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Fic: The Sweet Spot

Title: The Sweet Spot
Author: sian1359
Category and Rating: Slash; shouldn't be read by anyone who finds that offensive -- otherwise no particular age restrictions suggested. Some swearing and references to things of a sexual nature primarily between men.
Pairing: Carson/John/Rodney
Series: Not at this time
For the SGA Secret Santa Project
Recipient: severusslave
What was wanted: combination of Slash, moresomes, future!stories, bellies, clever conversation, smoking, kinks, bodyart and plot, maybe some silk and chocolate.
Didn't Want: Het, Ford.
What was done .... References to most everything above, angst masquerading as plot, slash (but no sex) and it is set several years in the future from current canon.
Warnings! References are made to a couple of things that are happening as based on spoilers for episodes still to air, but nothing explicitly detailed.
Summary: Carson has some ideas about their anniversary.

The Sweet Spot

With a quick glance around the sparsely occupied room, Dr. Carson Beckett quickly located the two people he'd made plans to have lunch with, although only Rodney had gathered up his food and claimed one of the smaller tables out near the open balcony. Late summer on Atlantis meant balmy, hot days and refreshingly cool breezes quite reminiscent of St. Croix the one time Carson had gone along when Rodney had been asked to consult on the radio telescopes installed there. Most of the windows and doors overlooking the ocean, therefore, were opened throughout the towers of the great city. The damp heat wasn't particularly oppressive, but it still meant lots of short sleeves and dark tans, examples of which were quite tastily being provided by their largest resident and one of the resident aliens, Ronon Dex, who was currently keeping Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard from joining his 'dates' for lunch.

After choosing for himself, Carson picked up an extra salad and one of the last bowls of soup for John along since the selection after the main lunch crowd's departure was sparse and they were never the only ones who wandered in for a late meal. He made his way over to Rodney, acknowledging the distracted nod of welcome with a warm hello and a knowing grin. It wasn't his food, however, that was holding Rodney's attention rapt this time, and Carson slid into the seat next to his companion instead of across from him as he usually did.

One of Carson's also off-duty nurses abruptly dropped ... something that was now rolling away from her and straight toward John and Ronon. Predictably, the two noticed (as they noticed anything going on around them) and just as predictably -- indeed counted upon Carson speculated -- John oh-so-courteously bent over to pick it up. Needless to say, he and Rodney were not the only ones paying attention.

"You know she did that on purpose," Rodney said crossly even as his breath caught and, were Carson willing to shift his own gaze, he had no doubt he would be seeing Rodney's eyes widening and darkening in lust. Certainly his own were.

"Aye, and I'll have to remember to thank her for it when I go back for final bed checks."

Overall, John didn't fill out his uniform trousers nearly as well as, say, Ronon did his leather pants, but when John bent over, you were visually reminded that they were firm and delectable handholds. Not to mention that because he habitually wore trousers a bit on the baggy side, they had a tendency to slide down even as his shirt would ruck up just a little, and expose a couple of inches or so of normally hidden skin. Sometimes even the waistband of surprisingly flamboyant boxers too, though sometimes (the best times) there was only skin ... with no tan lines.

Carson's nurse made all of the proper apologies and thank yous as she came to retrieve -- Och, it looked like it was one of the dermal regenerators which had no business being taken away from Medical. Whether John was aware of that himself or no, he was still all smiles and affability, allowing her touch and patting her hand in return, because flirting was like breathing to John, so natural that he really didn't realize he did it and so you couldn't really even get mad at the man.

Well, except for Rodney. But blustering was Rodney's own natural default, so Carson pay it no nevermind either.

Instead, "We should get tattoos," cutting Rodney off mid-rant, which was purpose in and of itself. But Carson was also serious. Well, hopeful.

"You can't be serious," Rodney sputtered. "You, of all people, should know how dangerous that it, how many diseases or infections could occur."

"Aye, if it's not done with care. But look at Ronon's over there. The one on his neck is just a signpost saying lick me. And it's not the only one the boyo has," he added with a fond grin before turning toward Rodney. "We could get matching ones, or at least ones with some common element. Just the time testing for the right spot could be ..."

It was not often that anyone could render Rodney speechless; John managed the most, but Carson was proud to now be coming in a much closer second. It was not, however, a state that ever lasted long, no matter who had caught him out.

"You're insane."

"Who's insane?"

John was finally wandering over to join them and he accepted the dishes Carson had gotten for him with a touch that lingered just a few seconds longer than necessary. The relationship between the three of them wasn't a complete secret, but Elizabeth had asked for discretion when they were in public. Even though the military rules that governed so much of John's conduct were loosened here in Atlantis, it was not during their returns to Earth. They had found it much easier not to slip up while there by observing the same proprieties here -- especially when one of the Earth cruisers was here on its bi-monthly run with its crew enjoying a couple of days of liberty on Atlantis.

"Carson is insane," Rodney scowled and offered John the swiss roll he'd been about to take a bite out of under the uncharacteristic pretext of sharing, but really, Carson knew, just so he could get his own subtle caress.

When the Daedelus left tonight for Earth, Rodney would be returning with it for a month's leave and yet another round of vetting new applicants to the expedition. Unfortunately, the opportunity for the three of them to take leave together came every eighteen months or so in the rotation that had been worked out over the years for Atlantis' most senior personnel, and they'd discovered early on how easy it was to feel left behind even if you were the one going.

"Any particular data that supports your hypothesis?" John asked with a smirk as he ate the dessert first so that Rodney couldn't claim it back.

"He wants to lick Ronon's neck."

"Teyla would probably have something to say about that," John commented rather mildly in comparison to Rodney's continued temper. "Not to mention Ronon himself might, but I don't think he'd be using words."

"I didn't say I wanted to lick his neck, you daft bugger! I was just commenting on the ... benefits of his tattoo."

"He wants to inflict them on us."

Carson watched as John set down his spoon and leaned back a little in the chair to study them, not sure he was comfortable with the seriousness that had come over John's face. It might just be a dodge to torque Rodney up even tighter, but --.

"That's why we have dog tags," in a too quiet voice.

Christ, no, not contrivance against Rodney!

Carson could have kicked himself for forgetting the great bloody battle John and Elizabeth had had with General Landry and Colonel Caldwell half a year ago. Those back at Stargate Command had been insisting they come up with some sort of identification tag for Atlantis' personnel, something directly on the body now while they were still working on the technology for a permanently inserted chip. Too many of their dead being sent back were too disfigured to identify without having to resort to costly forensic procedures, even when their deaths weren't caused by the Wraith thanks to the bastards like the Genii and the Oleasians who'd successfully been convincing some of the other worlds the blame and cause of their losses should be laid on the Atlanteans instead of the Wraith or the Descended Ancients as it belonged.

"Yes, and it's very convenient that you've got a pair of them, since that means Carson and I can both get one instead of having to tear that bloody flag in half, assuming it'd been presented to one of us in the first place!"

"'the fuck, Rodney?!" John snarled and shoved back from the table with a wounded look and not another word. He was across the floor and heading out through a doorway before Carson even managed to close his mouth.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God!" then exploded from it. "Are you insane?" Carson railed against an equally shaken Rodney. "Did you forget the reason John stayed up so late last night instead of coming in to join us? That you'll be returning to Earth with seven bodies, all of whom were his, and including Liam Stackhouse? Who is lying dead there only because he jumped in front of John on PX77431 two months ago? What in the fucking bloody Hell were you thinking!"

But Carson didn't give Rodney time to come up with an explanation. There was nothing Rodney could say that could justify the hurt he had just caused, because at the moment, Carson couldn't find it in himself to care even if there was an underlying cause of some import.

They'd been watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the umpteenth time at Rodney's insistence when Carson had come up with the idea of tattoos a few days ago. For some reason remembering that the actors had done the same thing as a way to evoke the closeness that had developed between them once the shoot was over, Carson had thought it perfect for their own situation and had been trying to find a way to bring the subject up every since. Mooning over the luscious bodies of Ronon and John had seemed the perfect way to introduce it to Rodney first as he figured Rodney would be the hardest to convince given his typical hypochondriac reaction to almost everything. Carson had thought it perfect though, as rings would raise too much suspicion, plus neither he nor John word jewelry, and even Rodney would have to be taking if off when conducting various aspects of his research. Tattoos, however, wouldn't have been a stretch for even the straightest under John's command in accepting that some of the survivors from the initial expedition might chose to share a symbol for what they had gone through. After all, many of them had their own from their old regiments before transferring to the SGC.

Carson had wanted something to commemorate the anniversary of their fifth year together that wouldn't get John into trouble or any of the three of them beat up by one of the Earth crews that were too bloody stupid to understand that finding love was a gift, not a trophy.

Instead, it looked like he just might have precipitated their break-up.

***********

Waiting with barely any patience of his own, Carson was ready to hit Rodney. They'd already done everything they could to return sooner, from hitching a ride back on the Aristides instead of the Daedelus, to convincing Colonel Xavier to allow them to use the transporter technology to beam down when Aristides got into range of the Atlantis base, instead of having to wait another four hours before disembarking with the rest of the people who were returning or arriving for the first time to begin their duty stations. But goading the little Asgard overseeing the transporter to hurry through his checks and procedures faster was not going to make it happen. Something Rodney knew even better than Carson, had Rodney just been thinking, whether of the recalcitrance of the Asgard to taking orders from any Tau'ri (but especially the one named Rodney McKay), or the myriad of dangers such rushing might produce.

But thinking had not been Rodney's strong suit during any portion of their trip away from Atlantis. Or, rather, Rodney had suffered from the opposite, from thinking too much. Except it hadn't been about the things Rodney should have been concentrating on. Not that Carson had blamed him, or hadn't been doing much of the same himself. Their departure could not have come at a worst time, at least for them personally, which, of course, hadn't been Elizabeth's concern -- or even something she'd been aware of.

It hadn't helped that Carson's inclusion on the trip been very last minute, so much so that he'd only had the time to hand off his patient files to Dr. McCoy and make arrangements for the bits of his lab research that needed maintenance and observation with Dr. Essex, before packing a suitcase and racing to join the rest of the personnel heading out on leave or SGC rotation. He thanked the good Lord that the crisis with his wee mother's health had not been as serious as the message that had drawn him back to Scotland had implied, for he knew one day soon that wouldn't be the case and that it was more likely that he'd not be able to be there when she passed. But it had still meant he had left -- he and Rodney had both left -- John before they'd had a chance to work through or even discuss the blow-up in the messhall.

He and Rodney had talk about it, of course; they'd had eighteen days of travel to fret in getting from Atlantis to Earth. He feared, however, that for John it would in some ways be like being marooned in the Cloister all over again, but instead of an actual time dilation happening between their lives and his, it would simply be one contrived by those who didn't realize they'd left something so undone. Still, Carson couldn't have let the matter rest until the three of them could be together again -- too much of that had already happened for Rodney to have been seeing things so differently. There was also the reality that if Carson had been able to stay, he and John would have had their own discussion, with Rodney then being the man on the outside.

At least Carson had gotten a confession of the fears that had driven Rodney to say what he had. Carson maybe even agreed, although he never would have couched anything as cruelly as Rodney had, nor even found himself considering their relationship from that point of view except for trying to understand where Rodney had been coming from. He'd also done his best to then explain it to John in a quick message to go back with one of the weekly exchanges between Earth and Pegasus, but by the very nature of the transmission's carrier, he'd had to be vaguer than he would have liked, and nothing he said would be enough if John and Rodney didn't also talk.

Carson rather suspected that once the basic things were smoothed over with John, the three of them might actually want to spend some time talking to Kate because of the issues that had been uncovered.

Being quite the surprise to him, Carson didn't doubt John would be just as shocked to learn that Rodney, ever the pessimist, had been dwelling on the memories of the horrific and terrifying siege that had first sparked their coming together instead of viewing their upcoming anniversary as something worth celebrating. Rodney had struck out in his own pain, responding to old nightmares now melding with too many more recent times in which John had seemed just as willing to sacrifice his life in ensuring their safety. To Rodney, a more formal acknowledgment of their time together would also be ensuring its ending, for that was how every other good thing in his life had ended.

How had H. L. Mencken put it? A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin. A sentiment that could very well be Rodney's credo or epitaph.

Just as frustrating was knowing that Rodney couldn't see that he was just as often undertaking the same risks that John did, even if he complained about doing it. Rodney had decided that being unwillingly somehow mitigated the actual doing; that the devastation to the survivors would somehow be lessened because he, the unpopular one, had been the one making the sacrifice. Carson, on the other hand, didn't think either of his lovers understood just how difficult Carson's own position was in their unlikely relationship. Being the one generally left behind, Carson had more or less resigned himself to being the one finally left behind. The only difference was he refused to destroy his now by partially living in that unwanted future. Or to force either man to become something just for him and thus destroy a large part of the very thing that had drawn him to them.

"Prepare yourselves," the Asgard's voice, still alien-sounding after six years of hearing them, broke into Carson's thoughts.

Not that they were really given any time to prepare. Word became deed in less time than it took for Rodney to pause in his pacing, and when he did put his next step down, it was on the floor of the gate room of Atlantis, stumbling into Carson who steadied him automatically.

Having been notified and then authorizing their request to deviate from disembarkation procedures upon landing (out on the south pier and necessitating an almost mile walk into the occupied portion of the base after a not-so-quick medical), Elizabeth Weir was there to greet them. Rodney's mouth tightened into an all too familiar, lop-sided frown when he realized that she was standing before them alone.

Carson's immediate thought was more one of worry -- and wasn't that yet another example of the delimitating line between how the two of them viewed things.

"He's fine," the woman -- who was more of a de facto governor than the leader of a multi-national, joint scientific/military expedition -- responded quickly to that frown. "Well, more or less," she then temporized, but with a smile that allowed Carson to let out the breath he'd been holding.

"There was a bit of an accident yesterday when he was taking up one of the new pilots for puddle jumper training," she continued as the three of them moved away from the technicians and support crew who poured forth to begin their duties of checking over the new equipment and supplies Earth had sent them. "They both walked away from the landing and John was released from the infirmary this morning. The puddle jumper, on the other hand... Well it is quite the mess but Radek is pretty sure it's fixable."

"Is that obviously non-pilot scheduled for a quick return back to Earth?" Rodney's frown hadn't lessened in the least, but Elizabeth had almost as much time and experience in dealing with him as Carson had.

"I don't think that will be necessary, Rodney." She raised a brow Carson's direction but he could only shrug. The control room was not the place to get into what bug had landed in Rodney's haggis, nor did Carson feel it right to perhaps worry her about something he still had faith would eventually become only one more regret and unpleasant memory they held.

"The accident wasn't Captain Summers' -- or John's -- error. Apparently John was killing two birds with one stone and combined pilot qualifications with a mechanical test flight, but the puddle jumper had been promoted to flight status a little too soon."

Elizabeth's joke feel flat; this wasn't the first time something like that had happened, as Rodney knew better than anyone. Because of her attempt at light-heartedness though, Carson was reassured it hadn't at all been like how close they'd come to loosing Rodney (and had lost one of the Daedelus' men) back during their second year in Pegasus, yet Carson was just as anxious to see for himself that John was okay. He clamped a hand around Rodney's bicep and pulled him a little off balance to derail the rant he knew was in the making, it wouldn't accomplish anything other than have Elizabeth keep them here a little longer -- or hasten their visit to Kate, or perhaps the new psychologist, Dr. Gray.

"It sounds like you've kept everything under control with your usual aplomb, Elizabeth," Carson flattered instead. "I know we're expected to join you on the south pier, but I was wondering --"

"I'm sure that since you've already introduced yourselves to the new arrivals," although the twinkle in her eye told Carson she was thinking anything but (at least where Rodney was concerned) -- and that she had recognized and appreciated the preemptive action he had just taken, "we can forgo your participation in the standard meet and greet. Remy, Major Lorne and I will get everyone accounted for and settled in, and we'll schedule the divisional and departmental introductions and briefings for the morning. I will want your notes and observations uploaded to my office before you become uninterruptible, however."

Not that anyone on Atlantis was ever afforded complete privacy. But renewed contact with Earth five years ago had allowed them to continually add personnel in numbers beyond those who'd died or sought to return home once the possibility had become available. Senior command was always informed of any significant emergency, but they finally now had the staff and personnel to handle the rest

This meant that even though he hadn't been there, Carson could be assured that John's treatment by another's hand was not something for him to be worrying about. This wasn't stopping him from wanting to stop by the infirmary to take a look at John's chart and find out the specifics John was never going to voluntarily give up himself, but Carson contented himself with a quick radio check once he and Rodney were more or less alone in proceeding to the transporter that would take them out to the main residential section of the city. Rodney wouldn't have put up with a stop along the way, and Carson wasn't about to be left behind.

"Hank says it's just a case of whiplash," he informed Rodney as his staff relayed him their findings. "They kept him overnight because he also had a wee bash on the head, but there was no sign of a concussion and after spending most of the day immobilized and undergoing a short period of lumbar traction this morning, he's already regained most of his mobility. I imagine he's mainly stiff and in a bit of discomfort from pain, but it shouldn't be anything that will keep him from resuming light duties in a couple of days."

"Does that mean no sex?"

"Rodney, I'm not sure given the way you and John parted, sex should be the first thing on your mind."

"Not between us, no of course not," Rodney began to burble. "I meant between the two of you. Just because I was an ass, doesn't mean the two of you shouldn't be able to indulge in a little homecoming, and now it sounds like he'll need comfort even more, but if he can't have sex and he's in pain, he probably won't even want me in the room --"

"Rodney, hush," which Carson reinforced first with a finger and then lips to combat that utterly wretched expression even should someone walk by and see them. "You know John is going to want to see you even if he's still angry and, well regarding that, I might have passed on an explanation of your daftness, plus what I had been hoping, so I doubt he's even very angry anymore."

"You what! Carson, I don't need you making up excuses for me --"

Carson couldn't help but chuckle at the new and easier to take look of outrage -- and the absurdity of what Rodney had just said. "Rodney love, we do it for you all the time. Not to each other very often mind you, but to your staff -- and especially the military. Surely you're not thinking that, oh, Majors Lorne or Logan, or Colonel Xavier there commanding the Aristides, were immediately won over by you? They and most of the gate teams were like to shoot you as look at you in your first interactions. A word or two, plus then actually seeing you in action has brought them along to what the rest of us know about you, of course. But you're like a fine wine Rodney -- or a good stout ale; all the better for the wait, but also something of an acquired taste."

Rodney still looked plenty affronted, but they were now home.

It came as no surprise that the lights were off in the front room, as well as in the kitchenette; sometimes Carson thought John only ate when someone reminded him, and all three of them spent far more time getting food in the mess hall the ever cooking at home even now that they had the supplies and means to do so. He was beginning to think Elizabeth hadn't passed on the news of their catching an early trip back on the Aristides' either -- or so he certainly hoped --- for the lack of greeting here too.

It was likely, then, that she'd been at least one of the ones John had talked to while they were gone, and she thought not spoiling the surprise would be the better tact.

For once Rodney completely bypassed the computer and the no doubt hundreds if not thousands of messages that had accumulated over the twenty-eight days of their absence. Radek would have weeded through the bulk of those pertaining to on-going projects, but there were still the status reports and basic paperwork of any supervisory position, not to mention the occasional personal greeting or communications from those who were friends more than co-workers, plus the occasional anonymous piece of hate mail that Radek got too big a kick out of seeing Rodney to respond to.

Seeing that Rodney was even setting down the bulky pack he'd hung over his shoulder, after only a moment's deliberation Carson elected to do the same. The rest of their personal item allocations would be off loaded with the rest of the base supplies once the Aristides docked, but the seasoned members of the expedition had taken to keeping their hands on the most important or personal bits after the first few times personal items had been made rather public in their distribution. For the three of them, generally the first few hours after someone returned home was spent as if it were Christmas, with presents and new possessions opened and shown off between kisses and cuddling.

Rodney's pack, Carson knew, was mainly filled with his preferences when it came to coffee and chocolate, plus several hundred gig of downloaded television, movies and music, not to mention all the scientific journals and announcements that had published in his various fields of study since the last time one of them made it back to Earth. Carson's own was loaded with his favorite teas and biscuits, new medical journals, interesting fiction, and copies of proper football games. They'd both taken great care in choosing what to bring back for John, especially the items that were never given as a list, and Carson was rather surprised that Rodney wasn't going to go with a little bribery to sweeten his return, but he was also glad --

"Radek?"

Carson wasn't sure who was the more surprised between the three of them when Dr. Radek Zelenka walked out of their bedroom.

"You are back, good. What horrors of non-scientific thinking have our peers unleashed this time?" the barefooted Czech asked without breaking his stride as he ambled into the kitchen and over to the ice box.

"What the hell are you doing in our apartment -- in my bedroom!" Rodney responded with instead, his voice beginning to rise.

"Quiet or you will wake John." Still quite unconcerned, Radek pulled out one of Rodney's Molson Drys. Not to offer it to Rodney, of course. Instead he popped off the cap and took a long swig.

Carson rolled his eyes. Given the state Rodney had already worked himself into; he wasn't going to take Radek's actions or words well. Fortunately have worked as Rodney's second since before their arrival in Pegasus, Radek recognized this. He flicked the beer cap at the inviting target Rodney's widening mouth was making. Automatically Rodney raised his hand to deflect it, even though the other wasn't close enough to have projected it the proper distance.

"Colonel had bad day yesterday, which I am sure you heard. Achy Colonel is cranky Colonel. Bored Colonel is even crankier Colonel. Lonely Colonel is worst of all, and Teyla and Ronon aren't due back from Athos until this evening or tomorrow morning. I was elected to keep Colonel company."

Considering Radek could now speak the Queen's English as well as any of them, the affectation of his accent and earliest days of dropping words was one more thing designed specifically to crank Rodney up -- or to calm him down, which is what happened this time.

"I didn't know Ronon and Teyla were planning on going back to Athos while we were gone." Like the civil words had been surprised out of him, Rodney didn't seem sure whether he wanted to keep glowering or just frown, and his eyes kept sliding from Radek toward the bedroom door.

"You were supposed to be gone long and so you never would have cared." Taking the hint, however, for which Carson was also quite grateful, Radek bounced away from where he'd been leaning against the counter and started moving them back toward the bedroom.

"The reason is because Halling's new wife is expecting, so one more Athosian celebration that she needed to participate in. Ronon, of course, wasn't going to let her go alone." Just before reaching the closed door to the bedroom, Radek scrubbed his empty hand across a tired looking face, leaving Carson to wonder if Radek might not also have set vigil with John in the sick bay for part of yesterday with the other members of John's gate team offworld.

With so few of the original members of the expedition still around, those remaining were more like family than colleagues, especially those of the surviving command staff and original offworld teams. Elizabeth had probably put her own time in the infirmary, although Carson suspected she'd have drawn the line doing so within their apartment, even if her duties would have allowed her the time.

"I suppose that means the resettlement is going well," Carson grinned at the news of a pending new arrival.

Although many people in the expedition had chosen to make their lives here and had hooked up, there had still been no births amongst the folks who had come from Earth unless they had paired with one of the native denizens. For too many years just the brutal upheavals engendered by the entire population of Wraith awakening at once had come as close to wiping out the populations of the Pegasus Galaxy as the loses of people actually being fed upon by the Wraith. Wherein in the past, most civilizations had considered it their responsibility and duty to produce children so that their cultures could continue, over the past few years, the fear and sheer physical trauma of surviving cullings that now decimated entire worlds instead of leaving enough to insure a future harvest had caused many to consider it anathema to bring more children into the chaos.

Learning that some of the Ancients were not as benevolent as had been painted in the tales and myths from so many worlds had also done its damage and unraveled more than one culture.

Carson chose to see the news of a pending child as a sign of hope, especially because it was the spiritual leader of their first allies who had deemed it appropriate not only to have some of the Athosians return to their birth world, but had sired a new birth to christen their homecoming. Of course, he also had to wonder what Halling's teen-age son thought about becoming a big brother.

"Other than it gives one more rent in the cloth Teyla's wears as her responsibilities, yes, it is going well. The cloaking shield should protect the returned Athosians much like the one on M7G-677." But words and expression did not match.

That caused Carson to give Radek yet another intent look. He'd known the engineer had had a crush on Teyla back in those first months; most of them did, and there had even been rumor that the two of them had formed a close relationship right after contact with Earth had been reestablished. But once Ronon Dex had come onto the scene, it had only been a matter of time (in pretty much everyone's minds), before the two outcasts would eventually gravitate toward one another -- much like quite a few people had seen something between John and Rodney long before the two of them had admitted it, thanks to a bit of pushing and pulling from Carson.

But then the door opened, and Carson's gaze turned from the pragmatic Czech.

To most of Atlantis' inhabitants and visitors, the three of them were simply sharing one of the larger apartments that had been cleared once new arrivals and new equipment meant expanding needs for housing of the expeditions' personnel. A few people stilled lived in the single room, single person quarters they'd first latched onto, yet those were primarily the transients who fully returned to Earth once their tour was over. It had been at Kate's insistence (and only a little coaxing to Elizabeth), that those who had decided to make Atlantis their home needed to be relocated to the places where the Ancients had once housed their own families. Because power consumption was still an on-going concern, however, rooming with another had been encouraged. But the psychologist's point had been to make places homes instead of temporary quarters only chosen for the convenience and proximity to where the expedition members worked.

No one, therefore, had thought anything untoward of the various pairings and trios -- and there were even a few larger groups. Friendships had more importance over other relationships, since even in a city the size of Manhattan, they were working and living only in an area more like a large University, and the person you fought with the night before might well be the person you were relying on saving your life come the next morning. There just wasn't room for major personality conflicts.

What this had meant for Rodney, John and Carson was that the only ones who knew when former bedrooms had become a library, an entertainment center, and a personal gym were the ones invited to know, and in truth that list was rather small. Certainly others suspected, but there were aspects of Don't Ask/Don't Tell that actually worked in their favor just as much as against it. Now the three of them shared what had probably once been the formal dining and entertaining area as a bedroom, with one door leading into the kitchen/living area and another out onto a wide balcony that overlooked the ocean. Bathing and dressing facilities had been created by combining two of the smaller wash rooms.

They had even found a bed befitting the size of the room and their needs. And right now it was filled by a naked -- or at least shirtless -- Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, who was lying prone across its middle, a sheet pushed down from a bruised set of shoulders and back to rest across his hips. Nearside held a chair moved from their front room, along with a table that held what was obviously Radek's laptop, a couple of paperbacks, what looked like Rodney's travel chess set, and a water carafe, glass and small bottle of meds.

John had not awakened when the door had opened, which was either indicative of the true extent of John's injury or the soldier's level of trust in having Radek nearby. One of the biggest troubles Carson had with any soldiers when stuck in his infirmary was keeping them asleep without sedatives, as the closing footsteps of a nurse or doctor invariably woke those who were battle trained. Only Ronon was more sensitive than John, but then the Satedan had also spent seven years alone actively being hunted by the Wraith before coming across John's gate team.

Here in their bedroom, however, John no longer awakened every time one of the other two got up or came in the middle of the night. Carson had not realized that Radek had moved to join the small number of closely trusted people that also included Teyla and Ronon, but not Elizabeth, at least in this.

Carson moved to check out the bottle of drugs, but John began to stir; three sets of footfalls where one had been categorized earlier being enough to nudge his subconscious.

"John, it's just us," Carson said quickly so that John didn't roll or twist in surprise or adrenalin fueled push to alertness.

"And that is my cue to leave," Radek started to close down his computer.

"What ... wait?"

Carson exchanged a smile with Rodney, because a sleepy John Sheppard was a rarity when it was not brought on by exhaustion or burden -- and was extremely appealing.

"Hi, honey, we're home." Rodney wasn't willing to wait to see how he was going to be received. Sliding around the table, he set himself down on the edge of the bed, but took care to do so slowly and carefully so Carson swallowed his warning. Rodney put one hand on the back of John's neck to keep him still, and then leaned over to give John's drowsy smile a kiss.

Carson moved back to stop Radek before the other man could slip through the door, intending to say thank you and to give Radek a chance to tell him anything he might need to know while Rodney and John said hello. "Has he eat --"

"Carson!" While Rodney's voice was rising and strident, it was his excited tone, not his panicked one, and so Carson willed his heart to started beating again although he had to take a couple of deep breaths before he could turn around.

"Rodney, it's not that big a deal," he could hear John saying; words were muffled by the pillow Rodney was trying to adjust. Shaking his head, Carson hurried to the bed to make sure Rodney wasn't making things worse -- or suffocating John.

"Hey, Carson," came another soft mumble.

Carson leaned over and dropped his own kiss on those tempting lips. "Hey, John."

"You guys are back early."

"And you managed to get yourself into trouble again."

He and Rodney both pressed hands down against John's shoulders before he tried to shrug them.

"Guys, I'm not broken, just stiff," John sputtered as he became more awake and aware.

"Whiplash isn't something to take lightly, love."

And I've been good both yesterday and today," he said with just a touch of exasperation. "I think I can manage to turn over. Oh, don't start," John directed to a chuckling Radek. "That was one time."

"You squeaked like Rodney when he --"

"Hey!" Rodney protested. "Are you still here?"

Radek rocked on his feet -- his bare feet. "Forgot my shoes. And you maybe forgot what you were going to show Carson?" he added with a waggle of his eyebrows.

Interestingly, a blush started to darken John's skin, and one again Rodney was putting his hand on John's neck to hold him in place before he could move so that he was facing them. Rodney's other hand started to sweep the swell of John's ass and draw the sheet down with it.

"Rodney?" Carson questioned with a nod toward Radek who was suddenly not leaving.

"Carson." Said in the tone of voice Rodney usually reserved only for his most recalcitrant subordinates, like Dexter Kavanaugh.

The scowl he started to turn on Rodney disappeared into a flood of surprise and warm pleasure. Inked across the dip just above John's tailbone was a tattoo done in blues, gold, and black.

"It's not permanent," John said somewhat shyly, head twisted over his shoulder to meet Carson's eyes. "Just painted on, but it's made out of the dyes the natives on P3X-998 use for caste rankings."

Which they'd learned required touch ups only every nine or so months.

Carson knelt next to where Rodney was sitting and brushed his fingers across what he knew was one of the most sensitive spots on John' s body. "It's beautiful, John. The symbols are familiar, but ..."

"They are Atlantis and Earth's final gate symbols, plus the Japanese Kanji symbol Ten," Radek said rather proudly. For the heavens. It you like it, we designed one for you Carson, which has the Kanji Sei for Life and Rodney, yours is Kenbun for knowledge. Color choices are limited but we thought greens for you Carson, and maybe red, Rodney?"

Carson wasn't sure he could find his voice.

"You did this, Radek?" Rodney asked in the growing silence, his own tone not too steady.

"It was John's idea, I just painted it them," and he flipped his computer around so they could see the other two designs.

"John, I don't ...You ..." Carson took a deep breath and tried again. "I am overwhelmed, John. Thank you. I ..."

"It's like you said, none of us would wear rings in the course of our duties," John mumbled. "Even if we could exchange them without courting trouble. I did get what you were trying to say, well, after you explained it and I wasn't still looking to punch Rodney. I hadn't really planned to have it done until you two returned but yesterday I had a lot of time on my hands -- on my stomach actually, and so I contacted Radek and he took care of it in between one of the nurses' duty shifts."

"I could do both of you, it takes only about fifteen minutes to paint and another fifteen or twenty to completely dry."

"That sounds like a lovely way to spend the afternoon," and Carson started unbuckling his trousers.

"What are you doing?" Rodney squeaked.

"We've already talked about where we would put our own tattoos if you ever got brave enough," Carson scolded. "You said you'd have one on your left side just below the start of your hip bone, and I wanted one just below my belly button. So ..."

"Yes, but you're undressing in front of Radek."

"Did you want to do the painting, Rodney?" Radek asked. "I will loan you my paint pots, but you would have to assure me you will give them back, like you did not do with my iPod nano."

"That wasn't my fault, it got stolen from me on M4X-51. And I brought you one back this trip." But Rodney was shaking his head even as he was talking. "I can't do it. I'd just mess it up."

"Well, I canna do it to myself, but I can wait until John's up to handling it I suppose." Carson tried to keep the disappointment out of his tone. Their five year anniversary was tomorrow and this was exactly what he had wanted for and from them. The antiquarian books he had found for both men would still be appreciated he knew, but they could have been given for a birthday or really just any day, and could just as easily been chosen by Elizabeth.

"I could make a stencil." Radek offered again.

"Rodney?" John was starting to twist around, manfully managing to swallow his groan although he let the two of them help him into leaning back against the headboard, the sheet now pillowed in his lap. "Do you not trust Radek?"

The blush this time included Rodney's ears.

"No, no, of course I do. I'm just flashing back to my high school locker room days and that's silly given all we've already seen and been thro --"

"Rodney," Carson reached over to take the hand John had not already grabbed hold of. "Do you nae trust yourself?" That, of course, had been what John had truly been asking, yet still giving Rodney an out so that their self-proclaimed genius would not have to own up to the long-term interest that he feared would affect his and Radek's working relationship, not to mention what he had with John and Carson.

Of the three of them, John was the closest to a monogamist, in part Carson supposed, because of his limited experience in being with men before they'd started their relationship. Not to mention from having been the one who was left in a previous marriage for someone else. Carson, on the other hand, had done his share of casual pick-ups in his youth (although he had normally only chosen from men he knew), dating and having sex with multiple partners during the same time frame, although this was his first time with two partners in the same relationship. Rodney had been the truly experimental one, especially at University as yet one more way to irritate his parents. He'd at least claimed that he'd been involved in two ménage a trois before, once with two women, and once with a woman and a man both.

Carson and John were both aware that Rodney had even spent time with at least one old lover during previous leaves on Earth, although Carson was pretty sure they hadn't actually had sex -- well that Rodney wasn't let anyone else fuck him.

John claimed that he didn't care. As long as Rodney practiced safe sex. And as long as Rodney returned to them -- or let them know if he wanted out of their relationship instead of just slinking off and letting them figure it out like he'd done with poor Katie Brown. Carson's only addendum to that had been that Rodney not even consider leaving Atlantis just to escape having to break up.

Sometimes, Carson knew, you just had to rip the bandage off.

While Rodney ducked his head, Radek was suddenly looking much more interested, with a brightening of real lust in his eyes instead of the contrived look of lasciviousness he'd started with just to get Rodney's goat. "I can bring back more than paints."

"Like what?" and John had a bit of growing interest in his own eyes, not to mention other bits of his body that appeared to be growing, but that was also probably because both Carson and Rodney were more or less petting him.

"Down, boy," Carson admonished although he knew he shouldn't have bothered. John might not have had the most experience, but he was definitely the most adventurous, willing to try almost anything once.

"Yeah, no sex for you until you're healed," Rodney smirked, his hand purposefully going up to tangle his fingers in John's unruly hair before tugging on the strands at his neck.

"Now wait a minute," John actually pouted, with a slight hitch in his breathing. "The doc said gentle pelvic exercises would be good for my healing back."

Carson raised his brow. "You discussed having sex with Dr. McCoy?"

"Not about having it with Henry, but yeah, I asked about being able to ... function. Of course I thought I'd get another week or so to rest before it came up."

Which is was, quite handily it appeared from amidst the sheets.

"We could probably manage to find a way to keep you from moving -- " Rodney moved to tug on John's nearest earlobe with his teeth.

"Aye, just to keep you from straining anything, of course." Carson added before claiming John's lips and then turning to also taste Rodney's.

They grinned into each other's mouths. They had picked up just the thing from Earth, in fact.

Radek abruptly cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, am I leaving to get paints, or to just go away?"

"It's your call, John," Carson pulled back with a brush of his stubble against John's. Rodney nodded in agreement.

"I imagine I'll get aroused if I get painted across my belly, it's one of the reasons I picked it, with that spot on Rodney's hip being the same. But that certainly doesn't have to lead to sex."

Given the dilation of John's pupils, he was probably still back thinking more about being restrained. One of his kinks as long as it only involved denial and no physical pain (too many poorly associative memories could be triggered if they weren't careful enough with that), which is why on there were several different lengths of silk on the bottom of Rodney's pack; so that they could do away with the leather bonds they had been using completely.)

John looked between all three of them. "I know the tattoos are important, and yeah, it was damn arousing for me, although I do have to admit, Radek, that it might just have been what you were doing and not the specific hands administering it."

Radek gave a nod to show that he wasn't offended. "I understand, I was not unaffected too, but I never thought ..." He shrugged.

"But I do consider you a friend, one of my closest," John continued, his grin growing. "Plus saying I have a problem with the idea of having sex with a guy wouldn't exactly hold up under oath any more. Carson and I both know that Rodney has always been interested in being with you, and I'm thinking Carson rather likes the possibility, even if we just watch..."

To which Carson had to nod.

"I would be happy to be with Rodney, to be with any of you. Also, if it was not a one time thing. But I am not looking to move in with the three of you. That would be obtiz," he fell back to his native Czech, and then tried to define it, "Trouble, inconvenience, stress -- obtiz."

"I guess that's a go then Dr. Z. For paints and what ever else might prove inspirational."

******

Carson rolled carefully from the bed. In deference to his injury, John was sleeping in the middle instead of Rodney being between the two of them, although Rodney was pretty much sleeping there too, having half of his body sprawled over John's back and legs, his head tucked into John's neck. A good way to keep John from moving -- not that he was a restless sleeper outside of nightmares -- although those new silk bindings had done a magnificent job of the same thing, and without leaving even faint ligature marks (that might have proven embarrassing during his check-up later this morning back in the infirmary). Carson smiled at the memories and rather thought he might like a go of it himself taking John's roles the next time.

Looking down at the two of them, Carson's eye was again caught by their tattoos, both visible in this position and from the faint glow from the walls that had been one of Carson's needs after a rough time a couple of years ago and his own nightmares. Now, though, the markings themselves seemed to shine, the gold common between them near iridescent in Atlantis' light. Carson looked down to see his own little radiance, although maybe it was only imagination and the warmth of love that was making him glow.

Radek had declined to stay through til morning, rightfully guessing that as fun and satisfying the four of them coming together had been, the three would want to be alone at the dawning of their anniversary, especially after having been apart for most of two months. And not to mention, or so he claimed, that he had his own homecoming to prepare for.

Sex was sex, and Carson never hoped he got too old or jaded to enjoy it, but the quiet times were still what he liked best. Just being together with Rodney and John, laughing or evening arguing, or just sitting without speaking while one or more of them read through the day's reports, or drafted scathing memos that were never sent but always shared. Or in these wee hours, when he actually woke before John (such as was only expected from the length of time they had made John wait last evening before allowing him to come when Radek had finally straddled him and Carson gently fucked John's mouth and Rodney his ass), and could just sit in contemplation and marvel at the wonder his life had become.

For every pain or heartache or horror lived through and remembered he had only to look at his two lovers to understand that it all was a gift. To know that the sweetness would not be so rich if he had no concept of what could be lost. To never forget that it could be taken away, and yet even then he would have something more precious than any prestige, possession or power he might claim.

The Wraith were demons not because they thought of humanity only as food, but because they didn't love.

---- The end -----
Tags: genre: threesomes and moresomes, pairing: beckett/mckay/sheppard
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