Spoilers: McKay and Mrs. Miller
Codes: McKay, Sheppard, Sheppard/Lorne, McKay/various, Sheppard/McKay, MensaAU
Summary: "I didn't rip his virginity from his clinging arms like some kind of evil seducer," Rod tells the floor bitterly. "He lied."
Author Notes: Thanks to cathexys, mecurtin, thepouncer, hetrez. and eleveninches for beta, argument, clarification, and helping me make this work, eleveninches for the title, and svmadelyn for constant cheerleading. If there are any mistakes, that's because I wasn't paying attention to their advice.
This picks up from my new Mensa AU parody snippets and takes them in another direction. They can be found here and here.
For the short recap--Colonel John Sheppard is thrown into AU Atlantis, meets and is freaked out by Alter!Dr. John Sheppard, sleeps with Rod, and beats Sheppard at chess. Later, after Colonel Sheppard leaves, Rod gets Dr. Sheppard drunk and seduces him.
Now that *that's* out of the way, fic!
When Rod comes into the messhall at six am and sees Sheppard having breakfast with Ronon, he's almost sure the world must be ending.
It's not so much Ronon. Ronon has a freakish and completely illogical fondness for Sheppard that bewilders everyone. Rod finds it unnatural and disturbing, but goes with it because that's the best method, he's found, to lower his blood alcohol level to something short of fatal. Occasionally Rod's seen them work out, with Sheppard disdainfully terrible at hand-to-hand and Ronon at the end of each lesson patiently explaining to him how to quickly run away. Rod hadn't thought advice like that would be needed every time, but this is Sheppard, so really, not that much of a surprise.
So it's not Ronon. It's that getting Sheppard out of bed before second shift is unknown without an amphetamine-driven emergency (the day the ZPM blew out) or that ridiculous overreaction to Duranda (which Rod still doesn't want to talk about ever again). So this is not good.
A hangover is no way to start a morning, which is why Rod's swearing off alcohol as soon as is reasonably possible. Rubbing at the tight, bright pain blooming in the center of his forehead, he squints dolefully toward the far side of the messhall as he takes his tray, ignoring the wave from Cadman and absolutely *hating* the guy that slams into his shoulder with a "Hey, Rod!" in surround sound. "Morning, excuse me," he says automatically as the man gives him a final thump, trying to match face to name and failing completely.
Looking around the messhall, there are a lot of places he could sit, but his feet carry him toward Sheppard anyway.
"Morning," Rod hears himself say in what he's sure is a perfectly normal voice, but Ronon gives him a look that tells him it didn't work, that he does in fact look like he just might pass out. If only.
To his horror, Rod realizes Sheppard has one leg folded underneath him, for easier not-sitting-flat-on-hard-chairs. Ronon's mouth quirks in a smile as Rod forces himself to sit down beside Sheppard and stare blankly at reconstituted scrambled eggs and Athosian bagels, a lot like regular bagels except for the fact that they taste like ham. "Sheppard."
Sheppard gives a five second pause, the better to stare at his sweet roll like it can calculate pi, before lifting his head with raised eyebrows and a blank look. There are dark circles under his eyes and a tighter cast to his mouth than usual, which is basically a neon sign stating Sheppard hasn't slept yet. And--yes, there's a hickey. God. He's got to stop doing that.
"I'm done," Sheppard tells Ronon before standing up gracelessly and nearly knocking his chair over. It's got to be deliberate, Rod thinks; no one can be that clumsy *accidentally*. Gathering his laptop bag, Sheppard walks out with a curious short step that might as well be a public announcement that, yes, someone fucked Sheppard but good.
When Rod stops watching (because even though he's being a bitch and it's not even dawn yet, Sheppard's preternaturally hot), he turns around to see Ronon looking at him with an expression that on anyone else might be--but can't be--disapproval. "What?" Rod says nervously, trying not to twitch. Ronon's expression doesn't change, and he goes back to his pile of pancakes with an almost silent grunt. "Okay, *what*?"
Ronon shrugs expansively, taking another bite. "He seemed upset this morning."
Rod's eyes narrow. There's something disturbingly *worried* in Ronon's voice. "He's up six hours before his usual time," Rod points out, trying to look less guilty and more--something not guilty. Whatever the hell that is. "I'm surprised he's functional."
Ronon's mouth curves down in a frown. "He's having a rough time," Ronon says.
"What? Losing to John in chess?" And oh God, that disapproving look again, along with an edge of irritation, and Rod's reminded suddenly that Ronon hadn't cared for the Colonel at all, in his silent, forbidding, avoiding-all-human-contact way. "Are you feeling sorry for him?"
Ronon growls something that's probably not polite, but Rod's a nice guy and pretends not to hear it. "A rough time," Ronon states firmly, giving Rod a significant look before standing up, and Rod feels a strange sense of cognitive dissonance when he realizes there's still food left on Ronon's plate. That happens just about as often as Sheppard being awake before noon--which is to say, never. "You should think about it."
"Think about *what*?"
But Ronon's already walking away, and Rod is left staring at the far wall with a feeling that his day isn't going to get any better.
The headache eventually recedes, though the discomfort doesn't, leaving him jumpier than he's used to, fighting the urge to toss the most recent personnel evaluations and bury himself in something involving fusion and Ancient tech.
Rod doesn't see Sheppard for most of the morning; Sheppard was assigned early in their tenancy of Atlantis to his own lab, far away from the general population. The given reason--weak but the best he could do with Zelenka and half the staff promising mutiny--was Sheppard's projects were more dangerous and in need of isolation. In actuality, like at the SGC, Sheppard was an active danger to himself with a personality best described as toxic and the hordes of people willing to kill him in his sleep for a bar of chocolate.
Isolation suited Sheppard.
Rod assigned him a lab assistant each time the *Daedalus* docked, fully aware that said assistant would be on the voyage back in three weeks time or graduate to a gate team. No one survived Dr. John Sheppard's lab without scars.
A little before lunch, though, it occurs to Rod that he *hasn't* heard from Sheppard, and this morning's breakfast pokes uncomfortably into his memory. Leaving Zelenka to oversee the new *Daedalus* personnel (the SGC had somehow forgotten to send a single lab tech this time, which means Sheppard will have to go without), Rod wanders down the short hall, stopping at Sheppard's door.
Taking a breath, Rod firms up his most pleasant expression and waves a hand at the crystals. He knows that the door won't open without either Sheppard's permission or an override, so he braces himself for the override.
But the door opens quickly, so quickly that Rod's not quite ready to see Sheppard, miles of overfilled lab tables surrounding him; several disassembled, empty ZPM casings; six laptops running various programs in Ancient and Asgard; the slower interface to the Atlantis database scrolling equations so fast that Rod can't read them; and Sheppard himself standing rail-straight in front of a mess of gold and red glass and a tangle of interface cables.
Despite himself, Rod has to pause to look around. The last time he was in here, it was to make sure Sheppard had survived a small lab explosion. "Hey."
Sheppard blinks once. "What do you want?"
Rod focuses his attention on Sheppard's laptop and the almost-ZPM. "How close are you?"
Sheppard pushes the safety goggles up, forcing his hair to bristle unattractively around the edges. Hazel eyes study him coolly for a moment before he answers. "Three weeks at the most. I'm busy. Go away."
There are so many ways that Rod could approach this, but Sheppard's utter blankness makes every one of them impossible. "Just checking in," Rod says easily, leaning into the table with what he hopes is an open expression. Sheppard's face doesn't change. Right. "You usually come by the main lab once in a while," Rod says.
"I didn't need the main interface," Sheppard answers, pulling over a microscope and setting it with quick fingers, not bothering to look down. Sheppard's calibrations are always perfect the first time, just like his programs, just like his math; Rod would love to know who trained Sheppard so thoroughly that the most basic tasks of a lab are as ingrained as breathing. "If my calculations are correct, the remainder of the work will be the equivalent of checking for loose screws." Sheppard ducks his head, looking into the eyepiece before stepping back and typing something one handed into the laptop beside him.
On the screen behind him, the image pulls up--a mess of crystals and microscopic interface cabling, strung so fine that breath could break it. Hybridization of Ancient tech with the most advanced interface programs that the Asgard can offer, the culmination of the last year of Sheppard's life in an unattractive bulk of spare parts.
Rod tries to appreciate what he's seeing, but it's hard when they have a real ZPM, all elegant efficiency and carefully contained power. "So your simulations--"
"One tenth the power output of an Ancient-built ZPM," Sheppard says shortly, expression melting into something more bitter than smug. "But workable with the correct interface to translate--"
"Who's building the interface?" Rod thinks he should know this, but he honestly can't think who on earth would have agreed to work directly with Sheppard.
"Kavanagh's engineering it," Sheppard says, with a curl of his lip. Rod's not sure if it's personal or the fact that Sheppard's forced to depend on someone besides himself for something so important to his project. "The first attempt was an utter failure. Did I forget to mention I'm busy? Or are you just deaf from listening to the sound of your own voice?"
"We'll set up testing as soon as you're sure," Rod says, making himself continue to smile, trying to project confidence in the design. "When will you--"
"Three weeks," Sheppard says slowly, enunciating every word. "I've already emailed you twice for permission to use the secondary ZPM banks for the initial--"
"Right." He had. "I'll tell Dr. Weir so we can be ready." Ready for whatever this does. Rod waits, but Sheppard just looks at him, offering less than nothing. Talking to Sheppard is always like talking to a brick wall. A Mensa-qualified, exceedingly vicious brick wall with the ability to build weapons of mass destruction in its spare time. At least until Rod put a stop to it. "Ah, about last night--"
Oh, wrong thing to say; Sheppard's entire body goes stiff. "I'd rather our off-hour activities not infringe on our professional relationship," Sheppard says frostily. His spine is reaching new levels of straightness. Rod wonders if there's actually metal sewn under his skin or something.
"Of course," Rod says quickly, soothingly, and watches in dismay as Sheppard pushes away the microscope, almost knocking it off its stand. "I just wanted to make sure that you're--I mean." He wants to say, Go to Carson, but the humiliation potential for them both is astronomical. Besides, he knows he didn't actually *hurt* Sheppard. It was just very, very bad sex. "I wanted to say that if you're--"
Sheppard stares at him like he's grown a second head.
"Well then. It was--we'll just forget about it, won't we?" Rod says desperately. "Bad sex happens, and you don't--don't dwell on it. We won't dwell on it. And no, of course it won't affect our professional relationship."
"Good," Sheppard says, voice clipping shorter. "I have simulations to complete and--"
"Yes, exactly. I'm glad we had this talk," Rod says, already backing toward the door. Catching himself, he makes himself smile, slow and easy--nothing strange here, nothing to worry about--turning to a door that opens before he even has a chance to think at it. Stepping into the hall, Rod takes a deep breath, letting it out in a rush of relief.
That had gone pretty well. Smiling more naturally, he turns back toward his lab, wondering if Zelenka's free for lunch.
Zelenka's not, but Dr. Carrie Strauss from engineering *is*, and Rod takes the opportunity to sidle up to her table, watching the dark eyes flicker up and then away quickly as he sits down across from her.
"Dr. Strauss," he says, letting himself smile as she blushes. "Mind if I join you?"
"Of course not, Dr. McKay," she says, eyes fixed on her fork, still buried in mashed potatoes. "And it's Carrie."
"Rod," he says, extending his hand. "I've heard good things about your work from Dr. Josh Gingrich since you arrived. We're very glad to have you."
"Thank you." Her handshake is firm but not too firm, soft palms and long, elegant fingers. She takes a bite of her potatoes, eyes averted as she chews self-consciously, then swallows quickly. "This is an amazing city, Dr. M--Rod."
"Yes, it is, isn't it?" The salad is terrible, but that's not new. As she starts talking about her work in--polymers? He'll have to read those evaluations soon--Rod nods at every pause, noticing Sheppard being herded into the messhall by Ronon. Not an unusual circumstance--Sheppard forgets food, sleep, hygiene, and occasionally English when he's been working on something--but the way Sheppard seems to be digging his heels into the floor is new. As a rule, Sheppard tends to at least fake compliance, due to Ronon's amazingly selective hearing and ability to physically carry him wherever he wants Sheppard to go.
It had only taken a couple of times being dumped into a messhall chair off Ronon's back for Sheppard to get the message.
As Ronon manhandles Sheppard into the line, Rod hears what is definitely a comment in Ancient regarding Ronon's antecedents. Ronon just smirks, shoving a tray in front of Sheppard before getting his own, and Sheppard grudgingly complies, showing more enthusiasm when the jello comes into view. As Sheppard swings around, looking for a table suitably remote from human contact, the hazel eyes meet his.
For a second, something new crosses Sheppard's face, then he's turning, almost dropping his tray, crossing to the far side of the messhall. Ronon, with a quick glance in Rod's direction, ambles after him.
"Rod?" A soft hand rests on his wrist, and Rod jerks his attention back to--Carrie, right.
"Sorry, a member of my department showed up for lunch on time for once." Over the chatter of the other diners, there's no way that Rod can hear what they're saying, but Sheppard is making unhappy motions with his jello. Ronon patiently takes it away, pointing significantly at his plate, and Sheppard starts to eat with sullen slowness.
Carrie's eyes follow his, and the automatic reactions--crinkle of nose, narrowing of eyes--are so familiar that Rod realizes he's eating with another of Sheppard's deadly enemies. He has to hand it to Sheppard; she's only been here a couple of months, and he's already managed to alienate her. "Dr. Sheppard."
Rod takes a deep breath, holding his smile. "He's a brilliant scientist."
"So I've been told," she says, almost spitting. Rod fights the urge to ask what Sheppard has done now. "I was assigned to build the new interface for Dr. Sheppard's ZPM project."
Oh Jesus. He doesn't want to know. He doesn't. "Didn't get along, did you?"
Carrie stabs at her mystery meat hard enough to create a small geyser of gravy. "According to Dr. Sheppard, my understanding of the principles of engineering are insufficient to make me fit to build a *dog house*, much less the oh-so-important-to-the-future-of-science ZPM substitute he's been trying--and failing, if the thing I was forced to measure is an example--to build."
Rod thinks he can actually feel waves of rage coming off her. Time to redirect.
Reaching across the table, Rod gently moves her hand from her fork, running a thumb casually along the side of her palm, getting her full attention. "It can be challenging to work with Dr. Sheppard," he says, with a knowing look that makes her mouth soften. "Maybe I can help you relax tonight. You said you haven't been around the entire city yet?"
Her mouth quirks up at one corner. Pushing her hair back, she raises her eyebrow. "There really hasn't been time."
"I could take you on a private tour," he says, running his nails along her palm, and her fingers curling into his. Her lips curve into a smile, lashes sweeping down. "Some dinner, then perhaps a glance at some of Atlantis' more unusual sights?"
The way she smiles at him is answer enough.
"Ronon, I swear I will poison you with mercury in your water if you don't. Stop. Fucking. With. Me."
Rod freezes as he goes by the meditation slash practice room on his way for more coffee. The stained glass door is set at semi-opaque, so Rod can see shapes inside, identifying Sheppard by the way he's sitting on the floor in an awkward heap, Ronon looming over him.
"You won't learn if you don't try." Ronon's voice is calm, but there's an edge to it that Rod's never heard before. Coming closer, Rod fights the vague guilt that comes with eavesdropping--Sheppard is on his team and is, technically, his subordinate. Knowing what's going on with him is vital to surviving him. "And you aren't trying."
"Huh, let me get out some blueprints of a nuclear reactor and watch you read them," Sheppard says. "No, wait, you *can't*. And I can't do *this*. Why we even bother--"
"I could, if I were taught," Ronon says with such utter patience that Rod's almost ashamed of himself for talking to Kavanagh again this afternoon about the feasibility of Sheppard's almost-ZPM. "And you can learn this if you'd try. It's not so hard."
"My skills are wasted on learning--"
"Might've helped when Kolya had you."
Rod freezes, hand rubbing absently against the inside of his arm as Sheppard goes still. "If I'd had my gun--"
"You won't always." Ronon pauses, and Rod wonders when Ronon took the time to go through the mission reports. Their missions are almost always in pursuit of Ancient technology on more peaceful planets--leave the violent natives to Lorne and his Marines--but the Genii are their shining exception to the rule. Rod rubs the scar tissue absently, watching as John flounders to his feet.
"I'm never without it now."
Which is true. Sheppard carries a nine millimeter in his backpack wherever he goes, off-world and in Atlantis. Rod and Dr. Weir stopped trying to talk him out of it a long time ago.
"You could be disarmed. Think about it." There's another pause, longer and more thoughtful. "I think you should start working with Teyla," Ronon says, and Rod realizes he's missed part of the conversation. Leaning into the wall, he frowns. Teyla, apart from her missions with Rod's team and her diplomatic work with Dr. Weir, has never seemed to have much interaction with the Atlantean population.
"Teyla?" Sheppard says her name like he has trouble remembering who she is. "I don't think--"
"I think she'd like it," Ronon says amiably, and Rod can hear the sounds of Ronon packing up. "I just started working with her--"
"She kicks your ass." Sheppard sounds a little too gleeful about it. Rod supposes he can't blame him--Rod trains with Ronon once a week. He gets a kick out of Teyla's ability to put Ronon on his knees, too.
"That, too." That it never seems to bother Ronon is a wonder to Rod. "She used to instruct the young among the Athosians, and now only the more advanced students come to her for training."
"So I'm supposed to assist with her thwarted maternal instincts?"
Ronon shrugs. "She's kind of weird, but she's a good fighter." Ronon pauses, long enough for Rod to wonder if the conversation is over, before Ronon continues, a little too casually, "And you know she put Colonel Sheppard on the floor five times when he was here."
Rod leans a little closer. He doesn't remember John ever training with Teyla.
"You say that as if I should care." Sheppard's voice, however, lacks heat. "Ronon--"
"I'm just saying, she's good, and she's used to beginners, from what she said." Ronon picks up something from the floor.
"Somehow, I just don't think this is about me." Sheppard pauses, sounding amused, the way he is around no one but Ronon. "You're still arguing, which means that you've already invited her, and I'm supposed to go along with it because you'll make me come anyway."
Rod can almost see Ronon's pleased smile. "Pretty much, yeah."
Rod hears the sound of Ronon coming toward the door and backs off, almost fumbling his coffee cup before he starts moving as quickly as possible toward the labs. Behind him, he hears the door open, Ronon's voice echo down the hall in cheerful mockery, Sheppard's derisive reply, and makes it to the labs in time to see Zelenka frown at how long it took him to get his coffee.
Poor Teyla, Rod thinks. She has no idea what she's getting into.
Carrie is as agreeable as Rod had thought she'd be, and Rod leaves out of her quarters early enough to not be caught by first shift. Wandering down the residential quarters, Rod sees Sheppard, still in his horrific idea of a uniform, coming toward him, rubbing his head absently, dark grooves worn beneath his eyes.
He doesn't seem to know where he's going, knocking into the wall, and Rod wonders suddenly how many days Sheppard's been going without sleep. "Sheppard?"
Sheppard's head comes up so abruptly he stumbles, bracing a hand on the wall, blinking away the glaze of exhaustion with disconcerting speed. "Dr. McKay?" His voice cracks oddly as he straightens so fast Rod can almost hear muscles snapping to keep up. "What are--oh."
Rod frowns, then remembers where he just came from. Yeah. "Were you running simulations all night?"
Sheppard face is so expressionless that you could solve unified theory on it with space to spare. "I had an idea," he says. "I need to--"
"Get some sleep." Rod watches Sheppard's face twitch slightly. "Take tomorrow off. You've been pulling too many all-nighters."
"It hasn't decreased my efficiency," Sheppard grates out, like Rod just accused him of blowing up his lab again. "Besides, you seem to do just fine on lack of sleep." There's a nasty edge of insinuation that creeps under Rod's skin, and he feels himself flush, though he hasn't been embarrassed about sex since middle school. Especially since he's the only one of the two of them having sex around here.
"How I spend off-hours is no business of yours, Dr. Sheppard," Rod says coolly.
"It was at least once," Sheppard shoots back, and Rod feels himself flush more. He forces down the flicker of anger, cooling it beneath a careful smile.
"It was a mistake," Rod says, keeping his voice even. "And as you said earlier, neither of us want this mishap to infringe on our professional relationship. I think forgetting about it would be the best course of action."
Sheppard stares at him for a second, studying with the narrowed focus he turns on his work, searching for the single flaw he can fix, the problem he can solve, make everything match up as neatly as an equation. People aren't like that, Rod had learned that early on. Years of practice have taught him what to say, how to say it, to smile, when to walk away, but it's like Sheppard never learned those things.
Then the searching gaze is jerked away like a spotlight going off.
"Yeah, you're right," Sheppard says softly, head turning away as he pushes off the wall. Without another word, Sheppard walks by him, straighter and stiffer than Rod can ever remember seeing him.
For a vivid second, watching Sheppard's retreating back, Rod feels something--a second missed, a moment passed--but it's gone, and Sheppard vanishes into his quarters.
Rod checks his watch and sighs. It's only two hours until alpha shift. Somehow, he's got to make it through the day without passing out.
Coffee. He needs coffee.
When Rod was chosen to be Chief Science Officer for the expedition, the best part had been being allowed to choose his own staff The bad part is the fact that he *had* chosen Sheppard and really has no one to blame for this mess but himself.
A mess now highlighted by Sheppard, weirdly wired and more awake than Rod could ever have anticipated, currently slumped at the main computer interface. With Simpson. Touching him.
"...relationship like this," Simpson is saying gravely from her stool, one hand resting on Sheppard's knee in a way that isn't purely platonic. Rod takes two steps across the lab before he can stop himself, wondering if there was something in that coffee other than coffee. "And considering the circumstances, you have every right to feel hurt."
Sheppard's normal scowl of disdain has miraculously been replaced with something that's--Jesus, Sheppard looks *human*. "I'll think about it," Sheppard says with a huge sigh before turning back to his laptop with a dejected slump, the very picture of depressed-but-bucking-up-beneath-the-pre
Wow. Rod hadn't even known Sheppard *could* slump. "Simpson--what are you--" But one small hand is locked under his elbow, propelling him into an empty storage room that Rod knows for a fact the women use for poker nights. "Are you okay?"
"Have you talked to him today?" Simpson demands, and Rod's heart actually stops before she continues. "He looks terrible! He's refusing coffee!"
Rod stares at her, trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Simpson, who once tried to drown Sheppard off the east pier and claim it as an unfortunate run-in with a whale, is staring up at him with accusing eyes. "What, exactly, does that have to do with me?"
Simpson snorts. "You're teammates, right?" Her voice drops, taking on an edge that reminds Rod of two ex-girlfriends. "Rod," she says, sounding patient and insane, "obviously, something's wrong. I think something happened. With a person," she clarifies, looking a little stunned herself. "A person he has a relationship with."
"Oh?" Rod says. Simpson frowns at the way his voice does a two octave break. "So--Sheppard--you think Sheppard's in a relationship?"
Simpson sniffs. "Sounds more like someone was leading him on and then dumped him." Rod tries to reconcile the worried way Simpson keeps glancing toward the lab with the fact that she went after Sheppard with a screwdriver last week and had to be pried off by two Marines. "That *other* Sheppard coming here didn't help, either," she says venomously, like she hadn't been following the Colonel around practically offering him her uterus.
"What, and you think Sheppard was dumped because this completely hypothetical person liked John more?" Rod's not sure how this conversation even ended up in this place, but he wants it over with now. "Look, Simpson, you don't even *like* him."
Apparently, that's the wrong thing to say, because Simpson goes as straight as if she'd borrowed Sheppard's freaking titanium backbone.
"We've had problems in the past," Simpson says stiffly, eyes bright with righteous indignation. "But right now he needs help. And in case you forgot, he's still working day and night on the updates to the new design of the ZPM for field testing. I would think *you* of all people would show a little concern for a member of your department who's having a difficult time."
Simpson frowns before turning on a heel and going back out into the lab. Rod watches as she gets a cup of coffee and takes it to Sheppard (something that before today, he would have sworn she'd do over her own dead body), one hand resting lightly on his shoulder.
When Sheppard looks up with a hurt-but-brave smile, Rod realizes something's gone very wrong on Atlantis.
By the end of the day, Rod's come to the conclusion that a dangerous hallucinogen has been introduced into the air filters, so he spends two hours and thirteen minutes running diagnostics on the environmental controls while watching Sheppard on a security feed. Seated in the messhall, Sheppard makes horrible and awkward conversation while slumping like a broken puppy for everyone--and Rod means *everyone*--to wander close and, to Rod's disbelief, offer sympathy.
The stories go like this:
Sheppard was dumped, was seduced and dumped, was gotten drunk, seduced, and dumped, was tricked into sex and dumped by--
A Marine, a scientist, an offworlder, a civilian, a close friend, someone *very mean* who--
Broke his heart, took his virginity, did both at the same time, called the wrong name, called the right name to the wrong person, hurt his feelings, made him cry.
"Did you say cry?" Rod says in disbelief when he overhears the botanists in the hall talking worriedly about how little Sheppard had eaten at dinner, seeming to forget Sheppard *never* eats much at dinner and lives off of the souls of those he tortures. Getting a dirty look, Rod moves past them quickly, mumbling something he hopes they'll assume is an apology while they go back to whispering.
The scary part is, Sheppard's still an *asshole*, but apparently, true love makes it all acceptable, and Sumner looks at Sheppard with sympathy before offering him his special stash of whiskey, and okay, that's *it*.
"What are you doing?" Rod says as Sheppard's door opens, but he's constitutionally incapable of walking in the room unless he's invited. Sheppard, armed with his cello--Rod still has no idea how on earth he got that through the Stargate when they first arrived--looks up mid-sonata to give Rod the most expressionless glare he's ever earned. "What are you telling people?"
Sheppard sets the cello aside. Only Sheppard, Rod thinks, would relax with an instrument almost as big as he is. "I'm in the middle of a transitional stage in my development," he says, face perfectly blank and eyes perfectly serious, but for some wild reason--call it a guess--Rod just doesn't believe it.
"You're telling people I practically date raped you then dumped you *bleeding* outside my door while calling you names," Rod answers flatly.
Sheppard's mouth twitches. "I never said it was you."
Rod takes a deep breath, realizing that a.) this conversation really, really shouldn't happen in the hall and b.) Sheppard's gone nuts. All of Atlantis has gone nuts. Coming inside at Sheppard's sardonic nod, Rod waves the door closed behind him. "You don't have to! People will guess!"
"They think you're pining after the Colonel," Sheppard says coolly. "They're all aware no one could *ever* live up to the wonderful Colonel Sheppard. And consoling yourself with random, and let me add, woefully *stupid* engineers while you--how did they put it?" Sheppard's eyes darken maliciously. "Nurse your *broken* heart."
Rod squints into Sheppard's face, utterly bewildered. "Are you--are you *jealous*?"
Sheppard flicks his laptop shut, looking thoughtful. "Yeah. I think I am."
Oh. Rod really hadn't seen that one coming. "Sheppard" he says slowly, trying to figure out what on earth he's supposed to say to that, "you really don't have anything to be jealous of. And--wait, why would you even be jealous?" Because Rod doesn't date. Even preternaturally beautiful but lousy in bed mathematicians.
Sheppard gently puts the cello away before levering himself awkwardly from the bed, pacing toward Rod with an intent expression that makes him back straight into the door. Sheppard doesn't stop, not until he's less than half an inch away, wide hazel eyes holding Rod's.
"I never went through an immature adolescent crush phase," Sheppard says seriously. "I was too busy being a productive member of society to pant after whatever random bipedal lifeform crossed my field of vision. But after talking to Heightmeyer, I was thinking that for the sake of my psychological welfare and emotional development--"
"You are using words associated with social sciences and not dying on the spot like you always claimed you would," Rod points out, feeling a cold finger of dread run up and down his spine, and not in a sexy way, like with an ice cube. "You realize that, right?"
"--I'd better get that out of the way." Sheppard braces a hand against the door frame, leaning close. "So. I'm having it now."
The door opens so suddenly Rod has no time to catch himself, tumbling backward with a spine-jarring ache as Sheppard, arms crossed, watches him with a look of smug glee.
"And you know what, *Meredith*? You haven't seen *anything* yet."
It takes two days--two horrible, terrible, surreal days--but Sheppard's campaign takes off like *fireworks*.
Somehow--Rod has no idea how he's doing it, why people are falling for it, how *stupid* Atlantis actually is--Sheppard manages to reinterpret his entire time on Atlantis. Suddenly, Sheppard is not a narcissistic asshole with delusions of grandeur--and Rod can't even think the words without wanting whiskey, which that bastard Sumner gave to Sheppard, damn him--but a fragile, misunderstood genius with terrible social skills. *And a shattered heart*.
"I never thought it could happen to me," Sheppard says earnestly over lunch to two female Marines, three scientists, and Dr. Heightmeyer while wearing a puce shirt and striped navy pants. It's a new high in Sheppard's repertoire of horrific color disasters. "But I suppose, in a way, I deserve it--"
"No one deserves that, John," Heightmeyer says earnestly, one hand gently covering his wrist. From two tables down with Ronon, Rod tries to pretend like he's not listening to every word. "There are plenty of people who will appreciate you for who you are."
Rod wonders if she appreciates the sheer inanity of what is pouring out of her mouth. "I don't believe this," Rod mutters into his winter vegetable mix in varying shades of purple.
The elbow in his side drags Rod's gaze to Major Lorne, who's been paying way too much attention to the entire drama for a man who's second in command of the Atlantis military contingent and certainly has better things to do. "Rod, really. Just because you're content to jump from bed to bed doesn't mean that other people don't get attached." Lorne frowns, stabbing at a close-to-carrot. "I'd like to get my hands on the guy who dumped him like that," Lorne mumbles, and Rod has to turn around and look, because last time he checked, Lorne thought they should trade Sheppard to the Genii for beans.
"You're kidding." Rod can't keep the incredulity out of his voice. Lorne stares defensively into his coffee.
"Look, so he's a little bad with people--"
"He singlehandedly started a war with the Hoff," Rod says blankly.
"That doesn't mean he deserves being used like that." Lorne sighs, setting down his fork and staring morosely at his potatoes. Rod has a terrible, terrible feeling about this. "I wonder if it's too early."
He doesn't want to know. He doesn't want to know. He doesn't-- "For what?"
Lorne's eyes fix on Sheppard's back with an unmistakable look. "To ask him out."
Ronon, sitting across from Lorne, is staring at his plate (overloaded with those weird silver shellfish that they found on the mainland), and Rod would swear that Ronon is smiling.
Ronon turns out to be an *awesome* drinking buddy. Rod can only wonder why he never knew this before.
"Major Lorne!" Rod says, waving toward the door, outside of which is a hall, down which is a balcony, where no doubt Lorne is feeding Sheppard nutritionally balanced fruit bowls and telling him how he will never, ever get him drunk and steal his virginity. Which Rod *totally did not do*. Mostly. "A *flyboy*. A *goon*. Who is not a genius! He went *out with him*!"
Ronon agreeably hands him the bottle after only taking a sip. Ronon's cool like that. "You do that stuff."
"I--" Rod says, trying to sit up and failing dramatically. Staring at the ceiling, he shakes his head and watches the newfound colors move. "I am indigrinimate--incingrimate--*easy*. I am *easy*. And I don't *date*. I have *sex*. This? This is a *date*."
"Right," Ronon says, nodding, and Rod watches the dreadlocks bounce. "And you don't like it."
"Damn *straight*. Seriously, Lorne? He can barely turn on his laptop. Who is Sheppard going to discuss computer architecture with? What could they possibly talk about?"
"Maybe they talk about other things."
God, Ronon is *stupid*. "Have you ever heard Sheppard talk about anything outside his work?"
Ronon scratches at his head. "Sure." Rod blinks at the easy shrug. "Lots of things. Movies, books. How much he hates stick practice with Teyla. Good jumper-weather."
Rod tries and fails to visualize Sheppard *chatting*. "You're lying. Why would he talk about that? Why to you?"
Ronon shrugs again. "Maybe because I don't watch him on video feeds when he's meditating?"
It takes a few seconds for that to sink in, but when it does, Rod can feel all the blood in his body desperately try to drain somewhere safe, because--Oh God. Oh dear *God*. Rod sits straight up, eyes wide. "You--how did--he *knows*?"
Ronon nods agreeably.
"But--but Lorne's the one that set that up," Rod says sickly, trying to struggle to his feet. He should have known. He should have *guessed*. "I have to--"
A big hand drops on his shoulder, and he's breathless, flat on his back on the bed. "I think it's a little too late for that."
Rod goes in personally to reprogram the computers hours before Sheppard would even *imagine* getting up, which somehow means that Sheppard is already there, in what appears to be Lorne's sweatpants and an Air Force t-shirt, too-long hair in his face and still flushed from--
Oh, Rod just can't go there.
"What are you--" But Sheppard holds something up as he types, and curious, Rod comes over to see that somehow, Sheppard's got the senior staff command codes. "Jesus."
Jesus, in that, wow, one, Sheppard somehow got Lorne to give him command codes, and two, Sheppard matches. Mostly. This close, Rod can smell him, sweat and two kinds of aftershave, and something musky beneath that's sex, because apparently, Sheppard's standards have dropped dramatically. "Excuse me, what are you doing?"
"Burning out every camera in that area," Sheppard says with a bitter little grin, slim fingers blurring over the keyboard. Sheppard has elegant hands, long-fingered and fine-knuckled, made for fine work. He's weirdly loose--loose in a very Sheppard way, that is, but more relaxed and comfortable than Rod's ever seen him. Rod shivers as the hazel eyes flicker up and look into his, mouth red and swollen and so pretty that Rod's leaning toward him without meaning to.
"How long have you known?" Rod asks as each of the four cameras go down. Good-bye three in the afternoon break; hello bitter labmates.
"For a while." Sheppard kicks back from the desk, stumbling slightly as he gets to his feet, which look small and bare on the smooth lab floor.
"You never said anything."
Sheppard shrugs into his laptop bag, but the green eyes flicker upward just long enough for Rod to see the edge of something dangerously raw. "I couldn't decide what was more humiliating. My coworkers watching me, or having to *ask* them for my own privacy. I took the lesser of two evils. Until now." Crumpling the tiny piece of paper in his pocket, Sheppard walks out with his usual jarring stride, and Rod looks uncomfortably at the empty monitor.
The lab is normal the next day, or as normal as it gets when everyone has been caught looking at other people naked unawares. Despite the fact that Sheppard spends the whole morning in the Chair room working on power modulation with Zelenka, the entire department is quiet and a little shy, eyes flicking to the door nervously whenever it opens. Sure, last week it would have been hysterical for Sheppard to find out, but today, it feels different.
Rod makes six mistakes in his calculations before he gives up and takes his notes with him, because he really does need to ask Zelenka a question about yesterday's simulation and not for any other reason.
They're not in the Chair room, though, and Rod finds himself wandering toward the jumper bay, because Sheppard always has an excuse for supposedly-vital repairs and subsequent "necessary" flight tests. Rod figures that if there was ever a time Sheppard would want to be in the air, it would be today.
Which is why coming on Zelenka pushed up against the front of the jumper with his shirt halfway undone and Sheppard shoving his tongue down his throat is a little bit of a shock.
Meaning a lot, and Rod stumbles, dropping his notes just as Sheppard pulls back, looking annoyed. "Problem, McKay?"
Honestly, Rod really doesn't know. "Aren't you two supposed to be working on something?"
"Jumper's running simulations," Sheppard says, casually stepping back, not bothering to so much as tuck in his shirt. It must be laundry day--Sheppard's in uniform for once, strangely foreign on his body, like it doesn't belong. "We had a few minutes."
Zelenka ducks away, muttering something that's probably insulting in Czech while Sheppard stares at Rod with blank disdain, like he can't imagine anyone having any problem with, say, making out during work time.
"Besides," Sheppard says lightly, grabbing his uniform jacket off the ground. "Breaktime. It's three o'clock."
Rod had counted on the fact that Sheppard was too painfully abrasive and just plain *bad* with people to keep up this level of amiability for long--even though this level of amiability in Sheppard is the equivalent of a really bad mood with other people. It's disconcerting to see Sheppard interact with other expedition members in ways that don't send them into homicidal rage, and annoying when Sheppard suddenly pops up at social functions--still painfully, horrifically awkward and unable to carry on anything resembling small talk without being insulting, but somehow now also weirdly endearing in his socially backward way.
Then Rod has to wonder what in the name of *God* he's thinking, because is he actually sitting here, sipping a Tom Collins and unhappy that he's not mediating between Sheppard and the world every five seconds?
The break in Atlantis' usual schedule of disasters led Dr. Weir to announce a gathering of all off-duty personnel in the messhall, which was basically an excuse for alcohol and no-foul groping on the balconies. Taking another drink, Rod watches as Teyla tries to teach Sheppard the traditional Athosian harvest dance, grinning suddenly as Sheppard stumbles, guiding his body with her own in the fast, simple steps. A five year old could do it, but Sheppard's treating it like it's a bad game of Twister.
"He's going to injure her if he's not careful," Rod murmurs to Ronon as Teyla ducks one flailing arm, catching Sheppard before he can fall.
"He's not that bad," Ronon says, drinking plain water and looking thoughtful. Rod wonders if Ronon was struck blind at some point tonight. "Reminds me of myself before I joined the military." Ronon chuckles as Teyla manages to get Sheppard through a slow turn. Teyla's startlingly bright tonight, in a way that Rod had only seen her on Athos, in a red dress she only wears during the Athosian festivals, dark hair twisted with golden beads. She's easier with Sheppard than he's ever seen her with anyone, which makes Rod wonder how often they've been working together. Rod hadn't expected her to show up tonight, but Ronon had mentioned it at their training session, that she'd been trying to get John to relax using some of the simpler Athosian dances.
Apparently, it hasn't worked, but Rod's got to give her credit for trying.
As the music ends, Sheppard smiles suddenly, bright and flushed, sweating a little from the overhead lights, and Rod reflects that Teyla seems a lot less antagonistic toward Sheppard than one might assume from the fact she's taken over his weekly combat lessons. There's a round of amused applause and Sheppard looks surprised before bowing clumsily, letting Teyla lead him back to their table.
Taking a glass of water--because Sheppard doesn't drink (except for the one time that started this entire mess)--Sheppard leans into the table, and Rod takes in the fact that Sheppard's experimenting with dressing like someone who isn't blind. At least for social occasions. Even the normally immaculate dark hair is strangely messy, and Rod can see Colonel Sheppard in the tilt of his head as he takes a drink. Rod looks away before Sheppard catches him.
"You are improving, Dr. Sheppard," Teyla says politely. In actuality, he seems to be getting worse. Rod turns his head to hide his smile.
"Better than with the sticks," Ronon grunts, and Sheppard kicks Ronon's chair with an unfamiliar look on his face that might, on other people, have looked playful. It's almost creepy.
They aren't a *close* team, exactly--not like Lorne's team--but Rod had always appreciated the professionalism of their interactions, even if he'd maybe just a little envied McKay *his* close, friendly team. And envied him his Colonel Sheppard a *lot*. But as Teyla leans over to push John's hair behind one ear and Ronon tries to steal his water, Rod feels a strange sense of disassociation, like he's missing something.
"I think the differences are interesting," Teyla's saying, leaning both elbows on the table as Sheppard pulls out a chair, sitting straight backed, like he's about to lecture to a class of very bored students.
Sheppard shrugs. "Teer had some interesting insights on how centering could increase concentration during meditation."
Huh? Rod turns to see Sheppard drawing something in the condensation. "Finding the body, and releasing it," Sheppard says, finishing a line. "Clearing your mind and finding what's outside yourself. They were going about it wrong, but the basic idea was oneness with the universe, not self."
"Interesting," Teyla says. "I had wondered during our meditation exercises where you learned such powers of concentration."
"And Ronon always falls asleep," Sheppard says with a quirk of his lips that could almost pass for friendly. Rod wonders, uncomfortably, when Ronon, of all people, had started meditating. And when Sheppard started sharing his holy alone time with Teyla, of all people. "It's okay. Not everyone is cut out for Ascension. I'll send postcards from the other side."
Ronon rolls his eyes, making Teyla laugh softly. Ronon's head tilts backward, eyes on Teyla's face. "You wanna dance?"
"Your toes up to it?" Rod says lazily, and gets a frown from Teyla for his trouble. Okay, this is getting ridiculous. "I was just--"
"John is improving," Teyla says firmly, and wait. Did she call him *John*? "When I return, I will teach you the summer dances, John."
"You're trying to kill me in a way that can't be traced," Sheppard says contentedly. "I'm smarter than you. I'll get away."
"You may try." With another smile, she leads Ronon out onto the floor, and Sheppard takes a drink of water with a smirk curving up one corner of his mouth. Across the room, Rod can see Lorne watching them with steady, jealous eyes.
Turning to Sheppard, Rod sees he's watching as well. "So you and Lorne--you aren't--"
"It's a casual thing," Sheppard says, and Rod watches him smile, a new one that Rod's never seen before, a slow stretch of lips chased by a glimpse of pink tongue. When the hell did Sheppard start doing that? When did he *learn that*?
Across the room, Lorne fumbles his drink, and Sheppard stretches, all awkward elbows and weirdly cramped movements, yet strangely intriguing all the same. "You know. I'm getting the attraction of this sex thing," Sheppard says thoughtfully, finishing his water. "Want to dance?"
Rod stares at him. "What? No. I like my toes the way they are, thank you."
John's smile fades briefly, making Rod feel like the biggest asshole in the room, before he stands up, putting his empty glass aside, squaring his shoulders in a weirdly vulnerable way before he stalks uncomfortably toward the floor. Lorne catches him well before Zelenka can get untangled from his chair, and Rod watches Lorne's hand rest lightly on one shoulder before drawing Sheppard toward Teyla and Ronon, looping an arm around his neck when they come to a stop. Sheppard doesn't seem to know where to put his hands, but Lorne doesn’t seem to mind, and Rod loses track of them when Sheppard steps wrong and sends them on a slow stumble through the crowd.
Finishing his drink, Rod scans his immediate area, sees Miko, and stomps over, pulling her out of her chair. "Let's dance," he says firmly, pulling her behind him, trying to track where he last saw John and Lorne. A tall, dark head comes into view briefly before vanishing, and the Marines break into a disturbing chorus of wolf-whistles. That tells Rod at least they're both still conscious and Sheppard didn't careen them to their deaths off the balcony or something.
Turning, he pulls Miko into his arms, surprised to see her looking up at him with wide-eyed adoration. Huh. From the corner of his eye, he spots Teyla and Ronon move quickly out of the way as Sheppard and Lorne stumble by, then Lorne plants his feet, almost jerking Sheppard off-balance, one hand on the back of his neck, the other riding just below the small of his back, and they go still for a second before Lorne starts to slowly sway.
That, apparently, Sheppard can do, and they stand there, kind of silly with all the people moving around them, but Rod sees Teyla give them an indulgent smile, Ronon smirk as they go by, and feels something form tight and hot in his chest when Sheppard closes his eyes.
When Rod wakes up with Miko and a pounding headache sharing his bed, he swears he's never drinking again.
Sheppard finishes the final simulation on his second generation almost-ZPM less than a week later, leading to the first live testing.
Rod had the engineers loop off the area Sheppard would be connecting to, using an empty ZPM bank that they had located last year, watching in worry as Sheppard and Kavanagh hotwire it into one of the empty slots, yelling at each other the entire time regarding ancestry, school of choice, likelihood of having blown the entire committee before their respective doctoral defenses, and sexual preferences in regards to certain Atlantean wildlife. Sheppard's so pale that he's nearly transparent, uniform pants slightly looser than Rod remembers them being, and Rod takes a moment to wonder if Sheppard's slept since he started the last simulation.
"All right," Sheppard breathes, going to his laptop, hazel eyes fixed on the power outputs with an expression that's more open than Rod's ever seen it. "Get back. Starting power cycle--now."
It's slow, a quiet throb that Rod can somehow feel in the tendons in his calves as Atlantis stretches, the dead part of the city thrumming slowly to life. It's like the first time they walked into the gateroom, panels coming alive around them as the almost-ZPM wakes up with a shiver, glowing golden as the room wakes up.
Sheppard goes still and silent, hazel eyes incandescent green, and Rod finds himself watching Sheppard more than the room.
He did it, Rod thinks, a sense of awe filling him, reflected on the disbelieving faces of everyone in the room; Zelenka, shocked and still; Kavanagh, pale and silent; Dr. Weir, staring at the almost-ZPM like she'd never seen anything like it.
They haven't, Rod thinks. This is the first fully functional not-quite-ZPM built by non-Ancients in over ten thousand years.
"It's not right yet," Sheppard whispers, biting his lip as he studies the power outputs.
"It's perfect, Dr. Sheppard," Dr. Weir says firmly, shaking herself from her daze and crossing the room to squeeze his arm. Sheppard's head jerks up in surprise, something vulnerable and very young flashing across his face as she turns her head away. "Forty-eight hours downtime. If anyone sees you in the lab, you'll be spending your vacation on Athos. Understood?"
Sheppard snaps a sloppy salute that he had to have learned from Lorne. "Yes, ma'am."
Dr. Weir grins. "Go. I think we'll survive without you for a few days."
"Honestly, I doubt it," Sheppard answers, rolling his eyes, but Kavanagh's murmuring something to him and Sheppard smirks. "But I'll let you try. See you later."
Rod pushes his laptop at Zelenka, wondering if his hands are the reason the laptop is shaking. "Be back. Need coffee." Turning, he follows Sheppard down the hall, unsurprised to see him slow, stopping to lean briefly into the wall. "Sheppard?"
"Just tired." And he probably is. Rod pauses in surprise to see the dark circles beneath Sheppard's eyes, the tell-tale shake in normally rock-steady hands.
"You look high," Rod says flatly.
Sheppard quirks an eyebrow. "Just a lot of very high quality coffee. Gift from the Marines." Turning, he braces his back against the wall, eyes closing briefly. "Fuck, I'm tired."
"Go to your quarters. That's an order, Dr. Sheppard."
Sheppard's head lifts briefly, back going straight and narrow, but he's way too exhausted to fight, coming off adrenaline and whatever the hell was in that coffee. Taking Sheppard by the elbow, Rod leads him down the hall, surprised to feel bones so close beneath thin skin.
It's familiar, Sheppard working himself into near-collapse, and Rod being there to catch him. Rod finds himself repeating the same things he always does as Sheppard goes monosyllabic and suggests the anatomically impossible in return. It's a routine as old as their association. Rod almost grins when Sheppard trips into a wall, knocking his chin against the smooth metal, and that's when his language turns Ancient and downright filthy.
"Quiet," Rod says affectionately as he herds Sheppard into a transporter, pushing the button for the residential wing. Sheppard leans back, head tilted, eyes closed.
"It wasn't right," he murmurs, eyes flickering open. "I didn't--"
"No one's done anything even close," Rod says, voice sharper than he meant it to be. Head of science and gate team leader, on the senior staff and working with the Athosians, doesn't leave him as much lab time as he'd once had. Not for something that needs the kind of single-minded dedication this project required. "No one."
Sheppard's eyes slit shut. "But it's still not right."
When the door opens, Rod's more careful, blocking Sheppard from running into a wall in a fit of disorientation, and looks up just in time to see Lorne, obviously fresh from a shower, boots still unlaced, coming down the hall from the military quarter at a slow jog, hand dropping from his radio. Rod wonders who called him and how he can turn their lives into a living hell the fastest.
Catching sight of them, Lorne grins. "Hey, Rod, what--wow, Shep."
Lorne speeds up, coming up in front of them, frowning as he brushes his thumb gently across Sheppard's bruising chin, peering into half-closed eyes in worry. "Shep, you okay?"
"Fine," Sheppard says irritably, trying to push him off, but obviously, Lorne's been dealing with an overtired Sheppard more regularly than Rod had guessed. Efficiently, he slides an arm under Sheppard's, taking his weight from Rod. "I'm *fine*, Jesus, what is this, Neanderthals try to think like people day?"
"No, it's good little scientists go to bed day," Lorne answers breezily as Sheppard stumbles, leaning into him in a way that Rod's never seen Sheppard voluntarily touch anyone. "Come on."
"I’m *fine*." But Rod notices how Sheppard's hand closes over Lorne's shoulder, accepting the support with his body even if his face shows nothing but irritation. "I’m off--"
"For forty-eight hours, and coincidence, so am I." Lorne grins as Sheppard lists against him briefly before attempting to straighten. "Thanks, Rod. I'll take it from here."
Rod can feel the side of his body cooling from where Sheppard leaned against him as Lorne leads Sheppard down the hall toward his quarters, voice low and close to Sheppard's ear.
Rod's watching when Lorne opens his door and pushes Sheppard gently inside, still watching when the door closes, leaving him alone in the quiet hall.