So what the hell. This is the first actual independent inspiration I've had. This is not a series. Just a scene.
*sighs* For reference, or this probably won't make sense, The Stranger's Always You. This is set a couple of weeks after.
For fun, we'll call it Lessons. I'd kind of laugh at myself that I said I had no interest in really pursing this universe, because apparently, I had this left to take for a spin.
"Oh, you are kidding me."
Sheppard smirks as he holds out the belt. Rodney takes it helplessly, staring at the length of leather, the holster dangling obscenely, straps loose. "No. I'm not."
Rodney opens his mouth to argue, but Sheppard's raised eyebrow snaps his mouth closed, and grimly, he buckles it on, sitting down to give the holster a blank look. "You and Teyla and the guy with the hair--"
"Ronon," Sheppard says patiently, crouching, hands dangling between his knees, so utterly relaxed that Rodney wonders if he's forgotten who he's talking to. "His name is Ronon."
Rodney waves that away. "When he stops calling me 'that other McKay', I'll bother to remember." Sheppard's smirk widens, and Rodney waves at the dangling straps, pointedly glancing at Sheppard's thigh. "Just--isn't that uncomfortable?"
Sheppard blinks, mouth twisting thoughtful. "I've worn it for years. And in the last three years, pretty much night and day." Shaking his head, Sheppard drops to his knees, pushing Rodney's legs farther apart--whoa, when did the temperature change in here?--but he merely reaches down, taking the first strap to thread through the buckle. "You'll get used to it. Feel weird without it, actually." Rodney ignores how close Sheppard's hand is to places best left uninvestigated.
"And I was saying--you three are armed." His voice sounds sharper than he's used to, but from what he's figured out in the last four months, Rodney McKay was noted for his ability to alienate anyone within six words or less. He tries not to smirk at that when he hears it.
Some things never change.
Sheppard gives him an exasperated look, fingers trickling down Rodney's inner thigh to get the second strap in a way that Rodney knows for damn sure isn't deliberate. Almost half a lifetime of conditioning is working against him; it's Pavlovian. Holding his breath behind his teeth, Rodney tries to think of the least sexy things he can manage.
Strangely, Dr. Weir's hair does the trick. When he looks again, Sheppard's standing up, head tilted. "Stand up and check the fit. You have to be able to run while wearing it."
Rodney stares at him. "Your recruitment speech didn't include anything about running."
"For your life," Sheppard offers helpfully as Rodney stands up. It feels strange, but it doesn't pull when he walks, feeling more self-conscious by the second at the way Sheppard watches him. As a commander, he reminds himself, coming back to wait while Sheppard studies him. Impersonal and gentle when he adjusts the belt, gives him the jacket, watches with critical eyes as he shrugs it on.
"For my life," he echoes when Sheppard steps back, and Rodney catches an unguarded flare of--something--in the hazel eyes. Maybe pulled a muscle. Or remembered the other McKay here, the one he first taught about guns and holsters and missions. Turning away, Rodney strips off the jacket, opening the locker that definitely didn't belong to the other McKay, hanging it inside over the neat field kit.
When he turns back around, Sheppard's all glossy smoothness, a frictionless surface without a crack, nothing but polite interest. Team leader, Rodney thinks, torn between annoyance and bitter understanding.
He wants to say, I lost the love of my fucking *life*, you just lost a friend, but the truth is, he knows it's more complex than that. These people are edged in ways his weren't, fitted into some kind of cohesion that his Atlantis never had been. He thinks of that sometimes, up too late with his laptop because there's no one to drag off their computer, no one waiting in his bed, no one to wake him up at some insane hour of the morning for sex or a burst of inspiration that has to be coded *right now*.
Atlantis is intense in a way his never was, focused and driven and almost as alien as the Nox or Asgard. Then again, they'd lived with the Wraith, while his own never got beyond their own labs until the end.
"Hey." Sheppard doesn't touch him, but he's close enough to feel anyway. "You don't have to--" He stops, frowning. "I can get another scientist."
But he hadn't; his team went without, which apparently wasn't terribly popular with Dr.Weir, and now-- "Don't be stupid," he says, shaking away the annoyance. "No one else here could possibly do what I do."
Sheppard opens his mouth--possibly to agree, possibly not--but Rodney's taking off the holster, memorizing the way it fastens before putting it up, turning around to see Sheppard watching him again.
"You never went on missions?"
He knows Sheppard read his reports; the entire senior staff and two Athosians from the mainland met on it for three days, taking breaks for coffee and to give him meaninglessly reassuring looks in pointless walks by his lab, where the other scientists eyed him warily and tried to pretend he wasn't there.
That was months ago, but it still rankles; he's de facto living the life of another man, even if that man is another version of himself.
"No," he says, slamming the locker with more energy than required. Sheppard's expression doesn't change, but his body language does, and if there's one really thing that John and Sheppard share, it's that. Rodney sees him pull inside himself and leave the room without taking a step toward the door.
"No," he says. "Chief Science Officer? Required my presence here." Rodney tries to imagine John's reaction if he'd ever even considered going off-world and stops that line of thought before it comes to the part where John looks a lot like Sheppard does now, but with the added bonus of doing it while sharing a bed.
"Frankly, I'm surprised--" He cuts that off before he starts implying that he's spent serious time wondering what the *fuck* McKay had been thinking to agree. These people are *nuts*, but they're a peculiar sort of nuts, the kind that makes him go back and read McKay's logs to try and put some kind of coherent picture together. Makes him think of his own Atlantis, where there'd been no Athosians, he'd never learned Zelenka's first name, and he'd interacted so little with the other senior staff members that they'd barely recognized each other enough to say hi in the messhall. Dr. Weir left the daily oversight of the departments to the department heads. Rodney thinks that John might have spoken to her all of three times, but John tended to lock himself up with the interface and Ancient computers for days at a time and forget how to speak to people who didn't have doctorates in mathematics and didn't give a good shit about the utter beauty of Ancient polynomials.
"Surprised that you didn't choose someone--not me." The logs tell him a lot and very little. McKay never explained how he got on Sheppard's team--a first contact team, for Christ's sake--just a brief entry of bare lines compared to the multi-page missives on the days before and after. First mission, a complaint about the weather, and a line about guns that make Rodney look at Sheppard sharply.
"I wanted the best," he says, like that's the most important consideration, but it's not everything, it's not even *close* to everything. All those logs, sketching out the people of Atlantis with a critical and sometimes unflattering eye, Sheppard bearing the brunt of the kind of frustration that Rodney recognizes after months with the man. All that slick surface and easy amiability that McKay wanted to crack on principle, and hell, Rodney finds himself doing it too, just to prove there's something underneath.
But this is still the man that a Rodney McKay followed onto hostile planets without a reservation, carried a gun for, fought beside and fought *with*, unleashed the worst and best of himself without reservation. These are the people a Rodney McKay had been willing to die for, *had* died for, and the thought is foreign, so foreign, to think he can begin to understand why.
They're crazy and sometimes stupid, they're war-scarred, and they amaze him, like falling into a muddy puddle and coming up with diamonds. They're honed and sharpened into something completely different than the people he'd barely known, in an Atlantis just as scarred and just as bright. They're people that he could see a Rodney McKay die for.
This is what Stockholm Syndrome must be like, Rodney thinks, feeling a little panicked.
"So, that's it for the lesson?" Rodney says, turning to grab his laptop to cover the tight, hot feeling in his chest when Sheppard smiles, *smirks*, looking at him like he's not looking for McKay, like he's looking at him.
"For now," Sheppard says, a hand clasping his shoulder, and Rodney takes the warmth of it back to his lab, thinking he gets why McKay never explained why he joined the off-world team most likely to die a grisly death on an alien planet.
There are some things, he reflects, that don't translate to logs at all, and Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard is one of them.