Title: The Relative Merits of Wanting and Getting
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
For: The lovely flordeneu's Urban Legends challenge: 36) Destructive act is blamed on convenient pet; and 42) Swedish navy mistakes minks for enemy submarines.
Beta: The incomparable vegetariansushi.
ETA: Thanks to everysecondtues for my first ever cover! W00t! I'm so in love with it.
Things the End of the World Brings You
Seventeen hive ships only six weeks away, coming up dark behind a trail of metal-dense asteroids.
It wasn't the payoff Rodney had expected when they'd sent out the flowerburst of deep-space probes. The increased sensor range and precision were meant to buy them more time, not less; more warning, more information on potential weaknesses, more opportunity to prepare, more chance of winning.
And yes, the system had clued them in to a cunning sneak attack they would otherwise have missed, but, strategically speaking, six weeks was a worthless window: not enough time to finish any of the new defences, nor to deploy the new weapon system.
Although six week was, it seemed, just enough time to get in a really decent panic attack.
Which was how Rodney ended up sitting on the floor of his quarters, leaning back against the bed-base, nursing a bottle of Zelenka's stomach-chewing, synapse-killing moonshine, and hoping against hope to pull a truly Grand-Unified-Theory sized miracle out of his ass.
"We're kinda screwed," said John, tugging at the bottle until Rodney reluctantly unclenched his fingers. He didn't bother to wipe the rim, just put it straight to his mouth and took a giant swig. His eyes watered a little when he swallowed. "Aren't we?"
"Yeah," Rodney agreed. When he nodded his head the whole world went sparkly, as though some moron had hung a giant disco-ball in his quarters, and he had to hug himself hard so that he didn't just slide sideways out of this reality and into another--no doubt even-shittier--dimension. Gradually, the whirling nausea passed, but when he unscrunched his eyes, the flash, flash, flash of the phantom disco-ball continued to wash over him. He risked moving his head anyway, so that he could see John's familiar profile, which wasn't as reassuring as he'd hoped it would be. In fact, something about the way John's hair was drooping made him admit: "I've got nothing. Just..." He edged a hand cautiously out from under his armpit, giving a half-hearted wave to indicate the huge expanse of nothing currently filling his head.
John took another big swig, swallowed it, and swigged again. Then he turned towards Rodney, the expression on his face strangely naked and vulnerable. "Last time," he said, and took another swig, "you know, with the bomb?"
Oh, yeah. Rodney remembered that bomb; he'd built that bomb. Rodney decided he definitely needed more alcohol if they were going to discuss the bomb. As Rodney reached for the bottle, the disco-ball gave another of its inter-dimensional tugs, but the warmth of John's fingers against the chill of the glass anchored him. John lifted the bottle for one more long swallow while their fingers were still tangled together, and when he'd finished drinking he wiped his mouth with the back of Rodney's hand--the press of his lips a warm, wet streak of unexpected pleasure--before dropping the bottle into Rodney's lap and letting go.
Rodney closed his eyes and focused on breathing for a moment.
"While I was sitting there, watching the hive ships getting closer and closer," John said, his voice rough and not at all cool, "I realised there was some stuff I wanted to do that I hadn't done."
Hugging the bottle to his chest, Rodney opened his eyes to find John staring at him; he was so close their noses were almost touching. "Stuff?"
Rodney wasn't sure what happened then, because one second the world was glittering and spinning, and the next he was kissing John and John was kissing him, and he wasn't even sure who'd made the first move or if there had even been a first move, but his whole world had narrowed down to the feel of John's lips against his, the way John was moving against him, John's hands pressing hard on his arm and thigh, the bitter, burning flavour of John's moonshine-soaked tongue...
The bottle of hooch had fallen away somewhere and Rodney could feel it spilling, wet and cold against his leg, but he didn't care, couldn't give a shit, because it felt like John was trying to crawl into his skin, and Rodney had never had this, never even known it could be like this and his whole body was crying out yes, more, now. Rodney sucked on John's tongue greedily, and tasted John all over with his hands: the wax-soft spikes of his drooping hair, the fever-hot skin of his neck, the long, elegant slope of his back.
Then John was on top of him, moaning into Rodney's mouth, his hand fumbling at Rodney's pants, fingers twisting their way beneath the layers of cloth and oh God, yes wrapping around Rodney's cock.
"Rodney," John said, licking the word into his mouth, biting it on his neck; John's mouth was desperate with want, his hard-on like a brand against Rodney's thigh, as though John was okay with the end of the world as long as it gave him this--and suddenly Rodney couldn't breath, couldn't move, couldn't do anything but lie passive beneath the hard, heavy, glorious weight of John; couldn't do anything but be in the moment, take it all in, because it was there! Right there! The answer, the miracle, the way they could have this not only now, but tomorrow and tomorrow and the fucking day after that!
"John, John," Rodney said, suddenly galvanised into a frenzy of want, smooshing words against John's skin with hot, wet kisses. "It's a mimic! It's not the Wraith!" And when that sank in--three or four slow, dirty kisses later--John looked down at Rodney like he'd lost his last marble, so Rodney added: "It's why the energy readings were off! Something's pretending to be the Wraith. It's probably, I don't know, a defence mechanism or something."
It was all kind of a blur after that: scrambling back into their clothes, racing to the Command Centre, re-running the scans with Zelenka, figuring out how to decode the fake data and then watching with amazement as the screens went grainy, re-phased, and showed them a pod of beautiful, enormous, stony-coloured jellyfish-things, pulsing with life as they swam through the vacuum of space.
"Jesus," said John looking at Rodney with a light in his eyes that made the space jellyfish seem ordinary and dull by comparison; a light that held no regret in it at all.
Something inside Rodney seized up then, hard and tight and painful, as he realised that he was in love, so in love, and that John was everything he wanted.
Hot on the heels of that revelation, the disco-ball flashed, once, with a blinding intensity that seared Rodney right to the core...
... and then, without any further warning, the VR simulation ended and dumped Rodney back into real time.
Why the Ending and then he woke up is a Dirty Cop-Out
Rodney was still so wrapped up in what was going on inside his own mind that he didn't understand what had happened at first.
"Will you quit that!" he said, when Carson snapped his fingers in front of his face for the third or fourth time.
The hospital bed was ungiving against his back, his head was splitting, his vision was full of bright white spots, and he had no idea how he'd ended up in the infirmary, but he was hoping he hadn't just passed out in the Command Centre in front of everyone. All of that faded away to unimportance, though, when he found himself blinking up at John, who was staring down at him with concern and guilt duking it out on his face.
"John?" Rodney said, filled with an expanding balloon of relief that John was there, right by his side and worried about him. Nothing could be that wrong if John was there. He reached out to grip John's arm, still amazed that he could just reach out and touch whenever he wanted; but his fingers slid off something metallic and cold, and it was only with an effort that he managed to snag John's sleeve instead. When he swivelled his head--a whole new glittering galaxy of lights exploding in front of his eyes until he blinked them away--he saw that John was holding the VR unit Rodney had been planning to test two months ago...
"--the date?" Beckett was asking, shining his flashlight into Rodney's right eye and then his left.
And that was all it took for Rodney to get it, even though he flat-out refused to believe it. With a surge of panic, he frantically rewound memories that no longer seemed any realer than a particularly lucid dream, trying to find the join; back past the light in John's eyes as Rodney had saved the day; back past the graceful pulse and glide of the space jellyfish across the viewscreens; back, back, back to the alcohol and the desperation and the kiss, all now oddly surreal; back to the sensor readings and the six-week deadline of doom. Fake, fake. All fake.
Back to the deployment of the deep-space probes, shooting off into the darkness, and yes, that was real. That was real and had happened just two days before Rodney had decided to test the VR device. The probes hadn't been out long enough to send back any useful data yet, which was why Rodney had moved on to his next project.
Rodney looked up at John, searching his face for anything, any sign that the virtual reality mapped to this one. John's expression was worried, yes, but, with a hollow feeling, Rodney realised it was just the usual Team-Leader expression he'd seen in the infirmary a dozen times before.
"Come on, Rodney," John said, with his worried Team-Leader expression, his hair all spiky and not at all flat. "Tell Beckett the date."
"March first," said Rodney, dully, jerking his hand away from its grip on John's sleeve and tucking it under the sheet, out of temptation's way.
Carson and John didn't even change expression at Rodney's answer; neither of them gasped, or said, "Are you sure?" or poked Rodney with strange medical scanners, or made humorous comments about Rodney losing two months.
"What went wrong?" John asked, instead, holding up the device. "I've been trying to get this thing off you for over an hour, but it wouldn't turn off for me."
"Nothing went wrong," Rodney replied, letting Carson help him sit up. "It disengaged as soon as the program was finished."
John frowned at him. "Are you sure? That's not what it looked like from this side. It was like it was resisting me."
Rodney was saved the trouble of responding by Carson shooing John away from the bed, which was just as well, because he was remembering the disco-ball and the feeling of being tugged sideways and the way he'd hugged himself to stave it off and how he hadn't resisted virtual-John at all.
"The debriefing can wait, Colonel," Carson said. "I have a physical to perform."
Casting a sympathetic look over his shoulder, John let himself be herded out. "I'll come by later. Make sure the Doc hasn't had you wall-mounted or anything."
He was taking the VR device away with him.
"Be off with you!" Carson pointed a finger at the exit and, with a smirk, John sauntered off.
"Right," said Carson, turning back to Rodney. "How do you feel, laddie?"
Rodney closed his eyes, trying to hold back the prickling of tears, because crying in front of Carson right now would just be the final humiliation. "Like a moron," he said.
Carson huffed out a laugh. "Well, I guess that has the advantage of novelty value." And then he spent the next twenty minutes twisting Rodney into various tantric yoga positions while he inserted voodoo sticks in what felt like every orifice of Rodney's body.
By the end of it, Rodney was annoyed enough that he felt marginally less like he wanted to shrivel up and die. He would have been impressed by that if he'd thought for one moment that Carson had done it on purpose.
The Fine Art of Resisting Interrogation
It was just a debriefing, not a formal meeting, so they ended up in Elizabeth's office--Elizabeth behind her desk, Radek, John and Rodney in a semi-circle facing her.
"So," Elizabeth said, smiling at Rodney. "Tell us what happened."
She'd been smiling when she came to visit him in the infirmary too, abrim with genuine relief that he was okay; Rodney hadn't bothered to disillusion her.
Rodney leaned forward and picked a pen up off Elizabeth's desk and turned it over in his hands; it wasn't one of the military-issue pens, but an elegant gold ballpoint. "It worked just the way we," he twirled the pen in Radek's direction, "thought it would."
Taking the cue, Radek leaned forward, all gleaming eyes and barely suppressed excitement. "It was true AI? It created total virtual environment?"
"Indistinguishable from the real world," said Rodney, "at least, while I was inside. I can tell the difference now. The memories have a dream-like quality." The pen had an inscription along the barrel: Happy Birthday, Elizabeth. Love, Simon.
"And you solved test problem? How to increase efficiency of ZPM?"
Rodney unscrewed the pen, easing out the ink cartridge and spring. "No."
"Is that what went wrong?" John asked, "You couldn't solve it, so the program wouldn't stop?"
The end of the spring jabbed into the flesh of Rodney's thumb, sharp and painful. "No," Rodney said, watching a bead of blood well up; the distraction helped, stopped him from freaking out. This debriefing was already taxing skills he didn't usually bother with. He'd never been very good at lying, but he clearly couldn't tell the whole truth now, especially with John sitting right there next to him. Rodney knew his own limits, and all he could do was attempt to walk a fine line, balanced carefully between truth, omission and misdirection. That, and try to get it done as quickly as possible.
So... "The AI and I solved the problem," he said, not looking up from his hands. It turns out I'm not actually straight, he didn't say. "The test scenario just wasn't the problem we solved for," he admitted. He didn't add: Because we were too busy figuring out how John could fall in love with me. "The device went with a personal problem I'd been ignoring instead." And I don't know whether to be horrified or cautiously optimistic that our solution required the world to end before John would ever want me. "As soon as the outcome was achieved, the program ended." And it's just as well it had a failsafe, because if I had my way, I'd still be in there.
Rodney looked up, meeting Elizabeth's gaze. "I don't think the device is innately dangerous, just not as useful for directed theoretical testing as we'd hoped."
"Personal problem?" said Radek, latching onto it like a dog with a bone. "Was it more important to you than work?"
Rodney put his thumb in his mouth, swallowing down the metallic taste of blood. He could feel Elizabeth watching him.
"Radek," she said. "I'm sure if it was relevant, Rodney would have told us."
"Oh, yes," Radek said, subsiding somewhat. Then: "But relative importance of problem might be key! Another operator might react differently. Or even Rodney, now that personal problem is solved."
"I'm not using that thing again!" Rodney said, and all three of them looked at him with so much sympathy it made his skin crawl.
"If it was really that bad," Elizabeth said, cautiously, "perhaps--"
"Fine!" said Rodney, cross with himself for blowing it when he'd been so close to getting away clean. He couldn't let the device be scratched from their arsenal, just because he didn't like it. So... on to Plan B. He let his shoulders slump and said, "If you must know, I'm not in love with Colonel Carter. And I don't appreciate my perfectly adequate coping mechanism being ripped apart just for the sake of achieving some totally unwanted self-knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. I'm not an Ancient! It's not like I have any desire to Ascend!" He carefully screwed Elizabeth's pen back together and dropped it on the desk. "So if you've all quite finished poking around at my psyche?" He stood up.
"I think that's all we need for now," Elizabeth agreed, "but I want you to see Heightmeyer. I mean it, Rodney."
"Fine," Rodney said, and started moving towards the door.
"Let me know what you and Radek decide to do with the device," Elizabeth called after him, and he flapped a hand in acknowledgment as he escaped.
John knew there was something wrong when Rodney didn't turn up for dinner. Well, his gut had been convinced for a lot longer than that; John had been feeling edgy since the VR device had refused to disengage. But the first tangible proof that something was seriously wrong was when Rodney didn't turn up for dinner.
He wasn't the only one to notice the problem. Elizabeth caught John's eye, just as he scooped up his last forkful of peas and gravy; her worried frown spoke louder than words. John nodded to let her know he'd take care of it.
"Do you wish me to come with you?" Teyla asked, having noticed the exchange; she had been quieter than usual during the meal, too.
"Nah," John said around his mouthful of peas, "I've got it covered. I think it might be guy stuff."
Ronon snorted in a way John assumed meant something like, "You Earth people are all neurotic and have no understanding of real masculinity," which John wasn't game to touch with Teyla sitting right there, so he just gave Ronon his, "Buddy, you have no idea," grin as he got up from the table.
He glanced back as he dumped his tray on the wash-up trolley and wasn't surprised to find Teyla glaring at Ronon. Normally, it would have been fun to stay and watch the fireworks that were obviously about to go off, but his gut gave another pang of worry, so John left them to it and went to track Rodney down.
The lab was his first stop, and the wrong-feeling notched up a level when Rodney wasn't there.
"Said he wanted to work in peace and quiet," Zelenka reported. His hair was in even wilder spikes than usual and, as John watched, he ran a hand through it and tugged. It was a gesture he usually reserved for the crisis of the week.
"Rodney hates peace and quiet," John pointed out.
Zelenka nodded, his hair bouncing with agitation, and muttered something John figured was a rude, Czech equivalent of stupid Ancient devices.
"Yeah," John agreed feelingly, and went off to check Rodney's quarters.
There was no answer when he knocked, but when he pinged the door, Atlantis told him its status was locked, which seemed suggestive. John switched his headset over to the team channel, knocked harder, and said, "Don't make me use my powers for evil, Rodney."
A moment later the door opened to reveal Rodney standing in the middle of the doorway, arms crossed, looking very, very cranky.
"What do you want?" Rodney demanded.
"Just dropped by to--" Over Rodney's shoulder, John caught sight of a post-cyclonic disaster zone. "What the hell happened to your quarters?" He craned his neck to get a better view: Rodney's mattress was on the floor; the bed-base flipped over; blankets, MREs, chocolate bars, bits of electronic equipment, clothes and shoes were scattered everywhere; and dusted over the whole mound, like a dirty-grey snowfall, were what looked like crumbs of pillow stuffing.
Rodney put an arm out, bracing it against the doorway, attempting to block John's view in a clear back off gesture. "I've been reprogramming one of the cleanerbots, and there are still a few bugs. Not that it's any of your business."
And sure enough, John could see the partially dismantled carapace of a cleanerbot strewn over Rodney's desk. However, as the fine dusting of pillow crumb was all over it, too, John felt entirely justified in presenting Rodney with an expression of patent disbelief.
"Fine!" Rodney yelled, cracking as suddenly and explosively as a fine china plate hurled to the floor. "You want to know? You really want to know what the VR unit showed me? I'm gay, okay! Gay! Do you get it? Do you--"
Resisting the urge to check the corridor for witnesses, John grabbed Rodney's shoulders and shoved him backwards, thinking the doors closed as soon as they were both safely over the threshold.
"What..." said Rodney, looking shocked and frightened as he stumbled out of John's grip, "...what are you--"
"Saving you from yourself," said John, staying right where he was and holding up his hands in the universal, I'm unarmed and harmless gesture.
"Saving me from being gay," Rodney said, sharply, a flash of anger twisting his mouth into a thin, crooked line.
"Don't be stupid," said John. "You're a civilian, you can be as gay as you like. I just think you should wait until you've stopped freaking out about it before you decide whether or not to out yourself to the whole of Atlantis."
"Oh," Rodney said, his voice going soft and wobbly. He glanced at the closed door, went alarmingly pale, and then tottered backwards a few steps until he was leaning against the edge of his desk. "Oh, right."
John slowly walked over to the desk and propped himself next to Rodney, just shy of touching. They sat for a moment in uncomfortable silence. Then John nudged Rodney's arm and said, "Hey, that must have been some virtual experience!" and waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Rodney actually blushed; he looked horrified, mortified--but, John was relieved to note, not terrified anymore--and then, rallying, he snorted and said, "Of course that's the first thing you'd think of, Kirk!"
It wasn't one of Rodney's best efforts, but John took it in the spirit in which it was intended. "Hey," he said. "I wasn't the one having hot virtual sex in the name of scientific investigation."
"Shut up," said Rodney, but his mouth was twitching up at the corners.
"No, no, no," said John. "I've waited a long time for this moment. I intend to get my pound of virtual flesh!"
"That's so petty," said Rodney. "I make one comment. One measly comment--"
"And speaking of the perils of scientific investigation," John continued, making a show of looking around at the overturned bed and general chaos, "what the hell were you doing in here? Putting theory into practice?"
"Seriously," said Rodney, "stop talking any time," but he couldn't hold back the smile, even as he blushed.
"You know," John said thoughtfully, "I think you might be onto something. The whole post-apocalyptic-sex look is really starting to grow on me."
"I hate you," said Rodney, and even though the smile was still there, a genuine edge had crept into his voice. "Hate, hate, hate."
John backed off. "You won't want me to help you clean up then. As you hate me."
Rodney rose to the bait much more readily than John had expected, obviously even keener than John to change the subject. "Don't try to weasel out of it!" Rodney said, poking John in the arm. "You're helping, and that's final."
"Well... as you ask so nicely," said John.
"And don't even think about asking me where I want you, because that was never a funny entendre," said Rodney, as he got up and went over to the bed-base.
John had, in fact, been about to ask that, so he complained, "You spoil all my fun," as he followed Rodney across the room.
"We just need to pick up the big stuff," Rodney said, pointing John to the bottom end of the bedframe. Then he toed away the worst of a particularly big pile of pillow crumb before bending to get a grip on his end of the bed. "Once I've fixed the 'bot, it'll suck up all the crud."
"Gotcha," said John, relieved he wasn't going to be drafted for broom and mop duty.
With the two of them working together, it didn't take long to right the bed and slide the mattress back into place. Then John moved on to picking up the bedding, while Rodney started sorting out the jumble of clothes.
Deciding to get the business part of the visit over, John said, "So," as he snapped out a blanket.
"So, what?" said Rodney, instantly suspicious.
"So how much are you going to tell Heightmeyer about the experiment?"
Rodney froze with a bundle of underwear clutched in one hand. "Why would I tell Heightmeyer anything about it? Being gay isn't a disease!"
"Come on, Rodney," said John, folding the blanket and dropping it on the foot of the bed. "You heard Elizabeth. She'll kick your ass if you don't go, so you're going to have to tell Heightmeyer something."
Rodney's eyes narrowed. "Are you going to rat me out?"
"Hey, where the hell did that come from?" said John, feeling stung. "No, I'm not going to rat you out. I've got your back on this, but there's only so much time I can buy. You know what Elizabeth's like. And Heightmeyer--"
"Is ten times worse," said Rodney casting an apologetic look at John, while carelessly shoving the handful of underwear into a drawer.
"Yeah," said John, starting to gather up scattered MREs and chocolate bars. "Underneath that mild-mannered exterior is a psychiatric terminator: she absolutely will not stop, ever, until you're in therapy."
"Ha!" Rodney said, as he threw a pair of boots into the closet. "What's so wrong with denial, anyway? That's what I want to know."
"Dunno," John said. "It's always worked well for me."
Rodney abruptly sat down on the bed and whacked the mattress with the flat of his hand. "It used to work well for me."
Dropping his armful of food onto Rodney's desk, John turned to face him.
"Now," Rodney went on, slapping the bed again. "Now, I keep having these stupid epiphanies. Take your pathetic Terminator analogy, for instance."
"Hey," John protested.
Rodney just glared him into silence. "I must have seen that movie fifty times, and I always thought it was because of the violence, and the action, and so I could scoff at the incredibly dumb science. But now, thanks to that stupid VR unit, I can't help but remember that there are two naked men in that movie! And I really, really hate that!"
"Please," said John. "Everyone watches Terminator for the naked men."
The silence in response to that was resounding; John didn't often manage to render Rodney speechless, so he savoured the moment.
Finally finding his voice again, Rodney snorted. "Bullshit. That's the lamest effort to make me feel better you could possibly--"
"I'm serious!" John said. "Looking at Arnold is like having a front-row seat at a freak show, and even though you don't really want to look like that, you know that even by popping steroids like candy and working out fifteen hours a day, there is no way you will ever be that buff."
Rodney was openly gaping at John now, as though he'd just spontaneously sprouted horns and a tail.
"And then there's Michael whatsisname," John said, really warming up to his topic, mainly due to Rodney's gratifying reaction. "One look at his scrawny ass and all you can do is thank the Lord that you actually have an ass, instead of some kind of..." John made a concave gesture, "anti-ass like his. So you see? That movie makes you feel good about yourself no matter what shape you are. And it's all about the naked men."
When John stopped talking he realised that a wheezing noise was coming out of Rodney's throat. It was small and strangled at first, but then it grew and grew, expanding into a roaring, painful belly laugh that shook Rodney's whole body. He clutched at his stomach, tilted over sideways, and rolled into a ball on the bed. "You," he stuttered between gasping breaths, "That's!"
"Yeah," said John, pleased with himself, and ripped open one of Rodney's chocolate bars while he waited it out. He was about halfway through the bar when Rodney gave one final hiccough, and sat up, rubbing tears from his eyes.
"You're really okay with this, aren't you?" Rodney said, looking at John with the but why expression he usually reserved for physics problems and Ancient devices.
"Sure," said John. "Do us both a favour, and don't ask your next question." He tossed over a chocolate bar as a pre-emptive peace-offering, before Rodney could work himself around to taking it personally. "If you want, we can watch Terminator now."
Rodney caught the bar at the same time that the words don't ask hit home. "Oh," he said, and John figured it was a sign of how deeply this whole thing had rocked him when he didn't even cavil at John making himself free with the chocolates. "Okay."
Stuffing the last bite of his own chocolate bar into his mouth, John dropped the wrapper in the bin, picked Rodney's laptop up from the desk and walked over to the bed.
"Wait a minute," said Rodney as John put the laptop down.
John raised an eyebrow.
"It, um, occurs to me," Rodney said, going pink and gazing fixedly at the foil wrapper in his hands, "that if I get a hard-on while watching Arnold Schwartzenegger, I'm going to have to kill myself."
"Okay, that?" said John, kneeling on the bed so that he could wake up the laptop and cue the movie. "Is officially too much information, in case you were wondering."
Rodney just rolled his eyes and sat back against the headboard, somehow fitting about half of his chocolate bar in his mouth in one bite. "Deal with it," he said, indistinctly.
The Choices Other People Make For You
It was just after 21:30 by the time John left Rodney's quarters, which meant traffic in the corridors was starting to thin out.
John ambled towards the local transporter, nodding to three zoologists chatting nearby. He got in, jumped over to the military sector, and had to dodge a hacky-sack to the head as he exited. The five off-duty marines using the atrium as a playground snapped to attention. John waved them back to their game and headed off towards officer country.
Two rooms along from his own quarters, a pair of techs were doing emergency repairs on a stuck door. As he entered his room, he overheard one of them saying his name in a gossipy way, but couldn't make out any particular details before he was inside and the sound-proofing dulled their voices.
He thought the door closed and locked behind him, but didn't stop moving, pacing up and down the longest stretch of his room, from window to bed and back again.
Now that the immediate crisis was over--Rodney calmed down as much as he ever would be--John's brain was reminding him of some stuff he'd really rather not be reminded of.
Pace, pace, turn. Rodney's expression as John grabbed his shoulders and pushed him into his quarters: shock and fright, yes, and hope and lust too. Right there, like a fucking invitation. Pace, pace, turn. Rodney waking up in the infirmary, all bright and happy as he said, "John." His face going dull and miserable a moment later, when he saw the goddamn VR device. Pace, pace, turn. Rodney's face every time John was hurt. Pace, pace, turn. Rodney going mental over Chaya.
John stopped in the middle of the room and pressed his fists to his eyes. It was a fucking gallery of Rodney in love with him, right there inside his fucking head, and he couldn't just ignore it any more; not now that Rodney knew.
This was what John had wanted, what he'd dreaded, ever since that day with the personal shield, and it had been one thing inside the rosy little fantasy world of his imagination, but now here it was in the real world and it was a whole other thing entirely. And, of fucking course, he couldn't do anything about it. Not while they were both living in a fish-bowl. Not while John wanted to keep his job.
God, Catch 22 situations just never stopped sucking.
John let his hands fall to his sides and blinked away geometric shapes.
He stood there for a long time, just looking out the window at the ink-blue sea and the star-bright sky.
Eventually, he shook himself all over like a wet dog straight out of the water, and went over to his closet. He stripped off his work clothes, exchanged them for his sweats and sneakers and, with a final look out at the night sky, headed off for a run.
The Relative Merits of Wanting and Getting
Six weeks and a close call with a rockfall on PX3-442, and John was done with Catch 22.
On the way out of the mess that evening, he made his move, casually saying to Rodney, "Come on. I want to show you something."
Rodney went along readily enough, spending the first five minutes regaling John with the latest anecdotes about his minions' rampant stupidity in the lab, while blithely following John from transporter to transporter as they jumped their way across the city.
He only stopped talking when he looked around and realised they were in an unfamiliar part of Atlantis. "Where are we going?" he asked. "Because I definitely don't have time to indulge your sudden sightseeing whim."
"It's a surprise," said John, hustling him towards the final transporter. Rodney blustered a bit more, but it was mainly for show; he didn't put up any real resistance. Even so, in the three minutes it took to get to the viewing platform John had picked out, Rodney's diatribe had become eighty percent complaints about the wasting of his valuable time, and twenty percent insults.
"Here we are," said John, nudging Rodney towards the view. He thought the platform's lights down to low, and there was Atlantis, stretched out before them, zebra-striped with moonlight and shadow. From this distance the inhabited section was just a small glittering cluster at the far north of the city, shining like a cat's eye in the night.
"Yes, yes. Lovely," said Rodney. "Can we go now?"
"But you haven't seen the surprise yet," said John.
Rodney crossed his arms and gave John his best, this better be good glare.
John pulled a personnel locater from his pocket and held it out to Rodney. "Go on. Find us."
With a put-upon sigh, Rodney snatched the locater out of John's hands, and tried to get their dots to appear. After a moment he started to frown. Another moment, and he looked up at John. "Okay, I give up. I can find other readings, but not us. What did you do?"
"Told Atlantis to take us off the grid," said John. "We're running in black-ops mode right now."
"Black ops?" said Rodney, his eyes gleaming with curiosity. "I didn't know we could do that."
"That's because I'm the only person with that level of access," said John. "And because you're the only person I've told."
Something obviously showed on John's face then, because Rodney suddenly went still and wide-eyed, all his attention focused on John. "So why are you telling me this now?"
John slowly reached forward and cupped Rodney's neck, his thumb tracing a gentle line along Rodney's jaw. "You know why."
"Really?" Rodney's eyes lit up and he turned into John's touch, his pulse fluttering beneath John's fingers; but even before that first flush of feeling had run its course, John could tell Rodney was already thinking it through. "People will eventually notice if we just disappear from the system," he said. His voice sounded like sandpaper.
"Look again," said John, nodding at the locater.
With a jerky motion, Rodney lifted the device, and this time their dots showed up in Rodney's quarters and John's office.
"That works," Rodney said, his gaze going straight from the screen to John's mouth.
"The best window is at night," John said, laying out the plan. "No-one's likely to notice a discrepancy then. You often work late, so people expect you to be wandering around at odd hours, and everyone knows that I go running every second or third night. We'd take our headsets with us in case there's an emergency, but otherwise we'd have between forty and ninety minutes before anyone would even have a reason to wonder. The logistics are doable too; I've scouted out half a dozen remote rooms that are less than a minute from at least two transporters and have multiple exits. Making it work is really just a matter of scheduling."
"Jesus," said Rodney, no longer focused on John's mouth. He looked shocked, as though the risks were only just hitting home. "You've planned it like a mission."
"Of course I have." John peeled his hand away from Rodney's skin and took a step back. "This isn't a game, Rodney. I could get sent back to Earth. Say no if that's not a risk you're willing to take."
"Wait. Wait!" The locater dropped to the floor as Rodney stepped forward and put both hands on John's chest, holding him in place. "You're really willing to risk your job? I mean, what will you do if--when--something goes wrong? Because if it's the wrong person who finds out, I doubt Caldwell will just let it slide. He's been slavering after your job forever!"
"Rodney," John said very deliberately, "I wouldn't be standing here if I hadn't already made that choice. Whatever happens, when it comes down, I'll take it. Even if it means leaving Atlantis." He covered Rodney's hands with his own. "The real question is: what will you do when it happens?"
"Oh, please," said Rodney. He pulled a hand free and flapped it vaguely in the direction of the Command Centre. "Elizabeth won't let you leave. You have the magic gene. Atlantis does somersaults for you. And now there's this whole black-ops thing that no one else can do! Elizabeth would keep you on as a civilian consultant or something. It'll be fine." He paused for a moment. "I mean, obviously, if that didn't happen, I'd go back to Earth with you."
"Keep talking," John said dryly. "You might accidentally say something romantic in a minute."
With a surprising amount of vehemence, Rodney fisted John's shirt in both hands. "Fuck romance! I gave up on happy endings the day you said 'So long,' and went off to kill yourself. So don't even begin to lecture me about--"
Kissing Rodney, it turned out, was just like fighting with Rodney: his mouth was fast and relentless, giving no quarter, getting in twice as many licks as John's did. Of course, the licks John did get in were slow and nasty and made Rodney whine and hump his leg, so really, even through the haze of adrenaline and lust, John was pretty sure that meant it was a fight that both of them were going to win.
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