Author: popkin16 & silvarbelle
Word Count: ~2000
Prompt: mcsheplets challenge #121 Tradition
Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay
Summary: Rodney participates in an Athosian ceremony that encourages people to speak up.
Notes: This got away from us, length-wise.
There's time to wait
But no time to waste
It was damp on the mainland, the sky overcast. The air was chill and damp, the possibility of rain very real. It didn't keep the Athosians from their celebrating, and for once, Rodney didn't mind being away from the labs. The mission earlier that day had gone south, as so many do, and he was tired and a little sore. He wanted to just be with his team. The celebration held on the mainland by the Athosians was a good excuse to get out and relax, shed the responsibilities and worry that came with being the CSO and member of the primary off-world team.
It would be good to sit and eat and drink, watching his team relax – and dance. Teyla was always graceful, while John's dancing was good for a laugh. Rodney was looking forward to it as he and Ronon planted themselves near the food tables.
When their jumper finally landed, the party had already begun. The tables full of food were set out, Athosian cuisine mixed with Earth food. People were talking and laughing, the musicians gathering in the west end of the clearing and preparing their instruments, and torches were placed strategically around the area, creating light for the dance area and the food tables, casting the edges of the clearing in darkness - the better for people to become intimately acquainted.
Teyla gave the celebration spiel, the meaning the same, though the words changed from year to year: "This is a celebration to remind us that each day is precious," she said calmly, smiling in greeting at a group of marines and Athosian hunters as they passed. "That time is not to be wasted. The Wraith are an ever-present threat, and time is a commodity we do not have in excess." She turned serious, dark eyes on her teammates. "Do not put off what needs to be said. There is no guarantee of a tomorrow. If you wish to share with someone, speak now. It is better to try then to spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been."
The same as every year, the men of AR-1 nodded and murmured their understanding. Unlike years previous, her speech hit home in a way it hadn't before. This year there would be no Carson or Elizabeth. Rodney couldn't help but think of all the things he wished he'd said, the thanks and respect he should have expressed. The hurt their loss had caused seemed to feed into each other, creating an always present ache; the hurt of their absence doubling until he felt he couldn't breathe through it every visit to the infirmary, to Elizabeth's - now Sam's - office.
He missed them. He should have told them how much he cared.
Teyla did the Athosian head-thing with all three of her teammates. When it was Rodney's turn, he breathed deep: smelling her spicy scent, her presence calming him, their body heat warming the space between them. When she stepped back, she met Rodney's eyes, quirking an eyebrow in question. He nodded, swallowing heavily. He was going to do it this year. If Rodney's plans went south, there would be plenty of ways to avoid John.
Eventually the music started and people gathered on the dance floor. As the sun sank slowly toward the horizon, the noise level went louder, and when it was completely dark save the light for the fire pit and torches, the children were sent to bed - and out came the alcohol.
The team went their separate ways, Ronon and Rodney heading for the food, Teyla and John to greet Halling and others. Rodney had to wait for the best moment - not the perfect one, because such a thing didn't exist, but one close enough. The team was staying on the mainland overnight, emergencies notwithstanding. It would give Rodney plenty of opportunity to avoid John for a few hours if everything went badly.
Despite not being a huge fan of parties, the Athosian celebrations always seemed to pass quickly – something for which Rodney was grateful as he was generally a very busy man with lots to do. He was soon full, limiting himself to nibbling on various foods as he watched 'Lanteans and Athosians alike drink and laugh, spirits high and feet light. Rodney routinely caught glimpses of John playing with the children or having a serious discussion with a group of people. Rodney couldn't help but watch him, once again noticing that the corners of John's eyes crinkled when he smiled or laughed - which wasn't often enough.
The crowds were beginning to thin now: some retiring to their tents, others gathering in some groups, wrapped in shawls and long-sleeved shirts as the chill in the air grew sharper. Rodney had drunk a couple cups of fortifying alcohol, and he knew if he didn't do it soon, another year would pass and another traditional celebration would come around. He'd been swearing he would do it every year for three years now. Rodney couldn't put it off forever.
"There's no guarantee of a tomorrow," Rodney said out loud, and remembered their mission earlier today: the dash for the gate, the shouts of the natives, the arrows in the air – one of which had come perilously close to Sheppard’s neck. Rodney set his cup down on the food table and made his way carefully around the groups of people, eyes fixed on John's slouched form. He was listening politely to the conversation, calm and relaxed and mildly interested. Rodney hated to bother him, especially for something uncomfortable like emotions.
He reached the group and tapped John's upper arm twice, careful not to let the touch linger. Though he was more comfortable with his team than he was with anyone else, John still wasn't a fan of prolonged, uninvited touching.
"Hey, buddy," John drawled, corner of his lips quirking into a grin.
"Hey," Rodney said, feeling his heart begin to pound and his hands begin to sweat. He fought not to appear as anxious as he felt and knew he was probably unsuccessful. John was looking mildly concerned. Rodney very nearly backed down, but then John shifted just enough that he could see the thin red cut on John’s neck where the arrow had sliced across his skin. Rodney jerked his head toward a small group of trees at the edge of the clearing, where the light didn't quite reach. "Can we, uh, talk for a minute?"
Still looking mildly concerned, John followed Rodney to the trees. They were barely out of the clearing when John reached out and gripped Rodney's upper arm, pulling him to a stop.
"Fine, everything's fine," Rodney squeaked. He wished his ability with words didn't abandon him at times like this, didn't gather in his throat and escape his mouth in a stuttering, rapid fire manner. Couldn't he be smooth, just this once?
John tilted his head, eyes searching Rodney's face. Whatever he saw there made the other man nod and continue on to the trees, though his body was tense. Though Rodney knew John wouldn't be relaxed while Rodney talked about his feelings, he hadn't been prepared for the way John's tension made him feel even tenser.
Oh god, Rodney thought. This is going to be a disaster.
Just as Rodney opened his mouth, John suddenly glanced away, licked his lips, and blurted out, "Hey, as long as we're here... I have something I need to say to you, too."
Rodney blinked rapidly, taken aback. He hadn't expected John to say anything until Rodney had finished his own little prepared speech. "Oh...well. Ah, okay. Perfect timing, since we're alone and all. What'd you want to say?"
John opened his mouth... stalled. He gestured while making a weird face. "Well, no, y'know? You asked me out here first. Kinda rude to interrupt. What'd you have to say?"
Rodney's mouth opened and closed, at a loss for words. This entire thing had derailed him, hadn't gone anything like the numerous ways he'd played this scene out in his mind. This hadn't been a scenario he'd foreseen. "Well, I. Today is a time where people traditionally say or do things they've always meant to, but...didn't." Rodney winced. God, he was terrible at this. He could feel his face turning red.
John nodded. He made tumbling motions with his hands. "Yeah, I - yeah! I get that. I mean: me, too."
Then, he winced.
Rodney was relieved to notice that he wasn't the only one making an absolute hash of this.
John sighed and reached for the back of his neck. "Okay, wait. Lemme try again by saying: what did you need to say to me, Rodney?"
Rodney cleared his throat, nervously rubbing his right thumb against the palm of his left hand. He took a deep breath, jerked his chin up, and said in a rush, "For some time now I have regarded you with...with...that is, I respect you a great deal. And I can't help but feel..ah. Attracted. To you." He couldn't bring himself to meet John's eyes, feeling sick with fear, his breath feeling trapped in his chest. "I...wanted you to know that. That I'm attracted to you. I thought it might go away - you're my best friend and I'd hate to lose that, but it hasn't gone away so I thought it'd be best if I tell you." Rodney fell silent, belatedly realizing that he was babbling, words running away from him.
"God, Christ - thank you!" The words out of John's mouth startled Rodney, but not nearly so much as John's hands taking hold of either side of his head and pulling him in for a kiss. Rodney sputtered against John's mouth, shocking the other man back for a moment. Then, John moved in close again and kissed and kissed Rodney's mouth.
In between kisses, he said things like, "Was gonna say the same thing" and "Kinda" and "Me, too, y'know?" There were other words, of friendship and respect and want - so much want - but Rodney was paying less and less attention to John's words and more attention to John's mouth.
Rodney clutched John to him, pulling his warm body closer, warding off the damp chill in the air. John's lips were soft, his body feeling so good pressed against Rodney's. John's tongue swiped across Rodney's bottom lip, and the kiss quickly became warm and deep and messy.
The kiss lasted long enough to make things interesting, but an involuntary shiver from Rodney made John pull back with a soft gasp. At the protesting sound Rodney made, John quickly shook his head and then pressed his forehead against McKay's.
"Hey, no," he said, and slid his hands up to splay across Rodney's back. Rodney, holding John the same way, could feel echoing shudders in the thin man's frame. "Rodney, no, I'm not stop stopping, okay? Just... it's kinda cold, kinda damp... we got a warm tent on the other side of the clearing. How 'bout it?"
Rodney hmm'd and nuzzled John's neck, feeling the stress from the anxiety and the alcohol he had drank making him feel lethargic. "Sounds good," he said, and reluctantly pulled away, sliding his hands over John's shoulders and down his arm, taking hold of John's cuff and using his grip to pull him toward the tents.
Teyla watched from the corner of her eye as John and Rodney disappeared into the tent set aside for them in a semi-private location. She smiled a little because she could see they'd gone to the tent hand-in-hand, or something like it, and that both men had looked pleased with themselves; excited and eager and rejuvenated in every way that mattered.
"It is about time," she whispered to herself, thinking of the traditional Renewal Celebrations that had come and gone without either of her friends making their declarations to each other.
It seems John and Rodney had finally decided not to waste any more time.