The Midnight Rider (sabinelagrande) wrote,
The Midnight Rider

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Title: Get Away
Summary: A mission off world shows Rodney more than he wanted to know.
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Word Count: 8287
Rating/Warnings: NC-17, established relationship, love triangle, angst, etc
Pairing: McKay/Zelenka, McKay/Sheppard
A/N: Made for artword's January/February '09 challenge. This story just kept growing and growing and growing, but now it is done. Sheesh. It just leaves me to thank the two lovely people without whom this story wouldn't have come off: antares04a, who was not only the artist for this challenge, but who also turned my initial pitch ("I wanna write Rodney/John/Radek lol") into an actual concept; and shadowenmagic, who is pretty much the best beta anyone could ask for. On an unrelated note, how appropriate is it that this is my 666th entry in this journal?
Bonus!: View the artwork that the lovely antares04a made to accompany this story (and give her feedback here!)

It doesn't get entirely dark in Zelenka's room.

It never has, really. Zelenka's window faces inwards, towards the heart of Atlantis, rather than out to the ocean. As much as they try to keep power usage down, particularly at night, a city is still a city; and the pale light from the central tower reflects in the mirror, illuminating the room. Rodney keeps meaning to remember to tell him to put up some curtains, move his dresser, something, but he never seems to think about it until they're already settled in bed.

He sleeps on his side, one arm draped over Zelenka's chest, because they don't fit otherwise. Zelenka's hair is in his face- there was a point at which he couldn't get enough of it, when he fell asleep happily buried in the soft mess, but now he's afraid he's going to aspirate it in his sleep and die. Rodney has had a lot of time to worry about that, because he spends almost as many nights sleeping in Zelenka's bed as Zelenka spends sleeping in his.

In the months since they got together, Rodney's life has reached a sort of equilibrium. They were quite the scandal for at least a few weeks, but the rumor mill has long since tired of grinding at them. It's not as if it really matters- they're both department heads, and it's pretty much obvious that Engineering doesn't get any preferential treatment. And besides, it's not like the IOA is going to be showing up to check around for fraternization any time soon.

He and Zelenka don't fight nearly as much as they used to. Which is not to say that they agree any more often, just that they disagree more quietly and that Zelenka does more things without telling him. They keep almost failing to save the galaxy and nearly getting their asses handed to them by the Wraith- or the Genii, or any number of other people who think they aren't living right- but Rodney's developed a weird kind of certainty that they'll make it through regardless.

He lies in the grey light of Zelenka's room and wonders if he's happy about that or not.

In the morning, he's up far too early, especially for how late he went to bed; Zelenka barely even stirs when Rodney leaves for breakfast.

He's too late for the military crowd and too early for the scientists, but there are a few scattered clusters of people here and there. He's halfway to the balcony outside the mess with his coffee when he remembers that the winter rains have started; it's nothing like the megastorm of the first year, but still enough that the skies have been overcast and miserable for the last week. He stands at the window instead, looking out over the ocean- or he would be, if there were any visibility to speak of. Mostly, he just watches the rain roll down the glass, feeling chilled despite the warmth his mug is radiating into his hands.

"Good morning, Rodney," Teyla says, startling him out of his reverie.

"Hey," he replies, distracted by trying to rid his hand of the coffee he's just spilled without sacrificing his uniform shirt.

Teyla hands him a napkin. "Are you excited for the mission?"

"Should I be?" he asks, wiping his hands.

"I think you will like Amara," she says, looking out the window. "They have a very rich and," she pauses, considering her words, "unique culture."

He makes a contemplative noise, dabbing at a wayward spot of coffee on his sleeve. "Do they happen to have any rich and unique zero point modules?"

Teyla smiles at him fondly, like she thinks his single-mindedness is sort of adorable. "There are better things in life than ZPMs."

"Could have fooled me," he replies, and she rolls her eyes at him affectionately.

By 0800, he's standing in the gateroom, fussing over the state of his vest, which he keeps forgetting to clean out until it's too late.

"-and we should be just fine," Sheppard is saying. "Right, McKay?"

Rodney isn't listening- he was at the mission briefing, and if it's just another pep talk, he's certainly heard it before. "Sure," he says, waving a hand at him.

"Dial it up," Sheppard calls to the gate tech.

He doesn't watch the gate as it establishes the connection- if you've seen one, you've seen them all, and he'd really rather make sure his tablet is calibrated properly.

"Are you coming?" Sheppard asks, sounding a little annoyed.

Rodney looks up, blinking. Ronon and Teyla have already gone, and Sheppard's just standing there, one eyebrow arched up over his sunglasses. "Right, yes," he says, trying to get his head back in the game.

Sheppard all but pushes him through the shivering blue mirror of the gate, and M6G-71X explodes into life in front of them.

It's autumn, and the huge shady trees along to the road to the village are fully ablaze. They stand vibrant against the morning sky, at once so heart-stoppingly alien to the calm green of Lantea and yet so like Earth that Rodney just gawks for a long while.

The road is long, but Rodney hardly even notices. The whole planet is a kaleidoscope of reds and oranges and browns, punctuated by the yellow butterflies that swarm into the ruts in the path, only to fly up again whenever someone takes a step toward them.

The Amarans welcome them warmly- Rodney is always a little surprised when they meet another civilization and aren't greeted with bullets or slammed doors. One of the young women runs off to inform their leader of the new arrival, and Rodney watches how her skirts swirl against the rich brown of the earthen street.

A door slams somewhere in the village. Rodney comes back to himself, shaking his head and starting the energy readings he should have done ten minutes ago.

"Any sign of a ZPM?" John asks, peering over his shoulder at his tablet.

"There's more to life than ZPMs," Rodney proclaims.

John looks at him, bewildered. "Who are you, and what have you done with my scientist?"

"Very funny," he replies, paging through the last of the data. "No energy signatures worth writing home about- not nearby, anyway. Shall we go? I hear there's chicken fried chicken for lunch today."

Ronon's got this extremely confused look on his face. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? How do you fry a chicken not like a chicken?"

Rodney opens his mouth to speak, but he realizes he actually has no idea. "I think it's an American thing."

"Don't look at me," John says, holding up his hands.

"Chickens are the small, flightless birds that taste like narchack, aren't they?" Teyla asks.

Rodney really wants to ask if people say that everything tastes like narchack; but just as he's about to, a tall guy with greying hair practically bounds up to them, a shorter man in tow.

"Well met!" he says, greeting them with opened arms. "Trader Emmagan." He steps forward, exchanging the customary Athosian greeting with her. "It has been far too long."

"Well met, Leader Naran," she says, giving him a warm smile. "Allow me to introduce Leader Sheppard, Soldier Dex, and Scholar McKay."

"Well met, all of you," he tells them. "I present my haldan, Scholar Tuwar."

"Well met," Tuwar says, a little less enthusiastically, and Rodney is starting to wonder if he should be taking a drink every time someone says that.

"You have come to trade?" Naran asks, looking between Teyla and John. "But not on behalf of Athos, I take it." He looks around them, considering Ronon. "Nor Sateda," he adds, shaking his head sadly. Ronon stares at him, dumbfounded, until Naran taps his own neck, indicating Ronon's tattoo.

"We come on behalf of the survivors of Atlantis," Teyla informs him.

"Excellent," he replies, smiling broadly. "Your scholar must see the Chambers of the Ancestors, then."

"That'd be great, sure," Rodney says, a little amazed at how easy it is. He doesn't miss the look that Tuwar gives Naran, though, which clearly says that the scholar's less than excited about how generous Naran's being with what are presumably their sacred places.

"Then we'll have a full day tomorrow," Naran concludes, nodding- and Rodney's not surprised, because he was actually awake for the part of the mission briefing where Teyla explained the Amarans never traded on the first day. "Well met, everyone," he says, apparently just in case anybody missed it.

That seems to be the end of the introduction, because Naran takes Teyla by the arm and starts leading her further into the village, the rest of the team following in their wake. The elevation is steadily increasing, but Rodney doesn't realize that they've been walking up to the rim of a canyon until they're right on the edge. He dares to look over it- and holy shit, there's a whole city down there.

The next couple of hours are taken up with what Rodney is starting to realize is the standard diplomatic city tour: the local version of city hall; a temple or two; the schools or the prisons, depending on the severity of the society in question; whatever agricultural areas happen to be handy.

He finds it doesn't bother him, though, because it's not the standard city. All the buildings are made out of massive blocks of brown stone, fitted so tightly together that Rodney doesn't think he could get a piece of paper in between them- not that he goes around carrying pieces of paper to perform architectural experiments with, or anything. He's dying to see where and how they manage to quarry this stuff, assuming they still do; it occurs to him an hour in that he only wants to know so that he can tell Zelenka, who'll be totally fascinated by it. He's sure his smile over realizing that is just a little bit dopey, and he hopes no one notices.

There don't seem to be as many people around as there should be, to have warranted building a city this size. Nobody brings it up; Rodney supposes that at this point, nobody needs to.

Somewhere between what must be Amara Junior High and the nearest mung bean plantation or whatever, he looks over at John. Rodney's never been the most observant guy in the galaxy, but he can't miss the way John keeps looking back and forth between Naran and Tuwar, like he's trying to solve some kind of puzzle. He tries to catch John's eye, maybe figure out what the hell's going on, but he can't seem to; he files it away for later instead.

"This street leads to the Chambers of the Ancestors," Naran announces, stopping their little contingent suddenly at a crossroads.

"We will be pleased to accept your gracious offer to let Scholar McKay examine them," Teyla says, smiling. "There is much that both of us can learn from them."

Naran looks, maybe a little pleadingly, to Tuwar, who purses his lips. "We'll see," he says, looking directly at John. "Access to the Chambers is only given to those who can show the proper respect."

Rodney realizes there's something going on here that he has no understanding of, but he jumps in anyway. "I've got respect," he says hurriedly. "Loads of the stuff. Can't hardly walk for bowing and scraping all the time."

Tuwar takes his attention away from John long enough to raise an extremely skeptical eyebrow at Rodney. He looks as if he might have something to say; but just then a bell peals from across the city, reverberating so loud and deep that Rodney swears his teeth rattle a little.

"It's time," Naran says, looking relieved, smiling around at them. "Shall we go? The feast is waiting."

Rodney can't argue with that; he grabs John's arm and pulls him a safe distance away from Tuwar, pointing out a totally mundane cornice like it's the coolest thing ever.

It's a good fifteen minute walk over to the feasting hall, all of which John spends mocking Rodney for his taste in architecture. Rodney doesn't really care, as long as it keeps him distracted from screwing up their chances to get at the good tech; it's less amusing once Ronon joins in, though.

Naran doesn't waste any time getting them into the banquet hall- and it really is a hall, stretching off a good distance, filled with scattered tables big enough for ten or twelve people with comfortable-looking benches around them. Naran's people are already filing in, arranging themselves at all the tables but the one along the wall that's slightly raised above the others.

They're led straight to the dais, and Rodney follows John's lead, sitting with their backs towards the wall. There's already food on the table, big loaves of brown bread with some kind of yellow spread to go with it, and Rodney's stomach suddenly growls.

"Easy there, tiger," John teases him.

"I've gone without food for five whole hours," he protests. "That's practically saint-like by my standards." John just rolls his eyes and slaps his hands away when he tries to reach for the bread.

Rodney's expecting ceremony to start it off, speeches that last until the food gets cold; and sure enough, Naran stands up, raising his hands for silence.

He looks around the room for a moment, smiling beatifically out at his people. "Drink up!" he says, and then he sits back down. Somebody pours Rodney a cup of wine, and he decides that this might, just maybe, be his favorite planet ever.

By the third time the wine makes it around, it's become pretty evident that whatever a haldan is, it doesn't mean they play tennis together. Tuwar is halfway into Naran's lap, and Naran ruffles his hair absentmindedly as he talks, looking at the other man with undisguised affection.

Rodney wonders if this is what Teyla meant about him liking the Amarans. He thinks maybe he should feel vaguely offended at the idea that just because these people have a gay leader he should be best friends with them; but then he remembers that they've already given him good food, decent wine, and free access to their Ancient tech. For all that, he's just about willing to get up on the table and sing show tunes with them.

When he looks over at John, though, John's just staring at the two men. Rodney suddenly realizes that this must be what John was being so weird about all morning; he silently applauds John's gaydar, because Rodney definitely didn't realize. Rodney doesn't know what his deal is- whether he's suddenly shocked by homosexuals or if he's just enjoying the view- but Tuwar doesn't look like he particularly appreciates it, and the last thing Rodney wants is for John to piss off the guy who literally has the keys to the kingdom.

He elbows John in the side to get his attention. "Take a picture," he says. "It'll last longer." John blushes a little, taking a drink from his cup to hide it.

"How long have you been together?" Tuwar asks Rodney. He covers his mouth with one hand, like he's embarrassed at what he's said. Rodney knows the slip was intentional; he can't help feeling like this is some kind of test. "Traveling together, I mean."

Rodney gives John a look, and he hopes that John knows the "go along with my scheme and don't ask questions" face when he sees it. "Two years, give or take," he says, slipping his arm around John's waist and pulling him close. John must be drunker than he thought, because he just turns his face in towards Rodney's shoulder, snickering.

Tuwar smiles brightly at them, and Rodney knows he's passed. "How ever did it happen?"

"I shot him," John says, recovering his composure.

"In the leg," Rodney adds.

"I'm with her," Ronon says to no one in particular, pointing to Teyla and taking a swig of his wine.

"You'll have to forgive John," Rodney tells the scholar, rubbing John's shoulder. "Where he comes from, this type of thing isn't allowed."

Tuwar looks at him in confusion for a moment, before it apparently dawns on him. "I'm so sorry for you both," he says, shaking his head. "Rest assured, you will find every hospitality here."

"You ass," John whispers into his ear when Tuwar's distracted.

"C'mon, Colonel," he replies. "Lie back and think of Atlantis." John cracks up laughing, and Rodney pours them both more wine.

The feast carries on far into the night- the Amarans really know how to throw a party, and the food and the wine just keep coming. Rodney spends the whole thing with John pressed up against him; the drunker John gets, the more he plays it up, feeding Rodney bits of fruit and making these awful kissy faces at him. Rodney has to remind himself more than once that they're just messing around, but it's totally worth it, because Tuwar obviously thinks they're just the cutest thing he's ever seen. Rodney thinks maybe he should be worried, partly because he actually does have a very real boyfriend back on Atlantis who wouldn't be quite so amused by the whole thing, and partly because he's essentially making a mockery of the Amarans' culture. But instead, he feels totally relaxed for the first time in ages.

The party does wind down finally, people sloughing off in ones and twos- and at least one particularly handsy set of three. Ronon and Teyla are among them; by the time they go, it takes the both of them to keep each other upright, and they keep giggling disconcertingly as they stumble into things.

Eventually, Naran stretches his arms and yawns, motioning for a young woman to come near.

"Tuwar wanted to give you a surprise," he tells them, looking down at the scholar in question, who's passed out in his lap. "You'll have to tell him how you like it tomorrow."

John looks at the girl suspiciously, letting Rodney help him to his feet. "It's not her, is it?" he asks, and Naran laughs until he's got tears in his eyes.

Rodney is also relieved to find that the young lady is only there to lead them to whatever Tuwar's surprise is; being gifted with underage girls had never been a concern before he came to Pegasus, but it seems to come up with disturbing regularity. She leads them out of the hall and along the edge of a courtyard. John brushes playfully against him as they walk down the cloister- Rodney wants to tell him that he can drop the act, but he wonders if maybe the girl is going to tell on them if he does.

She leads them through an archway and down a side passage, stopping in front of a massive wooden door. Rodney is on the point of offering to help her move it, but she swings it open like it's nothing. It hasn't got any visible hinges, and he really wants to ask how it works; but when they steps inside, he forgets all about it.

The room is far larger than he'd been expecting, the size of the gateroom or bigger, and all the walls are draped in sumptuous fabric, all of it burnt orange. Here and there, it's broken up by thick brown columns, the torches on them flickering softly. The floor is the same stone, and Rodney's boots click softly against it when he walks around, staring up at the enormous sunburst painted on the ceiling.

He's so distracted by the rest of the room that he almost doesn't notice the bed. Once he sees it, though, he doesn't know how it wasn't the first thing he noticed. It's a massive four poster- no, make that six poster, since it's more hexagonal than anything. The curtains ringing it are the same shade as the fabric on the walls, but the bedspread is a deep red, orange and yellow suns picked out on it in some kind of embroidery.

"Wow," he hears John say under his breath.

"My poor retinas," Rodney agrees, gawking openly, and John snorts in amusement.

"Scholar Tuwar told me to tell you that this room is used by a man and his haldan after their union," she tells them. "He said he hopes you like it."

"Give him our best, if he ever wakes up," John says, giving her a winning smile, and she giggles a little before excusing herself.

"Unbelievable," Rodney snorts, after she's gone. "Here we are in our honeymoon suite, and you still flirt with the chambermaid."

"I've been flirting with you all evening," he replies. "Give somebody else a chance."

Their gear has already migrated here, laid out on a table near the wall, and John goes over to check it out. At this point, though, Rodney could honestly care less- if it turns up at some point before they leave, that's fine by him. He pulls back the coverlet and sits down on the bed instead, taking his vest and boots off and tossing them unceremoniously to the floor.

When he looks up again, John's still standing at the table, but he's looking straight at Rodney. "I'm not drunk," he says, sounding almost defensive.

"Neither am I," Rodney agrees, wondering where this is going; it isn't until John steps closer that he catches the look in his eyes. He looks vulnerable in a way that he never does, looking at Rodney with undisguised want written all over his face.

Rodney almost laughs, because it's so backwards; isn't he supposed to be the one who takes things too seriously? Isn't that the cliché? Instead, he'd shelved his infatuation with John a very long time ago, pushing out of sight and out of mind. This is a hell of a time for it to be dragged back up again.

John takes another step closer, and he's right there in Rodney's space, close enough that he swears he can feel the heat of his skin.

John is just something that he wants and that he can't have, and it's been a very long time since he let it bother him. Except that sometimes, at times like this, it catches him off-guard, hitting him right where he lives.

In the morning, he won't remember having made the decision. Maybe he never did- maybe John made it for him- maybe he doesn't even care if and who. All that matters is that John's mouth is on his, John's hands are on either side of his face, and everything about him is warm and strong and so sure.

He doesn't know how long they spend like that, just idly kissing, his fingers tangled up in John's ridiculous hair. It's not all idle, though, because they seem to be losing clothing at an alarming rate; pretty soon John's got his hand wrapped around Rodney's cock, and Rodney's so hard it almost hurts.

"Do you want to-" Rodney says, and he doesn't know how the sentence should end. John solves it for him, pressing a condom into his hand and scrambling up onto the bed, and Rodney has no complaints about that at all.

Rodney thanks his lucky stars that he forgot to clean out his vest, because there's a little bottle of hand lotion in it; it makes a pretty poor lubricant, honestly, but it's miles ahead of nothing. It's more than enough for him to slide his fingers into John and work him open. John's begging for it long before Rodney thinks he ought to be ready, but Rodney doesn't bother arguing. He slicks himself up with the last of the lotion, pushing himself carefully inside- but John isn't having any of that, bucking back to take him all the way in. He'd been intending to take his time, but if John's going to do stuff like that it's going to be over before they even get started good.

John moans, loud, when Rodney starts moving inside him. It's so easy to do this, so natural to build up a rhythm between them. He's never seen this side of John, never even imagined he could just let go and take it, loose-limbed and writhing and absolutely fucking perfect.

"God, please, Rodney," John is babbling, his hands fisting in the red sheets, "harder, Christ," and Rodney gives him everything he's got, driving into him hard and deep as he can. His thighs are on fire from the effort, but he doesn't even slow down, not until John is tensing and panting and coming around him. And that's as much as he can stand- he finally comes, biting out a curse and snapping his hips forward, buried deep as he can get inside John.

When he feels like he can breathe again without panting, he disentangles himself from John, collapsing onto his stomach right next to him. It's been the kind of sex he thinks deserves a cigarette- or maybe a medal. "I kind of wish I smoked," he says.

John rolls onto his back, putting his hands behind his head and contemplating the ceiling. "Maybe Naran could hook us up."

They lie next to each other, and Rodney realizes that they're barely touching, only meeting where John's leg brushes against his own. It's comfortable, though, the room being as warm as it is, and Rodney falls asleep without even noticing.

He's pleasantly surprised when he doesn't wake up with a hangover the next morning. It's less pleasant when he discovers that John isn't next to him any longer.

He fumbles back into his clothing and gears up, trying not to ascribe any meaning to it. He almost has a heart attack when he opens the door; Ronon is lurking in the hallway, looking bored and gigantic, just like always.

"You overslept," Ronon tells him.

"You're the one who kept passing me the wine," he replies.

Ronon smirks at him. "I drank more than you did."

Rodney twists experimentally, his back popping with a satisfying crack. "Yeah, and you're ten years younger and a foot taller than I am."

"Come on," he says. "We're going to the Chambers of the Ancestors."

In his supreme distraction, he'd very nearly forgotten about that- what's wrong with him? "Right, yes. Any chance of breakfast on the way?"

Ronon rolls his eyes and tosses him a muffin.

The same girl who showed them to their room last night is apparently their guide to the Chambers. Rodney catches her looking back and forth between him and Ronon, looking faintly disapproving.

"Where are Teyla and Sheppard?" he asks, certain that he sounds at least a little betrayed.

Ronon doesn't notice, of course. "Negotiating with the leaders."

"You didn't go with them?"

"I'm not very diplomatic," Ronon replies, and that's the end of the conversation for a while.

The city seems to get more familiar as she leads them on, the rough brown sandstone of the Amarans' construction giving way to smoother lines, the Ancients showing themselves in muted greys and blues. The lights come up for him- not like they would for John, but good enough so that they're not tripping over their own feet.

Eventually, they reach the heart of the Chambers, which looks, essentially, just like every other Ancient control room that Rodney's ever seen. The girl leaves them, bowing respectfully; she doesn't look daggers at him as she does, so Rodney figures she's satisfied that he hasn't come down here to have a torrid affair with Ronon behind John's back.

He manfully resists the urge to beat his head against the wall.

About the first thing he discovers is that he has no idea what this place is; the second is that there's some kind of small power supply, but no ZPM.

Ronon stands beside the door, looking bored and surly as always.

"If you're just going to stand there and respire, get over here and help me," he snaps.

He looks skeptical, but he pushes off the wall and walks over. "What can I do?"

"Are you familiar with the art of holding things and not moving? Good," he says, putting his tool kit into Ronon's massive hands.

He doesn't waste any time getting to work; as far as he can tell, everything is intact. There does seem to be an awful lot of incense ash in the crystal trays, though, which is not the weirdest thing he's ever found in one.

At some point, he realizes he's humming under his breath. He almost stops when he realizes it's the largo from the New World Symphony, and Jesus Christ, could his subconscious get more obvious? He tries to push Czech composers out of his head and focus on getting the console to give him schematics; but whatever he does, the song seems to keep coming to his lips.

"You're in a good mood today," Ronon says, startling him.

He straightens immediately, staring Ronon down. "Who told you that? What have you heard?"

He laughs like Rodney's just said something really clever; Rodney goes back to his work without another word.

As it turns out, Ronon is about as useful as a coat rack; he refuses to touch any crystals on the grounds that he'd undoubtedly break them in half. Rodney can't really fault him for that, because it's more than likely true- he can swear at him, though, which he does, much to Ronon's amusement.

Rodney feels like he's being pulled in eight directions at once, trying to work three consoles and bemoan his lack of actual help while simultaneously freaking out over last night and dreading tomorrow. He tries to bargain with himself- if he can just get through this, he can have all the conniption fits he wants later- which, obviously, doesn't work at all.

He's just finishing his primary data collection, which he'd have had done twenty minutes ago if he had Ze- if Ronon would stop being such a baby, when Teyla comes jogging down the hallway. "If you are finished, we need to go," she says, a little breathless.

Ronon automatically reaches for his gun, and Rodney's a little surprised to find that he does too. "There is no danger here," she says, holding up her hands, and they both relax somewhat. "Team 2 is having difficulties and requires assistance."

"You ready?" Ronon asks him.

"Two minutes," Rodney replies. A minute and fifteen seconds later, he's packing up his equipment and they're headed for the gate.

Naran and Tuwar, looking predictably green around the edges, are there to see them off; and everybody looks a little pissed that, after all that build up, their visit has been cut so short. That works for Rodney, though, because he's pissed too, feeling irrationally like his real life is intruding on what has been a pretty nice visit, all things considered. John doesn't come running up until Rodney's already dialing the DHD and saying his goodbyes.

"So you didn't wander off into the woods and die," he says to John when he finally joins them. "You might have had me worried."

John just gives him a look that says Rodney's not as funny as he thinks he is, stepping through without a word.

"Colonel Sheppard, sir," is the first thing that Rodney hears on the other side, but the first thing he notices is that it's about fifteen degrees colder than it was on M6G-71X.

"Sergeant Xuarez," Sheppard replies. "Report."

"Come along, then," Carson says, hooking one arm around Rodney's and the other around Ronon's.

"What do you want?" Ronon asks, lifting an eyebrow at him.

"Post-mission examinations are mandatory," he responds, completely failing to be intimidated.

"You don't usually care," Rodney points out.

"I do when you've skipped your last four," he reminds them, and Ronon rolls his eyes. "Right this way, gentlemen."

Rodney looks back at Sheppard as Carson leads them away. It's neither the time nor the place, but it doesn't stop him from feeling like he's suddenly had the earth pulled out from under his feet.

Any cheerfulness or good feelings he might have carried back with him from Amara has long since evaporated by the time he escapes Carson's clutches. Now, of all times, he feels hung over, but he has a suspicion that it has nothing at all to do with alcohol. He goes down to the lab, convinced that there's got to be a problem with the environmental controls, because it can't possibly be seventy-two degrees and still be this cold.

Because he's a complete idiot, it doesn't occur to him that he's basically walking directly up to the person he's just utterly betrayed. But, of course, when he gets to the lab, Zelenka's just sitting there muttering to himself, completely unaware of what's happening; and Rodney wishes Atlantis would just open up and swallow him whole.

"Hi," he manages to say.

"How was M6G-71X?" Zelenka asks, not looking up from his laptop.

Rodney has no earthly idea how to answer that question. "It was really something," he hedges. "Great food, nice trees, nobody shot at us. Lots of-" and Rodney never thought he'd ever have a reason to feel shame at the thought of architecture, but all he can think about is the starburst on the ceiling- "interesting stonework."

He makes a thoughtful noise. "Maybe I should go then."

"No!" It's a reflex, a little too loud and abrupt, and Zelenka looks up at him, his blue eyes wide in confusion. "No," he repeats, calmer this time, casting around for an excuse for his behavior. "They had some of those little spiky purple flowers- looked just like the ones from MY4-8T3. You remember those?

Zelenka shudders. "I will never forget them as long as I live," he swears- and Rodney knows he won't, because he spent a week practically at death's door after that trip, stuck in the infirmary with his head swelled up to the size of a watermelon. "It's a shame- it sounds like it is a nice place."

Rodney sighs. "It was."

"You should come over later," he says, sounding matter-of-fact and just slightly smug, and Rodney's very aware of the unspoken offer.

"I'm not feeling well, actually," he hedges. "I might have to take a rain check on that. I'm feeling kind of under the weather."

Zelenka just looks at him for a long moment, and Rodney's suddenly terrified. Oh God, did John mark him? Is it what he's done as obvious as it feels? He must know- Rodney doesn't see how he can't-

"You look flushed," he says finally, reaching up to feel Rodney's face; his hands are cold and steady. "You will get some sleep, yes?" Rodney nods, unable to speak for fear of what he might say.

He tries not to be too obvious about the fact that he's fleeing the lab for dear life, thermostat long forgotten. Rodney actually does fall asleep when he gets back to his room, because he really isn't feeling too great; and besides, he can't even remember the last time he had a decent night's sleep.

He wakes up, panicking, to the sound of Sheppard's voice. It takes him a long while to realize Sheppard's talking to dispatch and not him; he rips his earpiece off and throws it across the room, not even caring if he breaks it.

After a few minutes of trying in vain to convince his brain to shut back off, he gets out of bed, fumbling his shoes on. If he can't get any sleep, then he's going to get some answers.

Zelenka is a known quantity. The fact that he will still be next to Rodney in the morning is a cold blue certainty, something Rodney has only just started to realize that he counts on. And if it hadn't been for this whole stupid situation, he might not ever have noticed that he wanted something more- he hates himself a little bit for finding that out.

Sheppard, of course, is the great unknown in Rodney's life, just like he always has been. He's monolithic, never, ever giving out more than he wants to, and Rodney's not going to go rearranging his entire life just to allow for the slight possibility that Sheppard actually wants him.

What he should really do is forget the whole thing ever happened, respectfully let Sheppard down when and if he ever pushes the matter- but fuck, it's hard to do this when Amara is still crackling on his skin, when every time he closes his eyes all he can see is the way Sheppard writhed underneath him, red encircling him like an aura.

He leaves his quarters and heads for Sheppard's, passing a pair of Marines patrolling the hallways. He almost goes hysterical at the irony; they're too busy grinning at each other, thinking they've caught him on his way to Zelenka's, to even consider the fact that he's actually going to their CO's room for a frank discussion of the gay sex they've just had.

He stands outside of Sheppard's room for a good five minutes, pacing back and forth and quietly freaking out; but in the end he just can't not knock.

The door opens for him when he finally does, and he steps inside.

"We should talk," Rodney announces, clearing his throat and looking at his shoes.

"Kinda busy," John says, taking off his boots.

"That excuse might work better if you hadn't already called out," he points out. John doesn't answer, doesn't even look up. Rodney takes a step closer. "We need to talk about this."

"No," Sheppard says, looking up at him, his voice calm and firm as if he's speaking to a small child, "we need to not talk about this."

Rodney doesn't know what's wrong- maybe it's a Don't Ask, Don't Tell thing, or maybe Sheppard's afraid Zelenka's going to throw him out a window. Maybe Sheppard doesn't even like Rodney and regrets that the whole thing. But his face is completely impassive, his eyes swallowed up behind his awful black sunglasses, and Rodney just can't tell.

"Is that how we're going to do things?" Rodney snaps.

"Pretty much," Sheppard replies, not even looking at him.

"Fine," he says. He really wants to snarl the word, but he just can't muster the energy, his voice coming out high and flat instead. He turns and leaves, telling himself that he's not waiting for Sheppard to call him back. Rodney's still disappointed when he doesn't, though.

He goes back to bed, but he still can't sleep. No matter what he does, he can't seem to get warm.

By morning, Rodney's self-loathing has reached what must be its zenith- or its nadir, depending on perspective. He just can't go to the lab; he can't even bring himself to think about why he doesn't want to.

He turns his laptop on instead. The S:\ drive has a list of low priority projects, stuff that's been saved up for that mythical day when they don't have a crisis going on. He goes down the list until he finds the most mindless one, the one that will take him the farthest away from the center of the city. It's just a malfunctioning relay- but it's affecting the transporter in that area, so it'll take him far longer to get out there than it will to fix it. It's exactly what he thinks he needs right now, so he radios Simpson and tells her he's headed out.

He almost loses his way more than once- every darkened blue-green corridor looks the same as every other- but he finally finds the panel his team has flagged for repair. The wiring is worse than he thought, a complete catastrophe. He should have an engineer look at this; what he really needs is Zelenka, but he pushes that thought away.

His computer doesn't seem to want to interface with it correctly, like it can't even see half the wires that are obviously right in front of it. It doesn't make any sense; it seems like he's looking at two systems, one on top of the other. When he reaches his gloved hand in, feeling for where they connect, Rodney sees a blinding yellow flash.

And then he doesn't see anything for a long while.

He can hear things, though. Nothing, at first, except this weird throbbing sound; eventually he realizes that it must be his heartbeat.

Someone is talking to him, asking after him, but the voice sounds very far away. Then silence again. Rodney drifts for a while; he feels like maybe he should be worried about something, but he can't remember what it is. Then there are footsteps, coming up fast and heavy.

"Oh god, Rodney," someone gasps- it must be Zelenka, no one else has an accent like that- and he can hear something come down hard on the floor beside him.

"This is Sheppard," a second voice says, and Rodney doesn't have to wonder who it is. "We have a man down- I repeat, man down. I need a med team to level fourteen of the southwest pier." If Rodney didn't know much better, he'd think Sheppard was scared.

Zelenka is talking; it sounds so desperate and sad, but Rodney can't make heads or tails of it.

"Radek," Sheppard says, not quite as calmly as Rodney expects. "I really need you to pull yourself together."

"Pull-" Zelenka repeats, sounding incredulous, and Rodney doesn't speak any Czech, but he's been cursed out in it enough times to get the gist. "He could be dying!"

"Yeah, and if he does, it'll be my fault," Sheppard snaps back. "So why don't you let me worry about it for right now?"

There is a long silence. "What?" Zelenka asks.

Sheppard sighs. "We need to talk."

"This is not the time."

"Yeah, I kinda noticed that."

That's really bad, Rodney thinks, but for the life of him he can't remember why he thinks that.

And then there are more footsteps running up, and Carson is barking out orders, and Rodney is grateful when he passes out entirely.

When he finally resurfaces, he's in the infirmary.

"You're up," Carson says, noticing he's awake with uncanny speed. "You certainly gave us a fright."

"Wires," Rodney says; there's more he needs to communicate, but it's like there's a disconnect between his mouth and his brain. "Don't touch," he says fervently.

"Colonel Sheppard and Dr. Zelenka are taking care of it," he assures him. "It's going to be fine."

"Not good," he manages to say, before unconsciousness swallows him back up again.

It takes the better part of a day for the effects of the blast to clear his system, and Rodney spends it lapsing in and out. After he manages to spend a whole hour awake, Carson takes pity on him and lets Teyla bring in his laptop. The incident report is already up- as Rodney suspected, he'd stumbled onto an ancient booby trap. He hadn't known that it would be protecting emergency backup controls for the life-support system, though; at least he's getting something useful out of the whole thing.

The report also contains an effusive addendum from Carson on the system's ability to distinguish natural ATA carriers from those who've undergone gene therapy. Rodney's certain he'd normally find it fascinating, but today it just seems like some kind of cosmic payback.

Neither Sheppard nor Zelenka visit him; he's not really surprised by that.

Nor is he surprised when he has an email from Zelenka, telling him he should come over when Carson finally turns him loose. It doesn't say anything more than that; but then, a US government intranet is not the place to be airing their gay breakup drama, which Rodney can only assume is what it's about.

He doesn't leave the infirmary until Carson throws him out. For the briefest moment, he considers throwing himself into one of the uncomfortable chairs in Carson's office and confessing the whole thing, just letting it run out of him until he feels clean again. He rejects that plan on three grounds: Carson and Zelenka have always liked one another; he suspects it wouldn't actually help; and for Christ's sake, he's pushing forty, not fourteen.

He puts his earpiece on as soon as he's out of the infirmary, tapping it on in an uncharacteristic fit of determination. "Zelenka, this is McKay," he says, trying not to let his voice shake.

"Go ahead," Zelenka answers.

"I'm headed in your direction," he tells him. "I should be there in fifteen or so."

"Good," he replies, and Rodney can derive precisely nothing from the tone of his voice. "See you soon."

"McKay clear," he says, and isn't that the biggest lie he's told all day?

Every alcove and supply closet he passes seems to call to him, beckoning him to come on in and have a breakdown in peace, but he keeps going. He has to do this; he has to go and listen to the other shoe drop, or he's going to go insane before dinner. No amount of screaming or yelling could possibly be worse than the torture he's been putting himself through. Of course, if Zelenka's disappointed in him or saddened at how Rodney's apparently thrown him away, then nothing is going to stop it from breaking Rodney in half. It's just better for everyone concerned if he gets it out of the way now.

He almost turns back when it suddenly occurs to him that maybe Sheppard hasn't told. Maybe he's going to walk in and Zelenka's going to be happy to see him, going to put his arms around him and be so glad he's not dead. And if that happens, Rodney thinks he really will just shrink down into nothing, never to be seen again.

He forces himself to keep walking anyway.

Eventually, inexorably, he does arrive at Zelenka's room. He knocks on the door; Zelenka still sort of hates it when he just thinks it open, like Rodney's lording it over him.

"Open it yourself," he calls from inside.

Rodney only just gets into the room before he stops in his tracks. Sheppard is helping Zelenka hang something over the window. A long piece of dark fabric- a blackout curtain, it looks like. Except that they turn it, unfold it, and the opposite side is a blazing orange. The mirror catches it, warming the whole room.

Rodney doesn't know how long he stands there, his brain going in a billion directions at once. They finish eventually, Radek giving the fabric one last smoothing pat. John turns then, one corner of his mouth ticking up when he sees Rodney.

And then they're both looking at him, waiting on him to speak.

Rodney realizes he's been holding his breath.


It's several weeks before they can even think about getting back to Amara. When the day finally does come, they even manage to be late, stumbling through the gate after an exhausting morning of crisis after crisis.

John takes point, his P-90 in his hands, but Rodney can read the way he relaxes in the slouch of his back. Rodney stays behind, watching Radek take in the planet for the first time. The afternoon light is kind to his features, catching in the fine strands of his hair and lighting it up like a halo.

"I do not think you can possibly be right about the laboratory," Radek says, gawking up at the sky as they walk.

"Care to put your provisions where your mouth is?" Rodney taunts.

"I wager two Cadbury bars and last month's Science that it is for monitoring wildlife."

"You have Cadbury bars, and you didn't tell me?" Rodney asks, incredulous. "You little bastard."

He shrugs. "I might have needed to bribe you."

Rodney sighs. "Box of Tim Tams and a back rub says it's agricultural."

"That's pretty boring," John opines, looking back at them.

"I can assure you that my back rubs are never boring, Colonel," he replies lightly.

John rolls his eyes. "I meant agriculture. You've got to think outside the box here."

"You want in on this, you're going to have to ante up," Rodney warns him. "None of that 'You know I'm good for it' nonsense."

"Flask of Jack Daniels and a pack of Oreos on weapons," John offers.

Radek considers the offer. "That will work, I think."

John steps forward, and Rodney watches as a whole crowd of butterflies goes flying up around them.

For the first time in weeks, everything feels golden.
Tags: challenges, fic, sga, slash

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