Title: Where You Want To Be
Word count: ~13,000
Summary: John's used to not getting what he wants. Includes: public sex, the good drugs, the bad drugs, penis-shaped fruit, Dancing!Rodney, and the ping pong ball from hell.
The Ktalti have a plant the biochemists are convinced they can use to synthesize high strength narcotics – something close enough to the opioid family. It’s a pretty little weed with pale blue flowers, growing wild all over GTW-441. The Ktalti are more than happy to give it to them, nothing required in return. There’s just the matter of the welcoming and friendship ceremony.
No sooner are the words out of the mouth of the Ktalti magistrate, than Rodney can be heard muttering, “Of course, a ceremony. I’m sure it won’t involve anything humiliating or painful or morally objectionable.”
Teyla talks over him, taking the magistrate to one side to politely enquire as to the specifics of the ritual, but there’s a tension in her voice. Ronon begins idly playing with the knife on his belt loop. They’ve all grown wary –understandably so—of alien initiation rites, not always as innocuous as advertised.
John just keeps smiling, one hand on his P-90, wondering what the Ktalti will ask them to do, and whether or not it will be too much to ask. On TLI-398 he had had to sacrifice something that resembled a goat, but with sweet, sad eyes that he still can’t forget. But on PRQ-943, the Mapathans had just held their hands and chanted for an hour, then given them bushels of a green, nutty-tasting grain in exchange for the repair of some of their steam-powered farming equipment. On LXW-122, Ronon had shot a flaming arrow through a hoop. For the Birnai, Teyla had sat still while something like a five inch scarab walked the length of her body – John had had to look away before it even made it past her knee. For the promise of a leaf that could be brewed into a mild stimulant, they had each of them donated a teaspoon of blood, taken from the left palm, and dripped onto the yellow earth (“Believe me, Colonel, I’d probably be willing to part with a lesser used toe for the chance at something stronger than Athosian tea.”).
But the Furulians had demanded a display of leadership that involved beating his people. On RVR-355 they had wanted children, or the chance to make them. The Pritam had a nasty game of Russian Roulette with a poison arrow. The DanDa required a marriage alliance. The Jab had wanted to keep Rodney for a month.
They had walked away –or, when necessary, run away—from those planets, from the chance for salt, industrial grade alcohol, unrefined naquadah ore. John liked to think that there were certain things he wouldn’t do, but he wasn’t so naïve that he didn’t realize that the stakes kept changing. And the bar kept lowering.
They had made a mistake –he had made mistake—on NCG-374. Atlantis had a problem with a growing collection of burnt out control crystals, and the Toolau had a district of Ancient ruins they were willing to let them scavenge. Everyone figured Ronon would have no trouble ‘proving his fortitude’ in what sounded like an iron-man obstacle course. And, as predicted, he breezed through the running, the climbing, the shooting, the swimming, and the spelunking. But it turned out the finale was a dose of hallucinogens that had him crying and screaming on the ground, reliving the coming of the Wraith, and the last days of Sateda.
So, all in all, John was relieved to hear the Ktalti’s terms. “How many participants?” he asked over the sounds of Rodney’s enraged sputtering.
“At least two,” Teyla replied.
“And how does it have to be done?”
“There are no specific requirements. But the minister was adamant that it be mutual.”
“And that’s it?” asks John. “Just. On the ground. They don’t want to do anything with it afterward?” Like try to get someone pregnant.
“No,” Teyla reassures him immediately. “I made sure of that.”
“Ok. Looks like we’re good to go. Teyla, Ronon, you know what to do. Rodney, you’re up.”
McKay’s low-grade rant suddenly bursts into surround-sound. “You can’t be serious. You’re not seriously going to. Going to. “Spill your seed”?”
“Nope,” John replies grinning. “I think you’re going to spill it for me.” He’s pretty relaxed now. This won’t even be that hard. They need those drugs. Have needed those drugs. And the fact that he can get them, can come back from a mission successful, keep them afloat a little longer, means he’s having a good day.
Rodney’s red-faced and sweating. “This is too much!” he’s shouting. “Of all the indignities I have been subjected to in two galaxies, this really takes the cake. Forget it. I refuse. I refuse to engage in public sex.” He crosses his arms over his chest and sticks his chin out. John’s kind of disappointed. As rants go, it’s remarkably short of verbiage and ad hominem attacks.
“Now, now, Rodney. It’s your turn, fair and square.”
They don’t really keep a one to one tally, but there are unspoken rules about these things. It’s always John’s job to complete the ritual, unless he can’t, or he’s obviously unsuited for it. When it’s more than one person, it’s Teyla for agility or precision, Ronon for strength or endurance, and Rodney for anything potentially embarrassing (something you really wouldn’t feel comfortable asking the leader of a people, or the last member of an entire civilization to perform). Rodney’s up, and everyone knows it, including him.
“Look,” he says, dropping his voice and changing tactics. “This is just not something I can do. I’m, I’m not like you.”
Right, because John whips it out for alien dignitaries all the time. “Relax, Rodney. It’ll be fine,” John tells him, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Just close your eyes and think of Atlantis.”
They leave their weapons and tac vests with Ronon and Teyla, but walk into the stone circle with the rest of their clothes on. Rodney’s gone quiet which, in John’s experience, is never a good sign. And as he takes a look around at the throngs of expectant faces: men, women, children – Christ, people have brought their kids to see this – he starts to feel a little less confident about the whole thing himself. Rodney looks like he’s ready to bolt, so John puts a steadying hand on his arm. “Look,” he says, as the headman begins banging a large gong, “it’ll be fine. Just pretend you’re alone. Close your eyes. There’s nobody watching.”
Rodney looks like he desperately wants to accept this reassurance, but his superior intellect and native realism just won’t let him. “It’s going to be kind of hard to pretend I’m by myself,” he hisses, red now all the way from his ears to his throat, “with your hand on my dick!”
“Naw. I’ve got an idea,” says John. He has to act now, before McKay works himself into a full-fledged anxiety attack. With a calmness he doesn’t completely feel, he reaches out to unzip Rodney’s pants. Rodney jerks, snaps he eyes down to John’s hand, and then clamps them shut. John just holds Rodney loosely in his hand, unzipping himself and guiding Rodney’s hand to his own fly.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he whispers, as Rodney hesitantly wraps his fingers around John’s cock. “You’re going to jerk me off. Pretend that you’re doing it to yourself. Do what you like, whatever gets you off the fastest. Whatever you do to me, I’m going to do to you. It’ll be just like your hand on your own dick. Ok? There’s no one else here, just –“
“Yes. Yes. I get it. Shut up now,” snaps Rodney, and just like that, he’s off, pressing his thumb right underneath the shaft, at the base, cupping the head of John’s cock in his wide palm. John’s caught off guard and it takes him a second to catch up, rushing to do the same to Rodney. Rodney’s still got his eyes squeezed shut, but John doesn’t have that luxury. He needs to know what’s going on around them. He needs to make sure they’re still safe. As a result, he can see Rodney’s face, tensed in concentration, see Rodney’s hand on his dick, his own hand on Rodney’s dick as he copies the motion a beat later. And while this may be the way Rodney jerks himself off all the time, for John, it’s completely new.
God, it’s been so long since he’s had someone else’s hand on his cock. He’s getting hard already. He can see it reflected immediately on Rodney’s face, a smug curling up of one corner of his mouth. And there’s no way he’s coming before Rodney, so he steps it up, doing everything Rodney’s doing to him, only harder, faster, with an extra twist on the end. Rodney’s looking serious now, pulling out all the stops as he swipes his thumb across the moisture at the tip and slicks it down the length of John’s dick, pressing hard against the vein as his fingers travel back up. He’s getting close, and so is Rodney. So he’s probably not thinking too clearly – about their deal, or their audience, or how he might be really, really screwing himself here, when he slides his other hand into Rodney’s pants, giving his balls a quick fondle, then pressing his fingers into the strip of skin just beyond. Rodney’s eyes fly open in surprise, and then he’s coming, jerking in John’s other hand. John follows him over, staring straight into Rodney’s eyes as he spills, onto Rodney’s hand, his pants, the ground between them.
A polite smattering of applause follows. Rodney jumps and snatches his hand back, as if he really had managed to forget what they were doing here, and is only now realizing that he and his team leader just masturbated each other in the town square in front of the entire population of an alien city. Thankfully, the Ktalti don’t ask them to stick around after the main event, seeing them off to Atlantis with their warm wishes, and ten baskets full of blue flowers.
He and Rodney are fine. It’s no big deal, and they never speak of it again.
And it’s not like he ever thought about Rodney that way before. It’s just that it’s been so long. And now he knows what Rodney looks like when he comes. And if he tries out Rodney’s moves late at night in his own quarters, it’s just so it will feel like it’s not his own hand on his own cock. And anyway, it’s fine. He’s used to not getting what he wants.
“I can’t believe you initiated that sequence,” Rodney’s still muttering, kicking John in the shin as he crawls over him to reach the access panel.
“Hey, I didn’t know it was going to go ballistic. Besides, you told me to turn it on.”
“Yes. ‘Turn on’, not ‘Set to Pulverize’,” Rodney grumbles.
The two of them are stuffed in a maintenance duct off the secondary lab, hiding from Ancient artifact #4325.6b.
It had looked innocent enough, a pale pink sphere roughly the size of a ping pong ball. And after he turned it on it had seemed to want John to play with it, suggesting eagerly that he initiate a special sequence of mental switches. It had grown steadily warmer in his hand as he did so, until it levitated right up to eye level – “Rodney! Hey this is pretty cool. Take a look at—“ and started slamming itself around the room with such force it shattered an experimental circuit of micro-crystals Rodriguez had left out on one of the lab benches, arcing up and into the back wall, where it ricocheted off with a loud thump, sending up a shower of sparks as it barreled into an open laptop on the other side of the room.
“Holy crap!” yelled John, diving underneath the nearest table and pulling Rodney down after him, who flailed for his own laptop first, screaming “Turn it off! Turn it off!” as he crashed into John, banging him against a table leg.
“I tried that!” John yells back.
“Well try harder!”
And even though McKay’s an ass about it, he’s usually right, so John tries again, squeezing his eyes shut and screaming “Off! Off! Right now! I mean it!” in his head. But the Super Ball cheerfully points out that it has no over-ride protocol and continues zipping around the room at an increasingly frenetic pace. And after the fourth time it pounds against the top, or the edge of their table, off one of the legs, John starts to think it might be out to get them now.
“Oh my god,” says Rodney. “It’s aiming for us! What did you do to piss it off?” But he doesn’t wait for John’s sarcastic retort. “Listen, we can’t stay here. I need an access panel that will give me environmental controls. There’s one in that maintenance duct.” And he points at the far side of the room to a space between two of the un-movable work tables, in an area depressingly free of natural cover.
Which is how John ends up playing baseball with a three legged stool as Rodney frantically works to remove the duct cover. The ball is small and fast and hard to see in the strobing light of the automatic quarantine, and it almost takes him out at the knees before he manages to sideswipe it with the business end of the stool, sending it into the wall three feet away, where it leaves an impressive dent before flying across the room again.
“Hurry up, McKay!”
“Almost. Almost done,” Rodney huffs.
Whack. Double to right. Ga-Thump. Foul tip. John’s just sent a triple to center when Rodney yells “Done!”, which is just as well because the last hit splintered the cheap laminate on his makeshift bat. John throws himself into the duct behind Rodney, and when he reaches behind himself to pull the cover back over the entrance, the ping pong ball from hell gets him right in the wrist. Hard. And it fucking hurts. Like a motherfucker.
“What happened? What’s wrong? Did it get you?” asks Rodney as John falls back into Rodney’s legs, cradling his wrist – which he’s sure is broken – with his good hand. “Let me. Let me,” says Rodney, making motions as though he wants to touch John’s hand.
He pulls it protectively closer to his chest. “No! Just figure out how to shut that damn thing down!”
“Right. Right. Ok,” says Rodney. And then, “I, um, need to get at that panel right…” and he points to an indentation behind John’s head.
John groans, but shifts to press himself to the other side of the narrow space, and they somehow end up –with much jostling and swearing – with John stretched out with his bad hand up over his head, resting on his elbow and hip, Rodney in front of him, facing away towards the panel.
Rodney’s hotwiring his datapad into a mess of Ancient circuitry while John finally gets on his radio and assures Elizabeth that they’ve got it under control, and no there is not an invading Wraith, or a flesh-eating nanite on the loose in Lab 2, just, you know, a rabid ping pong ball.
Rodney interrupts by yelling into John’s radio from four inches away. “We’ll tell you all about it later, Elizabeth. Don’t let Radek do anything. He’s locked out and he’ll only close the system down tighter. If you leave us alone we’ll be done in ten minutes. Goodbye!”
“I have a piece of cable in my right lower pants pocket and I need you to get it for me,” he tells John.
Rodney’s right leg is wedged against John’s, and there isn’t a whole lot of clearance. He has to feel along Rodney’s leg for a minute in search of his pocket, scraping his knuckles against the smooth metal of the duct wall in the process. And when he finds it, it turns out to be easier to just rip it open than to get his hand inside.
“Dammit, Sheppard, this was my last decent pair of pants.”
“I’ll buy you some new ones. Maybe from the Minjarins next time they visit.” Which is a funny joke, because the Minjarins wear ridiculous knee-length garments that look a lot like lederhosen.
“Ha. Ha,” says Rodney. But John’s got the 3 inch piece of cable now, and he inch-worms it up Rodney’s leg. Rodney wriggles his arm down to meet him halfway – elbowing John in the solar plexus – and then wriggles it back up once he’s got the connector – elbowing John in the ribcage.
John lets his hand fall back against his own leg, but all of a sudden he’s hit with the sense memory of groping Rodney’s entire right thigh. And he’s newly aware that he and Rodney are touching in more than seven places. And Jesus Christ, what is wrong with him?
He can hear the Super Ball banging around outside, thumping into the metal duct cover and the surrounding wall. He’s really starting to feel the burn from his broken wrist, hot flares of pain shooting up his forearm. The air in the narrow shaft is musty and hot. He’s sweating through his uniform shirt, and his left foot is going numb. And yet, somehow, none of that seems to matter.
Rodney brushes against him when he connects the cables, when he navigates the data pad. When he breathes. He’s sweating too, and John can smell him. And mostly, John’s body can’t seem to forget that he’s held Rodney’s cock in his hand, that he’s seen Rodney come.
“What the hell is that thing anyway?” he tries.
Rodney grunts dismissively. “Practical joke? Booby trap? Party favor for disobedient children? Martial arts training drone? Extreme sports paraphernalia? Let me tell you, Colonel, the more I learn about the Ancients, the less I understand about the Ancients. Aha. Got it!”
And John has a moment of relief that lasts until Rodney says, “Now we just have to wait seven minutes for the fire retardant foam to sufficiently dampen its propulsion system.”
It turns out seven minutes is a really long time when you basically have Rodney McKay’s ass pressed against your dick. And John’s pretty sure he never used to be this sloppy. Lord knows he’s not exactly a paragon of self-restraint, but he’s been in the military a long time, and you might jerk a guy off after hours, but you sure as hell never thought about licking the back of his neck, on or off the clock. He really needs to get his shit together here before he fucks things up. Because Rodney might be a little slow in figuring stuff out when he’s not dealing with a machine or a well-behaved physical system, but even he’s eventually going to notice –“
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!”
John lets his head thunk back hollowly against the metal wall. “Rodney, look I –“
“I mean, my god, I knew you were an adrenaline junkie, but this is ridiculous. For godsakes, your wrist must be broken, are you really that into the thrill of danger? Unless it’s the pain you get off on. Actually, that might –“
“I am not into pain!”
“Ok. Fine. It’s not like it would really be much crazier.” Rodney shakes his head in disbelief, digging his shoulder into John’s collarbone. “I mean when –“
“McKay! We are not going to talk about it.”
“Fine. Fine. I just think –“
“If you do not shut up right now,” John hisses, “I will kill you with my bare hands.”
They spend the rest of their seven minutes in silence. Then John is treated to a whole body grind as Rodney extricates himself from the metal tube. He gives himself just a minute to pretend this all never happened, and then, with as much dignity as he can muster, he crawls out into a foot and a half high sea of bright blue safety foam.
It happens again on RTW-417, a week after John’s cast comes off. They’re hiding from the Praxis: armed with primitive but deadly projectiles, and high on crazy god juice. He and Rodney have tumbled into a shallow ditch, this time front to front. But, thankfully, this is a situation where it’s actually plausible to claim that that’s a gun in his pocket, or a hand grenade, a holster buckle, knife handle or life signs detector. And he’s pretty sure Rodney doesn’t even notice.
When they get back from the negotiations on TGT-465 there are baskets of penis shaped fruit all over the mess. The verisimilitude is unnerving: they’re 6 to 8 inches in length, slightly curved, a mottled brownish color, with suggestively bulbous ends. Some even have an indentation at the tip. Carson is completely impervious to the endless jokes, pranks and food fights, insisting that the turat fruit become an expedition staple. Apparently it’s a rich source of Vitamins A, C, E and B12, as well as Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc and Calcium.
And that’s when John knows the Pegasus Galaxy hates him.
The first few sips of Andan liqueur go down smooth, so he keeps drinking it. They’re here to celebrate their successful trade negotiations: cheese and honey for chemical fertilizers. The Andans are decent people, just trying to eke out a living in the shadow of the Wraith. They didn’t even make his team do anything that crazy on first contact – nothing that John could grow to regret later. So he feels pretty good about things, pretty relaxed – or as relaxed as he ever gets off-world.
Teyla’s wearing a floor-length skirt, slit up both sides, and a red lace-up top with actual sleeves for the event. And she looks gorgeous. She’s making the rounds, talking and smiling. The Andans love her, and John figures she makes up for Ronon silently lurking against the back wall, and Rodney stuffing his face at the buffet and talking with his mouth full.
He feels a sudden wave of affection sweep over him, followed by an almost giddy rush of joy. This is a good day. Hell, this is a great day. He feels like he’s got everything he could need, everything he could want. At this moment, there’s nothing to worry about. And that’s when he knows something’s wrong.
He makes his way over to Teyla, gripping his glass tightly, but he can’t quite stop himself from taking another drink from it. It’s good stuff.
“Teyla!” he calls once he’s within range. She turns and automatically mirrors his smile with one of her own. “Teyla,” he says again, gathering her into a hug, burying his face in her sweet-smelling hair. She’s surprised, he can tell, but recovers quickly, bringing her arms up around his back. God, that’s what he loves about her: she’s never at a loss, always lands on her feet, always knows what to do next.
“Colonel Sheppard?” she asks gently, as the hug goes on, and on.
“Teyla,” he leans down to whisper in her ear, brushing her hair back so she’ll be sure to hear him, “No one else can drink this.” He draws back to show her the purple liquid in the bottom of his cup, but then can’t resist taking another sip of it.
She looks puzzled at first, then realization dawns – he knew he could count on Teyla – and she reaches out to snatch the cup out of his hand. “Come with me, Colonel,” she says, grasping his hand. John promptly twines his fingers with hers and happily follows her through the crowd.
“What is this?” Teyla’s suddenly demanding of a robed Andan councilor. They’ve somehow acquired Ronon and Rodney in their journey across the room, and John feels pleased that the whole team is together now.
The councilor’s clearly taken aback by Teyla’s accusatory tone. “It’s Palat,” he explains, “a delicacy, distilled here in the capitol. We traditionally drink it at events such as this, and offer it to our cherished guests. It has a mild calmative effect that most find very enjoyable.”
At this, Rodney snorts loudly. The minister looks upset. “Is there a problem?” he asks. “Colonel Sheppard, are you not well?”
“I’m great!” says John. He likes this guy. He doesn’t want him to feel bad.
“Oh my god,” says Rodney, spinning John to look into his eyes, pressing his fingers to John’s wrist. “You drugged him. You totally drugged him!”
Ronon is suddenly looming in John’s peripheral vision. The Andan minister raises his hands placatingly. “Perhaps the Colonel is having an unusually strong reaction. I assure you, the drink is completely safe. And the effects are very temporary.” He appeals to Teyla. “No harm was meant.”
Teyla seems to accept this explanation, which is good, because it’d be a shame if Ronon had to pound on the guy. He’s a nice guy, just doing his job.
“I can carry him,” Ronon’s saying, when John tunes back into the conversation.
“No, no,” he says. “It’s late and dark. We don’t know the terrain. We’ll stay here. Report the situation to Atlantis, and monitor my condition.”
“Please. You don’t get a vote,” snaps Rodney.
“Hey.” That was kind of mean.
“I agree with Colonel Shepard,” says Teyla. “We will remain for now. But if your condition worsens we will call for medical assistance.”
It’s nice just sitting between Ronon and Rodney, on a low bench against the back wall, while Teyla resumes her diplomatic rounds. He still feels good, but Ronon’s tense and Rodney’s jittery. “I wish you guys could have had some of that,” he sighs. “It’s really great.”
“Sure,” Rodney says, “because if it does this to you, it’d probably make me lose all motor control.”
Right. Rodney’s allergies. He totally forgot about that. “Rodney,” he says urgently, “you probably shouldn’t have any of that.”
“Uh, no, Colonel. I wasn’t planning on it.”
“Good. That’s good,” he says, smiling because he feels relieved, and he feels happy. But Rodney doesn’t smile back at him. Actually, he looks a little sad.
“Rodney,” he leans in. “Don’t be sad.” He tries to poke the corner of Rodney’s mouth up instead of down.
“For god’s sake, Colonel,” Rodney shouts, batting his hand away. “I’m fine. I’m not sad. Keep your hands to yourself.”
Ronon chuckles, deep and raspy. And John turns to him, pleased. Ronon doesn’t laugh very much. “Hey, big guy,” he says. And Ronon smiles back at him, which is almost the best thing that’s ever happened to John.
He turns back excitedly, “Rodney. Look. Look.”
“Oh my god,” says Rodney. “That’s terrifying. Put that away.” But John can tell he’s joking. Ronon cuffs him on the back of the head, and Rodney yelps and slides down the bench away from him. Which actually puts him in the perfect position for John to lie down and rest his head on Rodney’s thigh.
“You should smile more often,” he says, looking up at Rodney’s flushed face. And the next bit he doesn’t remember that well, because he was starting to drift into sleep. But even though he later tries very hard to convince himself he didn’t, he’s really pretty sure he did in fact say, “Because you have beautiful eyes,” right before he closed his own.
The effects of the Palat wear off after a few hours, and all he’s got is a mild hangover. Thankfully, neither Ronon or Teyla mentions the incident again. And Rodney, in a move of stunning and unexpected tact, lets the inappropriate compliment go, not even teasing him about the episode at all, except the first time he’s down in the lab after the mission, when Rodney looks up from his monitor to say, “No more Mary Poppins syndrome, then?”
“No,” says John, “I’ve given up the inappropriately sunny outlook on life.”
“Well thank god for that,” Rodney replies, and goes back to his simulations.
John doesn’t get inappropriately aroused on XLL-926, but that’s probably because Rodney’s not actually there for most of the mission. They’ve started assigning more scientists for fieldwork, and it’s SGA-1’s turn to take a training run. Dr. Hanson is tall and fresh-faced with thick, curly brown hair framing wide green eyes. And he doesn’t do a thing for John. He’s a geologist originally but, like everyone else, he’s been cross-trained in Ancient tech and basic electrical engineering. He’s been on Atlantis two years, but he still projects a kind of youthful enthusiasm that John immediately distrusts; either this guy’s been living under a rock his whole life or he’s the kind of stupid that’s incurable. Both of which will get you killed before lunch time in the Pegasus Galaxy.
But they’re on a milk run to an uninhabited planet to recon some Ancient outposts that have already been scanned once on flyby. The sun’s shining and Hanson is gamely trudging along under the 50 pound pack they make all the newbies carry. So John deliberately quashes his misgivings and tries to give the guy a chance.
Two hours later he has occasion to sincerely and devoutly regret that decision. Hanson has managed to activate one of the control panels in the southern wall – no idea how – and when the entire wall starts glowing right before flaring into a focused column of light, Ronon pushes Hanson out of the way, getting caught and pinned, like a fly in amber, arms outstretched, feet four inches off the ground.
Hanson’s befuddled and agape for a second before he offers tentatively, “I’m pretty sure I can figure out how to turn it off.”
“No!” John snaps. The console is doing something, he doesn’t know what, cycling through some start-up protocol, and god only knows what will happen if they disrupt it. He puts his hand against the pulsing panel and feels a scroll of meaningless data, strings of bits followed by checksum integers, and then Interrupt. Quantum Anomaly. More scrolling data. Interrupt. Quantum Anomaly. Interrupt. Interrupt. Quantum Anomaly.
“Teyla! You’re going back to Atlantis. Get McKay. I don’t want Zelenka or Simpson or anyone else. Get McKay, and tell him we’ve got a quantum scanner, and he needs to come and get Ronon the fuck out of it.”
Without a word, Teyla sheds her pack, her P-90 and her bulky tac vest, and sets off at a run for the gate.
Hanson decides to take this opportunity to turn John’s anger into blind fury. He’s pulling out a datapad from his pack, along with a connector crystal, saying, “There’s a protocol for these kinds of devices. It’s probably –“
John gets right up in his face. “Dr. Hanson. You’re not touching anything else. What you’re going to do is stand, perfectly still, in the center of this room until I tell you otherwise. Do I make myself clear?”
Hanson actually looks like he might protest for a minute. And John really can’t believe this guy. Obviously he’s never had any direct contact with McKay whatsoever. But, thankfully, some sort of half-dormant self-preservation instinct kicks in and Hanson shuts his mouth and follows the order.
By the time Rodney finally arrives, 42 minutes and 25 seconds later, the proliferating quantum anomaly warnings are starting to make John want to claw his eyes out.
“You!” Rodney barks, pointing a peremptory finger at Hanson, “what did you do?”
Hanson jerks and stutters, finally cowed into trepidation by the 43 minutes of utter silence they’ve spent together. “N-Nothing. It just came on.”
“Did you touch something? Trip over something? Think something?” Rodney rattles off, pulling out his laptop and taking a handheld scanner from Teyla.
“No. I don’t know,” says Hanson miserably.
“Ok. You’re completely useless. Shut up now. Don’t move, and don’t breathe. Colonel?”
“45 minutes, 40 seconds. 126 scans. It’s stalled on some sort of initialization sequence.”
“Hmm.” Rodney’s skirting the blue beam of light with his handheld. “Teyla, I need the blue and the yellow.” And Teyla unfolds the padded carrying case and hands Rodney the two crystals.
They’re all silent for about ten minutes, just watching as Rodney scans, then nudges a connection, scans, nudges, until his two crystals are nestled into the gigantic 122 crystal array, and data is scrolling across his laptop screen.
“The good news,” he says, “is that the error is preventing the scan from completing and sucking Ronon into memory storage,” and here he waves a hand at a bank of ominously dark, burnt-out crystals that makes John flinch.
“The bad news,” Rodney continues, “is that the error is preventing the scan from completing, keeping Ronon in suspended animation with an open I/O line accumulating garbage code.”
“So we just shut it down,” says John, even though he knows that won’t work.
“Yes, Colonel,” says Rodney, typing one handed as he roots around in his pack, “we shut it down because we have every confidence that a forced quit will be gracefully handled by the fail safe protocols meticulously coded into the Ancients’ 10,000 year old science fair projects.”
Right. “So we get it to complete the scan,” says John.
“No,” says Rodney, “because we don’t have enough storage –“
“Just the first stage.”
“Yes. Except for the fact that it can’t scan Ronon at all.”
“Because…” oh fuck, fuck, fuck. “He doesn’t have the gene.”
“Bingo!” says Rodney.
John approaches the blue beam warily as Rodney wraps up his last diagnostics. He’s written 50 lines of code that should allow them to add genetic material mid-scan – namely, John’s genetic material--, route the preliminary output to a brand new orange storage crystal, and then shut down the whole process. Rodney says it’s much riskier to try to put the material back. He says it’s less than one one billionth of John’s total information content, and redundant besides. And John believes him. But that doesn’t stop the instinctual feeling of uneasiness as he approaches the scanning beam.
“Let’s go, Colonel. I haven’t got all day here,” Rodney huffs. But John quirks a quelling eyebrow. He just watched Rodney check and re-check his code eleven times, measure the crystal’s tolerances three times, and ping the temporary hand-shake connection no fewer than five times. He glances over at Hanson, who has newly absorbed the knowledge of how utterly out of his depth he is. Which is a good lesson for the Pegasus Galaxy. And maybe this guy’s also figured out exactly how important Rodney McKay is to the continued existence of the Atlantis Expedition. At least as important as he says he is, plus a little bit more. And it’s just John’s rotten luck that he really does have beautiful eyes. Quirking a wry grin Hanson’s way, John steps into the beam of light.
On WTR-199 John spends all dinner flirting shamelessly with the Padafan’s sister. She’s young and pretty and flattered by the attention. And John figures he could use the practice. He pours her wine and offers her food from his plate, and doesn’t look at Rodney across the table where he’s talking the ear of the Padafan’s second cousin twice removed. The food is good, the company is non-hostile, and he’s two weeks out from an epic clusterfuck on LPP-932 where the natives thought they were Genii invaders, the marines thought the natives were Genii agents, and ten men were wounded, one killed, with Lopez still in recovery.
John can’t look at Rodney right now because he doesn’t trust himself. He’s too close to crisis, everything he wants too close to the surface. And if he can’t, for some reason, remember all the reasons he can’t have what he wants, or even how Dr. Rodney McKay became the thing he wants, he can at least remember the rules. Instead, he laughs at something Martja is saying, touches her wrist, leans in to whisper in her ear.
He makes it through five courses, dessert and a hot, sweet beverage that way. And Martja walks him back through the residential complex, leaning on his arm, telling him about the Padafan estates, offering to show him her wing in the palace. John extricates himself at the next branching hallway, expressing his regret, offering his excuses.
She’s visibly disappointed when he leaves her in the corridor and it makes John feel a little more in the groove, a little more put together. He opens the door to their shared suite, and Rodney looks up from his laptop, clearly surprised to see him. And John looks back at him, lets himself really look for a second, before he goes to his own bedroom and closes the door.