A/N: Written for a comment_fic challenge on Livejournal. The prompt was "Rodney is empathic".
Rodney didn't notice it until he was finally released from Carson's torture chamber.
It's not like he could be blamed for missing the clues. If he had been feeling extra shots of panic, fear and pain all day, well, how was he to notice in the middle of running from axe-wielding villagers?
He'd been sentenced to a prolonged visit in the infirmary all because Sheppard touched something he shouldn't have and it was Rodney that ended up at the center of a bright flash of light. But as he told Carson time and again, he felt fine. Maybe a little annoyed, definitely a lot frustrated and curiously homesick, but otherwise fine.
Once he'd escaped, he'd gone straight to the safety of his lab, to the peace and quiet of hard science. Miko was already there, sitting at a computer, but she rarely made a sound, so Rodney just ignored her and turned on his laptop. Which then proceeded to spout a load of nonsense about flagrant error this and system failure that and if someone had been messing with his equipment, heads would roll.
He'd just started what was sure to be a very lengthy and extremely vocal rant when he felt a surge of utter alarm.
Alarm tinged with horror that quickly melted into confusion when Rodney trailed off.
Now he felt timid. Except he didn't. He sensed the feeling, but he wasn't experiencing it. It was like looking at the emotion under a microscope. He could point to the parts, but not touch them.
Whirling on Miko, Rodney pointed an aggressive finger at her. "Do you feel that?"
Another swelling of alarm that was perfectly reflected in Miko's eyes.
This time, when Rodney felt the apprehension, it was his own. Without another word, Rodney spun towards the door, though he did throw a glare back at Miko when he felt the relief rising within her.
"Sheppard?" Rodney barked into his headset.
"Colonel Sheppard just left for the mainland, Rodney," Elizabeth's voice answered in his ear. "Is everything ok?"
"The mainland? What's he doing there?" Rodney snapped, annoyed that Sheppard wasn't instantly available to him. A passing marine edged to the far side of the hall, shooting a glance at Rodney under lowered eyelashes. To Rodney's very great surprise, he sensed in the marine a bit of trepidation. An almost-respect of someone who may not like you, but wouldn't try messing with you.
Elizabeth blabbed on about some kind of stupid problem that had come up over there, but Rodney tuned her out. Why had he ever thought this was a bad thing? This was, in fact, the perfect opportunity to find out what people really thought of him. He grinned. With that thought in mind, he mumbled a vague goodbye to Elizabeth and set off, intent of discovering whether his position and accomplishments really commanded the esteem he deserved.
An hour later, Rodney was fed up and ready to strangle someone. He had no idea people were so self-absorbed. He hadn't felt this much self-consciousness since he was in fourth grade. All the time, all around him, people worrying about what they said or what they did and whether another person would think badly of them. And if they weren't fretting about that, they were nursing secret crushes, harboring petty jealousies or embracing heavy grudges.
There was so much Rodney just didn't need to know about these people. Like how Lorne filled to bursting with longing whenever weird scrawny Dr. Parrish walked past him. Or how Teyla still worried that staying in Atlantis meant she was abandoning her people. Or how Radek and Ronon resented each other because both knew the other liked Elizabeth.
And on and on. It took Rodney just over an hour to retreat back into the safety of his labs. After kicking out Miko, he tapped his headset, once again searching for John and was once again disappointed. With a huff of frustration, Rodney dug out the very few readings he'd gotten back on the planet and began studying them.
Sheppard walked into his lab three hours later.
"There you are," Rodney scowled, aggravated and maybe a little hungry. "What the hell takes four hours to do on the mainland? All they have are tents and more tents!"
That's when Rodney felt the strangest emotion of the day.
A slow deep burn of profound affection. No, more than just affection.
"Seriously?" Rodney blurted. "I was yelling at you and...seriously?"
Sheppard's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. "What are you talking about?"
"You loved me!" Rodney yelped. "Just now, I felt you love me!"
The love feeling didn't fade, but it did sort of become overlayed with confusion and unease.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sheppard said carefully and though his tone was cool, his mess of bizarre emotions only intensified.
"Ah, sorry, can't lie to me now," Rodney said and maybe he sounded just the slightest bit smug. Or probably more like disgustingly smug because John freaking Sheppard loved him! Like in that stupid longing way Lorne was ate up with earlier only it was shot at him. Rodney McKay. He'd put those feelings right into Sheppard.
"I felt it and you can't take it back," he taunted.
The feeling of love overwhelmed the rest of it. Rodney's mouth fell open.
"Are you kidding me? What is the matter with you? I'm acting like a total jackass and it's just getting worse?" A thought occurred. "Huh. You know, if you get off on this sort of thing, we really could have an impressive future together."
"Rodney," John said, voice full of warning, but totally and completely ruined by the way Rodney could feel his heart melting.
"God, you're a freak," Rodney muttered and he got right up into Sheppard's face. "So I guess kissing now would be a good idea."
Sheppard's stomach flipped over and Rodney grinned.