He could, of course, have cracked all their passwords in a heartbeat, but he didn't even need to bother. After the Kthali droid dumped 15 lines of suicide code into Atlantis's programming, Rodney'd had no choice but to override the entire system, and then he'd been in a race against time to get new code up and running before their crucial systems like—oh, air, not to mention power and light and all that, went kablooey. It had been the most harrowing seventeen hours of his life since—oh, last week, and when it was over, he had just fallen into bed without logging out or restoring control to Knox, the hapless bastard who manned the OIT help desk.
Elizabeth had let him get most of a full night's sleep before radioing him to say, "Rodney, I'm sorry, Dr. Knox can't log on," and Rodney had groaned and rolled over and booted up his laptop. It only took a few keystrokes to restore everyone's previous levels of security, to re-subdivide and lock all the partitioned servers and private mailboxes, and Rodney was about to shove the laptop back onto his nightstand when he suddenly realized that he was now the de facto sys-admin of Atlantis, with access to every single computer file, everywhere.
He hesitated, torn between sleeping another couple of hours and—
He pulled the laptop over, shoved a pillow behind his back, and began typing furiously.
What he found genuinely shocked him. He'd been expecting concealed bitchiness, jealousy, vicious slurs, and a general lack of appreciation for the thousand and one things that he did every day—and yes, okay, there was some of that, but everyone seemed to admire him rather more than he had suspected. "Invaluable," "Difficult, but brilliant," "The infuriating thing is: I don't know what we'd do without him"—something nice, every time his name was mentioned, whether in formal reports or private email. Disconcerting, really.
He frowned and went to make coffee. When he came back, mug in hand, he sat down at the computer and read through his entire personnel file. It was somehow easier to read the evaluations from Colorado ("Smug, arrogant, thinks he's right about everything; a problem person who will dampen team morale; best utilized on solitary projects,") than the ones from McMurdo ("Most of our personnel are depressed by the cold and the isolated setting, but R. McKay is flourishing here—") or Atlantis ("Rodney McKay is very possibly the most valuable member of the Atlantis expedition, demonstrating his worth daily, if not hourly," Elizabeth's two-page evaluation began. Sheppard had just ticked off the various boxes and scrawled, in the space given for "additional comments": "MVP.")
He surfed over to Elizabeth's personnel file, which was full of expansive and fulsome testimony to her stellar character and immense diplomatic talents by superiors, colleagues, and even former adversaries. Rodney skimmed a few letters, then got bored with all the good will and flipped over to Colonel Sheppard's personnel record—and if Elizabeth's file was bubbling with praise and esteem, Sheppard's was a different story entirely.
It was written, Rodney thought, frowning, in its own sort of code:
SHEPPARD, JOHN. LIEUTENANT COLONEL.
099-337-2342. b. 1-22-68 San Diego, C.A. 1990 B.S. Mathematics, UT Austin. 1992 M.A. Mathematics, UT Austin. 1993 Air Command and Staff College, Seminar, PEASE AFB NH. 1993 Air War College, Seminar, PEASE AFB NH.
Command Pilot Flight hours: 5,000+ Aircraft flown: T-41, F-37, F-38, C-124, C-130, Cobra, Apache, Sea King, Black Hawk, Osprey, Sea Harrier, Predator
- April 1992 - May 1993, undergraduate pilot training, Laredo Air Force Base, TX
- May 1993 - May 1994, pilot, 133rd Military Airlift Squadron NHANG, PEASE Air Force Base, NH
- May 1994 - June 1996, pilot, 84th Military Airlift Squadron, Indian Springs Air Force Base, NV
- June 1996 - June 1997, pilot, 470th Air Base Squadron Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany
- June 1997 - November 1997, pilot, 7th Air Force, Osan Air Base, South Korea
- November 1997 - June 1998, pilot, 4404th Wing (Provisional) Khober Towers, Saudi Arabia
- June 1998 - December 1999, pilot, 319th Air Expeditionary Group, Masirah, Oman
- December 1999 - September 2001, pilot, Operation Southern Watch, Al Dhafra Air Base, UAE
- September 2001- February 2003, pilot, 366th Air Expeditionary Wing, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
- February 2003 - April, 2003, ground support, Lajes Field, Portugal
- April, 2003 - present, pilot, McMurdo Air Force Base, Antarctica
Rodney frowned as he scrolled down: where Elizabeth's file had been full of personal testimonials, Sheppard's contained page after page of psychological profiles. It seemed like every base Sheppard had been transferred to had had him examined by a psychologist: Myers-Briggs, Crown-Crisp, VALS, Enneagram, SLOAN, Maslow Inventory—if there was a personality test Sheppard hadn't taken, Rodney couldn't think what it was. Eerily, the results from all these wildly divergent tests were very nearly the same. John Sheppard was perfectly normal: very bright, slightly antisocial, with strong leadership qualities. Call it "INTP", or "Adventurous (86%) and Calm (74%)." Rodney paged through a PDF of results and came upon a letter from one Lt. Col. Lester H. Creighton, chief psychiatrist at Al Dhafra. It had been stamped HIGHLY CLASSIFIED.
Regarding J.S., there is only one test that matters: I.Q. J.S. scored between 153 and 162 on three separate intelligence tests: the Wechsler, the Eysenck, and the Stanford-Binet. He is therefore more than capable of manipulating any other test we commonly use to establish a psychological profile; in fact, the incredibly consistentrange of results J.S. has demonstrated over the years should not be taken at face value but only as evidence of his ability to outthink the tests. Having reviewed J.S.'s entire case file at the request of XXXXX XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX—
— the name was blocked out with a heavy, black-lined marker.
—it is my opinion that he is extremely intelligent, socially detached, and addicted to high-risk behaviors. He has a highly regressive personality and may be impulsive, engaging in acts of compulsive and pleasurable wish-fulfillment. He is secretly a moralist, though he will act to save others even as he judges them. However, his is a personality always on the verge of disintegration: he does not have a strongly drawn line between "self" and "other" and is likely to engage in acts of reckless self-disregard. Very probably homosexual. He is inwardly-directed, prefers to be alone, and has weak family ties. This makes him admirably suited for high-risk combat operations. He himself is already aware of this, and has no doubt volunteered for any number of hazardous actions or suicide missions.
Rodney wasn't sure how long he sat there, staring at the screen, before Sheppard's voice reached him. "Rodney, seriously," John Sheppard's small, tinny voice was saying, "don't make me come over there," and Rodney grabbed his earpiece off the nightstand and fitted it on.
"Hi, yeah, what?" Rodney said, relieved that he sounded normal to his own ears.
"It's past ten," Sheppard said in his ear. "Everyone's in the briefing room. Where the hell are you?" and Rodney blinked and looked down at the time signature on his computer. 10:14 a.m.
"I overslept," Rodney said, clicking his laptop shut and hurriedly getting up. "Excuse me for living."
"Okay, I know you're probably still beat from yesterday, but Elizabeth said you were awake. If you want to bag out today, that's fine—"
"No, no," Rodney said, splashing water on his face. "I'll be there in a minute. Hold your horses," and then he clicked off and rapidly began to get dressed.
Sheppard was sitting at the table, chin resting on his hand and wearing an ironic expression, when Rodney came into the briefing room. Elizabeth paused to say, "Good morning, Rodney," and then continued her presentation on M4X-847. Rodney slipped into a chair next to Sheppard, and Sheppard slid a copy of today's briefing memo over to him. "As far as we know, the planet is uninhabited, though we've been wrong about that before," Elizabeth said.
"You can say that again," Sheppard said under his breath.
They were wrong this time, too. Once on the planet, Rodney detected an energy signature, and they followed it to what looked like an abandoned mineshaft topped by an old-fashioned rope and pulley system.
"Oh yes," Rodney said, waving a hand at the rope and pulley. "No people here. Completely uninhabited."
Sheppard braced one arm on the wooden tripod built over the shaft, then leaned dangerously over the gaping hole and shone his flashlight down. "Can't see anything."
"I've heard that on some planets, simple machines are found in nature," Rodney explained to no one in particular; Ronon was now staking out their perimeter, gun raised, while Teyla and Sheppard tested the strength of the pulley and the ropes. "Sometimes screwdrivers grow on trees, and it turns out that nobody at all invented the wheel—"
"All right," Sheppard said with a sigh, having attached the rope to a climber's hook on his belt. "Here goes nothing—"
"Wait!" Rodney yelped, and everyone turned to look at him. "What are you doing?"
Ronon turned to him, brow deeply furrowed. Teyla looked curious. Sheppard just looked at him. "I’m going to go check it out," Sheppard said slowly. "Why—do you want to go?"
"Me? No!" Rodney said, and took a step back.
"So okay, then," Sheppard said patiently. "Take two," he said, and then he was wrapping the rope around his hands, twining it once around his ankle, and—
— is likely to engage in acts of reckless— "What about Ronon?" Rodney asked. "Why can't Ronon go?"
Sheppard paused, hands gripping the rope, one boot in the air over the hole. "Uh, what?"
"I could go," Ronon agreed.
"No, you can't," Sheppard said, irritably, "because who's gonna pull you up afterwards? It's a lot easier for you to pull me up than for me to pull you up—"
"We could all help," Teyla suggested.
"I'd help," Rodney added quickly.
"Okay, stop, stop," Sheppard said, hopping backwards and taking the rope with him. "I don't know what's going on here, but I'd like to reiterate that I'm Team Leader, okay? And while I'm all for group discussion—oh, wait: no, I'm not! So this is not up for discussion. I'm going down there. Ronon, grab the rope; Teyla, you're in charge; if something goes wrong, get out of here, fast, and go back to the Stargate. Any questions?" Sheppard asked, and glared at each of them in turn, lingering particularly on Rodney, who pressed his lips together and shook his head no. "Right. Okay," Sheppard said, and swung out into the air above the mineshaft.
Ronon lowered Sheppard down, and they managed to keep radio contact for over twenty minutes while Sheppard explored the underground tunnels. And then, as the wavelength began to crackle with static, Sheppard said, "There's some kind of chamber down here with a heavily shielded door; I'm going in, but I'll be right back. Give me five minutes," and then there was radio silence for five, six, and then seven minutes, and Teyla clicked on the radio and said, "Colonel Sheppard, please check in. Colonel Sheppard—"
"We should send Ronon down," Rodney said.
"Give him time," Ronon said.
"He said five minutes," Rodney objected. "It's now eight minutes and—"
The radio crackled, and a breathless-sounding Sheppard said, "Be ready to pull me up—hurry, okay?" and instantly Ronon was braced at the side of the shaft, ropes twined around his powerful arms, ready to pull at Sheppard's command. And then nothing happened, and they just stared at each other helplessly.
"He's making his way back along the tunnels," Teyla said, apparently trying to sound reassuring.
"Right," Rodney agreed nervously. "Of course. He's on his way."
"Give him time," Ronon said implacably, and then the radio crackled, and Sheppard yelled, "Now!" and there was—what the hell was that? a roar?—and Ronon was pulling steadily, the muscles in his forearms popping and the rope coiling in large circles at his feet. Suddenly, they saw the top of Sheppard's head, and Rodney and Teyla bent dangerously over the mineshaft to grab Sheppard under the arms, but Sheppard yelled, "No, get back! Guns!" They stumbled back, Teyla smoothly whipping out her weapon and Rodney fumbling for his, while Ronon grunted and strained to keep Sheppard in the air, Sheppard and—
Holy crap, what was that?! For a moment, Rodney thought, stupidly, that it was a tail, that that thing hanging down from Sheppard's legs (thick, black, terrifyingly shiny) was a tail, except—
There was a blast, and Rodney turned to see Teyla, eyes narrowed, firing. He supposed that he ought to try to shoot the—whatever, the thing, the (serpent, that's what it was, some giant, smooth-skinned snake, or worm, eight inches in diameter and coiled around Sheppard's leg) —himself, but he didn't trust himself to shoot the serpent and not Sheppard's black-canvas-clad thigh. Sheppard's arms were raised above his head, hands gripping the rope, and Rodney could see that he was trying to stay calm, stay still, not kick or flail so that Teyla could—
Teyla shot again, and the thing that was coiled around Sheppard suddenly had a red, bloody hole in it, and it was writhing and Rodney saw what might have been an eye, what might have been a mouth, and then all of a sudden it let go and plummeted back down into the mineshaft. Rodney suddenly realized that he was close to hyperventilating, and he sat down hard on the forest floor and put his head between his legs.
"All right, all right, nothing to see here," he heard Sheppard say. "You've seen one giant snake, you've seen 'em all."
Rodney raised his head slowly, trying to avoid a head rush. "Who wanted to see one?"
Teyla had her arm around Sheppard's waist, and was helping him down onto the grass. He seemed to be limping. "Are you all right?" she asked, ripping into the Velcro pocket of her vest for her first aid kit. "Did it—"
Sheppard waved her away. "It didn't bite me. My leg's just numb," he said, and rubbed it.
Ronon sat down in the grass beside them and tilted his head curiously. "What the hell was down there?"
Sheppard quirked a smile. "Besides a bunch of snakes?" and he ripped open one of his own Velcro vest pockets and pulled out a rock, which looked just like any old rock until it began to glow in his hand.
The rock turned out to be shot through with camarium, an ore that, in its refined state, was highly conductive and consequently used in half the electronics in Atlantis. They sent back miners, and Rodney spent most of the next couple of weeks supervising the smelting process and experimenting with circuitry boards. Still, he took time out for missions.
They were set upon by an army of savages on Jacar, and Sheppard stayed behind to hold off the ravaging hordes while the gate reconnected. Rodney, Teyla and Ronon rushed into the gateroom, but there was a tense minute or two before Sheppard tumbled through, tripping and skidding the last six feet on his ass, hand clutching his bleeding shoulder. Elizabeth said approving and congratulatory things to John while Beckett wrapped his shoulder. Rodney stood by watching with his jaw tight and his fists clenched, and said nothing.
Sheppard fought something very like a bear on M8X-430 and quietly tracked and killed a lone Wraith sentry on M4X-219. On their next mission, John rescued the kidnapped daughter of one of their trading partners and returned smug and dirty and pretty banged up, the dried reddish-brown of a bullet graze along the arm he'd wrapped possessively around her. Rodney left the banquet early, having decided he hated the local cuisine.
The mission after that, Rodney was nervously watching John skirt the crumbling edge of a cliff when he was surrounded by a terrifying-looking group of men. He yelped. Sheppard was there so fast it was like he had teleported, and Ronon and Teyla came running a moment later, and punches were thrown and kidneys were jabbed and noses were bloodied before the terrifying-looking men managed to explain that they had merely been trying to invite SGA-1 to their village, and hadn't meant to startle Rodney, who clearly hadn't been paying attention. Sheppard swiped at his bloody nose with his wrist and replied that SGA-1 hadn't meant to kick them in the groin quite so much, and if the offer was still open, hey, drinks were on them.
At the post-mission debriefing, Rodney barely heard a word of Sheppard's report; he kept getting distracted by Sheppard's split lip and the purple-black bruise dusting his cheekbone.
"—Rodney?" Elizabeth asked, and he jerked his head up and said, "What? Yes, of course," even though he didn't have the faintest idea of what the question had been. Sheppard was staring at him with narrowed eyes.
Afterwards, Sheppard went to the infirmary and Rodney went to lie down with a cold washcloth on his face. May be impulsive. Will act to save others even as he judges them, and why the hell had he ever read that damn file? Before, it had seemed natural, Sheppard risking his neck all the time—as natural as Rodney having to come up with some brilliant scientific solution every forty-eight hours. But now he wondered if he was the only one who noticed that the head of the military wing of Atlantis seemed to have a death wish.
He dozed off after a while, worn out with adrenaline and worry—and woke up to the sound of knocking. Heart pounding, he sat up in the dark. "Coming!" he yelled, after a moment, and hauled himself to the door.
It was John Sheppard, looking confrontational. "We need to talk."
Rodney didn't invite him in; instead, he just leaned against the doorframe. "About what?"
"About you! What the hell is the matter with you?" Sheppard retorted. "These last couple of missions, you've been completely distracted. Argumentative. Not to mention that you're watching me all the time—"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"—like you think I'm going to steal your wallet or something." Sheppard crossed his arms and glared. "So what gives?"
"Nothing!" Rodney protested. "Really, there's nothing," but Sheppard's eyes went kind of slitty, so he tried, "It's not you," and then he looked at Sheppard's increasingly stony expression and backtracked to, "It's mostly not about you," and then he groaned and closed his eyes and let his head thunk sideways against the doorframe. "Yes, fine, I learned something about you that—was none of my business," he confessed. "And all right, it's distracting me, my ability to—because I just can't stop thinking about—" and his hand fluttered up and drew a series of nervous circles in the air around his temple as he fumbled for words.
When he opened his eyes, Sheppard's face had changed entirely. "Oh," Sheppard said. "Oh," and suddenly Sheppard's hands were pushing at his shoulders, forcing him back into his own dark bedroom. The door hissed shut behind them, and Sheppard said, softly, urgently, "It's all right, McKay. It's all right," and then, even more inexplicably: "I'll take care of you," before pushing him up against the wall and unbuckling his belt. Rodney's gasp of surprise was met by more of Sheppard's quiet reassurances: "Shh, it's okay," and Sheppard's mouth was ghosting along the side of Rodney's face, making him tremble, or maybe the trembling was due to the hands forcefully unzipping his pants. "It's okay," Sheppard whispered. "You should have said something—" and then one of Sheppard's hands was curving round his cock, the other sliding deeper down to cup and squeeze his balls. Jesus, he was—when had he gotten—and suddenly Sheppard was pressed against him, breath hot on his neck. "It's all right," Sheppard murmured, hands moving steadily now, jerking him off. "It's all right," and Rodney groaned, flung an arm around Sheppard's neck, and pulled their mouths together.
Sheppard's mouth opened instantly against his, and the kiss got hot and sloppy. Sheppard grunted and shoved him harder against the wall, hands still deep in his pants. Rodney tightened the crook of his arm around Sheppard's neck, and began stroking down his body with his other hand—collarbone, pecs, nipples, abs—until he found the edge of Sheppard's shirt and shoved his hand up to stroke the warm, warm skin underneath. Sheppard's muscles were shivering under Rodney's blindly groping hand, and then he was drawing back and sliding down Rodney's body. A moment later, he was pulling Rodney's cock into his hot, wet mouth.
Rodney's head thunked back against the wall; his sexuality had always been basically, "Yes, please," or, as he'd sometimes conceptualized it, "No reasonable offer refused." But now, with John Sheppard on his knees and sucking him messily, Rodney wasn't sure he could call this a reasonable offer. This had come out of nowhere. This was nuts. This was—geez, the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he helplessly let a hand drop into Sheppard's thick, spiky hair. Sheppard went still for a moment beneath his hand, and then he was moving again, very fast, along the shaft, sucking and slurping. Rodney was suddenly weak-kneed and on the verge of coming, and he tried to tug his cock out of Sheppard's mouth. But Sheppard leaned forward, moving with him, his other hand drawing warm, reassuring circles on Rodney's hip, and Rodney let go, coming hard, feeling Sheppard's mouth and throat convulsing around him, over and over.
"John." Rodney sank back against the wall, panting and sweating. "John. Jesus!—" John slowly pulled off, turned his face to the side, and inhaled raggedly, obviously trying to catch his breath. Rodney tugged haphazardly at his shoulder, and John obligingly hauled himself to his feet and let Rodney kiss his swollen, come-streaked mouth. A moment later, Rodney felt John's hand on his wrist, tugging his palm to—Christ, yes.
He felt as much as heard John's little sigh of relief as Rodney began to grope him. John's breath was warm against his face, and Rodney felt a flutter of eyelashes against his temple. "Oh. Please—" and John began breathing harder, in irregular little gasps, as Rodney unzipped him and pushed his underwear down and took the hot, hard length of him in his hand. They were too close together, and it was a weird angle, but John was murmuring softly—"Oh, yeah. Yeah. C'mon, c'mon..."—and Rodney found himself unbelievably motivated to keep John muttering and gasping, and things only got better when John's hips started jerking forward repeatedly, his cock sliding up over Rodney's palm and leaking steadily on the inside of his wrist. John's mouth skimmed over his jaw, kissing and then biting, and then he was groaning softly and fucking Rodney's fist. Finally, John made a soft, stifled sound, buried his face against Rodney's neck, and came, shuddering. Rodney clumsily put his other arm around John's back, and rubbed comfortingly up and down his spine.
"You should have said something." John's voice was low and kind of breathless. "I mean, I know why you didn’t, but—" and John's laugh was hot against his neck. "God, what a waste of time."
Rodney was still trying to come up with a coherent response to all of this. "I didn't know," he said.
John lifted his head off Rodney's shoulder and said, "Yeah, me neither. I had no idea. So stupid." John searched his pockets, came up with a handkerchief, and began to clean himself off. "I mean, it's not like there's tons of options," he said, tucking himself in and zipping up. "Especially for us, in our position," and then John was cupping Rodney's jaw and leaning in to kiss him, hard and sweet. "God, you're perfect."
"I—" and if Rodney had ever in his life been pushed so consistently off-balance, he couldn't remember when it was. "You, too," he said earnestly, and kissed John back.
When John pulled away, Rodney could see, even in the dark, that his expression was serious. "I can be discreet," he said. Rodney just stared, and John added, urgently: "I mean it, Rodney. I can keep a secret."
This seemed to be the understatement of all time. "It's okay," Rodney said. "I'm not worried about it," and John smiled, shoulders relaxing, and said, "Okay. Good," and then: "Man, I'm glad we had this conversation," and then he squeezed Rodney's arm and stepped out into the hallway. A moment later, he was gone.
Thus began one of the strangest periods ever of Rodney McKay's life. "Very probably homosexual" turned out to be one of the military's more colossal understatements: John Sheppard was homosexual, and almost constantly horny, and a little kinky, too, which Rodney hadn't expected. He appeared at Rodney's door (always Rodney's door; this was unspoken between them, but crystal clear nonetheless) frequently: always after missions, and at other times as well. Sometimes John followed him home after dinner for a quick jerk-off session or a blowjob; more elaborate sexual activities occurred after midnight and into the early hours of the morning, though John was always gone by four a.m.
"Tell me what you want," John murmured, hot against his face. "I want to make sure you're getting what you—" and Rodney kissed him deeply, working his mouth open. John went all pliable in his arms, and fuck, that was exactly what he wanted. The other thing Rodney wanted took a little longer to get, because it required retraining John, master of the quick-and-dirty blowjob. Over time, Rodney coaxed him to slow down—then made him go slower, and then slower still, because his favorite thing in the world was lying slumped on the sofa on the edge of a blowjob that lasted forever, gasping and shivering and watching John suck his cock.
John, on the other hand, was sexually athletic, and a little bit restless—always wanting something different, something more. Rodney found himself having to get in shape just to keep up with him, because John's idea of sex was analogous to wrestling. John liked doing things hard and fast, and he liked Rodney to throw him around a little—to shove him up against the wall, or haul him onto the bed, or drag him down to the floor and rub off against his belly. Rodney found himself needing to be strong enough to hold John down, and so his arms grew harder and more muscular, and his abs began to tighten. "Fuck, fuck, fuck your way to a new you!" Rodney sometimes thought, hysterically.
It was John, too, who after weeks of blowjobs and handjobs and sweet, slow 69s, bit Rodney's jaw one night around two in the morning and said, "Let me fuck you." This wasn't an entirely unexpected development, but Rodney was unprepared for it, anyway; in his head, he'd imagined himself saying cool things like, "Mmm, yeah, rrrow," but instead he found himself tensing up and babbling, "I think I want to, but look, I never did that before." John took this coolly enough, shrugging his shoulder and saying, "Don't worry, no rush; you want to do me instead?"
This soon became Rodney's new most favorite thing, better even than long, sweet endless blowjobs on the sofa: rolling a condom on and lubing up and fucking John as gentle and slow as he could manage. Below him John sweated, all his muscles flexing, and cursed at him: "Rodney! Goddammit! Move, you contrary bastard!—if you don't move I'll—Jesus!" before shuddering violently and coming all over himself. Rodney would hold his breath and count backwards from ten, and then he'd start moving again—and the best part was always just before the end, when John's face would go pleasure-slack and he would just lie there and mumble, "Rodney...Rodney...oh my God," like some kind of drunk. That would usually be the thing that tipped Rodney into coming, which he often experienced as a great, almost painful whack to the back of the head.
After a while, Rodney felt confident enough to say to John, when he showed up one night after lights-out, "Okay, I'm ready; you can fuck me," but then he felt obliged to remind Mr. Harder, Faster, More that he was new at this, so seriously, take it down a notch, and John shot back that that was Colonel Harder, Faster, More, thanks for asking, and Rodney said, no, John, seriously, and John told him not to worry, because he got it, really, he did, but Rodney tensed anyway and yelped when John tried to push into him, and after a while, John sighed and sat back and said that maybe they should have a couple of drinks or something. Rodney's rooms being booze free ("I'm trying to preserve my brain cells, not destroy them!"), John slid out of bed, pulled on his sweatpants and a windbreaker, and shoved his bare feet into sneakers. Rodney lay there, arm draped over his eyes and breathing deeply, trying to relax—which was hard because he felt like an idiot. Five minutes later, Rodney's door shushed open again and Sheppard appeared with a bottle of some kind of whiskey, and he grabbed two of Rodney's coffee mugs and brought the bottle into bed. Rodney nearly choked on the first shot of whatever it was, but the second went down smoky and smooth, and the third was heaven in a mug, and forty minutes later, he and John were drunk as skunks and had pretty much forgotten the point of the exercise. Rodney tried to say something that came out totally garbled and incoherent, and John got a fit of the giggles. They were contagious, and Rodney found himself making these embarrassingly high-pitched squeals, and John rolled over and tried to smother his mouth against Rodney's shoulder, which tickled. John cuddled up to him, still giggling stupidly, and suddenly Rodney was crying with laughter, laughing like he couldn't remember having laughed since he was ten years old and Billy McIvor had farted the opening strain of "O Canada" entirely on key. He was still laughing when John clumsily rolled him over and pushed into him without difficulty, and Rodney gasped for air and slid instantly from joy to ecstasy, lights flashing, bells ringing, TILT TILT on the screen, and came and came.
But his days were pretty much the same. He got up alone, ate breakfast alone, and then went down to the labs, where he yelled at everybody to get them back on track before going to Elizabeth's senior staff meeting at ten. Zelenka would be there, and Teyla, and sometimes Ronon, and of course, Sheppard would be there, drinking coffee and looking skeptical. Sometimes they went on missions, and Sheppard would risk his life in incredibly stupid ways to protect the rest of them, and Rodney would grit his teeth and force himself to look away, ignoring the voice in his head that whispered, likely to engage in acts of reckless self-disregard.
Things came to a head one morning when Elizabeth asked him to come to her office, where she smiled and presented him with a copy of his latest performance review. Rodney glanced down at it. "— absolutely irreplaceable. Rodney's ability to solve complicated problems under pressure continues to make him the single most valuable member of the Atlantis expedition. He remains our first line of defense in any emergency—" except that just wasn't true.
Rodney looked up at Elizabeth and snapped, "What about Colonel Sheppard?"
"Excuse me?" Elizabeth asked, looking confused.
"Colonel Sheppard; he's your first line of defense, isn't he? He's the one who'll throw himself on the hand grenade, or step in front of the bullet." Elizabeth looked suddenly shocked, and suddenly Rodney wanted to hurt her, to lash out, and so he said, "Oh, come on, Elizabeth; let's not be naïve, eh? You know and I know that we keep Colonel Sheppard around precisely because he's willing to throw himself away on a dime," and there was a flash of horror in Elizabeth's eyes that she wasn't a good enough actress to conceal. But Rodney wasn't finished. "Lie to yourself if you want to, but you need him—hell, you deploy him. If you didn't have John Sheppard flying kamikazi, you'd have to assign someone who didn't actually want to die—" and Elizabeth was suddenly on her feet and redfaced and shouting, as Elizabeth never shouted, "Dr. McKay, you are out of line, and I want you out of this office right now!"
Rodney stomped out, and back at the labs he terrified everybody by smashing a really expensive piece of equipment. He hadn't planned to do it—in fact, he hadn't really realized what he'd done until he saw the cracked readout screen and the glitter of broken glass across the workbench. The lab was utterly silent, most of the junior techs having backed away to the periphery of the room. Only Zelenka came forward, looking as calm as ever in his lab coat. "Your hand, Rodney," and Rodney looked down at his hand, and saw that he'd cut his palm on the glass. "You should go to the infirmary," Zelenka said, peering down at Rodney's hand through his glasses before pulling a clean handkerchief out of his pocket, "and then, perhaps, I would take the day off."
Normally Rodney would have snapped at Zelenka for making a suggestion like that, but today he could see that it was kindly meant, and a really good idea besides. He nodded numbly and went to the infirmary, Zelenka's handkerchief pressed to his bleeding palm. There, Dr. Beckett greeted him cheerfully with, "Had an accident, did you? Let's have a look," and then, tsking: "Oh dear, that's nasty. You've got to protect those hands of yours. They're valuable instruments—" "Shut up," Rodney said, almost snarling, and Beckett looked at him, taken aback. "Just—fix it," and Beckett frowned but wordlessly tweezed out the broken glass, and applied disinfectant, and gave him three stitches.
He spent the rest of the day in an out-of-the way alcove overlooking the sea to the east, and he took a notebook and a copy of Theilmann's latest article on nucleosynthesis, which he'd been meaning to work through when he could steal a damned minute for serious thought. The article was tough going, though, and for a while he wasn't sure that he was getting all the math, but then he fell into a rhythm familiar from graduate school—read a sentence, take notes, do the equation backwards, take notes, read a sentence. When he looked up, the sun was huge and low and dark orange, the phosphor in the atmosphere glowing in blue-white bands near the horizon.
He heard a faint shuffle, and didn't have to turn around to know who it was.
"Are you hiding?" John asked.
Rodney, sitting on a step overlooking the water, craned his neck and looked up. "Kind of. How'd you find me?"
John sat down beside him and handed him the life-signs detector. A single red dot was blinking on its screen. "I got all the cool toys," John said, and shrugged. "Are you hiding from me?"
Rodney stared out over the water while he thought about that. "Yes," he said finally. "No. Not particularly," because all of that was true. "I've been mainly working on this," he said, and pushed Theilmann's article over. John picked it up, glanced over it, then frowned and began to read more closely.
"Okay, this is fuckin' cool," John muttered finally, when he'd worked his way to the end of the first page. "Neutron numbers; Rodney, this is like—"
"Yes, yes, number theory applied to astrophysics, chocolate in your peanut butter, two great tastes that taste great together. The theory postulates that for neutron numbers N = 28, 50, 82, and 126, neutron capture cross-sections are much smaller than those of neighboring numbers. Which means that once one of these 'magic' numbers is reached—"
"—right, more isotope is produced, I got that part," John said impatiently. "'Elements formed at those neutron numbers are especially abundant,' blah blah. But why those numbers?"
"Who cares why those numbers? What's important is that, by using this formula, we can predict the temperature, duration, and neutron density—"
"Hey," John muttered. "There's no need to be rude."
"— of particular astrophysical environments, which is only of theoretical interest to most people reading that article, but in our case: hey, we're probably having lunch there tomorrow."
"Fine, but you're buying," John said, and this was such a totally non-responsive answer that Rodney did a double-take. John had put the article aside and was staring thoughtfully down at his hands. "You know, six separate people told me that you went wacky today—"
"Wacky?" Rodney repeated, annoyed.
"Well, that’s maybe not what they said," John admitted, shrugging, "but it's what they meant."
Rodney snorted softly. "Well, I didn't go 'wacky', but thanks for asking."
John nodded at the gauze pad taped to Rodney's palm. "You hurt your hand, though."
"Yes." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, you caught me: I hurt my hand. I got pissed off, I broke a particle scanner, I took some time away from the lab. It was no big deal—a tiny cut, two centimeters wide, you'd think I got my leg blown off—"
John was looking at him strangely. "Are you pissed at me?"
"No! For Christ's sake!"
"Because it sounds like you're pissed at me," John said.
"Well, I’m not," Rodney shot back.
"Okay," John said quietly, looking down at his hands again. "I was just asking." He shrugged, and then after a moment, he said, "I'll go. Give you some time to—"
"No. Wait," Rodney said, grabbing John's arm before he could think better of it. John tilted his head to the side, a question in his eyes, and Rodney answered by leaning in for a kiss. John jerked back, eyes darting to scan the area, and Rodney said: "Nobody's here. Nobody knows," and pushed him onto his back.
John took Rodney's head in his hands, holding it close and sucking his tongue while Rodney fumbled blindly at his belt. A moment later, he groped for John's cock, but the damn bandage was in the way and so he had to switch hands. It was weirdly difficult, but John seemed to like his clumsy grip and unfamiliar rhythm, and Rodney did it as fast and rough as he could, until John twisted his face away, gasped "Rodney!" and came.
Rodney slid his hand through the splatter of semen on John's belly and used it to slick up his cock. John licked his lips and nodded, then pushed his pants down and turned over. For a moment, Rodney nearly lost his nerve, but John had the most perfect ass in the world, and so he grabbed John by the hips and pushed into him. John let out a low, shuddering moan as Rodney sank in all the way, and then he was muttering, "God, all right, do me," and bracing himself on his arms. Rodney felt suddenly wild, and he fucked John unusually hard, listening to John pant and grunt beneath him. It was over almost immediately. John's hands skidded, leaving sweaty marks on the floor, and he collapsed just as Rodney came with a shout and fell on top of him.
"Jesus," John said breathlessly. "Rodney. That totally rocked," and Rodney rolled onto his back and stared up at the rapidly darkening sky.
They got into a long bickering argument on U'bexis while evacuating the U'hilya "science" "lab", because John wanted to run in and salvage whatever was producing that highly interesting power signature, and Rodney said that the radiation levels were too high. John said that, seriously, they were talking about three minutes, and nobody'd ever died of radiation poisoning in three minutes, unless you were talking Hiroshima, which this really wasn't. Rodney then yelled that after all the work John put into his stupid hair, wouldn't you think that he'd want to keep some of it? and John flung his arms up in the air and asked Rodney why the hell he'd even pointed out the interesting power signature if he didn't want John to at least try to—and then John's hand-held started beeping rapidly, and John looked down at it with wide eyes and then he had Rodney by the arm, tight enough that it hurt, and he was shoving him, pulling him, dragging him away from the building, moving Rodney faster than he'd ever moved before and still it wasn't enough, because suddenly John's cool toy went, solidly, beeeeeeeeep and Rodney felt a vicious hand on his back, shoving him down to the ground, and John was on top of him, crushing him into a weird, tight fetal position and covering him while things exploded and it rained fire over them.
When they came back through the wormhole, Elizabeth came striding up, looking relieved. "Colonel Sheppard," she said. "You brought Dr. McKay back safely, I see," and honestly, Rodney wanted to strangle her.
Later, Rodney was still so angry that he almost didn't open the door. He just stood there, arms crossed, as Sheppard knocked for a while, and then said, in a low, tired-sounding voice, "Look, I know you're in there..."
Rodney opened the door and said, "You're a dick."
"Fine," John said, stepping in with his hands raised. The door snicked shut behind him. "I'm a dick."
"I mean it! Jesus! If you would just listen to me for one second —"
"Rodney, I listen to you all the goddamned time—"
"But not enough!" Rodney said savagely. "Or are you trying to get killed?"
John took a deep breath and put his hands on Rodney's biceps. "You're tense," he said, "and believe me, I get that. So let me help you," and John's hands were sliding sensually down Rodney's arms and over his rib cage, moving steadily toward his belt. "Anything you want," John said softly, and then he leaned in and dropped his voice even lower. "I'll do anything you want...or let you do anything to me. Some fantasy, something you've never told anyone...?" and this was John's idea of an apology, but Rodney was too turned on to care. John kissed him, and Rodney kissed back fiercely, hands moving over him, feeling him up.
When John pulled back, he was holding a pair of military issue handcuffs. Rodney stared at them for a long moment, at the way they dangled from John's long fingers. I'll let you do anything...
He snatched up the cuffs, and heard John's sharp little hiss of—pleasure? surprise? "C'mere," Rodney said, and roughly grabbed John's belt. "Turn around," and then he cuffed John's hands behind his back and forced him down, and this was supposed to be Rodney's fantasy but John was almost hyperventilating by the time his knees hit the floor. Rodney unzipped his pants, and John swayed dizzyingly—out of desire, or an inability to balance, or both—before leaning in to mouth Rodney's erection. Rodney cupped John's head to hold him steady, but this wasn't going to work—John sucked him sloppily for thirty seconds or so before getting so turned on that he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to hump Rodney's leg. Rodney let him suffer for a few, long moments in revenge for U'bexis, then hauled him up off the floor, dragged him over to the mattress, and cuffed him to the bedframe with his arms up over his head.
"Rodney— Yes—" and Rodney pushed up John's legs and slammed into him, groaning, and felt John start to come beneath him. He didn't want to look down, and looked down anyway—because John was gone, his eyelids fluttering, convulsing with pleasure, head twisting from side to side. John had gone off somewhere—somewhere good, from the looks of it—but still, he was gone. John was impulsive, inwardly-directed, and preferred to be alone, and to pretend otherwise: well, that was the real fantasy. Rodney grabbed John's chin, turned his head, and kissed his mouth. John moaned, "Anything—anything," except that just wasn't true.
After Rodney came, he sank down on John and tried to get comfortable, but John was all edges and angles. Rodney half-slid off him and pressed his face into John's tricep just above the armpit. That was great, so he snuggled closer and fell asleep. He slept better than he had in months, aside from some vague, strange disturbance in the middle of the night, and when he woke up, the sun was shining brightly through the windows. Rodney lifted his head and a voice said, "My God, you can sleep, can't you?" and there was John, one eyebrow arched, still hanging from his bedframe and rhythmically clenching his hands.
"Holy crap," Rodney said, and fumbled for the key on the nightstand. "Are you all right?"
"Aside from the fact that I've lost all feeling in my fingers, I'm fine," John said. "I was pretty knocked out myself."
Rodney quickly unlocked the cuffs, and John slid out of them and rubbed his wrists, wincing. "God, I'm sore," he moaned, and sank back onto the pillow. "That was like seven hours of stretching," but Rodney almost didn't hear him, because here was John Sheppard in the daylight. He glanced at the clock—nearly 8:00 a.m.—and then back at John, who was mussed up and ruffled and chafed, but there. Still here.
"You, uh—there's a shower," Rodney said, gesturing toward the bathroom. "Why don't you, uh—" and John sat up and stretched for real and said okay. "I'll make coffee," Rodney said, trying hard to be casual. "I mean, you might as well stay for breakfast. We can pretend this was an early meeting or something."
"Some meeting," John mumbled, and loped off toward the bathroom with a smile.
When John came back, clean and wet behind the ears, Rodney had coffee and bowls of sweet Kala-fruits sprinkled with granola and half a cheesecake he'd stolen from the mess. "Wow, that's great," John said, and sat down at the table. "I always skip breakfast," and Rodney, who sometimes had as many as three breakfasts, stared at him in horror before explaining that breakfast was by far the most important meal of the day.
"Listen," John interrupted softly, putting his coffee down, and Rodney was suddenly absolutely sure that John was breaking up with him, because he recognized the ominous rumble of "Relationship Talk" when he heard it. "I wanted to say—about yesterday," and wait, no, he was wrong: "Just that I'm sorry, I guess," John said, and looked away. "I mean...lately I seem to piss you off all the time. Worse than usual." John flashed him a quick, sad smile. "And—I don't want to lose this. This really works for me. It's good; it's perfect—the sex is great, and people expect us to be together all the time anyway. I just—" and John put his elbows on the table, and tensely shoved his fingers into his hair, "I don't want to fuck it up."
Rodney just stared at him; that was pretty much the most emotionally explicit thing John had ever said. "Well," Rodney said, finally, and fidgeted with his coffee mug. "Me too. Obviously. Though it's not as if— I mean, I'm certainly no expert on—" and then he clamped his mouth shut, pushed his cheesecake over to John, and poured him the rest of the coffee.
Elizabeth called an emergency meeting after receiving a distress signal from the Cartum; apparently the fragile peace treaty she'd negotiated between them and the Toi hadn't lasted three months, and the genocide was starting again. "You all know that I prefer not to involve us in local political struggles," Elizabeth said, with a sigh. "But we can't just let them kill each other."
"We could arm them," Sheppard suggested. "Give them a base kit: small arms, a couple cannons—"
"—because escalation always works," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "More weapons, absolutely—"
"They're totally outgunned! The Toi have those taser things, and grenades, and firethrowers; I'm not saying nuclear weapons or even machine guns, but we've got to give the Cartum something—"
Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "Evacuate them. Send them to one of the million uninhabited planets we've discovered—hell, send 'em to M4X-847! Give them tools and some snake repellent and they can go into the mining business. There. Problem solved."
"—because relocation always works," John said, rolling his eyes. "Just ask the Irish, or, hey, the Palestinians—"
"You'd prefer an arms race?" Rodney asked.
"I'd prefer—" John began, but just then Teyla coughed, and John looked at her.
"Perhaps," Teyla said gently, "we should ask the Cartum what they prefer."
Beside her, Ronon slouched deeper into his chair. "They'll prefer guns," he said, but that turned out not to be true. Elizabeth and John went down to meet with the leadership, and returned looking surprised: the Cartum had gratefully accepted their offer of relocation to a planet where no one was trying to kill them. Ronon raised an eyebrow, Rodney looked smug, and John shrugged and began sketching out an evacuation plan.
The Cartum were a small clan of only about 1,100, but John estimated that it would still take about twelve hours to get them and all their worldly goods through the Stargate and onto M4X-847, which the Cartum had optimistically renamed Cartumet, -et being the Cartum's favored suffix of place. ("Did you tell them about the giant snakes?" Rodney asked worriedly. "We told them," John replied. "They still prefer them to the Toi.") The Cartum's Stargate was located in the magnificent central chamber of their festival hall, a huge public building that normally hosted dancing and fairs and festivals, as well as government business and town meetings. John's away team and a small complement of marines went to lend a hand on moving day, helping the Cartum assemble in antechambers in groups of fifty, conducting them through the gate in an orderly fashion, then helping them settle into shelters on the other side.
They were only six hours into the evacuation when the Toi attacked. Rodney, who'd been working in the DHD chamber supervising the regular creation and cessation of wormholes, was knocked off his feet by the first blast. The DHD room had a window (now cracked) overlooking the Stargate, and Rodney struggled to his feet and saw, to his horror, that there was a gaping crack in the ceiling, clouds of disintegrated stone in the air, and screaming and confusion in the great hall as people ran for cover.
"Rodney!" John's voice was tinny in his ear. "We're under attack!"
"You think?" Rodney said, almost shrieking.
"Does this place have any defenses? I've got troops massing on the hill to the south," and Rodney ran to the general control panel and began to switch the hall into lock-down mode. "Yes!" he shouted back. "Okay!" The heavy doors locked, and grates slammed down over the windows. "Colonel, you should be seeing—"
"Yeah, I see it! Good job!" John said in his ear just as another heavy blast rocked the building. Rodney steadied himself just as John yelled, "Rodney?"
"What the hell is that?" Rodney shouted back.
"I don't know: some kind of short-range artillery shells. I think they're just softening us up before they invade, so let's get the hell out of here! Can you dial the gate?"
"Yes!" Rodney said, and then took another look at the DHD. "No!" Rodney said, ripping the cracked console apart so that he could get to the machine's guts. "Yes!" Rodney said, his hands full of wires. "I'll build a workaround—"
"Hurry it up! Sheppard out!"
Rodney gritted his teeth and began trying to bypass the shattered conduits. He was distracted by a persistent beep! beep! beep! sound from the general control panel, and saw that the Toi were trying to breach the south door. He radioed Sheppard, who said, "We're on it! Dial the goddamned gate!" and then there was a distant echo of gunfire, which Rodney tried his absolute best to ignore. Focus, he thought, and tried to keep his hands from shaking.
Ten minutes later, with the help of a soldering gun and a little black electrical tape, he was able to establish a stable wormhole, which bloomed blue and serene in the gateroom. Rodney flicked on his radio. "We're up!—go!"
Rodney heard Teyla say, "Evacuation proceeding, Colonel," and then John cut in and said, "Rodney, you're," but Rodney missed the last word as one of the crystals blew on the DHD. He dropped to his knees, stuck his head under the DHD pedestal, and started swapping the crystals around: a moment later, the persistent beep! beep! beep! from the general control panel started making a much more alarming, "Ka-ooo-ah" kind of noise, and when Rodney glanced over at it he saw that the south door had been breached.
He could barely spare the hand that he used to activate his radio. "Colonel—the south door—"
John was terse. "On it," he said, and Rodney took a deep breath and kept working. He managed to keep the wormhole open while he swapped the crystals and rerouted the power, and he tried to keep himself calm by picturing Teyla and Ronon waving refugees through the gate: how many were through, now—eight hundred? Nine? He had just finished constructing the workaround to his workaround when the event horizon dimmed out: their 38 minute window was up.
"Crap," Rodney muttered, and began trying to establish another wormhole, and just then the door opened and John Sheppard skidded through, looking wild-eyed and carrying his P-90.
"Rodney, come on," John said breathlessly. "We gotta get out of here. The Toi are—"
"Can't yet. This is all spit and glue." Rodney flicked on his radio and said, "Teyla, tell everyone to stand clear!" and a moment later, the event horizon whooshed into being and stabilized.
"Find a way," John said grimly, and grabbed his upper arm hard enough to hurt. "The Toi are overrunning the complex, and they're armed, Rodney—"
The power surged and the wormhole began to undulate dangerously; Rodney groaned and began to check the connections rapidly and systematically. "Yes, well, you were right: we should have armed the Cartum." Something began to smoke, and Rodney cursed and yanked a metal chip out of the console, hissing and dropping it when it burned his fingers. Somewhere above them, a bomb went off, sending a shower of stone pebbles and dust down on them.
Rodney glanced at John and said, hurriedly, "You should go. I can't."
John's mouth worked and he repeated, "Rodney, the Toi—"
"This isn't rational; this is a race war!" Rodney shouted. "If I can't keep the wormhole up, the Toi will kill whoever's left," and John stared grimly at him for a moment before crossing the room and locking the door. Rodney had plugged in his laptop, and now he was typing commands to the general command computer, trying to keep the power outputs stable. "John," he said, typing furiously. "Seriously. You should leave—"
John strode to the window overlooking the gate, and flicked on his radio. "Teyla, this is Sheppard; how's that evacuation going?" Rodney didn't hear Teyla's answer, and from where he was standing, he couldn't see how many people were still in the gateroom, though at least the event horizon was blazing blue and strong. Sheppard's voice gave nothing away: "All right, keep going. Let me know when you're through. Sheppard out." John moved to inspect the wall of computers. "Can I monitor the Toi's progress? Find out where they—"
"Yes," Rodney said, slapping John's hand away as he reached for a switch, "but no, because I'm using all available circuits to keep the gateroom locked and the Stargate—" and just then another crystal blew out on the DHD. "Goddammit!" Rodney said, and bent to look under the DHD console, but there were seriously only so many ways to get blood from a stone. Hopefully, most of the evacuees were nearly out, he thought, exchanging one of the burnt focuser crystals for one responsible for dialing; he wouldn't be dialing out any more. "Look," Rodney said, yanking himself upright, "what part of 'leave' don't you understand? You've got to go! Now! This wormhole isn't going to hold, so if you don't get out of here now, you won't be able to!"
"Forget it, Rodney!" John said, almost angrily. "I'm not going!"
"But you can't do anything!" Rodney was barely one command ahead of the power surge. "You can't help me! You'd tell me to go, and I would go, so now you— "
"I can't!" John shouted, red-faced. "I can't! God, I'll go out of my mind—"
"Yes! Right! Exactly!" Rodney yelled back. "I know just how you feel!"
John was gasping and sweating and gapemouthed, looking very much like he'd been knocked for a loop. "All right, all right, I get the point, but this is no time to—"
There was a blast and the metal door to the DHD room bloomed inwards like a flower, like a popcorn kernel that had popped. In one swift motion, John flung an arm around Rodney's chest, yanked him away from the console, and aimed his P-90 at the door, firing a couple of times while he pulled Rodney backwards.
Teyla's voice was suddenly in his ear. "Colonel Sheppard? Dr. McKay? The last of the Cartum are—" and then Rodney heard John Sheppard's voice, in his ear and beside him: "Teyla, go! Now! Hurry! That's an order! Get everybody out, yourselves included—" and then the door burst open.
"Jesus," John muttered. "Rodney. Get behind me," but Rodney was suddenly a hundred percent sure that he couldn't do that. If they were going to die here, they were going to die together—not with John acting like Rodney was somehow important and he himself was nothing but a human shield.
"No," Rodney said faintly, "John, I—" but the Toi were coming through the door and John was automatically moving in front of him, putting his body between Rodney and their guns. Rodney was desperately trying to think of some last something to say to John, but he couldn't find the right words. He had just about decided on, "You were everything to me," when John suddenly turned and fired at the window overlooking the Stargate, which exploded into a million shimmering pieces, and then John was half-pulling him, half-shoving him, over the sill and into the gateroom, and they ran pell-mell through the wormhole just seconds before it died out.
There was no rest for them on M4X-847; after Ronon's brusque, "Good job," and Teyla's smiling, "I am relieved to see you both," Rodney found himself tinkering with the Cartum's power generators (which they were setting up all wrong; idiots; idiots) and getting their communications systems stabilized, and John was dispatched somewhere to do something stupid and dangerous, because the next time Rodney saw him, he had a bleeding gash on his forehead and was limping a little.
"I hate this fucking planet," he said to Rodney in passing. Rodney made a sympathetic grimace and kept working.
John was nowhere to be seen when Rodney finally went off duty, and so he went back to Atlantis alone. He had tiny cuts on his face and hands from when the window exploded, plus his uniform was almost stiff with fear-sweat; it had been a rough twenty-two hours. He took a very long, very hot shower, and then slopped a finger of whisky from John's bottle into a mug and drank it down to calm his nerves. He was exhausted, and knew he ought to just go to bed, but John would be coming; John always came to him after missions, as reliably as a cat scratching at the door. For a guy who supposedly couldn't form relationships, John was as predictable as clockwork, and Rodney found himself wondering if John's "weak family ties" were entirely his fault.
Finally, he heard John's soft knock, and Rodney opened the door. John was standing there tiredly, the gash on his forehead half-crusted over and oozing blood, like he'd forgotten it was there, which probably he had. "Hey. Sorry I'm—"
"Jesus Christ," Rodney muttered, dragging John into the room and shoving him into a chair. He went for gauze, disinfectant, and bandages, and only then did John seem to realize that he had a bleeding wound on his face and gingerly touched it with two fingers. Rodney smacked his hand away.
"So look," John began, "about today—" and then he said, "ow," resentfully, as Rodney daubed at the cut with a piece of disinfectant-soaked gauze. "Jesus, McKay, that—" and then suddenly John's radio beeped. "Now what?" John muttered, and tapped the radio on. "Sheppard," he said, and then, "Uh-huh. All right, fine; I'll be there in ten minutes; Sheppard out." He tapped the radio off, and sighed a long sigh of exasperation. "Now that it's night, the snakes are coming out. Do I look like St. Patrick to you? What the hell does she want me to do about it?"
"No idea," Rodney said, and clumsily taped a bandage over the wound. "My guess would be something stupidly risky that will result in your speedy and unpleasant death."
"Oh, so, the usual," John said, and rolled his eyes, but if Rodney was ever likely to laugh at that, now wasn't the time. Rodney savagely ripped off another piece of sterile tape and smoothed it over the edge of the gauze with his thumbs. And then John said quietly, "Rodney, I was kidding."
"No, you weren't."
"Yes, I was. Rodney. Yes, I was—" and then John's hands were on him, grabbing his shirt and he was rising out of the chair and kissing Rodney hotly. Rodney kissed him back sloppily, sucking on his tongue and biting his lips—but this was a distraction, John was trying to distract him, and Rodney shoved him away.
"No, you weren't; you were demonstrating your highly regressive personality and your addiction to high-risk behaviors," Rodney spat out. "For you, this is wish-fulfillment; for me, it's a nervous breakdown—"
But John was staring at him. "What the hell are you..." and then his eyes widened. "You read my file?"
"Fine, yes! That's not the point!"
"That's not the point? I'd say that was the point, Rodney!"
"I told you! Way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I told you!" Rodney shouted. "I told you I found out something that—"
"Yeah, and I thought you meant my sexual history! Jesus! Did you read my whole glorious collection of warnings and reprimands? The long and sorry story of my 'problems with authority'? Personality tests, character diagnostics, psychological—" John stopped suddenly and stared at him, then sat down slowly. "Oh my God. You didn't think I was gay. You thought I was crazy. You still think I'm crazy—"
"No! No—God, of course not—"
"I'm not crazy, Rodney." John's mouth was a tight line. "I mean, I know that having to say you're not crazy usually means that you are crazy, but knowing that has to count for something, right?"
"Just—God, would you just shut up and listen to me?" Rodney yelled. "I don't think you're crazy! I think you're going to get killed! I think you're going to die in some stupid, terrible, pointless way—" and John was suddenly on his feet, pacing and looking agitated.
"All right, fine, maybe you're right. But it's my job, Rodney—it's what I do. I—"
"No. No, it isn't." Rodney insisted, knowing that he only had one shot at this. "You're the military commander of Atlantis; you're incredibly important. To the mission," he blurted, and then, steeling himself, "and—to me. You're—invaluable, indispensable," and Rodney was searching his mind for half-remembered phrases, "a pain in the ass, but seriously brilliant, and I don't know what we'd do without you, what—what I'd do," and the phrases were rolling off his tongue, now, "and I swear to God, if something happened to you, we would be—I would be—" John was staring at him now, and he had to look away. "I would be—"
"—dead, probably, about four minutes later," and John's voice was hoarse, but when Rodney looked, he saw John was wearing a familiar, faint smirk. "You know—the way things have been going lately."
Rodney was taken aback. "Well, yes," he admitted nervously, "but that isn't what I—" but John was cupping his dirty, scarred hand around Rodney's neck and leaning in, and John was still kissing him minutes later, as his radio crackled and Elizabeth said, in a tinny, faraway voice: "Colonel Sheppard? Colonel Sheppard?" and then, "Colonel Sheppard, are you there?"
"You've had three cups of coffee already," John said, cruelly yanking the mug out of his hand. Rodney nearly overbalanced reaching for it. "All you have to do is make it to the briefing room. There'll be coffee in the briefing room," and yes, yes, this was true, but Rodney had stashed all his really good coffee at John's place, where nobody would ever think to look for it. Then again, John had recently requisitioned a really top-of-the-line coffee maker, which had raised a few knowing eyebrows, so maybe people knew where Rodney was keeping his coffee after all. "We're going to be late," John said, and gestured pointedly to his watch.
Rodney yanked the mug back. "Elizabeth's coffee is crap. And is that my shirt?" He wasn't sure how he felt about John's habit of putting on whatever was closest to hand, whether or not it was his. The strange, possessive pleasure of knowing that John was wearing his clothes was somewhat negated by the fact that John always looked better in them.
John looked down at the gray t-shirt he was wearing. "Yeah, maybe. Come on, already—" and so Rodney sighed, drank down the rest of the coffee, and followed John to the briefing room, where Elizabeth told them about M9X-980, which was now uninhabited (John sighed and propped his head on his hand) though it had once been the home of a vanished people called the Mingari.
"What happened to the Mingari?" Rodney asked warily.
Elizabeth looked at Teyla, who just said, in her queer, serious way: "No one knows."
Rodney couldn't help rolling his eyes. "Oh, well, that's promising," he said, turning to John. "Really, I love that: haven't any of these people watched a single horror movie of the seventies? Is it me, or are we living in an endless replay of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ?"
John just shrugged. "I tend to go to more of an Alien place, myself, but yeah, I take your point."
They were maybe a mile from the gate when Rodney's lifesigns monitor suddenly began bleeping frantically. A moment later, a delegation of people appeared through the trees. Rodney swallowed hard and muttered: "Right. Of course. Completely uninhabited." He nervously moved his hand to his gun, just in case it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after all. But as they got closer, Rodney saw that they were all of maybe eighteen years old, and wearing whimsically colored shirts with open collars. Best of all, they were smiling; Rodney decided that they looked like members of the Folk Group at Berkeley.
"Greetings," one of them said, and that was promising. "You are not Wraith."
"No," John agreed, stepping forward. "And you're not Wraith, either."
The Berkeley student hopped a little, apparently delighted by John's response. "No! We're totally not!" and he grinned, and John grinned back, for a terrifying moment, Rodney thought that they were going to be all, "Dude!" and maybe hug or something. Instead, the Berkeley student said, "I am Kartus; these are my friends Alita, Marcus, and Graff. We are happy to see you. We have been in hiding for so long."
"Well, my name is John, and this is Rodney and Ronon and Teyla," John said, thumbing back at them. "And we're real happy to see you too. Are you guys the Mingari?"
"Yes!" Kartus said, and just then Rodney began detecting a new power signature, a strong one—no, ten; no, a hundred, all concentrated in a single spot a few miles away. Rodney stared at the cluster of sine-waves and energy signals, among which was the strong, distinct pattern of—
"—a ZPM!" Rodney blurted, head jerking up. "John! They have a ZPM, and some kind of shield, and computers. Oh my God, we found people with actual technology—"
"Yes," Kartus said, beaming. "Our village is normally protected by shields, to hide our power readings and life signs from Wraith ships—"
"The ZPM," Rodney interrupted. "Your power source. How depleted is it?"
Kartus looked confused. "Which one?"
"Dude!" Rodney said, and hugged him.
Kartus invited them back to the village, and they gratefully accepted, following them along an ancient path that led up the mountain through the trees. John and Kartus were in the lead, and Rodney was walking with Graff and asking him urgent questions about the scope and depth of Mingari technology (including their four ZPMs), so he didn't immediately notice that John had stopped. John was staring up a steep and narrow mountain path that branched off from the main path. "What's up there?" he asked Kartus.
"I do not know," Kartus confessed. "Some of our men go there, the ones who train to be warriors. Not all of them come back, but those who do—they do not say what is there. They leave it for others to find out."
John was now staring fixedly up the mountain path. Ronon, moving like a big cat, came up beside him and said, in a low voice: "Can't be that hard."
"I would be happy to bring you back here," Kartus said, damn his Mingari hospitality, as John blinked and turned back toward the group. "We would certainly be honored if you wished to test yourself against..."
Rodney didn't catch the end of the sentence, because John was now looking at him, lips curling into a knowing smile. "Nah," John said, gracefully shrugging. "It's okay. Screw it," and then he was walking onward with Kartus, and Rodney, Graff and the others were trailing behind, and honestly, if this wasn't the most perfect day Rodney could remember, it was close, it was right up there, very near the top.