Summary: A misconception on Carson's part leaves John and Rodney playing roles in order to help their friend and colleague reagain his balance after a traumatic event
Info: Part One of the three part Perfect Strangers series
"Yes, yes, yes. I see it." Dr. Rodney McKay promptly ignored the excited gesticulations of his colleague Dr. Radek Zelenka who was pointing at the scanner in Rodney's hand, and radioed Major John Sheppard instead. "Major," he announced, cocking his head as he touched the headset and focusing off in the distance as he listened for the acknowledgment. "We're almost on top of the source of the anomaly."
"Hold your position, McKay. I'm right behind you." Sheppard's voice sounded in his ear and indeed, gave the impression he was almost there.
Rodney frowned at the scanner in his hand. "I'm not sure we have an option, Major. This 'rift' so to speak, appears to be widening. It's spreading all along this level."
"Damn it, McKay! Just do as you're told. Lt. Ford!"
Behind Rodney, the young lieutenant stiffened to attention and addressed his commanding officer over the radio. "Yes, sir?"
"You keep Rodney and Radek out of that area until I get there if you have to drag them backwards down the hall by the scruffs of their necks, understood?"
"Yes, SIR. Ford out." He grinned at the two scientists as though he was looking for an excuse to carry out the Major's orders.
"He'd better get here soon." The bespeckled man beside Rodney pointed at the scanner again.
Rodney glanced down; Radek was right. There was a power surge building. Rodney touched his headset again—turning and pushing both Radek and Ford back along the corridor the way they came even as he started to speak. "Major!" He shouted. "We have an energy spike..."
Before he could complete the sentence, a wave of energy rippled down the hallway, throwing all three men off their feet. Rodney felt as though he were falling in slow motion as he watched the floor rise up to meet his face. He had just enough time to tuck his arm across his forehead as he hit the ground. He lay there for a moment facing his watch. The digital numbers continued to blink back at him, but without changing in time as he counted up to 1003. At 1004, the numbers began to move again. Weird. Must have been the shock of the fall.
He lifted his head slowly to see Ford and Radek carefully doing the same. He scrabbled around for the scanner and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that all the energy readings had gone back to normal. He glanced back down the hallway over his shoulder and gasped, even as Sheppard's voice shouted in his ear, "McKay! What's going on down there?"
"Everything's okay, Major," Rodney said in a disbelieving tone. "The anomalous readings are gone—the rift has closed. And Major? We've found Carson."
Finding their missing chief medical officer was the last thing Rodney expected to do when he had come down to the lower levels of the city to check out the anomaly. Carson Beckett had disappeared without warning somewhere within the city almost a week before and the expedition members had started to lose hope that they would locate him. Rodney was terribly relieved to see his friend sitting in the middle of the hallway, but his relief turned to concern when Carson remained seated, holding his head in his hands. Getting to his feet, Rodney crossed over to where Carson sat, aware that Radek and Ford were close behind.
"Carson?" Rodney tried to hide both his relief and fear, turning to his habitual abrasiveness instead. "Where the hell have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you."
The Scottish doctor turned bleary eyes up at Rodney as he approached, and Rodney suddenly spied a nearly empty bottle of Scotch sitting beside him. "Oh Rodney," Carson said slowly, his accent even thicker under the influence of alcohol. "Are you the brilliant, arrogant, asshole of a prick Rodney, or the brilliant, arrogant, asshole with a heart of gold Rodney?"
"A question I ask myself on a daily basis before entering the lab," Radek murmured quietly. Ford tried hard not to snigger.
Jeez, Carson was stinking drunk. Rodney crouched down next to him and lightly touched him on the shoulder. "Hey, Carson. Are you all right?"
To his utter astonishment, Carson burst into tears. "Oh thank God", he exclaimed. "Oh Rodney, you have no idea how awful it's been! I was in an alternate universe." Alcohol caused him to lay even heavier emphasis on the syllables in the word 'universe' than he otherwise might have done.
Rodney exchanged glances with Ford and Radek. "O-kay...so, um, Carson?" Rodney began slowly, as one does to the slightly deranged. "Exactly how do you know you were in an alternate universe?"
"The more important question I would think," Radek muttered, "would be where he got the Scotch."
Carson grabbed Rodney by the sleeve. "It was terrible, I tell you." His accent made the word sound like 'tirrible'. "For one thing, Col. Sumner was still alive."
The three men exchanged another glance. Well, that could be a giveaway... "And...?" Rodney prompted.
"What an asshole he was. He didna believe me when I said I was from another universe. He threatened to feed me to the Wraith that was imprisoned in the holding cell."
"Shit!" Ford exclaimed.
"Aye!" Carson agreed. He lifted the bottle beside him and took a long swig. "Of course, it was sort of poetic justice when the Wraith got out and killed Sumner anyway. Fortunately they couldn't blame that one on me. I don't think they would have ever released me though, if Sumner hadn't died."
"Wow. What else was different?" Ford was now crouching down beside Carson as well.
"Well, you were dead for one."
Ford looked taken aback. "Oh yes," Carson continued. "You were dead—killed when the energy creature tried to take over Atlantis—you sent the bait through the Gate but without a shield, you didn't have a chance."
"What about my shield?" Rodney asked, looking over in horror at Ford, who was looking bug-eyed back at him.
"Ach, if you ever had a shield, you certainly weren't sharing that fact with anyone. As a matter of fact, you were mean." He turned and scowled at Rodney. "When I got there, they had just captured the Wraith, who had captured you and you were still trapped inside the transport buffer on his Dart. And let me tell you, there was some serious debate as to whether or not to attempt to rescue you."
"Did they? Rescue me, I mean." Rodney was appalled. He felt a little icy clutch of fear at his chest. Surely his friends here would attempt a rescue if the same thing happened?
"Only after I told them they were totally fucked if they didn't rescue you." Carson nodded owlishly at the three men, pointing the neck of the bottle at Rodney, oblivious to the stunned expressions around him. Carson was not prone to using words stronger than 'darn'.
Everyone looked up at the sound of Major Sheppard running hard down the corridor towards them. He pulled up as he came into sight, dropped into a walk and with only a slight elevation in respiratory rate, slipped into the conversation casually. "Carson." Rodney saw him register the general air of concern, the bottle of Scotch (he quirked an eyebrow at Rodney over that one) and Carson's distraught expression before continuing. "So, where you been?"
"The doctor was telling us he has been in an alternate universe and how everything differed from what it is here." Radek summed it up succinctly.
"Really?" Sheppard sank down on his heels in front of the doctor, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet.
"Yes." Radek was delighted to have the floor for a change. "Ford was dead, Col. Sumner was alive and then dead and Rodney was a prick."
Rodney watched in curiosity as the expressions flashed like heat lightening over the Major's face during Radek's speech. He settled finally on amusement and said, "So this universe was different, how?" Rodney gave him the basilisk glare. So funny.
"Ford was dead. Teyla was dead too." Carson said sadly; there was no amusement now as all four men listened. "She was taken by the Wraith but there was no rescue attempt ever made. We never made an alliance with the Athosians. I apparently died on Hoff. Like an idiot, I tried the serum on myself—which was why Sumner didn't trust me when I showed up, because I was dead, you see. The Pegasus project was Earth's last, best hope for finding a new place to live. The war with the Goa'uld was going badly at home. Teal'C never joined the SGC. General O'Neill was dead. Dr. Jackson was dead." Carson paused. "Okay, maybe that wasn't so different," he conceded.
His words were met with appalled silence. "But that wasn't the worst of it, no, no, no." He shook his head emphatically and then grabbed it with both hands. Rodney saw the Major give a sympathetic wince. "No, Elizabeth just stood around wringing her hands helplessly. She was useless! And you, John!" Carson's eyes opened very wide and he just gaped.
"What about the Major?" Rodney prompted. This whole conversation was becoming more and more surreal and Rodney wanted to know what the Twilight Zone version of Sheppard was like.
"Well," Carson swiveled his head to address Rodney. "His hair was flat."
"Flat?" Rodney's voice raised a notch and he glanced over at Sheppard.
Carson made a slicked back motion with his hand over his head. "Flat." He repeated. "It wouldn't stand up at all."
Ford snorted, clapped a hand over his mouth and turned it into a cough.
Carson nodded sadly. "And he obeyed orders. He never got into trouble at all. It was like he was...tame."
Radek was attacked by a fit of choking. Rodney glanced over at Sheppard, who was sporting a very interesting band of bright color across his cheekbones. "Gosh." Rodney managed to keep his voice calm. "Gives a whole new meaning to the definition of hell, doesn't it?"
"And needless to say, you two weren't lovers in that universe."
There was a long pause while all parties considered what the doctor had just said. It was broken when Sheppard said, "Excuse me?" and Rodney sputtered, "For God's sake, Carson, the Major and I aren't lovers in THIS universe either!"
"Oh dear, oh dear." Carson's eyes began to well with tears once more. "Don't tell me I've come back to the wrong universe."
Rodney looked up from his laptop to see the Major standing in the doorway to the lab. It wasn't until then that he realized he had not seen a whole lot of the Major in the last 24 hours. Well, Rodney had been busy. First there was the attempt to discover the cause of the anomaly and whether or not it posed any further threat to Atlantis and her personnel. So far he had not been able to isolate a specific cause and the energy readings had not returned. He was forced to ascribe 'freak of nature' status to the incident that both took Carson away and returned him again and it always pissed Rodney off when he had to do that. Then there was the whole concept that maybe this Carson wasn't their Carson. Aside from his outlandish, mistaken assumptions regarding the Major and himself though, every other point in Carson's history tallied. Carson himself had sobered up but still remained fairly distressed. Rodney noted now that Sheppard looked a little uncomfortable as he stood in the doorway and it occurred to him that the Major might have been avoiding him since Carson's ridiculous accusation.
"Well, what is it, Major? It's unlike you to just stand there and hover. No wait, come to think of it, that's exactly what you do. I should say it is unlike you to stand there quietly and hover."
Funny how he could change in an instant from an expression of discomfort to one of 'well, you're not going to like this either' that somehow contained a smirk in there somewhere. Rodney braced himself.
"Kate wants to see us both down in her office, now."
Rodney frowned. "Kate? As in..."
Sheppard grinned suddenly. "As in Dr. Heightmeyer."
He was right; Rodney was not going to like this, he just knew it. "Both of us. Now?"
"Regarding Carson." The smirk was a little more pronounced now. With a sigh, Rodney hit 'save' and closed his laptop.
"Gentlemen." The blonde psychologist was all congeniality as she swept them into her office. "Please, be seated." She indicated the sofa across from her chair. "Make yourselves comfortable. Thank you for taking time out of your understandably busy schedules to meet with me like this."
"Please Dr. Heightmeyer, as you've pointed out, we're both busy men." Rodney flashed Sheppard a look meant to imply that at least one of them was a busy man. "If you could just get to the point."
"I'm sure she will, Rodney," Sheppard drawled out of the corner of his mouth, "once you let her speak."
Kate Heightmeyer looked as though she needed a moment to control her expression before she said simply, "Very well, Rodney. May I call you Rodney?"
Rodney shot a quick glance over at Sheppard, who looked amused, before shifting uncomfortably on the sofa and crossing his legs. "Um, yes, Rodney, Dr. McKay, whatever." Damn him, Sheppard was openly grinning now.
"Well, as I was saying, Rodney." Kate began again. "Carson is having trouble accepting that this is indeed in his true reality."
"I don't know what else I can do along those lines." Rodney was emphatic. "I suppose I could go over the energy signature with him and show him how it correlates with his disappearance and reappearance, but since he really does not remember what happened at the time when he shifted realities and I can't say with any certainty how the shift in realities actually did occur, I don't see how that will help."
"Yes." She paused to take in the rapid paced monologue of technobabble. "Well, that not withstanding, one of the things that makes him concerned that he is still in the wrong universe is his belief that you and the Major have a relationship beyond that of friendship." Rodney was betting she rehearsed that; there was just no way she could come out with that so smoothly and without hesitation unless she planned in advance how she would state it. "The fact that you both deny having one has left him convinced that he is still in an alternate universe, and that is very upsetting for him."
"But it's the truth of this universe." Well, Sheppard was certainly managing to keep his cool about all of this. But then, wasn't he the epitome of cool?
"Yes." Kate agreed. "But this is a very emotionally fragile time for him right now. He was truly devastated by the things he experienced in the alternate universe and he needs some time to come to grips with them. I feel certain that given enough time, he will come to terms with them. But in order to do so, he has to believe that he has made it back safely to his own universe first. I'm concerned that without that reassurance, profound paranoia will set in."
"Omigod!" Rodney suddenly got it. "You want us to pretend that we ARE lovers!"
"For Carson's sake, yes." Kate frowned at Rodney's tone.
"I can't believe you would ask such a thing from us!" Rodney was building a head of steam here, only to be deflected when Sheppard interrupted.
"Excuse me, but am I hearing you correctly, Major? You aren't seriously thinking of going along with this farce are you? Have you finally gone totally insane?"
"Oh for pete's sake, Rodney." The look that Sheppard turned on him was very reminiscent of the glare he leveled during missions when he thought Rodney was out of line. "Carson is our friend, right? We help our friends out when we can. There's nothing more at stake here than a little pride, and I think we're both big enough here to deal with that." He turned back to Kate. "How long are we talking?"
Kate seemed to visibly relax. "A few days. Perhaps as long as a week. I'm not really sure. It depends on his comfort level. Right now I'm having some difficulty getting through to him. It seems my counterpart in the AU was a drug user and stole from the infirmary." She sighed. "So you see, we have a little trust issue here."
They both looked expectantly at Rodney. "What? Oh all right." He gave a huge martyred sigh. Then he leaned forward and glared at Sheppard. "But we need to set some ground rules right now."
"Ground rules?" Sheppard was back to being amused, damn it.
"Yes. Ground rules. We go tell Carson he was right, but that it has to be a secret. 'Don't ask, don't tell' and all that. Therefore we have to be discreet. And you need to respect my personal space. And no PDA!"
"No PDA. Got it." Sheppard was openly grinning again before he abruptly changed the subject . "We should let Elizabeth know what is going on though."
"What? No! Why should we?"
"Because she's the expedition leader. Because it affects her CMO. And because she needs to know."
"If you gentlemen would prefer, I could discuss this with Elizabeth when I brief her as to Carson's progress." Kate was practically beaming at them; she must think they were suckers for falling in line with her ludicrous proposal so easily. He glanced again in Sheppard's direction and then back at Kate. She had to have known that Sheppard would have been the tough one to convince and that once he was on board, Rodney would acquiesce. So why was she looking faintly puzzled?
"Shall we go see Carson together?" Sheppard's voice was in Rodney's ear, his breath unexpectedly warm against the side of his neck as they walked down the hall. Rodney jumped, scowled and moved away.
"Cut that out."
"Oh c'mon, Rodney. Don't be that way." Sheppard looked unbearably pleased with himself and Rodney felt his face heating up.
"You don't need to enjoy this so much." He growled. "Let's go to the infirmary and get this over with. And I will do the talking."
"You're the boss." For an instant, the sentence sent an unpredicted shiver through Rodney. As if. As if he would ever be the one to call the shots with this cocky, insufferable, impossibly handsome flyboy. Sheppard was so secure in his sexuality that it would never occur to him to be concerned what others might think. Who would believe it anyway? And with Rodney of all people? Whereas Rodney knew that if word of this little charade got out, not only would everyone believe it of him, but they would think Sheppard was obviously slumming. And that he, Rodney, was a fortunate bastard. Of course, your ranking might go up a little as a result...Rodney slammed off the twisted little suggestion in his mind. Oh great, that was exactly what he wanted to be known for - Sheppard's fuck buddy. As soon as he completed the thought, his mouth went unaccountably dry. Not going there, not going there...
In the infirmary, Sheppard still close behind, Rodney quickly rounded up Carson for a 'private word'. The three of them stepped into Carson's office. Rodney noted at once the complete chaos of files and lab specimens that was so unlike Carson's usually ordered world. Carson must really be distracted. He cleared his throat and began to speak. "Ah yes, well, Carson. Maj—uh, John and I have something we'd like to say to you. That is, well, what I am getting at is..."
John reached around from where he was standing slightly behind Rodney and caught one of his flailing hands, closing his fingers over the back of Rodney's own and turning the hand over, palm side up. "What Rodney is trying to say, is that you caught us off guard the other day. We didn't know you were aware of our 'relationship' and, well, you know as well as we do why we really need to be...discreet about it." He lifted the palm up to his mouth and placed a gentle, open mouthed kiss on it. Rodney itched to slap him with that very palm. Feeling his face go hot with embarrassment, he jerked his hand out of Sheppard's grasp and snapped, "What did I say about PDA?"
The grin that Sheppard gave him was straight from the devil himself, pure and simple. "Oh c'mon, Rodney. He knows. We're among family here, right Doc?"
If Rodney had entertained any doubts about the wisdom of such a course of action the look of profound relief on Carson's face would have changed all that. "Of course, how stupid of me. Well, I was a wee bit drunk at the time. Certainly any lapse of discretion on my part can be passed off as drunken ramblings, though I don't think that you really need to worry as much about discretion as you would think—you have a lot of supporters you know. Well, I'm so glad we've gotten this straightened out—I am so relieved."
"Supporters?" Rodney's voice rose by at least an octave.
"Well, let's not keep the busy doctor from his work. And you need to get back to the lab soon too, eh Rodney?" Sheppard was hustling him out the door. "Catch you later, Carson."
"What the hell are you playing at?" Rodney hissed once they were in the hall, wiping his palm on the side of his pants.
"Oh c'mon Rodney." Rodney was really going to hit him if he said that one more time. "You were getting nowhere fast and that was just the right touch. Your pissy little display of indignation probably did more for convincing Carson than anything else. With any luck, we won't have to do anything else to convince him. Done deal. Move on." Sheppard gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder and sauntered off down the hall.
I hate him. I truly hate him. Rodney realized he was watching Sheppard's progression down the corridor and forced himself to turn away. I do hate him, he told himself again for good measure. Yeah, and that's why you were watching his ass just now. Rodney let his head drop with a sigh. It was going to be a long, long week.
When the warm hand contacted the small of his back the next morning in the dining hall, he almost dropped his tray. "What are you doing?" He growled after he steadied the tray, finding himself being forcibly guided over to a table where Carson sat eating.
"I thought we'd be friendly and join Carson for breakfast. Surely you can't have a problem with that." John removed his hand from Rodney's back to wave at someone across the room and then replaced it again.
"What did I say about personal space?" He dragged his feet; they were almost to the table.
John laughed suddenly, a sound that turned heads and then Rodney noted people smiling, smiling at them damn it, when John turned to look at him. "Rodney your personal space borders on the limits of this city. It's impossible for your friends not to invade it, let alone a significant other." He took Rodney's tray from his grasp and carried it the rest of the way to the table, setting it down and then turning a chair backwards to straddle it before sitting. He looked over his shoulder to see if Rodney was following. He had that 'oh c'mon, you're not really mad at me' smile on his face and Rodney felt his mouth twitch in response. I will not smile back. I will not smile back.
Making his way to the table, the chair beside John moved aside for him as John pushed it out with his foot. Carson looked up with a fond smile at the two of them as Rodney sat down.
"Major, aren't you having breakfast?" Carson turned his attention back to his oatmeal after indicating the empty space in front of John.
"Nah, I thought I'd mooch off Rodney." To Carson's apparent delight, John reached for a piece of toast. Rodney took great satisfaction in slapping his hand away.
"Not unless you want to draw back a nub, flyboy. I happen to be hungry."
The gleaming light of a challenge recognized flared in those hazel eyes and Rodney's breath caught a moment before he suddenly busied himself in buttering his toast.
"You're always hungry. How about one of your muffins? You have two." His voice wheedled. With a growl, Rodney plopped one of the muffins in front of John and shot him a warning glare. That's all.
Apparently satisfied for the moment, John peeled back some of the paper and pinched off a large chunk of muffin, leaning back to pop it in his mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, Rodney noted the way the muscles in his neck moved as he did so. Stop it, stop it! He refused to look at John any more.
Sensing that Rodney had somehow withdrawn from the game, John turned to Carson again. "So doc, you said things in the AU were pretty bad. Did you come across anything in there that struck you as a good thing?" He managed not to flinch at all when Rodney kicked him under the table. The look he turned on Rodney was innocent. What?
Carson was frowning. "Well there is one thing I've been meaning to ask ye."
"Shoot." John was cheerful as he broke off another chunk of muffin.
"Well, it's just this...how come we didn't bring any zats with us from Earth? Because you know, I'm sure our SGC could have spared a few and we certainly could have used them here. It's pretty darned hard to regenerate from total disintegration." He mimicked giving three zat blasts.
Rodney felt his mouth drop open. Well, that was a hell of an oversight.
"Fuck, he's right." John smacked his hand on the table and stood up abruptly.
"Where are you going?" Rodney asked. "Aren't you going to finish eating?"
"I've lost my appetite." John sulked out of the dining area.
"Oh dear." Carson looked concerned. "It was something I said, wasn't it?"
"Well," Rodney dripped with sarcasm. He leaned one elbow on the back of his chair and beat a rapid tattoo on the table top with the fork in his other hand. "You did just remind him of a weapon he can't have that he should have that would be pretty effective against an enemy he hates. You know how he feels about weapons he can't have."
Carson looked at John's retreating form. "Shouldn't you go after him then?"
Rodney felt blank for a moment, then made the connection. He straightened and put some attention into his food. "No, no-no-no. He needs to stomp around a while and get it out of his system. Later I'll send Teyla to go spar with him. Nothing like getting your ass kicked to make you forget your other problems."
"I see you're learning to handle him." Carson grinned. He picked up his cup of pseudo-coffee and studied its surface briefly before smiling somewhat shyly at Rodney. "So Rodney, if you don't mind my asking...exactly when did the two of you first..."
Rodney slammed down his cup on his tray and jumped to his feet. "I just remembered something I need to do. In the lab. A test. A test that I left running. In the lab. Gotta go." He abandoned his tray and bolted for the door.
He almost blew past Teyla in the hallway without speaking to her, until it occurred to him that it would be a good idea to send her out to spar with the Major today. He explained the situation and noted that Teyla didn't seem happy about the lack of zats either, once he explained what zats were. She agreed however, to seek John out and offer to spar with him. Satisfied that this would make things better, Rodney started to walk off when Teyla's voice stopped him as effectively as if she had grabbed his arm.
"Dr. McKay. How are you feeling?"
"Feeling?" His head whipped around and he narrowed his eyes at the beautiful Athosian leader. "I'm feeling fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I thought perhaps you might be a little uncomfortable... The Major has explained to me what the two of you are doing for Dr. Beckett's benefit."
"Oh he did, did he?" Rodney came close to snarling at Teyla before remembering just what a kick-ass fighter she was. Besides, she was standing there with that sweet Zen-like expression on her face—it was really hard to be mad at her.
"I admire you for placing yourself in a difficult position to help one of your friends." She continued quietly. Aw crap, now he really couldn't be mad at her.
"You're giving me more credit than I'm due," he said stiffly. "This wasn't my idea."
Teyla continued to look at him with that odd little smile on her face and then she said, "Sometimes, Dr. McKay, I think for a genius you are very..." She struggled for the right word, hands spreading wide in defeat. "Weighty," she finished at last.
Rodney began to breathe heavily through his nose. "Teyla, if by 'weighty' you mean to imply 'dense' and if by 'dense' you mean to imply that I am somehow missing some important observation that is right in front of my nose, then I guess I can only say I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about."
"I know," Teyla said sadly. She gave a little shrug and walked away.
He cornered John at last as he was coming down the hallway, headed back to his quarters. He was dressed in a grey t-shirt and sweats and had either been out running or was returning from the match with Teyla, his hair damply clinging to his forehead and a dark 'V' of sweat at his neck. Rodney snagged him by the arm and glancing furtively up and down the corridor, pulled him out onto one of the balconies.
"What?" He seemed to be in a good mood again. He stepped out of Rodney's grip and moved over to the railing, giving a yawn and a stretch before leaning into the rail on his elbows. He was looking out over the sea through half-closed eyes and appeared to be enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face when Rodney joined him.
"Look, look." Rodney was agitated and it was reflected in the flurry of hand movement that accompanied his speech. "Carson is asking some rather personal questions..." He ignored the raised eyebrow and incipient smirk lurking on John's face. "I just think, for continuity's sake, we should establish a few things about our relationship. So we both give out the same story. In case he asks...or anyone else for that matter. It seems to me the number of people 'in' on this is growing daily."
John rotated so he was leaning with his back against the rail so as to face Rodney. "Okay," he drawled. "So what's there to establish?"
"Well, for starters when did we..." Rodney broke off, spinning his hands in small circles as if to speed up an answer. "You know, when did we...?"
"First hook up?" John supplied, grinning at Rodney's wince.
"Yes, when did we first 'hook up' as you so elegantly put it."
John appeared to consider the possibilities. "Well, there was the time when you had the personal shield and you let me shoot you and throw you off the balcony and stuff. That was fun."
Rodney felt himself smile at the memory and then he frowned. "Well, yes, it was fun, but hardly life-changing material, wouldn't you say?"
"Life-changing?" John's lips twitched. He ran a hand up through his bangs and shook them off his forehead.
"I mean, at least for me anyway. In that I've never...well you know. Not with a guy. I've never really thought about...not that it would've been...wouldn't have been...life-changing for you...would it have been? You know, I really don't want to go there. Pick another time."
"Well, you were awfully pissy about Chaya. That could explain a lot you know."
"Oh please, if we weren't already in an established relationship before Chaya, you so would not be getting any after that!"
John snorted and wiped a hand over his mouth, struggling with laughter. "Okay, so how about after the storm?"
"Hmmn." Rodney leaned against the rail beside him, facing out towards the sea. "Okay, that has possibilities. That whole storm/invasion/hostage thing was pretty intense. And I got the shield up just in time to save the city. And you were running around doing that hero thing that you do. Yes, that could work."
"Or for that matter, after we fought the Super Wraith." John hadn't been moving but somehow became still; his voice was quiet, amusement no longer apparent.
Rodney didn't look at him, didn't say anything for a long moment. "Yes. That was pretty bad. It would have been..." he caught himself before he said 'nice'. As in nice to have had someone to turn to in those hours after their return with only half their team intact. In those hours when he would have given anything to not think at all—to simply feel and know that not only was he still alive but that someone cared that he was still alive. He realized he had not finished his sentence, cleared his throat and started over. "That would have been, ah...reasonable."
"Super Wraith it is, then." John's tone was lighter again. "Next parameter to establish?"
"Who made the first move?" Rodney startled himself; that was not what he intended to ask.
John laughed out loud. "Me of course."
Rodney frowned. "Why 'of course'? And why are you so sure it would be you?"
"Because you don't do social. If we were waiting for you to make the first move, we'd still be waiting. Next question."
Rodney decided he would yield on that point. "Well, then I guess all that's left is what kind of relationship do we have?" John turned his head to look at him then, squinting a little in the sun. "Well, you know. Is it a relationship or are we more like friends with sex?"
"Well, Rodney." The drawl was back. "Since we're making this up, what do you want it to be?"
"Well, I don't do causal."
"Your doubts to the contrary, I'm not so big on causal myself, so we see eye to eye on that point." For some reason, John's words inexplicably felt like approval. "Fine, we're in it for the long haul. In sickness and in health. Til..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Rodney cut him off by giving him a back-handed smack on the arm. He did not want to hear John finish that particular train of thought. It was one that worried him more and more as time went by.
They stood companionably in the sunshine a few moments longer. "That it, then?" John asked. "Any more details to hash out?"
"I don't think so," Rodney said slowly.
"Good. Well, I'm off to get a shower. Meet me for a beer later?" John had pushed off the railing and was headed for the door to the corridor when he looked back.
"We're out of beer. Yes, yes, I know what you meant." He forestalled John's protest over his preciseness. "Some of Halling's swill no doubt. Yes, that would be fine."
"Okay then. Later." John ticked a finger in his direction and entered the building.
I am going to fucking kill him. As soon as Carson releases him from the infirmary, I will kill him myself. Rodney stomped down the corridor and rounded a turn in time to see the object of his murderous intent heading his way.
For someone who routinely sized up an enemy from a good distance away and had already formulated a plan of action by the time they were within striking range, John seemed fairly oblivious to Rodney's ire, which only fueled his fury more. He had no more gotten the words "Hey Rodney" out of his mouth when Rodney shoved him forcibly up against the wall.
"Hey!" He yelped, the beginnings of irritation in his tone. "Injured man here." He put a hand up over the bandage covering his left bicep, the sleeve of his t-shirt cut away on that side. He had a nasty gash over one eye that only served to make him look rakish, like a pirate.
"And whose fault is that, hmmn?" Rodney was livid, pressing his chest up against John's as he made his point. "What part of 'give me a minute' do you not understand? If you had just given me another few seconds, I would've gotten the engines back online without you having to go play a round of 'let's wump on Sheppard' with the natives."
John pushed Rodney back off of him with the side of his arm, and said dangerously, "Sometimes we don't have a minute, Rodney. We were about to be overrun. The only way I could give you the time you needed was to engage our attackers. What part of that don't you understand?
"There has got to be another way!" Rodney jabbed a finger into his chest as he yelled. "One that does not always entail leaving me behind while you go out and try to get yourself killed!"
At the same time, they both became aware that Carson had rounded the corner and was standing with his mouth open, staring at them. Rodney felt John's change in tactics even before he saw the change in expression come over his face. He almost laughed when John said exactly what he knew he was going to say and with that slow drawl too.
"Gee, Rodney. I didn't know you cared."
He might as well have dropped a lit match next to a fuse. Rodney grabbed him furiously by both sides of his head as he attacked John's mouth with his own, grinding his body up against John's and forcing him back against the wall once more. John's eyes flew open from the lazy, heavy lidded expression he had been wearing and he opened his mouth to protest, starting to push Rodney off of him with his hands on both shoulders. Rodney knew he had the weight advantage here though, and he took advantage of the open mouth as well, plundering it with his tongue even as he crushed John against the wall.
The moment John stopped fighting him and began kissing back though, Rodney felt all the blood in his body rush south and for a moment he couldn't remember what the heck they were fighting about. He moaned into John's mouth, continuing to hold his head close with one hand while the other pulled up at his shirt, sliding his fingers across the taut muscles of John's abdomen and feeling them contract at his touch. Wild to feel more of him, he was frustrated by the waistline of John's pants and reached down to cup John's groin through the cloth, reveling in the groan it elicited from him.
And then all the sudden a little light bulb clicked on. He was kissing John. John for chrissakes. In the hallway. With Carson watching. Well, that was point, wasn't it? He inhaled sharply and sprang back. John stared at him, breathing hard, eyes so dilated no part of his iris seemed visible. Carson was no where in sight. Omygodomygodomygod. What to say? What to do? As in so many other times in his life when he was terrified of making a bad situation worse, his tongue lashed out to buy him some space. "Oh right, and I so would not be the one to make the first move."
He wheeled and spun off, stalking down the hallway, just short of running.
Always before when he had royally fucked up, Rodney had options. Sometimes the choices weren't really his—like that time he spent in Siberia. But even when he had no choice in the matter, there was always another place to go, another place that needed him, at least until he screwed things up personally there as well, and then well, it was time to move on anyway. The Pegasus galaxy was pretty much as far out there as one person could run and hide. And having come this far, there was no retreat left. And damn it, for the first time in his life, he'd felt like maybe he didn't need to go any further, that he'd found a place where he belonged and the people there didn't mind him so much. He was screwed, screwed, screwed. He could hardly go to Elizabeth and request a transfer, now could he? On the other hand, the Genii would probably welcome him with open arms—only they'd kill him when he screwed up there.
As far as his options for hiding in Atlantis went, there weren't many. If John chose to find him, there was just no way he could prevent that from happening. The invasion of the Genii during the storm and John's subsequent dispatching of their forces proved that to him. So hiding out in the lower levels and say, praying that the freak of nature thing would open up and swallow him whole, was probably not a very viable option. He could, he supposed, do a hide in plain sight thing, surrounding himself with lots of people, only he would really hate that and there was nothing to prevent John from walking up to him and hauling him off by his ear in front of everybody like a recalcitrant child.
No, the best thing he could do was to go back down to the lab like nothing happened, and when the time and place of his doom came upon him, he would just take it like a man. Somehow though, he didn't think he was going to be able to calmly go back to work now. Coming to a sudden decision, he realized he didn't want to go down into the labs. He wanted to go up. Up where he could sit with his thoughts in the sunlight and listen to the sounds of the sea. Up into one of the towers. John would find him eventually and then, well then they would end this.
He didn't mean to fall asleep. If you'd asked him in advance if he was capable of falling asleep under such conditions, he would have laughed. But the first that he was aware that he had fallen asleep was when he heard John say, "You're gonna get sunburned like that."
He shifted his head with a start, shielding his eyes with one hand and twisting around to look up at John where he stood to the entrance of the balcony. John had changed shirts, replacing the torn t-shirt with a long sleeved version that covered the bandage on his arm. The gash over his eye had scabbed over, but still looked raw and painful. Rodney let his head turn back to its original position. Ugh. His back was going to hate him for this, stretching out on the balcony floor to catch the warmth of the sunlight. "No, I'm not." He spoke without his usual tartness. "I'm wearing really good sunscreen."
"Bet you made it yourself." John uncoiled himself from where he was leaning in the doorway and left the shadow of the building to enter the light. He came over to where Rodney still lay prone and sat down beside him.
"Something like that." Rodney agreed.
"Sunblock 2000." Rodney smiled briefly at the description, but did not speak. The silence stretched between them until Rodney could not take it any longer.
"I can't do this anymore, John."
He saw John's head jerk up from where he had been inspecting the tiles of the balcony decking. He had never used John's first name in a truly casual conversation. "You can't do this..." His voice trailed off.
"This, this." Rodney rotated a finger in a circle that seemed to encompass the two of them. "I can't play this game anymore, not even for Carson. It...it's become too real for me."
"I'm sorry." It was the last thing he expected John to say.
"You're sorry? You've nothing to be sorry about! This is my problem, not yours." Rodney pushed himself up until he was braced with his arms behind him, palms down.
"It was my idea." John was back to inspecting tile again.
"It was Heightmeyer's idea. Have you noticed how often her ideas lead to general mayhem? I'm thinking Carson needs to do a drug inventory in this universe too, and soon." He was pleased to note this elicited a small smile from John and then berated himself for both noting and caring. This would never do. He sighed, and sat up all the way, pulling in his legs to sit with them crossed in front of him and rubbing at his shoulder with one hand. The muscles of his upper neck burned in protest from lying on the unyielding surface of the deck.
"Let me." John rolled up onto his knees from his crossed-legged position and shifted around behind Rodney, who didn't know what he was intending until after he felt John's hand on the side of his neck. He flinched and started to get up, but John held him down by the shoulder and said, "Don't be silly. Sit still." He began working his fingers into the tight muscles of Rodney's neck. "Relax," he admonished, when it became apparent that Rodney was not going to breathe.
Rodney was torn between a need to jump up and move away verses his body's demand that he relax and give into the bliss that flowed from John's fingers. He couldn't understand what was going on; this was not how he expected John to act at all. His head began to loll as he delayed making any sort of decision and his muscles responded to the almost clinical touch. "We'll have to tell Carson something. I know. We'll tell him I dumped you." He felt John's hands tighten on his neck in a mock strangle grip and Rodney felt like he had won some little prize again.
"Yeah, well as to that." John's hands went back to their methodical working of his neck and shoulders. "Before you so rudely interrupted me on my way back from the infirmary this morning, I was coming to tell you that I had informed Carson of our little deception and why."
Rodney pulled away from his hands this time and turned to face him. "You what?"
John sat back on his heels. "Kate thought it was time."
"What did he say?"
"Well, he did seem a bit surprised. He handled it pretty well. He said we were pretty convincing." John gave his little half-smile.
"Well, now he's really going to be confused, isn't he? Ohmygod." Rodney yelped suddenly. "You mean when I...when I...I didn't have to? Because he already knew?"
John bit his lower lip at Rodney's consternation. Rodney burst out laughing. It was funny, but it wasn't. If he had just hung on to his temper just a little longer, then they could have played out the charade to its conclusion and gone back to the way things were with his friendship intact and his feelings repressed where they belonged. He stopped laughing abruptly.
John had been chuckling along with him and noted the sudden change. He locked eyes with Rodney. "What? Talk to me."
Rodney got slowly to his feet. "I'm sorry that I let things get out of hand. I don't know how this happened, but it won't happen again. I would really feel badly if...if this, well if this ruined our friendship. I mean, it's not like I have so many friends that I can afford to throw away one or two," he finished somewhat lamely. He started to head for the door.
John was on his feet in a flash. "Rodney, wait." Rodney stopped in his tracks, but did not turn around. John closed the distance between them in two steps, standing so close behind him that Rodney could feel the heat of his body. "What if..." he began slowly, "I didn't mind?"
Rodney turned carefully to face him, certain he had misheard or misunderstood. "What if you didn't mind...what?"
John inched in a step closer, placing a hand on Rodney's arm, even as he ducked his head slightly and dropped his gaze. "What if I didn't mind you kissing me?" His eyes flicked up through his lashes as he spoke.
Rodney thought perhaps he might have gone deaf after the way the blood suddenly started pounding in his ears. He took in a shaky breath. "If you didn't mind..." he repeated stupidly.
John gave a soft little laugh and suddenly seemed to melt into Rodney. He opened his mouth to say "oh" and John's mouth was there to claim his. If the earlier kiss had been about anger and lust and need, this kiss was about exploring and acceptance and oh yeah, need. The need to pull John in even closer, the need to thrust up against him, the need to feel John's bare skin against his own. When John's mouth left his, they stood touching foreheads together, breathing hard.
John pulled back first and smiled at him. "I'm thinking we could take this someplace more...comfortable."
Rodney discovered that he had been reduced to a pre-verbal state when his "Okay" came out as "gnugh". Somewhere along the way, John had unzipped the neck of his shirt, nuzzling and licking at Rodney's skin while he stretched back at John's touch, exposing his neck to greater contact. Now he felt bereft when there was a sudden loss of tactile sensation. Opening his eyes, he saw John standing at the entrance to the tower, stretching out a hand behind him towards Rodney. Rodney stumbled over to him as though magnetized and took the outstretched hand. He smiled as he looked down at their entwined fingers and then looked up in sudden concern.
"You're really okay with this?" John simply smiled and continued to draw him inside the building.
"Yes. It may interest you to know though, that this was a bit of a shock for me too. As in the... ah, 'life-changing' kind." He laughed, pulling Rodney's hand into his chest and turned it palm-side up to kiss it lingeringly. Rodney found simply walking to be challenging after that.
"And you realized this when exactly...?" They had reached one of the transporters. John released Rodney's hand to work the controls and then stood with both hands folded behind his back as the transporter engaged.
"Well..." John's voice was full of amusement and Rodney was struck with the sudden knowledge of how much he loved that voice and every nuance of it. "There was the time that you let me shoot you...that was very cool."
The transporter doors opened and John walked out, glancing back to see if Rodney was coming too. Rodney dropped in beside him as he continued to speak. "And then there was that whole storm/invasion/hostage situation—very intense." He paused and turned to face Rodney in all seriousness. "And then there was the time we fought the Super Wraith. And you showed up with nothing but a handgun. I'll never forget seeing you stand there after you'd emptied your clip into the Wraith and he was starting to move on your position. You said, 'Now what?' and I told you to reload. Your hands were shaking but you never took your eyes off that gun as you reloaded." He reached out and gently touched the side of Rodney's face. "It was the bravest goddamned thing I've ever seen."
He laughed suddenly; his mood changed again. "But it wasn't until Chaya that I thought maybe you might feel the same..."
Rodney held his forehead in one hand, bracing that elbow against his other arm folded against his chest. "You are never going to let me live that down, are you?"
Rodney looked up again. "But this..." his index finger flew back and forth rapidly between the two of them. "Isn't this going to cause some problems for you, you know, career wise? As in 'conduct unbecoming'? As in lock you in the brig and throw away the key? "
An inexplicably devilish expression came over John's face and he pulled Rodney in close. "Frankly as far as the Pegasus galaxy is concerned, I think we've got bigger fish to fry. Besides, haven't you ever heard of 'plausible deniability'? I love it when a plan comes together—and this one had so much going for it," he whispered in Rodney's ear, letting the genius work out exactly what he meant.
Rodney pulled back just far enough so as to be able to look him in the eye. "So this whole little spiel with Carson...you were just taking advantage of an opportunity that presented itself?"
John grinned at him, eyes gleaming wickedly, a bright spot of color on each cheekbone. "I so did make the first move."
Next: Perfect Strangers