupling. Ronon, looking nonplussed, just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Okay. Are you gonna eat that?" and then stabbed at half the baked potato Rodney had ignored in favor of his boar ribs.

Each morning they arose, John was first to get out of bed. Rodney would pull his head out from under his pillow, hugging John's close to himself as a poor substitute for John's body. "C'mon, Rodney," John would tease, then strip out of whatever he managed to put back on after the previous night's lovemaking, "shower time."

Usually, Rodney would be attentive, craving every inch of John's tanned flesh. But on this particular morning, Rodney remained still, opening only one eye to watch Sheppard's makeshift striptease. "Don't feel good," he said, then reburied his head and burrowed further under the covers.

"What's wrong?" John asked. The tone of his voice was completely different than it had been when he'd all but promised shower sex just seconds before. "You feeling okay?"

Rodney felt a dip in the mattress, so he peeked out from under the pillow again. "You okay?" John asked. The concern his voice held was palpable.

After clearing his throat, Rodney turned over and settled on his back. He reached over, letting his fingers caress the tight muscles of John's leg. Not that he didn't want the attention because last time John had been protective had led them to where they currently were. Plus, diversion blowjobs were totally a thing. "I'm fine, really."

John looked at him, a frown on his face. "Get up. I'm taking you to see Biro."

At least John understood Rodney's hesitance to see Keller, so that was a plus.

"I'm fine, really," Rodney said. Besides, yes, he had a sore throat. But it was almost definitely due to John's enthusiasm in the shower the night before. Rodney got a little water down his sinuses, so that, added to the fact that John fucked Rodney's throat like a battering ram had caused a little tenderness. Not that Rodney would tell him, though. Watching John let go and give himself over to pleasure was damned hot.

"93,427," John said.

Rodney just looked at him, totally confused as to what was going on. "Huh?"

"Come on," John said with a roll of his hand. "93,427."

"What on earth-" Rodney said, and then stopped as two realizations popped into his head. "Prime," he said, then reached for John's elbow.

John studied him intently, then said "24-"

"John? I'm fine," Rodney said.

"24,823," John said, ignoring Rodney's declaration.

Rodney took John's hand and pulled it to him, which caused John to lay down. He stretched out along Rodney's side, so Rodney raised a hand to John's cheek, leaned over, and kissed him gently. "The parasite's not back. It left no eggs, no trace, no nothing."

"I want to be sure," John whispered back. "I can't... Dammit, Rodney, I can't go through that again."

The confession hit Rodney harder than he thought it would. And while he can relive every moment of what happened to him while he had the parasite, he didn't realize how much it affected those around him. And as memories of how John treated him flooded back, he understood the impact that it'd had on him.

Rodney pulled John to him. He knew he couldn't change the past, but he could help make John feel a little better when it came to their future. He kissed John on the nose. "Tell you what," he said. "Let's go get that shower, and then we can stop in, and I can see Biro really quick. Then you owe me breakfast. Deal?"

John smiled cautiously, then let out a sigh. "Deal." He stood up and held out his hand, then pulled Rodney from the bed. And after one last kiss, and a playful whack on Rodney's backside, they both headed for the shower.

Chapter Text

Rodney never thought that he could feel as close to someone as he did with John. It was something he'd heard other people drone out about and never believed. Hell, it was the reason Jeannie had given him when he asked what was so special about the English teacher. "Love is... It's just real, Meredith," she said.

And as he watched John sleep, he realized that maybe Jeannie was right. Maybe there was something to it.

John opened his eyes, immediately latching on to Rodney's gaze, a smile on his lips. "Good morning," John said.

Rodney leaned down, and honestly tried to respond with the same. But inches away from John's lips, he whispered, "Marry me," and then sealed the proposal with a kiss. He felt John's arms on his, then a hand on his shoulder. Rodney leaned up, searching John's eyes as his heart broke a little more with each microsecond that John remained silent.

"Rodney?"

It took a second for Rodney to regain his composure. "I'm sorry, I uhh-"

"Yes," John replied.

Rodney searched John's face, but all he found was an outpouring of love.

"Yes, Rodney," John said. He pulled Rodney down into a brief kiss. "Yes, Meredith Rodney McKay. I'll marry you."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Why did you have to ruin it by calling me Meredith?"

"Hey," John said, then pinched Rodney's backside. "I said yes, didn't I?"

~*~*~

Plans were made. Dates were saved. And as Rodney entered the Mess, he could barely believe that this was the same place that they ate dinner at almost every night. This was the place that Ronon stole food from his plate. And this was the place where he would declare his love for John in front of all of their friends, til death do them part.

Mister Woolsey was tapped to do the traditional ceremony, but Teyla would perform the Athosian binding ceremony first. Ronon stood as Sheppard's best man, and Carson stood in as Rodney's. The tabled had been moved around, and a path of petals and leaves had been scattered from the entryway to the altar. There were a smattering of people standing around chatting, and he started heading towards the group that had Kusanagi and Zelenka when Cadman came to his side. "There you are," she said and grabbed his arm. "We've been waiting for you. C'mon."

Rodney let himself be dragged towards a room in the back, where they were joined by Chuck and a scary Marine named Amelia. "Yes, yes?" he asked.

"You were supposed to come dressed and ready," Cadman hissed.

"I am ready," Rodney barked back.

He watched as three pairs eyes silently judged him.

"What?" he added. "This is my best suit!"

"That's what I was afraid of," Chuck said. He conferred with Amelia for a moment and grew nervous as whispered voices grew heated.

"What?"

"The pants and boots can stay," Amelia said as she stripped him out of his jacket as Chuck worked on the buttons of his shirt. "Everything else has to go."

Twenty minutes later, Rodney had been primped and coiffed more than any dozen people from a Milan fashion show runway. "Are we done yet?" he asked as the three makeshift fashionistas leaned back and considered him.

Chuck tried to fix a stray hair as Cadman looked at her watch. "I think it's as good as it's going to get," she said. "He's John's problem now. Or he will be in," she looked at her watch again, "thirteen minutes. Let's get him out there, folks."

And with that, and one last collar adjustment by Amelia, they went back to the mess.

When Rodney finally caught sight of John, his breath hitched. Sure, John was the most handsome man he'd ever met. But John, wearing his dress blues, was almost more than he could take. "Hi," Rodney said, waving bashfully.

"Hi," John mouthed back, and then took his place across from Rodney.

The Athosian ceremony passed them in a blur of words and actions because no matter what was going on around them, All Rodney could focus on was John. And before he knew it, Richard started the traditional ceremony. "Doctor McKay, repeat after me. Doctor McKay?"

"Hmm? What? Yes?" Rodney said as he tore his attention back to the ceremony. "Oh yeah. I, Meredith Rodney McKay-"

"Let me start," Mister Woolsey said with a smirk, and then guided Rodney through his traditional vows.

Woolsey turned to John, and announced, "As I understand it, Colonel Sheppard has written his own vows. Colonel Sheppard?"

John stood there, a blush on his face. Ronon held out a piece of paper, but John declined it, so he tucked it back into his pocket. Rodney watched as John glanced around, and then as Teyla reached out her hand to John's shoulder, he cleared his throat.

"One morning, life woke me up when it brought me to you.
One morning, we met, and I knew someone true.
One morning, I got lost in your eyes so blue.
One morning, life woke me up when it brought me to you.

One day, I met someone who with I could keep up.
One day, with a smile, my heart you locked up.
One day, each piece of my life you picked up.
One day, I met someone who with I could keep up.

One night, my life changed, with a solitary kiss.
One night, I finally felt emotional bliss.
One night, I found that one thing that I missed,
Because one night, my life changed with a solitary kiss."

Rodney knew in his heart that John was a lyrical poet, after hearing him strum the guitar quietly late at night, poetic words dripping from his lips. But this was the first time John had ever written anything for him - and it was beautiful. Rodney didn't hesitate; he pulled John to him, placed delicate fingertips on John's jaw and kissed him.

Mister Woolsey cleared his throat. "Doctor McKay. Doctor McKay! We haven't gotten there yet."

"I don't care," John muttered as he kissed Rodney back.

And that was their first moment together as a married couple - doing things their own way, on their terms, and surrounded by love.