"So." Rodney's voice sounded almost casual, but he had a bit of the crazy around his eyes and he was blinking kind of a lot.
"So," John replied agreeably, sitting up in bed. It wasn't the first time Rodney had showed up in his quarters after midnight looking hunted, but it hadn't happened in at least a month. John was inclined to cut him a little slack.
"McKay?" he prompted when Rodney remained plastered against the inside of John's door, looking unlikely to move anytime soon.
"Hmm?" The look Rodney turned on him was puzzled and polite, so John knew this was a major freak-out.
He sighed. "Did you come to tuck me in?"
"Very funny." Rodney inched cautiously into the room. "So," he said again.
"So," John said.
"Cut that out."
In a major feat of tolerance and friendly understanding, John did not point out that Rodney was the one who had come into his room in the middle of the night. There hadn't been any alarms and no one had called on the radio, so Atlantis was fine. Which meant that Rodney's little crisis was personal. John weighed the likelihood of Rodney going away if he closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. The odds weren't in his favor.
"Spit it out, Rodney."
Rodney looked briefly affronted, then schooled his features and smiled ingratiatingly which was ten times worse. "I was thinking it's been too long since you and I spent any time together. Did you know that Harmony's commanded we make a state visit so she can show off what a good little despot she's become? Or we could go to that beach you're always babbling about. You could teach me to... surf. Doesn't that sound fun?" Judging from the pained expression on his face, John doubted even Rodney thought he'd pulled that one off. "Anything that takes us offworld for a few days. Or weeks. Weeks would be good."
Rodney was John's best friend, which was why he didn't smother him with his pillow. His heart went out to the guy. Something was obviously bothering him, and under ordinary circumstances John would have liked to help. But these were not ordinary circumstances.
"You can't go offworld now." John tried to sound patient. "You're busy. Very, very busy."
Rodney's face fell.
For the first time, John felt panic stirring in his stomach. "Rodney," he growled. "Did you do something to my ship?"
Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "Your ship is fine." He paused, momentarily derailed. "You do realize calling it that makes you sound crazy."
He was one to talk. John scooted back in his bed until his back was against the wall and pulled the covers up to his chin. It was his ship. Or at least it was going to be.
How many alien spaceships did he have to find before he finally got to keep one? There had been the Aurora and the beautiful Orion, both destroyed before their time. Not to mention whatever that thing the Travelers had wanted him to fly was called.
John knew his new ship wasn't the prettiest or the most maneuverable thing around. He would have preferred a nice new shiny Daedalus-class cruiser, but the IOA would never allow one of those to be assigned permanently to Atlantis. Even if they did somehow get one through some kind of bureaucratic error, those ships still needed a crew and a commander like Caldwell or Ellis. John was not sharing.
No, John had found this ship, dead in orbit around M6X-209, and he was keeping it. It was far from perfect, but that only made John love it more--like an ugly puppy. And it had one great advantage over a Daedalus or even O'Neill-class ship: Earth would never want it.
So it was a Wraith hive ship, was that so terrible? It could still zip across the galaxy through hyperspace. Hyperspace. John grinned.
"Sheppard." Rodney's voice broke into John's thoughts. "Stop drooling."
Right. Rodney's problem. As long as it didn't have anything to do with John's new spaceship, he supposed he was willing to listen. If it had been any other expedition member coming to him for help in the dead of night, John might have thought the insane eyes and wandering thoughts were symptoms of overwork.
But Rodney thrived on too much work. He'd been filled with glee when they'd found the hive ship, empty except for what was left of its crew, dusty and desiccated after several thousand years dead--a hive ship, with almost nothing wrong with it, and loads of time to take it apart, put it back together, and really see what made it tick. Rodney knew plenty about Wraith technology, but he'd never had the chance to study a ship in depth--the Wraith ships they usually ran across had the sad tendency to be in the middle of battles, or filled with Wraith who were trying to kill them, or both.
From what they could tell, this hive ship hadn't communicated with anyone in well over five thousand years--not since the Queen and most of the crew had died in what looked like an ill-fated coup. The Atlanteans had done a thorough job of taking the ship off the Wraith network anyway, destroying much of its communications array in the process. Teyla had flown it back to Atlantis, and it was now in a geostationary orbit above the city. John liked to go out to a balcony in the middle of the day and look up, just to get a thrill. It was too far up in space to actually see anything, but John knew it was there.
That had been a month ago, and Rodney had been working day and night ever since, caught up in the thrill of investigation. He was convinced some of the technology could be applied to Atlantis. More importantly he was sure he could adapt the navigational interface so that you didn't need Wraith DNA to fly it. That was where John came in. He was getting a spaceship.
"You're absolutely sure you didn't hurt my ship?" John gave Rodney his most narrow-eyed glare, just in case.
Rodney grimaced. "Please stop calling it that."
"I haven't even gotten to pick a name out for her yet." Privately John was torn between the Evel Knievel and the Ring of Fire, but Rodney didn't need to know that.
"This has nothing to do with your stupid hive ship, all right? Teyla--" Rodney choked himself off.
"Teyla? What did you do to Teyla?"
John really hoped Rodney hadn't done anything to piss Teyla off. If Rodney got himself beaten to a pulp it would slow down his work on the navigational interface.
"Nothing. I--" Rodney's face went all pinched and miserable, and he sat down hard on John's bed.
Whatever it was, Teyla would probably forgive him. Eventually. She'd always had a pretty high tolerance for Rodney, finding him amusing instead of exasperating. And she knew Rodney genuinely respected her, which would count in his favor. Thinking back, trouble had probably been inevitable--Teyla and Rodney had been spending most of the past month practically in each others' pockets.
As soon as they'd gotten John's hive ship to Atlantis, Rodney had grabbed Teyla--metaphorically--and announced she would be working with him as his second-in-command for the foreseeable future and anyone else who needed her would have to wait--the Marines would have to content themselves with only getting beaten up by Ronon for the time being. After all, Teyla was Atlantis's second greatest expert in Wraith technology, behind only Rodney himself. Teyla had raised an eyebrow but hadn't objected to Rodney's plans for her. Zelenka had muttered in Czech, but had had to say no when Rodney asked him if he could fly a Wraith ship.
Rodney had let Radek work on the hive ship's weapons array to mollify him, and he and Teyla had gotten started on the bridge and hyperdrive. As far as John knew it had been going swimmingly. The propulsion systems checked out A-OK, and Rodney had come up with a rudimentary patch so the control systems could be operated by non-Wraith. So far it responded sluggishly--even to Teyla--which Rodney insisted was the fault of the ship having laid abandoned for so long. This meant the hive ship could lumber through space, but was incapable of doing any serious maneuvering in atmosphere.
Still, Rodney was convinced he'd crack that nut any day now. Both he and Teyla always seemed exceptionally cheerful every morning at breakfast before catching their puddle jumper ride up to the hive ship to start the day's work. A week ago Rodney had discovered a way to increase the length of the ship's hyperspace jumps, and lately he and Teyla had been making great breakthroughs in understanding how the Wraith generated power. Apparently they might even be able to apply their new knowledge to Atlantis's own generators. John wouldn't know--he hadn't been allowed on the ship since the first week. It seemed that some people didn't like him checking up on them. He wasn't hovering, no matter what Rodney said, but Carter had suddenly decided John's days would be better spent drilling the new Marines on the mainland.
With all that togetherness it was no wonder Rodney had finally said or done something that upset Teyla. John looked over to where Rodney hunched miserably on John's bed. He didn't look like he was going to say what he'd done any time soon, but the causal action didn't really matter.
John put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Here's what you're gonna do. Go to Teyla. Say you've come to realize your acts have consequences, and promise her you won't do it again."
Problem solved. John gave Rodney a hearty pat on the back and tried to push him off his bed. He didn't budge.
It must be worse than John had thought. "Okay, then. Offer to meditate with her."
Rodney was still doing his impression of a lump. John sighed. "Help me out, buddy. I thought the work was going good."
That got a reaction. Rodney turned to him with shining eyes. "It is. Teyla's brilliant. She has the kind of knack for Wraith interfaces I haven't seen since, well, me. And she can understand instructions the first time--unlike certain people I could mention."
Was that a dig? That was totally a dig. John decided to be the bigger man and ignore it. What was important now was helping Rodney. So he could get back to work on John's ship.
"She's the best lab partner I ever had. She knows what I'm going to say before I say it. Tonight she had this fantastic idea about integrating organic crystals into the navigation system that'll save us months of work, and I just couldn't help myself, I--"
Rodney was silent.
"For chrissake, Rodney, I can't help you if--"
"She was sitting there being ridiculously smart and creative, and I--"
"I kissed her."
Oh. John was glad he was already sitting down. He hadn't been expecting that at all. A horrible thought occurred to him. "This isn't going to get in the way of you working together on my ship, is it?"
His ship. John still got a rush out of saying that out loud. He remembered the first time he'd boarded her. She was a little squishier than he liked in a ship, generally, and given the choice, he wouldn't have picked such... bold shades of purple and green for her interior. And he could have lived without the pulsing walls, but it had still been love at first sight. She had a real vibe about her. Rodney and Teyla must have felt it too.
"Sheppard!" Rodney snapped his fingers annoyingly close to his face. "Focus!"
John batted Rodney's hand away. "Okay. You kissed her. Did she slug you?"
"Did she kiss you back?"
"No. Maybe. Sort of? I didn't stick around long enough to find out." Rodney dropped his face into his hands. "Jesus, what was I thinking?"
John's head was spinning a little, but this at least was familiar territory. It was always the same when Rodney was interested in a woman. He put them so far up on a pedestal it was a wonder they didn't get nosebleeds. Rodney never stood a chance of being good enough for these impossibly elevated women. John hated seeing him kick himself around like that.
Of course, this time Rodney had a point. This was Teyla. Rodney wasn't good enough for Teyla. Nobody was. Which was kind of hard on her, John supposed. Still, Rodney's freak-out wasn't going to do anybody any good.
"You need to talk to her."
"No. I need to be offworld. If you don't want to go, I'm sure someone else--"
"I'm not like you. I can't just walk up to a woman and say, 'Trust me, baby, I'm in the Air Force.'"
"I do not--"
"You so do. You're all charming and hairy and they eat out of the palm of your hand. In fact--" Rodney broke off speculatively. John didn't like the glint in his eye. "You should talk to her for me."
"I don't think so."
"C'mon." Rodney waved a hand in circle near John's torso. "Use that whole... Sheppard thing for someone else for once. Talk me up. Find out if she likes me."
"Sure. Because we're in junior high."
"Just find out what she's thinking." Rodney looked at him in a way that was probably meant to be appealing. "You owe me a favor."
"I do not."
"Fine, I'll give you my lunch money."
"I'll do your homework for a week?"
"Seriously, get out now."
John was not going to sound Teyla out, no matter what Rodney wanted. He was thirty years out of junior high, thank god, and a colonel in the god damn USAF. Rodney could find someone else to pass his notes for him.
So there were no ulterior motives involved when he found himself across a table from her in the commissary the next morning. Rodney would normally be there having breakfast too, but he was hiding, the coward.
Breakfast with his team was usually one of the bright points of John's day, spent in happy discussion, of late mostly about John's awesome new ship. For some reason Ronon had stopped joining them quite so often--John could see him two tables over laughing it up with the Marines--but that was okay. He and Teyla and Rodney usually had a great time.
But this morning Teyla was quiet, pushing her roona-egg omelet around her plate without actually eating any of it. Every once in a while she sighed. She had to be thinking about Rodney--probably trying to decide whether she should kick his ass with her sticks or her bare hands.
The idea of Teyla schooling Rodney had amusement value, but it would be disastrous for team harmony. As leader it was John's job to distract her from any nascent homicidal thoughts she might be having.
"So," he said.
Teyla continued to poke at her eggs.
"So," John said a little louder.
Her fork clattered to the table. "Pardon me, John. I did not realize you were there."
"You were looking straight at me."
She smiled wanly and returned to not eating her omelet. It looked like John was going to have to do the heavy lifting in this conversation. "So... How's it going with my ship?"
Teyla's smile turned slightly strained around the corners. She folded her napkin thoughtfully.
"John, I feel I would not be a good friend if I did not tell you something."
Was she going to talk about Rodney? "Go ahead," he said with some trepidation.
"I find your... enthusiasm about the Wraith vessel somewhat disturbing."
That's what he got for trying to be nice. John wished Teyla and Rodney would get over it already. So they didn't like his new hive ship. Did that mean they had to keep trying to harsh his buzz? If they were both too short-sighted to see how totally cool it would be to have your own bitching interstellar ride, maybe they deserved each other after all.
Huh. When he stopped to think about it, that didn't really seem like such a bad idea. He wouldn't say Rodney and Teyla had a lot in common, exactly, but they'd probably balance each other well in a relationship. Teyla was a great girl, but it wouldn't hurt her to have a little of Rodney's manic energy sometimes, and god knew Rodney could use some of Teyla's calm. The two of them had just spent a month together without actual violence, so they obviously liked each other enough to give it a go.
John liked to think of himself as the kind of guy who wanted to see his friends happy--and not just for the sake of team harmony. Teyla and Rodney were good people. They both deserved someone. It was a crying shame Teyla wasn't attracted to Rodney.
She was pushing her eggs distractedly around again, so John took the opportunity to look closely at her, trying to see through to the real Teyla.
She frowned. "Is there something on my forehead?"
John shook his head. He tried to think of a subtle way to find out whether she was interested in Rodney, but all that kept coming to mind was a note with check-boxes, "Do you like McKay, yes or no?" He grimaced. If only a guy could tell what Teyla was thinking without having to actually ask her. But she was always so unreadable to John, calm and serene no matter what the crisis. Teyla could face a Wraith with a cool steel gaze, then turn around and take out an army of replicators without breaking a sweat. Nothing ever got to her. She looked back at him now with her usual imperturbable expression.
And then it happened. If John hadn't been looking so closely, he would have missed it--Teyla's eyebrow twitched. It hardly seemed possible that something had disturbed her perfect features, so he looked again and there it was--a slight but unmistakable twitch. For Teyla that counted as a level nine freak-out. John decided maybe he didn't want to have this conversation after all.
He pushed his chair back, but Teyla laid a hand on his forearm. "There is something else I wish to speak of with you."
There was no point trying to make a break for it--Teyla's grip was like a band of steel wire. He waited warily--mentally crossing his fingers this wasn't about Rodney. Maybe she just wanted to diss his ship again.
"I believe there is a tradition on your world," she began haltingly. "Or so your narratives would lead me to believe--When your people wish to... court, is it not true you often ask a trusted companion to intercede on your behalf with the object of your affection?"
It took John a moment to parse that, then his stomach fell to his boots. He sat up straight. She must have learned somehow that Rodney had asked him to feel her out.
"Look, Teyla," he began.
"Would you perform this service for me?"
"I don't know how you found out--For you?"
She coughed, then seemed to steel herself. "I wish to know if Rodney returns my feelings."
"Feelings? There are feelings?" Whoa. John took a sip of juice to give himself time to think.
"If you could speak to him? Or perhaps he has confided in you already?"
"Um..." John felt unexpectedly dizzy.
Her face suddenly changed. On anyone else, John would have called it embarrassment. "You do not wish to involve yourself. I understand."
"Wait a minute--"
"I should not ask you to trade on your friendship."
"I didn't say--"
"No," Teyla said firmly. "You are right. If I wish to understand Rodney's feelings I should ask him myself."
"I'm pretty sure he--"
"You are wiser than I am in this case." She smiled ruefully.
"I feel much better for our talk. My course of action is now clear."
"Yes. Thank you, John."
She stood. "And now I must go. We are testing the hive ship in atmosphere today."
John felt an excited fluttering in his stomach. "Converting the control systems is going that well?"
She nodded. "Rodney is pleased with our progress. Though he admits there is only so much he can do with a 'moldy old Wraith ship.'"
"Mold?" John sat up, alarmed.
Teyla scanned the other tables and sighed. "Rodney will be cranky if he misses breakfast." A sudden bright smile lit her face. "I believe I will bring him a muffin."
John had to sit there a minute after she left to let his head clear. He wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, but he was cautiously prepared to call it a good thing. After all, John had his ship, why shouldn't Rodney and Teyla find love too? As long as it didn't distract them from their work, of course.
Still thinking it over, John got up to bus his tray. He was dumping the congealing remains of his eggs when Rodney barreled through the entrance, brushing past John as he made a beeline toward the serving dishes. He was so intent on the food that he nearly crashed into Teyla on her way out with her newly acquired muffin. They both froze, staring at each other.
It was excruciating, like watching two furry little animals in the beams of an oncoming truck. John was about to just mash them together and see what happened when Teyla spoke.
About a year later Rodney said, "Teyla."
She held out the muffin. "I thought you might like this."
"Oh!" Rodney reached out for it, startled. "Yes, I-- Thank you. Blueberry? They use lemon zest in the recipe, but I--"
Teyla yanked her hand away, looking mortified. "Forgive me, I did not mean--"
"No, no. I appreciate the--"
"I cannot understand how I could make such a terrible mistake."
"No, it was... thoughtful." He reached out for it again. "Maybe I could-- "
John thought he'd better step in before Rodney sacrificed himself to the citrus gods in the name of love. He and Teyla had better pull themselves together before they put their hands all over John's spaceship.
He clapped a hand on Rodney's shoulder, pushing him toward the food. "Eat something, McKay."
"Right. Yes. Good idea. I'll... see you soon." He flashed Teyla a quick smile then headed off. John was pleased to see he managed to make it to the food line without bumping into anything.
John detoured around Teyla, who was clutching her sad little muffin and staring after Rodney. He took a moment to be grateful for Ronon, who was apparently the only member of his team older than twelve.
His warm feeling lasted almost three minutes, until Ronon started an oatmeal fight with four of the Marines and an anthropologist.
Even if John had wanted to spend the day worrying about his lovelorn teammates--which he did not--his schedule wouldn't have allowed it. Around his eleventh month in Atlantis, Lorne had finally wised up and started refusing to do more than half of his commanding officer's paperwork, so John's morning was filled with mind-numbing requisition forms--the way the expedition went through C-4, you'd think they were eating the stuff. After that, it was off to the mainland to drill a contingent of Marines in jungle contact exercises--which mostly meant trying not to laugh out loud as they hilariously jumped out at each other from behind trees.
All in all, Rodney and Teyla didn't cross John's mind more than two or three times. An hour. He wondered if he should nudge one or the other of them in the right direction with a few well-chosen words, or let nature take its undoubtedly glacial course. This was the kind of thing he would normally go to Teyla with, but that didn't seem like a good idea.
There was no hurry. Rodney's romances tended to move at a snail's pace--he and Teyla would probably be dancing around each other for months. Of more immediate concern was John's new ship. His teammates' ridiculous crushes had better not mean they would try to draw out their work on his baby. John had been patient so far, but there was only so long he was willing to wait.
Nobody loved her like John did--it was completely unfair he wasn't allowed to be there for the test through atmosphere. It had to go well--John's heart couldn't take losing another ship. He still choked up when he thought about the Orion's messy end.
That wouldn't happen this time. There were no two people in any galaxy that John trusted more than he did Rodney and Teyla. If they said they were ready, then they were ready.
It wouldn't be long before the ship was his forever. John felt a wave of powerful emotion sweep through him. Blinking, he swallowed hard and looked to the sky. His beautiful ship was up there somewhere, waiting for him.
Soon, he promised her. Soon.
John was going to kill Rodney and Teyla. He was going to make sure they were all right--and they were--and then he was going to take them apart and put them back together.
Rodney had better hope he'd been hurt in the crash. If he was okay, John was going to kick his ass. How hard was it not to destroy a spaceship? John did it every day. He pushed down the panic that was trying to flutter through his chest and ran faster. He was almost at the infirmary.
All he knew was the hive ship had gone down in the Atlantean ocean, and Rodney and Teyla had been taken to Doctor Keller. The Marines who had been on board had escaped in the jumper along with Zelenka and his crew, but no one had seen Rodney and Teyla evacuate the plunging vessel.
But they had, because they were here in Atlantis. Carter had said so. In the infirmary. John hadn't stuck around to hear any more.
He'd still been on the mainland when he'd heard the roar and looked up to see a distant ball of fire that had to be the hive ship burning up in atmosphere hurtling toward the planet at a sickening angle. It was going to hit the ocean with his people on board. John started running. It felt like he hadn't stopped since, but he supposed there must have been a jumper ride in there somewhere.
And he'd lost yet another spaceship. Was he cursed? All he'd ever wanted since he was a kid watching Star Wars was his own space cruiser, was that so wrong? If Rodney and Teyla were okay, he would give up on the idea. He would make a solemn vow not to so much as kick the tires of anything with a hyperdrive ever again.
It seemed like forever, but John finally stuttered to a halt outside the infirmary door. He needed a second to catch his breath. It wouldn't help his teammates to see a panicky team leader. He made sure he had his game face on then waved a hand at the door control.
"--were amazing," Rodney was saying.
Relief rushed through John, washing over him so powerfully his knees buckled and froze in place. He could see Rodney and Teyla awake and sitting on an examination table together, a privacy curtain haphazardly drawn around the area. It only partially obscured them from John's vision. They hadn't noticed him coming in. He stood just inside the infirmary entrance, unsure if he should interrupt.
Rodney had one of Teyla's hands clutched between his. She was speaking, low and earnest. "We should not have rushed our tests. I am sorry."
Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "Please. If I couldn't fix the control systems, they were unfixable. Better to find out now and not waste any more time. I wonder if there's a way I can blame this on Radek. He might give up lab seven if I can make him feel guilty enough."
"Rodney." Teyla's voice was admonishing, but merriment danced in her eyes. "I am certain you are far too devoted to science to ignore empirical evidence for the sake of a desired outcome."
Teyla's face turned serious. "Are you very disappointed?"
"Nah, what's one lousy Wraith hive ship, more or less? Do I look like Sheppard to you?"
That was it. John was kicking his ass. He was about to make his presence known when something in Teyla's smile stopped him. It looked almost... shy. She raised a hand to Rodney's cheek.
"You look like only yourself to me," she said.
John didn't know what that even meant, but Rodney seemed to like it, leaning into her touch.
"I can't believe you flew a dart." He sounded giddy. "You're amazing. How did you know how to do that?"
"I do not know. Perhaps another gift of my Wraith DNA." Teyla ran her thumb slowly across Rodney's cheekbone. "It seemed to come naturally when there was no other choice."
John couldn't see Rodney's face from where he was, but he was pretty sure about how he felt. How could anyone not love Teyla? It was impossible. But Teyla. Everything was there in her eyes, her face open in a way he'd never seen it before as she looked at Rodney. The depth of emotion took his breath away. He'd had no idea.
John watched Rodney tilt his forehead to Teyla's. "I was so scared," he said quietly enough that John had to strain to hear. "Not for me--okay, yes for me because imminent death is one of my least favorite things--but mostly I was frightened something was going to happen to you. And there was nothing I could do."
John knew he shouldn't be watching this, but he didn't want to take the chance they would hear him leaving. He tried to blend into the wall.
"You are a good man, Rodney." Teyla raised her hands to Rodney's shoulders. "I am glad we are both still here so I may do this."
She kissed him. John saw Rodney freeze a moment before joining in, his hands moving to caress her hair, her bare shoulders, the back of her neck. It was very sweet in a completely disturbing nothing-John-ever-needed-to-see way. It wasn't long before the kiss grew in intensity. Wow. John didn't know Rodney had it in him.
They wouldn't hear him now if he broke into "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the top of his lungs. John took the opportunity to flee the room before clothes started coming off.
The infirmary door slid shut behind him. So John was down a spaceship and Teyla and Rodney got each other. It didn't quite seem like a fair trade--his teammates finding love at the price of John's broken heart--but he was going to be happy for them, damn it, no matter how much effort it took.
He had loved and lost before, more times than he cared to count. He knew the drill by now. Beer and country music would get him through the first stages, then the thing to do was tamp it all down into a hard little ball at the bottom of his heart. So what if the love of John's life was lying broken in little pieces at the bottom of the Atlantean ocean? John knew he would love again someday.
Especially since it was clear that Teyla and Rodney were obviously much more than okay, so John's vow to give up looking for a spaceship didn't count. In fact, since the Evel Knievel (or Ring of Fire) had played an instrumental part in getting Rodney a girlfriend, he figured Rodney owed him a new ship. It was the least he could do after killing John's dream. He was sure Teyla would agree.
Rodney might even build him a spaceship, if he got Teyla to ask. It was definitely something to think about.
He headed down the hall toward the transporter, whistling a little.