Deciding that he'd had more than enough of work, Rodney shut down his laptop and, in a fit of depression, consigned his pad to the bottom drawer of his desk – the one he kept exclusively for his copies of the moronic dictates from the SGC and the direst of Kavanaugh's lab reports. He could only hope that after a meal and a night's sleep, he'd have some inspiration and finally be able to make some headway.
He and a small team had been working on the project non-stop for the past few days – trying to find a way to repair a piece of Ancient technology that SGA-1 had uncovered in the ruins of what once must have been a research base. The Ancient database on Atlantis had proven to be entirely useless in providing any clue as to what the base's purpose had been and their only hint from the site itself was this one small device, which was also stubbornly declining to give up its secrets.
They'd come across planet almost by accident – Teyla picking up the address from a throwaway remark she had overheard during one of her trading missions with SGA-12. It had taken some doing, but Rodney had finally convinced Woolsey that it was a lead worth following. With all the recent turmoil of Wraith hybrids, the seemingly miraculous but ultimately disastrous return of dead friends, and the effects of brain-rotting parasites, Rodney had figured that he and the rest of SGA-1 deserved a low-profile mission. Besides which, he was keen to ensure he was still in command of his mental faculties and was still smarting somewhat from Ronon's snide comments about his 'little gadgets'. The discovery and repair of some spectacularly useful Ancient device was definitely in order.
The mission itself had certainly been low-profile; the planet obviously having been either abandoned or culled to extinction long ago and the research base itself had been razed to little more than a few charred ruins. As they'd picked through the rubble searching for anything that might be of use, Rodney had felt a shiver of unease run down his spine: one day soon, this could far too easily be all that remained of Atlantis. As he'd turned his head towards his team-mates, he'd met John's gaze and found it startlingly open for once. In John's eyes, Rodney could clearly see his own fears reflected and knew that he wasn't the only one who'd been shaken by the events of the past year. From the loss of Elizabeth to their last minute triumph over the Replicators and from the reappearance of Michael and his army of clones to the interactions they'd had with the ghosts of their friends, recent events had shaken them all.
Rodney had never been good at dealing with his emotions, preferring instead to bury himself in his work and let his fear, anger and frustration escape that way. His short-temper and his impatience with his colleagues and, more often than anyone ever realised, with himself, were the only way he knew to rid himself of the excess energy such emotions generated. Coming face to face with such devastation in what was supposed to have been a 'light' mission only served to increase the maelstrom of worry and stress which had already been building steadily inside him. As he'd looked into John's eyes, the moment had stretched and a connection had formed between them. Rodney knew that John was, in his own way, was no better than he at coping, but somehow John always seemed to be capable of stoically continuing on as normal, with his perpetual swagger and smirk firmly in place as he acted as if none of what had happened had affected him in the slightest. Of course, Rodney knew differently. After almost five years of friendship, he knew John – understood how he thought and how he acted – and looking into his eyes as they both stood amongst the tangible proof of the fallibility of a civilisation far more advanced than their own, he'd simply known that John was reaching the end of his tether.
It didn't make any sense, but for one dizzying moment Rodney had felt compelled to go up to John and comfort him. The impulse had been shocking, both in its strength and in its novelty. Since when did John want comfort from anyone? And since when was Rodney the one who wanted to provide it? They quite simply weren't that kind of friends. Sure, they might share the odd shoulder bump from time to time, but that really was the limit of their physical interaction. Beers on the pier, questionable sci-fi movies, video games and the odd car race down on the lower levels were usually the extent of their personal sharing. But still, something in the openness of John's expression had called to Rodney and he'd found himself taking several stumbling steps towards John before he'd even realised that he'd moved.
Looking back on it now, Rodney was still at a loss to explain what had come over him. He knew that he was feeling particularly raw and vulnerable at the moment, but that still didn't explain that near-catastrophic lapse in judgement. Of course, in the end, nothing had come of it. Even as Rodney had approached John, knowing for sure that his intentions were clearly visible on his face but seemingly helpless to stop himself from acting upon them, John's shutters had snapped firmly closed. By the time Rodney had reached his side, an expression of benign indifference had replaced that of his honest emotions and Rodney had only been able to stand there whilst John had asked him whether they were done with the place or whether he wanted to sift through more rubbish. Still somewhat confused by his bizarre impulse, Rodney had asked for a little more time and his subsequent search had led to the collection of what was probably the only intact piece of equipment still remaining.
Rodney turned in his chair and glared at the device in question, sitting so innocently on one of the lab's testing tables. It had been badly burned by whatever weapon had destroyed the facility and a team of engineers, headed up by Radek, had been working on disassembling and repairing it. For his own part, Rodney's team had been working on the patchy bits of code they'd managed to pull from the device's computer core – portioning out segments to the other scientists involved and keeping the mainframe structure to work on himself. Not that any of them had actually made any kind of progress whatsoever.
Rodney shook himself and rose to his feet, determined to waste no more time on the device. It was late and he was tired and hungry. As he made his way out of the lab and towards the transporter, he hoped that there was something edible still available in the commissary.
As it turned out, he needn't have worried. The commissary was surprisingly busy for so late an hour, with a noisy crowd of marines clustered around one of the large tables in the centre of the room. It wasn't until Rodney spotted John and Ronon over at the far end that he remembered that while he had been busy with his scientists, John had been equally so with his soldiers. When Woolsey had arrived on Atlantis to relieve Sam Carter, he'd brought with him a new contingent of marines, whose training was now John's responsibility. When Rodney had first caught a glimpse of these newest recruits – all set to go on their first off-world training mission under Lorne's command - he had been staggered at how young and innocent they all looked. He'd then had had to boggle at himself for the thought. After all, who'd have thought the day would come when Rodney McKay felt more confidence in his own ability of carrying out a physically challenging and dangerous off-world mission than a bunch of marines? Looking back at just how much he'd changed since he first stepped out of the stargate and into Pegasus, Rodney realised that he owed a large part of the person he was now to the Atlantis expedition and to the friendships with which it had gifted him.
The sight of John and Ronon sitting together gave Rodney a moment's pause, much like the one he'd experienced on the planet a few days ago, as he took in their expressions. Ronon looked a little tired, but it was John's appearance that really rattled Rodney. It had been a hard few months for all of them, but Rodney couldn't help but think that John looked completely wrecked. Rodney knew that, on the surface at any rate, John looked much the same as ever, but he was now starting to realise that he could see beyond John's facade. The fine lines around John's eyes and the slumped set of his shoulder were sure signs of his exhaustion and, judging from the remains of his dinner, he was also eating far too little for Rodney's peace of mind.
As he stood at the doorway to the commissary, Rodney found that he was still at a loss to know quite what to make of his insights, or the desire they prompted within him to help John somehow. Despite their obvious differences, John and Rodney were close friends. Not that John would ever say anything to that effect, of course, but from pretty much the first week of their stay on Atlantis, when they had bonded over a shared love of experimenting with cool Ancient tech, a friendship had been formed that the years had only strengthened.
It had taken its fair share knocks, of course, and there were times when Rodney knew that the more arrogant and self-centred side of his personality grated on John's far more selfless and easy-going one. And vice-versa. Nevertheless, their friendship had survived, despite each doing things that infuriated the other - suicide runs and decimated solar systems being but two examples. In fact, thinking back to that past year, Rodney had to admit that they'd actually grown even closer as Rodney had been shown, time and time again, the strength of John's regard. Not being someone used to having friends, let alone a best friend, it had surprised Rodney just how far John was prepared to go to keep him safe. After the death of Wallace at the hands of the Wraith to whom Rodney had decided to sacrifice himself to ensure Jeanie's survival, he could no longer have any doubt.
But none of that truly explained these new revelations or their accompanying emotions. Even when he'd been under the effects of the parasite which had robbed him of his mental faculties, he'd still instinctively known that John was someone who would keep him safe, someone who would always come for him. On one level, he didn't question this instinct – it was correct, after all – but, on another, it did raise some interesting questions... Ones he hadn't wanted to face at the time, but ones that continued to linger even through his subsequent dinner date with Jennifer.
And the thought of Jennifer raised yet another reason why he found himself somewhat hesitant at approaching his team-mates. If his odd feelings for John weren't enough, he'd also had to deal with the realisation that he might actually stand a chance with Jennifer. Not that this was an unwelcome realisation, far from it. Jennifer was beautiful, sweet and intelligent – everything Rodney had ever wanted in a partner. Yet the situation, and his feelings about it, had proven to be far more complex than he'd anticipated when Jennifer had first asked him to accompany her for a drink all those months ago.
Not that the drink hadn't been pleasant enough, but it hadn't led anywhere. Before he'd known it, Rodney had become caught up in mess that was Michael and the shocking reappearance of Carson, albeit only in clone form. Even when life had quietened down again, Rodney had still found himself somewhat reluctant to try to pick things up with Jennifer. For one thing, his previous relationship with Katie Brown had made him cautious. He had fallen into that relationship with far too little forethought, more enamoured with the idea of being wanted by someone than by Katie herself. He could still recall vividly the looked of shocked disbelief which had graced John's face when he'd shown him the engagement ring he'd intended for Katie. It had troubled him at the time and he'd found himself watching her more closely, noting not only her reactions but also his own. The fact that he'd come so close to actually proposing to someone who clearly didn't even have the first idea of who he really was had led to his determination not to pursue anything with Jennifer which may be equally based on false assumptions.
The fact that Jennifer had seen him at his best and at his worst and still seemed to be fond of him gave him some hope. And when it seemed like Ronon was simply going to swoop in and take her from right under his nose, Rodney found himself angrily indignant. Just because she was a beautiful woman, it didn't mean that she would automatically fall for the clichéd muscle-bound hero, did it? While he didn't want to get into a fight with Ronon over her, Rodney was damned if he was just going to give in. So, where did all that leave him? It seemed he had a close friendship that seemed to be growing even closer, a potential romantic liaison with a beautiful woman about whom he was strangely ambivalent until challenged, and an odd sort of rivalry with someone on whose bad side he definitely didn't want to find himself.
His rumbling stomach interrupted his musing and, telling himself that his introspection was becoming ridiculous, Rodney forced himself to catch John's eye. Something inside him eased when he saw John's grin and beckoning wave. Finding himself grinning back in automatic response, Rodney nodded and then quickly headed over in the direction of the food to collect his dinner. With his stomach rumbling, he helped himself to a large plateful of casserole and fried potatoes and a couple of pudding cups. He then carefully picked his way through the melee to John and Ronon's table.
"Hey, Rodney," John greeted him with a lazy grin, pushing out the chair at his side so Rodney could sit down. "Second dinner or you just in here late?"
"Second dinner, I wish," Rodney groused as he loaded his fork and took a big bite. He couldn't help letting out a little sigh of pleasure as the rich taste of the casserole exploded in his mouth. "I'll have you know that this is the first time I've made it out of my lab today."
"You've got good timing, McKay," Ronon said, his eyes focussed a little too closely on Rodney's meal for Rodney's liking. "The dacarin's good."
"Hmm," Rodney hummed around his second mouthful of what he figured must be dacarin casserole, one hand curling protectively around his plate as he chewed. "Very good," he agreed after he'd swallowed, relieved that Ronon's interaction with him seemed to be no different from normal.
"So, have you guys have been making some progress with that gizmo?" John asked as Rodney continued to make inroads into his meal.
"Not as such," Rodney replied, pausing in his eating long enough to grimace as he was forced to admit to their decided lack of progress. "The device has sustained considerable damage - Zelenka's team hasn't been able to get it operational and we're still struggling with its basic coding structure."
"Well, you've got two more days before SGA-1's back on the mission board," John said.
"Can't come soon enough," Ronon rumbled.
"You said it," John replied with a heartfelt sigh.
"The new recruits giving you trouble?" Rodney asked, his eyes darting back and forth between his team-mates and wondering whether the stress of the training could really be the sole source of the weariness that was etched into John's features.
John reached up to rub at the back of his neck, rolling his right shoulder and eliciting a crack that made Rodney's own ache in sympathy. "No more so than normal," he admitted, casting Rodney a half-grin. "I'm just looking forward to getting out there again myself."
"And the recruits are as unskilled as a litter of new-born timara."
John laughed. "There is that, but, hey, we're getting there with them."
"Slowly," Ronon snorted. "But we'll get there in the end," he added with an evil grin.
John laughed even more at that and Rodney found himself feeling a little sorry on behalf of the marines for whatever the two of them had planned for tomorrow's training mission.
"And on that happy note," John said, rising to his feet. "I need to catch up with Lorne. See you guys later." And, with a nod to Ronon and a brief pat to Rodney's shoulder, he crossed the room to speak to his second in command.
Rodney watched John go with his brow furrowed – was John limping slightly or was it just his usual slouching swagger? Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to his dinner, startled for a moment to find that Ronon was eyeing him curiously.
"What?" he asked as he crunched down on a fried potato.
Ronon tilted his head to the side in an assessing manner and then reached out to steal one of the fries off Rodney's plate.
"Hey," Rodney protested. "That's mine – get your own."
Ronon grinned unrepentantly as he ate the ill-gotten potato. "Relax, McKay; you've got plenty," he said.
"That's not the point," Rodney grumbled. "That was one of the nice crunchy ones."
For some bizarre reason, Ronon's assessing look became even more pointed at his words. "Maybe, but you didn't even notice that particular one 'til I wanted it."
Rodney frowned, wondering whether the stresses of training the recruits really had been great enough, not only to get John down, but also to crack Ronon. Unsure of how to respond, he contented himself with glowering at Ronon and eating his fries as fast as possible.
The silence stretched and Rodney found himself thinking back to the slump of John's shoulders as he ate. "So, is he alright?" he found himself asking Ronon before he could stop himself.
"Who?" Ronon asked. "Sheppard?"
"Yeah," Rodney replied. "He looks... I don't know... like someone's sucked the energy out of him."
Ronon shrugged. "Seems find to me – bit tired, but it's been a rough few days."
Rodney snorted. "Rough few years," he corrected. When Ronon didn't reply, Rodney shook his head and tried to concentrate on his dinner. Maybe Teyla would have some idea about what was troubling John – she always seemed to know far more about everyone that she should.
As Rodney took the last bite of casserole off his plate, he found that Ronon was still looking at him in an unnerving manner. "Now come on," he said in frustration. "Enough with the staring – what is it?"
"You're worried," Ronon said. "About Sheppard."
"Well, of course I'm worried," Rodney snapped. "The man looks like he's on the brink of collapse. Given that he's our chief military officer, I think we all should be worried."
"Hmm," Ronon hummed noncommittally. "I heard Jennifer's not been well," he said after a beat. "That she's only just got back to work."
Rodney blinked at the apparent non sequitur. "Oh, really?" he said. "I haven't seen her in..." he paused to think about it, "Well, in quite a few days really." He'd meant to, but he'd become totally caught up in his work and just hadn't gotten around to it. Now that he thought about it, it was a pretty silly thing to do, especially as he'd have been able to spend some time with her without Ronon being around. Well, maybe not if, as it turned out, she'd been sick. "Wait, you mean you think John's come down with what she has?" He frowned at the thought, feeling his worry intensify; it would be just like John to come down with some weird alien virus and not tell anyone 'til he was practically comatose. He started to rise to his feet, intent on hunting John down and frog-marching him down to the infirmary.
"Relax, McKay," Ronon said, his eyes gleaming with a suspicious light. "Sheppard's not sick."
Ronon sounded so certain of the fact that Rodney allowed himself to sink back down into his seat with a feeling of relief. "Oh, well, that's good," he said, reaching out for the first of his pudding cups.
Ronon stood up and grinned down at Rodney. "Yeah," he agreed. "It is." Reaching down he snagged the second of Rodney's pudding cups before Rodney could stop him. "Night, McKay," he said as he left.
Rodney frowned after him as he left, deciding that the loss of his second pudding probably wasn't worth worrying over. It had been the vanilla one, after all, and he was already holding the dark chocolate one that he really wanted.
Instead of heading directly back to his quarters once he'd finished his meal, Rodney turned instead towards the transporter that would take him up to the infirmary. It was a long shot, but there was a chance that Jennifer would still be on duty there – particularly if, as Ronon had said, she'd been ill and was now trying to catch up with things. He didn't examine too closely his motivations for seeking Jennifer out, preferring instead to see it as evidence to the fact that he did indeed intend to pursue some sort of romantic relationship with her. In fact, he berated himself for not seeking her out sooner, especially given that Ronon had spent most of his time off-world over the past few days and the time would have given Rodney the perfect opportunity to have some time alone with Jennifer without his looming presence.
The conversation he and Ronon'd had in the gym after they'd got back from M33-985 had confused Rodney, as had Ronon's attitude towards him when they'd been tracking Kiryk through the forest. Rodney was well aware that he sometimes irritated Ronon, but he had thought that their time together on SGA-1 had helped them get over their initial wariness of each other. Whilst John and Ronon had bonded immediately – in a manly, blood and guts, fight the Wraith to the death kind of way – Rodney had found it harder to get to know Ronon. With his towering height and over-blown muscles he was the epitome of everything Rodney had learned to avoid. But, given that Rodney's time on Atlantis had gained him an unlikely best friend in the form of Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, who was to say that he couldn't at least get along with someone like Ronon? Not that Teyla would have tolerated any not-getting along from her team-mates and avoiding her censure had been yet another incentive for Rodney.
Rodney had believed that, after over three years of fighting the Wraith together, he and Ronon had developed at least a tentative friendship. While they might not be bosom buddies – and, really, who wanted that if it meant early morning runs? - they at least had grown to recognise and appreciated each other's strengths. That they shared a mutual passion for food also helped and the lengths Ronon, along with the rest of his team, had gone through to help him when everything that made him who he was had been fading away had only hammered this point home.
So what had all that posturing in the training room been about? The more arrogant and self-important side of Rodney's character wanted to believe it was because Ronon saw him as a potential rival for Jennifer's affections, but something about that didn't ring quite true. Although he may want to ignore it, he couldn't help but be aware of just how close Ronon and Jennifer had become over the few months that had passed since they'd been locked in the infirmary together during the quarantine. His own interactions, by contrast, had remained pretty much the same – with Jennifer approaching him on occasion, but also with Rodney himself also not remembering to reciprocate unless specifically reminded by something. Point of fact, the whole motivation for his presence on the mission to M33-985 had been prompted by the realisation that, when Jennifer had asked for volunteers, Ronon had been one of the first to respond. And now, as then, Rodney found himself seeking Jennifer out as a direct result of something Ronon had said. Surely that showed that he was serious about pursuing her? As he'd told Ronon that night in the gym, he wasn't going to fight him for her, but he wasn't going merely let him have her either.
As the doors to the infirmary slid open, Rodney wondered for a moment whether he should have just gone to bed after all. The waves of tiredness he'd been fighting for hours were becoming more difficult to evade and he wasn't entirely sure what he was going to say...
"Rodney?" Jennifer looked up from her desk and smiled at him as he stepped over the threshold. "Is everything okay?"
Realising that he was probably startling her with his late-night visit, Rodney shook his head rapidly to reassure her as he crossed over to where she sat. "No, no, nothing's wrong," he said quickly. "I just... um... you know, wanted to see how you were doing. I hear you've not been well..." He trailed off as he noticed the dark circles under her eyes, half-worried that perhaps, despite Ronon's reassurances, her illness had been worse than he'd thought.
"Oh, that's sweet of you," she replied with another tired smile. "I'm doing much better. It was just a mild cold, really – just knocked me out for a few days." She cast a glance towards the computer monitor in front of her and let out a small sigh. "Although I am now very behind with everything. It's lucky we've not had an emergency situation."
At her mention of her illness, a million questions crowded into Rodney's mind, along with a visual image of John's tired face. Frowning at Jennifer, he tried to compare the fatigue on her face with that on John's – could they be suffering from the same infection?
"Rodney? Are you sure you're alright?" Jennifer's voice cut across his thoughts as she rose to her feet to approach him. The signs of her recent illness were clearly apparent on her face and Rodney studied them intently. She seemed a little thinner than before, her cheekbones more finely drawn, and there were dark rings under her eyes and an unusual paleness to her skin.
"Yes, yes, fine," Rodney replied distractedly, wondering if he'd detected a hint of that same paleness in John's face. "Are you sure you're better? I mean, you still don't look all that great to me."
Jennifer's face fell and Rodney winced as he re-played his words – cursing himself internally for his bluntness. "I mean, I'm... I'm worried about you," he clarified quickly. "About whether you're really well enough to be back at work."
Jennifer nodded and closed her eyes briefly. "I am still very tired," she admitted as she looked up at him again, her eyes slightly hazy with her exhaustion.
In the dim lights of the deserted infirmary, Jennifer looked even younger than normal and Rodney felt concern for her well up inside him. He was suddenly very glad that he had decided to ignore his own fatigue and come here after all.
"Then it's a good thing I stopped by to escort you back to your quarters," he said, holding out an arm to her in what he hoped was a gentlemanly-like fashion. "Even if it was just a cold, you don't want to risk it turning into something worse," he cautioned as she took his arm.
"No, of course not," she replied with a bright smile and Rodney felt relieved that he'd apparently been forgiven for his earlier bluntness. "Although there really isn't any cause for concern – I've just been working for a bit too long."
Her reassurance went a long way to easing the other source of Rodney's worry. "So no one else has come down with it?" he asked before he was able to stop himself.
"Not as far as I know," Jennifer replied as they made their way out of the infirmary. "And even if they were, it's really so mild a virus that it certainly wouldn't cause a problem for the city."
As the final bit of tension eased from his chest, Rodney felt his own tiredness take control and he only just managed to get Jennifer to her quarters before staggering back to his own and falling into a dreamless sleep.
Rodney awoke the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed and optimistic about the day ahead. His conversation with Jennifer the night before had gone a long way to allaying his fears about John's health. Even if it turned out that Ronon was wrong and John was actually sick, it was obviously nothing to be too worried about. Rodney would just have keep a close eye on him and ensure that he made John go to the infirmary if he started showing any signs of illness.
In addition to that reassurance, Rodney was also pleased about the way it had gone in terms of furthering his chances with Jennifer as a whole. After his odd conversation with Ronon over dinner, he'd been left feeling as if he was missing something, and a fairly big something at that. At least having reconnected with Jennifer, he was relieved to have confirmed that he hadn't missed out on anything after all and that she was still obviously interested and happy to see him.
His optimism carried him through the morning and, heeding the lessons of the day before, when Radek suggested that maybe they should break for lunch, Rodney agreed. From Radek's rambling comments as they made their way down to the commissary, it sounded like the engineers had made some head-way with the power module of the device. His team of software engineers had likewise made some small steps towards decrypting the device's primary algorithms and Rodney's own work on the device's power matrix was finally showing fewer compilation errors. All in all, he deemed it a good morning's work.
As the group of scientists queued for their lunch, Rodney spotted Jennifer and Teyla seated at SGA-1's usual table. John and Ronon were undoubtedly off-world with the marines again and it appeared as though Teyla's latest diplomatic mission - introducing Woolsey to Atlantis' closest allies - had now been completed. Once he had collected his food, he made his way over to them, vaguely aware that the other scientists chose to sit elsewhere.
Jennifer smiled brightly at him as he took the seat opposite Teyla. Feeling himself flush at the light of her regard, he stammered a greeting, cursing his fair skin and the return of his awkwardness. When he turned to talk to Teyla, he felt some of his composure return. He didn't get it – Teyla was easily the most stunning woman Rodney had ever encountered, and yet he never felt uncomfortable with her. Now that he came to think of it, even with Jennifer his awkwardness had not manifested itself until he'd realised she might be a potential romantic partner. Looking back even further, he realised that same had been true with his relationship with Katie – that and the fact that it had really been Cadman's doing that he'd even moved into a relationship with her at all.
His growling stomach distracted him from the direction his thoughts had taken and, as he picked up the first half of his sandwich, he cast around for something to say to Jennifer. Despite his best efforts, he came up with nothing. He could hardly ask her again about her illness again, having just spoken to her about it the night before, besides which, he already knew more than he ever wanted to know about the various types of Pegasus viruses. Continuing to draw a blank, he turned to Teyla instead. "So, have you finished showing Woolsey the sights of Pegasus?" he asked.
Teyla smiled over at Rodney. "Yes," she said. "We had our final visit this morning with the leaders of the people of Laatia."
Rodney frowned, the name conjuring vague images of some sort of blue paste and chicken feathers. "They're the people with the..." he twirled a finger over the top of his head to indicate the sort of elaborate head-dress he seemed to recall the Laatians had worn.
"Who wear the formal laariia, yes," Teyla replied.
"Right, of course, the laariia," he said as the memory of the mission suddenly segued into focus in his mind. "How could I possibly forget that one?"
The look of consternation he knew must be showing on his face made Teyla laugh out loud. "I do not know, Rodney," she said. "I believe you did not stop teasing John about it for weeks."
The Laatian mission had been a successful one as a whole. The Laatians themselves were friendly and hospitable people and they had a surplus of food for which they were only too happy to trade. However, the highlight of the trip had definitely been the preliminary negotiations in which SGA-1 two 'primaries' had been asked to don the traditional Laatian 'robes of discourse'. When these 'robes' had turned out to be little more than a collection of what looked like brown cabbage leaves and an enormous feathered head dress, Rodney had never before been so glad of his complete and utter lack of diplomatic talent. Thankfully, it had fallen to Teyla and John to do the honours and it was only the very serious tone of John's voice threatening to corrupt his entire DVD collection that had prevented Rodney from taking photos.
Of course, Teyla had looked stunning in her feather and cabbage combination, but then Rodney had already known that she would. After all, she'd somehow managed to look stunning covered in the oatmeal-like substance the people of M37-TY8 seemed to think was essential for 'purity of the soul' or some other such nonsense, so naturally she'd look stunning in whatever bizarre outfits the people of Pegasus seemed so fond. She'd merely smiled at the Laatian primaries and remained poised and elegant through out the negotiations.
John, on the other hand, had managed somewhat less well. With the cabbage leaves placed on strategic parts of his body and the feathered head dress sitting at an alarming angle on his head, Rodney had had to bit his tongue hard to keep from laughing aloud. He had previously thought that there was no look that John, with his lackadaisical grace and chiselled features, couldn't pull off, but apparently the people of Laatia had found it. Yet, now that he thought back to that day, there'd been something about John even when draped in what was essentially nothing but moulding leaves and ragged feathers.
"Well, I need to head of to the infirmary, I'm afraid," Jennifer's voice cut through Rodney's musings.
Blinking Rodney looked up at her, smiling down at him, and nodded, taking a big bite out of his sandwich as he did so.
"See you later, Jennifer," Teyla said as she started to leave, shooting Rodney an odd look as she did so.
Rodney shrugged internally and continued eating, only becoming aware that Teyla was staring at him. "What?" he said, a little more heatedly that he'd intended, but he was getting tired of people staring at him.
Teyla smiled at him and shook her head. "It is nothing," she said. "So, thing are well with you?"
"Getting there," Rodney replied. "Finally had a breakthrough with the device so we should have some idea what its purpose is before too long."
"That is good news," Teyla said. "And just in time for us to start our missions again."
"Yes, missions," Rodney repeated with a sigh, wondering just what disaster was waiting for them out there this time.
"You are not looking forward to getting back into the field?" Teyla asked, her own excitement at doing so shining brightly from her eyes.
Rodney shrugged, "Not particularly. I mean, we've not exactly had the best run of luck when it comes to going off-world."
A small furrow creased Teyla's brow. "Well, while it is true we have had to face many unpleasant situations," she replied slowly, "we have triumphed over each one."
Rodney snorted at that – unpleasant situations indeed. "By the skin of our teeth."
An eyebrow quirking at the unusual turn of phrase, Teyla nodded before a wicked smile came over her face. "But is that not just the way we roll?"
Rodney laughed despite himself. Calming only to say, "I guess, but that doesn't mean we can't roll a little more gently for a while. We could all do with a break – some of us more than others."
"Oh? You are feeling unwell?" Teyla asked, her concern evident.
"No, no, not me," Rodney said, waving away her worry. "John – haven't you noticed how tired he's looking?"
For some unfathomable reason, a pleased smile flashed briefly across Teyla's face before her expression smoothed over once more. "He has been taking on a lot of extra responsibilities of late," she admitted. "But I do not think that there is a real need for concern, Rodney."
"Really?" Rodney pressed, surprised that Teyla hadn't picked up on the true extent of John's condition. Out of all of them, he'd have thought she'd have been the one to see what exactly was going on.
Teyla shrugged, "But then I have not seen much of him recently, Rodney. If you think that he is not well, perhaps you should talk to him."
"Oh, yeah," Rodney replied sarcastically. "Because talking to John always goes down so well."
"I think you will find it will go more smoothly than you think," Teyla said, her expression quite earnest as Rodney boggled at her.
"Are you serious?" he asked. "Because this is John Sheppard we're talking about here – perhaps the man least likely to respond well to talking. And even if he were, I am hardly the ideal candidate to talk to him in the first place."
When Teyla opened her mouth to respond, he waved whatever it was she was about to say away with a flick of his hand. "Besides which," he continued a little morosely. "My 'manly' talks haven't exactly gone down all that well recently."
"Oh?" Teyla questioned with a raised eyebrow.
Rodney took another bite of his sandwich, scowling as he chewed. "Ronon," he muttered darkly once he'd swallowed.
Teyla tilted her head to one side in question. "How so? I had thought your mission together on M33-985 would have brought you closer."
Rodney scoffed at that. "Yeah, not so much. One minute everything's fine – I mean, he's doing his tracking thing and I'm... well... helping, and then the next he's biting my head off. And then," Rodney continued, really on a roll now. "When we get back here - having both rescued Jennifer might I add – he goes all cave-man on me."
Teyla frowned a little at that. "I'm sure he did not intend to give you that impression, Rodney," she reassured him.
"Yes, well, I'm not so sure about that," Rodney replied. "He seemed pretty clear about getting his message across."
"Yes," Rodney said, again surprised that Teyla hadn't picked on Ronon's attachment to Jennifer. "That he is intending to..." he floundered a little searching for the right word, "... to court Jennifer."
If anything, his explanation seemed to confuse Teyla further.
"You know," he said, feeling rather frustrated at having to spell things out like this. "He was warning me off."
"Ah," Teyla said, her expression clearing at last, "I see." She regarded him closely for a moment before taking a sip of her tea. "And you see his interest in Jennifer as a threat?" she asked carefully.
Rodney opened his mouth to say 'yes', but then closed it again before speaking, suddenly wondering whether he truly did see Ronon's words that way. While it was true that, at the time, he'd only been able to sense hostility from Ronon, there hadn't been any hostility in Ronon's tone when they'd talked again the night before. If anything, it was almost as if Ronon had been trying to tell him something, not that Rodney had been able to figure out quite what. Plus he'd been very helpful in reassuring Rodney about John.
With this new information in mind, Rodney amended his reply. "I did at first," he admitted. "But now I'm not so sure. I mean, I think he was worried about Jennifer and... well, I guess he's interested in her too. Has been ever since the quarantine situation."
Teyla nodded her agreement. "And what about you?" she asked. "Have you been interested in Jennifer that long?"
"Well, no," Rodney answered, a tad uncomfortably. "I was, you know, with Katie at the time..." he let his words drop off as he thought back to how very muddled he'd been about everything that day. He'd gone from nervous excitement at the prospect of proposing to confused depression in the wake of John's reaction to his plan to the dawning understanding that he was on the brink of making a huge mistake. He'd avoided proposing in the end – finally seeing that Katie was not right for him – but, to this day, he'd yet to get to the bottom of John's reaction. The whole situation with Jennifer had not happened until sometime later and, even now, he was starting to see that maybe he wasn't as committed to it as he perhaps ought to be. After all, the one thing he didn't want was a repeat of the messy break-up he'd had with Katie. "I just don't know," he muttered to himself at last.
A soft sound for Teyla had him glancing up to find her smiling softly at him. "On the contrary," she said, her voice warm. "I think you do know, I only think you, as yet, do not see."
After his lunch with Teyla, Rodney returned to the lab and spent the remainder of the day working on the device. He wasn't at all sure what to make of her comments, so put them firmly out of his mind and threw all his mental energies into his work. He was certain that they were very close to getting the device operational again and so, when the lab started clearing out for the day, Rodney chose to remain at his desk and keep working. With SGA-1 due to begin off-world missions the following afternoon, he was determined to get the project competed if he possibly could.
"Are you certain you do not want to wait for tomorrow, Rodney?" Radek asked, his voice pulling Rodney from the finishing touches he was putting to his team's re-coding efforts. "I am sure we will be ready to activate the device by tomorrow afternoon."
Frowning automatically at the interruption, Rodney shook his head as he glanced over at Radek. "Yes, and while that may very well be the case, I am equally sure I can get it activated tonight. I'm just about finished with the coding and all that leaves is re-booting the power supply and seeing what we've got." With that, he returned his attention to his laptop.
"Ah," Radek said. "You... want me to stay then?"
Rodney could hear Radek shift uncomfortably on his feet as he continued to work and huffed in frustration. "What is it?" he demanded as he looked up again. "If you don't want to stay, then don't stay. I am perfectly capable of handling this on my own. Genius here, remember?"
Radek had the grace to look a bit embarrassed, but Rodney had the feeling that there was something more to the slight blush staining his cheeks. With a flash of inspiration, he felt a grin spread over his face. "You have plans!" he crowed, delighted to see Radek's blush deepen still further. "Radek, you dog! Who is she?"
Radek ran a distracted hand through his hair and then pulled off his glasses, polishing them on his shirt with unsteady hands. "Well, I... It is not really a date..." he stuttered.
"Of course it's a date," Rodney said firmly. "Come on, out with it! Who?"
"Well, Amanda Grant," Radek admitted at last as he pushed his freshly polished glasses back up his nose. "She is newly arrived in the xeno-biology department."
Still grinning, Rodney nodded, the name bringing vague images of a slim woman with red hair. "Well, go on then," he said, shooing Radek away with quick flicks of his hands. "You need to get ready and... I don't know... do something with your hair."
Radek raised a hand and hurriedly flattened down his hair. "If you are sure-"
"I am," Rodney interrupted. "Go."
Radek nodded in thanks and turned to leave, but turned back to Rodney after he'd taken only a few steps. "And what about you, Rodney?" he asked. "You are still seeing Dr. Keller, are you not? Perhaps you should go and spend some time with her instead of working all night."
Rodney brushed off the suggestion without thought. "No, no, I'm so close – this is more important. I'm back to missions tomorrow and I know John'll want to me to have this finished before we go off-world. Besides which," he added. "I saw Jennifer at lunch today."
"Oh," Radek replied, sounding slightly surprised. "Okay then. Good night, Rodney."
Rodney waved him off, his eyes already back on his screen. But he looked up again when he heard Radek pause again as the lab's doors hissed open.
"Oh, good evening, Colonel," Radek said as he left.
"Night, Radek," came John's easy reply. "Hey, Rodney. Where's Radek off to in such a hurry?"
Slightly off-balanced by John's sudden and unexpected appearance, Rodney found himself distracted. He let his eyes drift up and down John's body for a moment, taking in his still slightly pale complexion and the long, strong length of his body in his black BDUs – which, thankfully, appeared to be undamaged by whatever torture he'd been inflicting upon the unsuspecting marines that day. "What?" he replied at last, conscious of the odd look John was shooting him. "Oh, he has a date."
John ambled over to Rodney's desk. "Really?" he said, lifting an eyebrow.
Rodney shrugged. "Yes – with that red-headed biologist... um... Melanie or Melissa or something..."
"Amanda," John corrected with a nod. "Good for him."
Rodney snorted in amusement. "Trust you to know her name."
John shrugged. "What can I say; it's a gift. So what are you up to here?"
Rodney gestured towards the device, still sitting on its testing table. "Trying to finish this off before tomorrow."
"Really?" John said, his eyes lighting up. "Cool. You got any idea what it does yet?"
That had Rodney frowning. "Not as such," he was forced to admit. "Radek's team have only just finished rebuilding it, but now that that's done and I've got the code pretty near finished, we can soon find out."
"You finishing up here tonight, then?" John asked. "You don't have any plans?"
"Plans? No," Rodney replied, wondering what on Earth John was going on about.
"Oh, great," John said, looking positively perky. He hoisted himself up on the testing table next to the device. "Thought you might be... you know... busy."
"What are you talking about?" Rodney snapped, reaching out to pull the device safely away from John – you never knew, with his gene, whether or not Ancient devices would take it into their heads to go all crazy in his presence. "I am busy."
John smiled at him, somewhat sappily Rodney thought, though he couldn't imagine why, and said, "Of course, you are, Rodney. So, you in need of an extra pair of hands?"
Rodney eyed John narrowly – it would be nice to have his help, not only was his gene very useful when getting recalcitrant Ancient devices to work, but John could also be surprisingly ingenious when the occasion required it, not that one would be able to tell that from his hair. However, Rodney was also well-aware that John'd had a tough few days and that SGA-1 had a mission scheduled for tomorrow. Perhaps it would be better for John if he were to get some rest instead. From John's close proximity to him, seated as he was on the edge of the testing table, Rodney could clearly see the dark circles under his eyes.
"No; I'll be fine on my own," Rodney forced himself to say, noting in surprise a slight but definite slumping of John's shoulders as he spoke.
But then John quickly altered the movement and was shrugging instead. "Oh, okay then," he replied easily, his tone belaying his earlier expression, although the sudden shuttering of his eyes had Rodney even more confused. "Guess I'll go check in with Ronon," John continued as he slipped off from Rodney's desk. "He had these really neat moves during today's hand-to-hand session that I-"
"You have got to be kidding me!" Rodney exploded, his words halting John mid-sentence. "You look like you're about to fall asleep on your feet and yet you're going to go work out with Ronon?! You know what? I'm not even surprised," Rodney broke off, practically panting for breath, as he realised that John was staring at him with a completely bemused expression on his face.
"Hey," John said, reaching out a hand to place it on Rodney shoulder. "You okay there buddy? That was some outburst."
Rodney scowled at him, his anger still bubbling up inside him. "No, I'm not okay," he snapped, shaking off John's restraining arm. "And neither are you. In case it has escaped your notice, we have a mission tomorrow. You should be recovering from your week spent trying to prevent that bunch of wet-behind-the-ears eighteen year-olds becoming Wraith-bait, not getting Ronon to pummel you into the ground."
"Rodney," John said slowly, both his tone and expression concerned. "I'm fine, really. There's no need for you to worry about me."
"Fine?" Rodney snorted. "Yeah, right, and when aren't you 'fine'? When you're having the life sucked out of you by a bug or when you're riding a nuclear bomb to your death?" Some abstract part of him was surprised at just how angry he was at John's cavalier dismissal of his concerns, but as it seemed that he was the only one even the slightest bit worried about John, he didn't allow himself to back down.
"So, you think I'm not fine?" John asked, his head tilted to one side as he regarded Rodney closely. "That there's something wrong with me?"
"I... Well, no, I..." Rodney stumbled over the words, unsure of how exactly to express his growing awareness of John's unhappiness. "I mean, I know you, John – really, I do. And I know you're not... well... not exactly yourself at the moment."
"You know me?" John's expression grew guarded. "And what exactly do you think you know?"
Rodney huffed out a breath and made a frustrated gesture towards John with his hands. "I know you're tired," he said. "I know you aren't eating enough and that you're working yourself into the ground. I know it's been a rough few months and that you need a break."
"Hell, Rodney," John said, dismissing Rodney's concerns. "The same could be said of any one of us."
"No, no, it's more than that," Rodney insisted, shaking his head. "I know it is – you're not going to be able to fob me off." To emphasise his point, he reached out and grabbed John's forearm, hauling the man closer to him. "This is different," he said, his grip on John tightening as the warmth of John's body radiated up his arm. "I can see it now – I couldn't before. I know it's something more than that."
At Rodney's touch, John froze, his expression turning to stone. Rodney blinked, surprised that John would have such an extreme reaction to his concern. He knew that John wasn't one for any of the touchy-feely stuff, but he had hoped they'd been friends for long enough for them to at least be able to be honest with each other.
"Look," he said, trying to break through the wall John had just put up between them. "I know what it's like – I understand. It's been... well, a truly fucked up couple of months and I... well, I worry about you. You've always been there for me. God, John, when Jeanie was dying you... and when I thought I was losing my mind again you... well, you know," he made an awkward gesture with his hand before continuing. "And, well, I just want you to know that I'm here for you too."
It was only as he stopped speaking that Rodney realised just how close to John he actually was. With one hand still wrapped tightly around John's arm, there was only a few inches separating their chests. It was odd, to suddenly be this close. Neither of them were particularly tactile people and apart from the odd shoulder-bump Rodney couldn't recall a time when they'd ever been so – at least not when they weren't in the field and one or both of them was near to losing consciousness. At this distance, and without some threat or other hanging over their heads, not only could Rodney feel the intense heat John's body radiated, but he could also smell his light musk and feel the warm puffs of his breath. The experience was both unnerving and yet also strangely compelling. Confused, Rodney lifted his gaze to John's, totally unprepared for what he was to find there.
Need, pure and unadulterated, shone brightly from John's eyes. The sight of it, so clear and unexpected, ignited a similar flame deep in Rodney's chest. It was as if, in that one seemingly eternal moment, everything fell into place and Rodney at last understood why he had found himself increasingly driven to take care of John. He wanted John, just as John wanted him.
Standing there, staring into John's eyes, it all made such perfect sense that Rodney, never one to question so self-evident a conclusion, found himself accepting it without question. He wasn't sure who moved first, but even that didn't matter as all of a sudden they were kissing. Hot, deep, wet kisses that went on endlessly.
Rodney's hands came up instinctively, grasping a hold of the John's shirt and pulling him even closer. With a groan that echoed through Rodney's body, John complied, stepping nearer so that their bodies were pressed tightly together. Rodney could feel the unmistakable ridge of John's cock hard against his hip and felt his own erection twitch and swell in response. He thrust his tongue deeper into John's mouth as he ground his erection into John's hip and felt answering the thrust of John's body into his. Desperate for more, he slid one hand up to the nape of John's neck and then onwards into his messy hair, while his other hand travelled down the hard muscles of John's back to rest on the top of John's ass.
Then, just as suddenly as everything had started, it stopped. One moment Rodney was wrapped around John and the next John was half-way across the room, his chest heaving and his mouth still red and wet from their kisses. Stunned, Rodney could only stand there and stare at him, all too aware that his face must be flushed and his erection must be clearly visible, straining against his pants.
"No," John said, his voice a little shaky at first, but getting stronger. "No."
"Wait, what? Why?" Rodney asked, shaking his head in confusion and taking a step towards John, his body aching for more of John's.
"No," John said again, his expression blanking out as effectively as it did in the field. "This is a mistake."
And, with that, he turned and walked out of the lab, leaving Rodney, still hard and aching, gaping at him in bewilderment.
Rodney couldn't remember much of the detail around his trip from the lab to one of the large open balconies over looking the ocean. After John's swift departure, he'd used up his few remaining functional brain cells shutting down his various computers and leaving the lab, the majority of his mind and brain still in a profound state of shock. It just didn't make any sense.
He had kissed John.
John had kissed him.
They had kissed.
The phrases kept chasing each other around in his head as the after-effects of those kisses still plagued his body. It was... unbelievable. And yet it had happened; they had kissed. Rodney could still taste the flavour of John in his mouth and feel the heat of John's body from where it had been pressed tightly up against his own. Rodney shuddered in reaction, the cool night breeze doing nothing to dampen the effects of what had passed between them.
As his befuddled mind slowly accepted the kiss, Rodney found that a picture of what was truly happening between them starting to emerge. Although he was no stranger to affairs with men, he'd never before looked upon John in that light. It had seemed incomprehensible to him that John could possibly be anything other than completely straight. The man practically oozed sex-appeal and there had never been any shortage of women - Ancient, alien or otherwise - offering themselves up to him. So it had never crossed Rodney's mind to consider that their relationship might develop in something more than strictly platonic, even when taking into account the closeness that had grown up between them over the years and the surprising turn his feelings had taken of late.
Recent events, however, had thrown all of that into doubt. Despite what John had said as he'd left, John Sheppard was definitely not completely straight. So where did that leave Rodney, besides hard and aching? Was this what all his recent feelings had been about? Did he truly want something more than just friendship from John? His body responded immediately with a resounding yes, even as his mind still stumbled with the question.
Ronon's low rumble had Rodney starting in surprise, his thoughts scattering at the unexpected interruption. He spun around to find Ronon ambling out onto the balcony to join him at the edge. Ronon looked happy and relaxed as he slouched down over the balcony railing, his forearms holding up his body weight. For a moment, Rodney wondered what, other than a good fight with the Wraith, could bring such a down-right happy expression to Ronon's face. Then realisation hit him – Jennifer, Ronon had been with Jennifer. And, swift on the heels of that realisation came the revelation that he didn't care.
"Ronon," he replied evenly. "So, you've been with Jennifer?" he continued casually, feeling even more certain, as he spoke the words aloud, that he truly didn't mind. Moreover, he found that he was actually glad that Jennifer and Ronon were going out. It meant that he wouldn't have to be put in the unpleasant situation of breaking up with someone again so soon after his disastrous break-up with Katie.
"Yeah," Ronon replied shortly, his answer hardly impinging on Rodney at all. "And you've been with Sheppard," he continued, casting Rodney an assessing look.
Rodney nodded in response, yet something in Ronon's tone had him lifting his eyes from the surface of the ocean to study Ronon's expression. "With John, yes," he echoed, his thoughts still a maelstrom at the mere thought of John and what they'd been doing together. "Well, sort of."
Ronon raised an eyebrow at that. "Sort of?" he asked. "What does that mean?"
Rodney shook his head and turned back to the water. "Hell if I know," he replied, his confusion seeping into his tone.
"Ah," came Ronon's far too knowing reply.
Rodney's gaze snapped back up immediately, "And what precisely does 'ah' mean?" he demanded.
Ronon smirked at him as he straightened from his hunched postion and turned towards. Rodney "It means that you're not fooling anyone, McKay," he said. "Not even yourself."
Rodney was silent for a moment, trying to process everything that had happened – his friendship with John, his worry about John, their kisses...
"No," he answered softly at last, as his conscious mind finally caught up with where he realised his sub-conscious already knew. "No, I don't suppose I am." But, unfortunately, things were somewhat more complicated than that: John had left. "But he said it was all a mistake," Rodney continued just as softly. "He said it was a mistake and then he left."
"And was it?" Ronon asked, his voice, although equally soft, entirely uncompromising. "Do you think it was a mistake?"
Rodney found himself shaking his head in immediate denial, surprised at how easy this question was to answer. "No," he replied with conviction. "No, it wasn't; not for either of us."
Ronon nodded, a smile breaking out across his face. "Well, there you go then," he said, reaching out to clap Rodney on the back. "So, what are you waiting for?"
It had all seemed so simple when he'd been out on the balcony with Ronon, but now, standing outside John's quarters, Rodney's mind was drawing a blank. He was bad at talking about his feelings at the best of times - and John was downright awful at it - so what chance did either of them have? Then again, running away was hardly John Sheppard's modus operandi, so it was obvious that they would have to do something about what had happened between them.
Not allowing himself any more time to think, Rodney swiped a hand over John's door chime and waited. After several seconds of silence, the door slowly slid open to reveal a still slightly dishevelled-looking John.
"Rodney," John said evenly, his face betraying nothing of his feelings.
Rodney felt his courage start to desert him as he stared into John's implacable features. Still, he couldn't help but let his eyes roam over John's face, desperate to see anything of the John who he had kissed so passionately down in the lab. To his relief, Rodney noticed that John's hair was still mussed from his fingers and the skin around John's mouth still slightly pink from the brush of his early evening beard. Being able to see the hard, tangible proof of what had happened between them gave Rodney the courage he needed to face the carefully constructed blankness in John's eyes. Steeling himself, he uttered the four words he'd never thought he'd have to say, and certainly not to John. "We need to talk."
Seeming unfazed by Rodney's pronouncement, John merely raised a sceptical eyebrow. "Do we?" he asked, his posture, to the untrained eye at any rate, a study of nonchalance. But Rodney's eye was far from untrained when it came to reading John and Rodney could tell that he wasn't as unaffected as he appeared.
"Yes, we do," Rodney replied with absolute certainty as he shouldered his way past John, the door to John's quarters sliding closed behind him.
"Okay then, Rodney," John drawled as he turned to face Rodney, his hands riding low on his hips and his expression one of clear disinterest. "What do you want to talk about?"
Rodney felt his heart sink as he realised that John had obviously rallied himself in the face of Rodney's determination not to be put off. As he opened his mouth to respond, he suddenly found he couldn't speak the words aloud. What exactly did he want to talk about? Did he want to talk about their kiss? Not especially, he had to admit. What was there to say about it, after all? That he enjoyed it? That he wanted to do some more kissing? Well, while all of that was certainly true, he wasn't so sure he actually wanted to express such things aloud. And especially not with John standing there smirking at him in a manner that suggested he was fully prepared to deny that such a kiss had even taken place.
"I... um, well, I..." he stuttered, groping for the right thing to say.
John looked at him and then took a seat on his bed, pushing himself back against the wall and crossing his still-booted feet at the ankle. "Is this about you needing more time with your Ancient gizmo?" he asked. "'Cause we do still have a mission tomorrow, you know. You'll just have to leave it with Zelenka and pick it up again when we get back."
For a moment, Rodney simply stared at John in stunned silence - John was just going to pretend the whole thing had never happened. Rodney could see how it was a tempting thing to do, but he also knew that it wasn't what he, at any rate, wanted to do. Thinking back to Ronon's comment, 'You're not fooling anyone', Rodney suddenly realised that neither did John. Although he may look relaxed and at ease, he wasn't. Although he may give the appearance of having forgotten their kiss in the lab, he hadn't. And Rodney was damned if he was going to let John get away with the pretence any longer.
"No," he said firmly. "No – you're not going to do this."
The look John shot him was confused. "Do what?" he asked.
Rodney waved agitated hands at him. "Do this," he insisted. "This... this thing you do where you just pretend that nothing has happened and that everything is fine."
At his words, John's discomfort became even more visible, but he still held his silence. Rodney huffed out an exasperated breath, wracking his brain for a way to get through to John.
Suddenly, it hit him, the one thing he could say to make it clear what he meant. Taking a deep breath, Rodney took a step closer to John. "It wasn't a mistake, John," he said firmly. "I don't think so and I don't think you do either."
"What?" John asked, his tone uneven and the quick flash of panic in his eyes making it obvious that he knew exactly what Rodney was talking about.
"You know what," Rodney replied, his courage returning enough for him to now finally say the words. "What happened in the lab, the kiss, us."
John rolled off the bed and away from Rodney and in one swift motion, rising to his feet with a gracefulness that Rodney couldn't help but envy. Keeping his back to Rodney, he raised a hand to rub at the nape of his neck, his shoulders visibly tense. "Well, you're wrong," he said at last, voice slightly hoarse. "There is no us and what happened in the lab... well, it shouldn't have."
"No," Rodney said, shaking his head in denial. "No, you're the one who's wrong." He moved around the bed in an effort to face John. "It wasn't a mistake and there very clearly is an us."
John remained both silent and facing away from Rodney.
"You can't deny it," Rodney continued. "After all we've been through together, it's obvious." He shook his head in disbelief at his own blindness. "I just can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner. I mean, just think about it for a moment: who did I call out for when I was losing my mind? Who stood by me when my sister was dying? Who talked a man into giving up his life for me? God, John, if that doesn't tell you that there is an 'us', I don't know what will."
At that, John whirled around to face him, his expression no longer blank, but clouded with anger. "No, it doesn't" he snapped. "All that tells me is that there is a 'me'."
"But that's not true," Rodney replied quickly. "I mean, I... I feel the same."
"Oh, yeah?" John asked, his tone mocking. "And what does Jennifer make of all of this?"
Rodney waved the comment away. "Nothing; I don't know; it doesn't matter," he said. "She and I, well, there really wasn't ever a she and I."
John raised a sceptical eyebrow. "And your mission to M33-985?"
Rodney flapped a hand. "That was a mistake," he said. "I thought... well, I don't know what I thought, but, whatever it was, it was wrong." He took a deep breath, wondering quite what it would take to convince John and whether he had the courage to do it. "I didn't ever really want her... I think what I wanted the idea of her – the idea of someone."
"I'm not just someone, Rodney," John said, his exhaustion suddenly very apparent once more. "If you think that, then this really is all a mistake and I think you should go."
"No," Rodney replied quickly. "I don't want to go – I can't go. This is too important." He took a step forward and put a tentative hand on John's forearm, his thumb caressing the taut muscles beneath it without his conscious volition. "You're so much more than just someone, John," he confessed, knowing it to be true even as he spoke the words aloud for the first time. "I can see now that you're the one I want. I mean, I never pursued Jennifer, and certainly not like this. In fact, I only ever thought about her at all when Ronon was making it clear that he was interested in her too." His hand tightened on John's arm. "Jennifer and Ronon make sense," he said. "Just like you and I do."
And then, to Rodney's great relief, there was no need for more words because they were kissing and everything, finally, fell perfectly into place.
As Rodney and John entered the commissary the next morning, their shoulders brushing occasionally against each others as they walked, Rodney knew he had a sappy grin on his face. Thankfully, John was sporting one that was equally sappy, if not more so, so Rodney didn't let it bother him.
"Good morning," Teyla greeted them both brightly as they approached their normal table with their trays. "You both look well."
Rodney felt himself flush slightly at her words, but John just grinned at her as he swung himself gracefully into his usual seat opposite her.
"So, things looking clearer this morning, McKay?" Ronon asked, not bothering to hide his grin as he glanced between Rodney and John.
"Much," Rodney replied as he took his own seat, fully aware that his flush was intensifying.
Just then Jennifer bounded up to the table, a travel mug of coffee, a muffin, and a data-pad clasped in her hands. Beside him, Rodney felt John tense slightly.
"Good morning," she greeted them all with a smile before turning to Ronon. "Hey," she said somewhat shyly. "I just wanted to let you know that I've checked my schedule and tonight is fine."
Ronon nodded as he smiled up at her. "Great," he said. "I'll stop by when we get back from our mission."
"Good, great," she repeated, taking a somewhat awkward step back. "I've got to get back to the infirmary, but I'll see you later."
As she left, Rodney turned to John and grinned. "You see," he said, reaching out to snatch a piece of John's toast. "Perfect sense."
John grinned back, stealing a piece of Rodney's bacon in turn. "You know, Rodney," he said. "You might just be right."