by jenn (email@example.com)
Spoilers through Intruder
I think of it as payment rendered. Chopchica wanted fic for DVDs. CJ and Chopchica beta'ed, because they are afraid of my tense changes. I don't blame them. I am too.
Rodney's awake long after any sane person would be asleep, drumming tense fingers on the blanket over his chest. The jumper is all quiet breathing, all that sleep that he and Teyla are pretending to get hovering over them.
First times are like that. Awkward, uncomfortable, frustrating, and it occurs to him that he's comparing a mission to bad sex. He's more tired than he thought. Enough to lay here and listen, silence outside and all around, because when Sheppard wants to disappear, he does, and he's been doing it for longer than Rodney had thought. Not quite enough to stop *thinking*, and God, what he wouldn't do for coffee right now.
It's not the first time he's noticed. Just a few too many meetings in the hall at that ungodly point where two at night becomes two oh one in the morning and you stop pretending you have any intention of sleeping before you see dawn. Elizabeth has started Looking at them. It's not encouraging.
"He's on watch, Doctor."
Rodney turns his head just enough to see Teyla, a gleam of eyes in the faint moonlight coming in through the cockpit. He doesn't like that she knows what he's thinking, but the truth is, she's good at reading people, and he's not. He didn't get a reputation for being an asshole on the strength of his winning personality alone. All that obliviousness helped. A lot.
He'd say something, because getting a rise out of Sheppard these days isn't the easy fun it used to be, just to keep himself in practice, but she goes to bed armed with three knives and a gun. She likes him, but she can also skin a deer-like mammal in under fifty-five seconds. He's watched her. And this? Is a very small jumper. "I know."
Sheppard never slept much anyway, and thank you Wraith for another victim of perpetual insomnia, but off-planet, Rodney has to wonder if he's shooting up somewhere in the bushes. It's getting creepy, night-of-the-living-dead creepy, when Sheppard can be in the same basic patch of grass as the rest of them, but his mind's following a lost jumper through a hundred wormholes. Ford can't know that many addresses. Sheppard's memorized them all. They haven't found him yet.
It's scary. It's annoying. It's ridiculous. Rodney would tell him that, but in a fair fight--one on basic ground without a decent laptop in sight and not even gunpowder basics--well, he knows who will be meeting dirt. Not that Sheppard would settle anything that way, or Rodney might take the chance of a broken nose if it got him something beside that deliberate look of incomprehension whenever he tries to subtly remind Sheppard that when he signed on, he agreed that, barring alien intervention, he would not go crazy.
The problem is, he's just not good at subtle.
Rolling over, Rodney faces the wall. Off-planet, he doesn't sleep well anyway. "Whose turn is it?" Before, it would be four easy two hours shifts, but some magical math Sheppard's conjured up has ended with a four-two-two arrangement, and sometimes, he forgets the two-two portions. There's nothing quite like waking up to dawn with your team leader bright with repressed exhaustion and stripped down to sharp motion and that weird stillness that Rodney keeps suspecting is only going to end with something messy and probably involving weapons and natives who accidentally say the wrong thing.
"It's time for your watch," Teyla confirms softly. It's the best idea he's heard tonight. Sitting up, Rodney finds his gun by touch, wondering again at the way the universe works, that he's *carrying a gun* and is kind of okay with it. He can check the safety blind these days, but the reloading is still kind of tricky.
Staggering up, Rodney finds the release, stepping out into the cool, damp night, the kind where everything you wear gets disgustingly damp and encourages the growth of fungus. A glance up confirms there'll be rain. Of course. It's just that kind of a mission.
There's a click to the left, and Rodney freezes, though he knows it's just Sheppard, doing his cute little commando-soldier routine, oh look at me, the loneliness of command and losing my people, blah blah fucking blah. Yes, yes, the drama is all very very. Community theatre's never had it so good.
Rodney's close enough to hear the shift of wet cloth, the rasp of a gun against metal buttons.
Sheppard's voice is quiet. "You should be asleep."
He should be. He should be asleep in that frightful mound of military issue blankets and thinking that one day, he's going to wake up to discover Sheppard's stripped naked and gone native on some godforsaken planet, and God, Rodney can *imagine* the sheer drudgery of hunting him down and talking him off some kind of alien tree, to abandon his stick-spear and rejoin civilization. Not to mention that he'd have to explain to Elizabeth how none of them managed to notice that Sheppard just might be on the edge of some kind of really spectacular, public kind of collapse.
So no. He'll take his two hour shift and like it, thank you very much.
Out here, Sheppard doesn't look anything like he plans to do anything out of the ordinary--armed, as usual, vaguely annoyed, as usual, still dressed and communicating in English, always good. Rodney doesn’t even try to look casual. There's no way he can pull it off when he counting the hours until he sees coffee again.
At the beginning, when Sheppard still thought Rodney was liable to fall into holes if left unattended, or be chased by strange alien priestesses for unspecified and dangerously unhygienic fertility rites (once! And it hadn't been his fault!), Rodney had felt comfortable spending two hours complaining how very military he wasn't and wondering aloud why the person most likely to assure their *continued survival on Atlantis* had to go without sleep. Not that he needed eight hours. It was just the principle. Later, when John started doing strange and inexplicable things like leaving him with guns to guard *others*--and there's a memory he's not interested in pursuing far--it became habit, but mostly to himself. Because he'll say it in the farthest corner of his mind and nowhere else--back at SGC, they would have buried the gates and salted the ground where they stood before they'd let him go on a mission.
And he'd been told that, too. Repeatedly.
Here? Not so much. It's a faintly warm feeling Rodney tries to ignore as much as possible.
"Still my shift." Sheppard circles him like he's a lemon tart, or like Rodney would, which is to say, warily and not without some worry that the very air around it is contaminated. In Sheppard-world, which Rodney has visited more than a few times, it's all about the avoidance and casual brush-off. It works with normal people, and it's kind of sad, that Sheppard's started mistaking Rodney for one of them.
"It's really not." And not so much last night, either, but he's not going to go that route. All that contained energy, pushing at you like a big sign to go away, and take your geeky ass to bed. It's kind of cute. Does Sheppard think that actually *works*? Rodney holds up his watch like a beacon, elaborately checking the face. "I'd say that ended, oh, *an hour ago*. When you were supposed to wake me up. Which you didn't, by the way. You can read the numbers, right? Or did you lose your literacy along with--"
Sheppard looks at him blankly. It's very, very, very annoying. "I'm fine."
Exhausted, late night conversation can't ever end well. "You haven't been sleeping." Or eating, now that he thinks about it, but Rodney hadn't been watching for that one; it's not something he'd notice on a normal day. Of course, on a normal day, he wouldn't notice this. He's not Teyla, he can't read people, he doesn't get why they do the things they do, and there are reasons upon reasons that he loves the lab, not least of which this sort of shit doesn't happen there.
Or--he doesn't care quite as much if it does. Rodney falls into step beside Sheppard, pleased to note he's managed a two inch incursion into his personal space without even trying. It gets him a quick glance, but sadly, not much else.
"McKay." Yes, their long suffering leader, out to do his solitary soldier shit, now with a brand new rank title that Rodney's made a point to forget as much as possible. It can still get a twitch, sometimes. There's a brief temptation to kick him and run, just to see if that gets any reaction. You make you own fun on Atlantis when you run out of parts for new bombs or the mess runs out of twisty straws.
"I can't sleep anyway." And that could even be true. The Ancients were many really cool things, but they apparently were all Sheppard's size and double jointed. Sleeping in the jumper is better than sleeping in the lab only because he's reasonably sure he won't ever, ever open his eyes on Kavanagh's face. "Have I mentioned what a shitty planet this is?"
And it is. They're been here coming on three days, with natives at that part of civilization development known as "bronze age" and who keep making signs that, if Rodney remembers his folklore classes, could be either associated with the evil eye or, possibly, severe constipation. "No metals. No technology. No--and did I forget to mention this part--no *agriculture*. We could ask ourselves, what is it about these stunning examples of homo-erectus that keep us here?" They don't even have a written language, for Christ's sake. They do, however, have a fully tricked-out temple devoted to someone who bears a suspicious resemblance to Chaya that, if Rodney's any judge, was built by someone considerably higher up the Darwinian chain. Interesting.
And so right, Rodney kind of pushed to stay here for the second day, just to see if there were any other goodies stashed away. The Ancients were all about the hide-and-seek with technology. Either they assumed the people that came after them would be very, very smart, and so able to *intuit* where they hid their toys, or more likely (given, hello, *Chaya*), were getting some kind of kick out of watching them scrabble around the universe from on high, doubtless laughing their Ascended asses off.
Sheppard gives him an annoyed look, but doesn't comment. He's a waste of good sarcasm, so Rodney doesn't even bother trying. "We're leaving tomorrow. I thought you wanted to get a few more readings for the anthropologists." Curious look now, almost enough to fool Rodney into believing he's paying attention.
Actually, it's called blackmail, but that's what you get when you accidentally have sleep deprived, life-affirming quasi-sex on a desk with someone with both a triple doctorate and a camera. This is why you shouldn't abuse drugs, even for highly noble, one might even say, heroic reasons. You end up being the errand boy for the most useless department in creation. One day, Rodney will take revenge. It just won't be until he gets those negatives.
"I wanted to make sure we're thorough. It's not like we're ever coming back here again." Even if Rodney has to lose the gate address himself. Grass, trees, more allergens than any single inhabited planet ever, and Carson had shot him up with so many antihistamines after the preliminary report that Rodney's arm is still throbbing.
Sheppard is all that is quiet and frustrating beside him, and, though Rodney can't prove it, is deliberately taking too-long strides, stupid long legs. The first wet plop of rain hits Rodney's nose, and from the corner of his eye, he sees Sheppard glance up, then at him.
Right, like a little rain is going to send him running. "Maybe you should get back inside, McKay."
Something hits his nose that's decidedly not a rain drop. They both look up. Hmm.
Maybe he shouldn't have thought little.
"Hail. Like this couldn't get worse."
It's too loud to really talk, but that's never stopped Rodney before.
"Do you think there'll be a tornado?" It is spring, they're in a wonderfully flat area, and it's hailing. Just the right conditions for a spectacular natural fuck up like that. Out the window of the cockpit, they have a stunning view of--nothing but rain. Vertical rain, horizontal rain, and lumps of hail, and really, who could have seen that coming? Rodney could have. If he'd been asked. Which had he been? No. "This looks like tornado weather." Not that he knows what it's like, but it looks bad.
"I doubt it," Sheppard says slowly, but he stares outside like just maybe, he's lying through his teeth. Rodney slumps down in the copilot's seat. "The jumper would detect it. Besides, we can get above it fast enough."
Sometimes, he finds Sheppard and his mindmeld with the jumper fascinating. Right now, not so much. "I hate this planet."
"You're the one who wanted to stay here three days."
Wow, an *argument*. It's like the first taste of coffee in the morning. The world rights itself on its axis, all is well, and also? "I didn't think we'd die in a natural disaster, either."
Sheppard twitches a smile. "You always think we'll die in a natural disaster."
Not entirely true. There's always Wraith, murderous natives, and homicidal plantlife that make the top three. "Did you notice them giving us the evil eye?"
Sheppard gives him a wary look. "That old woman kept throwing salt at me. What was that about?"
"How would I know? Do I look like a sociologist?"
Leaning back, one foot kicks lightly onto the Ancient equivalent of a dashboard, which Rodney's never seen him do before, and he crosses his arms, looking straight out at the weather with a smirk. "There's this video going around--"
No one will ever find the bodies. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Sheppard smirks, and God, *video*.
"Not that you could see faces." A sidelong look. "Not well, anyway."
They'll be praying for death long before Rodney's done with them. "Huh."
"Guess you haven't seen it yet." Sheppard swings both legs down, and like a light put out, he's a galaxy away, and God, it's not like Rodney doesn't *get it*, he does, but--
The hazel eyes stay fixed outside, like their lives depend on a good weather report. He's the first person Rodney's ever met who can ignore a person like that, so perfectly, so casually, and so damned *completely*. It's almost like a challenge, really, and Rodney prides himself on his ability to rise to--the bastard *closes his eyes*. "Good night, McKay."
Like that's going to work. Arms crossed, Rodney leans back in his chair, eyes stubbornly open and fixed on the rain outside, trying to shift into something resembling a comfortable position. No real orthopedic support. What on earth were the Ancients *thinking*? He's going to need *surgery* to get out of this position come morning. "You too. Major."
"Perhaps you should discuss this with the Colonel?"
Yes, this is the kind of wisdom he could get from the back of box of cereal. It really doesn't pay to ask people questions. Not that he asked. Or hinted. Maybe complained, once.
Off-duty is a mythical thing, like a unicorn (so far) and a reasonable human being, but he comes awfully close when Elizabeth makes threatening noises of sending him to the mainland for a few days of overseeing some of the upgrades to the Athosian camp. Perimeter sensors and a lot of people talking, always *talking*, and they don't ignore him and never go away, especially the children, leading to that unfortunate incident involving a slippery slope, a raccoon thing, and Rodney with an almost-dislocated shoulder. Little sociopaths, all of them.
Doesn't help that they ask for him to visit now. God knows what they've come up with to terrorize his off-hours.
Stretching his fingers over the keyboard, Rodney rubs at a sharp twinge running from the base of his fingers to wrist. Carpel tunnel? What a perfect cap to a perfect day. And also, oww.
"You know, I didn't ask."
Zelenka looks up from his hunch over the monitor, a flicker of eyes to show, yes, he's listening, and no, he doesn't care how much Rodney whines, he won't get one more of those sugar cookies that somehow appear magically whenever Zelenka hauls himself to the mess. Blatant favoritism there, not that Rodney's complaining, or at least, not until Zelenka cuts him off. That could happen today. And why the hell does his hand hurt so much? Flattening it on the desk, Rodney considers going to Carson.
"You never ask."
This is why Rodney likes to work alone. *People* are annoying. And also, "What are you doing?"
Zelenka smiles. "Diagnostics. Good for relaxation." Turning on his chair, Rodney's the complete focus of mildly amused eyes and a twitching mouth. Zelenka stretches his back luxuriously, like he's aware that the tiniest movement makes Rodney wish desperately for weapons grade morphine. "You slept little, yes? Or so you have said, at length. Perhaps you wish to go down to jumper and redesign chairs? Go to mainland and enjoy spring festival? Nap? Anywhere but here?"
Rodney's eyes narrow. "Are you throwing me out of my own lab?"
"No." Yes, he really is. "I am suggesting, since you have been poor hand, poor back, poor me for three unproductive hours--"
"I'm thinking. I could be on the verge of a breakthrough the likes of which Einstein has never dreamt--"
"Or you could be sulking from last mission. Or perhaps due to very mysterious video clips, though I do not see why those would upset you." Zelenka turns back to his computer, and Rodney's hand and back stop being priority when the grainy footage appears via media player.
"Where did you get that?" He wonders if he sounds as casual as he thinks. From the look on Zelenka's face, he's thinking not.
"Mysterious source. Perhaps it is manufactured?" You can't see that much, but that's because angle was working for him, and also, because at sixty-three hours awake, Rodney hadn't been entirely sure how buttons worked when they didn't belong to hardware. "You. Go do something. Practice zen. Hit things with sticks. Go play with Colonel. Fresh air. Sunlight. Not here."
Rodney eyes him warily. "I could dump you in waste recycling, you know. I can do that."
Zelenka smiles brightly. "Perhaps video vanishes off servers if you spend few hours away? Like magic. Poof."
Zelenka has been spending too much time around him. "In some places, that's called blackmail."
"Friendly assistance." Zelenka leans across the space between them and shuts down his laptop. It's almost like he thinks he won. "Goodbye. Do not have too much fun."