“Why do people kiss?”
AR-6 was sitting at their usual table in the mess hall when Rocky asked the question out of the blue.
Jinwoo spluttered and choked on his rice.
“What?” Sanha asked.
Myungjun pounded on Jinwoo’s back and handed him his glass of water.
“You know, in dramas, when two people press their mouths together,” Rocky said. “Kissing.” He added, in careful Korean, “Bbo-bbo.”
“Yes, I know what kissing is,” Jinwoo said, faster than he’d ever before responded to anything but a sharp order. “But...do your people not kiss? On Aroha?”
Besides two of the medical personnel, Bin was the only person on Atlantis who knew that Rocky wasn’t fully human. He probably knew more about Aroha, Rocky’s home planet, than anyone else. He hadn’t known they didn’t kiss.
“Obviously not, if he asked about kissing,” Myungjun said reasonably.
Bin supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised.
Rocky said, “Teyla and the Athosians press their foreheads together in greeting or parting to symbolize a meeting of the minds and hearts. Earthers shake hands to show they are unarmed, although if one is left-handed, shaking right hands is less of an assurance of safety. Koreans bow to people in respect. What does a kiss mean?”
“Kissing isn’t a greeting,” Jinwoo said finally.
“Well, it can be, in France or some Arabic or South American cultures,” Myungjun said.
Jinwoo swatted him on the shoulder. “Stop hanging around the anthropologists. And stop confusing Rocky.”
Sanha said, “Kissing is fun.”
Bin snorted. “As if you’ve ever kissed anyone.”
Sanha had enlisted in the Air Force straight out of high school.
“In dramas, people kiss when they like each other,” Myungjun offered.
Rocky considered. “None of you ever kiss me, or kiss each other. Except Myungjun-hyung kisses Doctor Dongmin sometimes. But you all like each other, don’t you? And me.”
“We do like you,” Jinwoo said, “but people who kiss each other like each other differently.”
Rocky tilted his head. “How so?”
Sanha, the little gremlin, started to say with much condescension, “Well, when two people love each other very much, they kiss and make —”
Myungjun cuffed him round the head. “Aish, don’t be like that. Don’t listen to him, Rocky. It’s okay if your parents didn’t kiss. That doesn’t mean they didn’t love each other.”
Rocky said, “I don’t have parents.”
Everyone else at the table winced, and Sanha said, “Sorry, hyung. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”
Rocky just shrugged, and Bin remembered how Rocky had told Bin that he was only half human. His other half was an unnamed alien species that was considered a special type of food for the Wraith. What if Rocky hadn’t been born like a regular human, had been…made? Or grown, or something? Since the alien species he belonged to was apparently very much like flowers.
Bin wanted to see Rocky with pink hair again.
“Why is kissing fun?” Rocky asked. “It looks awkward.”
“Well, the way they usually kiss on dramas is really awkward,” Myungjun said. “People don’t really kiss like that in real life.”
“Then how do they kiss?” Rocky asked. “Can you show me?”
It was Myungjun’s turn to blink. “As in — you want me to kiss one of the others to show you? Right now? In the middle of the mess hall?”
“Is it wrong to kiss in public? Is that what’s wrong with dramas? Nurse Marie says a lot of what goes on in movies and dramas isn’t very realistic to Earth life,” Rocky said. “That they’re how people wish life would be.”
“Sort of,” Bin hedged, because while he was doing something very unrealistic compared to life on Earth, living in a distant galaxy and fighting aliens who sucked the life force out of humans through the weird gash on their right palms, he also wouldn’t wish TV drama on himself or anyone else.
“Well, some people are more comfortable with kissing in public than others,” Myungjun said, “but really the big thing is that you only kiss people you care about a certain way. People you love.”
“But people in dramas who don’t like each other kiss each other,” Rocky said. “Like to make someone stop talking or to distract them or someone else watching them or following them.”
Jinwoo sighed and fixed Sanha with a pointed look. “Whose idea was it to introduce Rocky to dramas?”
“He’s on our team. It’s not fair for him to be left out of movie night,” Sanha protested.
“Well, that’s just in dramas,” Myungjun said. “In real life, people only kiss people they love.”
“Or want to hook up with,” Sanha said.
Jinwoo kicked him under the table. “Yah! Stop helping.”
Sanha pouted and leaned over to rub his ankle.
“What do you mean, love?” Rocky asked.
The others stared at him with deep pity, remembering that he’d spent four years as a Runner and before that his life on Aroha had been unknown, but apparently without parents, and therefore probably loveless.
Only Bin considered that maybe Rocky’s incomprehension of emotions was because he was only half human.
Myungjun fumbled to explain. “Love is when you care about someone a lot.”
“I care about all of you a lot,” Rocky said. “Do I love you?”
“Maybe,” Jinwoo said. “But loving someone and being in love with them is different.”
“How?” Rocky pressed.
He was like a toddler constantly asking why, and Bin should have been frustrated, but he wished he could help Rocky understand humans better. He was half human, after all.
“When you’re in love with someone, you want to have sex with them,” Sanha said.
“Usually,” Myungjun added. “Not everyone wants sex.”
Rocky blinked. “What’s sex?”
The others stared at him.
“You really don’t know what sex is?” Sanha asked, eyes huge.
“He was seventeen when he became a Runner,” Jinwoo said. “Were you having sex when you were seventeen?”
“Of course not,” Sanha said. “But I knew what it was when I was seventeen.”
“From watching perverted anime, I’ll bet,” Myungjun said, and Sanha protested.
Bin wanted to ask Rocky how, exactly, his species reproduced, but that would involve talking about the fact that Rocky’s species was different, so he bit his lip.
“You can be in love with someone without wanting to have sex with them,” Jinwoo said. “But leaving aside the question of sex, well, when you’re in love with someone, you want to be with them all the time. Yes, everyone needs their space once in a while, but you want to be with the person all the time pretty much.”
Rocky said, “I want to be with all of you all the time. Unless I’m sunbathing.”
“Right, because we’re friends, but it’s not the same,” Jinwoo said. “Hyung, help?”
Myungjun said, “When you’re in love with someone, you want them to be happy no matter what, even if it means you’re unhappy.”
“I want all of you to be happy,” Rocky said, and he still looked confused.
“Right, but does your whole body feel warm and light when you see one of us smile? Like our smiles are the most beautiful thing in the world?” Myungjun asked.
Bin considered. Could Rocky be in love with all of them? Not all species were monogamous. In fact, few in the animal kingdom were. And flowers just kind of bred indiscriminately, right? With whichever other plants were near.
“Well, that could also be a friend thing,” Sanha said. “But when you’re in love with someone, you’d die to protect them.”
“I’d die to protect any one of you, and kill for you,” Rocky said fervently.
Bin winced. That kind of fervor was a bit frightening, but also not unheard of between comrades-in-arms. Where Rocky had been raised to be a Runner to protect his home planet, his sense of loyalty and protectiveness was probably off the charts compared to most soldiers.
“That’s very sweet, and we’d die for you too, because we’re a team,” Jinwoo began.
“Does this mean we’re in love with each other?” Rocky asked.
Jinwoo shook his head quickly. “No. It’s — there’s more to it.”
“Do we have to be in love with each other to kiss?” Rocky asked. “Sanha says it’s fun. I want to have fun.”
Myungjun laughed. “I’m sure there are plenty of female personnel on this base who’d love to have fun with you.”
“Why does it have to be only female personnel?” Rocky asked. “I know you kiss Doctor Dongmin.”
That Myungjun was dating his only Korean compatriot in the science department wasn’t a secret, but also something Myungjun didn’t talk about much, because he was very private, and so was Dr. Lee, his boyfriend.
“True,” Myungjun said. “But your first kiss shouldn’t just be for fun. It should be with someone you care about a lot.”
“We all care about each other a lot. Couldn’t one of you kiss me? Just to teach me.”
Jinwoo, Sanha, and Bin exchanged looks. Myungjun and Dr. Lee were civilians, could date whoever they wanted, and a lot of military personnel from other countries also had no dating restrictions, but the Korean military wasn’t like that.
Then Jinwoo said, “While I do care about you, and also I don’t mind kissing other men, I have a girlfriend back home, and if I kissed someone else, I’d be cheating on her, and I’m not the kind of man who cheats.”
Myungjun didn’t look surprised by Jinwoo’s disclosure that he was bisexual, but Sanha’s eyebrows looked ready to disappear off his forehead.
“I only like girls,” Sanha said. “I don’t have a girlfriend back home, but I don’t like kissing boys. Sorry.”
Rocky looked at Bin. “What about you, hyung?”
“Me?” Bin echoed, and winced when his voice cracked. “Ah — let’s talk about this after dinner, shall we?”
Rocky nodded and resumed shoveling rice and pork into his mouth.
Bin felt a weight on his chest lift, a weight he hadn’t even realized was there.
Talk turned to their next mission, which was recon on an uninhabited planet that had some interesting plant life. Having a botanist on the team meant that their missions tended to be more research-based and less combat-based — not that they hadn’t gotten into a skirmish on the planet with the chocolate trees that one time — and Bin didn’t mind that they didn’t see action like some of the senior teams, like Colonel Sheppard’s AR-1 and Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne’s AR-3 and Major Benjamin’s AR-7 and Major Teldy’s AR-11.
The whole time, though, Bin could feel Rocky’s gaze on him.
One of the nice things about being, well, Korean, was that they all finished their meals at the same time, and they drifted to the tray return line together before they scattered to their respective duties and responsibilities for the evening. Because the entire time Bin had been eating, he could feel Rocky’s eyes on him, and as they walked to the tray return line, he was hyperaware of Rocky just behind his left shoulder, like a faithful retainer.
But Rocky was waiting to get Bin alone.
Myungjun headed back to the labs to get started on his report from their previous mission — he was analyzing botany samples under Dr. Parrish’s guidance — and spend time with Dr. Lee. Where Dr. Lee wasn’t on a gate team, he was welcome to eat with AR-6 whenever he chose, but he tended to work through meals, and Myungjun had to bring him food to make sure he ate.
Jinwoo headed back to the team office to get started on his mission report.
Sanha was off to a video game tournament with a bunch of Marines, and he departed with a cheery wave.
Leaving Bin alone with Rocky.
Traitors, all of them.
Bin didn’t have any responsibilities or appointments, since he’d finished writing his report earlier; as he wasn’t the team commander his report didn’t have to be as long and detailed as Jinwoo’s. Rocky always dictated his mission reports into a little hand recorder even though he was much better at reading and writing English these days, and had even started learning a little Korean. As a result, he was always finished with his mission reports first.
But then he wasn’t very talkative anyway.
So Bin headed for his own quarters, and Rocky stayed on his heels, not saying a word.
As soon as they reached Bin’s quarters, they both kicked off their shoes.
“So you’ll kiss me?” Rocky asked as soon as the door slid shut.
Bin face-palmed. “Look, it’s not that simple. You don’t just kiss someone.”
“That’s how it happens in dramas.”
“You know dramas aren’t real.”
“Myungjun-hyung just kisses Doctor Dongmin sometimes. In the lab. Or in the corridors. Or during movie nights,” Rocky said.
Dr. Lee was always welcome at movie nights. Nurse Marie also sometimes came to movie nights when they watched new episodes of a drama she liked.
“Hyung and Dr. Lee are dating,” Bin said.
“So do we have to date before we kiss?” Rocky asked. “We can date.”
Bin wanted to bang his head against the wall. Rocky looked utterly earnest and sincere, but he really had no idea what he was asking.
“Do you even want to date me?” Bin asked finally.
“Aren’t we already dating? We watch movies and dramas together, we have meals together, when we’re not working we spend time together,” Rocky said. “Like Myungjun-hyung and Doctor Dongmin. Since Jinwoo is already dating someone, obviously he’s not dating any of us, and since Sanha doesn’t like kissing boys he wouldn’t be dating any of us. But we’re dating, right? You and me?”
“Have you been thinking that this whole time? That all five of us are dating?” Bin stared at him.
“Well, not Myungjun-hyung, obviously,” Rocky said.
Bin opened his mouth to tell Rocky that five people couldn’t date each other, but maybe there wasn’t a social taboo against that kind of thing where Rocky came from. Although he didn’t know anything about dating, so was dating even a thing on Aroha?
“Look, no, we weren’t all just dating. People have to agree to date before they start dating, and then they also go on dates,” Bin said.
“Go on dates?” Rocky asked.
Bin flopped back on his bed with a groan. “Yes, go on dates.”
“What’s going on dates?”
“Back on Earth, it might mean going to dinner and a movie together, just the two of you, or maybe going for a nice walk along the river, or going to a museum, or on a nice drive, or to a concert,” Bin said. “We don’t really have any of that here.”
“Ah, when Myungjun-hyung hangs out with just Doctor Dongmin?”
Rocky perched on the edge of the bed beside Bin, and Bin felt heat prickle under his skin.
It wasn’t as if Rocky had never been in his quarters before, sat on his bed since standard military quarters didn’t really come with guest furniture.
It wasn’t as if Bin had never seen Rocky naked before.
So why did he feel so shy and nervous?
“Yes, like that,” Bin said.
“Oh. Well, I’ve hung out with just Sanha and just Jinwoo and just you too,” Rocky said reasonably.
Bin considered grabbing his pillow and screaming into it, but that might startle Rocky and make him think Bin was angry.
He wasn’t, but he was frustrated and a little embarrassed.
“But did you agree that it was a date? If not, it wasn’t a date,” Bin said.
Rocky cocked his head, expression distant, thoughtful. Then he turned to Bin. “Will you go dating with me?”
“Go on a date,” Bin corrected absently. He sat up and looked at Rocky. “Listen, you should date someone you care about. Don’t just ask someone out on a date so you can kiss them. Most people don’t kiss on the first date anyway.”
“I care about you,” Rocky said. “Didn’t you hear me at dinner? I’d die for you. I want you to be happy. I feel happy when you smile. Don’t you care about me?”
“I do care about you,” Bin said, “but not how you should be cared about by the person you kiss.”
“Why not?” Rocky asked. Then he blinked. “Ah, are you like Sanha? You only like girls?”
“No, I’m like Jinwoo. I like boys or girls or whatever,” Bin said.
“Or whatever?” Rocky frowned. “I thought humans only had two sexes? Or are some of you bisexual?”
“Are some of us what now?” Bin asked. He had the sense that Rocky didn’t mean bisexual as an orientation.
“You know, both male and female parts,” Rocky said.
“Well, some humans are like that, but it’s very rare,” Bin said slowly. “Um, bisexual doesn’t mean both male and female parts on Earth.”
“What does it mean?”
“Someone like me or Jinwoo, who likes both boys and girls,” Bin said.
Rocky’s expression turned thoughtful. “Okay. I’ll remember that.” Then he added, “Dr. Keller did say most humans are monosexual. But then humans aren’t dioecious or monoecious, right?”
Bin had no idea what that meant but he figured Dr. Keller knew her stuff, so he nodded.
Then it occurred to him. “What are you? If it’s not too personal.” Sure he’d seen Rocky naked before, but he hadn’t exactly looked very closely, because manners.
“Oh, I’m monosexual,” Rocky said with an easy shrug. “Most half-breeds are, I guess because most humans are? Most full-breeds are bisexual, though.”
“Did you grow up around a lot of humans?” Bin asked.
Rocky shook his head. “No, all my trainers were half-breeds. Our caregivers were full-breeds, though.”
“If it’s not too personal, how are new, uh, half-breeds made?” Bin asked.
“We’re grown, same as full-breeds,” Rocky said. “We sleep in the ground in our seed-casings till we’re big enough to stand up and walk around. How are humans made? I only ever saw full-grown humans on Aroha, and very rarely. They’d come to donate pollen and eggs and then leave. I saw human children, sometimes, when I was Running, but they were all big enough to have left their seed-casings.”
“Sex,” Bin said. “Sex is how humans are made.”
“But…how?” Rocky asked. “Sex just…is. Sex isn’t an action, people just are a sex. Unless you just produce spores on your own?”
“Well, sex can also mean an action.”
Bin stared at him. “I — I am not equipped to handle this discussion. Maybe you should ask Dr. Keller. Or Nurse Marie.”
“Why not? You know what sex is,” Rocky said. “Unless it’s something they don’t teach you till you’re ready to reproduce? Only Sanha knows what sex is, and I don’t think he’s ready to reproduce. Is he? Does he have sprouts back on Earth?”
“Surely in all your time as a Runner you talked to humans and learned about…human things,” Bin said.
Rocky just looked at him.
Right. A Runner who talked to humans or befriended them brought the Wraith down on them. Wraith had obliterated the populations of entire planets for daring to help a Runner.
“Runners run,” Rocky said flatly. “Look, if you don’t want to talk about sex and kissing, that’s fine. I’m sure someone else will teach me. Maybe Doctor Dongmin can recommend someone. Or I could ask a female, right? Sanha said a female would be willing to help.”
He rose up and headed for the door.
Blunt Rocky approaching a random woman and asking for a date, kissing, and then a lesson about sex would be an utter disaster.
Bin jumped up, caught Rocky’s wrist.
“Okay, listen, I’ll teach you about kissing. And maybe — maybe later, after I’ve had a talk with the others, we can talk about sex. But I want you to understand that, besides this lesson, since things are different for you, kissing should be between people who care about each other.”
He wasn’t going to teach Rocky about hooking up for fun till later.
For all that Rocky could behead a Wraith with nary a blink, there was apparently so much he didn’t know, and Bin thought he deserved to retain some innocence and see some kindness in the world.
Not that consenting partners in a hook-up couldn’t be kind to each other, but seeing how Rocky just went all-in with everything he did, he probably wouldn’t handle the temporariness of it all very well.
Or would he?
Since he’d been a Runner for years and never had anything permanent.
“Shouldn’t we go out on a date first?” Rocky asked. “At least two. Since we’re not supposed to kiss on the first date.”
“Look, if you don’t want to date me, if you just want to know about kissing, we can skip the dating,” Bin said. “Just this one time. But in future, with someone you like and maybe want to kiss, don’t skip the dating.”
“But I do like you,” Rocky protested. “So I shouldn’t skip on the dates, right? That wouldn’t be very nice to you.”
“But you aren’t in love with me, right?” Bin asked. Not that people who dated had to necessarily be in love, often weren’t at first.
Rocky turned to him, stepped closer. “I don’t know what that means. But I would die for you, and I would kill for you, and I want you to be happy all the time, and safe, and never hurt.”
Bin closed his eyes and sighed. He wished he could hear that from Rocky and know that Rocky meant it in a way beyond comrades-in-arms. “But you feel that way about Sanha and Jinwoo-hyung and Myungjun-hyung too.”
He opened his eyes, and Rocky was standing right in front of him, so close Bin could count his eyelashes.
Rocky’s dark eyes were bright with fervor. “But none of them know what I really am, and none of them like my hair when it’s pink, and none of them are you,” he said.
Oh. Maybe Rocky understood more about being in love than Bin had realized.
But did Bin like Rocky back?
Bin liked Rocky enough to not string him along, to make sure that his first kissing experience was a kind one.
He reached out, grasped Rocky’s shoulders, and looked him in the eye.
“Let’s take some time and figure out how you really feel about me,” he said. “And it’ll give me time to figure out how best to teach you about this aspect of human culture, okay? You’re my friend, and I agree with Myungjun — your first kiss should be special. Kisses mean something special, and I know you’re curious, but you shouldn’t waste your first kiss on mere curiosity.”
“Sanha said kisses are fun,” Rocky pointed out. “We can have fun together because we’re friends.”
Bin took a deep breath. “Because I’m your friend, I care about you. I realize you don’t understand the big deal about kissing, but please trust me. You know I wouldn’t hurt you.”
Rocky studied him for a long moment, then nodded. “All right. Thanks, hyung.”
Bin couldn’t resist reaching out to ruffle Rocky’s hair fondly. Under his fingers, it turned fox-red.
Rocky smiled up at him briefly, showing off his dimples. Then his hair turned black again, and Bin let his hand fall to his side.
“See you later, hyung.” Rocky ducked out of Bin’s quarters, pausing to toe on his shoes as he went, and then he vanished from sight when the door slid closed.
Bin flopped back on his bed again. What the hell was he thinking? Was he really going to kiss Rocky just because the boy was curious?
No. Rocky deserved better than that. And Bin deserved better than that, too, because Rocky was his friend and teammate and comrade-in-arms, and they had to work together and trust each other.
Bin needed help. He couldn’t ask any of the rest of AR-6, though, because as far as they were concerned, Rocky was a regular human, albeit with a tragic past that had probably left him socially and emotionally stunted. Bin needed someone else. An expert.
“Noona.” Bin poked his head into the nurses’ lounge.
Nurse Marie Ko was one of the longest-running members of the Atlantis Expedition, had been part of the staff and crew since before the big landing in San Francisco Bay, and she was almost an institution unto herself.
Marie looked up from the crossword puzzle book she was working on, smiled. “Binnie. What can I do for you?” She responded in Korean, for which Bin was glad.
“Can I talk to you for a bit? It’s about Rocky.”
Marie closed her book and set it aside, sat up straighter. “Is something wrong with him?”
“Ah, no, but — besides Dr. Keller, I think you’re the only person who knows he’s not fully human, right?” Bin kept his voice low even though he was still speaking Korean.
The other nurses on duty only glanced at them briefly.
Marie stood up, beckoned to Bin, and he followed her out of the lounge, out of the infirmary and down the hall, out a door and onto a deserted balcony overlooking the west pier.
“How did you find out?” she asked. “No one is supposed to know. Only me and Dr. Keller.”
“Ah, it was after he got fed on by that Wraith, a few months back. I walked in on him sunbathing — feeding on sunlight — and I saw his hair change color,” Bin said. “He’s told me a bit about it, since. I’m helping him keep his secret. I understand why it’s so important.”
Marie’s expression turned relieved. “Oh. Okay. Is something wrong with him?”
“It’s just — I figure you know more about him being part-alien than the rest of us, right? Because we’re having a bit of a…cultural miscommunication,” Bin said.
Now Marie looked amused. “Oh? And you think I can help?”
“It’s just — how much about Rocky’s species do you know? Like…his intelligence and stuff.”
“We did some basic IQ testing on him for his initial evaluation to be admitted to Atlantis as personnel and for assessment for placement on a gate team, and I’d say he’s above average intelligence. Why?”
“What about his emotional intelligence?” Bin asked.
“Well, given the trauma he’s been through, he’s remarkably resilient. I think he’s naturally reserved as part of his temperament,” Marie said. “What’s going on? You seem very nervous.”
“Yesterday Rocky asked us about kissing,” Bin said. “Admittedly, Sanha was being a gremlin and saying unhelpful stuff, but Rocky clearly doesn’t understand the boundaries between romance and friendship and also basic human sexuality, and I’m…concerned. For him. In case he does something really offensive and inappropriate, or someone tries to take advantage of him.”
“What makes you question his emotional intelligence?” Marie asked.
Bin recounted the conversations he and the rest of his teammates had had with Rocky, how he was confused about dating versus friendship.
“That could just be a cultural thing,” Marie said. “After all, the way Korean people are close seems very strange to Americans. You’d never see Colonel Sheppard scrubbing Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne’s back at a public bath, but you know they’re very good friends.”
“True,” Bin conceded. “But I think maybe Rocky doesn’t understand because his people don’t have sex.”
Marie’s eyebrows flew upwards. “What?”
“You mean you didn’t know?”
Bin explained to her as best as he could what Rocky had told her about he’d been grown in the ground basically like a giant seed and then as a plant.
Marie stared at him. “He told you that?”
“I’ve never heard anything like that. I mean…I’m sure it’s possible. He wouldn’t make something like that up. He won’t lie, but he will refuse to tell people the truth,” Marie said.
“He’s lying about being human,” Bin pointed out.
“Has he ever said he was human? Or just let everyone assume?” Marie asked.
Bin thought back. “That second option.”
Marie nodded, but she sank against the railing, her gaze going distant. “I don’t know what to tell you, Binnie. If his species doesn’t have sex, then kissing is probably not part of their social interaction. He may not even enjoy it. In a sense he’s probably asexual.”
“But…I’ve seen him naked. He has…you know…” Bin fumbled, blushing, remembering that Marie was a woman.
She rolled her eyes at him. “I’m a nurse. I’ve seen it all and then some. And I know. I’ve seen Rocky naked, for his medical checks.”
“But if his species doesn’t have sex, why does he have human, um, parts?”
“You’d have to ask a scientist that, a botanist or someone else,” Marie said.
“Except no one knows what he really is,” Bin reminded her.
“What should I do about his curiosity about kissing?”
Marie eyed him. “Seems to me like you care more about Rocky kissing than you’d like to admit.”
Bin blinked. “Me?”
“Come on, Binnie. You’re bi. You’re single. If you didn’t care about Rocky kissing people, you’d kiss him yourself, or introduce him to someone who’d pop his cherry, so to speak.”
Bin’s face flamed. “Noona!”
“Look, you and I both know K-dramas aren’t real. You’re no K-drama leading man, all uptight and virtuous and doling out awkward lip-presses,” Marie said easily. She seemed amused that Bin was embarrassed. “But you have feelings.”
“You do. About Rocky’s feelings. And kissing him.”
Bin shook his head, straightened up. “No. I’m just concerned about Rocky, as a friend.”
Marie arched an eyebrow. “Seems like Rocky’s not the only one confused about the difference between friends and more than friends.” She patted Bin on the shoulder. “Once you figure out what’s up with you, you’ll figure out what to do with Rocky. My break is over. Gotta go.”
She waved a hand at the balcony doors, and they slid open, and she headed inside.
Bin watched her go, flabbergasted.
What the hell?
He didn’t have feelings for Rocky. Rocky was his teammate, his friend, his dongsaeng. He’d been through a lot. It was totally natural for Bin to be protective of him. It wasn’t as if Rocky had never protected him, after all.
Bin turned and stared out at the serene seas of New Lantea, at the white-capped waves and the golden sunlight glittering on the deep blue surface, and wondered.
How did he feel about Rocky?
What did it matter who Rocky kissed, so long as he was polite about it, as long as both participants understood it was for science and not for something else?
He remembered what Rocky had said to him the night before.
“But none of them know what I really am, and none of them like my hair when it’s pink, and none of them are you.”
What had Rocky meant by that? And none of them are you.
Of course Rocky acknowledged that every one of his team members was different and unique.
Did he mean he felt differently about Bin than he felt about the rest of their teammates?
Bin growled and rubbed at his neck. How had this become so complicated? Like every other cultural lesson they’d embarked on with Rocky, this should’ve been simple. When he’d wanted to try Korean food, Marie and Bin and Jinwoo had teamed up to make him some. When he’d wanted to learn more about Korean culture, they’d introduced him to K-dramas and Korean music, everything from Myungjun’s trot to Jinwoo’s rap to Sanha’s singer-songwriter ballads to Bin’s pop. When he’d wanted to learn more about Korean closeness, they’d recreated the public sauna experience for him, using one of Atlantis’s built-in saunas but lending him shorts and a t-shirt and giving him one of the towel head-wraps that everyone else said looked like Princess Leia from Star Wars.
If Bin wanted to teach Rocky about dating and kissing, he’d have to recreate the experience, right?
He wasn’t teaching Rocky about sex, though. He was definitely leaving that to Marie.
“Have you found someone to kiss?” Sanha asked at dinner the next day.
Bin resisted the urge to growl at Sanha and kick him under the table.
“It really shouldn’t be just anyone,” Jinwoo said.
Myungjun nodded his agreement. “Maybe once you’re more experienced in Earth-style interaction you can learn about, uh, more advanced forms of interaction, but starting slow is good.”
“Slow, like a drama?” Rocky asked. “No kissing till at least episode eight? I thought there was just no kissing till the third date.” He slewed a glance at Bin.
“Are you planning on dating someone?” Bin asked, dreading the answer.
“I promised Nurse Marie I’d wait till she taught me about sex before I tried dating,” Rocky said.
Jinwoo choked on his food.
Sanha pounded on his back, wide-eyed.
Myungjun nodded. “Marie-noona will be a good teacher. Very informative.”
How he said that with a straight face, Bin didn’t know. As a preteen, he’d have died if he’d had to have sex ed from a female teacher. Granted, his high school PE coach hadn’t really been a great educator on the subject, but it had still been comforting, to be separate from the girls in his class while he learned about puberty and everything else.
“And after that you’re just going to ask someone random out?” Jinwoo asked. “Do you know if you like boys or girls? Most people know when they’re quite young, but some people don’t figure it out till they’re older.”
Rocky said, “I like you all. You’re my teammates. But Sanha only likes girls and Jinwoo-hyung and Myungjun-hyung are already dating, so we can’t date.”
Bin felt the rest of his teammates turn and look at him.
He ducked his head and shoveled down his mashed tava root faster.
“Is there anyone you like outside of the team?” Myungjun asked with surprising gentleness.
Bin tensed, waiting for the answer, but he didn’t look up.
Rocky hummed thoughtfully. “I like Doctor Dongmin, but you’re dating him. And I like Nurse Marie. I like Ronon-sunbae, but he’s dating Gate Tech Amelia.”
“Nurse Marie might be a bit too old for you,” Jinwoo hedged. “Also I think she might have someone she cares about back on Earth.”
Bin dared to lift his head. Myungjun and Sanha were smirking at him. Jinwoo’s expression was more pensive, distant.
Rocky said, “I like Colonel Sheppard, but he and Dr. McKay are dating. Teyla-ssi has a son and is very busy.”
“Well, one purpose of dating is getting to know people better to decide if you want to date them for a long time,” Myungjun said. “Dating is getting to know people, whereas courting is spending a long time with someone with the intent of hopefully binding your lives together long-term, with marriage or something.”
“So are you and Doctor Dongmin courting, then? Because you know each other really well,” Rocky said.
Myungjun nodded. “We are. Courting is kind of an old-fashioned term, and plenty of people use the terms courting and dating interchangeably.”
“Maybe more accurately people go on dates with other people to get to know them, like blind dates, but when they’re dating they’re in a long-term relationship,” Jinwoo said.
Rocky nodded, absorbing the information. He was smarter than people give him credit for, and Bin regretted thinking he wasn’t that smart.
Then Rocky said, “Should I go on blind dates? So I can get to know people and decide if we should do dating.”
Bin’s chest tightened at the thought of that. He didn’t like the sound of that at all.
“Maybe ask Nurse Marie for some advice,” Sanha said. “She’s really smart.”
Rocky nodded again, and he resumed eating. When he’d first joined the Atlantis Expedition, he’d always eaten fast, like he wasn’t sure when he’d get his next meal, but once he’d been assigned to AR-6 he’d learned to adjust his pace, and everyone always finished around the same time as Myungjun.
Had he adjusted so easily because he also fed off of sunlight? Was food not that important to him? Though when he was Running he probably didn’t have time to lay around and sunbathe, and also sunbathing would make other people notice that he wasn’t fully human.
How obscure was Rocky’s home planet and species, that no one else had ever heard of them or mentioned them?
After lunch, the team split up, Myungjun back to the labs, Jinwoo to a command staff meeting, Sanha to the shooting range to work on his marksmanship.
Bin headed to the gym. Working out always helped him clear his head. On the mornings that they didn’t have a mission, AR-6 ran together, and Jinwoo ensured Myungjun remained gate-rated, but for the most part they were all responsible for their own health and fitness. As long as they passed evaluations, Jinwoo didn’t nag them too much.
But Bin couldn’t get his mind off of the question of Rocky and his species. If someone had heard of them, maybe they had more information about them. He didn’t want to ask around the science department and risk exposing Rocky, though.
So after he’d worked out and showered and changed into a clean uniform, he headed for the Ancient database. Maybe there’d be some information about Aroha and Rocky’s species on there.
The only remotely useful information he found was about the Nox, a species who were humanoid and survived by eating plants but were also part plant themselves, with foliage for hair and the ability to bring people back to life. There was no information about how they had children, whether they bred more like humans or like flowers. They didn’t sound like they looked like Rocky’s species, but then Rocky was a half-breed. Maybe full-breeds looked more obviously non-human?
After the fruitless search, Bin headed to the shooting range to work on his marksmanship and clear his mind a little more. Halfway there, Rocky intercepted him.
“Hey, hyung.” He nudged Bin’s shoulder with his.
They’d greeted each other this way a thousand times, but this was the first time Bin’s shoulder was still warm from the point of contact even after Rocky had moved on.
“Hey,” Bin said.
Rocky said, “I got done talking with Nurse Marie. I didn’t realize humans bred so differently from us. Obviously no one ever bred in front of me, so there’s no way I could have known, and Nurse Marie says I’ll never see it in a drama, but maybe if I watch a western drama I might see it? Or something like it.”
Bin resisted the urge to make a smart comment about Sanha’s shady anime porn collection — whether or not it existed, no one knew, but teasing him about it was an endless source of amusement — and instead said,
“Now that you’re all educated, are you going to start dating? Or going on dates.”
“I think I want to start dating,” Rocky said. “Hyung, will you go on a date with me?”
Bin paused mid-step. “Me?”
Rocky nodded. “Yes. I already know you, so we wouldn’t have to go on dates. I know I like you. We can go straight to dating, right?”
Bin blinked. “Well, that’s not exactly how it works.”
“I know. You have to agree to date me.” Rocky stepped in front of Bin and looked right at him. “This is my confession. I like you. Will you go out with me?”
It was something straight out of a drama, the bold confession.
Did Rocky know what it really meant, or was he just repeating what he’d heard?
Only Bin tried to imagine Rocky dating anyone else, like the younger nurses who liked his abs, or maybe one of the other Marines who was rough and loud, or even maybe one of the fussy scientists, and his chest felt tight and uncomfortable.
“Rocky, I do like you, because we’re friends —”
“I want to be more than friends,” Rocky said.
If Bin were with a fully human Rocky, one raised in the ways of Earth, he’d say yes in a heartbeat, trusting that Rocky understood what he was saying. But Rocky wasn’t fully human, had been raised in a distant galaxy. And Bin liked him just how he was.
He liked Rocky, didn’t want to see him hurt.
“Are you sure you know what that means?” Bin asked. “I know you’ve seen way too many dramas at this point, and pretty much all of them have a romantic subplot, if not a main plot, but that’s not real life.”
“I know,” Rocky said. “I talked to Nurse Marie. I understand how I feel. Now it’s your turn to tell me how you feel.”
Bin winced. He wasn’t good at talking about his feelings at all. Did Rocky realize how vulnerable he’d made himself, being blunt like that?
Bin searched Rocky’s gaze, and he saw — fear. Not like the fear that gripped any mortal before going into battle against the Wraith or any other enemy. A different fear, the knowledge that if what came next went wrong, the wounds would be beyond physical and would take much, much longer to heal than any battle scars.
Rocky could heal his body inhumanly fast by basking naked in the sunlight.
No amount of sunlight would save him from a broken heart.
He was offering Bin his heart.
Bin said, “Yes, I’ll date you.”
Rocky’s entire face lit up, and a frisson of warmth dissipated Bin’s worry momentarily. “Thank you, hyung! I’ll plan our first date, all right?”
He clapped Bin on the shoulder and dashed away.
Bin watched him go, startled.
What had he just gotten himself into?
He knew the rest of his teammates wouldn’t rat him out to his commanding officers back on Earth. Everyone knew Atlantis ran on a lot of rules independent from Earth’s, especially since the expedition was such an international adventure.
Bin wasn’t worried about that. He was worried about his team dynamics once the others found out. And he was worried about Rocky.
“So, what are you going to do for your first date?” Jinwoo asked.
He sounded unfairly calm.
How did he already know? Rocky had only asked Bin out a few hours ago.
Bin glanced around the rest of the table at his teammates, then resumed picking at his dinner.
Rocky was nowhere to be found, working on his date plans.
And then Bin narrowed his eyes at Jinwoo. “He asked you for dating advice, didn’t he? Since you and Nayoung have been dating forever.”
“He could have asked Myungjun and Dongmin,” Jinwoo said.
Bin looked at Myungjun.
Myungjun offered him a sunny, innocent smile and said nothing, inhaled his noodles with relish.
Bin looked at Sanha, then shook his head. “He wouldn’t ask you. You don’t know anything about dating either.”
“Hey!” Sanha protested. “I do know about dating. Just…girls.”
Bin turned back to Jinwoo. “You’re a terrible liar. I can see it on your face. You’re trying not to smile. What does Rocky have planned?”
Given that Rocky was only half-human and knew little about Earth culture, let alone general human culture on account of mostly being raised and trained by full-breeds of his species and other similarly-isolated half-breeds, Rocky could have had something utterly outrageous in store.
Jinwoo shrugged. “Wait and see.”
“At least tell me what kind of clothes I should wear.”
“Nice clothes, obviously,” Myungjun said. “Date clothes.”
Sanha snorted. “Bin-hyung is a fashion terrorist. That’s why he always wears his uniform, even when he’s not on duty.”
“My uniform is comfortable,” Bin said. Then he looked down at himself. “I look good in my uniform.”
“And like you’re going to kill some Wraith or help Myungjun pick flowers on an alien planet, not go on a date,” Jinwoo said.
Bin bit his lip. He did want to make Rocky’s first date a good experience. “What should I wear?”
“Myungjun-hyung is also a fashion terrorist,” Sanha said, and Myungjun swatted at him.
“Jinwoo-hyung has good personal taste, though,” Sanha said.
Jinwoo smiled, pleased at the compliment from their usually savage maknae.
That was how, after dinner, Bin found himself standing in the middle of his quarters while Jinwoo rifled through his closet and Sanha and Myungjun sat on the bed, the voting audience for Bin’s final outfit for his first date with Rocky.
“What is Rocky even going to wear?” Bin asked as Jinwoo held up a soft blue button-down shirt and a pair of jeans Bin had forgotten he even owned.
“I already picked out his outfit,” Jinwoo said breezily.
Rocky, like Ronon, tended toward sturdy hand-stitched leathers that he could hide his various weapons in. He’d never worn an Atlantis uniform, not even once, and given the sleek, wicked-sharp sword he carried, no one had ever tried to force the issue either.
“Put on those jeans,” Myungjun said. “I want to see how your ass and legs look in them.”
Bin, who’d started to reach for the pants, recoiled. “Hyung! You have a boyfriend!”
“No one’s ass is as nice as Dongmin’s, but I can be generous with my standards, since it’s Rocky’s first date,” Myungjun said.
Bin sighed and shucked his uniform pants and yanked on the jeans. Then he accepted the shirt and pulled it on, buttoned it, submitted to letting Jinwoo tuck it in just so.
Sanha offered two thumbs up. “You look like a leading man from a drama.”
“We never should have let Rocky watch dramas,” Bin muttered.
“Well, you look like the secondary man,” Sanha amended. “Rocky, though. He’ll look like a leading man.”
Bin narrowed his eyes. “What do you know?”
Jinwoo selected a pair of comfortable white sneakers that Bin never wore. “Here. Do you have some jewelry?”
“Besides my dog tags?”
“Those aren’t jewelry,” Sanha said.
“You know, rings or bracelets or a pretty necklace, like idols wear,” Myungjun said.
“I’m not an idol,” Bin said. “And what would Rocky know about idols anyway?”
“Some of the younger nurses are into K-pop, and they have concerts recorded,” Jinwoo said.
Bin considered. “I can’t take off my dog tags. I might have a bracelet somewhere? A simple string one I got from one of those kids on the Kid Planet.”
“That will be nice, stylish but still simple and very Pegasus,” Myungjun said wisely.
Bin raised his eyebrows at the man who wore neon boxers and his plaid pajama pants whenever he wasn’t in uniform.
“Dongminnie has great personal style,” Myungjun said.
“I’m surprised he’s not here to watch me suffer,” Bin said. “Aren’t you two glued together when you’re off-duty?”
Myungjun smiled. “We have a strong, steady relationship. We don’t need to constantly be around each other. Unlike some people.”
“I am not constantly around Rocky,” Bin said.
Although ever since he’d learned about Rocky’s secret, he’d probably spent the most time with Rocky out of all their teammates, just the two of them.
There was a knock at the door, and Bin started violently.
Sanha laughed, the little gremlin traitor. (He was little even though he was taller than Bin, because he was the maknae.)
Bin smoothed a hand down his shirt, then crossed his quarters, waved the door open.
Dr. Lee stood on the other side of the door, fist raised to knock.
“Sergeant Moon,” he said, inclining his head politely. “I’m here for our double date.”
Bin blinked. “Double date?” He glanced over his shoulder, and he noticed that Myungjun was actually dressed quite stylishly compared to how he usually looked off-duty, in nice jeans and a button-down shirt.
Dr. Lee nodded. “Yes, Myungjunnie and I are going on a double date with you and Rocky.”
Bin whipped back around to Myungjun. “Rocky came to you for dating advice?”
“I never said he came to me.” Jinwoo smiled sunnily.
“Where’s Rocky?” Bin asked Dr. Lee finally.
“I’ll take you to the date venue. He radioed me and said he was putting the final touches on the date,” Dr. Lee said.
Right. Radios. Everyone wore them all the time, even when they weren’t on duty, because it was the easiest way to reach people, especially people who weren’t tied to a workstation with a computer where they could send and receive emails.
Bin grabbed his radio. “Is it time to go?”
Dr. Lee nodded, and he smiled at Myungjun, and he went from stone-faced to beautifully adorable in an instant.
Myungjun hopped up off of Bin’s bed. “See you all later. I promise to give a full report, Captain.”
He saluted Jinwoo.
“You will not,” Bin said, but he nodded at Jinwoo. “Thanks for helping me with my outfit.”
“Myungjun-hyung will tell us everything, and you know it,” Sanha said, right before Jinwoo dragged him out of Bin’s quarters.
As soon as everyone was out, Bin waved the door closed, sent an extra nudge to lock it, and then he followed Dr. Lee and Myungjun down the hall.
They were holding hands, striding along easily despite their height difference.
Bin cleared his throat. “Dr. Lee, how goes your research in the lab?”
“You can call me Dongmin, you know. We’re the same age.”
“Really? I thought you were born in the Year of the Rat?”
“I was actually born in the Year of the Ox, same as you, since your birthday is before Seollal the next year,” Dongmin said.
“Oh! I guess I didn’t think of that. What year did you graduate high school?” Bin asked.
“Same as you.”
“How did you know about my birthday and the year I graduated?” Bin trotted to keep up with Dongmin and Myungjun.
“I know everything about Myungjun’s teammates, because I want to know who’s keeping him safe when he’s offworld,” Dongmin said. “Admittedly, I don’t know that much about Rocky. I’m interested to learn more about him on this double date.”
He probably wouldn’t learn as much as he hoped.
But Bin followed Dongmin and Myungjun to a transporter, which let them out on one of the upper-most floors of the civilian residential tower. They emerged on a wide balcony.
There, Rocky was just laying out a massive blanket. He had candles, a picnic basket, a little radio, and a telescope set up on a tripod.
As soon as he saw them, he crossed the balcony and pulled Bin into a slightly awkward hug. They never greeted each other with hugs.
Rocky pulled back and smiled, eyes shining bright. “Thanks for coming on our date! Even though this isn’t a blind date, I understand that oftentimes in Korea, first dates are group dates or double dates, so I invited Myungjun-hyung and Dongmin-hyung.”
Bin nodded. Truthfully, a blind date could just be two people, but then he really looked at Rocky and nearly swallowed his own tongue, and maybe it was a good thing it wasn’t just the two of them. For the first time ever, Rocky wasn’t wearing his regular combat leathers or one of the military-issue t-shirts he sometimes deigned to wear beneath a leather jacket.
Someone had loaned him or given him a pair of dark jeans, some kind of stylishly ripped gray t-shirt that looked hand-dyed, a black button-down over-shirt, and a heavy silver chain with some kind of large black jewel as a pendant.
Rocky’s hair — which grew very fast — was tied back in a knot, and he’d secured the knot with red ribbon, and he looked amazing.
“Thanks for asking me out,” Bin managed, and Rocky raised an eyebrow, which, okay, Bin had resisted going on a date with Rocky a lot at first, but he was here now. “What are we doing tonight?”
“We’re stargazing,” Rocky said. “I have snacks and drinks and a telescope so we can see the stars better. Come sit! You sit on blankets for picnic dates, right?”
Bin kicked off his shoes and sat on the blanket beside the picnic basket. “Stargazing.” He tipped his head back and gazed up at the glittering night sky of New Lantea. He’d never been anywhere on Earth where he could see this many stars this clearly, even when he’d gone camping as a kid or out to remote areas for training. Of course, the stars on New Lantea were different from the stars on Earth. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone before.”
Dongmin immediately headed over to the telescope. “It’s been so long since I’ve been stargazing. Stargazing is really romantic.”
Myungjun plopped down on the blanket. “What kinds of snacks and drinks have you got?”
“Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne had the KP Marines give me brownies, cookies, fruit tarts, and a bottle of champagne,” Rocky said.
“Oooh, brownies!” Myungjun reached across Bin for the basket.
Bin paused. “Champagne? Rocky, have you ever had alcohol before?”
“A little sip couldn’t hurt,” Myungjun said, but he didn’t know Rocky wasn’t fully human. Could a flower alien consume alcohol? What about a half-flower?
Dongmin turned to Rocky. “You probably know all kinds of legends about the stars.”
“Legends?” Rocky echoed. He handed Myungjun the bottle of champagne, but Myungjun shook his head.
“Let’s save it for later. Don’t want it to lose its fizz too soon. Can you tell us myths about the stars?”
“I don’t know any,” Rocky said. “The stars look different from every planet. I was on a lot of planets. No one told me legends of stars. Stars are just flaming balls of gas, right? They’re not actually glowing planets.”
Myungjun huffed. “Ugh, you sound like a scientist.”
Rocky blinked at him. “You’re a scientist.”
“Yeah, but I think legends about the stars are romantic,” Myungjun said. “Like Cowherder and Weaver Girl.”
Rocky looked at Bin.
Bin cleared his throat, then patted the space beside him. “Sit, and I’ll tell you.”
Rocky sat right next to Bin, pressed as close as he did during movie nights, but they weren’t on a tiny cramped loveseat and could have had space between them.
Rocky was pleasantly warm, though. “Tell me, hyung? A romantic story.”
“How about I tell you the story of the gods and the flower-growing contest?” Bin said.
Rocky’s gaze turned solemn. “Flower-growing contest? But I thought you didn’t believe in gods.”
“I don’t, personally,” Bin said.
“But you believe in reincarnation? And prophetic dreams, and wishes,” Rocky said.
Bin considered. He’d grown up hearing his mother shout If you keep that up you’ll be reborn as a rock! when he did something disobedient, and selling his lucky dreams to his sister, and making wishes on birthday candles and sunrises.
“I do,” Bin said.
“But not gods?” Rocky asked.
Dongmin said, “All Koreans believe in the gods, whether they like it or not. Even the scientists.” He sat down on the blanket beside Myungjun, who fed him a piece of brownie.
“Tell the story,” Myungjun said.
Bin said, “After the world was made, the gods had to decide who would rule. Maybe one would rule and one would not, or one would rule the living and one would rule the dead. They had several contests, or maybe just one. The most important was the flower-growing contest. Whoever grew a beautiful flower would rule, and whoever failed would not.”
“Why a flower?” Rocky asked.
“Because,” Myungjun said, “flowers are beautiful. And also symbols of life and fortune and other things. Love. Betrayal. Honor. Courage. Affection. Loyalty. They were also thought to be human souls. The god was a gardener, tending precious souls on Earth. Of course the god who ruled us should be a good gardener.”
Rocky cocked his head. “Is that why you study plants?”
“I study plants because they’re amazing,” Myungjun said.
“I like the version where one rules the living and one rules the dead,” Dongmin said.
Bin glanced at him. “Are you from Jeju Island? You don’t have the accent.”
“No, but I like that version better.” Dongmin shrugged.
“What happened?” Rocky asked. “In the flower-growing contest.”
“Both gods planted seeds in soil in silver jars. One flower grew strong and tall and beautiful, with lovely rosy pink petals,” Bin said.
Dongmin raised his eyebrows, because traditionally the type of flower was unknown, but then he shrugged. It was a folk tale. Everyone could put their own spin on it.
“The other was small and withered and frail,” Bin continued. “But both gods worked day and night and day and night, tending their little blossoms. Eventually they both tired, and they agreed to both take a nap. But the god with the withered flower feigned sleep and, while the other slept, stole his beautiful blossom.”
Rocky’s eyes went wide. “He stole it? From out of the silver jar?”
Bin nodded. “Yes. And when the other god awoke, he saw the treachery, and he cursed the thieving god, warned him that his flower would wither quickly, and as a result evil would enter the world he ruled. And then that god left, leaving us with the thieving god, and there is evil in this world.”
Rocky sat back. “That seems so sad. All that over a flower?”
“Flowers are precious,” Myungjun said virtuously.
Rocky eyed him. “Do you and Dongmin-hyung believe that?”
“Since when is he Dongmin-hyung and not Doctor Dongmin?” Bin asked.
“Since he said I could call him that,” Rocky said, his tone as virtuous as Myungjun’s.
“I thought, since we are all on a date, we should be comfortable with each other,” Dongmin said.
“Fair enough. Feel free to call me Bin, then.” Bin smiled at him. Then he looked at Rocky. “We have legends about our stars, as well. Like if a constellation forms a certain shape, like…those three stars there. They look like a bow, right? So maybe someone would say the bow belonged to a mighty hunter who challenged a god to an archery contest, and when the god lost, he became enraged and tried to kill the hunter, and the hunter fled, and he ran all the way to the sky and was saved in the stars, and there’s his bow, still visible today.”
Rocky considered. “I see. But New Lantea has constellations with names already.”
Dongmin perked up. “Really?”
Rocky nodded and reached behind the picnic basket, unrolled a large piece of paper. “Dr. Kusanagi gave me the New Lantea star chart. She said we could look for the existing constellations but also nominate new ones with names.”
Myungjun and Dongmin both scrambled over to check the star chart, and the next thing Bin knew, they were both taking it over to the telescope, a plate of brownie crumbs left behind.
Rocky looked at Bin. “Do you want to look for a new constellation?”
Bin lay back on the blanket. “Yeah, but the best way to find one is to just look at the sky and enjoy.”
Rocky settled beside him, and Bin reveled in his warmth and closeness, but also he was nervous. Would Rocky try to kiss him? Should he kiss Rocky to just…get it out of the way? Since Myungjun and Dongmin were distracted.
“I never really got to look at the sky while I was Running,” Rocky said. “Because the Wraith were always chasing me. I always had to keep moving. The sky is pretty.”
“Was it prettier on Aroha?” Bin asked. “Did you get to look at the sky there very often?”
“I was always training,” Rocky said. “Dance, or combat. Night and day. What about you? Did you get to look at the night sky very often on Earth?”
“No,” Bin said. “As a child I wasn’t allowed to stay up late, and then as a teenager I was always indoors studying till late, and besides, the city is full of lights, so they drowned out the light of the stars. The sky is prettier here, because there’s no one here, besides us, and there’s really not that many of us.”
That was a grim reminder of how tiny a force stood against the Wraith in this galaxy. Some other planets had limited capacity to defend themselves, but the Atlantis Expedition had inherited the Ancients’ technology and knowledge and weapons, and it was on their shoulders to protect the Pegasus Galaxy, and Earth by extension.
Rocky sighed. “The sky is lovely. Just looking at it is…peaceful.”
Bin nodded his agreement.
Over at the telescope, Dongmin and Myungjun were diligently seeking out and marking off every known and named constellation on the star chart.
Rocky turned to Bin, and Bin felt Rocky’s cool breath against his ear. He couldn’t help but shiver.
“Myungjun-hyung said stargazing was a nice date, with snacks and champagne. He also said dancing under the stars could be nice? That’s why I have the radio. For music, if you wanted to dance. You like dancing too, right? You and Jinwoo-hyung.” Rocky’s voice was soft.
Bin imagined being pressed up against Rocky and swaying to soft romantic music, and he swallowed hard. “Let’s take it slow, all right? We can look at the stars all we want. Then have some snacks. If you’re really up for it, you can try some champagne, but only a little. Alcohol takes some getting used to.”
Rocky nodded, only he didn’t look away from Bin, and Bin could feel Rocky’s gaze on him. After a moment, he turned and looked right at Rocky. Rocky’s eyes were as dark and endless and as shining as the night sky above them. Rocky kept looking at Bin, and Bin kept looking back at him.
Rocky said, voice soft, “Pretty sure if this were a drama, this is the moment when we should kiss.”
“Life isn’t a drama,” Bin said.
“But dramas are how we wish life would be, right?”
“Sort of.” Bin kept his voice equally soft.
Rocky whispered, “I wish you were in love with me like I’m in love with you.”
Shock ricocheted through Bin. Love? Since when had this been about love? Last night, Rocky had said he’d liked Bin during his confession. This was something else entirely.
Bin’s heart pounded. He hadn’t been prepared for this, had steeled himself to be Rocky’s first experimental kiss and maybe a handful of dates and no more. Yes, they were friends, but surely this entire thing would end in disaster.
Rocky blinked wide dark eyes at Bin. “Hyung, kiss me?”
Bin leaned in, closed his eyes, and surrendered.
Everything Rocky did was bold and decisive, swift and aggressive — except with people. He was hesitant around people, reticent.
When he kissed, he was bold and aggressive.
Bin moaned softly as Rocky curled a hand over his hip and tugged him close so they were pressed together, nipping at his lower lip and nuzzling Bin’s mouth open against his.
Rocky’s hair was soft when Bin reached up to grasp the back of Rocky’s neck. Rocky’s body was hot and hard, and —
“Well, I guess they already started on dessert,” Dongmin said flatly, and Myungjun giggled.
Bin wrenched himself backward, blushing, but Rocky wound a protective arm around Bin’s waist, pushed himself up with the other arm.
“I think we were just getting to the good part,” Rocky grumbled. Then he grinned down at Bin. “Sanha was right, though. This is pretty fun.”
“We’re just going to take some more snacks and go,” Myungjun said, reaching into the picnic basket. “We’ll leave you two to it.”
“I’ll lock the door behind us,” Dongmin added, and he steered Myungjun back inside, Myungjun who was waving wildly.
Bin ducked his head, face flaming. “I totally forgot they were there. How much did they see?”
“Probably most of it,” Rocky said, and he lay back down beside Bin, reached out, tipped Bin’s face up to his. “I guess that means I did pretty well for my first try? If you forgot about them.”
“That was pretty great,” Bin admitted. “But — you’re in love with me? Since when?”
Rocky shrugged. “I’m not sure when it started. I was sure when you learned the truth about me and weren’t afraid or awkward, when you kept my secret and remained friends with me.”
“And this sudden curiosity about kissing?” Bin asked.
“I’d seen people on dramas who said they loved each other kiss, but I wasn’t sure what it meant, and I wanted to be sure. Before I tried to kiss you,” Rocky said.
“What if I’d refused to go out with you?” It was Bin’s turn to frown.
“Jinwoo-hyung said if I tried dating a few other people, you’d probably stop me, and if you didn’t, well, then I’d have to confess to you once you believed I understood dating,” Rocky said.
“Jinwoo-hyung?” Bin echoed.
“Myungjun-hyung agreed with him. They don’t often agree, so I figured they were right,” Rocky said. “I didn’t ask Sanha, though, it’s true. I don’t think he knows that much about dating.”
Bin closed his eyes. How had Jinwoo known about Bin’s feelings when Bin hadn’t even realized himself?
Rocky tugged at Bin’s waist briefly. “Are you mad? That I asked our hyungs for advice?”
Bin opened his eyes. “No. I just — did Jinwoo explain? How I could get into trouble back on Earth.”
Rocky nodded. “But he said he’d protect you, and Colonel Sheppard and Lieutenant-Colonel Lorne probably would too.”
Bin gazed at Rocky, reached up, traced his pretty high cheekbones, the ridge of his nose, smoothed a thumb over the softness of his lips. Rocky was beautiful. Not like a pretty idol or flower boy from a drama, but beautiful all the same.
Well, Rocky sort of was the ultimate flower boy, wasn’t he?
“I’ll protect you too,” Rocky said, and he was starting to look a little anxious.
“You already do,” Bin said. “And I’ll protect you too, okay?”
Rocky’s expression blossomed into a smile, sweet and dimpled, and Bin’s heart sped up.
“I’m going to kiss you again, okay?” Bin said.
Rocky nodded eagerly and leaned in, closed his eyes again. Bin shifted himself down and leaned in, pressed his lips to Rocky’s throat. He felt Rocky’s chest hitch in a startled gasp, and Bin pressed a series of light kisses all the way up Rocky’s throat to that sensitive spot under his jaw, and behind his ear, and to the corner of his mouth, and then —
Rocky grabbed the front of Bin’s shirt and hauled him in for an open-mouthed kiss, messy and hot.
When they finally had to part for air, Rocky was half on top of Bin, head resting on his shoulder.
“Jinwoo and Myungjun didn’t say you could kiss places besides someone’s mouth or cheek.” Rocky’s tone was dazed, wondering. “It feels so good, though.”
Bin slung an arm around Rocky and held him tightly. “You have no idea.”
“I’ll show you sometime,” Bin said. “But maybe not out here on the balcony, where someone could see us.”
“The door’s locked,” Rocky said.
“When it comes to kissing, some kisses are okay out in public, but others aren’t,” Bin said.
Rocky raised his eyebrows and peered up at Bin. “What are those kisses like?”
Bin pushed himself up, pulled Rocky with him. “Let’s get this stuff inside and go back to my quarters and I’ll show you.”
Rocky grinned. “All right.”
“So, how was that first date?” Myungjun asked.
He was an early riser, and always the first to summon the others for their morning run.
Bin stood in the doorway of his own quarters, sleep-rumpled, and squinted at Sanha and Myungjun, who were already in their running gear.
“It was just fine, thank you,” Bin said.
“I mean it, hyung. Thank you.” Bin offered a drowsy smile.
Sanha’s eyes went wide. “Hyung! Is that — is that a kiss mark on your neck?”
Myungjun snickered. “I think it is.”
“Is it time to go running already?” Rocky asked, padding up behind Bin.
Bin turned, and Rocky looked adorable in one of Bin’s t-shirts and a pair of his boxers, his hair messy.
Sanha’s mouth fell open. “Heol! Rocky-hyung, did you and Bin, you know, do it last night?”
“Do what?” Rocky asked.
Bin smacked Sanha on the arm. “Yah!” He went to find a pair of running shorts and some socks to go with his sneakers.
Myungjun said, “Why is your hair strawberry blond?”
Bin spun to look at Rocky, eyes wide. When Rocky was in the throes of passion, his hair changed color wildly.
Rocky reached up, touched his hair. Then he said, “Oh, is that what you mean? We dyed my hair last night.”
Sanha looked confused.
Myungjun said, “You’re lying. You’re such a bad liar. But…how else would your hair be that color?”
“Bleach from Dr. Kusanagi, leftover from her anime cosplay over Halloween, and henna from Dr. Phadnis, obviously,” Bin said quickly, and Myungjun narrowed his eyes.
It was a very grumbly Jinwoo who shuffled into view behind Sanha.
“What’s taking you all so long? We should be running by now — Rocky! Your hair!”
“Apparently these two had a sleepover and did Rocky’s hair,” Myungjun said.
“Did Rocky’s hair?” Jinwoo echoed, rubbing at his eyes. “But I thought you two would, I don’t know, at least make out a whole bunch.”
They had — and then some. But Bin was not about to discuss his sex life with his teammates.
Jinwoo said, “Your hair looks good, though. I like it. I miss the days when I could dye my hair fun colors.” He glanced at his watch. “Now should we go running or what?”
Rocky had pulled on his boots and a pair of Bin’s running shorts. “Let’s go.”
As they ran, Bin couldn’t help but admire Rocky’s sleek, lean form.
And wonder how they were going to explain his hair.
Several nights later, Bin and Rocky were back on the deserted balcony, the one from their first date, dancing to soft music under the stars.
“So, I think I understand what kisses mean now,” Rocky said, swaying with Bin in the circle of Bin’s arms.
“Oh yeah? What do they mean?” Bin smiled at him.
Rocky leaned in, pressed a quick kiss to Bin’s mouth. “This means I just want to remind you that I like you.” Then he pressed a kiss to Bin’s cheek. “This means Hey, I like you.”
“Seems like the same thing to me,” Bin said.
Rocky pressed a lingering kiss to the side of Bin’s neck, and Bin couldn’t help but shiver. “This means you’re beautiful.”
Bin dipped his head and pressed a kiss to Rocky’s throat, just below his jaw. “You’re beautiful.”
Rocky reached up, wound his arms around Bin’s neck, and kissed him open-mouthed, soft and slow and lingering.
Bin was trembling and breathless when they finally parted for air. “What does that one mean?”
“It means I love you.”