"So you slept with him?"
Rod ignored the judgemental tone in there, waving an arm expansively. "It was for a good cause." He wasn't about to lie. It had been enjoyable. Seeing his alternate self so innocent, virginal even, had been something akin to magic. 'Rodney' had had an honest charm to him. It made him a uniquely likeable individual, without any effort on his own part.
Rod didn't like to be a jealous man. But virtues came at a price.
"What, teaching him the joys of gay sex?" scoffed the lanky man sitting across from him.
It was with well-accustomed effort that he put the non-chalance into his answer. "No. Giving him and the other John Sheppard a chance."
John lowered his datapad, infinitely slow, in the way that Rod knew was meant to look like a threat. Nevertheless, Rod held his gaze, unflinching. He was long past being intimidated by John Sheppard.
John's hazel eyes narrowed, turning dark and deadly. "You slept with him."
"I already said I did," Rod returned.
"I don't mean with 'Rodney'."
"I didn't mean Rodney, either." Even though he had.
John had tasted the same. He'd been wearing the pin-striped boxers, and he'd wiped his hair out of his eyes with his left hand before lowering himself, in just the same way. And it had been with the same wiry, lazy energy that he had grasped and fumbled and moaned into orgasm, coming apart with his eyes squeezed shut and his arms around Rodney McKay. Rod didn't want to be a hypocrite, but even as he'd been stroking the sweaty, familiar-but-not body, he hadn't been able to form any excuse other than pure covetous greed (longing) that had caused him to stay in that room.
John stood, military straight, and stalked away without answer.
Rod would have let him go, but John's datapad before he whipped it up had shown a flash of a scattergram, delineated in three colored columns. It might have been something USMC-related, of course, but Rod doubted it. John often volunteered in the labs, helping out with Miko's calculations, Linda's data manipulation, Radek's various projects. But never with Rod.
"You're the one who broke it off," Rod spat just as John's left foot reached the doorway, surprising himself even as he said it. He was usually the one settling other people's arguments, and here he was, practically baiting for one.
Indeed, John whirled around and his free hand was balled in a tightening fist.
"You do not get to judge me, McKay."
"You broke it off because you're a coward. No," he dismissed that with a cutting motion of his hand. "You broke it off because you couldn't admit that you're a coward and live with it. I got too close, and you ran away. Isn't that right? Because all you ever do is run away from people."
"Is that why you take off for the Mainland every chance you get?" John replied. Rod knew he had lost when he took too long to construct an answer.
"It's an honor to be adopted into the Athosian--"
John interrupted with a derisive snort, and he was out the door before Rod could find an enjoinder.
Everything had a price.
The problem with being the reasonable one, was that you couldn't stop doing it. Once people built up expectations, once you built up your own expectations for yourself, you could never just let things lie if you could see a way to make it better.
The MENSA gatherings took place two doors down from the mess hall twice a week. Rod had never been to one. He knew he was intelligent and top of his field. He didn't need to be told so by a closed society of elitist hobnobs. He'd had enough of that at home.
It was louder than Rod had expected. He had pictured a night of logic puzzles and bridge, not being greeted by the explosions of the Delorean travelling thirty years into the past as he stepped into the dimmed room.
"Dr. McKay?" a voice said, clearly surprised. He recognized Will Bean from the AI lab downstairs. "Are you, uh, supposed to--"
"Hi, Will, how's the movie?" he said, out of reflex, and as a useful side-effect heading off any awkward questions.
"Oh, well, pretty exciting. We're keeping lists of all the chemical impossibilities. Whoever's got the most at the end gets the pot." Rodney glanced at the respectable basket of candies and snackfoods beside the white wall of the projection screen. Will seemed to come to a decision. "Drop something in if you want to join. Don't forget, only chemical ones count tonight."
"Uh, thanks a lot, but actually I'm not staying," Rod was quick to say. He couldn't imagine a more effective way to ruin a good movie. "I'm looking for someone. Have you seen Sheppard tonight?"
"Oh, sure, he likes the back usually. It's closer to the food." Will pointed.
Closer to the exit, too, Rod noted. And good for surveillance. He smiled a thanks and headed for what he thought was the most likely place, a slouchable couch in the dark corner. "If you change your mind," Will called from behind, "remember you have to type in your answers. Photographic memories are not accepted for this game." Rod waved amiably over his shoulder, his attention already on the glowering figure sitting tightly against the wall, ubiquitous datapad in hand.
"How's the movie?" he asked, figuring there was never over-using a casual opener.
He got a glare in response. But Rod's miraculous return from certain, well, not death but as good as to the people left behind, seemed to still be in effect. John gradually subsided. "It's all right," he drawled, "if you don't care that it's impossible. We've had to categorize the errors to keep ourselves from getting writers' cramp." Rod frowned. He'd thought John liked this movie.
"I'd rather sit down with some hockey myself," he replied, shooting for glib. "Or, as much as it pains me to say it -- football."
John seemed oddly to hesitate. Then: "You should bring that around some time. We can do some sort of physics analysis of all the plays." Rod bristled. They'd argued about the MENSA thing before. Rod didn't care if John wanted to surround himself with people who thought the world revolved around themselves, but Rod was not about to join him.
"Oh please, as if you don't have piles of the stuff stashed away in your own hard drive."
John went absolutely still beside him.
"What's the matter? Afraid I'm going to 'out' you to all your friends?" Rod imbued the last word with all the scorn he could muster, looking around him for effect. Most of the people in this room thought John got off on all the science and the math. When they talked about sports, John enthused out loud about the physics of it, and when people mentioned guns or flying, he waxed poetic about ballistics, mechanics, and radios.
It was bullshit. Maybe not every last bit of it, because John was smart, he was amazing. But it was bullshit, just the same. Rod had seen John's face when he touched the sky, and it had nothing to do with technology.
John stared straight ahead, making no indication that he was even listening, until finally he said,
"Rodney, you're ruining the movie."
The last time he had heard Sheppard call him that, his Sheppard...
He wondered with a sharpening pointlessness whose bed John had slept in those weeks when he had been in neither Rod's or his own.
"You're right," he said. "I'll just..." He waved one hand, feeling ludicrously like the other him, the other Rodney, with all his blunderings and none of the charm.
Turning the corner from the stairs to his quarters, he collided smartly with someone coming the other way. "Whoa, there," he said, hating how immediately his steadying arms came up for the other person while ignoring the numbing shove to his own shoulder, hating even the way his voice instantly went more brightly pitched.
"Teyla!" He'd been a little turned around, coming back from the MENSA room. Normally, he would have come via the transporter at the end of the hall. Seeing her familiar face, for the briefest instant he wanted to tell her everything, just -- unload.
But her gaze was steady, friendly but aloof. As always.
He remembered the other Teyla, eyes laughing, her body shifting loosely to the side under the other Sheppard's playful ribbing. "It is difficult to believe you are the same person as our Doctor McKay," she had said, her voice light with curiosity.
The Teyla before him had the same poise and the same strength but none of the warmth, none of the youth. She was leader of her people yet apart from them, and the wall between herself and Atlantis was nearly visible in its impenetrability. He wondered what had happened to her to make her this way. What horrible tragedy had marked her, had chased away those mischievous flashes of teeth and the gentle camaraderie. Where had it diverged? Why? Why in the world couldn't she be more like...
Why couldn't John be... Why couldn't he...
He felt himself on the edge of hyperventilation. He hadn't felt this way in years. Decades. Had trained himself away from all that, had made himself into someone that everybody could like -- and he had succeeded, goddammit! And it had always been enough for him, that beautiful tingle of success, but now it was coming apart, he was coming apart, because it had all been a waste, all that effort, and everybody loved him, yes, but everybody loved him too, loved him more, the people who really mattered, and--
Teyla grasped his shoulders, and he was so startled that he almost pulled away. But she only gazed into his eyes, her deep chiseled face looking into his soul. Pulling just slightly, she leaned forward and rested her forehead against his, in the familiar motion that he automatically mirrored.
"Ancestors, give my friends strength, give them wisdom, give them faith, give them hope -- and if it is not enough, Ancestors, give them mine."
He was surprised. Teyla didn't normally pray to the Ancestors, not even simple ritualistic phrases like this one. If it weren't for the occasional translations she helped them with afield, he would have even suspected she didn't know how to speak Ancient.
Teyla stayed their position, making no move to pull away, and Rod let himself slowly, slowly lean into it, letting her take some of his weight and sharing some of hers. He could hear her even breathing, steady as a pulse, and he matched his own to it and felt at peace.
It may have been only a few seconds, or it may have been over a minute. When they finally parted, she gave him a long, unfathomable look. "Be well, Doctor McKay," she said, and she turned and left, graceful as a panther.
This, he remembered, was the Teyla he had unconsciously searched for while he'd been away; this was the Atlantis. As he'd told Rodney two days or was it two centuries ago, this was his home.
He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling like he had woken up from a long dream. It was slightly ruefully that he returned to his quarters, went through the regular motions of washing up, getting ready for bed. It was ridiculous to expect paradise when he'd gotten back, and even more ridiculous to look around and see purgatory. What had he thought he was doing?
He found a message waiting for him coming out of the shower. His fingers stiffened when he saw whom it was from, making it difficult to open it, but not impeding his literacy in the slightest.
"Yates brought back the playoffs. Tomorrow night?"
That was all.
But, Rod reflected as he formulated his reply, it was more than enough to work with.