(Not So) Ordinary Gaits

Radek fought the sudden urge to change back, and say 'what tail?' He did find himself taking a step backwards and sideways, pressing up against John's side. John took a step forward and Radek and Carson remained right where they were, effectively letting themselves hide behind John.

"So, I'm going to take a wild guess here and say you aren't finished with the jumper modifications?" Rodney asked.

"We thought we'd take a short break," John said, in a tone that sounded like there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about the situation. His tail swished in his only display of nerves and Radek couldn't decide if that made him feel better or not.

"Ah, yes. Went for a run," Rodney replied, matching the casual tone. Then he gestured at the three of them. "Am I the only one who sees this? Because I'm willing to accept that it's a hallucination." He glanced back at Dr. Weir. "Am I seeing things? Because nobody but me seems to think this is odd."

Radek shot a look at Dr. Weir, realising that Rodney was right. Weir looked concerned, but her attention seemed to be on Rodney. John just waved towards the two Marines and said dryly, "They're trained to not be shocked. Though I would like to know why you don't seem terribly surprised, Elizabeth?"

At that, she gave them a grin. "You think I didn't get fully briefed before we came out here? Dr. Jackson said I'd have my hands full with four unattached stallions on my team, but there wasn't any way out of it." She frowned. "I have to admit, I was expecting a lot more trouble before now."

"You knew?" The question came from John and Rodney at the same time.

Radek thought that maybe he wanted to back up some more. He heard a half-footstep and smothered a grin at knowing Carson felt the same way.

Dr. Weir shrugged. "I knew. I never said anything because... there was never any need to. Until now, when Rodney insisted on coming out here--"

"Well, excuse me from trying to keep them from blowing up!" Rodney snapped. He turned and glared at Radek -- who shrunk back further, even as Rodney's ire gave way for a split second to disbelief and wonder -- then right back to ire. "I was looking at your calculations, and if you'd run the simulation a second time you would have noticed the engines' tendency to explode at speeds higher than mach one. We couldn't raise you on the radios, and when I found out you'd landed here... well, I thought...." He shifted, looking uncomfortable. "I figured we had to get out here before you took off again and flyboy here decided to take her out at full speed."

"Hey!" John protested. Then he said, "Well, yeah, I would have. But since we weren't running the experiment at all, we'd have been fine."

"Still waiting for that explanation," Rodney said. He looked at Dr. Weir. "I notice you didn't take advantage of our flight here to say anything like 'if we find out they're horses, let me do the talking.'"

Weir asked, "Would you have let me do the talking?"

"No, of course not," Rodney said, then turned back to the centaurs. "So? Well?"

For a moment no one said anything. Rodney glanced at each of them, but Radek knew perfectly well that it was not his job to handle this. He took another full step backwards to emphasize the fact that *John* was the one in charge. Therefore, he was the one who had to deal with Rodney. There was almost enough room now to turn and run.

John glanced over his shoulder. Radek gave him an innocent look which didn't seem to fool him. John turned the other way and looked at Carson, who just folded his arms and refused to be persuaded that he should say anything helpful. "You're the herd stallion," was all he said, as though John might need to be reminded.

"They're not exactly a *danger*," John began. But neither Carson nor Radek said a word. Radek would have preferred to go over to the jumper and retrieve his clothing, and change back into humanoid form. Not that he expected Rodney to forget what he'd seen, but at least he wouldn't feel so much like he were being stared at.

Well, of course he *was* being stared at. The two Marines might be paid to be stoic about such things, but they were still staring. Not that Radek could blame them. But he'd rather they stared at John, and possibly Carson, and not himself.

"Fine." John shifted his weight off his back left leg -- no longer prepared to break into a run. Radek noted how Rodney's attention was fully focused on John, or at least John's lower half. "So, Rodney. Not horses, by the way. We're called 'centaurs', and before you say anything about being mythological, I'd like to point out the big flying city we all live in." John gestured towards the ocean, where Atlantis could not actually be seen.

"Huh," was all Rodney said. He waved a hand at John, and Radek could practically hear the questions forming. He thought he could probably ask several of them on Rodney's behalf, if Rodney proved unable to voice them.

"Wait," Dr. Weir suddenly said. "You're the herd stallion? I thought that required... mares?"

There was a cough from Carson, and John said blithely, "We came to an understanding."

"You and Will came to an understanding," Radek said. "Me and Carson, you fuck."

John looked over his shoulder again, and Radek forced himself not to take another step -- or twenty -- backwards. There was a squeak from Rodney, which Radek was willing to ignore in favor of making sure he got away before John decided to tell him off for being cheeky.

"I didn't think American centaurs were bashful?" Radek asked, somewhat surprised at himself for being brave enough to keep teasing John as though there weren't four humans staring at them like they were imaginary.

"We aren't," John said. "But we *are* trying to make people think we're not freaks." He jerked his thumb towards the humans.

"There's nothing *wrong* with being bisexual," Carson put in, reassuringly.

"Dear god," they heard Rodney say. "Bisexual centaurs. This is not what I had planned for today."

"Look, can we focus, here?" John asked, glaring at Carson, then at Radek. Then he turned and glared at Rodney, the two Marines, and Dr. Weir.

Only the two Marines blanched. Rodney just looked impatient, and Dr. Weir raised an eyebrow. Radek heard John sigh, then, "Yes, normally being herd stallion means being in charge of a group of mares -- who are actually *obedient*. But in our case it just means I'm in charge and they defer to me."

There was a moment of silence, and Radek thought the humans were probably digesting this news. Then Carson said, "And you fuck us."

John half turned around, glaring at him. "Whose side are you on?"

Carson just grinned. Radek took advantage of John's returning his attention back to Rodney, by taking another half-step backwards. Maybe he could get behind the hill, and hide from John, Rodney, *and* Carson.

"So, okay, centaurs... bisexual, herd stallion, John's in charge -- though really, head of the military so that's pretty much nothing new." Rodney was counting on his fingers, and Radek watched closely. Whenever Rodney reached '11' he would do something different, and never anything as simple as starting over with his right forefinger. "Sleeping with Carson and Radek. Hmm. Okay we're going to come back to that one. Centaurs. Can we start over at the point where I say 'what the hell'?"

"Rodney, centaurs are real," John said.

Rodney dropped his hand and Radek sent John a very silent glare. "Oh, thank you very much. I would never have figured that one out."

"You're welcome," John replied, and Radek suspected he was grinning. From the way Rodney narrowed his eyes, Radek knew he was right.

"There's four of you, Dr. Jackson knew about this...." Rodney stopped counting again and looked from John to Elizabeth. "How did he know about it?"

Dr. Weir shrugged. "I don't know. Dr. Jackson was surprisingly reluctant to talk about it. He did get me in touch with someone who had experience with managing centaurs and humans together, but I didn't really ask them a lot of questions about other centaurs." She gestured at Carson. "I didn't even need to know about any unique health concerns. I just got some advice on how to keep them from clashing too much."

Rodney followed her look to Carson, and stared for a moment. Then he said, plaintively, "You're a *centaur*! And you never told me!"

"I'm sorry, Rodney." Carson moved forward, and Radek found he preferred this. A wall of centaur between him and everyone. "I would have told you if...well, if I'd thought you wouldn't try to haul me down to the lab and run a million experiments to see what makes me tick."

"I'm not a biologist," Rodney countered, but Radek saw the gleam that had appeared in his eyes.

Apparently Carson saw it as well. "And no, you still can't. We'll answer questions but that's all."

"Not even a quick scan with that medical analyser thingy?" Rodney asked. "Do you even know what your internal anatomy is... how the hell do you *change*?"

"Of course I know what our internal anatomy is," Carson snapped, but he sounded amused rather than irritated. "I wouldn't be a very good doctor if I didn't even know what the inside of a body looked like."

"I thought centaur docs trained as vets," John said.

"They do," Carson replied, casually. "But I took a year of equine medicine; I'm qualified to tend to centaurs as well as humans."

"Really?" John sounded interested. "I didn't know that."

"You never asked. Though I thought you knew I was capable of treating us."

"Oh, sure. I just never thought about it."

Radek saw Carson narrow his eyes. "You know, for a herd stallion, you're very--"

In that instant Radek smelled it, and he backed up, fast. Towards the hill, away from both of them and everyone and -- Carson and John were now looking at him.

"What the hell?" Rodney said again, and Radek thought he didn't really sound like he expected an answer. Radek would have happily explained that there were times you didn't want to be anywhere near a typical male centaur -- like when one stallion was giving another stallion a challenge.

Even if the two stallions were now looking at *him* in concern.

"Radek, I wasn't," Carson began. He glanced at John, and he took a step back. John seemed torn between the two of them, and Radek took another step backwards. He heard Elizabeth's voice, talking quietly.

Then John moved towards Carson, and Radek watched, every nerve in his body screaming at him to run because after the fight he was going to be next.

John stepped up to Carson, their chests practically touching. Carson tilted his head and there was an odd expression on his face. A smile, and Radek couldn't see his eyes anymore as John moved in and kissed him. His hand wrapped around the back of Carson's neck and held him, and Radek could see that Carson wasn't trying to get away.

There was another exclamation from Rodney, which both John and Carson seemed to ignore.

Radek found himself frozen in place. The smell was changing -- the adrenalin of battle rage that had barely begun, was dissipating, and the heady scent of arousal was very, very clear.

He didn't *think* they would have sex in front of the humans.

When John broke the kiss, Radek discovered that his rear right leg had unlocked enough to move. Carson smiled at John, the exact sort of smile he got every time John kissed him, or fucked him, or threw his shirt at him with orders to clean up. Radek's rear left leg unlocked, and he thought maybe he could breathe.

Then John turned to him, and Radek thought no, maybe breathing was overrated. Standing still was *utterly* overrated, but his legs weren't working again and John was walking towards him. It didn't take long for John to cross the distance and stand in front of him. Radek was vaguely aware of Carson, moving towards the humans. There was the sound of voices, and a sharp word of alarm from Rodney.

But Radek was staring at John and wondering just what the hell would happen next.

John reached up and touched his face, lightly.

"I'm sorry," Radek stammered.

"Nothing to be sorry for." John shook his head, then smiled. "For a second I thought the same thing." He leaned in and gave Radek a kiss, and Radek had just enough brain power left to think that perhaps their herd was a lot more precarious than he'd let himself realise.

Then he was just tasting John's mouth, and the smell of arousal was even thicker, and all he really wanted was John, fucking him.

John sighed, and stood outside the door for just a moment. He'd left Radek in his room, sound asleep against the wall with a blanket thrown over his back. He still wasn't fully recovered from his ordeal during the siege, and added to that an afternoon of running, then vigorous sex even by centaur standards, then an uncomfortable flight back to Atlantis, and John had practically had to carry Radek back to his room.

He'd expected to dump him on his bed, but as soon as the door had closed, Radek had roused enough to kick his boots and pants off, and changed forms. John had got him up against the wall -- wishing he could stay, but there were still a thousand and twelve things he needed to take care of.

Carson was going to be checking on him, later, and chances were he would stay the night. John fully intended to do the same, though he had no idea how late it would be before he'd get free to do so. Right now John needed to go see what, if any, damage control he could do.

He rubbed his head and tried not to think about this afternoon. Impossible, of course, but of all the things he'd been prepared to deal with -- Rodney finding out and a near-fight with Carson hadn't been among them.

When he'd sent Carson back to Atlantis with Elizabeth and the others, there had been no remaining sense of the challenge. Carson had said, over again, that he hadn't even *meant* it that way, but they all three knew what none of them were saying. Centaurs were ruled by instinct, and a herd of stallions just -- well, it should have been impossible.

It made John feel a little better about the fact he felt completely in over his head.

He pushed away from the wall and started walking. Brooding about it wouldn't get anything done.

He found Rodney in his office, affectionately known as 'What do you want?' Where there should have been a name plaque on the desk, was a sign that said exactly that -- John suspected that Rodney didn't get many people popping in for a quick meeting.

He walked in and sat down in the chair Rodney left because it made a good flat surface to store things on, and propped his feet on Rodney's desk. Rodney looked at him, his expression a mix of all the things John rather expected. Irritation was winning out over curiosity.

"Did Carson answer your questions?"

"Yes," Rodney nodded quickly, and turned back to his laptop. "Elizabeth wrote everything down, questions, answers, and we're posting it to the servers. Since you said there was no point in trying to keep it a secret, and anyone who was vetted to come to Atlantis in the first place had security clearance to know about centaurs."

"I remember the conversation," John said, dryly.

"Fine, excuse me Mister Perfect Memory. Some of us are still trying to deal with the fact their best friends aren't *human*." Rodney gave him a glare that John knew was all about the fact Rodney was sulking over being left out of the secret, and not because of any... species racism.

"Sorry." John tried to make it sound as sincere as he could, because he did understand where Rodney was coming from. He'd hoped that foisting Carson off on him for the flight back would have helped mollify him, getting his curiosity satisfied while John made sure Radek remembered just who belonged to whom.

Although really, John had wanted to do that to Carson -- but that would have to wait until everything else was taken care of. Radek... John didn't like thinking about the scent of fear. Seeing Radek watching him, too scared to even run--

John pushed that aside as hopefully dealt with. As much as possible at any rate, without magically turning his stallions into actual mares. He focused back on Rodney, who was staring at his laptop screen, reading. "Did you still want to know something?" John dreaded asking, but if he didn't do this *now*, he'd have Rodney pestering him for months as things occurred to him.

Rodney kept reading for a moment, then he leaned back in his chair. "I have no idea. I mean yes, yes of course I have a million questions -- but mostly... I have no idea." He stopped and looked at John. Direct, piercing, and John would have felt uncomfortable if he weren't able to get on his headset and request a unit of Marines to come extract him.

"I really am sorry we didn't tell you," John said again. "Nothing personal. I just didn't think we'd have to tell *anyone*."

Rodney waved him off. "No, no, I get that. Big secrets, I'm used to. Not used to not knowing about them, but still, I get it. Carson... he explained it pretty well."

"So what's bothering you?"

Rodney glanced away, looked back at him, and said, "I--"

Then stopped.

John waited. Rodney looked uncomfortable, fiddled with a pen on his desk, and tapped idly on the keyboard of his computer.

John waited some more.

"It--" Rodney started, then he sighed, and John thought from the air of defeat he'd decided to give in and just say it. But instead Rodney just shook his head. "It's nothing."

"Is it about the fact it really turned you on to see me kissing Carson and Radek?"

Because John had smelled that, along with everything else. Carson, Radek, and Rodney, all mixing together until John was pretty sure that if he hadn't had a perfect memory, he'd have completely lost track of who was doing what to whom. Or wanted to.

Rodney glared at him, jaw clenched and John asked quickly, and gently as he could, "Because the only thing I don't know is which one of us you want."

"That's the *only* thing you don't know?" Rodney snapped.

"Well, there's a lot I don't know. Never studied economics, so that's a whole field of things I'm clueless about. But *this* thing I don't know is the only thing that I can figure would stop you from pestering me with more of your questions. No, it doesn't hurt to change, by the way."

"How the hell did you--" Rodney stopped, then deflated, again. "Does it matter? Carson explained *that* part clearly enough. You own them all, and as humans we get to... pretend we're not in your herd because otherwise it makes us cranky. Except for the Marines who are always cranky, anyway."

"Rodney," John said, leaning forward. "This whole herd thing is..." He sighed. "A lot more fragile than it looks. If there's something you *want*, then maybe... we can arrange it without anybody wanting to kill anybody else."

"I'm not a centaur."

"I noticed. But in case it's escaping your attention, we do have a human form. Makes us pretty compatible with humans, when it comes to having sex. There's even some half human, half centaurs running around out there -- back on Earth, I mean."

Rodney blinked. "We can interbreed?"

"Not you and me, no." John smirked as Rodney rolled his eyes. "But humans and centaurs can, yes."

"I'm not pining for one of you if that's what you mean," Rodney answered, and John wasn't completely sure he believed him.

But he grinned. "Then you're just turned on by all of us?"

"I--" Rodney stopped, and there was that scent again. John smiled. Rodney just kept gaping at him, so John thought that perhaps there was a better way to get the answer to his question.

He stood up and walked around Rodney's desk. Rodney gaped up at him, jaw moving slowly up and down and he made absolutely no move to get away, or kick John where it mattered.

John put his foot out and pushed against Rodney's chair, turning him just a little, until Rodney was facing him. Still no effort to get away, and -- perhaps most telling -- he wasn't trying to say a word. John leaned down and stopped, just an inch away from Rodney's mouth.

"Am I supposed to tell you to kiss me already?" Rodney asked. "Because I thought at this point it was pretty obvious--"

John kissed him. Slid down to sit on Rodney's lap, very glad the chair didn't have arms. John pressed himself closer, opening his mouth and pushing his tongue inside. The smell of him was strong -- not as strong as a centaur but undeniably there, thick and heavy. He pushed himself closer, rubbing his groin against Rodney's stomach, wishing that one of them had thought to get naked before starting this kiss.

He could feel hands on his shirt, not tugging but gripping tightly, and there was a soft moan. John kissed him harder, then broke away and began kissing his jaw, then biting at the soft skin just at the curve of his neck.

Rodney was saying something, but John only heard the word 'door' and 'clothes' so he paid them no attention. He pushed his hands up under Rodney's shirt and moved in for another kiss.

"Crap, I thought he was... okay, the brain thing? Is really going to be inconvenient," Rodney said, words coming in clearly as Rodney pulled away from John. John looked at him, confused. Rodney shook his head. "Never mind. Let me lock the door then we can get back to what we were doing."

John stumbled backwards to his feet as Rodney gave him a shove, then he stood up and walked away. John followed, taking the time to yank off his shirt and pull at his boots. When Rodney came back, John grabbed onto him again and went right back to where he'd left off.

There was a very distinctive groan, then hands were at his waistband, and John thought that maybe the day wasn't really going too badly, after all.

Then his brain finished shutting down.

Carson looked up as the door to Radek's room opened. It was locked against any but the four centaurs -- though now he supposed that security was no longer quite needed. He frowned as John came in, stopping just inside the door. He was nervous, fidgeting with something in his hands.

Carson carefully moved away from Radek, not wanting to wake him. Radek just leaned towards the wall again, and Carson changed forms.

"Is there something wrong?" he asked, though he knew for a fact that there was.

John sighed. "Well, the good news is, Rodney's now a part of the herd. Or maybe that's the bad news. I can't tell anymore." He walked over and sat on Radek's bed, never quite looking up at Carson.

"That's good news," Carson said, going over to join him. "He's never happy being on the outside of things. Always wants to be in the center of the action."

John smirked. "Unless the action involves combat."

"Aye, but he does that fairly often, as well. Despite what he says about being too valuable to risk." Carson smiled.

"Yeah." John sat silently for a moment, then when Carson thought he might have to prod him, he said, "I have no idea what I'm going to do."

"About Rodney?"

"About any of this." John looked up, his eyes dark with confusion. "You, Radek, Rodney... hell, I don't even know what I'm going to do about Elizabeth."

"Well, she should be easy -- she's known all along, right? And it's never been a problem. So whatever you're doing... works."

"I'm not doing anything. I let her deal with her stuff, and I deal with the military stuff, and when we disagree we fight about it and one of us gets yelled at for being wrong."

Carson shrugged. "Like I said. It works."

There was a soft noise that might have been a laugh. "All right. So, nothing changes with Elizabeth. But.... You and I both know we came really close, today, to something... bad."

Carson took a deep breath. He'd been thinking about it ever since John had sent him back to Atlantis. It had made sense -- John had had Radek to deal with, and someone had to get Rodney and the others out of sight before the fucking started, if only for the sake of the humans' sensibilities.

But he couldn't deny that he'd felt disappointed, and a little bit concerned.

Carefully, he moved his hand towards John's. John wrapped his fingers around his, then wove them together and held on. "I truly didn't mean anything by what I said. I wasn't thinking of a challenge, wasn't even thinking about actually calling your judgment into question. I did accept you as my herd stallion. I still do. I've no desire to fight with you, or leave your herd."

He looked up and found John watching him. His eyes were now unreadable, and his scent was nearly undetectable.

"I am so sorry I scared Radek," he added, glancing over at Radek's sleeping form. "He's not the type to fight. He's never said so, but I imagine any stallion who bothered to challenge him..."

"He would have submitted, instead of fight," John said. "It's a good thing that usually stallions don't find centaurs like him to be a threat in the first place." Carson looked at him, and John smiled, briefly. "It's good because then he wouldn't be here. Mine."

Carson laughed, quietly. "As though there were ever any doubt how you felt about him."

"There was, though." John looked at Radek. "He thought... he expected that whichever of us won, would go after him."

"And had it been you, you would have simply claimed him. As he's already yours." Carson continued, as nonchalantly as he could, "If I'd been insane enough to decide to fight you, and actually won, I would have done the same thing. I could never fight him."

He knew he was treading on dangerous ground, here. His words could too easily be construed as a threat -- coveting a centaur owned by another stallion. But it was important for John to know that Radek would never be in danger from him.

He could feel John tense, briefly, but he never let go of Carson's hand. "Thanks," John finally said.

"I don't intend on ever fighting you, of course," Carson said, lightly. "Not just because I'm fairly sure I'd lose. But I like--" He stopped, and tried to figure out just exactly what it was he wanted to say.

John smirked, smug with bravado. "Everyone likes me."

Carson rolled his eyes, and reached over with his free hand and poked him in the side. "Yes, John, you're handsome and sexy and charming. Anyone with a brain would be happy to fall at your feet. That isn't what I was going to say."

"Oh?" He started to pout, and Carson resisted the urge to kiss him.

"I was going to say, I like your being the herd stallion. I like being in your herd. Even if.. well, back home I might have formed my own, eventually. Human, though, I expect -- I don't think I'd have wanted to give up my work, to go manage a herd of mares." He hadn't had much option, of course, back in Scotland. Only one herd left in the entire island, and the herd stallion was a young lad of 20, and not like to lose a fight to one such as himself.

John didn't said anything as Carson fell silent. After a moment, he looked over to find John staring, wide-eyed.

"Oh," he said again. "Um. Thanks."

Carson leaned over and gave him a very chaste kiss on the cheek. "You're doing fine, John. We'd not be submitting to you if you weren't."

"And we'd be fighting over who got Atlantis," John scowled.

"I think the city is large enough, the four of us could manage to stay out of each other's way without killing each other." Carson wasn't entirely sure how smoothly things would go, if that were the case. But it *was* possible. And the point was - they hadn't even really wanted to try.

From the look on John's face, it seemed like he was just figuring that out as well. Carson just let him, and finally John sighed. "Are you sure I'm the best choice? I feel like I'm always the last to figure any of this stuff out."

"I'm sure," Carson said, and he stood up. He kept hold of John's hand, and gave it a tug. "Come on, then, and let's get some sleep. Tomorrow you'll have Rodney to deal with, and no doubt a hundred people will be badgering each of us with nosy and personal questions."

John gave him a pained look, which Carson ignored. He suspected John was thinking of scheduling a test flight in one of the puddle jumpers -- and leaving himself and Radek behind. He couldn't very well forbid it, but he could avoid mentioning it in case John *hadn't* thought of it yet.

"Come on, get your clothes off." Carson changed forms, and took a step towards Radek, giving John's hand on last tug, then letting him go.

"You sure are bossy," John said, but he was smiling.

"I'm your alpha mare, John. I get to boss you around as much as I like." Carson grinned and slipped quickly between Radek and the wall.

John stood there, sputtering at him. Then he just got undressed and changed. He gave Carson a glare as he settled in against Radek. Radek shifted towards him, resting his head on John's shoulder.

"There is a park we can use," Radek said, very clearly -- as though he hadn't been asleep at all. "I found it on the city's map. No more flying to the mainland."

"See?" Carson said. "I knew it would be better if they all found out."

He laughed at the scowl on John's face, then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

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