Title: Necessary Things (link to An Archive of Our Own)
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Thanks: to paceus and mecurtin for beta, and smuffster for the amazing cover. <3 <3 <3
For: velocitygrass, who asked for, "John as Rodney's butler. (I'm thinking Jeeves and Wooster here and am simply amused by the thought that for all his bluster, Rodney wouldn't even notice that John rules his life.)"
Summary: There are some things no-one can live without.
May 2003: A new alarm clock
Rodney makes an effort for the big things, like meeting with the brass and keeping people from blowing themselves up, which is why Elizabeth lets the situation slide for as long as she does. But then, in the midst of gearing up for the Atlantis project, Rodney is late for three big meetings in a row.
The first two are with O'Neill, who is laid-back, used to scientists on a research tear, and most of all, goal-oriented. As Rodney always delivers spectacularly, even if unshaven and wearing the remains of spaghetti down his shirt, well, it's not too big a disaster; although Elizabeth isn't naive enough to think O'Neill hasn't noticed McKay's attitude.
The third time Rodney's late -- and not just a little, but grievously -- it's for a meeting with Woolsey. Elizabeth covers as best she can, pointing out how far they've come with the ZPM research, and the ATA interface project, but Woolsey's mouth gets thinner and tighter, and he looks at his watch six times before Rodney bustles through the door looking hyper and oblivious. The nail in the coffin is Rodney's, "Oh, you've started," with no attempt at an apology at all. Woolsey's face slowly goes puce, although, to give him his due, he's too much of a professional to storm out of the meeting in a snit. But his questions about their progress are very pointed, and Elizabeth winces internally at each one and decides that something must be done before they end up with a funding cut or a new research priority that's actually a poisoned chalice, or worst of all, the Atlantis project snatched away from them just as it seems they're making progress.
"Rodney," Elizabeth says, with that tone in her voice. Rodney sighs and turns to face her. He's pretty sure he knows what this is going to be about.
"What?" he snaps, noticing that she's brought a soldier into his lab. The man's just standing there, though, so Rodney ignores him.
Elizabeth looks at him earnestly, and Rodney knows that sign well enough that his adrenalin starts pumping. This is going to be bad.
"Look, I'm sorry, Elizabeth," he blurts before she can speak, in a hasty attempt at pre-emptive damage control. "I set the alarm. Hell, I set Zelenka's alarm." Across the room, Zelenka is nodding his fuzzy head -- he recognises the Eyes of Doom as well as Rodney does. "But we were in the safe room, doing our jobs, and anyway, I think it's vastly more important to discover the principles of zero-point energy than sit in meetings with some--"
"I understand, Rodney," Elizabeth says, but her expression hasn't changed at all, and Rodney gets a very, very bad feeling. "Which is why I've brought you a portable alarm clock." She waves at the soldier, still standing at stiff attention, and her smile has more than the usual number of teeth.
Rodney takes a closer look at the soldier. The man has that ham-handed, sheared-headed, by-the-book glow so typical of the military, and his eyes betray no visible thought processes, except perhaps, Explosions = cool and Geeks = boring. Worst of all, he looks like he's just stepped out of the latest Military Studs calendar. Rodney can already see productively plummeting as half the lab make sheep's eyes at the man instead of doing their ground-breaking, not to mention earth-saving work. Well, he's not going to stand for it! Elizabeth's plan needs to be nipped in the bud right away.
"No, no, no, no, no! There's no room in here for random idiots. This is a dangerous lab, Elizabeth. I can't spend all my time babysitting Lieutenant Himbo over there! I'd get no work done."
Elizabeth nods sympathetically. "Which is why I chose John. He's the new Mobile AI Laboratory android that Area 51 have asked us to field test. He's rated for all lab environments, and knows all the safety protocols."
Rodney gapes at her. The woman is an evil genius.
"But you know all that," she says sweetly. "You did the base programming on the AI project, didn't you?" And Rodney has no defence against that, because, yes, he did do the base programming and it was brilliant, and as idiot proof as he could make it.
Before Rodney can think of a good reply, Elizabeth turns, clearly about to make a tactical retreat while the field is hers. She pats "John" on the shoulder on the way past, saying, "I'm sure you'll find him very useful, Rodney," and vanishes through the doorway.
"Magnificent," Radek says, wearing the admiring expression he so often does when Elizabeth is around. "She played you like a piano."
"Traitor!" Rodney looks over to the robot. "Oh, for heaven's sake, do you have to loom over us all like that?"
The robot blinks at him for a moment, and then gracefully moves into the "At ease" position. He raises an enquiring eyebrow, in what Rodney recognises as a perfect, dead-on impression of Teal'c.
Clearly the robot's mimicry software has significantly improved since Rodney had last worked on the project. "Hmmm," he says, looking the robot over thoughtfully. Maybe its other sub-routines have improved too. Intrigued, Rodney scrabbles at the papers on his desk until he finds a whiteboard marker.
"How good are you at math?" he demands, throwing the marker at the robot, who catches it easily. "Show me. Let's start with something easy, like antisymmetric wavefunctions..."
June 2003: Personal growth
John's hair is never the same after he pulls the plug on Kavanagh's run-away naquadah experiment, thus saving the lives of everyone in the lab.
"John!" Rodney says, sprinting across the lab and falling to his knees beside John's inert body.
For several long, awful minutes, Rodney thinks the power surge has fried John's CPU, but then the failsafe kicks in and John successfully reboots, with nothing to show for the adventure but three missing minutes of memory, an experimental hair-do, and a newfound appreciation for black humour.
"Well it was a bit of a shock," John says later, during the debrief to Elizabeth. "But not as bad as the time Rodney came out of the communal showers without a towel." He makes a face of exaggerated horror, and everyone laughs, mostly in relief. Even Rodney.
It's not the first time Rodney notices how fast John is learning -- how sophisticated his processors and sub-routines are at solving problems. It is the first time Rodney admits to himself that John is alive.
August 2003: Tangential effects
It's been several weeks since Elizabeth has seen Rodney -- she's been offworld negotiating the new Tokra treaty, having been stuck with the job largely due to her previous UN experience. So when she and Rodney are finally face-to-face again, the change hits her like a slap.
Rodney strides into the Command Staff meeting with five minutes to spare, looking clean, well-rested and happy. John is three steps behind him, unobtrusive and watchful. He slots himself into the background with the other guards, but he's not like the other guards at all: she catches him staring as she hugs Rodney hello, and on-and-off throughout the meeting she can feel the tracks of his gaze on the side of her face.
After Rodney's presentation on his lab's newly proposed Waveform Generator project -- greeted with much interest and an almost immediate green light -- Rodney does a quick swivel in his chair as he settles back down, his gaze brushing over John like a hand touching a talisman.
Elizabeth gets an odd, tight feeling in her chest. She had always assumed Rodney was just naturally cantankerous; but now, looking at the light in his face, she wonders how long she has been blind.
October 2003: Human resource management
People sidle up to John at odd moments, laying out their problems: funding requests, grievances, issues with a McKay decree.
Somehow, without any fuss, things are always smoothed over. The lab has never run so well.
On a Thursday afternoon, John sends his weekly self-diagnosis data-packet to Area 51: Bubble-logic module effective; real-time problem solving, behavioural pattern recognition and positive reinforcement systems maximised.
At Area 51, the Mobile AI Laboratory team celebrate with champagne. This is a major milestone! John now surpasses the Turing test in every capacity.
No-one else notices.
Life for Rodney feels just the same as it always has, albeit a little more productive and with fewer idiots wasting his time.
Everything changes on a cold, sunny day in the middle of the week. Rodney burns his lip on drive-thru coffee that morning, the sky achingly beautiful overhead, even framed by the dirty windshield of his car. He doesn't think it's anything as portentous as an omen; he's just irritated.
Two hours later his work is interrupted by the gate klaxon: SG-13 coming in hot from M90-772. The situation barely registers -- it's too common to be worthy of comment. Everyone just keeps on working... at least until Dr Michaels realises she was unwittingly carrying a stowaway.
The Replicators are focused this time, barely establishing a foothold before they're gone again. In and out, cutting through SGC's security like butter.
It's only later, after the base computers are back online and Hammond is sure the situation is contained, that anyone does a head count.
It comes up one short.
Something inside Rodney goes very cold and still.
He sets to work straight away on the weapon they need, Sam and Radek leading separate teams, and working just as feverishly. For all the bustle, the lab is strangely subdued.
Eight hours later, Rodney finds himself shaking and on the edge of hypoglycaemic shock, his head pounding with caffeine withdrawal. No one has brought him coffee or made him eat a sandwich. No one has rubbed the strain from his neck. No one has insisted it's time he take a break, or cracked a stupid joke, or pointed out the obvious errors in his math.
Rodney forces himself to eat a stale power bar he finds at the back of his desk drawer, and then locks himself into a toilet stall and freaks out for fourteen and a half minutes.
Three weeks later, there are no longer any Replicators. Anywhere.
The first thing John says to Rodney when he's back, safe and sound and definitively virus-free is, "What took you so long?"
December 2003: Out with the old...
When Rodney finally gives in to the inevitable, he's standing next to a gross of toilet paper in a storage room on the 17th level of the SGC. He and John are trapped there because of an emergency medical lock-down. Even though he knows ordering John to over-ride the door and get them out will likely make a bad situation worse, the only way Rodney can stop himself is to put a hand on the back of John's neck and pull him close. Rodney doesn't even realise what he's doing until it's already happening: he kisses John hard and fast and more than a little desperately, wanting John to learn this, the shape and pressure of a kiss, the same way Rodney's seen him learn so many other things. But John doesn't kiss back; John is like a statue, unmoving.
Rodney jerks away, wondering, sickly, what on earth he's been thinking. Of course a robot wouldn't want to touch, wouldn't want to kiss. He takes a half-step back and runs up against the wall of toilet paper.
"Rodney?" John says, touching his own mouth like it's something new. He's looking at Rodney, but his eyes betray no visible thought processes, except perhaps, Does not compute and Threat = high. Then he moves his hand from his mouth and reaches out towards Rodney, slow and careful, as though waiting for a command to stop, until one finger comes to rest on Rodney's bottom lip.
Rodney dares not even breathe.
John says, "Rodney, tell me what to do. I don't know how to--"
"Oh god," Rodney says, as John shuffles closer and leans in, landing a feather-light kiss on Rodney's mouth.
Rodney twists his fingers into John's ridiculous hair and changes the angle so that John's top lip slides between his own, and this time John kisses back, kisses the way Rodney wanted him to the first time.
"Oh," John says afterwards, wide-eyed, staring at Rodney's mouth, "That's so cool." And then he's all motion, pushing Rodney up against the wall, pressing close, his thigh warm between Rodney's legs, gripping Rodney’s arms almost too tightly for comfort as he takes the lead this time, the kiss starting out a little clumsy and then turning slick and slow and electric.
"John," Rodney said, breathless, "John," and kisses back until he sees stars.
Later, back at Rodney's apartment, Rodney says, "Are you sure?" and looks so determinedly noble that all John can do is finish stripping off his clothes as fast as he can without breaking anything, and fall backwards onto the bed, stretching out the way he's seen Rodney's cat stretch out in the sun.
Rodney makes a sound in the back of his throat, "Hnn," and finishes taking off his own clothes without any more argument.
When Rodney joins him on the bed, skin flushed a warm pink, John reaches out, unwilling to wait any more, hungry for data: the arch of Rodney's back, the pattern of his sweat, the taste of his skin.
Then Rodney touches John's body just so, and a new protocol unfurls, cascading through John like a virus, making his body clench up hard and tight, and then letting go all at once.
Afterwards, John opens his eyes to find Rodney looking at him fondly. Everything Rodney is thinking is written on his face, unhidden and easy to read.
"Come here," Rodney orders before John's finished basking in that look, and he plucks John's hand from where it's lying curled on the bed and places it just where he wants it.
Beneath John's fingers, he can feel the steady thrum of Rodney's pulse, too fragile, too temporary, and he thinks, I'll have to do something about that, as he moves his hand, making Rodney tense and shiver and spill out words, "More," and "Please," and most of all, like a refrain, "John, John, John."