"Heyyyy . . . Rodddneyy!"
"There you are!"
"Yep. Here I'm . . .am." Sheppard grins blearily up at Rodney, absurdly pleased with himself, sprawled in a corner of the balcony as though his bones have been turned to marshmallow. He pats vaguely at the floor beside him. "Siddown. Take a load off."
"I see someone's been into the ruus wine, then." Rodney tsks and shakes his head, realizes he's turned into his mother and shudders, then eases himself carefully down to sit beside the drunken reprobate. A second later he jerks up with a squeak. Sheppard makes a high-pitched sound worryingly like a giggle and withdraws the hand he'd sneakily slid under Rodney's ass. "Cool it with the frat-boy goosing, Colonel!"
"You sat on my hand, Rodney. Thas prov . . . provok . . . asking f'rit."
"You are so soused," Rodney grumbles. Sheppard walks his fingers up Rodney's thigh like itsy bitsy spider. "And handsy!" He puts his hand quellingly on top of Sheppard's, to still it. Sheppard sighs happily and twines their fingers together. Rodney stares at their clasped hands, carefully doesn't meet Sheppard's eye. "Still, the big 4-0—I guess you're allowed to celebrate."
"I am," Sheppard agrees cheerfully. " 'm allowed." He hums a line or two of It's My Birthday and I'll Cry If I Want To and squeezes Rodney's hand. Rodney shoots him a sideways smile, and squeezes back.
They sit in companionable silence for a while. Inside, the sounds of the party are winding down as people wander off to their beds, or to other peoples' beds. Teyla left long since; she's not one for late nights. A soft blues track Rodney doesn't recognize is playing on the sound system Radek installed in the mess.
"What about my special presen', huh?" Sheppard asks. "You said I could have it later. 's later now."
"Yes, well, that was before you drank Halling's entire stock of ruus wine." Rodney frowns at him. "You're in no state for special presents. I doubt you could even stand up."
Sheppard pouts. "Don' be mean, Rodney. I can stand up fine, jus watch me."
"Oh, this'll be good." Rodney clambers up, slightly unsteady himself, not that he's going to admit it. He props himself on the wall, trying for Sheppard's easy hip-shot lean but not quite managing it. "Come on then, show me your crazy standing-up skills."
Sheppard bites his lip, a look of intense concentration on his face. Muttering under his breath, he rolls to one side, ending up plastered face-first against the balcony guard rail. He lies there, seemingly baffled.
Rodney snorts. "Ah, the trick is to stand up, Colonel, not lie down."
Sheppard lies there facing away from Rodney, running his hands vaguely over the balcony structure as though trying to figure out what it is. "You c'n call me John, y'know," he says, apropos of nothing.
"What?" Rodney jerks a little in surprise and slips, then catches himself.
Over by the balcony railing, Sheppard finds a protuberance and manages to haul himself up to his hands and knees. "Woo, head rush," he says.
"Probably all that ruus wine sloshing around in it," Rodney says. " . . . John."
Sheppard—Rodney should probably try to think of him as John but it's hard to break ingrained habits—turns his head and grins. "Thas me."
"Time for phase two of the standing up project," Rodney suggests.
"Yeah yeah, gimme a minute here. I'm stat. Straternizing."
Sheppard waves a hand and sways dangerously. Rodney takes a step forward but Sheppard centers himself again. "Militry term. Y'wouldn't know it."
"Uh huh, sure." Rodney smirks. "D'you think you're likely to put this strategy into effect any time tonight?" He looks pointedly at his watch. "Like, before dawn?" He tries not to look at Sheppard's ass, where his shirt's rucked up. It's a pretty nice ass, not as skinny as you'd think, with how rangy Sheppard is.
Ronon sticks his head through the doors to the balcony. "You okay out there?"
"Ronon, buddy!" Sheppard crows, still on all fours, waving a hand and listing to the right.
"Yes, yes. We're just peachy," Rodney says. "The colonel here's demonstrating his intrepid ability to stand up."
"Need a hand?" Ronon asks, grinning.
"Nuh-uh," Sheppard says. "No cheatin. 'm gonna do this, watchme."
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Any day now."
"Sure you don't need some help?" Ronon murmurs.
"I can manage," Rodney says quietly. "I'll get some coffee into him once he's up. Is there still some left in there?"
"Yeah," Ronon says. "Gateroom techs made a fresh pot." He raises his voice. " 'night, Sheppard."
"G'night buddy." Another lurching wave, which Sheppard parlays into a grab for the balcony railing. He gets his other hand on it and hauls himself up to his knees. "Hah!"
Ronon grins, shakes his head and vanishes back into the mess.
Sheppard clings to the rails and starts singing "I'm standin' up" to the tune of Diana Ross's I'm Coming Out, in a cracked falsetto.
Rodney bites his lip trying not to laugh out loud. "John, I—"
"I'm standin' up, I want th' world to know, I gotta let it show," warbles Sheppard. "I'm standin' up!" And he somehow gets his feet underneath him and hauls himself upright, swaying and triumphant.
Rodney's at his side in an instant, steadying the big idiot. Sheppard flops heavily into him, all arms and hair, pressing him back against the balcony railing. "Hi there," John says, grinning, draped over Rodney like a marinated squid.
"Hi yourself." Rodney extricates himself with difficulty and somehow gets Sheppard alongside him, one arm around his waist and Sheppard's arm across his shoulders. Sheppard starts playing with Rodney's ear. "Stop that. Damn, you're a dead weight. I shouldn't have let Ronon escape."
"Nah," Sheppard says happily. "Wanted me all to yourself. Aaaall tooo yooourself," he croons loudly in Rodney's ear, to the tune of All By Myself. "Y'wanted me, aaall too youuurself."
Rodney starts dragging him toward the doors to the mess. "Oh dear God. Come on, one foot in front of the other. Also, when did you turn into Colonel Jukebox?"
"I got th' music in me," Sheppard hums. He rubs his cheek against Rodney's "You got th' music in you!"
"Yes, yes, we've all got . . . unh. . . the music. Also, why are you so heavy? You're all gangly and, and half hair, so how can that be—"
"He ain't heavyyyy," Sheppard sings in his ear. "He's my bruuutherrr . . ."
The mess is, thankfully, deserted by the time Rodney manages to dump Sheppard into a chair at the nearest table. It takes some doing to pry Sheppard's limbs off him and they keep coming back, tentacle-like, to wrap around him and haul him into the crook of Sheppard's neck for more off-key serenades. The plaintive echo of "Ro–odddnyyy, don't take your love to town" follows him across the room to the coffee station where the pot is, blessedly, still half full. Rodney snags it and a couple of mugs and through sheer bloody-minded obstinacy gets half a liter or so into Sheppard.
That improves Sheppard's motor skills a little, but he lapses into sullen pouting as Rodney drags him into the mess hall transporter and pilots him through empty hallways to Rodney's room.
Sheppard brightens. "Hey, Rodney, c'n I sleep over?"
Sheppard's quarters are another two hallways away and there's no way they'll make it. "Yes, that's the idea. Your place is too far, in your current state."
"Cooool." Sheppard thinks Rodney's door open. Rodney'd tried to lock it against the big lug at one point in the distant past, but Sheppard got the city to break any code Rodney'd ever tried, so he'd given up. He could override the lock to Sheppard's door anyway, so it only seemed fair, and who knew when one or the other of them might turn into a pumpkin again, or worse. Best to have a back-up plan.
He props Sheppard against the wall near the toilet and leaves him fumbling with his flies while Rodney brushes his teeth and strips down to his t-shirt and underwear. Back in the bedroom he gets Sheppard out of his boots and pants, leaving on Rodney's to-be-going-on-with gift which Sheppard had insisted on wearing the moment he unwrapped it—a black tee with a decal of Barbarella and the words Space Babe in glitter. It's going to fill the bed with crap but that seems wiser than risking Sheppard bare-chested in just his boxers. Rodney has his limits.
Rodney holds up a glass of water. "Come on, Space Babe, drink this or you'll feel even worse in the morning." He gets some Nurofen into him as well, and more water, before Sheppard rebels and hauls Rodney down onto the bed, curling up against him.
"Sleepin' now." He yawns hugely and pushes back into Rodney, making him be the big spoon.
Rodney yawns in sympathy and pulls up the covers, then settles down, nose in Sheppard's hair. "Happy Birthday, John," he says softly, resting his free hand on Sheppard's hip.
Sheppard reaches up and grabs it, pulling Rodney's hand down and cradling it against his chest. "Yeah, thas me . . . " His breathing evens out and Rodney's almost asleep when he hears, " . . . an' I still want my special present."
"In the morning," Rodney promises, and Sheppard sighs happily. A moment later he's snoring.
"G'night birthday boy," Rodney whispers into his neck.
He lies there a while, enjoying the warm weight of John pressed against him. For all that's between them they've never gone further than this, both too scared, maybe, of messing up a good thing. Neither of them are any good at relationships—Rodney's dead-in-the-water dalliance with Katie Brown is living proof of that. Then there's all John's military bullshit between them, but Earth's a long way away and Elizabeth's as good as said DADT doesn’t apply in Pegasus. Maybe John just doesn't want any more? Maybe. Rodney decides it's okay, if this is all he'll ever get. Sharing John's life, sharing adventures and sometimes a bed, off-world or like this when there's some kind of plausible deniability. He'll take it and be thankful.
He yawns again, and slides into sleep.
"You're all sparkly."
Rodney blinks awake, lifting his head where it's somehow, in the night, come to be pillowed on John's chest. "Huh?" John's looking far too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for someone who was so completely rat-assed last night. "Oh, Space Babe."
"That's me." John grins at him, then winces and screws up his eyes, draping his forearm across them. Good to see he hasn’t escaped entirely unscathed, although his tolerance and ability to bounce back are way better than Rodney's.
"No, I meant, Space Babe glitter from your shirt. On me." Rodney reaches across John for the glass of water on the nightstand and drinks thirstily. "Want some?"
John shakes his head minimally, eyes still covered. "Drank a river already, and I took more painkillers. 'm feeling almost human, s'long as I don't, y'know, move or anything."
Rodney pushes himself up on one elbow and peers at the bedside clock. "Damn, it's almost noon. You're going to have to pull yourself together, or we'll be late for special present time."
John lets his arm fall back on the pillow and frowns up at Rodney. "Late for . . . ?" His face seems to close over, to shut down a little. "I wasn't thinking there'd be a . . . schedule, for that. It's mandatory Sunday, isn't it?"
Rodney files the slightly off reaction away, another data point. What was John hoping his special present might be? Not what Rodney's got planned, evidently, but there's no help for that now. Elizabeth'll have everyone assembled.
He chivies a grumbling and increasingly puzzled John into his pants, arguing against showers, knowing they won't be needed. Sheppard's boxers will have to be good enough, dark colored and reasonably concealing: they'll do. The Space Babe t-shirt can stay—it could do with losing some more glitter, anyway. Rodney pulls on swim shorts and a baggy tee himself, and herds Sheppard out into the hallway.
In the transporter, he hits the symbol for the Northwest Pier, previously barely used until a city exploration team had chanced on the complex they're headed for. They step out onto the sunlit pier and Sheppard fumbles desperately for his aviator shades. This planet's seasons are different from Earth's, the climate more subtropical. January's a mild month with temperatures in the twenties, and today's especially warm.
The pier's all hustle and bustle, with mess staff and Marines carrying trays of hot dogs, platters of buns, plates and cutlery, the works. There are trestles set out with salad, bottles of ketchup and mustard and that fiery hot sauce the Athosians make. Over in the shade, Carson's handing out small pots of Rodney's home-made sunscreen.
"Barbecue," Rodney says, waving at Ronon, who strides past carrying a towering stack of deckchairs. Such a simple design, but unknown in Pegasus even though wood and tough fabrics are easily come by. They're a useful trade item.
This part of the pier forms a rim around one of the inner sea pools. The marine biologists argue that these trapped bits of ocean with periodic steps down to the water were for scientific observation, but Rodney figures even the Ancients must have chilled out sometime. The enclosed ocean's octagonal, each side about as wide as the length of an Olympic pool. It only took Lorne and his Marines a day to install the nets Radek designed, dropping them down from the rim with the center supported by a hovering jumper until all the fastenings were in place. They hang down now below the city's infrastructure to keep out any curious sea-life. Anything larger than a minnow, anyway, and Rodney's been assured by the biologists there aren't any dangerous lifeforms that small in the seas here.
Teyla beckons them over to a table with pitchers of crushed neeva-berry juice well-diluted and mixed with ice. There's iced tea as well, and coolers full of beers, but after last night a lot of people are going for non-alcoholic options.
"This is very festive," Teyla says, beaming and pressing glasses of frosted juice on them both. A jumper sets down at the pier's edge and a crowd of Athosians emerge, blinking. "Excuse me, I will just . . ." She's absorbed into their midst in a flurry of greetings and head-presses.
"So . . . this is some kinda picnic?"
Rodney grins at Sheppard. He knows he's looking smug but he can't help it. "Yes, in part. It's the culmination of a project several months in the making. Technically tricky, but that wasn't the main challenge." Sheppard raises an eyebrow and drinks some of his juice. Rodney cranks up the smug a few notches. "The main challenge was keeping it a secret from you."
"Rodney," Sheppard growls, losing patience. "What the fuck?"
"Ah, there you are," says Elizabeth, handing off a tray of drinks to Kate Heightmeyer and linking arms with them. "Just in time for the official opening. We put a temporary name on the banners." She gestures to the wall of the building behind them, where a long banner made from sewn together sheets trumpets ATLANTIS AQUATIC CENTER in giant blue-painted letters. "I imagine John will come up with something catchier."
Sheppard is peering up at the banner, his brow furrowed. "Would someone like to tell me what in hell is going on here?"
"We made you an amusement park!" Rodney says, unable to keep the grin off his face. "Well, not you, personally, of course—it's for everyone. But we timed the opening so you could, um, inaugurate it. For your birthday."
"An amusement park?" Sheppard's looking around, puzzled. There are a few wires strung up but he probably won't be able to figure them out from down here.
"Yes. Sorry we couldn't run to a Ferris wheel; maybe in time I can come up with something. But we do have rides—well, two rides, anyway."
"Rides?" Sheppard's peering about hopefully.
"It's there, the main attraction," Rodney says, waving at the ovoid building on the other side of the sea pool. It looks like a shorter version of that glass-sided monstrosity in London; the Brits call it 'the Gherkin'. This one's more of an egg-shape, really, with a spiraling structure winding around the outside from top to bottom. "We think it was an emergency escape system initially, in case experiments in the topmost laboratory got out of control." He waves airily. "We took all that stuff out—no nanoviruses. All we really had to do was clean out the chute and redirect a water supply to, ah, lubricate it. It was already set up to splash down in the pool."
Elizabeth gives them both a push. "Go on, get yourselves up there. I'll radio when I've done the speech, and then you can christen it. And happy special birthday, John."
Rodney pulls a slightly dazed Sheppard along, skirting the sea pool until they're at the base of the egg-building. They really will need to think up a better name for it, but that's Sheppard's forte. At the building's doors, a gaggle of Marines part to let them through, throwing Sheppard sloppy salutes. "Lucky you, Colonel", "Good of you to test it out for us, sir". That's bullshit, of course. There's no way Rodney would risk Sheppard on an untried thing like this. He made Ronon test it, but Sheppard doesn't need to know that.
They step into the transporter at the base—no tedious stair-climbing with this attraction. At the top, Rodney drags Sheppard over to another group of Marines clustered around the entrance to what at first glance looks like a cupboard. "Hey, Dr. McKay, all present and correct here. Ready for the ride of your life, Colonel?" Lorne says, grinning.
"Rodney, a little explanation, for Christ's sake."
"It's a water slide, John!" Rodney's so excited he doesn't notice his slip with John's name, but Lorne raises an eyebrow, his eyes twinkling. "It spirals all the way down the outside of the building to the sea pool below." He steps to one side. "Just think 'on'."
Sheppard's—John's—looking flabbergasted. "A water slide? But we've gotta be, what, twenty levels up?"
"Twenty-five, actually," Lorne says.
"It's perfectly safe," Rodney assures John. "You know the Ancients—their fail-safes had fail-safes. There's some kind of inertial dampening built in that limits your speed. And we're running water through it so there's no real friction."
"Jesus, Rodney," John says. But he waves a hand over the control panel, initializing the system.
The back of the alcove de-materializes, revealing a wide, well-lit tube made of the super-tough transparent alloy the Ancients used instead of glass. It runs for a couple of feet then passes through the wall and curves away down out of sight. Water gushes into it from a rim of spouts. It's patterned like the stained glass in the Gate room, alternating with clear sections. Rodney leans out, looking at the view below. He swallows: they're very high up.
"So I just . . ." John gestures at the tube. "Get in there? You're sure it's safe?"
Rodney relents. "Yes, yes, we already tested it. Well, Ronon did. But this is the official opening." He waves a hand. "For your birthday."
John looks at him, his eyes crinkling. It seems to be sinking in, finally. "A 25 story water-slide, goddamn." He scratches his head, then takes a step forward. "Well, I'm guessing there's a few of the men want to give it a go, Lorne, so I'd better get on with it."
Lorne ducks his head, listening to his headset. "Understood, Dr. Weir. We're underway." He looks up at John and grins. "Dr. Weir just officially blessed it. You're on, sir."
John steps up to the rim of the tube. "Ah, pants?" Rodney suggests. "Or rather, no pants."
"We'll get them back to you, sir," one of the Marines promises.
John rolls his eyes but strips out of his BDU pants and hands them and his sunglasses off, leaving him in boxers and the Barbarella tee, his legs tanned and hairy. Neither he or Rodney are wearing shoes; Rodney'd nixed that, knowing what lay in store.
"Okay, I'm doin' this," John says, taking a deep breath. "On one condition. You gotta come after me, Rodney. But, like, leave a few seconds, okay, 'cause your weight might make for more acceleration. Don't want you crashing into me in there."
"Oh very droll. I'll have you know that the gravity, centrifugal force and mass acting on objects in motion re–"
"Hey, doc, can it with the physics lesson," one of the Marines says. "We're bustin' a gut to have a try after you."
"That's enough Martinez, wait your turn," Lorne says easily.
"Count to ten," John tells Rodney, then he steps up, sits on the edge, pushes himself off with a hoot, and vanishes. More hoots echo up from below.
"Oh my God," Rodney says, edging over. "It's, um, it's really very high up, isn't it?"
"You'll catch him in no time, doc," Lorne says.
"That's rather what I'm afraid of," Rodney says, but he sits nervously on the edge, against his better judgement. He turns to Lorne. "Do I just?—"
Martinez gives him a push, and Rodney shoots out into the flowing water, yelling imprecations. It's not as steep as he'd feared, or the inertial dampening's making it seem less so. He flies past bands of stained glass, then terrifying transparent stretches where he can see the city and the ocean stretching out, the pool and minute people far below. After a while he learns to steer with his limbs, angling himself this way and that to speed up or slow down. He bets John sussed that out within seconds, bets he figured out how to lean just so for maximum acceleration. For a few spirals, Rodney loses himself in the applied physics of torque and angular motion, then he relaxes into it, glad the building's wide enough that his inner ear's not going think he's been spinning like a top. He lies back, stretches out full length, and goes with it, staring up at the colored glass, out at the view, then he closes his eyes and lets it take him.
Splash!!! Rodney screams, inhales water, flails and thrashes. A strong arm snakes around him, bearing him up, and they surface, Rodney spluttering and coughing. John tows him over to the side of the sea pool in a one-armed Baywatch grip. He probably was a surf lifesaver at some point in his misspent youth, Rodney realizes.
"Okay there, sir?" There's a Marine kneeling at the edge of the pool, Ronon behind him.
"Yeah, we're fine. That splashdown's a trick, though, kinda takes you by surprise, eh, Rodney?" Rodney splutters some more. John guides him along to the steps, and they clamber up to sit in the sun. "Tell Major Lorne to make sure no one uses this unless there's at least one person on lifeguard duty who can haul 'em out if they're in difficulty," John orders.
"Yessir," the Marine says, and settles back into parade rest, on watch. Ronon hunkers down beside them.
"You okay, Rodney?" Sheppard says, resting a cool hand on Rodney's back.
"Yes, I um, I may have," he turns aside and spits out some water, "made the mistake of shutting my eyes toward the end there."
"Yeah, it's kind of soothing, in a hair-raising sorta way." Sheppard shakes his hair like a dog then puts his head back and yells. "Whooo-eee!" He grins wildly at Rodney and Ronon. "Man, that was some trip. Best present ever, Rodney."
"Pretty cool, huh?" Ronon's looking over at the transporter.
John punches him in the arm. "G'wan, scram, Big Guy. Get up there and have another turn on it."
"Yeah, okay." Ronon straightens and lopes off, grinning.
Rodney's feeling less waterlogged. He smirks at John. "That clear up your hangover?"
"Oh, you betcha." John leans back on his elbows, grinning lazily.
A few people over by the picnic area are in the water, swimming, and a bunch of the pluckier scientists and several off-duty Marines are approaching, talking excitedly and gesturing up at the egg-building. "Helter skelter," Rodney says. "It's a Helter skelter."
"Uh-huh," agrees John, waving at the others as they troop into the base of the building and queue up for the transporter. "We should call it Helter Skelter Park, then. Hey, wait." He sits up. "Did you say 'rides', plural?"
"Yep." Rodney grins. "Radek and the Marines rigged up a kind of super-duper flying fox. It runs from a balcony around a couple of towers and down into the sea pool. Ronon tested that one as well. He says it's faster."
"Oh, man." John stretches and then bounds up, reaching down to haul Rodney to his feet. "Okay, so the plan is: lunch, then the flying fox, then a nap."
"A nap?" Rodney snorts. You're going to be way too wired on adrenaline for a nap after all that excitement."
"Yeah, that's the idea." John steps in close and pulls Rodney to him. "Goddammit, Rodney, you and the guys built me a theme park." He leans in and kisses Rodney. His lips are warm and soft, parted just a little. He tastes of salt, and of promises.
"John?" Rodney stares up at him, licking his lips, chasing John's taste. Behind them, some of the scientists queuing for the transporter wolf whistle appreciatively. Rodney gives them the finger and flicks a nervous glance around. The Marine watching the pool keeps his eyes front and center, but he's grinning. Rodney swallows. "Is this . . . ? Are we . . . ?"
"Yeah, reckon so." John smiles at him fondly, one of the real smiles that make his eyes crinkle up. "I like that disco glitter on you. It's kind of hot. C'mon, we got things to do." He takes Rodney's hand and pulls him up the rest of the steps, toward the picnic tables.
"So when you said 'nap'," Rodney says hopefully, "you didn't actually mean 'nap', did you?"
John just grins, and tugs him along.
~~ the end ~~