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A Matter of Time

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"Hey."

Daniel looks up to see Rodney striding into the infirmary and grunts his acknowledgement around the piece of fruit he's trying to chew.

"How are ya?"

"Well, it hurts to eat this fruit cup."

"Don't eat the fruit cup, then."

"Thank you, Groucho," he says, gingerly setting the cup and spoon back on the tray on his lap. "Listen, not that I don't appreciate the visit, but shouldn't you be trying to figure out a way to keep the Asgards out of the shield again?"

Rodney smirks, crossing his arms smugly over his chest. "One step ahead of you. It's not gonna happen again."

"Oh," he says, pleased. "Good."

But Rodney's confidence falters then, the set of his shoulders flagging a little as his brow creases with worry. "You don't think they—they'd make a run at us again?"

"Well…" He gusts out a sigh, considering. "I'm not sure. But we did ruin the one plan they had to feel free in this galaxy; they might hold a grudge."

"Well, let's hope not," Rodney grimaces.

Daniel frowns as well, though not all for the same reason. "I don't think I'll be around to find out, though."

"Yeah, I heard!" the physicist says cheerily, then deflates a little again, unable or unwilling to keep up the pretense of not liking him. "They're, um, sending you back to Earth."

"Yeah, I guess I need some major patching-up and recovery, and Landry prefers I do that there instead of here, so." He's disappointed, but he can't say he's surprised. He'd have liked to stay on Atlantis at least a few months longer.

"Well, the Daedalus has already picked up a gate left over from the gatebridge, and my team is installing it as we speak, so we should have you home in no time at all!"

"That's good," he says, nodding slowly to himself, trying to convince himself that it really is. Not that he expected any less, especially not from Rodney, but. He supposes there really is no going around returning to Earth, or even delaying it a while. There's still so much he can do here, and that's not even counting the rest of the secrets locked away in Janus' lab. And who knows when he'll even get his next chance to come back. "That is… good."

"Yes, so…" Rodney agrees quietly, twisting side to side a little, hands shoved in his pockets, as he avoids his eyes. The silence that descends between them then is awkward, neither quite knowing what to say. Daniel doesn't want Rodney to go just yet, and Rodney—well, who knows what Rodney's thinking, but he seems reluctant as well, still looking anywhere but at him and making nervous popping sounds with his mouth. "Well, it's been, um…" he starts, eyes finally meeting his after a fashion. "Unique."

"Yes, yes, it has, it sure has. But, uh, I do want to say thank you," Daniel says, "for—saying that you respected me, when you thought I was about to die back there."

Mildly affronted, Rodney says, "Excuse me? I said nothing of the sort," and, yeah, that's the Rodney McKay he knows; he smiles a little.

"Yeah, you were like, um, 'I know it may not seem like it, but… I really respect you,' and that… that means a great deal to me."

"Ah, I don't believe I ever finished that sentence."

The smile falters, falling from his face. And, yep, this is also the Rodney McKay he knows. "He else would you have finished that sentence."

"I would have said 'regret,'" Rodney says, nodding to himself. "I would have said, 'I really regret, uh, you being here, because none of this would have happened… otherwise,'" he finishes somewhat lamely, unable to quite meet his eyes again.

Daniel stares at him for a few moments in utter disbelief. "So you can only give compliments to the dying?"

The physicist tilts his head to the side, looking sheepish, even for him. "It's… something I'm working on."

Huh. Well, that's…

"Do you… want to try any of this?" Daniel tries, holding the tray out for him, figuring that a change of topic is probably best. Especially if he wants the man to stick around a while longer.

Plus, knowing Rodney, the guy's probably been too absorbed in his work to remember to eat in a while. And, knowing himself, seeing food now won't necessarily remind him to get any for himself in a few minutes: theirs are jobs that abound with distractions.

"Ooh," Rodney says eagerly. "Fries?"

"Yeah yeah yeah. Go, dive in. Take the—take the deal, there."

But Rodney's hardly listening, already taking the tray off his hands almost before he's finished offering. He picks up a fry and considers it for half a second, then, with a questioning quirk of an eyebrow, offers it to him almost as an afterthought, just to be sure. Daniel turns it down with a "No, no," and gingerly reaches for the mug—of water, unfortunately; he could go for some coffee, though he understands why Dr Keller doesn't want him on caffeine right now—sitting on the bedside table to his right; Rodney shrugs as if to say, your loss, and tucks in. As if missing out on hospital food is any real loss—even on Atlantis, hospital food is, well, hospital food. They don't even have the blue jello today.

He shakes his head a little, amused, hiding a smile behind his mug—and ah. Yeah that hurts too. Didn't he read somewhere that smiling uses fewer muscles than frowning? It shouldn't hurt this much then, but he can't find it in him to stop.

Having finished off the fries, Rodney sets the tray down on the bed by Daniel's feet and picks up the fruit cup. "What?" he asks defensively, catching his eyes as he straightens.

"Nothing," Daniel says, trying and failing to fight down his grin.

Rodney watches him warily for a moment before apparently deciding that it really is nothing and ignoring him in favor of eating a spoonful of fruit.

It's probably a good thing that he's not even more hyped up on painkillers than he is, or he might point out how that's an indirect kiss. As it is, he just manages to tamp down on that bit of childishness.

Of course, now he can't get the image of kissing Rodney directly out of his head, but that's… not exactly anything new, either. That would probably hurt too, of course—everything does right now, pretty much—but. It would be worth it, if Rodney liked him back. Anything would be worth that, he thinks.

"What," Rodney demands again, catching him staring, his fingers curling protectively around the mostly empty fruit cup like he thinks Daniel might ask for it back.

He's about to say it's nothing again, shrug it off, but thinks better of it. He sets the mug carefully back on the side table then beckons Rodney closer with one hand. "Come here."

The physicist looks at him suspiciously but inches a few steps toward the head of the bed anyway, clutching the fruit cup against his chest. Daniel resists rolling his eyes. "Closer," he urges; he can't exactly reach out very far when he's still recovering from being hit by an electrical discharge as he is. Can he blame the pain meds, if this goes badly? Or the lightning?

When Rodney gets close enough, he pushes himself up further with his right hand, his left curling around the back of the man's neck and drawing him in, and presses his lips against Rodney's, just for a second. "Fuck," he hisses as he falls back against the pillow, using his thumb to try to massage the pain out of his right hand, and Rodney makes a noise in the back of his throat which he doesn't have the attention to spare to parse right now.

He works his left hand methodically up his arm, fingertips digging in to loosen protesting muscles, flexing the fingers and wrist as he goes and—agh, too hard. With a sharp intake of breath, he squeezes his eyes shut and presses his head back against the pillow, taking a few deep, controlled breaths, then consciously unclenches his jaw, working his way slowly downward to relax each of his muscles in turn, the flare of pain ebbing away with the tension melting from his body.

When he opens his eyes again after a moment, he sees Rodney watching his arms, now lying loosely crossed over his stomach, rise and fall in time with his slightly labored breathing, the crooked set of his mouth unhappy. "You okay?"

"Fine. Just hurts everywhere."

"Still‽ Is the pain medication not working?" he asks, looking around like he's about to call for—or go find—a nurse.

"No, it is," Daniel hastens to assure him. "Believe me, it hurt a whole lot worse before I was put on them."

"Oh."

Rodney transfers both the fruit cup and spoon to his left hand then reaches out tentatively with his right, hesitating just short of touching him. Then the tips of his fingers are brushing Daniel's temple, right at his hairline, and then they're sliding back, the blunt edges of his nails dragging lightly over his scalp; he does it again, and Daniel leans into the touch, his eyes sliding shut of their own accord at the sensation of Rodney's fingers combing through his hair. He's doing it too lightly for Daniel to go completely boneless, but it's a near thing. Rodney's thumb traces a path down to his cheekbone, and then he feels a gentle touch to his lips, and his lashes flutter as he kisses back softly.

Yeah, it was definitely worth it.

Rodney's blue eyes search his when he pulls back, and when Daniel lets a slow, wondering smile bloom across his face, he returns it, his cheeks flushed prettily. He straightens up and returns to the foot of the bed, where he purposefully places the fruit cup and spoon back onto the tray. His eyes flick over to meet Daniel's.

"Ah, are you still busy with the—with the Ori, over there?"

"Yeah," he says. "But it's mostly clean-up now, and providing what aid we can to the planets that were visited by the Priors." After a beat, he adds, "But I'm not busy with anything they need me for specifically."

Rodney nods to himself. "When you're done, I'll see about getting you assigned here. I don't have anyone to spare to go through the rest of Janus' lab for long, and translation of the Ancient Database will go more smoothly with someone who's actually fluent in the language."

"I would be honored," he says grandly, flourishing a hand in lieu of taking a bow; the physicist rolls his eyes. "You know, Rodney, you can just say you want me here."

"I do," Rodney says, surprising him, not just by that he's said it outright, but also with the intensity with which he's said it. "You may not be a real scientist, but your skillset is very useful here—it especially would've been early on in the expedition. I mean, hello, lost city of the Ancients? Of course everything's gonna be written in Ancient! We don't just need people with the gene to keep it running. A lot of incidents earlier on probably could've been avoided if we'd been better able to read Ancient. I don't see why the SGC didn't assign you here in the first place."

"That would be Jack."

"Hm. Well, he's an idiot." He drums his fingers against his thigh for a second, lips pursed. "Well, I should probably be getting back now. I'll, uh, I'll take this back for you," he says, picking up the tray and gesturing toward him with it. "Unless you wanted…?"

"No, I'm good." Daniel shakes his head once, then his expression softens. "Thanks."

Rodney just hums in response, his face flushing a light pink again. "I'll just, uh. Yeah." He nods once, decisively, then turns on his heel and heads for the door.

Daniel watches him go with a warm feeling in his chest. He retrieves the mug from the side table and curls his hands around it, more just to have something to hold, to do, than anything else, and smiles down into it, remembering the feel of Rodney's lips against his and buoyed by the certainty that the first time won't be the last.