Not Really All That Random
Summary: Episode tag to "Quarantine"
Notes: Spoilers for 4x13 Quarantine, not mine.
He wasn't avoiding anyone. No, seriously. Sure, he'd successfully recalibrated the system to detect and compensate for any unusual activity in the ionosphere, but there was still the little matter of the quarantine protocols to completely overhaul. It had nothing to do with the rumor he'd heard that Ronon was laughing it up at his expense.
Rodney's head jerked up. But it was just Sheppard. "Oh," he said. "Hi. I'm just . . . well, as you can see, very busy man, here."
Sheppard lounged in the doorway to his lab and indicated the plastic-sheeting-covered window with a jerk of his thumb. "Sorry about the window."
"What? Oh, no. No, I heard." His brain was still shuddering at the thought of Sheppard playing Batman on the bare wall of the tower. It was the one thing that made him almost glad he'd been stuck in the botany lab, because if he'd actually known it was happening . . . "I mean, if you hadn't shut off the beacon, we'd be expecting visitors any moment now."
"Yeah," Sheppard said, then shifted in the doorway. "So, hey, you want to get that beer we talked about?"
Oh, God. He'd forgotten. With everything else going on, he'd completely forgotten he'd told Sheppard about the ring. "Right," Rodney said. "Beer. Well, I'm sorry, but as you can see, I'm very busy here. If I don't get these protocols rewritten, what just happened could happen again anytime, and I really don't think you'd want that. So why don't you just mosey on and have that beer with Ronon or someone?"
"Mosey?" Sheppard said, with a lift of that damn eyebrow of his.
"Skidaddle, scram, get out of here. Do you need me to spell it for you? I have work to do."
"Rodney." Sheppard said, and then suddenly he was moving, crossing the lab with quick, easy steps, then leaning against Rodney's lab table. "A few hours won't make a difference. I'm pretty sure you've already checked for ionospheric storms."
"Yes, yes, well trust me, a beer is not going to help my coding any."
"Rodney." Sheppard's voice dropped, and God, that was completely unfair. "Look, I know you just endured something pretty close to your worst nightmare -- trapped and out of the loop while everyone else had to solve the crisis. But no one's blaming you. Zelenka told us it had nothing to do with you."
"Well, apart from the quarantine protocols," Rodney said sourly. He poked a few buttons on his screen and sent the new code through the simulation.
Sheppard twisted to eye his screen. "How much more work you got there? That looks like you're almost done."
Damn it, when had Sheppard learned to read the interface of his simulation program? "Yes, well, that depends on whether . . . oh." Parameters acceptable, his screen said. He scanned the numbers, but it looked really surprisingly good. "I, um, need to upload this."
"So upload it already."
"Right," Rodney said, caving in to the inevitable. Sheppard was nothing if not a persistent bastard. "Uploading."
It took him longer than just that, of course, because he had to check and recheck everything. Sheppard booted up his damn golf game on the screen next to his and waited patiently. Well, okay, not exactly patiently, because even playing golf, there was a weird tension to him. He was sitting forward in his chair, not slouching the way he usually did. And he kept shooting Rodney little glances that were, quite frankly, incredibly annoying.
"What?" Rodney said, after he'd run the last check he could think of to run.
But all Sheppard said was, "Ready for that beer?"
"Yes, yes, all right already," Rodney said. "Beer. Although I'm really not sure I believe in the wisdom of drowning one's sorrows. I mean, killing off brain cells is simply adding insult to injury. Or rather, injury to insult, given that . . . what?"
Sheppard had frozen, staring at him, his face a bizarre mixture of emotions Rodney couldn't even begin to decipher. "Wait, you mean she said no?"
"No!" Rodney said, which wasn't exactly a lie. "I said no. I mean, well, I never actually, although of course I intended to, and when she found the box I couldn't exactly . . ."
"You gave her the ring and told her you didn't want to marry her?" Okay, that expression was easy to read, pure incredulity.
"Not . . . exactly." Rodney sighed and pushed his chair back, and Sheppard jumped to his feet, too, surprisingly awkwardly. "Look, I just . . . made a hash of it, like I make a hash of everything involving relationships. I didn't propose and she . . . said she didn't want me, anyway. And now I think we just broke up." Oh God, that wasn't his voice cracking. It was for the best. It really was. He just . . .
Sheppard's hand touched his shoulder, the briefest brush of comfort. "She's an idiot."
"No, actually, she's not. She's really amazingly smart, even if she has wasted her brain on plants. She just . . . finally saw a few of my flaws, I guess. I mean, I realize that I have . . . that everyone has . . ."
"I know your flaws," Sheppard said, but it didn't sound cutting. It sounded almost . . . warm.
"Yes, yes, I'm sure you do. Of course, you also realize what an asset I am, to the team and to the city. When I'm not trapped in the botany labs without a radio or a computer, that is." God, that shouldn't still hurt. That really shouldn't still hurt.
"Rodney," Sheppard said, softly this time, and full of something that sounded like affection. "Let's go get that beer."
"Right," Rodney said, and turned with Sheppard, shoulder to shoulder, to head out the door. "You know, there's one thing no one explained to me," he added as they made their way to the transporter. "How did you manage to get the beacon off, anyway? I thought I keyed it to my command code, not yours."
Sheppard's face went . . . wow, smug was actually a pretty good look on him. "You did. I used your password."
"My password? But you . . . how did you . . . I mean, I am dead certain that I never--"
"You did," Sheppard said. "Remember, that time when you were working under the console and needed me to reboot the chair?"
Right, he did remember that. "Oh, please. It's a fourteen-digit random string. And yes, okay, I realize you are not completely incompetent with numbers, but even a genius--"
"Newton, Einstein, McKay, and Adams?" Sheppard said. "Not really all that random, Rodney."
Oh, God. The wave that passed over him was a rush of warmth that was surprisingly close to lust. Well, no, not really, not anything like that, but Jesus, how was it possible that Sheppard got him? Katie would never have figured that out, not in a million years. But Sheppard hadn't only figured it out, he'd remembered it, and he'd used it when the fate of the city depended on it. "Right," Rodney said. "I guess I just never thought you were capab-- that you would actually--"
"There's a lot of things about me you don't know," Sheppard smirked, and wow, that was true. And heinously unfair. How was it possible that Sheppard got him like this, when sometimes he didn't get Sheppard at all?
They were in the transporter, now, and Sheppard reached for the map. For a moment Rodney thought his hand hesitated, but then he touched the screen. Not for the mess, Rodney realized in the instant after they were dematerialized and then put back together. No, this was crew quarters.
"Come on," Sheppard said, with another hand -- warm, even through the jacket -- on Rodney's elbow.
Sheppard's quarters looked the way they always did. Surfboards and skateboards and a military-tight bed. Rodney huffed down on the couch while Sheppard pulled a couple of bottles -- some kind of microbrew, which meant not from general supplies -- out of his fridge.
"Bottoms up," Sheppard said, and clinked his bottle against Rodney's.
"Cheers," Rodney said, not entirely peevishly, and took a long swig. It actually wasn't bad beer, better than the usual stuff Sheppard drank. Stronger, too. He took another long gulp as Sheppard sprawled down beside him. "I guess I'm not cut out for relationships."
"Don't say that," Sheppard said sharply.
Rodney glanced up in surprise, but Sheppard wasn't looking at him. "No, seriously, I've been thinking about this. I mean, Katie's really great. I think she's the best thing that ever happened to me. And I still couldn't manage to . . . look, she would have been miserable if she'd married me. And I didn't even think of that when I bought the ring."
"So all you need is someone who won't be miserable with you." Sheppard was peeling the label off his beer, slowly and lazily. Like some kind of brainless frat boy, not the complex, layered, surprisingly intelligent . . . friend that he truly was.
Rodney couldn't stop himself from letting out a little sigh. "I'm not really sure that sort of someone exists. In this galaxy or any other."
Sheppard stretched his legs out, settling down further on the couch. They weren't sitting very close -- a small child would have fit between them -- but Rodney was suddenly hyperaware of the length of Sheppard's body, the curve of his bare forearms. Sheppard occupied space differently than anyone he knew.
"Maybe you're just looking in the wrong place," Sheppard said.
Rodney coughed around the mouthful of beer he was trying to swallow. What the hell was that supposed to mean? That Katie was too pretty for him? That he should be looking for someone who wasn't as smart, or as sweet? "I'll have you know, in many circles I'm considered quite a catch. I mean, purely from a genetic standpoint--"
"Didn't mean it that way," Sheppard said quietly.
"Oh," Rodney said, a little mollified, even though he had no idea what else Sheppard could have meant. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. I'm calling a moratorium. I'm swearing off relationships. No more dating. Not for me. I'm through."
"Really." Rodney didn't have to look to know that Sheppard was giving him the eyebrow again. "Not even if the right person comes along?"
"Especially not if the right person comes along. I'd just screw it up again, the way I screwed it up with Katie, so really, I mean, what's the point?"
"Maybe you'd get lucky and you wouldn't screw it up. Maybe the right person would understand you, so it wouldn't be so hard."
"No, that's it. That's the problem. Katie does understand me. I mean, she knows how I hate being around sick people, and how I forget people's names all the time, and she wasn't the least bit surprised that I freaked out when we were locked up together. I think she understands me too well, only I can't have a relationship with someone who doesn't understand me, because well, they'd have to be pretty stupid to miss some of my obvious, ah, personality traits, and I refuse to date anyone whose IQ is less than a hundred and thirty-two."
"A hundred and thirty-two, huh?"
"Yes, yes." Surely Sheppard couldn't be that dense. "That's the minimum requirement for--"
"Mensa," Sheppard said. "Yeah, I know."
And it wasn't the way he said it, at all, but suddenly Rodney couldn't stop remembering that Sheppard had passed the Mensa test and Sheppard was the one asking him about relationships and telling him he was looking in the wrong place and . . . oh, God. He couldn't . . . well, no, obviously he couldn't mean that, because Sheppard was a babe magnet. Sheppard flirted with women. Sheppard couldn't possibly--
"You need another beer or something?"
Rodney held up his bottle, which was more than halfway down already. Wow, maybe that was his problem here; too much alcohol on an empty stomach. "Actually, I think what I need is dinner," he said apologetically.
"Okay," Sheppard said, and set down his beer bottle. "Let's go."
Rodney blinked. It had to be the beer, because he really thought he'd been on the verge of an epiphany, here. "What?"
"Dinner? It's late, you're hungry, and I wouldn't mind a snack, so come on."
"Oh. Right, okay." Rodney set his beer bottle on the floor, but he wasn't really paying attention to what he was doing, because the next thing he knew, it was rolling on the floor and there was beer everywhere. "Oh, God, sorry, I didn't mean to--"
"'S'okay," Sheppard said, and then he was kneeling at Rodney's feet, mopping the spill with a towel. So maybe it was the empty stomach, or the beer, or how ridiculously close Sheppard's face was to his crotch in this position, but Rodney was suddenly swallowing hard and thinking things he really, really shouldn't. "See?" Sheppard said, lifting his head. "No problem."
He was so close. He was right there between Rodney's knees. All Rodney had to do was bend forward. Sheppard's lips were, God, softer than he'd expected, half-open and pliable, and he didn't taste like anything, although hey, that was probably because they both tasted like beer. Beer that was supposedly drowning Rodney's sorrows, and oh, crap, Sheppard really wasn't kissing him back, here. Rodney jerked back. "Oh, God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I really shouldn't have done that."
But Sheppard's hand came up to cup his cheek. "Thought you were swearing off dating."
"That wasn't dating! That was a mistake! A dreadful, horrible mistake, and quite frankly, I'd be happier if neither of us ever mentioned it again."
Sheppard's hand fell to the couch cushion and he lifted his chin, still way too close. "So that was an accidental kiss."
"Completely accidental." Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, defying Sheppard to challenge him.
But Sheppard's face just went . . . dim. "Right," he said. "Okay, then." And climbed to his feet.
"Wait," Rodney said, because that look was wrong, completely and totally wrong. Sheppard's face was never, ever supposed to look like that. Rodney pushed himself off the couch and right up into Sheppard's space. "Maybe it was . . . I mean, what with the beer and the empty stomach and Katie breaking up with me, I'm not exactly thinking straight here, but um, well, you know. It might have been . . . maybe a little? You know, if you wanted it to be."
Sheppard gave him a look that was so intense it made Rodney shiver. "So this is up to me?"
"Cool," Sheppard said. And then slowly, so slowly Rodney thought his heart was going to beat its way out of his chest before anything actually happened, Sheppard brought both hands up to either side of Rodney's face. They rested there, gentle and coaxing, and then Sheppard's lips finally, finally found Rodney's.
It was nothing like the first kiss. It was slow and thorough and there was nothing accidental about it. Sheppard wasn't leaving any room for denial, here; he was -- oh God -- making himself excruciatingly clear, and wow, his lips were hypnotic and his tongue was wicked, and Rodney never, ever wanted this kiss to end.
It was his body that betrayed him in the end, a rumble from his stomach loud enough to make Sheppard chuckle against his lips. Sheppard pulled back and straightened Rodney's collar and left both hands on his shoulders. "So," he said, his voice gratifyingly low and uneven. "Dinner? We can't have you going into hypoglycemic shock."
"Right," Rodney said, and felt a rush of giddiness. Because Sheppard understood him. Sheppard knew him, better than anyone else in the galaxy, including Katie. And Sheppard had chosen to kiss him, anyway. "I guess I am still a little peckish."
"This can wait," Sheppard said, his thumb smoothing Rodney's collarbone through the fabric of his jacket. But then his hands tightened and his eyes narrowed. "Unless you're going to decide it was a mistake, after all. You wouldn't do that, would you?"
"No," Rodney said, suddenly wildly certain. "No, we can . . . you know. After food. I can eat surprisingly fast when I'm motivated."
Sheppard laughed, almost like it was a relief. Like this was more than just a casual, one-time thing. He squeezed Rodney's shoulders one more time and then let his hands fall. "Sounds good," he said, and turned toward the door.
Rodney turned with him. "So I think I might, um, have to revise my stance on dating, here."
"Oh yeah?" Sheppard's smile was his dorky one, the one that was half hopeful and half delighted and all goofy.
Rodney matched strides with him as they headed out the door. "A theory that can't be revised in light of new evidence is dogma, not science."
"Good point," Sheppard said, and Rodney totally wasn't imagining that bounce in his step.
It was insane, the idea of him and Sheppard. For a moment Rodney almost thought he was imagining things, that Sheppard wasn't really offering what he thought. But then Sheppard turned to him with that goofy smile again and said, completely apropos of nothing, "So I guess you're going to have to change your password, now."
And maybe it was stupid -- maybe this whole thing was stupid -- but Sheppard could have been in Mensa, and Rodney couldn't bring himself to care. "I don't think so," Rodney said. "Actually, I'm kind of attached to that one."
"Cool," John said, and he didn't meet Rodney's eyes, but his voice was as warm as a kiss.