It helps that Sheppard doesn't look much more amused.
"We could plot a coup," Rodney says, staring at the ocean, feeling bereft without a laptop or energy scanner. "We could do that."
"We could." Sheppard mulls the possibilities, scratching absently at his chin. "But then we'd have to lead."
Rodney shudders. "No."
"We could run away."
Oh. Good idea. "Think the Genii would take defectors?"
"We could offer weapons."
"I could mock their poor attempts at nuclear technology."
"I could--" Sheppard stops, frowning. "They'd probably kill us instead."
"Yes, there is that." Rodney glares at the water. "We don't need time off. Does she have any idea how much research is going to be pushed back because of this? God knows what horrors Zelenka is committing in the name of his wholly imaginary grasp of the basics of theoretical physics."
"You like him."
Rodney gives Sheppard a Look. "He took away my laptop." Right out of Rodney's hands, too. A man with a crush on a commanding officer cannot be trusted.
"Ah." Sheppard leans back, looking up at a flash of numbers on the cockpit before getting up. "You take over. You need the practice."
Rodney would protest, just for form, but anything is better than sitting here. They change places, and Rodney can almost understand, at least now, how Elizabeth was able to get Sheppard off without threatening his laptop. Flying is *fun*.
"You're getting better." It could almost be a compliment, if Sheppard would sound the least bit enthusiastic. "Relax."
"This is relaxed." He consciously loosens his hands. "What is this festival thing anyway?"
Sheppard shrugs, watching the water pass them in a blur of blue. "Teyla seemed excited about it."
If he remembers correctly, and Rodney's memory is *flawless*, Teyla hadn't been so much excited as resigned. Probably the result of one of those little office chats.
"Is it even spring?" They live, for all intents and purposes, on an island. Before that, Rodney lived in Antarctica. He hasn't seen an honest to God natural season in *years*.
"Hmm." Which is to say, Sheppard doesn't know either. Yes, yes, moody silence, how sad, how tragic, blah blah the fuck blah, if this is what he has to look forward to for the rest of the day--oh god, *two days*--then maybe a leap from the jumper isn't out of the question. "Pull up a little. You're going off course."
Rodney's better when Sheppard isn't watching. A lot of it is a simple, really unpalatable fact of life--he's not good at this. He will never be good at this. He could do this for the next ten years and never be anything above competent. Sheppard is good at it. And he's good at it a chair away, not even on the controls, barely paying attention, which, hey, by the way, *annoying*. He's good at it, Rodney's not, and there you have it. And Rodney's really, really not used to being bad at something. Especially being bad in front of someone he--
"It's fine." And to prove it, he keeps his hands on the controls and watches for the mainland. The festival can't be worse than this.
"He is feeling the loss of Lieutenant Ford," Teyla said, like this was completely new information. Then she dumped him on his ass, which delayed any decent comeback. Staring up at the ceiling, Rodney remembered the good old days, when he didn't know exactly how much a stick to the knee could hurt.
Pushing himself up on one arm, Rodney considered leaving, but it had only been an hour and even he couldn't get out of a workout he'd been putting off for a week. He was too used to Sheppard dragging him out of the lab, metaphorically of course, and now, not so much. Or ever.
"It's getting ridiculous."
Teyla's head titled thoughtfully. "That he is worried?"
"He's obsessed." Some things you recognized on sight, and Rodney knew what a man looked like when he spent his nights hunched over a laptop. Sheppard had been scanning the Ancient databases, pulling up coordinates and descriptions, Rodney's watched him. "It's interfering with his work."
Sleep deprived, moody commanders made mistakes that non-sleep deprived did not. They also were disturbingly silent, ignored things, and generally made even Rodney's most sarcastic commentary feel completely wasted when he couldn't even earn a twitch.
"Has it?" Teyla extended a hand, pulling him to his feet. "I have not noticed any change in his efficiency, Doctor." Though her face said she'd noticed other things, and she watches Sheppard as much as he does. She knows.
"You wouldn't." Another waste of good sarcasm. It's not, he suspected, that she didn't get it, either. Taking her hand, he pulled himself up and gave the sticks a long look. "Maybe I'll pass on the rest today."
"You have not been practicing." She flipped a stick between long fingers, body casual, but she could put him on his ass in under ten seconds when she wasn't trying, so really, that didn't mean much.
"I don't feel like it today. I have, unlike some people who shall remain nameless, actual work to do besides brooding and--"
And the man of the hour himself. Rodney tried to remember if he'd heard the door open; he glanced at Teyla, but she was facing the door and looked equally surprised, so great, neither of them were paying attention.
Turning around, Rodney was greeted with a sharp, impersonal smile. "Nice of you to show up. Major."
Sheppard tilted his head. "I could say the same for you." Sheppard's eyes went to Teyla briefly. "Having fun?"
"You missed our last session," Teyla said, voice flat but perfectly capable of conveying reproach without effort, the casual dropping away like a shed coat. It was on the order of being surrounded by hungry cats, one on either side, as Sheppard casually circled from one side and Teyla from the other, keeping each other in constant view. A lot like they started practice any day, except they'd never done it with Rodney in the middle. They'd also never done it with intent before, and it made Rodney wonder just what was going on in here that he'd been missing for the last week.
"I've been busy." Sheppard didn't reach for any sticks, which argued that they didn't plan to attack straight through Rodney body, but he did shed the jacket on a bench.
"Are you ready, Colonel?"
Sheppard's smile had a lot more to do with an attack of wraiths than a friendly competition. Rodney started to move, wondering when in the name of God he picked up enough instinct to be aware that neither of them were looking particularly friendly.
A glance took him in, all at once, evaluative, dismissing him as a threat, going back to Teyla. It'd be a lot more insulting if it wasn't true. "Two against one, Teyla?"
"I can think I can handle you on my own, Colonel," Teyla answered evenly, and Sheppard leaned over, eyes never leaving Teyla, to pick up Rodney's discarded sticks. Moving into position, he grinned a little, humor absent, and Rodney let himself lean into the wall to watch for a moment. They'd forget he was here at all if he waited long enough, and he sure as hell had better things to do than play spectator to Sheppard running on too much testosterone.
He didn't leave, though.
Rodney glances over at Sheppard, slumped on a bench beside him, watching the bonfire that the Athosians and personnel from Atlantis had put together a few hours before. As a work of engineering, it'd been impressive, almost a pity to watch them light it.
"I'm not hovering." He's not, either. "I don't know if you've noticed, but there's not many places to *be*." The others are wandering around the fire, or gathered in groups to talk, or, if the way some of them are slinking away, making out in the bushes or behind tent walls. It's not like Rodney came here to get laid. For one, outdoor sex sucks.
He has to wonder, though, if Elizabeth really knows how many Atlanteans come to the mainland specifically to get laid. And in retrospect, considering how many times he's seen Sheppard doing the mainland runs, he has to wonder how often Sheppard's done the same thing.
It's almost on the tip of his tongue to ask, but somehow, he stops himself. Sheppard won't respond. Hell, Rodney will be lucky if he's even listening.
"I'm going to go for a walk." Sheppard stands up, words tossed over his shoulder.
"That is what you're best at," Rodney hears himself saying, and across the fire, he can see Teyla straightening from her crouch with a group of her people, eyes on them. He almost thinks Sheppard pauses. "You run away any faster, you'll leave tread marks. Don't stop on our account."
And there are magic words after all. Please, thank you, sir, ma'am, he's always known those get you nowhere. Looking up, Rodney watches the long back tense beneath the thin shirt, that quiet stillness that's says more than a thousand words, means more than a thousand gestures. Rodney reads people for shit, sure, but Sheppard isn't people and Rodney's had a year to watch.
What the fuck ever. "Spare me. Go do your lone soldier routine. It's not like no one in the history of the world ever lost anyone they cared about." Waving a hand, Rodney sees Teyla, picking her way through the bodies between them. "It's not like Teyla and I are still *here*."
He can feel Sheppard looking at him--actually looking, for once, seeing, for once, and Rodney lets the bitterness show, because hell, what's he got to lose?
"You know, a walk sounds good. Excuse me, Colonel."
Away from the fire, it's darker than Atlantis could ever be, thick, heavy with the smells of smoke and a considerable amount of barbecue, a vague cool-edged warmth lingering in the air. Maybe it's spring on Atlantis after all. It's stupid to wander off from the camp. He doesn't really care.
"McKay." Footsteps behind him. Sheppard, heavier in boots. Teyla, barefoot and almost silent. He'd know them anywhere. "*Rodney*. Where the hell do you think you're going?"
Good question. There's just really not that much *here*. Sand shifts under his boots, and Rodney realizes he's somehow made it all the way down to the beach. "You know, I can be ignored anywhere. I really don't need you to turn it into performance art. The question here is, where the hell are you?"
It's too dark to see Sheppard's face, just the vague outline of a tall body. Just behind him, Teyla comes to a stop.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" And Sheppard sounds honestly surprised, which really just puts a capper on the entire shitty month--hell, *year*.
"Ford's gone." He's gone his entire life saying what he's thinking, and it's sometimes like all of it was training wheels for this, for this place, for a time when being careful, being kind, got you killed. "Yes, we got the memo. Yes, it hurts. Yes, we miss him. But this has got to stop."
"Excuse me?" Sheppard's gone still again. Teyla circles slowly, close enough for him to see she's watching Sheppard like he is, waiting for him to shut down or bolt or both at once.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about." Rodney thinks of Gaul for a second, lets it show on his face. "Throw a fit, break something, I don't care, but just stop--"
Shutting us out.
"We are still here."
Sheppard's head whips around, like he had no idea Teyla was there. Rodney wishes he had more light. Instinct doesn't replace being able to pick up body language, but so far, that's all he's got.
Long seconds pass, getting worse by the moment, and Rodney thinks, this isn't going to work. This is going to go on and on, and it'll get worse, like they don't know each other, worse than that, because they had more. Ford leaving is a hole that they'll always feel, but losing this--Rodney's never had it before, never needed it before, can barely believe it himself, but--he can't face that.
"It's--not that easy." There's something in his voice that's Rodney's never heard before, old and dark and vulnerable.
He hadn't realized he'd moved closer, either, not until he realizes he can just make out Sheppard's features, eyes dark, and feel Teyla, close enough to touch.
"We'll find him, Colonel," Teyla says, and her voice says everything. We will, not you, not alone, never alone again. Teyla reaches out, like Rodney can't quite, touching Sheppard's arm with careful fingers, like he's glass and will shatter on a breath. One slow breath, and it's weirdly warmer, and Sheppard almost nods, a vague flicker that could be imagination, and Rodney lets out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.
"Perhaps we should return to the celebration? My people have been working with Dr. Zelenka on a new drink. Perhaps we can sample it and give our opinion?"
Sheppard looks between them, like he might want to run, but Rodney contentedly considers the fact he received at least *ten* less bruises than usual from Teyla this week. He can trip Sheppard if he tries anything. "I'm scared to ask, but what did they use?"
Rodney shrugs, falling into step beside Sheppard as they make their way up the incline to solid ground. "From what Zalenka smelled like the last time he came back from the mainland, you really don't want to know." Rodney look at the bonfire, a tiny scrap of brilliant orange far ahead, feeling the brush of Sheppard's jacket against his hand as they navigate their way off the beach, listening to Teyla's amused recital of the numerous experiments done in the name of finding the perfect drink, feeling the muscles in his back relax for the first time in days. Weeks.
"We should take some back to Atlantis," Sheppard says easily, and it's weird, how even his *walk* seems less rigid. Rodney can see his face, and it's the same, but the man behind it isn't a stranger anymore. The dark eyes slide to him and fix, just long enough for Rodney to feel it. "So. You up for a night of drunken debauchery, McKay?"
Rodney rolls his eyes. "I can drink you under the table, Major."
Sheppard smiles, fast and bright, and Rodney thinks Sheppard could make anyone do anything when he looks like that. Anything at all. "Colonel. And bring it on."
They're almost back to the fire when Sheppard's shoulder brushes Rodney's, warm and solid. "So," and Rodney sees Sheppard's eyebrows arch mockingly, knows *exactly* where this is going, and *God dammit*, "have you seen that video clip yet?"