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A ficlet set in Sholio and Naye's marvelous Whaleverse.
Rodney contorted where he knelt, craning his neck to try to look at his back. "Are you done yet? I don't have all day here."
Teyla put her free hand on his shoulder and bore down to hold him in place. "It would go faster if you'd cease squirming."
"I can't help it, the brush tickles! Come on, how much longer?"
"You would prefer I hurry, so that later you drown from diving with improperly formed breathing runes?"
Rodney stopped moving, save for a nervous or perhaps outraged quiver. "I wouldn't," he muttered, "the whales would never let that happen."
"No, but I doubt they would appreciate an unnecessary rescue. So endeavor to hold yourself still." Teyla traced her fingers over the last of the older, faded markings, silently mouthing the spell-words to fix them on her mind and tongue correctly. Then she dipped the brush in the ink and with quick, neat strokes began repainting the magic, murmuring the chants as she did.
It had once been necessary to refresh Rodney's runes nearly every week. Teyla had on occasion suggested permanently tattooing the most crucial, but Rodney invariably stared at her—"A tattoo needle? On my skin? Oh, yes, sign me up for that—when hell freezes over! Do you know how delicate my epidermis is, I can't even wear half the clothing on Earth without breaking out, what with their artificial blends; I can just imagine what ink hammered under my skin would be like—"
And so on. She had given up on asking.
But Rodney had tackled the problem with his usual determination (he had always been like an ossruhn with a puzzle, once his teeth were sunk in there was no letting go until his prey was dead, or solved), experimenting with various ink and dyes to create compounds almost indelible even in saltwater, that were absorbed into the skin to leave a lasting mark. He'd also managed to find inks that held the magic stronger, so that now it was only necessary for her to redraw the runes every month or two. And since the Earthers had come to Atlantis, Rodney was spending more time out of the water, so the magic traceries wore even longer.
Teyla, too, had become faster; the runes she once used to watch her mother mark on young Meredith's soft skin now flowed as swiftly and easily from her own brush. These days she could complete the magic in as little as half an hour.
If Rodney held still, that is. "I would be finished already if you moved less."
"It's not my fault it tickles! Is that a new brush? It's bristlier—"
"I, too, have appointments to make, Rodney."
"'Appointments'?" Rodney bent his head around to glance at her. "What, you've got a hot date?"
Teyla pressed her lips together and concentrated on dipping her brush into the ink, carefully drawing off the excess on the lip of the jar.
Rodney turned all the way around to look at her better. "Hey! You do? Seriously? With who?"
"I cannot mark your back if you do not turn around!" She pushed him back into place with one hand, began to speak the final runes clearly and loudly, over anything he might say, as she completed painting the magic.
The runes inscribed upon his skin flared bright with power, the closed circle glowing over his bare back and chest and limbs before the magic settled into his body. Rodney watched intently as the glow faded, then nodded in satisfaction. "Thanks," he said.
"You are welcome."
When he looked up his eyes were as bright as the magic. "Soooo, who's the date?"
"It is not—"
"But, Teyla, the whales will want to know everything—"
"I do not see how it relates to them," Teyla said, and began to pick up her brushes and ink with a focused air of attention that did not welcome interruption.
Which air was utterly lost on Rodney, of course. "Come on, it's not like they're going to tell anyone, and you know I won't—"
He reached for one of the ink bottles at the same time she did—perhaps to hold it hostage, perhaps intending to assist her; at any rate, their hands both collided with it, knocking it over and spilling dark violet over both the floor and her ceremonial mantle.
Teyla narrowed her eyes, calculating whether the runes on his back would be dry yet, then carefully set aside her stained mantle and the rest of the ink bottles, picked up a clean brush, and sprang at him. "I will show you tickling!"
"What! No! Ack! We're—you—ahh! Stop it! We're supposed to be—eek!—reasonable adults here—!" Rodney yelped and thrashed and kicked as Teyla applied the brush's bristles to the undersides of his ribs, where he'd always been the most sensitive, ever since he was a little boy.
"Reasonable adults do not pry into one another's personal affairs," Teyla informed him, ruthlessly wielding the brush with one hand and holding back his flailing arms with the other.
"I told you—the whales—total gossips!" Rodney gasped out between squeaks. "Was just—preemptively asking—"
He snaked his arm under hers unexpectedly, grabbed for the brush and threw it aside, then went for her own vulnerable belly. Teyla agilely twisted away, but Rodney surged up, rolling over on top of her.
She was faster, but he was stronger, and when he pinned her with his weight she had no choice but to give; any other option would require hurting him. As soon as he released her arm, however, she wiggled her fingers along his ribs to make him squirm and arch away, and used that leverage to free herself for further tickle attacks. He parried with his own fingers, mercilessly assaulting her weakest points, so she had to bite her lip to keep from shrieking.
Some minutes later they were both on the floor, panting for breath. Teyla leaned against the bed; Rodney lay on his back with his head half on her stomach, warm and solid.
"You've been hanging around Ronon too much," he informed her. "Reasonable adults don't wrestle each other to submission."
"Or perhaps you have been hanging around John too much," she responded.
"You might not have so eagerly played before," Teyla said.
Rodney gazed up at the ceiling. "Huh," he said noncommittally, not quite blushing.
"It is hardly a date, hot or otherwise," Teyla said. "Radek simply wishes to practice his fighting skills in private, as they are not encouraged in—"
"Wait, Radek? Zelenka? Our fuzzy Czech friend? You're going out with Radek?"
"It is not the first time we have sparred together," Teyla informed him.
Rodney turned his head to look at her. "What about Kanaan? Have you told him you're dating a werewolf?"
Teyla frowned. "I fail to see why he would care."
"Maybe because he's had a crush on you since we were eleven?"
"Kanaan has never—"
"Are you still insisting that Irklomm piece was just a gift between friends? Because you've always been one of my best friends, but I never gave you a gold medallion as big as my head."
Rodney spoke so casually that Teyla was unprepared for the warmth his words founded in her. Even concerning his whales, as apparent as it was how much they meant to him, Rodney was unlikely to admit his feelings openly. His parents had never been obvious in their affections—if indeed they had cared for their children at all; even when young, Teyla could recall how uncomfortable it had made her, that she never saw Meredith or Jeannie embraced or cuddled close for a kiss, as her parents always held her. Now, as a grown man, Rodney had always been cautious to express any of the gentler emotions, always reluctant to admit he cared, for fear it would not be returned.
They had been best friends almost as long as her memory went; it was such an odd, Earther thing, that it would yet feel so strange and sweet to hear him say it now.
Smiling, Teyla ran her fingers through Rodney's hair, fine locks bleached gold by the sun curling around her fingers. "I should redesign the sun-shielding runes next time," she mused.
"To assure that your most important brain doesn't burn," and she touched her finger to the spot on the crown where the hair was thinning. "It will soon be quite bare here."
"What?! No it's not—that's just—!" Rodney spluttered, sitting up and clapping a protective hand over his pate. "I swear, it's these damn Earthers wreaking havoc in the labs, making me rip my hair out—I'm not going bald yet!"
"It is nothing to be ashamed of." Teyla gave him her most placid and calming smile. "After all, is not your Captain Picard a great leader with hardly no hair at all?"
"That's—" Rodney gaped at her in horror, then shut his mouth and folded his arms. "You're teasing me."
He wouldn't have realized it so soon, before, not even when they were children; but John was giving him plenty of practice. Teyla made her smile still more serene. "Why would I do such a thing?"
"Because you're a wicked Athosian witch?"
Serenity did not preclude punching him in the arm, however.
"Ow!" Rodney rubbed his bicep and glared at her. Then his expression changed, mischief sparkling in his eyes. "Don't think I've forgotten about your date with Radek, now."
"Reasonable adults don't stick out their tongues, either," Teyla pointed out, before answering him in kind.
Rodney put his tongue back in his mouth, sat back and groaned, hanging his head. "You're right, I have been spending too much time with Sheppard. Pretty soon I won't be fit for polite company."
"But it is time well-spent," Teyla told him merrily, and extended her hand to help her friend to his feet.
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