Summary: "The taste of the pudding is in the eating" - Cervantes
Author notes: Done in two days, after I decided to scrap the previous idea and the 4000 words I'd written on it. *headdesk* Ekaterinn, I hope this meets your wish of emotional content over smut. Merry Christmas!
The taste of maybe
It had started quite mundanely.
They were working in the lab, elbow-deep in equations and computerised models of puddlejumper shields, when Radek stretched out a hand without taking his eyes of the monitor and grappled for his mug.
And found it empty. His stomach growled, equally unfilled. Quick look at the time told him it had been several hours without nourishment.
No reaction. Unperturbed Radek continued to write while repeating himself, this time a lot louder.
Another 30 seconds ticked by and then a gruff voice somewhere on the other side of the room barked:
"I need last month's stats to compare, where have you saved them? Also, we're out of tea."
"Gone. Get some food as well."
"It's on the F-drive. Miko, go get us something to eat, and lots of coffee."
"And some of that horrible herbal stuff for Zelenka."
It took almost full five minutes before either of them lifted their heads from the monitors for long enough to notice the distinctive lack of room service.
"I think she has gone."
"Maybe to sleep, maybe to have life."
"Oh." Rodney glanced at the clock. It was quite late. Or early, depending on how you thought about it.
"Do you want to...?"
"What I want, Rodney, is to finish these calculations before tomorrow's meeting. Also a hot drink would be good."
McKay nodded briefly in agreement, waving his hand around.
"Great. You go, I went yesterday."
It was true enough so with barely a curse Radek stood up and made his way to the mess hall through silent corridors.
His mind still occupied by numbers and diagrams, he grabbed them drinks and whatever food was easily accessible and made his way back to the lab.
They resumed work and by the morning there was a 50% more effective way of shielding the jumper while still retaining enough power for all of the weapons systems. Sheppard was practically bouncing on his seat and even Bates cracked a pleased looking smile.
He and Rodney exchanged tired but satisfied grins across the table, both already dreaming about sleep and warm showers.
After that things fell into a pattern. Whenever they were both working late, which was most nights, they took turns getting food and drinks. For a long time it was nothing more exciting than the not-at-all-like-coffee everyone had switched to once the real stuff run out and whatever dubious looking concoctions were left from the day's dinner.
Then the contact with Earth was resumed thanks to Daedalus and suddenly there were things in the cupboards that had been thought lost forever.
It was his turn to get the supplies. However, instead of irritably hording the first thing within reach and running back to the lab like usual, Radek walked into the empty kitchens slowly. He slumped against the counter, took off his glasses and buried his face into his hands, just for a moment.
They were both so very tired. And hurt.
Another member of the science team had been lost today. A valve had gotten loose due to over 10,000 years of zero maintenance and blown on Dr. Pherrel's face just as he was attempting to rectify the situation.
The worst part was, there had been no one to blame, no way for anyone to have known what was going to happen until it had.
After the accident Rodney had insisted on testing the remaining valves himself and no amount of arguing had persuaded him otherwise. They'd had their first proper argument since the Arcturus fiasco, in full view of at least two dozen scientists and military personnel. They quarrelled a lot, over science, over methods, over who had cheated by counting cards during the latest game of poker, but not like this.
What had started as a heated discussion had quickly escalated into a proper screaming match. Radek couldn't remember the last time he was that angry. McKay had stood there and called him every name under the sun until he was blue in the face while he shouted in Czech, his command of English almost completely gone.
Finally Rodney had thrown his hands up in the air and marched to one of the remaining valves and started loosening it, all the while yelling about how it was his responsibility and as the head scientist he could do whatever he damn well pleased and how Radek didn't know what it was like, just couldn't understand, all these lives and deaths in *his* hands.
He had cursed loudly and ran to the next valve in the row, turning it frantically, spitting back that Rodney was one egoistical bastard, he was here too, that if Rodney died whose hands would save them all then.
It was over so quickly that none of the stunned soldiers had a chance to even think about stopping Rodney or him. In 15 seconds the rest of the valves had been opened, nothing had blown up and both of them stood in the middle of room, panting and somehow disappointed.
Of course Elizabeth had heard about their little altercation. Radek winced at the memory; he had not received such a dressing down since his teenage years.
They had left her office in silence and headed for the lab. It was now 10 hours later and not another word had been exchanged since.
Radek had finally escaped to the mess, communicating his intention by a clink of empty mugs.
Now that he was alone he could see the reason behind the fight more clearly: Fear.
Fear of simple things, like Rodney being afraid of death and defying it and Radek being afraid of Rodney's death and not letting him do it.
But there were also other, more complex fears and Radek was honest enough with himself to acknowledge them; like Rodney being afraid of responsibility that he never wanted, guilt, failure, not knowing how to fix things.
And Radek fearing being left behind to do a job that was not his, to perform miracles that he could not do alone, to live a life bleached of all colour.
With a shake of his head Radek pulled himself together. He'd been gone long enough for Rodney to realise he was hiding.
He started piling things on a tray, clanking dishes as he went form cupboard to cupboard. With a sharp yank he opened the gigantic refrigerator and peered inside.
Perfect. On the top shelf sat a huge chocolate cake, complete with chocolate frosting and chocolate buttons.
He pulled the cake out, hunted for a knife and was about to cut two slices when an idea came to him. It was not an idea that would be popular and make friends amongst other expedition members come tomorrow's teatime but it was a very good, very promising idea nevertheless.
With infinite care Radek unloaded the tray, putting everything back where he had found it, except for two tall glasses of milk, two forks and a pile of napkins. Then he placed the chocolate cake in the middle and hotfooted it out of the kitchen.
When he walked into the lab Rodney was sitting exactly where he had left him. At the sound of the door opening his back seemed to relax ever so slightly. Radek felt something constrict painfully inside him; it was clear Rodney had not expected him to return.
"I bring food."
Rodney swivelled his chair around. His mouth dropped open and he visibly swallowed at the sight of Radek's peace offering.
"That, my friend..." Another swallow. "...is not food. It's a piece of heaven."
Radek felt the tension seep out of his body. Wordlessly he offered utensils to the other man while sitting down beside him.
"Forks are for sissies." Rodney said with a feral grin, breaking off a good-sized chunk with his hand and stuffing it into his mouth.
It was the best chocolate cake Radek had ever tasted. Well worth the stomach ache on the following day.
Ever since the argument and the cake-that-brought-peace, their nightly supply-runs became more interesting. Mostly it was still drinks and bland leftovers but every now and then there were other things on the tray.
On the day Radek's experiment that he had been working on for two weeks was ruined in a freak accident involving synthetic fibres and a discarded magnifying lens, Rodney rummaged around for half an hour before finding a packet of cookies he had obviously saved for quite a while.
Radek watched as he meticulously divided them into two equal piles, cutting the last one in half. The cookies tasted slightly stale. They tasted like understanding and friendship. He ate them all.
The evening Rodney was released from the infirmary after an arrow through his thigh courtesy of hostile villagers, he limped to the lab. Radek didn't say anything even though it was clear the man was there against Beckett's orders, just left him a stack of reports to read and hummed all the way to the dining hall.
He came back with scones and strawberry jam and whipped cream and after those were demolished went back for sandwiches. On Atlantis you learned to eat the desert first.
One day not long after that Radek found himself *planning* what food to get Rodney that night. He was not a stupid man. Snacking on leftovers and drowning cups of coffee while hurling ideas at each other and fighting over the last working whiteboard pen was one thing.
Putting their research aside for up to one hour almost every evening to sit down to share a meal and talk about everything *except* work was something else entirely.
Radek thought he maybe knew what that something was but with Rodney you could never be sure. And he wasn't willing to risk asking outright.
So, feeling unsettled but determined to ignore it, he pushed his thoughts aside and went back to work. And at lunch he had a quick word with the chef about mushroom tarts.
Rodney loved them.
They had barely seen each other for a couple of weeks. Rodney had been off-world hunting for a ZPM, he had been on the mainland tinkering with things agricultural and the Genii had sent a five-man team on a suicide mission to Atlantis.
So when Radek walked into the lab at two in the morning and was greeted by a delicious aroma of spices, he wasn't exactly surprised. Just a bit stunned. In a good way.
Rodney was brandishing a spoon and looking slightly uncertain although he hid it well.
"I thought you might be hungry..." He trailed off as Radek stole the spoon straight out of his hand and helped himself to the food.
It was some sort of semi-Moroccan dish with an earthy blend of spices that tasted mellow on the first bite but had a substantial after-kick. Leftovers, sure, but Rodney had heated them up and rustled up some flat-bread to go with it.
"Nice, isn't it?"
"Oh God." He closed his eyes in ecstasy. "I haven't tasted turmeric in years."
"You can tell what spices it has?" Rodney's expression was sceptical.
"Turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and a pinch of ground coriander seeds; commonly used in North-African cooking."
"So..." Rodney's voice held a hint of awe. "You know a lot about food and cooking and such?"
Radek couldn't decide whether to be annoyed or flattered. Rodney had certainly never expressed such open admiration for his abilities as a scientist.
In the end he settled for a non-committal shrug.
They were half-way through the meal; Radek's plate all but forgotten as he watched Rodney .
The man had no table manners whatsoever. He was leaning forward, elbows on the table, fork dangling dangerously from one hand while the other was drawing restless patterns in the air. He was totally engrossed in a story, which didn't stop him from enjoying the food. Bits of couscous were stuck to the sides of his mouth and he'd gotten some sauce his shirt. He was loud and obnoxious and messy in every sense of the word.
And Radek really, really wanted to kiss him.
But he wasn't yet sure what Rodney wanted.
"...and then I said 'No, but your doctorate probably did!'"
When he failed to react to the punch line, Rodney reached across and nudged his hand.
"Hey, you ok?"
"Fine. Just ah... enjoying the wine."
"You like it?"
"Very much." It was true, the Athosian wine was excellent. But the fact that Rodney had brought it made Radek feel light-headed for reasons entirely unrelated to the alcohol.
They never did go back to work after the dinner that night but said goodnight outside his room. There was a split second when Radek thought he had his answer in the tilt Rodney's head, the angle of his body and the something unnamed in his eyes but then the moment was over.
He lay awake for a long time, savouring the taste of possibility.
Two weeks later Rodney disappeared.
They were both off-world, investigating ruins that might or might not contain Ancient technology. PX-579, or Fehneria as Teyla called it, was a desert planet, seemingly filled with nothing but remnants of a long-dead civilization and sand dunes as far as the eye could see.
The heat made them both irritable so when the canteens ran dry, Radek was more than happy to make the ten-minute trek back to the jumper for refills.
By the time he got back there was no sign of Rodney.
The search was frantic and fruitless. After 24 hours of combing the ruins for hidden chambers and trapdoors the team returned to Atlantis without McKay.
It was another day until the ransom demand arrived and then two more until Rodney stumbled through the gate, sunburn and dehydrated but otherwise intact.
Radek was not able to eat anything until the evening of fourth day, when Rodney was finally sleeping peacefully in the infirmary.
The following morning he woke up Beckett to ask several questions, which the doctor answered in a gentle voice once it became clear why he wanted to know.
Radek went to the mess and had a quiet word with the chef, who let him into her kitchen without protest. If anyone else wondered about his sudden urge to cook and bake, they weren't curious enough to ask and for that Radek was grateful. He didn't have an answer he was willing to share.
He spent the afternoon sitting on Rodney's bedside, taking advantage of his temporary loss of voice and gleefully outlining a list of research priorities for the next year or so.
The expression on Rodney's face switched between outrage and incredulity, occasionally softening to something delicate and more difficult to interpret. He did drink several glasses of fruit smoothie and ate all the savoury pastries. And the tiny vegetable parcels. And the cherry cookies.
Things returned to normal; hostile aliens, scientific breakthroughs, indifferent aliens, off-world missions, an occasional friendly alien (always a surprise), meetings, plans, back-up plans.
And a lot of late-nights.
They stood in front of a large diagram of ZPM that was almost see-through after the holes caused by repeated poking with two pens and some overenthusiastic fingers.
A contemplative silence had descended as they considered the next course of action.
"I think perhaps a new diagram." Radek tapped a pen to his lips and regarded the tattered piece of paper hanging from the flipchart. He couldn't actually read their notes any more.
"And I think you are my second-in-command for just that purpose."
"You are delusional, Rodney. I suspect low blood-sugar."
"Oh yeah?" Rodney leaned against the nearby table with hands of his hips. A crooked smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth. Radek loved to see this side of him; relaxed and playful.
"Well, what's for dinner tonight, honey?" Rodney had not asked before and it was clear he had meant it to come out as a joke. But somewhere between one word and another, the question became something else. The smile stayed in place but his eyes grew guarded, like he wasn't sure if he'd stepped over the line.
Radek held his gaze for several long seconds. They never really talked about their little arrangement. Maybe Rodney too had been wondering about that.
He'd obviously been silent for too long because Rodney had started to withdraw. His body language was painfully easy to read. Arms crossed protectively over his chest, chin jutting up, eyes defiantly meeting the back wall.
"I don't know, darling." The use of endearment deliberate but on the safe side of humorous. He took a step closer, right into Rodney's personal space.
"What would you like?"
Rodney's eyes widened a fraction as he tried to work out if the question really was as layered as it sounded.
Radek held his breath, urging Rodney to understand the question.
"I ah..." A nervous lick of his lips.
"I wouldn't mind some chocolate cake, like the one you brought me before..." Radek let his head fall forward, hiding a resigned smile. It wasn't a particularly clear answer. But it was a maybe.
"I don't think they have any today. But..." He looked up and tried a casual grin on for size. "...perhaps I can do something about that."
It took McKay a full five seconds to work out the implication of his offer.
"You know how to *make* chocolate cake?!" The expression on Rodney's face was the kind people tended to get during religious epiphanies.
"Yes. You don't?" Why that was a surprise Radek didn't know. Over the months it had become obvious that while Rodney loved food in almost all its forms, he actually knew very little about how to make it.
"What? Of course not. Why would I need to?"
"To bake it whenever you want some."
"Like now?" The look on his face was so hopeful that Radek couldn't help but laugh.
"Yes, Rodney, like now."
They sneaked into the kitchen, giddy like schoolboys up to no good, even though there was no one to tell them off.
Constantly shushing each other they still managed to make a considerable amount of noise pulling ingredients from the shelves. They had to substitute some but the larder was pretty well stocked after the latest supply-run.
Rodney tasted everything; drinking milk straight from the bottle, dipping his finger repeatedly into the sugar bag and licking it clean and getting cocoa powder all over his face when he ripped the packet open.
He also insisted on helping despite clearly never having baked anything in his life.
"No, no, no, whisk it, don't kill it. Look, just let me..."
Rodney wanted to be shown.
"I know how to build a stargate. How difficult can it be?"
So he held Rodney's hand on the whisk, on the measuring cup, on the spoon, their bodies brushing against each other at every turn. They made the cake mix, they made the filling, the even made chocolate buttons and in the end Radek had no recollection of anything except the press of Rodney's back and they way tiny flecks of flour clung to his eyelashes.
Needing some distance to clear his head, Radek started cleaning up; putting the cake into oven, gathering empty dishes, wiping the table. He was just about to put away the sugar when a deep groaning sound made him turn around.
Rodney was licking the chocolate crème of the scoop in wide sweeps. Radek froze, unable to breath, his eyes glued to the pink tongue gliding up, down, around the curves, methodically gathering up the sweetness and taking it in.
The bag slipped from his suddenly numb fingers and thumped to the floor, white crystals scattering everywhere.
Rodney didn't seem to notice.
"Ish jus' sho good. Do you wan' shome?" Eyes half-closed in pleasure he took a step closer and offered the spoon to Radek.
Yes he did. Want some. He took the spoon out of Rodney's fingers and put it down.
"You got chocolate on your..."
Radek watched himself reach up and cup Rodney's face, thumb swiping the chocolate of the corner of his mouth.
Before he had a chance to decide what to do next, a hand seized his wrist, fingers sticky with sugar.
"Can't let it go to waste." Rodney's voice was husky, the words slipping from his lips slow and thick like honey.
Radek could feel his heart speeding up, pulse thrumming against the hand circling his wrist. He knew what Rodney was going to do and he let him, craving it more than any food in his life for here was an answer, here finally was the question.
Rodney brought the chocolate covered thumb to his mouth and licked.
Jesus. It was warm and wet and more than he thought he could take yet not nearly enough. Rodney's eyes were locked in his, now almost completely black.
Then Radek's finger was pulled inside and he could feel the hot slide of tongue all around the tip and yes yes the answer was yes. Now. Please.
Someone moaned, maybe Rodney, maybe him, it didn't matter. Radek pulled his finger out, hissing as teeth scraped against the sensitive skin and backed them against the counter.
His hands flew to Rodney's hair, bringing their lips together and then he was licking his way inside that wide mouth, hungry in a way that food could not satisfy. Rodney kissed like he ate; greedy and focused, like at that particular moment nothing else in the world mattered.
He tasted like chocolate and home and new beginnings. All the things Radek had been starving for.
They never did finish that particular cake.
In the morning Radek lost 2-3 in a game of prime-not prime and was the one to apologise to the chef. Although embarrassing, it nevertheless netted him some freshly-baked muffins, which they ate over work, getting crumbs all over memos and graphs and not caring one little bit.
That night they had dinner in Rodney's room instead of the lab. And they didn't leave the bed for it.