Beta: </a></font></b></a>idontlikegravy and mklutz
Ship: slash McShep
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Word Count: 5,132
Summary: because Katie was actually nice, really really nice, and yet Sheppard didn't like her and it was driving Rodney to distraction because he couldn't figure out why."
Warnings: language, spoilers for the mid-season of season three!
Disclaimer: I don't actually own Stargate Atlantis, or even the people who make Stargate Atlantis, and this just goes to show that Marcus was right - the universe really is a cruel and unfair place.
The thing of it is, Rodney believes the rumours.
Oh, he doesn’t want to! And he sneers whenever someone brings them up in lab or suggests something similar. But the horrible truth is that Rodney doesn’t doubt for a second that John isn’t the horrible slut everyone paints him to be.
The reason for this is just as shameful: Rodney would be too if he could. If he had women – and men! Like on PX5-4S7, the planet of tanned-manly-torso’s and people-who-like-to-dance-naked – throwing themselves at him he would take advantage, yes he would. But the horrible truth is the few notable fantasy-fueling times he has had genuine space aliens vaulting themselves at his feet they have either been a) working for the Genii, b) brainwashed by misfiring Ancient computers, or c) cock-blocked by Lt. Col. grad-A-asshole Sheppard.
Rodney wants to make a list (actually he wants to print it, because he’s already got it on his second laptop with colour-coded charts describing relative hotness and suggested brainpower) of the number of times Sheppard has prevented Rodney from getting any off-world. On Atlantis he’s been negligent, but maybe Sheppard’s not attracted to members of the Atlantis expedition, or – well okay, just Katie Brown. Since she’s the only woman to show any actual interest in him, and Rodney’s deluding himself if he thinks otherwise.
But even then – Sheppard not liking Katie Brown? Not being his type? That’s just … well ridiculous, Rodney frowns to himself, absently clicking minesweeper on his fourth laptop (it’s actually Zelenka’s, which is why Rodney doesn’t care about his score), because not only does Sheppard appear to have no type as far as he can see (and he’s seen too much, frankly), but Katie Brown is a very attractive woman. Not blonde, obviously, but Rodney has that colour mentally squared away with Sam Carter and/or people approaching his level of intelligence. And to be brutally honest (which he always is) Katie … isn’t. Oh she’s very smart, but by this point in her life she’s ruined her brain on botany and plant genetics and there really isn’t much left to salvage. But that’s okay, Rodney tells himself, he likes her for her other attributes. Like her ability to be near him for more than fifteen minutes at a time, and her lips. Katie’s got wonderful lips.
Frowning harder, Rodney wonders if Sheppard’s ever thought about Katie’s lips. Maybe he doesn’t think much of them. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t gone after her himself. Allina had brains in addition to beauty, so it made sense for him to want her. But lips – Sheppard’s gone after half a dozen (that he knows about, not like he’s keeping track or anything) priestesses/women/living thing off-world and maybe after all that he doesn’t think much of Katie Brown’s lips. Which are luscious, really. Big luscious lips.
The thought is so ludicrous and absurd that Rodney’s out the lab and half-way to the cafeteria before he stops and stares at his shoes. What does he think he’s doing? Is he really going to tear down after Sheppard and demand to know why he doesn’t find Katie Brown attractive? So then what … he’d finally notice her and chase after her and Rodney would lose the one woman in the city that Sheppard’s agreed (even in a not-noticed way) that he can have? What would that accomplish?
Loser-ville, that’s what. The loss of lips for Rodney. Less-lips McKay. He’d be left with nothing but half-remembered fantasies, surviving on remembered touches until the next time some minor god decides Rodney’s been good this week and drops another bombshell into his lap. A blonde bombshell that for some reason preferred him to Sheppard or Ronon, and then Rodney would have her touches and whispers until the Colonel hauled them off-world in the middle of dinner for no other reason then he hated to see Rodney get any.
Really, so generous of him.
Rodney shuffled back to his lab and jiggled the mouse to wake the computer. This was stupid – he needed to either sleep or concentrate. Block 42 was still shocky, and yesterday (today? Time gets blurry at oh-dark-thirty) they had to evacuate the area to ensure no one got hurt. Simpson had delayed to check the computer logs and she was still in medlab, resting with a cardiac monitor attached.
The thing of it was that block 42 was the main residential section – nearly everyone was in the cafeteria now, arranged out in sleeping bags and pillows for the duration of the evening. Rodney had promised to have the problem fixed by morning so everyone could shower: he didn’t want to be stuck in the labs tomorrow with eight people who haven’t washed.
But by this point he was only chasing sensor ghosts and – Rodney glanced tiredly up at his monitor – getting his ass kicked in minesweeper. Zelenka had gone to bed hours ago, promising to be back by 0400 to help Rodney implement the repairs, assuming he found the problem. They’d spent hours chasing circuit pathways to find frustratingly that nothing was wrong. Once he’d left Rodney decided to overlap the surges with residential sections, and he’d been close, tracking the leaky electronics through the corridors until he’d passed Katie Brown at Block 42-2-a, and from there his mind had wandered.
Luscious lips that Sheppard wasn’t interested in. Leaving Rodney feeling like he’d been stuck with seconds while the Colonel got the first pick. Unworthy thoughts, because Katie was actually nice, really nice, and yet Sheppard didn’t like her and it was driving Rodney to distraction because he couldn’t figure out why.
Rodney stabbed at his computer again, minimizing minesweeper and focusing again on the power-distribution maps. These shocks shouldn’t have been a problem – they’d been noticing some extra current for weeks now, since they got back to Atlantis actually. Rodney and Zelenka compared on the problem and agreed – whispering, because this wasn’t the kind of thing you talked about in normal voices with people listening – that it was probably the city getting used to their return. When the Atlantis team had vacated the city Atlantis had gone from powering hundreds of separate rooms and equipment to maintaining a quarter of that when the Ancients (Rodney’s upper lip gave a particularly savage twist) returned. Then the Replicators had shown up and flooded the city with power and now that it was back to just them again and – well it made sense for things to be a little loose for a while. Recalibration and all that.
Only the problem hadn’t settled like they thought – instead it had grown, leaving extra power running through the residential section, lingering on hand-panels. First it was mild shocks, then a buzzing just behind the ears: finally Rodney had notified
That had been hours ago; now alone in the lab Rodney stared at the overlapping maps on his laptop and felt betrayed. There was nothing. The maps showed a zig-zagging pattern that spiked through the local circuits and added up to one big fat mind-numbing conclusion: random pattern. He scowled and stabbed at the keyboard again, highlighting the energy spikes in green against the white-on-blue map.
Still random: a weaving line of extra current running around the residential section, occasionally bleeding off towards the main tower or in the direction of the cafeteria, but the main focus staying humming around the Atlantis personnel rooms.
Rodney balled his hands into fists and dug them into his eyes. Think – he needed to think. Running silent calculations he bent over the keyboard and quickly tapped in a command string – there was a pause, then the computer translated his request for overlapping spikes into coloured gradations and a handful of red spots appeared on the green trail.
Rodney blinked back grit and traced the red points with his eyes: these were sections of the city where the current had spiked and spiked again more than five times within a standard Atlantean day. There was a clue here, he was sure of it. Only the red points danced in his vision as if they were mocking him, and Rodney groaned.
Screw this; he needed caffeine in the form of chocolate or coffee if he was going to figure this out by morning. Yawning, Rodney downloaded the information from the laptop to his tablet and walked slowly out of the lab. There was chocolate in his quarters but he’d been saving those Hershey’s for a special occasion – a week without imminent death or a mishap-free date with Katie Brown were high on that list – and so coffee it was. Tucking his tablet under his arm Rodney made off for the cafeteria.
He tried to read the data on the way there but got distracted by wondering what would happen if he actually marched into Sleeping Bag Central and demanded to know why Colonel Sheppard found Katie unattractive. Would he be offended? Would she be offended? Would Rodney have a chance in hell of sleeping with a single member of his species again? He shook his head – much better that he’d decided not to risk it.
Stumbling into the cafeteria Rodney’s blinking eyes took a moment to accept the reality of day care on Atlantis – scattered on the adjoining levels were two-thirds of the Atlantean personnel, most tucked comfortably into hideous-looking military-issue sleeping bags. Rodney’s tired shoulders gave an uncomfortable twitch – he knew how soft those things could be, having slept in one many times on some multi-day off-world mission (usually lying awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering when Sheppard was going to return and what perfume he would smell like when he did). The sight of so many sleeping people did nothing for Rodney’s moral.
Coffee. He needed coffee.
Turning towards the mess, Rodney stepped carefully over bodies lying sprawled over the warm floors of Atlantis and crossed slowly to the storage room. He placed his tablet on the bar and was turning away when a flash of movement caught his eye. Rodney looked up to see Sheppard waving tiredly at him from across the room, his P90 huddled protectively across his chest as he carefully stepped his way past the heavy sleepers. Rodney yawned again, wondering if Sheppard had drawn guard-duty or volunteered, when another flash caught his eye.
It was his screen. Looking down Rodney tapped at the tablet while Sheppard walked around the bar and sunk softly into the seat across from him.
“Hey,” he said with a sigh, slumping into the seat. “Want some coffee? I made a pot ten minutes ago, it’s probably still warm.”
“Mmm,” Rodney answered, still poking at his screen. This couldn’t be right – he was obviously too tired to see straight. Whatever happened to his graduate days? He looked up and blinked at Sheppard, “Coffee, yes.”
Sheppard’s smile was punctuated by a yawn of his own. He walked to the other end of the bar where sure enough a red light indicated freshly brewed coffee. Rodney stared at the light and looked back at his tablet. The red dot followed him.
“Here,” Sheppard said, cupping Rodney’s hands around the handle of an extra-large coffee mug. “I’d have brought you a cup only I half-hoped you’d gone to bed already. Should have known you’d pull an all-nighter on this.”
“Hmm,” Rodney said again, sipping at the coffee. The red spot hadn’t disappeared and was instead growing on the tablet screen. Rodney stared at it for another moment before slumping in his seat. Then he stood up, ignoring Sheppard who was looking up at him confused, and tossed back the coffee. It was mostly cold anyway.
He was half-way out the cafeteria when he heard Sheppard scrambling behind him. “Hey, McKay – wait –”
But Rodney was staring at his screen as he walked. Crap. Sure enough the power surges were accumulating here, right here in the cafeteria, and Rodney hurriedly checked the levels. Still minimal, but growing.
Stepping out into the corridor Rodney walked a few quick steps before stopping. He ignored the scramble of the closing/opening doors as Sheppard hurried after him. Tapping at his screen, Rodney scrolled out to the wider map and stared at the red dots again, mentally mapping them in Atlantis. If the power surges were now growing in the cafeteria where before there had been only minimal leakages, then a variable in the cafeteria must have changed. Unfortunately since
Ghah – Rodney passed a hand over his face, trying blearily to wipe sleep away. He felt like his brain was stuck in super-slow speed. If the power surges had been concentrated in the residential section, and the residents had moved, and the power surges had moved, then it made sense to conclude that the power surges were related to the residents. Only Atlantis had never before shown that much interest in the population of Atlantis, had actually ever shown interest in one particular resident of Atlantis …
Rodney stopped and looked over the edge of his tablet to where Colonel Sheppard was waking down the corridor towards him. No, it couldn’t be – why would …?
But he was already calling up the map of Atlantis superimposed over the map of power surges and before his eyes a pattern in the random shuffle was becoming clear. Sure enough the door marked Block 42-5-c had a big red dot attached next to it and a carefully accentuated label that read ‘Col. J. Sheppard, Mil. Com.’. Rodney ignored the arrival of the real Sheppard as he hurriedly traced the red dots that accentuated where the Colonel had been moving these past few weeks. His room – the gym – trails fading into the cafeteria and gate room – of course, why hadn’t he seen it before? – and then a few other spots: Ronon’s room, Rodney’s room and – Katie Brown’s?
Rodney stared up over the edge of the screen while his brain re-ran the data. The Colonel was waiting for him, looking as exhausted as he felt, but with a sudden rush of anger Rodney leapt back and threw an accusing finger at the hollow-looking so-called friend. “I knew it!”
Sheppard raised an eyebrow but said nothing, his expression clearing reading ‘no more coffee for the jagged scientist’.
But Rodney whipped the accusing finger at him again, his brain shifting from super-slow to ultra-fast, sluggish memory reviewing the effects of the past few weeks. “I knew it, I knew it! I knew you could never let me have her! What is it, cock-blocking failed so now you’re going behind my back? Is that it? And Katie? What, is she lying to me? Oh my god:” he stared at Sheppard in frank accusation, hurt spilling out behind his words, “This is all some kind of sick joke, isn’t it? She pretends to like me but she’s dating you and everyone knows, don’t they? That’s why Beckett keeps giving me these sad pathetic glances. I’m going to kill him ..!”
“Rodney, Rodney!” Sheppard was trying to placate him, waving his arms down and leaving the P90 to hand from its hook. The need for sleep was making him slow, but there was a gathering awareness behind his hazel eyes. “What are you talking about? What’s going on?” He tried to peer at the tablet screen, “Can we all go home now and shower?”
But Rodney was already backing away, the tablet held close to his chest. “Oh yes,” he spat spitefully, trying to control the waves of hurt that threatened to leave him speechless. “You can all go on and shower, go back to your kinky sex lives, just forget me now that your horrible joke is finished and everyone’s had a great laugh. How long has it been going on? Since we got back to Atlantis or was it before, too? Since right after our first date I bet – I knew you would never let this go –”
He choked off, embarrassed and angry at his own depth of feeling; he had known they were never really friends, but this, this …
Only Sheppard was staring at him now, eyes open and guileless, and Rodney was forced to stare as he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Rodney, I swear on every god you don’t believe in that I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Scowling, Rodney shook the tablet from his chest and shoved it into Sheppard’s hands. “This, you bastard. I’m talking about this.” He stabbed at the red dots. “It’s you making the energy spikes and these are the places you’ve been for the past few weeks – been enough times that they’re starting to build up charge. And this,” his finger shook at he pointed at Katie Brown’s room where the red dot seemed to dance mockingly at him. Rodney tucked the fingers back into a fist, horrified. He relied on his hands – they never shook.
He looked up, half-expecting to see Sheppard laughing at him, but the man was staring at the screen with a mixture of disbelief and resignation. As Rodney watched he sighed, rubbing a hand over his face in an unconscious imitation of Rodney only minutes before.
“Okay, look,” he said tiredly, still staring at the screen, “I can explain …”
“Explain?” Rodney sneered. “Oh please, I’m all waiting ears. Only wait – how about not? Stuff it in the sock you fuck Katie with, John. And just for the record? Fuck you, too.”
He turned to march away, already blinking back tears, when he felt Sheppard grab his arm. The callused fingers – years of firing weapons, Sheppard’s hand on his arm as he steadied Rodney’s gun, ‘now focus’ he said, adjusting Rodney’s stance with his knee, the feeling shockingly intimate, ‘look through the target’ – tightened and Sheppard swung Rodney back around to face him with a strength that left him staggering.
“Now look,” he was saying, hand still tight on Rodney’s arm, stepping up into Rodney’s space, “I’m sorry for your paranoia, but this has nothing to do with Katie, okay?! Or, that is,” he sighed and stepped back, not releasing his grip but at least giving him room to breath. “I mean it does, sort of, but, not really, so …”
Rodney stared as Sheppard looked away, a flush creeping up his face teasing that ridiculous hair, neck muscles tense and uncomfortable. Rodney watched as he took a deep breath and obviously trying to release his jaw before it ground his teeth half-way into his skull.
He licked his lips. “You’re saying … you’re saying you’re not having some illicit affair with Katie Brown?”
Joh—Sheppard, Rodney corrected himself with a mental shake, looked relieved. He shook his head adamantly. “No! I’m not Rodney,” he looked up to meet his eyes, hazel flecks glittering in the dim light of the corridor. “Honestly I’m not.”
Rodney took another deep breath, then shifted away so he was standing firm. He shook off John’s hand and crossed his arms. “Okay, then. Fine. Say I believe you. What were you doing hanging around her quarter often enough that Atlantis felt the need to nearly fry a few circuits increasing power in your immediately vicinity?”
“I didn’t know it was me!” Sheppard stepped back, empty hands coming up again. “I swear, I didn’t know, I didn’t know the city could, or, or would want to – ” His eyes were darting back and forth across the corridor, obviously looking for a way out.
Rodney stepped sideways so he blocked the hall behind him and saw Sheppard’s glance flicker past him down the corridor. “Fine, you didn’t know it was you.” He continued, every word an accusation. “That doesn’t answer the question – why were you hanging around her room?!”
“I ---” Sheppard seemed to trail off. His shoulders slumped forward, making him look suddenly small and defeated. Rodney’s tired brain spun, trying to place the last time he had seen Sheppard look his disarmed: he couldn’t think of one.
After a long moment Rodney watched John’s head come up, and he stared as Sheppard focused his gaze at some distant point over Rodney’s left shoulder. “Can you date-stamp the power surges?” he asked, his voice holding no emotion, or too many for Rodney to tell.
Rodney’s mind spun ahead of itself, whirling with calculations. “I think so,” he said, biting at his lower lip. He should have hours ago, actually. But he’d assumed the surges were random.
Sheppard was nodding. “Fine,” he said, then turned – all without looking at Rodney – and headed back to the cafeteria. “You do that. I’ll keep walking, take Atlantis somewhere less inhabited. We’ll have a little chat about the power surges.”
Rodney huffed before he could repress the instinct, “Keep your radio on so I can call you to the labs when she doesn’t listen to you,” he called down after him. But it was a half-hearted jibe; he was already reaching for his tablet, entering in the equations to date-stamp the power surges and map them against the grid. While that processed he accessed the circuit-mainframe and startled isolating John Sheppard’s signature from the power-systems.
A few hours later dawn was creeping over the edges of Atlantis and Rodney was sitting lost in thought over the laboratory computer. His mindsweeper game was still idling in the background but Rodney ignored it. He hadn’t been able to determine how Atlantis had monitored the motion of Sheppard and translated that into additional electrical current, but he had managed to scrap together a dispersal device that should channel the incoming energy deeper into the honeycomb of Atlantis’ crystalline circuitry. He’d programmed a wireless chip that could interface with the circuitry programming and had strapped it to a knuckle-sized power source – an Ancient battery they had found back in their first year and which had so far been running the lab 5 coffee maker; it was powerful enough to run the chip for a year but too weak to make implementing it into the city’s systems a rational suggestion. He’d radioed
The corridors were empty –
Nothing happened. Rodney looked down at the data laid out in faint grey-on-black and debated leaving the device and the tablet he had apparently brought with him at the door. But then he heard a shuffle of movement from within the Colonel’s quarters and Rodney’s mind went blank as the door slide open.
Sheppard was standing there, his black uniform shirt hanging limply from his lanky frame and half-tucked into the pants of his BDU. He blinked tiredly at Rodney, eyes baggy and hair mussed, as if he had been lying in bed when Rodney knocked.
Rodney licked his lips and held up the jury-rigged device, but when he spoke he shifted the tablet with his other arm. “I ran the data,” he found himself saying.
Sheppard blinked and something in his gaze clicked. Rodney watched as the veil came down over those eyes and Sheppard stepped back. He stared at the open doorway for a moment before his brain radioed in and he stepped inside Sheppard’s quarters.
It wasn’t quite a mess, but the peeking dawn light highlighted the boots left on the carpet, the dirty uniform sprawled against the bathroom door and the unmade bed. Rodney turned from the room to stare at Sheppard, looking just as mussed but with eyes heavy on Rodney’s gaze.
“I, um, I made you this.” He held out the device again, “it broadcasts a signal instructing Atlantis to redirect current from you to the deeper systems of Atlantis. I don’t know why the City suddenly likes you so much more, or is determined to hurt the people around you, but – oh,” Rodney trailed off as a shuttered look passed over Sheppard’s face. Without thinking he stepped forward, peering at his face. “Is that what’s going on? You want to hurt people?”
Sheppard shook his head angrily and grabbed the device Rodney had been holding. “No! God, McKay. What the hell do you think of me?”
Rodney was obviously too tired to have this kind of conversation. He should have waited till morning. Well, later morning. “What?”
Sheppard bent over and tucked the device into one of the many pockets on his right pant leg. He moved slowly over the buttons, keeping his gaze on the floor.
“I mean, first you assume I’m – I don’t know – seducing Katie behind your back or something, and now I’m telling Atlantis to hurt people, to give Simpson a fucking heart attack for god’s sake, and –”
Rodney realizes Sheppard is breathing hard. He stretches out his hands but doesn’t touch the man. “Okay, okay – sorry, you’re right. I don’t think that, not really – but,” he pauses as Sheppard finishes fiddling and looks up at his, eyes hard.
“Oh come off it,” Rodney growls, suddenly angry again. “What the hell am I supposed to think? You practically wave a stick in front of me off-world, scaring away any woman who gets too close. And now Katie and I are getting serious – ” (mostly serious, Rodney thinks, remembering their last date, the feel of those lips against his own) “ – and you, you’re …” he slumps. Half of him doesn’t even want to explain: he’s too tired, he doesn’t care … only he does, and for some reason Rodney can’t explain it’s important to him. So he moves to sit on the bed, brushing away the covers bunched at the end. After a hesitant moment, Sheppard moves to sit beside him.
“You’re not doing anything,” Rodney continues, his voice quiet. “You’re not scaring her away from me, or competing with me, or – or anything. And I can only conclude that you don’t like her, or you think she’s good enough for me just because she’s not good enough for you – ”
He trails off as Sheppard stares at the floor. He hasn’t moved, but Rodney sighs. He moves the tablet then, looking again at the dates inscribed there.
“And this, I don’t get this. I know I’m a genius but – why would you be outside Katie Brown’s door on the nights we’ve had dates? Fuck, why would you know the dates of our, um, dates, unless you were interested in her, or you were planning something, or you were, I don’t know, bemoaning your lost chances or –”
Sheppard chuckles then, a dry humourless sound and his eyes are still fixed on the floor.
“Is that it?” Rodney wonders out loud, “You like her and I’m dating her and you’re jealous? But,” and now he’s confused, really confused, and Sheppard’s still staring at the carpet, “but you could have anyone, anyone you wanted, and she’s not really that – I mean yes she’s pretty and reasonably intelligent, but –”
“Fuck Rodney, Rodney,” Sheppard’s hands on his arms, and Rodney realizes he’s been waving them in his confusion, trying to draw conclusions from the air. Sheppard’s looking at him, eyes glittering, hard and wanting, filled with some emotion Rodney can’t place or name.
“Jesus Rodney, think about it for a moment. It’s not – goddamit – it’s not Katie I’m interested in, okay?”
Think, he said, but Rodney’s been unable to think all night: he’s tired and he’s upset and he doesn’t understand – but then he does, because Sheppard – because John – is looking at him still and his mouth is folded down and frowning. Abruptly he lets go of Rodney arms and is standing up, pacing in the small room and looking everywhere except at him.
“I’m sorry about the energy spikes, okay? I’ve just – I’ve just been a little on edge since we got back to Atlantis,” he’s saying, words spilling out like a dam’s been loosened, like he’s got to get this over with and it’s going to be done fast. “And it was really hard on earth, okay? Really hard without the City, without Ronon and Teyla, without – ” he looks up, briefly, to meet Rodney’s uncomprending gaze and stutters, “without you.”
Sheppard wrenches his eyes away, and Rodney can see the effort that takes him, but he doesn’t understand, only he does, but it doesn’t make any sense. Because it’s him, it’s just him …
“… and I was dealing with that, with having a horrible gate team and facing the fucking Ori who aren’t – no matter what anyone says – as scary as the Wraith and I’m regretting everything I did, or didn’t do …” He takes a deep breath, talking faster now, getting it all out, “And I decided, coming back, that I would – you know – leave no regrets this time, only – only she was suddenly there, and you were spending all your time with her and I – I – I didn’t know, and I couldn’t just …”
Slowly he gets it, even if he doesn’t really understand, and so it’s Rodney’s turn to stand now, to push up from the unmade bed and stare at John Sheppard as he waits, a little lost, in his own quarters as the rising sun slips over the first piers of Atlantis. The fuzziness in Rodney’s brain isn’t gone but it’s quieter now, stiller, as Rodney watches the way Sheppa- the way John’s – eyes stop to rest on him, on him, of all people.
He wants to laugh, wants to shake his head and call him an idiot because he’s been so stupid, so dense, but all he does is step closer and raise his hands, gently now, cupping John’s neck (so tense, still so tense, and even now Rodney wants to shake him because John really is an idiot). He waits a moment, letting his fingers brush against the softness of that ridiculous hair, and he smiles.
“John,” he says. It’s all he says for a while.