He can't remember what he said. That bothers him. The exact words, the order they came out of his mouth -- gone, slipping like water between his hands.
He can remember what happened after he said them, though. Ronon had given a soft cough that might have been a smothered laugh, might have been a growl; Teyla had looked at him, her gaze level, reproving.
And Rodney's mouth had quivered, firmed and the hurt in his eyes had been replaced with blankness and then nothing much in particular.
So, see; he didn't mind. If he'd minded, he wouldn't have stolen John's last bite of power bar, right? Wouldn't have sat next to him in the 'jumper on the way home. Wouldn't have told Elizabeth that, yes, once again, Sheppard had saved the day, whoop-de-do, couldn't they give him a medal and have done with it.
Okay, maybe Rodney had been just a little on the sarcastic side with that last bit… but that was normal, too, and therefore reassuring.
So there's nothing to feel guilty about, no, nothing at all.
And if he feels guiltier about the lack of guilt, that just shows he's tired, really tired, and what's a guy got to do to get a day off, anyway?
Because when it comes down to it, in the dark of the night, and Atlantis can get pretty dark out there beyond the lights of the city, and somehow that darkness can lap lazily at the light and swallow it whole when you're lying there with your sleep-itched eyes open, when it gets down to it, he kinda likes the idea that he can do that to Rodney. Get to him that way.
Because no one else can.
He goes looking for him the next morning to apologise, though. Figures it's the only way he's going to get a good night's sleep.
Rodney's talking to someone and he frowns. There're a lot of new people around these days. He knows them all; part of his job, but he doesn't know them.
That's Elizabeth's speciality.
So the blonde Rodney's talking to earnestly, his hand on her shoulder, is a stranger in every way that matters.
But maybe not to Rodney.
And she's patting Rodney's face, looking sympathetic, and Rodney's letting her.
Okay, this is weird.
She's probably an alien. A dangerous one.
He works his way close enough to hear what they're saying and feels the muscles in his jaw clench and release.
"…the publication date proves it, Rodney."
"I know! I know!" Rodney sounds anguished. "But I thought of it first! I swear I did!"
"I believe you." Her voice is so soothing, so sympathetic he wants to puke.
"Well, of course you do." Rodney blinks at her. "I mean; I just told you that's what happened."
That's Rodney for you. Lying isn't one of his skills; he can do it and he has, but he's just not very good at it. And John knows the idea that he could be doubted isn't one that Rodney would be happy with.
"I wrote the paper, and then there was this Wraith attack and we couldn't communicate with Earth so I couldn't send it, and Peters got in there first, except he wasn't first, not really --"
She's starting to look a little frayed around the edges now and John wonders how long Rodney's held her captive in this corner, pouring his grievances into her ear.
"McKay!" Oh, yeah. Definite flash of relief there in her baby blues. "A word?"
John waves his hand in what he hopes is a casually commanding way. "I need you in the, uh, the training room."
"In the where?"
"We can detour and pay Carson a visit if your hearing's on the fritz."
"No, no, I heard you. I just can't imagine why -- well. Never mind." Rodney gives the woman a distracted smile, clearly forgetting she exists now she's no longer an audience, and turns away, falling into step behind John, his attention on a gadget he pulls from his pocket.
"What's that?" John asks after a while. It's alien but oddly familiar.
"Yo-yo. Sort of." McKay lets it unfurl and spin, the single disc descending from a metal ring on a twisted line of light. "Or maybe it's a weapon."
John snatches his about-to-investigate finger back fast. "It's dangerous?"
"No… but it could be." Rodney's face takes on that distant, turned-inward look John sometimes finds annoying, sometimes challenging. "If I tweaked the frequency…hmm. Let it resonate at… and it would… yes…" He carries on talking for a while, but all John really gets is that Rodney's reinventing the cheese wire and he keeps his hands tucked in his pockets, curling his fingers protectively in on themselves.
When they get to the training room, it smells of sweat and blood and soap and John can almost see Ronon and Teyla sparring, their afterimages hanging on the air. He closes the door and turns to face Rodney.
"I surrender," Rodney says promptly.
Rodney holds out his hands. "I said, I surrender. It'll save time. There; you won. Can I go now?"
"You never give in that easily," John says, eying him with a deep and growing suspicion.
"You never threaten to beat me up. Well, not often."
"You think that I brought you here to fight?" Jesus. He can't think of any way that would end well or leave him looking like anything but an idiot at best.
"If you took me to a restaurant, I'd imagine you were going to feed me."
"Not the same." John realises just how close he's standing to Rodney and considers stepping back, but not in this room, not here. It'd be like laughing in church. He compromises and crowds in closer, making Rodney retreat and put a proper space between them.
Works in theory…
…shame Rodney stands his ground so they're practically kissing the same air.
"And I brought you here because… I just did. It's a place. I wanted to say something and this is just… it was close."
"So was where we were when you found me."
"I wanted to say it in private," John clarifies. Rodney's breathing the same air he is and that must be why he feels suffocated. Oxygen-grabber.
"Okay." Rodney's being surprisingly cooperative.
"The other day…"
"Narrow it down."
"I said something…"
"Something that may have, just might have… upset you."
"Really not doing a good job of narrowing."
"What?" John feels his face screw itself into shocked and incredulous lines. "It does, too!"
"You often upset me," Rodney says calmly. "I forgive you because -- well, perhaps it's more accurate to say I excuse you because I'm used to making allowances for people being thoughtless but the fact remains that you do it often enough for me to need a little more than that."
He really has to stop gaping at Rodney. "It was once! Once. And I noticed and if I noticed then, don't you think I'd have noticed before? So it was once, I want to be really clear on that, and I can't even remember what I said --" He can't. Still can't. Damn. "But I'm very, very sorry, okay?" He takes a breath of McKay recycled air and repeats, "Very," a final time, just to make sure Rodney gets it because he's dying here and he's damned if he's saying it again.
Rodney stares at him and starts to grin. "Very. Very, very. Well, you told me three times, so I guess it's true."
"Is that a reference I'm supposed to get? It's from a book, isn't it? Rodney, you know I don't read much --" Sometimes, around book people, he feels like Ronon and Teyla must and it's not all that nice. Maybe he should apologise to them, too, for all the times he's used Earth references knowing they won't get them but tempted into rudeness because it's so much quicker and easier. For him, anyway. Although the explanations eat up a lot of time later…
"Yes, but no. I don't expect a lot from you in the way of culture."
"Now, I'm hurt," John tells him, just to keep that smile on Rodney's face.
They're still standing so fucking close and neither of them is cracking or giving an inch. It's like under the words (all friendly banter) and the smiles (starting to make his face ache) they're fighting, vicious and panting and sweaty and --
There's panic growing in Rodney's eyes now, as if he doesn't know how to do this, and he doesn't; how can he? When has Rodney ever trained properly? Fought out in the field, yes, sure, but the ritual of what goes on in this room is alien to him. Here, you give it all you've got, knowing you're safe. Knowing you won't get hurt for real. Oh, Ronon's left John bruised and limping; Teyla's keeping track with double desserts of how many times she's knocked him out cold… but it's not to the death, so it's still just a game.
Somehow, he doesn't think Rodney can adjust to that level of compromise, that shade of grey.
The hostilities are escalating towards mutually-assured destruction and he came here to apologise, dammit…
So he falls back on a childhood-inculcated rule and he kisses and makes up, putting his hand where that woman's hand had gone, feeling the shape of Rodney's face burn into his palm, bones pressing sharply, skin smooth and warm, and leaning in just a little, just enough.
Rodney lets him. It's all he does. John's never kissed a mouth that didn't kiss back. It's oddly arousing and annoying but he can't keep on standing there, his mouth working against closed, still lips.
He pulls back, his face burning, his hand peeling free, his feet still glued in place. "Ah… you can chalk that up to anoxia," he says weakly.
"Hmm." Rodney doesn't look outraged or even particularly surprised. "I see."
"You're very, very, very sorry."
"And so you decide that kissing me makes it right."
"In retrospect, maybe not the best idea I've ever had…"
"No, it was a good plan," Rodney assures him. "Inspired. You just forgot something."
"I'm supposed to be forgiving you."
Rodney uses both hands to hold John's face just where he wants him and a lot of tongue. The kiss goes on about five times longer and when it's over they're both a lot closer and John's really out of breath.
Rodney's in his arms and that's just not how he was expecting this to go. And Rodney's hands have slipped around to the back of John's neck and he's doing this stroking thing with his thumbs down the sides of John's neck that's distracting and ticklish and a reopening of hostilities in anyone's book…
"Fine. Be like that," he mutters and smothers Rodney's puzzled 'what?' with another kiss, a better kiss, with way less spit and twice the breathless moaning and squirming and biting of lips.
He's going to win this round if it kills him.
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