There wasn't a chance Weir understood a single word McKay was saying, but she put on one hell of a show, John had to give her that.
"-- making allowances for the vector charge-density wave, of course," said McKay, one hand up to hold his place while he paused to catch his breath. He'd been talking nonstop since they returned from M8X-216, and, well, for some time before that too.
Elizabeth made a note on her datapad. "Ianuzzi's team reported that the Morangin technology is capable of identifying and diagnosing Ancient data crystals, but felt that trading with them wasn't worth the risk. You disagree?"
"Isn't that what I just said?" McKay snapped, dropping his hand to scratch at the back of his neck. "In case you were too busy counting beans to notice, we moved into a city powered by crystals that might as well be magic fairies, for all we know about how they work. This gate you're so fond of? Every time we swap out one of the gate's control crystals it's six to five and pick 'em whether we're asking for lethal cascade failure in the gate's dialer, starting by wiping out the Ancients' database of gate addresses. Remember the crunching and all that spinning two days ago, and me screaming at the incompetent gate tech staff, and then the crying? Beck would never have started crying if I hadn't yelled at her, which I wouldn't have needed to do if the leader of this so-called expedition actually cared about the needs of her science team. But if you want to keep living on the edge, sure, who needs diagnostic tools?"
She nodded. "I understand your concern, however, I'm still uncomfortable with what the Morangin want in return. Five thousand gallons of bleach could be used to make a lot of explosives."
"Maybe they want their whites gleaming white!" Rodney spat. "Not everything is about bombs! Half the crystals powering the gate are close to failure, and we won't be able to --"
"I didn't like them," Ronon said.
Rodney turned to glare at him. "Really? I never would have guessed by the way you inhaled everything they put in front of you."
"I was hungry."
"Yes, well, so was I and you ate all the bacon dumplings!"
"Now, now, kids," John said.
"There were areas of the settlement they did not make open to us," Teyla offered. "But that does not mean they wished us harm."
"Still didn't like them," Ronon grumbled.
Since that was all he'd say on the subject, Elizabeth got a copy of their vid footage and dismissed them. McKay strode off, muttering to himself and scratching his neck. John just happened to be going in the same direction.
"Why, in the name of all that's holy, does my neck itch like this?" Rodney demanded, clawing at the collar of his shirt and craning around like it was possible to see the back of his own neck.
John shrugged. "Looks like a bug bite."
"Oh my god! Is it infected? It feels infected."
"You don't know that!"
"Yeah, you're right. Maybe you'll be horribly disfigured."
McKay squeaked and clamped a hand to his neck. "This is no time to joke! I have a life-threatening condition here."
"It's a chigger bite, McKay. Get 'em on the mainland all the time."
"You'll be so sorry when I'm dead and there's nobody around to save you," McKay said, hurrying off, presumably to the labs. John unhooked his P90 and went to take a shower.
He was deep conditioning his hair and struggling through the tricky part of Bohemian Rhapsody -- "Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?" -- when the water turned off. "Hello?" He wiped conditioner out of his eyes. "Is this about my singing, because I can do better."
Nothing. He poked his head out of the shower. His radio was hanging off an ornamental thingy and he unhooked it and stuck it in his ear. "McKay? This is Sheppard. There's something wrong with --"
"Yes, yes, I know. I've only been calling you for the last five minutes. Get down here now."
"-- my shower?" John finished.
"I'm sure you're very busy exfoliating, and, and doing things to your pores, but now we've got bigger problems because the gate won't dial, which, I'm sure doesn't bear repeating, is precisely what I told you would happen, but the team that's out there is certainly in for a fantastic surprise when they try to come home. So -- don't take too long picking out your pants." The radio went silent and the water started up again.
"Huh," said John. Apparently his shower had call waiting.
Hair still dripping, he jogged into the control room and found McKay crouched in front of one of the consoles, its lower panel off and a mess of glass rods scattered around its base. Elizabeth watched from a safe distance.
"This," Rodney was yelling, "is exactly why we need the Morangin diagnostic scanner! Ow!"
"What's the problem?" John asked.
"I pinched my finger," McKay said angrily, looking up. "Oh." He popped his finger in his mouth. "You're wet."
"I was enjoying a shower until you sabotaged it," John said.
Rodney stared at John with a hungry, stunned look for several seconds before screwing his face back into a scowl and returning to the crystal cabinet. "Right. Um. So remember what I warned you about like an hour ago?" He asked, tossing aside an unneeded wrench. "Dialer programming degrading, control crystals causing cascading power failures throughout the wormhole generator? Foolhardy Atlantis mission that made no real attempt to interface with the technology controlling the city we're living in, death by spacing? Sound familiar?"
"The gate won't dial," John tried.
"Try to keep up," Rodney said. "It'll dial, it just won't stay dialed, which means one of two things if you happen to be using the gate at the time: a) the wormhole fails and you spend the rest of eternity spread across the universe in a hundred thousand trillion little pieces, or b) the wormhole's merely diverted to the nearest functioning stargate, which for us happens to be in orbit, where you can look forward to the many thrills of explosive decompression in the cold vacuum of space. Either way it ends in horrible messy death, not one of my favorites."
Weir's eyes widened. "We've still got people out," she said. "Lieutenant Cadman is on M1X-611 with a geological survey team. She established radio contact on schedule and reported that the villages surrounding the gate had been culled, but there was no sign of the Wraith. We heard shots and the wormhole collapsed."
"Did they get to try the new zappers?" John asked.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Of course what interests you is whether or not they used their big giant space guns --"
"Fine," John cut him off. "Do they know they can't get home?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, you must have misunderstood. I know they have a lot of the same letters, but I am a physicist, not a psychic! I can't answer that! I've got no idea what things look like on their end. Their gate could be in --" McKay actually cut himself off that time. "The point is that our gate? Not working!"
"Can we get there by jumper?"
"Only if you plan on living a million years," Rodney said at the same time Weir asked, "Can you fix it?"
"Maybe, if, if, if you stop asking inane questions and Colonel Sheppard stops standing around dripping and getting his shirt wet." McKay shuffled roughly through a fistful of crystals. "I gotta get these back to the lab. You seen Zelenka? McKay to Zelenka!"
"Wait," she said. "How long will it take?"
Rodney stood up. "Well, I won't know that until I find out what the problem is, now, will I? Do you want another lecture about why, precisely, I'm having such difficulty determining the problem? No? Didn't think so. So I advise you to just stay out of my way and...do whatever it is you do around here while I do what I do around here and save all of our asses yet again. Rodney to Zelenka! And, by the way, seriously, what the hell bit me? This thing itches like, I don't know what it itches like, but it's driving me insane."
Zelenka's voice broke through McKay's radio. "Yes, Rodney?"
"Driving you insane?" John muttered. "'Cause I coulda sworn..."
"Meet me in the lab," McKay said to Zelenka. "Now."
Elizabeth peered at Rodney's collar. "And get that bite looked at," she said. "See if Carson can give you a topical."
"Hah!" Rodney snorted, and left.
She watched him go with a puzzled look on her face.
"I'm just gonna --" said John. McKay was on the job; a maybe from him was worth a dozen promises from anyone else, and John had a shower to finish.
"Oh," Elizabeth said, turning to him. "Have you had a chance to look over the new contact protocol I sent out yesterday? I'd love to hear your thoughts on establishing more rigorous inventory policies in the field."
Sheppard squinted. It was a shame about Elizabeth, really. She was a great diplomat and foxy as heck in her red top, but by god, she liked her paperwork.
"Sure thing," he said, water dripping down his nose, "but can it wait? I'm sort of half-showered."
This time he managed to get most of the conditioner out of his hair before the water shut off.
"McKay, why is it you only want me when I'm naked and wet?"
"What?" said Rodney. "I can't talk to you while you're naked. That is so inappropriate! Why aren't you wearing clothes like a normal person?!"
"Well, I was taking a shower."
"I don't care!" Rodney screeched. "People are staring. This is a science lab, for god's sake! I have to go."
John got out of the shower, put his damp clothes back on, and went to find the source of the latest disaster. Judging by the level of noise, it seemed to be in the lab's ceiling. At least that's where McKay's head was and for all his whining and complaining, McKay never shrank from sticking parts of his body into potentially dangerous places. It was one of the reasons John put up with him.
"This? I don't know what this is," Rodney said, dropping something lumpy and square to the floor. "Also, who keeps their extra hoses in the ceiling? Is this why we can't find anything around here, we haven't been looking between all the -- what is that smell? Does someone have cookies?" He pulled his head out of the air duct and glared down from the lab table he was standing on. "Oh, it's you. And you're wet again."
"Yeah, for a while there," John said, tilting his head to the side and cleaning out his ear. Over by the subzero freezer the German chick was scowling and sucking on the back of her hand, her eyes fixed on McKay, and John thought he heard the skinny guy mutter, "Steady, he's freakin' batshit," and pat her on the shoulder. Zelenka slammed a folder shut and started busily rearranging the plastic tubs on his workbench.
Rodney planted a hand on the table and swung to the floor. "Don't drip on my stuff," he said to John, who was dripping on the floor and everywhere else and had at least an ear's worth of soap in his hair for the second time today. He dried his hands on a hanging lab coat and Rodney scoffed but quickly got distracted by more important things.
"Listen. We're faced with some impending doom here. The, um, the power spikes in the DHD are starting to erode the access memory. We're losing stuff. Addresses."
John reached down to adjust the straps on his thigh holster. What with the wet pants and all, things were beginning to chafe. "Isn't that exactly what you said you built some sort of failsafe to prevent?"
"Well," McKay exhaled. "First we have to identify which of the crystals is causing the power spike. Which we could do with the Morangin device, which we could get if we could use the gate which we could use if it wasn't causing catastrophic information failure. We need to --"
"Call Dr. Weir," Zelenka put in, glasses askew, frizzy hair standing on end. "Right away. She should be --"
"Dr. Weir," Rodney spat. "I forget, what's her doctorate in again? Hotel management? I'll call Dr. Weir when we have a towel shortage --"
Zelenka said something in Czech and lunged at McKay while the rest of the science team looked on numbly. John sighed and stepped between them, pushing back Rodney with a hand on his chest. McKay was a known hair-puller.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," John said. "From what I gather you're just looking for a way to analyze these crystals, right? Some sort of --"
"It's more than that," McKay panted, struggling then going unexpectedly limp. "Atlantis is really smart. Its systems are capable of manipulating information with sonic resonance, transmitted at ultralow frequencies through these crystals. They don't just store the data, they process it. So we won't --"
"So we won't just lose the addresses, we'll lose the protocols for dialing."
John turned around to see Weir in the doorway. "What?"
"And you're right," she said to McKay. "We should have gotten the equipment when we had the opportunity, regardless of the bleach. Now we've got a team out there, pinned down by a group of local villagers enraged by the recent Wraith attack. I just spoke with Lieutenant Cadman. She dialed in and the wormhole stabilized long enough for her to request backup. I had to tell her no. That is unacceptable. We need to get this gate fixed and we need to do it now. So, suggestions, people?"
John was having trouble thinking over the top of Elizabeth being so hot and bossy. "I'll, uh, take my team to the mainland. Teyla can talk to the Athosians and see if they --"
"No, here's what we're gonna do," Weir said. "When the jumpers come in from orbit they take that tunnel in the north district, and every time a jumper goes through there it gets scanned."
"Scanned," said Rodney. "With scanning equipment."
"Yes, Dr. Genius McSmartypants. Now we don't know a lot about what's in those north towers --"
"Because you closed them off after we surfaced," John said over Rodney's sputtering. "Too much damage. Too 'risky,' you said." John raised an eyebrow and smiled just to see what she'd do. He didn't have any underwear on, but he was pretty sure that in the next five minutes he'd be hip-deep in standing water in the north district, digging up soggy scanning equipment and finding new and exciting ways to be wet.
"It was for your own safety, dumbass," she said.
Dumbass? John thought.
"Most of that area's still underwater because of the faulty drainage systems --"
"Not faulty," Zelenka put in, from somewhere. John turned to find him at his laptop, punching numbers. "Um, excuse me but they're not faulty, they're just not on. Is only a question of diverting some power --"
"Do it," Weir said. "John, get your team and meet me at the level three exit in half an hour. We're going down there and I'll bet you dollars to donuts we come back with something we can use to fix the gate."
John took the rope she shoved at him. "You're coming?"
"You've got donuts?" Rodney asked, but Weir was busy strapping on some sort of toolbelt. It hung just below the waistband of her pants and made her look both curvy and ass-kicking and John forgot he had soap in his hair. When she smiled at him he realized he must have been staring.
"Scanning equipment, Rodney," John said to McKay. "Stuff of your dreams, let's saddle up."
"I'm going to lunch," Rodney said, slipping off his stool and wandering away.
"Is he...?" John gave Weir back her rope and followed him.
Rodney went straight to the mess, picked up a tray and got in line. John waited until a science guy and a couple of Marines were between them, then stepped up with his own tray. The line inched forward and John surfed his empty tray along the runners, watching Rodney pick up a roll and a cup of blue jello. One of the servers raised an eyebrow at John's leisurely stroll past all the food and he stopped long enough to throw her a smile and grab a brownie. Last thing he needed were rumors flying around that he was on a diet. McKay would never shut up about it.
The dining room was busy, but Rodney'd found a small table near the stairs. John sat down across from him and got the first good look at what was on his tray.
"Rodney, are those vegetables?"
"I think so. Dr. Mutombo says they're like soya --"
"Dr. Mutombo," Rodney said doggedly. "The expedition nutritionist."
"We have a nutritionist? And you've spoken to him without it ending in a fist fight?"
Rodney's chin went up. "He was behind me in line. He thought I had a very sensible lunch and applauded my dietary choices."
"You --" John thought about feeling Rodney's forehead for a fever, but there were people watching, and maybe Rodney was always this pink. "Sensible?"
McKay ate MREs straight out of the pouch, cold, and liked it. He enjoyed eating and wasn't particularly interested in how or what he ate as long as it didn't kill him. John watched him try a few beans and bite off a chunk of his roll. It was whole grain, unbuttered, and made his cheek bulge out obscenely.
"I have to do laundry," Rodney said, talking with his mouth full. "I'm all out of socks."
John couldn't look away. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Usually I run out of underwear first, but this time it's socks." Rodney used his fork to dribble some hot pink dressing on his salad. He had a little plastic cup of it. On the side. John started to get that creepy-crawly feeling he got when things weren't quite right. First Rodney turned down the chance to explore the city in favor of lunch, which was maybe not a huge surprise, but now he was voluntarily eating fresh vegetables from another planet and he hadn't even tried to scam an extra brownie. He didn't even have one brownie.
"If the Ancients were so advanced," McKay said, still chugging away at his laundry monologue, "why am I losing socks in the wash?"
"Maybe they didn't wear socks," John said absently.
That seemed to stump him. "Huh."
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," a lilting voice said. "Mind if I join you?"
John looked up to see Kate Heightmeyer, the shrink with the blonde hair and the big blue eyes, standing over them with a brownie and a cup of coffee.
"No," Rodney said.
She glanced at John and he pushed the extra chair out with his foot. "Make yourself at home."
John figured it couldn't hurt to have a psychologist around in case Rodney's head starting spinning around or he announced a sudden interest in football. She smiled at them and sat down to read a medical journal and pick at her brownie.
"Do you want my jello?" McKay held it out to him with a frown. "I had jam at breakfast."
"Are you serious?"
"About the jam?"
"No, not about the jam. Are you feeling okay?"
Usually that sort of thing was an invitation for McKay to start bitching about his every ache and pain, but Rodney just looked at him like he didn't understand the question.
"Hey, Doc?" John said, catching Heightmeyer's eye. "I need your professional opinion. Is McKay going nuts?"
Heightmeyer took in Rodney's lunch, his big moist eyes, the timid way he held his fork, and she put down her journal and gave him her full attention. John waited for McKay to say something about soft science voodoo, but he just looked at her like he was perfectly willing to listen to her opinion.
"Hi, Rodney," Heightmeyer said. "How are you feeling today?"
Rodney ate a few beans. "Fine, I guess. Itchy."
"Anything on your mind?"
"Tell her about your new friend Dr. Mutombo," John said, and waited for Rodney to scoff or be insulted or smack him.
Instead, Rodney said, "Off-world teams really don't get enough fiber. Blockage is nothing to take lightly."
"Blockage," said John, but he didn't laugh because Rodney wasn't.
"That sounds reasonable enough," Heightmeyer said, smiling at John. "Rodney, if there's anything you'd like to talk about, you know where my office is. Why don't you drop by later in the day?"
Rodney looked at her, and then looked at John. "Don't we have to meet Elizabeth?"
John felt like maybe he was going to say something he shouldn't. He broke off a corner of his brownie and chewed. It tasted like a powerbar in disguise. "We do," he said.
"Rodney?" Heightmeyer said, laying a hand on one of Rodney's big, slumped shoulders.
"I'm a little tired," said Rodney.
"That's because you haven't had a single cup of coffee all day," John pointed out.
"Good for you!" said Heightmeyer, and John just buried his face in his hand and sighed heavily.
McKay had finished off his salad and was licking his fork when Elizabeth's voice came over an open channel: "Sheppard, McKay, what's the hold up?"
"Be right there," John said, grateful for the interruption. "C'mon, Rodney, up and at 'em."
"You're not going to eat?" Rodney asked, scrutinizing John's tray with its lone brownie.
John picked it up. "It's to go."
"You should have a salad," Rodney insisted. "Dr. Mutombo says the off-world teams aren't getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables."
"Later," John said. "Time to play in the mud."
Rodney got up without a fuss, actually bussing his tray for once instead of leaving it on the table for less important people to deal with. It said something about McKay that he had to start acting like the rest of the world before his behavior could be considered unusual.
They ran into Teyla and Ronon coming out of the gym, and then Rodney had to go back to the lab and put on some ridiculous rubber pants, so by the time they got down to the jumper tunnel, the pumps had cleared enough of the water so that the sludge was only shin-deep. It smelled like the gunk you cleaned out of your gutters, if your gutters had a couple of dead whales jammed in them, and John pressed the back of his wrist to his mouth and watched Weir tramping around in the muck, her toolbelt and hips swaying from side to side. McKay was out on the pier, refusing to come in.
"It's too dark," Rodney said, and from somewhere something clanged and a strobe started flashing. "It's probably not safe."
Teyla cocked an eyebrow at John. "Dr. McKay seems not himself. Is he unwell?"
"Who knows," John said.
McKay always bitched and moaned when you asked him to do something, but usually once he was suited up he was pretty good at powering through. John always suspected it was Rodney's attempt to impress him, a little, which was patently psychotic considering Rodney could buy and sell him back on Earth, and held a room full of degrees and awards to prove it. Now, though, Rodney was looking the other way, hard, staring off at the big wet ocean.
"C'mon, Rodney," Elizabeth yelled. "You gonna let a little mud stand in the way of scientific discovery?"
"There could be alien crustaceans in there. I'm allergic."
"Pussy," Weir muttered, leaning over to shine her flashlight along the base of a coffin-shaped fixture. Her shirt pulled up and her pants pulled down, and in between there was a dangerous flash of skin. John coughed. Fighting back nausea and an inappropriate hard-on was definitely a new and unpleasant experience. He spat into the slime, readjusted his wet pants, then turned back to the jagged hole they were using as a doorway.
"Get in here, McKay. That's an order." Cheap trick, but it worked.
Rodney wilted, shoulders sagging beneath the straps of his yellow hip waders. Ronon and Teyla exchanged looks over his head. They weren't allowed inside because the tunnel was small and Ronon was huge and Weir said they'd both just get in the way, but John had asked them to stick around in case anyone got trapped under an Ancient bookcase and needed rescuing. Past experience suggested this would be Rodney.
"We are right here," Teyla said, and Ronon twirled his pistol like a gunslinger. It was what passed for reassuring with him. McKay shuffled over.
"Careful," John said, helping him around a fallen support column. Elizabeth was tucked into an antechamber, working at the boxy fixture in the wall with both hands. There were tracks on the floor under all the kelpy water, with low lights flashing from them at arrhythmic intervals. John reached in to try and get at one, but they were flush with the tunnel floor's surface and it shuddered with every step he took.
Rodney stuck a hand into his waders and came out with an energy scanner, then squelched over to a gumball machine and pointed at it, uncharacteristically quiet. John squished up behind him. "How's it coming?"
"This is pointless." Rodney sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Hm."
"Seriously, did you eat something funny on two-sixteen? You're acting like a pod person."
A sensor panel shorted out overhead and dropped into the water. Rodney covered his head and ran away, squeezing along the wall of the tunnel, panting and whimpering, his waders a bright spot in the darkness.
"Hey." Elizabeth's hand shot out and pulled Rodney over to the coffin. "Scan this, and hurry up, I don't have forever."
The ceiling groaned and then something made a loud sound like breaking glass. John was just going for his radio to call Teyla when the floor shuddered again, then went sideways and down. Rodney gave a sharp little yip of surprise and grabbed for whatever was closest, which turned out to be Weir. She pursed her lips at him. "What's your scanner say?"
McKay looked around frantically. "What? What?"
"This is the only piece of equipment in here that's still powered up," Elizabeth said, pointing at the coffin-thing, which was in fact about the length of a dead man and deep enough for three or four and covered with pentagonal computer panels on the top and front edges. "It must be what the Ancients used to monitor the jumpers."
The wind rushed in and the room shook again and Rodney blanched. "I, I don't know. The structural integrity --"
Weir stared at Rodney for a split second, then set her jaw. "I know you're tired, Rodney, we all are, and I see that somehow you've gone crazy today, but right now we've got half a city collapsing on the only technology that help us repair the gate, so grab ahold of something and get your ass in gear."
"I don't know, I don't --" Rodney's hands were shaking and the ceiling was shaking and everything was shaking and John decided they were done.
"Okay, fun time's over." He radioed Teyla to tell her they were coming out and Rodney let go of Weir and shot out of there like a greased pig. He was almost to the door when the ground jerked and Rodney flew across the room and landed in the mud.
"Aw, crap." John caught up with Rodney, who was possibly about to cry, but not visibly hurt. "Elizabeth, you all right?"
"What happened?" Weir called from the depths of the chamber.
"McKay fell in the mud," Ronon said. "We got it covered."
"Good," said Weir. "Get him cleaned up and back to the lab. I'll have this device dug out and ready for him to test pretty soon."
She was talking about Rodney like he was a piece of equipment or a three-year-old, but looking at him, John could see why. Rodney was red-faced, grabbing at the fabric of Ronon's pants and pulling himself up to a sitting position, and he had mud on his cheeks and mud in his hair and he was stuck between laughing and crying and John wasn't sure he'd ever seen anyone look more three. One of Rodney's mudsuit suspenders had fallen down and hung pathetically over the sleeve of his muddy grey turtleneck.
"C'mon," John said, extending a hand and pulling Rodney up to standing. "What the hell's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me?" Rodney looked up with big eyes that showed desperation but not a trace of McKay's usual arrogance. "I'm wet. I'm dirty. I...busted my ankle. Ow."
"Are you even listening to yourself?"
"Ow?" Rodney said again, trying to lean against him.
John grabbed him by the rubber pants. "Elizabeth's in there messing around with stuff none of us understands. You're the only one here that has a chance of recognizing what we're after and you're...what are -- you're rubbing your face on my sleeve? Snap out of it, McKay."
Rodney flinched like he'd never been yelled at before and it was so unexpected and wrong that John let go of him immediately. Rodney wobbled, then limped over to Ronon, who gathered Rodney up and lifted him over his shoulder, fireman's carry.
"If he's injured, we'll take him to the doctor," Ronon said, actually frowning at John, and could this day get any weirder?
"Carson owes me twenty bucks," Rodney said, but didn't struggle. John looked from Rodney back toward the chamber entrance Teyla was guarding, and from somewhere inside Weir made a clanging sound and then let loose a victorious shout. "Right on!"
John bent down and scooped up Rodney's scanner from the sludge, wiped it on his pants and presented it to Teyla. "Keep an eye on her?" John said, gesturing at the darkness where Weir was. Teyla nodded, and John headed off to follow Ronon and Rodney to the infirmary.
"Colonel, any word from Lieutenant Cadman?" Carson called, as soon as John rounded the corner. "Did she say --" Then he stopped and the worry on his face was replaced with the scrunched nose of disgust. "You canna think you're coming in here like that?"
He blocked off the door and glowered until they kicked off their muddy shoes and Ronon wiggled Rodney out of his muddy yellow waders and pants. Rodney hopped on his good foot and then looked around helplessly for Ronon to guide him.
"Over here," Ronon said, with an arm around McKay. "Let Dr. Beckett look at you."
"Pants, Colonel," Beckett tsked when John tried to step barefoot inside.
"Um. I'd just as soon keep 'em on," John said, trying to scrape at the mud with the side of his hand and proceeding to cover most of a forearm in goop. "I'm kinda...commando under here, seeing as I was whisked away from what was neither my first, nor probably my last attempt at a shower today."
"Frisky," Beckett said with a frown. "Fine, come in, but...don't stand near anything. You smell like the inside of an old dog, but you do outrank me."
John stood very still and wondered what the hell was wrong with Rodney, and hoped very much that it was biological and not psychological, because having to nurse Rodney through an unrequited crush or a midlife crisis would definitely take years off John's life as well. He did note that the Trooper of the Day award should go to Elizabeth, who was probably still tromping around down there in the muck in her toolbelt, and with Rodney out of commission, was really spearheading this whole fixing-the-gate endeavor.
"Ow," said Rodney, sitting on a bed. "Carson? Ow."
"Aye, Rodney," Carson said, shuffling over to examine Rodney's sore foot. "So what act of foolishness preceded today's little catastrophe?"
John shot a glance at Ronon, who had taken his pants off despite having not even been in the mud, and was standing in the middle of the room in some sort of caveman boxer briefs, re-strapping his knife belt around his waist. "The usual," Ronon muttered.
"All in the pursuit of scientific discovery," John said, but Rodney just blinked at him. "Right?"
Rodney shrugged, and then reached up and scratched at his neck again. "I guess," he said. "Elizabeth must know what she's doing if they put her in charge of this place. All I know is, it was dark in there, and slippery and unsanitary and probably toxic, and I...fell. Over something. I assume."
Blind obedience to Elizabeth Weir wasn't in and of itself cause for alarm, but blind obedience from Rodney McKay was definitely leaning toward alarming, particularly in the same sentence with words like "toxic" and "fell over something."
"What's that on your neck, eh, Rodney?" Carson pushed away Rodney's turtleneck to expose the red rash where the chigger'd bit McKay. "Looks like it itches."
"Oh, man," John said. "He won't shut up about it."
Rodney shrugged again. "Um. A little. It's fine, I guess."
Carson looked at John and back at Rodney again, and then dug around in a nearby drawer for a little metal screwtop tube. "Topical antihistamine," he said, handing the tube to Rodney. "Apply liberally as needed, come back if the rash doesn't clear up in a day or two." Rodney took the tube without looking at it.
"He was limping," Ronon said, from behind them.
Beckett took Rodney's bare, pale foot in his hand and swiveled it gently on the joint. "Seems okay," Carson said. "Did you try to walk it off?"
"He wouldn't stop complaining until I carried him here," Ronon said, and John realized that although that made perfect sense, it wasn't in fact true.
"No..." John said, moving closer to the bed until Beckett stopped him with a hand.
"Either ya stay there or the pants come off, Colonel," said Beckett, and John stayed where he was and wiggled his cold toes on the floor.
"Actually, Doc, the truth is McKay hardly complained at all about the ankle. I mean, for him, anyway. Something's wrong with him."
"He gave me his jello," Ronon said.
"See, that's just not normal."
"Indeed, that is cause for concern," Carson said, peering into Rodney's eyes. "Did he hit his head at all?"
John thought about it. "No more than usual."
"Has he eaten, then? You know how he gets."
"Yeah, he ate."
"I had bean salad," Rodney volunteered.
"Well," Carson said, straightening and pulling open another drawer. "I can draw some blood. Could be mild anemia, or simple exhaustion. We'll know more when the tests come back."
Rodney frowned at the needle, but sat quietly and didn't call Carson any names. It made John's chest hurt a little, the blood bubbling into the vial while Rodney barely squirmed.
"Weir to Colonel Sheppard," Weir said in his ear. "You guys all right?"
"Yeah, we --"
"Elizabeth!" Carson barked, face gone tight with worry. "Any word from Lieutenant Cadman?"
"No, I'm sorry, Carson. Is Rodney there with you?"
"Aye," Carson said, sighing. "He'll be good as new soon as ye wipe the mud off."
John wasn't so sure of that, but Beckett had the look of a man trying to convince himself everything was fine.
"Just what I wanted to hear," she said. "I'm in the science lab and I'll need you to send McKay down as soon as you're finished with him. Dr. Zelenka and I believe that we can modify these scanners to --"
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," John said, watching Rodney who was sitting on the edge of the bed with his elbow on one knee and his chin in his hand, looking blank and helpless. Rodney's thighs were spread and his plaid boxers were riding up, knotty and tight around his package. John wanted to reach over and throttle this weird Rodney-shaped person until the arrogance and genius spilled back out again and fixed the gate, but instead he shut his eyes.
"Regardless," Elizabeth said, just barrelling right ahead as if Rodney hadn't turned into a vacant mess. John opened his eyes. She went on. "Regardless. Our team could be trying to get back right this minute, and they don't even know the gate is broken. Send McKay."
She hung up. "She wants you," John said to Rodney.
"Am I fit for duty?" Rodney asked. Beckett taped a cotton ball to his arm and confirmed that he was. John opened his mouth to protest and then changed his mind. Maybe Rodney'd get down there and the thrill of new equipment would turn him into a real boy.
"I'm taking a shower," John said to anyone who was listening. "I'll meet you in twenty minutes."
Sliding around in the mud had undone all his earlier work with soap and water, and he had to start over completely from scratch. This time he did a song by Supertramp, making up most of the words -- "Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical, a popsicle, a vegetable!" -- and scrubbing the mud off with an Ancient loofah he'd found in a secret cubby under the showerhead. It took ten minutes before his skin was pink again. He stood there for a moment letting the water roll over his face and shoulders, thinking about Rodney, who had jam at breakfast. Now Cadman's rock jocks were stuck on some planet somewhere and out of the blue Weir was on top of it, leading missions and barking orders and spelunking in the jumper tunnels. Weir had her toolbelt and god, there was just something about a woman in a toolbelt, Weir's body and McKay's mechanical aptitude. It was so hot. John's hands slid down his chest. He was half hard already and a few tugs here, and there, and this had to be his best idea all day. He sighed. The water slowed to a cold trickle.
"You've got to be kidding me," John said. He grabbed his radio. "There'd better be Wraith standing in the lunch line --"
"Colonel Sheppard." It was Weir. "I want you in my office as soon as possible."
His dick gave a hopeful lurch, but John ignored it. It wasn't known for its good ideas.
Elizabeth was standing at the window that overlooked the gate, nodding at people who couldn't see her. "I understand, Lieutenant, but frankly --"
She whirled around when John came in, held a finger to her lips to shush him and pointed for him to take a chair. Unlike John, Elizabeth was neat and dry, her hair styled into sexy curls, and the zipper on her shirt quite a bit lower than usual. For example, on a normal day he wouldn't have known her bra was black, or so lacy. He sat down and watched her pace.
"Yes, but Rodney McKay is a genius, Lieutenant," she said into her earpiece. "Are you a genius? Then shut up and listen. I trust McKay to get his job done, Buchwalt. My major concern is that our people on M1X-611 are going to be vaporized or otherwise lost in space because your men couldn't get it together down there! Now, power up those systems like I told you and stop your goddamned complaining. Weir out." She turned away from the window, shot John a sympathetic smile, and shouted, "What?"
His mouth went dry. "You wanted me?"
She held up a finger, one sec. "Dr. Bing. What now?" she asked her radio. Ten seconds later, she was circling to her desk and waving her hands like he'd seen McKay do a hundred times. "Yeah, I'm gonna cut you off right there," she said to Bing. "I'm not a xenobiologist, that's not my purview, that's what I hired you for. You have an hour. Out." And she hung up.
"Hi," said John, getting chubby in the fly area. "Way to tell those guys off."
"Someone's gotta do it," she exhaled, leaning back against her desk. She was wearing a skirt, knee-length khaki that wrapped around to tie at her hip in a little knot. Her legs were bare and so were her feet and he stared down at her curly little toes, the nails painted bright red to match her top. "Another working day in Atlantis."
That was pretty much the opposite of what John was thinking, but it was really an awesome bra, a miracle of engineering with its little underwire points poking up there in the cleavage and the fuzzy design in the lace -- a ferris wheel, or a rose maybe -- peeking out from under her shirt, and her breasts were so round and creamy all tucked in there, snuggled together and goddammit John needed another shower, a cold one. He stood up.
"Hey, what's the hurry?" she said. "It'll take a few minutes for the science team to initialize the scanners. I think we deserve a break, don't you?"
John needed to leave, or sit down again, or hey, stop staring at his commanding officer's breasts. That was a good one. They were just so round. Elizabeth palmed a control on the top of her desk and the lights flashed once.
"What was that?" John asked.
"Makes the room look empty from the outside," she said, scratching idly at her arm. "The trouble with having a see-through office is that, sometimes, you don't want people to know who you're with, or what you're doing."
"Oh," said John. "So when you said you wanted me, you really --"
"See." She tilted her head. "You're not as dumb as you look."
The hamster in John's brain made a feeble attempt to get the wheel going again. "Are you feeling all right? You didn't get sniff any funny mushrooms, did you?"
"I feel great. Wanna see?"
Next thing he knew he was flat on her desk and she was crawling on top of him, straddling his hips and putting her hands in some very undiplomatic places. His dick, king and sovereign ruler of Worry-about-it-later Land, stood up to greet her, and, really, it wasn't like John had anything to add to the gate crisis, and Cadman was taking care of her rock scientists, so no worries there. He could take a little break.
"John --" Elizabeth kissed him, spoke into his mouth. "We need to work together."
"Work?" he croaked, because now she had one hand pinning his wrists together while the other worked a sharp, smooth path up the inside of his thigh, making him desperate to get out of these goddamned pants for the tenth time today. And then just when he'd found a good direction to squirm in, she released him and rested her hands on his chest.
"Yes," she said. "Come on, don't tell me you've never enjoyed a perverted bedtime fantasy of this exact situation." She leaned in, close to his ear, her hand creeping back down toward his belt and his fly and the whole goddamned party.
"Not...this exact one," he confessed, and then moaned as her fingers found the round head of his cock poking up toward his stomach.
"But you've thought about it."
He wanted to touch her but she was holding him down and he may have thought about that once or twice. "Yeah."
"Me too." She kissed him, with tongue, her fingers creeping under his shirt and her legs clamped around his hips and his clunky belt.
Her hands were strong and sure of themselves, much more sure than he was, but he'd definitely fantasized about burying his face in her cleavage, and he didn't want to miss the opportunity in case this turned out to be a fever dream. "Hey," he said, enjoying the view he had down the inside of her shirt. "You were pretty impressive today."
"Mmmm," she said, reaching down and sliding her hands under his belt, pinching at his little hairs. "I like to get my hands dirty every once in a while."
He rolled them over, so as to better avail himself of the hands-dirtying she seemed to be looking for and something fell to the floor with a crack.
"Forget it," she said, rolling them back over and working at the buckles and long nylon strap of his belt and thigh holster. He went for the knot on her skirt, but she pulled him up and he stumbled to his feet, the one-eyed overlord in his shorts reminding him to let the good doctor lead.
"Up against the wall," she growled, slamming his ass against the transparent window overlooking the catwalk.
"You sure these are turned off?" he tipped her chin up to face him, and she smiled a wicked smile.
"Maybe," she said, and went back to what she was doing, kissing him, pulling the belt from his pants and dropping his holster to the floor.
Her mouth was hot and wet on his, and creepily, behind him, the wall itself let off a faint heat, and altogether John was in a good warm wet place getting the best play he'd had since he came to this galaxy. She cocked a knee up against the glass and she was wearing a skirt, for god's sake, and he grabbed her tight little ass to pull her close and buried his face in her cleavage, at last, breathed in through his nose, smelled sandalwood and soap. It was just as cozy as he'd imagined, and he turned his head and took the lacy rim of her bra in his teeth, tugged, and whoop, out popped a soft round breast with its pink nipple all erect and excited. He rolled it between his teeth and bit, gently, and she moaned and took her hand from the glass and pressed it on his, and he shouldn't have been surprised when she led him down, between her legs, down to the curls and beyond, but damn it if he didn't nearly come himself when he realized she didn't have anything on under that skirt. He felt his fingers part her lips and slip into that great wet little red paradise and it was just like riding a bike. Going by the noises she was making, Elizabeth approved, and he rolled the ball of his thumb across her clit gently, flicking at first and then circles.
"That's so good," she sighed, her hands pushing at his shoulders in a way he recognized.
He went to his knees.
And because this was the sort of day he was having, their comms crackled to life just as he was nudging up her skirt.
"Zelenka to Dr. Weir --"
Weir reached up one hand to toggle her earpiece on and encouraged John forward with the other. "Yes," she said. "Radek. What can I do for you?"
John pulled his head away. It was one thing to talk to McKay from the shower. But having Zelenka's voice in his ear while having sex, that was just wrong. John trailed his slippery fingers down the back of her thigh and hoped whatever Zelenka wanted didn't require Elizabeth's personal attention.
"Just thought you might wish to know how we are progressing with Ancient scanning devices you found," Zelenka was saying.
Elizabeth pushed John away and tugged her skirt down. "And how are you progressing, gentlemen?"
There was a crunch and some banging. "Not, not terribly well, I am afraid," Zelenka said. "There are over a thousand -- Rodney, don't throw that away, we can still use it to --"
Another bang. "It's too dangerous," John heard Rodney say. "It's so fragile, the equipment is so fragile, we shouldn't even be touching these things." John stood up, strapped his sidearm on, and tucked his dick away where it wouldn't cause any more trouble. This was why you didn't fool around with the boss.
"We're on our way," Weir said to Zelenka. "Try not to break anything else."
John thought he heard Radek mutter "no promises" before a beep cut the transmission off. Elizabeth stepped over the pieces of the bowl they'd pushed off her desk and put on a pair of Athosian sandals.
"Sorry about that," she said to him, zipping her shirt back up to command levels. "Duty calls."
And then John was in the science lab again wishing he'd had a chance to shower. This time it was because he could smell Elizabeth on his hands, the musk of her coming from his skin, and that was just deeply unfair after an incomplete transaction. Rodney was back in his Atlantis greys, hunched over a monitor that was littered with control crystals. He had a flashlight-sized scanner in each hand and was using them to sweep the crystals in front of him.
John leaned over him and hissed, "Do you have any idea what your little freakout just interrupted?" Rodney just blinked.
"So what do you think, boys?" Elizabeth asked, sashaying over to where Rodney was standing. John winced as she leaned over Rodney's shoulder and pulled the scanner out of his hand. "Colonel Sheppard, you didn't get a chance to see the scanners I -- we -- found out there. Two dozen of them in that crate, still fully powered. Rodney, have they yielded any good information?"
"Good information?" Rodney looked up at Weir with big round red-rimmed eyes. "I don't know what you expect from me. The Ancients were too smart, we can't keep up, we can't just pretend we know what we're doing with equipment that's powerful enough to blow up a small solar system. I don't understand how these work!" Before John could react, two of the scanners sailed across the room toward Zelenka, one clipping him in the collarbone before bouncing, unharmed, to the floor.
Zelenka cursed loudly in Czech and then in English and then threw Weir a desperate look. "I can't work under these conditions," he said. "This blatant disregard for Ancient technology is -- beneath even Rodney! Inappropriate!" Zelenka picked up the scanners and dusted them, carefully and uselessly against his slacks, muttering, "Inappropriate, totally inappropriate, crazy man, crazy, inappropriate man!"
"I can't think!" Rodney said, suddenly, sitting down and violently unzipping his shirt the whole three inches the zipper allowed. Then he cursed and popped his finger in his mouth. "Ow. Dammit."
Zelenka looked at Weir and then shook his head and clucked his tongue. "You see?"
John looked at Rodney. "Yo, McKay! Get it together!"
Rodney shook his head. "I can't! I can't, my brain!"
"Is, as you've told us several thousand times, insured by Sotheby's for two million dollars. Time to cash in, Rodney. Don't tell me the Ancients have outsmarted even you, with all this -- I've never seen you meet a computer you couldn't fix. So get it together and come to the control room. Zelenka, bring those scanners."
Zelenka exhaled loudly and shot the room a death glare. "Yes, yes, of course. Rodney is gate expert! This is why we do not kill him even though he is arrogant, obnoxious man!"
"Just get your stuff," John sighed.
"Meet us in the control room, ten minutes!" Weir put in, as if it had been her idea to begin with, and John felt that twitch in his pants again and sighed even more heavily.
"What she said," John said, and left for the control room without checking to see who'd fallen in step behind him.
And still Weir got to the console before he did, powered it up and was staring at the laptop balanced on its shoulder when John, Rodney and Zelenka came into the room. "I trust you can handle this, gentlemen?" she said, and then left for her office without waiting for an answer.
"Sure," said John.
"Not sure!" said Rodney, who was leaning heavily on the dialer console and staring, semi-crosseyed, at the illuminated panels. "Oh, not sure, not sure at all."
Zelenka looked at John. "All day like this! He whines and begs for attention!"
"Yeah," John said. "And not in his usual way, where he insults you and then expects you to appreciate his genius."
"It has been hours," Zelenka said, stretching his arms out as if describing the universe, "and not a single cup of coffee."
"He had a salad for lunch," John said flatly, and Zelenka's eyes went big like pie plates, and that was that. Zelenka sat down in front of the DHD and started taking power readings with the new scanners, and John stepped forward and took Rodney's arm, no longer caring what or who he smelled like. "Come on, buddy."
"I can't think," Rodney told him.
"I know," John said, leading him away from the control room.
"I can't think," Rodney said again, eyes big and wet. He was chewing on his lip and his hands were in fists and he was staring at the wall, hard and unblinking, like he couldn't remember where he was.
"Stay with me, McKay."
Rodney's hands were white-knuckled with his thumbs tucked in and John wanted to uncurl his fingers and hold Rodney's hands flat between his. It was the wrong way to make a fist and a bad habit to get into, and Rodney knew it, but he was so obviously miserable and scared that when John finally did pull one of his fists open and Rodney latched onto John's hand, holding it tight, John let him.
"All right?" John asked.
Rodney blinked a few times and looked at their hands, and said, "Okay."
The infirmary was quiet and bright, and John could see Carson through the big window of his office, Heightmeyer sitting on the edge of his desk, one hand on Carson's shoulder.
"I know it's hard," Heightmeyer was saying. "You just have to trust --"
"She's surrounded by angry villagers!" Carson exploded. "I bloody well don't trust them!"
"You have to trust," Heightmeyer went on, "that Laura can take care of herself and bring her team home."
She tilted her head, obviously waiting for a response, but Carson clutched his mug of tea, looking edgy and frustrated, and didn't say anything. John waved at them through the window. Heightmeyer stood up, gave Carson two perfunctory pats and a smile, and took position near the wall, out of the way. Carson sighed and heaved himself out of his chair.
There was no sheet on the bed where Carson led Rodney, and Rodney wasn't letting go of John's fingers, even when he climbed up on the bare mattress and stared at Carson with his exhausted blue eyes. For a moment, Carson just stared back, rubbing his forehead and frowning at their clasped hands. John felt like maybe he should explain before Carson and Heightmeyer got the wrong idea, but a bigger part of him felt like he didn't give a shit what they were thinking and, as usual, that part won.
Carson didn't ask, either, just shook his head and snapped a pair of gloves on. "What's the problem this time?"
"Same problem," John said. "He's getting worse."
"I can't think," Rodney said.
Wordlessly, Carson held a scanner in front of Rodney's face and moved it back and forth, encouraging Rodney to follow the light with his eyes. A couple more waves and Carson set the scanner down on the bed and turned to John.
"Perhaps we should --" Carson began, throwing a look toward where Heightmeyer was standing.
"Just tell us what's going on, Doc," John said. Rodney's hand was tight around his and John wasn't going anywhere. Carson sighed.
"Aye," he nodded, looking at Rodney the way somebody might look at a giant tree blown down in the middle of the road. Poor thing. Used to be so majestic. Now it's just lying there, broken. Carson patted Rodney on the knee and Rodney cleared his throat and looked at John.
"Fix me," Rodney hissed, his voice shaky. "John. John. John, tell him..."
"Yeah, Rodney, he knows."
Carson plugged the little scanner into a dock on a larger machine and Rodney's brain popped up on the display, color coded and sliced through like deli meat. A string of Ancient streamed down the side of the screen.
"My brain," Rodney said, staring at it as the slices peeled away to reveal the dark red core of his cerebellum.
"Recognize it, do you?" Carson pushed a few buttons on the screen and the brain zipped back together and another one popped up and spun around next to it. "The scan on the left is from last week's visit when you claimed an alien mold spore had burrowed through your sinuses and into your brain, and here's today's scan on the right."
"Stupid botanists," Rodney muttered.
John squinted at the brains. "So? What am I looking at?"
"You see here, Colonel?" Carson pointed at a yellow-orange spot on each scan. "If you compare the activity in these regions, you'll notice a marked decline from just a week ago. Actually it's quite fascinating -- a new chemical's been introduced into your system, and it's managed to neutralize the neurotransmitters in your amygdala which is where yer emotional and psychological responses reside. Your whole limbic system's gummed up, but I bet we can get it flowing again if we put our heads together, eh, Rodney?"
Rodney shuddered and brought a leg up to his chest, hugging his knee with his free arm and his chin. He wasn't wearing socks and his ankles stuck out, pale and vulnerable beneath the hem of his pants. John would kill people with his bare hands to keep Rodney safe, but this wasn't something John could fight.
"That's great, Doc," he said to Carson, "but do you know why this is happening?"
"Oh, could be any number of things, really," Carson said, in a way that fell short of helpful or even comforting, and reminded John that prior to Atlantis, most of Carson's patients lived in test tubes or had four legs and ate a lot of cheese. "Probably something he encountered off-world," Carson went on, consulting his clipboard. "Like the wee beastie that got him on the neck. No one else on your team is experiencing similar symptoms?"
"No," said John, thinking of Elizabeth, who hadn't been off-world, but was definitely acting strange.
"Pity," Carson said. "That'll make it more difficult to treat. We can look up his symptoms in the Ancient database, of course, but you've got to remember we're dealing with an alien organism here. Even if we can identify it, we've no way of knowin' what effects our medicines will have."
At this, Rodney started to fidget. "No! You have to fix me!"
"Hey," John said, "we're working on it."
Rodney pulled his hand from John's angrily, and John's fingers buzzed a little and his palm felt cold and damp. On the Ancient diagnostic screen, Rodney's brains whirled around.
"Colonel?" Carson raised his eyebrows. "Would you come into my office? Excuse us, Rodney." And then Carson swooshed off in his lab coat, and this time John thought maybe it'd be best to take the conversation elsewhere. Rodney was getting all worked up, and Carson seemed too distracted to put any extra effort into containing the imminent meltdown.
John rested a hand atop Rodney's head. "Be right back, champ."
Rodney grunted and his voice sounded like broken brick. "Don't!" Carson turned around. "I'm the one who's dying. I want you both where I can see you!"
"Aye, fair enough," Carson sighed, and came back over to where John was standing with his hand still on Rodney's warm, feathery head. "But before I get to the business of Rodney's brains, Colonel -- there hasn't been any news of Lieutenant Cadman's team, I imagine? Anything at all?"
"Sorry," said John. "She's tough, Doc. She'll make it."
"Mmm," said Carson, unconvinced. But he managed a smile and turned to Rodney again. "Rodney, what you've got going on here is in fact neurological, but I dinna see any evidence to suggest it's not a temporary state."
"Is there any evidence that it is temporary?" John asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
Carson shrugged. "Different emotional responses trigger different kinds of chemical activity in the brain, right? In Rodney's case, the chemicals responsible for conducting neurological energy in the part of the brain that governs decision making have slowed production, and in some cases, dried up entirely. What that'll mean for Rodney is really beyond what I'm capable of predicting, but we can imagine he'll continue to present with fear, meek behavior, generalized anxiety and frequent emotional outbursts when he --"
"What, when he what?" Rodney looked up.
Carson sighed. "When you try to do anything that requires critical thinking, Rodney, your brain will --"
Rodney leaped off the bed and stood on the floor, looking around wildly like a SWAT team was going to show up and corner him. He circled the table, keeping one eye on Heightmeyer still stationed in the corner, and ended up squaring off with Carson. John frowned.
"Can you fix me," Rodney hissed, not like a question at all.
Carson held his hands up and made big sheepish eyes. "Maybe so?" said Carson. "With some more time to analyze --"
Rodney balled up one of his big beefy fists, thumb on the outside just like John had taught him, drew back, and punched Carson square in the nose. Carson yelped, clapped two hands to his face, and when he looked up, his nose was bleeding two neat lines down over his lips. "You daft bugger! What was that for?" said Carson over the blood. It had been a great punch and John was momentarily amazed that it came from McKay, but then McKay charged Carson and John had to grab him by the arms and hold him back.
"Don't lie to me!" Rodney yelled, straining against John's hands and lunging at Beckett. "You did this on purpose!"
Carson took a step back. "You're out of your bloody mind!"
"And whose fault is that?" Rodney called, making one last dive for Carson's neck. John pulled him away, got him in a restraining bear hug, and shouted for backup.
Two of John's burliest Marines came flying out of a nearby supply closet, and between the three of them, they wrestled Rodney down onto on a gurney, Rodney kicking and spitting all the way, totally incoherent with rage, t-shirt rucked up and chest heaving. He was practically crying he was so angry, threatening Carson's life and livestock while Carson held his nose with one hand and shot Rodney full of lorazepam with the other.
It took Rodney a few minutes to calm down, but eventually he stopped struggling and curled into a ball and the Marines stepped back.
"What's wrong with him?" John asked.
"I don't know," Beckett said, sounding tired. "I'll take a closer look at his scans. It'll be a while before I can translate the results, but his delta wave activity's definitely into the dodgy range." He pulled the curtain shut and left, the Marines trailing after him.
John sat in the chair next to Rodney's bed and tried to stop his hands from shaking. He felt like he'd just flown out of a combat zone, on the wrong side of the adrenaline high.
Rodney stirred. "John?"
"Right here, buddy."
"I think I left -- there's a program running on -- tell Zelenka --"
John lay a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Don't worry about it."
"Easy for you to say," Rodney coughed. "I might never -- oh, oh, god." His eyes closed again and he rolled into a tighter and rounder ball on the bed.
"C'mon, like we'd let you go that easy," said John, but Rodney was out, face mashed into the hospital pillow, so off his game he hadn't even demanded to know if it'd been sterilized since its last use.
John never would have expected it, but he really missed Rodney's huffy superiority. It was reassuring in a way, to know that no matter how bad things got, McKay would be as obnoxious as ever. Except things were pretty bad right now and Rodney was about as obnoxious as an old sock. The gate was broken, a team was out, and Elizabeth was in a toolbelt, being all sexy with John and bossing people around like she was trying to take McKay's place. She'd even called him a dumbass. John had a horrible thought. He tried to unthink it, but it was too late.
Rodney twitched, chasing rabbits in his sleep, and John palmed his poor sweaty head and unhooked the radio from his ear. Time to share with the class.
"Hey, Doc," said John, sticking his head out the privacy curtain. "I'm thinking McKay might not be the only one with brain problems today. Have you noticed Elizabeth acting strange? Like...toolbelt strange?"
Carson cocked an eyebrow. "Beckett to Dr. Weir," he told his radio. "Elizabeth, I think you ought to get down here, just to be safe."
"Safe from what?" John could hear Elizabeth asking.
"From whatever's eating Rodney?" Carson tried.
"Mmm," said Elizabeth. "I'll be there as soon as I'm finished with -- did I say to stop at twelve hundred? I want that thing powered all the way up. Dammit -- Carson, I'm gonna have to call you back. Dr. Bing!" And then she was gone.
"Remind you of anyone?" John asked. "Like -- say -- short, white, and allergic here?"
Beckett stared at Rodney and keyed his radio again. "Elizabeth, I'm going to have to insist that you report to the infirmary right away. We may have an infectious agent on the loose. Won't take but a minute."
"Oh, all right," she said. "But I'm bringing along my laptop and Dr. Zelenka. No reason for this to be a total waste of my time." She hung up.
"See?" John said, sort of waving towards the door like that was where his horrible thought was located, the one that suggested Elizabeth was somehow wearing Rodney's personality around. "Uncool!" He looked back at Rodney, all pale and deflated and somehow actually thinner and smaller than he'd been yesterday, and something in John's heart went snap. Carson smiled a sad smile at him.
"There's every chance it's reversible," said Carson, sounding as sure as he ever did, which wasn't very.
"Yeah," said John. "And if not, at least McKay's less of a pain in my ass this way."
The privacy curtain pulled back, and Kate Heightmeyer's blonde head peered into Rodney's little area. "How's our patient?"
"Bit of a wet noodle," said Carson, and then looked sheepish. "Sorry."
Heightmeyer's moist eyes met John's. "This must be tough on you," she said, coming all the way in past the privacy curtain and helping herself to the little metal stool in the corner.
"Tougher on McKay, I think," John said, and from somewhere he heard a voice swear in Czech.
"I don't see why it is necessary that I come all the way up here when I have in my lab several --"
"Oh my lord, just shut up already," came Elizabeth's voice. "Carson? Can we get this over with?"
Carson threw Heightmeyer a look, put a hand on John's shoulder, shook his head, and left past the privacy curtain, out into the world. John could hear him trying to explain the situation to Weir, but she rode over the top of him, saying, "Whatever. I'll be in your office. Zelenka! This way."
"Yeah," John said, popping out of his chair. "I should really get back to work..."
Heightmeyer blinked at him. "Let's talk a minute," she said. "I know McKay's important to you, and you have every right to be worried. You shouldn't feel ashamed by it."
"I worry about every member of my team," said John. "Rodney's a member of my team. I'd be just as concerned if it were Teyla or Carson in that bed."
Rodney made a huffing sound in his sleep, and John wondered for a minute if he'd heard. Rodney's sleepy hands clutched at his pillow, shoving it into a ball under his head. John watched his chest rise and fall as he breathed.
"McKay's important to me," John said. "He'll pull through this."
"You have to face the possibility that he won't," Heightmeyer said, but John just ignored her. She wasn't a very good shrink, anyway. He dragged the curtain open, ready to make his escape, but found Ronon and Teyla standing on the other side.
"We heard that Dr. McKay had collapsed," Teyla said. "Though no one could explain the cause to our satisfaction."
Ronon grunted. "Is he gonna die?"
"No!" John said. "He's not going to die. He's just...sleepy."
All three of them were giving him the same look of pity. He pushed his belt down on his hips. "Carson's working on it."
"I am sure he is doing his best." Teyla said, moving around the bed and putting a hand on McKay's forehead. It must have been an Athosian thing, but John had never seen her do it before. Or could be she was just taking his temperature, but John got the idea it was some kind of last rite and had to force himself to look away.
"Want to go for a run?" Ronon offered, his rumbling voice sounding almost sympathetic.
"Yeah. I mean, no." John glanced at Rodney, so small and quiet. "Maybe --" He broke off as he was hailed on his comm. "Hold on. Sheppard here."
"Colonel Sheppard, we have an active wormhole and incoming radio communication from Lieutenant Cadman."
"On my way," John said, already headed for the control room. He needed some good news right about now, but failing that he'd settle for getting away from the infirmary for a while. The smell was starting to get to him. Dodging a startled nurse, John rounded the corner and slammed into a cart that hadn't been there a minute ago. He let out an involuntary yelp.
Carson's head poked out of his office. "Come now, Colonel. You remember the rules. No running in the infirmary."
"Sorry, Doc, but Cadman's on the line. Thought I'd go see what she wanted."
"Laura? You've talked to her?"
Elizabeth popped up behind Carson. The sensors stuck to her forehead had wires trailing from them and their little blinking lights made her look like a cyborg in for repairs. "The gate's working? Carson, unhook me from these machines and get out of my way."
Beckett turned, hands on his hips, apparently pushed past his limit. "You wanted to use my office. You've got it. Now you're bloody well going to stay there until these tests are done, so stop pestering me!"
"But the gate!" Elizabeth strained towards him. The wires prevented her from getting too far away from the desk and she pulled at them irritably. "I need to be there!"
"No, you need to sit yourself down and let me get these readings," Carson said. John stopped hugging his bruised shin and started limping away from the doorway. Zelenka made incomprehensible gestures at him in Czech.
"I will go with you," Zelenka said, grabbing his tablet and slipping past Carson. Elizabeth wailed, "Why does Zelenka get to go?"
Teyla and Ronon were waiting in the hall. They all piled in and then out of a transporter and down the corridor to the gate room, Zelenka muttering to himself the whole way. John loped up the stairs and into the crowded command center.
"What's the situation, Lieutenant?"
"Looks like the villagers packed up their pointy sticks and went home, sir," Cadman said from the other end of the wormhole. "My team's holed up in a cave about three klicks from here. Tucker got beaned with a rock -- the guy's actually carrying it around with him, says it's a fascinating example of an antimony glance whatever that is -- I'd be worried if it was anyone else, but Tucker's always been a little odd."
"What about the shots we heard earlier?"
"Oh," she said, "space pig."
"Uh huh," said John, glad they'd found something to eat, at least. "How's the gate working?"
"Seems fine to me. I watched a group of women come through with some horsey things, and I can dial the kid planet and the alpha site no problem. It just won't lock on to Atlantis. I've been trying to get through for the last hour."
John slouched against the dismantled dialing console. Zelenka was underneath it, clanking and muttering. John tried not to think about the many different ways they were screwed. "Yeah, the problem definitely seems to be on our end. Zelenka's on it, but it might be a while. If you run into any trouble, gate to the alpha site. Wait for the all clear before you come back home."
The gate tech, the Canadian one, nodded down to the gate room where a crate sat next to the ramp. John nodded back. To Cadman he said, "Can we send you any supplies?"
"Nah, we're good. We packed for an overnight, and Grehovac carries even more power bars than McKay."
"Oh, hey," John said. "Did you get to use the new zappers?"
Cadman laughed. "Did we ever. Grajek blew up a tree. We might not want to use these babies on full power. Tell McKay we --"
The wormhole froze and broke apart.
"We lost her," Chuck said, as if the rest of them weren't qualified to figure that out on their own.
"Yeah," John said. "Thanks." That was five whole minutes he didn't have to think about Rodney lying in the infirmary. John dragged a hand over his face and Ronon stepped up to loom over him.
"I'm going for a run. You should come with me."
John rolled his head on his shoulders and thought that Ronon was probably right. His toes flexed. "Hey, Doc?" he called on his radio.
"Yes, Colonel?" Carson said.
"Just got off the phone with Lieutenant Cadman, thought you'd want to know the team's safe. Some scrapes and bruises but they're kicking."
Carson let out a grateful sigh. "Aye, that's great news."
"What about Rodney?"
There was some scuffling, some dragging and a bump. "I'm afraid I don't understand it myself, Colonel. According to the scans I took during their last physicals, both Rodney's cerebral patterns and Doctor Weir's have undergone significant changes. If I thought it was possible I'd say that Rodney's brain activity map has somehow overlaid itself on Elizabeth's...but of course that doesn't make any sense."
"Elizabeth stole Rodney's brain mojo?" John raised both his eyebrows and Teyla gave him a suspicious look.
"Brain mojo?" she mouthed.
Carson sighed. "Elizabeth's mental imprint is the spitting image of what we've come to see in yer average Rodney McKay brain scan. Beyond that, the only other similarity is that they were both bitten by the critter that got Rodney. The bite marks are identical. The organism must have facilitated the transfer somehow."
"Yeah, I'm freaked out," John said. "Elizabeth wandering around in a toolbelt and Rodney's brain -- is there some way we can fix that? Do we know anything about this bug?"
John glanced over at Teyla and she locked her eyes on his and didn't blink. He gave her a little shrug. She continued not to blink, but she waggled an eyebrow in a way that made John tell Carson to hold the phone a sec.
"Call me crazy but you look like you want to say something," John said.
"I did not wish to interrupt your discussion with Dr. Beckett, but I believe I have heard tell of the phenomenon he describes."
Ronon crossed his arms and looked amused. "Yeah?"
"Hey, Doc?" said John. "Teyla --"
"My people have spoken of a parasite used by certain races to gain the advantage in trade. They infect their partners with the parasite, which somehow binds to the individual's sense of confidence and ego and extracts it into the air. Then with their opponents meek and crippled, the traders establish trading agreements that exploit them."
John's stomach seized on "meek" and "crippled," and he thought of Rodney sprawled out behind the flimsy privacy curtain downstairs.
"The Morangin did this," he growled. "They refused to even talk to us unless we stood in their ridiculous sacred tetrahedron. I'm so gonna go back there and kick their ass. Carson, what kind of an antidote are we looking for here?"
Teyla shook her head. "John, the gate does not work."
"Of course the gate doesn't work! Fuck!" He closed his eyes so he didn't pull out his hair. "Did you get that?" he asked Beckett. "About the bug?"
"Aye," said Carson. "I'm checking the Ancient database for references to the parasite right now."
John looked at Ronon and sighed. "Want to go for that run?"
Ronon slapped his thighs. "You better keep up," he said. "I'm not in the mood to wait around for your skinny ass."
John went for his long shorts and got changed in record time, then jogged in place outside the gym, pausing to take his pulse when Ronon showed up.
"Ready?" said Ronon, not waiting for John's answer before leaping off down the corridor. John's resting heart rate was sixty; as he warmed up his pulse raised to eighty, a hundred, and he took off to follow Ronon and silence his worried brain with the pounding of his heart as he ran.
"What's your opinion of Dr. Zelenka?" Ronon asked as they rounded the corner for their second lap.
"Mmm," John thought. "I wouldn't go to him for fashion advice, if that's what you mean."
"I meant is he equipped to take over for McKay if McKay doesn't make it," Ronon said.
"McKay's gonna make it," John growled, amping up his pace.
"Right," said Ronon.
"He's just got a little rash," John went on. "Carson's already got it covered. I bet Rodney's back to his annoying egomaniacal self by the time we go to bed tonight."
"Right," said Ronon again, raising an eyebrow, then turning away and taking the stairs to the pier two at a time. John followed.
They set an eight-minute pace for the first two miles, then slowed to a jog for the lap around the city's East quarter. The sun was setting out over the ocean, and John let his feet carry him along the shorewalk and his mind wander. Rodney without his enormous ego. Atlantis without Rodney. John without Rodney. He clocked his pulse at 130 and powered up for a sprint.
"See you back in the control room," he said, and flew past Ronon, his legs slamming the pavement and his heart crashing against his ribs.
He ran until he couldn't, then ducked into his quarters to take a shower. He stood under the cold spray, head down, arms braced against the tile, and waited for his radio to chime. It didn't. No one called to yell at him about unusual power drains or to demand his presence at the control chair or ask what the green meat at lunch could possibly be.
He toweled off and got dressed -- putting on his good BDUs, the ones without the scorch marks from the fire lizards on M2X-999 -- and did his hair, making an extra effort to get it going in several directions at once, just to give Rodney something to complain about. The halls were empty when he stepped out of his room and he went to the infirmary without calling ahead. He hadn't been one of those kids that shook their Christmas presents.
Rodney was tucked under a thin blue blanket. Someone had taken off his shoes and one bare foot stuck out from the covers, stubby little toes all curled up like they were cold.
The privacy curtain was drawn, but John hovered between the bed and the chair he'd sat in earlier, trying to make up his mind. He fixed Rodney's blanket, pulling it back over his foot, and then perched awkwardly on the side of the bed. Rodney didn't move. He seemed even worse than before and John's chest went all tight and panicky.
"Hey, buddy," John said quietly. "Still napping, huh? Guess you don't care about the rest of us and how we're all stuck here while you get your beauty sleep. Not your problem, right? But think of it this way. If you don't wake up, it'll mean letting Zelenka at the DHD with a box of hammers. Do you really want Zelenka messing with your gate?"
A nurse walked by on the other side of the curtain, a squeaky flash of thick-soled red clogs.
"C'mon, Rodney, we need you. Elizabeth's not fit to run this place and I don't know what I'm doing. I've been faking it for so long, I don't -- I can't --" John got up and left.
Weir still had Carson's desk, so Carson was around the corner, installed at a study carrel under a horrible poster about sexually transmitted diseases. In color. John put his back to it.
"Anything new?" he asked.
Carson finished what he was writing and looked up. "As a matter of fact, yes. But Colonel Sheppard --" Carson looked over at where Heightmeyer was stroking Elizabeth's hair, and Heightmeyer gave the doc an encouraging nod. "I don't want you to get your hopes up. There is every chance this won't work." Heightmeyer smiled proudly and took the chair across from Elizabeth so she could lean in and look concerned.
"Every chance what won't work?"
Carson pushed a button on the wall and a picture of a skeleton wearing a football helmet appeared. "We need to find a way to blitz the electromagnetic field in Rodney's brain, effectively reset it to Factory Default Rodney. Dr. Zelenka has already started working on a device that can generate the right sort of EMP, but, John. Nothing like this has ever been done before, and there's no way to predict the outcome."
John looked back at the privacy curtain that hid sleeping Rodney from view. "We're intrepid space explorers," he said, and left the infirmary.
In the science lab, Zelenka was pushing wires into what looked like an upturned colander, and a cloud of minor scientists buzzed around him, snipping cables and flipping switches and muttering science words.
"That the EMP?" John asked, sidling his way past Miko's workstation and nearly putting his hand through a bubble of space glass in the process. "It looks like something out of Doctor Who." John twanged one of the wires and it wiggled in the air and made a soft harmonic noise. Zelenka growled and snatched the EMP hat and carried it across the room.
"Is Neuromagnetic Pulsewave Generator," said Zelenka, hooking something springlike to the side of the colander and scanning it with a pink ballpoint pen.
"Looks like an EMP hat to me," said John. "But if it'll fix McKay, sure, Neuromagnetic thingy."
The colander glowed blue for a second and then sizzled like a bug zapper. John clutched his own skull and tried not to think about Rodney's pink brains frying like so much spam.
"Done!" said Zelenka. "Or, probably done. I'll have to test it to be sure."
"Test it on me," said John, knocking Miko's glass bubble onto the floor, where it bounced twice and returned to the table, purring.
Zelenka sneered. "Sorry, Colonel. Your brain is incompatible." John tried not to be offended. Miko shrugged.
They wheeled the EMP hat down the hall and into the infirmary, Zelenka and a couple of Australians nervously manning the cart with John tagging along behind.
"This is it, then?" Carson said when they wheeled past.
"Just like we discussed." Zelenka nodded and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Very small EMP, should not affect other machines. Only, it has not yet been tested. I cannot say for certain that --"
"Try it on me," Weir said, coming out of Carson's office, no longer connected to the brain scanners. She looked a little wild around the eyes, but Zelenka nodded again and placed the colander on her head, smoothing her hair down and carefully adjusting the chin strap until he was satisfied with its position.
"I'm sorry about...earlier," John said, feeling like an ass.
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at him. "I know I'm amazingly hot, but it can't happen again, John, we work together."
"Right," he said, trying not to make eye contact with anyone in the immediate vicinity.
"You should not feel this," said Zelenka. "Maybe tingle, like, uh, zap? Static shock."
"Do it," she said.
Zelenka flipped a few switches on the hat. "Charging...go!"
Nothing happened. Weir blinked and the hat sizzled a little.
"Is that it?" John said.
Carson rushed forward with a scanner. He shined it in Elizabeth's eyes. "How do you feel?"
"Hungry," she said. They all looked at each other, unsure if it had worked. McKay frequently felt hungry.
She picked a piece of space lint off her skirt. "And, well, embarrassed. Carson, I'm sorry I called you a quack. John --"
John held up a hand. "Don't worry about it. You weren't yourself."
"Indeed," said Carson. "You can hardly be held accountable, under the influence of an alien intelligence as you were."
Heightmeyer patted Elizabeth's hand. "And you can always come talk to me. I've had experience with people forced to live as Dr. McKay."
That was a therapy group John didn't want to attend. Zelenka wheeled the EMP hat over to Rodney's corner of the infirmary and John followed. McKay was still asleep, curled up under his blue blanket, and he wouldn't wake up, even after Zelenka pinched his cheek.
"Hey," John said.
"You will have to help me with him," said Zelenka. "Prop him up so I can put the NPG on his fat, fat head."
John tried to haul Rodney up by his shoulder, except Rodney was too big for that to work. Hoping no one could see him, John crawled up onto the bed behind McKay and wrestled him up into a sitting position between John's thighs. Rodney was heavy and warm and John didn't hug him or push his face into the back of his neck, just held him up, one arm around his chest, so Zelenka could put the electric hat on him and make him Rodney again.
"Ready?" said Zelenka.
Zelenka flipped the switches. Rodney didn't wake up. The hat didn't sizzle. Nothing.
"Rodney," John said, giving him a shake. "Wakey wakey."
"We will try stronger charge," Zelenka said.
If this didn't work, Rodney was going to spend the rest of his life a very bland vegetable, not a hint of the difficult genius John had grown to appreciate. Rodney couldn't stay on Atlantis like that. He'd have to go back to Earth. John hated the thought of Rodney so far away, locked up in the SGC like a failed science experiment, never --
Rodney jolted awake, nearly clipping John in the chin.
"What is this?" Rodney demanded, hands on his head, feeling out the shape of the EMP hat. "And why am I in the infirmary? Am I correct in assuming we're trying to get the gate functional again, or did I nap right through the part where we stopped caring about that sort of thing?"
"Rodney!" Zelenka said. "It's you!"
"Of course it's me, you fuzzy-headed Czech. Get me out of this thing. I know how to fix the gate."
Zelenka unstrapped him and Rodney braced his hands against John's thighs and shoved off. He hit the floor running. Zelenka handed John the hat and took off after him, demanding he explain himself.
John slowly scooted around so that his legs were hanging over the side of the bed. On the floor, Rodney's empty sneakers sat side by side, their laces dirty and knotted. John left them there, slid off the bed and sort of sleepwalked over to Beckett.
The doc was hanging his head and his shoulders heaved a heavy sigh, and when he looked up, he was beaming. "Thank god," he said. Heightmeyer winked, put two thumbs in the air, and left the room. "Thank god," said Carson again.
"Good work, Doc," John said. "Thanks."
"Yeah," said Carson, sitting down. "Let's never do it again."
John looked at Rodney's sneakers again, and then back at Carson, who was already over it and checking his e-mail, and John felt something tight and stiff in his face and when he tried to smile it felt like a cartoon grimace. He nodded at Beckett, pushed his way out of the infirmary and managed to make it all the way to the hall before he had to sit down on the floor and catch his breath.
And then John stood up, straightened his belt where Rodney's big body had gotten it all twisted, and went to the control room for the remaining crisis.
Ronon was standing in the central foyer, looking at the cloud of scientists with a smile of unrestrained amusement. "McKay's about to save the universe barefoot," he said, when John came up beside him. "Looks like he's himself again."
"Yeah," said John, who couldn't restrain his smile either. In the control room, Rodney was stomping around, crushing the spirit of Doctors Acevela through Zelenka under his monstrous ego and little pink toes.
"Unbelievable!" Rodney trumpeted. "The gross incompetence -- you, put that down! -- it goes against the very fabric of the universe but you are actually inventing all new dimensions of wrong as I stand here! Get out of my sight and take that travesty of engineering with you!"
Ronon licked his lower lip and leaned against the wall, just watching. Teyla slipped in beside him, materializing from somewhere to the south. "Dr. McKay is all right?" she asked.
"Like nothing ever happened," said John, but that wasn't precisely true. Something had definitely happened, something where John went down on his CO while she was carrying around his best friend's ego, but Rodney either didn't know or didn't care. John's dick twitched with what he was sure was irony, and he pushed his way into the control room.
"What have you trained apes done with my B1-5 crystal set?" Rodney demanded, hands clawing at the air like he wanted to wring someone's neck, his face pink and sweaty. His eyes were kind of crazed, and his stomach made a little roll above his pants, and holy shit, John really did want to have sex with him.
He was always the last to know these things.
Kusanagi brought Rodney his crystal set and John squeezed past her to lean against the DHD console.
"No, no, that's not -- EVERYBODY SHUT UP," Rodney yelled. It got so quiet the only sound in the room was the whirr of laptop fans and Rodney's angry pants. He held a crystal up to the business end of one of the diagnostic scanners, listened to the noise it made, then, apparently satisfied, slotted it into the DHD. The symbols lit up, flashed once, and went dark.
"Hold on," Simpson said. "Are you sure that's a good idea? If that's not the right crystal, the whole system could --"
Rodney swatted her like a bug. "Of course I'm sure! These scanners identify the crystals by their harmonic frequencies. Based on resonance, this is the only type of crystal that can sustain the gate's output signal."
"We didn't even think of that," Acevela said, looking over Rodney's shoulder.
"Well, duh," Rodney said. "If you had, I might as well quit now and get a job at Pizza Hut because my edgy genius is obviously not needed here!"
"No need to be sarcastic," Acevela said, apparently new in town. He wandered off to stand with Zelenka, and Rodney dialed M1X-611.
The chevrons locked, the event horizon boiled out, and the wormhole engaged and stabilized.
The room broke into cheers.
"I fixed it!" Rodney looked up proudly and caught John watching him. "Oh."
John was supposed to give him a manly clap on the shoulder, but his hand hadn't gotten the memo and he ended up gripping Rodney's arm, right above the elbow. Rodney was wearing one of those goofy short-sleeved blue science shirts that looked like scuba gear and his arm was sweaty, and twitching a little, like with adrenaline, and when Rodney grinned up at John his face was glowing and his eyes were fantastically blue.
Since he was there, John squeezed Rodney's arm a little. "Good work."
"Didja see it?" Rodney exhaled. "That's the kind of efficiency we could have expected if I'd been up to my usual operating parameters, but instead we had to tromp around in the muck because of some space bug with a sick sense of humor."
"Now, Rodney," John said, generously. "It wasn't the space bug's fault we had to tromp around in the -- well, actually, maybe."
Rodney hmphfed, and then peered suspiciously at John's hand on his arm. "Compassion felt, empathy displayed, Colonel. You can move your hand any time, unless you plan on taking me to dinner." John lifted his hand away from Rodney and hooked his thumb in his belt, dragging his pants down a notch. "Oh, god," Rodney whispered.
Elizabeth had come out of her office and was standing on the balcony, talking to Grajek over the radio while the scientists bustled around, jostling Rodney away from the DHD. John pulled him closer and Rodney stared up at him, a big, quivering question mark, his eyes wide and frantic. "What?" Rodney asked, finally. "Now? Today? Am I dying? Did that bug --"
"You're not dying," John said. "You're just Rodney again."
"Mmm. And you're all threatened? Was it, what? McKay's laid up and babbling about socks so now you can be the hero? But now that I'm back you can't -- "
"You fixed the gate," John pointed out. "Tucker might have taken a rock to the head --"
"So?" Rodney threw up a hand. "He's a geologist!"
"-- but the team's safe. And, turns out I'm finding myself really glad to see you."
"You are?" Rodney looked suspicious. "Now, all of a sudden you realize that -- oh, that's just perfect. Where were you a year ago when I was so over the moon about you I lost almost two pounds, and I even wrote --?"
Weir stepped into the control room and gave the order to reset the gate. There was an Ancient hissing sound, and then Chuck hollered, "Incoming wormhole! Receiving Lieutenant Cadman's IDC!" and everybody looked down at the gate room. John snapped to business. "Teyla? Ronon?" They nodded, Ronon unslung his weapon and in smooth, coordinated movements John and his team headed down the stairs to meet the blue vortex of the incoming wormhole. Weir took point at the base of the steps.
Cadman popped through first, followed by Grajek and Grehovac, each with an arm slung around Dr. Tucker's shoulders, and Ronon lowered his gun. The wormhole sucked in on itself and winked away, and a couple medics slid a gurney under Tucker, who proudly held up his rock and waved it at Elizabeth as they wheeled him away.
"Lieutenant Cadman, it's wonderful to see you," Elizabeth was saying, extending a hand to shake Cadman's.
"Good work, Cadman," said John.
She smiled. "Thank you, sir."
"You missed a good time back home," John said, waggling an eyebrow. "I'll have to tell you about it some time."
Next to him, Rodney growled. "Yeah, good work, Cadman, well done hiding out and not getting killed for a whole day while I nearly died saving you and everybody else within saving distance."
"You saved me?" Cadman shot Rodney a suspicious look. "Thanks."
"I saved him," Zelenka said to no one in particular, jerking a thumb at Rodney. "God knows why."
"Thanks," said Cadman again, and she tripped over and kissed Zelenka on the cheek. He smoothed his hair and shot Rodney a victorious grin.
"I have never needed a shower so badly in my life," said Grehovac.
"I know the feeling," said John, and this time when Rodney looked at him it was like he was undressing John with his big blue eyes. Elizabeth shook hands all around, gave Cadman's team some words of praise and encouragement and dismissed them to their bunks and showers. When they went back up to the control room Carson was waiting, holding Rodney's shoes like he didn't know he was holding them, and smiling with love and relief. John made a point of looking away when the doc leaned in to give Cadman a kiss, but when John caught Rodney's eyes a flush spread from his chest, up through his throat and his face.
"I missed your brain," John said.
Rodney's hands pointed wildly. "That's -- you --"
They stared at each other and then Rodney grabbed him by the hips and steered him out of the control room, up the stairs, and shoved him into the not very secret niche to the right of the landing. John's back hit the wall and Rodney tugged his shirt out of his waistband and ran his hands up John's chest going, "Oh, Jesus, oh, my god." When his fingers caught John's nipples, both at once, John felt his knees and his stomach turn to blue jello and had to think hard about not coming right there.
Rodney was still muttering when John grabbed him by the back of the neck and kissed him.
"Oh god, John," Rodney said, hands everywhere.
That went on for a while, until someone in combat boots clomped past the foot of the stairs and John's whole body went hot with nerves, fight or flight getting mixed in with his fuck, and Rodney got a wicked look in his eyes and smiled big with one side of his mouth.
"No way," said John, because the Marines didn't need to see him having deep, meaningful exchanges of tongue with Rodney. "Closed doors? Somewhere, normal?"
"Mmm, it's good to know you've still got the intuition of a blueberry muffin," Rodney said. "And I particularly like the part where I have to be on my deathbed before you're interested, that's fantastic, that's the kind of thing I want to write in my diary: Dear Diary, today I had my brain sucked out and nearly died, an event which would unquestionably lead to the destruction of this city followed by the extinction of the human race at large, and that conjunction of events was apparently exactly enough to make my space boyfriend decide he finally wants my lobotomized, unconscious body. And what's this about Dr. Weir in a toolbelt?"
"You've been mocking me for three, long, excruciating years, McKay," John said, trying to ignore the fact that Rodney'd slipped his fingers under John's belt and was feeling for the crack of his ass. "And it's not my fault you're prettier when you're not talking."
But Rodney had stopped paying attention, and when he leaned in, John could feel the smooth bulge of Rodney's erection against his hip, and Rodney was whispering, "Oh, Jesus Christ, have you felt this ass?"
"Mmm," John moaned, absently, sucking on Rodney's pink ear. "Uh huh. It's mine."
Rodney pulled away and gave John a little sideways look like he was suddenly contagious. "Are you contagious?" he asked. "This is, I'm gonna get you into my bed and you're going to lose your brain like I did and then all of a sudden I'm just some dirty old genius taking advantage of an airman who's not in control of his brain, because, don't think I don't remember every minute of sitting there while Carson poked me and you and Ronon just laughed and laughed and laughed at poor McKay and -- did Ronon take his pants off? Why did Ronon take his pants off? He wasn't even in the mud!"
John grabbed Rodney by a shoulder and led him up the stairs and down the corridor to where Rodney's one-bedroom overlooked the second grounding station, leaping distance from the science labs and not too far from the cafeteria either. When they got to Rodney's door and Rodney fumbled with his passcode, John whispered, "I am in full possession of my faculties."
"Mmm," said Rodney, getting the code wrong and starting again.
"No bug," John said. "Just you, and your infuriating ability to confuse the pants off me."
"Pants off," agreed Rodney, and opened the door.
Rodney's room was filled with misappropriated Ancient gizmos and plates of old food stacked on top of SGC reports and back issues of Science. The really good stuff was hidden under his bed, and John caught sight of a silver briefcase that had PROPERTY OF US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE stamped on it before Rodney tossed him down and started working on John's pants. John tried to help but Rodney only slapped John's hands away, so he just tucked one arm behind his head and settled in to watch the show.
"Really," Rodney said, kneeling over John and fumbling with his belt, "is there some kind of military reason these pants are so hard to get into? Like for combat reasons, in case you're captured? Like the enemy's just going to give up and let you go because they can't separate you from your guns?"
"Yeah, that's exactly it. They're booby-trapped."
"Oh, ha ha, very funny." Rodney tore off his shirt like it was preventing him from thinking clearly.
"Because obviously what the enemy wants is to get into my pants."
"Why not? It seems to be a common theme around here." Rodney huffed. "Seriously, you're like the most overwrapped birthday present ever! Just let me at the good stuff, dammit, what's all this overpackaging?"
That was enough of that. John wrapped a leg around Rodney's waist and flipped them over so John was on top. "It's easy," John said, reaching between them and unfastening Rodney's BDUs one-handed while Rodney squirmed and panted.
"It is not easy," Rodney complained. "I've gotten into top secret facilities easier than --"
John kissed him. "Well, then you're doing it wrong."
"Oh, excuse me, I'm doing it wrong, of course, just because I don't have your extensive --" His hand waved over his head. "Time in the field then I must be doing it wrong. Wally Carbonell in grad school never seemed to think I was doing it wrong, neither did that chick from MB6-234, come to think of it, and she had three breasts --"
"Shut up." John kissed him again and Rodney's hand stopped flapping around and landed on his shoulder, squeezed the back of his neck and slid up into his hair.
"Rodney? Colonel Sheppard?"
"What?!" Rodney demanded, then slapped his radio on and tried again. "What?"
It was Weir. John listened in long enough to hear she was throwing another stupid meeting, then sat up and pulled his shirt off. Rodney's eyes got flatteringly big.
"Do you happen to know where Colonel Sheppard is?" Weir was asking.
Rodney's eyes got even bigger and he grabbed John's thigh. "No, no, why would I know where Colonel Sheppard is? It's not like I know where he is at all moments of the day. It's not like he checks in with me before wandering off and initiating horribly dangerous subroutines in the hydroponics labs, though, now that you mention it, maybe he should. Or, we could bell him, like a cat. Huh," Rodney said, clearly warming up to the idea.
"That happened once," John mouthed at him.
There was a pause. "I only ask because you were seen leaving the control room together."
"Oh," Rodney said. "Yes, that's true, we did leave together, I mean, we left at the same time, not necessarily together in the sense that we left together, but I'm sure wherever he is he's very busy. He mentioned something about being very, very busy."
Another pause and then Weir started talking about the agenda for her meeting.
John tuned her out and undid the laces on his boots. Rodney was making grunty impatient noises and rolling his eyes around like a spooked horse. He was probably trying to communicate some vital thing to John, but John ignored him, peeled his socks off, straddled Rodney's hips and leaned over him. His dog tags clinked together as they hit Rodney's chest and Rodney's tilted mouth went even more crooked. John smiled at him, imagining Rodney calling him to his lab, pushing him against the wall and taking his sidearm off. He'd go down on Rodney while he was on the radio, John thought. It'd probably be sorta hot.
Rodney shook his head, but John kissed the soft stretch under his jaw and slid down his body, tugging his pants off and touching his tongue to the wet spot on Rodney's boxers, right over the tip of his cock. Rodney choked and put a hand on top of John's head, trying to shove him away.
"No!" Rodney said.
"Well if you feel that strongly about it, you don't have to come," Elizabeth said, not sounding especially surprised by his reaction.
"No!" Rodney said again, as John sucked on him through his shorts, but instead of pushing him away Rodney's fingers were twisting in his hair and pulling him in. "No," Rodney said to Elizabeth, "I mean, no, actually, no, like I care what Grehovac has to say about rocks. Did he find a ZPM?"
"No, but --"
"Then I'm staying here -- where I'm doing very important things," Rodney said, breathless. John stuck a hand up the leg of Rodney's boxers and Rodney gasped like he'd just had a really great idea or gotten goosed. "Bed rest! Carson said!"
"Very well," Elizabeth said. "I assume Zelenka is on call?"
Rodney signed off and John took their comms and tossed them to the floor where they probably landed in a bowl of fossilized mac and cheese.
"I hate you," Rodney said, grabbing him by the ears. "Do more of that."
Now that he had Rodney's full attention, John promptly pulled his hands back and flopped down next to him, slouching into the pillow with a grin. "More of what?"
Rodney straddled John indignantly, sitting back on his strong, pale thighs. "God, you pretty boys, you think the world owes you a living just because you walk around with those...lips, and those cheeks, and those arms, god --" Rodney reached out, traced a hand down one of John's biceps and then let out a shuddering uhhhh.
"Pretty boy, huh?" John said, keeping his voice steady even though Rodney's fingers were still resting on the inside of his arm, teasing all his nerve endings.
"Shut up, just, shut up?" Rodney asked, and kissed him.
"Make me," said John, when Rodney pulled his mouth away.
Rodney scoffed, dove in to kiss John again but got distracted and instead John felt Rodney's teeth clamp around his nipple and Rodney tugging down his pants, and John didn't so much talk as exhale, once, hard, before Rodney moved his wet tongue down John's chest. "Not expecting a whole lot of lucid discourse now, but if you find yourself inclined to, in the throes of ecstasy, naturally, refer to me as some sort of deity --" He let the tip of his tongue knock the tip of John's cock while he reached around, scooped up John's ass and slid it free from John's boxers. "I wouldn't mind. Or, you know, blame you."
And then Rodney opened his mouth and wrapped it around John's cock and John said, "Oh, Jesus Christ, McKay --"
Rodney slid his mouth free for a smile. "See! People should listen to me."
"Yeh," agreed John, wishing Rodney were sucking on him some more. "Gotta admit I didn't expect you to be so --"
Rodney wrapped a fist around John's cock and squeezed. "Mmm, because of the scientist thing, the genius stigma. I will have you know I get so much play, and I mean wild stuff, not just your run of the mill -- serious, serious play, back on Earth. Um! Grad students and...fans, and the girl who feeds my cat!"
John breathed some more, and with every breath his dick got a little thicker and harder in Rodney's hand, and he reached up to pull Rodney into a kiss and said, "I'm a fan." Rodney gave John's dick a good stroke and gave him a look of such sudden longing, and need, and love that John flexed his feet and tightened his ass and grabbed for Rodney's shoulders so he could have that big body closer, Rodney's broad chest pressing against his with every breath.
"So, what do you want?" Rodney asked, kissing his cheek, hand slipping down to fondle his balls. "I can do pretty much everything."
"Jesus," John said, but he believed it. Everything Rodney was doing felt so good. John just wanted to lie there and take it, Rodney's mouth moving along his throat, square hands stroking and kneading, even the smug little satisfied noises he made each time he found some new spot that had John curling up towards him.
"No, seriously," Rodney said, "I'm very good at this. You want a blowjob?"
"This, with your mouth, and your hands, this is good."
"Yeah?" Rodney said, and he was smiling, and he swooped in for a kiss, wet and deep, John smoothing his hands down Rodney's back. "Hold on," Rodney said, sitting up abruptly, "just, hold on." He shucked John's pants and underwear off, then got rid of his own boxers and collapsed on John again, pushing one leg between his, pinching a nipple like he was calibrating a radio, mouthing the point of his shoulder, just, Rodney, everywhere.
"Oh god, your ears, do you know how long I've wanted to --" Rodney nibbled on one. "They're so fantastic."
"Really? I've always thought they were kinda pointy."
"No, no," Rodney said, "they're great. They're like, I don't know, elf ears." Rodney palmed his cock, rubbed his thumb right under the head and John had to close his eyes because seeing McKay's hand on him like that made this all too real. Rodney gave him a squeeze, still talking. "And later what we have to do is write a thank you note to the guy who invented the thigh holster, and maybe a note to the SGC too for making it part of the team uniform and then, well, actually, you. And your thigh holster. Got me through a lot of long nights, cheaper than porn, nothing incriminating on my hard drive, just visions of John Sheppard's cock."
John's face had to be burning. He could hear the blood rushing through his ears with every beat of his heart and Rodney's voice just saying whatever he was thinking, talking about John's body, how it looked and what he wanted to do with it and he just kept talking and talking and talking until John came.
"You'll stay, right?" Rodney said, already rubbing himself off against John's thigh. "So we can do this again?"
"Yeah." John took a hold of Rodney's flexing ass, two big handfuls, and just let him ride.
When John woke up the next day, he learned McKay was not nearly so accommodating in the morning. He demanded a blowjob and a cup of coffee as his due for having saved the city -- "Yet again!" -- refused to share the shower with John, then ran off for the labs. John got dressed and headed out to find Elizabeth.
"You have coffee yet?" he asked, a mug in each hand.
She was standing on her favorite balcony, the sixth floor above the cafeteria, the one that looked out on the inhabited area of the city. The morning light sparkled off the ocean, and Elizabeth reached for one of the mugs and curled her fingers around it like she was chilly, though the sun was warm on John's face. "Thanks," she said, leaning in close and inhaling the steam.
John took a draw off his coffee and stepped up to the railing next to Weir, leaned out and looked at the city, people moving around, waking up, leaving their quarters, starting their days.
He thought of Rodney, in the lab, fistful of donut and probably already yelling at the staff. Large and in charge. Of waking up to him in the middle of the night, his hands carding through John's hair, his voice quiet, "You think you're faking your way through life, but you don't fool me." John had snuffled into the pillow, trying to hide the involuntary twitch of his shoulders, but Rodney just kept petting him, running a thumb down his sideburn. "And, also, you should know, you are so obviously not sleeping. I know you're awake." Caught, John had stared out into the darkness with the one eye that wasn't smashed into the pillow. Rodney touched the soft spot behind John's ear, and John took a few seconds to fight with himself, then rolled over and pressed his face into Rodney's neck, curled one arm around his waist, and gave in.
"So," John said, planting his feet on the balcony. "Yesterday, big day. Weird day."
"We got the team home," Elizabeth said. Then she exhaled and took a sip of coffee. "Weird, and, unusual. John, you know how much I value you, not just as a leader and a military expert but also as a friend."
This was going to be more okay than John had feared. "Right," he agreed. "Me too. I mean, I value you. You're my friend."
She leaned on the balcony railing beside him. "Yes," she said. "Good."
"John Sheppard!" Rodney yelled over the comm, apparently experimenting with safe forms of public address.
John keyed his radio. "Yeah, McKay?"
"Did we bring nerve gas? Tell me we brought nerve gas."
Weir raised an eyebrow and joined in. "Rodney, what's going on down there?"
"Dr. Bing's angry tree had angry babies and now they're swarming all over the labs. I've got splinters in the most uncomfortable places!"
"Rodney," John warned.
"My hands! On my hands! I can't type like this!"
There was a shout. There was more shouting. There was Zelenka: "Quit complaining about working here, you have entire work AREA --" and then Rodney went "Hmmph!" and the radio cut out.
Elizabeth laid a hand on John's arm, nodded her head over her mug in the international gesture for "thanks for the coffee," and went back inside.
It really was a nice day, breeze coming in off the mainland, a good day for flying. There could even be a picnic later, if certain geniuses played their cards right, over on the Athosian beach behind the bluffs. McKay wasn't the only one who risked his ass to save this city and there were plenty of people who owed John favors. There were lots of possibilities.