Title: How to Beat a Polygraph and Have Clean Feet
Plot: The way to win at poker is not to hide your tells. It's to have a tell for everything.
How to Beat a Polygraph and Have Clean Feet
"Oh, thank God." Intellectually Rodney knew they were going to come for him, but it was a little hard to keep the faith when he could see the bonfire preparations going on just outside his cell window. He clapped his hands together. "Unlock the door. Let's go."
"Yeah." Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. It was a gesture Rodney found charming when not viewed through iron bars. "About that."
"Oh, no, no, no. Unlock the door right now, Sheppard. Wait--the Deyans didn't give you the key?"
Rodney stared at Sheppard, all loose-limbed and casual, if a little hesitant. He'd assumed the Atlantis team must have negotiated his release since John was lacking the mission-ready body language he wore like armor during tense moments, but it looked like that wasn't the case. So either this was the most relaxed prison-break ever, or--
"It's good news," Sheppard said in the voice he used when he wanted to derail an incipient Rodney panic. It had been a long time since Rodney had heard that voice, and it was patently unfair for Sheppard to pull it out now. Rodney would panic if he damn well felt like it. In fact he might never come upon a better time for panicking. It would be a shame to waste the golden opportunity.
"Good news?" He could hear his voice go squeaky. On the other side of the bars--the free side--Sheppard winced. It was strangely satisfying. "Good news? You may not have noticed, but I'm about to be burned as a witch. A witch, Sheppard."
"See, now I can do something about that."
"Never mind that if I were a witch I would hop on my broomstick and get the hell out of here, maybe turn a few Deyans into frogs on my way out. You fix one Ancient power grid, and suddenly it's seventeenth-century Salem--which is an era of your history I had no desire to visit, thank you very much. The Deyans should be grateful for the light and running water. Instead they want to burn me."
"They didn't burn witches in Salem."
"No burning in Salem. They hung the witches there."
"Uh, no they didn't. Because guess what? They weren't witches and neither am I!"
"Do not tell me to breathe. I will breathe if and when--Oh. Oh God." Rodney's knees suddenly felt weak. He leaned against the cell wall. "Tell me they don't want to do a trial by drowning. I float, Sheppard. I can't help it! I was Fort McMurray Elementary's swimming champion three years in a row."
"All right, two years, that's not the point." His legs finally gave way and he found himself sitting on the floor. "They're going to burn me."
"Listen to me." Sheppard didn't need to look that exasperated. The Deyans weren't going to burn him. "No one's getting burned. The mayor took his very first shower and it turns out he likes hot water, so--"
Rodney felt suddenly hopeful. "They're letting me go?"
"No." Now Sheppard looked embarrassed. "Sorry, buddy. But we managed to make a deal."
* * * * * * *
John rubbed his face tiredly before slowly opening his eyes again. If he was very lucky, Rodney would be so grateful John had managed to stop him being tried for witchcraft or sorcery that he'd just go along with whatever John told him. And John was sure as hell going to avoid telling Rodney the whole deal until he absolutely had to.
"What kind of a deal? I'm not going to like it, am I? These things never come out in my favor." Rodney didn't look happy. His mouth was doing that biting, then turning flat thing that John found inexplicably hot. But then, John found most of Rodney inexplicably hot, and knowing what the Deyans had planned didn't help things any.
Of course John was never all that lucky. "Well, like I said, the Mayor likes his shower. And it seems he also likes his stove and refrigerator, too. Or their Ancient equivalents, anyway."
"You got their appliances working when you were supposed to be rescuing me?" Now Rodney got his shoulders into it, crossing his arms. His broad, strong, swimmer's shoulders, John's libido was grateful to know. And no, the thought of a young Rodney doing purposeful laps wasn't distracting him in the slightest, thank you very much.
"Not exactly. Mostly I just gave my best guesses as to the function of various items. Not knowing what they were before you fixed the grid and turned everything on again, they'd been using them all wrong."
"Of course they were using them wrong. That's what happens when you steal someone else's culture. It's hardly a surprise, but I don't see why that should keep me in this hellhole."
"It's not that bad. For an alien prison it's actually pretty cushy." John looked around Rodney's cell. It could hardly be called a cell, what with the plump, satin covered bed, plates of decadent looking pastries and what looked like a bubble bath, of all things. Something about this scene felt vaguely off, though.
"Right, Colonel. Except for the fact that I can't, you know, leave, this is the Ritz."
"About that. See, the thing is..."
"Spit it out, Sheppard."
"Teyla convinced them you were no threat. In fact, the most devout of the Deyans now believe you are the reincarnation of one of their earliest prophets, MarreKei, the Light Bringer. "
Rodney looked mollified at that, and not a little smug. "That sounds better. I'd rather be a prophet than a witch. Unless -- they aren't planning on--" He blanched, clearly imagining another horrific possibility. "Jesus."
"No, Rodney. They aren't going to crucify you, either." He didn't honestly think John would be sitting there casually clueing him in if there was any real danger, did he?
"That did sound ridiculous, didn't it? Sorry. Just, please. Tell me what I have to do so we can go home."
"They want you to fix everything so it's as good as new. So it all works the way it did when the Ancients made everything."
"Except we're only guessing about some of it, and they're probably not ready for the rest. Any society that holds me captive for witchcraft doesn't deserve Ancient weapons."
"So we don't fix up any weapons. Just the tech they can learn to use safely. It shouldn't take too long. Especially not after the reinforcements come in to help. Atlantis is sending everyone they can spare. And with you to lead them, how can anything go wrong?"
"Reinforcements? I thought this was supposed to be friendly, now that I'm all God-like, and not a tool of the Devil, or whatever primitive claptrap law I was breaking."
"Rodney, even you couldn't do what they want by yourself. This way, you can delegate, and we'll be home all the more quickly."
"Lucky Me. Leader of the Geek Squad."
"There's one more thing, Rodney--"
* * * * * * *
“... Rodney! Rodney, damn it, focus! Can you understand what I’m saying? McKay!” John's voice brought Rodney back to the here and now. He knew his little detour into la-la land was most likely caused by low blood-sugar and the lack of sleep. On his decidedly non satin-covered bed in a cold, uncomfortable cell. The pastries would have been nice, though. Better than the stale water and hard bread he had had to eat. But then again, why would someone give a prisoner who was about to be burnt as a witch a comfortable room and spend resources on him? Yeah, not gonna happen…
Rodney sighed. His hands were cold and his head started to throb mercilessly, making it hard to concentrate on what John was saying. He knew he should at least try to follow the conversation, that it was important he understood what was going on. Rodney blinked at John, who looked decidedly worried by now.
“Rodney, I asked you if you’re all right. You were muttering about ‘swimmers shoulders’ and cushy alien prisons. I dunno about your definition, but in my book cushy is something else. Here.” He reached into his tac vest and pulled out some PowerBars, holding them out to Rodney through the iron bars. “Eat something, you look a bit out of it.”
Rodney took the PowerBars and unwrapped one, suppressing a groan at the first taste of real food in what felt like weeks. A bit out of it, yeah, that was one way to put it. Completely nuts would be another. What a pity. The brightest mind in two galaxies and he was going off the deep end. How else would he be able to explain away what just had happened? Rationally, Rodney knew that it was a coping mechanism, self-protection and all that. A little like that time when he had been trapped in a jumper at the bottom of the sea. Back then, he had conjured up Sam to help him through the situation; just now he had done… something else. Which led him to the emotional part of his dilemma. His crush for a certain Air Force Colonel coming through at the most inappropriate moment. That and the fact that John always saved him. Which was kinda awesome in itself. John was a nice guy. And Rodney really liked his smile. And his hands. And…
Rodney threw John a cursory glance. John was watching him wolf another PowerBar. Even in his own head Rodney began to sound like a thirteen-year-old girl with a crush. Not so good. But somehow his thoughts had kept returning to John. And then his mind had just taken a vacation.
He’d imagined himself as John. As a John who was attracted to him, who found him ‘inexplicably hot’. Rodney was a lot of things but vain wasn’t one of them. Arrogant, yes. Blunt, sure. But vain, no. He didn’t have a reason to be vain. Rodney knew exactly that he wasn’t the most attractive man in the world with his thinning hair and his permanently crooked mouth. He wasn’t as ridiculously handsome as John and even less now, after a few days of imprisonment with no way of cleaning up and too little food and sleep. But Rodney sometimes imagined what it would feel like to be desired by John. To have John look at him with lust and appreciation rather than exasperation.
It had been a nice fantasy, Rodney thought dreamily. He’d been dubbed some sort of messiah. Oh, and no burning him at the stake. Which -- in fact -- was the most important thing about the whole fantasy. Although, that part also was reality, now that Rodney thought about it. Still, there had to be a catch somewhere. Better not think about it right now. Brain wasn’t working all too great yet, anyway. No, the fantasy had been much nicer than reality. There had been food. Delicious food. And a nice bed and, oh my God, a bubble bath. Rodney thought of all the fun things he could do with John in a huge bathtub with hot, scented water. Their wet bodies slick, soapy hands gliding over…
Yep, definitely insane. Completely nuts.
Rodney started on the third PowerBar, finally beginning to feel a little better. His blood-sugar was slowly normalizing, the pounding headache easing slightly along with the hunger.
“So, about that deal…” John started, looking uncomfortable and each and every alarm bell in Rodney’s head began to ring. This wasn’t good. Oh no, not good at all. He knew that kind of voice. He knew it all too well. It was John’s ‘I messed up but I don’t wanna talk about it’ voice. The one he usually reserved for the ‘oops’ moments right before a mission went downhill.
“Please, please tell me you didn’t do anything stupid!” Rodney pleaded, his mind running through several possible scenarios, none of them pleasant and all in Technicolor and Dolby-surround sound.
“They were going to burn you at the stake, McKay!” John replied, his voice now this annoyed, impatient drawl that said, ‘shut up, you ungrateful idiot.’
Oh yes, right, they were. But if they’d decided to have some ritual sacrifice instead, or something equally stupid, things weren’t really better. Death by being stabbed in the chest was still death after all. And John had said they weren’t just letting him go.
“I know that, I can see them building their pretty little bonfire from here, Colonel!” Rodney hissed, suddenly angry. He felt so out of it, so unbalanced and he really only wanted to go home. Walking to the other side of the room, gesturing wildly, he said, “It doesn’t look like they’ve changed their mind about the burning part, though.”
Rodney whirled around, intending to face John down, but the movement made the room spin and nausea well up. He sat down heavily. John’s alarmed “Rodney, are you all right?” seemed to come form far away and for a moment Rodney thought he’d pass out after all. But then the room steadied and after taking a deep breath, the nausea subsided as well.
“Oh yeah, I’m all right. Just peachy!” Rodney snapped sarcastically.
“You don’t look ‘peachy’ from where I’m standing,” John argued, air-quoting him. “Listen, Rodney, the deal we’ve made may not be ideal, but it’ll get you out of here and back to Atlantis only slightly worse for wear. Well, at least I think that’s what’s gonna happen. I’m not exactly sure what the ritual entails. Only that you won’t be harmed. And… that’s good, right?” John had that kind of embarrassed head ducking thing going on that really didn’t inspire Rodney’s confidence.
“Ritual?” he shrieked, alarmed. “What ritual are we talking about? How could you agree to this if you don’t even know what they’re gonna do to me? It could be anything! Are you nuts? Oh please, please tell me you didn’t agree to anything stupid. I might never recover from this … ritual. I’m too important to lose. Really, I keep saving the day and…”
“Rodney!” John snapped, breaking Rodney’s rant. “I may not know all the details, but Teyla assured me that usually these kind of rituals only entail some sort of chanting, washing, perfuming and the likes. The worst it can end with is a bit of a bruised dignity. Really, do you think we would let them actually physically harm you?” John sounded actually insulted now.
“No, no of course not,” Rodney hastily assured John, before he asked, “what ritual are we talking about?" He sounded suspicious even to his own ears.
“Um, some sort of purification ritual. You know, to clean all malicious thoughts from your mind and the likes. Basically they want to make sure you’re not gonna do some ‘dark magic’ and sic some sort of curse on them. It’s really nothing bad, Teyla said those rituals are quite common with a lot of cultures here in Pegasus. You know, since you fixed stuff around here, the water they’re gonna wash you with might actually be warm,” John teased and Rodney’s stomach did a little flip.
Washing. Someone was gonna wash him. Huh. Not good. Not that he would have minded that little bathtub fantasy from earlier coming true with John, but this? No. This sounded all kinds of unpleasant.
“They’re gonna wash me,” Rodney groused. “Figures that I get to got through the embarrassing rituals. Just once I’d like to have a pleasant one. You get to have all the alien priestesses to yourself and I get a washing. I could have done with some sex, too,” Rodney went on, the cottony feeling in his head back as he imagined John in a bathtub with him once more.
“What?” John asked incredulously. “What’s this talk about priestesses and having sex? Who said I’m having sex with anyone?” He sounded actually kinda hurt and Rodney was puzzled. Why was he hurt? He’d had hot, glowy sex with Chaya after all.
“Well, you… you’re Kirk, you know? They’re all practically throwing themselves at you. And… and SG-1, I know they got into pretty cool rituals. I’ve read the reports. The classified ones. I’d bet O’Neill enjoys getting all hot and bothered with Dr. Jackson. So, what’s so wrong with wanting to have sex with you? Preferably in that bathtub with the bubbly water, or the bed with the satin sheets from earlier. I really don’t care though, as long as I get to have sex with you,” Rodney rambled.
The look of shock on John’s face made him pause, mentally rewind the last few minutes and then play them at half-speed. Oh shit. “Please tell me I didn’t just say that out loud,” Rodney pleaded, face growing hot in shame.
“I fear you did. Are you all right, buddy?” John had found his voice and he sounded more concerned than upset, Rodney noticed.
“Yeah, um, well... forget what I said, okay? It was nothing. I mean, erm, I’m shutting up now,” Rodney was beyond embarrassed and that last, rational part of his mind was relieved that John hadn’t freaked out on him completely. The American military wasn’t exactly known for its tolerance towards same-sex relationships. And even though Rodney was by now pretty sure that John wasn’t homophobic, there was a difference between being okay with others doing it and being hit on by your socially inept, male team member.
“Listen, Rodney,” John began, his voice not giving away anything about his feelings beyond the worry that was clearly showing on his face, “I think we shouldn’t talk about this now. I’m not sure what you mean with ‘bathtub with the bubbly water’ and this bed doesn’t look like it can be made any more comfortable -- not even by satin sheets. Why don’t we concentrate on getting you through this ritual for now? We can talk about this… sex… thing when we’re back home and you’re not hypoglycemic any more. What do you say, buddy?”
Rodney swallowed. So this was how John wanted to play it. Hypoglycemia and stress. Made sense, especially since Rodney was sure he really wouldn’t have slipped had he not been a little out of it. Rodney knew that he should be grateful that John was giving him an easy way out, but part of him wished things could be different. Turning away from John’s searching eyes in embarrassment, Rodney finally replied, “Yes, of course. I think that would be for the best!”
* * * * * * *
John wasn't there when Rodney turned back around--apparently he was practicing his best Batman impression. Damn it. Sheppard was apparently more freaked out about the confession than he'd let on.
And he'd left Rodney to stew in his own idiocy.
It was another hour before two tall Deyans came for him, silently guiding him along between them. At least this time they didn't bind and hobble him, and the PowerBars had steadied him considerably.
Teyla and Ronon were waiting for them outside the door; Teyla looked like she was trying to be reassuring and Ronon looked--less homicidal than usual when off-world, which was oddly more reassuring than Teyla's expression. "Rodney," Teyla greeted him.
"Where's Sheppard?" Rodney couldn't help but ask, although it didn't look promising, so he kept going. "And can you tell me about this ritual, because I'm really not keen on cleansing with fire or anything--"
"Colonel Sheppard has been granted the honor of taking part in the Purification." Teyla took hold of one of Rodney's elbows and threw a disapproving look over his shoulder at the Deyan guards. "We shall escort Dr. McKay from here."
"Honored De Emmagan, we should not--" one of the guards began, but he cut off quickly when Ronon stepped away from the wall.
Teyla tugged Rodney through the door and into a long, low-ceilinged meeting chamber. There was a mat in front of a stool and table, next to a low pit that could have once held fire but now was filled with the Deyans' chief light source--squishy, pale blue plasticky-things that looked like glowing watermelons. The Deyan High Council, or Circle of Elders, or Chief Grand Pooh-Bahs or whatever, were seated on stools and benches that filled the rest of the far half of the room.
Teyla was whispering in his ear. "...remain silent and follow instructions, and everything will be well."
He nodded halfheartedly, hoping against hope they weren't going to make him kneel on the mat; his knees would be a long time forgiving him and--
"Rodney," Teyla said, low and urgent, and she gave him a little shake. "Listen to me. Your silence is of the utmost importance; you must not speak from now until the ritual is over. Do you understand?"
Rodney narrowed his eyes and raised his eyebrows, and Teyla answered him, "The smallest word will sully the Purification and they will burn both you and Colonel Sheppard."
Rodney swallowed hard, and Ronon (sort of) gently shoved him so he sat on the stool. Then they were stepping away, leaving him alone in space among the gathered Deyans.
Well, not quite alone.
John was on the mat, on his knees and settled back to sit on his heels. He looked weirdly naked without his jacket and tac vest and weapons (he always did, when he'd had to lose those things off-world), and his hands and shoulders looked tense, like he was pushing against his thighs to keep himself on the floor. Of course, he probably was, given that he'd fled Rodney's presence earlier and now he was kneeling at Rodney's feet.
Except just then John's eyes twinkled at him.
Rodney didn't have time to respond beyond thinking Did he just twinkle at me? On purpose? when an ancient Deyan stood up and began talking.
Purification, blessing, blah whatever; Rodney started out listening but was quickly distracted by Sheppard unlacing his boots. He looked down, startled, and all he saw was the top of John's spiky hair. John's fingers were warm as he gently pulled off first Rodney's boots and then his socks.
The Deyan was now saying something about driving evil thoughts out by clearing the mind and cleansing the soul (or sole?). Rodney snorted almost silently--his thoughts weren't evil, unless perhaps one were old-school Catholic.
Suddenly Rodney's left foot was surrounded by warmth. It was resting in the valley between John's thighs, and John was swiping a warm washcloth from toes to ankle and back again.
Rodney heroically swallowed a whimper and watched helplessly as John washed both feet the same way, carefully washing in between each toe and scrubbing not-too-soft-to-be-ticklish under the instep.
By the time John started on his hands Rodney was struggling to control his breathing, to keep it as close to 'nervous about public performance' as he could, and he was nearly undone by the way John picked up his hand. John slid one dark hand under Rodney's, palm to palm, letting it rest a moment before draping the washcloth across his wrist. The water was scented with mint and something else--rosemary, maybe?--and it had a slightly oily feel that left Rodney's skin tingling. John worked gently from wrist to knuckles, then washed each individual finger.
Never once did John look up to see Rodney watching him.
Never before had Rodney been so glad of his heavy black field uniform.
Rodney was torn between hoping it would end soon and praying John would have to wash his head next, so he wasn't sure if he was relieved or dismayed when the Deyan elder intoned, "It is done!"
John stood up far more gracefully than Rodney expected--he'd been hoping that John's numb hobbling would distract from his own wobbly legs. Another Deyan stepped up to John's side and said, "Welcome to Purity, Dr. McKay," looking for all the world like she wanted to hear all about Rodney's new nirvana. Rodney couldn't help the way his mouth worked, but no sound came out--all his neurons were busy firing in an attempt to burn what he'd just witnessed into the deepest recesses of his brain.
"Dr. McKay is deeply affected by ritual, Honored Deya Sallanar," Teyla broke in from somewhere behind Rodney, "and he may need a few moments. Perhaps we should take our leave?"
* * * * * * *
Rodney didn't bother knocking on John's door; he barreled in as usual and found John lounging on his couch. He held up one (still-scented) forefinger to keep John from breaking his courage.
"This may be very stupid or very brave, quite possibly both, but," Rodney said, and blew out a nervous breath, "I'm not willing to chalk it up to hypoglycemia and stress."
John carefully set his magazine aside. "Sometimes if you keep talking, I can catch up."
"Okay, maybe the fact that I revealed it might have been because of, you know, blood sugar issues, but--"
"The sex thing," John interrupted.
"But the truth is I've had these feelings for a long time and they haven't affected the team, so there's really no reason for you to--" Rodney was stopped mid-pace by Sheppard stepping in close.
"I can't," John said quietly, intensely. "Rodney, you can't ask."
Rodney's head spun with reinterpreting existing data in light of this new information, and he sputtered, "But--"
"You can't ask," John repeated, his breath a warm whisper over Rodney's cheek. "I can't tell. But I can show."
Rodney looked up to see John's expression more open than he'd ever seen. "So the thing, with the washing," he breathed.
"Yeah," John whispered, then he cupped Rodney's face between his hands and kissed him soundly.
John leaned away just far enough to look at him. He could feel the rest of John's body, fitting up against him with firm planes of muscle and bone, and John regarded him with an unreadable, narrow-eyed look.
"I'm sorry," John said quietly. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long. But you're a better liar than you give yourself credit for."
"Um, what?" Rodney asked, still a little drunk on the sensation of warm and John.
"It's like beating a lie detector--"
"Oh, that's easy," Rodney said with a grin. "The trick is to never give them a relaxed reading for a baseline. They tried it on me once, at Area 51; told me I'm impossible because I'm never, ever calm."
"Exactly," John drawled with a lazy grin of his own.
Rodney's stomach did a weird little fillip. "Oh." He smiled, and John leaned in for another kiss, this time sweet and gentle and full of promise.
- Round 1 - argosy : "'Oh, thank God.' [...] make a deal.'"
- Round 2 - hyperfocused : "John rubbed his face [...] 'There's one more thing, Rodney--'"
- Round 3 - darkmoore : "'... Rodney! Rodney, damn it, focus!' [...] I think that would be for the best!'"
- Round 4 - perspi : "John wasn't there when Rodney [...] sweet and gentle and full of promise."
Beta: Thank you to anchiseswrites!