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Northside Social - John and Rodney and Washington Monument with Coffee Cup

The Not-So-Cute Meet

 

The most recent mail to hit Rodney's inbox had him buzzing toward the front counter with a black scowl on his face. If Kirkson didn't get his crap together and approve Rodney's budget, he would soon feel the fury that was a McKay in the full flower of a towering rage.

He dropped his empty cup on the counter, only to get an apologetic look from the pimply barista.

"Sorry, Dr. McKay," the little weasel said. "You know what I've told you about cutting in line for refills."

"Oh, please." Rodney raised his chin and shoved his mug forward. "I could lose incalculably important ideas waiting for you to accomplish a task that should take mere moments. I can feel myself losing brain function as we speak."

"That explains your loss of proprioception," a wry voice commented in Rodney's ear.

He startled, nearly falling over when he realized he was standing on the man's foot. A hand reached out to steady him, and Rodney stepped away.

"Thanks," he said grudgingly.

"No problem," the man said, his hazel eyes crinkling. "Now give poor Rashid a break. He has to follow the rules, you know?"

"It's a stupid rule," Rodney said. "And of course you'd be on his side. You're next in line."

The man frowned in exasperation. "Tell you what—I'll buy this round, and that way you won't be cutting." He nodded at Rashid, who grabbed Rodney's mug like it was the Holy Grail and filled it before Rodney could get a word out. He dropped it in front of Rodney, and the man gave Rodney a fake smile and waved him away.

Feeling dismissed and even more irritated for some reason, Rodney took his coffee over to fix it up with a bit of sugar. The man had looked like a surfer with his messy hair, his cargo shorts and his white shirt—did he think this was Santa Cruz? What a scruffy, laid-back loser.

Rodney doctored his cup to perfection then took it back to his table, only to find the surfer had commandeered the chair diagonal to his and was reading a paper, coffee and pastry at his elbow.

"Excuse me," Rodney said coldly. "But this table is taken."

The surfer barely flicked his eyes up. "You're only using half of it."

"Well, nonetheless, it's my table."

Surfer looked amused. "I think it probably belongs to the café."

"Then I'm leasing it for the period of my patronage," Rodney said. "So...skedaddle."

The surfer honked out the most atrocious laugh imaginable, his smile overtaking his face and making him look, for want of a better word, handsome. Rodney gaped a little.

Surfer put down his paper and said, "'Skedaddle,' huh? I don't rightly know how, mister."

"Perhaps you can look it up." Rodney could feel a smile tugging at his mouth, and he fought it fiercely. "There must be a dictionary around here somewhere."

"Maybe you can show me." Surfer tilted his head at Rodney, amusement still lingering on his face. "I'm Sheppard. John Sheppard."

"I don't recall asking," Rodney said. A moment later, though, he heard himself saying, "I'm Rodney. Dr. Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD."

"Well, pull up a chair, Doc," Sheppard said.

Rodney sighed and did.

"Two PhDs, huh?" Sheppard smirked at him over the rim of his cup. "Guess you weren’t kidding about the big ideas."

"Which are going to waste as you flap your jaw at me," Rodney said. The man was too charming by half and probably knew it. "So, if you don't mind..."

Sheppard's eyes narrowed, but he picked up his paper again without comment. Rodney cracked open his laptop and went back to his very important work.

Around them, the hum of the noon crowd at the Northside Social café picked up in volume, creating a pleasant buzz of white noise that kept Rodney in the zone while he cranked through the specifications on their latest project—a series of robotics that would function in disaster areas to rescue trapped victims. It was a far cry from what Rodney wanted to be working on, but until Kirkson greenlit his UAV budget, Rodney was stuck working on life-saving robots. The story of his life.

"That looks cool," Sheppard said, making Rodney's fingers stutter out a garbled mess.

"I'll have you know this is classified," Rodney said coldly. "So kindly get your eyeballs back on your side of the table."

"Sounds painful," Sheppard said. "Don't you want a refill?" He had come around to Rodney's side and was holding out a hand for Rodney's cup. Rodney passed it over while shielding his laptop screen with his arm.

"Don't get paranoid," Sheppard drawled. "Sheesh. Do a guy a favor."

"It's the least you could do," Rodney said, "for interrupting me." He realized that made no sense whatsoever, but Sheppard got under his skin for some reason. "Make it to go, if you don't mind," he yelled after him, and got a lazy wave in return.

Rodney started packing up and was ready by the time Sheppard got back with their coffees.

"Thanks," Rodney said, taking the paper cup as he stood to go.

"My pleasure," said Sheppard, irony thick in his voice.

"Yes, well." Rodney was so disconcerted, he didn't even stop to doctor his coffee, he just skedaddled.

:::

That Evil Czech Grin

 

"Just so I understand," Zelenka said, eyeing Rodney with sly grin on his face. "You cut in line in front of a good-looking man—"

"I didn't say he was good-looking," Rodney protested.

Zelenka waved his hand. "And step on his foot. Despite this, the man buys you coffee. You insult him—"

"I thanked him!"

"And then ignore him. He later buys you a second cup of coffee—"

"It was the least he could do, horning in on my favorite table like that—"

"And your response is to run away." Zelenka tsked quietly. "Oh, Rodney."

"What?" Rodney focused on uploading his code changes. "And I didn't say he was good-looking."

"You couldn't stop talking about his eyes."

"I said they were peculiar, that's all. Hazel. Or maybe green. With some blue mixed in. Strange."

"Or his hair."

"Bizarre. Freakish." Rodney stabbed at his keyboard.

"Or his legs."

"He was wearing shorts! Who wears cargo shorts in August!" This code merge was a mess.

"Mmm-hmm."

"He's probably a bum. Maybe he works for a car wash."

"Possibly."

"I'm not going back. I'll find another café." Rodney had no explanation for why he would do this.

"But you have already conducted an exhaustive search, yes? This is the best coffee within a ten-mile radius?"

Rodney sighed.

"And maybe good-looking man—"

"Sheppard. His name is Sheppard."

"—will not be returning there."

"Possibly."

"So you are being illogical."

Rodney sighed again.

Zelenka grinned his evil Czech grin.

:::

What's My Line?

 

Rodney did go back. Repeatedly. "You again," he said, stopping at his usual table.

Sheppard raised his eyebrows. Today he wore a light blue oxford shirt and navy blue track pants. His bright neon green sneakers rested on the chair opposite him. It seemed every day the man had a different pair of ridiculously hued sneakers. The day before it was fuscia pink.

"Me again," Sheppard agreed. "What's up, McKay?"

"I'm not talking to you. Especially when I haven't had my coffee yet." Rodney trudged up to the counter and waited for the woman in front of him to order her complicated double decaf iced chai latte before he slammed five bucks on the counter and told Rashid, "The usual."

"Large coffee with a shot of espresso. You got it."

"You are a blessed man, Rashid. Keep the change." Rodney stepped away and waited for his coffee. To kill time, he played the prime/not-prime game with the menu board.

"Here you go," Rashid said, handing him his drink.

"You are a saint among men," Rodney said, grabbing the cup and dumping a dollop of sugar in it. The first, bitter sip almost burned his tongue, but it was oh, so good. He carried his cup back the table, where he found Sheppard, as usual, working on a Sudoku puzzle.

"Don't you work?" Rodney couldn't help asking. He seemed to live in the café.

"I do." Sheppard wrote in a number. "This is my week off."

"You're on vacation?" Rodney eyed Sheppard's pastry—a tasty-looking scone—and wondered if Sheppard would notice if he filched a bite.

"Nah. I work one week on, one week off."

"That's...absurd." And yet it sounded appealing. "What kind of work do you do?" Rodney asked.

"Guess," Sheppard said, lifting one eyebrow.

Rodney was jealous. He'd always wanted to be able to do Spock's eyebrow lift.

"You definitely don't work at a carwash."

"Nope." Sheppard smirked. "Where'd you get that idea?"

Rodney waved his hand. "No reason."

"Try again."

As Rodney opened his mouth, a handsome, grinning giant of a man came up behind Sheppard and slapped him on the back hard enough to rock him where he sat.

"Ow. Ronon," Sheppard whined.

"That for me?" This Ronon fellow reached down, broke Sheppard's scone in half, and popped the chunk in his mouth.

Rodney sighed. It seemed Zelenka's theory about Sheppard was false. He already had someone, someone with gorgeous, green-gold eyes, tawny-brown skin, and hair as impossible as Sheppard's.

"Ronon, this is Dr. McKay, a real smart guy. McKay, Ronon."

"Enchanted," Rodney said, holding his hand out for shaking. "I suppose you're a surfer too?"

"A what?" Ronon stared at Sheppard, who honked out a laugh.

"Don't look at me; I don't know where in heck he got that."

"It was going to be my next guess," Rodney said.

"Nah. We work for Med Flight. Ronon's a paramedic. I'm a pilot."

"So, you're basically an ambulance driver," Rodney said.

Sheppard lost his grin and stared down at his cup. "Need a refill," he said, and abruptly kicked his feet down and stood up. He was gone a moment later, leaving Rodney to stare after him.

"You fucked that up good," Ronon said, throwing himself down in the chair Sheppard had just vacated.

"I—well, it was a joke."

"Stupid one. His dad said the same shit to him. I don't think John's talked to him since."

"Oh." Rodney watched John at the counter. "Do you think you could explain to him? I'm a total idiot about these things. You wouldn’t believe how terrible I am with people. Now numbers—give me equations any day."

Ronon narrowed his eyes at him. "Maybe. Or maybe just let it lie. He's not a big talker."

Rodney wilted. "Okay."

"C'mon. Let's get a bagel. They've got a great salmon schmear."

:::

The Praying Mantis


Sheppard didn't show up the next day. Rodney told himself it was fine, it was no big deal—after all, he was an important man with important things to accomplish, and he couldn't waste his mornings discussing ridiculous theories about time travel with a man whose theoretical background in the area consisted of 80s science fiction movies. The unresolvable paradox of the first Terminator movie was a problem that had already haunted Rodney through much of his teenhood—poor Kyle Reese. The sad man only had sex once in his life before perishing, just like a praying mantis.

Anyway, Rodney proceeded to order his beverage and his bagel—the schmear really was that good—and dove into his machine code without a second thought about crinkling green eyes or perpendicular hair. He'd made pretty good progress, too, until a brown arm decorated with the most fascinating geometric pattern of tattoos reached across his field of vision for the napkin dispenser.

"Oh. Hello, Mr. Ronon."

"Dex is my last name. Ronon is my first."

"Mr. Dex, then."

Ronon grinned at him. Really, he was stunningly attractive. Too bad he was out of Rodney's league. And taken. Maybe.

"Alone, today?"

Ronon's smile got broader and just a little toothy. "Why? You expecting someone?"

"No, no." Rodney pulled out his Blackberry. "I have a really busy schedule today. Lots of things to do."

"I can see that." Ronon nodded at Rodney's computer. "What're you busting your hump on?"

"Schematics. Stress tolerances. Stupid engineers with no concept of photogrammetrics."

"Hey, is that a disaster site?"

"What're you—quit it! That's classified."

"It's just a picture." Ronon stopped shifting Rodney's computer for a better angle. "So what're you working on?"

"It’s a robot for our RASNR project. Robot-assisted—"

"—Search and rescue," Ronon finished for him. "I'm kind of familiar."

"I guess you would be, being a paramedic," Rodney conceded. "Anyway, I can't discuss the project. But we're making progress. The biggest issue is solving the sensor problem—keeping them clear of mud, ash, and debris. But I'm working on...well. A solution."

"Cool." Ronon nodded at him. "Coffee's on me today."

"I think it's his turn, actually," came a dry voice.

Rodney looked up to find Sheppard wending his way through the tables, a cup of coffee already in hand. Today he was in fleece pants and a black T-shirt. His flip-flops were blue, his toes disarmingly tidy and, God help him, cute.

"I bet you're the one they made the rule up for," Rodney said by way of greeting. "I looked up your company's website, and it clearly states in the employee dress code: 'Dos: Shorts and Flip-flops. Don'ts: last night's PJs.'"

Sheppard smiled briefly; Ronon laughed.

"I'll get you that coffee," Ronon said, giving Sheppard a quick look as he left.

"Don't you have an office or something?" Sheppard asked. He put down his coffee and pastry and sat across from Rodney.

"I prefer to telecommute as much as possible. Government offices always smell funny."

Sheppard went still. "Government?"

"I work for DARPA. I assumed you knew that; we're only a few miles away. Where else around here would a genius of my stature waste his time?"

"I dunno. There are a lot of Starbucks around."

"Oh, ha. You're killing me. I'm dead." Rodney made a grab for Sheppard's croissant. "Hey, can I have a bite?"

"Not a chance." Sheppard fended him off with a glare.

"I guess you're still...look, I'm sorry about—it was just a dumb joke, all right? You wouldn't believe how often I put my foot in it like that." Rodney rubbed his fingers together. "I'm kind of notorious, actually."

Sheppard stared at him for a moment, then tore off a chunk of his croissant and handed it over.

It had plenty of chocolate in it and everything.

Rodney grinned.

:::

The Mystery of the Pocket Watch

 

"Oh my God," Rodney said. "What is this obsession with the dynamic timeline theory? Your example is ridiculous...what does the pocket watch have to do with anything?"

"It doesn't have to be a pocket watch; it could be anything, a shoe, a gun. The point is, where does it come from?"

Rodney shoved a bite of his bacon and egg breakfast sandwich in his mouth and moaned happily. This café was the best find, ever, and he wasn't telling anyone else at DARPA about it or they'd stampede the place. Rodney hastily swallowed and said, "Oh...oh! I know that movie!"

Sheppard looked shifty-eyed.

Rodney chortled. "That's the one with Superman and the pretty girl. He goes back in time through hypnosis. What a joke."

"Okay, but it doesn't matter how; let's say he used a machine."

"No-no-no, you're not getting out of this one. It's a big romance!" Rodney crowed, watching Sheppard's ears turn red. "He loves her sooo much, he travels in time to be with her."

"Fine. Yeah, my mom made me take her to see it three times," Sheppard said, and something about way his eyes dropped made Rodney shut up. "She liked it a lot."

"All right, fine. So, from what I remember, and I only saw it once, she gives him the watch and tells him to come back to her. He goes back in time..."

Sheppard took up the story. "And she doesn't know who he is, right? Because she's on the other end of time. He introduces himself...and before he disappears again, he gives her the watch. So that's my point—where does the watch come from the first time?" Sheppard said triumphantly, pointing at him.

"Huh. Right, paradox. Well, that definitely fits the dynamic timeline theory. And I have no idea. That's why it's so irritating. Give me your multiverse any day." Rodney finished his coffee. "Didn't know you were a romantic, though."

Sheppard rolled his eyes.

"Your passion for the dynamic timeline theory does explain your love of that ridiculous Back to the Future film, though. Honestly."

"Hey. No dissing the DeLorean."

"Don't get me started on that car. Or that wild-eyed idiot purporting to be a scientist."

Sheppard grinned. "He did name his dog Einstein."

"I'm not sure if the graver insult is to the dog or the Nobel Prize winner."

Sheppard was snuffling outright now. Rodney admitted to himself he thoroughly enjoyed making Sheppard laugh.

"I named my dog 'Pringles,'" Sheppard said. "On account of she keeps eating all of mine."

"That's loyalty for you."

Sheppard nodded gravely. "You should meet her. I'll bring her by the café."

Rodney tried to deny the warmth spreading in his chest. "And you should meet my cat, Hopper. Named her after Grace Hopper, of course. She doesn't actually jump very well."

Sheppard chuckled. "Maybe she only jumps when you're not around. Cats are kind of tricky that way."

"True. True."

"Need a refill?" Sheppard nodded at Rodney's cup.

"Of course."

Rodney cracked open his laptop and got back to work. He felt guilty when he discovered how much time he'd wasted chatting with Sheppard, who was altogether too easy to talk to. Rodney really had to crack down and get some coding done with the rest of his morning before he went into the office and was descended upon by the ravening hoards with their thousands of questions.

When Sheppard returned, he seemed to respect Rodney's focus and deposited Rodney's coffee by his right hand. A careful sip determined it had been doctored with just the right amount of sugar to keep him going in hyper mode, and Rodney churned through a few hundred lines of code.

An hour or so in, he was vaguely aware of Sheppard bidding him goodbye. Rodney raised his head long enough to smile vaguely and wave, and then threw himself back into it.

It wasn't until Rodney had packed up to leave for the office that he realized Sheppard had said, "See you tomorrow."

Rodney was surprised to find how grateful he felt knowing he had tomorrow with Sheppard to look forward to.

:::

Stumpy Tail


Pringles, as it turned out, wasn't a big, sloppy hound, which for some reason Rodney had been expecting. She was a medium-sized cattle dog with a black and white spotted coat and alert, dark eyes that followed Sheppard adoringly.

"She's a stumpy tail," Sheppard said, patting her fondly. "Don't tell her, though. She thinks she's got one, and likes to waggle her whole butt like it's a tail."

"I noticed," Rodney said, amused. He put his hand down to be sniffed and then petted her ears. They were extremely soft, as soft as Hopper's fur, although he could imagine Hopper's slit-eyed response to him expressing such a thought.

Rodney wasn't very fond of dogs, but he had to admit Pringles was very well behaved and didn't smell at all—his chief complaint of dogs. That and the drool.

"Grab me a coffee?" Sheppard asked. "I don't want to leave her alone out here."

"Of course," Rodney said, and went inside for two coffees and two scones. He was glad Sheppard took his coffee properly.

When he returned, he found Sheppard settled in with his paper, Pringles curled up atop his feet. She raised her head as Rodney approached, her eyes trained on the paper bag in his hands.

"Don't let her fool you," Sheppard said, a curl to his lips. "She's already had her breakfast."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Rodney said. "These are for us."

"Thanks," Sheppard said, taking his cup and scone. They both started in on their respective morning tasks, Sheppard on his puzzle, and Rodney on his morning email.

Rodney's train of thought was interrupted when Pringles lifted her head and made a whining sound, then stood up and went to the end of her leash to greet someone approaching, a gorgeous woman with copper hair, flawless golden-brown skin, and a muscular figure. She had a brilliant smile on her face as she bent to ruffle Pringles' ears.

"Hello, girl. Yes. Yes, I have missed you, too."

"Teyla," Sheppard said, turning in his chair. He sounded surprised.

"John," Teyla said, her smile turning sly. "So this is where you've been disappearing to lately."

"Yeah." John rubbed the back of his neck. "It's a new place Ronon and I discovered. Hey, I'd like you to meet Rodney McKay. Rodney, this is Teyla Emmagan."

"Nice to meet you, Rodney." Teyla offered her hand.

"It's—well, a pleasure, really," Rodney said, feeling tongue-tied.

Teyla laughed, the sound rippling low. God, she even laughed prettily.

When Rodney looked up, Sheppard was regarding him evenly.

"Teyla's my co-pilot at Med Flight. She also keeps the sheep from getting restless when we're on the ground."

Teyla wrinkled her nose. "Oh, I wouldn't say that. People who are in distress sometimes act...precipitously."

"That's one word for it," Sheppard said. "But Teyla has more than one way to calm them down. If words don't work, there's always her baton. She used to be on the force."

Rodney raised his eyebrows. "Difficult work."

Teyla shrugged one shoulder. "This work is more difficult, in a way, but I find it easier to live with at the end of the day. And what do you do?"

"I'm a scientist." For some reason, Rodney felt less inclined than usual to brag about his many achievements in the sector. "Right now, I'm working at DARPA on a couple of important projects."

Teyla arched one slim eyebrow. "Impressive," she said, a smile in her voice. "I can see why you've been absent from morning Tai Chi, John."

"Aw, Teyla. You know I suck at the slow stuff."

Teyla laughed again. "I know." She patted his hand. "Just don't complain to me about your knee aching on long flights, then."

"Speaking of which..." Sheppard turned to Rodney. "We're all back on shift tomorrow, so you won't be seeing much of us during the day. Might be able to stop by in the evening."

"Oh. Right," Rodney said. He felt a stab of disappointment. "Well, I'll try to come by after work, but that's generally impossible for me."

"I get it," Sheppard said. "So, see you in a week or so."

"All right." He watched as Sheppard collected his garbage and gathered Pringles' leash. He and Teyla both rose then, and after saying their goodbyes, they sauntered off.

They made a pretty cute couple, Rodney thought darkly, then he went back to work.

:::

No Arguing With Physics

 

"Why are you moping?" Radek said. "These latest calculations are very good. Increased torque should propel the robot with little increase to weight with these new battery packs."

"Yes, yes, it's all good."

"Yet you are making baboon faces at the monitor." Radek smirked. "It's almost five o'clock. Perhaps you should break now and return to your problem after dinner?"

"I don't need a break," Rodney growled. "I've got to solve these spatial recognition equations that Dr. Ibana messed up. Anyway, dinner alone is a pretty depressing prospect. I'll just order in again."

"Ah. Is there trouble with your new acquaintance? Did you say something to upset—"

Rodney sighed and looked up. "No. And thanks very much for the vote of confidence. Sheppard's working this week. I haven't seen him for a couple of days."

"I see." Radek pushed his glasses up his nose. "Maybe you can meet him for a drink after work?"

"As if I can escape this place at a reasonable time once I'm here. You people are like leeches."

"Yes, yes. We are helpless without you."

Was that irony in Zelenka's voice? "Believe me, I'd leave if I could, but no sooner do I solve one problem when my messenger box lights up with another."

"So? Log out; problem solved. We are ahead of schedule. Any problems will still be waiting for you tomorrow."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "You make it sound so easy. You know me—how can you even suggest I just drop everything and walk out the door when there are problems that need solving?"

Radek sighed. "I do know you. Too well, my friend. There is life outside these walls." He stood up from his desk and shut off his monitor. "Come. Save your files and we'll go have a drink. And we will refuse to talk about work for once."

The idea did sound appealing. Rodney was, frankly, sick of looking at the same equation over and over. Wherever Ibana's errors were, he'd hidden them too cleverly for Rodney's tired eyeballs. Rodney did, however, hit print before shutting down, and grabbed the pages before following Radek out the door.

Northside was a different place at night. The downstairs was crowded with the younger set enjoying dinner and drinks and loud, raucous conversation. Rodney and Radek waited in line and took their number and drinks and then escaped upstairs to the quieter deck overlooking the back garden.

Radek pointed out a corner table; because of the dim lighting, Rodney almost didn't see the three figures hunched over a table by the balcony. But then a voice called out his name, and he recognized John, Ronon, and Teyla, and caught Radek's arm before he sat down.

"Hi," Rodney said, pulling Radek along. "I really wasn't expecting to see you guys."

"Well, here we are." Sheppard sounded subdued. "Pull up some chairs." Sheppard gave Radek a curious look, and Radek cleared his throat and flicked Rodney a glance.

"Oh, ah. This is my friend and co-worker, Dr. Radek Zelenka. Radek, John Sheppard, Ronon Dex, and Teyla...I'm sorry, I don't remember your last name?" Rodney flushed miserably.

"Teyla Emmagan," Teyla said, rising slightly to shake Radek's hand. Radek seemed beside himself, bobbing over her hand and straightening his glasses with his other.

"A pleasure, a very great pleasure," he said, and Rodney saw Ronon and Sheppard exchanging a look.

Rodney dropped their order number and his drink on the table and took the chair across from Sheppard.

"I thought you guys would be working."

Sheppard exchanged another glance with Ronon and Teyla. "We had three calls today. The third was a two-vehicle crash with six injured. Two helicopters responded. We transported one of the injured to Virginia Hospital Center..." He looked at Ronon, who took a long drink from his beer. "She was DOA," Sheppard finished.

"Crap. I'm sorry."

"Oh, that is terrible," Radek said earnestly.

Sheppard bumped his shoulder against Ronon's. Ronon played with the label on his beer bottle.

Teyla said to Radek, "Thank you for your sympathy, but as I was just telling Ronon, all the training in the world cannot undo what the forces of physics have already done to the human body." She turned to Sheppard. "Nor could you have made the chopper go any faster, John Sheppard."

Ronon just grunted.

"Yeah, I guess," Sheppard said slowly and he raised his eyes toward Rodney.

Rodney felt helpless to say anything in the face of Sheppard's obvious dejection. He was no good at all with this sort of thing; this was why he had so few friends.

"Listen to the smart lady," Rodney said instead, because Teyla certainly had the right of it. "You can't argue with physics."

"This is true," Radek said, "although I have witnessed Rodney attempting to do so on more than one occasion."

Sheppard gave an unwilling smile, and Ronon snorted a little.

A waiter arrived with their food, and Sheppard ordered another round of drinks. Teyla ordered tea, explaining she was their driver for the evening. Rodney found himself embroiled in an argument with Ronon about which episode of Firefly was the very best, Rodney choosing Our Mrs. Reynolds and Ronon arguing for Out of Gas. Unfortunately, this devolved into Ronon accusing Rodney of just having a thing for the big-busted actress who played Saffron.

Rodney cast a look over to Sheppard for support and found him poring over some papers, his beer at his elbow.

"Hey! Those are my equations."

"Yeah? I found them on the floor."

"Damn it. They must have fallen out of my jacket. Give them back."

"Okay, okay. Don't have a cow." Sheppard handed them over.

Rodney checked the pages to make sure they were all there and discovered they'd been marked up. "Did you...you wrote on them!"

"Sorry, I just...there's a problem with the parts I circled—if you assume y to the n has a coefficient of one like you stated at the beginning. I used a pencil," Sheppard protested, raising his hand defensively, so he must've been misinterpreting Rodney's expression altogether. Because Rodney was utterly dumbfounded and not angry at all.

At least, he didn't think he was angry. For one thing, he wouldn't have to batter his head against the wall of Ibana's stupidity all morning like he'd been dreading.

For another, Sheppard wasn't an idiot, that much was clear. Sure, they were only differential equations, multi-variable calculus, but now Rodney found himself really regretting that crack about ambulance drivers.

"No problem," Rodney said. "Um, thanks."

"Sure." Sheppard scratched the back of his neck. "Listen, I have to be up at five, so I'm going to head out. But if you're around tomorrow night, maybe we can meet for dinner."

"Yes, uh. Well, I'm not sure about my schedule, but..." Rodney could feel Radek's eyes drilling into the side of his head. "Maybe if you text me."

"Yeah, okay."

They exchanged numbers. Sheppard, Rodney saw, didn't have a Blackberry, just some sort of clamshell phone, but he also provided Rodney with a pager number. "In case of emergencies," Sheppard said. "Only try not to have any, all right? Drive safe."

"Of course," Rodney said, touched. "I've only had one beer."

"Good. That's good. Okay, you guys. Let's head out."

Everyone exchanged farewells. Ronon swayed a little on his feet, and Sheppard had had at least a couple, so Teyla was the one steadying Ronon as they put on their coats. She nodded to Radek and Rodney and the three of them headed toward the stairs.

"I'm glad we came tonight," Radek said. "They are very nice. Teyla especially is a fascinating woman."

"Oh, boy," Rodney said. Radek always did like to aim high.

:::

Like a Big Hairy Spider

 

"I thought I might find you here, son." Carson sat down across from him. "So," he said brightly, "how are things?"

Rodney should have known Carson would track him down eventually. The man had a gossiping network calibrated like a spider's web. Actually, a spider could learn a thing or two from Carson Beckett, even one of those big, hairy South American ones with the webs that could strangle a panther.

"Carson! Good to see you," Rodney seethed. "I'm fine. Just fine. Fit as a fiddle. Although, really, why do people say that? It's not like fiddles suffer from neck pain. Ha. Get it?"

"Yes. Very funny, Rodney." Carson sipped his non-coffee beverage—it looked like some sort of tea, how repulsive. "So...nothing new happening in your world?" Carson looked around casually.

But of course, Sheppard and his friends were working their shift today.

"You seem distracted, Carson," Rodney said gleefully. "Everything all right with the practice?"

"What? Oh, yes. Everything is peachy. I have a few new patients, but nothing the staff can't handle. And the research is going well. We're close to the dynamic DNA recode in our fetal mice." Carson clasped his hands together. "So, really nothing new in your world?"

Rodney tapped his computer. "Just the usual bureaucracy. My program schedule and budget are up for review today. You know how aggravating that is," he said cheerfully.

"Mmm-hmm," Carson said, eyeing him suspiciously.

"I really should keep at it," Rodney said. "Don't have a lot of time."

"Oh. Well, I'll just sit here and read my email then. I won't be a bother," Carson said.

"Right." Rodney knew exactly what Carson was up to, but he was doomed to failure since Sheppard wasn't stopping by until late in the evening.

Rodney went back to firming up his report, getting all his ducks in a row for the stupid oversight official he'd be meeting with later in the afternoon. It was a pointless waste of effort, but then he'd signed on for such mind-boggling idiocy the moment he decided to work for the U.S. Government.

He looked up from his laptop a while later to find Carson yawning at his Blackberry, his cup empty beside him.

"Well, as stimulating as your company has been, Carson, I really have to get into the office."

"What, really?" Carson looked startled. "You're not—oh, all right then. But we really should get together for a proper meal sometime soon, Rodney."

What Carson really meant was a proper grilling, of course, with Rodney babbling his personal problems and innermost insecurities, but he just wasn't in the mood for some reason.

"My schedule's a little tight, but email me, and we'll see," Rodney said. "Good to see you, Carson."

"Bye, Rodney," Carson said.

The rest of Rodney's day didn't go as planned. Each division was responsible for completing exhibits A-E on a quarterly basis, of course, with a projection template of the current year forecast, a budget for the next year, and a project timeline. Rodney had meticulously filled in all the needed data—if nothing else, he could be relied upon for rock solid data.

The hiccough was in the review. The Director of Internal Reviews seemed very happy with his budget data and forecast, but took one look at his project timeline and—

"Seriously," Rodney ranted at Sheppard over dinner. They were sitting next to each other on a bench overlooking the back garden. "This pipsqueak, this neophyte has the audacity to tell me my timeline is too generous! I've been working in the sector since before he stopped gnawing on his blankie, and I can tell you horror stories about delays in manufacturing that would make your hair...uh...well, I guess in your case, you wouldn't notice the difference."

"Hey!" Sheppard grinned and patted the top of his head.

"My point being, I tell this rookie, this larva, you routinely have to pad the schedule for delays from the private sector. These idiots can take precisely specced blueprints and PRDs and stamp out absolute tinsel toys that require multiple re-engineering runs before they get it right. If you don't pad the schedule for their incompetence, you're left with their egg on your face at the next quarterly review."

Sheppard nodded. "There ya go. And what did he say?"

"He asked me stop yelling at him. But I think he got my point." Rodney took a healthy swig of his beer.

"I'll just bet." Sheppard leaned over and bumped shoulders with him.

Rodney felt a ridiculous warmth in his chest at the pressure, and it occurred to him that, impossible as it seemed, John Sheppard was his friend.

He had a new friend. His count of two had been upped to three. And whereas Radek was his co-worker, and a friend only through daily disagreements morphing into mutual, grudging respect (much like a baby bear and a raccoon thrown together in a petting zoo might somehow eventually, improbably become fast friends); and whereas his relationship with Carson had evolved from a doctor/patient interaction to one of tea and gossip on Wednesday afternoons, this was something entirely new.

Sheppard had just dropped into Rodney's life out of the blue, as if he'd selected Rodney out of the crowd, persisting despite his cantankerous, off-putting attempts to dissuade him, and simply decided they would be friends.

It was a situation unparalleled in Rodney's experience. He blinked and let the unfamiliar sensation wash over him for a moment. It kind of felt like happiness. If it weren't for the nauseating fear he would mess it up.

"Hey, did you ever get those equations worked out?" Sheppard asked.

"Oh, yes. Actually, I meant to thank you. Turns out you're not an idiot—not that I thought you were, of course." God, he was messing up already.

But Sheppard smirked at him. "Surprise, surprise."

"No, really. You have to understand—so many people are such a pure waste of time, I've had to lower my expectations or risk disappointing myself repeatedly. I don't take too well to disappointment. But you...you really don't disappoint." Rodney's face went hot, and he bent over his panini as if it held the final digit of pi.

"Yeah, huh?" Sheppard's voice sounded like a broken guitar string. He coughed a little, then said, "Listen. I like the sandwiches here and everything, but d'you think we could eat dinner out somewhere tomorrow?"

"Really?" God, Rodney hoped this was what it sounded like. "You want to go out?"

"Yeah, Rodney. Out. You heard of Water & Wall? I can get us a reservation if you want."

"Fancy." Rodney risked a look. Sheppard was nibbling at his lower lip. "Sure. Count me in."

"Cool! Seven good?" Sheppard was already pulling out his phone and laboriously texting something—God, he had to key in each letter using the alphanumeric keypad, the poor sap.

"Sounds fine."

"Meet there, or—?"

"I'll drive myself."

Sheppard flipped his phone closed. "Has Ronon been bad-mouthing the Camaro behind my back again? Because that's just not cool."

"No, he—a Camaro? Oh, please. Are you sixteen? Should I check you for signs of puberty?"

Sheppard snorted a laugh. "I'm game if you are."

It was Rodney's turn to laugh; unfortunately, the sound emerged as an embarrassingly high-pitched sound—not a giggle, really, but it made Sheppard's smile widen.

"Seven, then. I'd better scram. Early morning shift."

"Yes. Of course."

Sheppard's hand landed on Rodney's shoulder as he rose—either a convenient boost, or something else, because he squeezed lightly before letting go.

"See you tomorrow," Sheppard said, and then he was gone, leaving Rodney to ponder this startling new turn of events.

He could hardly wait to talk to Carson.

:::

A Very Important Date

 

"He's late, Radek. He's late. Obviously, this date is meaningless to him—"

"How late?"

"Seven minutes. And yes, he texted me, but can you make sense of this garble? Late cll. 'Cll'? What's that? Cell? Or is it a term of affection? And then he says, '15 min tops, pms. Sry.'"

"Perhaps he's suffering from menstrual cramps?"

"This is no laughing matter! It's our first date and Sheppard's late! Oh, I guess I should call him John, shouldn't I? John, John, John," Rodney chanted, trying to make it stick. "Anyway, this can't bode well. Maybe this isn't a date after all. Maybe this is just friends."

"It sounds like he is sorry, Rodney. And he will try to be there soon. Do not work yourself into a state."

"I'm not in a state. I'm merely showing a reasonable amount of concern that I'm more invested in this thing than the dashing pilot who doesn't bother to show up—oh, hello. Shep-John's walking up. Gotta go." Rodney hung up his phone and slipped it into his pocket.

"Sorry. Sorry about that," John said, "Late call."

"Late call, right. So, uh—"

"Let's go in," John said, his eyes sweeping over Rodney before he put an arm around Rodney's shoulders and ushered him toward the front door. "I called ahead to let them know, but there's still a chance we'll lose our reservation."

"Right. Right." Rodney let himself be guided into the foyer. He liked having John's arm around him, but it felt a little bit like he was being herded like a sheep. Rodney was no sheep.

There was no opportunity to gripe, though, because Sheppard was busy charming the maître d' and, if Rodney wasn't mistaken, bribing her as well, and then they were being guided to a very nice table by the window. The seating was on a diagonal, so they'd both get something of a view, but John politely gestured Rodney into the better seat.

Rodney got busy tucking his napkin into his lap to hide a sudden flash of nervousness. They were here, finally. And now damned if he knew what to say.

"Sorry again," John said. "We got a late call, and there's a mandatory equipment check afterward, and paperwork, and then I had to clean up and get changed and drop Pringles off with Teyla."

"Yes, well." Rodney eyed John's black suit jacket and crisp white shirt. "Definitely a step up from the track suit—I'll give you that."

John smiled, looking almost bashful.

"Although, you could have worn a tie," Rodney said, running his hand over his own. He'd spent a good half hour picking between his.

John groaned. "I have this thing about ties. My ex-wife always forced me into them, and after the divorce I swore off 'em—"

"You were married?" Rodney's stomach dropped into his shoes. "I thought this was a date." John was straight? Of course he was. Rodney was an idiot. This wasn't a date after all. "You said—" He bit his tongue at the tight expression on Sheppard's face.

Sheppard said slowly, "Well, it's supposed to be a date. Unless you're one of those guys."

"Those guys?" Rodney said weakly. Oh, he'd screwed up. "No, I'm not—"

"Yeah. Look, if you can't handle that I'm attracted to women, too—"

"No, no, no, I'd have to be a hypocrite, since I'm bi as well. Seriously, can we just chalk this up to a complete brain fart and continue on with the date?"

John's mouth softened, but now he just looked confused. "Okay...but then why would you think—"

"Seriously. Low blood sugar. Long day," Rodney interrupted hastily, because if he had to sit here and explain that he'd been so quick to assume John was straight because he couldn't possibly be attracted to Rodney, it would top his Most Embarrassing First Dates list by a hefty margin, and that included the time he'd coughed a shrimp puff down his date's décolletage.

"All right," John said, settling back. "Well, um. Your suit looks great. I like the tie," he added, and winked. He winked, and then their waiter appeared before Rodney could give in to his outrage, which was a good thing, because a moment later he deflated into pure, resounding relief.

Rodney ordered the scallops for the first course, and the steak and potatoes for the second. For drinks, he saw Sheppard listening in and ordering wine for them both. Rodney didn't know much about wine, but apparently, John did, because he consulted for a bit with the waiter and then nodded as if satisfied.

Narrowing his eyes, Rodney leaned forward after the waiter left and said, "How do you know so much about wine? I'd have pegged you as more of a beer and pizza kind of guy."

John tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. "And you'd be right, but..." He shrugged. "I wasn't always an ambulance driver."

Rodney winced.

"Anyway," John said, "it's our first date. I'm trying to impress."

"Well, it doesn't take much to impress me. I come from Toronto white trash, after all. I barely escaped with my brain."

"Yeah, huh?" John smiled. "Tell me about it."

"Oh, God..."

The waiter arrived with their wine, and John participated in the ridiculous little dance of tasting a sip and nodding, smirking at Rodney the whole time as if he knew just what Rodney was thinking.

"So?" John said when they were alone again with their wine. "You got out?"

"Yes. It wasn't all that hard, actually. I'm a genius, and it turned out your country was in short supply."

"Heh."

Rodney thought it best not to mention the little visit from the CIA this early on in their relationship. "I got a full scholarship to MIT, and earned both my doctorates there, in physics and mechanical engineering."

Sheppard looked suitably impressed.

"I was ridiculously young when I finished, but I entered the private sector right away. That turned out to be something of a mistake." Rodney hastily took a sip of his wine. It really was very good.

"What happened?"

"I got involved with one of my co-workers. I thought he really liked me. Turned out it was my work he liked better. He lied to me a lot. It took me a long time to figure out that he was going behind my back and claiming credit by using his inside access."

"Jesus, what a jerk." John's eyes were bright with anger.

"I'm very careful to take full credit these days." Rodney didn't mention how, whenever the mood struck him, he still liked to crack into Brian's credit report and drop in some negative entries. Rodney called it his own personal "karmic irony."

"Give me his name, and I'd be happy to paste him one for old time's sake," John said.

"I can take care of myself," Rodney said.

"Oh, I know you can. Sometimes it's just nice to have someone else step up, you know?"

"That's true," Rodney said thoughtfully. "Thanks for the offer." He took another sip of his wine, letting it sit in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. It had a pleasant tartness. "So what did you do before Med Flight?"

John's face went a little blank. Rodney had figured out by now that meant he'd broached an uncomfortable topic, but then Sheppard had started this by asking about Rodney's humble beginnings, so it was just more karmic irony as far as Rodney was concerned.

"I was in the Air Force," John said and tossed back the rest of his wine like a shot. That was no way to treat good wine. The data, though, was interesting.

"Where were you stationed?"

"A lot of places. Last stop was Afghanistan. That's where I met Teyla, actually. She was an Army medevac pilot out there. One of the best," John said, admiration lightening his expression. "We kept crossing paths. When I—I had a mission that went bad. I barely made it out, and I knew my choices after that would be to fly a desk or resign my commission. Teyla told me she was already planning to join the police force here in Arlington to be close to her family, but she knew a guy named Ronon who was a paramedic for Med Flight and he said they were a good outfit. So," John shrugged. "I'd rather be flying any day."

It sounded like there was a hell of a lot more to the story, but Rodney wasn't about to push.

"So that's how you met Ronon Dex."

"Yeah." John smiled. "He likes you. He's sure you're going to build the perfect SNR robot."

"Well." Rodney coughed. "He's right."

John laughed and filled both their glasses.

The first course arrived looking so picture-perfect on Rodney's plate, he felt a little guilty digging at it with his fork. But the flavors besieging his tongue easily overwhelmed any remorse.

"God. This is good," he mumbled. He saw John was equally engrossed in his own dish.

"Mmm-hmm."

"Oh. You ordered the calamari?" Rodney said wistfully.

John gave him an exasperated look and forked over a few.

Rodney gleefully popped them into his mouth and crunched down. "Oh, God. We have to come back here."

The smile John gave him was both grateful and a little smug.

The next course was even better, if that were possible. The meat was so tender Rodney barely had to use his knife. He noticed this time, John had ordered the same thing, whether by design or not, Rodney wasn't sure. But where he liked his steak medium, John apparently liked it bloody.

Rodney wasn't sure what that said about their characters.

He used the last of his roll to mop up the sauce and sat back with a happy sigh. John had already finished and was twirling the stem of his wine glass between his fingers. He had very strong-looking fingers, Rodney noted, strong and sensual. Or maybe that was the wine talking. He looked up into John's eyes and noticed they were crinkling at the corners again.

"What?"

"You spend a lot of time having conversations with yourself, don't you?"

"Well, I am the most interesting person in the room."

John snorted a laugh. "Besides me, of course."

"Of course," Rodney amended gracefully, tipping his glass at him. "Well, actually it's your hair that's interesting. How do you get it to do that?"

John smiled ruefully and tugged on his hair with a fist. "It kind of has a mind of its own, to tell you the truth."

"So, while I'm talking to myself, you're talking to your hair?"

Nodding gravely, John said, "Right now, we're talking about you, Rodney."

"Oh." Rodney's face went hot. "Um, only shocking things, apparently."

John grinned. "Got it in one."

"So, you're thinking what I'm thinking."

"You want to skip dessert?"

"No. Never. Are you a cretin?" Rodney watched John's face fall with delight. "But in this case..."

"I'll make it up to you, I promise," John said, already lifting his hand for the check.

Rodney had to admit it was gratifying to see how quickly John handled getting them out of there—he even had his credit card out when their blond, languid-eyed waiter returned with the bill.

Before long, they were standing on the sidewalk, and Rodney was opening his mouth to speak, when John said, "How close is your place? Mine is near the hospital."

"Actually, mine is right around the corner."

They stared at each other a moment.

"Right," Rodney said. "Well, come on."

He shouldn't have been surprised when John slipped his arm around Rodney's waist, but the thrill that ran through him—that surprised him. It had been a long damned time since he'd allowed anyone to get this close to him. Longer still since he'd trusted anyone enough to let himself feel more than physical attraction toward them. He didn't count his aborted relationship with Katie. That had been an unmitigated disaster for different reasons.

"You know, the last time I went on a date, she ended up dedicating an article to me in a scientific journal. Unfortunately, it was titled, 'Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia humifusa—A Spine-Tingling Tale.' This seems to be going much better than that."

"Hey," John said, pulling him closer so they were walking hip to hip. He nudged a kiss on Rodney's cheek. "This...this is the best first date I've ever had, okay?"

"Yeah. Right," Rodney said. John probably had more first dates than a porcupine had quills. Which would be appropriate, considering the hair.

"Hey," John said again, and this time he pushed Rodney into the darkened doorway of a framing shop and bracketed him between his arms. "There are two things you need to know about me. The first one is I'm terrible at saying...things I need to say. The second thing is, if I manage to say them, they're the truth. I don't lie, Rodney." He gave Rodney a little shake. "Okay?"

"Okay," Rodney said, a little breathless. John's eyes were dark and shadowed and earnest, and Rodney wanted badly to kiss him.

Then John kissed him.

Oh, this was what Rodney had been thinking about all during dinner watching John's lips on his wine glass, seeing how full and soft they looked and imagining them against his. Then John made a sound and opened his mouth, and Rodney slipped his tongue out to meet John's.

Rodney ran his hands around John's waist beneath his jacket and felt him up, stroking the long muscles of his back, and then groping down to his tight, round ass, making John step back with a protesting gasp.

"Hey!" John looked amused and a little scandalized. "In public, here."

"So take me back to my place," Rodney said. "You're the one who stopped for a little tête-à-tête."

"Point taken," John said, and dragged him back out onto the sidewalk by his tie.

"This is a very expensive tie, I'll have you know."

"Right." John tucked his arm back around Rodney's waist. "It's got some sort of schematic on it."

"It's a diagram from the space shuttle. Neil Armstrong wore one just like it."

John chuckled. "Only you, Rodney."

"Yes. Turn left here. I'm halfway down the block."

Rodney was glad he'd made a little bit of effort to clean up—not that he'd been counting on getting lucky, but it didn't hurt to play the odds.

"Come on in. Just be careful of—"

A whining sound interrupted him, followed by Sheppard's yelp of pained surprise.

"What the hell? Did R2D2 just attack me?"

"Yup," Rodney said proudly, bending down to redirect the robot. "Sorry about that. The casing is a vintage Kenner 1977 model, but the guts are all mine."

"Terrific," John said, rubbing his ankle. "It bit me. You couldn't get a Chihuahua to do that?"

"Just wait till you meet Hopper," Rodney said. "Steer clear of her belly, no matter how much she tempts you."

"Copy that." John looked around the room as he took off his jacket. "Can I...?"

"Just hook it over the chair. Sorry, not a lot of room in my closet."

John gave him ironic grin, and Rodney shook his head.

"The bathroom is that door over there if you're interested."

"Yeah, thanks." John disappeared, and Rodney took the opportunity to take off his own jacket and tie and grab a desperately needed glass of water.

"Can I get some of that?" John was back already. Rodney's brain was in a sex fog.

"Uh, sure," Rodney said, and handed over the glass. He watched as John drank and then put the glass down, his tongue coming out to swipe over his lower lip.

"Did you want to use the bathroom?"

"Hmm? Oh, I guess I should." And stop staring at John's mouth, which was smiling at him.

"Go ahead," John said, nudging him. "I want to introduce myself to Hopper."

Hopper had come out and was giving them both a disdainful look, her bushy tail curled neatly around her paws.

"Just remember what I said about her belly," Rodney warned, and stepped into the bathroom to relieve himself. He also took a moment to grab a damp washcloth and clean up a bit, because—God, sex. Sex, finally. His dick got hard as he wiped himself down, and he zipped up quick and dug into the cabinet for a box of condoms.

Not expired quite yet. Thank God.

He tucked a strip in his pocket and went back outside to find John settled on the couch with Hopper on his lap. Incredible.

"I don't believe it," Rodney said. "She likes you. No bleeding wounds?"

"None so far," John said, "but I've kept away from any hot zones."

"Smart man. So," Rodney clapped his hands together, feeling suddenly awkward.

John grinned and slithered out from under Hopper, who gave a stuttered meow of protest but then slumped in a heap.

"There must be a bedroom in here somewhere," John said, and Rodney grabbed him by the waist and pulled him down the hall.

He wasn't nervous at all, he told himself as he kicked off his shoes and pushed John toward the bed. It was just sex. He was great at sex; it was every other aspect of interpersonal relations that had him running to Radek for advice.

But all the same, Rodney would prefer leaving it nicely dim in here just like this, so the only light source came from the hallway. John's eyes gleamed at him as he stripped off his white shirt, and Rodney drew his hands over John's chest and down over his ribs, stopping, startled, when he encountered a large, rough patch of scar tissue low on his abdomen.

John's hand came to rest over his. "Why I left the Air Force," John said, voice low, and then kissed him as he reached for Rodney's belt. "Come on."

Rodney took the hint and unfastened John's belt, too, and then they were both stepping out of their pants and shucking their underwear.

"You gonna lose that shirt?" John said.

Now or never at all, Rodney thought, and he stepped back to unbutton his shirt, his eyes drifting over John's body in the slanting light. John was long and lean, with thick, sloping shoulders and nicely muscled arms and thighs. Rodney licked his lips and dropped his shirt.

John smirked and stepped forward to rub his palms over Rodney's nipples. The warm, rough pressure made his cock jerk, and then John pulled him close, and their hips were pressed together, cocks rubbing, and John ducked his head and started nibbling along Rodney's neck.

"We should probably talk," John said sheepishly in his ear. "We should've before."

"Fuck. Yes," Rodney said. "Um, you first."

John pulled back a little and bit his lip. "I get myself tested regularly because of my work. I'm clean. But I'm cool with playing it totally safe if you want to get retested first."

"Okay." It was really hard to think with all of his blood busy down south. "I'm clean too. I got tested when I was dating Katie, but we never got that far. But I like to use condoms for, uh. Intercourse. Anyway. Not that we're going to, necessarily."

"Sure." John laughed self-consciously and leaned forward again. Rodney pulled him closer and kissed him.

"Can we please come now? I really want to come."

John laughed, a dirty, dirty laugh. "That's the plan."

Then Rodney pushed, and John pulled and rolled, and finally they ended up on the bed at last. Rodney was really glad he'd changed the sheets, because all he could smell was John and sex. John was on top of him and grinding down with his hips, and Rodney spread his legs and hooked his heels around John's thighs so he could cooperate in rubbing against him.

"You're pretty," John said, and bent his head to suck on Rodney's nipple.

"Get serious." God, he liked that. It felt like his nipple was programmed to directly stimulate his cock.

"I am serious. Your nipples look like raspberries." John pushed himself back up and kissed Rodney, hot and dirty. It felt so damned good, John's tongue in his mouth and the sweet, hot pressure of John's groin against his cock. Rodney rutted mindlessly against him while the pleasure rose higher and higher, a white-hot point of bliss that culminated when John pinched his nipple like pulling a trigger.

"Oh, God," Rodney said, and his cock pulsed between them. He kept on writhing through it, conscious of John's voice in his ear.

"Yeah, Rodney. That's it."

With a last shudder, Rodney relaxed, feeling completely sated. "Nice trick," he said. He'd forgotten what it was like to have sex with a guy.

John shifted on top of him. "Put your legs together," he said, and Rodney squinted as he lubed up his cock with Rodney's come.

"Oh, that's hot."

John's only answer was to push his cock between Rodney's thighs and start groaning in his ear.

"You like that? I've never done this before," Rodney confided, and John groaned again. "It's an interesting sensation." He rubbed his hands up and down John's back and then squeezed the working muscles of his butt.

John's pace picked up rapidly then. Rodney grinned. He'd probably get chafing marks, but he didn't mind much. John's dick was bumping up pleasantly between his ass cheeks, making him think of future possibilities. Assuming John like to engage in intercourse. Not everyone did. Rodney frowned.

John made another sexy sound and sought out Rodney's mouth, plunging his tongue between Rodney's lips a few times and then groaning Rodney's name.

So, maybe John had the same thing on his mind.

Rodney was smiling when John came.

"Umph," John said into Rodney's shoulder.

"Well, that's messy," Rodney said. "I forgot how messy two guys can be."

"Afterglow," John said, rolling to the side. "Give me a second here."

"You glow. I'll get a towel." Rodney gave him a kiss on the jaw and then shoved himself off the bed.

Of course, as soon as he'd stepped away, his brain amped back up to eleven, and he started wondering about the future, about how serious John was about this. Invested, Rodney had said to Radek, because that how he felt. He should have checked first. He always did this—got in too deep with everything, his work, his affairs—before he'd determined the parameters of the situation.

He grabbed two towels, large and small, and went back to the bedroom.

"Please tell me you're interested in a long-term assignation," Rodney said, feeling foolish. "Because I'm getting a little too old for—"

A soft snore greeted him.

"Oh, that's terrific," Rodney said, and went to lay the towel down on the wet spot.

:::

The Prickly Pear

 

Rodney awoke with the sensation of having had too little sleep, yet he felt entirely relaxed. He hadn't felt this good in a while. Also, there was a heavy arm draped over his back.

He smiled into his pillow.

"I can hear you smiling."

"How is that possible?"

"I have sharp ears."

"Yes, let's talk about the ears for a second—"

Fingers stabbed him under the ribs, and Rodney yelped helplessly in laughter. "No—no, okay! Nothing about the ears!" He opened his eyes to find John smiling fondly at him.

John leaned in and gave him a dry kiss, then said, "Breakfast?"

"Coffee first."

"Of course."

"Don't you have to work?"

"Nope. This is my week off." John ran his hand up and down the bare skin of Rodney's back, making him shiver pleasantly. "Good timing, don't you think?"

"For...?"

John shrugged, looking suddenly uncertain. "You know...when you first start seeing someone...?"

Rodney's chest squeezed. This must be the "terrible at talking" Sheppard referenced last night. Yet Rodney understood fully what he meant, and it was enough to make him grin sloppily, his question answered.

"The honeymoon phase, you mean?"

John gave him a grateful smile. "We have a week to get it out of our systems."

"Debug, you mean."

John snorted softly. "Right, that."

"But coffee, first."

They went to Northside Social, after picking up John's car then swinging by John's house for a change of clothing.

John's house was as spare and utilitarian as Rodney had imagined, with the only extraneous items being a snowboard, golf clubs, a skateboard, and piles of golf magazines and comic books.

There was also, inexplicably, a large poster of Johnny Cash hanging in the bedroom, which Rodney snuck into for a peek while John was taking a hasty shower.

At Northside, it felt strange to be sitting across from each other as a couple after so many hours there as friends. Rodney kept looking up from his laptop to find John staring at him, a quizzical smile on his face. Or Rodney's eyes would drift away from his work to study the bones of John's wrist, the muscles of his forearm, and Rodney realized he could reach out if he wanted—he had license to touch now.

He raised his eyes and discovered John was staring at his lips.

"Okay. This is ridiculous," Rodney said.

John just smiled.

"Bathroom?" Rodney suggested weakly.

They hurried to one of the unisex bathrooms in the back, Rodney wincing when his laptop bag hit the floor with a thump, and then John was kissing him, his hand running down Rodney's chest to pinch his nipple.

"Jesus," Rodney said, already hard.

John muttered something in agreement and started in on Rodney's pants, unbuckling and unfastening.

"All right, but remember I'm going into work today," Rodney said.

"I have a plan," John said. "Don't I always?"

"Not that I've been able to determine. I'm remembering a certain wet spot..."

"Shut up, Rodney," John said, and turned him around to face the sink. And, not inconsequentially, the mirror above it. God, he looked ridiculous, his cheeks pink, and his eyes wide, his hair sticking up almost as badly as Sheppard's.

Rodney's pants were gaping open, his dick jutting out and begging to be touched. He reached down, but John was already there, so Rodney rested his hands on the sink and let John take over.

John leaned up behind him, and Rodney was reminded of when they first met, when he first heard his voice and felt his presence, tall and intimidating, behind him. But now, he was a warm hand on Rodney's cock, stroking him, and a rumbling voice in Rodney's ear, urging him on, and in the mirror, Rodney could see John's eyes bright with excitement as he watched himself getting Rodney off.

"Okay," Rodney croaked. "Good plan. Little faster with the...oh, yes. You're good at that. God, really good. Oh, oh, oh."

John's breath huffed against Rodney's ear, and he squeezed a little tighter, and that was all Rodney needed. He watched himself come all over the clean white sink, watched John milk his cock while his thighs went weak with pleasure.

John held him up afterward, his soft cock cradled in John's hand.

"Um. Best plan, really," Rodney said to John in the mirror. "Trade places?"

John smirked.

:::

The Importance of Being Productive

 

Needless to say, Rodney didn't get a hell of lot done the next few days. In fact, he was damned near useless.

"My brain is Swiss cheesed on sex hormones," he moaned to Radek. "It's pitiful. How am I supposed to get any work done when I can't think? Yesterday, I made two computational errors as bad as Ibana's."

Radek laughed at him. "Now the great Rodney McKay learns what it is to be human."

"Is that what this is? How horrifying. But you can't tell me everyone around me is in lo—" Rodney bit his tongue. "Surely there's a cure? I can't work like this!"

"No cure." Radek shook his head with exaggerated sympathy. "The only way out is through."

"Oh, ha. Well, John goes back to work in a few days, so hopefully that will cool our jets a bit."

Although, considering Rodney's aborted epiphany, he wasn't all that confident.

The next four days were more of the same: orgasms, orgasms, coffee, orgasms, video golf, orgasms, interspersed with highly ineffective hours spent at the office mooning over Sheppard, who apparently wasn't suffering from the same chafing issues as Rodney. Or perhaps he just had a higher pain tolerance.

Rodney eagerly awaited the day they could hand each other their test results and expand their sexual horizons.

In the meantime, he'd never been so relaxed or so filled with raging anxiety at the same time. He wasn't falling behind on the project, since he always tended to work ahead of schedule, but his comfortable margin was narrowing.

Also, though John was incredibly affectionate and obviously very much invested, Rodney found himself hyperanalyzing every interaction they had outside of sex.

John texted him about Teyla's new dog, saying she was a Basenji mix and seemed to be getting along great with Pringles. Her name was Frisbee. John thought they should all get together for a picnic.

The weather was turning colder, definitely not really picnic weather, but Rodney was touched. John wanted him to spend more time with his friends. Or maybe he wanted to spend less time alone with Rodney. Oh, that was bad. Maybe John was tired of being cooped up with him.

Then Friday morning, Carson stopped by Northside while John and Rodney were eating breakfast and playing footsie.

"Rodney! Here you are," Carson said, sounding like Cruella De Vil after hunting down a lost pup.

"Hi, Carson. Gee, what a surprise. John, I'd like you to meet my friend, Carson Beckett. Carson, John Sheppard."

"How do you do," Carson said, shaking hands with John. "John, is it?"

"Good to meet you, Carson. I've heard a lot about you," John said, slanting a quick look Rodney's way. Rodney bit the corner of his lip.

"Join us for coffee, Carson?"

"Don't mind if I do, Rodney," Carson said, rolling the 'R' as if he were making a pie crust. He trotted off to the counter, and John blinked at Rodney, wide-eyed.

"Prepare to be grilled," Rodney said. "Carson will leave no piece of gossip unturned."

"It's cool. I went through SERE, remember?" John said, giving Rodney a lopsided smile.

Rodney laughed.

Carson tried his best, but John really was quite good at deflecting and evading. It was marvelous to watch. But as Carson grew more frustrated and finally gave up, it occurred to Rodney how little he really knew about John. Carson did manage to extract that John's family was originally from Baltimore, which was only an hour or so away. But Rodney had never heard him mention them. Ronon had said, though, that John's relationship with his father wasn't the best.

Rodney knew just how that felt.

Still, his boyfriend was an enigma. Rodney wondered how much deflecting John had been doing that Rodney hadn't even noticed.

"You doing all right?" John said after Carson made his goodbyes.

"Yeah. Just thinking. Listen, I have to get to work."

"Sure. See you after?"

"Of course. My place?" Rodney finished packing his things and stood up.

"See you there." John grabbed his hand and tugged him down for a kiss.

An enigma, yes. But Rodney's enigma, all the same.

:::

Situation Abnormal

 

John went back to work.

Rodney thought he'd be grateful for a return to normalcy, but instead he found he ached, positively craved John's presence, like he craved coffee when there was none, like he needed a sugar hit when he'd been powering through complex code for hours.

It hurt.

Even though it was Sunday, he went into the office, where he was a terror to any of his co-workers who showed up, all except Radek, who knew the score and simply put on his headphones and ignored Rodney entirely.

Still, Rodney did manage to focus a lot better without the distraction of knowing John was a mere phone call away. In fact, work was a terrific distraction in and of itself, and he plowed through schematics and specifications, fine-tuning a requirements doc that had been niggling at him for the past week, all in the course of eight hours, secure in the knowledge he'd at least be seeing John later that evening.

Only to get a text, as he was sitting at home waiting, that a bad accident was holding John up—he had to wait until they extracted the woman from her crushed vehicle so he could transport her to the hospital.

John arrived hours later looking exhausted and disheveled.

Rodney didn't have the heart to tell him he'd discovered his test results waiting in his pile of mail. He'd been looking forward to a celebratory blowjob, but it didn't look like John was up for it.

"Sorry," John said, bending to give R2 a pat. "Tough day."

"Did she make it?"

"Yeah. Ronon did a good job." John dumped his things and joined Rodney and Hopper on the couch, tilting over until he was leaning against Rodney's side.

"Does this happen a lot?" Rodney couldn't help asking.

John straightened. "Does what happen?" he asked carefully.

"Your hours..." Rodney waved vaguely, startling Hopper. "Do they go long a lot? I'm just trying to manage my expectations here."

"Manage your... Yeah, it happens," John said, his voice clipped. "It's the job. My job. I can't just clock out."

"No, of course, I get that." Rodney backpedaled quickly. "But I can work later if I know earlier."

"I texted you when I knew," John said. "Look, I'm wiped. I'm up at five, so..." He got up and went down the hall.

Rodney stared down at Hopper. "Well, that went super."

:::

All Fucked Up

 

The next day, John texted him they'd be transporting a patient to Atlanta and staying overnight to avoid deadheading back. Rodney didn't understand the terminology until John explained they'd be transporting another patient back to Arlington on Tuesday. He said he'd see Rodney on Tuesday night.

Rodney channeled his irritation into his work, as always. The project had hit a major snag—manufacturing had delivered the first set of optical sensors and they were sub-par, to say the least. He spent two hours huddled with the primary engineer and then another three hours on the phone with the manufacturer lambasting them for every deviation from spec.

They promised a re-issue within two weeks. He told them to take four weeks and get it right.

"You handled that well," Radek said. "I am surprised they didn't offer you their first-born."

"I hate children."

"Good thing, then."

Tuesday afternoon, John texted Rodney to meet him at his house that evening, with a reminder of the address.

Time was playing tricks on Rodney. Though they'd seen each other only a few days previous, it felt like weeks since he'd seen John's face and the way his smile deepened the crow's feet around his eyes, or heard his ridiculous laugh. As Rodney pulled up to the curb, he promised himself he wouldn't screw up their reunion by mentioning John's work schedule.

"Hey," John said as he pulled open the door. "Man, it's good to see you." He pulled Rodney in and closed the door then kissed him, one hand curled around the back of his neck. "Work weeks are the worst."

Rodney smiled against John's mouth. "Funny you should mention that, since I wasn't going to."

John's smile slipped a little, and he pulled away. "I've got something for you. Well, it's for both of us." He reached down to a side table and offered Rodney an opened envelope. "Test results."

"Oh. Oh! Yes, I have mine, too," Rodney said, slipping them out of his pocket. "Trade."

John glanced at the sheet and then dropped it on the table. "So, blowjobs all around, I guess."

"The sky's the limit, really," Rodney pointed out, because John hadn't offered to fuck him yet, even though Rodney had been dropping clues like Hopper shed fur. Maybe John wanted them both to feel completely safe; if so, now was the time.

John seemed to get the hint this time, because he dragged Rodney in for a kiss and then started maneuvering him down the hallway toward the bedroom.

"Where's Pringles?" Rodney asked, not wanting to be interrupted.

"She has a play-date with Frisbee," John said. "I figured we wouldn't want to be interrupted."

"I like the way you think."

And then they both stopped talking and started stripping. Rodney still cringed a little, internally, seeing the scars on John's abdomen, but at the same time, it comforted him a little, selfishly, knowing John wasn't perfect. Rodney promised himself someday he'd extract the full story. He was a lot more persistent than Carson, and a lot craftier, too.

"Quit thinkin'," John said. "There's sex to be had." He went over to his side table and opened the drawer. "I have condoms, and some stuff I use for jerking off, but I don't know..." He tossed over a bottle.

It was Astroglide. Not the greatest, but it would do. And suddenly a host of clues came together in Rodney's head.

"You've never done this before, have you?"

John ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "That's not a polite question."

"No, but it's a practical one. Especially if you're going to fuck me." Rodney paused, worried. "You do want to fuck me, don't you? I don't want to force you into anything—"

"Hey, hey." John came over and put his hands around Rodney's waist. "You have to remember—I was married and in the service until a couple of years ago. Not a lot of opportunity, that's all. I want to."

A couple of words—that was all it took to completely restructure Rodney's view of John Sheppard, the hotshot pilot with all the sexual partners he could want. Gone in a flash. In his place stood this awkward guy who just wanted to be with Rodney.

"Well, I want you to. A lot," Rodney said. "I can't overstate how much."

John grinned, his eyes crinkling.

Rodney settled on the bed on his back and coaxed John between his legs.

"Put your fingers in me," Rodney said.

John fumbled with the cap of the lube in his haste.

"You might want to roll a rubber on first."

John said something unpleasant that Rodney graciously ignored. Then, oh, yes, this was just as good as Rodney remembered. John's fingers were strong, just as Rodney had anticipated, if a little tentative at first.

"You can go deeper than that," Rodney said. "I like it deep."

John made a sound, and Rodney opened his eyes. John was staring down between them, at where his fingers were working themselves deeper into Rodney's body.

It was too much. Rodney rolled his head back onto the pillow and let himself feel it, the way his body was giving itself up, opening to John's soft strokes.

"Mmmm," Rodney said. "Give me a little more lube, a little on the rubber, and then we can start."

"Okay," John said huskily. He withdrew to add more lube, and Rodney took the opportunity to roll over onto his stomach and up onto his knees.

"Holy hell, Rodney."

Rodney smiled into the pillow. There, at least, he felt very confident of his appeal. He shuddered when John slipped his fingers back inside him, slick with lube and sliding deep.

"Okay," Rodney said breathlessly. "Uh. Fine." Rodney's cock twitched each time John's fingertips stroked over his sweet spot. John seemed to be a natural at this.

"Right," John said, and pulled out. Then Rodney felt his cock pressing in. Oh, the sweet ache of it—how had he forgotten how much he loved this? John hovered close behind him, thigh against thigh, as he thrust all the way in, filling him up.

"God, Rodney," John said. "This is awesome," he said, like he'd discovered it all by himself.

"Told you so," Rodney said, and then he couldn't spare breath for speech, because John started fucking him. And in this, John apparently needed no assistance whatsoever, because he fucked like a champ, his rhythm strong and even, and Rodney just planted his face between his arms and groaned on each breath. After a while, John shifted even closer, his knees spreading Rodney's so he could get even closer, fuck him deeper, and Rodney's groans grew louder.

"Yeah?" John panted in his ear. "You seem to like this."

"Yes, you idiot. Don't stop."

"Not—stopping," John said, and picked up the pace.

Rodney reached down and started stroking his cock, jerking it fast at the crown while John kept going at him.

Then John gasped, "Sorry, sorry," and gave a few hard thrusts before halting.

Rodney moaned in dismay and jerked himself quickly. He was almost there...there. He came, feeling his ass contract around John's still hard cock.

"Oh, my God," Rodney moaned. "Sweet Mary."

John laughed softly into Rodney's hair and hugged him tightly before pulling away. He disposed of the condom while Rodney gingerly rolled out of the wet spot.

"You're on towel duty," Rodney pointed out.

"Got it," John said, leaning over to give him a kiss before padding off to the bathroom. He came back with a couple of towels and dropped them on Rodney, who laid one out on the wet spot and used the other to wipe himself down.

"Thanks," John said, settling down on the towel and pulling up the sheet. Rodney met him for a kiss, and John gave him a lazy-lidded smile. "That was fun."

"Fun?" Rodney raised an eyebrow. "I'm glad you think my ass is fun."

John gave it a slap. "Best ride at the carnival."

"Oh, ha-ha." For some reason, though, Rodney couldn't stop smiling. He'd like to stay here like this and bask in John's dopey grin all night.

"I guess I'd better get to sleep," John said and yawned.

"Right," Rodney said sourly. "Early shift."

John's eyes opened. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that..." Rodney wasn't even sure what he was going to say, until he said it. "Look. There must be other Life Flight companies that let you work regular hours."

"'Regular hours'?" A muscle twitched in John's jaw.

"Instead of this one week on, one week off thing."

Uh-oh. Now a vein was starting up in John's neck. "I'm pretty sure they all work the same way. I don't know. But Med Flight is the best outfit in this area, and even if it weren't—Ronon, Teyla, and Marie aren't just my co-workers; they're like family. Why do you think I was trying to get you to come picnic with Teyla and me? Or come to that movie with Ronon?"

"As if I'd go see Christian Bale as Batman."

John's anger seemed to ease. "You don't see me bitching about you being at work when I'm off."

"That's because..." Because Rodney's schedule was different. Right. "I'm sorry I brought it up," he said, even though he wasn't, not really.

"Right."

"I'll get the lights."

"Thanks. Good night."

"Good night."

:::

Compromise Is a Four Letter Word

 

The next morning, John called to tell Rodney he'd be flying a patient out of town again. He sounded not at all apologetic, but Rodney figured a night apart wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

"The honeymoon is definitely over," he told Radek.

"Bring on the violins," Radek replied.

By the morning after that, Rodney had changed his mind again completely. He liked John's hairy leg shoved between his at night. He enjoyed exploring the strange texture of John's burn scar, even if John complained it tickled. He secretly loved the way John looked so amazed by the theories Rodney pulled out of his ass at the drop of a hat to explain the phenomena of the universe around them, and he wanted to share his latest hypothesis on why pizza cheese with lower moisture content always melted better.

John called him that evening to tell him their last call was running over, and there would be no point to coming by since he'd have to wake up Rodney to go right to sleep. This time, John sounded as miserable as Rodney felt, although it was hard to tell with all the sirens in the background.

"Fine," Rodney said. "Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow," John said. "I miss you, okay?"

"Yeah."

It would have to be enough.

Rodney was hip deep in thermal sensors when John called the next day. Rodney almost didn't answer. John only called to cancel—he texted to say he was late or to establish plans. But he reserved calling for bad news.

"What is it this time? Nuclear holocaust on the 95?"

"Is this Dr. McKay?"

Rodney sat up. "Hello, yes?"

"This is Teyla Emmagan. Do you remember me?"

"Yes, of course. Where's John?"

"John has had a small incident. He's in the emergency room awaiting treatment. It's not too serious, but he asked me specifically to call you and tell you it might interfere with your plans—"

"Where is he? What hospital? I'm coming."

"Virginia Hospital Center." There was a smile in Teyla's voice; Rodney could hear it distinctly. She gave him the address and instructions and then hung up before he could demand more details.

Well, it was only a few miles away. He could wait that long. But, "incident." What did she mean by incident? How serious was not too serious?

"Radek? I'm going," Rodney yelled, and hurried out the door.

It took him longer than expected to find decent parking, walk all the way through the complex, and then make his way through the maze of corridors to the treatment rooms Teyla had specified. He had to explain to multiple personnel that he was visiting a friend who was EMS and awaiting treatment. They resisted letting him into the hallowed area.

Finally, Rodney saw Ronon Dex's hulking shadow through a curtain.

"Ronon," Rodney said.

Ronon swept aside the curtain. "Hey," he said. "He's being kind of a wuss. Maybe you can help."

"I heard that," a voice slurred.

"I meant you to," Ronon said, waving Rodney over. "I'm gonna go get us some coffee."

Rodney stepped inside. John was hunched over a pillow; a petite woman with dark hair and high cheekbones was frowning over his head and sporting a pair of tweezers.

"Please hold still. I won't ask again, John," the woman said.

"Then quit poking me with those things."

"I can't get the glass out if I don't go under the skin," she said, matter-of-fact.

"Glass? What glass?"

"Hiya, Rodney." Sheppard sounded drunk. "Who invited you to the party?"

"I invited myself." Rodney saw a rolling stool and pulled it over to sit down. "You look like hell." There were smears of blood running from John's forehead all the way down to his jaw. "What the hell happened?"

"John got between a drunk and an accident victim's family," the woman said. She held up her free hand. "Hi. I'm Marie Ko; I fly with these idiots."

"She's our flight nurse," John said. "She's the best."

"I do better when the patient is unconscious," she said wryly.

"Let her do her work," Rodney said, worried. "Why is there glass in your head?"

"Broken whiskey bottle."

"Jesus."

"Yes, and he's very lucky. A couple of inches over to the temple and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Nah." John waved his hand and rested his chin back on the pillow.

Rodney just sat, stunned. No John—now that wasn't something he liked to consider at all. Not having John half of the time was already making him extremely irritated.

"I'm glad you're okay," he said, rubbing John's leg. "You should be more careful."

"You should indeed," said another voice, and Teyla came in. "I'm not sure what you were thinking."

"I was thinking the cops were laying the flares on the perimeter, and you—you were busy...busy, um, helping Marie, and the drunk driver was getting into it with the victim's family and we were about to have—to have another bunch of patients to transport."

"And so we ended up having to transport you," Teyla said tartly. "Although I must admit it was nice getting to fly the chopper."

John grinned up at her. "She is a sweet bird, isn't she?"

"Please hold still, John."

"Ouch! Marie, jeez." John's eyes drifted closed. "Ow-ow-ow," he sang softly.

Rodney said quietly to Teyla, "He really is okay, isn't he? He seems out of it."

"He's already had an X-ray. We're waiting for the results. But they believe he just has a slight concussion. And, of course, he will require some stitches."

"Damn," John said. "I hope they don't shave my head."

Rodney boggled momentarily at the image.

Teyla laughed and patted John's shoulder. "I'm sure that won't be necessary."

They fell into silence as Marie continued to prod at the glass slivers. Rodney squeezed John's thigh whenever he mumbled a complaint. Ronon eventually returned with terrible cups of coffee for everyone.

"Oh," John said, stirring from his pillow. "I meant to tell you. It was the first thing I wanted to tell you." He was definitely slurring now, and Rodney wondered if they'd given him painkillers of some kind.

"What?" Rodney squeezed his leg again when John just lapsed back into quiet.

"I had a talk with the shift supervisor, Lorraine. Because, you know..." John opened his eyes and looked at Rodney. "Well, anyway, I asked her to check the call logs, because it seemed like we were getting stuck with a lot of late calls, and sure enough, she said dispatch was cutting it too close on our end of shift, and she's going to have a chat with them about it. So. Um." John's eyebrows drew together earnestly. "Hope that helps."

"That's wonderful," Teyla said into Rodney's shocked silence. "Kanaan has been complaining about us having so many late nights."

"Yeah. Good job, Sheppard." Ronon bounced his fist against John's shoulder.

"Ow."

"Thank you, John," Marie said. "You're forgiven for being such a terrible patient."

"You're welcome." John was still staring at Rodney. Rodney stared back, a glow starting in his chest he couldn't contain.

"That's really, uh, great. That's terrific, actually. It means a lot."

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

"Cool." John closed his eyes.

A doctor swept in soon afterward, shooing them all off so she could stitch up John's lacerations. They all lingered in the hallway until they established that Rodney would be taking John home.

If John needed help tomorrow as well, Rodney would take the day off; he could always work the weekend to make up for it. It wasn't unusual for him to drop into the office on a Saturday or Sunday, anyway, and—oh. Interesting. Rodney remembered John's exasperation about his "regular" working hours and winced.

John spent the ride to Rodney's place sacked out in the passenger seat and barely woke up enough to follow Rodney up the stairs to his apartment. He'd insisted on coming home to his own place because of Pringles, but once they were inside, he promptly fell asleep on the couch and wouldn't budge, even with Pringles pawing insistently at his leg.

Rodney sighed and grabbed the leash from the coat hanger. "I guess it's just you and me, Pringles."

After taking Pringles out for a short walk, Rodney coaxed John from the couch to the bed and then settled down beside him with his laptop. He'd heard people with concussions should be woken up every couple of hours, but that, like every other bit of folk wisdom he'd ever heard, turned out to be a bunch of hooey. The sheet the doctor had sent John home with said to let him rest, and only haul him back into the hospital if his eyes started dilating crazily or he had issues with walking.

Rodney worked on some idle ideas for his UAV project while he waited for John to wake up.

At around midnight, John stirred and flopped over with a groan, his bandaged hair sticking up every which way.

"The undead arise," Rodney quipped.

"I feel undead. Did they shave my head, or did I just dream that?"

"Hair follicles all present and accounted for."

"Thank God." John shoved himself up and leaned against Rodney. "What're you working on?"

"Just a very cool, ultra-top-secret unmanned aerial vehicle that will put all others to shame. This one might even break atmosphere."

"No way! Really?" John grabbed the corner of Rodney's laptop and tried to turn it toward him.

"Nuh-uh. Does 'top secret' mean nothing to you?"

"A pretty funny movie from the 80s? It starred that blond guy."

Rodney sighed in mock disgust. John grinned.

"At least you're sounding more like yourself," Rodney said. "For a while there, I thought you'd leaked some of your brains."

"Brains cells all present and accounted for." John rubbed his cheek against Rodney's shoulder, his stubble making a rasping sound. Rodney's heart whammied in his chest at the affectionate gesture.

"Thanks for what you did," Rodney said haltingly. "It really did mean a lot. I know your job is important to you—"

"Do you?" John bit his lip suddenly, as if he hadn't meant to say it.

Rodney pulled back. "Of course I do. I'm not an idiot. All you talk about is flying and helping people. Your job combines the two."

"Yeah." John leaned his forehead on Rodney's shoulder. "Okay. God, I love you."

Rodney's heart stopped. Just stopped. That had to be a lie. This was like that April Fool's joke Tyson played on him once saying there were rumors he was about to be awarded the Isaac Newton medal—too good to be true, so it wasn't.

Except John promised he didn't lie. He promised.

"Love you, too," Rodney whispered hoarsely, and John squeezed him, chuckling softly.

"I guess that works out then," John said, lifting his head.

"It should. I'm a genius, after all. I know how to put things together."

It just took him a little while sometimes.

 

..................................
December 31, 2014
San Francisco, CA