danceswithgary: (McShep - Xmas)
[personal profile] danceswithgary
Title: Universal Gravitation (Metaphorically Speaking)
Author: danceswithgary
Recipient: squidgiepdx
Pairing: Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, Daniel Jackson/Rodney McKay (past)
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~13000
Disclaimer: SGA characters are not mine, more's the pity. Not a medical professional, I only play one on the internet.
Warnings: Potential consent issues/triggers. I started this as a lighthearted romance but, as I researched physical therapy, I was reminded there were questions of ethical conduct that needed to be addressed when a medical professional becomes involved with a patient, even a former patient. I'm hoping some magical hand-waving will be excused to allow romance a chance.
Author's Notes: Present day "Never a Stargate" AU suggested by Oh, and because of my fuzzy-headed research, please pretend along with me that Stanford's mascot isn't a tree. *facepalm* See the end for more notes.
Summary: It was all Newton's fault.

"This is all Newton's fault, you know."

Rodney's grumbled complaint only earned him a quirked eyebrow from his longtime friend and sometimes physician. "And exactly which of the Three Laws are you blaming?" asked Carson as he made a few notes in Rodney's medical file.

Prepped in a paper gown and perched on the examining table, Rodney shook his head with a rueful chuckle as he recalled what had happened. "I'm referring to my cat, Carson, although the First Law might be apropos since I was headed for the bathroom floor after I tripped over him - until I grabbed the shower bar and wrenched my shoulder and back instead."

Abandoning his laptop in favor of a physical exam, Carson paused at the wall dispenser for a squirt of hand disinfectant. "And the cat was in your bathroom because...?"

"He likes to chase the water drops down the drain." Rodney grimaced when his shrug jostled the shoulder in question. "I guess he couldn't wait for me to get out first."

"Hmm...." Carson crossed the room and began his exam by pulling out a stethoscope and applying it to Rodney's upper back through the opening in the paper gown. "Now, take a deep breath."

"Like I could avoid that," squeaked Rodney as the chilled metal touched his skin. "The trouble is breathing back out! Do all doctors take a course in patient torture? You could have used hot water on those hands, you know."

"Cold hands, warm heart." Carson chuckled and tucked the offending instrument back in a pocket. "I was likely going to recommend cold packs anyway." He gently grasped Rodney's right arm and rotated it, testing his range-of-motion. "I noticed your blood pressure is back up again."

"I'm sure it's just the pain," Rodney rushed to assure him, trying to avoid yet another lecture on diet and exercise that he would ultimately ignore. "And ow, it's all the way to the middle of my back."

Carson carefully lowered Rodney's arm. "I'll grant you that might be the case, given how much swelling you have. Right then, you can get dressed." Heading back to the laptop, Carson delivered his diagnosis. "It seems to just be soft tissue damage, although we may need further tests if it doesn't clear up in a few days. I want you to use the cold packs from the last time you hurt your back and rest the arm. No lifting, mind you, especially that not-so-wee beastie of yours." Tapping a few keys, Carson continued. "I can prescribe an anti-inflammatory...."

Pausing with his sweatshirt half on, Rodney interrupted with, "Just, no muscle relaxants, Carson." Grimacing in pain as he finished pulling on the thankfully over-sized garment, he explained. "Not only do I lose any ability to read my students' papers and grade them accordingly, but the last time I was on them for my back, I went head-to-head with a mouse and lost."

Carson turned around, both eyebrows elevated this time. "A wee little mousie?"

"Not the kind that Newton chases." Rodney rolled his eyes at Carson's obtuseness then continued his explanation. "So, you had me under house arrest...."

"I believe the medical term is bed rest."

"I was resting..." Rodney shrugged and winced at the resulting twinge "...on the sofa. My fingers were too uncoordinated to use the track pad on my laptop, but my wireless mouse kept sliding all over and getting lost in the cushions, so I switched to an old wired I had stashed away. That worked for a while, but it kept getting tangled, so I threaded it up my shirt and out my sleeve. Voila, it was always where I wanted it."

Carson's face shifted from surprised to puzzled. "Sounds like it solved your mouse problem."

"Sure it did, up until I ordered pizza and got up to answer the door." Scowling at Carson's ill-suppressed grin, Rodney concluded with a terse, "While hardwood floors are easier for cleaning up cat hair, they're tough on coffee cups and laptops."

Rodney frowned at the Atlantis Healing Center sign on the front of a one-story office building and double-checked the address on his phone. Shaking his head in disbelief when it matched, he turned around and stomped back to the parking lot, grumbling under his breath about new age voodoo and getting even with Carson as soon as possible. Reaching out to open his car door, he hissed in pain, nearly dropping his phone as he tried to rub his shoulder. After a few deep breaths, during which he contemplated the alternatives, he reversed direction and used the handicapped door button to enter the plant-filled lobby.

While he waited for the receptionist to hang up the phone, Rodney studied the professional sign listing two orthopedic surgeons, Doctors Jennifer and Ronon Keller-Dex, along with several licensed therapists. His mouth twisted into a sneer at the cork board next to it, haphazardly covered with colorful sign-up sheets for exercise, yoga, and meditation classes, and he made another vow to make Carson pay.

"May I help you?"

Rodney turned to the too-cheerful man behind the desk, glancing at an equally cheerful nameplate before replying sarcastically. "Why yes, Chuck, you can." Rodney paused and gestured toward the plentiful foliage, quietly trickling fountain, and the small zen garden that decorated the sunlit waiting area. "You can tell me whether this place is actually a front for some New Age hippie cult where I'll be introduced to aliens and offered a special Kool-aid."

"A cult? I...uh..."

A honking laugh from down the hall interrupted the flustered receptionist. "Hippies?" Emerging from one of the doorways, a tallish, lanky man sporting a mocking grin ambled down the hallway toward the desk. "I know it's San Francisco, but are they really still a thing, Chuck?"

His fading smile restored by the rescue, Chuck said, "You know. I may have seen one or two walking around the Berkeley campus, but I think they've mostly faded away."

Pausing at the cork board to swap an orange sign-up sheet for a pale blue notice, the newcomer chuckled in agreement. "Yeah, never been much for the whole wearing flowers in my hair thing, but maybe Ronon?"

"Flowers certainly couldn't make that disaster any worse. Wait a minute!" " Rodney paused as he gestured toward the mop of messy dark hair that he suddenly recognized. Clicking his fingers, Rodney changed direction to point at scrub pants decorated with Superman comic strips. "You're that, that guy who was late for clown school!" Lowering his arm with a wince, Rodney grimaced as he rubbed his shoulder, wishing he could remember to use his left arm more often.

"Clown school?" A smiling blonde poked her head out of another doorway. "What's going on out here?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, the guilty party admitted sheepishly, "Couple of days back, at that coffee shop near my place, I bumped into, uh, I never did get your name?"

"Dr. Rodney McKay," was Rodney's stilted response, still offended by his memory of the encounter, although he had to admit part of the problem had been his own embarrassment at yelling at the oddly attractive stranger.

"And I'm John Sheppard. Well, I was wearing my SpongeBobs," Sheppard paused and pointed an accusing finger as the blonde woman approached them, "The scrubs you ordered for me after I asked for black, Jennifer."

Rodney interrupted with, "And giant red clown shoes!"

"Red clogs, my feet aren't that big, and I hate clowns." Sheppard chuckled as he corrected Rodney.

"Big enough to trip me!" Rodney sputtered. "That coffee could have been burned me!"

Sheppard winced, his amusement fading. "I said I was sorry and offered to pay to clean your shirt, but you just stomped off."

"Yes, well," Rodney muttered, sorry to see the appealing smile disappear. "It wasn't new or anything and already had some spots on it, so...." Rodney's shrug left him wincing again.

Sheppard reached out to gently touch the ace bandages Rodney had wrapped over the arm of his fleece jacket. "Not sure this is doing much for you, so what say we get you in an exam room and see how we can help you?"

His earlier anger and distrust subsiding at the other man's gentle tone, Rodney nodded in agreement. "What say we do just that."

"We have your records from Dr. Beckett, including your insurance information, so you can go right back, Dr. McKay," Chuck said, making an entry on his laptop. "Can I get you something to drink before you go in? We have herbal teas to help you relax." He grinned when he added, "I promise no Kool-aid."

"Still trying to kill me though!" Rodney frowned as he explained his outburst. "Too many of those teas can have citrus in them and I'm deathly allergic."

Chuck quickly apologized. "I'm sorry, I probably should have checked your history before asking."

"Yes, yes, lessons learned." Rodney waved away the receptionist's apology and turned to follow Sheppard down the hallway. "Now let's get this torture session over with."

Bandage unwound and jacket removed, Rodney stood in the center of the examining room, feeling a little embarrassed by his earlier behavior. "I suppose I should apologize for yelling," he began, then halted, uncertain of what to say next. It had been a long time - probably since before Daniel had left - that he'd bothered to care what other people thought about him.

Sheppard looked up from the laptop he'd been studying and smiled. "It's okay, Dr. McKay. We're kind of used to cranky people in pain around here. Now, I'll need your shirt off."

As he started unbuttoning his blue oxford, Rodney countered with, "Well, according to my various teaching assistants, this is my default mode. Cranky, that is, not the pain."

"So, this pain has been going on for a few weeks now?"

Shirt off and feeling exposed, Rodney shifted restlessly before answering, his voice gruff with irritation. "Exactly what it says in the medical records you're reading. Five weeks, four days, and..." He glanced up at the clock above the doorway. "...two hours for no good reason, according to the MRI, ultrasound, and CAT scan that are also included in those records. It's seems longer though. Sometimes I think time is relative when it comes to pain, but then...." Suddenly realizing he was about to launch into lecture mode, Rodney cut himself off, switching from the theoretical to the practical . "I need to be out of here no later than 11:00 or I'll be late for a meeting, so can we get on with this?"

"I think I can manage that," Sheppard assured him. "I'd just like to get some of your history from you personally, not just the chart. Now, can you rate your pain today from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you've ever felt."

As he hung his shirt over his jacket, Rodney thought about the times he'd had an anaphylactic reaction. The sharp, desperate pain in his chest and throat from the coughing and futile attempts to breathe, he'd rate those as a 10, compared to the 6 that time he'd hurt his lower back. This pain was different, constant, dragging at him and dictating his every move. Even though it seemed like it had taken over his life, it wasn't anywhere close to a 10 or even a 6. "Probably a 4, maybe a 5 when I forget and try to pick something up or write on a whiteboard or type or roll over in bed or tie my shoes or...."

"Got it. A 4 sometimes 5 it is." Sheppard turned back to the tablet sitting on an adjustable shelf set at the perfect height for typing without bending over. Impressed by the ergonomic setup, Rodney thought he'd suggest something similar to Carson - provided he ever forgave him for the new age referral.

After a few more clicks, Sheppard reached out to a nearby dispenser then approached Rodney, briskly rubbing the disinfectant over his hands. He walked around Rodney before returning to stand in front of him. "Right then, time to see what's going on here. We'll do this standing to avoid slouching. Just let me know if you need to sit down." Reaching out slowly, he grasped Rodney's right arm and began to raise it, pausing at Rodney's instinctual flinch, even though Sheppard's hands were warm - much warmer than Carson's ever were. Although it had been almost a year since Daniel had left, Rodney was fairly certain his hands had never been that warm.

"Try to relax, Dr. McKay. It looks like just about every muscle in your body is clenched right now."

Rodney was glad he was able to hide his blushing by turning his face away, although he suspected his red ears and the flush spreading down his chest gave him away. "I'm...I'm not used to being touched." He waved his left hand, the right held hostage by Sheppard. "I mean, it's not that I've never been touched. It's just more places than the last time, and um, by a stranger."

"That's okay, it's not that rare these days with everyone meeting and talking online instead of face-to-face. I've known some vets that never leave their house except for treatment. So, we'll just have to get to know each other." Sheppard poked himself in the chest and grinned. "I'll go first. I like Ferris Wheels and college football and uh, anything that goes more than two hundred miles per hour."

It took a few moments for Rodney to realize Sheppard was waiting for a response. His mind suddenly blank, Rodney flailed for something approaching an intelligent answer. "Oh, well, I guess I cat. And, uh, playing chess."

"Chess, cool. See we're not quite strangers anymore." Sheppard's movements were slow and deliberate as he led Rodney through a gentle range of motion assessment, returning frequently to tap on the tablet. His voice was a pleasant drawl and, along with the warm hands, Rodney also noticed how good Sheppard smelled up close, a warm spice that seemed to suit him. Unfortunately, standing so close to the lean-muscled therapist, it seemed comparison was inevitable. Rodney glanced around the room, trying to suppress his sudden urge to apologize for his pudgy torso, even though he'd lost weight due to low-level nausea from the pain, which had also made managing his hypoglycemia difficult. He craned his neck, wondering what was being recorded on the tablet.

Noticing Rodney's curiosity, Sheppard obligingly adjusted it enough to reveal a 3-D rotating figure with colored dots scattered across the injured areas, with a few in outlying areas like Rodney's opposite shoulder and lower back. "This map will help me decide which exercises will benefit you the most and, over time, assess your improvement." With the flick of a Sheppard's finger, the dots connected to notes in a side column.

"Impressive." Rodney had to admit that the reception area hadn't prepared him for the advanced technology in use. He was impressed in spite of his usual disdain for the medical profession. "Seems very efficient."

Sheppard smiled as he walked away to pull a few tubes from a cabinet. "Thanks, I designed it myself."

"And he's smart too," muttered Rodney, wondering if Sheppard could get any more attractive.

Holding three tubes and a sharpie, Sheppard returned to Rodney's side. "Sorry, missed that?" When Rodney merely shook his head, Sheppard reached out and took Rodney's forearm to turn it palm up. "Before I go through the exercises with you, we have several ointments that might help your pain. However, considering your allergies, I want a 24-hour patch test first. We'll start now so there will be at least 20 minutes before you leave for an acute reaction. Okay?"

Three black circles and ointment dabs later, Rodney grimaced as Sheppard guided him through several exercises. Careful to explain what he as doing before each set, Sheppard murmured quiet encouragement as his warm hands supported Rodney's arm and gently massaged his shoulder and upper back. The motions were soothing, although Rodney couldn't feel any reduction in his pain.

"Right then. That should do it. You can get dressed now." Sheppard stepped back and pointed to Rodney's shirt and jacket. "I'll need to see you in two days. No more exercises today, just relax and give your muscles a rest, but then two sets tomorrow." Tapping on the tablet, he continued. "I just sent your exercise instructions - including how often to use ice packs - to the front desk. Chuck will give them to you when he sets up the appointment. Any questions?"

"Uh, no?" Rodney said, slowly pulling on his shirt, feeling a little chilled after losing the warm hands.

Sheppard stopped him with a quick gesture. "Wait, need to check that patch test before you leave." Rodney had one more dose of Sheppard close up, his hands on Rodney's arm shoving up his sleeve to check the circles. "Good, clear so far. Call if that changes. If not, we'll start with a massage to loosen you up next session. Now remember to relax. Pet your cat and play some chess."

Sheppard pulled the sleeve back down and buttoned it, casually saving Rodney the effort. He looked back up with a smile and, for the first time, Rodney was thankful for the pain, suspecting he might have walked out with a hard-on without it. He was also glad Sheppard had interrupted earlier - before Rodney could complain it had been five weeks, four days, two hours and 15 minutes since he'd last been able to really enjoy his morning shower.

Driving home after his day of lectures and research, Rodney recalled Sheppard's question. He pondered about the things he liked, thinking while preparing and eating his frozen dinner that he could have listed more than a cat or chess. Afterward, he made his way to the attic and removed a dusty cover- remembering to use his left arm for a change - swearing at his sneezes as his telescope emerged from its exile. Sitting on his old stool, he adjusted the tube to peer out the attic window and up at the stars he'd neglected too long.

Newton curled up in his usual position covering Rodney's feet, purring as Rodney dedicated one hand to the scope controls and the other to Newton's ears. Slouching over the eyepiece may not have been the best position for his aching shoulder and back, but reacquainting himself with old, glimmering friends was worth the pain.

It had been too long since Rodney had thought about anything beyond his work, probably since just before Daniel had left to take a tenured position at Columbia University. Despite their three years together, there had been no discussion of Rodney joining him there - not surprising considering Rodney's oft-expressed contempt for both New York City and Daniel's pseudo-science. Daniel was often in Rodney's thoughts, but the converse seemed false as phone calls and emails had quickly dwindled to nothing. It had been just as quickly apparent that their friends and activities had actually been Daniel's. Rodney had returned to his previous existence, but without resuming his previous interests. Straightening his shoulders - not without a wince - Rodney resolved that would change.

Stretched out on the massage table, Rodney's initial concern that Sheppard was going to be chatty wore off and the silence began to feel oppressive. For all of Sheppard's 'friendly' speech the last visit, the man hadn't even asked what kind of doctor Rodney was, the one question Rodney usually received after an introduction. Taking one of Daniel's lessons to heart, he tried to think of a question about the the other man instead of merely spouting off a non sequitur on physics or mathematics to fill the void. Catching another glimpse of Sheppard's Sudoku puzzle scrubs - most of the answers filled in permanent marker - he blurted out, "Those answers are right, you're obviously intelligent, so how did you end up doing something like this?"

Sheppard snorted a laugh before replying in a sardonic tone. "Gee, Dr. McKay, why don't you tell me what you really think about physical therapists?"

After reviewing what he'd just asked, Rodney's face reddened, embarrassed by how badly he'd insulted a man he considered attractive. "What I meant was, uh, of course what you do is important, I just wondered...."

"Relax, Dr. McKay. I know what you meant." The pressure of Sheppard's hands had never wavered, despite the implied insult to his profession, and they continued to soothe the aches. "I got into this while I was in a VA facility. I was in there for months recovering from a crash and got bored, so I started helping other vets with their exercises. Turns out I was good at it and one of the doctors convinced me to go for my certification." Sheppard chuckled. "I mean, professional surfboarding was out - too old and beat up to keep up with the kids."

Rodney cataloged what he learned - ex-military, probably a pilot, one of the good guys - and hoped he could learn more. "You know, after I asked something so personal - that you actually answered - you should probably call me Rodney."

"Okay, Rodney. Then I'm John." John shifted the warming blanket and switched to Rodney's lower back, eliciting a relieved groan. "My turn. So what kind of doctor are you?"

Even his unusual circumstances couldn't stop Rodney from preening as he boasted, "I have two doctorates, physics and mechanical engineering, with masters in astrophysics and applied mathematics."

"You said something about lectures last time. You teach?"

Frowning as he recalled the debacle code-named Doranda, Rodney nodded as much as the table's face rest would allow. "If that's what you call dealing with underclassmen and their pitiful attempts to understand and write about fundamental and universal concepts. Working with doctoral candidates is a more appropriate use of my expertise, but teaching pays me enough and allows me free time to work on my ideas without adhering to some artificial development schedule created by people who are only interested in patents and the bottom line."

"Sounds like there's a story there." Moving to the foot of the table, John said, "I'm going to try something different, see if it'll loosen you up a little more." When Sheppard suddenly began to manipulate the sole of his foot, Rodney jerked it away. Resting his hand on Rodney's calf, John patiently explained, "Reflexology can be very beneficial."

"It's not that," Rodney huffed. "I'm...ticklish."

John chuckled, his warm hand still resting on Rodney. "You have no idea how tempting it is whenever someone tells me that. I always manage to resist, though."

"My sister Jeannie didn't. She used to torture me, sneaking up on me when I was asleep." Shifting his leg under Sheppard's hand, he muttered, "Don't make me regret trusting you."

John merely hummed, his hands firm as he manipulated Rodney's feet. Rodney could almost feel the pain being drawn out, replaced by something almost seductively pleasant. When he finished, John assisted Rodney in sitting up to begin the exercise routine, warning that he might feel a little lightheaded. After Rodney carefully rolled over and sat up, he reached out and casually pulled the discarded blanket over his lap, avoiding John's eyes.

"Don't worry about that. It's a natural reaction, even if I'm a guy."

"And if it's because you're a guy?" Rodney turned beet-red when he realized he'd said that aloud. "I didn't mean to...I, uh, it would probably happen with a woman, too. Probably. I'm okay with it if you are."

Sheppard smiled and nodded his head."Sure. I'm kind of used to ignoring the elephant in the corner."

Rodney peeked under his towel then looked back up at Sheppard with a wry grin. "Rather overstating in my case, I'm afraid."

His reward was another of those ridiculous laughs, which instantly banished the elephant to a closet - at least for that day. Still chuckling, Sheppard stepped forward and they began the exercises, Sheppard's hands still warm and gentle as they guided Rodney through the routine.

After a few minutes spent in silent motion, Rodney decided to continue their impromptu Q&A. "I'm assuming you were a pilot. What did you fly? Jets?"

"Still am a pilot - just not for the Air Force. Helicopters, mostly. Apache, Black Hawk, Cobra, Osprey...." John corrected Rodney's position, gently moving his arm higher. "There, like that. So, what's your cat's name?"

Pleasantly surprised that Sheppard had remembered, it took Rodney a few moments to answer. "Newton. Before you say something about cliche physicists' pet names, he and his mother were feral rescues. He spent his first few weeks with me in constant motion, literally bouncing off the walls of my house."

John merely huffed a laugh, his attention on Rodney's movements. "Okay, that should do it for today. You can put your shirt back on." Leaving Rodney to get dressed, John walked over to the laptop to make notes. "Take it easy the rest of today and repeat the exercises tomorrow and over the weekend, twice a day. You should also try to relax over the weekend, do something fun and leave your work at work because you're still too tense and that's not helping. I'll have Chuck set you up to see me Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next two weeks and, hopefully, we'll have you in better shape by then. Oh, and I'm going to suggest you start walking daily to help build up your core strength. Chuck will have another list of exercises to try while you're walking. Any questions?"

Rodney merely shook his head, not about to dim John's smile by admitting he'd been ignoring Carson's suggestions about exercise and relaxing for years. He left the room with a casual, "See you Monday," and headed for the front desk. As he accepted the printout from Chuck, he couldn't resist the question that had been niggling at him since the first day he'd arrived.

"Why didn't she order black scrubs for Sheppard?"

Chuck looked puzzled for a moment before replying with a laugh. "You mean Jen? Oh, she says if Ronon can't have them, neither can he. Something about patients waking up from anesthesia and seeing the Angel of Death. I can see her point considering how he sort of looms over you. It would have been cool though, back when he still had his dreads. Jen showed me pictures of him surfing back in college. He told me he cut them off when he was an intern after he had one too many patients bleed or vomit on him."

Rodney was a little sorry he'd asked.

"He told me I need to find something to do to relax, Carson. Like that's so easy for me to do!"

Rodney paced up and down the hallway outside his office, grumbling into his cell phone. On one circuit, he paused long enough to frown and shake his head, scaring off the only brave soul who'd believed office hours meant Rodney was actually available.

"That is so not going to happen today. Call Miko if you can't live without a shoulder to cry on."

Resuming his march, Rodney sputtered a bitter laugh. "No, not you. It was some pitiful student seeking an automatic fail. Do you know that because it's raining, I'm currently marching up and down the corridor to exercise? It's my back and shoulder, not my legs! Hang on."

Reaching the end of the hall, Rodney tucked the phone into the pocket of his sweatshirt and rested his hands on his hips to twist right and left ten times. A little breathless at the effort, Rodney retrieved his phone and continued his walk.

"Still there, Carson? Good. Yes, yes, I understand it's something to do with strengthening my core, blah bah blah. However, lying on the floor will have to wait until I'm home, even though Newton thinks I'm doing this thing Sheppard called a 'dying bug' for his amusement. Doing sit-ups with that lump plopped on my stomach is the opposite of relaxing. What? No, Newton, not Sheppard. What would Sheppard be doing sitting on my stomach? Wait..."

After repeating the twisting, Rodney resumed his pacing rant without missing a beat. "Back to this ridiculous need to relax. I asked around and Radek, you remember Radek Zelenka, right? Short Czech who's almost as smart as me, just never tell him I said it. Anyway, Radek breeds flying rats, it's daisies this and roses that with Parrish, and...."

Opening one of the office doors, Rodney thrust his head inside to demand, "Lee, what were you blathering on about at staff the other day?"

The office's occupant looked up from his tablet, blinking owlishly through thick lenses. "I'm not sure what you're talking about, Dr. McKay. Do you mean my use of the twilight bark analogy?"

"No no no," Rodney snapped his fingers impatiently. "It was before we started, that online game you play. You're some sort of wizard thing?"

"Oh, uh, it's World of Warcraft and I'm a level seventy-five Mage specializing in engineering and dueling."

"Level seventy-five." Rodney echoed softly, his brow furrowed with thought.

Lee blushed and ducked his head shyly. "Yes, well. I had the beta of the expansion pack, so I sort of had a leg-up on most people. I'm working on my enchanter skills...."

"Yes, yes, that's just wonderful." Rodney closed on the door on any further explanation and continued down the hall. "So back to your question, Carson. Yes, I'll reluctantly posit it that seems to be helping so far. So what do you do to relax? Carson? Carson? Hunh, damn battery." Frowning at his dead phone, Rodney unlocked his office door and walked inside, muttering, "Well, I guess I could check out online games, just not the same one as that loser."

"Go Cardinals!" John pumped his fist when Rodney walked into the room on a Monday. "Sent those Huskies home with their tail between their legs."

Rodney wondered where that had come from - until he looked down and saw the faded Stanford logo on his sweatshirt. "Wouldn't know anything about it." He shrugged and unzipped, disrobing with a little less pain than the previous week, not just physically but also mentally when he thought of who'd given him the sweatshirt. "My ex was the big football fan."

"Oh, I see." John's back was to Rodney and his tone was subdued as he made a few notes before they began. Rodney began to worry that he'd made a mistake mentioning Daniel so casually, but then John turned around with a smile, rubbing his hands together as he asked, "He teach at Stanford too? Smart man if he liked college football."

Rodney settled on the table, looking forward to another massage to loosen him up. Although he'd started the weekend with good intentions regarding his exercises, he wasn't going to admit he'd gotten distracted by the game he'd been playing and missed Sunday's set. Hoping to distract John from asking that question, Rodney replied to the first one. "No, he actually taught at Berkeley and now he's at Columbia teaching a new set of idiots how to play in the dirt, so I'm unwilling to agree on his level of intelligence simply due to his choice of weekend entertainment."

"Ouch." John chuckled as he began to work on Rodney's shoulders, smoothing in the herbal lotion that had passed the patch test. "I guess he's still a sore subject for you."

Rodney shrugged, pleased that the motion didn't hurt nearly as much under Sheppard's warm, clever hands. "Actually, I don't think about him very much. It's been a long time since he left." Eager to change the subject, Rodney asked, "I've been meaning to ask, why college football and not pro?"

John didn't answer for a few moments, silently kneading a particularly stubborn section. "I guess its because most of those kids will never go pro. They play because they love the game." He huffed a laugh. "I wanted to myself, but I couldn't spare the time for training."

"Hunh. I could see you out there as the quarterback." Rodney suddenly could, and the thought of John in those tight pants had him squirming a little against the table. Hoping John hadn't noticed, Rodney flailed for a distraction. "Maybe I'll have to check out the next home game, give it a chance."

John squeezed Rodney's shoulder in approval. "You should. It'll be another way for you to relax. It'll be against the Ducks!"

"The battle of the birds," Rodney deadpanned. "How could I miss it?"

"What are you grinning at, Miko?"

"You are smiling, Doctor McKay. It has been a long time. You are feeling better?"

Rodney blushed when he realized what had him in such a rare good mood. Since he wasn't going to admit his morning shower had been been enlivened by the memory of a certain set of hands, Rodney frowned and kept his response to his teaching assistant simple and to the point. "Yes, as if it's any of your business. Did you finish marking and recording the scores on yesterday's exam?"

"Yes, Doctor McKay." Miko ducked her head in her usual deferential manner, but Rodney could see his severity hadn't suppressed her smile.

"Good. That's good." Rodney huffed and stomped down the hall towards his classroom, but then he remembered that it was now zero days since he'd last jerked off and the reason why. His smile reappeared like magic - just in time to worry his students.

"So, I'm guessing you've probably owned one of those at one time or another?" Rodney flicked a finger toward John's Mustang-adorned scrubs before starting the last set of exercises.

Sheppard chuckled. "Matte-black '65 convertible back in high school - restored it myself. Had to settle for that instead of a DeLorean."

"Don't even get me started on that movie!" Rodney sputtered.

"I liked that movie!"

Rodney made his very rude noise reserved for idiots with no concept of how physics really worked. "How am I supposed to take anyone seriously when they wear oddball scrubs everyday and think "Back to the Future" is a good movie?"

"Hey, Superman isn't oddball," John insisted. "He's cool."

"He's an alien whose superpowers made him an automatic hero. Batman, however...."

"A billionaire who can pay people to make him cool toys, that's really heroic." John pulled back and folded his arms in his hero's iconic pose. "Superman chose to be a good guy - the best."

"Batman..." Rodney thought for a moment before snapping his fingers in triumph. "Batman has better villains."

John grimaced, but conceded Rodney's point. "Yeah, there's no one like The Joker in Metropolis."

"Not to mention Bane and Ra's Al Ghul. That reminds me. I took your advice to relax and started playing a Batman wannabe a few weekends back."

"Wannabe? You're not talking about one of those Arkham games, are you?"

"No, no. It's one of those MMORPG games, DC Universe Online. You play as a hero or villain who's been created by a preposterous event. I picked Batman as my mentor, of course. I suppose you'd pick Superman if you played."

John dropped his pose to turn to his laptop to take notes. "If I did, would I get to fly?"

"If you picked that. There's also speedster, acrobatics, and a silly-looking flying disk for movement types."

"Sounds cool."

"You also get to pick a power for fighting and you can team up for alerts and raids." Rodney was surprised by his own enthusiasm, something he hadn't felt for anything new in a very long time. He suspected it had a lot to do with the man who was listening to him go on and on about a video game without a hint of mockery or boredom. "I picked gadgets - GadgetBat is my screen name."

"Hunh, DC Universe Online." John finished his notes and turned to Rodney with a smile. "I might have to check it out sometime, GadgetBat."

Rodney sincerely hoped he would.

"With your pain level down to zero with an occasional 1 if you overdo, I guess we'll consider this our last session."

John's back was to Rodney so he couldn't tell for certain, but he'd almost sounded disappointed, which was hard to believe. It had occurred to Rodney once or twice that if he skipped his exercises or wasn't exactly honest about his pain levels then his sessions with John could go on indefinitely. However, continuing to enjoy their conversations under false pretenses didn't feel right. They were merely patient and therapist, not like he and Carson, who'd been his friend in college years before becoming his physician. John's treatment methods had worked. It was time to move on and that was okay because, for the first time since Daniel had left him, Rodney had been able to connect with someone new. He had hope for the future.

Turning away from his laptop, John offered his hand to Rodney, who enjoyed the warmth one last time. "Thanks for all your help, John."

"It's what we're here for." John smiled as he slowly released Rodney's hand. "So, you should continue those exercises to keep up your core strength and I'm going to also recommend checking out the yoga classes we offer. Teyla, our other therapist, is also a instructor and great with beginners."

"Yoga?" Rodney scoffed. "No one wants to see me wearing spandex and performing a downward doggie style or whatever they call it."

John choked a little as his eyes widened. "You might be surprised, Rodney. Take a chance."

"Okay, then. Good-bye." Rodney left the room a little confused at John's odd reaction until he replayed his comment about yoga - then he turned as pink as the class schedule Chuck tried to hand him.

The damned elephant followed him out to the car, laughing all the way.

"So you're feeling better then?" Carson asked as he removed the blood pressure cuff from Rodney's arm. "Your blood pressure is down to normal levels and you've kept off that fifteen pounds you lost. You look fit."

Rodney rolled down his sleeve before answering, reluctant to concede that Carson had been right all along about the exercise. "Yes, I'm sleeping better and the pain is gone. Obviously, continuing to walking and exercise is the logical choice to make sure it stays that way."

"Good, that's very good," Carson said with a smile."I take it I'm forgiven for sending you to the what did you call it? The 'New Age Voodoo Palace' or some such?"

Rodney waved his hand dismissively. "Yes, yes, you're forgiven, although the yoga classes are never going to happen. The embarrassment would just ruin my improved blood pressure." The fact that he'd be in the same building as John Sheppard - yet couldn't talk to him because he wasn't a patient anymore - had nothing to do with the decision.

Absolutely nothing.

The increase in traffic during his daily walk hadn't registered with Rodney right away. When it did, it had taken him a few moments to realize the cars were headed for the stadium parking lots. He'd shrugged and started heading for his house only to reverse direction after a few yards - his new destination the stadium box office. While the odds of getting a ticket so close to game time weren't in his favor, he'd thought it would be worth a try, although he hadn't been willing to examine the reasons behind for his sudden change of heart.

An hour later - far too many rows above the field - Rodney felt for the pulse under his jaw, wondering if his heartbeat and breathing would ever calm down. His exercise routine hadn't been tailored for climbing to the nosebleed seating. The height wasn't helping matters, either. If no one near by knew CPR, he feared his sudden desire to see if college football was as enjoyable as Sheppard had claimed would be a fatal one.

As if thinking about the reason for his distress conjured him from the air that Rodney's lungs were convinced was too thin, Sheppard was suddenly there - quite annoyingly breathing without a single wheeze. Handing Rodney a foil-wrapped hot dog, a box of popcorn, and a bottle of water, he slouched down in the empty seat next to Rodney, even though there were dozens of other open seats around them.

"Sorry, wasn't sure what you liked to drink, so water. I have ketchup and mustard, too." Reaching into the pocket of his Stanford sweatshirt, Sheppard pulled out a handful of plastic packets. "Both, neither?"

Still working on how and why Sheppard was there, Rodney automatically grabbed several of each condiment, setting his popcorn and water on the ground between his feet. He unfolded the foil, the smell of the hot dog suddenly reminding him he hadn't had dinner yet. Liberally applying mustard, he took an enormous bite before mumbling with his mouth full. "Thanks. Why are you here, Sheppard?"

Sheppard' quirked an eyebrow as he took a bite of his own hot dog, chewing and swallowing before he answered. "I think that's my line, and it's John, remember? So, you decided to check out the battle of the birds after all?"

"What are you talking about?"

Rodney hadn't realized how much he'd missed Sheppard's ridiculous laugh, even when is was at his expense. "You're here at the game and you don't have a clue who's playing, do you?" Sheppard - John - twisted to block Rodney's eyes with a warm palm. "No, don't look at the scoreboard. Who's playing this week?"

Suddenly recalling the conversation that had lurked in the back of his mind, influencing his impulsive actions, Rodney decided to play along. "Um, Eagles?" He snapped the fingers on his right hand, once again thankful that it no longer hurt. "No wait, a water bird. The Loons?"

"You're the loon." John snorted and dropped his hand. "You knew what it was all along."

Although Rodney regretted the loss of John's touch, he couldn't help smiling, glad that John was there. "Well, I am Canadian."

"And you told me you went to MIT, so why wear that?" John pointed to Rodney's over-sized sweatshirt. "I thought you were allergic to citrus?"

Rodney looked down at the grinning Syracuse Orange mascot and grimaced. "Let's just say my sister has a quirky sense of humor and I didn't exactly plan on coming here when I left the house today." He waved toward the seats closer to the field. "Speaking of planning, why aren't you down there where all the action is, booing the Ducks?"

"Nah, too crowded." John settled back in his seat, his shoulder coming to rest against Rodney's. He turned his head and grinned at Rodney. "I kinda like it here."

After sneaking a glance at the lanky body sprawled next to him - admiring the long legs covered in worn jeans instead of silly-looking scrubs - Rodney pretended to watch the game. Even though he didn't understand what was happening - something that usually irritated him to the point of vocal explosions - he decided he sort of liked it there too.

He refused to look at the elephant wearing a grin and one of those stupid foam hands.

After Daniel had left him, Rodney had returned to his old habit of working every day of the week with the weekends dedicated to his research. His almost daily walk had interrupted that pattern on Saturday with the distraction of a football game, but Rodney was determined to make up the lost time on Sunday. After his walk to the coffee shop for provisions - a giant travel cup of coffee and two chocolate chip muffins - Rodney settled down with his laptop to work on his current paper with Newton curled at his side. His attention wandered, however, returning to the day before and the time he'd spent with John. They had argued and laughed about movies and comic book characters, only incidentally watching the Cardinals lose their battle against the Ducks. When the game ended, they'd waited until the stands had nearly emptied before climbing down the steps, still chatting about almost everything under the sun. Rodney knew he'd been reluctant to say goodbye at the exit, especially since they'd made no plans to meet again. He could only hope John had felt the same.

Thinking of John had Rodney bringing up his favorite search engine to idly page through the information he could find about his former therapist. One of the more interesting pieces of the John Sheppard puzzle was the limited partnership he was in with the Ronon and Jennifer Keller-Dex. It seemed odd that a former Air Force pilot turned physical therapist would have the money for such a venture, so Rodney followed digital breadcrumbs to the sale of shares of Sheppard Industries. It didn't take long to verify that John's father, Patrick Sheppard, was the founder and CEO; John's brother, David, the president of one of the research divisions. Rodney wasn't going to make assumptions about why John was on the opposite coast from his family and not part of the company, but it seemed as if there was a story there that his search hadn't uncovered. Rodney wondered if he'd ever hear it from the source.

His concentration on work effectively destroyed for the rest of the day, Rodney logged into his game for some mindless relaxation. He wandered through the Gotham map, finishing a few of the quests and advancing his character two levels before noticing his name scroll by in the chat window. He enlarged the window and discovered it wasn't the first time he'd received a tell from the same name, interspersed between offers of 10 million in cash for $1.99 and shouts for people to queue for raids. When he saw the screen name of his mysterious messenger, he smiled, recalling a certain conversation about making friends.

[200MPHMan] tells you: Hey GadgetBat!
To [200MPHMan]: Hey yourself. Wasn't FerrisWheelMan available?
[200MPHMan] tells you: You're finally on! I've been checking every time I login.

A new window popped up inviting GadgetBat to a group with 200MPHMan. Rodney accepted with a click and returned to the chat window.

200MPHMan joined the group
You joined the group

[Group] [200MPHMan]: easier to talk privately
[Group][GadgetBat]: Yes, tells can be a pain
[Group] [200MPHMan]: liking the game?
[Group][GadgetBat]: It's quite cathartic blowing things up
[Group][GadgetBat]: It would be better if I could actually build the bombs I'm throwing
[Group] [200MPHMan]: lol
[Group][GadgetBat]: Reminds me - I built atomic bomb for grade six Science Fair exhibit
[Group] [200MPHMan]: They let you do that in Canada?
[Group][GadgetBat]: Was only working model.
[Group][GadgetBat]: Still, was questioned for 6 hours by CIA - thought part of secret pre-teen rebellion
[Group] [200MPHMan]: lol so where are you?
[Group][GadgetBat]: Gotham, near East End PD
[Group] [200MPHMan]: k, omw

A few minutes later, 200MPHMan landed next to GadgetBat. While Rodney had settled on a classic gray/blue Batman-styled outfit for his character, John's was dressed in sleek black - including his wings. He'd even managed to pick a hairstyle almost as messy as his hair in real life.

[Group][GadgetBat]: What? No scrubs? :-)
[Group] [200MPHMan]: not cool enough lol
[Group] [200MPHMan]: had fun yesterday - you?
[Group][GadgetBat]: Yes, surprisingly
[Group] [200MPHMan]: why surprise?
[Group][GadgetBat]: Uncomfortable seats, bathrooms a mile away, the height. Need I go on?
[Group] [200MPHMan]: no 8(

Afraid he'd been too negative - his default mode - Rodney decided to take a chance.

[Group][GadgetBat]: The person sitting next to me was the best part - even tho he won't admit Batman is the best
[Group] [200MPHMan]: cool 8D
[Group] [200MPHMan]: and Superman ftw
[Group][GadgetBat]: I was thinking about tackling the Minotaur in Metropolis
[Group] [200MPHMan]: sounds good, need it too
[Group][GadgetBat]: Let's go then
[Group] [200MPHMan]: following you
[Group][GadgetBat]: Not too closely :P
[Group] [200MPHMan]: as you wish >P

Rodney grinned, thinking that the game had suddenly become a lot more interesting.

"And that is checkmate. Too easy. Are you feeling well?"

Rodney flushed under Radek's scrutiny across the coffee shop table. "I'm fine, just stayed up a little too late last night."

"Really? Perhaps a new breakthrough?"

While Rodney couldn't claim any real advancement in his research, he thought his personal life had certainly taken a turn for the better. He wasn't willing to share the particulars with Radek, so he merely shrugged and said, "Perhaps, and I need coffee and lots of it if I'm going to make it through office hours this afternoon. Midterms are almost worse than finals."

"You speak the truth, my friend. I, too, dread returning." Radek laughed as he packed up his travel chess set, then he followed Rodney to the counter to order his own caffeine boost.

Playing the game had quickly changed from a semi-regular couple of hours to an almost every night up-too-late thing, reminiscent of grad school all-nighters. Rodney found himself logging in earlier each time, hoping that John would be online too. He invariably was, as though he'd been waiting for Rodney to pop up in his friends list. It wasn't just the game. They often spent more time chatting than playing.

[Group][GadgetBat]: Read about new game going open beta - Skyforge
[Group][GadgetBat]: Sounds interesting
[Group] [200MPHMan]: not happening got bugs
[Group][GadgetBat]: To be expected for open beta release
[Group] [200MPHMan]: no you fight giant spider things
[Group][GadgetBat]: You're afraid of bugs?
[Group] [200MPHMan]: you don't do citrus I don't do bugs
[Group][GadgetBat]: Mine's a life-threatening allergy - you're afraid of pixels on a screen
[Group] [200MPHMan]: we could play lemon smash
[Group][GadgetBat]: point taken

[Group] [200MPHMan]: home game this weekend - going?
[Group][GadgetBat]: You?
[Group] [200MPHMan]: thought about hitting coast to surf

Even though Rodney hadn't really thought about going to the upcoming home game, suddenly he was disappointed about missing it. However, knowing how much John enjoyed surfing, he sighed and wished him well.

[Group][GadgetBat]: OK have fun and try not to hit your head again
[Group] [200MPHMan]: but if you're going to game, I'll go with?

Rodney blinked at the screen, his fingers frozen over the keyboard, afraid to come across as too eager for John's company in real life.

[Group] [200MPHMan]: Hey you afk?
[Group][GadgetBat]: I can meet you there
[Group] [200MPHMan]: cool
[Group] [200MPHMan]: i'll get tickets meet at east gate 1900 hours
[Group] [200MPHMan]: you buy the hots this time
[Group] [200MPHMan]: now for the lighthouse duo k?

A giant grin plastered across his face, Rodney hugged Newton until he squirmed and chirped in protest.

[Group][GadgetBat]: Bane won't know what hit him

Arriving at 6:45 pm - Rodney refusing in principle to translate to military time - he jittered at the entrance, glancing at his watch every two minutes. When John finally arrived at 7:09, he was greeted with an irritated, "How does someone who was in the military manage to be late?"

"I wasn't exactly late." John rubbed the back of his neck and flashed a sheepish grin. "I somehow wound up at the west gate. Took me a while to get my bearings."

Realizing he was over-reacting, Rodney offered an apology of his own. "Sorry. Guess I was worried you'd already gone inside."

"I don't leave people behind, Rodney."

Although John was smiling, Rodney could almost feel the weighted truth behind the words. He nodded and said, "OK, I believe you."

"Good, now let's head inside." John reached into his sweatshirt pocket and pulled out two tickets, handing one to Rodney. "You owe me a hot dog."

Leading the way to the turnstiles, Rodney laughed and called back over his shoulder. "I'll even spring for a couple of giant pretzels."

Two strides later, John was at his side. "Cool."

John's hand had felt good resting lightly in the middle of Rodney's back as they made their way through the crowd to the turnstiles and hot dog vendor. Rodney had regretted the loss as they climbed the stairs, but John's arm casually resting across the back of his seat soon made up for it. High above the rest of the crowd, the game faded into the background as they continued their usual banter, more enjoyable face-to-face versus across the internet.

Deciding it was his turn in the back and forth, Rodney asked, "Surfing, flying, football, computer games; what else do you do for fun?"

"Let's see...." John scrunched his face and scratched his head then grinned at Rodney. "I like amusement parks."

Rodney grinned back and nodded his head. "That's right, you did mention Ferris Wheels, although I can imagine you standing in line for all the crazy rides. Too bad roller coasters don't go 200 miles per hour."

"The Superman coaster at Six Flags manages a decent 100."

"I'll take your word for it." Rodney shuddered at the thought of riding something like that. "Still not fond of heights, especially at speed."

With a small shift of the arm still resting on the back of Rodney's seat, John patted Rodney's shoulder reassuringly. "Then Ferris Wheels would be perfect for you. They're even better at night." He looked up and waved his free arm toward the sky, which was obscured by the stadium's lighting. "You can check out all the stars when you're at the top."

Rodney only nodded, enjoying John's enthusiasm and the warm hand on his shoulder.

"It's actually been a while since I've been up in one." John admitted as he turned to face Rodney . "I've been thinking about going to Six Flags since all the county fairs are over for the year."

"They're still open this late in the season?"

"They have special weekends for the holidays. They cover the place in Christmas lights and decorations." John leaned a little closer. "It's an away game next weekend, so maybe we could check it out?"

"Christmas decorations? It's only the second week in November!"

Withdrawing his arm and settling back in his seat, John shrugged, his voice a little gruff as he said, "Just a thought." He stared down at the field, where the referees had just called pass interference.

Instantly regretting his fumble, Rodney scrambled to recover, twisting to rest his hand on John's forearm. "Well, I am going to be in Vancouver the weekend after for the Thanksgiving break, so I guess it's really not a bad idea to check it out before the holiday rush."

Although John didn't move, Rodney could see the beginnings of a smile. "Yeah?"

"Sure, why not." Rodney squeezed John's arm, then settled back in his seat, a matching smile on his face.

John may have tried for casual with his "Cool," but Rodney could hear the delight in his voice.

Then they both roared with the crowd as the Stanford quarterback threw for a touchdown.

"Hey, Rodney!"

Turning away from the counter with his freshly filled travel mug, Rodney frowned and scanned the coffee shop for whoever had called his name. His frown brightened to a smile when he saw John sitting at one of tables with his own cup of coffee and two blueberry muffins sitting on a plate. Sliding into the chair across from him, he pointed to the muffins and asked, "You eating both of those?"

"Nah, help yourself." John smiled and pushed the plate closer so Rodney could grab the still-warm pastry.

Rodney took a big bite and hummed in delight before saying, "Thanks, I didn't realize I was so hungry. I should have bought one myself."

"Really not a problem," John assured him, pulling a travel chess set from his pocket. "Got time for a quick game?"

Pulling his phone from his pocket, Rodney sent a quick text to Miko, then looked up with a smile. "I do now."

A knock at Rodney's door was always unexpected, but it was also annoying when Rodney had to set his laptop aside and disturb Newton in order to answer it. His irritated "Yes, what is it?" shifted to a surprised "Daniel?'" as the door swung wide.

"Hi, Rodney. I was in town for a symposium and I thought I'd stop by and say...." Daniel smiled and ducked his head. "um, hi."

They both stood awkwardly on their respective sides of the doorway until Newton loped out of the living room and straight for the door, trilling and chirping loudly. "Newton!" Daniel cried and bracing himself as Newton jumped into his arms to nuzzle under his chin. "Aw, I missed you too."

"Don't want him getting out, so you should probably come in," Rodney muttered, resenting Newton's easy acceptance of Daniel's return and dreading the cat's inevitable moping after he was abandoned again.

Daniel nodded, most of his attention still on the cat in his arms. "I swear you've doubled in size. You're definitely not a kitten anymore." He shifted the cat's weight with a grunt then flashed Rodney one of his charming grins. "Maybe we should sit down?"

Time hadn't granted Rodney immunity to Daniels's charisma. With a crooked smile of his own, he closed the door and waved Daniel toward the living room. Dropping into the closest armchair with an oof, Daniel rearranged Newton into a pile of purr before glancing around the room. "Hunh. Seems like nothing's changed around here."

As he settled on the sofa, Rodney took a mental step back, wondering if Daniel was right, that nothing had changed since he'd left Rodney for his new life. After a few moments, he had to concede that physically everything had remained the same, with no visual evidence that Rodney too had moved on.

Before he could formulate a reply, Daniel continued. "So how are things? Anything new in the world of astrophysics?"

Rodney shrugged. "I'm sort of taking a break right now."

"A break?" Daniel looked puzzled as he absently stroked Newton. "I can't remember how many times I had to convince you to stop long enough to eat or sleep."

As Rodney thought back to their time together, he had to admit the long hours of research and his inattention to anything else had likely doomed their relationship from the start. It wasn't all his fault though. Daniel had known what Rodney was like, but he'd believed he could change him. The move to Columbia had been Daniel admitting failure. Somehow, although John wanted Rodney to change too, it was different. He'd suggested logical adjustments in Rodney's lifestyle, never nagging or demanding or acting disappointed if Rodney failed to make the changes. He shrugged again and said with a smile, "I guess I've finally discovered the value of relaxation."

Daniel looked at Rodney for a few moments then smiled back. "That's good. And you look good too, so it must be working." Shifting his gaze to the cat sprawled across his lap, he sighed. "I really did miss him. I thought about getting one, but I'm leaving soon for South America. It wouldn't be fair to the cat leaving it in boarding for months at a time."

"You're right, it wouldn't," Rodney agreed without an ounce of resentment for Daniel's departure - finally free.

They sat quietly for a few minutes until Daniel disturbed the increasingly uncomfortable silence. "So I, uh, met someone. He's ex-military, going for his doctorate in American History. He's decided to take a break next semester and join me on the dig."

Rodney quickly countered with, "I'm sort of seeing someone too." He just as quickly discovered many strands of Newton's hair on his shirt and pants that needed to be picked off one-by-one.

"Sort of?"

Still occupied with hair removal, Rodney mumbled, "Well, we meet for coffee, chess, and football games."

"Football games, as in more than one? I could never get you to go with me."

The shock in Daniel's voice finally brought Rodney's head up, an irritated scowl spreading across his face "Well, a person can change."

"Yes, yes they can," said Daniel before looking at his watch. "I have to meet someone...." He tried to get up only to laugh at Newton's refusal to move. "Help?"

Using Newton's favorite feather stick, Rodney rescued Daniel and walked him to the door. Summoning his paltry social skills, Rodney offered his hand and said, "It was good seeing you again, Daniel. Take care of yourself in South America."

Daniel ignored Rodney's hand, pulling him into a hug instead. "Maybe you should make sure you're really seeing this person, Rodney." As he pulled back, Daniel quirked his head and smiled. "He seems to be good for you." With a final wave of his hand, Daniel walked out the door, pausing on the walkway to call back, "Be happy."

Rodney was busy keeping Newton in the house, so Daniel was already in his car before Rodney could say, "I'm getting there."

And it was the truth.

"Relax, buddy. I promise not to rock it."

Rodney shivered, wishing he'd worn something a little warmer. He hadn't realized how chilly it was going to get. It seemed like John noticed because he as suddenly closer, his warm length closer to Rodney, his arm resting along the back of the slowly rising gondola. Rodney gradually relaxed against John, soaking in his body heat. When he turned his head, John's face was close, his smile soft under the twinkling lights. For a long moment, Rodney thought John was going to lean in for a kiss, but instead he looked away and up at the night sky.

"Sorry. I promised you stars, but the ambient light is too strong."

Squashing down disappointment, Rodney shrugged, the move shifting him away from John's warmth. "No problem. I wasn't really expecting to see any." His spirits lifted a little when John scooted closer, sharing his heat again, and Rodney decided he could live with just friendship, if it was the only thing on offer.

The elephant in the chair below them rocked the gondola wildly, snorfling through its trunk.

[Group] [200MPHMan]: tofurkey? that really food?
[Group][GadgetBat]: Jeannie thinks it is
[Group][GadgetBat]: Tried to convince her that we didn't need to celebrate Thanksgiving in November because we're Canadian
[Group][GadgetBat]: The Americans won that battle and now they're out at the Black Friday sales
[Group] [200MPHMan]: with maddie?
[Group][GadgetBat]: No, she's here playing with her Legos
System will be offline in 1 minute for emergency server maintenance
[Group] [200MPHMan]: what?
[Group][GadgetBat]: I wonder how long it'll be down
[Group] [200MPHMan]: not even enough time to finish this
[Group][GadgetBat]: Catch you later when it comes back

Rodney was barely able to hit before the game logged him out. He was more than a little grumpy because he'd barely had a chance to chat with John before they'd had to say goodbye. He didn't even have Newton to keep him occupied because the cat was back home being pampered in his favorite cattery. Closing his laptop with a sigh, he resolved to wait at least 20 minutes before trying to log back in and re-connect with John. A few moments later, his phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out, prepared to reassure Jeannie that Madison was fine. A quick glance at the screen corrected that assumption. It was an unknown number with a San Francisco area code.




"Hey, since the game's down, thought we could talk the sort of old-fashioned way."

Rodney chuckled at the thought that a simple phone call was obsolete in the age of tweets, texts, and tumblr accounts. "It is good to hear your voice instead of merely tolerating your chronic inability to use capital letters."

"Just wanted to tell you Ronon deep-fried a turkey and Jen makes the best sweet potato pie I've tasted since I left Virginia."

Rodney's "You are an evil, evil, man skilled in torture," generated one of John's honking laughs, which made Rodney grin in return.

Madison moved her Legos closer and tugged on Rodney's pants. "Uncle Mer, make me something."

"Just a second, let me put you on speaker. I need two hands for this. Just remember, little pitchers have big ears." Rodney set the phone on top of his laptop and scooped up a handful of the plastic blocks. "What did you want me to make?"

"Make her a helicopter," suggested John.

Rodney could hear the amused challenge in John's voice and he leaned over to pick out a few more pieces. "You don't think I can?"

"I have no doubt you can. You're a genius."

Madison scrambled across the room to gather up more pieces, bringing them back to present them with a flourish. "Here, Uncle Meredith. I have lots!"

Rodney winced, not surprised when John snorted a laugh into the phone. "Uncle Meredith? Really? Are you wearing a big hat with flowers and drinking tea with Maddie?"

"Oh, please, my side. You slay me," Rodney said in a flat tone, wishing his sister would just give him a break and call him by his chosen name. "That's why I go by my middle name, Rodney."

"Sorry, sorry. It was just a funny image." John's apology sounded sincere, but Rodney wished he could see his face to be sure he wasn't still being mocked. He'd had more than enough of that growing up, which John seemed to understand with his peace offering. "Sort of 'A Boy Named Sue' thing, huh? Must have been tough growing up."

"Yeah, sometimes." Rodney's fingers had been busily clicking blocks together as they talked and he presented Madison with the final product. "There, a helicopter. Its propeller even turns."

Madison grabbed the toy with a squeal of joy. "Yay! Thanks, Uncle Mer!" She jumped up and began flying the helicopter around the room with whoop-whoop sound effects."

"Oh, to be young and so easily pleased." Rodney chuckled as he absently sorted the remaining pieces. "If only we could be so happy now."

John was so quiet on the other end of the line that Rodney thought he'd lost the connection, but then he spoke again, his voice oddly tentative. "So Ronon and Jen wanted me to ask you to come over for Christmas, I mean, if you're going to be in town. It's sort of an open house, nothing really fancy, lot of the people from the clinic and their...people." He'd spoken faster with each word that spilled out and finally stopped with a gasp for breath. "I promise not to say a word about the Meredith thing, so think about it?"

"Mommy, Daddy! Uncle Mer isn't gonna be here for Christmas! How will Santa find him?"

"It's DeLorean time," John crowed as he walked into Rodney's house for the first time, waving a copy of 'Back to the Future' over his head. He came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Newton trotting downstairs to greet the stranger. "Whoa! That's not a cat! It's a damn panther!"

Rodney laughed as he closed the door. "I guess I should have mentioned that although his mom may have been a plain black alley cat, his father was likely a Maine coon."

"Jeez, now I understand the tripping thing."

Watching a movie together had been John's idea. When he'd suggested seeing the latest blockbuster together, Rodney had sheepishly admitted that other people hated watching movies with him because of his running commentary. After he mentioned being content with his 52-inch HDTV, John had shrugged and suggested a trial run at Rodney''s house to see if Rodney's bad habit would be a problem.

It wasn't. Even though John's choice of movie was guaranteed to bring out the worst in Rodney, his comments made John laugh so hard that he spit popcorn halfway across the room.

"So it seems I wouldn't be the problem in the movie theater," Rodney declared as the ending credits rolled. "You, however, would probably be removed for throwing food at the back of people's heads."

John merely rolled his head on the back of the sofa and rubbed his stomach where it had cramped from a bad case of the giggles. Newton, who had been sprawled across both their laps enjoying double the attention, got up to check whether the cat food fairy had visited. "Now I have a cold spot," John complained, and Rodney bit his tongue instead of offering to take the cat's place.

"Got to get going. Early meeting tomorrow." With an exaggerated groan, John stood up and stretched, his shirt riding high enough to tease Rodney with a glimpse of dark curls and surf-tanned skin. "This was fun."

'Yes, it was." Rodney followed John to the door, thinking about the miniature working Ferris Wheel he'd bought on a whim. Just as John started to walk out, Rodney blurted out, "I know we already have plans for Christmas, but maybe you'd like to come over for dinner on Christmas Eve?" Rodney backpedaled a bit, explaining, "I don't really cook, but we can order pizza or Thai or whatever and watch another movie?"

John wiggled his eyebrows and grinned. "I do a mean lasagna. You supply the garlic bread and Chianti."

"I can do that," Rodney said then he snapped his fingers. "And the bakery by the coffee shop has the best cannolis."

As he walked out the door, John cocked his finger at Rodney and nodded. "Sounds like a plan."

Rodney closed the door and let out a sigh of relief before flipping a rude gesture toward the elephant snickering in the corner. As he walked upstairs to bed, Newton following behind, he couldn't help wishing that John had said "It's a date."

John laughed at Newton sprawled out under the tree, exhausted after hours spent watching the lights glinting off the ornaments and windows. Not only had Rodney pulled the artificial tree down from the attic - no real tree because of his allergies - he'd actually strung up all the outside lights Daniel had insisted they needed during Christmases past. Rodney hadn't bothered the previous year. Daniel was gone by then and Rodney had spent Christmas with the Millers, his house closed up and dark as his mood. This year he was home and sitting on the sofa with John watching 'It's a Wonderful Life," pleasantly full of lasagna and mellowed by wine.

A miniature Ferris Wheel sat on the coffee table, surrounded by crumpled blue and silver paper. Rodney smiled as he remembered John's exclamation of delight when he'd unwrapped the gift, his infectious excitement when he wound the tin key until the wheel began to turn and the music box inside played 'Fly Me to the Moon.' Rodney thought about how they gotten there, about that fateful first night at the stadium - suddenly remembering John been carrying two of everything. He twisted toward John, snapping his fingers in excitement as it all began to fall into place, validating what he'd postulated to Daniel. "It wasn't an accident, you meeting me at the game, was it?'

John began to straighten from his usual slouch. For a moment, Rodney thought he was preparing his escape, but then he shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck, avoiding Rodney's eyes. "No, you'd mentioned trying it out and uh, it was kind of a Hail Mary finding you in the stands."

"And showing up at the coffee shop with a travel chess set?"

"I knew you liked the place and I saw you playing in there one day with that fuzzy-haired guy - around the same time of day we first bumped into each other."

"So you were stalking me?" Rodney was determined not to find that creepy since it had worked out so well for him. "I mean, that place is just off campus for me, but isn't exactly close to the clinic."

John sidestepped the accusation with a different confession, finally looking at Rodney. "Yeah, about that. I'm not at the clinic anymore."

"What happened? They can't have fired you!" Rodney protested. "You own a third of the place."

"I'm not going to ask how you knew that, genius." John grinned and shook his head. "I sold it to Teyla - the other therapist - and I invested in that airfield I told you about."

"So you gave up on physical therapy?" Abandoning something you loved was still as foreign a concept to Rodney as it had been when Jeannie had left school to be an at-home mom. It was the reason he'd never questioned Daniel's move to New York City and why he'd stayed behind.

John shook his head again. "No, I'm still seeing a few patients every week at the VA, but I really missed being up in the air." He mimed flying with a swoop of his hand. "I'm going to be giving helicopter tours of the Bay Area and flying lessons in both helos and fixed wings.

"Tours and lessons." Rodney knew how much John loved flying, so the change made sense. "You know, Parrish keeps babbling about taking a book about aerial views of famous gardens and forests. I'll send him your way." He settled back against the sofa again and watched the movie for a few moments, gathering his thoughts. He deliberately didn't look at John as he began again. "So I did some research back when this...thing between us started, because we met as patient and therapist. You know this isn't transference, right? I mean, I was okay with not seeing you again after I was better, but then you kept showing up."

John's response wasn't immediate, but it was exactly what Rodney was hoping to hear. "And it's not counter-transference on my part." Reaching forward, he used the remote to pause the movie before turning back to Rodney. "You're not my patient anymore and you never will be again."

"So if I mentioned that putting up the tree was tough work and that a massage would be nice, it wouldn't happen?"

John licked his lips and moved a little closer. "Don't tempt a starving man. It's been a long time since I've had my hands on you."

Rodney sighed and nodded his head in woeful agreement. "Weeks and weeks of computers, coffee, football games, and chess. I mean, it's been great having you as a friend, and it would be okay if that's all it'll ever be, but then I thought on the Ferris Wheel you might...."

Narrowly avoiding a flailing hand, John cut off Rodney's rambling with a soft kiss. Pulling back after a few blissful moments, he smiled and murmured, "I was afraid I was moving too fast. I didn't want ruin things with you because I really like having you as a friend too."

"Well, you are 200MPHMan and you've taught me a little speed can be fun." Rodney teased, then it was his turn to maintain their momentum under twinkling lights.

A muted buzz from John's wrist elicited an irritated grumble from Rodney. It was the first time John had stayed all night and Rodney didn't want it to be over. After a luxurious stretch, John turned on his side to face Rodney, a hand wandering out to gently stroke from the nape of Rodney's neck down along his spine to the curve of his buttocks, soothing the pleasant ache from the night before. While it wasn't quite a purr he elicited for Rodney, the appreciative hum was close.

"Your hands are always so warm." Rodney murmured, his eyelids drooping sleepily. "Does that mean you have a cold heart?"

John's hands stilled for a moment before continuing the long sweeps along Rodney's spine. Rodney's question hung in the air between them until John cleared his throat to answer the not quite rhetorical question.

"Not since I met you."

"Hmmm...oh! That's good. Really good."

"Hey, I've got to get going." John paused to clear his throat before continuing, his voice a little less gravelly. "Or I'm going to be late for my first appointment."

Rodney shifted to face John, blinking sleepily, barely managing to cover a yawn as he mumbled, "And I have an early class." Propping his head up, Rodney wiggled his eyebrows and leered, "I could call Miko...."

"Tempting." John laughed and leaned forward to kiss the silly grin. "It's one of my VA guys and I can't cancel so easily."

With a huff, Rodney rolled over and climbed out of bed. "Right then." He leaned over to grab his boxers from the floor and jerking them on. "I'll go start some coffee, so you can have your shower first."

In a few quick movements, John caught Rodney before he opened the bedroom door. Placing his hand on Rodney's chest to hold him in place, John asked in a worried tone. "Hey, you're not mad at me, are you?"

Rodney's expression shifted from grumpy to puzzled. "Do I look angry?"

"You did."

Pointing at his face, Rodney scowled. "Default mode, remember? I'm an adult, I understand you have to leave and I'm just thinking about coffee right now."

"So we're cool?" John asked, his hand sliding up and around the back of Rodney's head to pull him forward, resting his forehead against Rodney's.

Relaxing against John, Rodney smiled, his voice fondly exasperated as he corrected John. "You're cool, I'm fine."

"Good, then can I take a rain check on that incredibly tempting offer and uh...." John paused to snatch another quick kiss. "...share a shower instead?"

Rodney pulled back to ask warily, "And risk slipping and hurting myself again?"

"I promise to be very, very careful," John wheedled as his hands argued his case across Rodney's body. "Very."

With an exaggerated sigh, Rodney said, "I guess the coffee can wait," and pulled away to head for the bathroom.

Annoyed at his ban from the bedroom the night before, Newton thudded down the hall as the shower went on - only to have his entrance barred by a carefully placed foot. "Sorry, buddy," John apologized as he closed the bathroom door on the disgruntled cat. "You'll have to wait your turn."

Newton's law of universal gravitation states that any two bodies in the universe attract
each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses
and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Supplemental Notes:

This story almost didn't see the light of day - stalled in the middle as I dithered. It isn't the 1950's anymore and today Doctor Rock Hudson would be censured for marrying his patient Ms. Doris Day. I performed due diligence in my research on physical therapists becoming involved with former patients. I recognized the potential triggers - even in a fictional context. Then I remembered that the show writers didn't have a problem with Keller/McKay and the story stopped spiraling down the drain with Newton chasing down the last drops.

A few of the many interesting items I researched: Cupid's Arrows or Poison Darts? and TV Tropes:Florence Nightingale Effect

Oh, and while I try to be accurate with locations and times, I tinkered a bit with the Stanford football schedule, shifting the Oregon Ducks game to September-ish.

John's new toy:


danceswithgary: (Default)


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