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With many, many thanks to Merry, who gave me like half the plot elements, to Mia for final beta, and to Ces for rescuing the line that wasn't nearly as funny as it should've been.
Proof by Contradiction
Sheppard looked up at the soft tapping on the door. Weir gave him a tentative half-smile and came partway into the room. "Mind some company?"
"Pull up a stool," he said, waving a hand, and she dragged one up to the bed. Actually company was the last thing he wanted right now, but he knew how this worked. If you said what you meant, like 'no, I don't want to see you,' or, quicker to the point, 'leave me the hell alone,' it would all go downhill from there. The gentle voices would get gentler and the faces would get more anxious and then you ended up relieved of duty and shuttling back and forth from your quarters to the shrinks.
He'd always figured it was as good a way as any of making sure you were still in control. If you couldn't handle something well enough to avoid the shrinks, chances were you couldn't handle it well enough to be out in the field. Still, now he was in the boat himself, and he didn't want to get benched. Putting up with some well-meaning crap from Elizabeth wasn't much of a hoop to jump through.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, and yeah, the gentle voice was out in force already.
"Tired. Humiliated. Like an idiot." He shrugged, gave her a smile. "You know, I really wish you'd thought this experiment was a good idea. It would help a lot if I had someone to blame but myself."
She laughed, though he could see she hadn't meant to, and her shoulders gave a little hitch and relaxed downwards. "Well, I let it go ahead, didn't I? Feel free to blame away."
"Yeah, but seeing we had to talk you over, it's just not as satisfying," he said. "I'll skip it." He knew the next item on the list, the right thing to say. "How's McKay holding up?"
The name tasted strange in his mouth, the muscles knotting along his neck under the hospital gown. He didn't think it showed on his face, though, or in his voice: quiet, concerned, sincere; check.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet," Weir said. "Dr. Leibniz has quite the black eye, though."
"I'm going to have to send flowers or something."
"John," she said, gentle again, "No one blames you for this. Certainly not Dr. Leibniz."
"Well, I don't see why not. I'm the one that hit her."
Weir wasn't distracted. "Not Rodney, either."
"I thought you hadn't talked to him."
"Well, I haven't, but I don't need to talk to him to know that." She leaned over and put a hand on his arm. "He was behind this experiment as much as you were."
. He bit down hard on the words and made sure his hands were under the covers. The sheets were tight and straining between his fists. Yeah, McKay had been all for it -- his idea, in fact, except he'd never planned on getting into the chamber himself. That he'd saved for someone else with the Ancient gene, someone stupid enough to sign up to play guinea pig. Again.
. He made himself unclench. Not Rodney's fault, and even if it was, he'd paid as much as anyone. "Elizabeth, I -- " He stopped, and maybe jumping through the hoops wasn't worth it after all, because he couldn't make his mouth form the words.
"You were drugged," she said. "You were both
drugged, John. I guarantee you, however guilty you're feeling, right now Rodney's in his own hospital bed feeling the same way."
Rodney burst in through the door, fully dressed, carrying a pad of paper. "What's the most advanced mathematics you've ever studied?" he asked Sheppard.
John looked at Elizabeth.
"Then again, I could be wrong," she said.
"About what? Come on, Major, it's not a trick question." McKay made impatient motions at him. "Calculus? First-order derivatives?"
Rodney could piss a guy off in record speed at the best of times, which these weren't, and John felt his temper rising. "Well, in my free time I've been working out the proof of Stokes' theorem."
"Okay, then -- wait, what?" McKay stared.
"Stokes' theorem?" Weir asked, glancing between them.
"Generalization of the fundamental theorem of calculus," McKay said. "Why have you been working out the proof?" he demanded.
"Just keeping busy," John said coolly.
"But -- never mind, forget it. Here." McKay scribbled down a set of equations that covered about half the page and handed Sheppard the pad. "Those are the first three parts, now do the general case."
"You've got to be kidding me," John said. "I've been working on it for the last month and I hadn't gotten this first part yet. Also, thanks for the spoilers."
"That's like complaining about someone telling you Vader is Luke's father. Stokes has been proven for more than a hundred years. Stop complaining and give it a shot."
"Rodney, what is this about?" Weir asked.
"Just wait." McKay shushed her and kept staring at John expectantly. No embarrassment, no twitching. John looked down at the pad mostly to keep from having to meet his eyes.
"Huh," he said.
"Well?" McKay said.
"Give me a second." John started scratching out notes. "I want to use a partition of unity, right?"
"Duh," McKay said. "Come on, come on. Good enough." He grabbed the pad away before John was more than half-finished and brandished it at Weir. "I was right, I was completely right. It makes you smarter."
"What?" Weir took the pad and looked at the equation.
"This is what the vapor chamber's for. The aphrodisiac qualities are just a side effect," Rodney handwaved them dismissively. "Probably just an effect of increased metabolic rate and activity in the pituitary, Beckett's looking into that, but clearly the primary purpose is dramatically boosted mental functioning."
"Are you serious?"
"In the last hour, I just solved three different problems that I've been working on for the last couple of months. Months
, Elizabeth. Of course, I'm starting at a much higher baseline than the average, so you'd expect me to show more dramatic results. But this is fantastic
. We'll need to do more testing to establish the typical response."
"Rodney!" Weir stopped him before he got out the door. "Maybe you both should take a little time to recover first."
"Is that supposed to be funny?" McKay eyed her. "We have no idea how long this is going to last."
"You've both been through a traumatic experience -- "
"Oh, please," McKay said. "We had embarrassing public sex. It's not a life-threatening condition. Hurry up and get out of bed," he added to Sheppard, and was gone.
John had been ready for angry, bitter, miserable. He was having a hard time with none of the above. What sucked most was the sinking feeling that McKay was handling the whole thing better than he was. Maybe he did need to go to a shrink.
"This is utterly pointless," McKay said, throwing down his stylus.
"I still think -- " Zelenka started.
"We're not in Flowers for Algernon," McKay said. "I don't care how smart Sheppard's gotten, he's not going to catch up to specialists without years of training."
"Yeah, not going to happen." Sheppard got up. "So how about we stick to me doing what I'm good at, and you can keep on being the geniuses around here. I was thinking I'd head down to the mess hall, have a little lunch -- "
"Wait, wait," Zelenka said. "I want to see if -- "
"Hang on, that's it," McKay said, sitting up. "What you're good at. The Ancient technology. We should check out how it responds to you now. Maybe you can access it on a deeper level."
"Yes! Of course," Zelenka said enthusiastically, and jumped up.
John eyed the door. He'd bet on himself to outrun them both, though Zelenka was kind of wiry. You had to watch the wiry ones. Not that it mattered. McKay could probably lock him into a corridor halfway across the city without even getting out of his chair.
"Come on. We'll try with the jumper first." McKay put a hand on his arm, ready to tow him along, and John jerked away, not even thinking. McKay stared. "We'll catch up to you," he said abruptly to Zelenka, and waited until he was gone.
"Sorry," John said, not meaning it. His heart was pumping against his ribcage, hard and fast enough he could feel the pulse in his own wrist.
"Are you having some kind of weird issues here?" McKay asked. "Because in case you hadn't noticed, we don't exactly have a choice about working together."
"Really? I thought I'd just put in for a transfer," John shot back. "In case you
hadn't noticed, we had sex in front of eight people last night, which means by now the entire city knows. Excuse me if I'm having a hard time pretending everything's normal."
"What exactly's changed? " McKay said. "Did one round of drug-induced sex turn you gay? Are you feeling a sudden urge to send me flowers and candy and criticize my fashion choices?"
"That's really not the urge I've got towards you at the moment, no," John said.
"Well, then get over it, because we don't have time for this." McKay deliberately reached out and grabbed John's arm, squeezed a little. "Look, no cooties." He let go and stalked out. "Are you coming or not?" he yelled from the hallway.
McKay really was
dealing with this better than he was. Goddamnit.
John woke up sweating, panting; his hand was lying curled loosely over his dick, not quite stroking. Everything on a low, slow simmer, bubbling up through his skin. The lights came on as soon as he thought about them, and he sat up and wiped his face on the sheets. He was seriously screwed.
The hallways were mostly empty, just a couple of his guys patrolling. He nodded as he passed them by and tried not to ask himself if they'd given him weird looks. The mess hall was even more bare, nobody around but a couple of Korean scientists talking quietly in the corner, and they glanced at him so incuriously he couldn't get paranoid about them.
He made himself a pot of coffee and took a table. He'd tried to read through the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem a couple times before, but he'd always gotten bogged down -- just too damn convoluted. It was going pretty smoothly now, though.
When the Koreans left, he barely noticed, deep in the coffee and the heart of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. Nobody else came. It was just starting to get light outside when Rodney sat down across from him, the long curving arc of the horizon backlit with a paler shade of blue.
McKay took the last of the cold coffee and sat silently flipping through the discarded pages. John watched his hands: broad with stocky fingers, nails trimmed right to the quick for typing; no gun calluses and no scars. Strong anyway. John still had a couple of faint bruises on his hip that he couldn't avoid seeing in the shower.
McKay put down the last of the read pages off to the side. "You know, somehow I don't think Weir's going to suspend you for violations of don't ask, don't tell."
"Don't even -- " John took a deep breath. "This isn't about you, okay? Just back off."
"Funny how I take it personally when someone starts treating me like I'm contaminated," McKay said nastily. "So what is it? Self-image taking a hit? Sudden lack of confidence in your masculinity? I'm surprised you didn't head out to the mainland. Plenty of cute Athosian girls you could use to prove your hetero status."
"Fuck you," John said.
"Whoops, already did," McKay said.
John grabbed the collar of his jacket, hauled him halfway across the table, rising out of his seat; but Rodney just met him square on, glitter in his eye practically daring Sheppard to swing, and John shoved him loose. "What the hell is your problem? I get this isn't bothering you. Congratulations. I'm glad you're so goddamn well-adjusted. I'm sorry I'm having a hard time dealing with the fact that we fucked three ways in front of the people I respect most in the entire galaxy."
"You don't know anyone else in this galaxy!" Rodney said, yanking his jacket back into place. "That's bullshit. You're not freaking out because it was public. You're freaking out because it was gay."
"Fine, so I've got issues with it," Sheppard said tightly. "What the hell do you care?"
"Oh, I don't know. What possible reason could I have for not liking the implications that gay sex is the most horrible, degrading thing that could ever happen to a man." Rodney looked at him cold and clear, and walked away.
John sat back down and rested his head in his hands. "Fuck."
The super-genius effect wore off after 72 hours. In the meantime Rodney figured out a critical element of how the ZPM structure stored energy, developed two new anti-Wraith weapons, discovered an extension of M-theory he immediately named McKay fields, and came up with a new data-retrieval technique to use on the Ancients' devices.
John flew the puddlejumper a lot.
The new data retrieval let them rescue enough of the Ancients' research notes on the vapor lab to find out the experiments had had a 9% mortality rate. Elizabeth locked it down, and McKay didn't argue, though he hung back after they'd all left. John got halfway down the hall, took a deep breath, stopped and turned back. They needed to just get past this -- get things back to normal.
Rodney was standing in the middle of the room, looking wistfully at the controls. John stopped at the door. "Would it be as much fun if you didn't have to do the work?"
"Don't be stupid. I'd just get to move on to higher-level work." Rodney turned around. "What are you doing here, anyway? There might be some vapor left in the air. Very small, very gay molecules, just lying in wait."
John gritted his teeth. "Look, Rodney. I'm not trying to offend you, all right? You have no idea what's going on with me. Just cut me some slack -- "
"No." Rodney cut him off short. John stared, momentarily speechless. "What? You were expecting a different answer? I'm sorry, I'm remarkably short on sympathy for your internalized homophobia."
"You know, if I really was homophobic, I'd have punched you in the head by now," John said. "Repeatedly."
"Oh, and now passive-aggressive threats, that's really cute. Am I supposed to be impressed by your self-restraint? Your tolerance
?" Rodney sneered it into an insult.
Counting to ten was really not working. "You said it yourself," John said, gripping his temper tight. "We've got to work together -- "
"Yeah, you know, funny thing," Rodney said. "See, I'm used to working with people who hate me. Usually they hate me for a good reason, like I make them feel inadequate or stupid, but really, it doesn't matter that much. I've got better things to do than waste time being supportive while you work through your issues. I don't really want to get all warm and fuzzy with a bigot anyway."
"I am not
"Walks like a duck; goes quack, quack," Rodney said.
"Listen, you -- "
"Queer? Fag? Cocksucker?"
"Jerk!" John yelled, which came out incredibly weak and about one step of maturity up from calling him a poo-poo head. Judging by the smirk, Rodney was thinking pretty much the same thing.
"Entertaining as this conversation has been, I've got actual work to do. Why don't you go point a gun at something?" He shoved past and left.
John spent the next hour in the training room, trying to forget all the reasons why McKay really was indispensable and couldn't be killed slowly and painfully. Also, getting beaten up by Teyla, which went somewhat more successfully.
"Are you sure that you are not suffering aftereffects from the drug?" she inquired. "Your reactions are slower than usual."
He lay splayed out and stared up at the ceiling. He was getting pretty familiar with the design of the decoration above. Pretty. "Just distracted."
She sat down on the bench. He peeled himself up off the floor and sat down heavily next to her, and gladly took the bottle of water. "Will you be returning to your normal duties now?" she asked.
"Yeah, Zelenka's given up on me," John said. "Why?"
"I know you have been otherwise occupied, so I did not wish to press the matter. But we still require more nitrium for the irrigation project."
"Oh hell. I completely forgot." He sighed. "Great. A scenic vacation on M4X-699. Just the mission I was hoping for."
"Why do you mean to go personally?" Teyla said. "We have been to Hoth several times without incident now--"
"What did you call it?"
"Hoth," she said, puzzled. "Is that not the designation your people have given the world? I have heard Dr. McKay referring to it by that name."
"I guess we can't get sued for copyright infringement from another galaxy," John said. "Anyway, we still don't have that many pilots, and you'll need a jumper for the cargo. I'll talk to Weir about scheduling the mission." They left the training room and headed towards the personal quarters together.
"With the gene therapy, there are now several more individuals with the capability to control the equipment," Teyla said. "Would it not be wiser to use a mission such as this, with only a short distance to cover and minimal risk, as a training exercise?"
"Well yeah, but then I'd have to go along anyway to make sure they don't crash it or anything," John said. Teyla was smiling faintly. He eyed her sideways. "What?"
"It seems to me that you are always reluctant to let anyone else pilot the jumpers," she said. "You are quite... possessive of them."
"Look, these are valuable pieces of equipment here." Her smile was just getting wider. "I am not possessive. Maybe I'm a little cautious, okay, but -- " She hadn't quit grinning, and he gave up. "Fine, maybe I'll let somebody else take this one -- " He pulled up so short Teyla got another couple yards down the hall before she noticed he'd stopped.
"Is something wrong?" she inquired.
John felt a beatific smile spreading over his face. "No. Nothing's wrong at all."
It wasn't actually possible to slam the Atlantis doors, but Rodney made a good stab at it. "You're incredibly pathetic, do you know that?"
John sat back and put his hands behind his head. "Why Rodney, what brought this on?"
"You actually got me sent to Siberia! Again!"
"Siberia's on Earth. I'm pretty sure I'd have heard if we'd found a way to get you there."
"Once you've seen one frozen arctic wasteland you've seen them all, and you know exactly what I'm talking about."
John opened his eyes wide. "I thought you wanted to practice flying the jumper some more. Besides, it's important for the safety of the project that we get as many pilots trained as possible."
"Stop that, you look demented, not innocent," Rodney said. "I actually have important work to do here, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Well, if you've got something higher-priority going on, I'm sure Dr. Weir will take that into account." John gave up and let the grin come out.
"This is an abuse of power." Rodney said, and not-slammed back out.
John turned back to the mission schedule, whistling, and reminded himself to be in the control room to wave them off.
The good mood lasted him three full days. Then the team missed their fourth scheduled check-in. John took a jumper with Dr. Beckett and a six-man team of Marines through, and it took them less than five minutes to find the smoking remains of the mining camp -- more than a mile from the Stargate, right near the nitrium deposit, and goddamnit Rodney and Teyla should've known better. The first jumper was still there, cloaked, but no sign of any of the ten-person mining team.
"Sir, these blasts don't look like Wraith," Ford said. "Some kind of conventional explosive. Could be the Genii."
"Spread out and look for any signs of them," John said. "Keep your radios open. Beckett, stay in the jumper."
"Right you are," Carson said, and disappeared into the cloaked ship.
He took Bedson and headed down along the frozen riverbed. A thin whirling snow was falling, enough they'd never see any tracks more than half an hour old. He counted paces to keep track of how far they were getting, angry as all hell. Rodney needed some damn exercise, anyway, sitting in a lab all day. So goddamn stupid. If he'd been here, he'd've made them put the camp at the Stargate and walk the fucking mile.
-- if he'd been here.
"Sir," Bedson said finally, "I make that two klicks."
"Goddamnit," John muttered and stopped. "All right, let's head back to -- "
Ford's voice crackled over the radio. "Backup! We need backup now! Half a klick northeast of camp, five hostiles armed with explosives and projectile weaponry -- " The radio exploded into static, and they started running.
Laslow and Mathers met them halfway: they'd both run straight towards the position, triangulating away from the camp. "Fall in," he barked at them, and kept going; nothing more over the radio but a constant grating, buzzing noise, rising and falling in bursts. With any luck, Beckett had heard the message and was bringing the jumper.
They threw themselves down and crawled up the last ridge through the snow, hearing the exchange of fire: Ford and Jiang were pinned down at a half-shattered ice formation with Teyla and a couple of the Athosian miners. It looked like the rest of the first team was about twenty yards on the other side of the hostiles, huddled behind a granite outcropping, snow around its base stained arterial red.
"Mathers, give me a couple of your grenades." John hooked them on. "Wait for the blast. Bedford, you get over to Ford and fill him in. You two get over to the rest of the team and set up some crossfire. I'll join you."
He was already mostly covered with snow, but he rolled down the hill to make sure. Ford and Jiang were returning fire, and some occasional shots from the other side, but it sounded like pistols. Had they even brought P-90s along? He stayed behind the snowbanks, keeping as close as he could risk. The hostiles had a better position: up on a ridge overlooking the whole area, and it looked like they had a mounted gun, maybe even something like artillery. There were more than five of them, closer to ten, and goddamnit, he should've gone back for the jumper. He couldn't see their faces through the snow.
He pulled the pins with his teeth and threw. His pitching arm wasn't too bad -- the grenades landed separately, about ten feet behind and in front, and went down in soft snow, sending up giant clouds of instant steam as they blew. He saw his guys running, and after that the reassuring sound of P-90 fire.
He scrambled down the ridge himself, slipping and rolling most of the way down, and skidded almost directly into Rodney's side. "Ow, fuck," Rodney said.
"Shut up and stay down. How are you guys doing on ammo?" he yelled to Laslow.
"Fine, you need more?" Laslow yelled back.
"No, just keep after them!" John flipped off the safety and added to the fire. There wasn't a lot of answer from the hostiles, and about five minutes later he saw something like seven of them slide down the far side of the ridge, abandoning their gun and making back for the Stargate.
"Looks like they're packing it in," he said over his shoulder. "What's the situation with the wounded?"
"Jenia broke her leg, Anders probably has a concussion, and I'm shot and bleeding out, thanks for asking," Rodney said.
"This is not a good time for sarcasm," John snapped.
"Who's being sarcastic?" Rodney said, and his voice wobbled, scared.
"How bad is it?" John got the jacket open: Rodney was holding down a folded pad made out of what looked like spare underwear over his shoulder, already stained through, and his skin wasn't pale just because of the cold. "Fuck." He grabbed the radio. "Beckett! Goddamnit, Beckett, can you hear me?"
"Not now!" Beckett yelled back frantically, and about thirty seconds later the jumper came nosediving out of the snowstorm and plowed into the ground with a shudder, blasting snow in every direction.
The apartment door wasn't locked, and Rodney was sitting up in bed typing one-handed. He scowled. "You know, just because the door's open so the nurses can come in and out doesn't mean you don't have to knock."
"You're unbelievable, you know that?" John shook his head, tossed the book he'd brought onto the far side of the bed, and sat down on the edge. "Why don't we try this conversation again. How about -- 'John, it's good to see you. Come on in. And by the way, thanks for saving my life.' And then I say, 'You're welcome, Rodney. Hope you feel better soon.' "
"Aside from the fact I was only in danger because you sent me there in the first place, I'm pretty sure it's actually your job
to save my life."
"That doesn't mean you can't show a little appreciation now and then."
"Since Uncle Sam is doing it with cash, I don't see why I should bother," Rodney said. "Also, I already read War and Peace."
"In fourth grade," Rodney added.
"Okay, that's just unnecessary," John said, reaching across for the book.
"You can leave it." Rodney grabbed at it. "I might re-read it if I get bored."
"No, you're just saying that to make me feel better, I can tell." They had a minor tug-of-war, then Rodney said, "ow," and John let go. Then he squinted. "That didn't actually hurt, did it."
Rodney hid the book behind a pillow. "Yes, it did."
"I've been heroically injured in the line of duty," Rodney said. "Did you have any other touching conciliatory gestures you wanted to make, or was that it?"
"I had a few other things in mind," John said, and kissed him. And God, it was good -- Rodney made some muffled surprised noises, but he opened his mouth, and then his good hand came around and cupped John's neck and slid into his hair, and he actually had reverse calluses from the typing, like the tips of his fingers were smoother than normal. John reached for the buttons on the pajama top.
"Mmrphmr!" Rodney said, and shoved him back. "Wait. Wait, what are you doing?"
"And here I was worried I was being kind of obvious," John said, and leaned forward again.
Rodney fended him off. "I don't believe this, it did
turn you gay!"
John sat back exasperated. "It did not turn me gay. You spent three days as possibly the most intelligent person ever, and not once did it occur to you that maybe I actually had some reason for having issues, not including being a bigot?"
"No! I stupidly assumed, based on the fact you've made eyes at half the women in the city and, if I might remind you, actually made time with a dangerous alien being in the quest for nookie --"
"Did you just say 'nookie' ?"
"Shut up! The point is, I reached a completely rational conclusion -- "
"Excuse me, what about you?" John demanded. "You're always going on about blondes, and don't even pretend you weren't macking on Dr. Landis last week -- "
"I'm straight!" Rodney said.
John stared at him.
Rodney turned a little pale. "I mean, I consider myself theoretically bisexual, because that's clearly the norm for human beings when not influenced by societal -- "
"You've never had gay sex," John said levelly.
"Well, not before the -- "
"There was the speech!" John yelled. "And the -- you son of a bitch! You lied
about being bi just so you could score points off me?"
"I did not lie!" Rodney yelled back. "I just... let you make assumptions. You were pissing me off. How was I supposed to know?"
"I hate you," John said. "I don't think I've ever hated anyone this much in my entire life."
"This conversation's going well," Rodney said. "Why don't we just go back to the making-out part?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe -- because you're straight
"I haven't had a lot of opportunity to explore my sexuality before."
"Give me back my book," John said. "I'm going home."
"Ballistics analysis shows it wasn't the Genii, and we're pretty sure they weren't native to the planet, given they left by gate. Also because nobody in their right mind would live there."
"So you're saying..." Weir prompted.
John flipped his folder shut. "I got nothing."
Weir sighed. "Teyla, any ideas?"
She shook her head. "I know of few civilizations that have weapons as advanced as those which we faced on Hoth, and I can think of no reason for them to attack us."
"Okay, let's start with means and see if we can come up with motive," Weir said. "Make up a list of the planets you know that would have the capabilities. We'll check them out in turn. I want to know who's got it in for us before we get ambushed again."
"Actually, I'm pretty sure I can narrow things down farther," Rodney said. "I happened to take some readings off the DHD there when we first arrived. If we scan it again now, I can correct for the energy fluctuations caused by dialing out to Atlantis and get at least an approximation of the energy drawn to dial their homeworld, which would allow us to rule out any gate addresses out of that range."
"All right," Weir said. "Major, take a team back there and get that data. Teyla, how soon can you have us that list?"
"I will have it ready by the time the party returns from Hoth," Teyla said.
Rodney caught up to him in the hallway. "I'll just need to grab a few things from my lab -- "
"You're still injured," John said, not bothering to slow down. "Dr. Zelenka can handle this mission."
"That's ridiculous. Beckett cleared me for active duty two days ago, and anyway this is going to be a five-minute trip." Rodney kept following him.
"All the more reason for Zelenka to go instead."
"He's working on other things, and also I'm his boss, which means I get to say which scientist gets assigned to this project."
"And I get to say who's on my team," John said.
Rodney took a hop and jumped ahead, got in front of John and made him pull up. "Somehow I think if I go to Elizabeth and explain that you want to interrupt Dr. Zelenka's work and make him redo the analysis I've already completed, all because you're mad at me, you might have less of a say than you think."
"If you're trying to make me less mad at you, this isn't working so much, in case you were wondering," John said.
"I don't care if you're mad at me, mad I can work with. It's the ignoring part I'd like to get past."
"Fine. You're going on the mission. Be in the jumper room in fifteen minutes." John stepped around him and got into the transporter alcove.
Predictably, Rodney managed to get himself to the jumper early and snag the shotgun seat. He looked up as John sat down. "That exit would've been a lot more impressive if I didn't happen to know that transporter's broken and set to the docking station on the ninth level. Did it take you the whole fifteen minutes to walk back?"
"Everybody ready?" John asked, looking over his shoulder. He took the jumper down and through the gate without any more conversation, and as soon as he'd touched down again on Hoth he left Rodney up front handling the readings while he went into the back and played poker with Ford and Laslow.
"Huh," Rodney said.
"Give me two," John said, and slid his discards over to Ford.
"In case any of you were wondering, that was 'huh,' as in, I've just discovered something interesting and possibly dangerous," Rodney said.
Ford eyed John. "What's the danger?" he called up front.
"Oh, clearly nothing that any of you would care about," Rodney said. "It's not immediate or anything. I'll just tell Elizabeth in the post-mission briefing." He sat back and started working on his laptop.
Half an hour later, John threw in a low pair and turned around. "Are you done yet?"
"No," Rodney said, still typing.
"I thought this was going to take five minutes."
"That was before the 'huh,' " Rodney said.
John got up and went back to the front. Clearly, he'd lost this round. "What've you got?" Rodney opened his mouth. "Don't even. What've you got?"
"They didn't use the DHD to dial out," Rodney said.
"They didn't leave?" John said.
"No," Rodney snapped. "They left, they just didn't use the DHD. They can remote-dial the Stargate, like we can from the jumper controls."
"You're saying these guys have Ancient technology."
"Bingo." Rodney waved at his laptop. "I can still get the energy readings we need. I scanned the gate itself instead. But I don't have a baseline measurement on the gate, so I have to approximate the noise from our two dialings using an algorithm that processes all the other data points I have for gate energy readings, then filter that out -- "
"Another five minutes should do it," he said.
"Fine. Ford, start the preflight." He sat down to run the engine diagnostic program, which killed thirty seconds, and left him with nothing to do and McKay still sitting right there next to him, tapping away. He was smirking, too. John tried not to look at him out of the corner of his eye, and started imagining a variety of painful and embarrassing accidents for distraction.
Three nozzles dropped out of the ceiling, took aim at Rodney, and blasted foam all over him. "Holy shit!" he yelled, and then disappeared under the pale grey avalanche. The nozzles pulled back and left a giant solid lump where Rodney had been sitting, making muffled and frantic noises.
John reached over and poked at it. The foam had hardened into some kind of porous springy material. "Uh, Ford? Toss me that knife, would you?" At least it cut pretty easily.
He got Rodney's head out first, which in retrospect probably wasn't the smartest way to go. "Oh my God
, get me out of here!" he gasped, panicky, nearly stabbing himself on the knife by thrashing his head around.
"Calm down!" John said. "It's coming off fine, just hang on. Take deep breaths."
McKay gulped for air a half-dozen times and then suddenly went bug-eyed. "My laptop! You idiot! Do you realize you probably just destroyed all my work?"
"It was an accident!" John said, ripping away another chunk. "I didn't know these things actually did have airbags."
"Oh, right, like I believe that," Rodney said, working his arms out. He didn't bother trying to help with getting his legs loose, just started brushing off the laptop and fiddling with it. "Come on, come on... oh yes, thank God, it's okay." He stroked the laptop cover. "I'll never look down on government issue again."
John pulled away the last slab and sat back down, wiping grey bits of foam off his face. "Are you done?"
"Yes, no thanks to you. I can't believe you actually did that," Rodney said.
"For the last time, I did not do it on purpose -- "
"Hello! Ancient technology responds to your desires. You sit there thinking of ways to kill me, it'll find one. You're just lucky it didn't shoot me in the head."
"Yeah, real lucky," John said.
"Stop that!" Rodney said, glancing around nervously. "This is insane. When are you going to get over this already?"
"Don't hold your breath," John said, bringing up the controls.
"Why are you even mad? I'm the one who should be angry. I wanted to keep going, you're the one who left."
"Because you're a jerk."
"Yes, but I was a jerk when you started making out with me, so I don't see why it's suddenly become a problem!" Rodney said.
Then he stopped, and they both turned their heads and looked over at the back of the jumper. Ford and Laslow were staring at them. Ford looked kind of horrified. Laslow mostly looked like he was trying really hard not to laugh.
John faced back around. "Can we leave now?"
Rodney did too. "Yes."
"So it's these Dendrani people?" John eyed the starfield map Rodney had put up on the conference room wall.
"Looks that way," Rodney said. "Of course, after all the approximations I had to make, this has a possible error of at least a hundred light-years in any direction, but they're smack in the middle of the range and no one else off Teyla's list is that close."
"Okay," Weir said. "Teyla, what do you know about these people?"
"I am sorry, Dr. Weir, but I cannot tell you very much. We have never traded with them to any great extent. But I do not believe they are allied with the Genii, or if they are, I have never heard of it," she said. "I cannot think of any reason why they would wish to attack us, nor do I understand how they might have acquired Ancient technology."
"Maybe they uncovered something on their planet," Rodney said. "An old Ancient outpost or something like that. They don't need to completely understand the technology to use it any more than we do, after all."
"And maybe now they want more good stuff, and figure we're the ones to get it from," John said. "They could've heard that a bunch of places, not just the Genii. Something tells me word's getting around pretty quick that the lost city of the Ancients is up and running again."
Rodney said, "Hey, we had to ask around a bunch of places where to find nitrium before we found out about Hoth, didn't we?"
"Yeah," John said. "If they were keeping their ear to the ground, wouldn't have been too hard for them to figure out where we were going to be."
"You know, we have no idea what they might have found," Rodney said.
"ZPM?" John glanced over at him.
"Worth checking." Rodney shrugged back.
"If your speculation is right and these people are after Ancient technology, they aren't likely to hand over their ZPM to us if they do have one," Weir said.
"Excuse me, they tried to kill us," Rodney said. "Specifically, they tried to kill me
. I don't see why we really need to ask for it. They try to steal from us, we steal from them."
"That's the kind of reasoning that gets people into wars, and we're already fighting more than one," Weir said. "I'd like to settle for a truce. Teyla, do you know any other people who trade with the Dendrani, who might be able to act as mediators for us?"
Teyla drummed her fingers on the table a moment thoughtfully. "I think so. The people of Fley trade with the Dendrani, food for metalwork, and the Dendrani would not consider them a threat. I believe one of the Athosians settled on the mainland has a sister who married into the Fley, and lives with them now."
"Good. Let's see if we can't put out at least one fire." Weir stood up. "Dismissed."
"Okay, I'm going to say it again. No. This is not a good idea. In fact, it's an incredibly bad idea. Haven't we been through this before?" John folded his arms.
"Yes, we have," Elizabeth said, shutting down her laptop and putting it into the bag. She straightened up and looked him in the face. "We went through this with the Genii."
"And you're giving me this as a reason why you should hand yourself right over to the Dendrani?" John said incredulously.
"John -- " She stopped and went to her office door and slid it shut. She leaned back against it and said quietly, "John, we both know what's going on here. Every time we make another enemy, every time we suffer another assault, all of your instincts push you towards making military operations our priority."
"Yeah, well maybe it's something we should be considering," he said.
"I'm not a military officer," she said.
"No kidding. This is why we agreed -- "
"-- that I should be taking your advice, yes. But if things go that far, that's not good enough. Much as I believe in civilian oversight, I don't belong in command of a truly military organization. If that's where we're going, if that's the unavoidable conclusion, then I'm not the critical one here. You are."
John shut up, because he really didn't like where this was going, and he couldn't think of a damn way to argue it with her.
Elizabeth waited long enough to see he wasn't going to say anything. "We both know you don't want this job," she said gently. "And speaking as the one stuck with it right now, I don't blame you. But we can't keep going on like this. It's not my job to sit here and be a talisman you use as an excuse to continue working in the field. Whatever gifts I have, I need to be using them for the benefit of the project. If I can't stabilize our situation enough, as our leader, to keep this a civilian operation, then a lot of things will have to change."
She came back to the desk and picked up the bag. "And you're right -- that is something we should be considering," she said. "I have been. Have you?"
He didn't go down to watch her leave with Teyla. Instead he sat down in the office and stared at her empty chair for a while.
"Where's Elizabeth?" Rodney poked his head in.
"She went to have a little chat with the Dendrani," John said.
"And you're sitting here because...?"
"Did you need something?" John turned around. "Because otherwise, I'd really like it if you just went away."
Rodney actually clammed up and went kind of pale and stiff. "Fine," he said, and let the door shut.
"Oh, for -- " John got up and opened the door. "Hey! Get back here." He pretended he didn't see the control room staff all watching.
Rodney had already made it halfway to the doors. "Why?" he called back.
"Because I said so!"
"Regressing to kindergarten logic, now that's a good sign," Rodney said, but he came back and let John shut the office door.
"I've been telling you to leave me alone for the last two weeks, and you picked this time to take it seriously?" John said. "You're just trying to get on my nerves."
"You meant it this time," Rodney said.
"I meant it before too!"
"You did not," Rodney said. "You've just been making me suffer for a while before giving in, which, by the way, thanks a lot. So if you're not actually still angry at me, what's the problem?"
"You deserve to suffer, and I am
still mad at you," John said. He sat back down. "Elizabeth started talking about -- I don't know, trading jobs or something."
Rodney leaned against the desk. "Oh, you mean she's getting tired of dealing with you constantly undermining her authority? Wow, couldn't see that one coming."
"You know, remind me not to actually take you up on it next time you offer sympathy," John said.
"I don't do sympathy. If you need to be reminded about that by now, you haven't been paying attention," Rodney said. "You know what your problem is?"
"I can't wait to hear all about it."
"You want to be out there flying the jumper. Exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, the whole Captain Kirk thing. But deep down, what you really think is you should be back here taking over, like you know Colonel Sumner would've done five minutes after we got back from finding out about the Wraith."
John stared at him. "Well, thanks. Thanks a lot! That was helpful."
"Give me a second, I'm not done," Rodney said. "Here's the other thing: you're wrong."
"Yes, shocking, I know, try and get over it," Rodney said. "You don't spend a lot of time dealing with people on the science staff, so it might have escaped your attention, but everybody here is pretty much scared out of their minds. We're all way too smart to believe things are going to be fine."
"You seem to be doing okay," John said.
"That's only because unlike most of the people here, I'm so unbelievably smart that my individual work affects whether all of us live or die on an almost daily basis," Rodney said. "Bob in the genetic analysis lab doesn't have quite the same motivation while he's doing electrophoresis on Wraith DNA and spending a lot of time sitting around waiting for results and thinking about how far away he is from home."
"And because they're scared, that's a good reason not to do everything we can to ensure security?"
"If you take scared scientists and try to put them under military order, you don't get military order, you get a mess. That whole, 'because I said so' thing doesn't work too well with people who never got over that phase at two years old where you keep asking 'why?' all the time. We don't follow Elizabeth because the President of the United States put her in charge. He's in another galaxy and most of us didn't vote for him anyway. We follow her because she's one of us
. She's just as smart as we are and she's just as scared."
"And I'm not?"
"Not that most of us can tell. You've spent your entire adult life hiding exactly how smart and how scared you are, that's practically the definition of your job," Rodney said. "We don't want someone like you telling us what to do. We want -- "
He stopped. John raised his eyebrows, beckoned.
Rodney sighed. "We want you to be our hero, okay?"
"You've got to be kidding me," John said.
"At the SGC, nobody with a brain really expected O'Neill and SG-1 to save the world. But you got used to them doing it, and so whenever disaster loomed, which was about once a week, nobody really panicked, because in the lizard brain you were sure everything was going to be okay," Rodney said. "That's what we need, and so far you're doing a pretty good job of it when you're not busy looking like a jerk wrestling Elizabeth for control."
"So all I need to do is measure up to General O'Neill, Colonel Carter; and that guy Teal'c who was, what, three hundred years old and some kind of superhero? No problem. But I'm not going to be Dr. Jackson, okay? I hear he dies a lot."
"Actually, I was thinking I could be Colonel Carter," Rodney said.
John squinted at him. "You're going to be Colonel Carter."
"Somehow that doesn't sound right out loud. Point is --"
"I get the point," John said. "Okay." He picked up one of the pens off the desk and fiddled with it. "It's just," he said.
"I know," Rodney said quietly. "She's really smart, John. She'll figure it out. She just... needs some time."
Rodney sat down with him and they both stared at the empty chair some more.
After a while, Rodney said, "So, um," without looking at him.
"No," John said.
"Oh, come on!"
Elizabeth came back with a truce, a semi-official Dendrani ambassador, and six suspicious but intrigued scientists toting along a cart full of broken bits of Ancient technology that made Rodney get all excited and then yell a lot because of what he called completely incompetent handling. John spent a half hour in the lab watching him cow the Dendrani experts into angry humiliation with a series of well-chosen insults. Then he realized he was thinking it was pretty hot, and left the rest of the surveillance to Bates.
"One of these days he's going to meet somebody smarter than he is, and man, I want to be there," Ford said under his breath, walking out with him.
"Not if the smarter guy's on the other side, you don't," John said.
Turned out the Dendrani had heard about them from the Genii, and the picture hadn't been pretty. "Fortunately, I think I managed to convince them that the Genii's motives in siccing them on us weren't entirely pure," Elizabeth said, pouring them both coffee. "They're not too happy about the people they lost, but that actually turned to our advantage once we persuaded them the Genii had misled them deliberately. We've got a ways to go before we turn them into friends, but I think we can cross them off the list of enemies."
"Good work," John said, taking the cup.
"Why, thank you, Major," she said. "Now, then, have you thought about your next mission?"
"Actually, yeah," he said. "That list Teyla came up with for us, when we were trying to figure out who was behind the attack. If the rest of those guys are on the same level as the Dendrani, the Genii might try something like this again. Maybe we ought to head them off at the pass."
"Good thinking," she said. "What's your plan?"
He took a deep breath. "I figured we get Teyla to hook us up with some mediators for them, set up a meet on neutral ground, me and my team secure the area, and then... you can do your thing."
Her mouth quirked up. "My thing?" she said.
"You know, the whole negotiate them into thinking we're really cool people. Which we are, so that's got to make things easier."
"Well," she said, and now she was all-out smiling. "Sounds like a plan to me."
She raised her mug and he clinked his against it.
Rodney spent the rest of the week in the lab with the Dendrani, which was really annoying, because John kept finding himself wandering in there for no good reason. The only saving grace was Rodney was too busy to notice, and the most he ever did was grab John and make him try to turn some piece of technology on, or even just hold something or other in the middle of an experiment.
Rodney managed to fix and activate about half the devices before the Dendrani left, and mellowed out enough towards them in the process to tell them if they got bored at home, they could come back and he'd find some work for them to do around the lab. By then, thanks to the extreme dosage, they'd already gone through the McKay-related stages of irritation followed by loathing and hit the unwilling respect, and they took it as the compliment he meant it to be. He even came down to the gateroom to wave them off.
The gate disconnected and he said to John, "Going to bed now," and disappeared. John closed his mouth on the dinner invitation he absolutely had not been going to make, and went and found Teyla for a workout instead.
He spent the evening reading in bed, trying to get through the last twenty pages of the Fermat proof. He could still remember how it felt to understand this stuff without even trying, to see all the pieces just dropping into place one after another, obvious as addition. He wondered if that was how it was for Rodney all the time.
The door pinged and then opened without him getting up to hit the lock. "You know, just because you can open every door in this city doesn't actually mean you're allowed," John said.
"What are you going to do, lock me up?" Rodney did something to the door circuit on the inside and the light over the doorway glowed briefly red as the door shut again.
"I thought you were going to sleep," John said.
"I did sleep," Rodney said, dropping down on the bed. He kicked his loafers onto the floor. He wasn't wearing socks. "Also showered, shaved, ate three MREs, and traded with Zelenka for this. Got a corkscrew?"
"You fit all that into six hours?" John flipped open his swiss army knife and took the bottle of wine.
"I can't sleep more than five hours at a time anyway." Rodney took back the bottle and sniffed at the cork professionally. "Good, I think this might actually have been worth the pound of coffee he gouged me for." He put the bottle aside on the side table.
John raised an eyebrow. "Want me to get some glasses?"
"It needs to breathe a while first," Rodney said.
"Well, I guess I've got a deck of cards around here someplace," John said, and let Rodney push him down into the pillows. He slid his hands up under Rodney's shirt and spread his legs so Rodney could climb between and settle into him: already hard, but they really hadn't spent enough time on this the first time around, and he didn't think either one of them was in much of a rush right now.
He remembered all the details: the words, the voices high and scared all around him, shoving Dr. Beckett away, Dr. Leibniz going down under his elbow to her face, the feeling of not caring at all. Dragging Rodney back into the chamber, the door still ajar and the smoky gas curling around their ankles; kicking the door shut from inside and pushing Rodney up against it. The drugs had been like a heat-shimmer haze, like Texas in July in the bed of his dad's pickup, and Rodney's hands on his skin like a shock of rain.
He'd tasted like bad coffee and late nights, like desperation; now he tasted like water, mint-clean and cool, warming to John's mouth with slow kisses, tugging John's lip between his teeth just a little. "Hang on," Rodney said, panting, and sat up to pull his shirt over his head.
"Yeah, get up a second," John said, and rolled off the bed to strip out of his clothes.
"Very nice, Major," Rodney said, watching while he shucked his own pants, and John grinned at him and got back into bed.
Panic and holding your breath didn't go together that well: Rodney had lasted about five seconds before inhaling, and ten after that before he'd quit fighting and started ripping John's shirt open. So fucking sweet, just going at it, nothing in his head but yes yes yes
and the animal straining of one body against another, biting, licking, bruising, sweat and leaking already and getting slammed to the floor and even that feeling so incredibly good.
Rodney climbed back onto him and started on his neck: the scar where he'd nearly gotten sucked dry. "Yeah, not too hard," John said, and let his head fall back: Rodney eased up all the way in the other direction, just tracing it with the tip of his tongue, blowing cool over it. John closed his eyes and groaned. "Oh, yeah."
"In case I didn't mention it before, I'm really glad you didn't die that time," Rodney said, still kissing. "By the way, what's your position on positions?"
"I'm easy," John said. He hooked a leg over Rodney's hip to press them closer together.
"No kidding," Rodney said, and nipped a little.
"Fuck, yes," John said. "Wait a second, are you trying
to give me a hickey?" Rodney mumbled something against his neck and licked him again. "Hey, I've got work tomorrow."
Rodney lifted his head long enough to stare. "You actually take days off?"
"No, what does that have to do, with -- Rodney!"
"I'm not, really," Rodney said, between licks.
"That's my neck you're chewing on, you don't think I can tell you're lying? Oh, damn," John dug his fingers into Rodney's shoulder blades and arched up off the bed.
"It was a turn-on, sue me," Rodney muttered, licking over the bite.
"What do you mean, was
"You had one on the back of your neck, here," Rodney said, stroking a spot low and just to the side of John's nape. "You know, from the part where I, um."
They'd already come twice before Rodney had rolled him over, covered him and fucked him into the floor. The tiles under him had been slick with his own dripping sweat, his hands slipping as he tried to shove back, to get Rodney deeper. Rodney's teeth closing on the skin of his neck, Rodney's fingers digging into his hips, the sweet burn in his thigh muscles.
"How long did it last?" John said, panting, thrusting up against Rodney's dick.
"A, a, week? Maybe," Rodney said, shuddering. "God, seriously; can I?"
"If I get fired for this, you're so building me my own puddlejumper," John said, and Rodney just bit and sucked and licked at him until they both came.
John woke up somewhere in the middle of the night, rain sheeting down the window pane and Rodney typing naked at his desk, face lit blue by the computer screen. He looked over. "Am I keeping you up?"
"Nah," John said, rolled over and fell asleep again.
Rodney was back in bed by morning, practically comatose, with a heavy arm slung over John's chest and his face tucked into the crook of John's neck. After some prodding, he said, "Coffee," out loud, opened his eyes, picked his head up blearily, looked at John, and woke up alarmingly fast. "Oh. Oh, my."
John shoved him off and got up to look in the mirror. "I don't believe this. I looked better when I got out of the infirmary!" He tilted his head, trying to see how far up his neck it went.
"Sorry, I guess I just don't know my own, hm, voracity?" Rodney let out a deep, satisfied sigh and leaned back in bed with his hands behind his head.
"Throw me that turtleneck on the floor."
"But this is going to defeat the purpose," Rodney said, leaning out of bed and snagging it.
"You want to make a public statement, I'll make a sign and stick it on your back," John said.
"Ah, true love," Rodney said.