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Country boy, you got a lot to lose.

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It begins simple enough. Of course, most things on Atlantis seem to start that way. Any innocuous day can become a minefield of explosions, aliens, and misfiring Ancient tech. In short, strange things happen in random yet regular intervals when you are a part of the Atlantis expedition. For this reason, the denizens of the Ancient city have developed certain kinds of enhanced senses. Nothing truly quantifiable, but present all the same. Most of them have come to possess a sort of hyper-vigilance that leaves them overly observant of their surroundings. (Some might consider it paranoia, but it has served many of them well.)

So, the fact that the day is so peaceful should've been his first clue that something was going to go wrong, or had already begun to. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Head of Security and leader of the AR-1, has already written the day off as boring and by the script. Just a routine introduction of soldiers and scientists arriving from the Daedalus. He glances at the tablet in his hand, his vision a little blurry around the edges from a combination of exhaustion and boredom. (He can almost -hear- Rodney chastising him in the back of his mind for not paying attention to his duties. Something along the lines of how his life is too important for Sheppard to fall asleep on the job.)

He snorts in soft semblance of amusement before looking around quickly to make sure that no one heard him. The last thing he needs is some greenie hearing him make such an undignified sound. Sure, he wouldn't usually give a damn if someone heard him snort, laugh, or make some other sound, but these people have to look up to him right from the start. He casts one last look at the tablet before he forces himself to stop leaning against a pile of equipment and step forward. The sooner he handles this, the sooner he can sneak away to bug McKay.

"Right. Can I have everyone's attention?" God, even his usually easy drawl has a bit of a bored timbre to it. He clears his throat, forces his stance and voice into something a little more official and authoritative. "When I call your name, step forward. Once you've been verified, report to Dr. Zelenka if you're on the science crew, and Major Lorne if you're military." He glances over his shoulder, receiving tired nods from both men before he faces front once more. This should be easy, but he can already feel his energy beginning to wane.

"Gomez, Laurena." He watches a woman walk up, a nervous, awed expression on her face. The typical Holy Shit, this is Atlantis! reaction he has come to expect. Hell, each and every one of them had worn that same expression once the dust had settled and they were able to process the fact that they were, indeed, standing in the Lost City of Atlantis. "Thank you." He mumbles, being as polite as he can without being too friendly. Yes, he needs to know each and every one of these people on some level, as he will be responsible for their safety, but not today. Today, he needs to get them on the path to integration. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of getting to know them in some fashion.

"Verima, Padri." He blinks, squints down at the name, and when a short, round-eyed man approaches, assumes that he pronounced it right. He offers the man a nod and ushers him on. This continues for several minutes, name after name until there's only five people left. He sucks in a deep breath, reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He's done little more than read off names, verify pictures, and still he feels like he's gone five rounds with a Wraith or something.

"Payne, Uilliam." Sheppard frowns, the name tasting too wrong and foreign on his tongue. When he glances up and watches a handsome young man walking toward him, wincing, he knows that he's mangled the name a bit. "Erm, was I even close?" There's a hint of hope in his voice that is almost immediately doused when the man winces a second time and gives a curt shake of his head.

"No, not really. You mangled it rather thoroughly." The man has a thick British accent and Sheppard kinda wants to smack him over the back of the head with his tablet. There's something .. prissy and better-than-you about his attitude that rubs Sheppard the wrong way. Though, there is also something familiar about the attitude that he just can't place. "Please, add my first name as Liam. That seems to be something you Americans have no trouble pronouncing." Sheppard's mouth falls open in disbelief, his hand tightening around the tablet as he once more fights down the urge to smack this man.

With a jabbing finger, he taps in a note, that the man prefers to be called Liam. He just barely manages not to add in a footnote that he's a complete and utter ass.

"Right. Report to --"

"Colonel!" Rodney McKay's voice is .. distinctive. Not as thickly accented as some of the Canadian citizens in the City, but accented all the same. But, there's more to it than that. Sheppard knows that he has managed to key himself to the voice of his best friend. Even in a crowded room, there's a chance he can pick Rodney out from everyone else. So of course it is obvious that it is his best friend calling him by rank. (One of these days, he will get the idiot to -actually- call him John. Even if it kills him.)

"I'm almost done here, Rodney. Give me a few --"

"What? No. Never mind. I don't need you, Colonel. I need him." Rodney comes to a stop next to him, eyes gleaming as he waves his hand in the general direction of Liam. "Dr. Payne, yes? Radek will get you your packet of information later. Right now, I am in need of your expertise." He can feel a muscle under his eye jump, and he's not entirely sure why. Rodney has never really called him an expert on anything.

"Oh! Dr. McKay. Er, aye, of course. Wherever you need me." How about right back on board the Daedalus and get the hell back to Earth?

"Oh, good. You're one of -those- types. This should work out wonderfully." Sheppard drags in a deep, silent breath, hoping that his features are as schooled as they usually are.

"Uh, Rodney, if you need help that bad, maybe you should take Zelenka with you? There are only a few people left to process, and you know Radek is the best at working with you." He tries to make his voice as smooth and easy-edged as possible. Making it seem like a simple, logical suggestion rather than anything he personally wants. (Because the worst thing he can do is feed Rodney's ego too much!)

"What? Oh, no, Colonel, that's okay. Radek is needed where he is. Besides, this wouldn't make any sense to him, anyway. No, Dr. Payne is exactly what I need." Again, he feels that muscle twitch even as Dr. Payne's eyes light up and he stands a little straighter. Oh. He recognizes that move. It's the same posture Rodney uses when Sheppard is impressed by something he says/does. (Coincidentally, it's also the same posture Sheppard uses whenever Rodney admits that he's smarter than he usually lets on.)

"I must admit, Dr. McKay. You are the primary reason I agreed to join the Atlantis expedition." Oh, damn it! He's a kiss-ass to boot! "When Samantha told me that you were leading the Science Team, I was beside myself with it!" Rodney lights up at the name Samantha, and Sheppard forces himself to step away from the two scientists. Because for a second, he's pretty sure he heard the casing of his tablet creak ominously. (The names Samantha/Sam/Carter are -not- names he wants to hear right now, damn it! Who names a -whale- after a woman they have a crush on, anyway!?)

"Oh! You know Sam, then?" Rodney's voice has changed. Softened in a way it only does when he speaks of someone he is either professionally or personally fond of. Of course, in this instance, it's both.

"Of course! She personally recruited me for this, Dr. McKay." Sheppard glares down at the tablet, growling the next name on his list. Even with his back to the two of them, he imagines Rodney beaming at the thought of getting a subordinate that was hand chosen by his crush.

"I see. Well, right this way, Dr. Payne." Sheppard tries very hard not to focus on the sound of Liam getting his meager possessions together to follow Rodney. "Oh, Sheppard!" He is not too proud to admit to himself that his head whips around and he perks up like a fucking puppy, because he does. "Food later, yes?" It's his turn to light up, a little smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth as he regards his best friend.

"You mean, am I going to storm the labs with food in hand because you're going to be an idiot and forget to eat?" At the DUH expression on the face of the scientist, Sheppard lets the smirk become a small, private smile. "Yes, Rodney, food later. Now go. You're interrupting us getting this done." He makes a fond shoo-ing gesture with his hand before he turns back to finish up. A permanent half-smile in place. So, the new guy might be a pretty boy with a brown nose and the inside track to the woman Rodney is obsessed with, but -he- is still the best friend of the head scientist, so take -that-, Liam!

"Right. Good. Lets go." Rodney turns on his heel and walks quickly from the room, a flustered Liam hot on his trail. Sheppard shakes himself minutely and turns his attention back to his tablet.

Rodney is not a patient man. This fact can be attested to by any of several dozen opinions on Atlantis. (If not hundreds of opinions on Earth.) The fact that he is -aware- of this flaw, simply makes the existence of it all that more .. horrible. He should be able to improve himself. Re-write the code of his personality to eliminate such errors, but it is .. well, not impossible, but definitely improbable that he will ever succeed in fixing these flaws.

Lord knows enough people have pointed them out. Cited them as reasons for the ending of whatever relationship they may have had at the time. (Intimate, friendly, even working relationships. He is destined, maybe, to be alone.)

"Dr. McKay?" Liam's voice draws him from his thoughts, causing him to tense a little where he stands.

"Yes, yes, what?!" He snaps, his own short comings causing him to lash out. As per usual. In fact, after all of this thought on the subject, he can think of but two people that have ever been willing to put up with him. In a working capacity, Radek is willing to take far too much of his BS. On a more personal note, Sheppard seems willing to stick around despite everything. But then, they fit together in some strange, amazing way that still perplexes the scientist.

"Sorry, but I'm still waiting on the information." McKay blinks and glances from his tablet to the other scientist, snorting after a moment.

"That is not true. The only reason you don't have the information is because you have yet to look at your tablet. Oh, I'm sorry, did you expect me to take time out of what I was doing and announce that I had sent it?!" He chuffs snidely and glances back down at his tablet. "Unless specified otherwise, assume that all information is received the moment I said it would be." He turns away from the other man, rolling his eyes once out of his field of vision. He cannot believe, for a single damn second, that Sam recommended this man, or even hand picked him for this assignment. If so, her estimated worth will seriously plunge in his eyes. Because this man .. is an arrogant pain in the ass. (Yes, he is aware that this is one of those 'pot calling the kettle black' moments, but his arrogance has been hard fought and won, damn it!)

"Oh. Right. Of course. I'm sure I should have known that, Dr. McKay." Liam flashes a bright smile, and Rodney .. falters. There is no other explanation for it. His mind flashes to a startlingly empty place and he is reminded of the only other person to have -ever- made that happen; Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. The very first time, when Sheppard sat in the Command Chair and literally showed Rodney the galaxy when asked, his brain went momentarily blank. It completely whited out and for one blissful moment, Rodeny simply ..... was. That is the glory of John Sheppard. He has the ability to make Rodney's mind beautifully normal for small increments of time.

"The information, Liam." He reiterates absently, staring down at the screen of his tablet. It's currently outputting something in a mix of Wraith and Ancient, and he would be lying if he said he wasn't starting to get a headache. (Though the mixed languages are only about one third of the culprit in this case. Dr. Payne and a lack of food being the other two-thirds.) "Once you have read over the information, we'll plug it into the device and see if it registers correctly." He cuts his gaze toward the other man, trying to find some way to stabilize his thoughts. Unfortunately, Liam doesn't quiet his mind for the same length of time that Sheppard does.

And there his mind goes, off on a tangent that he cannot afford.

He remembers the feeling. How could he not? The exact moment he had thought he stopped breathing when Sheppard lit up the control chair platform. The ever present buzzing in the back of his mind, the constant quick-fire questions, thoughts, and theories ceased instantly when Sheppard looked up and summoned the HUD. When the man managed to pinpoint their exact place, his brain cleared itself of all buzzing, static, and white noise. For the first time in a decade, he felt as if he could take an actual breath and just -be-. (Of course, since that moment, every pressure he has ever known has increased tenfold. But that is not on Sheppard.)

"I concur with your findings, Dr. McKay. However, I think it would be foolish to try and turn the machine on at this moment." Rodney turns to eye the scientist, a brow jerked toward his hairline in question as he waits for some further clarification. "Well, wouldn't it be better to wait until we can get some of the soldiers in here?" Okay. Wow. Rodney has faced Genii, Wraith, even his own mortality on several occasions, but nothing turns his stomach or sends a chill down his spine the way these words do. Seriously!? Is this man implying what he -thinks- he is!?

"Wait. Hang on. I .. I'm getting this right, yes?" Carefully, Rodney sets the tablet down next to his open laptop, trying not to bite at the inside of his cheek. "You're suggesting, what ... that we call in some soldiers and test the device on them?" He feels as if he should hold his breath or something, because if Liam realizes it or not, he's being tested. This is a Rorschach test, a litmus paper to determine how much potential this scientist has. Not to mention how much stock he will put into Liam as a -person-. (If he were in the habit of being as truthful with himself as he knows he should be, he would admit that the standard by which he judges all others .. has become Sheppard. There is no better man in his eyes. No man more selfless, caring, or kindhearted. Sure, they argue, banter, and are generally assholes to one another, but that is all done in the name of friendship. Sheppard is the best of them, and not just on Atlantis.)

"Of course, Dr. McKay. It is, after all, the logical thing to do. The soldiers are here to give their lives in protecting those of us with enough brain power to actually make a difference during this expedition. Why in the world would we risk hurting one of our unique minds, when soldiers are a dime a dozen?" Rodney sucks in a deep breath, feels his chest expand so far that it feels more constricting than ever, before he releases the burning air.

He feels sick to his stomach. The very first thing his brain does is conjure a question that nearly causes him to sick up on the spot; was he that callous and casually cruel in regard to human life? Like, -ever-?? He's terrified that the answer is yes, and wants to get as far away from that train of thought as he can.

"I .." He's truly at a loss for words. In fact, he's so thoroughly thrown for a loop that he presses both of his palms against his cheeks and absently wonders if this is what going mad feels like. "Okay." He feels something in him shift. The same something that allowed him to push through all of his own personal BS and save Sheppard's life, save the lives of everyone on Atlantis. Slowly, he turns to face the man. Studies him.

Liam is .. a damn good looking man. There are no two ways about it, no way to deny it. He's a pretty boy with soft, sweet features. Large, doe eyes, dark red hair that reminds Rodney of Sheppard's. Short and yet perfectly finger-fucked into spikes. The kind of hair you want to card your fingers through on a lazy day. He's also about the same height, making Rodney want to sigh. The man is perfection, were it not for his callous disregard for human life.

"I wish that I could pretend that I did not just hear that idiocy spill from your mouth, Dr. Payne. In fact, I'd give just about anything to be able to spin back time. Because the fact that you have the gall to think that your life is worth more than any one else .. it makes me want to -hit- you, and I don't resort to violence easily. But, I'm going to do you one better, Liam." He steps forward, putting himself squarely in the taller man's space. It starts that cold trickle down the curve of his spine, but he battles away his fear and forces himself to stand straight. To look the asshole right in the eye. "You see, I control your -future-, Liam. Not only on Atlantis, but back on Earth, too. One word from me, and Elizabeth will have you packed and back on board the Daedalus so fast, your -head- will spin. And -then-, if that won't be enough after saying something so damn stupid, then I will talk to Sam. And Danny. Hell, anyone at SGC that will listen, and let them -all- know that you prize yourself above every soldier there. Because I'm sure that will go over like a lead fucking balloon." He watches, hiding the deep satisfaction he gets from watching Liam's eyes widen and his mouth fall open like a moron. He slides his hands behind his back, forcing them into the Parade Rest he has often seen the soldiers around here adopt when they are around Sheppard. "And then, I can guarantee you, that SGC will blackball you and make damn sure the best job you can get is teaching First Graders the joys of baking soda volcanoes."

He waits, semi-patiently, for the words to sink into the man's mind. Which, given his IQ, really shouldn't take that long. And it doesn't. It takes less than a minute for a peculiar spark to ignite in the man's beautifully wide green eyes, and for Rodney to realize that he has somehow said the -wrong- thing by saying the -right- thing. Because this is -not- the way a man that has just been threatened for his adverse behavior, should be looking. He should look chastised and at the very least a little bit afraid that Rodney will go through with his threat. Instead, he looks intrigued and fascinated and that is not at -all- what he was going for, damn it.

"Wow." The word is a breathy exhale and it puts so many .. wrong .... images into Rodney's head when he's trying to maintain his anger and righteous indignation. The last thing he needs to be considering is how warm Liam's breath would be. How good it would feel ghosting across his skin. He sniffles vaguely, waiting for the pompous fool to continue. Telling himself that angry is far better than wanton in this situation. "I heard about your temper, of course, Dr. McKay. I mean, you are legendary for how hard you are to get along with. In fact, I was told by everyone on board the Daedalus that I must be insane or stupid because I viewed you as a -reason- for coming all the way out here. But one does not get the chance to work with the smartest man in two galaxies very often, and I had to jump at the chance."

Rodney gasps, though he tries to swallow the sound before it escapes, to no avail, when Liam leans down, putting their faces mere inches apart.

"The fact that you're cute is definitely an added bonus." No matter how hard he fights it, he can feel his cheeks filling with heat. Can feel his forehead growing warm and even the tips of his ears flushing in embarrassment. He's not often complimented on his looks, even if he takes every chance he can to exclaim his own attractiveness. "But, the fact that you are fierce as well? That you would tell me off, when no one has ever dared do so before ..." Liam sighs, breathy and sweet, and Rodney shivers as it skates across the planes of his face. It's as sensual and shiver-inducing as he thought it would be. And that's bad. Very bad. "So tell me, Rodney .. I can call you Rodney, yes? So .. how about you and I grab something to eat, and you can help me find my room?"

There is one thing that really cannot be argued about Rodney. He has an intense fight or flight instinct and it is almost always dialed toward flight. So, to have the arrogant yet attractive man standing toe-to-toe with him, eyes blazing and intense, and trained solely on him, every single one of his instincts are screaming at him to RUN! Not just run, but to run and not stop until Ronon, Sheppard, Teyla, or preferably -all three of them-, are standing between him and Liam Payne. With P90s and extra ammo. (No, he doesn't want his team/friends to shoot Liam, but it would sure as hell make him feel safe from the almost predatory look the other man is giving him.)

"No, you may -not- call me Rodney. Very few people are allowed to do that, mostly friends and my closest colleagues. You are -neither- of those." He points this out from gritted teeth and clenched jaws. Spits the words angrily at the man with the gall to proposition him in the middle of his own labs moments after suggesting they put the lives of innocent soldiers in danger simply because they could. He can feel himself trembling. A subtle shake through his extremities as he tries to get his anger, confusion, and yes, arousal, under control. (So he might have a little bit of a thing for strong personalities with a bit of power behind them; e.g. Samantha Carter.) "And what's more, there is no way in -hell- I would accompany you to your rooms. I'm pretty damn sure you can find it on your own. And if you -can't-, then you don't belong in Atlantis." He sucks in a breath, lips compressing into a tight white line of agitation before he expels angrily. "And yes, I realize that it was a -line-. It's one of the worst I've ever heard. Now. Turn around and leave this lab, right this instant. I will -not- sleep with you."

Liam continues to grin, this slight upturn to the corner of his mouth that is edging more toward smirk than anything. (It reminds him of something, or more accurately someone but he's too busy cringing away from the other man to be able to work out who.)

"My God, but you're a feisty one, Dr. McKay. I can't wait to get you into my bed. Because you -will- end up there, I can assure you. No one has ever been able to resist me, and I hardly see you being the exception." He leans those few scant inches closer, lips pressed firm and demanding against his. It takes far longer than it should for his brain to kick in. For his mind to hiccup and then remember that he does -not- want this man in his personal space, let alone planting some lip-lock on him. He hastily moves back, stumbling over his own feet as he tries to remain upright.

"It's not my fault you're delusional and short-sighted, Dr. Payne." He nearly snarls the words, reaching down on reflex to tug at the hem of his uniform jacket, smoothing it down as best he can as he tries to remain cool. For one embarrassing moment, he actually tries to think how Sheppard would handle a situation like this. His first thought, is that he would punch the guy for the unwanted attention, and then tell him that if he did it again, he'd shoot him in the foot or something. But in the very next moment, he remembers a conversation had with his parents when he was young. Well, it had been his Mom telling him that he would always be smarter than those around him and he would need to use his brains to outsmart any bullies. His Dad, though ... he had approached the situation all wrong, though Rodney doesn't know that. He had sat the young genius down and explained to him that a McKay -never- cried for help, that a McKay never allowed a bad situation to be known. Or, at least, that is what Rodney took it to mean. That if a McKay got in trouble, they found a way to deal with it without bringing attention to it. Which means that his threat to end Dr. Payne's career had been a huge bluff.

"There is no way in hell that I will ever end up in your bed, because I have no interest in you. You are a complete stranger. So far beneath me! I didn't know you existed until I saw your file." He takes a deep breath, turns away from him and heads toward the door of the labs. "Now leave. Go find your quarters and report in tomorrow, 5 am." He stalks from the room, muttering about handsome morons with undeserved egos and soft lips.

Sheppard feels as if he is floating. After verifying the new arrivals, he had been forced to retreat to his room and work on various forms of paperwork. Not surprising, it did nothing to hold his attention or battle the weariness he has been feeling as of late. In fact, he had caught himself yawning several times while slogging through the forms. Three different times, he had been forced to start over and re-read through some of them, silently cursing the red-tape associated with any kind of mission/expedition/etc. God forbid the IOA idiots fail to receive a report about the amount of tava beans they managed to trade for.

He had found himself resisting the near overwhelming temptation to turn several stacks of paperwork into paper airplanes and see how far he could make them fly. (Sadly, it was some phantom version of McKay's voice in the back of his mind, stating that after a puddle jumper, it's downright pathetic to resort to paper airplanes. Scientifically, it's a huge leap back.)

Of course, he had found some blank forms and took them with him as he made his way to the mess hall. After all, he had agreed that he would storm the labs with food in hand to offer his best friend, and he's not about to disappoint. His gaze is trained on his hands as he carefully maneuvers a piece of paper into the perfect plane shape, concentrating solely on that even as he steps into the chow-line.

Once the plane is done, after several steps have been made in the line, he allows himself to look around. There's still half a dozen people between him and a tray, so he chances a glance backward and cannot keep the broad smile off his face when he sees that Rodney actually managed to make it to the mess, after all. He glances back and forth, making sure that no one is really paying attention to him. He knows, okay? He knows that this is another pigtail-pulling moment and that some people might -erroneously- construe this as flirting, but it's not. Really. It's just one friend teasing/being playful with another friend. Period.

He narrows his eyes, gives one last look around, and then sends the plane flying through the air. By some miracle, he resists pumping his fist in victory when the plane jabs Rodney right in the ear, and then crumples to the ground. The scientist jumps in surprise, narrowed, angry eyes scanning for the culprit. There is no doubt in Sheppard's mind that Rodney knows exactly who threw it. The further narrowing of his eyes, followed by a thinning of his mouth, and it's confirmed. Rodney has spotted him and knows damn well Sheppard threw the plane. The Colonel doesn't even try and deny it! Instead, he offers up a lopsided smirk and lifts a hand to wave him forward. After only a few seconds of hesitation, he steps out of line and walks up to stand next to him.

"Real mature, Colonel." The scientist huffs and softly whines, making him smirk even deeper and harder. Because honestly, as much as he loves taking unscheduled cruises in the puddle jumpers, playing chess against his best friend, and training with Ronon and Teyla, his favorite pastime on Atlantis is poking his scientist with a proverbial stick and basking in the attention it results in. (He vaguely wonders what Hightmeyer would have to say about such behavior, and then promptly remembers that he hates shrinks and is better off believing that this is how best friends treat one another.)

"I like to think so, Rodney." Once they are comfortably side-by-side, shoulders brushing ever so slightly, Sheppard feels less exhausted and more like he is breathing steady and normal again. "I'm glad you managed to drag yourself out of the labs to eat. I was just getting ready to head down and force feed you, if I had to." The words come across as playful, but there is a grain of truth to them as well. If needs be, he would've taken a tray to the labs and ordered his friend to eat. Wouldn't be the first, or sadly last, time.

"Yes, yes, I know. You are fully prepared to hold me and force it down my throat. But, thankfully, I remembered to come this time." Sheppard's brain whites out for a moment, his mouth hanging open in slack-jawed confusion as he tries to process all the ways those few sentences came out far too raunchy sounding. (He blames these thoughts and misinterpretations solely on his current dry spell.) "Truthfully, I just really needed to escape my labs." This confession leaves Sheppard feeling slightly on edge with a bad taste in his mouth. If Rodney is actually -escaping- his labs with intent, then it doesn't bode well for the rest of Atlantis. Because it means one of three things; the scientist is working on something dangerous that could become a thorn in their sides, he and Radek are fighting again, or one of the newbs have fucked up so badly that it could mean the end of the city. The first and last ones do not seem likely, since there has been no all-call to the relevant parties to try and handle such catastrophe. The second doesn't seem likely either, because Radek would be skulking in the background, muttering in Czech.

"That's not like you, McKay. What's going on?" The possible answer to his question is sidestepped in favor of the two of them grabbing their trays and making their way through the line. Sheppard settles on meatloaf, some fruit and veggie sticks, and manages to snag a bowl of blue jello with a little whipped cream on it. He exits the line and heads for a little two seater table in the back. Sure, he'd usually seek out Teyla and Ronon and the four of them would spend lunch together, but for some reason, he finds that he wants nothing more or less than Rodney's company today. So, he plops onto his seat and cuts into his meatloaf, taking a big bite as he waits for his best friend to sit across from him.

"It's Liam. Erm, Dr. Payne." There is no preamble, no build up. Rodney simply makes a face, scrunches his nose, lowers his eyebrows, and purses his lips in agitation. That feeling of being on edge increases ten-fold, Sheppard's eyes narrowing as he crosses his arms over his chest. He must ignore the instinct to simply get up from the table, hunt the scientist down and do something stupid like smack him. Because if he has managed to chase McKay from his own labs, his behavior must really be a problem.

"What's going on, Rodney? What did the twerp do?" He watches, confused, as McKay's features soften and then immediately harden. It's like watching a curtain fall over him, the way he clams up. Closes off almost instantly. Sheppard hates that look automatically, because it means that he cannot read the man. He does -not- like not understanding something when it comes to Rodney.

"It's nothing, Colonel. I will handle it." He wants to say so much to that. Wants to tell him that he doesn't have to handle it, that that is what Sheppard is there for. Wants to say that Rodney never has to handle anything on his own again, that's what a best friend is for. He also wants to tell him that he'll gladly go beat the asshole up, but that sounds too neanderthal, even for him. He doesn't say any of these things. Instead, he grabs the bowl of jello and scoots it toward his friend.

"I'm sure you will, Rodney. After all, you're the King of the Labs. It's your domain, and no uppity little idiot is going to run you out of them." For reasons he cannot even begin to fathom, when Rodney grins at him for the jello and then outright smirks at him for the words, he throws a flirtatious wink in his direction. He immediately regrets the action, but makes no move to show it. Just continues to eat, enjoying the companionable silence that falls over them. It's not often that Rodney manages to refrain from filling every second with idle chatter, so he revels in it while he can.

5 am is too early. What madness possessed him, that he would demand the newest recruits meet him in the labs at 5 in the damn morning!? He groans his way through the first steps of making coffee. Watches with watery, half-mast eyes as the coffee percolates. The tart, bitter aroma is already penetrating the sleep-fog of his mind, drawing him toward the land of the living as he waits for the pot to finish brewing.

"Ah, good. Coffee." Radek's voice snaps him out of his thoughts, causing him to tense where he is leaning against the counter. When he was on his own, it was easy to remain loose limbed and sleepy. But the moment he realized someone else was present, he finds himself reverting to the prickly exterior he is used to showing the world.

"Yes, Coffee. -My- coffee, Radek. You have your own coffee pot, so use it." He snaps almost impishly, grabbing up his mug and pouring the freshly brewed coffee into it. After a moment of hesitation, he adds a bit of sugar. He needs the pick-me-up. "I think I'm going to need all of the coffee I can get to manage today." He huffs a breath, wrinkles his nose, and turns to face his colleague. Even as Radek has begun to look around for the second pot, Rodney rolls his eyes. He fixes a mug of straight black and holds it out to the Czech, who's eyes widen a little before he carefully snatches it away. Probably afraid that Rodney will change his mind or something. (Yeah, as much as he would like to be offended at the notion, he cannot be. Because it's the type of thing he has done many times in the past.)

"Come now, Rodney. The newbies cannot be -that- bad." The shorter man chastises goodnaturedly as he chugs the hot coffee, making Rodney wrinkle his nose and stare into the depths of his own murky drink.

"Yes, Radek, they can be -exactly- that bad. Worse, even. So much -worse-." He hisses the word worse, before he downs the last dregs of his mug and pours a second. Yes, today is going to be one of -those- days, and he really isn't looking forward to having to keep his cool.

"If you say so, Rodney." The shorter scientist turns and makes his way toward his own bank of computers, far too awake and functioning for Rodney's tastes. He feels a rant coming on. The need to rave about the fact that it's far too early for the other man to already be so fucking Zen, but he wants to save his energy. He has a sneaking suspicion that he's going to need as much patience as he can muster, today.

"Ah, Rodney." The British accent pulls him from his thoughts and nearly causes him to slosh his precious coffee all over the place. He carefully sets the mug down and glares at Liam as he comes waltzing into the lab. Also far too awake for 5 in the fucking morning. "I found my room with ease, though I was rather lonely." The words cause a muscle to jump under his eye. Causes his stomach to feel as if it's going to rebel or something and leaves him feeling almost lightheaded, though he hasn't the first clue WHY.

"I do not care in the least about your state of being, Dr. Payne. Well, not unless it effects your work." He snaps out, turning his back on the attractive scientist in a last ditch effort to retain some control over his own imagination. Because it's not something he -wants- to imagine, Liam all pouty and alone in his room. But it's an image his lonely, needy mind has no problem conjuring all the same. (He hates his mind for betraying him like this. Hates his body for doing the same.) "Speaking of which, since you're finally here, please get back to the program we were talking about yesterday." He waves a dismissive hand in the direction of Liam's work area, making sure that he doesn't actually turn toward him. That would probably prove disastrous.

About an hour and a half after the lab has filled with a few more people, Rodney has made the mistake of letting his guard down. Of calming and falling into an easy work routine. This mistake makes it easy for Liam to get close to him without setting off any of Rodney's warning bells. One moment, Rodney is hunched over his tablet, the next, he feels a hand running across his shoulders and just barely manages not to scream in surprise.

When he glances up, Liam is standing behind him. Pressing his palms carefully into the tense muscles of Rodney's shoulders, kneading at the knots there. While the action feels fantastic, loosens the overworked muscles, it also makes him feel unsteady and thready. He jerks away from the other man, leaping out of his seat and glaring at Liam.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Dr. Payne? I in -no way- gave you permission to do .. -that-." On instinct, he reaches back, rubs his palm across his own shoulders, wiping away some imaginary trail left by the asshole's hands. Liam pouts, juts his bottom lip out in a mockingly chastised way.

"Forgive me, Rodney. But I could see how tensed and overwhelmed you were from across the room. I was merely trying to help ease your tension a bit." He states it in such a way that insinuates he is the epitome of innocent. As if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, and every single action were simple and kind, rather than a means to his own end. Rodney wants to do him bodily harm, but knows he could never get away with such. He's not the type to hurt someone if he doesn't have to. (In many ways, he is damn lucky to have grown up the way he has. He is smart enough, that it's a little surprising he has a well adjusted moral compass.)

"That's utter bullshit and you know it." He is seething. Sucking in much needed breaths to try and calm the rising tide of his molten temper. "You should -not- touch me again." He is making another mistake, he is sure of it, but he cannot pinpoint what it is. He knows only in some vague way, that he is not handling the situation right, but has not the first idea how to rectify that truth.

"I'm sorry if, at this moment, my touch upset you, Dr. McKay. It was not my intention." There is a level of double-speak here that is giving him a headache, because he doesn't understand it. There seems to be a secondary conversation taking place and he's afraid that he is letting it get the best of him, because he just can't comprehend what is happening. It's one of those social abilities that he never really picked up in his youth, and is now suffering for it.

"Uh-huh. Whatever your intention, just .. stop. Get back to work." He carefully eases himself back into his seat, tensed and ready to leap up again if Liam gives him reason to. His hands slide down, palms flat, fingers splayed, so that he is practically balancing his weight on his hands, on either side of his tablet. He can feel the taunt dip of his shoulders, the corded muscles of his neck where they have clamped tight against the world around him.

He breathes a tight breath, eyes snapping closed momentarily in hopes of re-balancing everything. When he opens them, the lab has returned to it's usual state, with Liam working a room away, far from his personal space. As it should be.

Sadly, this only seems to last long enough for him to get comfortable and distracted again. A few hours after telling Liam to get back to work, Rodney once again finds himself leaning over his tablet, squinting at the screen as he struggles to make sense of his own strange notes in the margin of the file he's reading. Is that an S? Or maybe its a G? He scowls deeply, trying to understand what he had been trying to note. It is only after he remembers the moment he took the note, that he groans.

"Damn it, Sheppard!" He whines softly, unable to kid himself that the sound is anything but, as he recalls the day that Sheppard had been bugging him. Something about taking a puddle jumper out to hike an unexplored part of the mainland. Rodney had been reluctant, of course. Had suggested Ronon or Teyla. Hell, had even suggested that John ask one of the Athosians that would actually be better equipped to the task. To his utter surprise, the Colonel had sort of folded in on himself and quickly changed the subject in a way that suggested he would not be making the journey at all. Apparently, the sudden change in Sheppard's attitude had been sufficiently distracting that Rodney had managed to mangle a few of his notes without realizing.

"Something wrong, Rodney? Has the Colonel done something to upset you?" Liam's voice hails close over his shoulder again, causing him to jump in surprise and narrow his eyes as his heart flutters painfully. Seriously, if people want him to live to continue saving everyone's collective asses, they need to stop -scaring years off his life!-

"In point of fact, the Colonel usually does something to upset me multiple times a day. But, to be fair, I do the same to him. It's our .. thing." Well, that and saving each others life when the need arises, but he has no intention of mentioning that little fact to someone he doesn't know. Who annoys him in all the -wrong- ways. "That, however, has nothing to do with anything. Nothing is wrong, and my status with the Colonel seriously has -nothing- to do with you, so kindly remove your oblong nose from my business." He snaps his eyes closed as he struggles to remain sitting in his seat without tensing. Too much. He fails miserably when he feels Liam lean close into his back, piercing his personal bubble even more so that he can drag the edge of his nose up the nape of his neck. Rodney yelps and launches himself off his seat, fingers curled around the edge of his tablet though he hasn't the first clue what he's going to do with it. Smash Liam over the head Acme style, maybe??

"There's nothing wrong with my nose, Rodney. In fact, I've been told it's rather perfect."

"Someone lied to you, Dr. Payne." The sudden, brusque tone of Colonel Sheppard entering the labs has Rodney physically relaxing and expressing a breath he did not realize he was holding. At the same moment, Liam stands straighter and moves so that he is occupying Rodney's side rather than looming behind him. "It's a little bit .. stuck up and all." The Colonel offers one of his charming, lopsided smirks that had opened many a door to the AR-1, and Liam responds with a predatory smile of his own.

"Well, if it's deserved, Colonel, one would not call it a flaw to have been lied about." He turns to look at Rodney, who has his tablet clutched to his chest, not looking at either man.

"Yeah ... someone lied to you, kid. Rodney, I brought breakfast. How about we find a -private- place to eat, okay?" The smirk turns into a genuine half smile that shines like a beacon through the fuzzy confusion of his brain, and Rodney cannot help the tight but grateful smile he offers his friend.

"Yes, yes, of course. Privacy would be wonderful." He turns a scathing glare toward Liam, who is not outright frowning, but looks a few seconds from doing so. "Return to work, Dr. Payne. If you have any questions, Radek can answer them for you." He carefully skirts the table, as far from Liam as he can, relaxing further when he can feel the presence of body heat from his friend as they exit the labs.

For reasons that make no sense, or at least fail to present themselves, Sheppard finds no pleasure in his morning run. Looking at the waters of Atlantis from the pier, at the structure of the city from the overpasses .. none of this lightens his mood and leaves him feeling relieved and well worked out as they usually do. Instead, he feels almost sluggish and somehow .. out of tune? Or maybe out of step? The feeling of wrongness sits just beneath his skin, tacky like dried sweat, but nowhere near as satisfying. It is not a well earned feeling, but instead something akin to a punishment and he doesn't like that at all.

So, after he finished jogging, he had retired to his room to shower and try to refresh himself. If there is any chance of finding a way to start the day off -right-, he has to take it. Because too many people are relying on him, and bad days cannot be tolerated. After he has donned a fresh uniform, shoved his gun into his thigh holster and run his fingers through the damp strands of his hair, he at least feels awake and somewhat even keeled. He wrinkles his nose at his reflection and exits his bathroom to look around his bedroom for a moment. Everything is basically in place, in order, and he affords himself a momentary smile before he walks to grab his earwig and fit it carefully to his ear.

Now comes the hardest decision of starting his day; does he go to Rodney's room or not? There's a chance his best friend hasn't actually managed to leave his labs. However, there's also the chance that he is just getting to sleep, or even that he managed to sleep so that he can meet his new recruits bright and early. There is no parsing McKay's moves when a new variable has been factored into play. He bites at his bottom lip, nipping and rolling it between his teeth before he snaps his fingers in decision. He barely thinks open before his doors are wide, letting him spill out into the hall in the direction of Rodney's room. Best to check there first.

When knocking, chiming, banging on the door, and then just whining Rodney's name garners no results from the quarters of his best friend, he huffs a breath and decides that his best bet is the labs. However, he also knows that if Rodney is there at this time in the morning, showing up empty handed is basically a suicide mission. (And despite what McKay might think, -no-, he does NOT have a death wish, thanks.)

By the time he reaches the Mess Hall, he's confused and cannot even begin to pinpoint what about, let alone a good why. He just knows that he feels a little on edge and confused. Not emotions that he can handle, let alone hand-in-hand. He huffs a breath and allows his eyes to dart in every direction as he steps into the chow-line. Maybe he had hoped to see his friend? He is easily able to pick out Ronon, devouring a mound of god only knows what, Lorne eating at a more sedate pace across from him. Teyla, Rodney, Radek, and .. Liam .... are missing.

Something in his stomach and chest clenches simultaneously and he is trying very hard not to allow his mind to run away with him. There is no reason to begin picturing scenarios that could be considered nothing short of preposterous and ridiculous. (How on Earth could it be in any way plausible that Rodney is currently in his labs, probably perfectly rumpled and sleepy, complimenting Dr. Payne's abilities with big, emotive doe-eyes? It's not! In the least, so just shut the fuck up, brain, and let him alone!)

He doesn't huff this time. He growls, yanking a tray up in hand and glaring at everyone that gives him strange looks for the far too aggressive move. Yes, he knows that it's a move bordering on violent as his hands tighten around the tray, and NO, he can NOT do something about it, so just mind your own business, yes?? He squints at the breakfast offerings, pointing to a display of muffins.

"No citrus?" He snaps the question that has become as much a part of his daily routine as running, sparring, and reviewing the military presence in Atlantis. When the cook gives him a tight, but somehow indulgent smile along with a curt nod, he wants to curse a blue streak. Since when had that question become such an ingrained part of himself? Oh, that's right, when he befriended the smartest man in two fucking galaxies, that's when!

He grabs a plate and puts two each of the different types of muffins on, before he forces himself to move further down the line. Chastising himself when he wonders if that's enough or if he should just go ahead and get one each of the two he had skipped. Surely neither of them would've been able to eat -that- many of them, right? Yeah, he knows the answer to that, but there are already too many people piling up behind him, so he can't really reach out for now.

Of course, then a throat clears and cook holds out a plate with the two extra muffins on it. Sheppard snatches it, offers a somewhat sheepish smile and hurries through the rest of the line before he can be made to feel like any more of a fool. He finishes piling the tray with food and some drinks and then turns and all but power walks out of the mess hall before he decides to do something as foolishly self sabotaging as blush.

McKay better be -damn- grateful for this! He side-eyes a group of marines that are staring wide eyed at the tray he is stalking through Atlantis carrying and he bares his teeth at them before he can stop the action ... and is filled with satisfaction as they scatter like their lives depend on it. (They don't, but he likes the thought that he can be that feared/respected.)

".. nothing wrong with my nose, Rodney. In fact, I've been told it's rather perfect." His eyes narrow as he approaches the labs, his hands tightening on the tray again as he glances around the corner and sees Liam looming behind McKay. Who jumps up and grabs up his tablet like a shield. It would be downright hilarious, the thought of McKay brandishing a piece of tech like a weapon or something, if it didn't strike a chord deep inside of Sheppard and make him mad beyond reason. Because to Rodney, tech is akin to something holy and righteous, his version of a relic to be worshiped and babied. To see him ready to wield his own personal device? He half wishes he would smash Liam over the head with it, and he'd challenge -anyone- in the labs if they said it wasn't deserved.

"Someone lied to you, Dr. Payne." The silky, yet dangerous words have slithered from his clenched jaws before he can even -try- to be diplomatic. He manages to keep from cutting his gaze back toward Rodney, afraid of what he will see and how he will react. More than likely, he'd end up smacking the man or worse. After all, he can feel the weight of his thigh holster. "It's a little bit .. stuck up and all." Unfortunately, no sooner are the words out, than he is -forced- to look at Rodney, because Liam has moved in such a way that he is standing between Sheppard and his best friend. Not cool. Or smart. In fact, were his hands not occupied with the tray, he'd probably have his hand resting on the button of his holster, just to menace the bastard for causing Rodney to look so tense and on edge. (Again, if the tray weren't in his hands, after seeing Rodney hugging his tablet to him, he'd probably do something even more foolish than menace the Brit. He'd probably try to hug Rodney and that just wouldn't do. He cannot afford to lose the most understanding, interesting friend he's ever had.)

"Well, if it's deserved, Colonel, one would not call it a flaw to have been lied about." For one horrible moment, he thinks he might burst a blood vessel somewhere at the audacity of the scientist. He plasters on his best, fake smirk and pulls himself up to his full, intimidating height as he trains his intense, military-grade stare on the insolent little prick. Seriously, he thinks he might be two seconds from shoving the contents of the tray into Liam's face and hauling his friend out by the front of his uniform. Anything to get him away from the awkward, tense situation.

"Yeah ... someone lied to you, kid. Rodney, I brought breakfast. How about we find a -private- place to eat, okay?" He sort of wiggles the tray a little to draw McKay's attention to it, the fake smirk turning into a real half-smile that only seems to appear when he is facing Rodney. Something about the eccentric genius draws true reactions out for the scientist to see. It kinda scares Sheppard, but at the same time, it's an exhilaration he has only ever achieved while flying. It's not really a feeling he wants to give up.

"Yes, yes, of course. Privacy would be wonderful." He's aware that McKay turns to Liam and says something, but it pretty much goes in one ear and out the other as he does a mental happy dance! Because Rodney smiles at him, tight but real, and it flows through him as warmth and light and makes his stomach twist and knot in the same way it does every time he thinks a puddle jumper into the air.

When he hears the quick shuffle of feet and the rustling of fabric, then feels the intimate heat of someone standing close enough they could touch if they wanted to, he feels himself easing into the sense of calm he had failed to achieve after running earlier.

"Come on, Rodney." He drawls the name of his best friend in a way that could be classified as nothing less than a plea for attention, though he would deny anyone that called it such, and stops to think a balcony door open. Once they are outside, he hesitates for a moment before he pulls his uniform shirt off, leaving him in a standard issue black tee shirt, and spreads it across the ground. He doesn't even have to make any indicating hand gesture, because McKay is already grumbling as he lowers himself into a seated position on the flimsy cloth, and Sheppard cannot help but stare for a moment. Take in the sight of his best friend, too tense by far, but willingly accompanying him to breakfast out on one of the balconies. The early morning sun is just enough to make the moment feel warm and cozy and it sends that puddle jumper-esque sensation off in him again.

"So, are we going to talk about the big scientist-shaped elephant in Atlantis, or just eat in manly silence?" God, he just has to poke his scientist, even after walking in on the tense scene a few minutes ago. There's something about a quiet, shell-shocked McKay that makes him want to be stupid, silly, and sarcastic or deadpan. As if it has become his job, first and foremost, to rescue Rodney from his own moods. (A job he has taken -very- seriously!)

He carefully sets the tray down before he drops to his ass, making sure that he lands on the spread uniform shirt. Even if it means that his shoulder and knee is pressed tightly against that of his best friend. There is a comfort in the warmth shared between them, in the simple state of being able to touch someone with no obligation or expectation, just easy enjoyment of the company.

".. when have you ever known me to be able to remain silent for long, Sheppard?" Rodney's voice is far too soft for how closely pressed they are, and Sheppard can't seem to tear his gaze away from the tray sitting idly in front of them. As if the stack of breakfast foods will somehow give him some much needed insight.

"There have been times, Rodney .. none of them -good-." He emphasizes the word tentatively, wondering if he is trying to urge something, or just stating a fact.

"Right. Of course." Rodney shuffles softly where he sits, somehow managing to push even closer to him, making his heart skip a fair beat before settling into a heightened rhythm. "Dr. Payne is .. stubborn." Sheppard can't stop himself from snorting, his eyes falling to half mast as he holds the plate of muffins out to his friend. He barely manages to contain a blinding smile when Rodney reaches out and plucks two of them off. One close to banana wheat, the other a chocolate blueberry-type thing. Either way, he's glad that his friend takes them. He snags a piece of honest-to-god bacon and carefully folds the entire piece into his mouth. Not bothering to try and stop the happy sigh that escapes before he snags a plain muffin. "While he is brilliant in some areas, and a mind we desperately need on Atlantis, he is also a pain in the ass that seems to think the word no means try harder." The words become biting and annoyed, and Sheppard finds himself holding the muffin halfway to his mouth. Unable to finish taking a bite as his anger spikes into the red.

"He .. what!?" The words are launched from snapping jaws and grinding teeth as he fights to keep himself from losing it. He is tempted to throw the muffin overboard and stalk off the balcony in search of the asshole that is distressing his friend. At this point, he's not even sure he needs to know -why- he should kick his ass, he's just ready to do it. Because there is a golden rule on Atlantis, written nowhere but memorized by all; you do NOT fuck with McKay! No matter the offense, the retaliation is always swift and guaranteed. Give him the stink-eye, say something derogatory, and the Science Department will make sure you have no hot water for your shower, a malfunctioning coffee pot, and you will mysteriously displace all the little items that make your day run that much smoother.

If the offense is great enough, such as the bad-mouthing of McKay's abilities or a threatening of his personage, then scientists will find themselves assigned the grossest of lab cleanups by Radek and soldiers will find themselves running laps until their legs are jelly and their stomachs ready to expel by Lorne. Hell, even Elizabeth is likely to find suitable punishment.

Stupid enough to actually cause some kind of accidental harm? And Ronon or Teyla will take you to spar .. and you'll be lucky to be spared a trip to the infirmary for sprained muscles and bruised bones. On one memorable occasion, after a soldier that was sneering and mocking McKay managed to drop a heavy piece of machinery on the foot of the scientist, Ronon put him into the infirmary with a sprained wrist, two broken ribs, busted lip, black eye, and bruised ego because the bastard laughed before making a move to help their teammate/friend. Yes, that's an extreme example, but an example none the less.

You. Do. Not. Fuck. With. Mckay.

"He, uhm .. that is .." McKay stumbles over his words before shoving half a muffin in his mouth so that he has time to formulate a proper response. Yeah, Sheppard knows Rodney better than he's ever known anyone, he thinks. (Himself included.) Once Rodney has managed to finish chewing and sipped some apple-like juice, he turns so that he is looking him dead on. Sheppard always feels humbled by that look but also .. excited. Stimulated. Maybe a little over-sensitive. Because Rodney is a brilliant man with half a million things going on at all times and when he takes a moment out of his busy, important schedule to give you that intent, calculating stare .... it -means- something. Like, somehow, someway, this genius has found you worthy. He shivers with the thought, forcing his gaze to steady and meet Rodney's.

"Last night, when we finished work, he said something that made me so mad I could barely think straight. He suggested that we test the device on some soldiers, because they are .. lesser, in his eyes. They are only here to ensure the lives of those smart enough to contribute, so it was only 'logical' that we put their lives in danger." If Sheppard hadn't been angry before, he would be now. To hear that someone had so flippantly suggested putting his people in harms way?? Yes, they signed on knowing they would be put into dangerous, risky situations where they would have to defend their home and their people, but that is not to say that they would just throw themselves away. (Despite his anger, though, he is also so very -proud-. To be able to -see- how angry Rodney is on behalf of the soldiers of Atlantis ... it makes John smile despite everything.) "I tore into him. Told him off for so callously viewing the lives of those that live here, that call Atlantis home. That live and fight beside us. And he .. didn't react normally." Rodney swallows thickly and suddenly leaps to his feet and stumbles awkwardly to the railing. He leans against it, eyes clamped closed.

"Instead of cowering like one of my minions or getting angry like most people, he got ... excited. He pushed right into my personal space and told me that he liked that I told him off. And then proceeded to proposition me by asking me to help him find his room. Said something along the lines that no matter what I think now, he'll end up getting me in his bed." Rodney huffs a breath, tilts his head so that the soft wind coming off the waters ruffles his hair. "This morning, the second he got into the labs, he made a crack about finding his room but going to bed lonely." Sheppard manages to swallow a snarl of rage, jumping to his feet and stalking to the railing. He doesn't lean close to it, doesn't in any way take a relaxed stance. Instead, he stands close to Rodney's left side, hovering just inside the personal bubble of the scientist. As he usually does. The revelation that this is what he -does-, that this is how he -always- stands when in proximity to Rodney is a curve-ball he wasn't ready for, but he doesn't take the time out to consider it. Now is -not- the time. Now is the time for righteous anger on behalf of his best friend.

"He ended up .." Rodney snaps his mouth closed then, eyes gone distant and calculating. "He ended up invading my personal space and just really annoyed me. But, I need him, Sheppard. He's damn good at what he does." Sheppard can feel his pulse threading. His heart beating too heavy and fast, and it is sheer force of will keeping him glued to the spot instead of hunting the halls of Atlantis in search of the scientist. "So, I have to buck up and deal. I can do that. For the good of Atlantis, I could do many things." It takes a moment for him to realize that Rodney is talking to himself, trying to make himself understand his point.

"I think we should pack him up and send him right back home on the Daedalus." He grumbles the words vehemently, reaching up to run his hand through his spiked hair. The fact that this bastard has pushed the personal boundaries of McKay with words and looming doesn't sit well with him. At all.

"We can't, Sheppard. I'm not over exaggerating when I say we need him. He's even more competent than Radek." Wow, okay, so that might as well be a glowing endorsement as far as Rodney goes, so Sheppard had to set aside the thought of ordering the asshole away from the city. So, they need to go about this a different way. He lets himself get lost in thought, vaguely aware of the fact that they settle into a silence that stretches on for nearly five minutes. And then he snaps his fingers, drawing the attention of his friend as they turn to face one another.

"Easy. If he keeps it up, tell him that you're seeing someone. He might not be willing to back off if he thinks you're single, but no way he persists if he thinks you're taken. It's easy enough to try and wear down a single person, but hard as hell to try and take on a couple. That should make him back off without having to send him packing." See? Give him a moment, and he can be brilliant!

He is in no way expecting the derisive snort his words are met with.

"Right, because a man that persistent, that tries to present logical arguments, is simply going to accept I'm with someone, without verifying the data himself. The moment I cannot present a girlfriend or boyfriend, he's going to continue this nonsense." Sheppard rolls his eyes, prepared to answer, but Rodney cuts him off with a self-deprecating smile. "And before you say it, no. There's no one that would be willing to pretend to put up with me to do this. I don't exactly cultivate the kinds of friendships in which it is socially acceptable to ask one to pretend to be into me." Rodney's eyes suddenly go large and he seems to stumble back a step. "Oh, wow. I am .. how can I ... damn it!" Sheppard's eyes go wide when Rodney reaches up to rub a hand down his face and then precedes to look haunted and freaked. "There is an actual -person- into me, and rather than embrace it, I'm trying to find a way to scare him off?? For a genius, I'm a moron sometimes. And you did -not- just hear me admit that, Sheppard."

Okay, usually, there would be a hell of a lot of teasing to be had at Rodney admitting that he can be stupid at times, but all of that is piled underneath the disquiet that Sheppard is feeling. This sounds an awful lot like his friend thinks he should -settle- because someone is bothering to pay attention to him. That sparks a fire deep in the gut of the Colonel.

"Hey ... hey, Rodney. It sounds an awful lot like you think you should just, what ... get past the creeped out feeling this asshole gives you and just go with it? Hell no, buddy." He reaches out on instinct, hand pressed gently to the shoulder of the other man, trying to draw his eyes to him. When Rodney looks up at him with those wide, lost eyes, Sheppard feels like he could easily double over with the pain it causes him. "You are worth way more than settling for this little twerp, okay?" He realizes that his hand has lingered and pulls it away quickly. "As for the rest of it .. hell, I'll do it, McKay. You're .. my best friend. If this jerk is making things this bad for you, I'll help make him go away." He doesn't realize that he means that in many different ways until the words are already out. If this ploy doesn't work, he'll make damn sure Dr. Payne is sent away, if Rodney wants that or not. Liam has -just- arrived, but Atlantis is home to the two of them and there's just no way in hell that he's going to let some arrogant asshole make their home uncomfortable.

"Sheppard, you don't have to do this. I .. I really appreciate the sentiment, not something I say lightly. But, really, you don't have to do this." Sheppard tries not to frown, tries not to wonder if Rodney is saying this because he doesn't even want to -pretend- that he could be into him. "No one is going to believe that you and I are dating. Or, well, no one would believe that you would stoop to --"

"Now hold on one damn minute there, Rodney. If you finish that sentence in any way that suggests you are worth less than me, I'm walking away and not talking to you for a few -weeks-." He glares at the shorter man, almost daring him to say something. To complete the preposterous thought. (He wonders if his best friend realizes that this is an empty threat. There's no way that he could voluntarily go a few weeks without talking to the acerbic scientist. Not unless something truly horrible happened to put a dent in their friendship.) "Yeah, that's what I thought. Now just stop with all of this, okay? You are a catch, and whoever has been saying anything else needs to get their heads out of their asses." When it looks like his friend is going to say something, he reaches out to grab him by the shoulder and guide him toward the stretched out shirt.

"So, we're going to pretend to be a couple. It should be easy enough. We'll get Liam to back the hell off, and then you'll be free to work without him looming and hovering all the time. Got it? And don't make me make this an order." He gently pushes Rodney, letting his friend get settled and reach for another muffin before he settles next to him again. Shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee.

"... I still don't take orders from you, Colonel." Which is basically Rodney-speak for he's convinced him. He gently knocks his shoulder against that of his friend, his usual half-smirk appearing.

"Of course you do, babe. All the time." He winks at his friend, settling into their shared breakfast. Despite the gravity of the situation, he's surprised to realize that he hasn't felt this light and comfortable in a really long time.

Not in the least bit surprising -at all-, the idea is a little easier conceived than executed. No sooner had they decided to implement the Fake Boyfriend Plan, than everything seemed to go wrong at once. Before Sheppard could escort him back to the Labs, they had both been buzzed on their earwigs. Sheppard was immediately summoned to a dispute in the gyms while Rodney was requested by Radek. They had bid a distracted good-bye and went their own ways.

That was four days ago. Everything that could do, seemed to go wrong. Three different experiments had gone awry, four other disputes had broken out among the soldiers, and Elizabeth demanded that Sheppard add an extra exercise routine to the schedule of the military personnel in hopes of keeping them too busy to fight among themselves. While it seems to have worked, it means that Sheppard is stuck with longer hours with his soldiers, since he won't make them do anything he himself won't participate in.

So, for the past four days, they have been forced to rely on com calls to check up on each other, neither having the hours to spare to actually hang out. Even meals have been taken at wonky hours, not allowing them to meet up. To say that Rodney is frustrated, would be one of the biggest understatements in the Pegasus Galaxy. He is used to a certain amount of time allotted to seeing Sheppard and their friends, per day. Even in life threatening situations, Sheppard is usually hanging right over his shoulder, an ever comforting presence. If he were more truthful with himself, or maybe just had more levity in his own mind, he would admit that he feels as if he is going through withdrawal of sorts.

He rubs the heels of his palms against his eyes, groaning as the insurmountable weight of Atlantis seems to settle on him. He's tired, hungry, and tense enough that he can almost imagine the sound of his shoulders trying to snap like dry twigs. He grinds his palms a little harder against his closed eyes before letting his heavy arms fall back to his side. One glance at his tablet proves that he's allowed himself to work too long on all of this when his eyes are too blurry around the edges.

"Rodney, stop being such a stubborn arse and let me at your shoulders." Dr. Payne's voice seems to clap out of nowhere, causing him to jump in surprise. His hands snap over his ears for a second before he clears his throat and turns. Liam is pressed against the doorway, shoulder digging into it, arms crossed in front of himself. It takes all of five seconds for him to realize that it's the same stance he so often sees Sheppard take. That thought causes his stomach to swoop and then dive, and also causes a painful clench in his chest because he still hasn't had time to see his best friend.

"No. And I'm not being -stubborn-, Dr. Payne. I do not want you to touch me, therefore will not let you. That is not stubborn." Were he just a little more aware, he'd have made his tone acerbic and sharp, rather than letting it come out as tired and resolved as it currently sounds. "Besides, if my boyfriend walked in on you anywhere near my shoulders, he'd shoot you in the leg." The words are out before he can think to edit them, and he lets out a laugh he had no intention of giving. "He shot me once. In the leg. But then, it's because I asked him to because I knew it wouldn't do me any damage." He snorts in amusement, eyes falling to half mast as he lets himself remember.

Of course, he also remembers what it was like to step into that sentient cloud of energy, knowing that it could kill him at any moment. But Atlantis needed to be saved and he was the only one that could do it at the time. The pattern of his life since this expedition began. The thing that sticks out the most, though, isn't the feeling of passing out or anything. It was the feeling of Sheppard's hand gripping at his arm. Sliding up it for a moment before returning to the spot it began. It felt ... well, at the time, it felt as if Sheppard was going to grab him somewhere else but had aborted the movement. Like maybe his shoulder .. though he wishes it had been his cheek. A wish he keeps to himself.

"You can stop with this charade, Dr. McKay. Every one on Atlantis knows that you do not have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. In fact, I dare say many of your colleagues would tell you to stop being so stubborn and just go along with this, already. I am the best you are going to do, and you know it." He tries so very hard not to, but he flinches at the words. Can hear them delivered by so many other people on Atlantis. Especially those he'd call friend.

Elizabeth would give him that indulgent but somewhat tight smile and tell him to just stop and think about it. How many people were jumping at the thought of dating him? Ronon would probably snort and imply he didn't care one way or the other. Teyla would smile and suggest that he at least consider the fact. Which would be her diplomatic way of saying that he had little chance otherwise.

Radek would snort and call him an idiot for not considering it. After all, who other than Radek could weather his mood swings? Who beyond Sheppard would ever willingly spend time with him?? He can feel himself starting to deflate. The only one who was remotely willing to go after him in a sexual way, is the most annoying person he may have ever met. And then there's Sheppard! He had dragged his best friend into this stupid lie and it could easily cause him all kinds of harm. His soldiers could lose respect for him because Rodney is not in the least bit popular among them. They may actually call his judgement into question over all of this.

His sister would glare at him and call him a moron for not taking this opportunity. She'd give him a twenty minute lecture about how he's not going to get another opportunity because he's -him- and no one is ever going to be willing to put up with that. So, he should latch onto this one as soon as he can. His stomach roils, his shoulders sag, and he can feel himself getting ready to give in.

"Rooooodneeeeyyy!" Sheppard's tired whine nearly has him praising a God he doesn't believe in. It's a lifeline that is saving him from himself. He perks up, his shoulders still taut, but the rest of him relaxed in a fashion that only the military man's presence can achieve.

"Sheppard." He calls out the name even as the man in question slinks into the labs. Not his usual swagger, but something more .. eye catching. All long, loose limbs and the most blinding and yet tired smile he has ever worn.

"I think, finally, every thing has managed to simmer down. I figured I'd come see you before something else goes wrong." He snorts, rolling his eyes at Sheppard even as he offers up the private little smile that belongs to his best friend and him alone. "Would it sound too unmanly and lame if I said I missed you?" There's a playfulness to the words, and yet a truth as well. Rodney's stomach flips again, and he finds himself leaning forward, propping himself on his elbows so that he's a little closer to Sheppard without invading his space more than he usually would.

"Not at all, Colonel. Because I missed you, too. Even when everything is going to pot, we usually see each other. It's been strange not having you lurk everywhere." He fights a grin when Sheppard's eyes widen comically and his hands fly to his hips in a playfully defensive gesture.

"I do not -lurk-, Rodney. I .. supervise .. with my presence .. so that .... yeah, okay, I lurk. But only with you." The sudden admittance is enough to surprise a laugh out of him, and he can almost swear that he sees Sheppard light up at the sound.

"Of course only with me, Sheppard. There's not enough hours in the day for you to lurk over any shoulder but mine. Though I'm a little surprised that you didn't have Ronon or Teyla keeping tabs on me." A look that is very obviously guilt makes Rodney's eyes narrow. It takes only a few seconds for him to consider the last four days before he understands. "Ugh! You had Radek watching me, didn't you!?" When Sheppard ducks his head and begins to formulate a response, he knows that he's right. "Sheppard .." He knows that a part of him should be angry. Really should. At one point, he would have assumed that this kind of move meant that he was not trusted to do something right, but he knows better now. "Thank you."

The Colonel snaps his head up, eyes wide and almost mystified as he lets that unfettered smile appear to soften and brighten his handsome features.

"You're welcome, Rodney." When Sheppard ducks his head this time, it's almost shy and he finds himself seized by the desire to reach forward and touch him somehow. Squeeze his shoulder, ruffle his hair ... cup his cheek. He gives himself a slight shake, forces the thought from his mind as he smiles at his friend.

"You do realize that Dr. McKay is a grown man, yes?" Both men turn, startled, to realize that Dr. Payne is still in the room. He's standing over by his laptop, arms crossed moodily in front of himself. Eyes narrowed to serpentine slits as he looks between the two men. Rodney winces when he remembers how close he had been to saying yes to the guy.

"That thought has crossed my mind a time or two, yes, Dr. Payne. So?"

"So .. he's bloody well capable of taking care of himself, Colonel Sheppard. He doesn't need a babysitter." The words are scathing and he flinches as if Liam has struck out physically some how. From the corner of his eye, he can see Sheppard getting ready to say or do something that's probably going to cause a hell of a lot of problems. He reaches out, his hand wrapping around Sheppard's wrist, stopping his friend from heading toward the other scientist.

"No one asked for your opinion, Dr. Payne." Sheppard growls the words out, though his eyes are not on the offending man, but instead, on the spot where his wrist is being held. Rodney looks down at the grip and blanches. Immediately lets go only to feel Sheppard's hand grabbing his own at the wrist. Re-establishing that connection. Rodney feels like he can relax into nothing at that touch.

"Sheppard wasn't implying that I needed a babysitter, Liam. Though, he's right, it's not your business so your opinion is very much not wanted right now. In fact, why don't you go to lunch?" He risks a glance at the other scientist and isn't surprised to see that Liam looks angry and calculating. In fact, he looks two seconds from exploding with some kind of smart comeback and that pisses him off for some reason. He's tired of listening to this asshole.

"I'm not hungry." Liam sounds downright petulant, and Rodney reaches his free hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. Lack of food and caffeine paired with troubled sleep and the stress of his working environment .. it's all starting to catch up with him.

"Then just -leave-." Sheppard cuts in before he can say anything, and he's grateful for him doing so. Because he's pretty sure he's close to cursing at the other man. "I think that's what Rodney was getting at. Please leave." The added please sounds so out of character, that Rodney looks back at his best friend. It's his turn to widen his eyes, surprised to see the amount of concern written across the face of the other man. Sheppard is worried about him? But then, he probably looks every bit as stressed as he feels. His headache is probably emblazoned like neon lights across his face.

"Rodney ..." His name on Sheppard's lips .. it's a plethora of questions wrapped up in a single word statement, and he's not sure if he wants to sink closer to his friend or turn tail and run. He chooses to look down where the hand is wrapped around his wrist, and then cut his gaze toward Liam.

"Leave, Liam. I don't care where you go, but leave. Don't come back for at least an hour. And that's an order." He grins faintly when Sheppard smirks, both of them remembering Sheppard calling him babe when he insisted that Rodney does take orders from him, though neither of them realize the other is thinking about it.

"I don't have to take orders from --"

"Yes, you do. Rodney is the head of the Science department in Atlantis, Dr. Payne. That means that you report directly to him, which means that you are bound to his orders. In fact, the only one above him is Dr. Weir, unless it calls for a military response. In which case, you listen to my orders. So yes, you -do- have to take orders." Rodney groans internally, knowing that Sheppard is a few seconds from saying something that might be considered crossing the line, even if Dr. Payne started it with his insubordination.

"Hmm. Fine, then. I will take my lunch. Rodney, I'll be back in an hour. We can discuss my sleeping arrangements and this ... silly little lie of yours. Colonel." Liam nods coldly at Sheppard, smirks at Rodney, and then he's gone. Shuffling angrily out of the lab. Rodney immediately relaxes on his seat, gently pulling his wrist out of the hand of his friend.

"Thank you, Sheppard." No sooner has he spoken, than he feels the gentle brush of something across his wrist. It takes almost a full minute for him to realize that Sheppard has taken hold of it again.

"Don't mention it, Rodney. Now, what lie is he talking about?" There's something challenging and intense in the eyes of the military man, and he feels so very touched that Sheppard is already angry on his behalf. He glances down at the long fingers on his wrist and suppresses a shiver at how good it feels. Warm and heavy, grounding him so perfectly.

"Right. Caught that, did you?" At the withering DUH look, Rodney sighs. After a moment of hesitation, he reaches out to gently tap his free pointer finger against the back of Sheppard's hand. "Yes, well. Apparently, Liam is convinced that I am lying when I say I have a boyfriend. It is .. well known all over Atlantis, that I am not good enough for anyone to date. In fact, the asshole is convinced that almost every one on this planet would tell me to stop being stubborn and say yes, because he is the best I could ever do." He's trembling by the time his mouth snaps closed. He is seething, angry at Liam for saying it, disappointed and pissed at himself for nearly giving in.

He feels a tug of his wrist, impatient and insistent. When he glances up, Sheppard looks royally pissed, fuming so much that he would have steam clouds coming out of his ears if this were a cartoon. And this time, at least a small fraction of that anger is directed at him.

"And let me guess .. you thought he was right? You think that people would actually say that to you." Sheppard huffs and Rodney withers under the weight of his gaze. Tries weakly to pull his wrist free of that binding hold. He holds no hope, though, of pulling away. Not unless Sheppard is prepared to let him go. "God, Rodney .. what happened to that legendary ego of yours, buddy? Does his bullshit just blow it out of the water, or something?" Sheppard lets his wrist go and then reaches out to place that same hand on his shoulder. Carefully squeezes it, still staring at him. "He's full of it, okay? I don't care what he starts spouting, it's just stupid lies because an ass like that isn't used to being told no. The more you say it, the ruder he's going to get. And none of it is going to be true, I'd bet on it." The second squeeze robs him of his breath, causes him to slump forward on his seat again as he tries to catch his breath.

"He .. damn it, Sheppard, he -is- right. I'm never going to get who I want, and at least he's willing to pay attention to me." The hand on his shoulder yanks back so quickly, Sheppard looks as if he has been burned somehow. He stares down at his hand, flexes his fingers. Suddenly unwilling to look Rodney in the eye.

".. I pay attention to you all the fucking -time-, Rodney. So what, I don't -count- now?" There's a steely edge to the words, and Rodney has to suppress a shudder as he pushes himself away from the table. Carefully shoves his hands behind his back in a vague parade rest. He just can't meet Sheppard's eyes.

"Yes, Sheppard. You count. You -always- count, but this .. this is different. It ..." His head hangs forward, shoulders squared off almost painfully under the weight of his emotions. "You're my best friend, Sheppard. You will always count." Time seems to tick by, his brain keeping track of every second like grains of sand. Nearly three minutes pass before he feels a hand gently grasp his shoulder.

"You don't need his kind of attention, Rodney. I promise. There are plenty of people out there that are going to look at you, see the -real- you, and want to give you every thing you deserve. He .. he's just a bastard with a quick smile that is used to everyone bowing down at his feet for his attention. He'd reel you in and then treat you like dirt. Please, Rodney .. if you don't believe anything else I say believe this; you are worth so much more than him or anything he says." His head suddenly weighs half a ton but he still manages to nod his understanding. He can make no promises to ever be able to agree, but he will do his best.

"Thank you, Sheppard."

"No problem, Rodney. How about we try and grab -- " The words are cut off by the shrill trill of his earwig, Sheppard rolling his eyes and clenching his hands into fists for a moment before he taps it. "Yeah, this is Sheppard ... what? Can't you just .. yeah, I get it. Fine. I'll be there in ten minutes." The Colonel snaps the pad of his finger against the device again, before turning his sad, tired eyes back toward him. "Okay, ixnay on the food. Damn it. I need to go see Elizabeth." Rodney can feel his shoulders starting to droop again in disappointment, but he doesn't want to make Sheppard feel any worse than he already does. So he smiles and after a second of hesitation, he puts his hand on Sheppard's shoulder and squeezes lightly.

"Don't worry about it, Colonel. I still have a lot of work to do, anyway. Uhm .. try me for lunch tomorrow?" There's such a pathetic note of hope in his voice, he prays that Sheppard doesn't hear it.

"Uh, yeah, sure. I'll swing by. Just .. don't work too hard, okay? Make sure you eat something and get some sleep tonight, okay?" A little light-bulb seems to go off over Sheppard, because he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a powerbar with a giant smile. "Oh! Here. Until you can manage something. See you tomorrow, buddy." Rodney takes the powerbar with a grin, already tearing into it as he watches his friend walk away.

Sheppard startles awake, a thin sheen of sweat across his body as he writhes in his bedding. He's getting a little tired of these dreams. Er, nightmares, really. They're loud, obnoxious, full of pain and blood and so much confusion that he never wakes with a true memory of what he had been dreaming. It's always just a sea of negative emotion clinging to him as he tries to catch his breath and wake up fully.

Apparently, today is no different. He gasps for several breaths until he can convince himself that he's safe. He can actually feel Atlantis reaching out to him in some vague, comforting way. A quick glance around the room sends him into a fit of cursing. Light is streaming into the room so intensely that he knows he has -way- over slept. In a mad scramble to get up, he tangles in his sheets and ends up on the floor in a crumpled mess.

"... well, this is just starting off to be a great day." He launches the sarcastic quip at the ceiling before managing to pry himself free of his bedding and stumble head first into his bathroom. It takes far too long for him to wash up, dry off, and dress. By the time he's ready to exit his room, his stomach is rumbling and his neck hurts a little from over sleeping.

It takes him far too long to think to check his watch, and when he realizes it's only a few minutes until noon, he nearly trips over his own feet in his haste.

"Rodney." He whines into the mouthpiece of his earwig, wincing when he realizes that he did actually whine. "Come on, Rodney." He drawls, squinting down the hallway as he waits for his best friend/colleague/fake boyfriend to answer his com unit.

"Sheppard." The note of exhaustion in his friend's voice causes him to draw up short and nearly cause a traffic jam as people maneuver to keep from smacking into him.

"In the labs?" He snaps out the question, already reversing to head back down the hallway, toward the nearest transport.

"Yeah, I'm in my labs. I --"

"Good. I'm on my way there." He cuts the scientist off before Rodney can try and talk him out of it. Anger and concern are currently warring within him, because he's worried over the way his friend sounded but he's also rather pissed that the man had probably stayed in the labs all night instead of taking care of himself. The dumbest genius in two galaxies, he swears!

He bursts through the doors of the lab, eyes narrowed and desperately searching. He zeroes in on the scientist as if he has some Rodney-themed sixth sense. He watches, silently, as his friend hovers in front of an equation covered whiteboard. His anger momentarily recedes as his eyes follow the man. When Rodney is in his element, there's something breathtaking and awe-inspiring about him. The way his laser precision focus clamps onto something and doesn't let go. The way he squares his shoulders and stands a little straighter, as if preparing to go to war with whatever roadblock is standing between him and discovery.

There are also things like .. the way he bites at the marker body in his hand. The way he nibbles at his bottom lip or pokes the end of his tongue out in concentration. The way he starts to pace, every muscle flexing, clenching and unclenching as he cuts a path through his work space. The way his hands start to dance through the air as he begins to debate with himself or holler his hypothesis in Zalenka's face.

At the moment, though, he is not animated, but still a sight to behold as he concentrates on his math.

".... you are in -so- much trouble, Meredith." He pulls out the first name, lobbing it like a well aimed hand grenade, and he basks in the glow of satisfaction when Rodney jumps, yelps, and then swivels to look at him. He preens minutely under it, loving when his friend lays that intense, all seeing, all knowing stare on him. Sure, he feels a little like a dissected experiment, but it's worth it to have Rodney's full attention.

"What do you think you are -doing-!?" Rodney snaps at him, and rather than feel contrite, he just smirks that infuriating smirk at his best friend. "You can -not- walk in here and start using -that- name, Colonel!" The chastisement simply makes him smirk harder, though there's a challenging look in his eyes as well. Because his anger has returned now that the spell of Rodney-watching has been broken.

"Well, I wouldn't -have- to come in here, using -that- name, -MER-, if you did what you were supposed to do in the -first- place." He emphasizes every word that perfectly displays the depth of anger he is feeling at his friend. "You were supposed to get something to eat and then sleep, McKay. Not spend all damn night and morning in the Labs." He glares at him, though he told himself that he wouldn't. He's so angry, though he's not even sure -why-.

"What? Oh, come off it, Sheppard. I .. okay, so maybe I forgot to eat, but I did have a few powerbars. And yes, okay, I never made it back to my room, but I'm not falling down tired or anything, so it isn't so bad. I'll just --"

"No. Whatever bullshit you're about to spout, save it, Rodney. You -have- to start taking better care of yourself, damn it." He's seething, nostrils flaring as he breathes out heavily. He hesitates for a moment, before he steps forward and places a hand on his friend's shoulder. "So, here's what we're going to do, buddy. We're going to go grab lunch, and then I'm going to walk you to your room. Where you are going to sleep until at least the morning. No arguments." He braces himself, fully expecting the man to argue, because he just can't seem to help himself.

The fact that Rodney pushes closer to the hand on his shoulder and seems to deflate a little is both awesome and horrible. Awesome, because he likes the idea that his touch is a positive thing to his friend, and horrible because it shows just how exhausted he must be, if he's so willing to give in without even a token fight.

"Yeah, alright. Lets go, Sheppard." When Rodney smiles at him, Sheppard feels his stomach swoop and dive and he offers up that genuine little smile that only ever seems to see the light of day when Rodney is involved.

"Come on." He doesn't let go of his shoulder, gently propelling him forward without letting go. Some small part of him is a little worried to do so. Like, if he lets go, something will change and not for the better.

It only takes a few minutes for them to get to the mess hall, which not surprising, is full of people taking the time to get lunch. After a moment of hesitation, he turns Rodney toward the tables and settles him into a seat.

"Just, relax. I'll be right back with some trays." He claps him gently on the back and heads to the line. He shifts listlessly as he shuffles forward every few minutes, trying to understand his reaction from earlier.

Yes, he had asked McKay to take care of himself, to eat and get some sleep. However, McKay had never actually said he would. Which is why it's so strange that he got so very angry at the situation. It's not his job, or even really his right, to be that concerned with how McKay is taking care of himself. Sure, he can show a little concern on a 'hey, you're my best friend and I worry' level, but that doesn't include just how upset he had gotten.

He's biting his bottom lip by the time he manages to grab up two trays and step in front of the food. He's just reaching for something when he feels a hand wrap around his wrist.

"Colonel! You don't want any of that." He glances up into the cook's face, a brow quirked in question. It looks like Salisbury steak, which is usually pretty good, so he knows that a good bit of confusion must show on his face. "One of the newbs was cutting lemons for lemonade and like a moron, used the same knife to cut a lot of other things. We don't know what may have been cross-contaminated." Sheppard's hand yanks away from the food so fast he can hear his own shoulder pop. He even goes so far as to rub his palm across his hip, despite the fact he hadn't actually touched any of the food.

"Thanks. So, is there anything on offer that's safe?" God, if there wasn't anything for Rodney to eat beyond powerbars and MREs, he will be so pissed. The whole point was to take care of him, and now some idiot that didn't know how to -wash a knife- might make it impossible for him to do that. Not good.

"Of course, sir. It's not much, but ... I made sure I made it myself, so it's perfectly safe." The cook steps away for a second before coming back with two trays in hand. Sheppard doesn't hesitate. He puts his two trays away and grabs those on offer. He doesn't even take the time to wonder why the Cook assumed that he would want the lemon-less stuff, also. After all, Rodney is the one with the allergy, not himself. But still, it never once crossed his mind to take a regular lunch and run the risk. He's been doing that a lot, lately. Changing his eating habits to accommodate Rodney.

He walks to the table, sitting across from his friend as he deposits both of their trays.

"Huh. This is not the usual." Rodney comments as he pulls his tray close. Squinting at the contents.

"Nope. Cook said some newb cut lemons for lemonade and then used the same knife to prep lunch. So, Cook made these especially for us." From under his lashes, he sees Rodney abort his movement toward the tray, in favor of lifting the full weight of his gaze onto the Colonel. So much so, that Sheppard finds he kinda wants to squirm a little.

"So, wait. There's a chance of citrus contamination, and even though I -had- to eat the alternate meal .. you -chose- to?"

"Yes, Rodney, now shut up and eat something." He softens the command of the words with a lopsided smirk before he unwraps his turkey sandwich and grabs up one of the veggie crisps that had been placed beside it. Glancing at it, this one is beet. He pops it into his mouth, making an appreciative sound the same moment that Rodney makes the same sound because of his sandwich.

"Mm, not bad." Rodney grins at him, and Sheppard preens under the look a little. No, he didn't make the meal himself or anything, but he did go and get it, is providing it for his friend. He looks his tray over before he snags his blue jello and shoves it onto Rodney's tray. He's taken by surprise when Rodney immediately separates the beet crisps out and places them on his tray. This is so .. so ... ok, its so fucking -domestic-, there is no other way to describe it. His stomach roils, his chest clenches, and he can feel the beginnings of a headache starting behind his eyes. He ignores it all.

"Nah, it's pretty good. It was nice of the Cook to put it aside for us." Sheppard comments absently, reaching for one of the extra beet crisps.

"Sheppard." Ronon's deep, singular voice causes both Sheppard and McKay to jump in surprise, but also to smile lightly. "McKay." Ronon drops down beside Rodney, bumping their shoulders companionably, causing Rodney to grin momentarily at him before going back to his food. "Why are you guys eating that?" He nods toward Sheppard's tray, and Sheppard glances down out of habit.

"Oh, Cook said there was some cross-contamination. Some idiot used a knife to cut lemons, then used the same knife to prep lunch. So, Cook was nice enough to prepare us something else." Ronon glances from Rodney to Sheppard, a single brow quirked. Even without words, Sheppard understands the question. 'He has an allergy, not you. Why aren't you eating the good stuff?' He waves the question away with a rolling of his eyes, because he doesn't really have a logical explanation for it, and goes back to his food.

"Rodney. John." Teyla's sweet, serene voice slices through the comfortable quiet that had settled over the table as she sits herself next to Sheppard, across from Ronon. She offers the silent member of their group a smile and a nod, before she begins to glance her tray over. She picks up a bowl of red jello and begins to hold it out to McKay.

"Rodney, I think you might like -- Sheppard!?" She actually gasps his name in surprise when his iron-clad hand wraps around her wrist before she can finish delivering the sweet treat. When he glances up, McKay has shrunk away from the offered treat, and Sheppard breathes a little easier.

"There was some citrus cross contamination, Teyla. Lunch isn't safe for him, today. The Cook made him something special. He'll stick to that." He carefully lets her wrist go, forcing his hand back down to his side. From the edge of his vision, he sees Ronon and Teyla exchange a look that is hard to parse, at first, but only takes a few moments to comprehend. They think he and Rodney are overreacting. It's no secret that they, along with half of Atlantis, think that everything health-related to leave Rodney's mouth is either an outright lie or an exaggeration. It pisses him off that no one seems to take these things seriously. It's why the actions taken by Cook mean so damn much, as far as the Colonel is concerned.

People just .. they don't -know- Rodney. They don't see the truth behind the carefully created facade. Yeah, he's a bit of a hypochondriac, but that's because he's touch starved and hasn't the first clue what to do about it. If he isn't complaining about what could be wrong, or touting his genius at the top of his lungs, no one seems to have any time for him. For a man that was always too smart for his own good, any kind of attention is good attention in his mind. Sheppard figured that out pretty damn quick. (It's one of the reasons he always pays attention, even if it's to mock, banter, or tease. It's giving Rodney attention without making it too obvious. And besides, through that attention, John realized he really, -really- likes the guy.)

So, it's no surprise that the other two members of their team don't believe for one second that Rodney is allergic to citrus, but it is a testament to how close their team has become, that they don't voice this opinion. Rodney is their friend, and they treat him as such.

"But, uh, thanks. Anyway. Teyla." Rodney flashes the Athosian a big smile and it seems to placate her. She bows her head in his direction, a smile of amusement appearing when Rodney finds three more beet crisps and transfers them to Sheppard's plate. Sheppard grins and pops all three into his mouth.

"So, Rodney .. there is a rumor going about Atlantis." Teyla eases into the words, not looking up from her tray. Sheppard watches Rodney stiffen an almost painful amount, his hands tight against the table. On instinct, he reaches out. Lays one hand over Rodney's for a brief moment, before he goes back to eating. Rodney grabs up a few tava bean crisps and sets them on the side of Ronon's plate, earning a gruff 'thanks' and a pat on the back.

"There are always rumors floating about Atlantis, Teyla. It's worse than a hen party. What is it this time? If it's anything to do with me and Radek, then they are not only lies, but probably recycled ones." Sheppard snorts faintly in amusement, remembering having heard a few of those rumors. The one that had been particularly funny, (though Sheppard vaguely remembers it was more funny in a hysterical breakdown kind of way) had been the rumor that Radek and Rodney were working on some sort of half Ancient love child that would one day be able to control all of Atlantis with a mixture of the two mens brilliance. Rodney had quickly squashed that rumor with a few simple words. 'Radek is, by no means, the second smartest man on Atlantis, so why would I want a love child with him? Now, the -real- second smartest? Sure. But, since we in no way have the means to do that, it's a moot point.' (And yeah, okay, so hearing those words gave him the irrational desire to go beat someone up for some reason, but whatever.)

"Well, this particular rumor involves you and a new scientist." Teyla speaks carefully, obviously trying to find a delicate way to broach an indelicate subject. Sheppard is surprised, however, by the sudden movement from Ronon. He slams his bottle of water down, drawing an angry glare onto Teyla.

"If the man keeps speaking them, I'm going to throw him over one of the balconies." Sheppard's eyes widen and his mouth falls open when Rodney reaches over to lay a hand tentatively on Ronon's wrist.

"Don't listen to anything Dr. Payne says. I assume it is him spreading the rumors. Probably something along the lines of how he's going to have me in his bed soon, despite my repeated attempts to tell him no. Or maybe he is spreading rumors about how pathetic and ridiculous I am for making up a boyfriend? Either way, he's full of it." Rodney squeezes Ronon's wrist before letting go. "And you are far better than him, Ronon. There's no need for you to lower yourself to his level by going after him." Ronon snorts something, momentarily looking offended because he thinks Rodney is saying he isn't worth it. In the end, though, the man seems to let it go, and Sheppard is happy for that fact. The last thing they need is for Ronon to decide to go after Dr. Payne.

"Uhm, yes. He has been boasting that you want to sleep with him, but are too shy to do so. Something about ... more concerned with saving face than accepting your desires. Oh, and that he thinks it is -cute- that you seem to consider the creation of a fake boyfriend to be the answer to avoiding your desires." He and Rodney exchange angry glances, both wanting to head out, find Liam, and tear him a new one. Teyla's words, however, are the only thing to keep them both seated. "I told the man that he was foolish if he thought you had invented anything. I know the two of you have always wished to keep it between yourselves, but this seemed like the situation to ... well, overstep my bounds a little. I explained that you two could not be open about your relationship because you serve on a team together, and that it would cause undo stress on everyone involved. Though, the fact that it has worked for several years now, it seems as if you should be able to be more open. I set him straight on the matter." Sheppard's mouth falls open again, his brain shorting a bit as he tries to understand what's going on here.

Because it sounds an -awful- lot like Teyla, who had no clue that he and Rodney had decided to fake-date to keep Dr. Payne-in-the-ass at bay, is suggesting that she has thought they were dating for -years-.

"For real." Ronon snorts. "If the guy can't take one look at you two and know that you're an item and back off, I say he has a -death wish-. On Sateda, you'd be well within your rights to take him down for persisting. It's disrespectful to go after anothers mate, especially if they are your superiors. And you both outrank this guy. He needs a good ass kicking." Even if Sheppard might silently agree, his mind is stuck on several other factors at the moment. Mate. Who said anything about -mate-!? They are fake boyfriends, nothing more! And hang on just a minute! -RONON- thought they were together, too? When the hell did that happen!? And how many others think the same, for that matter!?

"Uhm .." It's the first sound that Rodney has managed since these new revelations and Sheppard can't help himself. His eyes snap toward his best friend, hand already extended to hover in case he gets the chance to touch him somehow. Uh, yeah, okay, given that reaction, he can see how their friendship might be misconstrued. "There are -so- many things I want to say, to -all- of this, but I'm not exactly firing on all cylinders right now."

"And who's fault is that, Rodney? I told you to eat and sleep and you didn't do either. It's a wonder you haven't ... face-planted yet." He knows that he's whining, everything from the words to his tone of voice prove it, but he can't help it. He's still angry with his friend. Who rolls his eyes, offers a bit of a sheepish smile, and then points to his now empty plate. "Well, we've at least gotten the eating part down."

"Yes, yes. Anyway, yes. Liam .. erm, Dr. Payne, is proving to be a bit of an asshole, but it's nothing that I cannot handle. He can talk all he wants to, no one is going to listen. And I really don't care what he has to say, I've heard it all before. He is, however, brilliant, and we really do need him in Atlantis. So, this is how it will be. Teyla, thank you for trying to set him straight, though you're right, Sheppard and I don't really want too many people to know about us, not that I think anyone would believe it, anyway. As if Sheppard would --- ugh. Anyway. Ronon, thank you for wanting to take up for us, and yes, he is very annoying and even -I- have thought about doing him bodily harm, but you will refrain from doing so. You're a part of our team, you're our friend, and the last thing we need is you getting grounded for hitting the asshole." Ronon makes his angry face momentarily but in the end, nods his agreement. Because even Ronon isn't completely immune to McKay. It actually makes him smile to know that so few are truly immune to his best friend, no matter what they say.

"And Sheppard, you are -not- going to go out of your way to make life difficult for him, okay?" Sheppard wriggles a little under Rodney's gaze, biting his bottom lip before he manages his best affectation of innocence.

"Come on, does that really sound like something -I- would do just because someone messed with McKay?"

"Yes!" The word does not just come from Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon, but from several surrounding tables as well. He ducks his head to try and hide his blush, grumbling to himself. No way is he -that- transparent where the scientist is concerned, right?

"Fine fine fine. I'll leave the little prick alone. For now." It's the best he can do, really. If Dr. Payne continues to step out of line, sooner or later, he's going to snap and stop him. Plain and Simple.

"Thank you, Sheppard." Rodney stands up, tray in hand, and Sheppard reaches out immediately to take it, stacking it with his own. He wanders off to put them away, absently thinking about things. Top of his thoughts; Liam is a douche, he doesn't care how smart or needed he may be. Next, do their team really think they've been dating all of this time!? Was Rodney really unaffected by this assumption, or just pretending to be since they want people to believe they are together? And was it really -that- strange that he had gone for the non-lemon contaminated meal right along side his friend?

By the time he has reached the table, Ronon and Teyla bid them farewell and he and Rodney leave the mess hall side-by-side. The walk from the mess hall to the living quarters is relatively comfortable and silent, though Sheppard notices a few stares here and there. Some calculating, some curious, and some rather sad. None of them make any sense to him, though. He shakes it all off once they reach Rodney's room. Yes, the man was fully capable of walking himself, but after he failed to do what was needed ... well, Sheppard just feels a bit better being the one to do this, you know? Being the one to actually make sure he got here.

"Remember what I said, Rodney. Sleep until the morning. You will -not- report back to your labs until then, got it?" He tries to wear his stern, I'm in command face, but doubts that he properly conveys it. Because Rodney smiles, warm and indulgent and Sheppard feels a shiver building at the base of his spine.

"Yes yes, of course, J -- Colonel. I will get the proper amount of sleep. Thanks. Good night, Sheppard." McKay turns then, slipping into his room, leaving him standing there feeling a bit like a foolish fish out of water, because he -needs- to know, damn it! Was McKay about to call him -John-? Was he about to -finally- use his first name!? For once, he is ready to admit that he is pouting at the closed door. Because he is. Pouting. So close ... so damn -close- to hearing it for the first time and Rodney had aborted. Damn it!

"Colonel. Surprised to see you here." The sound of Liam Payne's better-than-you voice cuts right through whatever he had been feeling in comparison to his best friend and immediately sets him on edge.

"Dr. Payne. Is there something I can do for you?" He wants to fist pump internally. Surely Rodney would be proud of him for managing to remain polite and civil.

"No, Colonel. Not at all. Just a bit surprised to see you here. Isn't your room down the way a bit?" Okay, that makes him feel all kinds of oogey! Like, I need a shower and double drying off kinda oogey.

"I gotta say .. it's all kinds of creepy that you know where my room is, doctor." Maybe a soak in some hand sanitizer to go with the rest of it. He shakes off the feeling, shifting his weight from foot to foot before crossing his arms in front of himself. "Now, what are you doing here?" He tries for a second time to parse what the man may want.

"I was looking for Dr. McKay's room. No one will tell me where it is, though I assume it has to be in this general area. I wish to speak with him about something." Sheppard's hands tighten where they press, his eyes narrowed to impish slits. See, to him, it seems like the arrogant genius should be able to figure out that there's a -reason- no one will tell him where McKay's room is. Basically, that it's none of his fucking business. But, apparently, that's a little too hard for the moron to understand.

"Well, if every one refuses to tell you .. you should -probably- take that as a hint, doctor." Again, he tries his best command voice and given the fact that Payne takes two steps back, he has managed it quite well this time. No surprise since McKay is on the line, so to speak. "And anything you may have questions about, can be directed to Radek until McKay is back on duty."

"No, it cannot, Colonel. I have something personal to discuss with Rodney." Sheppard can feel his insides begin to burn a little. He's quickly losing control of the situation, at least, as far as his own possible personal reactions go.

"Believe me when I say, Rodney doesn't want to discuss -anything- personal with you, Liam. In fact, that is the very -last- thing he wants to do. Now, he may be a bit too .. well, stubborn would be a good place to start, to tell you off himself, so Imma do it for him." He draws himself up to his full height, takes several steps forward, so that he's looming a bit. "What you've been doing is harassment, plain and simple. Add to that slander, and frankly, you're two steps from getting kicked right back to Earth. Rodney doesn't want -anything- to do with you on a personal level, so back the fuck off. Got it?" He so badly wants to add a shove to that, to emphasize his words, but he cannot risk doing something like that. No matter how much he REALLY wants to. Or how much he thinks Rodney is worth it.

"Oh please, we both know Rodney will not let me be kicked off of Atlantis. He needs me too badly, Colonel. And frankly, it's none of your business what may or may not be going on between us. You are not Rodney, therefore, you do not know his mind. And the simple truth, is that he will soon be mine." God, the smugness coming off this guy! And the way he speaks as if Rodney is his possession and just hasn't accepted the fact yet. He lunges forward, forcing the scientist against the opposite wall with a bit of a snarl.

"Rodney will -never- be yours, you arrogant asshole. First of all, he really just -doesn't- want you. All of his no's should've told you that by now. He wants you to leave him alone." He grits the words out, eyes flashing with anger.

"No, he doesn't. He enjoys saying no, but he has never once told me to -stop- or to leave -him alone-. This is all merely .. foreplay. Besides, what does it matter to you, hmm? You may be his friend and his superior when off world, but here, he is of no concern to you." There have only been a few times in all of his life where he has truly 'seen red,' and this moment makes the list. Not of his concern!? How does this man not -get- it!?! He feels his hands slide to his sides, curling into clenched fists.

"It matters a hell of a lot. Rodney does -not- want you. Do you get that, little man? He has a boyfriend, the role is taken, there is no spot open for auditions, so stop making a fool of yourself and back the hell -off-!" He forces himself to back up, reaching down to smooth the line of his uniform shirt. He watches Liam's eyes widen and then narrow, before the jerk has the audacity to laugh.

"God, just drop the act! Every one already knows that Rodney doesn't have a boyfriend. I'm the only one on this stupid planet that would bother putting up with the guy! Which is why he will eventually get over himself and say yes. It's sweet and all, that you're willing to step in and try to pretend to be his boyfriend, but come -on-! A guy like you would -never- stoop to the level of dating Rodney. Now, fuckbuddies, that I would've believed. But an actual relationship? As if, Kirk. He could have at least chosen someone -believable- to lie about."

God help him, his hand starts to reach toward his thigh holster. He's not sure what he plans to do; pistol-whip or shoot him. Either way, it's a one-way ticket back to Earth and he has no desire to go there. Not now, and definitely not in the too near future. Every thing he could ever want is -right here-. Friends, family, Puddle Jumpers, and the adrenaline rush of exploring brand new worlds with his best friend at the dial of a button. Earth is ... just Earth now, it's not -home-.

That thought is the only thing that keeps him from actually palming his weapon and using it in some fashion. (He's seriously leaning toward shooting the man in several different places. Nothing that would kill him, but a few flesh wounds that would hurt like a bitch and bleed like a stuck pig.)

"It's funny that you're that fucking -stupid- for such a smart guy. There are a lot of people that do a hell of a lot more than -put up- with Rodney McKay. He has friends and family here." He sucks in a breath, suppressing the feral growl that wants to escape. God, he wants to march right off to see Ronon and ask how exactly he could rip this guys heart out and eat it, without getting caught. He's pretty sure Ronon could give him a few pointers on that. Or, you know, better yet ... they could do it together. Brotherly bonding session in the name of protecting one of their own. "I would -never- be fuckbuddies with Rodney. He's too good for that, Dr. Payne. He's a hell of a lot better than I am and I -really- don't understand this bullshit about how I would never be with him. The only one -stooping- here, is Rodney. Because believe me, he's worth a dozen of me, in more than one way. Now, you are going to back off and leave my Rodney ALONE!" He finally allows the briefest hint of that feral nature through when he snarls the word ALONE. It makes him feel wrong ... makes him feel like he's tapping into that primal side that the Iratus Bug had awoken in him, but that's okay. Because this is for Rodney. He'll gladly lose control for a few seconds, if it means helping his best friend out. After all, Rodney would and has done the same for him. The scientist was willing to inject himself with the Wraith Enzyme to save the people he cared about. Sheppard can surely get a little wild.

"Colonel?" The sudden sound of Major Lorne turning a corner and speaking doesn't make him jump away from the scientist, though it probably should. He remains standing in his space, two seconds from out and out growling like a beast at the man.

"Yes, Major?" He questions, steely gaze still not leaving Payne as he listens to the footsteps growing closer.

"Something wrong, sir?" He can almost feel Lorne's calculating gaze, moving between the two of them, and some small part of him worries how this might look. Worries that his second-in-command and friend is going to have to pull him away from the civilian.

"Not at all, Major. Just explaining to Dr. Payne here, that he needs to back off and leave Dr. McKay alone. He needs to stop asking him to sleep with him, stop asking everyone he comes across which room is his, and generally get a personality transplant if he wants to stay in Atlantis. As long as he listens, there's no problem, Major." Finally, he forces himself to take a step back. Then another. And another. Making sure that there is space between them before he allows himself to relax a little bit.

"I see, Colonel. It saves the rest of us from having to speak to him. It seems he has been heard both bragging about and slandering Dr. McKay. And I -know- I am -not- the only one tired of hearing my friend talked about that way. In fact, if Dr. Weir hears it, I'm pretty damn sure that she's going to boot you back to Earth so fast your head is going to spin." There's a soft threat in Lorne's words, and Sheppard is actually proud of his second-in-command for pulling it off so smoothly.

"No one is kicking me off of Atlantis, you delusional twits! In case you haven't noticed, the scientists are worth a dozen of each of you, and me more so. The only two smarter than me on this whole expedition ... Dr. Zalenka and Rodney. So, fat chance getting rid of me." With that, Liam jerks the hem of his shirt down and sidesteps both of them, glaring angrily before taking off at a brisk walk. Sheppard turns to look at Lorne, both wearing identical raised brows.

"Is he -really- that delusional, Colonel?" Sheppard snorts, already nodding his head slowly in agreement, because it sure as hell sounds that way. "Oh!" Lorne's brow smooths out and he reaches forward, smacking Sheppard lightly on the shoulder, causing him to look confused for a moment. "Congratulations, sir. From me and all the men." When his look gets even more bewildered, Lorne actually laughs and claps him again before stepping away. "On you and Rodney finally letting people know. Lord knows it took you long enough, sir. We just .. we wanted you to know .. that we're happy for you. And, well, I think most of us are hoping that you weren't worried how we would react. And if so .. we hope it's not what kept you from saying anything for so long. We're all just really happy for you, Sheppard." Lorne flashes him a smile before he turns and continues the way he had been going.

Sheppard feels ... dizzy. Overly hot, flushed with waning adrenaline and confusion and some gigantic four letter word he does not yet wish to put a name to. Because there are far too many possibilities and none of them are really good for his sanity at the moment.

So, Lorne too, huh? All of their friends, Lorne, and apparently, a good chunk of the soldiers believe that they have been in a relationship for a while and just now had the guts, the gall, the nerve to admit it. What does that say about them!? Well, that they're too close, obviously. That there is a familiarity and comfort between them that has sailed right past friend and into .. something else.

He groans and turns himself away from the living quarters. Sure, there's about a .042% chance that he will be able to concentrate on any work today, but he still has a job to do. Running his hands through his hair, he tries to give himself a pep talk.

Rodney is .. well, happy. There is no other word for it. Not quite ecstatic, but pretty damn close! He would never be the foolishly sentimental type that would be so trite as to describe himself as walking on air or anything so overblown. But, he can -almost- see how people could allow themselves to use such terms.

After sleeping for nearly 18 hours, he feels refreshed, free, and unburdened for the first time since coming to Atlantis. Now, he's not an idiot. Rodney knows that this will not last. They are in the middle of fighting a rather weird war on many fronts and there is -always- something dangerous lurking around the corner, prepared to make life difficult. If not trying to end it altogether.

However, he will not allow that inevitable truth to ruin his good mood! He's slept, he's actually ready for a Staff Meeting, he even has coffee in hand, his tablet tucked under his arm in a way that is nothing short of precarious. Not the approach he usually takes with his favorite piece of tech.

He draws up short when he realizes that he's the first to the conference room, lifts a single shoulder in a move of boredom and plops easily into a seat. It's only after he's wiggled and scooted to a comfortable level that he realizes it's Sheppard's usual seat. After a pause, he shrugs again and sets his tablet down, large cup of coffee next to it. He cracks his knuckles and opens a game, settling in to play while he waits for the others to arrive.

In no way shocking at all, Elizabeth is the next to appear. She actually jumps a little when she sees him there, before she gives him a quizzical smile.

"You, uh ... you're up early, Rodney. I'm surprised." She settles in her seat, Rodney laughing softly as he gazes back down at his tablet.

"Yes, well .. Sheppard took me to bed yesterday, and it was definitely the right choice. I feel better than I have since first coming to Atlantis. Thoroughly sated and relaxed." He grins at his game, mortified to find that he's about a second away from actually -humming-! Yeah, he'll just tamp that down right the hell NOW! He has a certain reputation. None of his minions and underlings are likely to both cower and simultaneously jump to attention if he is seen as a lighthearted, happy person at times.

"Oh. I .. I see." When he manages to spare his friend a glance, she's blushing deeply and looking anywhere but at him. In fact, she seems to be going to great lengths to make it appear as if she is paying attention to him while also letting her eyes kind of go distant and thoughtful. He finds that he's curious. Finds that he actually wonders what she might be picturing as her gaze glazes a little further. Her cheeks heat with more color and she seems to reach almost blindly for a stack of papers to begin fanning herself.

"Well ... that's, uhm ... very good, Rodney .. that you managed to get such .. good .. treatment .." Her words peter out, faltering, and Rodney feels his mood starting to fall away to be replaced by that critical curiosity that has proven equal measures good and bad.

"Uhm .. are you alright, Elizabeth?" His brows have hiked somewhere close to his hairline as he tries to understand the sudden change in her.

"Yes. Of course .. fine ..." She's still lightly fanning herself as she sits there. Before he can say much else, the sound of approaching footsteps draws his attention. Elizabeth takes in a surprised breath as a heavy-lidded, half-asleep Sheppard stumbles into the room. He looks so adorably rumpled. His hair is it's usual wild mess, though a little flatter around the edge of his elfin ears. His thick, tawny lashes are half mast, hiding most of his sleepy gaze as he walks toward the table.

Even his uniform seems rumpled and tired right along with the man wearing them. Wrinkled and slightly looser than usual. He watches Sheppard throw himself into the seat next to him, nostrils flaring momentarily before he does the cutest, most out of character thing Rodney has ever seen him do. Sheppard makes precious little grabby hands and without hesitation or second thought, he carefully slides his coffee cup into the seeking action, grinning. When Sheppard makes a happy, slurping sound, he barely manages to lift a hand to hide behind as he silently laughs.

A glance in Elizabeth's direction finds her staring with wide, astonished eyes as she seems to be trying to puzzle out the situation. It only takes a few seconds for him to understand. He's not the type to share coffee and he just willingly handed his cup over to his friend.

"Okay, next time you offer me coffee in the labs, and I get anything other than this, there will be consequences, babe. You've seriously been holding out on me." The Colonel's sleepy gaze has morphed into something playful and he's surprised to find that he almost expects the man to wink at him or something equally as flirtatious.

"Oh please, Colonel. We both know I don't hold out on -anything- when it comes to you." The response is teasing and flippant and in no way warrants the sudden gasp from Elizabeth. Both men turn to watch her papers go spilling across the floor, her eyes so wide that it looks almost painful. She's also blushing so deep she looks momentarily sunburned.

"You, uh .. you okay over there, Elizabeth?" He smirks faintly at Sheppard's similar line of inquiry.

"Yes. I .. of course .. just ... is it hot in here?" Her voice fluctuates between surprised, embarrassed, and something he cannot quite parse but doesn't care too much to try and identify. Sheppard glances at him questioningly but doesn't say anything. They shrug their shoulders at each other before Rodney clears his throat.

"Uhm, no, no .. it's not particularly hot in here, Elizabeth. I think we would know if the environmental controls were on the fritz." He rolls his eyes and reclaims his coffee cup, taking a long drink of the delicious brew.

"Oh. Yes. We would, wouldn't we?" He cants his head to the side, a brow raised in Sheppard's direction, his friend answering with a mirroring look. After a moment, they both shrug and Sheppard moves his chair close enough that the two of them can hunch over the tablet and play a game as they wait for everyone else to enter the room.

About fifteen minutes later, Sheppard straightens up and smirks right into his face.

"Ha! I win."

"It's so easy to win when you -cheat-!" He grumbles back, crossing his arms over his chest as he glares across the almost non-existent space.

"Oh come on, McKay! How, exactly, did I cheat? What .. did I bribe Radek into distracting you so that I could sneak into your lab, use your password to access your tablet and then hack your games so that I could input secret codes to cheat and win, Rodney?"

"Oh no. No no no, Colonel, you do not bring me into your spats!" Radek glares as he settles into a seat, still shaking his head wildly in denial.

"Exactly, Sheppard. My minions bow to no one but -me-, not even for bribes." He shoots his best friend the smuggest smirk he can manage, even as Radek begins to sputter in his seat.

"I am not minion, Rodney." The man begins to mutter in Czech, causing him and Sheppard to curl close and snicker together. It can be so much fun to wind the man up!

"Of course not." Sheppard soothes with fake solemnity. "Don't mind us. We're just foolin', Radek. Of course you're not a minion. Everyone knows that Rodney would be lost in the labs without you."

"Oh, bite your tongue Sheppard, before I bite it for you." He snarls the words, only half playful, because he would -never- admit that he needs Radek. That's not something he's very good at addressing. The room, which had filled with all of the Staff for the meeting, is suddenly drowned by laughs, gasps, choking sounds and sudden bouts of utter silence. He tries not to let the strangeness get to him, scooping up his coffee mug and preparing to take a drink.

"Biting, huh? Ohhh, kinky, babe." Sheppard winks outrageously at him and Rodney can feel his cheeks heating instantly in a surprisingly wonderful way. However, pretense and all of that! So, he rolls his eyes and suddenly shoves the coffee cup against Sheppard's smirking lips.

"Shut up and choke it down, Sheppard." He grumbles, not that surprised when Sheppard snatches the cup and takes a big drink, mockingly moaning in happiness. It takes almost a full minute for the two of them to realize that:

A) Oh yeah, they're not alone!
B) The room has gone completely silent now.
C) Elizabeth looks stuck somewhere between having swallowed a lemon and the need to pass out.
D) Even Radek and Major Lorne look slightly faint.

"Uhm .. the ... meeting." Elizabeth clears her throat when her voice wavers slightly and stiffly stands from her seat. "The meeting is canceled for now. I ... there's something I need to attend to. We'll reschedule for the same time tomorrow." She turns and practically stalks from the room, followed by a pale Radek and a blushing Lorne.

"Okay, then." Rodney murmurs before he and Sheppard exchange perplexed looks. Rodney grabs up his tablet and stands. Sheppard follows suit immediately, still drinking at the coffee, the two of them heading out of the room in companionable silence, arms brushing as they walk.

Everything feels slightly off center. The entire world has shifted to a slanted view and feels a little out of focus. Soft and Vaseline-like at the edges. Usually, beer, post-coital lassitude, or utter exhaustion would be the cause of these things, but this is different. He hasn't the first clue -why- it is different, just knows that it is.

At first, Sheppard had considered something in the atmosphere of M3P-LX4 as the cause for this strange feeling, but one look at Rodney had immediately dispelled that theory. Because their team scientist looked as cranky and ill tempered as he always did when faced with a long walk from the gate toward whatever source of energy or civilization they found themselves seeking.

So, the warm breeze and lazy sun are not responsible for the askewed weirdness he is feeling right now. Always good to know. Though it would be a million times better if he knew what -was- responsible. Because then, maybe, he could make it -go away- so that he is capable of concentrating. The one thing he needs most when they are posed to meet a new civilization is a sharp mind. It has been their saving grace just as often as McKay's unbelievable brilliance had been. (Getting McKay to admit it, though, would probably require an Ancient device of influence or something equally as comical and unlikely.)

"Rodney." The sudden speaking of McKay's name by a voice other than his, causes Sheppard to draw up short. Reminds him that their perfect team of Four is bogged down by an added presence that further escalates the feeling of wrongness hovering about his senses. On a mission, he is usually the -only one- to refer to Dr. McKay as Rodney, able to interject a dozen different meanings into the single word at any given moment. To hear another voice speak it .. it raises some primal form of hackles and makes him want to balk. Makes him want to cause trouble for the interloper on sheer principal balanced with a healthy dose of complete dislike.

"What, Dr. Payne?" Rodney's tone is bone weary and resigned and Sheppard wants nothing more than to call a halt and haul his scientist away. Find some comfortable, reclusive place where he could squeeze his shoulder and maybe coax a few grins or some laughter from his best friend. Instead, he's stuck here, peering out from behind the safety of his sunglasses, watching his friend have to interact with this asshole.

"Forgive me for interrupting whatever all of this silence and walking is supposed to achieve, but we are going the wrong way." Sheppard winces as subtly as he can, knowing that calling into question the direction they are taking is one of many ways to set his scientist off. Indeed, Rodney squares his shoulders, narrows his eyes, and takes in a deep enough breath as would be needed to ream someone out.

"I highly doubt that." Rodney lifts his hand, fingers wiggling impatiently. When Liam doesn't seem to get the meaning of the action, he rolls his eyes and snaps his fingers angrily. Only then does Liam hold the tablet he had been reading out. Rodney snatches it away, hmming softly to himself as he begins to tap a staccato pattern out on the touch-screen. A derisive, humorless laugh escapes him and with more force than one would think him likely to use, he shoves the tablet back into Liam's hands. "We are going in the right direction, Dr. Payne. Either learn how to use the programs required on Atlantis, or get the hell back to Earth. You were reading it wrong."

Sheppard turns his head away as he struggles to hold in his laughter. Ronon doesn't even bother. He barks a laugh, shaking his head in disgust at the scientist before he turns to Rodney with a grin.

"Do we really need another scientist, McKay? I thought you are all the tech we need?" There's something both mocking toward Liam and playful toward McKay in the behemoth's tone, and it causes Rodney to grin at his friend/teammate.

"I am a one-person science team, but we have to train the newbies at some point." Without sparing a glance toward Liam, Rodney approaches Sheppard with a little bit of a scowl in place. "Next time, Lorne and Radek can take him. This is beneath us." Sheppard manages to cut his eyes toward Liam, the shades keeping the action from being seen. The junior scientist is bright red and struggling to breathe, his anger is so pronounced and probably overwhelming. Sheppard would be the first to say that they should dial it back a little, cut the newbie a little slack. If it were -anyone- other than -Dr. Liam Payne-, and that is -exactly- what he would've done. But this asshole? He's more than prepared to let his team pick on the man a bit, after his unwanted, persistent attention toward Rodney.

"I think you're right, Rodney. Next time, Lorne can babysit." He tucks a hand absently against the butt of his P-90 and turns to begin leading the team back in the direction of the energy readings they have been scouting. Ronon and Teyla fall in line, walking behind him and Rodney. None of them bother to make sure that Liam is keeping up with them.

The village of M3P-LX4 seems to be populated by the most aesthetically pleasing people in all of the Pegasus Galaxy. It angers Rodney that every time he glances around, he sees some pretty, handsome, or down right hot person popping up out of nowhere. He's not what he would call overly self conscious, but these people are making him feel inadequate and he -really- doesn't like it. In the least.

"Dr. McKay?" He shakes himself minutely, blinks rapidly to clear his vision, and angles himself to view the person addressing him. She's beautiful, of course. The picture of perfection with flowing blond hair, elfin features, and doe eyes. She's as tall as him, dressed in a flowing green dress that causes her moss green eyes to pop.

"Yes, what?" He sighs the words, trying his best not to frown at having his thoughts interrupted. Usually, he would be all over the attention. Would be fumbling and stumbling to find some way to make himself appealing to her, but he finds that he just doesn't care despite the fact that she's his 'type' in every way. Tall, blond, beautiful, even bright. He should be luxuriating in the fact that she has yet to leave his side. That she has reached out to touch his arm no less than six times in the half hour that they have been speaking. But, he isn't. Actually, he's surprised to find that all he wants to do is break away and find Sheppard.

But, of course, the Colonel is likely wrapped around the little finger of some sexpot, ready to steal away with her and have a good time. The thought makes his stomach drop out, his palms sweat and his heart beat a little heavier.

"Sorry, doctor, if I am disturbing you. I .. I asked if you might like to go for a walk with me? I would love to show you around the village." He blinks in surprise, trying to clear his vision again when he realizes that she is asking, in a round about way, to spend some alone time with him. Because the rest of the group had not been invited. He clears his throat, cheeks filling with a little bit of color.

"You are -not- his type, Lianna." Liam's sharp, pointed tone actually causes him to jump in surprise. The other scientist is standing, arms crossed in front of himself, outright glaring at the poor native woman. Who's eyes have gone wide, and hands have clutched at the sides of her dress.

"No one asked you anything, Liam. Nor do you speak for me, you loudmouth little ass. Go and do something far, far away from me, please." He hisses the words, before turning an apologetic grimace toward Lianna. "Do not listen to him, Lianna. It .. it's not that you're not my type, because you really are. You're beautiful and smart, you've been nothing but nice to me but you see .. well, I'm already seeing someone. Uh, I'm with someone, I mean. So, I'm flattered, but --" Liam has gone beet red and looks as if he's about to stomp his foot like a child as he glances between the two of them.

"Damn it! STOP LYING, RODNEY!" The words are a high pitched, angry scream, and Rodney outright winces as the words carry. Many heads snap around, wide, curious eyes taking in the angry, red faced Liam, Lianna with her hands raised in defense, and him looking so uncomfortable that he's squirming with it. "You couldn't get a steady boyfriend if your life depended on it! So just stop lying. You're making a fool of yourself every time you speak!" Rodney feels as if he's vibrating. His skin feels stretched too tight, his bones prickly and sharp as they strain against the stretch.

"Ronon." Rodney startles and turns, watching Sheppard approach. Though his eyes are hidden behind his shades, his features are twisted into a look of utter contempt and displeasure. The large warrior is flanking him, glowering in the direction of Liam. "Take Dr. Payne back to the 'gate and send him home. I think we're done with this little exercise." Ronon grins that devious grin that barely purses his lips, but causes something promising danger to sparkle in his eyes.

"Sure." The one word reply is typical of Ronon in every way. Succinct and yet subtly promising violence if the idiot should try and protest once they are out of sight of Sheppard. (Secretly, Rodney hopes he -does- protest, so that Ronon has an excuse to get a little punchy with him.)

"You okay, Rodney?" There's genuine concern in Sheppard's voice as he comes to a stop at his side. He even reaches out, his hand gently squeezing at his shoulder. Without realizing it, without consciously telling himself to do so, he leans into the touch with a sigh.

"Yes. Quite alright. The moron is annoying hot air, but I am getting used to it." He sniffs in the direction that Ronon is escorting a still red faced Liam. And by escorting, he means dragging the idiot away by the front of his tac vest. He turns to look at the point of contact between his shoulder and the hand of his best friend when he feels the added pressure of Sheppard squeezing a little harder.

"It's -not- something you should have to get used to, Rodney. The asshole needs to accept we're together and get over it." Rodney can feel himself blushing again and he barely manages not to look around. Knowing that Sheppard is doing what he's -supposed- to do; pretending to be his boyfriend so that they can end this idiocy once and for all without having to lose a valuable asset.

"Forgive me, Dr. McKay, Colonel." Both men jump in surprise, having momentarily forgotten about Lianna, Sheppard's hand sliding off of his shoulder. He feels weak kneed and confused when the hand relocates to his. A slight tilt of his head down reveals that Sheppard has grabbed his hand, wrapped their fingers together possessively and it makes his stomach roil and flail. Makes his head light and his breathing struggle just a little bit. "Had I known that you were involved, I would never have disrespected either of you with my flirtations or my suggestion. I am so sorry." Rodney nearly groans when his hand is squeezed and then held a little tighter. Was Sheppard worried he'd pull away or do something else to ruin the illusory lie?

"It's alright, Lianna. I'm not .. upset. Not really." Sheppard flashes his warmest, kindest smile. The one that says 'we should be good friends.' "I mean, come on .. I can't really blame you, after all. He's so much fun to flirt with! How do you think I landed him?" Rodney blushes even more when Sheppard raises one of those expressive eyebrows at him and he just has to respond by rolling his eyes.

"Ugh. Seriously, Colonel, if -that- is what you called flirting, no wonder if took me so long to figure you out." He shoots back, grinning as the tension of the situation slowly begins to ebb from his shoulders. He can feel himself relaxing beside his 'boyfriend,' glad that Sheppard can read him so well.

"Aw, Rawwwddneeeyyy!" Sheppard drawls the name out with mock petulance, and he just grins. Because he loves the way Sheppard says his name, no matter which one he uses. (He would even admit that he wouldn't mind Sheppard calling him Mer, despite hating it when his sister does. There's just something about the way Sheppard addresses him, no matter which one he uses, that instantly settles him. Even when his best friend is mad, Rodney feels safe when he says his name.) "Come on! It's not -my- fault you couldn't tell I was pulling your pigtails with all of that. Apparently, everyone -else- realized it." He starts to laugh, only to draw up short at Sheppard's last words. Wait. What!? -OTHER- people thought that Sheppard had flirted with him!?

It takes longer than it should, about fifteen seconds, for him to realize that his friend is just playing along. Faking some kind of obviousness to their friends, to better play up the lie. So, he snorts playfully and squeezes his friend's hand.

"Yeah, well, it would've been so much -easier- to figure out if you didn't flirt with -everyone-, Sheppard. But don't worry. We got there in the end, didn't we? That's what matters." He ducks his head as he speaks, unable to look his friend in the eyes, because this feels too real. As if he's just made a bold statement that -means- something. He doesn't have the right to say such things, because this isn't -real-. They are -faking- and he needs to remember that!

"Yeah, babe. That's all that matters." Sheppard winks and he feels his pulse jump and thread. God, a single flirtatious -wink- from this man and he feels like a complete fool .... and doesn't even -mind-! Honestly, he would be perfectly content to just sit back and bask in the joy of being flirted with by the Colonel.

And the way his insides writhe and melt at the babe stuff. He never took himself to be the type that would like the whole cutesy thing, but he does. He really, -really- does!

"It warms my heart to see such a deep-seated connection between the two of you. It is always a blessing when two souls find one another." Lianna is practically beaming now, and while her heart is warmed, his own feels heavy. As if it has become trapped in a gravity well hellbent on crushing it to death.

Because this isn't real.

No matter the fact that Sheppard is holding his hand, has placed himself somewhat between him and Lianna .. or even that he ordered Ronon to take Liam back to Atlantis for being such a pain in the ass to him ...... none of this is real. The flaw of Sheppard's 'brilliant', seemingly easy plan, has just reared its ugly head and he has no one to blame but himself. He should've seen this coming. This is an obvious outcome and he had been too blinded to see it hurtling toward him .... he -wants- this all to be real. He -WANTS- to be able to tell all the Liam's and Lianna's no because he's -with- Sheppard.

But he will never get the chance to do that, will he? Once Liam has finally lost interest, or finally been shipped -back- to Earth, he and Sheppard will drop this charade and every one will know that they are just friends. He doesn't want that to happen.

"Rodney .. McKay .... babe!" The Colonel cycles through all three forms of address before Rodney's attention snaps back to the present and he manages to focus on the taller man. Who's hand is practically an iron grip on his own. It takes a few seconds for him to realize that Sheppard is now standing directly in front of him, so close that their noses almost touch. It allows him to read every speck of concern on his handsome features and it feels like that gravity well has increased exponentially.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine, Sheppard." He forces a smile, knows instantly that it isn't fooling his best friend, but he doesn't care. Can't. "Lianna ... I would like to thank you, for your hospitality and kindness." With excruciating difficulty, he extracts his hand from the other and steps around his concerned team leader. "If you don't mind, I would like to go ahead and get to work. I'm sure the rest of my team will be more than willing to stay and continue negotiations. Excuse me." He offers up another fake smile, watches the way Lianna simpers at him even as she nods.

"Of course, Dr. McKay. I hope you find what you are looking for." Before Sheppard can protest, or worse, offer to accompany him, Lianna has taken the Colonel by the arm and begun to steer him back toward the other natives. Rodney is both pleased and sad to see him go. He would love nothing more than to have Sheppard follow at his heels, bantering, teasing, and being his usual charming self, but the scientist fears that might actually kill him outright. He is in no rush to test the theory that one can die of a broken heart.

"Rodney .. " Sheppard's voice drifts toward him, but he turns quickly on his heels and takes off. In no way prepared to deal with these revelations. He reaches behind himself, yanking his tablet free so that he has something to focus on that isn't flyaway hair and elfin ears.

M3P-LX4 was a bust. McKay's search yielded nothing more than a few Ancient ruins that had long since been picked clean, leaving nothing but a useless, crumbling carcass behind. Sheppard assumes that the scientist was upset about it. Probably ranted, raved, and generally made a nuisance of himself over it all, but he wouldn't really know. Because since M3P-LX4, Rodney has been outright avoiding him.

Usually, this could be chalked up to either or both of them being busy. McKay stuck in the labs analyzing data, cataloging Ancient devices and himself putting the soldiers through their paces, filling out paperwork, or performing the other general tasks required of his position. In those cases, it wasn't avoidance so much as duty, and if nothing else, they held com conversations at random points during the day. However, Rodney has been radio silent for days. They have not met up for meals despite there being no scheduling conflict .... hell, he hasn't even waved at him if they passed in the hallways of the city.

He knows that there's a logical explanation for this. That Rodney wouldn't just outright avoid him if he didn't have a reason for it, but he cannot even begin to -guess- what that reason might be. Has he done something to piss his best friend off? He keeps flashing back to the moment McKay forcefully pulled their hands apart and it leaves him fearing that he crossed the line. Accidentally bounded across some invisible boundary without realizing it. Was taking his hand too much? Had it been too intimate a gesture because they're supposed to be pretending??

And then Lianna .... had he messed up there, too? Sure, Liam was supposed to think that they're together so that he'll back the hell off, but had it been going too far to ruin whatever chance Rodney may have had with Lianna? His friend could've had a nice, pleasant night with the native woman, and he stepped into the middle of it like he had a -right- to. Like ... like all of this was real. Maybe that's why McKay is avoiding him .. maybe he had been too blatant in his desire for this to be the real deal and not some heart-wrenching plan he came up with to fake a relationship to help him out. And McKay being McKay ... well, he'd opt to avoid him until he could come up with a way to make it okay between them. (In this case, until he could come up with a way to politely tell him that this was all a bad idea and Rodney could never view him as anything other than his friend and team leader. -Not- something he thinks he will survive hearing.)

So .... all of this time, not a word from Rodney. Is anyone -really- surprised that he's become a bit of a hard ass nutcase? Seriously!? Not a -peep- from his scientist in days .. so of COURSE he's riding his men a little harder. Making them run the walkways of the city on top of their usual workout. Hell, they should be fucking -ecstatic- that his sour mood hasn't seen every last one of them sent to train with Ronon and Teyla. At this point, he'd say they're downright lucky this hasn't translated into worse things.

At the moment, he is staring at a practice dummy in the gym. One of those creepy, flesh tone half bodies that is supposed to feel like a real opponent when you're beating the hell out of it. There are faint smears of blood across it's etched abs and pecs. It's shoulder bares a few specks of crimson along with splatters of drying sweat. A further glance down shows that his knuckles are practically scraped raw, though thankfully, not outright busted. He probably should've stopped swinging at it full blast with all of his righteous fury a good half hour ago. Or, you know, opted to stop all of this insane self-flagellation before it began, but whatever. His knuckles have suffered worse for lesser offenses than McKay dodging him.

Silently, he studies the pattern of destruction and chaos across his skin, wincing when he realizes that he's so fucking keyed up ... he doesn't feel the pain. If nothing else, past experience tells him that when everything else burns off, that pain is going to rear it's ugly head with a vengeance and he really doesn't want that to happen in the middle of the gym. So, he reaches out to grab a towel, wiping the remnants of his self-abuse from the practice dummy before he turns and heads out of the oppressive area.

His nose is burning. Plugged with the scent of blood and sweat. Of fear, pain, and the strange, stale aroma of waning adrenaline. He suppresses a shiver, his eyes closing momentarily as he tries to track his own progress. The moment his eyes flutter open, he feels it. The harsh throb of bruises and lacerations. The painful pump of blood against the abrasions. He huffs a breath and forces himself to head toward the mess hall, using the towel to wipe himself clean.

The mess is simmering with the low buzz of general conversation, creating a background soundtrack of ambiance that almost never fails to make him feel better. Walking into this place, once it had been designated as the Mess, had somehow felt more significant than any other chow-line he had ever stepped into on Earth. Even though he can't exactly explain -why- it feels that way, or what exactly has changed, he knows that -this- place .. this starship City of Atlantis is -home-. Earth is the -other- galaxy with people foreign and strange. With rules, regulations and red tape that no longer make a lick of sense to him.

Rolling his shoulders, he finds himself tucking his towel around his neck, eyes sliding to half mast as he steps into line behind a group of tired-eyed scientists.

" -- I know, but what can we do? It doesn't matter if he's being a bit of an asshole, Dr. McKay is the smartest man in the galaxy. Hell, -both- galaxies if Dr. Zalenka is to be believed." The sudden, soft whisper of a feminine voice catches his attention and he forces himself to tune back into the here and now. Listening to a conversation taking place a few rows up, between two female scientists and a male marine. "Whatever is going on between him and Sheppard is -none- of our business! I'm sure the Colonel will get his head out of his ass and apologize soon enough. Once they aren't fighting anymore, Dr. McKay will go back to being happy and we can all breathe again." He feels himself going instantly and wholly still. McKay had been happy .. and now he's not? Is this because of Liam? Are they jumping to the conclusion that he himself has done something, or had they managed to somehow overhear Rodney say something? Did he owe his boyf-- his best friend an apology? Would doing so actually make things better? If he went up and apologized for whatever Rodney thinks he did wrong, would he -stop- avoiding him?

His head is filled with so many questions that it is swimming with them. He grunts a frustrated sigh, reaching up to rub his hands down his face. He can feel a headache beginning. It's throbbing in tandem with his raw knuckles and even though he knows he has no one to blame but himself, he is faced with the irrational desire to lash out at someone. To foist the blame for his own stupid decisions on the shoulders of someone else.

"Oh please, those are just rumors! Trust me, there's no way in -hell- Colonel Sheppard is with Rodney McKay!" The voice of the male marine is gruff and steeped in so much disgust and anger, seemingly on -Sheppard's- behalf, that the Colonel winces with it. He can feel the embers of his anger fanning, stoked to new heights of raw wrath as his hands fall to the tails of the towel. Twining heavily in the material. What the fuck is -wrong- with everyone!? Why the fuck are they all implying, in so many different ways, that he is too good for Rodney? That the man that has done more impossible things than anyone else to save Atlantis, is somehow -beneath- him!? Are they really all so fucking juvenile and ridiculous that they cannot see the truth of a great man because they are all so caught up in the sophomoric stupidity of Sheppard being 'hot' and Rodney 'not?' "Sheppard exudes the total Alpha Male Package, and there is no way in -hell- that includes fucking some soft around the middle and edges coward."

Oh, that's it! The towel slithers from around his neck when he takes off at too brisk a walk. The group in front of him are smart enough to part like the Red Sea as he barrels through them to get to the offending mouthpiece.

"I did -not- just hear you call Dr. McKay a coward, soldier." He doesn't bother pulling the verbal punch of his 'I am in command' voice, watching with some dark-hearted glee as the soldier snaps to attention. In fact, he finds it downright pleasurable the way the man's entire face seems to drain of color. The way the two scientists even seem to snap to at his presence. "In fact, McKay is the farthest fucking thing from a coward I've seen in this entire galaxy. If it weren't for him, there would be no City of the Ancients for you to be airing your erroneous and highly unwanted opinions in, soldier! He has put his life on the line as much, if not more so, than a lot of the Marines in Atlantis, so if I ever hear you call him a coward again, I'm busting your ass right back to Earth. Do I make myself clear!?" By this point, he has burst right through the personal bubble of the Marine and is standing toe-to-toe with him. Breathing his anger all over the smaller man's face as he heaves and seethes with it. There is a near blinding rage simmering under the surface and he hasn't the first clue how to slake it. How to douse the flame threatening to consume him, because this son of a bitch doesn't know the first thing about his Rodney and he's prepared to do something so foolish and primitive as beat that lesson into the kid's flesh.

"Sir, yes sir!" The marine snaps further to attention, spine so straight and immalleable that he half expects to hear it splinter like dry kindling in a moment.

"Now listen and listen well! We are in an entirely different -galaxy- with monsters waiting around every fucking corner to end our lives in the most heinous, painful ways imaginable. We may not be cut off from Earth, but neither are they right there for us to call on. That means that -nothing- is clear cut and dry. It also means that whoever the hell I want to fuck, is up to me and me alone." He can feel his entire body thrumming like a live wire. He is electric and pulsating and every thing in him is begging to be physically unleashed on this snot nosed brat. "I want it known, once and for all .. I -chose- Rodney! We aren't -fucking-, we are -together- and anyone that has a problem with that, can come directly to me! And there is nothing soft around the edges of Rodney! If I -ever- hear you or anyone else speak about him like he's lesser, soft, cowardly, useless, or any other bullshit that somehow says that he should be -grateful- for mine or -any one elses- attention, I will have you mucking out the piers from now until we are recalled to Earth, if I don't have you punted back there to begin with! That goes for -EVERYONE-!" He raises his already considerably loud voice, making damn sure that everyone in the Mess can hear him. He doesn't give a fuck if it puts his job in jeopardy. He doesn't give a flying FUCK if it gets him put under review, or has Elizabeth out to bust his ass. He is sick and fucking tired of people talking about his best friend this way.

He turns on his heel, reaching down to viciously snatch his towel off the ground.

"Suddenly, I'm not so hungry. Guess all this stupidity turned my stomach." He nearly grins at the fact that he sounds just like his scientist when he says that. Throwing his towel over his shoulder, he stalks out of the mess, hellbent on getting to his room before he has a chance to start second guessing everything he just said. Before he has a chance to remind himself that he just cursed out some low level grunt in the middle of the mess hall over a relationship that isn't even -real-.

He would rather the hysterical laughter bubbling up inside of him -not- be witnessed by anyone else, thanks.

"Liam." Rodney snaps the name out, teeth gritted closed, tongue pressed angrily to the roof of his mouth as he tries to calm himself. He would be hard pressed not to call himself a catastrophic -moron- for bringing the asshole scientist with him, but he knows that he had no choice. Liam had helped perfect the equation to try and make the Ancient device work and he wasn't about to block the man from the initiation of his work. (No matter how he may sometimes act, or what he might sometimes say, he tries to give proper credit when it is due.)

"Yes, Dr. McKay?" Liam has dropped the simpering-sweet Rodney and managed to inject some fair amount of professional courtesy into the calling of his proper title. Deep down, this worries Rodney. He doesn't trust this sudden about face or the fact that Liam seems to have stopped asking to touch or bed him. It's everything he wanted when he entered into this absurd deal with Sheppard, but he is not relieved or happy as he knows he should be. Instead, he is downright suspicious and on edge. He feels off kilter and askew and he hates both of those feelings. Hates the one responsible for them even more.

"I need you to plug your tablet in and see if you can manually track this simulation for me. If nothing else, we might gain a better understanding of what the hell this lab is for." He does not bother to disguise the disgust and annoyance in his voice. Doesn't try to tone down the bitterness that suggests the -last- thing he wants to do be doing is going through this lab with Liam for company. Because it's true. He would much rather have Sheppard sitting on one of the various consoles, so very much in the -way- with no intention of moving, because that is how it is -supposed- to be. But he fucked that up hardcore, didn't he? He agreed to this stupid arrangement and managed to lose sight of the parameters. Managed to allow himself to quantify it beyond the scope of it's true meaning and now he will be lucky if he can salvage their friendship!

He finds himself snarling at nothing and it brings an amused snort from Liam that has Rodney wishing he were fully capable of inflicting bodily harm on the little jackass without having to worry about feeling remorse or guilt. However, he knows himself better than that. Any momentary sense of satisfaction would quickly be overshadowed by feeling bad for what he had done and it just isn't worth it. Not really, no matter how much he wishes it were.

For a split second, he considers seeking Ronon out and asking him to beat the verbal bully up. Huh. It takes several moments, which are spent both contemplating a sudden realization and watching Liam relocate himself to the interface to begin plugging his tablet into the system, for him to realize that he's actually -okay- with this plan. Once, in High School, he had contemplated asking a friend to help him stop a bully and had immediately balked at the idea after the talk his Father had about McKays fighting their own battles with intelligence rather than alerting anyone else to the situation. But now, when he is a fully grown man that should be fully capable of taking care of this guy, he feels no shame at the prospect of asking his friend to take care of the problem. (And he is 100% sure that Ronon would not have a single qualm about doing just that!)

He gives himself a subtle shake, dislodging all of his negative thoughts as best he can in hopes of actually getting this done. He has no right to be maudlin about Sheppard or anything else right now, because he knows that he has no one to blame for this situation, but himself. He agreed to blur the lines of reality by going through with this sham and his own overconfidence had him believing that he would somehow be capable of compartmentalizing his feelings in the midst of all of this.

He is the biggest moron in two galaxies, sometimes.

"Dr. McKay, I am having trouble interfacing my tablet. I'm not sure why, but the console seems to be rejecting the adapter. I've not heard of that happening before." He can feel his blood pressure rising ... can feel his stomach churning with the added stress of having to deal with this man and not for the first time and -definitely- not for the last, he wishes he possessed Sheppard's abilities. To be able to slouch and produce an air of not giving a fuck, even when someone has you so pissed off you can barely see straight. Sure, they both possess the same sense of sarcastic sass. The ability to look a bad guy right in the face and snark to high heaven and back. But he wishes he were more like Sheppard in those other ways. (And yes, that includes his inherent Kirk-ness and good looks. He will never be as handsome as his best friend, another reason he knows that pining for Sheppard is a lost cause.)

"Right, right. Yes. Move it." He grumbles and grouches, reaching up to run a hand down his face. He's so damn tired! Who would've thought that avoiding Sheppard would be so fucking tiresome!? Though he doesn't want to admit the truth to himself, he considers it punishment for avoiding him in the first place. Sleeplessness is his penance for hurting his friend. (At least, he assumes that 'robbing' the Colonel of his presence hurts him. They are friends, after all. He just hopes they can stay such once this shit-storm is over.)

He settles his knee against the console, hands clasped behind his back in Parade Rest as he studies the tablet and console silently. He is vaguely aware of Liam somewhere behind him, lurking in the background in a way that is not cute, like when Sheppard does it, or helpful, like when Radek does it. It's just plain, flat out -creepy-. But, it's also -not- what he needs to be focusing on right now. After a moment, he runs his hand across the side of the tablet, finger tips deftly studying the ports until he finds what he's looking for.

"Goddamn it, Dr. Payne!!" He doesn't disguise the unfettered hatred he currently feels for the scientist. Doesn't bother to try and blunt the sharp edged anger every word encompasses. "Your incompetence never ceases to amaze! You in no -way- came -prepared- for this fucking expedition, did you!?" He is seething. Chest and shoulders heaving with unspent rage as he whirls around to glare at the scientist that has made his life so fucking uncomfortable these past few weeks. "God! I knew you were too good to be true. If your abysmal attitude weren't bad enough, your intelligence is eclipsed by your complete ineptitude in anything beyond your field of science! I should banish you back to the basic labs doing calculations until your fingers bleed!" He can feel his heart hammering painfully as he tries to fight the sudden influx of adrenaline as his anger burns hotter and hotter.

"How -dare- you talk to me that way!? This is workplace abuse, Dr. McKay!" Okay, that's it. Everyone has a snapping point .. he had pointed that out to Elizabeth several times given everything he has been pushed to do in impossible situations. But this? Yeah, this takes the proverbial cake! This bastard, with all of his unwanted advances and touching has the balls to call what he just said -abuse-!? Yeah, he's currently seeing red.

"You .. how ... gotta be .... son of a bitch .... just NO!" The fact that he is practically incoherent enrages him further. Words are his lifeline, damn it! The only thing he has to shield himself with, to fight with, and this bastard has taken them from him. He hates so fully, so deeply, that he wants to hurt him.

"Just remember, Dr. McKay, you can't touch --" That is the end of that. Rodney rears back, his hand clasped into the perfect fist as taught him by Ronon. He connects with the asshole's chin, yelping in pain as two knuckles bust against his bone structure. He doesn't care. He takes a second swing, wincing when the gummy heat of blood spray suddenly slithers down his fingers. It takes him a moment to realize that he has managed to break Liam's nose.

"You sorry son of a bitch! Useless excuse for a waste of human space! I have put up with your bullshit because I was assured you were the best in your field, but now, I don't give a fuck anymore!" He's snarling, practically foaming at the mouth with insensate hatred. He rears back to take another swing, but Liam manages to dodge this time, his own anger finally having been unleashed.

"I -am- the best in my field and you wouldn't know a good scientist if it bit you in the ass! Kavanagh was a great asset to Atlantis and was treated like the scum of the Earth by the likes of you! God, I can't believe I actually -defended- you to him!" Liam's words are slurred and muffled from the bruise blossom on his chin and jaw and the bloody mess of his nose.

"Seriously!? Kavanagh!?! -THAT- is what you attribute scientific greatness to? He was a chauvinistic pig that spent more time trying to get Elizabeth fired from this exhibition than actually -doing his job-!" Rodney is momentarily distracted by the volume of his own screaming voice and doesn't see the punch coming. His nose erupts in a spray of blood, crunching cartilage and pain so deep that it feels like he has breathed in fire.

The force of the blow, coupled with the fact that he was loose limbed and unprepared for it, sends him careening backward into a console that springs to life with loud klaxon beeps, ringing alarms, and lights flickering red and dangerous. He has only a moment to contemplate the fact that the alarms sound suspiciously the same as the self destruct alarm in the control room before the entire room explodes in light and fire.

One scalding hot shower and two hysterical fits of laughter later, Sheppard no longer feels as if his whole world is going to come to an end. He has managed to talk himself out of the fear that someone is going to report his behavior to Elizabeth and sooner rather than later, the Air Force is going to recall him and finally court martial him. While he knows that these are technically valid concerns, he has managed to convince himself that it will be okay. His men like having him in charge, he and Elizabeth are friends due to their shared burden of command. There's no way in hell she's going to rat him out to the IOA.

Especially not over the fact that he was taking up for their mutual friend.

Now that those concerns have been addressed and banished to the back of his mind, he feels lighter. Happier. Every one has been set straight on the matter of him and Rodney and he feels all the better for it. Because he meant it. He -chose- Rodney and no one has the right to say anything different, ever. He will choose Rodney over and over, time after time.

He exhales for what feels like the first time in decades. Maybe it is. Maybe it's the first time he's actually taken a breath since he told his Dad that he wouldn't live the life he planned. He feels buoyant and light. His life no longer feels like some kind of twisted death sentence and he cannot begin to believe he owes that to the cantankerous scientist he calls best friend.

"McKay." He murmurs the name a moment before he drops easily to his bed and stretches his long legs out. There are probably half a dozen things he needs to do, and his mind is trying to go off on so many different tangents, but he refuses. Because if he lets his mind wander, the damn thing is going to remind him that he doesn't actually -have- a best friend at the moment, given the fact that Rodney has been outright avoiding and ignoring him.

To stave off these thoughts, he snags War and Peace from his bedside table, running his fingers across the spine absently. He knows that he should be farther along, knows that he has had plenty of opportunity to read through the book, but he just can't. Because every time he has a moment in which he could read, he usually went in search of Rodney instead. Usually ends up playing a game, playing Light Switch for the scientists, running puddle jumper maintenance repairs with McKay, or in some other way spending time with him. Which means that he has had even more time than usual these past few days, but has neglected the book.

"... I can do this." He draws in a deep breath, squares his shoulders as if he's preparing for battle, and opens the book to his current page. Three times .... three times he reads the same paragraph, teeth gritted in pain as he struggles to get through this. When his earwig beeps, he literally tosses the book to the bed beside him with a muttered THANK GOD before he taps it. "Sheppard." He drawls out, fighting the almost debilitating hope that it will finally be Rodney on the other end.

"Colonel!" What little hope he had managed to amass is immediately destroyed by the sounds of painful breaths, multi-lingual hysterics, and the knowledge that Major Lorne is the one to address him. By his rank, no less.

"What is it, Major? What the hell is going on back there?" He's already pushing himself up from the bed, his discarded book forgotten beneath the mentality of serve and protect. Though, there is more to it than that. He is fighting a haze of Rodney could be hurt. A team member could be injured and on their way to the infirmary. So basically, he's hyped up on adrenaline and suffering a hypervigilant state, but there's no time to contemplate any of his reactions.

He exits the bed in record fashion, hand skimming across his thigh to make sure that his holster is strapped securely in place, gun at the ready. (Not that he thought he had somehow managed to misplace it or anything, but it's something for him to -do- rather than freak the fuck out like he wants to.)

"Colonel, there's been an accident. Sensors registered an explosion in one of the labs. Colonel ... John ..." Oh god, he can feel his heart in his throat. It's the first time that stupid saying has ever made any sense to him, because he is convulsively swallowing, trying to fight down the lump swelling in his throat and he can swear that the swelling is throbbing in time with his pulse. An explosion in a lab coupled with Lorne using his first name .. this is -not- going to end well. There's no way in -hell- that this can end well. Because it means ... Rodney ... "John, Rodney is in that lab with Dr. Payne. We haven't been able to reach either of them on
coms. Emergency teams are headed there now."

He can't breathe. His chest is tight, his vision eclipsed, and his hands are shaking so bad that he can feel them dip and sway against his hips. This isn't right. With all of the shit they experience off world, the fuckery of day-to-day life at the hands of the Wraith, their -HOME- should be safe, damn it!

"Goddamn it! I'll meet you down there, Lorne. Just .. fuck .. yeah .." Words are failing him. Why should that surprise him?? He cannot communicate on the best of days sometimes, so of course his words would go right out the fucking window when McKay's life might be on the line. With a growl, he smacks his com off and rushes out of the door.

Chaos. Pain. Darkness. These things envelope him, and he finds himself struggling to understand what has happened. He remembers hitting Liam ... remembers the fight in vague terms, but cannot understand what actually transpired. The fact that every inch of his body hurts, that he can feel something tacky and hot seeping around him .. yeah, it's pretty obvious that he's hurt and that is why he cannot remember just yet.

"L-Liam ... are y-you .. okay?" He forces his strained voice past lips that taste of dust and blood, shuddering as it coats his tongue and leaves him feeling nauseous. Though, the blood he can feel drying on his temple and cheek might be another reason he's feeling sick to his stomach.

"Nghhh .." Liam's voice is a croaked sound of pain without any distinguishable words and even if he doesn't like the man, he finds himself worried about him. Rodney tries to sit up, tries to move but the very first clench of muscles wrings an earsplitting scream of pain from him. It feels like something in his left side tears, searing and burning as he struggles to catch his breath after that scream.

"God .. okay .. d-don't .. don't try .. and move .. Liam ..." He's panting heavily, each word clumsy and mushy in his mouth, but he forces himself to wheeze his way through them. Forces himself to be heard as he tries to squint into the oppressive darkness around him. It takes far too long for him to think to reach into his pocket and pull his small flashlight out. When it finally registers, he nearly weeps with the knowledge that it didn't occur to him immediately. He's not used to screwing up so badly in the face of an emergency. He carefully turns the small beam on and this time, a tiny sob does escape him when he waves the light beam about .. and realizes that the damage is -far- worse than he initially feared. The room is nothing but a collection of fallen rubble and debris, pinning the both of them to the ground. When he tries to crane his neck in the direction he had heard Liam in, he screams a second time, pain shooting through out his body like a fire brand.

By some miracle, his tear-stained eyes manage to find the other scientist, though a part of him instantly regrets it. Liam is face down on the ground, a large chunk of console and roof settled on his back. Rodney can feel his gorge rise, but he quickly swallows the sensation down. Now is -not- the time to panic or let himself fall to despair. He draws in a dusty breath and allows his eyes to close. Though, for reasons that make no sense to him, he leaves the flashlight going.

With great difficulty and many more tears, he raises his free hand and manages to tap his earwig.

"S-Sheppard ..." His voice croaks, dry and brittle, grating and weak even to his own ears. He wants to laugh and weep hysterically. Wants to claw at himself until he can rip this reality apart and find himself safe and sound.

"RODNEY!" Sheppard's voice is loud, quivering and quaking with notes of hysteria. (At least, that is what Rodney's addled brain insists he should label the foreign sounds in the voice of his best friend.) "Thank god, Rodney ... Lorne said they couldn't get through to either of you. What the hell is going on?! We have reports of some kind of explosion in the lab and we can't get the door to open. Is Dr. Payne alright? Can you get to the controls?" The more Sheppard talks, the more confused Rodney gets. Because his friend sounds like his usual take charge self, but there's something underlining the words that makes no fucking sense. Sheppard sounds -scared-. That is -not- an emotion he remembers ever being able to identify when it comes to the Colonel. Angry, annoyed, happy, giddy, amused, cool ... -never- scared. But now? It is whispered in every breathless syllable of his words.

"J-John ..." His own voice is a trembled breath, far too soft over the earwig, but he tries his hardest to make himself known. It is not ideal by any measure. Not the way he wished to first take this intimate liberty, using John's first name. In fact .. he has had so many different scenarios play out in his mind, in which he had the perfect moment to first use it.

When they found themselves escaping another near miss. They would give each other one of those intense 'So glad we are alive' glances and Rodney would whisper John's name. Or in one of the moments when the Colonel is being his usual petulant, childish self ... either while they were playing a game or lounging around the labs, he would speak John's name in utter exasperation. (Of course, in the deeper parts of his mind, he imagines John kissing him, probably in frustration, and him whispering the Colonel's name breathlessly.)

"Rodney!? Goddammit, don't you do this to me, McKay! Talk to me!" Sheppard's voice could almost be described as shrill now, as well as being a bit tinny and far away. The desperation and fear are palpable this time, undeniable as the Colonel shouts into the device. If he were even a little bit more himself at the moment, Rodney would crack some kind of dry joke about the composure of his friend, but he doesn't have the energy to come up with anything. Not a good sign.

"H-here .. John ..." Each word is cotton-dry on his swollen tongue, the after tang of blood disgusting but tolerable for now. "Liam .. needs Carson ... badly." Before he can explain his own condition, a coughing fit explodes deep in his chest, followed by another harrowing scream of pain.

"Rodney .. please .. talk to me ... fuck! You -have- to be okay, Rodney .. you -have- to be. We .. we gotta talk, buddy .. there are some things I need to tell you. Been too much of a fucking coward, babe .. sorry ..." Sheppard's voice begins to fade in and out. Sometimes, sounding too tinny and small for Rodney to understand what's being said. Other times, coming across as so manic and loud, it's a wonder his eardrums don't shatter.

"Liam .. he hasn't spoken ... Liam needs ... Carson ... J-J-John ..." Rodney can feel his throat closing. Can feel his words slurring and fading the harder he tries to be heard. He has lost the feeling in his limbs .. feet are numb, arms heavy as lead, and his head is throbbing so badly he feels as if his temples will cleave in half. He can also feel himself beginning to shiver. He remembers the puddle jumper ... thinking that he was bleeding out when the cold of deep water was making him hypothermic .. well, there's no water here.

He can feel a tickle in the back of his throat and knows that he has begun to laugh. Hysterically. Same as he had that day.

"Rodney .. you're scaring me, buddy. We're doing everything we can to get you out, okay? Carson is right here, with two gurneys and as many of his staff as he could get away with. I'm sure he's looking forward to you bitching about his voodoo science, babe. I know -I- am." If he could, Rodney would laugh. Snicker and say something sassy and playful. Maybe some friendly ribbing about Carson's job, but he can't. He doesn't have the brainpower or the energy to do so. Instead, he's focusing every thing he has on continuing to breathe and trying to stay conscious.

"Scaring .. me too, John." He sucks in a breath that is strangely wet and far too hot for how much he's shivering. "I... I'm sorry, Colonel." He coughs again, a big, whooping thing that shutters his breath and this time, he doesn't even have the energy to scream. He sorta whimpers instead. A small, pathetic noise that is all he can manage to express the pain he's in. Though if he's honest, even the pain is beginning to recede. He thinks he remembers that being a very, very bad thing.

"There's nothing for you to be sorry for, buddy. Honestly. It's going to be okay. We'll have you out of here soon, and we'll take you straight to the infirmary. You're going to be -fine-, McKay, because ... because you're not allowed to be anything -but- fine, damn it! I am not losing you, babe. Got that!?" There is an edge of steel beneath the quiet hysteria.

For the first time in his life, Rodney feels ... god, he feels lucky, loved, and privileged. For the first time in his life, he doesn't feel defined by his genius. Doesn't -want- to be defined by that, because he is defined by himself. Just being himself and being -cared- for because of it.

He can feel the sluggish drip of tears down his cheeks. Is afraid to look down at his neck because he is sure the tacky blood there has become swirled with pink from salted dilution. His stomach roils, his breathing grows shallow.

"I .. so sorry .... so long, John." The words leave him in a whooshed breath moments before his eyes lose the battle to stay open. The world fades into darkness around him. Too exhausted to hang on.

"Rodney ..... R-d-ey ..... RODNEY!!"

Sheppard is in no way prepared for what awaits him at the scene of the accident. But then, how the fuck does one -prepare- for the kind of devastation that suggests there is a snowflake's chance in hell of Rodney actually -surviving-. His entire world flips on its axis and leaves him feeling seconds from face-planting. Some part of him is internally screaming. Begging Chaya and Teer ... begging every Ascended Ancient for it not to be true. If ever there was a time for Higher Beings to interfere, he would want it to be -now-. Because Rodney needs to be okay.

Partially because of selfish reasons, of course. He wants his best friend alive, thank you very much. But it's not just for him. Because Atlantis and the Pegasus Galaxy -need- Dr. Rodney McKay. Without him, this entire expedition will fail. He is the last bastion of hope standing between the Wraith and Atlantis, and the certain destruction of this great city. (He is not used to waxing poetic in his own thoughts, but Rodney is worth it.)

"Colonel Sheppard!" Lorne's voice is smokey and shocky. There is a weight to each sound that is awkward and does not bode well. And why should it? The world as he knows it has ended. Because there is no way in hell that Rodney has survived this devastation. Somewhere behind Lorne, Sheppard can see the smoking rubble that was once a room in the city. The roof and floor have caved in, dust and smoke lazily rising from the mess. The scent of blood and damp churn his stomach and it's a wonder he doesn't turn and vomit up the contents of it. "Dr. Beckett has already arrived, and the combat engineers are already working to try and open the doors and clear the rubble. We still haven't been able to raise either of them on coms." Lorne's voice remains steady by some miracle and Sheppard finds himself seized with the irrational desire to punch the man. Because Lorne should not sound so normal and in control when Rodney could be dead. It is disrepectful that he is capable of functioning in the face of this horror.

"I .." The single word falls flat because he cannot conjure any more. He has prepared himself as best he could for the possibility that McKay would die offworld .. that the Wraith, Genii, or some other horrible creature or self-important and pissed off natives would cause the death of his best friend ... but he had never really considered the possibility that simple recon could prove fatal to his scientist. (Every time he had a nightmare about Dr. Rodney McKay parishing offworld, he had quickly followed behind his best friend. Though he didn't try and understand -why- he was so quick to give up his own life when Rodney died, but he knew that he would.)

"Sheppard." Lorne's voice is cold and nearly emotionless as he addresses his commanding officer. It does the trick, at least. It snaps Sheppard back to the moment. Reminds him that there is a time and a place to freak out, and this is neither of those. If there's even a fraction of a chance that Rodney is alright, he needs to -do- something.

Rodney is counting on him. The two of them have come to rely on saving each others lives and there is no way in hell that he's going to let his best friend down. Especially not when he has so much he needs to talk to him about. If this radio silence is the last thing he has to remember McKay by .. he just might flip his fucking lid and lose it once and for all.

"S-Sheppard ..." His hand flies to his earwig when he hears the strained sounds of Rodney's voice. At first, he assumes that he's hearing things. Assumes that wishful thinking is conjuring that beautiful, if strained, voice as a last ditch effort to keep him sane as everything continues to slip through his fingers.

In fact, he has engaged in an entire, half-hysterical conversation with the scientist before he realizes that it's actually -happening-!

"I .. so sorry .... so long, John." Those words nearly send him to his knees! Especially the last three ... because he remembers. The last three words he thought he would -ever- speak to Rodney and he hadn't been able to think of anything better to say. Hadn't been able to tell McKay that he was his best friend, that he meant the world to him, or that he could be okay with dying, as long as it meant McKay and Atlantis lived.

Now, to hear those words spoken back to him ... it instantly hollows him out. Reaches into the warm, living parts of himself and squashes the warmth and life right out. He feels cold and empty and holy FUCK, was this how Rodney felt when he said it!? How the hell had the scientist been able to forgive him and continue their friendship without beating him to a pulp?? (Or having Teyla do it for him? Because if their roles were reversed, he's pretty damn sure he'd have gone straight to Teyla, explained the situation, and then -begged- her to beat the stuffing out of Rodney with her sticks. The fact that he seems to have so easily forgiven him for barely saying goodbye and then running off on what had been a guaranteed suicide mission is blowing Sheppard's mind right now.)

"Rodney ..... Rodney ..... RODNEY!!" The moment the transmission stops ... Sheppard would swear that his heart does, too. The world doesn't cease to turn so much as it just ... shatters. Rips apart at some invisible seam that leaves him seeing black around the edges as he struggles to remember how to perform even the simple task of breathing. What the FUCK is the point of -BREATHING- when McKay is dead!?

"Colonel -- Sheppard -- JOHN!!" If asked, he couldn't tell you how long Lorne had been standing there, screaming at him. Working through every way possible to address him, probably multiple times over as he struggles to regain himself. "John, answer me! Are you tracking, sir?!" Tracking? What kind of asinine question is that!? He's not even -breathing-, let alone tracking! His mind has become a useless lump of greymatter, because Rodney had gone silent and his heart is breaking. Because he is convinced that the only reason McKay would go silent .. would be if death were involved, given the state of rubble surrounding him.

"R-Rodney .."

"We're almost through, Colonel. We're going to get McKay out of there."

"H-he's .."

"Stop right there, John. We don't -know- that, okay? They're almost through. We'll get McKay to the infirmary. Just try to breathe for me, okay?" In any other situation, Sheppard would summon the courage to be pissed off that Lorne has pitched his voice to treat him with the 'kids glove' tone. The same tone they all use when they come across easily spooked naitives that might lose their shit at any moment and attack. (Some part of him must be perfectly aware that he presents the same kind of problem. He's losing his mind and none of them know what that might cause him to do. Not even himself.)

"What .. what if Carson .. can't --" There's not a power in the 'verse that could force him to finish that sentence. Because what if Carson can't save him? What if Rodney is already too far gone? He can feel something dark and twisted clawing at his guts. Can feel the talons unfurl, ripping and shredding his insides as the first wave of hysterical laughter bubbles up through him.

"John! You gotta stay with me, man." Lorne's hand is suddenly hot and heavy on his shoulder. A living anchor that tethers him to the last remnants of his sanity. "We all know how much Rodney means to you, Colonel. We're all going to do everything we can for him. We care too, ya know." Sheppard can do little more than nod his head, his breathing still a raging, uneven thing.

Rodney has to be okay. Atlantis -needs- Mckay. She may light up for -him-, but she -survives- for -McKay-. He truly believes that.

"Colonel Sheppard!" Dr. Beckett's voice cuts through the static fuzziness swimming around his head and he snaps around to face the Scotsman. And he finally -breathes-! He throws his head back, drops his jaws open as far as they will go without hurting, and greedily sucks in breath when he realizes that Carson has a hand on the gurney currently supporting McKay. He refuses to get his hopes up that it is McKay and not ... not Rodney's -body-. "They're both breathing, Colonel. We'll know more in a little bit. Everyone head out!" Carson whirls around and takes off, the gurneys pushed ahead of the entourage of medical professionals. Sheppard barely has the mental capacity to understand that, for now, both men are alive. In the very next breath, his knees have given way and he expects to become rather intimately acquainted with the ground.

"I gotcha, John." Lorne's voice is soft and concerned in his ear, warm with a surprising amount of fondness. His brain is still moving too slow, because it takes several minutes for him to realize that he never hit the ground. Because Lorne's arms are wrapped protectively around him. Shielding him from the pain of his breakdown. "The Doc's the best, John. He'll save your scientist, I'm sure of it. Come on. Teyla and Ronon will meet us at the infirmary." The 'kid gloves' voice is still in full swing and Sheppard is actually greatful for it this time. As long as Lorne is talking, the static and white noise will be held at bay and he can try his damnedest to -think- instead of drowning in the terrible sorrow of what might be happening. What almost did and still can, happen. Because McKay is -not- okay .. not yet. He can still slip away at any moment and that leaves his chest tight and his gut clenched.

"He .. Rodney .. Carson ..." His every thought is fractured. Splintered words emerging in shattered sentences that don't even make sense to himself. But if he keeps talking .. if he struggles to find order in the chaos of all of this bullshit, maybe he can stave off any bad news that might try to make itself known. If he keeps trying to talk, reality can't come rushing in. "Thanks." Finally, a coherent word with actual meaning! Lorne's arms squeeze him, a full body action that should be just as awkward as when Teyla or Elizabeth try to hug him, but instead feels natural and pathetically needed.

"It's alright, John. Come on." The soft reassurance of the Major is a cooling balm to his frayed nerves. There is no time for heroics, no time to pretend that he is steady and rock solid at the moment so he lets himself lean into the other man. Allows himself to be supported all the way to the infirmary.

The first thing Rodney is aware of .. is the steady, clinical beep of a heart monitor. It is the same insane constant that he has come to associate with the infirmary. For reasons that he is too tired to examine, he has come to rely upon that sound. Has found a certain sense of comfort in it's horrible beep. (Probably because it means that, no matter what -might- be coming, he is alive for now.)

The second thing to register on his tired senses, is the fact that there is something warm and slightly damp clasped around his hand. He cannot feel the full pressure of whatever it is, but he is aware of the presence none the less. Despite the fact that his curiosity is so very obviously aroused by this, he cannot seem to open his eyes to try and ascertain what it is he is feeling.

"Sheppard." The sound of Ronon's voice seems to fill the darkness Rodney is trapped inside, spreading warmth and a general sense of safety in it's wake. He wants to reach out and wrap himself in that voice. Or, at least, grab hold of Ronon and ask his friend never to let go. Because Ronon is loyal to a fault and gives all of himself to protect those he cares about. (Rodney hopes and prays that he is in the group of people the man cares for.)

"No." Sheppard's voice is surprisingly close. In fact, if Rodney had to take a guess, he'd say it's coming from close to his hip. If only he could open his eyes ... "For the last time .. no."

"You've been here for two and a half days straight, Sheppard. Even -you- have to sleep." Hell yeah Sheppard needs to sleep! In fact, if he were capable of opening his eyes or working his throat, he would totally tear into his best friend for neglecting himself like this! After all, he cannot think of a single reason why Sheppard would be refusing to sleep ... oh. Wait, so Sheppard has neglected sleep and god knows what else, for almost three days now, because he's been here with him in the infirmary??

"Just ... stop, Ronon." There is no customary Sheppard ire and fire in the words. Just the obvious signs of exhaustion and that hurts Rodney so much. Sheppard is -not- supposed to sound so defeated and tired because of him. "I get it, big guy .. I do. You're just .. trying to help. But I don't need it. What I -really- need is for everyone to leave me the hell alone. I just .. I gotta do this my way, okay?" Sheppard's once commanding, in control voice is quivering with the kinds of emotion he usually steers clear of. (The kinds of emotions they both run the hell away from, actually.)

".. fine." The laconic man is succinct as usual, though Rodney is able to read more into his voice than he usually can. He is hurting, scared and concerned and Rodney wonders if that is partially his doing as well. Is Ronon worried for him, or only for Sheppard? It takes only a moment for him to discard that second one. They may not talk on a regular basis, may not go running as Ronon and Sheppard do, but they are team. Family. Friends. Of course Ronon is concerned for him as well. "I'm telling Teyla. And she -will- kick your ass the next time you two train. Just a heads up, Sheppard." He can feel the warring emotions rolling off his best friend. Trepidation because there is no way that Ronon is lying. (In fact, it's probably Teyla that sent the Specialist here to try and pry Sheppard from his side.) Annoyance, probably because anyone is presuming to tell him what to do in the first place. Concern. He assumes that one is for him, if Sheppard has been by his side for two and a half days now.

"I look forward to it, Chewie." Oh wow! Once he can actually speak again, he's going to have to commend Sheppard for retaining his deadpan sass in the midst of all of this. He is vaguely aware of Ronon walking away, but his attention is immediately captured by the warm pressure increasing around his hand. "Did you hear that, babe? I'm going to get my ass kicked by Teyla. You should wake up and watch. I'm sure you'll get a kick out of that." He feels the pressure on his hand a second time and he'd give just about -anything- to be able to reply. To squeeze back .. to tell Sheppard that he should definitely listen to Ronon rather than risk Teyla's wrath just to stay at his bedside.

"I really thought that they would understand, you know? That there's just .. there's no way in hell that I can just walk out of here while you're laid up like this, babe. What kind of boyfriend would I be, right?" Rodney would swear that he hears a note of bitterness in Sheppard's voice, but what the hell would put that there? There's nothing for -Sheppard- to be bitter about, after all. He's not the one that made the mistake of falling for his fake boyfriend, is he? "So, you need to get up, McKay. Get up so you can protect me from Teyla."

He really, -really- wants to laugh at that! As if -he- could ever protect Sheppard from Teyla. What's he supposed to do ... put her to sleep with technobabble or something?!

"Hmm. I wonder if she'd go easy on me for having a broken heart. Surely that would have to mean something, right?" Sheppard snorts, and it's an odd sort of deprecating sound that he has never heard his friend make before. "Fuck. I am so screwed here, buddy. Monumentally." He wants to scream when the warmth and pressure disappears and leaves him feeling untethered and alone. Before he can struggle to open his eyes, struggle to make more than a half silent click with his throat, he is falling back into total darkness.

His return to awareness is gradual and confusing. He doesn't understand why he feels out of sorts. Why he isn't waking up in his room on Atlantis, but instead, in a strange bed that feels wrong. He is immediately filled with fear because he can't remember why he isn't in his bed!

"What do you want, Elizabeth?" Sheppard's voice immediately emerges from the darkness, and Rodney feels himself take a careful, calming breath. Feels himself falling back into that sense of safety and comfort that Sheppard always brings. Whatever's going on, it's okay, because Sheppard is here. "There's nothing that needs me right now, and Lorne's been told to call me if anything pops up. It's my free time, Elizabeth .. I'm allowed to be here."

Somewhere in the distance he can hear the shuffling of feet and he can picture Elizabeth. She'd be wearing her diplomatic smile. The look that says she really doesn't have time for your BS but it's her job, so she'll be as nice about it as she can. He's seen her give him and Sheppard that look a dozen different times. (It's always tinged with amusment but also twice as exasperated when she is giving it to them at the same time.)

"I'm not here to make you leave, John. If Teyla and Ronon can't pull it off, I don't expect you to listen to me. You've taken care of yourself, that's all we can ask for." How much time has passed!? How many times have their friends tried to get Sheppard to leave and do the things he needs to? Why the hell is the Colonel sticking so close by his side!?

"Good. Because I'm not leaving, Elizabeth. Not until there's a change." There's a steel edge to Sheppard's voice that suggests this conversation, or some variant of it, has happened more than once. And of course it has, if he's been here for an extended amount of time. Huh .. did Teyla ever kick his ass, or had a supposed broken heart spared him?

"And that is what I'm here to talk to you about, John." There's a seriousness in her tone that is undercut by a sense of concern and ... sadness. Oh. Oh, that doesn't bode well for him, does it? If Elizabeth is actually worried about him, it suggests that the situation is very, very serious. Which would also account for why Sheppard has apparently taken up residence in the infirmary, right along side him.

"No. The answer is still -no-, I don't give a damn what arguments you've come up with this time. The answer will -always- be no!" The steel has not faultered, despite the note of hysteria wavering beneath the Colonel's words. Wow. Whatever he's fighting against, he's apparently pretty damn passionate about it.

"Damn it, John, how many times do we have to go over this before you'll see?!" Elizabeth's voice breaks somewhere in the middle of her words and Rodney is floored to find that he really just wants to reach out and hug her. He wants to soothe her burden in some way, in hopes that she never sounds that broken again. "None of us -want- this .. -none- of us. But this isn't about us .. it's about Rodney and what's best for him." Oh, okay. -He's- the reason she sounds so shattered, and ... and he's -also- the reason Sheppard is fighting so desperately!? "It's been two and a half weeks, John ... and there's been no change. I think .. I think it's time we consider sending him back to Earth. There's nothing more that Carson can do for him here." Somewhere to his side, Sheppard sucks in a breath. If Rodney could, he'd be trying to hide under his covers because he knows what that sound means. It means the Colonel is -pissed- and he's more than ready to make life a living hell for someone.

"No fucking -way-, Elizabeth! Atlantis is Rodney's -home- and there's no way in hell we're kicking him out of his home. We can't .. -I- can't ... and I -won't-." He can practically envision Sheppard seething with anger. His chest heaving in the faint, yet perceivable way. His mouth snapped closed and slightly pursed, nostrils flaring. He's seen that look so many times he can see it even when he can't open his eyes.

"It's time for you to face facts, John. I don't think this decision is yours to make." Like hell it isn't! Rodney feels as if he could scream. -Should- scream, because he knows damn well that the only one capable of making this decision is John Sheppard. He made sure of it.

"Actually, that's where you're wrong, Elizabeth. His medical decisions are -mine- to make. Unless SGC orders him back to Earth, it's my call." He feels the sudden blossoming of warmth and pressure against his hand again and he wishes he could cry. Because he's pretty sure he'd be bawling right about now, and as humiliating as that would be .... anything would be better than being stuck in this limbo. "You just .. you don't get it, do you? Rodney never gave up on me, Elizabeth. Even when I was turning into that Iratus freak, he didn't give up. He went into that fucking cave and tried to help Carson get those eggs, despite the fact that he has no training. There was -nothing- his genius could do to help him, but he still went in there, risked his life, and then stayed with Ronon and Teyla in the infirmary with me. So .. I just ...... I'm not giving up on him, Elizbeth. I -can't-. I .." His words trail off and Rodney feels the pressure around his hand increase to the point it is almost painful, and that overjoys him. Because it means that he's still alive .. that he can still -feel-. So maybe, just maybe, there's a chance he can come back from this.

"It's okay, John. I .. I understand. Really, I do. I don't think there's anyone in Atlantis that doubts the devotion and loyalty you two have for each other. Just .. -please- think about it. I'm not so sure you know what Rodney would want. I think, maybe, you're making this decision based on your own desire to hold onto your boyfriend." Vaguely, he's aware of the sound of retreating footsteps, but he's too busy seething himself. Sheppard is the one person in all of Atlantis he'd trust to know what he wants in a situation like this. Not only because Sheppard is his best friend, but because the Colonel -gets it-. Neither of them have anything they want to return to on Earth. Atlantis is the first place they truly -fit in-. The first place either of them can be themselves and not have to worry about how wrong that could go.

There is the faint screech of something moving, and it takes far too long for his brain to supply that it's the sound of chair legs scooting across a bare floor.

"Damn it, Rodney .. you have to come back to me. You get that, right? I -can't- do this without you, babe. You're the other half of Atlantis. There are so many people counting on you to pull through." The pressure leaves his hand a moment later and he wants to weep. The moment the warmth is gone, the darkness is reaching out for him again.

Is this hell? Being this close to the man he loves, unable to respond? It sure as fuck feels like it.

Sheppard is several weeks past losing his mind. If he had to pinpoint the moment sanity bid him a nasty, unfond farewell, he'd say it was about ... an hour after Carson told him that Rodney and Liam were still breathing. Because in that hour, Rodney died three times. -THREE TIMES- he had to hear the flatline of a heart monitor from his spot on the observation deck above the OR. Three times Ronon, Teyla, and Lorne were forced to hold him back before he lost his shit.

And it just continued to go downhill from there. Because in the end, Rodney came through the surgery just fine ... a month ago. For a full month, he's been silent as the grave and it's about to snap Sheppard once and for all. He's tried everything .. including holding Rodney's hand and talking until he was hoarse and croaking. (He's never talked so much in his life and he knows that he'd do it all over again if it would help.)

But still he lays there. Apart from a few abnormal blips on his heart monitor, he hasn't responded to anything. And no matter how much he's fought it .. no matter how much he's struggled not to .. Sheppard is starting to lose hope. His heart has broken so fully that even Ronon and Teyla aren't coming by to try and talk him into returning to his old routine. They drop by every few days to see how Sheppard is doing, and then go back to whatever it is they do in their spare time. A month ago, Sheppard would've been able to tell you exactly where any member of his team was likely to be, but not any more. He spends all of his free time at Rodney's bedside.

He's managed to read more of War and Peace than he ever would've thought possible.

But now .. now, he has to face facts. It's been a month and there's been no improvement. Atlantis is not equipped to be a long term care facility. It's time ... god help him, it's time for Rodney to go back to Earth. The mere thought of sending Rodney away is tearing him up inside. The moment he came to the realization of what he had to do, he threw up for ten minutes straight and then passed out in bed for two hours. When he came to, he dry heaved and then forced himself to clean up and head back to the infirmary.

"Rodney .." He whispers the name, throat clicking and croaking with the dry crack of a man that has forgotten that water exists. "I don't know what else to say, babe." He feels like a failure. First, he allowed Rodney to go off into an untested lab without him. He had been too busy telling off some snot nosed brat and a mess hall full of people over a fake relationship instead of helping his best friend out. Then he failed to find some solution to bring Rodney back to him. And now .. he's doing the one thing he told Elizabeth he would never do. He's letting them send Rodney away from Atlantis. He's removing McKay from his -home- and he hates himself for it. (If he's being truthful, he hates Elizabeth for it, too. He had expected her to understand, damn it!)

He carefully settles on the bed beside Rodney, their hips pressed together ever so slightly as he reaches for the limp hand he has been clinging to for a month now. With care, he wraps his hand around the other and after a moment of hesitation, he bows his head.

"It's, uh .. been a while since I've done this .. over a decade, at least. I didn't even pray when .. well, when the shit hit the fan in Afghanistan." A nervous laugh bubbles up and he almost doesn't choke it down in time. In a sudden fit of paranoia, he looks over his shoulder, eyes scanning the infirmary even though he knows no one will be there. Carson has managed to keep everyone clear of this area whenever he is visiting his friend. "So, here goes nothing." He draws in a deep breath and holds it for as long as he can before exhaling.

"I don't really believe in God per se .. but I guess I believe in a higher power. I mean, technically, I've met a few. Chaya .." He swallows the name heavily but still manages to speak it out loud. "I know that Rodney didn't really like you, but, uh .. if you have any pull on the higher plane, I could -really- use the help. Same with you, Teer .. I -can't- lose him. I will do whatever it takes, just .. don't let this take him away from me, okay?"

His voice breaks on all of the names .. Chaya ... Teer .. Rodney .... they are the various levels of his heart laid bare and he is not the least bit surprised that the layer named Rodney is the one that he is most scared to lose. He knew Chaya and Teer for brief moments, but has known Rodney longer. Has stood back-to-back with him against the Wraith, pissed off natives and every thing else the Pegasus Galaxy has thrown at them. How can he survive the flaying of his heart, damn it!?!

"Fuck, I'm actually praying to Ascended Ancients, Rodney! God, like any of them can do a fucking thing to make this better. There's -nothing- that will make this better beyond you waking up and telling me how much of a moron I am for praying to the Ancients." He snorts disasspationately. "I mean, come on, we -both- know how much you hated Chaya .. which I -still- don't understand, by the way."

To this day, he doesn't understand why Rodney had hated Chaya so instantly. Yeah, she had been hiding what she was from them, but Rodney didn't know that when he was treating the very -thought- of her like it was toxic. In fact, he had only ever seen one person react that way. Nancy. His Ex-Wife had taken an instant, full dislike to Jessica Saunders, a woman he had been serving with when he and Nancy married. She had gone so far as to tell him that he should request a transfer of units to get away from the woman. (It's one of the contributing factors to their divorce.) Of course, he had eventually figured out that Nancy was jealouse of the fact that there was a woman who knew him so fully that wasn't her. In her strange view, Jess had been competition of some sort, despite the fact that he had never had -any- interest in her. She was like a sibling, not a possible partner, but Nancy just couldn't believe that John wouldn't fall madly in love and leave her for Jess. But, come on .. there's no way in -hell- that Rodney was motivated by that kind of thing! Because Rodney has no interest in him. The fact that he had ignored him so completely before the accident seems like pretty solid testimony to how much he -doesn't- want him.

"But then, to be fair .. I didn't really like Allina, either. I wanted to smack myself for pointing out that she was flirting with you. At the time, I figured it was because she was distracting you from finding the ZPM. But then .. what kind of bastard am I that I was -glad- she ended up betraying us and taking it? Because it meant that you wouldn't be mooning over her anymore. You wouldn't have a reason to go -back- to that planet to spend time with her." After they had returned to Atlantis without the ZPM, he had taken a few minutes alone to berate himself for that thought. Because he really was happy that they now had no reason what so -ever- to return to that place. They had no reason for Rodney to -want- to seek out Allina's companionship and attention. He had been unable to formulate a reason for those thoughts at the time, and had hated himself for having them .. but had also been unwilling to relenquish them.

"I'm losing my fucking mind, babe, and I can't go to the one person I would usually go to for help. Because you're stuck in this bed." He carefully raises Rodney's hand, eyes squinting as he studies the pulse point in the pale wrist. He knows that the man is still alive because he's breathing and everything, but sometimes he wonders. Is this all some kind of fever dream? Is he stuck in some sick dream/nightmare where he at least gets to talk to Rodney, sit by his beside and hold his hand, when in reality he died in that accident?? Is he -torturing- himself?? "I sit and daydream about the stupidest, simplest things we used to do. I wake up and I can't -breathe- after having some twisted dream about us playing chess or fixing a puddle jumper or just ... fuck, just having a -meal- together and I almost cry because I miss those things so much. I miss -you-." His voice cracks on the word you and he nearly drops the hand he's clinging to because this is has officially crossed the boundary of creepy and sailed right on through to pathetic.

"I hope you can forgive me some day, McKay. I don't want to do this, buddy. It took a hell of a -lot- for me to reach this decision ...." Reluctantly, he carefully places the hand back down on top of the covers and forces himself off of the bed. He stares down at the comatose form for what feels like an eternity ... etching Rodney's soft features even further into his memory. (Not that that is really -possible- at this point. He's pretty sure he will remember every little detail about Rodney until the day he dies.) "In two hours time ... you're going back to Earth, babe. Elizabeth is going to dial SGC and you are going to be returned to Earth so that you can receive the proper care." Each word burns on his tongue. Scorches the back of his throat with bitter bile and negative emotion. He doesn't think he has ever hated himself as much as he does in this moment, as he prepares to make a selfish, cowardly, -painful- confession. "And I won't be there when she does, Rodney. I just .. I can't, babe, I'm so -sorry-. There's no -way- I can watch them do this! Wheel you away from our -home- like that ... I know it's selfish .. cowardly ... I should be able to do this for you, baby, but I -can't-." He draws in a stuttered breath, his hands flying up so that his palms can grind painfully against his eyes after they snapped closed. Forcing himself to keep his tears at bay.

He doesn't cry, not if he can help it, and he's not about to start. Not while Rodney is still alive, damn it.

Once he can lower his palms from his miraculously dry eyes, he finds himself snapping the crispest, most respectful salute he can manage.

"I know you are a civilian, not military, but .. it's been an honor serving along side you, Dr. Rodney McKay. You changed my life for the better, buddy. There's no one I respect, or trust, more than you." He relaxes out of the salute, shuddering slightly as he realizes that he is saying goodbye. He is -actually- saying -goodbye- to his best friend and he's pretty sure that he's not going to survive it.

Because Rodney is being forced out of Atlantis, back to Earth, and there's nothing either of them can do about it. This time tomorrow, he will be doing paperwork, working with his soldiers, or any number of Atlantis-related things rather than having lunch with his best friend. Or bugging him in the labs. He won't even be able to tap his earwig and talk to him!

Tomorrow, Rodney will be gone and there will be nothing to connect them. On a whim, that might actually be fate and destiny in disguise, he reaches up and yanks his wrist cuff off. It is a well worn prized posession, something that rarely leaves his wrist .. maybe that is why this seemingly simple action feels so very weighted. He carefully slides it onto Rodney's right wrist, smoothing it across his skin with infinite, loving care.

Before he can stop himself, he leans over the bed and presses a soft kiss to the lax, unresponsive lips. Sure, he would much rather this happened for the first time when Rodney was conscious and every thing, but beggers can't be choosers and there's no way in hell he's letting Rodney leave Atlantis without having done this at least once.

"Goodye, babe." He murmurs the final farewell and doesn't even try to stop his voice from cracking over the definitive words. He does however, about face and practically flee from the infirmary, headed for his quarters as fast as he can without full on running.

Sheppard has been in his room for nearly an hour and a half when the shrill trill of his earwig pulls him from is maudlin thoughts. It is only when he stretches his hand to reach for the device, that he realizes his face is stiff and wet. It takes far longer than it should for him to realize that he has been crying. Not an action he has ever undertaken lightly. He wipes his hand almost absently against his wet cheeks before he taps the coms devce.

"Sheppard." It is, of course, impossible for him not to draw some parallel to this event. The last time he had been so out of sorts and answered a call, it had been to Lorne telling him McKay may have been in an accident. His heart twinges painfully, his stomach churns desperately, and he barely has time to swallow down the sudden wave of anxious bile that over takes him.

"Colonel. We need you in the infirmary, now. It's Rodney." Carson's strained, accented tones have Sheppard moving as swiftly as his legs will carry him. Right out of his room, rushing toward the infirmary as fast as he can.

The Darkness had becone a pain to him. A strange, foreign place that has somehow consumed him and shows no sign of letting go. Sure, he has risen to some pseudo wakefulness from time to time ... but those moments are more torture than anything. Because they are the highlight of everything that is wrong with him. He can hear snippets of conversation, but can give no opinion. He has felt the ghostly presence of touch but been unable to return it. But more than that .... he has heard sides of John Sheppard he has never been privy to before. That, more than anything, has made this strange limbo seem like the true depths of Hell. To be able to hear and feel Sheppard, but unable to respond to his pleas for him to awaken.

If he could scream, he is sure he would be doing so. That he would pitch his head backward and howl his anguish and frustration to the sky. (He knows that that is a ridiculous thought. Because if he could scream, he would not currently be stuck in this comatose state, and it would all be a moot point anyway.)

Take now, for instance.

He can hear Sheppard praising him. Speaking of how it's been an honor to work with him. He can hear the clack of boots, and it takes very little for him to realize ... that Sheppard has just -saluted- him. He's never seen the Colonel do that before and it sends a sense of awed excitement thrumming through him. The bravest, greatest man he has ever known, thinks him -worthy- of saluting??

"Goodye, babe." The words do not register at first. The feel of warm, silken lips pressed to his unresponsive ones, takes up far too much of his processing ability at this moment. Because that was a -kiss-. Colonel John Sheppard just kissed him, Dr. Rodney McKay. That is the kind of thing that should appear on Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, because -no one- would believe it was real. In what reality would Sheppard kiss him!? (Especially in -private- like this! The kiss is not part of the fiction of thier pretend relationship, so what the hell!?)

"Goodye, babe." And -then- they register. They bitch slap him in the deepest registers of his overactive brian and he -knows- that he's missing far too many factors to construct the proper equation for what this means. John Sheppard just -kissed- him and then said -goodbye-. For one faint moment, he wonders why the heartmonitor hasn't gone off. Why it's alarms of blips and bloops hasn't documented the breaking of his heart when he realizes that he's being sent -away- from his home and the man he loves. His best friend.

How the fuck is he still breathing and functioning when he is losing Atlantis and -Sheppard-!?

Somewhere beyond the darkness holding him hostage, he can hear the sound of retreating footsteps and he cannot believe the thought occurs, but it does. He wants it all to end. For one horrible, desperate, depressing moment, he wishes his mind would shut off, his heart and lungs would stop, and he could just .... go.

There is not enough words to describe the amount of -panic- that moment of weakness causes him. Even in all of his doom and gloom, we're going to die ranting, he has never actually given up. He has always pointed his indelible intellect at the problem even while freaking out. But in this moment, he has given up. He may has well have -killed- himself with that thought.

If there is one thing that remians true even in the Pegasus Galaxy, it is that Dr. Meredith Rodney McKay wants to LIVE!

This mental statement is followed by a searing pain in his side. For one terrible, pain filled moment, it feels as if his side is being pierced all over again. As if he's about to be ripped in half. It feels as if the injuries from a month ago have returned and his body has no idea how to react. Vaguely, he hears the loud, shrill alarm of the hart monitor going off somewhere in the background, but he's too busy screaming in pain.

"Rodney!?" Carson's concerned chords echo all around him before he sinks into darkness again.

Sheppard cannot breathe. Every time he struggles to inhale, it feels as if fifty pound weights have been attached to each of his ribs and they refuse to expand and give him the oxygen he so desperately needs. Each breath is shorter and more painful than the next. To the point he fears he may pass out before he gets to the infirmary.

And yet, he pushes through the pain and unease. He forces each short breath to be -enough- because there's no way in hell he's going to drop before he finds out exactly what's going on with his scientist. He's failed Rodney enough as is. So, he concentrates on the sound of his feet pounding against the ground, the sound of his blood rushing through his ears, and his breath already starting to come in a harsh gasp. Given the amount of time he spends running with Ronon, he cannot understand why he is already slick with sweat and struggling for breath.

He barrells into the infirmary, any pretense of military grace and ability shed along the wayside the moment he left his room. Instead, he is a tazmanian devil of whirling limbs and desperate need as he stumbles into the room and begins to look wildly around. Eyes seeking Rodney or Carson, whichever he finds first.

"AAAaaAAAgh!" The sound of a pained scream nearly rips his feet out from under him. Nearly sends him to his knees because he -remembers- it. It's the sound Rodney was making over the coms when he was trapped and there wasn't a fucking thing he could do to help his best friend.

Unsteady, listing dangerously from side to side, he finally manages to stop himself a few feet from the alcove Rodney has called home for the past month. The sight is as ghastly and terrifying as he expected it to be. (More, his heart whispers brokenly.) Carson and two Marines are trying to hold a screaming, faliling Rodney down. Sheppard starts to take a step back, but his hands instantly fly up to cover his mouth and pinch his nose. The scent of salted copper blood is overwhelming and he has to turn and rush away. Has to grab the first available thing he can as he begins to throw up. Emptying the meager contents of his stomach. (He knows that he's lost weight since Rodney got out of surgery, but he just can't help it. Nothing tasted right with his best friend laid up.)

Once he has managed to right himself, he's met with the wide, concerned eyes of Carson and Sheppard knows that the doctor will have to speak first. There's no way in hell he's going to be able to say anything. Not with the way he's heaving to try and catch his breath.

"Sorry, lad, we've not the first bloody clue what's goin' on! One moment, all was quiet .. the next, poor Rodney woke up screamin' his head off! We don't know how, but it seems his wounds have reappeared. We're rushing him off to surgery. Excuse me." He is vaguely aware of Carson squeezing his shoulder before taking off after the gurney being driven from the room.

How the fuck is he supposed to survive this again!? The bruises of being restrained by Teyla and Ronon hadn't faded for two weeks, not to mention the mental scars of flatlining heart monitors. Rodney had managed to survive this the first time around, but it had left him in a fucking COMA! His breathing tears through him, needles and frays his lungs and throat as he struggles to get himself back to an even keel.

"Sheppard." Ronon's laconic voice tears through his thoughts, leaving him panting for breath as he turns to face the larger man. "It's going to be okay." These words, meant to comfort and reassure, draw a hysterical bubble of laughter up and out. The sound spills from parched lips even as he throws his head backward. Dares his eyes to rise toward the heavens beyond the ceiling of Atalntis. He had prayed, goddamn it! He had begged the Ancients, even Chaya and Teer, and nothing good had come of it. How the fuck could this man -assure- him that everything would be okay!?

"Just SHUT THE FUCK UP, Ronon!" The challenge has erupted from deep inside him, before he can stop the action. His lips have peeled back in a feral display of insane anger. "You have no fucking CLUE if it will be okay. He .. he's ...." His throat closes up, his wors failing him when he feels the shaking begin. It starts somewhere .. he's not entirely sure -where-, actually. Maybe his hands? His legs, hips? No, his heart. The shaking obviously starts in his heart, the broken pieces swept into a hurricane of emotional exhaustion.

"Sheppard." Ronon's voice isn't mean, angry, or wrathful. In fact, his tone is nothing short of caring and understanding. Just as understanding as the large arms that suddenly envelop him. Creating a cage of protection and comfort as he sinks close to the other man. He is absently aware of the sound of Ronon's heart beating steady and true beneath his cheek.

"John .." Ever the diplomat, Teyla's voice is soothing and calm. And yet .... and yet, he can hear it. That single, wavering breath under her words that betrays the amount of fear and concern she is feeling. No matter what her tone says. "Rodney is strong, a truth he has revealed to us time and time again. He made it through this .. he will do so again." Her words are earnest. Something deep and twisted inside of him wants to drown in her words. Wants to hope that belief will be strong enough to see his scientist through this. "All we can do is hope and pray, Colonel. Rodney is well loved .. it will see him through this."

By some miracle, he manages to utter a sound that is suspiciously like acknowledgement despite the complete lack of substance. Whatever the sound is, it must telegraph it's meaning, because Teyla smiles wanely and shuffles forward. It takes very little movement before Ronon has pulled her into the clutching hold. Each lift of thier chests and they are breathing in each others air. Surviving and existing as one entity in their grief and concern.

Time begins to feel like a cruel, artificial construct. As if it has been sculpted for the singular purpose of torturing him. Every time Sheppard glances at the watch on his wrist, he is met with a new discrepency. When he counts two minutes in his head, a quick glance at his watch shows that 13 have gone by. When he is -sure- that at least half an hour has come and gone, he nearly screams when he realizes that it has been 5 whole minutes.

This must be what going crazy feels like.

He has flirted with this thought many times during his military career. There have been too many moments that skirted the edge of insanity, and yet waiting for his best friend to come out of surgery is the event that is going to finally do him in. After all of Lorne's jokes about Sheppard's ability to put up with Rodney, and the scientist is going to inadvertantly take him out, after all.

"Colonel." Speak of the devil, eh? Sheppard shifts his gritty, dry eyes to find Lorne standing to his right. The Major is standing at attention, his features open and vulnerable in a way Sheppard has never seen before. "John ... I know it's .. hard, right now, but you need to get up, okay? Just walk around for a few minutes." If he were a little more in control of himself, he'd call the Major on the insubordination in his demeanor as he issues what is nothing short of an order to his commanding officer. He's too far gone for that, though. There are no words of reprimand waiting on the tip of his tongue.

Instead, silent as the grave, he levers himself out of the chair he had fallen into at some point and carefully stretches his arms out to his side. Winces at the twinge of pain through his shoulderblades and neck. It is a deep-seated ache in his bones, stretching up, into the muscles until he feels on fire with it.

"John." Lorne's soft, coaxing voice breaks into his jumbled thoughts again, and he isn't the least bit surprised to see the man standing at his elbow with a pensive look. He is, however, surprised to see the man brandishing a bottle of water at him. Sheppard stares at the plastic, eyes hooded in contemplation. Though he would never admit it .. it takes far too long for him to grasp the thin thread of understanding. He carefully grabs the bottle and opens it, downing a good third of the cold water before he can stop himself. His tragically empty stomach roils, threatens to rebel, and then settles uneasily as he caps the bottle and hands it back. A move that seems to surprise the soldier, though he takes it without question. "John ... I know it's not really my place .. but maybe you should go lay down. you weren't sleeping all that good even before this .. and it could still be several hours before Carson even finishes, let alone before you get a chance to see McKay .. sir." The formal address is tacked on for reasons that make no sense to him, given the informality of the conversation up to this point.

(It's not a conversation, Sheppard. Even -I- know that requires -both- parties to speak. Not surprising, the thought erupts in the voice of his scientist, complete with amused condescension and everything.)

"" His throat clicks, his tongue shriveled despite the drink of water.

"John, I think you should --"

"NO!" This time, there is no weakness in his voice. It is a battle cry of negation, his eyes narrowed dangerously as he stares the Major down. Lorne, smart enough to know which battles to pick and choose, snaps a salute before retreating from the ire of his commanding officer. Once again leaving Sheppard alone in the waiting area.

With Lorne gone, he finds himself falling into himself. Can feel reality fading around him as he tries to retreat into his memories.

"Colonel ..... Sheppard .......... John!" Carson's voice jerks him form his revery. His eyes crack open violently, rolling in several different directions as he struggles to fully come back to himself. Carson and Radek are standing a few feet in front of his seat, tense and ready for ... well, he can only assume they are ready for him to react badly to something.

"Rodney?" He whispers the name hoarsely, clearing his throat painfully before he manages to sit up straight. Manages to give the two men his full attention.

"He's in recovery, Colonel." Carson has adopted his 'bedside manner' voice and Sheppard cannot help but hate it on principal. He has heard that voice too many times and he -really- doesn't want to hear it in connection to Rodney. "As far as we can tell, the machine that Rodney and Dr. Payne were working on was constructed to study the Wraith's ability to hibernate. They seemed to be trying to find a way to integrate the Wraith ability with their own form of stasis."

So? Why should he give a damn about another machine that went haywire and screwed their people over? He runs his hand down his face, scrubbing his hand over his eyes before he pushes himself to his feet. He pretends not to see the two men step further back, knowing that they are simply being cautious in case he breaks down. Were positions reversed, he'd probably have a hand permenantly glued to his sidearm.

"We believe that there were traces of the stuff left in his body after the surgery. It reverted his body to the point of his injuries. It is also the most likely reason for his ongoing comatose state." Carson glances at Radek, who gives a tired nod. "We believe .. or, at least hope ... that he will fair much better this time around. All of the residue has been removed, so he should wake up in a normal fashion." Hope .. hope ... the bastard keeps talking about hope! He bandies that fucking word about as if it's not in short supply! As if it is free flowing and neverending. Sheppard can't bring himself to put stock in -words- right now.

" long?" Forcing more than a single word out physically pains him, but there's nothing to be done for it. He cannot remain standing there silently, he must contribute something, right?

"It's hard to say for sure, Colonel. There are no equations to figure something like this out." Radek speaks for the first time and Sheppard understands why Rodney hollers at the other scientist so much, now. Because he -really- wants to scream at him. Wants to call him a useless idiot for not having the kind of answer McKay could calcuate in a few seconds. Wants to bearate the little man for being in the way, but he is self-aware enough to realize that it would be nothing more than taking his anger out on a friend.

"I'm sorry, Colonel, but Radek is right, lad. We cannot know for sure." More words he doesn't want to hear. More words that mean -nothing- until his friend and teammate is up and moving again. "I suppose telling you to go and take care of yourself would be useless?" He will not dignify such a stupid statement with a response. "Aye, I thought so. I will allow you in to see him, John. But only for a little bit. You'll not sit vigil the way you did last time. I'll have Elizabeth order you away if I have to."

Elizabeth. Would she do that? Would she actually -order- him away? Would she be that cruel?! (I believe the word you're looking for is -sensible-, Colonel. Shut up, Rodney! And what the hell happened to John instead of this Colonel stuff?!)

"Fine." Succinct and to the point. A word of acquiescence that still demonstrates just how much he is -not- okay with the limit placed on his time. Shoulders squared and heart beating in his throat, he silently follows the doctor.

The first thing to register on frayed nerves imprinted with the memory of searing pain ... is the complete absence of it. Rodney draws in a deep, steady breath and nearly weeps with relief when he experiences nothing negative from the action. The second thing to register is the rather impressive wall of heat flanking his left side. Stretched from shoulder to hip. The warmth is intoxicating. A soothing balm to chase away the cold of the infirmary. Even with his eyes closed, he knows that he is still there. Tucked away beneath sterile sheets, languishing in a chilly, antiseptic atmosphere.

Huh. That wall of warmth feels sucpiciously like a -person-! It is a sad testament to the state of his life, that the first thought poor Rodney has .. is to be afraid that Liam has somehow managed to con his way into his hospital bed. It takes a split second for his memory to come tumbling back into place. Him and Liam fighting .. the explosion in the lab .. oh god, Liam! Had Dr. Payne survived!?

His eyes flash open and despite how much he hates the infirmary, nothing has ever been so beautiful before. Because it means that he's -alive-. That he's no longer stuck in that strange limbo of sound without sight. He flutters his lashes, bugs his eyes out and then snaps his lids closed, just because he can!

A half-hysterical giggle bubbles up from him, though it is strangled and far too breathy to be heard beyond his own ears. Which is a good thing, because canting his head just slightly produces a vision he has never allowed himself to hope for.

The first thing he sees .. that unmistakable mop of perfectly mussed brunette hair. Even in sleep, with his cheek smooshed against Rodney's shoulder, Sheppard looks beyond gorgeous. His handsome features are smoothed out, innocent and perfectly peaceful. In fact, Rodney is sure he has never seen his best friend look so relaxed and unencumbered before. It's for that reason that he makes no move to wake him.

Instead, he allows himself this moment to look his fill because he is sure it will be his last. Once he Sheppard realizes that he is going to be okay, surely he will back off. After all, there's little chance that Dr. Payne is still going to be trying to insinuate imself into his life after this accident. So, there will no longer be any reason for this charade.

"Rodney!" Carson's desperate stage whisper of his name causes him to wince, causes his breath to cease momentarily as he tries to cast a sidelong look at his best friend. He can breathe easy once he realizes that Sheppard hasn't been woken by the intrusion. "Don't worry about him, lad. I had to administer him a little sedative to finally make him sleep. He'll not likely wake up for anything less than an emergency." There is such a note of regret in Carson's voice, that Rodney chooses to hold his tongue rather than rail against the voodoo practitioner for administering something like that to the Military Commander of Atlantis.

"Damn it, Carson, why would you do something like that!? That is mornonic, even for a -medical- doctor! If an emergency pops up, John will be useless! Even if he wakes up, you know how he is with crap like this in his system. He'd be sluggish and ridiculous. How stupid can you be!?" He has to force the rusted chords of his voice into his own version of a stage whisper, even though he longs to be able to scream at his friend. To berate Carson for doing something that Sheppard would be so utterly against. "And you cannot tell me, even for a -second-, that Sheppard agreed to this. That he was -okay- with you drugging him, because I will know it for the lie it is!" He is seething. Stewing in emotions run thin from too little use in ... however long he's been here. He dreads the answer to that question.

"Damn it, Rodney! You know I would never do something to hurt the Colonel! It was for his own bloody good. He hasn't been taken care of himself, lad. Not since you were hurt. He barely eats, doesn't sleep until his body forcefully shuts itself down. And spends all of his free time -here-." Oh wow. Okay, so he has felt guilt before. More so since coming to Atlantis, it seems, but the point is that he is no foriegner to the feeling. But this time, it feels as if his blood has been replaced by the feeling and it is being pumped throughout his whole body.

Because this is his fault. Sheppard has allowed himself to go to pot because of his worry over Rodney.

"... I'm sorry, Carson." He can feel exhaustion welling up inside, and he wants to laugh. High and bitter. He's been 'asleep' for god knows how long and it seems his body wishes to return to that state. If he passes out .. will he wake with ease again?? "It's my fault he's in here, but once I'm alright, he will no longer have reason to worry. Once I am out of here, things can go back to the way they were, and I will no longer be John's problem." And there is the crux of the matter. Once he is out of here, there will be no reason for John to crowd into his space, hold his wrist or hand, or pretend to be into him anymore.

"Eh now, Rodney. I don't think that's how it works. I doubt the Colonel considers you a -problem-. And it is only natural that he would be so worried about you. You were in a coma for a month and were scheduled for return to Earth before your wounds reappeared. And it's been almost a week since your last surgery to correct it." Oh god. They were going to send him back to Earth!? How in the -hell- had Sheppard agreed to that? Or had Elizabeth gone over his head? Had they been happy to finally get rid of him?

The sound of a soft, gentle snuffle against his shoulder reminds him that John is currently curled up in bed, sleeping against him. So that most -definitely- rules out the notion that the Colonel had been happy to get rid of him. If anything, it seems the military man is -clinging- to him at the moment. Strange. He is usually far more uncomfortable in situations like this, because he rarely knows how to respond. Instead, he finds himself surprisingly relaxed. He even goes so far as to carefully turn and slip his arm around Sheppard. Again, if this is the only chance he's going to have to do this, he wants to make the best of it.

"Trust me, Carson .. you don't actually understand the situation. No one does. I'm not even sure John and I fully understand." He can feel the hot prickle of tears against his eyes and he closes them quickly to try and keep the damn things at bay. It's bad enough that he's laid up, pathetically clinging to his best friend, he will not weep like a child on top of it all. "Carson .... John and I aren't together, despite what everyone thinks. And, well, despite the fiction we may have allowed to circulate." He sucks in a breath, his eyes finally opening, though he is scared to look at the face of his friend. He is sure he will see pity and disgust there. Instead, once he manages to force himself to glance, he is met with confusion.

"There's no reason for this now, Rodney. Everyone knows that you and the Colonel are -finally- being honest, and we're all so very proud of you two. Not to mention -happy-, lad. I'll not be surprised if there isn't a wee bit of a celebration once you're up to it." Oh god. Oh fuck! NO!! Their -friends- are going to throw them a -party- to celebrate their very -fake- relationship!? Goddamnit, even if they were in a -real- relationship, neither of them would likely be able to handle a party like that, but add in the fact that there is nothing actually happening between them and this is likely to be the most embarassing situation -ever-.

"You're not -listening- to me, Carson! I am -telling- you, straight from my own fucking MOUTH, that John and I are -not- together!" He manages to scream without lifting his voice beyond a whisper. "We've -never- been together, okay? This was all .. a big mistake." He can feel the sharp edge of hysteria creeping up on his nerves and he wishes that he could just .. sink back into the darkness. How fucked up has his life become, that he wishes he would cease again? Slip back into a coma?? "Sheppard .. the Colonel and I .." A soft, hysterical sound escapes and he is forced to swallow it down before he can continue. "Dr. Payne was harassing me, Rodney. Sheppard heard him basiclly say that I would come crawling into his bed sooner or later, and as you can imagine ... John didn't take that too well. Hell, even Lorne and Ronon have heard the bastard talking badly about me. I'm really surprised Ronon didn't pull his gun on the man. Anyway .. focus .. yes. John suggested that I get a friend to pretend to date me to make Liam back off, and ended up volunteering to do it. So, we let everyone think we were together, hoping that Liam would back off. It worked for a little while." He presses his free hand to his mouth, gnaws at his own palm as a form of distraction. "Now that Liam is gone ... well, there's no reason for us to continue this charade .. no reason for a -party- either, okay?"

Once he can focus again, can look at his friend, he sees the look of sheer horror on Carson, though it is still mixed with confusion as well.

"I .. but ... are you -serious-!? We all thought .. well, we all thought you two had been together for a while now. That you were finally comfortable enough to let us all know. Though, you had to know we would never judge you. We were all just so glad that you two seemed so happy." Carson bites at his bottom lip, gaze drifting from Rodney to Sheppard and then back again. He can feel his heart thudding heavily, causing him to tense in surprise when the steady beat of his monitor blips in reprimand. "You're not having one over, yeah? You two .. you aren't ..." Huh. Considering -he- is the one that is having to deal with a broken heart, it is Carson that seems utterly wrecked by the news that the relationship is fake. He is so overcome that he sinks into the chair next to the bed. (Must be where Sheppard has been sitting vigil.)

"I'm sorry, Carson. It was stupid of us to do .. we weren't trying to hurt anyone. Though, I guess we did ... our friends ... myself." The final word is a whimper from his lips, and Carson surprises him by popping up off the chair like a Jack-in-the-Box, hovering at the edge of the bed in concern.

"What do you mean yourself?" Of course he would catch that little slip, wouldn't he? When you want to get one by him, he suddenly becomes a bloodhound.

"Exactly what the words would suggest I mean, Carson. I mean that I hurt -myself- with all of this." He is overcome with a sudden, allconsuming desire to be as far away from Sheppard as he can be. He is regretting pulling the other man closer into his side. The heat has become stifling. "I just .. I'm so fucking stupid. I messed up so badly." The words are almost drowned out by the swelling emotion lodged in his throat. "I want this to be -real-, Carson, and it isn't. I'm going to get out of here and John and I will go back to being best friends that quip and sass and never move beyond this odd little limbo we've been stuck in. I could've lived with that friendship until experiencing more. And now .. now, every moment around him is going to be hell." His voice cracks on hell, soars to a high-pitched half giggle that causes Carson to wince in sympathy. It also spurs Rodney into action. He carefully pries himself away from Sheppard, forcing himself to sit up on the side of the bed.

"Rodney! You're not goin' anywhere, lad. You're nowhere near ready to be getting out of that bloody bed, so don't even try. If you do, I will have you sedative faster than you can say puddle jumper."

"Puddle jumper." Sheppard's tired voice echoes from somewhere behind him, and Rodney releases another hysterical giggle. Because of -course- the Colonel would hear the words puddle jumper and wake right the hell up!

"Freakin' Pavlovian." He mutters the words before he can stop himself and their effect is instantaneous. Sheppard shoots upward, so that he's hovering on his hands and knees, his face almost pushed against Rodney's shoulder blades. The scientist can almost picture the blurry-eyed look of confusion he's probably wearing and go figure, it probably looks sexy and pouty as all hell, because of course it would.

"Rodney!?!" John's voice resonates a bone-deep, aching hope and Rodney is left breathless and confused. Unsure. There is no amount of genius that can explain this situation to him. That can help him understand why John has pressed a cheek against his scrub-covered back .. oh, right. Because he probably thinks they still need to pretend. They'll probably have to do some kind of fake break up before they stop acting like a couple. Of course. That makes perfect sense. "Rodney ... please .. not another dream ..." There's a hint of hysteria in John's words, though they are muffled and somewhat drowned out by the fact that ... okay .... that John is rubbing his cheek frantically across Rodney's back. It reminds him of a video he watched once, when he was a teenager. How wolves and such creatures scent mark each other.

How the hell is he supposed to respond to this!? To Sheppard -begging- for something that doesn't even -begin- to make sense to the scientist?

"Sheppard." He manages to keep his voice from quivering and giving away the mountain of emotions colescing inside of him. Manages to find that perfect balance between professional and best friend that he has maintained since their arrival in the Pegasus Galaxy.

"You're .. you're really .. you're awake." The Colonel's voice is still muffled, though he has stopped rubbing his cheek against Rodney's beck. Instead, he has turned his head just a fraction .. just enough for the dry pattern of his lips to drag roughly against the scrub top before pressing against his clothed back. "I didn't .. I mean .." He's fumbling. His words are expressing thoughts so jumbled it's a wonder anything is coming out of his mouth and for some reason, it really hurts Rodney. Maybe because he has only ever seen Sheppard at a loss for words when there was something painful or too much to handle going on. Is that what he is, now that Dr. Payne probably isn't going to be pushy anymore? Too much for Sheppard to handle?

"Sheppard. It's o--"

"Stop doing that. Please." Sheppard breaks into Rodney's words, pleading even as his lips press harder against the broad expanse of the scientist's back. Rodney sucks in a dry breath and almost coughs, but holds it back. He's afraid of dislodging Sheppard. "Stop calling me Sheppard, Rodney. You should .. you know .. call me John again." He can feel the hot moisture of every word breathed against his scrub top, despite the cloth being in the way and it makes him feel fevered and untethered. As if he's floating away in a sea of .. something ... that he cannot comprehend. It feels amazing.

John .. when had he called him -John-!? He specifically makes sure he never uses the Colonel's first name, because doing so would blur lines that are already too fuzzy to be safe. Oh god! He remebers .. "I .. so sorry .... so long, John." He had mirrored the words the bastard used when he ran off to try and sacrifice his life by riding a nuke into a Hive Ship. He will never be able to fully forgive his friend for leaving him there, staring at that wicked dot flying headlong into certain death while he was helpless to do anything.

"I .. I'm not sure .." He cannot articulate. Cannot make his own thoughts known, because he still isn't sure what they are! He is a man of intellect, of -thought- and they are betraying him. "Carson says I've been out for a month and a week, give or take a few days .." He's not sure why he's pointing this out, since of -course- John must already know the length of his stay. Especially if he's been haunting the infirmary.

"One month, 5 days .... 14 hours and .... 21 minutes." He assumes the pause in time is Sheppard glancing at his watch and it robs Rodney of breath. The man had it down to the -minute-!? That .. is more than just a friend thing, isn't it? But, maybe not. He'll never be the best judge of the boundary between friendship and more which will always leave him at a disadvantage.

"You .. wow." He chokes on his words, feeling the pressure of Sheppard's lips increasing against his back and that ... feels strangely like a -kiss-, but there's just no way in hell that can be true. Right? Sheppard wouldn't kiss him .. and yet ... he has some vague memory of Sheppard kissing him and saying goodbye.

He immediately chalks that up to coma dreams, because the alternative is everything he could possibly want right now and the likelihood of that actually happening is so exponentially small as to be heartbreaking. Every single example of patterns in his life, suggests that he will never get what he wants. Sure, he can try and try again, but it never happens. He pines, he hopes, he prays, he fails and then moves on as best he can. So of course Sheppard isn't kissing him now and didn't kiss him when he was in the coma.

"Sheppard .." He flinches at his use of the Colonel's last name, especially after the man's request, and quickly amends it. "John. I need to rest. I think you should go do the same." He finally manages to make himself move. Forces his head to twist so that he can look over his shoulder.

He is in no way prepared for the raw, vulnerable emotions playing across the face of his best friend. Hope .. fear ... elation .. anger ... so much -fear-. He is left wondering what Sheppard is scared of. That Rodney will relapse again? Maybe that his reputation is now ruined because of this stupid thing they tried to pull? Maybe he's afraid that Rodney will push him away now?

Too many questions and nowhere -near- enough data to postulate anything.

"Why .. I mean, can't ... can't I stay here?" If he weren't already conflicted, this would have made him so. Despite the fact that he is asking a question, it sounds more like Sheppard is -begging- and that is NOT something he has EVER heard before. Even when on his knees in front of a Wraith Queen, John Sheppard would never beg. So why the hell is he doing it now!?

"John ..." Rodney snaps his eyes closed, but not before he sees it. The puppy dog eyes of doom. It's this thing the Colonel does where his brows draw together and tip downward. Where his naturally guarded eyes seem to shrink and soften all at the same time. For some reason, the puppy dog eyes of doom also make Sheppard's elfin ears look longer and more mythical. He has no idea how. ".. if I say no, you're going to wait until Carson is busy and I'm asleep to sneak right back in here, aren't you?" Once his eyes are open, he tries to look sternly at his friend and must achieve at least a little of that look, because Sheppard ducks his head almost shyly and just .. nods. As simple as that. He doesn't fight it .. doesn't try and pretend he won't do exactly that or come back with a sassy remark. He just nods shyly and Rodney wants to kiss him. Wants to wrap him in his arms, drag him close and kiss each of his lightly blushing cheeks.

"You know me too well, babe." Sheppard slowly lifts his head until he is no longer ducking, though his cheeks are still flamed red with his embarassment. It's far too cute on the Colonel, though that is not Rodney's primary thought. He allows his own gaze to skate away, so that he is taking in the infirmary at large. Carson is still standing there, a look half between amusement and sadness softening his open features and he must remind himself that Sheppard doesn't know Carson is aware of the truth. That the doctor knows thier supposed relationship is fraudulent.

He would give anything for that not to be true. He ... god, he would even give up ATLANTIS if it meant he could have John as more than just his best friend. Maybe it's a good thing that the Colonel isn't aware of the true depths of his feelings.

"Of course I do, John. you're my best friend." He manages a wane smile before he turns to look at the doctor again. "I'm sure it will be alright for tonight, yes? At least he will actually sleep if he's here where I can glare him into submission." These words result in Sheppard letting out one of those genuine laughs, the sort of breathy inhale/exhale combo that sets Rodney's blood to boiling in the best of ways because Sheppard lmost -never- laughs for real.

"Aye, you may be right there, Rodney. Fine. You can sleep here tonight, Colonel, but this is a one time thing, lad. You have been neglecting yourself too long. I expect you to talk some sense into him, Rodney. If anyone can, it'll be you."

"Oh, please. Even -I- can only pull off the impossble so many times, Carson." This bit of sassy quip is rewarded with the light smack of a pillow across his shoulders, Sheppard muttering indistinctly. Not that it matters. All that matters, in fact, is that Carson is smiling indulgantly at them, and Sheppard's muttering is soft and lighthearted. Rodney has a feeling that for the first time in a month, the two men are happy, and that makes him feel warm and content.

"Bit me, babe." Sheppard's voice is nearly hoarse when he says this, and it takes far longer than he is willing admit for him to realize that the Colonel is on the verge of tears. Rodney shoots Carson a threatening look and is glad to see the doctor immediately turn tail and slip from the area. Leaving Rodney to turn and settle back onto the bed. He instantly draws Sheppard back down and into him, so that the Colonel is once again stretched across the length of his side. This time, however, he carefully guides the man's cheek until it's resting on his chest, cheek pressed against the steady beat of his heart.

"It's okay, John. I'm right here .. I'm not going anywhere."

"But you did! You -did- go somewhere, Rodney, and you left me alone for over a fucking -MONTH-!" The words stab and pierce. Leave the scientist feeling emotionally drained and he's not even the one flinging the barbed verbal projectiles about. "I can't do that again, buddy. I just .. I -can't-." Each word is an expulsion of air across his chest, ghosting against his neck and he knows that he is trembling. He's 72% certain that is not due to some sense of tickling air.

"I'm sorry, Sheppard. You know ... you -have- to know that I would -never- do that." His arms tighten around his best friend. "I would -never- volunteer to leave you, John. You have to know that, because it should be so damn obvious by now. You're my best friend .. the closest I've -ever- been to someone and I don't ever want to lose you or leave you, okay?" He's babbling. Nothing new there. The fact that he is spewing truths he never wished to give voice to, however, is -definitely- new. For all that he speaks, for all of the personal bits of backstory he lets slip as if they do not matter, he -never- speaks on anything that he does not wish to. If there is something he wishes to hold close to the vest, very little will force it from him.

Until now, apparently. Because he has already said too much, even if he hasn't managed to spill any of his most unfortunate secrets where the man curled into him is concerned.

"You have to mean it, Rodney. Do you understand that? You -have- to mean it, because this is too important. Too .. much. Just too everything, okay? So you have to mean it." The repetition of mean it stirs something fierce and primal inside of Rodney. It spurs him to do something he has never been good at doing; making the first move.

His free hand reaches out, easily clasping Sheppard's cheek and forcing him to pull it from his chest.

"I mean it, John. I do not -ever- want to lose you or -leave- you, do you understand me?" And then he's leaning forward. Gently pressing a delicate, if not shaky kiss to the curve of Sheppard's mouth and it tastes sweeter than any powerbar, more substantial than any meal he's ever eaten. It slakes something inside of him and fills him with such contentment that it -scares- him.

"R-Rodney .." Sheppard's voice is quivering and wrecked before he is pressing eagerly forward, into the kiss. Rodney can feel a strong hand scrabbling to fist the material of his scrubs at his side, and he is pulled impossibly close to his Colonel. "I understand so much now, babe. So fucking -much-." More eager, desperate kisses and Rodney is forgetting how to breathe. Forgetting how to utilize higher brain function but he is also beginning to droop. His shoulders are sagging, his eyes almost refusing to open.

"J-John." He manages to gasp, before forcefully pulling his mouth from the warm sanctuary of John's. "We have time now. But I .. I need to sleep." He smiles regretfully before he gently lays his head back on his pillow. Watches in amusement as Sheppard's cheeks flame apple red in embarassment. "You'll be here when I wake up?" He croaks the question, even as he begins to sink into sleep.

"Always, babe. Always." With a soft, happy sigh, he falls asleep.

Life in the Pegasus Galaxy will always be dangerous and unpredictable. But this? This makes up for all of it. Neither of them will -ever- face it alone, not any more.