Author's Note: Written for the sga_flashfic Post Secret Redux challenge; thanks to Lim, Resonant, & Terri for beta.
Rodney absentmindedly held the door open with his foot while he rummaged through his wallet. He didn't remember spending those last two twenties; hell, where could he have spent them? He lived between his apartment and his SGC lab, ate out of the free cafeteria, and snacked at the vending machines, which only took coins & singles.
"Hang on, hang on," he told the pizza guy, turning to search the side table for cash.
"Uh, if this is a bad time..." The guy wasn't carrying a pizza; Rodney checked twice, just to be sure.
"Sorry, I thought--can I help you?" There might be some bills on the dresser, from when he'd last emptied his pockets. "What apartment are you looking for?"
The guy arched an eyebrow. "Doctor McKay?" --and oh, wait, right: this was the guy from Antarctica; the pilot who'd lit everything up. Tall, pointy features, all angles and elbows. Ridiculous black hair, which maybe extended all over his body, if the backs of his hands were any indication. Map of Ireland on his face, and yet, somehow, this guy was descended from the Ancients, geniuses who had--hell, he couldn't even codify the magnitude of their achievement, the breadth of their knowledge. And now, millennia later, this guy: an Irish man-monkey.
"Major," Rodney said warily; he'd forgotten the pilot's name.
The pilot quirked an insincere smile. "Sheppard," he said. "Sorry to bother you, I just--" He bit back whatever he was going to say next, lips going thin and tight, and Rodney realized that Sheppard was actually in the grip of some fairly high-octane emotion, like rage or something. "I have a couple of questions," Sheppard said finally, smiling in a friendly, controlled manner so totally unnerving that Rodney glanced down to see if Sheppard was armed; he wasn't. "I didn't know who else to ask."
"Oh," Rodney said, and then: "Well, all right," because, after all, Sheppard had only recently found out that everything he knew about the universe was wrong. Rodney often saw grown men burst into tears upon, say, finding out that there was life on other worlds, which only went to show that they had never really grasped the math. If Sheppard only had a couple of questions, he was doing pretty well.
He pulled the door open. "I don't have long, but I can run you through the basics," Rodney said, and then the pizza arrived. Sheppard glanced at the guy in his red plastic windbreaker and pulled out his wallet. "All right, fine," Rodney groused, grabbing the box and heading for the kitchen. "Don't blame me if the math's a little over your--"
"I didn't come here to talk about math," Sheppard said.
"Sure, sure," Rodney said, tossing the pizza onto the counter and yanking the fridge open, "you want to go straight to the good stuff: spaceships, aliens, laser guns--"
"Seriously, that's not--" Sheppard raised a protesting hand, and Rodney efficiently slapped a cold beer into it. Sheppard frowned down at it, then took a swig. "I didn't come about that," he said, and then he tilted the bottle up and chugged the rest in one go. His throat worked. Rodney stared. When Sheppard lowered the empty bottle, Rodney wordlessly handed him his full one, and got another for himself.
Sheppard took another two gulps, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"So, um," Rodney said. "What did you want to ask?"
Sheppard drained the rest of his second bottle and set it down with a bang. "Is this expedition, like, a one-way ticket for inconvenient gay people?"
Rodney nearly dropped his beer. "What? No! Of course not! What kind of question is that?" and then: "Why are you asking me?" Sheppard arched an eyebrow, and Rodney exploded, "Well, you are wrong, wrong, wrong: so very wrong, but I'm guessing that's your general mode of operation."
Sheppard looked away and muttered, "Well, that's the goddamn truth."
Rodney said: "Seriously, what gave you a crazy idea like that?"
"Experience," Sheppard replied darkly. "Besides which, have you seen the expedition?" but Rodney's brain was working furiously now, shuttling through the members: Grodin, Biro, Beckett, Parrish. If there was anything Rodney McKay hated more than not having the right answer, it was having missed a key question.
"It's--totally reasonable that the Atlantis expedition would draw heavily from brilliant, career-focused, and consequently unmarried scientists and, er, female marines," Rodney said, and then: "Oh, shut up: seriously, our collective I.Q. is something like four billion."
"Right," Sheppard said, going uninvited back into Rodney's fridge; great, monkey-man was an alcoholic. "Whereas straight people are notoriously stupid."
"They are! We--no, wait, wait," Rodney said, hastily regrouping. "It's not what you think. One-way ticket--yes, very possibly, I admit that, which--yes, okay--means you do ideally want to be drawing from an unmarried and otherwise unencumbered population, which--fine, granted-- means that there is probably a higher population of gay men and lesbians in your sample which..." Rodney couldn't remember what he was trying to prove. Sheppard's mouth twitched as he ducked his head to drink more beer; great, he was a gay alcoholic Irish-Ancient man-monkey.
Rodney decided to lean into it. "Okay, there's probably more than the typical statistical allotment of--" Sheppard's eyes rolled. "It's not what you think!" Rodney insisted. "It isn't personal. It's not a policy. It's just-- It isn't what you think," he finished lamely.
Sheppard looked at him levelly. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Rodney said, from the gut, pretty sure he was speaking the truth. But the scientist in him couldn't help but feel a flutter, that familiar little niggle. Maybe you should do one more test. Review the data. Run the numbers one more time.
Sheppard held his eye for a long moment, then nodded slowly: okay. Rodney was surprised and pleased that Sheppard seemed willing to accept his judgment; for some reason, nobody ever asked his opinion about anything that wasn't strictly factual.
"Well. Guess I'll see you over there." Sheppard grinned and went all crinkly round the eyes. "Might even be worth it," he added, heading for the door. "Thanks for the beer."
"Yeah," Rodney said vaguely, drifting after him. "No problem." Then he decided to take a stand and stopped, crossing his arms. "I still don't know what made you think to ask--"
"Don't push it," Sheppard said, eyerolling, and let himself out.
Ford jerked and let out a low, wet whimper of pain, sweat breaking out across his forehead beneath the brim of his cap. Sheppard immediately stepped forward, palms up--as if you could placate a fucking drug-induced nightmare. The Wraith snarled; it was about to bite Ford 's face off. It was all Rodney could do not to piss himself.
"Hey now, look," Sheppard said with only mild disapproval, like he was talking to a disruptive and ill-mannered drunk or something, "he's not important, he doesn't even know anything." The Marines' guns (useless! Oh my God, so fucking useless) never wavered. "Tell you what," Sheppard continued, sounding for all the world like he was trying to get the Wraith to give the bartender his car-keys. "Let him go and I'll come instead. Just between us," he drawled, "I'm really a much more valuable hostage."
It doesn't want a hostage! Rodney thought hysterically. It wants an hors d'oeuvre!--but Sheppard was moving slowly and steadily forward. The Wraith's eyes were flat and hard, like a shark's. Then Ford was stumbling away, shoved in the back, crumpling to his knees. Teyla grabbed him by the arms, hauling him up and away. For a moment, the Wraith was open, and Rodney braced for gunfire--pointless, of course (he'd seen Wraith absorb bullet after bullet and keep coming), but surely they had to try something. But no: the moment passed, and then Sheppard's body blocked the shot.
Sheppard went right up close to the Wraith, practically flirting with it, and Jesus, did he really think he could bluff this out? Rodney looked helplessly between Sheppard and the Marines--were they going to do something? Why weren't they doing anything?--and tightened his grip on his gun. His hands were sweaty, he fumbled, the barrel dipped, but he'd be damned if he'd let the Wraith suck the life out of Sheppard, who was just standing there, head tilted back, wearing a smirk like a dare.
The Wraith showed Sheppard a mouth full of teeth and seized him, trapping him within the circle of its arms. Rodney swallowed and moved his gun over them inch by inch, looking for a shot. And then they lurched to one side, like dancers--and that's when Rodney saw the flash of silver, jagged and thick, digging in and out. He shouted pointlessly at the Marines, all at once understanding with perfect clarity but unable to put into words that Sheppard had got too close on purpose, was inside the circle of the Wraith's arms so that it couldn't get its damned feeding organ to his chest, and that Sheppard was therefore doing it some major damage with that knife, since the bastard thing couldn't regenerate. Rodney waved his arms wildly, but the Marines just stared at him, so finally he ran forward, shoved his gun against the Wraith's head, and emptied it.
Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! click click click. Sheppard had greenish goo on his face, and the Wraith was sliding down him, crumpling into a heap in the grass. "Well, all right!" Sheppard gasped. He yanked his knife back. It was a wicked looking thing; black and silver with a row of curved teeth, almost like a saw. He bent to wipe it clean on the dead Wraith before sheathing it in his jacket, which struck Rodney as a weirdly fastidious move. "Let's get out of here," Sheppard said. "Beer is on me."
Ford looked pale and pathetically grateful. "Major," he began, voice wobbling, but Sheppard cut him off and said, "Seriously, there'll be more of them in a minute." That got them moving: a pair of Marines in the lead, then Teyla hauling Ford, whose neck twisted to glance back at them. To Rodney's surprise, Sheppard yanked him into step beside him.
Rodney was working up a little speech on the theme of how they were all totally screwed if their missions depended on him serving as both brains and brawn, and oh, by the way, what the hell were these Marines good for anyway?--but Sheppard spoke first.
"That was real good work, McKay." Sheppard was still facing forward, but his eyes cut slyly to one side. "Hard to believe you never handled a gun before."
"Why does everything you say sound like a double entendre?" Rodney asked irritably.
"I don't know. It's a gay thing, I guess," Sheppard deadpanned.
Rodney took a quick sweep around and then lowered his voice. "I didn't say--"
"Don't worry about it." Sheppard's mouth curved up at the corner. "Anyway, I meant what I said. About the good work," he added, precisely and with great sincerity.
"Hm." Rodney was unused to having compliments freely offered to him; typically, he extracted them, armed with a powerpoint presentation. "Well, thank you."
"You've got good instincts. Every one of those Marines shoots better than you, but you took the shot. This isn't a sharpshooting contest. I don't need Annie fucking Oakley," and Rodney was still wracking his brain for a response to that when they reached the gate.
The gateroom was bright after the gray mud and gray skies of MX5-890. "Sergeant Peterson." Sheppard seemed tired suddenly; he'd shucked his good mood like a wet raincoat. "I'll expect your report by 0800. Teyla, will you take Ford to the infirmary?"
"Sir. You saved my life back there," and wow, you could practically see little hearts shining in Ford's eyes. Rodney snorted and tried not to roll his own eyes: talk about obvious. Not to mention that Sheppard was twice his age and totally out of his league.
Sheppard scratched his ear. "Well, yeah," he said. "I guess I did. So, you know, if you feel you have to be really nice to me now, I've got some laundry that needs doing."
Ford laughed and immediately winced with pain. "Come now," Teyla said, exchanging a knowing glance with Sheppard. "If you do not get those ribs seen to, you will find it very difficult to use the dryer." Sheppard smirked a little as Teyla tugged Ford toward the door, then turned to the gateroom steps. But the Marines were still assembled--and was it just him, or were they really showing off, posing like a feature spread in Manshots?
Sheppard frowned at them for a moment, and then hazarded, "Uh, dismissed?"
The response was swift and loud. "Aye aye, sir!" The Marines held their position a moment longer before formally breaking up--and holy crap, was he the only guy on this expedition who wasn't a) gay, or b) gay, or c) in love with Sheppard?
The answer to this increasingly looked to be "yes," which was dispiriting since it was only a rhetorical question. Still, it wasn't his fault that he kept stumbling over Sheppard's private life: as chief military officer and chief science officer and members of the same team, they spent ridiculous amounts of time together, so he knew Sheppard's habits and tastes and uh, inclinations better than anyone. It wasn't his fault that he knew all Sheppard's hideaways--Sheppard kept showing him them. Sheppard took him to the penthouse terrace of the southernmost tower where he kept his telescope, and to the room fifteen stories below sea level where huge fish with round eyes and wide open mouths swam by, looking shocked. Sheppard invited him to play video games and drink beer in his secret crash pad when neither of them wanted to go to disco night.
So it wasn't surprising, really, that Rodney occasionally ran into a flushed-faced guy stumbling out of one of Sheppard's hideouts while trying to remember how to button his shirt--and whoever'd coined the phrase "walk of shame" had clearly never run into Rodney on his way home, because oh, did shame not even begin to cover it. It was just so totally pathetic and clueless of them, and okay, maybe he judged Sheppard just a little for his terrible taste. Doctors, for God's sake! Okay, fine, he probably wanted to keep his hands off the military guys, but that was no excuse for him to go plowing his way through the medical profession--
"Uh, one anesthesiologist and one internist is not 'plowing my way through the medical profession.'" Sheppard considered for a moment. "I mean, I think I'd have to do a surgeon, a chiropractor and maybe a shrink before you could really call it plowing--"
"La la, I can't hear you," Rodney blew up Sheppard's secondary armory and ignored his outraged grunts. "I don't know why you insist on talking to me about your sex life--"
"Maybe because you keep asking me about it," Sheppard said irritably, dropping a warhead on Rodney's entire south encampment, which was just petty, petty, petty.
"Maybe it's because I keep tripping over stethoscopes!" Rodney shouted; Sheppard was now ahead of him by 149,000 points. "Doctors, for fuck's sake! They're so boring! They're just statisticians--worse! because they don't even do their own math. They just look you up on a chart: if you're 35 and have symptoms Z, Q, and Y, but not A or B, oh, and it's Wednesday, clearly it must be neurasthenia. Let me just look up the treatment for that in the book. A child could do it; a computer--"
Sheppard's head was tilted to one side. "I thought you were friends with Carson."
"Sure! Friends! Fishing, cake, talking about girls, but not--nothing you'd--" Something about the way Sheppard was looking at him made Rodney clamp his lips together. His neck felt sweaty. "Carson's all right," he mumbled, and went to find some health.
"You know," Sheppard said after a moment, "I'm really pretty sure Carson's gay."
"That must be why he's so bad at talking about girls, then," Rodney said.
Normally he wouldn't be able to sleep in circumstances like these--on the ground, in a cave, on another planet with who knows what kind of deadly fauna and poisonous flora--but he was tired enough that death by tree-shrub seemed a welcome relief. They'd spent the whole day hiking through the woods to the stupid king's stupid summer palace. Ronon and Teyla, boring old Pegasus natives, had been invited to a totally fantastic dinner with the king and his entourage, but of course the queen wanted to meet the people from Atlantis and it wasn't like she was going to walk the 20 miles to see them.
So he felt himself drifting into sleep the minute he lay down. Sheppard had spread a tarp on the ground, and Rodney's pack made a surprisingly serviceable pillow, and so he would have been immediately asleep if not for-- There was a strange tingling-- He fidgeted, trying to push it away. Itchy. Breeze. Something blowing on the back of his--
He felt it all at once, Sheppard nudged up all along his back: a nose in his hair, a hard knee snugged behind him. He jerked awake and felt Sheppard's hand clamp down hard on his hip. "--m'not making a pass at you," Sheppard mumbled, his breath making the back of Rodney's neck prickle. "I'm just freezing my ass off. You're all warm."
"I--" Rodney went completely still and stared into the darkness of the cave. Behind him, he could feel the slight motion of--well, that had to be Sheppard, shivering. Sheppard wasn't exactly cuddling him, but he was pressing as close as he dared wherever he dared, trying to leech Rodney's extra body heat. He'd shared rooms with Sheppard--hell, he'd shared beds with Sheppard--but they'd always given each other plenty of space. They'd huddled for warmth, before, too, but Teyla and Ronon had always been there and that had felt different: four people making one great heap of trembling bodies and chattering teeth. Ronon's dreads in his face, Teyla snugged into the crook of Rodney's arm, Sheppard's pointy chin drilling a hole in his shoulder. That was okay--but this?
Still, he couldn't fathom leaving Sheppard cold. "Turn around, " Rodney said, grunting and rolling over. For a moment they were nose to nose, Sheppard blinking confusedly at him, and then Rodney shoved at his shoulder and he rolled over, gave Rodney his back. It felt safer, somehow, to be the hug-er rather than the hug-ee, so Rodney wrapped one arm around Sheppard's chest and hooked a leg across his ankles.
"Better?" Rodney asked, trying to get his face into a comfortable position against Sheppard's shoulder blade. He thought he already knew the answer: Sheppard had stopped shivering and gone still, and heat was already building up between them.
"Yeah." Sheppard's voice was hoarse with gratitude.
"Good, good," Rodney muttered, and dozed off.
The next morning, Sheppard was bleary-eyed and distracted, and he didn't interrupt even once when Rodney, having tripped over a tree-root, went on a forty minute diatribe about how this stupid mission was a total fucking waste of all their time. He just hiked alongside Rodney silently, yanking aside overhanging tree branches and looking blank behind his mirrored sunglasses, and it was only when they sat down on a rock to drink water and eat the last of their rations that Sheppard suddenly unmuted himself.
He said, inexplicably, "I think I might ask out Burton in Physics."
"What?" Rodney said; he'd sort of heard Mwahh mahh, mwahh mahh mahh bahh mahh mahh kahh and was now replaying the sounds for sense. "Burton?"
"Yeah." Sheppard took a swig from his canteen and checked out the clouds overhead.
"Paul Burton?" Rodney asked. "Paul Burton in Physics?"
"Like I said."
"Why Burton?" Rodney demanded.
Sheppard's eyes dropped away from the clouds. "Why not Burton?"
"Well." Rodney blinked for what seemed like a thousand times, and then said, "His grasp of quantum chromodynamics is pathetically weak."
Sheppard took off his sunglasses. "Well, that's a dealbreaker."
"It should be! I always thought that you--you know--" He waved his hand in Sheppard's general direction, "had a little more depth to you. In a totally superficial way."
"I don't know, he seems like a good guy," Sheppard said, with a shrug. "Is he?"
"Well," Rodney said again. "He's not a serial killer, if that's what you're asking."
Sheppard quirked a faint grin and put his sunglasses back on. "That's exactly what I was asking." He pushed himself up off the rock, stood up, and stretched, arms behind his back, fingers linked. A clear cue: moving on, conversation over.
Rodney ignored him. "It's just that he's absolutely nothing special."
"Gotcha. Opinion registered." Sheppard jerked his head toward the path again; the spire of what had to be the summer palace was now visible over the treeline. "Shall we?"
Rodney jerked a nod, lips pressed tight, determined to let it go. They'd only gone about ten yards before the pressure became unbearable. "Just--you could do better," he said.
Sheppard gave him a long, sideways look but didn't reply.
His whole life, Rodney had had his best ideas between four and five in the morning, when the parts of his brain that dealt in banality were asleep and the genius parts were incandescent, glowing like stars. He shoved his feet into sneakers and pulled a flannel shirt over his t-shirt before heading off through the cold gray halls at a fast walk, then a lope, then a run. He knew he needed momentum; to slow down would be fatal.
It was only when he was standing in front of Sheppard's door, fidgeting, having already pounded his fist on it a bunch of times, that he realized that he might not be presenting himself to best advantage. He glanced down at his baggy grey sweatpants, and hastily shoved his fingers through what was left of his hair. A faint thump came from inside, and Rodney bit his lip and realized that four a.m maybe wasn't everyone's golden hour.
A moment later, the door slid open and Sheppard stood there, in his own baggy sweats: he had ridiculous bedhead and looked just a little too wide-eyed to be normal.
"Rodney?" Sheppard's voice was a little manic: probably all the adrenaline coursing through his system. "Are you okay? Is everything okay?" and ah! this was obviously why he'd built up all that momentum, because otherwise he'd've run like hell.
Instead, he pushed forward, and Sheppard backed up and let him. The door whooshed closed behind them--and okay, he was inside; don't stop; keep going; halfway there.
He took a deep breath. "I--wanted to talk to you. I have to talk to you," and Sheppard nodded and put on an almost theatrically-attentive expression, composing his face and tilting his head slightly to indicate that he was all ears--and Rodney blinked and thought, "Oh my God, I'm so in love with him," and then: "Wow, I'm so fucked."
"So the thing is, I could be gay," Rodney said. "Just--nobody ever asked me."
Sheppard blinked at him slowly--once, twice--then blew out a long breath. "Oh, boy," he said, and pivoted for his fridge to snap a can of beer off its plastic ring. "Okay."
Rodney was on his heels. "Can I have--?"
Sheppard frowned down at the remains of his sixpack. "There's only five left," he said, but apparently he was kidding, since he snapped off another and gave it to Rodney. Rodney cracked the pull top, took a long swig, and wiped foam from his lips, and when he lowered the can-- Sheppard was staring at his mouth, and then his eyes darted guiltily upwards. Rodney swallowed hard, almost vertiginous with undefined wanting and deja vu.
Sheppard put down his own beer and pulled Rodney's can from his fingers. "Okay. C'mere," he said softly. "Let's do this," and Rodney kept his cool as Sheppard closed his hand in the threadbare flannel of his shirt, tugged him a step closer, and leaned in to--
"Okay, wait, I'm freaking out," Rodney blurted, and he would have backpedaled clear across the room except that Sheppard whispered, "No, don't. Don't. Please--" and made a grab for Rodney's shoulders. And then it was happening, Sheppard dragging him forward, and their mouths coming together. Sheppard's mouth was lush, and he wanted to--he draped his arm around Sheppard's neck and tugged him in close. Sheppard's beard was scratchy against his own, and Rodney could smell his faint gamey four a.m. smell.
But Sheppard's bed bumped the back of his knees and he felt Sheppard's hand on his ass and jerked away again. "Too fast?" Sheppard asked, raising his hands, and okay, yes, too fast, except he was already over it, so no. Rodney took a breath. He pulled at the knotted drawstring of Sheppard's sweatpants. He felt, rather than heard, Sheppard's sharp intake of breath, and kept his eyes trained on Sheppard's flat, hairy--weirdly attractive; why was that?--belly.
When the cord came undone, Rodney immediately pushed his hand into Sheppard's boxers and took hold of his erection. Sheppard gasped and rose up onto his toes.
"O-kay," Sheppard said breathlessly. "You've got my attention."
"Is that what you call it?" Rodney'd hoped to sound clever and sophisticated, but he was choked with emotion; something about having Sheppard's dick in his hand, having Sheppard pale and vulnerable in front of him. He reached out clumsily with his other hand and yanked Sheppard's head forward for a kiss. Sheppard's dick slid in his fist. Faster. Sheppard groaned into his mouth, changed the angle, pushed in with his tongue.
It would have been a lot more comfortable if they'd managed to get all the way naked before they crash-landed on Sheppard's narrow bed, but he didn't even care. And a blowjob, yes, all right, it was no surprise that that was hot, but it was Sheppard's red-swollen lips afterwards that gutted him, Sheppard's sigh as he squeezed in beside him. It made no sense at all. Rodney found himself staring up at the ceiling, aching where Sheppard's hard head was resting on his arm, cutting off circulation to his hand. He didn't care; it was worth it to be close to Sheppard; he wanted Sheppard. He could say it now.
"I can hear your smugness from here, you know," Rodney told the ceiling.
"Aw, come on." Sheppard's voice floated back. "Tell me those weren't the best four minutes of your life."
A giggle escaped Rodney, and he covered it with a fit of spurious coughing. Then he yanked his arm out from under Sheppard's head, letting it thunk onto the mattress. "It's okay, I totally understand. It's every gay man's fantasy, right? Seducing a straight guy?"
"Oh, yeah," Sheppard said, poker faced. "Living the dream."
Rodney settled back down against Sheppard, pretending not to snuggle. "Well, I guess I'm not that straight," he admitted. "And at least I got picked to come to Atlantis. You know you were right about that." He snorted. "Ha. Of course you know."
Sheppard's hand skated over, and then settled on, Rodney's thigh. "Mm-hm."
"It really was a one-way ticket," Rodney said, a little breathless.
"No going back," Sheppard agreed, but he sounded kind of pleased.