[sga] 10 sga aus I’m totally not writing
10 SGA AUs I Am Totally Not Writing
It was approximately zero and a half degrees Celsius when Rodney stepped out of the Denali, feeling a full-body shiver climb up his spine and rubbing his hands together before reaching back into the heated interior for his field kit. There was a half-circle of spectators and all the lights on the slope were on, washing the dark out of the night, if not the slightly supernaturally quiet element. It was white and quiet the snow off the side of the bunny slope was still powder softâ€”Rodneyâ€™s feet sank into it with every labored step, cursing all the way as he struggled toward the police tape.
â€œWas there no way you could have shoveled?â€ Rodney gasped, reaching out and catching a familiar elbow, leaning heavily into it and ignoring the huff of laughter from overhead.
â€œNo way, McKayâ€”I remember having a new one ripped into me the first time I touched something at a crime scene, and that was at least two feet outside of the tape,â€ Sheppard said, grinning. He took Rodneyâ€™s kit into one of his gloved hands and tilted his head toward the body. â€œThis way.â€
â€œYes, I can see that,â€ Rodney snapped, petulant. All the same, and heâ€™d die before he admitted it, he enjoyed Johnâ€™s misplaced streak of chivalry, the guiding hand still at Rodneyâ€™s elbow, that John carried Rodneyâ€™s things. â€œWhat happened?â€
John squinted against the lights, ducking underneath the crime tape and holding it up for Rodney, saying, â€œCPD got the call about an hour ago, saying they had a possible breaking and entering in progressâ€”two uniforms got here to find a trail of broken glass and blood leading us down here.â€ John indicated the womanâ€”dark red hair fanned out on the snow, in black underwear and nothing else, eyes open and sightless at the artificially bright sky. â€œThe paramedics didnâ€™t move her, just pronounced, and the Biro from the coronersâ€™ released the body a few minutes ago,â€ John added, and finally showing the strain in his voice, he said, â€œIâ€™d appreciate it if you could hurryâ€”I want to get a sheet over her if at all possible.â€
â€œYou think sheâ€™s cold?â€ Rodney said, trying for sarcastic but knew that it came out chiding, indulgent. Heâ€™d known Sheppard too long to be truly angry with him for his sometimes frustratingly soft touch.
John smiled at him wryly, handing back the field kit. â€œI think she might be a little uncomfortable with all the attention.â€
And Rodney turned to peer angrily at the spectators, some of whom where wide-eyed boys in ski suits and boots, flush with life and their parentsâ€™ money, staring at a dead womanâ€™s breasts. â€œRight,â€ he said, soft but annoyed, and got to work, down on his knees in the show, watching Sheppard wander around looking slightly feral until most of the crowd dissipated, sending uniforms to keep an eye out for wandering press.
It was fifteen minutes before anybody else from night shift managed to make their way out to the slope, a grievous transgression that Rodney forgave them for only because the roads were dangerously slick.
â€œNice of you to finally show up,â€ Rodney snapped, glaring at Zelenka as the man crouched down, seeing Biro help to load the body into the black coronerâ€™s van in the background. â€œIâ€™ve only just lost all feeling below my waist.â€
â€œIt is for the best,â€ Zelenka said lightly, pulling out his camera. â€œThis way you cannot embarrass yourself and Captain Sheppard in front of many uniform police officersâ€”many of whom are too young to understand your filthy desires.â€
â€œIt pains me to know that you will never understand the nuances of the male friendship,â€ Rodney snarled fiercely, glancing left and right to make sure Sheppard had missed the exchange, although Rodney had a sinking feeling that Sheppard never missed anything, just feigned ignorance or selective deafness when it suited his goals.
Zelenka snorted. â€œI am sure nuances of male friendship dictate you to call Captain and complain like fifteen year old girl until he comes to put chains on your tires.â€
Rodney didnâ€™t stab Zelenka with his tweezers, but it was hard, and he forced himself to go back to swabbing and collecting scooperfuls of snow into sample jars, muttering darkly under his breath.
It was half an hour later, when Rodney was actually starting to lose feelings in his extremities when he felt a hand, gentle on his shoulder, and turned to see Sheppard, cheeks red and mouth chapped from cold, holding two insulated cups.
â€œHere,â€ he said softly. â€œI had one of the uniforms make a run up to the lodge for all of usâ€”I figured you could use the break.â€
â€œOh, thank you,â€ Rodney said, stepping away from the snow and science to clasp his frozen hands around the cup, feeling the heat seeping in painfully through the latexâ€”the hot steam that wet his nose and lips when he burned his mouth taking a first, desperate gulp. Radek was doing the same, murmuring gratitude in soft, tired English and Czech, something John and Rodney had agreed was endearing.
â€œItâ€™s a pleasure,â€ John said, and sounded like he meant it.
Rodney narrowed his eyes, glaring darkly into Johnâ€™s office.
It was Tuesday, which Rodney had inappropriate and crassly nicknamed Terminal Tuesday mostly because it was the only day of the week that allowed for audibly pleasing alliterationâ€”although really every day was terminal in John Digging My Heels In For The Slow Slide To Death Sheppard, whose every patient was a lost cause but still considered by John a worthy fight.
And even through the glass, Rodney could see from his vantage point on the connecting balcony that it was Chaya againâ€”Johnâ€™s very favorite sob story. Rodney thought that ten, even five years ago, she would have simply passed quietly and in a morphine haze, but modern technology kept eking life out of her, and Rodney couldnâ€™t help but feel like every extra week and month and day she squeezed out of her existence she was stealing it from John, who came out of her consults with a tightness around the mouth Rodney didnâ€™t like.
â€œâ€¦And then I wore McKayâ€™s underpants on my head and had sex with a boar.â€
Rodney snapped back to attention and to the glares of his mutinous subordinates.
â€œWhat?â€ he demanded.
â€œDo you plan on being part of his diagnosis at all?â€ Simpson demanded, scowling. â€œOr did you just come into this room instead of barricading yourself into your office so you could spy on Dr. Sheppard better?â€
Rodney made a dismissive noise. â€œThereâ€™s no reason I canâ€™t do both.â€
â€œYou do realize your fixation on him is both creepy and gay,â€ Gall said, pursing his lips and kicking his feet up on the conference table. On the whiteboard, his handwriting spelled out: LUPUS, VASCULITIS, and ITâ€™S REALLY NEVER EITHER OF THEM I DONâ€™T SEE WHY WE KEEP PUTTING THEM ON THE BOARD.
â€œMcKay is creepy and gay,â€ Kavanagh said lightly. â€œYou knew that when he hired you.â€
â€œDonâ€™t you slackers have some tests to be running?â€ Rodney snapped. â€œYou!â€ He pointed at Kavanagh. â€œYou made noises about blood cultures to test for bacterial infections! You!â€ He turned to Gall. â€œYou said something about getting an ultrasound to see if there were any abdominal obstructionsâ€”which is pointless and wasteful since our patient isnâ€™t even complaining about abdominal painâ€”â€
Gall opened his mouth to say, â€œThatâ€™s not to say that there isnâ€™tâ€”â€
â€œâ€”donâ€™t care,â€ Rodney continued blithely. And turning at last to Simpson, he said, â€œAnd youâ€”go retake that patient history. I donâ€™t believe a word of it, and not just because she said the first time she experienced an episode was during the National Spelling Bee two months ago because the National Spelling Bee for this year hasnâ€™t even happened yet.â€
And when all he got were continued, flat, mutinous glares, he yelled:
â€œGo or youâ€™re all fired! I can do that here! This isnâ€™t a field hospital and thereâ€™re no imminent outbreaks of malaria!â€
Rolling their eyes, they scattered with none of the urgency Rodney had hoped to instill in them, and he wasnâ€™t sure if it was because he was being too lenient or if heâ€™d simply spent too much time being more frightening than this. He consoled himself with the thought that heâ€™d do better when Chaya the Vagina (which rhymed, sort of) got the hell out of Johnâ€™s office and stopped making those brave-yet-fatigued faces and stopped talking about how she had to live on, for her family, you see, people she had to protect, blah blah blah.
By lunch thereâ€™d been two emergency pages, three more Tuesday Terminals in, and John had slumped over at his desk with a small mountain of charts and films passed along from other departments seeking consult, and Rodney thought that was enough of that.
â€œCome on,â€ Rodney said, poking his head into Johnâ€™s office from the balcony door. â€œWeâ€™re going out.â€
John made a face. â€œElizabeth grounded me,â€ he said.
â€œWhat?â€ Rodney scoffed. â€œWhat do you mean sheâ€”she canâ€™t ground you! Youâ€™re a grown man! You canâ€™t get sent to your room to think about your actions anymore.â€ He waved impatiently. â€œCome onâ€”we have an hour.â€ He snapped his fingers. â€œWhat are you waiting for?â€
And then John grinned, put away the films and met Rodney out in the hall.
â€œHonestly,â€ Rodney huffed. â€œGrounded.â€
â€œSheâ€™s just concerned Iâ€™ll get waylaid again,â€ John laughed.
â€œBeing revoltingly heroic and saving the lives of nearly a dozen strangers after a thirteen car pile-up while nursing three broken ribs and subsequently being late for work and out of commission for a week is not being waylaid, itâ€™s just you being you,â€ Rodney said bitterly, remembering the way his heart had nearly shattered out of his chest in horror when heâ€™d seen Johnâ€™s sleek, silver Camero in a pan of the accident, saw Johnâ€™s dark head in the huddled mass of people in the downpour.
He remembered sitting in the ER, waiting and miserable and snarling at everyone who came near him, listening for Johnâ€™s mumbled protests, Atlantis was the nearest tier one trauma center and they would bring Johnâ€”if only because he was a doctor here and he belonged here and Rodney would have exploded if they hadnâ€™t.
â€œSheâ€™s just looking out for us,â€ John said gently, and nudged Rodney shoulder with his own, saying with a grin, â€œJust like youâ€™re doing for me.â€
Flushing, Rodney said, â€œLies.â€
â€œYouâ€™re sweet on me,â€ John crowed, eyes bright. â€œI can tell.â€
â€œDamnable lies,â€ Rodney emphasized, but they were already nearing the lobby, and he wouldnâ€™t want anybody to think they were flirting. â€œNow shut up and remember to order something with protein when we get to the restaurant. Youâ€™re as thin as a rail.â€
Rodney wasnâ€™t certain how it had happened, but it became habit for him to keep his church clothes on Sunday afternoons: fine, smooth dark broadcloth that Jeannie said made him look very well. Rodney would sit in the parlor in the lazy afternoon light waiting to hear the sound of hoofs and bells, and then thereâ€™d be a knock at the door and Johnâ€™s wild brush of dark hair, his green eyes, and the way he said, â€œMiss Jeannie, Rodney.â€
â€œHello, Mr. Sheppard,â€ Jeannie would always say, sweetly polite and pleased.
â€œIt is Sunday, you know, and youâ€™re really the least restful thing in the entire west, Sheppard,â€ Rodney would say, and try to pretend the flush across his cheeks was just being too long in the sun, walking from town to his school.
And John always laughed and herded Rodney into his buggy, and heâ€™d gentle his horses to a trot and theyâ€™d drive out to a lake, an orchard, a brush of wild and desolate Earth still unsettled, and stay until the stars started to creep out. Rodney liked to tell John the constellations on the ride home, explaining the myths behind them; and John seemed to like to listen.
â€œAnd the Castor and Pollux, which are over thereâ€”â€
â€œYou know,â€ John said, a smile in his voice, â€œyou never stop talking.â€
Rodneyâ€™s jaw snapped shut, embarrassed. It was mostly he who filled up the silences on their rides together, with John content to listen to Rodney talk about any and everything: from what heâ€™d read and seen and how abysmally foolish his students this term were. Rodney hadnâ€™t thought John was the type of man to stay silent if he wished Rodney would do the same.
â€œSorry,â€ he forced himself to say. â€œI get carried away.â€
John raised his eyebrows. â€œI didnâ€™t say that was a bad thing,â€ he told Rodney gently. â€œI was mostly wondering how you know so muchâ€”youâ€™ve never repeated anything.â€
â€œOh, well.â€ Rodney felt flushed, wordlessly pleased. â€œI am a genius.â€
Laughing, John said, â€œAre you? Why are you trapped here teaching abysmally foolish schoolchildren grammar and American history, then?â€
Rodney made a face. â€œI donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve noticed, but universities are somewhat beyond my means, Sheppard. I learn what I can where I canâ€”and Jeannie needs me.â€
The expression on Johnâ€™s face is fond, and Rodney watches him loosen his grip on the reinsâ€”and Rodneyâ€™s breath catches in his throatâ€”before he reaches over to close his palm over Rodneyâ€™s nearest hand, gentle.
â€œI thought your hands would be smoother,â€ John said, quiet, turning Rodneyâ€™s hand until their fingers slid togetherâ€”and it was intimate in a way Rodney had never known.
Rodney smiled, rueful. â€œI had intended to be a scholarâ€”never work a day in a field, but that hasnâ€™t worked out the way I planned.â€
â€œWe could go East,â€ John offers, smiling crookedly.
Rodney had a sudden fever bright flash of memory: the blinding afternoon with the sun had gilded the vast white of the prairie buried in snow, the murmur of students at the Genii school, whispers as a sleek cutter drew nearer, and horses tossing their manes, stomping their hooves, impatient and playful. The first time Rodney had seen Johnâ€™s so-coveted smile turned at him, a gloved hand extending as he said, â€œRodneyâ€”I heard you needed a lift.â€ Rodney never really knew how John had known where to come find him, or what had made him drive the twenty-odd miles to rescue him from cold and miserable weekends with Kolya, with his thin, wordless wife, but he was grateful. He was still grateful.
Rodney blinked, felt John stroking his thumb along Rodneyâ€™s hand. â€œEast?â€
He was even more grateful now, for the sleigh rides would never have changed, slowly with the weather, into buggy rides or stolen evenings on the lake shore, watching the faint shimmer of fireworks off in the distance with John warm at his side otherwise.
â€œSure,â€ John said, and his smile had gone soft at the edges, unfocused, and Rodney felt his face heating. No one in town understood why John Sheppardâ€”so admired by so manyâ€”had gone calling at the McKay house. Rodney was still belligerent and mean and irreverent, impatientâ€”character flaws he had never managed to shake, but John didnâ€™t seem to mind, and so Rodney hoped John would let Rodney keep him.
â€œIf East is where youâ€™ll find what you want,â€ John went on, â€œwe should go.â€ He tightened his fingers around Rodneyâ€™s. â€œYouâ€™ll never have to work a day again.â€
Rodney burst into laughter. â€œExtravagant lies, Sheppard,â€ he said, disapproving.
â€œWell,â€ John conceded, â€œitâ€™s a nice thought.â€
Rodney rolled his eyes, which he knew John knew to read as agreement. He tried not to imagine a house somewhere near a university with a large porch and a library, somebody to come home to and tell all the things heâ€™d learned, everything heâ€™d discoveredâ€”something more than the huge emptiness of the prairie.
â€œI was also thinking,â€ John said, sounding hesitant. â€œIf someone gave you a ring, would you be married?â€
â€œThat would depend on the person,â€ Rodney said. He thought he should be feeling his heart beating out of his chest, thrashing, terrified and excited, but mostly he felt warm, like how Johnâ€™s hand closed over his own, like this had always been meant to be.
â€œAnd if it were me,â€ John said, sounding strange.
Rodney smiled and leaned in closer, putting his head against Johnâ€™s shoulder, â€œThen it would depend on the ring.â€
â€œTeyla.â€ He stopped and did an abrupt turn on his heel, glaring back at her.
She raised one challenging eyebrow at him and Rodney remembered in a flash that sheâ€™d once kicked his ass in the self-defense class from college, back when she and Katie had talked him into taking it with them. â€œWe need to talk about the package tonight, Rodney.â€
â€œThere is no reason we need to talk about the package tonight,â€ Rodney sighed, throwing up his arms and turning back to the corridor.
â€œWe need to talk about the package tonight because there is a rumor Johnâ€™s threatening to do the show naked if you actually run the package tonight,â€ Teyla persisted.
Rodney glared at her. â€œYou realize that John doing the show naked will do wonders for our newborn to still alive heterosexual female and gay male demographic, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œAnd it will destroy our predominant eighteen to forty-five heterosexual male demographic!â€ Teyla snapped, scowling. â€œChange the package!â€
She said it just as they passed editing three, where John was engaged in a lively conversation with Miko, while unbuttoning his shirt. She looked kind of vacant and there was a feed of the Longhorns game she was supposed to be monitoring for, you know, sports in the background.
â€œGod damn it,â€ Rodney muttered, and knocked angrily on the glass, shouting when John and Miko turned, â€œGET BACK TO WORK. PUT ON YOUR CLOTHES.â€
John came around and opened the door, sticking his head out and leveling Rodney a brave-but-grave face Rodney remembered from Johnâ€™s first meeting with Katie and Johnâ€™s second meeting with Katie, also known as Rodneyâ€™s wedding.
â€œI have to stand up for what I believe in,â€ he said, all his shirt buttons undone now.
â€œYou can do it clothed,â€ Teyla begged.
â€œItâ€™s the way of my people,â€ John insisted. â€œThey shed blood on this soil so that we could have the freedom to pursue our happinessâ€”when Jefferson wrote that in 1776 it was such a radical concept that most people, even the colonists, didnâ€™t really understand what it meant.â€ He gave Rodney and Teyla an intense stare. â€œWe are that legacy, guys.â€
â€œIâ€™m Canadian, your legacies donâ€™t apply to me,â€ Rodney snarled. â€œButton your shirt and get out of editing! You broke Miko and sheâ€™s the only person who can stand to watch Longhorns football!â€
John gave him an evil stare. â€œYes,â€ he agreed. â€œYes, you are Canadian. Which is why you have put together a package so vile and evil that America will lay down its arms and surrender to your surge of Mounties.â€
Rodney waved his arms in fury. â€œItâ€™s a piece about curling! Why canâ€™t I expand your horizons? Why canâ€™t I do curling? I let you talk about skateboarding!â€
Unrepentant, John stepped out of the editing bay, which was when Rodney and Teyla groaned and realized John had already lost his pants and was wandering around in black cotton boxers and a pair of gray socks. â€œYouâ€™re right, Rodneyâ€”itâ€™s a free country, you can talk about curlingâ€”just like I can do the show naked.â€
â€œDamn itâ€”Elizabeth!â€ Teyla yelled, seeing a familiar dark head winding down the hallway. â€œElizabeth! Make John put on his clothes.â€
Sighing, Elizabeth stopped long enough to give John an appraising glance up and down before pursing her lips. â€œWeâ€™re the number three rated cable sports show, people, maybe we need every advantage we can get,â€ she snickered.
Rodney was so angry he was starting to go blind. â€œWhâ€”what, are we going to start feeling viewers away from midnight reruns of Queer as Folk and The L-Word? For when Bravo stops running Work Out and old seasons of Project Runway? No!â€ He pointed a finger at John and growled, low and dangerous, â€œGo. Put. On. Clothes.â€
â€œTake out curling,â€ John shot back.
â€œArenâ€™t there rules in the FCC about this?â€ Rodney finally exploded. In the background, he saw Zelenka and Lorne share an eye-roll, chopsticks deep in their Chinese takeout and the sound on the Florida game mutedâ€”bastards, every one of them, whose loyalties clearly lay with Naked John.
â€œEverybody lays with naked John,â€ Rodney said bitterly.
John made a strange face. â€œWhat?â€
â€œNothing,â€ Rodney dismissed and returned to glaring. He scrubbed his hands over his face. â€œLookâ€”isnâ€™t there anything else I can trade for yourâ€¦clothed-ness?â€
Later, much later, when Rodney and John were getting their last minute hair-and-makeup done under the powerfully hot studio lights, Rodney blinked and said, â€œWait. You planned this from the beginning.â€
John stared at him innocently, adjusting his tie. â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€
Rodney snapped a pencil in fury. â€œYouâ€”you manipulative freak!â€ he shrieked.
â€œLive in ten!â€ Chuck called from the control room.
â€œCan you two idiots shut up?â€ Teyla snapped over their earpieces.
â€œLive in nine!â€ Chuck reminded.
â€œI still donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about,â€ John said serenely, straightening his script and checking the prompters. â€œYou offered me season tickets for the Knicks for pantsâ€”I took it.â€
Rodney stared at him, gap-jawed in horror. â€œYou never cared about the curling! Youâ€”you just coveted my courtside seats! How could I have never known the depths of your diabolical evil?â€
â€œNo, seriously guys,â€ Teyla growled. â€œYouâ€™re going to be on national television in less than five seconds hereâ€”try to pretend youâ€™re not actually twelve-year-old girls.â€
â€œLive in four.â€
â€œI will carry this wrong against me to my grave,â€ Rodney told John solemnly.
â€œGood show, everyone,â€ Elizabeth said, voice warm in their ears.
â€œLive in three, two, oneâ€”â€
John turned to the camera, his million-dollar smile on extra bright.
â€œGood evening, folks, from New York City. Iâ€™m John Sheppard alongside Rodney McKay, who is nearly as pissed at me as the Florida is at N.C. State, the Packers are at their manager, and Texas is at the outcome of the Longhorns game,â€ John said smoothly.
â€œFlorida, the Packers, and Texas have no idea how pissed I am,â€ Rodney rejoined smoothly, seeing John winking at him from the corner of his eye, â€œbut I think that Manchester United might be circling the neighborhoodâ€”all those stories and more, coming up, so stick around.â€
â€œNice tiger,â€ Rodney whispered, pressed against the balcony railing.
It bared its very shiny teeth more and licked its chops, padding closer and growling low.
â€œNice tigerâ€”please donâ€™t eat me,â€ Rodney begged, trying to calculate how loudly he could scream for help and (a) whether or not Zelenkaâ€™s new elephant trunk could fight a tiger and (b) whether or not Zelenka even cared if Rodney was eaten by a tiger at this point.
And then there was a stirring in the room beyond the gauzy curtains, and a hand pushed back the brocade and tassels to reveal a deeply-amused princess standing at the arched doorway. â€œOh, itâ€™s you,â€ John said, raising his brows.
â€œItâ€™s me,â€ Rodney confirmed, grinning nervously and nodding at the tiger. â€œCould you, um, call your beast off?â€ he asked hopefully.
John pursed his lips, and Rodney tried not to be distracted by it, but it was hard.
In the palace John was all smooth linens and whisper-soft silks, kohl around the eyes and jangling bracelets and anklets against his olive skinâ€”somehow even more beautiful than when Rodney had seen him the first time in the marketplace, laughing recklessly and letting Rodney tug him through all his secret passageways, running breathlessly. â€œI hope that book is worth it,â€ John had laughed, following Rodney up the side of a building, and Rodney had muttered, â€œDonâ€™t be stupid, of course it is,â€ and said, â€œAll right: jump.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ John prevaricated, raising his brows. â€œWho knows what you were planning to do to meâ€”you already climbed all this way onto my balcony.â€
Rodney snorted. â€œOh, yes, I was going to savage you right under your father and a giant man-eating tigerâ€™s watchful eye,â€ he scoffed, and then eyes rounding, added, â€œUmâ€”I wouldnâ€™t. I mean. I would never.â€
Rolling his eyes, John lifted one hand and said lightly, â€œRononâ€”heâ€™s not worth your time.â€ The tiger seemed to disagree and growled at Rodney some more before another, more firmly said, â€œRonon,â€ finally drew him away.
Letting out a shuddering breath, Rodney said, â€œThanks.â€
â€œWell, the blood never would have come off of the marble if I let him eat you,â€ John answered airily and turned to leave, one hand light against Rononâ€™s side, guiding.
Rodney thought about the stupid lamp and the stupid old man in the dungeon and the sheer foolishness that had led him hereâ€”to this palace where he didnâ€™t belong, with a belligerent princess whoâ€™d apparently liked him better when he was a book-thieving street urchin, and said: â€œLookâ€”wait.â€
John paused, one hand against a curtain, and turned to look at Rodney over his shoulder.
â€œYes?â€ he asked, bland.
â€œI just wanted to talk,â€ Rodney tried. â€œItâ€™s a beautiful night and I thought we couldâ€”â€
Johnâ€™s face closed over completely, and Ronon started to growl again. â€œI donâ€™t want to talk to you,â€ John said simply. â€œAnd Iâ€™d appreciate it if you would leaveâ€¦however you got up here in the first place.â€
â€œFine,â€ Rodney said. He knew he sounded petulant, but he couldnâ€™t keep the tight knot of hurt out of his voice. Maybe John was only attracted to really downmarket characters, which, fine, John could go find himself somebody dirty and diseased and missing three limbs from leprosy for all Rodney cared, he thought bitterly, and climbed over the balcony railing, jumping off onto the carpetâ€”
He popped his head over the side of railing. â€œWhat? What?â€ he demanded in alarm, seeing Johnâ€™s face: pale and drawn and scared for a long moment before his green eyes widened in amazement, hands clutched on the balcony railing.
â€œIsâ€”is thatâ€”?â€ John started to ask.
Rodney tried to do something fancy but the carpet just swerved. â€œItâ€™s a magic carpet,â€ Rodney said haughtily, and when he registered the excitement on Johnâ€™s face, added, â€œI meanâ€”you want to come for a ride?â€
â€œWith you flying?â€ John laughed, mouth curving up as the carpetâ€”whore, Rodney thought meanlyâ€”curved to form steps for him, reaching out an unsteady hand. â€œIs that safe?â€
Rodney snorted. â€œDonâ€™t be stupid,â€ he said, taking Johnâ€™s hand in his own, â€œof course it is.â€
And then John was staring straight at him, green eyes nearly black, mouth open and face slack in surprise for just a heartbeat before everything sped up again, until John was grinning and sitting next to him on the carpet, palms soft on the tapestry and murmuring in amazement.
When they started to move, really move, slipping like silk through the night and over the city John was warm against his side, guiding the carpet far more than Rodney was, and Rodney couldnâ€™t help but say:
â€œYouâ€™re uh, kind of a natural at this.â€
â€œIâ€™ve always wanted to fly,â€ John admitted, laughing, and giving Rodney a sideways look, said, â€œI bet youâ€™ve never wanted to fly, Rodney.â€
â€œOh, God, no,â€ Rodney agreed, shuddering. â€œItâ€™s just such a massively stupidâ€”â€ John got a smug look on his face â€œâ€”oh, wait.â€
â€œI knew it!â€ John said, stopping the carpet so they hovered precariously over a gleaming ocean, hundreds of feet above the swallowing waves. â€œI knew I recognized you from somewhere! Youâ€™re the man from the marketplace! Prince Geldar my ass.â€
â€œI can explain!â€ Rodney said, panicking.
â€œYou lied to me,â€ John snapped, scowling. â€œWhy did youâ€”?â€
â€œOh,â€ Rodney said, inventing rapidly, â€œlike I have any more freedom to run around the market place than you do? I could get in just as much trouble forâ€”â€ he searched around for a royal-sounding excuse â€œâ€”mingling with the commoners!â€
John made a conflicted face. â€œI guess,â€ he said, uncertain.
Rodney wonderedâ€”but only brieflyâ€”what John would do if Rodney told the truth, but dismissed it before it could creep out of his mouth, before he could do something stupid like tell John everything and ask him to run away.
â€œIâ€™m sorry for lying,â€ Rodney said, swallowing hard; he meant it, but mostly because he was really terrible at it.
John gave him a long, considering glare. â€œDonâ€™t do it again,â€ he said finally.
â€œI wonâ€™t.â€ Rodney smiled, knocked his shoulder against Johnâ€™s. â€œI promise. I wonâ€™t.â€
Glare falling away into a shy grin, John relaxed against him again, saying, â€œFine,â€ and the carpet started to glide once more. â€œIf it happens again, Iâ€™m letting Ronon eat you for real.â€
John was strange and mostly mute, and if Lorne hadnâ€™t remembered all the dramatics he would have sworn theyâ€™d all hallucinated him, that thereâ€™d been nothing in that crate of Doctor McKayâ€™s at all. But then sometimes heâ€™d be wandering down one of Atlantisâ€™ halls and see just a snatch of too-pale skin, luminously green eyes, the dark shock of hair, before Rodney appearedâ€”he was never more than a few steps behindâ€”to draw John away again, back to one of the infirmary rooms, saying, â€œCome on, Johnâ€”you need to rest.â€
But there were other things: the flickering lights, the suddenly awakening systems on the ship, and he and Teyla shared uncertain looks sometimes, because not even Zelenka could find a reason why for all his digging in the engine room. Lorne had scavenged the Atlantis nearly a decade ago, and he admitted he still didnâ€™t know how the whole ship worked, but he and Teyla and Zelenka had pieced together most of it, figured out how to coax it into life, but it was as if the whole thing had burst into sudden, thrilled awakening after McKay had opened his God damn boxâ€”after John had started haunting their hallways.
â€œItâ€™s got to be the space case,â€ Ronon decided, cleaning one of his billion enormous guns.
â€œRonon!â€ Teyla scolded.
Zelenka frowned, rubbing at the grease on his cheek. â€œHeâ€™s obviously sick.â€
â€œPlease.â€ Ronon rolled his eyes. â€œHeâ€™s obviously crazy.â€
â€œWell, either way,â€ Lorne muttered darkly, â€œthereâ€™s something wrong with him.â€
â€œThere is,â€ Rodney said, voice tight and angry and dark from the doorway of the mess, scowling. He was so furious Lorne could see it radiating, see it shaking McKayâ€™s otherwise steady, soft handsâ€”scholarâ€™s hands, never saw a day a hard work in his life.
â€œHey, look,â€ Lorne started, and then wincing, he sighed: â€œAt least sit down.â€
Nodding tightly, Rodney did.
â€œIâ€”I should explain. I owe you an explanation,â€ Rodney said, frustrated. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he continued flatly, â€œWe grew up next door to each other, and when we were just kids, they started testing us, John and I. The government said theyâ€™d never seen children so smart as we were, and they said they were sending us to a school thatâ€™d foster that.â€
McKayâ€™s voice failed for a minute, and Teyla and Zelenka shared a look.
â€œBut after a few weeks at the academy they found something else in John,â€ Rodney pushed on, and his voice got darker. â€œAnd one night he just disappeared. He wasnâ€™t at dinner and he wasnâ€™t at breakfast and when I went to his room it wasâ€¦emptyâ€”like heâ€™d never been there at all.â€ McKay covered his face. â€œAnother month went by before I got a letter he wroteâ€”it was allâ€”it was all numbers, just crazy, scribbled numbers, and it took me half a year to figure out what the hell he was talking about, what it all meant.â€
â€œHe sent you a code,â€ Teyla said softly.
â€œYeah,â€ Rodney said, laughing bitterly. â€œIâ€”it took me another ten years to figure out how to break him out of the facility where they had him,â€ he finished quietly, and turned to stare at Lorne, imploring. â€œWe had to leave. Iâ€™m sorry it was your ship but we had to get away.â€
And there was a long silence before Ronon said, â€œWell, weâ€™re kind of pirates anyway.â€
â€œOkay, tian-ah,â€ Lorne snapped, throwing up his hands. â€œHow many times have we talked about this? We are not pirates.â€
Rodney stared, baffled, and Zelenka smirked at him, â€œWe are. Kind of.â€
â€œTa ma de,â€ Lorne snarled, â€œwe are notâ€”â€
But whatever else he was going to say was cut off when suddenly the ship brightened, an enormous flash of white before a soft dimming, and when they blinked the spots out of their eyes Lorne saw the walls glowing, the columns of bubbles faintly shining, their strings of makeshift lightbulbs overpowered. Even the panels on the floor were brightening.
â€œOkay,â€ Ronon said uneasily. â€œThat was weird.â€
â€œYou guys suck at this,â€ Johnâ€™s voice said, ghostly over the shipâ€™s intercom, and suddenly there was air circulating, cool and sweet and chasing away the stale smell of the entire place, the motor oil and grease and old food that had colored the place for years.
Lorne turned on McKay. â€œWhat the hell is he doing to my ship?â€
Rodney glared back. â€œWhy would I know?â€ he snapped, and turning his head upward, he called uncertainly into the ceiling, â€œJohn? What are you doing? Where are you?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re really terrible at this, Rodney,â€ John sighed, and the grimly-metal walls started to rearrange themselves, sheets of rusted-over steel creaking open and Lorne thought for a moment John was about to vent the fucking atmosphereâ€”
â€œYouâ€™ve been on Atlantis for ten years and you never figured out how to turn on the lights,â€ John scolded.
â€œOh,â€ Zelenka said suddenly and murmured something in Czech, eyes huge, when it turned out to be windows John was revealingâ€”when suddenly space was dark and clear and beautiful around them, near enough to touch.
â€œSeriously, John,â€ Rodney yelled at the ceiling. â€œWhere the hell are you?â€
â€œAnd what are you doing to my ship?â€ Lorne added, agitated.
â€œIâ€™ll be back,â€ John said blithely, voice going distant and disapproving, â€œAtlantis says theyâ€™re using the puddlejumpers as lockers.â€
Lorne and Teyla stared at each other. â€œPuddlejumpers?â€ Lorne asked.
â€œYouâ€™re killing me,â€ Laura told him. â€œYouâ€™re literally sucking my life.â€
Rodney slapped the Post out of her hands, crumpling it up in his hands. â€œYou know as well as I do that diseased whore who puts together Page Six has it out for me,â€ he snarled, shoving it into his Hugo Boss laptop case.
Radek fished it right back out, smoothing it across the table and reading out loud:
â€œIt seems like our cityâ€™s favorite bi-curious sex columnistâ€”â€
â€œBi-curious,â€ Rodney seethed, trying to tug the paper out Radekâ€™s hand.
â€œI love how people manage to sidestep the word â€˜indiscriminate slutâ€™ for you, every time,â€ Lisa said fondly, snatching the page away from Radek to continue reading: â€œIt seems like our cityâ€™s favorite bi-curious sex columnist is fluttering his wings again: Modeâ€™s Rodney McKay was sighted all over the city this weekend with a new beauâ€”and then another new beauâ€”and then another. Best of luck, Mister(s) Tall Dark and Handsome!â€ She peered over the page and asked, â€œHas the Colonel seen this?â€
Scowling, Rodney grabbed the page and proceeded to shred it into tiny pieces. Ignoring curious gazes from the nearby tables, he piled them neatly into their empty bread basket.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter if the Colonel has seen this,â€ Rodney said, too casual.
â€œOf course it doesnâ€™t matter,â€ Laura said, rolling her eyes and motioning for another Cosmo. It was after noon, which in Cadmanland meant she could drink without discretion. â€œYouâ€™re so over it that you spend all of your free time carding through the Wall Street Journal for those little stippled headshots for your health.â€
Rodney made a hamstrung face. â€œYes,â€ he said strangely. â€œI do.â€
â€œOh my God,â€ Radek muttered, â€œthis is pathetic. Just call him. For Godâ€™s sakeâ€”call him before you create a new venereal disease in the seething hotbed of your loins.â€
â€œWill you shut up?â€ Rodney hissed, glancing to the neighboring tables. He could see people diving for their Blackberries and Clios. â€œIâ€™m simply working through my having dumped him.â€
â€œWith going on five people,â€ Lisa said acidly, cocking a brow. â€œIâ€™m astonished you can sit down at all.â€
Rodney actually heard a clatter of flatwear being dropped, and covered his face with his hands, resigning himself to yet another day of riotous gossip and sideways smirks.
Zelenka pursed his lips and poked at the last of his chocolate lava cake, saying, â€œAnd itâ€™s still debatable as to who dumped whom, McKay.â€
The events of the month previous were Not To Be Spoken Of, and Rodney knew it was only a polite fiction that kept Zelenka from trotting out the fact that the Colonel was on his fourth divorce and Rodney had all but shouted a give me homosexual utopia or freedom! ultimatum. It didnâ€™t help that it was the Colonelâ€™s second round of being divorced from Chaya, which complicated things on a degree that Rodney hadnâ€™t even anticipatedâ€”and he made a living making shit up to put into a ridiculous sex advice column, having run out of legitimately interesting crises nearly a decade ago.
â€œI donâ€™t know where you find these people,â€ Laura sighed, tracing a finger around the rim of her Bloody Mary glass, â€œImpossible Relationships Râ€™ Us? First there was the botanist from NORMLâ€”â€
Flushing, Rodney protested, â€œKatie was a perfectly lovely person.â€
â€œAnd then weâ€™re not even going to talk about how you forced Carson to have his first nearly homosexual experience,â€ she continued acidly.
Rodney threw up his hands. Heâ€™d already said, â€œIt wasnâ€™t my fault!â€ until even he had started feeling stupid about it.
â€œAnd then of course thereâ€™s the Colonel, who is divorcingâ€”for the second timeâ€”his Brazilian supermodel wife,â€ Laura concluded, pursing her lips and giving Rodney a considering look as she said, â€œReally, McKayâ€”have you considered justâ€¦not dating?â€
â€œIâ€™ve considered getting new friends,â€ Rodney said pointedly.
â€œOhmiGod,â€ Lisa hissed, â€œdonâ€™t look now, but guess who just walked into the restaurant.â€
They all lookedâ€”just in time to see the Colonel pulling out a chair for said soon-to-be-ex-(again) Brazilian supermodel wife. Rodney started to dive under the table.
â€œThereâ€™s no way this is my life,â€ he moaned, trying to cover his head with the tablecloth. â€œThereâ€™s just no way.â€
(Pre-emptive apologies to HackThis, who will see why almost immediately, and who I hope will forgive me this trespass as we forgive our trespassers, and also because you know, how could I not-write 10 alternate universes without sticking this pop culture phenomenon in? And also, mostly, because come on: Mrs. Ari.)
â€œRadek,â€ Rodney said, glancing into his blind spot as he jerked the steering wheel, tires screeching as they dragged across two lanes of L.A. traffic, â€œRadek, youâ€™re giving me a motherfucking aneurysm here, do you know what an aneurysm is?â€
In the background, he could hear Ronon saying, â€œDude, heâ€™s going to die in traffic.â€
â€œRodney,â€ Radek said, almost halfway patient on the other end of the crackling cell phone connection, â€œLorne thinksâ€”â€
â€œSince when have I given a good God damn about what Lorne thinks?â€ Rodney shrieked into the phone. â€œDo headshots reference how Lorne thinks or how Lorne feels or what his inner fucking flower senses today?â€
â€œMaybe they should,â€ Radek started, but before Rodney could shout back, there was the sound of a struggle and Lorne came onto the line saying:
â€œLook, Rodney, chill, all right? Itâ€™s a three-month stage commitment; Iâ€™ll be back before you know it. I donâ€™t have any scripts waiting for me.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll have Park Slope and off-off-off-Broadway tattooed all over you in gleaming, shameful letters!â€ Rodney warned, seeing the soccer park looming ahead, whizzing past a bank sign displaying the time: 4:25 p.m. â€œOh fuck,â€ Rodney cursed. â€œOh fuck it all.â€
The phone seemed to have changed hands again because this time, it was Ford who said, â€œHey, look, Rodneyâ€”just you know, keep in mind, if anything pops up and Lorneâ€™s busy in the City, Iâ€™m alwaysâ€”â€
â€œGet off the motherfucking cell phone before I shove it into your fucking rectum with the power of my mind!â€ Rodney yelled, and did something impossibly illegal to cut across two more lanes of traffic and take razor-sharp left into the soccer park, where dozens on dozens of gleaming SUVs had already taken up residence.
â€œRight,â€ Ford agreed, and handed the phone back to Radek, who sighed and said, â€œIâ€™m sorry youâ€™re upset, Rodney, but thereâ€™s really nothing I can do.â€
â€œWhat the fuck are you talking about thereâ€™s nothing you can do?â€ Rodney hissed, zipping into the first available parking spotâ€”that he rode up partially onto a curb and flattened a bush was irrelevantâ€”and putting the car in park. â€œYouâ€™re his manager! Youâ€™re practically his wife, he listens to you!â€
Radek made a snorting noise. â€œYeah, â€˜cause with your wife youâ€™re clearly an expert on marital relationships.â€
â€œHey,â€ Rodney warned. â€œThatâ€™s the mother of my children youâ€™re talking about there.â€
Lorne snatched the phone away one last time. â€œBye, Rodney. Have a good summer,â€ he said with great finality, and hung up with a flourish.
Rodney started his rage blackout as he tucked the cell phone away and continued it all the way until he reached the furthest soccer field from the parking lot, where he scanned the crowd of well-Botoxed women in Hilfiger khaki until he spotted a dark head in the crowd of bleached blondes. He jogged around the back trying to psyche himself up but felt himself deflate the second Johnâ€™s gaze fell on him.
â€œHey,â€ he said feebly, putting a hand on the small of Johnâ€™s back.
â€œYouâ€™re half an hour late,â€ John told him mildlyâ€”too mildly, but Rodney couldnâ€™t see Johnâ€™s expression through the dark, aviator shades he wore. He figured that if â€œI motherfucking hate L.A. and you, and if I could kill you and eat of your still-pulsing tardy-ass entrails right here without being arrested, Iâ€™d do it in a fucking heartbeatâ€ could be translated into a simple look, John would be rocking it.
Rodney took his hand away, tucking it for safety into his pocket. â€œIâ€™d tell you why but you hate it when I talk about work?â€ he tried.
A group of horrifyingly well-toned couples wandered past and John waved, friendly-like, grabbing Rodneyâ€™s free hand and squeezed it painfully tightly.
â€œOkay, ow,â€ Rodney told him pitifully.
â€œYou donâ€™t even know what ow means right now, Rodney,â€ John told him, still smiling, still waving, and Rodney saw that Joanna had bounded down the field during the time-out and was beaming as she flailed both arms at them. â€œWave at the kid, Rodney.â€
Rodney waved, and Joanna, sighting him, practically exploded into an even brighter smileâ€”which succeeded in making Rodney feel like all kinds of shit.
â€œSo how much trouble am I in?â€ he asked.
â€œWell, I was considering calling my dad and telling him you were beating me,â€ John told him absently, and Rodney winced at the thought of Colonel Sheppard rolling into town with a full contingent of bloodthirsty marines ready to maim him for hurting his little princess. But Johnâ€™s bone-crushing grip was lessening, or possibly Rodneyâ€™s hand had gone numb, and Rodney thought that might be the beginning signs of forgiveness. â€œBut you showed up before the hour was out,â€ John continued, considering.
â€œI am trying,â€ Rodney said quietly, tugging John away from the crowd of heavily-medicated soccer moms, many of whom he knew for a fact spent hours plotting ways to get John to lower his Kinsey rating. â€œItâ€™s not ever going to be like it was in New York.â€
John took off his sunglasses gave him a tired look. â€œWhat was wrong with New York?â€
â€œNothing was wrong with New York,â€ Rodney told him honestly, remembering stage actors and musicals and occasionally walking with John down Upper West Side sidewalks to fetch Joanna from schoolâ€”ages ago, a geologic era ago. â€œI just got a better offer here.â€
â€œI actually saw you once in a while in New York,â€ John said flatly. â€œJoanna could still pick you out of a line-up in New York.â€
Rodney imagined that if there were a word for feeling something dramatically worse than â€˜shitty,â€™ this would be the prime opportunity to make use of it. â€œLook, I know thatâ€”â€ he started abortively, and shaking his head, he sighed, â€œLook, Iâ€™m sorry. Itâ€™s not, no matter what Iâ€™m going to say, itâ€™s not going to get better, in a lot of cases, it will probably get worse, but I swear, I swear to God, I am trying.â€
John put on his sunglasses again. â€œTry harder,â€ John said flatly.
Rodney stared at him for a long, long time, hearing distantly the sound of the refâ€™s whistle and Joannaâ€™s voice screaming, â€œWhat the hell do you mean! How is that a yellowâ€”oh, are you kidding me? Do you know who my father is?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll take a week off,â€ Rodney blurted out suddenly, doing a few calculations in his head. â€œHow about we take a week off? At the end of June? We can go back to Manhattan and catch up on some playsâ€”weâ€™ll stay at our old loft.â€
Hesitating, John said uncertainly, â€œBut youâ€”â€
â€œIâ€™ll say itâ€™s for work,â€ Rodney interrupted. â€œLorneâ€™s doingâ€¦some sort of bullshit show in New York over the summerâ€”Iâ€™ll say itâ€™s for work and weâ€™ll take a week off.â€
The sunglasses stayed on, but John cracked a smile, unwavering and sort of like forgiveness, and it persisted even when Joanna came storming up to them shouting, â€œOh my God! Can you believe the nerve of that guy? That punk Jasmine took a header into my stomach and he throws red for sportsmanship to meâ€”!â€