The new guy showed up on his first day in a perfectly tailored black sport coat and a glowing white dress shirt, top button open, collar loose. Like all anchors, he possessed impossible good looks, whiter than white teeth, and an infuriating air of unearned superiority.
"Well, look who thinks he's the sexiest person at The Weather Station," said Rodney, glaring into the studio from the control room.
Zelenka looked up from reviewing the next set of maps. "You are not talking to your reflection in the glass again I hope," he said. "You promised you would stop doing that."
"Get a load of this guy," Rodney answered, gesturing.
"Hmph. The stylists will make him put on a tie," said Zelenka, "and glue down his hair."
They didn't, though. The new guy went on the air tieless with his 'do high and spiky. "Today's forecast," he said, "calls for another warm, wet day on the West Coast, cooler than normal temperatures throughout the Southwest and Central states, with some low temperatures and rain in the Northeast.
"The Midwest will be sunny with high winds, so get out those kites!" he concluded brightly. He had a horrible nasal voice, and the way he read the lines made everything sound ironic.
People didn't tune in for ironic weather. They wanted accurate forecasts they could trust, from sober-looking people wearing suits, not sport coats, even exceptionally well-fitted sport coats that made the most of a broad-shouldered, slim-hipped silhouette. Damn it.
"And now, with our detailed five-day forecast," the new guy smirked - smirked! - "senior meteorologist Rodney McKay."
Manfully putting his rage aside, Rodney stepped to stage right of the green screen and began, "A strong low pressure system moving in over the West Coast is going to keep the rain coming throughout the week. This system will continue picking up moisture from the Pacific Ocean, and spread scattered showers over northern California and the Pacific Northwest..."
The next day it was even worse. The new guy turned up in a black turtleneck. The hair still poked up tall and proud in the back. He didn't even look as if he'd shaved.
"There's no way they'll let him go on like that, is there?" Rodney beseeched. "He looks like the Before in a Gillette commercial."
"Impossible to be sure," said Zelenka. "After yesterday? Everything I thought I knew is a lie."
By purest happenstance, Rodney wound up in the next makeup chair over when the new guy came in to get ready.
"Oh my," Katie told the new guy. "That's a very good look on you."
"Thank you," said the new guy smugly, just as if he knew Katie had never favored Rodney with such a dazzled tone for the entire year they dated. "What do you think, good to go on like this?"
"Let me see," Laura barged in. "Hm. Okay, I think if we tidy up the neck and give it a little polish, yeah, it should be fine. Amelia! Razor please!"
"Hmh. Funny, I never get barbering service in here," Rodney noted with cool objectivity. "Not that I trust any of you with sharp objects near my face."
"Stop wiggling your head," said Parrish, "I'm trying to style your hair."
"What's left of it," said Laura in passing. "Let the man concentrate, McKay! Making you look less bald takes work!"
Rodney opened his mouth to say something savagely cutting, but the new guy butted in with a cheerful, "Hey, it's all testosterone, right?"
Katie gave a highly inappropriate giggle.
"Am I done?" Rodney bit out, and Parrish quickly lifted his comb and backed away.
Rodney marched into Elizabeth's office and waited out the end of her phone conference with ill grace. She finally hung up and looked at him expectantly.
"Is there any particular reason our new noon-to-four anchor's allowed on the air looking like surfer Eurotrash?"
One exquisitely manicured brow arched up. "Insults based on nationality, Rodney? Are you really that eager to go back for more sensitivity training?"
"It would only be a slur if he were actually European. Wouldn't it?" Rodney paused. "Okay, maybe I misspoke. Let me amend the question. Is there any particular reason our new noon-to-four anchor's allowed on the air looking like an upscale hustler?"
"There's a sexual harassment seminar coming up in three weeks," said Elizabeth. "I'll just put your name down for a spot now."
"Fine, I take that back too! They're letting the new guy go on all unshaven and -" Rodney flailed for a word that wasn't a synonym for hot. "Sloppy," he concluded. "Did you see him yesterday? And today he's even worse! Has anyone informed this guy that he's appearing on national television?"
"As a matter of fact, it's an initiative from the network," Elizabeth said. "They're experimenting with styling the midday anchors to look a little more casual. It's supposed to make them more accessible."
"Oh, he definitely looks accessible," Rodney said grimly. Off her glare, he squawked, "What?! You can't get me on that one, it's your word. How did we get stuck with this joker, anyway? He can barely get through an intro without snickering."
"Until recently he was a weathercopter pilot," Elizabeth said.
"How the hell did he end up on camera? I thought he was just bad, not totally unqualified!"
"I wouldn't accept an anchor who wasn't qualified," Elizabeth said, a tad sharply. "Sheppard has a master's in aviation meteorology, and before he came to the network he racked up experience doing standups for local markets in NoCal. His reel is solid, and he's been on camera for us before."
" - Fine," said Rodney, "so how did this polymath end up here?"
"He was doing a flyover with Teyla during Hurricane Ike when it made landfall on Galveston Island. They saw some evacuees in the path of the storm, and he put down and airlifted them to the high school. While they were there the storm hit, too heavy to risk going up again."
"He stranded our number one reporter during a major hurricane and got promoted?"
"They wanted to fire him," Elizabeth said. "Not just for grounding Teyla. The helicopter took some damage. But Teyla did a live remote from the evac site and Ronon got footage of Mr. Sheppard carrying children to their families. It would be a little impolitic to boot him after that. She and Ronon recorded some look-lives on the spot, and she had John do a couple of standups. It all aired and it tested well. The camera loves him."
"The microphone doesn't," Rodney grumbled.
"We've tried to convince him to take voice training. He's a little resistant. He seems to think if he does this anchor stint to fill in while Vala's on maternity leave, he'll get his pilot job back."
"Great," said Rodney. "The apotheosis of my career to date, and he's doing it as detention. It never occurred to anyone that I might step in for Vala, not when there are disgraced pilots who could fill her spot. What kind of circus are we running here? Hundreds of talented reporters and meteorologists would kill for that position, why does this clown get it when he doesn't even want it?"
Elizabeth hesitated. "I may as well be frank with you..."
"The fact is, Mr. Sheppard comes from a very influential family. They're major shareholders, and his father's served on our board."
"Oh, of course he has. Jesus."
"As I understand it," Elizabeth chose her words carefully, "the senior Sheppard was never very enthusiastic about John's decision to work for us as a pilot. When he was suspended from flying, his father strongly suggested that an on-air position would be a little more... appropriate." She placed her hands deliberately on her desk. "I would have fought it if he didn't have the skills. But he is a good meteorologist and a capable reporter."
"This building is full of very good meteorologists and outstanding reporters."
"I'm well aware." Elizabeth's shoulders settled, and he could see, suddenly, how tired she was. "It's only temporary. And John isn't particularly happy about it either. He considered resigning, but Teyla asked him to stay. She's making waves to get him back in the weathercopter; she says he's the only pilot she trusts to get her close enough to the action on big stories."
"So he fails up into an anchor position and takes a job from more qualified candidates thanks to a rich father on one side, and our star reporter on the other. Plus the inevitable bias in his favor because he's good-looking. But I'm supposed to feel sorry for him because he's not happy about it."
Elizabeth seemed to give up. "I'm not asking you to feel anything. It is what it is, Rodney. Vala's only going to be out for a few weeks. Let's just... do the work and get through it."
"And if I ever get a chance to move up into an anchor position, I'd just better hope that no other prodigal sons fall out of the sky and knock me back down the ladder. That's just unspeakably fantastic. Thank you," and he stomped out, hating the new guy even more.
After stewing for much of the weekend, on Monday Rodney wore cargo shorts and his "Solid, Liquid, Gas: They All Matter" t-shirt to the studio.
Elizabeth came to his office and regarded him with cautious humor. "Something you wanted to communicate?"
"Just getting into the spirit of the new initiative," said Rodney, scratching his stubbly jaw; he hadn't shaved, either.
"Rodney, if you honestly want to participate, we can try a more casual look for you too," said Elizabeth. "Maybe one of those blue zip-collar shirts of yours? Those are flattering on you."
"Really?" Rodney grimaced at his own surprised tone. "But. No. Thank you, I think this ensemble fits best with the current mandate for a more casual style on the air."
"All right. Have your fun. You have two hours to change," Elizabeth ordered, and left.
Rodney held his head high as he went to the cafeteria. After all, he was making a point.
"Nice calves," said the new guy, appearing seemingly from nowhere; Rodney jumped.
"I - what?"
"Calves," the new guy repeated. "Lookin' good. Like the shirt, too." He wore a charcoal sport coat over a white dress shirt with pink pin-stripes, unbuttoned to reveal a warm curve of throat and a suggestion of dark chest hair. Utterly unprofessional.
Yet despite the objectionable informality, he still looked... put-together. Next to him Rodney might as well be in a stained bathrobe.
Suddenly he felt silly. Rodney gnarred in wordless annoyance, waving the guy off.
It didn't work. "They told me you wouldn't remember my name, so... hi, I'm John Sheppard," the guy said, with a fake little wave.
"Who told you that?"
"Crew," Sheppard answered. "Said it usually takes you a while before names stick."
"I don't take any special pains to learn the names of shameless gossips, true," Rodney raised his voice as he passed the table where Zelenka and Grodin were sitting. They feigned confusion, the traitors.
Sheppard chuckled, and followed Rodney through the a la carte line... and then to the empty table Rodney staked out, sitting across from him.
"Uh, hello?" Rodney said.
Sheppard glanced up. "John Sheppard."
"I didn't forget!" Rodney protested indignantly. "I meant, hello, you're sitting here because...?"
"Because why not?" Sheppard asked.
Oh, right. Sheppard didn't know that Rodney kind of hated him and his nepotism and his smirky mouth and the horrible, nasal, ironic way he read his lines off the teleprompter.
"Because," Rodney examined Sheppard's tray, "because, you have a lemon wedge on your salad. I'm extremely allergic to citrus, you can't eat that around me."
Sheppard said, "Huh. Okay," unfolded a napkin, put it on top of the salad and lifted off the lemon wedge and the top pieces of lettuce. He wrapped it in another napkin and slid the whole thing arm's length down the table. "Good enough?"
"...Fine." Rodney forked up some of the chipotle roast chicken, resolving to ignore the man.
"So what's your favorite weather joke?" Sheppard asked after a few bites of salad.
"I don't have one," Rodney answered forbiddingly.
"Can't decide, huh?"
"I can't think of a single weather joke I care for, if you must know."
Sheppard smiled easily. "I must know. C'mon, we've all heard a million of 'em. Not even one's ever made you laugh?"
"I didn't make meteorology my life's study because I found it comical," said Rodney, with, he thought, an appropriate amount of dignity.
"Maybe you just haven't heard the good ones," said Sheppard. "How about, hmm... what's the difference between weather and climate?"
In the most disgruntled tone he could summon, Rodney said, "You can't weather a tree, but you can climate."
"Okay, you heard that one," said Sheppard gamely. "It's a start."
Rodney shaved and changed into his suit and tie directly after lunch. Once again presentable, and much less self-conscious, he delved into his latest simulation.
He was re-running the low pressure system moving toward the Rockies when his phone rang.
"Dr. Rodney McKay speaking."
"Dr. Malcolm Tunney calling," Malcolm aped his tone. "How are you, Rodney? All pretty for the cameras?"
"I'm ready to go on the air, yes. And you, are you ready to... what is it you do again?"
"Oh, we're not up to much. Just providing all your data, and improving the models to process it." That smug National Weather Service bureaucrat. He was probably too busy jockeying for a bigger office to wet his finger and stick it in the wind, let alone turn out a forecast.
"Ha!" Rodney fished a pencil out of the drawer for the sole purpose of twirling it cavalierly. "You know perfectly well that I use my own much more fruitful forecast models."
"Fruitful, right. Are you still wasting CPU cycles using finite-difference methods for your global models in every dimension?" asked Malcolm. "Maybe after the Jesus Jones concert you can snap a few glowsticks and go to a rave."
"As a matter of fact," Rodney said, "I'm working on a diverse new set of forecast models and the accuracy on both a macro and a micro scale is so far beyond anything you've ever seen, it'll blow your tiny, tiny mind."
"Let me guess. Your models produce slightly higher accuracy rates overall, but huge deviations when they're off. And the more local the forecast, the greater the deviation."
""My forecasts are more accurate by a statistically significant difference, globally and locally," Rodney protested.
And all right, yes, when his advanced forecast models were wrong, they did yield huge deviations. In fact, his bleeding edge work tended to produce good results just often enough to convince him he'd finally hammered out the problems, only to randomly project a major storm on a still and cloudless day.
They were otherwise so excellent, so nearly superior to everything else in the field, that Rodney could almost taste victory (which he imagined as the flavor of scotch liqueur-filled chocolates.)
He'd developed a software program using his more conservative forecast models, techniques and algorithms, software that yielded a measurable improvement in accuracy over anything else in use at The Weather Station and even outpaced the NWS.
But his advanced work was the result of new approaches to the primitive equations. That was the kind of work he could submit for peer review and publication... if it didn't very occasionally burp out a hurricane forecast where other models, and reality, showed only a minor ocean squall.
Malcolm had seen enough of his work and knew enough of the way Rodney thought to guess all of it. "You know what it'd take to eliminate those deviations. You'd have to solve Navier-Stokes, at least the vector velocity and scalar pressure field variables."
"Not that you're right about that," and he wasn't - that was rank exaggeration - "but if that were necessary, I'm sure I could accomplish it in good time."
Malcolm laughed. "McKay, you're too much. You really think you're going to win a Millennium Prize puttering around in your downtime from waving your arms in front of a green screen?"
Rodney spun the pencil over his knuckles. "Why not? I accomplish more in my downtime than most people do, oh, ever."
"Keep telling yourself that. Someday you'll have to admit you decided you'd rather see your face on TV than do real science. You could've come to NWS, or NOAA, even stayed at the university... maybe then you could have contributed something. In front of those cameras, you might as well be an empty suit."
"That's such crap! I'm still doing the same work I was doing between teaching classes, which took up just as much of my time." And which he'd hated so much more. "I'm in spitting distance of a breakthrough. And even the more conservative work I used to develop my modeling software gets overall better results than the NWS. Tune in for my forecasts, maybe you'll learn something."
"Well, gosh, Rodney, I turn on The Weather Station every night when I get home from work to look for you, but you never seem to be on during prime time."
Rodney scowled. "If only NWS had computers powerful enough to handle streaming video, you could check our website and watch me on your lunch break, along with four hundred thousand other viewers."
"But I still might blink and miss you," said Malcolm sweetly. "After all, they usually keep the camera on the guy behind the desk."
Rodney stuck the pencil in his uselessly expensive sharpener and let it whir, grinding away a third of the length. It didn't help. If he destroyed enough stuff to relieve his apoplexy, he'd have to tear down half the building.
Ever since they met in undergrad, he and Malcolm had been competitive. They were both precocious and ambitious, admitted to college early and already smarter than, well, everyone.
It was even slightly possible that Malcolm had something to do with Rodney's decision to leave academia for The Weather Station.
Not that he would ever make such a momentous choice based on Malcolm's childish taunts that only wimps and washouts settled for the ivory tower. But he couldn't deny that he'd been sick of hearing about Malcolm's promotions while glumly contemplating his own prospects for tenure.
"Was there something I could help you with?" Rodney asked. "Let me rephrase. I know there's... everything I could help you with, but what are you specifically calling about today?"
"I thought I'd see if you've heard any rumors about the climate conference."
"Nothing I believe," said Rodney. He hadn't really been paying attention, though. He already knew he wouldn't be speaking this time, so there couldn't be much of anything worthwhile going on.
"But you'll be there."
Ah. So this was essentially a long-term booty call. That was another facet of their longstanding rivalry: in the course of trying to outdo each other in labs and offices and conventions over the years, they kept falling into bed together.
"I don't know yet. That's months away."
"So: no, then," Malcolm smarmed.
"I didn't say that." In a moment of inspiration Rodney added, "I'm working very closely with our new anchor. He may not look too bright, but he has quite a way with a handoff."
"Please don't use TV jargon as innuendo. It's so déclassé. Wait, are you talking about that new guy, the guy with the hair? Like that's going to last til the conference. Even if I didn't know your terrible track record, that guy's way too hot for you."
"Of course, because I'm only presentable enough for national television."
"You and Willard Scott."
Rodney chose to ignore that, since he didn't have a ready retort. "It's funny; for someone who doesn't watch my show, you seem to be quite up to date with it. Sheppard's only been on the air with us for a few days."
A pause; Malcolm said grudgingly, "I... check in occasionally. For work."
"RIght." Before Malcolm had a chance to regroup, Rodney ended the call with, "I'm due on set. Enjoy the show."
"Rodney. Glad to see you reconsidered your wardrobe choices," said Elizabeth.
"Did you come down just to check on me?" Rodney asked suspiciously.
"I was just going over the top of the hour stories with John." She handed Rodney a sheaf of script pages. "He'll have some questions for you when he covers the flash floods along the Mississippi. I made a few notes for you."
"Hardly necessary," he sniffed. She lifted an eyebrow and Rodney added, "But. Thank you."
"You're welcome." She hastened away as the cameras repositioned. In the control room, Zelenka practically pressed his nose to the glass to watch her go.
Sheppard brushed past, his own set of papers in hand, and paused. "So Rodney... how come it never rains inside a barn?"
"Because it's a stable atmosphere," Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Just wait. I'll think of one you haven't heard."
"Please don't bother."
"It's no bother," Sheppard flashed a camera-ready grin.
"I meant," said Rodney, "please don't bother me."
The first three hours went smoothly. Per the script, at the top of each hour, Sheppard turned toward Rodney and cued him to talk about the flash flooding. Rodney was even able to point out, twice, that he had been among the few to correctly forecast the freak rain showers that precipitated, ha ha, the floods.
"Should our viewers in the region brace themselves for more rain?" Sheppard asked.
"No, John, this afternoon the storms will be swept out by a high pressure system," Rodney indicated the map, sketching it out with a few quick gestures, and then returned his attention to Sheppard. "The upper Midwest will see some unusually low temperatures tonight and tomorrow, but the skies will be clear. And downriver, the next few days will be sunny and warm."
"High waters, sunny days... sounds like a good time to go water skiing."
That wasn't in the script; Rodney said, "Water skiing? On the Mississippi?"
"Absolutely. That's where water skiing was invented," said Sheppard. "Lake City, Minnesota."
"Are you sure you're not thinking of ice fishing?"
Sheppard chuckled. "I have a feeling we'll be hearing from a few Minnesotans about that..."
"I'm Canadian, so I've heard worse, and much more often, too. Our US viewers might like to note that contrary to popular belief, it doesn't actually snow constantly in Canada. If Minnesotans would like to compare weather misconceptions, they're welcome to contact me via The Weather Station website."
"That's www dot theweatherstation dot com," Sheppard recited. "Just click on Personalities and look for Rodney McKay. Let him have it, Minnesota. We'll be back after this."
During the commercial, Sheppard swiveled his chair to face Rodney more fully. "You're really on today."
"I'm always on," said Rodney, but privately he had to admit that he had a bit of an extra charge today. Maybe it was the idea of Malcolm out there watching.
And grudgingly Rodney had to concede, if only to himself, that aside from the air of sarcasm, which only Rodney seemed bothered by, Sheppard was adept and professional behind the desk.
If Sheppard had worked toward the anchor job, he probably would have earned it. It was still galling that it'd been dropped into his lap, but at least it was a competent lap. So to speak.
Normally Rodney disliked the simulated chit-chat between anchor and forecaster - it exhausted him to keep the banter sufficiently bland and unobjectionable - but with Sheppard it all seemed to go smoothly, even playfully. He even mostly forgot that he resented Sheppard.
That was, until the top of the fourth hour, when they covered the flash floods again. Rodney wrapped his description of the freak rain showers that caused the flooding with, "It came down long, hard and fast."
Sheppard smirked so hard his lips almost disappeared, looking like he might die trying not to crack wise. He tipped a sardonic look toward the camera and paused for a beat before the outro.
Rodney found himself wildly offended on behalf of the weather. On the break, he demanded, "Do you think you could restrain your colossal immaturity for as long as it takes to finish this broadcast?"
"Maybe," said Sheppard, still looking much too amused.
But Sheppard somehow still didn't get the memo (Re: Rodney hates you.) In the cafeteria the next day he plunked down across from Rodney again with, "What's the forecast for Texas?"
"Temperatures on the high end of historic averages, partly cloudy over Austin and San Antonio," said Rodney automatically.
"Nah," said Sheppard. "Chili today, hot tamale."
Rodney glared at him, but Sheppard just dug into his turkey sandwich, still smiling.
Rodney headed to his office to get in some work on his advanced forecast models before air. He might be on the right track or he might not, but he felt he'd taken his more conservative approach as far as it could go.
He'd packaged those techniques and algorithms into his forecast modeling program. Since then, he'd regularly submitted proposals to Elizabeth asserting that the entire meteorology department should use his software. With each new proposal, he added more evidence showing that over time his program consistently enabled more accurate forecasts.
Last time he pushed, she told him she'd encourage adoption of his program on a voluntary basis. Elizabeth was very diplomatic, but Rodney knew a brush-off when he heard one.
After he finished the software package to his satisfaction, though, he had nowhere to go with that line of inquiry. It was back to theory and research for his next generation work. Not that he had a lot of time for research these days. Maybe he could steal some time for it on the weekends.
He'd hardly started work when Sheppard showed up again, leaning against the door.
"You again," he said. Despite Rodney's strenuous efforts to stop cataloguing Sheppard's repertoire of too-casual outfits, there was no ignoring how slinky and lithe he looked all in black. Not to mention that his black dress shirt was coming intriguingly untucked as he lounged in the doorway.
"Got another one for you," said Sheppard. "What's the opposite of a cold front?"
Rodney shook himself out of his slink-induced stupor. "A warm back."
"Okay..." Sheppard pursed his lips thoughtfully. "How about... what did the hurricane say to the ocean?"
"I have my eye on you."
Sheppard gave him a sarcastic little eyebrow waggle. "Can't get one by you," he drawled, and ambled away.
It was a very good thing Rodney was so devastatingly intelligent; he set up his latest simulation, reviewed his forecasts and learned his lines, all while his mind was somewhere else entirely, tugging free a partially untucked shirt.
Rodney had no peace during the broadcast, either.
"If an orchestra gets caught in a thunderstorm, who gets struck by lightning?" Sheppard asked during one of their breaks.
"The conductor," Rodney answered heavily.
Sheppard looked out to Ford. "For a guy who doesn't like weather jokes, he knows a hell of a lot of them. I don't think I've stumped him yet."
"No, you haven't, and you won't," said Rodney. "Feel free to stop trying."
Ford leaned out from behind the camera. "What do you call a warm sunny day that comes after two rainy days?"
"Monday," Rodney said. "And the next person who tries to tell me a weather joke is taking their life in their hands."
He should have known better. After that, it seemed like the entire studio got in on the act. Days passed in a flurry of corny weather jokes. He hoped the whole thing would be forgotten over the weekend, but no such luck.
"Did you hear the one about the weather satellite antennas who got married?" Cadman asked while he was trapped in her makeup chair. "The wedding was nice but the reception was fantastic."
"Hey, Rodney, why was the cloud late for work?" asked Chuck, the receptionist. "Because he mist the bus!"
Teal - Teal Cea, who led the day with forecasts during the most-viewed morning hours - shared an elevator with him, his presence dominating the small space, and out of the blue said, "Dr. McKay, are you aware of what happens when the fog lifts in California?" He regarded Rodney solemnly and intoned, "UCLA."
Even Zelenka, the bastard, asked him, "Why did the geoengineer give the Earth a Viagra?"
"You, too?" Rodney shouted.
"It would never last so long, except you are such a bad sport about it," said Zelenka.
That was probably true, but Rodney reserved the right to be irritated. "Fine," he sulked, "why did the geoengineer give the Earth a Viagra?"
"To increase its albedo."
Rodney just looked at him bleakly. "My god, you made that one up yourself, didn't you. It must've taken you hours."
Worse still, in the cafeteria Zelenka and Sheppard sat with Rodney, and when Zelenka told his joke again for Sheppard's benefit, Sheppard laughed.
Rodney wanted to be disgusted by Sheppard's terrible sense of humor, but he was too busy being completely appalled by his laugh. This wasn't his moderate on-air chuckle, it was a full-on guffaw. It sounded ludicrously fake, except that no sensible person would fake a laugh that sounded so awful.
Then again, Sheppard wanted to leave the anchor desk to go back to flying a helicopter. Sense didn't really apply.
"Is it true that Ms. Emmagan will be sitting in next week?" Zelenka asked, and Rodney nearly gave himself whiplash looking up from his plate.
"What?" he squeaked.
"Yeah, Teyla's coming in a week from Friday to do a half-hour tease for her Sunday night special," Sheppard said.
"When was I going to be told about this?" Rodney demanded.
Sheppard dawdled over his food. "Relax, Rodney. They just settled it this morning."
"You have to introduce me to her."
"Well... yeah," said Sheppard. "She's going to be in the studio with us."
"No, I mean you have to introduce me to her," Rodney insisted.
Sheppard looked profoundly uncomfortable. "Look, uh... she's seeing somebody, so..."
"Oh my god! Not that kind of introduction! I'm not a moron," said Rodney. "Look, you know her, invite her out to lunch and just... happen to ask me along, so that I can happen to mention that she should use the forecasts produced by my software. I've been tracking the results and I can show her charts - I'm consistently, measurably more accurate than anything else out there."
"Charts that you'll just happen to have on you?" Sheppard raised his eyebrows.
"I always have them on me!" said Rodney. "I have them now!"
"He does," Zelenka said. "It's very sad."
"Sad," Rodney snorted. "Why don't you go tell Elizabeth how sad it is."
"Better the dream of Elizabeth than the reality of Malcolm," Zelenka retorted.
"I'll have you know he called me this time, and I turned him down," Rodney said hotly.
"Malcolm?" Sheppard asked.
"Tunney," said Zelenka. "Rodney's long lost inamorata."
"Malcolm Tunney at NWS? Presented at the Climate Conference a couple of years ago? You're dating that guy?"
"I'm not dating him and he is not my long lost anything," Rodney said. "I knew him in school -" Zelenka cleared his throat significantly and Rodney sighed, "Fine, and we may perhaps occasionally have - but that was a long time ago."
"And last year," said Zelenka angelically.
"A mistake. A lamentable, drunken mistake."
"And two years before that."
"What, do you track my assignations in your diary?" Rodney went so far as to put down his fork in order to emphasize his point. "I'm not seeing him, things just happened. For old times' sake. Old times' sake and alcohol. Ordinarily we can't stand each other."
"So... not really a boyfriend. More of a frenemy," said Sheppard.
Rodney stared at him. "I suppose, if we were twelve."
"And based on the level of maturity displayed by both -" Zelenka began, but Sheppard nudged him.
"Tunney doesn't seem like such a bad guy," said Sheppard, confirming once again his atrocious taste in everything. "Pretty cute, really. If that's your type. You know. Smart, mouthy, big blue eyes..."
"Superior and condescending," Rodney completed sourly. "No thank you."
Zelenka snorted, grabbing for his napkin to cover his sniggering face.
"And you, stop trying to divert the conversation!" Rodney told Zelenka. "You're just trying to sabotage me. I was trying to get Sheppard here to agree that it would benefit Ms. Emmagan as much as myself if I could talk to her about using my program's forecasts instead of relying on the - the prediction soup that results from combining my work with the likes of Abrams and Kavanagh."
"I'll make you a deal," said Sheppard. "I'll invite you along to lunch with Teyla, if you come out for a flight with me on Sunday."
"A flight? As in a helicopter flight?" He couldn't believe Sheppard was trying to psyche him out like this. What an asshole.
"Yep. I have to ride a desk during the week, but they can't keep me grounded on my own time."
"Oh god, you fly for fun, too?"
"Flying's always fun," Sheppard said beatifically.
"It's going to be hazy on Sunday," Rodney stalled. "And a thunderstorm's likely, not that far to the south."
"I know," said Sheppard with exaggerated patience. "I roll my own aviation forecasts. They usually track with yours, as a matter of fact."
"You do forecasts that track with mine?"
"Most of the time. What do you say?"
"I want to see your forecast," Rodney crossed his arms stubbornly.
"I'll email it along. So you'll come?"
If Sheppard thought he could put Rodney off with mind games and intimidation tactics, well, he'd soon learn better. "Provisionally... yes."
"Great!" Sheppard grinned. "So... what did the thermometer say to the barometer?"
Rodney sighed. "You make my temperature rise."
"Heard it, huh? What did the barometer answer?"
"You're pressuring me," Rodney answered in his most bored tone.
"One of these days I'll get you to crack a smile," Sheppard promised.
"Don't count on it."
Sunday, Rodney arrived at the airfield feeling considerably less sanguine about the whole endeavor. The truth was, he had a terror of enclosed spaces, and he wasn't particularly good with heights, either.
He'd found no excuse to back out, though. Sheppard had sent along his aviation forecast, with documentation. The model Sheppard used was sloppy and intuitive compared to Rodney's own work, but it utilized some surprisingly sound and nimble math, and produced results largely in line with Rodney's own. Both forecasts predicted nothing more serious than a chance of a small thunderstorm to the south.
"Hey," said Sheppard as Rodney approached the landing pad. If Rodney thought he'd seen Sheppard looking casual before... today he wore a black t-shirt that was practically shrink-washed onto him, and black jeans that looked thin at the knees and none too sturdy at the seams of the thighs, either.
"Hello," Rodney fidgeted. "I suppose we're going through with this?"
Sheppard paused. "Did you change your mind?"
"Did you?" If Sheppard backed out of their deal, Rodney was going to make his life miserable. There was no end to the amount of hell he could wreak with a teleprompter.
"Nope." Sheppard gave him an improbably warm smile. "C'mon and step up, I'll help you strap in. What all's in the bag, you brought a laptop?"
"Of course. And I can manage. I've gone up before, you know. I occasionally find it worthwhile to collect data firsthand."
Sheppard checked some sort of thermos chest in the back before settling into his own seat and buckling up.
"Okay, headgear on," he said, putting on his own helmet. Rodney followed suit, and Sheppard's voice came thinner but closer through the earphones: "So what do you need to collect your own info for?"
"Research," Rodney explained, fixing his gaze on the dash and resolving to keep it there. "I've designed my own equipment and of course, I don't trust anyone else to calibrate it properly. So I've gone up with Mitchell."
"Aw, Rodney," said Sheppard, "and here I thought I was your first."
Rodney let that go unretorted, mostly because he was busy fighting off a surge of anxiety as the helicopter smoothly lifted from the ground. He kept his eyes steady, but the earth shrank away in his peripheral vision with dizzying speed.
"You okay, buddy?" Sheppard asked eventually.
"I'm suspended several thousand feet off the ground by a single rotor driven by an engine that was built by fallible human beings who were probably rushing to get to their lunch break, in an aircraft that is fully capable of literally vibrating itself apart," Rodney answered, his voice pitched a little higher than he normally liked to hear it.
"Don't worry," said Sheppard. "The mechanics here are fantastic. I checked every inch of this bird over myself in preflight and she's in tip-top condition."
"Still," Rodney gasped. "Gravity."
"Hey, c'mon. Calm down." Sheppard patted his arm.
"Excuse me, could you keep both hands focused on flying this thing?"
"Look, I've flown alongside hurricanes, okay? I've flown in thunderstorms, followed twisters - I've gotten probably way too close to every kind of crappy weather the sky's got to offer. It's a gorgeous day out there. We're fine." He glanced over, thankfully for only a moment, and added, "You're making yourself airsick by staring at the inside of the cabin instead of looking out. Your brain's confused by the visual information that says you're holding steady because it contradicts your inner ear's sense that you're moving."
"Way to vastly oversimplify the neurophysiology involved," Rodney complained, but he chanced a look out the windshield. They were high up enough now that the horizon seemed distant and abstract, rather than threatening, and they hovered just below a ceiling of thin wispy clouds. Further on, the clouds dissipated to unveil an open blue vault of sky.
"That's it. Just keep looking up. Take some deep breaths. It's beautiful out there. Clear blue skies."
"I... suppose it is a good day for it," said Rodney, after a few of the prescribed deep breaths.
"Watch, we're going to get up over this cloud bank."
And that was sort of pretty, the wake of the helicopter swirling the clouds immediately over - and then after a few moments immediately under - them, while the rest made a gauzy curtain of mist over the distant landscape below.
"Huh. This is nice," Rodney said, surprised. When he flew with Mitchell he always felt as if he were being yanked through the air every time the pilot made an adjustment, but Sheppard apparently had a lighter touch, or possibly disliked Rodney a little less.
"See? There you go." Sheppard seemed pleased.
"Are we safe to go this high?" he asked nervously as the helicopter continued to ascend.
"She's a Bell 412EP," said Sheppard, "she can go up to 20,000 feet. We're at eight and change. Way below this baby's service ceiling. Nothing to worry about."
They soared in silence for a little while, and without any apparent goal, til Sheppard said, "Check it out. Glory, down and to the right."
Rodney craned his neck. A large, bright color-banded halo ringed the helicopter's shadow on the sheet of nimbostratus clouds, a glowing circle formed by the sunlight diffracting from the water droplets.
"You must see that all the time," he noted. "It's common when you fly in wet conditions, isn't it?"
"The angle has to be exactly right," said Sheppard, sounding a little put out, for some reason. "You have to maneuver just so between the sun and the cloud cover."
"Yes, yes," Rodney waved that off, though he leaned to keep the glory in sight; they were ordinary to Sheppard, no doubt, but Rodney had never seen one in person. It made a beautiful blaze against the backdrop of the clouds.
But looking down like this, he could also see that they weren't moving much. "Why are we hovering? Were we going anywhere in particular on this little trek?"
"I thought we'd set down in the hills for a while," Sheppard said. "Sound good?"
"Fine," said Rodney. The helmet was beginning to bother him a little. He couldn't seem to stop looking around now that he was over the initial panic, and the headgear pulled at his ears and his hair, which he particularly fretted about. His hairline had already retreated an inch or so over the past few years, he didn't want to lose more hair to a tight helmet. Not that Sheppard would understand that, with his thick silky-looking dark mop.
The helicopter landed gently on the lush green hill, and Rodney pulled off the helmet, glad to be relieved of the close heat and pressure.
Sheppard hopped out and hauled out the ice chest and a bundle. "Over here," he said.
Rodney followed, nonplussed, as Sheppard chose a spot in the shade of the helicopter and spread a pad and a blanket on the ground. "Here, can you anchor the corner with this?" he handed Rodney a sweaty six-pack of, dear god, Budweiser. "And that corner with your helmet... there you go."
Sheppard placed his own helmet and a basket (a basket?) in the other corners and took a seat, stretching with his feet out of shadow in the sun. "That's the stuff," he said. "C'mon, sit down."
"Okaaay," Rodney drew out uncertainly, and gingerly sat on the blanket. "Um. I hope you aren't planning to drink and fly." That'd be just his luck, flying with an alcoholic pilot.
"I brought a bottle of Riesling," said Sheppard. "It's only seven percent. A glass of that's nothing after some brunch and an hour or two. But I can pass on it if that'd make you feel better."
"Yes, it would," said Rodney a little severely, but really. How likely was it that they'd be here an hour?
"Okay," said Sheppard reasonably, sitting up and delving into the basket. "But don't let that hold you back if you want some. I can always stop it back up. Maybe get back to it later, after the flight back." He gave Rodney a baffling little smile and began producing a startling number of items from the basket: a vat of salad, a Tupperware container of thick-sliced ham, jars of antipasto and olives, a round of cheese, a loaf of fresh bread, the bottle of white wine, Chinet plates, utensils, and a pair of plastic wine glasses.
"Plastic wine glasses, really," said Rodney, pained.
"Glass doesn't travel so well by chopper," said Sheppard. "And I figured you'd be even less impressed with Dixie cups."
Rodney asked scathingly, "I'm supposed to be impressed?"
Sheppard gave him another inexplicable look and brought out a pan of brownies.
"There's more? What is that thing, a TARDIS?" Rodney asked, compulsively snagging and popping the top off the brownie pan. The delicious aroma of chocolate wafted up. These didn't have the flaky top of inferior cakey brownies, either. These brownies were the dark, fudgey real deal.
"Okay," he said, "possibly I'm impressed."
After seeing all the food, complete with an entire pan of brownies for just the two of them, Rodney decided they'd probably be on the hill for an hour or so after all, and graciously gave his permission for Sheppard to open the wine and have half a glass. No wonder the guy liked flying so much if he made such a production out of it all the time.
Rodney piled his plate with ham and cheese and olives and a small compromise corner of salad. They ate in silence for a few minutes, tearing off hunks of bread and handing it back and forth.
Sheppard seemed perfectly content to focus on the meal. He ate like a bird, literally: he pecked decisively at the food with his fork, continually nibbling one small bite after another. He was pacing Rodney on the ham and bread. Fortunately there was plenty of it.
Good as the food was, Rodney found himself a little restless; he was accustomed to multitasking while he ate. "Elizabeth mentioned your degree is in aviation meteorology," he offered as a conversational gambit. At least they could talk about work, that wouldn't be too boring.
"Mm-hm," Sheppard answered. "I've been flying since before I could drive. Summer after freshman year, I got caught in a squall. I started picking apart aviation forecasts, ended up with a ton of meteorology credits and went for the degree. I'm guessing you planned things out a little more."
"Not exactly." Rodney tasted the wine; it was nice, not that he had much expertise. Tart but not sour, it went well enough with the food. "In undergrad, my atmospheric physics professor was practically the only non-idiotic member of the faculty. That was my first doctorate. I took a second degree in meteorology to supplement my research, and the theory and math of forecast models just... absorbed my attention."
Sheppard nodded as if he had any conception of what Rodney was talking about. Then again, the aviation forecast he sent Rodney hadn't been half-bad. Maybe he did understand to some degree.
"Huh. So you weren't really aiming to be a TV forecaster," Sheppard said.
"No, not at all." When Elizabeth invited him to consider a job with the station, Rodney accepted because he was sick of university politics. He'd intended to stay behind the scenes at The Weather Station, revising and refining better forecast models, better software.
But Elizabeth encouraged him to talk through his forecasts, first explaining them to the anchors and on-air forecasters, and gradually, to the camera, filling in here and there.
Before he knew it he was taking a speech class, having his slightly snaggled maxillary lateral incisors fixed and going to the actual gym.
He'd always liked giving lectures, and forecasting for television was a little like lecturing without any of the pain of teaching dull, disinterested students. And truthfully, he liked the feeling of absolute authority he enjoyed in front of the green screen.
From his first regular assignment during the doldrums of midnight to four AM, he was promoted to his current noon to four spot. He thought he had a good shot at the desk.
"You want to be an anchor, really?" Sheppard asked.
"Doesn't seem like it'd be much challenge for you."
"I keep myself plenty challenged, thank you. The anchor position is higher profile. If I can put in time at the desk, I have a better chance to pitch some special presentations. Bring real weather science to an audience. Showcase my advancements. If you want to win a Nobel these days, you can't just publish and wait to be noticed. Connections matter as much as results, and if you don't want to kowtow, well, a high profile can be an acceptable substitute for sucking up."
He eyed Sheppard for his reaction; Sheppard nodded pleasantly, only a hint of that annoying irony lurking in his expression. "I've been taking a look at your work. Does seem like you're on to something. I wondered where you were getting some of your data - I guess if you've designed your own equipment, that explains it. Hey, did you bring any of it?"
"As a matter of fact..." Rodney got to his feet and fetched his laptop bag out of the helicopter, brought it over and opened it up, scooping out his prize.
"That little thing? It looks like a Gamecube." Sheppard took it, his hands warm and lingering over Rodney's for long moments.
"...Um. We've been calling it a Munchkin, because it has some of the same functionality of the TOTO, the portable tornado observatory. But obviously, in a much smaller size."
"Zelenka and I. Shockingly enough, he's actually a reasonably competent engineer. We worked together on the deployment system too, it's in my car."
Sheppard weighed the Munchkin in his hand. He had long, nicely shaped fingers, and dark hair scattered over his wrists and tendons. He wore a black sweatband on one wrist, and it must have been a habitual thing, because it had slipped a little, and the skin underneath was lighter, contrasting with Sheppard's faint tan.
For some reason Rodney thought of Malcolm, who like Rodney was pale with nearly blond body hair, and, even more than Rodney, preferred indoor theory to outdoor practice. When Rodney made the mistake of running the schematics for the Munchkin by him, Malcolm responded with blistering contempt, claiming the sensitivity increase over standard equipment was pathetically marginal compared to the sheer amount of weather data already gathered by thousands of sources on a daily basis.
Maybe so, but for Rodney's research, that marginal level of specificity was important, and he'd thought he could at least count on Malcolm to respect the engineering feat. Sheppard, of all people, seemed more appreciative, a guy who'd apparently fallen into meteorology more or less by accident.
Sheppard couldn't be more different from Malcolm if he consisted entirely of anti-Malcolm particles. Malcolm would never, for example, say, "Let's go get the rest of your stuff from your car and take it up. There's that nice little thunderstorm rolling in south of here, maybe you'll get something good out of it." Somehow Sheppard looked kinetic and eager, even though he was still lounging easily on the blanket, half-propped on one arm, bicep straining against the sleeve...
Rodney shook himself out of contemplating Sheppard's various qualities and answered, "Look, I'll concede you're a decent enough pilot. But that doesn't mean I want to put my life in your hands and deliberately fly in inclement conditions to risk fiery plummeting death for no reason."
"For the best reason," Sheppard corrected, the corners of his mouth curling up irresistibly. "Science."
"...Damn it," Rodney grumbled, and he prepared the Munchkin while Sheppard repacked the basket and stowed it in the cabin again.
By lunch on Monday, Rodney still hadn't quite recovered from letting Sheppard fly them close to the thunderstorm, which didn't seem nearly so minor and mild when they were in the air with it.
He'd managed not to embarrass himself, and in fact he hadn't felt much nausea at all, despite the turbulence. The experience itself had even been sort of... invigorating.
But the tension of anticipating catastrophe as they traveled toward the storm left him with a nagging headache once the excitement was over. It must have showed - after they landed, Sheppard had been concerned enough to offer to drive him home.
Rodney plowed through his spinach lasagna, and picked in a more desultory fashion at the fennel salad that came with it. He'd never imagined he'd have the stomach for storm chasing, but peering out from the helicopter to watch the lightning spider brightly through the heavy clouds... even though the data collected by the Munchkin hadn't been anything special, the experience itself was inspiring.
This morning he'd accomplished even more than usual, making significant progress on his advanced models.
He might even run the work by Sheppard and see what he thought. While they drove out to pick up the downed Munchkin, he and Sheppard wound up talking about shoddy science in movies, and then film adaptations, and then Silver Age comics. The man was familiar with Bat-Mite; there was clearly more to him than met the eye.
Though what met the eye also had its appeal.
Zelenka plunked into the seat across the table and asked, "How was your date?"
As usual, Rodney's singularly powerful brain came to his rescue. If his thoughts moved a little slower, he might've sputtered aloud, What date? before thinking back and perceiving the events of the weekend in a new light.
But it took only an eyeblink for Rodney's thoughts to reshuffle into the realization that the scenic helicopter ride, the picnic (that was a picnic! the blanket! the basket! how did he miss the signs?) on a picturesque hill and the thrill-seeking storm chase had all been Sheppard's odd idea of a date.
If he'd known - if Sheppard had proposed a date with that agenda - Rodney would have turned him down, on the grounds that they clearly had completely incompatible ideas about what constituted a good time.
Except... Rodney did have a good time. Oh god, he'd enjoyed going on a helicopter ride and a picnic. If he were a less secure man his entire self-image would be shaken to the core.
And that outfit, the t-shirt and jeans, that had been for him! It was very possible that if he'd let Sheppard drive him home, he would've had the chance to peel those clothes off him, and he'd passed it up. His head had not been that bad - if he'd been concussed, even if he'd been openly bleeding, his head wouldn't have been bad enough to miss that opportunity.
There had to be a way to get a do-over.
"It was all right," said Rodney a beat after Zelenka asked.
"Rodney." He turned at his name to see Elizabeth making her way over. "I was hoping I'd find you here. Vala's due Wednesday. They were planning to wait til she went into labor naturally, but their doctor's advised a C-section. Daniel's taking the day off. Sam will fill in for Daniel at the desk, but that leaves the forecast open. What do you think about staying on into prime time?"
"I think yes," Rodney said immediately.
"You can work with Sam." It wasn't quite a question.
"Of course," he assured her. "We put our differences behind us a long time ago."
"Glad to hear it," Elizabeth said. "All right then, that's settled. Thank you, Rodney." She squeezed his shoulder, smiling at him, and moved on.
Zelenka didn't turn his head to watch her leave the cafeteria, but he so very obviously wanted to that it might've been less conspicuous to just do it. Once she disappeared, Zelenka shifted his attention back to Rodney, his expression daring Rodney to make a comment.
Well, who was Rodney to disappoint him? "Would you like to keep my jacket, now that it's a consecrated object? You could draw a handprint where she touched it, and add it the terrifying shrine I'm sure you've built out of Yoplait cups you dug out of her office trash."
"We cannot all hound the objects of our affection until bosses intervene with sensitivity training," said Zelenka.
"Oh, please. I didn't hound her. I was... overly assertive. And Sam and I reconciled. Because I at least was able to talk to her."
"Yes, talking you have no trouble with. I hope poor John likes to listen. And listen, and listen, and listen. Or his Sunday must have been very long."
Ah hah, wait: Rodney reshuffled his thoughts again. He and Zelenka always gave each other a hard time about this sort of thing. Radek was kidding him when he called Sunday's flight a date. He'd picked up on Rodney's attraction to Sheppard and he was teasing him about it, revenge because Rodney had been goading him about Elizabeth.
That made much more sense than Sheppard pestering him with hackneyed jokes and then taking him on a picnic date. That ice chest seemed to be tied down to a regular spot in the cockpit. Sheppard probably made that trip to the hills on his own every weekend, complete with blanket and lunch basket.
He'd been polite enough to bring enough food to share, but that didn't make it a date. He hadn't started any datey conversations or tried to get close to Rodney at all. And Sheppard was only covering for Vala temporarily. He wanted to get back into the air. So he couldn't have been after anything serious.
Or maybe... maybe it was a date, but Sheppard decided there wasn't enough of an attraction to pursue it.
That was probably it.
Ultimately it didn't really matter. As long as Sheppard kept his end of their deal and let Rodney make his pitch to Teyla, Rodney wasn't going to concern himself with the unfathomable mysteries of social interaction. There was no telling what was going on with Sheppard, but Rodney would always have his work.
"...and the storm continues to move inland spreading rain, showers, snow and thunderstorms from the northern Rockies to the Northwest," Rodney concluded his forecast overview.
"Rain in the Northwest? No!" Sheppard's mouth made a distracting O.
It was just a quick improvisation to fill a few extra seconds before the break. Rodney quashed any number of acerbic replies and went with a mild, "Unlikely as it sounds, that's my forecast and I stand by it."
"Well, as they say in Seattle," Sheppard read amiably off the autocue, "if you can see Mount Rainier, it's going to rain. If you can't see Mount Rainier -" he looked to Rodney.
"- it already is," Rodney finished.
"Stay with us for detailed local forecasts. We'll be back after this."
Once the commercials were cued, Sheppard threw his arm over the back of his chair and swiveled to face Rodney. He was in the black turtleneck again, and with his face framed by his dark hair and dark clothes, his eyes seemed especially pale and green. "I think that clinches it... you hate the canned chatter just as much as I do."
"Maybe a little less... maybe a little more. It's not an exact science," said Rodney.
"And you really want to be in this seat?" Sheppard thumped the back of the anchor chair. "Because if you're not a journalist, this part's all canned chatter, as far as I can tell."
"Excuse me if I'd like the chance to find out for myself," Rodney snapped. "We can't all have influential friends and family just handing us opportunities to try out jobs without paying dues."
Sheppard straightened as quickly as a soldier called to attention. He gave Rodney a narrow, unreadable look and faced decisively forward.
They didn't say anything else for the rest of the break.
The weather jokes had been slowing down gradually, but now they stopped entirely, all at once, from everyone. It was fine; it wasn't as though Rodney would miss the harassment.
He went back to working during lunch. It was a good time to review scripts, so that he had more time in his office to work on his forecast models. Though strangely he wasn't making as much progress on them, even with the extra time.
Harassment was probably too strong a word.
It didn't matter, he was very busy preparing to go on Wednesday during prime time. Or, all right, there wasn't that much to prepare; generally he only had to read a script to memorize his lines. Not that learning them was crucial anyway, with the autocue. And nothing came more naturally to him than explaining the weather, even if he had to simplify it for a mass audience.
In fact, Wednesday came and went incredibly quickly. He thought it would feel different to go on air during prime time, but it didn't. It was the same work, the same cameras, the same unnatural prattle in the scripts.
It only stood to reason, he supposed. Prime time or not, the forecasts were still just four and five minute stints between news stories. When he made anchor, surely then he'd feel as if he'd really accomplished something.
The only difference was working with Sam, which was pleasant, if only because she wasn't stonefaced and quiet during the breaks.
He and John didn't talk at all outside their scripted interactions now. Rather than improvising if there was extra time, John spoke more slowly when he saw seconds left on the clock.
Everything went smoothly on the air, though. It wasn't as effortless, it wasn't enjoyable, but they still worked well together.
Funny, but Rodney hadn't realized before that he'd never had to learn Sheppard's timing, his tics and habits, the way he'd learned Vala's. It had just happened intuitively somehow. No wonder he didn't trust it.
Of course, Rodney worried about the situation as the week wore on, solely because it was going to be difficult for Sheppard to give him that promised introduction to Teyla if Sheppard wasn't speaking to Rodney.
So he was braced, and singularly unsurprised, when Sheppard fell into step beside him in the corridor that morning and said, "Teyla's schedule's packed and she's running late. She can't make it before the broadcast."
"Really? How expected," said Rodney.
"So, she wanted me to tell you," John enunciated with exaggerated clarity, "that she's sorry about the change of plans and she hopes you'll be able to join us for dinner instead."
"Oh." Not so expected. "Of course. I'll change my plans."
Teyla came into the studio an hour before air to run lines and review her promo scripts with them.
The moment she came through the door, the whole atmosphere changed. Everyone was conscious of her; everyone was either looking at her, or pointedly not looking at her yet.
"It's so great to meet you," said Mehra. "You're one of my heroes. When you were reporting from Katrina, I was glued to the screen the whole time. We're all really excited for the chance to work with you. I'm Dusty."
"Thank you, Dusty." Teyla clasped her hands, smiling up at her. She was the shortest person in the room, but her face and voice were so familiar, not just from their own channel but from magazines, interviews, guest spots on other networks' shows and in movies... somehow she looked more real than anyone else there.
The air around her seemed charged. She'd made People's 50 Most Beautiful list twice, but she was even more stunning in person.
"I am looking forward to spending this time in the studio with you, with all of you. I have heard so much about this crew. Most of it was even complimentary," Teyla said with a dry hint of humor, in the precise, distinctive manner that late-night comedians loved to parody.
"Hello, Aiden!" She went to Ford and hugged him. "Aiden and I have worked together many times in the field," she said to the room at large. "You are so lucky to have him! How are Jim and Cecilia?"
"They're good. Grandma's doing a lot better since her surgery," said Ford. "Thanks again for the flowers and the gloves, it meant a lot to her."
"Give them my love," said Teyla.
Rodney watched in frank amazement. Teyla spoke to every single person who could find an excuse to be in the studio, giving each one a brief measure of her full attention.
She pressed hands and accepted a tremulous hug from an assistant producer, she answered compliments with grace, she seemed to learn all their names on the spot, and she did it all with every appearance of sincerity.
Sooner than seemed possible, considering that she talked with everyone in the room before approaching the set - Rodney had to admire the efficient way she dispensed the personal touch and moved on - she made her way to Sheppard.
Rodney didn't think he was imagining that Teyla was a little more relaxed and pleased to see Sheppard, setting her hands on his shoulders and touching her forehead to his, the gesture another quirk that defined her in the public mind.
"John," she said, "we miss you very much."
"Yeah," Sheppard said. She smiled up at him.
Rodney wasn't really prepared when she turned and spent the rest of that smile on him. "I am so glad to meet you, Rodney," she said. "John has mentioned you often."
Rodney was churlishly glad to see that Sheppard looked as uncomfortable as he felt at that.
Teyla offered her hand, and Rodney took it automatically; her grip was very firm. He recalled the rumors that she'd been offered massive sums to lend her name - and, presumably, images of her famously toned physique - to exercise videos and fitness torture devices.
She got her start on The Weather Station, but her fearless reporting on the ground during and after Katrina raised her profile, and she parlayed it smartly into one-hour specials and miniseries, first for The Weather Station, then on other networks as well.
She played herself in a cameo for a film with Jude Law not long after he was involved in a scandalous affair, and rumors that she slept with him caused a minor tabloid sensation that was probably manufactured. The timing was perfect; suddenly it seemed like everyone knew her name.
From there the weird logic of twenty-first century fame took over. An autobiography that sold, a playfully torrid photo session with Rachel Maddow, appearances on Oprah... these days The Weather Station would go for almost any project Teyla proposed, desperate to keep her from signing an exclusive contract with another network. No wonder she could convince them to keep Sheppard around.
A second wave of sensation passed through the room, and Rodney looked toward the door. Ronon had arrived, and he was running the same gauntlet of enthusiastic greetings as Teyla.
Teyla's spotlight was that big: her cameraman was more well known than most of the other Weather Station talent. Though being six and a half feet tall, artistically tattooed, and inconceivably gorgeous probably had something to do with that.
He wended his way to them and thumped Sheppard's arm, asking, "When's this over with?"
"I'm working on it," said Sheppard.
He might regret what he said to Sheppard, but it still burned Rodney that Sheppard talked about the anchor position as if it were some tedious chore he was trying to wriggle out of. Thousands of people worked their asses off just trying to become candidates for that job. Rodney wanted that job.
Ronon eyed Rodney. "This him?"
"...Kind of." Sheppard looked everywhere but at the three of them.
"Hm." Ronon seemed to shrug that off and shook Rodney's hand. He actually had a gentler grip than Teyla.
"Okay, places please," said the assistant producer. "Let's do a run-through."
Rodney found his mark and watched John recite a clean, sincere take on the intro, and then segue into the handoff to Teyla. Rodney had that sense again that Teyla was somehow more there than anyone else. Sitting straight-backed and poised, she looked as if the studio had been built around her.
"Good afternoon," she said in the same modulated, fluting voice that spoke over all The Weather Station's branding spots and bumpers. "With The Weather Station, I'm Teyla Emmagan. For the past few weeks Ronon Dex and I have been reporting to you live as we accompanied geoengineers across the world, all working to reverse the harmful effects of climate change. But we haven't yet brought you the whole story. This Sunday, I hope you'll join us for a Weather Station exclusive two-hour special: Rewriting The Weather..."
Dinner was... anticlimactic.
Rodney hadn't gone so far as to rehearse his proposal, but... fine, yes, he'd rehearsed his proposal. He'd delivered it to his bathroom mirror and everything.
So it was something of a letdown when they settled at their table at an exclusive restaurant and, when it seemed as if enough small talk had been exchanged, he broached the topic with Teyla and she said, "John forwarded some of your work to me, and statistics on your program's accuracy. I found it very impressive. And more importantly," she smiled warmly, "John told me that he trusts you. I would be glad to use your work in my reporting."
"That's... that's great," Rodney said. "Wait, you would be glad, is that the subjunctive? Are you not actually using it?"
Ronon tipped an amused look at Sheppard. "Like you said. Picky."
"I'm not picky," Rodney insisted, "I just need to be clear on things."
Teyla cupped her hand over his on the table. Rodney had managed so far not to be starstruck, but that got him. He stared.
"I will use it," she said.
"Okay. Good," said Rodney, flustered. "Thank you."
Dinner was remarkably pleasant, considering that the only other diner Rodney knew, he'd insulted to the point of silent treatment.
He could tell that Teyla was flattering him, finessing him, priming him for something. But the fact that he could tell seemed to have no bearing at all on whether it worked: it did. Experiencing her in action, he could see very clearly how she'd gotten to where she was. She was as quick a thinker as he was, with infinitely better social skills.
He had no idea how she brought him around to it, but somehow he found himself saying, "Well, yes, I do resent the nepotism, but that doesn't mean I lack any respect for - I just think it's a sickening waste to give the anchor chair to someone who doesn't want to be there. Too many people work too hard going after that job."
Teyla looked pointedly across the table. "I can't argue with that," Sheppard said, "it's true."
Ronon shook his head, brows drawn at an irked angle, but he didn't stop eating to say anything.
"I asked him to stay, in whatever capacity the station would employ him," said Teyla. "I need John's skill for a project I'm proposing, and it would be much harder to negotiate that if he left the network. The situation is not ideal for anyone. We are all trying to change it."
Rodney met John's eyes and just as quickly looked away, clearing his throat. "I suppose I'm sorry about saying what I did, the way I did."
"It's not a big deal," John said, though Ronon rolled his eyes at that. "It's not, 'cause I know, okay? It's true. It's just... I know it sounds really..." John made a face.
"The expression you've used before is 'poor little rich boy,'" Teyla supplied.
"Yeah, like that. The thing is, it makes some things easier, but it's not all roses. It's..."
They waited a moment. John bit his lip; Rodney looked to Teyla.
"John's family is very controlling," she said, and turned an expectant gaze back on John, prompting, "His father has often interfered with his career."
"Yeah," John looked relieved, but Teyla touched his arm, her fingers light on his black wristband, and she gave him a stern look.
"You will speak for yourself," she said.
John grimaced and fidgeted with his napkin. "My first job, I went to work for this little company. Mostly flying around students and researchers, some hobbyists, looking for twisters. Dad didn't like that too well, so he bought the company. They told us we were gonna switch to crop dusting."
Rodney nearly did a spit take all over the heavy linen tablecloth. "You're kidding."
"Scout's honor," said John. "I never have really found a way to get away from it. I even thought about joining the Air Force." Considering how much difficulty John seemed to have saying anything that mattered, Rodney boggled to imagine how much more repressed he'd be if he'd been in the Air Force. John rubbed the back of his neck. "But it was a little too late by then, the genie was kinda already out of the bottle."
"Huh?" Rodney caught up belatedly, "Oh, you were out."
"Yeah. Way out."
Rodney hadn't seen any tattoos or anything irrevocable. "How out is way out? Photographic evidence out? My Own Private Idaho out?"
"What, narcoleptic?" asked Ronon, with an expression that might as well be labeled I Am Totally Fucking With You.
"Jeez!" John's face was almost a caricature of dismay. "No, I wasn't off hustling in my own private Idaho, Rodney, what the hell."
"Though I have seen you wear a dog collar," said Teyla thoughtfully.
"That was -" John caught Rodney's goggle-eyed reaction and shifted gears, "a long story."
Ronon elbowed Rodney. "Ask me later."
"No, really, don't."
"As I believe we established earlier, I need to be clear on things. Are we okay?" Rodney asked John.
John shifted uneasily. "Don't sweat it. It really wasn't a big deal. I just... figured if that's what you thought, that probably meant I should back off."
"I didn't realize you were backing on," Rodney admitted clumsily.
Ronon choked on a laugh, and Teyla grinned, an infectious expression he'd never seen her give on TV.
"Come on, that's - you know what I mean!"
Teyla and Ronon continued to snicker, and John's eyes crinkled warmly at the corners. Rodney found himself completely unable to take offense.
He couldn't believe he was sitting here at a dinner table with Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex, and he really couldn't believe that he felt this comfortable with them. And with John.
"We're going up tomorrow," said John. "You should come with us. Bring some Munchkins, I want Teyla and Ronon to see them."
Rodney's stomach shivered, but he felt it as excitement, not nerves. "Okay."
Flying with the three of them was even more exhilarating than the trip with John. Rodney anticipated that they'd want to find a storm, so he ran and re-ran his software, hoping the wind would sweep the only nearby clouds into range before they lifted off.
The weather cooperated, and even though high winds buffeted the helicopter as they approached, Rodney found himself captivated by the sight of the high-piled clouds spilling over each other, rain pulling down one side like torn silk.
Teyla and Ronon had seemed duly impressed by the Munchkins - at least, Teyla asked a number of intelligent questions, while Ronon seemed more interested in the deployment system.
"We could fit this to the helicopter better," he said. "And if you made a Munchkin that's a little bigger, maybe we could get a camera into it."
"What do you think it would see?" Rodney scoffed. "Clouds, clouds, more clouds, not exactly scintillating footage, and that's if the lens doesn't mist over, which it will. Or ice over, even better."
"We can make it weather-resistant. You'd get the approach to the storm," said Ronon, unperturbed. "And the trip down. The lens could clear once it's out. It's worth trying."
"Almost certainly pointless, but worth trying," Rodney said, but Ronon was completely bulletproof to sarcasm, and he did have good suggestions for modifying the deployment system to suit the helicopter.
Now, John pivoted in the air to face the storm, and Rodney triggered the Munchkin to soar into the cloud bank, a speck arcing against the blue and into the gray. They watched in suspense - if the Munchkin didn't make it deep enough into the clouds, the winds inside the storm wouldn't bear it up, and it would plummet immediately down without getting any useful information.
They didn't see it fall. "Let's do another one!" John said.
Teyla leaned forward, her face illuminated and intent. "Can we get closer?"
It didn't even occur to Rodney until later that if he'd been up with anyone else, he probably would have protested.
Back at the airfield, Teyla glanced at her watch and made an apologetic face. "Dinner with Elizabeth," she explained, "we have to run. I will call you later tonight, John." Ronon nudged her and she amended, "That is, I will email. Have a good night, John, Rodney."
It took almost til dark to find the Munchkins - John's picnic ice chest kept Rodney from pleading low blood sugar while they searched.
The conversation hadn't been strained at all, but apparently John was working himself up to something, because as he disentangled the second Munchkin from a snarl of long dry grass, he abruptly said, "So look," and then stopped.
"Pretend Teyla's here, giving you a look like she's going to kick your ass," said Rodney helpfully. "That worked last night."
John laughed a little. "Yeah. Okay, I think... I should say I'm sorry too. You told me about your plans, I shouldn't second-guess them." He shifted on his feet. "You'd be a great anchor. You'd be a great anything." Then he got a sort of deer in headlights look and shut his mouth firmly, brow furrowed, stripping away the grass clinging to the Munchkin.
"Thank you. I agree," Rodney had to add.
John grinned, shaking his head. "So, don't take this wrong. Teyla and I were talking. You want to be an anchor, you could maybe improve your chances."
"Yeah. I'm not an authority on fashion or anything. I mean, I get tutted at for what I'm wearing about as often as I get cruised."
"I find that hard to believe."
John darted a look at him, a tiny smile sneaking onto his lips. "Anyway. I'm not going to be taking over at Versace any time soon. But I think you'd look the part a little more if you got some new suits."
"What? This from the hobo king of the airwaves... you've practically been going on in flip-flops and a housecoat! My suits are well made, they're tailored. What's wrong with them?"
"Maybe they were tailored when you chose them, but how long's that been? They're tight across the shoulders. There's a lot of little things that add up to make 'em look like they don't quite fit right."
"Yeah. Plus," his smile broadened, teasing, "that khaki suit? That's gotta go. It's all wrong for you. Washes you out."
"Whatever you say, Donatella," Rodney told him dubiously, but he'd at least learned this much from his relationships. After apologizing to someone, it was a bad idea to refuse to take them shopping.
Monday, Rodney couldn't seem to step ten feet without a compliment on the new suit.
"You look wonderful today, Rodney," said Elizabeth. "If this is a new tactic to convince the network to drop the casual idea and go back to a more formal look, it's very persuasive."
"All dressed up!" said Laura. "Someplace to go?"
"Uh, national television?" Rodney replied.
"Now you notice," she said. "Finally, these are colors I can work with."
Rodney had nearly balked at this shirt and tie, actually: "It's purple."
"It's plum," John had countered. "It's practically a neutral. And it looks good on you."
"I don't know."
He almost hadn't been able to persuade himself to wear it this morning, but he told himself the gray and charcoal pinstriped suit was conservative enough to tone down the purple, and if it didn't come off, he could always blame John.
Zelenka took one look and said, "Someone else has dressed you. Someone with eyes."
To his dismay, Rodney felt his face heat. Saturday night, he and John made plans to go shopping, and after agreeing to see each other Sunday morning, he felt it would be odd and stilted to propose something else for Saturday evening. They went their separate ways.
All through the shopping trip on Sunday, John seemed to be flirting, and he gave compliments freely, in between bossing Rodney in and out of dressing rooms and making cartoon disapproving faces when Rodney tried on suits in browns and tans.
Still, Rodney wasn't sure if it was a date or a continuation of the apology. They took a break while shopping to have sandwiches at the cafe in the store, so when they left, the timing was wrong to suggest staying together for dinner. Rodney was at a loss as they put away their shopping bags in their respective cars, and ended with an awkward, "See you tomorrow."
He was sure it ought to have been possible to segue into something that involved more physical contact than John knotting up his tie for him - which itself had been enough to ruin the line of the trousers he'd been trying on at the time - but even now, a day later, he still didn't know how he could have made it happen.
"Ah," said Radek in response to the blush, more kindly than Rodney probably deserved. "John, then. He chose better for you than he does for himself, if he dressed you in these nice clothes."
"Not literally," Rodney muttered.
Radek grinned wickedly. "Now who is not speaking?"
Rodney saw Elizabeth across the room and considered daring Radek to either approach her or else shut up, but then she spotted him and quickly strode over.
"Rodney, John's called in from the doctor's office," Elizabeth said. "He has food poisoning, he won't be able to make it today."
"I knew I should have asked him out to dinner!" Rodney blurted.
Elizabeth exchanged looks with Radek, who shrugged.
"John said you'd know his script as well as your own," she told Rodney. "He suggested you could step in for him. Are you willing?"
"Of course," said Rodney.
"Wonderful. Jennifer's on hand, ready to do the forecast," she said. "Everything went very well when you subbed for Daniel last week. I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job at the anchor desk."
Rodney was so preoccupied with the opportunity that he forgot about the new suit until he stepped onto the set to be greeted by a wolf whistle.
"As always, this crew's professionalism is beyond reproach," he said, and took the chair.
Of course. The suit. It should have occurred to him immediately that John arranged this on purpose: he'd made sure Rodney looked the part and then absented the desk to give Rodney his chance at it. And while it wasn't as though John were really sacrificing anything - a shot at a job John didn't want himself anyway - it was still... well. Sort of touching.
Rodney set his shoulders back, breathed deeply, and prepared to face the cameras from the anchor chair.
An hour in, he knew he'd made a mistake.
John was right. This wasn't for Rodney. He could read the news and play his part solidly enough, but he didn't have any connection to the words on the teleprompter.
The other anchors, the excellent ones - Vala, Samantha Carter, Jack O'Neill, Carolyn Lam, Evan Lorne - they'd all contributed their own reporting to some of the stories in their scripts. They had a stake in the news the way Rodney had a stake in the forecasts he delivered on air.
Rodney didn't have that stake in the news, and he didn't think he was enough of a performer to fake it.
After the broadcast, he phoned John up. "You can quit playing hooky and come back," he said. "You were right. I'm ready to hear the I-told-you-sos."
"You did great, Rodney. This could just be nerves," John said. "Hang in there. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be out another day. Remind me next time not to eat the fuzzy hot dogs -" and then he made the most transparently artificial retching noise Rodney had ever heard.
"I really hope that wasn't the world's grossest double entendre," Rodney said, and John interrupted his fake vomit noises with his terrible laugh.
Rodney's second day in the anchor chair only convinced him even more that he'd badly miscalculated his plans for his career.
"To bee or not to bee. Some beekeepers are embracing new climates for apiaries, while others run and hive. Find out what all the buzz is about, or feel the sting of missing out-- coming up next." As soon as they called the break, Rodney thumped his head on the desk, moaning, "Oh, my god."
"Are you okay?" Jennifer asked.
"Not exactly." Rodney straightened. "I never realized what it would be like to actually have to say all this stuff."
From behind the camera, Ford said, "Imagine what it's like to listen to it."
On the phone afterward, he told John, "Seriously, you have to come back. I actually got jealous of Jennifer today. I'm already reconsidering my entire plan for my career here, I don't need the additional stress of bee puns."
"You pulled it off, though. Your readings were perfect. And you looked... really good. Maybe you'll get more comfortable. If this is what you want, you can do it."
"Enough with the pep talk. Did I not just say that I want you to come back? I'm not a selfless person, if I wanted to keep doing this I'd come over and feed you salmonella myself."
"Thanks a lot!"
"I'll say it very slowly, and you should savor it because you're not likely to hear it again." Rodney drew out the syllables plainly, "You, were, right. It's not the right job for me."
He fished a pencil out of the drawer to have something else to focus on, rolling it over his fingers. "I'd rather do the forecasts, but I don't know if that's where I really belong either. All this time, I was thinking of it as a step on the way to something else. I can't see myself doing it indefinitely." He spun the pencil. "Maybe I'll get out of the broadcast side altogether."
"That'd be too bad," John said. "You're really good at it. You put a lot more of the science into the forecasts, and your explanations are clear enough that anyone can understand it. Plus," his voice dropped, "the way you use your hands is, uh... it's really something."
Rodney slammed the pencil down decisively. "Was that a date on Sunday?"
John sighed out a chuckle. "Yeah? They were all supposed to be dates."
"Oh my god," said Rodney, "will you just get back here? You - you have to tell me things like that. Friday, we are going on a date that I actually know is a date." He stopped. "Unless you don't want to."
John said, "Hey, what do you know, food poisoning's all cleared up. I'll see you tomorrow. And the next day. And Friday."
Naturally, a major weather story broke on Friday at 3:45.
"Pushing through an update on the autocue," said Grodin from the control room during their last commercial break. "The supercell we've been tracking in Nebraska's got quite serious. Multiple funnels spotted from the ground with at least one touchdown."
Rodney glared past the glass. "Slow news all week and now something happens."
"It never rains but it pours," said John. "Any damage?"
"No word yet."
A runner brought out new script pages for John, who swiftly leafed through and reviewed them. Rodney watched the hook echo curving on the monitor.
His forecast software had predicted this storm would become a supercell, but nothing could predict this. One of the most frustrating things about the field was that some of the most destructive phenomena were the hardest to detect in advance.
"John? Rodney?" Elizabeth came into the studio, stopping just offstage. "The Nebraska tornado hit a town..." she consulted her notes, "Belden. There's confirmed damage and we've got reports of a second twister in the area and more funnels within the storm."
Rodney exchanged looks with John. Normally during a major weather event, the next team would be in the studio by now, getting up to speed on the coverage to take the story forward.
"Sam and Daniel were on their way back from doing press in New York, they're changing routes to get up there and report live," Elizabeth said. "Are you willing to stick with this til eight? I can call in Evan and Jennifer to sub for Sam and Daniel, but I'd like to keep continuity if you can stay with this story."
John looked at him. "Tornado check on tonight?"
"Obviously. Tomorrow?" Rodney asked.
"Come hell or high water," John promised.
"Don't say that - at this rate the entire Mississippi basin will flood."
"We're up for it," John told Elizabeth. He'd started at noon clean-shaven and now he already looked like he had five o'clock shadow. Hopefully that network initiative for more casual looks would extend to prime time.
When Elizabeth turned to him, Rodney agreed, "Yes, of course," but it stung in his mouth. A week ago he would have killed to carry a story into prime time. Tonight it was the last thing he wanted.
Apparently it showed. By the half-hour break, the crew was beginning to needle him about it.
"Screw that tornado. I want to punch that tornado in the face," said Ford, in a weird pinched voice that was evidently meant to be an impression of Rodney.
"Yeah, seriously. He hates it so hard, I keep expecting all the lights and lenses to just shatter from pure rage. What'd that tornado ever do to you, McKay?" Mehra kidded.
"People who lost their barns and their cows and their dogs in this tornado aren't as pissed about it as he is," said Bates from the soundboard.
"He hates it like disco," said Ford. "He hates it like cancer."
John gave Rodney a tiny, private smile. Rodney tilted his head in acknowledgment, feeling a little less like he wanted to personally unwind the cyclone.
Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson did standups from Belden. Daniel generated some excitement over the possibility that the second tornado might strike Sioux City, wild speculation being his stock in trade; Sam got hold of security camera footage showing the whitish V of the tornado wobbling by, stripping the leaves off a tree and hurling a Volkswagon into a wall.
Both funnels blew themselves out as EF1s. A few minor injuries, only a few houses damaged. A number of outbuildings fell apart and several cars were thrown around and banged up. A third tornado was sighted but never touched down.
By the time they went off the air at eight, Rodney was exhausted. He hated the conflict of reporting on a disaster: ambition made him want a big story, but a big story meant destruction and death. His feelings were even more contradictory now that his ambitions were changing. Especially since tonight his biggest ambition had been finally getting somewhere with John Sheppard.
"Tomorrow," he reminded John as they left the studio.
"I'll pick you up at six," John promised, scratching his jaw. He'd almost visibly grown a thick crop of stubble minute by minute throughout their coverage. At that rate, the guy could probably raise a beard in a weekend.
Rodney tried not to imagine a weekend in which John had better things to do than shave. He was frustrated enough already.
Saturday John showed up a few minutes early in a black sport coat and glowing white dress shirt with jeans.
"You look fantastic," Rodney said. "But. I've been driving myself crazy for the past hour because I realized I never heard the actual words from you that yes, this is a date."
"Christ, I knew it," Rodney threw up his hands. "What changed your mind?"
"What? I didn't change my mind," John said. "Look, I planned a date - another date, this is the fourth one, or I guess the third if you don't count group things as dates -"
Rodney could feel his eye twitching.
John must have noticed, saying quickly, "I planned a date, but Teyla called and she wants to talk to both of us, and she's free tonight."
"Oh." Rodney tipped up his chin, trying to will John to forget that whole thing about going crazy for the past hour. "All right. I can roll with a change in plans."
Despite the rustic decor, the restaurant was another upscale affair, with a prix fixe amount that made Rodney want to clutch his aching wallet. But even here, where people supposedly had manners, some diners openly gawked. The waitstaff ushered the four of them quickly to a secluded table, but still a few determined people sidetracked Teyla and Ronon long enough to get autographs.
Over dinner, the small talk was just as painless but just as odd as it had been the first time. John seemed to think he was in the doghouse over the change of plans, and even though Rodney was enjoying the conversation, he mostly wanted to be alone with John, illustrious company notwithstanding.
Teyla appeared to pick up on the undercurrents and soon said, "Let me come to the point. Rodney, I wanted to meet with you tonight because I'd like to ask for your participation in a project that Ronon and John and I have been working on for some time."
Ronon cut even quicker to the chase. "Teyla wants to do a show. A weekly thing, thirteen or twenty episodes a season, depending."
"In my original proposal, we intended to accompany researchers working closely to storms," said Teyla. "We pitched it to the network with a focus on storm chasing."
"I can't say I'm surprised," said Rodney.
Teyla smiled. "I knew as soon as John landed us safely just before Hurricane Ike that I would only feel that this project could be safe to pursue if he were the pilot."
The look on John's face was illuminating: sincere happiness and pride in his skill, nothing like the ironic affect he wore in the studio. He didn't belong at the desk, and Rodney finally let go of the last traces of resentment that the senior Sheppard's influence had put John there. It hadn't been fair to John, either.
"We're certain it could be a compelling program," said Teyla. "But a difficulty of the approach we proposed is that we cannot predict whether the researchers we follow will be able to connect with viewers."
"Didn't work out so much with the geoengineers," said Ronon. "We found enough people to get the message across. But a lot of people didn't work well on camera. Couldn't explain the work in layman's terms. Or got camera shy. We could only use a few lines from them. We had to stretch the material."
"And so we added a new idea," said Teyla. "If we team with a researcher of our own with a proven track record on camera, then we can guarantee that someone will be able to explain the science with clarity and hold the audience's interest."
"Bottom line, The Weather Station got a lot more committed to the project when we promised we could consistently make the weather science 'relatable,'" said Ronon. "Teyla floated your name and they liked it."
Rodney found his voice. "Of course. As well they should," but there was a little wobble at the end, and he swallowed hard.
Teyla seemed to hear what he was really saying, inclining her head, her expression warm. "Elizabeth had only the best to say about your ability to explain complex meteorology to a mass audience. And she pointed out that you have been reliable and flexible with all the extra airtime in recent weeks."
"They like reliable," Ronon said.
John said, "Teyla told them about your equipment and the work you've been doing. That really sold them. We can document your research, give it airtime if it works out. The producers are behind whatever gets us good storm footage."
"You were thinking about this when we went up last week," Rodney said to Ronon. "The idea about putting cameras in the Munchkins."
Ronon grinned. "I'm always thinking."
"We believe in this project. And we believe you would be a good fit as part of the team. But I want to be clear. This does represent a risk," Teyla cautioned. "If you agree to join us, you will make the pilot episode with us. But only the pilot has been picked up for now."
Rodney nodded, sobering.
"The show may not go to series. It may only develop into a miniseries or a special. Our special on geoengineering was meant to be a series, but the network did not believe the interest was there. And if this project does not become a regular series, an on-air position may not be available to you again after filming is complete."
"I understand," Rodney said.
She looked at him and smiled again. "Take some time to consider it," she said, before he had to ask if he could think about it.
He still thought John looked a little disappointed that he didn't agree right away.
John drove him home and parked in front of Rodney's condo. Rodney looked over, uncertain. The keys had a rental company keychain, a little reminder that John wasn't here to stay.
"Can we date if we're working together on this?" Rodney asked, because of all the many variables involved, somehow that had become one of the most important.
"Yeah, why not? We're working together now," John said.
"It's not the same," Rodney said, suddenly exasperated. He yanked open the car door and got out, ordering, "Come on."
John followed him to the door, hands in his pockets, watching his feet.
"What you have to understand is, I'm the socially inept geeky person in any given relationship," Rodney said. "So this stumbling and mumbling around that you're doing, you're going to have to decode it for me, because I don't have the skills to figure it out."
"I guess I should know that by now," John drawled, relaxing a little. "That first time we went out, you really didn't know that was a date?"
"Why would I?" Rodney asked, crossing his arms. "I didn't like you, and then I started to like you, and then I thought you were messing with me, and now I don't know what happened."
"I took you flying," John said.
"I get what that's about now, but at the time... it could've been a work thing," Rodney said. "I guess, the flirting, I see it now, but you're not very - demonstrative."
"Yeah..." John smiled an apology. He was a little taller than Rodney but somehow he still managed to look up at him through his lashes. "I guess I usually like to let the other guy make the first move."
Rodney practically broke both arms trying to unfold them faster than immediately, and gripped John by his shoulders and kissed him.
Their mouths met and they bumped noses but kept going anyway, holding for a long moment in discomfort until John tilted his head and suddenly they were a lot closer, John's hands curving at his waist, touch feathering against his shirt. John's lips moved, gentle, slow and ardent, his tongue sweeping lightly against Rodney's mouth til every inch of Rodney's skin felt activated and sensitized for more, already, more.
They broke and both nearly gasped their next breaths, and John tucked his nose against the side of Rodney's face and said against his skin, "Come with us."
Rodney bit the inside of his cheek and used his grip on John's shoulders to move him back a few inches.
"Not the right thing to say," John guessed.
"Really not," Rodney said.
"Me too." At least from the contours of John's jeans, Rodney wasn't the only one frustrated this time.
"I still owe you a rain check. Tornado check. Tomorrow?"
Rodney could barely believe he was capable of it, but he heard himself say, "I think I need to decide about the show first."
John nodded. "Okay." He leaned close and kissed Rodney again, light and lingering, before he left.
The lasting impression of his kiss, and the heat of his body, and regret all stayed with Rodney for a long while before he finally got some sleep.
Monday, Rodney went to his office and looked around as if he'd never seen it before. Three laptops, stuffed file cabinets, his polished oak desk, the familiar little box of the Honeywell thermostat, the nubbly carpet underfoot.
He hadn't been in long before Zelenka arrived, shutting the door behind him.
"Rumors everywhere," he said. "True?"
"Which one?" Rodney asked casually.
Radek kicked his foot.
"Ow! Yes, fine, they asked me."
"And you haven't said yes. For more money?"
"No. I should probably call my agent, though," Rodney realized, "or, no, she'll tear my ear off, I'll email her."
"Why, then?" Radek persisted.
"It's a big commitment. I need to think about it."
"I think you should do it," said Radek. "I think if this, here, is really what you want? You wouldn't be so sour after Malcolm phones."
"Yes, I know this is Rodney for 'you are so very right, Radek.' So I'll let you alone til you figure out that is what you mean." Radek paused at the door. "I am glad for you, my friend."
"Yes," Rodney said. "Well. Thank you."
He'd spent all day Sunday thinking about the offer, and kicking himself for sending John away. Mostly kicking himself. Especially because, if he were honest about it, he could have gotten past John's bad timing. (John's mouth could have accomplished that in no time.) But after all his frustration with John, a vindictive little part of him wanted to get some of his own back.
That vindictive little part of him needed to die, because he'd cheated himself out of sleeping with John, was he nuts? What if Rodney ended up turning down the show? Or something else happened to call the deal off? He might never get another chance.
But he couldn't let that influence him... for some reason. He needed to make this decision on the merits.
His career was on track here at the studio. If he had enough credibility built up to be a viable candidate for Teyla's show, then he was in a good position, and he could keep improving it over time. With dedication, he might eventually be in a position to become a host in his own right. In the meantime he could continue to work on his theories and models from the math and programming side, finding better ways to use and process the existing data.
He didn't like the anchor job, but he could do it as a means to an end. Though that would be a bit hypocritical: he'd despised John for occupying the anchor chair when he didn't really want that position. A little ridiculous to contemplate the same thing.
Contra the show offer, though, there was the uncertainty. He might uproot his entire life and give up all his banked goodwill at the station for something that could be over a few months.
He'd gone up with John just twice. And while he'd enjoyed it both times, neither trip had been all that dangerous. The show would be.
As part of a team, he wouldn't be calling the shots. No more of that sense of authority he liked so much about doing forecasts. Teyla would be in charge. And Rodney would have to take direction from Ronon on camera, and from John in the air.
And something else made him hesitate. After leaving academia for The Weather Station and investing the time and effort to get to this point, maybe he didn't want his career as a forecaster to have been a four-year-long sidebar from the rest of his life.
There was also Malcolm. He felt a surprising pang when Radek mentioned him. He supposed he'd always had a sense of safety, knowing that no matter what happened, he'd always run into Malcolm again, and they'd probably sleep together.
Rodney had dated other men and women, had even thought of proposing to Katie before it fell apart, but somewhere in the back of his mind he kept thinking that Malcolm would always be there, and maybe it made him feel obligated to always be there too. It was like he'd been in a slow-motion bad relationship for sixteen years.
If he stayed, he was choosing to devote the lion's share of his professional time and energy to delivering lines from a teleprompter, relationships that fizzled because he didn't fully commit to them, and vitriolic phone calls with Malcolm, punctuated by regrettable sex every year or two.
It was a safer bet. But if that was safety...
There was a knock on his office door, and Elizabeth stuck her head in. "Can I come in?"
"Yes," Rodney said, and started guiltily, realized he'd just been sitting there weighing his choices as if he didn't still have a broadcast starting in three hours.
"It's been an eventful few weeks," Elizabeth said, sitting opposite his desk. "I know you have a lot on your mind, but I wanted to update you about your forecast modeling software."
"I told you it would take some time," she said. "We had a few of the staff meteorologists volunteer to work with it, and after a few weeks, they recommended it; they didn't want to give it up, actually. Of course it all depends on how negotiations go, but the station is interested in licensing the software, and I'm confident we can work something out."
"I'm leaving," Rodney said, abrupt and unstoppable; it came on him all at once. If the station was adopting his software, the last few years hadn't been wasted. He'd made a contribution, and he'd gained experience that had prepared him for something he was suddenly and surely convinced he'd love more than the studio. It was enough.
"Congratulations," said Elizabeth, standing. Rodney followed her to the door, done ruminating; she said, "I suppose we won't be seeing much of you around here anymore."
"No. Though I'd still like to have some of Radek's time, if it would be possible to work with him remotely."
"You could try to get him on staff for the show," said Elizabeth.
"I don't think he'd like to travel." Rodney waffled, but pushed himself to add, "He likes it here. You're here."
She tipped her head and looked at him, inquiring; he spread his hands helplessly, and she began to smile. "I didn't know that."
"Would you rather you didn't?" Rodney worried.
She set her hand on his shoulder, and to his astonishment, gave him an actual hug. "I'm glad you told me," she said. "We'll miss you here, Rodney."
"Um, likewise," he said, and hugged her back.
The vindictive little part of him hadn't died yet, because Rodney waited until after they wrapped for the day before he told John his decision.
"Finally," John said, heartfelt - no irony at all.
"Yes. Your last day before Vala comes back will be my last day too. Of course, I'll have to see about building a lot more Munchkins, and find a better helmet, and I think I'm going to have to build up some tolerance for flying idiotically close to storms -"
"Hey, Rodney." John clasped his hand, thumb stroking across Rodney's palm, warm with promise. "Where do lightning bolts go on dates?"
Unwillingly, oh so unwillingly, Rodney's mouth curved up.
John pointed at him. "I think that means I win."
"I've heard that one," Rodney argued.
"But you smiled," John said, stepping closer and slipping both arms snug around him. "You're still smiling."
"You're right," Rodney grinned, relaxing. "You got me."