A/N: My intention is for this to be a simple friendship fic, not an AU Rodney/Teyla 'Ship. It should be considered as taking place sometime around Season 2. No episode Spoilers.
She could see it in every move he made, in the tightening of fine lines at the corners of his eyes and the bunching of muscles in his jaw, the careful way he held himself as he leaned over his work station computer deciphering lines of Ancient code. He was in pain.
She could tell that it was bad by the simple fact that Rodney gave no voice to it, did not whine or complain, did not even bite the head off Dr. Mobray after the woman was so distracted by conversation with someone across the lab that she tripped over her own feet and nearly dropped a tray of chemical samples. He merely scowled and told Mobray to be more careful. Teyla frowned in sympathy. Such a display of clumsiness with delicate equipment would normally have had Rodney springing from his chair and flailing the other scientist with a tongue lashing they would never forget. He took his position as department head very seriously, and if he was too distracted by his own misery to administer a well-deserved scolding, then the discomfort must be intense.
"Good evening, Rodney," she greeted, leaving her place in the shadows by the door and entering the room more fully.
He glanced up, surprise flickering in his eyes at her rare appearance in his domain. "Teyla, what brings you down here?"
"I ran into Dr. Zelenka in the control room and mentioned to him that I had not seen you. He informed me that you have not left this station all day." Deliberately keeping her tone light, she added, "I have come to stage a rescue."
An instinctive responsive smile twitched his lips even as Rodney made a vague gesture at his active terminal and a pile of hand-written notes he had left beside it. "I have a lot to catch up on. In fact, I should probably finish before -"
"Your work will still be here tomorrow," she interrupted, tapping the buttons that would save his data and log him out of the computer.
He was clearly startled that she knew how to do it so easily, but made no protest as she tugged him to his feet and urged him forward with gentle pressure between his shoulder blades.
She could feel the tension in the muscles beneath her palm as well as detect the slight limp to Rodney's walk as he obediently, if somewhat confusedly, allowed himself to be led away from the lab. "You must eat and take time to relax." Heading off the next protest that she could already see forming, she added, "In fact, I am quite certain that your productivity will improve if you take a break."
"I guess it has been awhile since lunch," he agreed, absently rubbing a hand across his stomach when it gave an audible grumble of agreement. "Not sure about relaxing, though."
"And why is that?"
He grimaced. "I don't really feel so hot today. Back's bothering me."
Teyla smiled, realizing that she should not have been surprised by the quick admission of discomfort. When it came to his physical well being, Rodney was not one to keep secrets for long. "It has been bothering you a great deal of late."
He shrugged slightly. "I had a herniated disc a few years ago and ever since then it acts up from time to time. I never know when or why. Carson says the injury healed fine, but I think he just doesn't believe in pain that doesn't come with inflammation." He gave an irritated sniff. "Says it's my own fault if I'm sore because I use bad posture."
Privately, Teyla agreed that this was likely. Sometimes Rodney walked with his shoulders hunched so far forward that it made her own back hurt just to look at him. Not wanting to pick a fight however, she simply asked, "Has Carson done anything to combat the discomfort?"
"I have a prescription mattress and I've been doing those exercises he prescribed, but lately nothing seems to help. I could take pain killers but the good ones muddle my thinking, so what's the point?"
He heaved a much maligned sigh and Teyla patted his shoulder. She considered the problem as they walked. "I know of something that might help," she said finally, hesitant to offer. Earth people seemed to have so many peculiar customs and taboos when it came to their bodies. "Among my people, it is a common and much respected practice to treat such physical ailments using hands-on manipulation of the affected areas."
For a moment, he looked confused, and then his eyebrows rose in a curious peak. "Are you talking about massage therapy?"
Relieved, realizing that if they had such a term then it must be acceptable to them, she nodded. "Yes, it is a much prized skill among the Athosians. We believe that there is physical and spiritual benefit for both giver and receiver."
Rodney looked dubious, to say the least. "So, you think I should take a Jumper over to the mainland tomorrow and ask if one of your people would be willing to give me a massage?"
A vivid image of the brusque and twitchy Dr. McKay making such a request, loudly, to the general populace of New Athos flickered into Teyla's thoughts and she laughed before she could stop herself. "While that might be an interesting social experiment, I was thinking more of offering to do it myself."
"You?" The word came out as a squeak, his expression so stunned that she laughed again.
"I assure you, I am quite skilled." Thinking that it would be best to assure him, she added, "No harm will come to you."
He straightened, attempting to appear nonchalant, but the effect was ruined by a gasp and a softly whined, "Ouch."
"Come. We will partake in a light meal and then we will return to your quarters and begin."
Rodney looked as if he would like to bolt if only his sore back would let him, but then a muscle spasm made his entire body twitch and he sighed in resignation. "Fine." They walked in silence toward the mess hall and Teyla smiled when she heard a softly muttered, "Thanks."