Basically, at this point, I'm screwing around here just because it's fun. For background The Stranger's Always You, Lessons and Second Watch.
I'm going for least imaginative titles in history, as well as most pointless plotlines ever. All bow before new levels of just plain strange.
It's five hours before Sheppard finally shows up, door opening unexpectedly as Rodney pretends that he's working, staring blankly at the stretch of screen that hasn't moved in hours, ignoring the ache in his back, the flares of pain from his bandaged hand, and the way every muscle in his body wanted bed *right now*. Two Marines are stationed stoically on either side of the door, looking about how Rodney remembered them from when he'd been escorted from the lab. He's on his feet before he knows it and regrets it immediately, forcing himself to stay still, keep the words trapped behind clenched teeth. He's not sure what he'd say.
Sheppard doesn't come in, though, pausing to murmur something to one of the men on duty before stepping in the door, letting it close behind him with a soft click before taking two precise steps forward, stopping to watch Rodney.
Considering that Sheppard isn't readable at the best of times, this--could mean anything.
"How long will I be confined to quarters?" It's always better to start on the offensive.
Sheppard's head tilts. "Aggravated assault's serious, even on Atlantis." Pausing, Sheppard looks around the room, and Rodney's sure he can feel Sheppard's silent judgment--the walls bared of diplomas and pictures, packed away with McKay's other possessions in a box in the closet. The rearranged furniture, the neat bed, the room with all the personality of a prison cell.
Which, Rodney reflects bleakly, it is.
Sitting back down, Rodney frowns at his laptop, pretending like he's paying attention to the screen; McKay's notes, scribbled messes of formulas and random hypotheses, unreadable half-assed documentation--sloppy, he thinks, forcing himself not to look at Sheppard. Sloppy and difficult and ridiculous, experiments with the barest explanations; Rodney's grad students could do a better job blindfolded.
"Next time you decide the lab is a free for all? At least send a memo so the rest of us can enjoy the show," Sheppard says, so mildly that Rodney flinches, locking his fingers around the edge of the desk to keep from shaking. It's a mistake--his bandaged knuckles burn from the sudden movement, pulling stitches and raw skin. Looking down, he sees the fresh stain of blood with a sigh of resignation. This just isn't his night.
"It was an accident. It won't happen again."
Sheppard silent, so still that Rodney could forget he was in the room, if he were very stupid and didn't notice that the door was still shut.
Words flow across the page, but Rodney can't read a goddamn thing. Giving up, he swivels around. "Say what you came here for and just go."
"Thank you, Rodney." Sheppard finishes crossing the room, making himself comfortable on the bed with a frighteningly calm smile. "I have twenty scientists--mostly physicists, but apparently a few chemists got in on the fun--confined to quarters, and almost half my Marines on guard duty. All of whom are placing bets on who's going back to Earth on the Daedalus."
Rodney clenches his fist, letting the pain wash over him. Anything's better than hearing this.
"I was thinking," Sheppard says lightly, "that I would get in on the action, except I know the answer." Rodney watches the long fingers clasp with morbid attention as Sheppard leans forward, elbows on knees. "But I just have to know--when you told Teyla, sure, I'd love to have my ass kicked five times a week in combat training, were you under the impression than any scientist here could fight worth a shit?"
Rodney jerks his attention to Sheppard's face.
"Cause I have to tell you, knocking Zelenka out was overkill."
Rodney watches in disbelief as the corner of Sheppard's mouth twitches upward.
"It was an accident," Rodney hears himself say inanely, and the twitch becomes a smile, unwilling and amused and something else he doesn't recognize at all.
"So he walked into your fist?"
Rodney flexes his bandaged hand, feeling for a second the satisfaction of flesh against his knuckles.
"You punch like a ten year old girl. A very strong, scary girl, but a girl," Sheppard says, but he stands up, reaching for Rodney's hand, and Rodney's too surprised not to give it to him. Sheppard's hands are warm and hard beneath his, unfamiliar calluses that match the healing blisters on Rodney's, from guns and knives and stick practice. A gentle thumb ghosts over the bandage. "Tomorrow, we'll work on that." Letting go, Sheppard steps back, slouching against the edge of the desk, eyes flickering to the screen, and Rodney's tempted to shut the laptop even though it's far too late. "Still going over his tragically incomplete notes and ridiculous theories?" Sheppard says, and Rodney shuts his eyes, controlling the urge to rub his temples, because the skin's too sensitive from the truly spectacular black eye currently in progress.
"I said I was sorry."
"Actually, you kind of didn't." When he looks up, Sheppard shrugs. "Thing one that maybe you didn't notice--those were Rodney's hand-picked people. No one in there didn't think he was the beginning and end of physics theory in the Pegasus galaxy."
Not news. Rodney looks away.
"No one in there wouldn't have died in his place if they could have."
He doesn’t need to hear this.
"Not one of them actually hates you."
That--he didn't expect. Rodney blinks. "Excuse me?"
Sheppard makes a gesture that's weirdly familiar; Rodney recognizes it as one of his own. Or McKay's probably, and he forces away the creep of jealousy, turning over Sheppard's words in his head. "They--"
"Don't hate you." Sheppard seems awfully sure for someone who had to duck a punch aimed for Rodney by Simpson and arrest twenty fairly bruised and bloodied scientists in the middle of a lab coup with the incredulous expression of a man who expects to see pink elephants at any moment. "Come on." Pushing off the desk, Sheppard makes it to the door before turning around. Rodney stares at him. "Come on. Let's get you something to eat before your blood sugar drops any more and you get crankier."
Weirdly, he finds himself doing just that, following Sheppard into an empty hall. Rodney frowns. "Where are--"
"House arrest ended," Sheppard says cheerfully, and Rodney stares at him, searching for a way to ask a question that he's not even sure has an answer. "Stop it and come on. We'll talk after you have something in your stomach besides righteous indignation."
Rodney has a split second of hesitation as he comes to the mess doors, people milling inside. Fingers touch his back, Sheppard's voice low and too close. "All your playmates are still cooling their heels. Like I said, aggravated assault is serious, even in Atlantis."
Rodney has no idea what to say to that.
They get dinner from a gawking cook, something that looks like roast but Rodney knows tastes like carrots, and Sheppard leads him to a table near the windows, the Atlantean sun setting in the distance. Rodney picks up his fork automatically, choking down each bite under Sheppard's steady gaze, ignoring the throb of his split lip and the sharp pain in his knee from an unfortunate kick.
"Feel better?" Sheppard asks, and weirdly, Rodney does. Reaching for a roll, he glances around the room, remembering the way John faced down detractors and enemies alike--which in any given space would be hundreds, or so it seemed after they came to the SGC.
Rodney can feel every eye in the room focused on them, no matter where they seem to be looking. Sheppard eats with sharp movements, placid and controlled, so normal that Rodney has no idea what to do with this.
"They don't hate you," Sheppard says, more softly, and Rodney looks up before he can stop himself. "They hate themselves."
Rodney puts down his fork. "Colonel--"
"We--they were there." Sheppard looks at his plate, then shakes his head. "They blame themselves." He pauses, then shakes his head. "I blamed them, for a while," and that's new, that's different; Rodney hadn't expected that. "They shouldn't, but it was--hard to see that, when it happened."
Rodney watches Sheppard's mouth tighten, and he looks older suddenly, exhausted and unhappy in a way that makes Rodney hurt to look at him, makes Rodney wish he could go back and duck the first punch, then walk out before it became a city emergency, makes Rodney wish he could lean across the table, smooth the line in Sheppard's forehead, try to offer--something. Dropping the fork, Rodney clenches his hands in his lap to stifle the impulse to touch.
Sheppard's a lot of things, but touchable will never be one of them, and the faster he accepts that, the better.
"I--should have been more discreet," Rodney says, because in retrospect, denigrating McKay in a roomful of his former staff was probably one of his worse ideas, and he's including the time he tried to get John to have dinner with Carter in hopes of smoothing professional tension.
He can't help smiling, though, remembering the three of them escorted from the restaurant with Carter dripping duck soufflé and sprinkled in baby carrots, John soaked in red wine, angel hair pasta covering still clinging to his face.
"Rodney." Rodney jerks his gaze back to Sheppard--that curiosity again, and Rodney shakes himself. "Something you want to share?"
Actually, yes. "Early on, right after Carter and John declared vendetta, the labs were mess, the staff taking sides, everything just--" He stops, trying not to smile. "The techs and engineers could make life really miserable for the physicists, you know, and John got every one of them who knew how to rewire a room or adjust plumbing." Leaning back, Rodney picks up his coffee, avoiding John's face. Maybe a little afraid to see his expression. The military wasn't the only place that had don't ask, don't tell. "So I thought dinner might help. It--didn't."
From the corner of his eye, he sees Sheppard push his tray aside, leaning both elbows onto the table, so elaborately casual that Rodney knows he's paying attention to every word. "And?"
Rodney takes a breath. "We get through appetizers before John starts criticizing her latest paper--sloppy proofs, incomplete documentation--and this is *Samantha Carter*, who can kill a man with some gum and her pinky. So she--retaliates by implying his department were the equivalent of highly trained monkeys punching code and it--"
"Degenerated." He doesn't imagine it. Sheppard's *smiling*, hazel eyes warmer than Rodney can ever remember seeing them, frown lines eased away. Rodney can't look away.
"They threw us out. And banned us." Rodney shakes his head, taking a drink of coffee. "So we got back home and I called John in sick, and reorganized the entire science department. I had some good, practical reasons, but Jack laughed himself sick in the meeting with Hammond--apparently he and Daniel had already met with Sam." Rodney stops, smile fading. "I'm not usually that--careless. Surviving the SGC didn't allow a lot of room for being careless."
"You mean the fight."
"I mean not caring if they heard me." Rodney forces himself to hold Sheppard's eyes. "They second guess me, they argue with me, they practically shove McKay--your McKay--in my face every day. It's exhausting to try and run a lab and get around the fact that half the staff thinks you're a more boring copy of the original."
Sheppard leans his head on one hand. "Rodney had a different style," he says easily. "But most of this is more--" Sheppard frowns thoughtfully. "More hazing. Well, until you declared war and all."
Rodney blinks. "I--"
"When I said I know who is going back on the Daedalus, I lied. The only person that knows that is you."
Rodney's stomach drops, food like a lead weight, but Sheppard just looks at him, waiting for--something. Then it hits him.
Sheppard nods. "You can send them back to Earth and start work on recreating an entire science department from scratch. Or. You can leave it up to security. And by security, I mean, me."
Rodney frowns. "You won't send them back." Zelenka, Rodney thinks, bag packed, on the Daedalus. One of Rodney's favorite fantasies, on long nights when the man doggedly matched him late hour for late hour, double checked his work, and silently (or in Czech) compared him to McKay.
Even more casually, Sheppard slumps back in his chair, hanging one arm over the back, uniform rumpled, a picture of careless ease. "My first week, I almost drowned, shot my commander, reawakened a species bent on our deaths, and after all that, discovered I was in command of a military contingent that I hadn't even *met*. Who knew I'd killed their commander." Sheppard stares at him. "If I can do it, you can."
Rodney opens his mouth, then shuts it tight. "Right." Finishing his coffee, Rodney sets down the cup with unsteady hands. "And if they don't go back to Earth on the Daedalus?"
Sheppard smiles. "I was talking to Lorne," he says, and Rodney thinks of John's easygoing second in command, cautiously friendly and strangely helpful. The Marines, in fact, always had been, in a way the scientists weren't. He'd put it up to less interaction with McKay, but looking at Sheppard, he's got to wonder. "We were thinking a two week boot camp on the mainland. Your department needs the training in basic ground combat, shooting, survival--"
"You're going to make them camp and eat MREs?" Rodney twitches the memory of the last time he'd eaten one.
Sheppard's eyes flicker, just for a second. "No MREs. The Athosians will be happy to show us where they hunt. In exchange for Atlantean assistance with the harvest."
Rodney stares at him. "You're kidding."
"Not really, no." Sheppard shrugs. "Or you send them back and let the SGC send a whole new group, unfamiliar with Pegasus, people you didn't personally vet--"
God. Rodney can't stop the flinch and knows Sheppard sees it. "Fine." And like that, Sheppard grins again, straightening to finish his juice, the very picture of easy charm, like they hadn't just doomed nineteen scientists to their very own version of hell.
Rodney wonders if McKay ever felt like this, ever found himself thinking he knew this man and finding out he knew shit. "You know," Rodney says, deliberately crossing his arms, "you wouldn't be a bad evil overlord."
Sheppard grins. "Galaxy conquest's no fun without an evil mastermind along for the ride." Standing up, he puts his glass on his tray. "Come on. If you're going to beat the shit out of the scientists, I'd better teach you how to throw a punch."
"….right." Gathering his tray, Rodney hesitates, watching the broad back, thinking of the conversation that they hadn't had, the anger that hadn't come, the argument that wasn't, except that they maybe he was wrong.
Sheppard to English is never easy, but Rodney thinks he got the message loud and clear.