Sholio (sholio) wrote in sticksandsnark,

Fic: Skin Memory, for Tli

Title: Skin Memory
Author: sholio
Recipient: tli
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Rodney/Teyla; mention of John/Ronon
Word Count: 3100
Summary: Life, she thought, was too short for wondering, never knowing; too short to live in the imagination rather than living in the world.
Prompt(s): I used two of the offered prompts: #1 - Rodney involves himself in a long term project on the mainland/New Athos. How this affects his relationship with Teyla. #2 - Teyla in Rodney's lab.

The first time Rodney touched her was, of course, in the lab. She had touched him before, of course, many times, the quick and necessary sort of touching that takes place between hunting partners and military comrades -- a hand on the back, pushing him forward; a touch on the arm to get his attention in a dark place. There was nothing else between them. She did not know him well, though she sometimes noticed him watching her, out of the corners of his eyes, while pretending to be absorbed in one of his machines.

She'd been on Atlantis for a few months, long enough to work her way through the adjustment to her new life and learn to be comfortable in her skin again. She had always been a leader, a doer, and it was no different here -- though she deferred easily enough to John in the field, or to Weir on Atlantis, it was generally understood by this time that her knowledge of the Pegasus Galaxy made her the expert in many situations. When Teyla spoke, people listened, and those who didn't would hear about it from John or Dr. Weir later -- if they hadn't already learned the hard way that when Teyla said "Don't eat the green berries" or "Avoid speaking of the dead on M35-P9X", she meant it.

The labs were the only place where she didn't go. In the labs, she was the interloper; she was the one who didn't know what she was doing. Teyla disliked that feeling very much. Still, the longer she spent on Atlantis and the more time she spent around Rodney and the other scientists, the more she realized that her old world of trees and mist-shrouded morning lakes was far from her now. In this new world of silver towers and blue-lit crystals, she was the fumbling one, and she needed to learn as much of it as she could; the alternative was to be a liability to her team.

So she braved the labs. "I want you to teach me about the computers, please," she said to Rodney, seating herself opposite him on one of the uncomfortable lab stools.

"What?" he asked, looking at her over the top of a screen. "What on Earth -- or Pegasus -- for? What do you mean, anyway, teach you about the computers? That's a broad field of endeavor, you know --"

"You are learning to shoot a gun, to build a fire and to raise a tent," she pointed out, cutting him off before he could launch into one of his monologues. "For much the same reasons, I should not be the only person on John's team who cannot use a computer."

He paused. "Hmm. Point. But why are you here?" His mobile hands fluttered, illustrating his words as usual. "I mean, anyone in the city could teach you basic computer literacy. Well, maybe not Kavanagh. And not Stackhouse; the man got a virus, in a galaxy with no Internet, and I still don't know how he managed to do that. But -- I mean, the Major, Ford, anybody." He trailed off, looking at her quizzically.

And she gave him truth. "If you need to acquire a new skill, you should learn it from the one who knows it best." It was true; but she saw a blush creep up his face anyway.

"Oh. Oh, well. That's an excellent point. But -- I'm very busy, you know?" Still, he got off his stool and came around to her side of the lab counter. "First things first. You'd better learn to type. I can't stand hunt-and-peck typists." He reached around her, pulling a keyboard in front of her. His nervousness had dropped away; he was in his element, and Teyla sat still as he took hold of her hands, manipulating them as if she were any of his lab underlings. "These are your home keys, here and here."

She had never wondered how Rodney's hands might feel. They were broad and warm, soft in places where she was used to calluses, and they folded over hers with absolute confidence, positioning her hands on the keyboard.

When he took them away, she was still for a moment; her skin was cold, bereft, where his big warm palms had rested, and it took her a moment longer to hear him asking her if anything was wrong. "No," she said, "no, I am fine; is it done like this?" and she moved her fingers as she'd seen him do, stretching to tap out her name, letter by letter, in their angular, alien script.


After that, without meaning to, she found herself cataloging all the times that she touched Rodney, that he touched her -- her body a map of secrets marked on her skin in indelible, invisible ink. This was where he had clutched at her arm, stopping her from walking into an Ancient force field. These were her fingerpads that had positioned his hands on a pistol, correcting his grip as John had taught her. This was the place on her thigh where his leg had brushed as he seated himself at breakfast.

It wasn't a crush, not really. She was no silly girl, to daydream of wearing a wedding necklace or to doodle Rodney's name in the corners of her mission reports. Besides, she knew what Rodney was like; she worked with him every day, and his flaws, his pettiness and temper and many small intolerances were known to her as well as she knew her own.

And the team worked well together; Teyla had spent enough time as a leader of men and women to know how rare it was to put together four strangers and have them settle into such a seamless working relationship. They lost Ford, and gained Ronon, and if anything they fell together more smoothly than before -- this, she knew, was rarer yet. She didn't want to jeopardize it for sex, and she doubted if it could ever be more than sex. He was not like her; she was not like him; it could not end well.

But she noticed how he continued to watched her, from time to time, with the same intensity that he studied his equations. She would catch his eyes on her in the cafeteria, or sitting on the steps of an offworld marketplace in the sun; he always looked away quickly when he caught her looking back, his face tinted with the blush that came so easily to him. And there were times when she watched him, too, catching him in his rare moments of heroism and compassion and grace, and those were the times, most of all, when she found herself wondering if his skin also remembered hers.

Then the Ancestors made them leave Atlantis, and after three years of knowing who and what she was, Teyla found that her skin didn't quite fit right anymore. She hadn't felt so uncertain since her very first days on Atlantis, but now it was New Athos that was all wrong -- the tents were too drafty, the fires too smoky, the bedrolls too hard, the stew from the communal fire too overdone and the spices all wrong. She missed high arching ceilings, and colored light moving on coppery walls; she missed John's rare, true smile, and Elizabeth's quiet laugh, and hands as soft as a child and as big as a man's, shaping her fingers to an alien alphabet.

When the people of Earth came back, once the pieces of her heart had settled back together into the shape she knew, she ran her fingers over her unmarked skin and thought about those wide, soft hands -- imagined those blunt fingers cupping her breasts and curving over her hip.

Life, she thought, was too short for wondering, never knowing; too short to live in the imagination rather than living in the world.


After Rodney nearly died in the Ascension machine, Elizabeth put their team on stand-down for a while -- the supposed reason was that Rodney needed to be cleared for field work again, which Carson refused to do until he was absolutely positive that there were no lingering effects, but Teyla thought that Elizabeth probably understood that they all needed some time to breathe and to adjust.

Halling had asked her some time ago if it would be possible for one of Atlantis's engineers to help them lay out a system of aqueducts to transport water to their new village. Between one crisis and another, there never seemed to be an opportunity to ask, but now that she had a little free time, she balled up her courage in her stomach and asked Rodney if he would mind coming back to New Athos with her to help out. He grumbled a bit, but his complaints, these days, didn't seem to have the edge to them that she remembered from their early acquaintance; it was more like complaining for habit's sake.

Carson thought it was a wonderful idea ("Fresh air and exercise, Rodney, you couldn't ask for a better prescription." "But I hate exercise and I'm allergic to fresh air!") and Teyla stepped through the gate into a crisp summer morning with Rodney at her side. It felt a little odd, just the two of them; she kept wanting to turn around to check for John and Ronon behind them.

Although Rodney was supposed to be avoiding strenuous activity, all of them -- Teyla, Rodney, Halling and the group of teenagers who were assisting them -- ended up exhausted and filthy after spending the day in the nascent earthworks. While the evening meal was being prepared, Teyla, with a spark of pride she couldn't suppress, showed Rodney to the baths: a natural hot spring, a brief walk from the village, that had filled a number of tiny pools, screened from each other by dense brush. She chose a nice one and tied a piece of cloth around a branch hanging over the trail to indicate that this particular pool was occupied.

"Is there -- like -- a men's and women's side, or how does that work, anyway?" Rodney asked nervously, staring down at the steaming water as if it could bite him. "Are there wild animals around here? Do you clean these things?"

Teyla sighed and laid down a length of soft, folded cloth to serve for a towel. "Just call out if something attempts to eat you," she said, and started for the path through the brush to the next unoccupied pool.

"Is that likely?" he said anxiously from behind her.

Teyla looked over her shoulder. He'd taken off his shoes, and his feet looked very naked and vulnerable, toes curled into the trampled sand. His shoulders were hunched, his bare arms dirty and scraped.

Life is too short to wonder and wait.

"I will keep them away for you," she said, and turned back, dropping her bundle of clean clothes next to his. She toed off her own shoes and socks, luxuriating in the feel of the breeze on her hot toes.

Rodney made a small, uncertain sound. "Uh, are you planning on -- wait, Teyla --" She missed whatever he said next, since she was pulling her blouse off over her head, leaving her naked from the waist up except for the binding cloth that kept her breasts from bouncing around while she worked. The evening air cooled the sweat on her back.

"Um," Rodney said again. His cheeks were very pink, and he was staring fixedly at his own feet.

The uncomfortable thought occurred to her that she might have read him wrong all these years, but she pushed forward. Life is short. "I will not look," she promised, turning her face away from him. "If you do not look either," she added, and shucked off her sweaty, stained pants, followed by underwear and, with relief, the binding cloth. She steadfastly kept her face turned away from him, and, pleasantly naked, she waded into the hot water, up to her knees and then her waist. With a sigh, she settled into it, wincing as it stung her scrapes and then closing her eyes in bliss.

There was a large splash nearby. Teyla opened her eyes, blinking water off the lashes, and kept them averted with an almost superhuman effort. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, I'm great," Rodney grumbled. "It just got deeper a little faster than I was expecting, that's all."

Teyla ducked her head under and then stood up, streaming water. She waded ashore to get the clay jar of soft soap, and scooped out a handful, working it into her hair. Certainly she could have waded back into the water for this, but it felt good to stand in the shallows, her body steaming in the cool evening air. She stretched her head back, lifting her arms and working up a lather on her scalp.

When she opened her eyes and turned her head, she found Rodney staring at her, his eyes round and his mouth slightly open, standing in water up to his waist. "You're not supposed to be looking!" he squeaked wildly, and belly-flopped, vanishing in a cloud of spray.

"Neither are you," she pointed out, wading back into the water, taking her time.

Rodney's head popped up in a spreading circle of ripples, thinning hair plastered down to his skull with water. She could see him struggling with the temptation to look over at her, and she waded his way, until she was near enough to settle her hands on his shoulders. He stiffened.

"Relax," she said, and dipped a handful of foam from the lather on her head, smoothing it down his shoulder. His skin was hot from the water; after denying herself for so long, each touch was like an electric shock, tingling from her fingertips up to her elbow. Carefully she smoothed away the dirt of the day's labors. She had often seen Rodney tired from working in the labs, but very rarely had she seen him like this -- worn out and filthy from body-labor. She thought he probably was not used to the ache of well-used muscles.

"Sheppard's not going to like this." Rodney stared up at the sky, at the trees; anywhere but at her naked torso as she smeared another handful of foam down his softly rounded bicep. "I mean ... team! This is -- we're not supposed to --"

"John is having sex with Ronon," Teyla said. Rodney made a stifled squawk and looked her in the face.

"No way."

"It began after you returned from Earth, though I think that there might have been ... something ... even before you left." Teyla noticed how his eyes followed her arm as she raised her hand to her head and retrieved another palmful of lather. "In any case, I do not believe that he minded having a couple of days on Atlantis for the two of them."

"That jerk," Rodney muttered. "We're supposed to be friends. I can't believe he didn't say anything."

Teyla raised her eyebrows. "And are you always perfectly up-front with John about your own life?"

His blue eyes skittered away from hers, back to the trees. "I don't know what you mean."

"Rodney." She leaned on his wide shoulders, pressing through a soft layer of fat into muscles that were firmer than they looked. He stiffened again, and then relaxed slowly into her hands. After a moment, she went on, "We are both adults. I do not wish to force you into anything that you are unwilling to do."

"Unwilling? God, Teyla ..." He tilted his head back, staring at her, his eyes soft and as deep as the sky. "You know, for a long time, I thought you and Sheppard --"

Teyla laughed. She'd heard that rumor, too. She never realized that Rodney had believed it, though. "Your culture seems unwilling to believe that a man and a woman could be 'only' friends. It is commonplace on Athos." Leaning closer, her sudsy hair dripping on his neck, she added, "Of course, we also recognize that friendship is not the only way that adults can enjoy each other's company."

She felt his shoulders shake with a soft, nervous laugh. Then he tilted his head back again, looking up at her, his lips parted in a shy smile that faded into a frown. "Uh, if you don't wash that off your hair, it'll dry, and it'll itch like crazy. Voice of experience here."

Teyla smiled and sank down on the water, up to her neck. "Would you like to help me?"

"I'm, um, not good at this. I mean, probably. I never washed a -- I don't really know --"

Teyla sank to her knees on the sandy bottom of the pool, so that the water covered her up to her neck. She could feel her hair floating in a loose cloud around her shoulders. Turning, she presented her back to Rodney. "It is not difficult," she said, and tipped her head back until the water soaked through to her scalp. She closed her eyes and let her upper body float.

After a moment, hesitant fingers stroked through her hair, shy and furtive. There was a little bit of splashing -- muffled; as she sank lower in the water, it lapped over her ears -- and then a handful of water dribbled over her forehead and trickled down her nose.

"Um, sorry, sorry. I told you I'm not good at this."

Teyla grinned. Water lapped up against the edges of her jaw. "You are doing just fine."

The hands returned, gentle and hesitant, growing bolder. Teyla floated back until she bumped into his chest, and then she drifted, eyes closed, feeling his hands gain surety until they worked through her hair with the same confidence she remembered from the labs -- scrubbing away the lather, leaving her clean and light.

"You're very pretty," Rodney said quietly. She could feel his chest move when he spoke.

Teyla felt her smile stretch her mouth. "Thank you."

"I mean beautiful. I'm always saying the wrong thing. I'm terrible with women," he explained earnestly.

Teyla opened her eyes and looked up, into nervous blue eyes looking down. "I know," she said, grinning wider. "I know you, Rodney -- remember? And if you would like to kiss me at this moment, I would not object to it."

"Oh," he said, a soft syllable of surprise, and leaned forward, his lips brushing hers upside down, then coming back to settle more firmly.

Under the water, his hands slid from her hair to her neck, and slipped across her shoulders to cup under her breasts where they floated in the water. His hands were big, firm, sure -- just as she'd thought they would feel. Her skin knew.

His hands moved lower, trailing electricity behind, marking a gently winding path on the invisible map that she'd worn for three years. And Teyla reached behind her, touching his chest and ribs and hips, pulling him forward, skin to skin.
Tags: fic:2009

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