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Last Minute Shopping (or Trials and Tribulations of the Pegasus Galaxy Mall)

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The stalls go on for miles.

"The stalls go on for miles," Rodney whines. "Do we really have to stop at every one?"

Ronon claps him on the shoulder so hard he sinks six inches deeper into the muck they call a road on this planet, and Sheppard stops at the next stall dutifully. There are rows of prizes in the back, clear jars filled with pink, yellow, purple, orange, green, and blue liquid.

"What do we have to do to win those?" Sheppard asks, pointing at the jars. The woman at the stall smiles up at him and bats her eyelashes. Rodney rolls his eyes. Maybe it's a flirting contest and they'll end up with a full collection.

"It is a game of skill," she says, and removes the silk cloth from the counter in front of her. There's a hexagonal game board carved into it, and she shuffles a handful of tiles in her hand and deals them out onto the board. They have several different pictures on them. There are recessed bowls set in the wood containing several different types of game pieces in six different colors.

She explains the rules and tells them that at least three people must play, one of which must be her. Rodney claps his hands together gleefully. "It's Settlers of Catan, Colonel, or close enough."

The rules aren't the same at all, though, and it's Teyla that takes home the prize - a glass jar full of viscous green liquid the consistency of pea soup.

"Use that sparingly," the woman says as they turn to leave. "A little goes a long way."

Teyla looks at the container again, and swirls the liquid a little. Ronon tilts his head and looks at it as well. "You don't think that's..." he says, squinting at the liquid.

Teyla smiles and hugs the container to her. "I don't know," she says, leaving Rodney to glance over her head at Sheppard, a little worried, "but since it is mine, I will have plenty of time to figure that out."

"I thought we agreed all winnings were going to be consolidated," Sheppard says, flashing a half-smirk at Teyla. Rodney rolls his eyes again and pleads with whatever gods are present in the Pegasus galaxy for the stall that gives away prizes for flirting and superficial charm. And then he tacks on a prayer for the prizes to be ZPMs.

"No, John," Teyla admonishes, hugging the pea soup to her chest, "that was what you said we should do. I don't recall anyone but Rodney agreeing with you."

The next stall is a muffin throwing contest. At least, Rodney thinks they're muffins, until Sheppard clocks him with one because of his non-stop commentary featuring Ronon's ability to throw them right through the wooden targets and into the next stall and Sheppard's ability to narrowly miss the kid running after Ronon's muffins. Then Rodney finds out they're hard as rocks, and develops a pretty good goose egg on his forehead.

Someone is actually giving away a ZPM as a prize. Unfortunately for Rodney, it's the million-dollar purse for a boxing contest, so there's no chance for him to win it. Sheppard offers to put up Ronon's entrance fee if he'll give Sheppard the ZPM when he wins, and Rodney kicks himself for not thinking of that. Teyla tries to get Sheppard to pay her entry fee, too, but he's running low on karthets, and there are easily a hundred more stalls to visit. Rodney's feet ache just thinking about it. He would have paid Teyla's entrance fee himself if Ronon hadn't entered. He's the only person she can't beat consistently in hand to hand – without bantos, that is. With them, she can even kick his ass.

Teyla puts her nose in the air and pays the ringmaster with three karthets from her own purse right before he closes the sign-ups.

It turns out Lorne has entered himself into the contest too, and Rodney spares a thought for Atlantis until he realizes Major Teldy is still on base, and Zelenka doesn't leave Atlantis unless someone is dying or Rodney orders him to.

Lorne goes home with a consolation prize of some Ancient knickknack (beaten by Teyla, which is great fun to watch), and Ronon pips Teyla with a lucky shot to her solar plexus when she tries to box his ears. Apparently Rodney had misunderstood the prizes, because Ronon wins a pony, and it's Teyla that ends up with the ZPM.

~~~~~~

They split up after the fight because they still need to find gifts for each other, and it's much easier for Rodney to find the stalls with games of skill or chance, those where he has a hope of winning some kind of prize. The first stall playing a chess-like game gives him Teyla's present - a silk scarf that he can have hand-stitched with anything he wants. He thinks about it for a long time before finally telling the woman to put an Athosian meditation chant on it: for all beings, joy and love.

Rodney searches for over an hour before he finds something to give Ronon. He finds a man from Sateda selling some of the most intricate toys he's ever seen. There are tiny wooden machines that look like houses or stores but have several small ball bearings in them that need to be maneuvered into certain positions to make other parts work. There's a windmill and horseman and a complex system of pipes that the man says is a replica of one of their water treatment facilities. Unfortunately, his game is a shooting game, and while Rodney is no slouch, the prize he wants (a set that is a replica of what went for Main Street in Ronon's home town) is the grand prize, and you have to achieve ten bullseyes in a row to do it.

He searches around for Sgt. Li, the sharpshooter on Lorne's team, but the only person he finds is Sheppard. Sheppard isn't a bad shot, Rodney's seen him shoot plenty of times, not least when he took the time to make sure Rodney cleared his firearm re-certifications, but he's no sharpshooter. Rodney's desperate enough to ask Sheppard to help him, and they head back to the booth.

"So, you'll put both our names on Ronon's present, right?" Sheppard asks.

"No!" Rodney says. "Get your own present." He made Sheppard's and Torren's presents specifically to avoid having to shop for them; he would have made something for Ronon too, but he ran out of time.

"Fine," Sheppard says, and turns around. "Then I don't have time - I've got to get Teyla's and Torren's presents yet too."

"Wait," Rodney says. He hates giving shared gifts - no matter how good they are it always looks like you're just being lazy. "I'll let you share on Torren's."

"What have you got for Torren?" John asks, lifting an eyebrow.

"I made him a miniature puddlejumper," Rodney says, crossing his arms and looking smug. He can't help it - it's the best present ever, except for the one he made Sheppard.

"A puddlejumper?" John asks incredulously. "Does it fly?"

"Of course not, you idiot," Rodney answers. "Torren's only four!" He's made it big enough that Torren will be able to grow into it, the seat can widen and be shifted as he gets bigger, and he's added circuitry that can be upgraded to fly later. Maybe. If the kid's good.

"All right," Sheppard agrees. "I can't compete with that and a pony anyway."

"Ronon's giving his pony to Torren?" Rodney asks. "Seriously?"

"What else would he do with it?" John asks. Rodney doesn't know, but he really doesn't think even a puddlejumper can compete with a real, live pony. He's glad Ronon isn't getting anything for Madison.

~~~~~~

It turns out that Sheppard's present for Ronon isn't a problem. It takes him twelve tries – and all but four of Rodney's karthets – to win the grand prize, so he's got a nice collection of toys for Ronon and Lorne and Madison and a few more people he can't even think of. Rodney doesn't bring up Dave's two little girls; he's sure Sheppard's got them something already.

Sheppard helps him to the jumper and they scheme about what else they need. Sheppard figures he's done except for Teyla – really? Rodney asks, what did you get me? – and Rodney needs something for Zelenka. He's leaning toward an IOU for uninterrupted lab time, since he's pretty sure there's nothing Radek would like better.

"Come on, Rodney, that's a lousy thing to give your second in command."

"Shows what you know," Rodney says, opening one of the panels under the co-pilot's console and putting their gifts in. "Radek's been handling the day-to-day idiots for over a year now. He even gave me a bag of coffee as an apology for calling me bad names behind my back when I had to manage the minions."

"Huh. Maybe I should give Lorne an IOU for paperwork."

"From you?" Rodney asks rhetorically. "Hell no. Get Teldy to give it to him. And give him an IOU for a weekend off or something."

"Good idea," Sheppard says. "I've still got to get Teyla's gift."

"Hm, too bad," Rodney says, kicking his heels up onto the console and pulling out his laptop. "See you when you get back."

Sheppard eyes the laptop shiftily. "Or I could give her one of the Satedan puzzles."

Rodney rolls his eyes and brings up the chessboard. "All right, Colonel Lazypants."

~~~~~~

Getting the pony home is a trick and a half; it fits in the back half of the jumper but is skittish as hell. Ronon stays with it, petting its nose and making soothing noises. They take it straight to the Athosian settlement – there's no way Woolsey will even let them through the gate if he knows they have a pony on board.

"Thank god," Rodney mutters to Sheppard, "at least now he'll have some time to get used to it before we give him the puddlejumper."

Sheppard nods and grins, helping Torren onto the pony and taking them for a walk around the settlement. They head back to Atlantis before dark, and if the puddlejumper cleaning crew has a problem with the smell, Rodney never hears about it.

~~~~~~

The team gets together Christmas Eve because Rodney insists on giving the puddlejumper to Torren on Christmas morning. Teyla's agreed to celebrate Christmas as long as they celebrate Athosian and Satedan gifting holidays as well; the Athosians have a spring ritual that involves making something by hand for your friends and neighbors, and Sateda used to have a giant autumn harvest party complete with present exchange. Rodney's had to learn how to throw together gifts for his team on a regular basis. He's getting better at it.

Teyla opens Ronon's gift first; it's a beautiful hand crafted tea set, and she immediately gets up to make tea for all of them. Rodney's glad he got her a container of rock sugar for her birthday, since the tea she makes is usually extremely bitter.

She insists on tea before they open more gifts, and Rodney distributes his while he waits, stacking Ronon's in a pile next to him on the floor. Sheppard frowns at the card Rodney hands him, and gives Rodney a small, hand-carved box that looks suspiciously like it was made by the Satedan guy with the toys.

"Hm," Rodney says, leaning back and examining the box, not shaking it, but tipping it slightly one direction and then the other.

"Won't break," Sheppard says, and then Rodney shakes the hell out of it. There's a single thing inside the box, and it hits the sides pretty solidly.

"Open my present next," Rodney says to Teyla as she hands out the tea. There are some cookies too, green-colored shortbready things that remind him of the spritz cookies his weird grandmother used to make. One sip of the tea and he's reaching for the cookies to get rid of the aftertaste. Even Sheppard is eating them, which means the tea has to be worse than usual.

Teyla rips open Rodney's wrapping paper (with snowmen, because Jeannie knows how much he hates red and green and santas and reindeer), and smiles broadly, oohing and ahhing over the silk scarf. She opens John's gift last, and Ronon tries to take it away from her to get a better look but she nimbly dodges him.

"Open yours, big guy," John says, "Maybe you'll be surprised."

Ronon grabs one of Rodney's first, and the unguarded look of nostalgia on his face as he traces the lettering on the front of the bookstore puzzle makes Rodney wonder if Ronon's present was such a good idea after all.

"You don't have to open them all," Rodney says. "At least not –"

Ronon raises an exasperated eyebrow and tears into the rest of the packages, pushing off the low stool he'd been sitting on to put the miniatures into the correct order on the floor in front of him.

"That candy shop had the best gershpa," Ronon says, placing a three-story storefront between two other puzzle-buildings. "So sour it made your whole face pucker."

Something about the word 'pucker' hits Rodney the wrong way and he chuckles. A strangely high-pitched chuckle, actually.

"Did you just giggle?" Sheppard asks.

"No!" Rodney says, and does it again. He did. He did giggle.

"Oh my god," Sheppard says, and then giggles himself. Rodney can feel his eyes opening in surprise as he glances at Sheppard, who picks right that moment to snort and then the whole team gets into the act, Teyla laughing so hard she has to wipe tears from the corners of her eyes. Ronon's flushed, color high on his cheeks, and he's puffing pretty hard too. Sheppard's mouth is twitching, like it's not used to grinning so widely, and in general the three of them look even more gorgeous than they do under normal circumstances.

"It's so unfair that I have to be on the beautiful people team," Rodney says abruptly, and then gapes at himself and puts a hand over his mouth. I did not just say that out loud, he thinks.

"I just mean," he says, waving his hands around desperately, letting his mouth go on fast-forward for him, hoping it's going to talk his way out of this, "that you're all so gorgeous and while I am a genius and not bad to look at myself, it's kind of like being a misfit nerd amidst a cadre of supermodels."

What?

Rodney puts his head in his hands. Maybe if he sits like this long enough they'll all get up and leave him alone with his embarrassment.

"I worry I'm not smart enough to keep up with you," Sheppard says, and Rodney's neck pops as he whips his head around to stare. "I know I'm not smart enough to get everything," Sheppard amends, looking extremely uncomfortable and slightly horrified, "but I can usually keep up. And then you'll make this huge leap and I feel like a kid at the blackboard who doesn't know what the hell they're doing."

"I never know what the hell you're talking about," Ronon says, shrugging, and Rodney turns to look at him automatically, even though he wants to stare at Sheppard some more. "But you haven't killed us yet."

Teyla laughs. "I, for one, would like you to teach me more about what you do. It wouldn't hurt to have more people trained in whatever technology is available."

"I'm not a patient teacher," Rodney says, and Sheppard snorts again.

"That's the understatement of the century."

"Oh, right, Mr. Why-can't-you-just-do-it gun qualification tutor."

Sheppard ducks his head, turning his half-smirk away as he reaches beside his chair for his presents. Ronon's present clanks as Sheppard picks it up, and as he rips off the bright wrapping paper, his face opens into stunned surprise.

"Beer?" Sheppard asks. "Really?"

There are twelve bottles of different shapes and sizes and colors clanking together in the makeshift box. Each has something etched in the glass; Rodney can't read any of it, so he assumes it's the native languages of wherever the stuff was brewed.

Ronon nods at Rodney's present. "Open yours."

Rodney's present is in a tin with a giant snowflake on it, and he levers off the cover and looks in.

"Brownies?" He lifts them to his nose to sniff, and realizes they're not chocolate at all, even though they're the right color. They smell of figs.

"Lembas," Ronon says, and grins.

Rodney rolls his eyes. He cannot believe Sheppard showed them Lord of the Rings – or that he got Ronon to sit still for long enough to watch even part of the movie. "Not funny," Rodney says, and takes one out to taste it. Ronon catches his hand.

"Those are energy bars," Ronon explains. "Like your powerbars, but better."

"They have a natural stimulant," Teyla says.

Rodney looks down at the tin again. Caffeinated power bars? That is the best idea ever. He reverently puts the lid on the tin and only just barely refrains from hugging it to his chest. "Cool."

Ronon grins and Rodney's struck again by just how ridiculously good-looking his team is. He coughs and picks up Sheppard's present. He hasn't looked at Sheppard since the incident with the giggling, so he glances Sheppard's way to see if he's back to his slouchy self. He's got his chin on his hand, elbow resting on his knee. It's the only possible way to slouch on the ottomans Teyla calls seats.

"Can I?" Rodney asks, hand at the latch to the intricately carved box. Sheppard blinks slowly as he nods. He looks like he's about to fall asleep.

The box contains a personal shield, and Rodney stares down at the turtleshell pattern of it. He should take it apart and see if he can figure it out; the depleted one is a complete mystery to them. They can't figure out where the power source was, much less how it converted energy into an impenetrable shield.

"No," Sheppard says, like he can hear what Rodney's thinking. "It's to keep you safe. If we find another one you can try and figure out how it works."

Rodney catches a glimpse of Sheppard's mouth hanging open before he turns away, and Teyla giggles.

He hadn't expected to hear any giggles today, and now they've all done it except Ronon, and if that happens, Rodney thinks his head might explode, so he glances up at Teyla to see what's so funny. She's smiling brightly, something he sees so rarely his breath catches in his throat.

"What did you do to us?" Sheppard asks, and Rodney cycles through the last half an hour or so in his memories. Giggle-fest, embarrassing blurted confessions, the room spinning a little… oh shit.

"It is my present to you," Teyla says, and produces the glass jar of pea soup. "This is trenka. It is often used on holidays to celebrate in Athos."

"What does it do?" Rodney asks, checking his pockets for his epi-pen. He didn't forget it, did he?

"It's a lot like beer," Ronon says, and that is so patently untrue Rodney can't help but snort in reply.

"You have to drink several beers to get to 'embarrassing' and we've only had a few sips of tea. That is by far more potent, and also, even drunk I would never have said those things – or Sheppard, I'd bet." He glances at Sheppard for confirmation, but Sheppard is staring at Teyla with wide eyes.

Teyla puts her hands up placatingly. "It lowers your inhibitions–"

"I like my inhibitions," Rodney says frantically, standing, "that's who I am – inhibition-man. That's what makes me smarter than everybody else!" He starts to pace, but his thoughts calm quickly, and he's only taken a couple steps before he wants to sit down again.

"Makes you tell the truth, too," Ronon says, and that makes Sheppard get to his feet and head straight for the door without saying a word or looking at any of them. Teyla frowns at his back as he leaves silently.

"Did I do something wrong?" Teyla asks, and Rodney turns to her, wanting to be angry, but somehow unable to produce the vitriol he knows he should be spouting at her.

"You drugged us," he says, his fist clenching around the personal shield still in his hand.

"John spoke of 'spiking the punch' when he was in school," she says, placid as only Teyla can be, but with a question in her face. "I assumed it was a common practical joke."

Rodney gapes for a second, uncomprehending of Sheppard doing something so stupid and potentially dangerous. "He didn't tell you how bad it was and that no one should ever do it?"

She looks down for a second before meeting Rodney's eyes. "He told me it was amusing. I assumed no harm could come of it, you must know–"

"He's never going to drink your tea again," Rodney says, and then gets a brilliant idea. "Come to think of it, I probably won't either."

"It wasn't the tea," Ronon says, glancing down at the plate of cookies. Rodney groans. He's eaten at least half a dozen of them, and Sheppard's eaten at least two.

"It'll be a while before he trusts you. He's tough on people that way." He feels oddly calm, for all that he knows he should be angry at Teyla and embarrassed at his outbursts and worried for Sheppard.

"Is there more?" he asks. "I feel kind of… peaceful."

"It pacifies people," Ronon says, smiling at Rodney. Rodney smiles back, feeling like an idiot. It's good to know he can't help it. "It's fun – good spirits, truth, peace…"

"It is a coveted gift in Athos," Teyla says, and for all the calming effect of the cookies, she looks genuinely distressed. "I did not understand–"

Rodney walks over to her and lays a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay," Rodney says. "I'll talk to him."

She stands and lowers her head in the typical Athosian way, and he brings his own down to meet it. He feels weirdly honored; she doesn't usually touch him, and certainly not with the Athosian equivalent of a hug.

He picks up Sheppard's abandoned gifts and nods at Ronon on his way out the door, catching the flash of Ronon's toothy grin before he leaves.

~~~~~~

"Go away," Sheppard calls through the door.

Rodney knocks again.

"I don't want to talk to you."

If there's something that'll get Sheppard to open the door, it's a present. "You haven't opened my gift, Sheppard."

"We can do it later."

"I have Ronon's beer here," Rodney tries, shifting them to his other arm. They're heavy. "We could go out to the pier and have a couple."

"Go away, Rodney. I mean it."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "If you don't come out and get your present now, I'll give it to Lorne."

The door shoots open, and Sheppard's standing on the other side of it, glaring at him. "You wouldn't."

"I would." Finally, he has an advantage over Sheppard – it's habit for him to tell the truth, unvarnished and often unkind.

Rodney hands the card to Sheppard, who takes it gingerly between two fingers. "It won't blow up – just open it."

Sheppard turns the envelope over in his hands a couple of times, looking for something. Smart, Rodney thinks. He'll have to do an Easter egg-type hunt for the Athosian holiday in the spring. Sheppard finally tears it open and reads the card inside, sighing melodramatically.

"All right," he says, throwing his hands up in defeat. "Let's go wherever you've stashed it."

Rodney's been working in one of the empty labs on Pier 3 for weeks; he shrugs and heads out of the room. "C'mon, cranky. You'll love it, I promise."

~~~~~~

"So," Rodney says as they exit the transporter, "you're not mad at Teyla, are you?"

"Of course I'm pissed at Teyla!" Sheppard snaps, and then puts a hand over his eyes. "And that is exactly why. It's never good to be forced to tell the truth, and sometimes it's dangerous."

Rodney doesn't touch Sheppard, though for a second he considers putting a hand on his shoulder. "We're in Atlantis, Sheppard, on a holiday. No one off-world for twenty-four hours. I think you're safe from being forced to give up State secrets."

Sheppard starts walking again, so Rodney hurries a couple of steps to catch up, happy he seems to have put Sheppard at ease.

"I've been working on this for sixteen months," he says as he guides them through the corridors to the lab/workshop with Sheppard's present in it. "It took forever to get the elements that I needed for the frame."

"Frame?" Sheppard says, practically bouncing, standing just inside the door.

"Yes, frame," Rodney says as derogatorily as he can, considering how happy he is to have Sheppard's inner twelve-year-old so obviously on display. "And I had to order the cloth from a woman that Halling recommended; I tested it for tensile strength, but there's no way to know exactly how it's going to work until we try it out and –"

"Rodney," Sheppard says, sounding only slightly exasperated.

"Yes, yes," Rodney says, and moves the dry erase board out of the way to reveal a drop-cloth covered contraption. "Here it is."

Sheppard steps up, grinning like he never does, and puts a hand on the cloth. For a moment Rodney thinks he isn't even going to uncover his gift, he's just going to sit there rubbing the dropcloth between his fingers until Rodney has a heart attack… and then he pulls it off, one quick snap of his wrist, and it's revealed in all its glory, gleaming in the artificial light of the lab, the old-fashioned flame pattern on the wings rippling like it's really on fire.

"A hang glider?" Sheppard breathes, so quietly Rodney almost misses it.

"Not just any hang glider," Rodney says. "It's made of naquadah and trinium and a few other elements that were just lying around. Touch it."

Sheppard does, his hand outstretched before Rodney even told him, and as soon as he touches the metal, it glows with the vaguely blue tint that all of Atlantis seems to have when Sheppard comes knocking.

"You can control it with your mind," Rodney says, laughing. It took him forever to reverse engineer the HUD interface.

"This is fantastic," Sheppard says, running his hand down the frame. "I love you so much."

Sheppard's hand stutters as it smoothes the cloth where it's attached to the frame and Rodney almost misses it – Sheppard's already moved on to slipping the flame-painted black cloth between his fingers.

"What?" Rodney asks, flicking his eyes up to Sheppard.

"I love it," Sheppard says, but the simple joy is gone. His forehead is squinched up and he's absently rubbing his hand over the frame, not paying attention. "Can we take it up?" he asks, finally lifting his eyes to Rodney's.

Rodney's torn; he can ask for the truth and get it, if he wants. He's not stupid, he knows there's something going on between them, something more than the friendship that's an anchor for his life in Atlantis. He'd always thought Sheppard would tell him when Jennifer broke up with him or come clean when DADT was repealed, but no. Nothing.

Rodney can get an answer now. A truthful answer, something that could lead to... something else. He stares at Sheppard for a long second.

"Okay," he says. "Let's take it up."

~~~~~~

It takes a few days for things to smooth out, but his easy back and forth with Sheppard comes back almost immediately, and Sheppard doesn't stay mad at Teyla long. Rodney finds he's not mad at her at all, though that might be because she gave him his real Christmas present – the ZPM – when they got back from testing the hang glider out on the mainland.

Rodney finds himself waiting again. Waiting for Sheppard to show up at his door, or to say something when they're sitting too close as they watch movies, or to do something when he comes to hassle Rodney into eating something when he's been in the lab too long.

Nothing happens.

He can feel the little voice inside sighing with relief. Sheppard is too complicated, it tells him, besides, maybe you heard him wrong, saw it wrong, took it the wrong way, how could he possibly want you anyway?

"Oh, shut up," Rodney mutters into his coffee.

He putters around the lab, moving from project to project, too distracted to concentrate on one of his own, but distracted enough to catch mistakes out of the corner of his eye as he wanders by other people's work.

He rolls his eyes when Sheppard walks into the lab. "What are you doing here?"

Sheppard's in his running gear, sweating but Ronon-less, so Rodney knows he saw the light on too early in the morning and came in to see if Rodney's been up all night.

Sheppard puts his hands up in self-defense. "Senior staff this morning," he says, backing up. "Just checking you'll still be awake."

"Why not?" Rodney asks, mostly to that annoying little voice in his head, but also to Sheppard.

"Because you've probably been up all night," Sheppard answers, carefully, like Rodney's losing it, which he supposes he is, sort of.

Rodney shakes his head impatiently. "No."

Sheppard stops backing up, but he looks wary, so Rodney doesn't move. He's determined now, because it's stupid to leave this out there, hanging around like an undiagnosed disease.

"So," Rodney starts, letting the wheels of his thought process get on track, "you love me. You've told me so twice now."

Sheppard looks startled and for a moment, Rodney's pretty sure he's going to bolt. Rodney does what he does best and keeps talking.

"I love you too," Rodney says automatically, because that's never been a question and because it's only fair he let his own crap hang out there to keep Sheppard's company. Sheppard still looks like a deer caught in the headlights, but there's a minute shift in his posture that lets Rodney know he's not going to run right this second.

"I'm only going to ask you once, and I'm going to take you at your word."

It's harder to get the question out than he expected. It's stuck in his throat, and Rodney knows he has to ask – it's stupid to leave this question mark hanging between them – but it's more harrowing than he expected, especially with the way Sheppard looks like his eyeballs might fall out of his head if he opens his eyes any wider.

"You don't have to answer right away," Rodney says, because the reassurances slide out of his mouth as easy as pie, right past the thing he's actually trying to say.

He swallows and opens his mouth and Sheppard starts moving, turning his back on Rodney and taking a step toward the door. "Sheppard," Rodney says, and Sheppard stops and lowers his head. It's easier to talk to Sheppard's back, Rodney thinks, and finally asks.

"Do you want to?"

It's not the sort of thing you ask, not with words. This is supposed to just happen, one of them leans in or puts a hand on a shoulder or...

Sheppard's standing still, right inside the doorway to the lab, head down, and Rodney crosses the couple of feet between them and asks the question right. His hand is steady as he reaches for Sheppard, and he doesn't even know what he's going to do until his fingers clasp Sheppard's bicep. He doesn't have to tug to get Sheppard to turn around and face him.

"Your answer is yes," Rodney says, taking the step that reduces the distance between them to inches. "I know this because I'm always right," he continues, right over Sheppard's spluttered objections, "at least about the important things."

When he leans in, Sheppard's there to meet him.