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12 November 2008 @ 10:31 pm
Fic: Or Something Like It  
Everyone gave me such awesome and encouraging feedback for the piece of this that I posted a while ago, so I couldn't not finish it. Here's the whole thing. I hope you like!


Title:Or Something Like It
Fandom: SGA
Pairing:McKay/Sheppard
Rating: R
Word Count: ~7700



There are twelve different ways in which an away mission can prove to be a tedious and soul-destroying waste of time. There are at least 83 ways in which stargate travel to other worlds can be uncomfortable, irritating, or mildly unpleasant. And there are, basically, eight ways in which things can go badly enough to make Rodney wish he’d come down with a virulent case of food poisoning and stayed back in Atlantis, crouched over his self-cleaning Ancient toilet. It’s not a food-poisoning kind of day yet, but with the ambush at the gate, the prison cell accommodations, and the way the Miglari dragged Sheppard away over two hours ago and still haven’t brought him back, all signs are starting to point to yes.

Rodney doesn’t like small spaces, and he doesn’t like not having anything to do, and he doesn’t like not having some kind of escape plan, and he doesn’t like having to acknowledge that Teyla’s right and that the best thing is to do nothing until they know more, and he doesn’t like the fact that Ronon stubbornly refuses to tell him how many knives he still has, and where, as though there would be some massive tactical disadvantage to divulging this information to a teammate. But what he really, really doesn’t like is how he doesn’t know where Sheppard is, what they’re doing to him, and how many pieces he’ll be in when they get him back.

It’s another hour later before he gets an answer to that question, and when he sees the two mammoth guards practically carrying Sheppard between them, he has a horrible moment of certainty that it’s actually turned into one of the days when he wishes he’d never agreed to join an away-team in the first place. But then they heave Sheppard into the cell, and when Ronon catches him before he can hit the ground, John grins goofily and says, “Hey, thanks. I really appreciate that. You’ve got great reflexes. And a surprisingly gentle touch.”

It turns out Sheppard’s physically unharmed, just doped out of his mind on Pegasus Galaxy truth serum. And since the rescue party arrives 35 minutes later, Rodney down-grades the entire experience to a mild food-poisoning equivalence class.

Sheppard sleeps it off in the infirmary overnight and gets checked out the next day with a clean bill of health. It’s not until 20:00 hours that they realize something’s wrong. It’s meatloaf surprise night in the mess, and the surprise turns out to be that the meat is bright blue and smells like pickled anchovies. Or maybe the surprise is that it tastes pretty good with enough ketchup. Ronon’s already on his second helping, and Teyla is going on in exhaustive detail about the upcoming Athosian festival of basket-weaving and cross-legged choral singing. Or something.

“Halling has asked that you attend, John, as a friend of the Athosians and a representative of Atlantis,” she says. “He has reserved a place for you in the circle of twelve. It is a great honor.” And Teyla turns an expectant face Sheppard’s way.

“I like Halling,” says John slowly, pushing a piece of meatloaf around on his plate. “But if I have to listen to him give another three hour speech I might be tempted to put a fork through my hand. Also, I really don’t like ceremonies. All the ones in Pegasus kind of remind me of funerals. That and the first day of school. We moved a lot when I was a kid. So there were a lot of first days of school. Every time I have to sacrifice a goat, or bang a gong three times with my left hand, or wrap a ritual tuber in a ritual blanket I kinda get that funeral/first day of school feeling: nervous and a little nauseous, and like somebody died.”

Ronon has actually stopped eating to turn and stare at Sheppard. And Teyla’s mouth has fallen just the slightest bit open. Sheppard himself has turned bright pink and is chewing furiously on the heaping forkful of meatloaf he shoveled into his mouth right after the longest contiguous string of English words Rodney has ever heard him utter.

“Carson!” Rodney snaps into his radio. “We’re on our way to the infirmary with Colonel Sheppard. And I understand that you’re severely handicapped by the fact that your profession consists largely of the casting of chicken bones and the laying on of hands, but I expect you to do a little better this time.”

*

“What seems to be the problem?” asks Carson. “Is the Colonel experiencing some residual symptoms? That’s not unusual you know, Rodney. Medicine is not an exact science --,”

“Ha!” responds Rodney. “I knew you were going to say that. But medicine, as it turns out, has very little resemblance to science at all, or at least a wildly divergent technical usage for the term ‘exact’, corresponding to a concept that seems, in fact, to mean the opposite. Tell me, does this seem like a small residual symptom?” And he turns to Sheppard, who is half-sprawled over the nearest infirmary bed. “How do you feel, Colonel?”

Sheppard glares, but almost immediately responds. “I’m pretty damned embarrassed right now. Irritated. Not too thrilled about being the dog in your dog and pony show. I’m a little worried that this isn’t out of my system yet, and that you didn’t catch it the first time around, Carson. I’m hoping Teyla doesn’t kick my ass too hard for what I said earlier. And the way Ronon won’t stop staring at me is making me really want to go out and shoot things.”

“Ok. Ok. Stop talking,” cuts in Rodney, and crosses his arms over his chest, looking pointedly at Beckett.

“I see what you mean,” says Carson with a little frown. “Ok, Colonel. Let’s run a few more tests, shall we?”

*

Nothing shows up until the third brain scan. And it turns out to be an inhibitory effect on frontal lobe function. But, typically, no one can figure out why it’s still there, or why it’s having such a large behavioral impact, or any way to fix it. Carson tells them that the drug is still in Sheppard’s system. Because, clearly, they haven’t already figured that out for themselves. And he tells them it seems to make Sheppard a lot more likely to say what he’s thinking, answer direct questions candidly, and volunteer more information, at greater length, than he might otherwise. Which is another stunning revelation. And then he tells them that it should work its way out of Sheppard’s system on its own over the next few days. Or possibly weeks. And even though he should really be inured to this kind of ridiculousness by now, Rodney really still can’t believe that this is the state of medicine in the 21st century.

“I’d like to get your assessment of the situation, John,” says Elizabeth, in her best diplomat’s voice, the one she uses to get you to present her arguments for her.

John glowers. “Obviously you have to ground me. You already know that, Elizabeth. Are you waiting for me to tell you that I’m a completely unacceptable security risk in the field – or anywhere else for that matter? Want to know my IDC? Atlantis’ command codes? The easiest way to infiltrate the city? How to acquire Ancient technology, or the leading experts on it? Just ask!” And Sheppard flops back into his chair.

“Well,” says Rodney, “at least you still have sarcasm.”

*

Elizabeth, unsurprisingly, grounds them. Which is absolutely fine by Rodney because now he has the chance to do a little real science for a change. Of course, in practice, this turns into correcting the egregiously erroneous science of others which, although it usually involves more yelling, is not nearly as rewarding in the long term. And then after only a day and a half, it turns into correcting the science of others and babysitting Sheppard. So, all in all, it’s not exactly the vacation Rodney was looking forward to.

He’s in the mess, grabbing a quick Pegasus-equivalent mustard and cheese sandwich when he spots Sheppard standing against the far wall, talking to a Daedaelus crewman. Rodney detours over to do a quick check-in, but as he gets closer he’s able to make out the hunted look in Sheppard’s eye, and the way the woman, Norris? Morris? Morrison? is angling her body between the Colonel and the door, cutting off his line of escape.

Typical, Rodney thinks, slowing down to change direction. Well, the Colonel can just extricate himself from this little romantic entanglement. Which is when Lt. Moore leans in to coo, “I just want to know what you really think, Colonel.” And it hits Rodney like the proverbial anvil to the head. First of all, it’s an absolute miracle that Atlantis hasn’t yet been completely over-run by enemy agents with the size of the information leak needed to run the fastest and most accurate gossip mill Rodney’s ever encountered – and that includes Siberia, where everything was for sale, and vodka was the universal currency. And secondly, people have a lot of gall accusing him of being insensitive and a bad people-person when even a 100 line Turing Machine script designed to simulate human emotion would know better than to attempt such an anathema invasion of Sheppard’s precious privacy.

“You!” barks Rodney, inserting himself in front of Sheppard and sticking a finger in Norton’s face. “I’ll tell you what the Colonel really thinks. He thinks your behavior is absolutely shameful and a disgrace to the armed forces of the United States of America. He thinks that anybody who would take advantage of this situation in the way you were clearly hoping to do is someone John Sheppard would never want to be involved with in any capacity whatsoever. Now, normally, the Colonel is too polite to tell you that. And I’m betting, and you probably are too, that he’d never report you for this. But I can assure you,” and here Rodney gets right up into Norris’ livid, flushed face to really underline his point, “that I have no such reservations. And if I see you within ten feet of Colonel Sheppard again at any point for the rest of your stay on Atlantis, I can guarantee you that Commander Caldwell -- a close personal friend of mine, and a man with a scrupulous regard for the air force code of conduct -- is going to be hearing about it, at great length.”

Morton draws herself up to that stiff military attention that looks like she’s about to take a swing at him, which Rodney would have essentially no way of avoiding because Sheppard’s basically pressed up against his back. But instead of punching him in the face, she turns sharply on her heel and exits the mess with remarkable speed. Rodney slumps a moment with relief, then straightens and grabs Sheppard’s wrist. “Come with me,” he says, and drags Sheppard all the way to his quarters.

*
“Jesus, that was bizarre,” says Sheppard ruefully. But he’s grinning like crazy.

“Bizarre. Yes, that’s the word,” says Rodney, pacing the narrow dimension of the room. He’d known this was going to be a problem. He just hadn’t anticipated exactly how much of a problem it was going to be. “I need to make a spreadsheet.”

John starts laughing, some sort of horrible involuntary snorting sound that leaves him doubled over on the bed.

“I’m serious! And this is not funny.”

“You are serious,” Sheppard agrees. “And this is funny. In a really fucked-up way.” He stops laughing and sits up on the bed. “Rodney,” he says. “What you did was pretty incredible. And even though you ended up making an even bigger scene in front of all the people I work with every day, you really took a bullet for me there. I don’t think you even know quite how much I –,”

“No! God no. Do not tell me how you feel!” Rodney shouts over him. “The whole point is to prevent you from telling anyone how you feel.” Oh my god, what is he saying? Heightmeyer would have his head on a plate. Or else congratulate him for keeping Sheppard’s core personality intact. There’s a very good reason that Rodney never pursued psychology.

*

Rodney does make a spreadsheet. It involves assigning himself, Ronon, and Teyla to all of Sheppard’s most people-intensive on-duty hours. And even with the three ring circus in the mess the other day, and Atlantis’ high-powered grapevine, it still happens at least three more times.

*

Rodney’s taken the liberty of re-locating Sheppard’s office to the mostly empty tertiary large-systems lab so he can actually get some work done in between curtailing Sheppard’s over-sharing and chasing off the inappropriately inquisitive.

Mostly Sheppard just signs forms and makes small talk, and since subordinate military personnel aren’t really given to initiating conversation, it’s pretty smooth sailing. There’s a momentary scare when Sergeant Maxwell, who’s pretty much an asshole, and once did something to really piss off Ronon – although he refused to ever tell them what it was --, asks about his performance review.

“Postponed!” Rodney immediately yells, causing both men to jerk in surprise. “All performance reviews are postponed until further notice. Next!”

Maxwell swivels back to Sheppard with a look of disbelief. But John just shrugs. “What the man said. Dismissed, Sergeant.” And then things settle back to the quiet sound of Sheppard’s pen and his casually friendly drawl, for an hour and half where Rodney is actually making some interesting headway on his schematics for alternating targeted shield power-sharing. As a result, he almost completely misses it when some fresh-faced corporal nervously clears his throat and asks Sheppard what he thinks their chances are against the Wraith. It registers about 30 seconds later, and then he’s immediately up and out of his chair, tuning in to the dark, low cadence of Sheppard’s words in time to catch “…pretty much can’t tell our ass from our elbow in this situation. If the Wraith could destroy a civilization like the –,”

And then Rodney’s shoving him back against the wall. “Shut up! Shut up! You!” he points a finger at the kid, wide-eyed and pale. “The Colonel’s having a bad day. His blood sugar’s low. Disregard anything he may have said to you. And. And you’re dismissed.”

The soldier flicks a quick, nervous look to Sheppard, who nods minutely, and, as soon as the door slides shut, slams his head back against the wall.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! Pavchek, he’s just a kid. He didn’t sign up for this shit.” John runs an unsteady hand through his hair. “God. I’m fucking this up even more than usual.”

“Ok. No,” says Rodney, because it’s one thing to know that Sheppard cares more, tries harder, and gives himself less credit than he’d ever admit to if he had full use of his executive decision-making faculties, but it’s another thing to hear it out loud. It’s infuriating actually, in the way that incredibly bad science is, or heinously stupid math errors. “You really need to stop talking. And thinking, probably. Cut this thing off at the source. Look, Pavchek, assuming he has an IQ in the double digits, is going to figure all this out for himself eventually. Sure it’s unfortunate that he now knows what kind of fatalistic bastard his commanding officer is, but it’s not your job to protect him from the truth. And anybody who signs up to be a soldier, in another galaxy no less, has to have at least entertained the notion that they might be killed, that they might lose the battle, that they might even lose the war.”

Sheppard just looks at Rodney for a minute. He’s still backed up against the wall, and Rodney’s pretty much right up in his personal space. Which, now that he’s done talking, is suddenly awkward in a way that’s only magnified by the added absurdity of motivational speaking. But when he moves to take a step back, Sheppard wraps a hand around his upper arm. “That was quite a speech, McKay,” he says.

“Yes, well, that seems to be what it takes to get you to shut up. And we all know I can talk louder, longer and with less regard for the standards of social convention than probably anyone else you know.”

One side of Sheppard’s mouth curves up. “I owe you,” he says. “I owe you for everything. I know you didn’t exactly sign up for this either, and I want you to know --,”

“You’re doing it again,” Rodney interrupts. And yes, this is the same galaxy where he’s both met his charismatic and wildly popular parallel universe counterpart and been interpenetrated by sentient mist, but somehow a John Sheppard that won’t shut up is the highest score on the surreality meter.

John clamps his mouth shut, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He lets go of Rodney’s arm and presses both hands flat against the wall. “I’m sorry. It’s hard to tell until after it’s already too late. Thanks for watching out for that. And for being such a good friend. I don’t think I’ve –”

“Christ!” And while anyone might be reasonably curious as to what Sheppard was thinking some of the time, absolutely nobody needed to know what he was thinking every single second. “We seriously need some kind of Infinite Regress alert,” Rodney mutters.

And then John starts laughing, in that horrible, clearly genuine way that makes him sound like a hyena in its death throes.

*

“…commitment. I wonder, Colonel, have you ever thought about settling down?” comes floating down the hallway, and God, is it really too much to ask that people maintain a minimum adherence to the Golden Rule, at least long enough for Rodney to get some actual work done?

“I would really like --,” Sheppard begins. But then Rodney hears, in Teyla’s clear and measured tones, “Commitment is a very interesting concept. As I think Colonel Sheppard will agree. Did you know, Dr. Bergstram, that there are several very basic differences between the traditional Athosian joining ceremony and an Earth wedding? I believe that these differences can be traced to a categorical divergence in world-view stemming from the primacy of the Wraith threat throughout the Pegasus Galaxy.”

And Rodney is filled with the warm glow of smug vindication associated with a well-designed spreadsheet.

*

To be honest, Rodney’s not really paying attention to the conversation. He has to go over the energy sharing equations for the generators, not to mention sort out the headache with fresh water reclamation and the pressure reversal in quadrant five’s pontoon. And, Jesus, could no one ever devise a sewage treatment plan that worked for more than a week at a time? If Rodney had wanted to be a civil engineer he’d – no, scratch that, he’d just have offed himself years ago and been well out of this misery. And anyway, it’s the usual inconsequential team chatter that he’s in the habit of letting roll over him in soothing waves, until Teyla says,

“There was a…misunderstanding.”

And Rodney’s head immediately snaps up, because the word ‘misunderstanding’ spoken by Teyla, in that particular tone of voice, means one of only a handful of things, all of which are very, very bad.

“Teyla,” Sheppard and Ronon chime in at the same time – Ronon, low and menacing. Sheppard edged with anxiety.

It turns out that the misunderstanding had to do with a certain Marine corporal, no more than three weeks off the Daedaelus, who seemed to think that he knew how to conduct off-world training exercises better than his assigned (5 Wraith kills, squadron leader, Athosian, female) guide. This misunderstanding had led to the team being separated, Dr. Ling getting caught in an animal trap, Corporal Beel and Private Moon being captured by non-contact natives, and nearly sold through the gate to the Lixxi who have a bounty out on Atlantis patches, before being saved at the last minute by the near-destruction of a jumper that Dr. Sandoz crash-landed in his rescue attempt, at least providing a useful distraction for Pirha and the remaining trainees to neutralize and disarm the hostiles.

Sheppard’s up and out of his chair even before Teyla finishes the litany of idiocies. And then he takes off the down the hall, the rest of them scrambling to follow. Rodney shouting, “Wait, wait, dammit,” as he struggles to abort his process, save, unplug and zip up his laptop.

By the time he gets to Lorne’s office, where Corporal Beel is standing at attention, his eyes fixed on the back wall, Sheppard’s already talking, his face bright red, his eyes hard and tight, his voice venomous, and practically shaking. Rodney’s almost afraid to approach him in this state. Teyla too looks uncharacteristically unsure, while Ronon’s clearly just here to watch the show. And while the three of them pause, more or less frozen in place, Sheppard really hits his stride, and then, oh yes, then there’s definitely a show to watch.

“You fucked up, Corporal,” is about the first coherent thing Sheppard gets out. And from the panicked look in Beel’s eye, and the fact that he’s already been in Lorne’s office for at least 15 minutes, it’s clear he’s figured this out for himself already. Rodney has to hand it to him though, he manages to stand still, body rigid, barely flinching, with Sheppard basically spitting right into his face. “You fucked up, and people almost got hurt. You fucked up, and instead of protecting people, you put them in danger. You fucked up, and that’s a problem for you right now because that really, really pisses me off.” Sheppard pauses to draw breath. And when he starts again his voice has gone low and smooth and dangerous.

“I’ll tell you something,” says Sheppard. “I’m every leather-skinned This Man’s Army son of a bitch’s nightmare. I wasn’t picked for this command, and I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t actually mind having girl soldiers, as long as they know how to shoot a gun and have the good goddamned sense to run far and fast when they catch sight of the Wraith. I’m a pansy-assed prima donna flyboy, and I will try like hell to avoid fighting a war unless there’s no possible way to avoid it. I don’t believe in God, and I’m not all that crazy about apple pie.

"But these people, they’re mine; this city, it’s mine. And I’ll tell you what, I am the military commander of this base, so every damn soldier here is mine too. That means you, soldier. That means your head, your heart, your hands. You belong to me.

“Maybe you ended up here because someone back at brass thinks you’re a hotshot, or because they wanted to lose your ugly face in another galaxy. Maybe you’re used to your little gang of jerk-off buddies and being able to get away with all kinds of shit. And I don’t give a motherfucking good goddamn about any of that. You belong to me now. Your ass is mine, soldier. And maybe you’re dumber than a box of rocks, or maybe you’ve already figured out that the Pegasus Galaxy is three wars to lose and 50 different ways to die, but there are lots of ways it can get worse, believe me. And I know every fucking one of them.”

Sheppard stops talking then, and eventually takes a half step back from Beel, who’s pink and sweating, his pulse clearly visible, fluttering at the base of his throat. Lorne looks like he might be considering opening his mouth, or possibly shutting it first. Then Sheppard suddenly clenches his right hand into a tight fist, and spins around to face the wall. “I am so angry right now. I am so fucking angry and also –”

“You feel some complex Freudian emotions related to your mother that we won’t go into right now!” Rodney hastily interjects, jumping forward from the center of their stunned triptych to intervene before the Colonel veers to subject matter much less germane to military discipline.

“Yes! Right!” John agrees, jabbing a vehement finger in Rodney’s direction. And he goes readily enough when Teyla steps forward to grip his elbow, leading him out the door and into the hallway.

And really, thinks Rodney, pushing a smugly satisfied Ronon ahead of him out the door, sometimes honesty really is the best policy. He wonders if there’s audio on the security feed for this room and whether they can just include copies of this as part of the pre-tour training packet for new personnel.

***

“Ancient tape dispenser.”

Rodney gives Sheppard a look. “You can’t really think that.”

“I – No. But I don’t really have any idea what it could be, and it’s kinda the right shape.” Sheppard turns the artifact over in his hands. And it’s true, there are two matching shallow indentations where the tape roll could rest.

“Huh. No signal?”

“Out of juice.”

Rodney takes the tape dispenser from Sheppard and tosses it into a crate under the table.

“Hmm,” says Sheppard. “Ancient belt buckle.” But when he swipes his thumb over the surface of the shiny metal rectangle a breadbox-sized hologram appears in the air between them: a high-def motion picture of a microcosm of single-celled organisms.

“Cool. Home movies,” says Sheppard, leaning in to get a closer look. “Hey, check out the flagellum on that guy.”

“Oh. Pretty,” says Miko, coming over at that moment with Rodney’s coffee. “Good morning, Colonel Sheppard. How are you today?”

Rodney chokes down the scalding sip of coffee he just took to turn and glare at Miko, who should really know better. But at least she has the grace to immediately bring a hand up over her mouth and turn wide, horrified eyes on Sheppard. “Oh! I forgot. I’m so sorry. Please. Please don’t answer that.”

But Sheppard just chuckles, and acts pretty relaxed for a severe, albeit well-socialized, introvert who’s being compelled to reveal his innermost thoughts and feelings.

“I’m good, Miko. I don’t have to worry about telling any secrets because you already know Physics and Engineering is my favorite lab.” And he gives her a wink and a grin that has her turning pink all the way to the tips of her ears and rushing away to the other side of the room. And Rodney can’t believe Sheppard is turning this into an opportunity to flirt. Except. Wait. He turns to give Sheppard an assessing look.

“You don’t actually mind lightswitch duty, do you?” he asks.

“Naw,” says Sheppard, still smiling.

“You,” says Rodney, pointing a triumphant finger at Sheppard’s chest, “actually like lightswitch duty!”

“Yep,” says Sheppard.

Well, this is interesting. “Let me just state that I have absolutely no desire to know why. But, um, I am wondering if you have any particular desire, urge, compulsion, say, to tell me why.”

“Yeah. Some.” Sheppard shrugs.

“But you can ignore those urges?”

“Yeah. Mostly.” Sheppard scratches behind his ear. “I mean, if this conversation goes on much longer I’ll probably end up telling you everything, including what I had for breakfast. But I think if you don’t push too hard, and I concentrate, I can avoid detailing all the potentially embarrassing and professionally comp--,”

“Ok! Ok. That’s good. That’s great!” Rodney interrupts hastily, clapping his hands together.

“Yeah. It is kind of great.” Sheppard’s grinning again. But before they can work themselves into yet another infinite regress situation, Rodney derails that conversational gambit by reaching out to snap off the hologram/belt buckle.

“Hey!” says Sheppard. “I was watching that.”

“Oh, you were not,” says Rodney.

“I must have been,” Sheppard slyly points out. “A little bit. Out of the corner of my eye.”

And Rodney huffs out a surprised laugh. For a second he thinks maybe he could live with Sheppard being just a little bit out of whack if it meant he got to be like this, like he’s already knocked back two beers and is working on his third. Like they can just hang out in the lab, and play with fun toys. Like there really aren’t three wars to lose and 50 different ways to die. And lots of ways it can get worse.


*******

The universe, of course, wastes no time in punishing Rodney for his nanosecond of optimism.

There are six Genii field agents posing as Alturan refugees, who now have six hostages. New day, new sallow-skinned hawk-nosed war-mongerer, but Rodney’s pretty sure they’ve played this tune before. Unfortunately, repeated exposure doesn’t seem to have caused him to develop any tolerance. Instead, the process seems to more closely resemble the steadily deadlier sensitivity of allergic reaction. Rodney can feel his heart jack-rabbiting somewhere around his adam’s apple, and he has to resist the instinct to press a protective hand to his chest.

“I don’t see why you need anyone else,” Sheppard is already saying, and Rodney can’t for the life of him remember what the hell Sheppard was even doing in the gateroom. “You can’t really do better than the chief scientist and the military commander of Atlantis. If I were planning a take-over of this city I’d just grab McKay here to jimmy all the locks I couldn’t open with my own super-charged, backstage pass genetic key.”

Alton Dar (sallow-skinned, hawk-nosed, jackbooted) looks slightly suspicious at Sheppard volunteering this information, but he’s clearly considering the idea. Rodney bites back a groan of despair. God, the timing of this invasion couldn’t be worse.

“Colonel Sheppard,” says Alton, “you will tell me your access codes.”

“Sure,” says John, “I probably will. It’s the kind of thing you don’t recover from – I don’t think I’d ever be able to forgive myself, especially if there were casualties – God forbid --. Sure, it’ll destroy me, but I’ll hand over to you all the sensitive information you want. Information you can use to take this city over or tear it apart, destroy my people and bring the Wraith down on the heads of your enemies. I know it all; I’d really say that I know too much. Control isn’t nearly as decentralized around here as it probably should be; it’s one of our big weaknesses. I’ll tell you the other ones. I’ve got a prioritized list of the top ten, right here,” and John taps his temple with a forefinger. “All you have to do is ask,” he says, and pastes on his biggest shit-eating grin.

Jesus. And of course it’s all totally true, delivered in a tone so excessively sincere that no one with even an ounce of cynicism could possibly take it seriously. And if there’s one thing that can be counted on with the Genii, Rodney’s found, is a healthy amount of distrust in the motivations of others.

And yes, right on cue, Alton stalks over to John and backhands him across the face so hard he falls into the dialing console. “Do not toy with me, Colonel,” he growls into Sheppard’s face. “Give me the code to raise the shield or I will put a bullet through your Dr. McKay.”

“Indigo Title 22 Pirate 9 Repeat 1!” Sheppard immediately shouts out. “That’s for short-term de-activation: 10 minute window. Lily Marigold Dolphin 6 Overcoat 3 Pilot 8 2 2 1 Twilight. That’s indefinite, has to be reinitialized. To do that, you need to enter 3 7 31. For remote control deactivation: 6 28. To reactivate remotely: 496. To activate the self-destruct you need three codes, from the three senior staff, but I know all of them; I made up a handy little mnemonic based on Riemann sums to memorize them, I can tell you how –”

Alton interrupts by clocking Sheppard across the other cheek, cutting John’s lip on the top edge of the toothy grin he’s managed to keep attached to his face. “Do you doubt my sincerity, Colonel? I would be happy to convince you of it.”

“Not at all,” coughs Sheppard from where he’s fallen under the technician’s chair. “I don’t think you’re bluffing. I think you come from a long line of Genii brutality – one that I have more experience of than I’d really like. Each one of you is nastier than the last. And I’ve never seen any one of you hesitate to pull the trigger.”

Of course the goose-stepping thug takes it as a compliment, puffing up a little, tugging at the bottom of his jacket. Rodney has to bite down hard on his bottom lip to prevent some extremely apposite comment on the difference between justified force and sadistic megalomania. “But you will not cooperate?”

“No…Well, not on purpose. I mean normally I’d offer you something of lesser value in the usual way. Something you want, but that won’t mean handing over the city on a platter. Say, the keys to the puddlejumpers, or a picnic basket of C4 – I mean, Elizabeth would be pissed about that second one, but I’d totally do it. I’d do lots of things to prevent deaths that would be even more meaningless than usual. You might agree to whatever I came up with, even though it’s a completely transparent bid to buy time, because you’re overly confident, and not particularly eager to give up control to your Genii bosses who’ll come strolling through the gate just as soon as everything is secure. And if you agree, well you’ll give us the chance to implement our secret and untested emergency contingency plan… And then, if that works, I will make a very strongly worded recommendation at the next staff meeting to increase our security – yet again.”

John shrugs guilelessly. And Rodney is forcibly reminded of that saying, what is it? the best lie is the truth? And, Jesus, that right there is the Rosetta Stone to the mind of John Sheppard. This could practically be the Colonel on any day of the week – well except for the increased frequency of adjunct phrases and modifying adjectives. At this point, it’s like Sheppard’s on the humanities-major pill.

Of course, now that he thinks about it, Sheppard’s usual strategy doesn’t have much over a 58% success rate with hostiles. Surprisingly, however, Alton barks out a laugh at the end of that little confessional. And instead of shooting anybody throws him and Sheppard in the mechanical, non-gene controlled containment cell (which is really just a converted storage closet with a reinforced steel door, but proves that sometimes old war dogs really can learn new tricks).

***

“You don’t happen to have a powerbar on you?” Rodney asks hopefully.
“Sorry,” says John.

The only thing to do now is wait for the secret, untested emergency contingency plan to go into effect and hope that a) it works and b) it works before Alton gets impatient and starts shooting people. But Rodney doesn’t like small spaces, and he doesn’t like not having anything to do, and he doesn’t like thinking about stupid Genii warlords waving their guns around the control room and leaving their fascist fingerprints all over the sensitive equipment. It’s not a food-poisoning kind of day, but only because if Rodney had stayed crouched over his self-cleaning Ancient toilet they’d still be in this mess, only he’d be sick to his stomach too.

“Here,” says Rodney, fumbling a tube of Pegasus-Equivalent Neosporin out of his left side pocket and slapping it into Sheppard’s hand. “You wouldn’t want to get infected with Genii bacteria on top of everything else.”

“No, I really wouldn’t,” agrees Sheppard, smiling down at the tube in his hand for a moment before starting to rub it into the twin abrasions high on his cheekbones, dangerously close to each eye.

Rodney holds out for another 3 minutes of silence before he can’t take it anymore. “You think it’s going to work, right? I mean there’s no reason for it not to work, but maybe we shouldn’t have made it take so long to initialize; there’s nothing wrong with an hourly check-in, or really, given our history, 20 minutes doesn’t really seem that unreasonable now does it? Wait!” yells Rodney coming to sudden awareness of his gaffe and slapping a hand over Sheppard’s opening mouth. “Don’t say anything! You can’t lie reassuringly to me! I don’t want to know what horribly cynical thoughts are going through that little head of yours. God, I wish you could still lie to me.”

Sheppard snorts unattractively around Rodney’s hand, which causes him to snatch it back and wipe it off repeatedly against his pantleg. “Rodney, listen –“ Sheppard starts.

“No. No. La, la, la. I can’t hear you!”

“Rodney!” Sheppard shouts, grabbing Rodney’s wrists and pulling his hands away from his ears. “Rodney!” and then his voice lowers to a whisper, right into Rodney’s left ear. “I think it’s going to work. I have every confidence that it’s going to work. I have never, for a minute, doubted that it’s going to work. I would bet everything, and in fact I pretty much have, that it’s going to work. The smartest people I know came up with this plan. You came up with this plan, Rodney.”

“I –“ says Rodney, lowering his hands, which Sheppard still has a firm grasp on. “I – that’s good. Yes. Thank you. Very, actually, very reassuring.” His ear feels slightly moist and warm from Sheppard’s breath. “You, um, by the way, you’re not supposed to know all the command codes, you know.”

Sheppard slowly releases Rodney’s wrists and leans back on his heels. “Yeah, and neither are you,” he says pointedly.

“Yes, ok. Point taken.” Rodney huffs.

They play prime/not-prime for the next 10 minutes. Then Fantasy Interplanetary Alliance which involves constructing the best and/or most plausible Pegasus Galaxy coalition that could be assembled to fight the Wraith, and usually ends up with the two of them arguing over whether the Hipta sub-light craft are better than the Ammeglan satellite network. This time, however, when pressed, Sheppard agrees that early detection would actually be useful, and certainly trumps glorified shuttle service, no matter how streamlined the chassis. And then goes on to admit that his final team would include the Genii, because zealots with a developed military, and an actual R&D department, who are committed to hopeless causes would be an obvious asset in a war against hyper-organized arthro-vampire uber-menschen. Rodney concedes this point but finds it necessary to point out the vanishingly small probability that the Genii would ever pull their heads out of their own asses long enough to make a real alliance a possibility. And then they both lapse into glum silence. Which eventually just becomes silence.

Rodney is mentally reorganizing the science duty roster and trying to figure out who he can assign to sewage this week, with his eyes closed and his head tipped back against the narrow, rock-hard pallet, when completely and totally out of nowhere Sheppard says, low and hoarse, mostly like he’s talking to himself, “I really want to kiss you right now.”

Rodney barely has time to think What? What the fuck?! before Sheppard jumps up and slams his fist, hard into the wall. Jesus! What the -- which is when the emergency klaxons come on and the door to their cell swings open.

***

There is a sense in which it could be said that he understands the current situation. It’s true that there aren’t many things that Rodney would consider off limits. Be he’s sure as hell run a mile from the things he knows he can’t have. It’s been 25 years since he’s touched a piano.

‘I really want to kiss you right now.’

There’s no way that was the first time John Sheppard had had that thought, unvoiced, and maybe even unacknowledged. And suddenly Rodney flashes on all the times he and Sheppard have shared a prison cell ‘I really want to kiss you right now.’, a ‘visitor’s chamber’, ‘I really want to kiss you right now.’, a straw hut ‘I really want to kiss you right now.’, or been tied to a wooden pole ‘I really want to kiss you right now.’ Jesus.

The thing is, he knows the real John Sheppard. Well, he knows that there is a real John Sheppard, as distinct from the 4-inch thick John Sheppard veneer that walks around Atlantis. But he never saw this, not even to guess at, not even a hint. This piece of information is like a surgical incision, a perfect hole punched out of the rest of the picture. Rodney’s put quite a bit of time and effort over the years into constructing that picture, and frankly, he resents that missing piece. He resents not knowing this.

***

Rodney gives Sheppard 72 hours to hide and, with enough wishful thinking, convince himself that Rodney will let it go.

Although Rodney doesn’t really have much of a plan he’s always been good at thinking on his feet. And he’s been thinking a lot about John Sheppard and kissing these past couple of days.

“We need to talk,” says Rodney when Sheppard answers the door, shouldering his way past him and into John’s quarters. And John just gives him the most betrayed look ever. “Oh, Jesus. Relax. I’m just going to ask you a series of yes/no questions.”

John slumps down onto the edge of the bed, but nods slowly.

“Ok,” Rodney begins, wiping off his hands surreptitiously on the sides of his pants. “You’ve wanted to do that for awhile?”

Nod.

“You weren’t ever planning on saying anything, were you?”

Head shake.

“Yes or no?” says Rodney, sitting down on the bed and curving his hand around the back of John’s neck. John closes his eyes and barely, barely nods. “Yes or no?” Rodney rubs a thumb over Sheppard’s bottom lip and Sheppard stutters in a breath, tries to start talking, a whispered, mumbled string of sound. “Shh. Shhh,” says Rodney, and kisses him, slow, and soft.

When he pulls back, Sheppard has his eyes closed, lashes fluttering, his lips slightly parted on hot, quick breaths.

“So,” says Rodney, only fumbling slightly, “I’m glad we had this talk.” He has all the information he needs. He knows everything now, and Sheppard gazing up at him with wide, unfocused eyes as he leaves is just one more corroborating data point.

***

It takes four and half more days for Sheppard’s brain scans to come back completely normal. Rodney may or may not know this before Elizabeth’s announcement by hacking into Carson’s computer records and checking after every one of Sheppard’s appointments. And then it takes another day for Sheppard to make his way to Rodney’s quarters. During that time Rodney goes from mostly sure I can give you what you want. Let me give you what you want, to completely confident I want this, to mildly impatient Hey, we’re not getting any younger here. And I, for one, have absolutely no interest in wasting my remaining peak years on stoic self-denial.

When his door chimes at 4:00 am Atlantis Standard Time, Rodney’s more or less convinced himself that he’s wanted John Sheppard forever, and can barely wait to do all the things to him that he’s been fantasizing about for the last four years (6 days).

He fists a hand in Sheppard’s shirt, pulling him all the way into the room, and Sheppard responds immediately, bringing his hands up to clutch, hard, at Rodney’s hips. “Jesus. Finally,” says Rodney, pushing Sheppard flush against him with a palm to his lower back, curving the fingers of his other hand around Sheppard’s jaw to hold him in place while he kisses him, fast and mostly dry, then slower and a lot wetter.

“Rodney,” Sheppard whispers when he pulls back, sliding his hands up under Rodney’s shirt to tug it off in one swift move.

“Yes. Yes,” says Rodney, returning the favor for John, then pulling him close again. “You have to let me,” he whispers into John’s ear, stroking his thumb through the soft hairs at the nape of his neck. “You have to let me.” And he’s not sure what he means, only that John doesn’t have to be so damn careful all the time, because Rodney already has all the pieces except this one, and he should give him this one too.

But John just says, “Yes. I, God. Yes, I know,” gasping into Rodney’s neck. And then they’re kissing again, John surging up like he’s trying to climb Rodney’s body, breathe Rodney’s air, swallow Rodney’s tongue, then giving it all up, letting Rodney taste his soft unresisting lips, the curve of his mouth shading into tingling stubble. At which point contiguity becomes briefly suspended.


*
John has one hand splayed across the back of Rodney’s head, the other down the front of Rodney’s pants, and Rodney’s not sure which is turning him on more.

*
When he pushes, John lands splayed across the bed, his chest heaving, and Rodney straddles his hips, pushes down on his shoulders, leans in to bite him underneath his chin.

*
John practically tears Rodney’s pants open, and immediately starts sucking him through his cotton briefs, making choked almost pained-sounding noises, sucking and licking and sucking until Rodney’s erection is obscenely visible through the soaked white material.

*
“Harder,” moans John, reaching up to dig his fingers into Rodney’s shoulders. “God, harder. Harder. Harder.” And Rodney pushes into him again, and again, and again, his arms shaking, his ears ringing, sweat rolling down his lower back, harder, and more, and again, like it will never stop, until John throws his mouth open, his eyes widening, a look almost of surprise crossing his face.


Rodney’s drifting, one arm flung out towards the wall, when Sheppard curls around his back, pressing his face into Rodney’s neck, whispering into his skin, “You know Physics and Engineering is my favorite lab, don’t you Rodney?” And Rodney smiles into his pillow, because he does know that, has known that, for almost four years. And then he’s falling right off the edge, right down into sleep.








 
 
 
blue underbelly of a red statejessebee on November 13th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
The thing is, he knows the real John Sheppard. Well, he knows that there is a real John Sheppard, as distinct from the 4-inch thick John Sheppard veneer that walks around Atlantis.

Oh, wow, that's a helluva discription, and so true! So much more to Sheppard than anyone ever sees. This whole thing is awesome. Usually I'm not one for truth serum stories 'cause they tend to make the characters run on too much, but this one just really rings true, character-wise.

*mems*
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! That was the fun challenge for me -- making John say more than he usually does, but not so much that there's nothing left to fill in yourself.
pir8fancier on November 13th, 2008 04:25 am (UTC)
I loved this. Your Rodney voice is superb.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
kudrakudra2324 on November 13th, 2008 04:41 am (UTC)
i love this.
semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
(Anonymous) on November 13th, 2008 05:09 am (UTC)
Or Something Like It
Wonderful. Love the protective Rodney and the vulnerable (very appreciative) John.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
Re: Or Something Like It
Glad you liked it!
bibliokat: awwwww Rodney! by ninnuibibliokat on November 13th, 2008 05:13 am (UTC)
I'M SO HAPPY YOU FINISHED IT!

*awesome*!
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
Yay! It only took me a little longer than I thought...:)
wellifnotwiselywellifnotwisely on November 13th, 2008 05:13 am (UTC)
L.O.V.E.D.

Brilliant, brilliant Rodney voice. A completely (and legitimately) OC John Sheppard - providing the best sort of meta in its character revelations. +LoL funny. And a really fine romance.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm glad you liked it.
Anonymity as a Refugemirabile_dictu on November 13th, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
Really, really wonderful -- so true to them, even John, despite everything. Thank you!
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
So glad you liked it!
don't call me moonpiecindyjade on November 13th, 2008 06:01 am (UTC)
that was hilarious and AWESOME.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Mother of Chaos, but not YOUR Motherhalf_elf_lost on November 13th, 2008 06:16 am (UTC)
Very very enjoyable read.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
ZoniDuck: SGA McKaySheppardDate by blimey_iconszoniduck on November 13th, 2008 06:42 am (UTC)
Oh my God this is fucking fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing it! I truly loved it. :-)
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.
(no subject) - eleature on August 24th, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
wickedmoonshinewickedmoonshine on November 13th, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
oh wow
I love how Rodney slowly converts 6 days into 4 years of mental john-worship. This has got to be the best truth serum story I've ever read. I throw you love now. *throws!*
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
Re: oh wow
Thank you! Thank you!
(Deleted comment)
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Minx, (n.) a pert girl, (adj.) saucy; impudent_minxy_ on November 13th, 2008 08:15 am (UTC)
Aw, that was fantastic! The way Rodney protects John so fiercely it's ultimately John's compulsions that are the only things to get through. And I love that his respect for the compromising position continues and he waits for John to recover (mostly.)

Spreadsheets, hee!

Thanks!
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
Long live spreadsheets! Glad you liked it.
pages of poetry locked behind my eyescity_of_words on November 13th, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
This could practically be the Colonel on any day of the week – well except for the increased frequency of adjunct phrases and modifying adjectives. At this point, it’s like Sheppard’s on the humanities-major pill.

Oh, God, it's so true! And hilarious, though probably not as funny when I do it. :is chagrined::

Seriously, I love this whole story--John's info-dumps are brilliant, and Roadney's voice is just perfect. Like jessabee, I'm not usually a fan of truth serum stories, but you managed the trope perfectly.
pages of poetry locked behind my eyescity_of_words on November 13th, 2008 09:06 am (UTC)
And, obviously, I can't type at 4 am. Sorry.
(no subject) - semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
mary_russell11: black and white Johnmary_russell11 on November 13th, 2008 09:26 am (UTC)
jesus*tries to catch her breath* I think I want to declare my never-ending love for this story in front of family and witnesses, that's how much I love this*g*
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
Elizariaelizaria on November 13th, 2008 10:45 am (UTC)
Ooooh, I like. And with that I mean I really really like this, in the ways of awesome and hilarious and oh boys!
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it!
Luthien: SGA: Coolluthien on November 13th, 2008 11:00 am (UTC)
You've got two great characterisations here. Your Rodney voice is terrific, but your Sheppard is fantastic, with his outer layers peeled back in a way that would be very difficult for anyone but is a special sort of torture for someone as carefully reserved, in certain ways, as Sheppard likes to be. I love how you show what lies beneath Sheppard's usual surface, and how clearly the things he says and does relate back to the way he usually is. I love the lengths that Rodney goes to to protect Sheppard. Of course he has a spreadsheet. *g* And I love that Rodney had worked out all the important details of who the real John Sheppard was, apart from one small but crucial factor, before any of this happened.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you thought Sheppard was still in character -- the idea that Rodney already knows all this stuff about him only works if you think that this is the real John Sheppard...
Nora Charlesnora_charles on November 13th, 2008 11:13 am (UTC)
I feel pure love for this fic! :-D Truth spells are a bullet proof kink for me, and the team coming together to protect John makes it EVEN BETTER. And then John being forced to betray himself anyway makes it EVEN MORE BETTER!
And of course the fic being so very well written, funny, sweet and totally in character (I think your Teyla providing distraction with interesting anthropology trivia is more in character than canon) makes this fic like the world's most delicious chocolatety chocolate cake with no sugar hang-over, provided you like chokolate.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I have a soft spot for Teyla in lecturing mode, and I imagine that she developed a reputation to the extent that whenever it was her turn to chaperone John, people actually avoided them in the halls.
Gaffsie: comfortgaffsie on November 13th, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
For a second he thinks maybe he could live with Sheppard being just a little bit out of whack if it meant he got to be like this, like he’s already knocked back two beers and is working on his third. Like they can just hang out in the lab, and play with fun toys.

Oh wow, that really says a lot about how guarded John usually is, even around his friends. I really like the character insight you have. :)
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Just a little angst to get you to the good stuff!
danceswithgarydanceswithgary on November 13th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
I loved the way you explored this, especially how you maintained the core of Sheppard even while the truth serum exposed his chewy center. Rodney was wonderful in his protectiveness, especially when he stepped back and even applauded the dressing down John gave to the idiot Corporal. Wonderful!
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
nnmpsn: zpmnnmpsn on November 13th, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, I loved this. Like Rodney, I really like relaxed TruthfulJohn, while I cringe at the appalling situation that got him there.

And I really love how Rodney says "I need to make a spread sheet." the way other people would say "I need a drink!"
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Spreadsheet love! Thanks!
beachlass: transparentbeachlass on November 13th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, such a wonderful story! Rodney's narrative voice was absolutely spot on, and that, along with the descriptive writing drew me headlong into each scene.

Wonderfully done.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
beah: sga d hew's adorable buttbeahorgana on November 13th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
Oh boy I am having trouble expressing my love for this via text. I loved the team-iness of everyone keeping watch on John, and the Genii conflict making this a porn-with-plot (and the oh so accurate description of the Genii commander who always eats a little too much pie), and your characterizations of John and Rodney were perfect. And the sexy parts! So sexy! :D Love love love it.

edited b/c by the time i finally finished this comment the girl above me had written "spot on" in the same place i had and the repetition bothered me. *g*

Edited at 2008-11-13 02:21 pm (UTC)

semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I do always try to throw in a little plot as a segue to the porn:)
mezzo_camminmezzo_cammin on November 13th, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
See, the thing about truth serum fics is you get to see the absolute truth in the characters...and that scene with Corporal Beel was so, so true. I believe that John feels exactly like that. Exactly. It kind of gave me goosebumps. I love how protective of John that Rodney and the team were. tThe scene with the Genii was just priceless, and also true, and I love how John was able to turn his inability to lie into an advantage. And then there was love. The series of yes/no questions was brilliant, and hot. I'm so glad you finished this!! :)
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! Secretly, I just wanted to make John say 'I'm a pansy-assed prima donna flyboy' :)
(no subject) - mezzo_cammin on November 14th, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
elsa12790 on November 13th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Wow. This is *everything* I want in an SGA fic. I fell in love with it from the moment Rodney took on Norris/Morris/Morrison/Norton/Morton. Flawlessly done.
semivowel: pic#65021705semivowel on November 13th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm pretty fond of that scene myself: Rodney rushing in where angels fear to tread, Sheppard secretly thinking it's funny and also endearing (and also a bit impressed with Rodney's speechifying).