Title: Solve for Y - posted October 25, 2005
Author:  Lacey McBain
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Rating: G. Pre-slash. McKay/Sheppard
Summary:  A follow-up to Better in the Long Run;  Rodney's POV.

Disclaimer:  Stargate Atlantis (including all characters and images) is the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No copyright infringement is intended.


Solve for Y

Rodney rubs at the sore spot on his arm and wonders how many days it’s going to take before he doesn’t feel the outline of fingers pressed into his flesh. Even through the fabric of his jacket, he felt the nails, the cold tug of the alien hand and it stopped him, stopped him cold, until Sheppard grabbed him. Bluish fluid bursting from the thing’s chest, the jerking motion as Sheppard shot it until it let go, and Rodney counted the bullets automatically, not even flinching at the sound of metal tearing through skin—one for every bloodied streak the thing left on his arm. Move, McKay! Sheppard had shouted, and there was a hand on his back pushing him forward, and somehow his feet obeyed the command even when his brain was still catching up to the idea that he wasn’t dead. Not even a little bit.

The gateroom’s crowded and warm, and McKay just stands there, grateful for once to be part of the noise and the routine of the place, the ordinary things that tell him he’s alive. Like Beckett flashing a penlight in everyone’s face, as if the dilation of the pupils is the answer to every mystery of the human body. When Beckett does it to him, Rodney blinks twice and inquires if the ability to flash tiny white lights in unsuspecting eyes is the extent of the doctor’s training. Beckett pats him roughly on the shoulder and says, you’re all right, Rodney, before he wanders off to bother someone else. Rodney notices the brief warmth of Beckett’s hand, the lingering absence when it’s gone. He wonders what’s wrong with him. He didn’t used to notice these things.

Ford is grinning like he does every time they aren’t dead at the end of the day, and Teyla seems to be offering quiet thanks in her own quiet way, and then there’s Sheppard, standing in the middle of it like nothing ever touches him. Like he’s above it all. Rodney wonders if that’s what being a hero means—never feeling the fear, not noticing the ice cold fingers reaching for you and leaving you torn and bloody. He wants to ask him, but he doesn’t think he can. Not yet.

Elizabeth moves among her people like the Pope, touching and talking, as if the laying on of hands can change the fact that every day they walk through the gate the line between killing or getting killed gets a little smaller, and Rodney remembers when he didn’t know how to shoot a gun or dress a wound or fly a jumper. The last one he knows isn’t because Sheppard wants competition flying the Ancient toys, but only because the Major’s preparing them for the mission when he doesn’t come back and they still need to get home. It makes Rodney shiver inside.

When he looks up, Sheppard’s looking at him and there might as well be no one moving between them because all Rodney sees are Sheppard’s eyes, the half-grin, and for a moment that Rodney knows can’t be measured in real time he sees Sheppard’s mask slip. From across the room, Rodney can feel the yearning, the fragile ache to not be alone in all of this, and yeah, Rodney gets that. Totally, completely gets that, but he didn’t think Sheppard did. Until now.

He’s got a pretty good idea the Major only sees him as the geek who got beat up in high school, and one of these days McKay’s going to educate him about the first and last time someone shoved him in a locker and what the combined effects of household chemicals and a pissed-off science geek can do to a brand-new paint job on an ‘82 Grand Am. He’s always had brains; he never needed guns before he came to Atlantis.

If Rodney’s honest with himself—which he finds is becoming an annoying habit these days—he needs a lot more than he used to. He was always fine with his computers and his coffee and people to tell him he’s a genius, which of course, is true and something he already knows, but it’s nice to hear anyway. Now, without realizing it, he also seems to need a Scottish witch doctor who actually considers the bagpipes a musical instrument, and a Czech scientist who pisses him off more often than he does anything useful, although Rodney’s got to admit there are times he’s grateful Zelenka’s back on Atlantis just waiting for them to screw up. Maybe he even needs Teyla and Weir, and the tea and the random, female touches they seem to give without even thinking, as if it’s completely natural to just reach out and touch someone just because he’s there. And even as Rodney glances up there’s Weir and Sheppard hugging awkwardly on the platform, and the only truly odd thing about that is Sheppard’s looking straight at him.

Rodney wants to wink and he wants to say what the fuck?, so he settles on a lopsided smile somewhere in between and he knows something’s going on here that he doesn’t quite understand. But he’s a scientist and a genius—his MENSA creds say so—and he’s sure he’ll figure out why he’s looking at Sheppard and wishing that a hug were as simple as building a fusion reactor. He understands the mechanics of it—two arms plus two arms equal one hug—but how to create the initial catalyst that results in the hug is still confusing to him, especially when both parts of the equation are decidedly y.

As it is, Sheppard touches him more than anyone that he wasn’t having sex with ever has, and it’s not only when Sheppard’s saving his ass from certain death. Sometimes it’s just sitting on the couch arguing about football and hockey, and then Sheppard will say something unexpected like you did good today and punch his shoulder—lightly—and Rodney will lose his breath like an asthma attack and nod stupidly, watching the Major disappear down the hall. He doesn’t know when he started caring so much what people think of him. What Sheppard thinks.

Rodney tears his eyes from Sheppard’s and swallows his thoughts, deciding that it’s better not to dwell on being alone, or lonely, or wanting to be friends with the guy who would willingly die to save McKay’s life just because it’s his job. Sheppard’s like a faithful puppy with sharp teeth and a big gun, the one you can send for help when you’ve fallen down a horribly deep well, and you know he’ll find a way to get you out even if it means leaping into the darkness after you because faithful puppies aren’t always the smartest creatures.

He knows what it’s like to get attached to something that’s just going to die one day, and he doesn’t want to think about that as he hurries down the corridor towards his room. All he wants is a hot shower and a chocolate-chip power bar, and the touch of something warm against his skin. He’ll settle for his own hands, a soft shirt, anything warm and safe, because he knows he can’t ask for anything from anyone else, and even if he could, tonight’s not the time to try to figure out what’s going on behind Sheppard’s eyes. Rodney’s got his hypothesis, but there are too many variables, and he has no desire to have this—whatever’s going on between them—blow up in his face. He’s too old and too damn smart for failed experiments.

He hears footsteps in the hall behind him, the ambling walk of Major Sheppard, and he doesn’t know whether he should slow down or run for his life, so he just keeps walking. Sooner or later they’re going to be walking down this path together and one of them’s going to have to say something, or do something, but he figures he’s still got time to figure out what y plus y equals and whether he’s gotten the equation completely wrong.

He doesn’t really think so, but there’s still time and he doesn’t feel like taking chances. He opens the door to his room and slips inside. Ten seconds later, he can hear footsteps slowing down outside. Slowing, but not stopping, and then they’re gone, and he can breathe.

There’s still time.


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