Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: I was inspired by the request for: first-times and newly/recently discovered feelings being more than "just friendly". I hope this fits the bill! Boundless thanks to the indispensable trillingstar, who is all that and a big cuppa chai.
Summary: Rodney darted his eyes around the room even though there was no one else present to witness this new level of peculiar behavior. He'd only ever had Sheppard pressed against him like this semi-conscious and bleeding from a gunshot wound. Even after a few beers, hell, even after more than a few beers, Sheppard wasn't... snuggly.
"Too quiet." Zelenka's voice broke the silence of clacking keyboards and clicking mice. "Is weird."
"A full day getting real work done without annoying interruptions? I don't know that 'weird' is the word I would use to describe it." Rodney looked up and surveyed his quietly working underlings with satisfaction. "More like: sweet."
Which was, naturally, the cue for Rodney's radio to chirp. "Doctor McKay? Please come in, this is Major Lorne."
"Of course it is," Rodney muttered, tapping his headset to respond. Speaking of annoying interruptions. "Aren't you supposed to be off-world, helping Sheppard make like Woolsey's honor guard, or something?" Rodney glanced at his watch, it wasn't even dinner time yet and they weren't scheduled to come back until late.
"We're home a little early," Lorne replied without adding one of his usual snarky retorts, and Rodney was already suspicious. "Listen, there's a little situation that's going to need your assistance."
Uh oh, situations were never good. Rodney sat straighter in his chair. "What happened?"
"Nothing huge, just--" Lorne broke off and now Rodney could hear other voices in the background on the open channel. There were some shuffling noises followed by what sounded like Ronon saying, "I got him." Then Lorne came back on the comm. "Stay put, Doc. We'll be right there. Lorne out."
What the hell?
Zelenka came over, looking at Rodney expectantly. "Problem?" he asked, brow furrowed.
"Undoubtedly," Rodney mused. "I just don't know what it is yet. Major Lorne sounded a little odd, but that's not saying very much, is it."
"Hmm," Zelenka agreed.
The door slid open and Lorne leaned in. He looked around the lab before catching Rodney's eye.
"What's happening?" Rodney asked, getting up from his workstation to meet Lorne at the door. "When did you get back? What's--"
"Hey, you're really tall," came a sleepy voice from the corridor.
Rodney froze. That sounded like...Sheppard? He glanced at Lorne, whose lips were pressed together in a tight line, and whether he was suppressing a smile or grimacing, Rodney couldn't tell. Rodney brushed past him to look out into the hallway.
Oh. That was Sheppard all right, leaning crookedly against the wall as though he'd been propped there, staring up at a bemused looking Ronon. His BDUs were rumpled and his hair was even messier than usual. Rodney had a sudden, sinking feeling about the situation. He returned his attention to Lorne.
"What's wrong with him?"
"Ceremonial tea." Lorne ducked his head and scratched the back of his neck. Rodney still couldn't tell if he was laughing or not. Then again, Rodney had the suspicion that Lorne was always laughing, at all of them, at least a little.
"Tea," Rodney repeated skeptically, sure there was more to the story.
"At the treaty signing," Lorne clarified. "Teyla'd had it with the Xanta before. She said it was like chamomile, but it had a different effect on Colonel Sheppard and Mr. Woolsey."
Sheppard turned his head and saw Rodney. He broke into a ridiculously happy smile which Rodney found himself involuntarily wanting to return until he stopped himself from being stupid. No matter what people said, Sheppard was not that charming. He wasn't even all that good looking, frankly, and Rodney knew this with some certainty because he'd studied Sheppard's flaws, purely out of scientific observational habit. His nose was too long and had probably been broken, his ears were ridiculous, and his hair was insane. There was absolutely no reason for him to look so attractive right now.
"Hiii, Rodney," Sheppard said, beaming. He waved and almost tipped over until Ronon reached out to straighten him back up.
"Oh god," Rodney groaned. He'd been pulled away from a potential breakthrough on power conversion for this? Then the rest of what Lorne said began to sink in. "Wait, you mean Woolsey is like this too?"
"I'm afraid so," Lorne confirmed with a nod. "We stashed him in his office with Teyla."
Rodney looked back over at Sheppard, who was still grinning sunnily, then grabbed Lorne's elbow and pulled him just inside the door to confer out of earshot.
"Shouldn't they be in the infirmary?" Rodney asked in an agitated whisper, still not quite getting what Lorne needed him for. This sounded like Jennifer's bailiwick.
"Infirmary's full," Lorne explained. "Doc Keller examined them and drew some blood as soon as we got back. She's working on it, but she's also got half a dozen quarantined marine biologists with some kind of contagious full-body rash up there right now."
Rodney hastily dropped Lorne's elbow at the word contagious.
"I don't have it!" Lorne said, shooting Rodney a glare. "The Doc thinks Mr. Woolsey and the Colonel lack the enzyme to metabolize whatever's in the tea. Teyla and the Xanta delegation are all fine; it's only the Milky Way types who got stoned off it."
Sheppard laughed at something just then, a hearty, awful sounding har-har-har!
"Why me?" Rodney asked plaintively.
Lorne looked around, then said in a low voice, "Look, he and Mr. Woolsey might do stuff that shouldn't have an audience. A lot of people already think Sheppard's too laid back to be a commanding officer."
A sprawling collage of scowling faces formed in Rodney's imagination: General Landry and most of the SGC, including Colonel Caldwell who probably still wanted the job for himself, and of course the IOA, who hated everybody.
"This place might be about the hottest hot zone you're ever going to find, and there's always the chance of being eaten. But at least he's not an asshole." Lorne inclined his head to indicate Sheppard, who now seemed utterly absorbed in examining one of the leather laces on Ronon's sleeve, much to Ronon's continued amusement. "I just don't want anyone to try to use this to advantage."
"Is something else going on?" Rodney pressed. The fact that Sheppard's mere existence pissed off a lot of people wasn't exactly news. He irritated Rodney all the time, and they were friends.
"Probably not," Lorne said, hesitating, "but you know there are always rumors the brass wants changes."
Sheppard laughed again, and this time it sounded goofy and vulnerable to Rodney's ears. Hell, even Elizabeth used to chide Sheppard for his -- admittedly lazy, but also oddly genuine -- insistence on performance evaluations that the people who worked for him were all excellent and above average. God only knew who the SGC or IOA might have planted here to collect bogus evidence of mismanagement or irresponsibility. It wasn't anything they hadn't tried before. Something tightened in Rodney's chest.
"I'll keep an eye on him," he promised. "And Teyla's got Mr. Woolsey?"
"Yep," Lorne replied. "I need Ronon to help me keep an eye on everything else."
"All right then. Let's take Sheppard to his quarters." Rodney thought about how close he was on those power conversion equations and sighed. "Hopefully he's still sufficiently coordinated to be distracted with video golf. I'll bring a laptop and try to get some work done from there."
"I like golf," Sheppard interjected brightly, looking up.
Rodney shot a glance back at Lorne. "I don't suppose Jennifer has any idea how long this condition might last?"
"She didn't think it would be more than a few hours," Lorne assured him, but Rodney suspected he was crossing his fingers behind his back.
"In other words, we have no clue what we're dealing with. As usual," Rodney grumbled, going back into the lab and shooting quelling glares at anyone on his staff whose head was peeking over the top of a monitor. Zelenka met him with an already packed computer bag.
"Thanks, Doc," Lorne said before leaving them to check on Teyla.
Rodney looked at Sheppard, still leaning, still smiling, and turned to Ronon in a wordless plea for help. The corner of Ronon's mouth twisted up into a smirk and he looped an arm around Sheppard's shoulders to help steer him to his quarters. Along the way, Rodney got a better sense of what he had signed on for as Sheppard treated them to a series of inane observations about how "cool" and "awesome" everything was: the touch-sensitive maps in the transporter; the view out the windows of towers silhouetted against a darkening sky; the technology that Sheppard could control with his mind -- that was a big one, accompanied by emphatic finger-poking at his forehead. "With my mind," he repeated, as though the enormity of the concept had been lost on Rodney the first time. "Now that is awesome." The whole city was a wonderland, and Sheppard was acting like some yokel who'd just stepped off the bus.
"Forget a laptop, I should have brought earplugs," Rodney griped as they herded Sheppard down the last corridor. This was going to be a long evening.
"At least he's not complaining," Ronon said, taking Sheppard by the shoulders and turning him at the appropriate point.
Sheppard opened and closed the door to his quarters three times (it was so cool -- you just waved your hand!) before Rodney gave him a shove and said, "Get inside already!"
Correction: it was going to be an endless evening.
"I'm going back to help Lorne," Ronon said. "Radio if you need anything."
"I wasn't kidding about the earplugs," Rodney replied.
"Bye, Ronon," Sheppard said, smiling dopily. "You're really awesome."
Rodney wanted to cover his eyes with his hands, but Ronon just laughed, yanked Sheppard into a funny half-hug, and rumbled, "You too, John," with surprising sincerity before pushing him to Rodney. "Take care of him, McKay," he called warningly back over his shoulder, and then he was off down the corridor, and gone.
"Okay," Rodney said, scanning the room for a good place to set up his laptop before deciding on the loveseat's side table. "If we play this right, you'll stay out of trouble, I'll crack these equations, and everything will be hunky dory."
"Hunky dory," Sheppard repeated, and laughed.
Rodney rolled his eyes and reminded himself to watch what he said, or Sheppard would be acting like a myna bird all night.
"Now you," Rodney continued, steering Sheppard over to his desk and pushing him down into the chair, "sit here and play some golf like a good little colonel, while I try to finish my work, all right?" Sheppard complied, but he didn't look happy, watching silently as Rodney launched PGA Challenge. Finally, he pulled the laptop closer and looked at the screen.
Satisfied that Sheppard was safely occupied, Rodney went back to the loveseat to get settled in, firing up his own computer. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. So long as he could ignore the sound effects of artificial golf swings and smatterings of polite digital applause, this was almost as good as the quiet of his lab. Rodney downloaded Zelenka's latest version of the equations from the network and stared at them, trying to get back into the right headspace for work.
Five minutes later, he was still staring. Something wasn't right. Something niggled at the back of his mind, keeping him from concentrating. He couldn't put his finger on what it was, exactly, but there was definitely niggling involved. He blew out a frustrated sigh and looked up from his screen to check on Sheppard. Who looked... miserable. Sheppard's normal desk-chair slouch had been replaced by a mopey slump and his fingers were lethargic on the keyboard. Even worse, his mouth was turned down at the corners in a truly pathetic pout.
"What's wrong with you?" Rodney asked, suddenly worried. "Are you feeling sick, or something?"
"I'm bored," Sheppard mumbled.
"You like golf!" Rodney reminded him.
Sheppard's expression turned mulish. "It's no fun to play alone, and you won't play with me."
"You're always working," Sheppard replied, pushing his chair back and getting up, steadying himself with his hands against the desktop.
"What are you doing?" Rodney asked, alarmed.
"Wow, I feel funny," Sheppard said, taking three careful steps across the room toward Rodney before dropping down beside him on the loveseat. "What're you working on?"
"A new scheme for power conversion and, hopefully, retention," Rodney said, hastily shutting his laptop and setting it on the table to protect it from getting whacked by a stray elbow. "Nothing you have a prayer of understanding."
"Doesn't matter," Sheppard said, sliding down in the seat and tipping his head back to stare at the ceiling. "Tell me about it, anyway. I like hearing you talk about stuff." He closed his eyes, looking sprawly and relaxed.
Rodney watched him, and blinked. "You do?"
Sheppard nodded, eyes still closed. He smiled. "The less I understand, the more it feels like you know what you're doing."
He was making a joke out of it, but Rodney swallowed hard thinking about all the times Sheppard had looked him in the eye, listened to some crazy explanation of a scheme cooked up on pure adrenaline, then walked into danger on pretty much nothing but Rodney's say-so.
After a long moment, Sheppard's eyes opened, a dilated sleepy green. "You're not saying anything."
Rodney nodded, stalling, because blurting out you worry me might sound a little weird. What was he supposed to be talking about? Work. Right.
"Zelenka and I have been theorizing for a while -- well, I've been theorizing and Zelenka's mostly been agreeing with me -- that we could increase the efficiency of our conduit sys..." He broke off at the sound of Sheppard's laughter. "What is it now?"
Sheppard slid even lower in his seat, a goofy smile still lighting up his face. "You're awesome, Rodney, don't ever change." And before Rodney could figure out whether he should feel flattered or insulted by that, Sheppard tipped over to the side until his head was resting on Rodney's shoulder.
Rodney darted his eyes around the room even though there was no one else present to witness this new level of peculiar behavior. He'd only ever had Sheppard pressed against him like this semi-conscious and bleeding from a gunshot wound. Even after a few beers, hell, even after more than a few beers, Sheppard wasn't... snuggly.
"Um, John?" Rodney asked uncertainly. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Mmhmm." Sheppard nodded, tickling Rodney with his insane hair, which was softer than Rodney expected. Had he always smelled this nice? "I feel great. You feel great too," Sheppard added dreamily, turning in toward Rodney and nuzzling even closer.
Rodney stiffened, even as he began responding to the warmth of Sheppard's lean, solid body plastered against his side. Sheppard's five o'clock shadow left a prickle of burn on his neck, soothed by a soft, unmistakable brush of lips across his skin.
Whoa, Rodney thought, as a little involuntary shiver went through him. This was rapidly heading into interpersonal territory he had never successfully navigated without misunderstanding and embarrassment. What the hell was in that tea? He needed to peel Sheppard off of him before things went any further.
Rodney tried to work his arm discreetly around the back of Sheppard's shoulders, hoping to get some leverage on him, but Sheppard seemed to take the move as an invitation. He lifted his head from Rodney's neck, leaned harder into Rodney's side, and covered Rodney's mouth with a kiss.
Rodney flailed for a moment, caught off-balance. This was, god, he had to stop this, had to stop it right now before... Sheppard's lips moved against his, finding a sweet spot and pressing in, deepening the kiss. Then Rodney found himself being shoved against the back of the loveseat, with Sheppard practically climbing into his lap.
Oh fuck, he really needed to be stopping this, but it felt so damned good. Better than good, and just for a moment, Rodney closed his eyes and went with it, letting his mind drift as proof of a new universe, reckless and brave, bloomed full-blown in his imagination.
Rodney's radio chirped, breaking the moment. He startled, pulling away from Sheppard as Lorne's exceedingly unwelcome voice sounded in his ear.
"How's it going, Doc?"
"Going?" Rodney's voice squeaked before he recovered. "Fine! It's been totally fine." He glanced at Sheppard, who, in spite of his flaws, was looking deliciously kissed and disheveled, and okay, maybe a little bit charming.
"Things are pretty quiet around here," Lorne continued. "I can send Ronon to relieve you, if you want."
"No!" Rodney blurted, flashing on Sheppard smiling and telling Ronon how awesome he was earlier. "That won't be necessary. We're fine, really."
"Suit yourself. Doc Keller says he'll probably fall asleep soon, anyway. Lorne out."
Rodney's hand fell away from his ear as he ended the call. He blew out a breath. He couldn't believe he'd let himself get that carried away. What if it had been Ronon? Or somebody else for that matter. Sheppard might have latched onto anyone under the influence of this stuff, and wasn't that a bracing splash of cold water?
"Something's wrong," Sheppard said in a quiet voice, and when Rodney looked at him, he was staring down at his hands, inspecting his fingernails.
"Not wrong, precisely," Rodney replied, trying to gauge where Sheppard's mind was at by his expression.
"I get it." Sheppard nodded, but didn't look up. "You don't want this. Not with me, anyway. I'm really sorry, for, uh..."
He sounded so authentically dejected, it made Rodney's chest ache a little. He couldn't even remember the last time anyone had kissed him with that kind of intensity and longing, let alone anyone he genuinely liked as much as Sheppard. Maybe that was the problem.
"I just don't think we should do this," he waved a hand between the two of them, "when you're high on Space Potion Number 9, or whatever the hell you drank."
Sheppard looked up, brows knitting curiously. "It was just tea, Rodney."
"Right, and Pirius 90 is just a red giant," Rodney snorted. "I didn't even know you... well, you know." He made a vague gesture he hoped somehow conveyed liked dick.
"You weren't supposed to," Sheppard said, seriously. He bit his lower lip. "Guess I kind of blew that one, huh?"
"Kind of," Rodney agreed, pressing a hand to the side of his neck, still tingling with stubble burn. "Look, if you still feel the irresistible desire to jump my bones when you're sober, we'll... I don't know, put in for vacation. My god, when did I get this noble?"
"I don't know, but I don't like it," Sheppard said unhappily, retreating back to his side of the loveseat. He yawned and rubbed at his eyes.
"Why don't we just watch a movie?" Rodney woke up his laptop and occupied himself scanning through folders of media files so he wouldn't have to acknowledge the silence. The best thing to do was move on. For both of them. Maybe by morning, Sheppard wouldn't even remember anything that had happened.
Rodney glanced over at him, still looking at his hands, and swallowed down a feeling of wrongness.
Not every universe got to be explored.
The Three Stooges was about the best distraction Rodney could think of -- not even wow-I-just-made-out-with-my-best-friend awkwardness could withstand its punishing stupidity for long. Rodney figured the friendship would survive after their first unison n'yuk! n'yuk! n'yuk!, and Sheppard fell asleep about ten minutes later.
After putting in his call to Jennifer, Rodney went to the mess for a cup of coffee and to decompress. He sat at a quiet table in the corner, closed his eyes, and slurped his coffee gratefully.
"John is sleeping soundly?"
He opened his eyes at the sound of Teyla's voice, and was greeted with a wry smile. He nodded, and gestured for her to join him. "Woolsey too?"
"Thankfully, yes." Teyla put down her tea and sat across from Rodney. "I had no idea he could be so... determined."
Teyla looked as tired as Rodney felt, and upon closer inspection, her usually neat ponytail was coming undone. She looked sweaty too, like she did after a bout of beating someone up in the gym.
Rodney realized with dawning horror that if his own experience was anything to go by, Teyla had likely spent her evening fending off a frisky Mr. Woolsey. Good lord! He hastily took another gulp of coffee, wracking his brain for anything that he could possibly say. Thankfully, Jennifer chose that moment to walk in. Rodney shot his hand into the air to wave her over.
"How's the babysitter's club faring?" Jennifer asked with a teasing smile as she pulled up a chair.
"Tired, but glad that my friends are going to be all right," Teyla replied, lifting her cup as though toasting them.
It figured that she'd be the picture of graciousness even after being chased around by a stoned Richard Woolsey. Rodney smiled guiltily and tipped his mug in agreement, managing to slosh hot coffee onto his fingers and the tabletop in the process.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to do more to help you," Jennifer apologized, passing Rodney a pile of napkins to mop up the spill. "Although at least our rash patients are on the mend." She waved at someone across the mess, and Rodney looked up to see what he presumed was a treated marine biologist, judging by the pink splotches of calamine lotion all over her face.
"Have you learned any more about the Xanta tea?" Teyla asked, and Rodney wished they could stick to discussing the marine biologists' rash for at least a little while longer. If they started talking about the tea, the word aphrodisiac might come up, and Rodney wasn't sure he could bear it.
"I've looked in on them both, and I think they'll wake up tomorrow with a bit of a hangover, but there shouldn't be any lasting effects. The active compound breaks down on its own in about twelve hours," Jennifer explained. "Natives of this galaxy commonly produce an enzyme which metabolizes this compound very quickly, causing nothing more than a mild sense of well-being."
"The Xanta are a very calm people," Teyla agreed. "I have always found my visits there most pleasant."
"Lotus eaters," Rodney couldn't help muttering under his breath, earning a curious eyebrow hitch from Teyla.
"Without the enzyme," Jennifer continued, shooting Rodney a stern glare, "the compound built up to higher concentrations in Mr. Woolsey and Colonel Sheppard, with a correspondingly amplified neuron response. My guess would be they experienced some issues with impulse control?"
Teyla began nodding and Rodney choked on his coffee. Oh no, here it came. He slid lower in his seat as Teyla leaned across the table, clearly intending to spill details meant for their ears only. Rodney tried very hard not to picture Mr. Woolsey rubbing his head against Teyla's shoulder like a big, Woolsey-ish cat. It didn't work. He shuddered miserably.
"I found Mr. Woolsey became quite enthusiastic. I don't recall how the subject of ballroom dancing came up, but I can now apparently do a 'passable' quickstep, waltz, and something called a samba?"
Rodney froze, mid-wince, with his coffee mug halfway to his lips. Wait, what?
"How was John?" Teyla asked, and she and Jennifer both looked at Rodney expectantly.
"Oh! Um..." Rodney struggled for words, but all his brain supplied were decidedly unhelpful suggestions like: snuggly, kissable, and hot. Yeah. Huh. "Well, you know Sheppard," he finally managed.
Teyla smiled. "I hope he did not want to fly in his condition."
That might be one way to put it, Rodney thought. He tried for what he hoped was a convincing dismissive laugh. "I finally got him to watch a movie," he hedged. And hey, that wasn't even a lie!
There was what felt like a long beat of silence after that, then Jennifer smiled and pushed her chair back from the table.
"Well!" she said briskly, standing. "My doctor's orders for the two of you are to go and get some well-deserved rest. We'll let Mr. Woolsey and the Colonel sleep it off and I'll run some tests in the morning, but I'm confident they'll be completely fine."
"Yes, rest sounds like an excellent suggestion," Teyla said, also getting up. She smiled crookedly. "Although I might soak my feet first."
They waved and moved on, leaving Rodney at the table with half a mug of tepid coffee, and a head full of jumbled thoughts. The Xanta tea affected impulse control -- the stuff wasn't the space Viagra or love potion he'd feared. After all, Mr. Woolsey's impulses run amok had been in the direction of ballroom dance. Sheppard's, on the other hand, had been in the direction of... Rodney. His cheeks heated.
Of course, they had no way of knowing what Sheppard would remember when he woke up. And even if he did remember, there was the whole supposed-to-be-a-secret thing to contend with. That could be a problem, but Rodney was good at solving problems. He abandoned his coffee and went back to the silent Physics lab where he stared at power conversion equations until he fell asleep.
Zelenka woke Rodney late the next morning with a shove, and pushed a fresh cup of coffee across the lab bench toward him. Rodney blinked and looked around, getting his bearings.
"I hope you dreamed up a solution for our equations," Zelenka said, sipping at his own coffee. "I got nowhere."
"Not yet," Rodney admitted, shaking his head. "But I'll come up with something." He broke into what he knew must look like a strange smile. "I am, after all, awesome."
Zelenka rolled his eyes but refrained from comment. "I saw Colonel Sheppard before. He seems back to normal."
"He's up already?" Rodney asked, surprised.
Zelenka nodded. "But I think he was returning to his quarters, if you wanted to check on him."
Rodney paused in front of Sheppard's door, fist poised to knock for a long moment before he went through with it. "It's me," he added, figuring Sheppard would know who that meant.
The door slid open, and Sheppard was standing there in sweats and a t-shirt. He looked freshly showered and shaved, and Rodney suddenly wished he'd taken the time go back to his room to change.
"Hey, Rodney," Sheppard said, eyes darting away almost immediately after making contact. That probably meant he remembered plenty, but it didn't look like it was in a good way. Rodney swallowed, at a loss for words.
After a moment, Sheppard stepped back, inviting Rodney in. Rodney looked around the room as the door slid shut behind them, his eyes drawn immediately to the loveseat. Sheppard tracked his gaze, then closed his eyes.
"Listen, Rodney, I'm really sorry," he said. When he opened his eyes again, they were bright. "My father always said I had a fatalistic streak. This was never supposed to become your problem."
"What if it's already my problem?" Rodney asked, throwing his hands up in the air. "You seem to be suffering from selective memory. I kissed you back!"
"And then you stopped!"
"Because I was sober, and you were chemically compromised. I distinctly recall explaining this to you," Rodney huffed, folding his arms across his chest.
"I thought you were just saying that to make me feel better," Sheppard said sheepishly.
"Yes, I'm world famous for that!" The corner of Sheppard's mouth twitched up in a smile and Rodney felt a rush of relief. He stepped up to Sheppard, heart pounding. "Look, the odds of this ending in miserable failure are probably pretty high, but compared to some of the crazy shit you've done on my recommendation it's a no-brainer."
Sheppard looked at him for a long moment, seriously assessing. "That's good enough for me."
"It's better than that," Rodney said, leaning in to kiss him. "It's unequivocally awesome."