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The expression on Sheppard's face would've been funny under most other circumstances; you could practically hear his eyes going blink
, kewpie-doll style, and his mouth was doing this weird open and closing thing to match without any words actually getting out.
"Well," Rodney said. "Misread that one." He sighed, and tried to ignore the sinking feeling somewhere around his stomach, wishing he had an antacid. He'd known he was putting this off too long; he'd gotten to like
Sheppard too much by now to just blow it off, and so he was going to feel stupid and crappy for the next two weeks. And he'd been really really wrong about the kiss being a fun memory either way, because all he could think about right now was how Sheppard's mouth had been soft and warm and completely unresponsive, and the shudder as his shoulders had gone back and he'd stepped away.
"Wait -- but -- toaster -- " Sheppard said, except not really toaster
, it was just some confused blurted-together gibberish; which was a new achievement. Rodney had gotten himself slapped before, and on one un-fun occasion punched by a four-foot-eleven Chinese scientist who you wouldn't really have expected to have a right hook that powerful, and on one extremely fun but back-pain-inducing occasion thrown down to the floor and screwed right there, which was why he'd been careful to do this in his very locked lab with the double cot just a few steps behind him, but he'd never actually destroyed someone's capacity for intelligent communication before.
"Sorry," Rodney said. "It was a mistake."
"You thought I was -- " Sheppard said, and stopped there, like he'd hit a wall.
was just lame, and it was always comforting in these moments to see the other person being more pathetic than he was, so Rodney felt a little better. "Interested," he snapped. "Although I'm pretty sure the word you're looking for is gay
, and the answer to that is I didn't really give it much thought, though considering how much effort you put into getting your hair artistically tousled every day -- "
"What?" Sheppard said, automatically putting a hand up towards his head and stopping just short of squashing any of the spiky bits. "I do not -- you thought I was interested? In you?"
The sinking feeling was hardening into a lump that was almost painful, and his eyes had started prickling embarrassingly, and wow, was it time for this conversation to be over.
Unfortunately, Sheppard didn't agree, and he kept not agreeing for days
, no matter how many times Rodney tried to dodge him or push him off. It was ridiculous; Rodney started just walking out on the conversations, and then Sheppard started cornering him in empty halls and storage rooms and interrogating him, excruciatingly, for the same apparently unsatisfying answers.
And when there was anybody else around, Sheppard acted even weirder: formal and cold, especially in meetings; no more casual back-and-forth between them, just businesslike short exchanges. Overall, Rodney had really preferred Zhang Mei's right hook, because at least she hadn't kept
"I'm just trying to figure out what made you think -- " Sheppard said, having finally caught Rodney alone in his lab.
"Oh my god, will you quit it?" Rodney said. "Nothing! Nothing made me think! You're hot and I liked you and you seemed to like me, so I took a shot."
"But something must have given you the idea I'd say yes!" Sheppard said.
"What? Why? How would I have any idea what you were going to say?" Rodney said, baffled. "That's why you make passes at people, to find out."
"Oh, sure, so you just make a pass at anyone you're interested in," Sheppard said.
"Yes?" Rodney said. "What do you
do, have your friends call up their friends and find out if they like you back?"
"No!" Sheppard said. "But you know, most people first get a sense whether -- " he made a vague gesture.
?" Rodney mimicked it. "That's totally unreliable. If I relied on my intuitive sense of whether somebody liked me, I'd have missed out on a lot of chances to get laid, and anyway, what's the point? I mean, okay, in this case it would have saved me hours of unending torment, but that's not because my general approach is flawed, it's because you're insane
"Excuse me! I'm just wondering how someone who's spent a lot of fucking time with me got the idea that I'm gay!" Sheppard snapped through his teeth.
"Oh, shut the hell up," Sheppard said, when he realized what he'd just said.
"I'm just saying, that would be a fairly good indication you were
gay," Rodney said.
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Rodney!"
And for a moment, Sheppard sounded normal again, not that awful, stiff, careful
way he'd been acting the last three days, and it was such a relief that Rodney was abruptly and horribly queasy at the idea of having him slip back behind the mask again.
"Would you please
just drop this?" he said, desperate enough to try and be sincere. "I swear I didn't have any reason, and believe me, if you knew my track record, you'd realize that if I had
thought I had a reason, that wouldn't have meant anything. I'm sorry
. Now can you try and show a little maturity and stop humiliating me?"
Sheppard twitched and looked at him with a startled expression, like it hadn't even occurred to him that dwelling on this to death might be the least bit embarrassing for the guy who'd struck out, and then he said, "Oh, um," and added, "Sorry, I -- " and stopped. After a second he said, "I'm going to go get some lunch."
"Yes, fine, thank you," Rodney said, sighing; he'd been kind of hungry, and now he'd have to tide himself over for a couple hours with powerbars until Sheppard was done --
"Well, come on," Sheppard said.
Rodney stared at him. "Oh. Uh. Sure?" he said, uncertainly, and looked down at his equipment, turning the dangerous stuff off and locking down his laptop on autopilot, and then he got up from his chair and stood awkwardly, the lab bench still between them.
"I hear it's chicken-esque surprise today," Sheppard said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"Wow, do you think they'll have mashed root vegetables too?" Rodney said.
"Um. Yeah, maybe?" Sheppard said, and Rodney just stared at him until he said, "Shut up, okay, I'm trying here!"
"Funny how it strongly resembles crashing and burning," Rodney said. "Want to talk about the weather, next? I understand it's been nice, though I pretty much haven't left my lab for the last three days
; there's this lunatic who's been stalking me."
"You know, security should probably do something about that," Sheppard said. "You should talk to the ranking military officer."
"Mm, yes, there's a thought," Rodney said, and suddenly everything was okay again.
Except not really, becaused one offworld mission later and he couldn't believe
he'd ever been interested in anyone that stupid
for a flat minute. Rodney stalked into the conference room and started packing up his scanning equipment. The Stargate was already inert and still, and really, it was going to just put the icing on the day if some Wraith dart got off a lucky shot and they lost a jumper because Sheppard had gone chasing after an Ascended bimbo who didn't need any help.
Rodney coiled up all the cables properly, over-and-under, and then he went to the access panel and pulled it open; he'd been meaning to adjust the temperature controls in here for a while.
"Rodney?" Elizabeth said.
"How is this?" Rodney asked over his shoulder. "The temperature, I mean; too cold?"
"Is everything okay?"
"What?" Rodney turned around and stared at her; she'd closed the conference room doors and sat down in one of the chairs. "Okay? No, everything isn't okay, you just let Major Sheppard go flying off after a piece of -- "
"Rodney, do you really think I had a choice?"
"Huh?" Rodney said.
"He was going," she said. "All I could've done was make him break orders to do it."
"Are you kidding me? I could've shut off the Stargate from the control room in five seconds," Rodney said.
"Yes," Elizabeth said. "That would've been after
he'd disobeyed the order, and tried to go anyway."
"Well, he wouldn't be
there getting shot at by the Wraith, so forgive me for thinking that would still be better!" Rodney said.
"Rodney -- " Elizabeth sighed and sat up. "It's a calculated risk," she said tiredly; really tiredly, and Rodney did a bit of a double-take, looking at her. "You can't always be reining in your best people, sometimes you just have to give them their heads and let them run. This time I'm fairly confident Chaya can protect him. Also, that isn't what I meant."
"What isn't what you meant when?" Rodney said, trying to think back.
"When I asked if everything's okay," she said.
"Oh, you mean aside from having my, let me emphasize, entirely correct
judgement belittled and ignored by my team leader and my boss?" Rodney said.
Elizabeth smiled wryly. "Aside from that, yes."
"Fine," Rodney said. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"You seemed to be taking this a little personally."
"Oh, sorry, I get a little uptight when I see senior officers making bad decisions for irrational emotional reasons."
"We're human beings, Rodney," Elizabeth said. "We are
irrational and emotional."
"Yes, well, we don't have to act
like it," Rodney said.
And he'd meant to ignore Sheppard in a calm, superior way, except that didn't work so well because now Sheppard was avoiding him with as much energy as he'd used to hunt Rodney down before. After two days of not seeing anything more of him than the weirdly-flattened back of his head, Rodney lost patience waiting for an opportunity to be calm and superior and barged into Sheppard's room to yell at him instead.
"Okay, that's it," Sheppard said, standing up. "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but you know what, my relationships are none of your damn business -- "
"Hurt my feelings
?" Rodney said. "What the hell do feelings have to do with this? You disregarded my opinion because you had the hots for her! That's not a private relationship thing, that's a stupid and dangerous error in judgement!"
"Right, and your rational
opinion had nothing to do with jealousy," John said.
"Huh?" Rodney said, staring incredulously.
John glared back. Then he looked uncertain. Then he glared again. "Oh, don't even try to tell me -- "
"Why would I be jealous? You already turned me down! It's not like it makes a difference to me if you start sleeping with somebody else now," Rodney said. "Except if who you start sleeping with is an alien Mata Hari, in which case it's not my feelings I'm worried about getting hurt!"
"Chaya was not -- "
"Because we got lucky
!" Rodney yelled. "She was
lying, and okay, great, she was only lying because she was afraid of getting her wrist slapped by the other Ascended, but what about next time you get googly-eyed over some overly friendly interplanetary supermodel?"
Rodney rode the glow of satisfaction from winning that argument right up until the moment when Allina took the ZPM out of his hands. He couldn't even blame Sheppard or Ford or Teyla for it; he
should've known better than to listen to them. Anyway he'd been talking too much to Allina even before they'd said a damn thing, just because he'd liked her, because she was nice and smart and quick, and he should've kept in mind that none of that meant she was on his side.
He still felt that coming back to learn the Wraith were on the way was a punishment way out of proportion to the crime, but really it wasn't: it was the kind of thing that happened when somebody as important as he was fucked up. There wasn't any time to beat himself up about it, though; he took a five-minute shower, ate an MRE, drank a thirty-ounce cup of coffee and went into his lab, pretty much to stay.
The real gut-punch of it didn't land until after it was all over and there was nothing more he could do, until after he'd typed in the numbers he'd so casually put into the back corner of his head and the self-destruct klaxon started grating out overhead, when he heard Sheppard's voice over the radio saying, "I'm going in
," and Rodney suddenly thought, I built the bomb that's going to kill him
If there had been a chair behind him, maybe he would've sat down and hidden his face; but there wasn't, and he couldn't watch this happen, so he said, "Wait."
Elizabeth said, "What?" and he repeated, "Wait," and John said, "I can't wait
!" sounding irritated of all things, and Rodney yelled, "Shut up! Just -- shut up and wait!" and turned and ran back to the chair control room, to the jumper interface computer they'd spent so many fucking hours hooking up, wasted, and he yanked and plugged and typed frantically.
Zelenka kept saying, "Have you lost your mind? This is never going to work," even as he dived in and started helping, and Rodney said, "Shut up, shut up, shut up, yes it is!" and he was lying, because he had no idea what he was doing; he was making a thousand guesses at a time and there was nothing rational about this at all.
Three days later Rodney hiked out to the west pier to watch the sunset: the shield layer was slightly thickened around the foundations of the city, and it blocked most of the glare and added a halo around the sun that made it look like the many-rayed pictures kids drew, fiery pink-orange and glorious, sinking into an endless glittering ocean. It was something to see; and with the city at his back he didn't have to look at it over the lingering smoke and damage.
His hands were still trembling and his head was killing him; on Beckett's orders he wasn't allowed any caffeine for a week, not even decaf. But he'd showered and slept and eaten, and when he closed his eyes the sunlight started to bake away his headache.
"Nice view," Sheppard said, sitting down next to him, ruining everything.
"I didn't even tell anyone I was coming here!" Rodney said, glaring; he'd hoped to get away without having this conversation, or at least put it off for some point where there was less time left and it couldn't just drag on.
"While you and Zelenka were getting the shields and the weapon systems online, Simpson turned the sensors on full so we could track down all the rest of the Wraith hiding in the city," Sheppard said. "After about a day it started attaching names to the readings for our people; it's pretty much done by now."
"Huh?" Rodney said. "How could it do that? Did she input in some kind of data -- "
Sheppard shrugged. "You're asking the wrong guy. It spells them out phonetically in Ancient, though."
"Oh. Interesting," Rodney said. "Maybe it's picking them up from conversations." He went back to watching the sunset.
Sheppard fell quiet, looking down at his hands. "So. Thanks, by the way."
"You're welcome," Rodney said. "You too."
Sheppard nodded and didn't say anything else, just sat staring at his hands. Rodney sighed after about three solid minutes of silence. "Yes, okay, can we just get it over with, then? I'm a critical member of the team, I'm indispensable, blah blah."
"What are you talking about?"
"You didn't come to talk me out of going?"
"Going? Going where?" Sheppard said dangerously, sitting up.
"Oh," Rodney said, belatedly cautious. "Um. I thought Elizabeth had told you."
"No, not so much," Sheppard said. "Why don't you
tell me, and this had better not be what I think it is."
"I'm going back to Earth," Rodney said. "And really, don't try to talk me out of it; it's a waste of time, it's not going to work. Even though, obviously, you're going to -- "
"Okay, first of all, I am not going to try to talk you out of it," Sheppard said, glaring. "Request for transfer denied. How's that?"
"I'm not some grunt under your command!" Rodney said. "I don't need your permission to go."
"Yeah? Colonel Everett is in command now, not Elizabeth, in case you hadn't noticed; and if I inform him you're required here, he'll listen," Sheppard said.
"Why, because he likes you so much?" Rodney said. "I'm not
required here, now that the shield is up. In fact, I'll probably be more productive back on Earth, integrating what we've learned here with our own technology."
"Oh, and I'm supposed to believe that's why you want to go, and not because you're just -- freaked out over something?"
"I could be freaked out over nearly dying horribly in any one of a dozen ways!" Rodney said. "That's a perfectly good reason to go back to Earth too."
"Why don't you just tell me the actual
reason, and quit fucking around," Sheppard said.
Rodney swallowed. "See, I knew I didn't want to have this conversation."
"I lied," Rodney said. "I was jealous."
"Huh?" John said. "Of what?"
"Of Chaya, you idiot," Rodney said.
"Chaya? That was months ago! You're still on about that?" John said. "Also, damn straight you were jealous!"
"Well, I didn't realize
until you were about to -- " Rodney said, then shrugged impatiently. "Look, the point is, I'm in love with you, and you don't want me. So, I'm going back to Earth where I can forget about you. Yes, it's a pathetic reason, but on the other hand it'll save me lots of antidepressants and therapy."
Sheppard jumped up and walked a short way off, then whirled back. "How the hell do you just say
things like that?" he demanded. "I just -- How can you -- "
"You asked!" Rodney said. "If you don't like talking about it, I'd be incredibly happy to stop."
"You can't just go around -- " Sheppard said, then stopped and tried again. "If you're careless -- people fucking notice
, okay? And all it takes is for one person who actually cares and one senior officer who's just as happy to get rid of you -- "
"Oh my god, you are
gay," Rodney said, staring at him, and then his eyes got even wider. "Oh my god, you do
"Will you just shut up and listen to me -- " Sheppard said, and Rodney jumped up and grabbed his arms and kissed him, and Sheppard resisted for all of half a second before he was grabbing right back, kissing back frantically, yanking on Rodney's shirt and belt and oh wow
, his skin felt incredible, smooth and supple and tight over all these sleek muscles, and his mouth was open and hungry; and really, Rodney thought hazily as they tumbled to the deck of the pier together, who cared about a little back pain.
= End =
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