Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Thanks: Super-duper special big thanks to vegetariansushi for keeping me sane, and also for the beta of incredible speed. And to cricketk for making sure I didn't canon-blooper. All remaining mistakes are mine! Mine! All mine! Bwahahahaha.
Disclaimer: Just borrowing the SGA boys 'n' girls for a bit. I'll return them the way I found them.
For: undermistletoe prompt, "Ancient!John. Hey, did you remember John's got the Ancient gene?"
1. Testing the Hypothesis
"What's it supposed to do?" John asked, hitching himself up onto the bench Rodney and Zelenka were working at.
"Is very exciting!" said Zelenka, setting up a CD player next to the laptop, flashlight, and heart-rate monitor already on the bench.
Rodney nodded enthusiastically. "The database is completely unhelpful, of course, but reading between the incredibly abstruse lines, we think it might be a kind of neural adapter." He paused, then blurted out, "Or else it could be some kind of brainwashing device, but that seems highly improbable."
"Right," said John, in a way that communicated the rider: because the improbable has never happened here before.
"Very small likelihood of that," Zelenka assured him, "and so much potential if device really can link ATA gene to non-Atlantean technology." He waved at the array of electronic devices he'd laid out. "Some may be easier than others, so now you have choices."
"So basically, you think it's a universal remote," said John, eyeing the small, tear-shaped gadget sitting in the box beside him. "Cool."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. By all means, let's reduce the mind-bendingly brilliant concept to the lowest common denominator!"
"You're just pissed because you didn't think of it first," said John.
"Oh, please! Monkeys wouldn't envy your cognitive skills! I hardly think--"
"That's Colonel Monkey to you," said John, looking at his watch pointedly. "Did you want my primitive brain for anything today? Because I have places to go, marines to discipline and all that."
Rodney got the pissy look he always wore when reminded of his second-rate gene. He crossed his arms and cocked his head to one side.
"Ready now!" said Zelenka, cutting Rodney off before he could launch into a tirade.
Rodney gave an eloquent sniff as John picked up the remote. The other scientists paused in their work and craned forward, eager to watch the disaster unfold if anything went wrong, but not wanting to risk being in the danger zone.
John let his awareness slide against the familiar give of the device's neural field, carefully thinking On at it. Nothing happened: the flashlight, CD player, laptop, and heart-rate monitor remained inert. He pushed a little harder and the flashlight briefly seemed to flicker on-and-off.
"Did you see that?" he said, grinning at Zelenka and Rodney, and pushed again without waiting for an answer.
With a sharp pop the flashlight's bulb exploded; simultaneously, Rodney dropped to his knees with a breathy moan and Zelenka folded up like a compressed accordion, also ending up on the floor. All across the lab, scientists lost their balance; Kavanagh inhaled sharply and fell off his stool; a woman John vaguely recognised as Dr. Achebe squealed and clutched at her desk, looking as though she was going to vibrate right out of her chair at any minute.
"Dammit," said John, trying to think the device off. It was like pushing against water--as though his mind had made a connection that didn't want to be severed.
"Off!" said Rodney, sweat beading on his forehead, eyes wide and glassy. "Off! Off now!"
"I'm trying!" John thought Off as hard as he could--so hard, the overhead lights dimmed, and the air vents stilled--but even as the device went quiescent beneath his touch, most of the collapsed scientists convulsed, letting out pained sounds.
John thought the lights and air back on as he put the call through to Beckett and, once he could see what he was doing, he placed the device back in its box with the kind of care he usually reserved for live hand grenades and built-on-the-fly nuclear weapons. Then he jumped down off the bench--Beckett still confirming that a team was on the way--and squatted next to Rodney and Zelenka. "What the hell just happened?"
Like an echo, John could hear the question, "What the hell was that?" being asked all around him by a dozen hoarse voices.
"God, don't touch me!" Rodney said, shrugging off the finger John had pressed against his pulse.
John backed off a bit. "Beckett's on the way. What should I tell him?"
Rodney took a couple of deep breaths and looked up. He pointed an accusing finger at John; his hand was shaking. "If you did that on purpose, I'm going to... God, I don't even know what!"
Rodney dropped his hand. "You really don't... How can you not... That was..." He swallowed hard. Then, with his most determined expression: "Congratulations, Colonel, I suspect you've just managed to be the first person in history to have an accidental orgy."
"Orgy?" said John, totally confused, but suddenly noticing how red Rodney's lips were, how flushed his skin was, the way he was still protectively hunched up. "Oh God! The device made you orgasm?"
The words came out in something a little too close to a shout, John's voice carrying through the lab with perfect clarity. Everyone froze; and then, seemingly as one, heads bowed, everyone intent on avoiding eye-contact by becoming as small as possible.
Rodney's determined expression faltered, he hunched up a little more and put a shaking hand over his eyes. "Don't take this the wrong way, John. But please. Go away now."
"But are you..." said John, not knowing quite how to finish the question; alright seemed a little too close to Was it good for you? which was clearly inappropriate.
Zelenka cracked an eye and croaked out, "No! Not alright."
"Right," said John, taking the hint. "Right." He stumbled to his feet, feeling like someone had just pulled out not only the rug but the whole floor from under him. "Okay. Going now."
He met the medical team at the doorway and did an embarrassed sideways shuffle to let them through without actually stopping his forward momentum.
Even though he didn't turn to look back, he was uncomfortably aware of all the accusing eyes watching him as he left.
John could still feel the weight of many gazes as he sat in the mess, hours later, toying with a piece of almost-sushi. The members of Rodney's science team had been conspicuously absent from public places all day, but even so, the gossip mill had been working overtime, and by now there probably wasn't anyone on the whole of Atlantis who hadn't heard about the accidental orgy. John didn't need access to any kind of Ancient device to know what the common conversational theme of the evening was either; he could practically smell the sexual panic in the air.
He peeled away a strip of something-like-seaweed from the not-even-close-to-rice and his stomach rolled in protest. Sure, he got it: the idea of someone being able to make you spontaneously come was all very well in porn, but not so great when it could potentially happen in real life. And honestly, he hadn't needed a practical demonstration to know that: the porn/reality dichotomy was already one of the great disappointments of post-adolescent life.
The doors swished open and Rodney walked in.
A sudden hush spread throughout the mess. It was a silence that didn't quit; people just kept right on not talking as Rodney picked up a tray and got into the food line.
John could practically see tumbleweeds blowing past metaphorical saloon doors, and scared townsfolk peering out from behind closed curtains.
Once Rodney had grilled the openly gaping serving staff about possible citrus on the pseudo-fish, he walked over to John, just as he always did, plonking his tray down with a clatter of cutlery and sliding onto the opposite bench.
They both sat for a moment, considering their sushi, the intensity of the silence notching up even further all around them.
"Well," said John at last. "This is awkward."
"Yeah," said Rodney, toying with his food in a way that was entirely unnatural, given his usual speed-eating habit. His gaze kept sliding away from John's face, darting from the condensation running down the side of his glass, to John's ear, down to the sushi again, and then up to John's hair.
Doing his best to ignore the peanut gallery, John focused his attention on Rodney, trying to find a way back to their usual give and take. "I could make an inane comment about the weather," he offered, "if you think it'll help as an ice-breaker?"
Rodney's eyes went unfocused and thoughtful, as though he was considering some immense and intractable physics problem. Then his jaw firmed into a stubborn line. "Okay. Let's try that."
"Wow!" said John, with deliberate over-brightness. "That sunlight today. Really..." he paused for dramatic effect, and a smile started to tug at the corner of Rodney's mouth, "refractive!"
Rodney snorted and stuffed a piece of sushi into his mouth. With his usual lack of care for the way he was flashing half-chewed food, he said, "Just like a rainbow, you mean?"
His gaze finally met John's, and they both grinned at each other like maniacs.
"I can't believe you just set me up with a gay joke!" Rodney said, but he was clearly pleased at picking up John's cue. "You're a walking cliche. You know that, right?"
"You know me, Rodney," John replied. "The perfect straight man."
Rodney laughed, spraying out chunks of not-rice.
John frowned in mock-disgust, blinking away the faint prickle of suspicious eye-moisture as tension flowed out of him, because thank God it was all going to be okay, and he hadn't even realised how much that mattered until right now, when it didn't matter again.
The noise level of the room was steadily rising around them, still not returned to normal, but no longer the heavy, expectant hush of doom.
"Sorry about the... thing," John said.
"Hey," Rodney replied, casually brushing a chunk of not-rice off his sleeve, "I've always wanted to try the group sex thing. Just, you know," he waved a hand, "not quite that public." He picked up another piece of sushi, but paused with it halfway to his mouth. "Or with Kavanagh."
John's frown became real. "I really wish you hadn't said that."
Rodney nodded and ate the sushi. "Why haven't we found that handy brain-wiping device yet?"
"In my experience," said John, darkly, "there never is a brain-wiping device handy when you really need one."
"Well," said Rodney, with the eager look he always wore before they started in on a discussion of the vagaries of paradoxes, "not that you can remember, anyway!"
"Oh, please!" Rodney said, pushing Kavanagh aside. "You probably just did something moronic again."
Kavanagh narrowed his eyes, clearly adding a new note to his list of Outrages Perpetrated by McKay.
Rodney ignored him, casting his eye over the array of naquada generators. It quickly became apparent that nothing obvious was wrong. This was a disappointment, but not a surprise: Kavanagh was mostly capable of performing routine procedures, it was only thinking he failed at so spectacularly. As usual, he'd chosen the worst time possible to display his incompetence.
Right at that very moment, Elizabeth was Athosian-wining and mess-room-dining fifteen high ranking Earth delegates, here to assess the wellbeing of their various citizens. As the death rate for civilian members of the Atlantis expedition was already in double digits, it wasn't exactly the easiest sell, and malfunctioning equipment certainly wouldn't help Elizabeth with her pitch.
Rodney had promised everything would run smoothly today, although frankly, he thought Elizabeth was overly worried about the whole thing. To his eye, the assessment tour was just an excuse for sending fifteen people through the Stargate at hideous expense, so that they could enjoy a half-day of fun and games, and please-jump-higher, on an alien planet. In fact, it looked exactly like another of those typical political point-scoring stunts that administrators liked to pull on a regular basis. Rodney was certain that the tour would achieve nothing but the wasting of everyone's time, and by "everyone" he meant his. It was enough to goad his petty streak into high gear. Currently, he harboured a secret hope that something would go spectacularly wrong, and the diplomats would get a real taste of Atlantis... but that was counter-balanced by the threat of actually losing any of his scientists, who, yes, were all incompetent morons, but they were his incompetent morons, and no one else should have the right to get rid of them. And it would be galling beyond belief if he lost anyone because of an inconveniently timed power fluctuation in the naquada generators.
"It's like there's a huge power drain somewhere," said Kavanagh, his tone barely snotty at all.
Maybe he didn't like the idea of being sent home by politicians either.
"So let's see if we can find it," Rodney said, and refrained from rolling his eyes.
Ten minutes later, they did.
A patch of what appeared to be clear air between two of the generators was giving off a high-level energy reading.
Rodney frowned at the reading, then looked assessingly at the empty space. After a moment of very unpleasant thought, he turned to Kavanagh. "Get behind some cover. I'm going to set off a power surge."
"What?" said Kavanagh. "You can't do that. You'll fry the system!"
"Let's hope so," said Rodney, and pushed Kavanagh behind a pillar. "Because the alternative is very, very bad." He quickly disconnected the generators on either side of the affected pair, and then triggered the spike.
A blue tongue of electricity arced between the two units, splitting and curling around an invisible box-shaped something. As the lightning bolt dissipated, the not-so-empty air began to shimmer with the unmistakable haze of an energy shield going down. Then with a sizzle and the acrid smell of burnt electronics, the shield fell, revealing a multi-legged machine that looked a lot like a giant spider.
"Oh, fuck," said Rodney. "That's what I was afraid of." He glared at Kavanagh as he tapped his communicator. "Colonel, get your ass down to level four, ASAP. And feel free to bring along a really big gun." He shot a look at the creature: it had recovered from the shock and was busy disconnecting itself from the generators. "And marines. With more guns." Then he grabbed Kavanagh's shirt and pulled. "Time to go!"
Kavanagh followed reluctantly, craning his head around to look at the creature. "Wait a minute, is that a Replicator?" he asked, at the same moment John's tinny voice asked it if was the Wraith.
"Wraith, no. Replicator, yes," said Rodney, heading for the nearest transporter. "So stop asking questions and start running!"
Finally picking up on the urgency of the situation, Kavanagh started to sprint. "But how did it get here?"
"Good question," said Rodney, feeling a brief flash of superiority at being able to stay three paces ahead of Kavanagh. "Let's stop and ask it, shall we?"
Rodney's smugness vanished a moment later as he realised that the skittering sound behind them was gaining. By the time they barrelled into the transporter, the Replicator was almost on their heels.
"I told you there was something wrong!" said Kavanagh as he slammed into the back wall. His eyes went gratifyingly wide when he turned and saw the Replicator leaping towards them.
"Oh, yes, well done you!" said Rodney, punching the button just as the Replicator reached the transporter's doors.
Kavanagh barely had time to eep, and then they were stumbling out into an empty corridor.
"I especially liked the part of your report," Rodney continued, pulling out his sidearm and checking the clip, "in which you completely failed to mention that we were under alien attack."
Rodney sat at the conference table, trying very hard, for once in his life, not to think. He pulled a power bar out of his pocket and ripped it open, breathing in the heady bouquet of preservatives and chocolate.
Elizabeth started the meeting by looking around the table, making brief, confident eye-contact with everyone. First Lorne and John, who just did their inscrutable soldier impressions in return, then Carson, who actually looked reassured. Ronon and Teyla stopped swapping stories about knife fights long enough to smile back at her, then went right back to graphic descriptions of bloodshed that made Rodney feel slightly ill. Zelenka, unsurprisingly, gazed back at Elizabeth with a fatuous expression. Normally, Rodney would have rolled his eyes at that, but he was too busy trying not to look twitchy. He smiled at her nervously when it was his turn.
Having got their attention, Elizabeth began speaking: "Stargate Command have confirmed that they have a Replicator infestation at Cheyenne Mountain. They say they'll contact us again when they've got a solution. Until then, the Earth 'gate is quarantined, and I've closed down the Atlantis 'gate too." She leaned forward, every line of her body communicating that she was alert and ready. "While I have every confidence in Earth, I don't want to wait for the SGC's solution. So, Rodney, what's our window here?"
"The clock started when the diplomatic delegation came through from Earth," said Rodney, around a mouthful of power bar. "And can I just point out what a sterling victory for diplomacy our current crisis is!" and he chomped another bite: it tasted just as artificial as it smelled, the flavour familiar and pleasant against his tongue.
"Not helpful," Elizabeth said.
Rodney nodded. "Exactly my point!" But the stare that provoked from Elizabeth was relentless, so he reluctantly let it go. "Right. Timeline. If we just focus on vital damage, and ignore the number of Replicators we'll be facing, I'd estimate we've got another ten hours before they've assimilated all of Atlantis's key systems."
"And us," Zelenka added glumly. "They will eat everything to make more and more until we are nothing but Borg parts."
Elizabeth's expression remained full of confidence that Rodney would pull a miracle out of his ass within ten hours. "So how do we stop them?"
"We pretty much can't with our current weapons," Rodney said, shrugging and working really hard at the not thinking. At all. "SGC's already used up everything we have on them, so they've adapted to all that. We need to come up with something new and brilliant." He looked around the conference table, hoping against hope that for once someone else would show a glimmer of intelligence. "Anybody want to take a shot at it?"
"What about an EMP?" John suggested.
"Close but no banana," Rodney said, shaking his head. "SG1 beat you to that one, Colonel. The Replicators' shields can take it. Anyone else?" He looked around again, while stuffing the rest of the power bar into his mouth all in one go.
John lounged back in his chair, one eyebrow raised as he watched the food disappear into Rodney's mouth. "So hit us with your brilliant plan then, Rodney. We're all waiting to be stunned by your genius."
Rodney swallowed. It hurt all the way down. "Maybe I don't have a plan, Colonel! Did you ever think of that? Maybe I'm having a bad day, and I don't even have one tiny iota of an idea!" He scrunched up the power bar wrapper and threw it at the trash can near the door. It missed.
"Right," John drawled and raised his eyebrow a little higher.
Rodney stared at John, his heart doing an uncomfortable tango in his chest. Then he pushed his chair away from the table and stood up, beginning to pace up and down the room.
Zelenka got it a moment later, his eyes slowly getting bigger and bigger as he watched Rodney pace. He darted a quick glance at John, then blurted out, "That is crazy, crazy thought, Rodney! There is no proof RANDI will work that way!"
"Oh, please!" said Rodney, pacing faster. "The Replicators are just another electrical machine. It makes total sense they would be affected by RANDI. We just have to--"
"Randy?" Elizabeth interjected.
"Remote-Access Neural Demand Interface," said Zelenka, casting another sidelong look at John.
"Remote access?" said John, looking from Zelenka to Rodney. When Rodney refused to meet his gaze, John sat up straight in his chair. "Wait a minute... The orgasm device? Are you insane? What the hell are you planning to do? Melt their CPUs with afterglow?"
"Of course," said Rodney. "What a brilliant idea, Colonel! Except, oh, wait. Replicators don't have pleasure centers. Bit of a problem there, don't you think? Although I'm sure with your Kirk-like sexual ability, you can think of a way to make them roll over and beg for it anyway!"
Carson had gone the colour of an over-ripe tomato, while Lorne, Teyla and Ronon all looked incredibly amused, their heads swivelling back and forth between John and Rodney as though this was the most entertaining thing they'd seen all week.
John crossed his arms. "I wasn't the one who wanted to test the damn thing in the first place. It's not my fault it didn't do what you expected it to."
"Actually," said Zelenka, then blushed as everyone turned to look at him. "When we analysed results, there were some indications that, well--"
"You pushed the connection the wrong way!" Rodney snapped at John. "There's absolutely no reason it shouldn't have worked on the electrical equipment! In fact, it did work on the flashlight, until you..." he waved his hand meaningfully, "did your Kirk-thing!"
"Will you stop with the Kirk-thing?" John said. "It wasn't funny the first ten million times!"
"That's enough!" Elizabeth said. "From both of you." She turned to Zelenka. "Radek, what's your assessment of the," she made a little moue of distaste, "RANDI's chances against the Replicators?"
Zelenka blushed again. "I agree with Rodney. There is good chance last test was just a..." he paused, obviously groping for a tactful way to conclude, "a feedback problem."
John took a time-out from scowling at Rodney, turning to scowl at Zelenka instead, but his voice was measured when he said, "And if you're wrong?"
"Well," said Rodney, with his most belligerent chin-thrust, "as I'll be one of the people covering your six, if I'm wrong, then I guess I'll have a spectacularly embarrassing orgasm in front of a squad of orgasming marines. Right before I get dismembered by a Replicator and die painfully. None of which is on my To Do list, frankly, Colonel."
Elizabeth lifted a hand to muffle a sudden coughing fit.
"I still think it's a stupid plan," said John, but the way he slumped back into his chair said that he was resigned to his fate.
"We can be ready in an hour," Rodney said, jittering in place with restless energy. He really wanted another power bar. "Elizabeth?"
Recovering from her coughing fit, Elizabeth said, "All right, you have a go." Before the last word was out of her mouth, she lifted a hand, stopping Rodney as he turned to leave. "But I want you to double check everything with Dr. Zelenka. Understood?"
Rodney gaped at her. "What? Why?"
John smirked as he pushed himself up out of his chair. "She's worried you might be swayed by my infamous Kirk-thing," he said. Then, coolness personified, he sauntered out of the conference room, leaving Rodney behind, sputtering in indignation.
Twenty minutes later, John was summoned to the labs. He left Ronon and Teyla to help Elizabeth corral the entire Atlantean population, plus an indignant diplomatic delegation, into the shielded 'gate room. Not that the shields would withstand the Replicators for long, but they offered some temporary protection. More importantly, it meant that the corridors would be empty during John's upcoming attempt to use the Remote.
When John walked into the lab, it was to find Rodney and Zelenka about to flip a coin. The marines assigned to their protection detail were looking on interestedly; John wouldn't have been surprised to discover a few side-bets were riding on the outcome.
"Tails," said Rodney.
Zelenka tossed the coin into the air and caught it deftly. He held out his hand to show the Queen's profile. "I win," he said smugly, and flicked the coin at Rodney, who caught it with a scowl.
"Do I even want to know?" John asked, as Zelenka scurried off.
"He gets to set up the Replicator lure," said Rodney, "so that you'll have a nice, compact target zone."
"Ah," said John.
Zelenka finished packing a few last gadgets into a toolkit, hefted it over one shoulder, gave a carefree wave to John and Rodney, and headed out of the lab. A couple of the marines peeled themselves away from the wall and dutifully dogged his heels.
"So," said John. "I take it you're my crash test dummy."
"Yes, yes. Very droll." Rodney stuck the coin into his pocket and stalked over to the bench, on which a familiar array of electronic equipment was laid out. He picked up the RANDI and, as he held it out to John, said to the remaining marines, "You might want to move a bit further away than that."
Bates' face went very blank as he looked at John for orders.
John took pity. "To the end of the corridor should be far enough. But stay alert. Those critters move fast."
At Bates' nod, the remaining marines moved out at a very efficient clip. More than one of them cast a sympathetic glance McKay's way as they left.
John plucked the Remote from Rodney's hand. "Alone at last," he said dryly.
Rodney pulled out a chair and collapsed into it. "My knees hurt for a week last time."
"Too much information, McKay," John said, as he very gently let his awareness settle against the Remote.
Rodney favoured John with a disdainful look. "You have no imagination. Too much information would be me getting undressed, which would actually be a practical thing to do, under the circumstances."
"And believe me, I'm grateful for your restraint," John said, not taking the threat seriously. The Remote was a exuding a kind of sticky pressure, and now that he was expecting it, John could feel himself being pulled towards a bright, warm presence.
Rodney let out a sharp breath. "Wrong direction!"
John reigned it back, until the Remote's connection was barely brushing against his mind. "Sorry," he said. "That's the way it naturally pulls me."
"Well, just a suggestion," said Rodney, already looking a little flushed, "but if that feels natural, how about trying to find something that feels artificial."
"Right," said John. He let the connection deepen again and, doing his best to ignore the siren call of Rodney's mind, groped around for any sense of other energy sources.
After Rodney's third breathy, "No!" John complained, "Your brain's like a beacon. It makes it hard to feel anything else. Can't you stop thinking so much or something?"
Rodney's mouth dropped open but he didn't say anything, just stared at John with a strange expression on his face.
"What?" said John, jerking away from the connection, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
"You can," Rodney waved his hand at John wildly, "specifically tell it's my brain?"
"Duh," said John, holding up the Remote, "neural connector. Your brain's, ah, pretty unique, Rodney."
"Of course it is!" Rodney said. Then, inevitably: "What's it like?"
John wasn't sure how to even begin putting it into words, but Rodney was looking mulishly curious, and not at all likely to let it go. After thinking about it for a for a moment, John said, "You feel kind of hot actually; way warmer than Atlantis or the Puddlejumper. They just give off a big, cool feeling of ready when you are. But you're more like a bright, hot, neon sign telling me to step right this way, and do it now." He shrugged. "I can't really explain it any better than that."
Rodney's expression just got more intense. "You find my brain hot?"
"No!" John said, instinctively, as he suddenly realised how sexual that sounded.
Rodney crossed his arms, clearly unsatisfied with that answer, so John reminded himself that he had a mission here, and forced himself to stop and consider the question properly.
He carefully eased off the brakes and let himself be tugged towards Rodney again; let the relentless heat of Rodney's mind soak into him. And bingo! It turned out that once he wasn't yo-yoing around, the connection actually started to feel pretty good. "Okay, that's kind of weird," he said, and pushed a little harder. He didn't back off at Rodney's breathy, "Hey," instead keeping the pressure right where it was. And oh, yeah! That was really, really fantastic. He met Rodney's now rather glassy-eyed gaze. "Yeah, your brain is totally hot. Who knew?"
Rodney boggled at him, and that felt so damn good, John had to back off again.
"I..." said Rodney. "You..."
"Those Ancients," John said, shrugging. "I've always suspected they were pervy bastards. It figures they'd find a way to tap into each other's pleasure centres. I guess we should be grateful we're not rats, or our desiccated bodies would still be sitting here a hundred years from now."
Rodney's chin jerked out into its smack-down position, and he stared at John like he'd grown a second head. "And the fact you find my brain hot doesn't bother you at all?"
"Well," said John, feeling self-conscious again. "It's obviously what the device is meant to do, right? And now I know what the problem is, I can probably get around it. Just by..." This time he focused entirely on his goal, just like he would in the field, pushing everything else aside. He cast around methodically in all the directions that were not-Rodney, until he finally saw a line of tiny blue sparks. Grabbing at the nearest, he cautiously thought On, and, with a deafening burst of volume, Brittney Spears' voice was suddenly trilling at them from the CD player.
"Ah, the sweet sound of success," John said.
"You did it," Rodney said, sounding surprised.
"Of course I did it." John grinned. "And what's more, I can do it again." He flicked the flashlight on and off to demonstrate. "Come on, hot stuff. Let's go kill some Replicators!"
"Oh, my god!" said Rodney. "You're flirting with me now? You really are Kirk."
John glared at him. "What did I say about the Kirk-thing? Seriously, Rodney, way to kill the mood there."
"There was a mood?" Rodney said skeptically, slowly levering himself up out of the chair. Then: "Oh, my god. There was a mood!"
Already heading for the door, John threw back over his shoulder, "Yeah. Note the past tense."
Zelenka pointed his sensor array at the ceiling, while John, Rodney and Lorne tried not to jostle him in the restricted confines of the storage room.
"Yes," Zelenka said in a low voice. "Naquada trap worked just as planned. Maybe a hundred, a hundred and fifty Replicators, right over our heads."
"A hundred and fifty?" John said, the bright new burnish of his confidence dulling a little. "That's a lot of hardware to turn off."
"Wait an hour and it will be three hundred," Zelenka said. "And then six hundred, and then--"
"Borg," said John. "Yeah, got the memo." He clapped Zelenka of the back. "Good work. I'm sure it'll be just like dropping a grenade in a pond."
Zelenka nodded. "I hope so. And now I will be going far away while you let off grenade." He handed the sensor array over to John and hefted his now much lighter toolkit.
"Escort him to the perimeter, Lorne," John said.
"Yes, sir," Lorne replied, and looked pointedly at Rodney, who was possessively hugging the P90 he'd liberated from one of the marines on the trek down from the lab.
"Are you insane!" Rodney snapped. "I don't care if I come brains out of my nose! He's not staying down here alone, when there's a hundred and fifty killing machines just a few inches of ceiling away. Left unsupervised, he'd end up doing a kamikaze run on them or something equally idiotic."
"Thanks for that vote of confidence," John said. He nodded at Lorne, who, with a sympathetic look that said, Scientists!, took Zelenka's toolkit from him in one meaty hand, and ushered him out of the room.
As soon as the door had shut, John ran a hand through his hair. "A hundred and fifty! Jesus."
"This from the man who can make a whole city light up just by breathing!"
"It's not the same," said John, staring at the mass of glowing dots on the sensor array.
"Of course it's the same," said Rodney. "You just need a carrot."
John forgot all about the sensor reading. "A carrot?"
Rodney pried his right hand from its death-grip on the P90 and took a step closer to John. Then he reached out, placing his hand right in the middle of John's chest, over the thickest part of his flack vest. "Once you've done this, we could try out some more experiments with the device." His voice stuttered a little on the word experiments.
John went there. Just. Could see Rodney naked and laid out on a bed, writhing with pleasure even though John hadn't even touched him yet.
"Unless," Rodney stumbled backwards, his hand falling to his side. "Unless that isn't where you were going with that. Before. In which case--"
And John was a hard man, and could bear a lot of things, but he couldn't bear to hear Rodney take back his invitation, so he dropped the sensor array and grabbed Rodney's shoulders with both hands, pushing him back hard against the empty shelves.
"Way to change tenses, McKay," he said, and kissed Rodney as though there weren't a hundred and fifty types of death skittering around above their heads. After the briefest hiccough of hesitation, Rodney's mouth opened to him, hot and sweet and making reckless promises of things still to come. He moaned into John's mouth, and they were both hard, both trying to push their hips closer together.
John slid a hand into his pocket, groping for the Remote. And then--yes--Rodney's neon presence was reeling him in and John was falling, falling into him, like a bird falling through air, like it was something he'd been made for.
Rodney was whimpering, hands fumbling with John's clothes, trying to reach skin, and all John wanted to do was sink as far inside Rodney as he could and let go. It would be so easy... the feeling of Rodney against his mind was so intense he could almost taste it, like the most intoxicating drug ever invented. But even as he felt his grip on reality slipping away, Elizabeth's voice was suddenly there, demanding and concerned in his ear, and John came back to his own body enough to realise that the butt of the P90 was pressed painfully against his side, and if they didn't stop this right now, people might die, and one of them might be Rodney.
With an effort he broke away, taking a step back and then gently pushing Rodney away when he tried to follow. Rodney stared at him in confusion, but as John tapped his mike on, Rodney blinked and was right there with him again, expression alert and a little rueful.
"We're still working on it," said John, amazed at how even his voice was. "Sheppard out."
They just stood there for a moment, catching their breath, the silence between them thick with unspoken words.
Rodney's bottom lip was still wet and it drew John's gaze like a magnet. "That's some carrot you've got there, Rodney," he said. "You were right. I'm feeling pretty inspired now." Then he shut his eyes to block out the sight of Rodney's tongue skating over his lip, wetting it again.
When he leaned into the neural field, the Replicators were a bright mass of arctic light that felt cold and dry. Still thrumming with Rodney's heat, John thought Fuck off and die! at them, dropping it down in their midst like a thermal grenade.
It spread like a chain reaction, the arctic lights winking out, one by one, in a rippling wave. Zelenka's excited shout echoed over the radio, confirming that the Replicators were shutting down.
John's eyes popped open in surprise. "Huh. I was kind of expecting it to be harder than that."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'm no longer even surprised when it comes to your freaky ability to--"
"I swear to God, Rodney. One more Kirk joke, and I'm taking my dick and going home. Alone."
Rodney's mouth snapped closed with an audible click of teeth.
"Right," said John. "Just as long as we're straight on that."
"You know," said Rodney, bending over to pick up the sensor array, and giving John a breath-stealing view of his ass in the process. "Under the circumstances, you might what to rethink that word choice."
Then he turned and smiled at John in a bright, speculative way that made it clear he'd done the whole showing-off-his-ass thing on purpose.