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26 March 2007 @ 07:53 pm
Buffalo Wings, Part 2  
Notes:  For title, disclaimers, etc., see Part 1.


Walking through the door of the lab, Rodney headed straight to his desk and sat down, still in his parka and gloves. 

"That you, McKay? You're back early," Cadman called from the storage room. "Get in a fight with your boyfriend?" Rodney just stared at his desk. "McKay?" She poked her head around the door. "I said, did you - oh. Oh, shit, what happened?"

Rodney looked at her blankly for a second before his mind engaged. "Nothing. Just...nothing. It's fine." The last thing he needed right now was to catch shit from Cadman about Sheppard.

Cadman pulled a chair up to Rodney's desk. "Bullshit." 

Rodney gritted his teeth so hard he practically saw stars. "Drop it, Cadman." He ripped his gloves off, jamming them into his coat pockets. "I have work to do." Paperwork might finally be good for something, if it would get this harpy off his back.

A small hand slammed down over the page he was pretending to read. "Dammit. You can tell me what's got you looking like someone stomped on your puppy, or I can call Maggie. You know I'll do it."

"It's called HIPAA, so you can call Maggie all you want and it won't matter. Now, I'd like to get some work done, if you don't mind." Rodney shoved Cadman's hand off his papers.

"HIPAA, my ass. You know I'll find out. I always find out. So, out with it." Cadman crossed her arms over her chest and settled back in the chair.

"Fine. Fine. I was visiting Sheppard and his fever spiked - and I mean spiked - and he'd already had two doses of Tylenol with codeine, so I don't know what the hell they were going to do about it besides give him a spongebath, like this is the 19th fucking century, and honestly, I'm more than a little worried that it's going to fry his brain, to put it in medical terms." Rodney's knuckles begin to ache, his hands clenched into shaking fists. "There. That's what's wrong. Happy now?" Cadman just looked at him sympathetically, and the sight of a sympathetic Cadman did more to convince Rodney that something was horribly, horribly awry in the universe than almost any other part of the whole stupid morning.

"Rodney. Did you, or did you not, attend medical school?" Zelenka called from across the lab.

"What?" He and Zelenka had done the med school pissing contest a hundred times over - Rodney always won; Harvard totally trumped Johns Hopkins - so Rodney had no idea where the question was going.

"Did you, or did you not, attend medical school?" Zelenka repeated, like Rodney had gotten his M.D./Ph.D. in the mail or something.

"Of course I did," Rodney snapped. 

"Then I'm sure you know that a dose of paracetamol with codeine would not likely be larger than 1000 milligrams, yes?" Zelenka tapped at a few keys on his laptop.


"And Mr. Sheppard had been give two doses already?" Zelenka moved back over to the joint replacement he was adjusting, brandishing a tiny screwdriver.


"That is two grams, correct?" Zelenka poked at the apparatus daintily, never looking over at Rodney and Cadman.

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, Radek, we all know the metric system."

"Ah, but you are forgetting, in your completely platonic concern for your friend, that an average daily dose of paracetamol for an adult is four grams?"

Rodney felt himself flush. He actually had forgotten that in his frantic visions of Sheppard's brain frying like an egg.

"And that toxicity in adults does not usually occur before a one-day dosage of ten grams?" Radek turned and looked at Rodney over his glasses.  "I'm sure that your Mr. Sheppard will be fine.  With several grams of paracetamol and, yes, a spongebath, at the doctor's disposal, there should be no trouble keeping his fever down, yes?" With a small smile, Radek turned back to his work. "Yes."

Rodney slumped in his chair, letting out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Sheppard was going to be okay. Cadman smacked his arm heartily.  "See?  Nothing to worry about, McKay. Now, get to work. Doctor Weir called this morning, and you know what that means." Rodney just groaned and put his head down on his six-inch deep pile of backlogged paperwork.

Three hours later, as a tiny corner of Rodney's mind replayed that morning's events yet again, the other shoe dropped. "Hey! He is not 'my' Mister Sheppard!" Zelenka just laughed.

Three hours after that, Rodney was considering the likelihood of getting workers' comp for permanent eyestrain from the ridiculously small print on Mayo's requisition forms when Cadman handed him a sticky note with exactly five words on it: He's fine. Maggie says hi.

When Rodney stopped by the fourth floor of Rochester Methodist the next morning, Sheppard was out like a light. "Poor thing," Maggie clucked, "we got the fever down after a few hours, but even a few hours at 105 is exhausting. On the up side, the chest pain seems to have abated. Why don't you come back by tonight?" Rodney made vague, non-committal, completely masculine noises and gave her Sheppard's cafe au lait before fleeing back to the elevators. He absolutely did not pause by Sheppard's window to watch him sleep, and he absolutely did not notice that the knot that had taken up residence in his gut for the last 24 hours loosened a little with every rise and fall of Sheppard's chest.

At six-forty-five that evening, Rodney found himself pacing outside the elevator banks in the Rochester Methodist lobby. They didn't do this. They didn't hang out when it wasn't for coffee. Well, he amended, they did that one time, and look how well that had gone. Rodney pulled his knit hat off and ruffled his hair in frustration. Then he caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the elevator doors, realized he was acting like a thirteen-year-old girl, and got on the elevator.

Twenty minutes later, he was sitting in the chair in Sheppard's room - which had been moved back to its original position by the door - waiting for Sheppard to stop faking sleep. Rodney knew he was awake; his eyes kept moving under his lids. The chart said he was responsive when the nurse had checked on him ten minutes before Rodney walked in, so he couldn't be in REM sleep yet, which basically made him a big stupid faker. Rodney eventually sighed and took the remote off the bedside table. The Leafs were playing on ESPN 2 tonight, and he didn't have cable at home, mostly because he just wasn't ever there. Normally, he watched the games in the lab lounge, waking up on the couch the next morning when Zelenka threatened to shove him into the lab's safety shower. Tonight, though, Cadman was taping the Top Chef marathon or something else equally stupid on the lab TV, and no amount of cajoling, whining, or threatening could change her mind - or save him from certain death if he screwed up the ancient and highly temperamental VCR. Rodney had planned to watch at a sports bar, but since he was here and Sheppard was obviously planning on being a total dick a while longer, he clicked the game on and made sure to turn it up as loud as he thought he could get away with.

When Rodney turned back toward the TV after being shushed by the nurse for the second time, Sheppard was watching the game through slitted eyelids. Halfway through the first period, he suddenly threw his hands up in the air when the refs completely missed an icing call, and immediately looked over at Rodney, his expression half-guilt, half-challenge. Rodney just rolled his eyes and went back to watching the game. For the next two periods, Sheppard offered an occasional comment on the game in general, but that was all. Rodney was beginning to wonder if Sheppard had forgotten he was there.

Finally, in the middle of the third period, Sheppard blurted out: "What did I say?"

"What, just now? I didn't hear you say anything." Rodney didn't turn away from the game, where the refs continued to miss penalties that their blind grandmothers would have spotted.

"No, McKay," Sheppard ground out, "yesterday. What did I say?"

"Oh. Oh, um, nothing." Rodney turned and saw Sheppard's long fingers clenched in the bedsheets, tan against white.

"Bullshit, McKay. I remember talking to you while I was hopped up on codeine. What did I say?"

"Nothing. Really!" Sheppard gave him a look that would have killed a lesser man. "Fine! You asked about your diagnosis. I told you what I knew. You, um, expressed some concerns about possible complications. Then your fever spiked." Rodney flashed back to the image of Sheppard's pale, hairy chest, heaving as the hospital gown was torn off. Swallowing hard, he continued. "That's it."

"That's it?" Sheppard looked at Rodney dubiously.

Deciding that selective overgeneralization was the better part of valor, Rodney nodded. "That's it. Then I got kicked out, and now, here I am."

Sheppard looked at Rodney appraisingly for a minute. Then he broke into a slow grin, and it felt like perfect lab results, like a grant coming through, like the first cup of coffee in the morning. "Yeah. Here you are."

After that, Sheppard changed. Where before he had never touched Rodney beyond a clap on the back, now he was grabbing Rodney's wrist to point out something on SportsCenter, reaching over and ruffling Rodney's hair with a grin when Rodney started on a tirade about the incompetence of his minions, letting his fingers brush Rodney's as he passed off the coffee cup every morning. Rodney wasn't sure what was freaking him out more - all the touching, or the fact that he was doing literally anything he could think of to get more of it.

Three days later, Sheppard was practically vibrating with excitement when Rodney stopped by for their evening ESPN session.

"They're gonna let me out within the next couple of days. They just need to run one or two more tests, then I can go. Isn't that great?" Even Sheppard's hair looked thrilled, sticking up everywhere like it hadn't in ten days.

Rodney's stomach twisted painfully, and he cursed himself for forgetting that this - the daily coffee, the nightly ESPN visits - had been only temporary, and now Sheppard would go home.

"Yeah, that's great," Rodney managed, sounding strained even to himself.

Sheppard frowned. You okay, buddy? You sounded kinda weird there."

Rodney cleared his throat loudly. "Fine, I'm fine. Just had a frog in my throat."

Sheppard smirked. "Is that a medical term?"

"Shut up and turn on SportsCenter, jackass." Rodney pulled his chair up next to Sheppard's bed so he could see the TV better.

Four hours later, Rodney couldn't seem to bring himself to leave. Sheppard had dozed off about twenty minutes before, and Rodney found himself staring at Sheppard's hands, the line of his neck, the wrinkles just starting at the corners of his eyes, his lips slightly parted in sleep. When he finally forced himself to go, he turned back at the door for one last look at Sheppard, asleep in the hospital bed. Only Sheppard wasn't asleep. Half-opened hazel eyes focused on Rodney's face, taking in everything Rodney knew had to be there, right on the surface and impossible to hide. When Sheppard's eyes widened and then flew back shut, Rodney knew he'd given himself away entirely. He managed not to slam the door of Sheppard's room on the way out, but only just.

Lying on the couch back in the lab lounge, Rodney reviewed the available data. One: something weird had happened back in that hospital room. Two: he was acting not entirely unlike his summer crush was going back to school for the year. Three: he was not into guys. Of course, there had been some experimentation in med school, but didn't everyone experiment at some point? He flashed back to one late night during his second year, to the memory of stubble scraping against stubble, a hard thigh between his own, and Rodney licking the bitter coffee taste from his study partner's mouth as they ground against each other in an abandoned library carrel. Only now it was Sheppard in his mind's eye - Rodney digging his fingers into Sheppard's stupid hair, sucking on that full lower lip, his fingers wrapped around Sheppard the way Sheppard's wrapped around his cafe au lait. Rodney cursed and turned his head into the couch cushions, his pants suddenly uncomfortably tight. Shit. So, at least a one on the Kinsey scale, then. He was so screwed.

Rodney woke up the next morning when Cadman hit him in the face with one of the spare shirts she made him keep at the lab. "Change. You look even more like something the cat dragged in than usual. Also, stop drooling on the couch, it's disgusting." Rodney scowled at her and scrubbed at his mouth with his sleeve. "And McKay? God Himself as my witness, I will kill you if there is hockey on this tape." Rodney sat up slowly, wincing at the ache in his back, and cringing again as he remembered why he'd slept on the couch. He was too old for this - any of it.

"Good morning, sunshine," Zelenka smirked, tugging on his lab coat. "Did you have a nice visit with your Mister Sheppard last night?"

"Fuck off, Radek," Rodney snarled, and threw his dirty shirt in the coat closet. He stomped over to his desk, Zelenka's eyes on him the whole time. Getting through this godforsaken day on the two hours of fitful sleep he'd finally managed to catch was not going to be fun.

At nine-thirty, Cadman poked Rodney's shoulder. "Time for your playdate."

"I'm not going today." Rodney clicked a few keys, substituting one of the components of the synthetic ACL he was simming, and ran the program again.

"Come on, McKay. You know the rules. Besides, you don't want to miss seeing your boytoy," Cadman grabbed the back of his chair and pulled.

Rodney felt his frustration and annoyance with himself finally bubble over. "Goddammit, Cadman, leave me alone. I have so much work to do I can hardly see straight, and the last thing I need is to go waste an hour of perfectly good lab time because you're tired of looking at me. I am not going anywhere." He slammed his hand down so hard on his desk that it tingled all the way up to his elbow.

Cadman yanked her hands off his chair like they'd been burned. "What the hell, McKay?" 

Rodney tried to ignore the hurt tone of her voice. "Look. I'm sorry. My back hurts, and I got hardly any sleep last night. I just...I don't want any coffee, okay?" Rodney scrubbed at his face.

"Okay, okay." Cadman said placatingly, and disappeared. Half an hour later, Rodney looked up from his desk when a 40-ounce cup of French roast, no cream, no sugar, materialized on his desk. "You never don't want coffee, McKay," she smiled, and for one brief moment, Rodney loved her.

Five cups of coffee and nine hours later, Rodney was feeling significantly more human, but no less gay. Bisexual, he corrected himself. Over lunch, he'd sat down and given himself a pep talk. So he wasn't completely straight. Okay. He could deal with that. Sexuality was, in many ways, just a social construct, or so one of his exes had told him when she left him for her roommate. Besides, he reasoned, didn't being bisexual mean twice as many opportunities? He was still freaked out - he had spent his entire adult life believing he was straight - but nothing he couldn't handle. So, at seven that evening, Rodney decided to use the "uncomfortable incident last night? what uncomfortable incident last night?" strategy, and walked over to Rochester Methodist, carrying that week's Economist from the gift shop in his laptop bag by way of a peace offering.

The night nurse looked uncharacteristically surprised to see him when he stepped off the elevators. "Can I help you, Doctor McKay?"

"No, I'm just here to see - " and Rodney glanced over to see Sheppard's completely empty room. "Where is he?" Rodney's brain immediately supplied several scenarios - Sheppard in the ICU; Sheppard in the morgue, oh Jesus, he'd been getting better, but who knew -

"Who, Mister Sheppard? Let me double-check, but...yes, he was released this morning, Doctor McKay. One of the other Angel Flight pilots was going out his way and volunteered to fly him home."

"Oh. Well, I guess - I mean, there'd be no reason for - " Rodney stammered, then stopped himself and looked at the now very confused nurse. "Thank you." That night, he went home at seven-fifteen - early, for him - ate a bowl of cereal standing up in the kitchen and fell straight into bed, not even bothering to change. He woke up at six, showered, and was in the labs by six-thirty, coffeemaker under his arm. One of the med school interns who was already there almost dropped her laptop - everyone knew Doctor McKay never came in before eight, not even when Dr. Weir was scheduled for a visit.

When Cadman drifted his way at nine-thirty, he just lifted his mug of coffee and pointed to the coffeemaker on the counter behind him. She didn't push the issue.

By eight that night, Rodney and Cadman were the last people left in the lab.

"So," Cadman asked nonchalantly, "why aren't you going over to Rochester Methodist tonight?" 

Rodney felt himself go cold. He'd managed to avoid this discussion all day thanks to the tried-and-true technique known as "being a total bastard to everyone," but of course, Cadman couldn't leave well enough alone. "Sheppard was released this morning."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes," Rodney applied himself to the last folder of paperwork on his desk. "Apparently, one of the other Angel Flight pilots was available to take him back to Colorado, so he left."

"He's an pilot?" Cadman asked, dropping any pretense of disinterest. "Wasn't he military, too?"

"Cadman, your obsession with all things martial is seriously disturbing. Shouldn't you be more interested in clothes or lipstick or something?" Rodney smirked. Hopefully, Cadman would get distracted and go off on the patented McKay Is A Chauvinist Pig rant and leave him alone.

"Nice try, McKay," Cadman snorted. "I heard he got shot down in Afghanistan. God, I love a guy who can handle a firearm." Her voice went soft and dreamy, and Rodney really was disturbed by that. "And an Angel Flight pilot, to boot. You know what they say, McKay - 'angel with arms hotter than angel with wings.'" She sighed like a thirteen-year-old girl with a Tiger Beat magazine.

Rodney just stared at her, mouth open.

"What?" Cadman snapped, coming out of her NRA-sponsored reverie.

"Nothing, nothing. Working now." Rodney tried very hard to ignore the image of Sheppard with a gun, to ignore the rush of conflicting emotions that came with it: lust, clearly, because guns were kind of hot, and a twist of something that might be distress, because now Rodney had a pretty good idea as to what, exactly, it was keeping Sheppard up at night. He shook his head and went back to work.

Two days later, Cadman tore into the labs, Caribou Coffee cup in hand, shouting for Rodney. 

"What, what, what?" Rodney stuck his head out of the coat closet, which he was reorganizing while waiting for a sim to run, having finished his paperwork at midnight the night before.

Cadman handed him her coffee and bent over to catch her breath.

"Seriously, Cadman, you're freaking me out. What is going on?" Rodney took a surreptitious sip of her coffee and almost spit it out. Chai? That was just wrong.

"It's Sheppard."

Rodney froze. Oh God. Oh God, the plane crashed. The plane crashed, and Sheppard was dead, and Rodney never even -

"Lab results. I was talking to Ronon, who heard from a nurse whose boyfriend ran Sheppard's last couple of tests that his MRI had abnormalities indicating possible encephalitis," Cadman gasped out. "He didn't know about the EEG, but I ran straight over here to tell you."

No no no, not encephalitis, of all the - "wait, tell me? Don't tell me, someone needs to tell Sheppard." Rodney's mind was spinning like a centrifuge. Brain damage wasn't certain, lots of people recovered from encephalitis completely; sure, it took a while, but Sheppard was relatively young and strong, right? The tests could be wrong, he just needed to come back and -

"That's the thing, McKay - he won't pick up his phone. Just goes straight to voicemail." Cadman grabbed her tea before Rodney dropped it.

The next thing Rodney knew, Cadman had wheedled Sheppard's address out of Maggie, made a few phone calls and called in a few favors, and he and a Mayo Clinic outpatient were sharing the backseat of a tiny, tiny plane on its Angel Flight to Rangely, Colorado.

Rodney had spent the entire first hour of the flight with his mouth in motion - asking when they would get there, where he could rent a car in Rangely, how to get to Sheppard's place. Somewhere over Sioux City, the pilot had pointed out that he couldn't actually communicate with the towers while Rodney was talking and unplugged his headphones. Naturally, by the time the tiny plane rattled to a halt, Rodney was way past panic. 

After landing, the pilot practically shoved him into the courtesy van and told the teenage driver to take him to the U-Haul, and for God's sake, don't ask him any questions.

As he waited for his truck to be pulled around, Rodney reflected that the fact that the only rental car place in town was a U-Haul should probably serve as some kind of warning, but he'd come too far to turn back now. Even if, he reflected somewhat hysterically, he was sure he could hear the banjos from Deliverance playing on a radio in the back. 

Sheppard's place turned out to not actually be in Rangely, of course, but instead up off of a glorified dirt road in the surrounding mountains. The road was both snowy and a nightmare to navigate in a U-Haul, as a white-knuckled Rodney came to discover. By the time he fell out of the truck cab in relief in front of Sheppard's cabin, he was sure his latent ulcer was only one more muddy switchback from manifesting.

He stomped up to the door of the cabin - very rustic and manly, which just figured - and banged on the door harder than was probably entirely necessary. Over the course of the trip, Rodney's concern for Sheppard had mostly morphed into blinding fury at being forced to fly in a shoebox with wings halfway across the American West and drive up a mountain in a U-Haul because Sheppard couldn't be bothered to pick up his damn cell phone. All that immediately flew out of his head when Sheppard opened the door, looking pale but otherwise healthy, not apparently disoriented or dizzy, and - "Is your neck stiff?  Turn your neck," Rodney blurted.

"McKay, what the hell are you doing here?" Sheppard looked seriously pissed, like Rodney hadn't just risked death by moving van to tell him he probably had encephalitis and take him back to Mayo where Rodney could fix him.

"Can I come in?" Rodney was starting to get cold in the wind, and his feet were covered in mud.

"No." Sheppard crossed his arms. "Why are you here?"

"Oh, for God's sake! Your test results came back, and they strongly indicate encephalitis, okay? I heard this morning, and no one could get in contact with you, whether because you wouldn't pick up your phone or because you aren't getting a signal out in this godforsaken wilderness, I don't know." Rodney mirrored Sheppard's stance. Seriously, the man could show a little gratitude for Rodney's trouble.

Sheppard stepped into Rodney's personal space, face dark. "Is this some kind of sick joke, McKay?"

"What?" Rodney squawked. "No!  Why would you think that?" This was not the appropriate time to notice Sheppard's proximity, he reminded himself.

"Well, maybe because the only reason they released me in the first place is because my tests came back clear?" Sheppard asked tightly.

"What? No! Cadman said - " Rodney began.

"'Cadman said'? You came all the way out here because of something Cadman heard at the coffee shop?" Sheppard gaped at Rodney in stark disbelief.

"Has it ever been wrong? No. She had it on very good authority from Ronon, who talked to a nurse, who talked to the lab tech who looked at your MRI, and he said there were abnormalities that would be consistent with encephalitis." Rodney tipped his chin up defensively, filled with a sinking awareness of how ridiculous this was all starting to sound.

"Call Cadman." 

"What? No."

"McKay, you call Cadman right now," Sheppard punctuated by poking Rodney in the chest, "and you make her check that source. My brain, right?" Sheppard leaned against the wall of the cabin and watched Rodney pull out his cell. One bar of signal.

"Fine." Rodney scrolled down to the lab number and pressed send.

Ten freezing cold, static-filled minutes later, Cadman called back, sheepish. Apparently the lab tech had misread the form; when Cadman made him double-check the labs, the "J. Shepherd" he'd noticed had turned out to be Mrs. Jeannette Shepherd, an eighty-two year old Texan who had contracted encephalitis from her bout with West Nile. Cadman was still apologizing when Rodney hung up and turned to look at Sheppard, cheeks flaming.

"So. Um. The good news is, you don't have encephalitis." Rodney muttered, shivering.

Sheppard nodded. "So what's the bad news?"

"I feel like an idiot," Rodney snapped. Rodney knew he was being sulky, and he didn't care. He was completely disgusted. Here he was, freezing his ass off in a backwoods town in the middle of nowhere, and he was still pathetically grateful to God, Allah, Buddha, whomever, that Sheppard was okay. Sheppard, who had just up and left without even so much as a "so long, Rodney."

Sheppard peered around Rodney for the first time since he'd arrived. "Is that a U-Haul?"

After Sheppard had finally let Rodney in the house and given him a cup of coffee, he stalked out of the room, leaving Rodney alone in the kitchen. Rodney followed him out in sock feet - the shoes were a total muddy loss at this point, kind of like Rodney's dignity - and looked around for Sheppard, who was nowhere to be seen.  Rodney shrugged and turned on the TV, parking on Sheppard's couch, which was surprisingly big and comfy. Ten minutes later, he woke up from his dozing to see Sheppard standing over him, expression mutinous.

"So, when are you leaving?" Sheppard asked without prelude.

"Well, you're welcome for trying to save you from brain damage, Sheppard!" Rodney retorted, sitting up.

"Rodney. I appreciate your efforts, but I really am enjoying being in my own place, alone, for the first time in a while," Sheppard ground out.

Rodney rolled his eyes.  "Sorry to have invaded your Fortress of Solitude, Superman, but believe it or not, it was done out of concern for your health and well-being, which I'm beginning to think was ill-placed!"

"Rodney, you can't just barge into people's private property like this." Sheppard buried his hand in his hair, pulling at the roots in frustration.

"Oh, I wouldn't know anything about someone coming and taking over my personal space," Rodney snapped. "Don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about."

Sheppard just looked at him for a few seconds, and then almost shouted: "Wait, your table? At the coffee shop? That was a table, Rodney; this is my home."

"Like it's so different!" Rodney yelled back.
"Yes, Rodney, it is different!" Sheppard threw his hands up in frustration. "You know what? Forget it. When are you leaving?"

It took Rodney a moment to realize that he had no idea when he was leaving. He hadn't thought about getting back when he left this morning; he'd only cared about getting to Sheppard before it was too late.

"That's great." Sheppard sighed, when Rodney just looked at him blankly. "You have no idea how you're getting home, do you?"

"Yes I do! I'm..." Rodney quickly ran through his options - drive the U-Haul back, hitchhike, make Zelenka come get him -  "I'm flying back with the guy doing your Angel Flight back to Rochester."

"The next Angel Flight...McKay, that's in a week!" Sheppard looked vaguely sick.

"Yes, it is, which sucks way more for me than it does for you, so stop looking so horrified. I'm getting a motel room; I passed a place on the way out here." He stood up and tried not to kick something in frustration. This whole thing had turned out to be a total fiasco, and now he was stuck here for a week in some crappy motel which he was sure would not have wireless, or possibly even running water. "Here." Rodney shoved the copy of The Economist he'd bought three days ago at Sheppard. "I'm certainly not going to read it."

Sheppard looked down at the magazine and sighed. "McKay, you're not staying in a motel."

"Well, like you said, I don't have any way to get home yet, so that's looking like the only option," Rodney pointed out, turning to leave.

"You can stay here." Sheppard sounded about as excited about that as if he were offering to get a root canal without drugs.

Excited or not, Rodney was sure he'd seen a wireless router in the kitchen, and he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Oh. Okay." He sat back down on the couch. Sheppard stood there for a minute, looking at Rodney bemusedly, and after apparently coming to some kind of internal decision, sat down next to him and grabbed the remote. "What is this, Lifetime? Lame. ESPN's channel 52." Rodney just smiled and leaned back, happy for the first time since Cadman had come skidding around that corner 18 hours ago.

Later that night, over steaming bowls of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Rodney asked Sheppard what he did when he wasn't working with Angel Flight or contracting childhood diseases.

"I'm a part-time flight instructor at the community college out here." Sheppard replied, poking at his dish of cheesy goodness.

"That's it?" Rodney prompted.

Sheppard just shrugged, not looking up from his careful examination of his dinner.

"Well, if that's all you do, how can you afford this place?" Rodney was honestly curious; the cabin was a three-bed-two-bath on what looked like a big lot, and Sheppard had some really nice stuff.

"Combat pay." Sheppard stood up and dumped the remainder of his pasta in the sink. "I'm going to bed. See you tomorrow."

"Wait! Sheppard, hold on a second!" Rodney shoved back from the table and chased Sheppard into the living room. "Stop!"

Sheppard wheeled around, his face unnaturally blank.

"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I mean, I heard you had been in Afghanistan - "

"From Cadman?" Sheppard interrupted angrily.

"Yeah, from Cadman. Who the hell knows where she heard it. Anyway, I just didn't...I didn't think about it when I asked. I'm sorry."

Sheppard's stance relaxed, and he looked very tired all of the sudden. "Yeah. It's okay. I just - don't like to talk about it."

"The way you don't like to talk about Sumner?" Rodney regretted the words the second they came out of his mouth. Sheppard immediately stiffened again.

"How do you know about Sumner?" Sheppard's hands clenched and unclenched at his side, and Rodney was suddenly very glad he was on the other side of the room.

"I just guessed! You said you came to visit a family friend in the hospice, and then when I came to see you that one time when your fever spiked, you mentioned a guy named Sumner in a hospice, so I assumed it was the same guy. That's all." Rodney put his hands in front of him, half-placating, half-defensive.

"You said I didn't say anything that night!" Sheppard shouted, looking betrayed.

"You didn't! You didn't, that was it, I swear!" Rodney said, cursing himself inwardly for bringing it up at all. 

Sheppard advanced on him. "You want to know who Sumner is?" Rodney backed up, but Sheppard kept coming, his voice low and dangerous. "I'll tell you who Sumner is." Within five steps, Rodney's ass hit the back of the couch, no escape, and then Sheppard was practically looming over him. "In Afghanistan, my two best friends were killed in a helicopter crash, dead almost before they hit the ground. Then my CO's bird went down during a search and rescue mission. He survived, but he was injured pretty badly. I tried to get permission to go back for him, but the higher-ups said the area was 'too hot.' I decided they were wrong, and took off.  Turns out the area was pretty hot, because I got shot down, too." Rodney cringed, thinking of Sheppard clambering out of a burning helicopter in the middle of some godforsaken desert. "My CO didn't make it back, and I'd gone against a direct order and managed to wreck a multimillion dollar helicopter in the process. I probably should have gone to Leavenworth for it, but good ol' General Sheppard called Sumner and had him pull some strings, and instead of getting court martialed, I ended up running a glorified taxi service in Antarctica for two years, before my committment to the proud U.S. Air Force ended and I came here." Rodney closed his eyes against the hard edge of hurt and regret in Sheppard's voice. "That's who Sumner is. He's the guy that kept my ass out of Leavenworth because my dad asked him to, not because he didn't think I deserved it. He was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's a few years ago, and he's pretty much a husk at this point. My dad, before he died, made me promise I'd visit Sumner as long as he was alive, so I got to listen to him editorialize on my many failings for about a year before he just stopped recognizing me. I think that if he could, he'd probably just ask me to put a bullet in his brain, put him out of his misery. But he can't ask, and I couldn't do it anyway, so I just go sit with him for a few hours every Tuesday and we both wait for him to die."

"I didn't know. I'm sorry." Rodney said, slumping on to the back of the couch.

"Sorry for what?" Sheppard asked caustically. "Bringing it up?"

Rodney just shook his head.  He was sorry for Sumner, wasting away to nothing in a body that wouldn't die; for Sheppard, forced to watch a man wither away who had been both his unwilling savior and his unforeseen responsibility; for making Sheppard talk about it at all. "I...I'm just sorry. About all of it," he murmured, looking at Sheppard.

Sheppard's anger seemed to just collapse in on itself, his shoulders slumping. "I know you are, McKay."

Rodney just nodded and then watched silently while Sheppard ran a hand over his face and gestured vaguely toward what Rodney assumed was his bedroom. "I'm gonna go to bed. See you tomorrow."

"Okay. Night."

Rodney hadn't expected to sleep well at all, but the travel and stress must have caught up with him; he barely made it to the room Sheppard pointed out before collapsing into bed, and by the time he woke up, the sun was streaming in the window.

He stumbled into the kitchen just as Sheppard was coming in with logs under each arm for the fireplace. Rodney had to turn into the counter to hide his reaction to a windblown Sheppard, red-cheeked from the cold, since his pajama pants were hiding no secrets. "Hey," Sheppard called over his shoulder on his way into the living room, "coffee's on the counter. French roast. Mug for you's already out."

"Bless you," Rodney croaked as he poured a giant cup of steaming wakefulness. The tiny part of his brain that was awake recognized this as a peace offering.  Apparently Rodney wasn't the only one who ascribed to the "uncomfortable incident? what uncomfortable incident?" theory of diplomacy. He accepted three mugs of peace offering in the spirit in which it was given, lectured Sheppard on the inherent fragility of ACLs when Sheppard made the mistake of mentioning missing his morning run, and then they spent most of the rest of the day playing Playstation hockey and eating burgers and milkshakes from the White River Drive-in. Sheppard gave Rodney the dime tour of Rangely, which Rodney pointed out was really more of a nickel tour, at best, which got him a grin and a fry thrown at his head. By ten o'clock that night, they were both pleasantly tired and happy to sprawl on the couch under a shared blanket and watch Miracle.

"Yes, yes, American hockey is great. Whatever," Rodney grumbled, sitting up as the end credits rolled. "All the hockey greats are Canadian. The Hulls? Canadian.  The Great One, Wayne Gretzky? Canadian. You all just got lucky that year. We, as a people, are clearly the dominant force in world hockey."

Sheppard snorted and pushed himself up. "Jealousy is not a good look on you, McKay." He turned off the TV and suddenly they were in the dark. As Rodney blinked and waited for his eyes to adjust, he found himself intensely grateful for both the cover of darkness and the blanket. In sitting up, Sheppard had ended up pressed against Rodney's side, and the heat and simple proximity to Sheppard were making him crazy. He started to shift away when Sheppard put his hand on Rodney's thigh and whispered, "Stop wiggling."

Eyes finally adjusted, Rodney turned to look at him, and found Sheppard staring back at him, eyes wide and more unguarded than Rodney had ever seen them.

"Sheppard," Rodney breathed, his gaze drifting down to Sheppard's full mouth.

"McKay," Sheppard replied sotto voce, leaning infintesimally into Rodney.

Later, Rodney would compare it to an out-of-body experience; he watched his hand slide up Sheppard's arm, felt the muscles shiver under his palm as he cupped the back of Sheppard's neck. The next thing he knew, his fingers were finally buried in that ridiculous hair, Sheppard's mouth was on his, and Rodney gasped, opening for Sheppard's eager tongue and pulling them both down onto the couch cushions. With Sheppard's lean body stretched over him, Rodney began to run his hands all over him, touching all the spots he'd watched for weeks - slipping under his t-shirt to stroke his long, muscled back; gripping his biceps; sliding down to squeeze his ass as it flexed under his fingers. Sheppard's hands were busy, too - they seemed to be everywhere at once, in Rodney's hair, gripping the back of his neck, skimming down his sides, and finally, oh thank you God, finally reaching down to cup him through his jeans. Rodney moaned into Sheppard's mouth and arched up against his hand. "Oh, thank God," Rodney heard himself murmuring, "finally, finally, I've wanted you so long, I was so afraid you didn't - " and suddenly Sheppard was gone. Gone, and on his feet by the couch, eyes wild and hair going every which way.

"I can't," Sheppard gasped. "I thought - "

Rodney sat up, fighting the urge to cover his crotch with a pillow. "What? What's wrong?"

Sheppard shook his head, hard. "I just - I can't do this. I'm sorry." He turned and practically bolted into his bedroom.

Rodney sat dazed on the couch, wondering what the hell had just happened. Okay. They were sitting on the couch. Then they were kissing. And the kissing was good. Sheppard was enjoying it - Rodney could feel that much. Was it something he said? Had he pushed for too much, too fast? Whatever it was, he'd managed to completely blow it, and now Sheppard probably wouldn't even want to talk to him anymore, which kind of made him want to throw up, so he got up from the couch and lay down in the guest room and tried to sleep.

Four hours later, he still felt like hell, and staring at the ceiling had revealed no great answers. Sighing, he got up, changed, and stuffed everything he'd brought back into his duffel bag. He pulled a pad of paper and a pen out of his laptop bag and tried to write a note to Sheppard.  e wanted to thank him for letting Rodney stay with him, and apologize for whatever had gone wrong, but everything he wrote came out too maudlin, or too angry, or too pathetic, or too something, so he just stuffed all the abortive notes into his laptop case and hoped Sheppard would figure it out.

When he walked into the living room, Sheppard was sitting on the couch, staring at the black screen of the television. He stood up when Rodney walked in. Rodney didn't stop walking.

Finally, as he opened the door of the cabin, Rodney heard, "McKay. Wait, McKay - " and turned around to see Sheppard, looking stricken, on the other side of the couch.

Rodney sighed.  "I'm sorry. About...before. I was out of line." He shrugged. "I'll, um, see you around, I guess."

Sheppard opened his mouth to say something, and Rodney waited. When he closed it again and looked away, Rodney just walked out. He was sitting on the steps of the flight school when it opened five hours later; five hundred dollars after that,he'd found a local pilot who needed to log some hours to take him back home and paid the courtesy van kid to return the U-Haul.

He spent the next week in the labs, only going home to change and sleep for a few hours. He told himself it was because he'd gotten so behind, being gone for three whole days like that, but in reality, he kept working so he wouldn't think about Sheppard not showing up for coffee on Tuesday, or ever again. Cadman brought him coffee and gossip from the Caribou Coffee, including threats from Ronon if he didn't start coming back. Zelenka left little squares of Ghirardelli dark chocolate on Rodney's desk from his secret stash, which is how Rodney knew he had officially become a completely pathetic teenage girl.

By Monday afternoon, Cadman had kicked him out of the labs, threatening to get Dr. Weir to give him enforced vacation if he didn't get the hell out for a few hours.  Rodney had flipped her the bird, but taken his parka and gone home. Now, changed into pajama pants and a t-shirt, he flipped through his four TV channels before settling on something about whales on PBS, and settled down to nap on the couch. He'd been dozing for about half an hour when he heard someone knocking.  Standing up, he scrubbed the drool off his face with his shirt and stumbled over to the door. When he opened it, he realized he had to still be asleep; there was no way John Sheppard was standing on his porch, complete with spiky hair, REI jacket, and aviator sunglasses. Then Sheppard smiled that little half-smile that was only ever for Rodney, and he realized that maybe he wasn't dreaming after all. Besides, he reasoned, if he were dreaming, Sheppard would be naked.

Sheppard pulled off his sunglasses and looked up at Rodney through his ridiculously long eyelashes.  "Hi."

"Hi," Rodney replied automatically, still half-asleep and not entirely sure why Sheppard was standing on his porch, much less speaking to him. 

"Um.  I just wanted to..."  Sheppard trailed off.

Rodney was starting to wake up, but it wasn't helping the confusion.  "Wanted to what?"  Whatever it was, it had Sheppard more nervous than Rodney had ever seen him.

"Oh, hell," Sheppard muttered, reaching out to cradle Rodney's head with both hands before pulling him in for a brief kiss, and then another; close-mouthed and almost chaste, like he was asking Rodney's permission.  Sheppard pulled back, thumb rubbing at the short hair at the nape of Rodney's neck, and looked at him expectantly.  When Rodney found himself speechless, Sheppard's expression quickly morphed into a smirk.  Rodney narrowed his eyes at that, fisting his hands in Sheppard's jacket and pulling him in for a kiss that was all tongues and teeth and his hand on Sheppard's ass, promising Sheppard permission to do pretty much anything he wanted.

Grabbing Rodney's hips, Sheppard pushed them back into the house, stumbling over books and clothes and their own feet while Rodney shoved Sheppard's jacket off his shoulders.

"Is this the part where I make some stupid protest about private property and my right to my miserable, self-imposed solitude?" Rodney murmured, grinning against Sheppard's mouth.

"Shut up, McKay," Sheppard growled, nipping at Rodney's lower lip before applying himself to his jawline and the sensitive spot right behind his earlobe.

"Okay," Rodney gasped, hand buried in Sheppard's hair, "but just for the record, I reserve the right to bitch you out later."

"Whatever," Sheppard muttered, running his fingers along the sensitive skin just under the waistband of Rodney's pajama pants,  "so long as it's later."  Rodney moaned and pushed his hand under Sheppard's t-shirt.

"Yes, yes, later.  Later is good," he agreed breathlessly, tugging Sheppard down on to the couch.  Honestly, if Rodney had any say in the matter, they wouldn't get around to that until much, much later.
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