"This is a present?" said Sheppard.  "For me?"

Sheppard looked a little bit like he had on M3S-869 when the village shaman had smiled, bowed and handed him the ceremonial entrails from the small not-quite-a-dog that five minutes earlier had been sniffing ecstatically at Sheppard's ankles.  You’d have thought a soldier wouldn't blink at entrails, Rodney had said, rather meanly enjoying the feeling of superiority—after all, he hadn't offended the shaman with loud protestations about ignorance or savages or religious clap-trap and he'd even managed not to be sick at the dog's swift and sudden demise.  There were days, Rodney had thought complacently, when he rocked at this diplomacy thing; all it took was genius and making sure someone else got to fondle the ropy, bloody mess.  Mind you, Rodney's arguments seldom had much effect on Sheppard—"But it was a puppy, Rodney!" the Colonel had countered, shocked at the speed at which his little almost-canine friend had been converted into some sort of Mystic Meg fortune-cookie.

Rodney hadn't known which was worse: the way that Sheppard's big wounded eyes and tight-lipped mouth tore at something in Rodney's chest and made it ache, or the shaman's distinctive sartorial taste in uncured animal pelts and his I'm-in-touch-with-God--so-I-don't-have-to-bathe fragrance.  Well, that's what he told himself, anyway, but he knew he was deceiving himself.  He did know which was the worst, and the knowledge made him give up diplomacy for the day.  The headlong dash back to the Stargate and safety at least had the benefit of taking the Colonel's mind off the quondam dog-thing.  The spears helped, too, of course.

Right this moment, though, Rodney was looking for a reaction from Sheppard that majored slightly less on horror and rather more on appreciation.  He wasn't expecting undiluted joy, he told himself, but he'd handed Sheppard a modified laptop not a pile of still-steaming dog guts with an accompanying prognostication of an imminent and spectacularly messy canonisation into the Pegasus pantheon of gods and heroes.  He thought, gloomily, that the almost-dog had probably seen another atomic bomb in Sheppard's future.

Having expected a more enthusiastic reception, it was with some hesitancy that Rodney deigned to explain the modifications he'd made.  "I cleaned up Jeannie's home PC.  You know, she's almost as smart as me and you'd think she'd know better than to use Microsoft's IE—"

"She deserves every virus she gets," said Sheppard, solemnly. 

"Right.  Anyhow, I just happened to notice this when I was downloading some stuff to make her PC run a bit better… well, something for Madison, really, for some art thing she was doing at school and Madison needed some… well, I saw this and—"

"You thought of me," said Sheppard.  "You missed me, obviously."

It wasn't horror, Rodney realised.  Sheppard did look a little surprised at his unexpected present, but he was smiling now and the fine little lines around his eyes were crinkling up in amusement rather than an effort not to throw up.  Sheppard was pleased and gratified.  It was a good look on Sheppard, Rodney thought, and one that Rodney didn't see often enough.  He liked to see that look.  He wanted to see it more often.

Come to think of it, any look at all was a good look on Sheppard and Rodney wanted to see it more often.  Preferably naked.

"Oh yes," said Rodney, rolling his eyes. "I was distraught.  There I was on Earth—"

"Without me."

"—on Earth," repeated Rodney, frowning down the interruptions, "enjoying real cuisine and fine wines—"

"And your brother-in-law's tofu turkey," murmured Sheppard.

"—and of course it was without you, since there wasn't an excuse for you to gate through and you were still here—"

"You missed me."

"I did not!  And will you let me finish a senten—"

"You did so.  You missed me.  You thought about me.  You got me a present." 

Rodney sighed.  "I missed you.  I thought about you.  I got you a present."

"A free, downloaded present," said Sheppard.  He did wistful extremely well for a military grunt, thought Rodney with deep resentment.  "Free.  Downloaded." 

Rodney wondered bitterly why it was that he lost all his (considerable) ability for creative invective when Sheppard was involved.  Radek and all the rest of his minions shook and trembled when the McKay mouth got into top gear—well, maybe not Radek, who gave as good as he got, but Rodney could usually (just about) outgun him on the basis that English was his native language and Radek had to keep translating from the Czech inside his fluffy-haired little head.  And maybe not Kavanaugh, either, whose head wasn't so fluffy but was still full of overblown self-importance, but Rodney could usually deal with Kavanaugh by putting him on sewage maintenance duty which was almost more satisfying than achieving the ultimate verbal put-down.  On the whole, though, Rodney's preferred management style of non-benevolent tyranny was considerably enhanced by his ability to reduce his staff to quivering wrecks with one or two well-chosen words. 

But put Sheppard and that sentient hair in front of him, and let Sheppard do that… that... that hippy thing with his hips and smile that slow smile of his, and every impulse Rodney had to be Rodneyish flew out of the nearest stained-glass window.  And the saddest thing of all was that Rodney was fast considering it an honour and privilege to think things like hips and hot and mine, mine, mine.

He worried that he was losing his edge. 

"I got you all the latest Doctor Who episodes," he protested.  "Right up to the latest one where they go all sort of alternative universe on us and something starts eating the stars.  It's a bit like the Doctor getting hold of a quantum mirror, only—"

"You downloaded those, too," said the ingrate.  "It's not like you actually went out and bought me anything.  Not even a T-shirt with 'Rodney went to Toronto and all I got were these free downloads' printed on it."

"Listen Tiny Tim, just be grateful—"

"And it's not like they're really mine.  It's not like you won't be watching them with me and criticising the Doctor's sonic screwdriver."

"I have never criticised the Doctor's sonic screwdriver!"

"But you'd like to," insinuated Sheppard.

"The Doctor's sonic screwdriver," said Rodney, with immense dignity, "is the greatest gadget in sci-fi.  And if you don't like your present, I'll delete it from the laptop."  He held out his hand and snapped his fingers in his most imperious fashion.  "And let me finish a senten—"

"Not so fast," said Sheppard.  "I haven't taken a proper look at it.  I don't have the evidence base to reject it out of hand.  Yet."  He peered down at the screen, tapped the keyboard and complained that he couldn't really make it out.

"Change the size," said Rodney in the tone of voice he normally reserved for Kavanaugh and the threat of ordure.

Sheppard's mouth was twitching, the bastard, but he did as he was told.  The sweet, slow smile made its long-awaited appearance and the thing in Rodney's chest that sometimes ached grew warm and slightly fuzzy around the edges instead. 

"It’s an F16!  Look, Rodney, an F16!"

Rodney blinked.  "They're real?"

"Of course they are," said Sheppard, hitting the keys in sequence and naming everything that came up on the screen. 

"Huh.  I thought they were just someone's artwork," said Rodney.  He sat there listening to Sheppard's husky, nasal drawl and tried not to smirk.  Sheppard named every single one, and Rodney had no reason to think that he made any one of them up.  He watched happily as Sheppard compiled a full key to the set and saved it to the lap-top hard drive.

"Nope.  All real.  Not enough helicopters, though."  Sheppard pointed at the screen.  "I've flown a Cobra just like that."

"You are obsessed with helicopters," grumbled Rodney, who was secretly impressed by Sheppard's ability to name the entire set. 

"Of course I am.  You do realise that choppers are far more difficult to fly than fixed-wing aircraft, don't you?  I started on fixed-wings and moved up to choppers because only the best pilots fly choppers well and I learned how because of some of the jobs I did before I went to Afghanistan.  You can't land an F16 in a rainforest clearing, you know."  Sheppard scrolled down to the bottom of the document on screen.  "Not that I don't like fixed wings.  Shame there's no 302."

"They're still a bit classified," said Rodney, rolling his eyes again.

"Neat, though.  Do you think we could modify this to add Puddlejumpers?"

"No," said Rodney, knowing it would take him about five minutes with Photoshop and a few minutes to do the coding' and mentally kicking himself for not thinking of it first. 

"Shame," said Sheppard.  "There's a couple of repeats in here that we could have replaced."

"Never happen," said Rodney, determined that he'd modify it before Sheppard was a New Atlantian day older—a sidereal period shorter than the Old Atlantian day by 1 hour 56 minutes and a handful of seconds, which had screwed royally with everyone's Circadian rhythm.  Not that Rodney admitted to having a Circadian rhythm, but he and Sheppard had been very inventive in dealing with the resultant insomnia or at least filling the sleepless hours here in Sheppard's quarters with meaningful and mutually satisfying activity. He'd quite regretted it when he'd adjusted to the new-length day, but an entire youth and working life of getting by on minimal sleep on his side and military training on the Colonel's had meant that he and Sheppard had managed to continue their activities unabated.

Sheppard quirked an eyebrow at him and tried to look beguiling.  It was a disgusting sight that had no effect on Rodney at all.

"No," said Rodney firmly, folding his arms across his chest.  He'd add a 302 as well, he thought, thinking that he should be able to do a screencap from some of the material he'd downloaded from the Daedelus.

"Ah well," said Sheppard.  He cleared the screen and opened a new document.  He smiled again, the smile more self-satisfied than usual and that was saying something.  "Thank you, Rodney.  It's a great present."

Rodney shrugged, trying not to feel absurdly pleased.  "You can't use it officially, you know," he warned.

"Oh I dunno.  I think Colonel Carter would understand.  She's Airforce."

"Just try it and see."  Rodney cleared his throat.  "So, did you miss me and are you glad I'm back?"

Sheppard looked up, eyes wide.  "Have you been away?  I thought it was quiet around here!"

"Ha-de-har.  Very amusing."

Sheppard laughed that throaty, goaty laugh of his that Rodney thought sounded pretty stupid and didn’t love to hear in the slightest, no way that he did and he'd die before admitting it, and leaned forward to put one hand on the back of Rodney's neck.  His hand was heavy and warm against Rodney's skin, the fingers moving and flexing in a caress that made the warm fuzzy thing in Rodney's chest beat a little faster.  Sheppard used the pressure of his hand to bring Rodney's head down, raising his own to meet it, and then Rodney's mouth was opening under Sheppard's and Sheppard's tongue flicked across his lips.

Rodney hadn't missed this at all, this past week on Earth to consult with Area 51 and snatch a flying visit to see Jeannie.  He hadn't missed this one tiny atom's worth of an iota.  He hadn't….

Sheppard's mouth was smiling on his and he held Rodney's face between both his hands.  He kissed long and deep, giving it a lot of focus and concentration, the sort of focus and concentration he tended to give his gun when shamans with spears were chasing them.  That, thought Rodney, was reassuring.  The fuzzy thing grew so warm that he thought for a moment that it was melting through his chest wall.

"I'm glad you like it," he said, when Sheppard pulled back.  "It’s sort of silly, but I thought it would make you laugh."

"We can use it for secret messages," said Sheppard. 

"Did you have a head injury while I was away that regressed you past even your normal emotional age of twelve?"

"I just thought it would be, you know, cool." Sheppard hesitated.  "Using it to say things, I mean."

"What sort of things?"

"Just things.  You know, Rodney." Sheppard paused for emphasis.  "Things."  He looked a bit scared, the tension obvious around his eyes, and he licked his lips nervously.  "Hawker Siddeley Gr Mk1 Harrier; Lockheed C130 Hercules; Douglas A4 Skyhawk; Boeing E4A sort of things."

Rodney dragged his gaze from the full, moist bottom lip and the way that the pink tip of Sheppard's tongue swept over it.  "You may have to let me see the key again," he confessed.  "It's not that I wasn't paying attention—"

"What is this?  Charades?  It's a four-letter word!  A four letter word about things I don’t like talking about!  How much more of a clue do you need?"

"Oh," said Rodney.  "Oh."

Sheppard sighed.  "Here," he said, tapping out his message on the laptop. 

Rodney took the laptop from Sheppard's hands and stared at the screen and at the newly installed font that he'd thought Sheppard would love.  Which Sheppard did love, it seemed.  Literally.

"Oh," he said again.  "Ah.  Er, me too." 

"Right," said John, the goofy smile back.  He fell back onto his pillows, dragging Rodney down with him.  "You know, Rodney, there's something to be said for charades.  Why don't you demonstrate the secret message on my compliant and willing body so I can guess what it means?"

"Why don't I?" agreed Rodney, looking down at him fondly.  "What was it again, the thing you don't like saying?"

"Hawker Siddeley Gr Mk1 Harrier; Lockheed C130 Hercules; Douglas A4 Skyhawk; Boeing E4A."

"Yes," said Rodney.  "That's the thing."





John's message:




John's key to the Airforce font is here.