“Which bed might that be?” Sheppard asks, so nonchalant that the words take precious seconds to catch up to him.
He can’t mean—
“What?” Rodney asks, turning around, suddenly alert despite how desperately his brain is trying to power down for the night.
They hadn’t talked about sleeping arrangements, but they didn’t bring any tents so—so that couldn’t be the case. Do they have to share, is that it? And Sheppard’s drawn the short straw, having to bunk with Rodney?
His heart thuds against his ribcage, quivering and needy.
Ford laughs. “I think Allina might have a little crush on you, Doc.”
It’s her bed he’s supposed to be sharing. “She does?”
All Rodney wants is to take off his boots and fall face first into a soft pillow, not contend with whatever this is. He aches in places he really wishes he wasn’t aware of, already dreading what a soft mattress will do to his back, but right now almost any horizontal surface is becoming more and more appealing.
He looks to Sheppard for confirmation. For anything really, support, curiosity, hell, even amusement—something to react to, but he’s taking another bite out of his biscuit thing.
Teyla, however, is looking at him as if he’s particularly dense. “It is very clear to us all.”
Except to him. Of course. “It is?”
“Well, everyone but you, apparently,” Sheppard snarks, really moving the conversation forward with his contribution.
But he’s still not looking at Rodney, the back of his head and messy hair not revealing much either.
“Should I have, um,” let her down? But she hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t known until now. “Are you sure about this?”
Sheppard shifts in his seat, finally facing him. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
Amusement lingers on the surface of his expression, nonchalance carving the brunt of it. It’s his poker face, relaxed and impenetrable, no matter how hard Rodney tries to know him. Does Sheppard want him to go and romance her?
Is he just flinging whatever he can find at Rodney, bored after days of wading through tomes with nothing to shoot at or run from?
It tips the balance, facing up to the one puzzle he’s as of yet unable to solve, and, once again, coming up empty. He wants to go to bed, sleep off his embarrassment and forget this conversation ever happened.
Glancing over at Allina, he knows he won’t. How can he let her down if she hasn’t even said anything?
It’s a testament to how tired he is that he voices his next thought. “What should I do?”
“You don’t know what to do?” Sheppard fires back, all incredulity and amusement and a hint of worry.
And that’s just too much for him tonight. Waving his hand in the direction of Sheppard’s face, he turns around to go and find a bed somewhere, anywhere. A bed that is definitely not Sheppard’s bed.
The next day it’s worse than he expected. He can’t get two sentences straight around Allina and she’s looking at him like he’s morphing into a stranger right in front of her.
“Uh… you’ve got a lot of things going for you even when things don’t—” go as expected? No, he’s being presumptuous. This whole thing is.
Suddenly Sheppard is there, all sturdy shoulders and coiled strength hidden by the long, lean line of his body. He unscrews his canteen and gives Rodney an inscrutable look.
Rodney tries again. “What I mean is—"
“Is everything all right?” Allina asks.
It would be so easy to say no, say he needs another powerbar and go sit a few metres away to ponder how he even fell into this mess, wanting Major Sheppard to invite him into his bed and ending up unable to gently let Allina down.
Her genuine look of concern is making everything worse.
He spits out an affirmative, trying to make the words in his head line in the right order, like it’s a game of musical chairs, but as the music stops no one wants to find a place. The right words just won’t sit down in the proper order.
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Sheppard asks, not interrupting, but abruptly stopping any momentum Rodney has been building up. Not that he was getting anywhere.
It had to be Koyla, trapping them and trying to twist every situation into an advantage for the Genii. He’d gone with him, any thoughts of Allina’s crush on him firmly pushed to the back of his mind as desperation kicks in.
Not the death-is-imminent or we’re-all-about-to-die-kind, but a more insidious build-up of pressure that has no outlet, pushing and pulling in his chest even as he’s overcome with awe at the ingenuity of the Brotherhood’s hiding methods. He can’t forget why he’s doing this, that all their lives are at stake if they can’t find the stone.
It’s Koyla’s arrogance that nearly kills them, trying to blame him for the death of his man.
“Look, you killed him, not me,” Rodney insists.
But all it does is make him put Sheppard first in line to meet his end.
“Anytime you want to start…” Sheppard says, his fingers curling around the edges of the stones.
“I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” And he’s really trying to, running through the order in which the digits show up in the Fibonacci sequence—that was a mathematical concept the Brotherhood could have discovered, right?—or maybe it had to do with Dagan’s moons, does the planet even have moons? Or maybe—
“How about nine to one?” Sheppard asks.
Eventually they get there. Or rather Sheppard does:
“The numbers one to nine can be put in a three-by-three grid so they add up to 15 in every direction.”
And he’s right, of course he’s right, it’s a magic square, why didn’t Rodney think of that? “How’d you know that?” In that moment he wants to kiss him. He’s about to, consequences and life threatening guns being pointed at them and all, when—
“It was on a Mensa test.”
Instantaneously he needs to revaluate everything he knows about Sheppard.
He knows he’s smart, sure. But the Mensa IQ tests rely heavily on logic, mathematical and spatial logic. Which would help with tactical planning, strategy, but… but what? Koyla is breathing down their necks and Sheppard’s placing his hands onto the stone panels.
Rodney tries to swallow his heart back down into his chest.
What happens next is a blur of smoke and stinging, but then he’s holding the ZPM, tension in his chest he didn’t even know was there unfurling. They’ll be safer now, with the shield.
Later, Sheppard says, “I took the test, I never joined.” Just as unperturbed as when he’d learned he was the first one to figure out they’d been trapped in illusions on M5S-224. Hell, he’d even managed to manipulate them.
“But you passed.”
Sheppard’s looking up, the long line of his throat catching the sunlight. “Yes.”
But they’re too busy escaping for Rodney to make much of a fuss about it. It bothers him, the idea that Sheppard has kept this secret from him, a part of himself that Rodney might relate to.
“Too bad about Allina,” Sheppard says, keeping stride with Rodney as Teyla and Ford talk among themselves up ahead.
They could have easily spent the trek in silence, letting Rodney stew in humiliation and self-flagellation. But no, Sheppard’s decided he wants to talk.
“I know, me and my big mouth. Next time I’ll be sure not to mention that we aren’t actually Ancients when we falsely get attributed godhood.” It makes him miserable, knowing that he’s cost them a ZPM.
“No, I meant—too bad it wasn’t your turn to be Kirk.” John frowns around the words, the acknowledgement of Rodney’s comparison bothering him.
“If you must know, I still hadn’t figured out how to say no politely,” Rodney huffs. That should be a silver lining to the whole situation, no matter how thin, but it makes his stomach squirm.
“Oh.” John lets out a puff of breath, looking upwards again, squinting slightly.
“Not that she wasn’t lovely, or that I’m not interested in women, it’s—” Again, the music stops, but the words wriggle out of place, unwilling to form even the blandest of excuses.
“What?” Sheppard asks, turning to face him as he walks.
It’s the nonchalance that really gets to Rodney.
It’s that when they’re about to die, the most he gets to see is a sliver of the steel that holds Sheppard together. It’s how he looks like he could care less as he asks Rodney why he isn’t jumping at the idea of sex, when he’s the only person Rodney wants.
“Why do you care so much, anyway?” Rodney tightens his grip on his pack, grateful for something other than himself to hold onto. “It’s not like you liked her. Or did you?”
“It’s… looking out for each other, it’s what friends do.” He says it like he’s explaining binomial formulas to a child.
“And I wasn’t interested in her. Or in Chaya. That was… different.”
“Different,” Rodney repeats.
“Yeah, different.” Sheppard does that thing where he enunciates emphatically, frustration creeping in. As if Rodney should be getting it.
Sunlight blinks between the trees, gold patterns on Sheppard’s face there one moment and gone the next, like a kaleidoscope. He remembers that moment in the cave, where he’d been about to kiss him.
“I—” Rodney falters, but tries again. “I just wasn’t into her.”
Sheppard nods, his posture relaxing.
“Alright McKay.” The small smile on his lips is a real one, reaching his eyes. Rodney suddenly feels closer to him than he has in days.
But the question still won’t leave him alone: why does Sheppard care so much?
Chaya, that’s old news. Why should Rodney still be hung up on that, except for missing the opportunity to talk to an actual Ancient? Does Sheppard think he’s jealous?
That would explain why he’s been making such a big deal out of Allina’s crush on him. It’s his way of being nice. But the Dagan’s armed ambush should have put the whole thing to rest. At least it would of, to him, had that been the case. But it’s not, because the only person he wants to think about like that is Sheppard.
It dawns on him all at once. Sheppard’s near refusal to look at him, the arm’s length he’s been holding him at, the careful hiding of any deeper emotion—all these things put side by side add up to same sum, the same hypothesis:
Sheppard’s the one who’s jealous.
“Hey,” Rodney says, getting Sheppard’s attention.
Before he can think better of it, he grabs hold of Sheppard’s tactical vest and draws him in for a kiss. Sheppard, who could have him flat on his back within seconds, freezes against him.
It starts rough and clumsy, nothing like his teenage fantasies of what kisses should be like. But Sheppard’s mouth is soft and warm. He can feel the heat of his body against his knuckles, the three points of contact burning into him, tempering his urgency.
Tentatively, he takes Sheppard’s lower lip between his own. Angling his head, he kisses him again, coaxing.
Sheppard unfreezes, kissing him back in a sudden wet heat that sends his heart into overdrive. His stubble scrapes in counterpoint to the push and pull of his kisses, relaxed yet intense, the gentle slide of his lips slowly and steadily unravelling Rodney from the inside out.
Pulling back, Sheppard blinks at him, slow and unbelieving. “What was that for?”
“I wanted to do that in the cave,” Rodney admits, not letting go of Sheppard’s vest.
“You did?” Sheppard smiles, lopsided and true, the corners of his eyes crinkling, devastatingly gorgeous.
Rodney nods, swallowing thickly. “For a while now.”
“Good.” In the same breath, he’s kissing Rodney again, bringing a hand up to trace the line of his jaw before it slots into his palm, the pads of his fingers brushing against the delicate skin of his ear.
Rodney whimpers, leaning into his touch, pressing against his mouth, uncaring if their teeth clink together—Sheppard just tugs at his hair a little and the angle is so much better now. He’s right up in Sheppard’s space, the pouches of his vest dig into his ribs and stomach; he catches the sharp smell of his sweat as he breathes through his nose, feels how Sheppard shudders against him, making Rodney want to press himself closer still.
A nearby cough breaks them apart.
Rodney opens his eyes to spot Teyla and Ford quite obviously not looking their way, but otherwise making no pretence about the fact that they’re waiting for them.
As he draws back, Sheppard chases after him, a small aborted movement that ends when he rocks back on his heels.
“So,” Rodney licks his lips, “you were jealous.”
Sheppard swipes a thumb across his cheekbone.
He swears he hears Teyla mutter another “It was very clear to us all,” but chooses to ignore her in favour of the soft expression Sheppard is looking at him with.
Rodney rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to be anymore.”
Instead of answering with words, Sheppard smirks and presses a wet kiss against his cheek. Using Rodney’s surprise to tug free of his grip, he continues walking back towards the gate. Rodney catches up to him, already impatient for their debriefing to be over so he can get Sheppard alone, this time with no interruptions.