by jenn (email@example.com)
The rain started hours ago, sending lesser scientists scurrying for cover, cursing the vagaries of time and weather while Rodney jerked his jacket over his head and pushed on, dirt turned to mud slopping cold around his thighs, knees sinking into the puddle like quicksand. Water seeps into his collar, curls icy tendrils down the back of his neck and his spine, chilling everywhere it touches.
He can't feel his fingers, but he can still move them, so it doesn't matter.
Overhead, glittering arcs of lightning blind his readings, but it's all from memory now anyway, thunder drowning out the sounds of people running, the bray of Pegasus goats and the slick-slide of water pouring down the side of the mountain.
Millennium storm, once-in-a-lifetime, wind and cold rain and hail falling from the churning black of the sky like a reminder of the power of nature. The native scientists had packed up before the first drop fell, gibbering in fear as they ran for the city walls beneath low-slung grey clouds, staring at him when he refused to leave.
He once knelt with a gun pointed at his head on a night like this one, bleeding cold and sticky while trying to save a city. Rain doesn't scare him.
Not much does anymore.
Pulling up the last diagnostic, Rodney wipes wet fingers on the rock around the console and reaches inside, shifting chips between slots, seeing the pattern in his mind like it would be for his eyes.
A hand on his shoulder stops him for only seconds. "Another minute, Colonel." He can hear his teeth chatter over the words, slurring them into sharp incomprehensibility, but he knows Sheppard understands.
Pressing farther inside, he learns the machine by feel, dull-cut edges of Ancient crystals and native makeshifts through ten millennium of upkeeps and fixes. He can feel Sheppard behind him, a source of distant warmth and unhurried patience, the way that only years can teach you, more missions than can be counted on a dozen hands. "Thirty seconds," Sheppard says, wind catching his words, and Rodney bites his lip to keep from smiling. Maybe not so patient after all.
Or maybe he only needs ten, finding the last slot with the tips of his fingers, shifting the last crystal, feeling the ground beneath him shift, the slow stretch of something huge rumbling to waking, counting in his head as the start-up sequence begins, the slow charge of days that will result in a working shield. Pulling back, he slams the panel closed, taking blind the hand that reaches to pull him to his feet, hearing the sucking sound of his knees pulled free of mud, soaked to the fucking *skin*, too giddy to feel the cold like he will ten seconds from now. "Done. Can we go now?"
He looks at Sheppard, a rail-thin, dark blob inches away and hears his laugh. "Yeah. Let's get out of here."
Later, Rodney remembers falling over his own feet racing Sheppard across the stretch of fields between the generator and the city, chill-stiff muscles not responding as quickly as they should, boots denting the ground into new puddles wherever they step. Sheppard gets ahead, pushing rain-wet hair from his face, laughing with every stumble, every step that sinks them into manure-raked fields and across the shorn edges of harvested crops, frozen from the skin out and not caring. The smell of ozone and freshly churned earth rises around them like a cloud.
Later, Rodney remembers grinning at the feel of mud in his boots, the way Sheppard stumbled and Rodney pulled him to his feet, how they giggled like kids and stood for a heart-stopping second with the wind stealing their breath, Sheppard's arm solid and warm beneath his hand, illuminated by a single strike of lightning overhead into someone unreal and impossibly beautiful. Head tilted to the sky he never really left, green eyes as wide and dark as the Atlantean ocean.
And he thinks, maybe.
But now, he just remembers slamming Sheppard into the walls of the city with a final stumble, up against solid muscle and hard bone, soaked uniform and the feel of a gun pressed against his hip, hands scraping over rough stone while Sheppard grins at him with narrowed hazel eyes, water sparkling on his lashes, and Rodney remembers the guy who never thought of a life beyond the walls of his cool, well-lighted lab.
The way Sheppard stares at him when he starts to laugh, ass sliding on soaking grass before he can catch himself with one hand, is somehow the funniest thing of all.
They're given the nicest room in the mayor's house, up a flight of cut-stone stairs, trailing icy water behind them like a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. The mayor's wife leaves them with an uncertain smile and towels stacked on the bed, their packs nested in the corner, dry and safe.
In the warm light of candles, Sheppard doesn't look as exhausted as he has to be, gentle on high cheekbones and filling in the hollows beneath his eyes, softening the tight line of a mouth that should always smile, the price of a war that's as indelibly etched into Sheppard's body as it is Rodney's. Checking the room in a routine so old and so strong that Rodney doesn't bother to remind him they're among trusted trade partners. It's soothing, while he strips off his jacket, tossing it into a hamper by the door, stare at his boots in hope that sheer willpower will slide them off all on their own, to sit on the plain stone floor and just watch, soak the warmth of the room into his skin and the familiarity of Sheppard into his mind, just *be*, if only for these few seconds.
Even through solid walls, they can hear the hard pound of the rain, hitting the wooden roof with a sound like muffled gunfire. Sheppard pauses as he unstraps the P-90, glancing up with raised eyebrows. "They weren't kidding about it being once in a lifetime," he says, setting the gun against the wall after a brief check of the safety. A strike of lightning blinds them both, chased by thunder that shakes the floor. "Seriously not kidding."
"You'd think," Rodney says, giving up on his boots and stretching out on the floor, letting the warmth of the room seep through his t-shirt and press against his skin, "that on just one planet, we'd get here without a natural disaster approaching."
"You'd think," Sheppard agrees, and Rodney closes his eyes, listening to Sheppard strip off his vest and sidearm, depositing them on the table, in easy reach of the bed. Jacket, peeled off with a wet rustling before joining Rodney's in the hamper. When he opens his eyes again, Sheppard's standing over him, barefoot and amused.
Sheppard's smirk widens, but he drops down on his knees at Rodney's feet, reaching for the first recalcitrant boot. "Don't expect this every time," he says, like he does every time, and Rodney sucks in a breath as the boot slips off, sock after, cold foot almost burning from the touch of Sheppard's fingers. Rodney hears himself make an impossibly satisfied sound as the other boot slides free, wriggling stiff toes against Sheppard's warm palm, pushing against callused fingers. "Right. You want to sleep there?"
Rodney thinks about it for a few seconds. "No," he decides, and Sheppard laughs and drops his foot, standing up in a single fluid motion. Pulling the t-shirt over his head, he turns away, and Rodney hums softly as he closes his eyes, listening to the sound of the rain outside, warming from the skin out.
After a while, Rodney gets up, sliding out of soaking pants and shirt, wiping off the worst of the water from his hair and face and chest, taking the cup of not-quite-coffee Sheppard offers as he sits down at the table in damp boxers fished from his pack, not bothering to answer Sheppard's raised eyebrows as he reaches for the bread and cheese on the platter.
Despite the storm outside, the room's almost quiet, the crackle of the fire audible across the length of the room, and Rodney kicks Sheppard beneath the table when he takes the last of the fruit while pulling the sliced cheese from beneath Sheppard's hand.
Sheppard's relaxed, in that way he only is on missions that don't involve certain death, calm and uncareful, the age-soft t-shirt shaped to him like a second skin, touchable and easy. Rodney watches his eyes flicker to the balcony outside, the streaks of lightning, knows he's thinking of flying a jumper through the clouds right now, feel the power of this storm in every muscle, see lightning at origin point, as dazzling as the sun.
He knows because he's flown storms on a hundred planets, sat terrified and amazed as they raced the clouds and flew through tornados, watched the world fall apart beneath them with wondering eyes, seen lightning flashing brilliant and blinding and close enough to touch. He's gated to systems in supernova, looked into the heart of a living star with his own eyes, seen the invisible edges of black holes, lightless gloom in a universe of stars. He's breathed stale air on a dying planet and watched the birth of a new one, and all of these things were with this man he knows better than he's known anyone and sometimes, he thinks he'll never know enough.
Not here, not now, though, with Sheppard's bare foot kicking his knee when he takes the last piece of bread before he stands up, padding to the fire to put it out for the night, lean and angular, excess flesh shaved away, honed into a weapon as dangerous as the gun against the wall, as familiar as the back of Rodney's hand.
Rodney follows, starting a routine almost as old as their friendship--packs checked and stacked in easy distance, uniforms out and ready for midnight emergencies, guns on the table that they push into reach of the single bed. Candles put out, leaving a darkness as deep as space between the cracks of lightning that turn the room to day. Rodney sees Sheppard standing at the window in a flash of light, lashes swept down as he closes his eyes, head tilted up to a sky they can't see.
And he thinks, maybe.
Icon courtesy of shusu. *Pretty*.