Cakes & Ale
"Oh, wow, there's jam in the middle." Rodney's lashes fluttered in near ecstasy. "So fucking good," he moaned. You know what never gets old for me? Rodney making sex noises over food. It works for me every time. And I love that this is how the story starts. Okay, yes, hello. So this is the last of four (four? Am I crazy? SO IT SEEMS.) reader commentaries I'm doing on stories by Mirabile Dictu. This is my favorite story. I saved it 'til last because that's what I do, and now I am all upset because I'm worried that I'm not going to have time to do it justice. Hence this pseudo-disclaimy thing, because I wanted to make sure that I pointed out very clearly that it is my favorite.
"Jesus, McKay," John said. "Not in front of the children."
"Oh, oh, you try one and see if you don't go all big O." It's like they switch off being the straight man (no pun intended, we're not working with that kind of setup, here) and the comedian constantly. Also, John's line? He's totally taking the mom role.
"Big O?" Teyla asked, looking doubtfully at the small cakes Rodney was eating.
John looked at Rodney, who shrugged. "Mouf's fuww," he said, pointing at his jammy face. John rolled his eyes. But this is McKay's only option - he can't be the one to explain, there's no way he won't put his foot in it, and he hasn't got the gravitas to defer the question. Not to mention that if he'd tried to, Sheppard would have harried him into doing the explaining himself.
"Another time, Teyla, if you don't mind. I'd prefer you ask Elizabeth anyway." John slapped Rodney's hand, hard, when he reached for another little cake.
"That's enough." John tried to look forbidding, or at least mean, but not too mean since he was also trying to charm their hosts. Omni-directionally mean. "They are delicious," he told the baker, called Baker, because they were really good. The naming thing is funny, but also sensible. If they're someplace agrarian, the guy doing the baking might well be the hereditary baker.
"Thank you," Baker said, bowing slightly. "I would be happy to pack some up for you to take with you."
"Yes, please, that would be wonderful," Rodney said, rubbing his hands together. "Really wonderful."
"Yes, it would," John agreed, smiling at Baker. "Thank you."
"And in return?" Baker's wife asked, crossing her arms and looking at Teyla.
"We offer you assistance with sowing and reaping the crops," Teyla said, "in exchange for a percentage of the grain." Mrs. Baker looked at Rodney skeptically. It isn't that Rodney doesn't look like he can help out with stuff like that - it's that he makes it pretty obvious that he isn't willing to. Even to the casual observer. "We have many who can help," Teyla added.
"We will discuss this further. Please return in three suns."
John stood up; that was a clear as dismissal as he'd ever received. "Yes, ma'am," he started to say, but Teyla gave him a look. Hahahaha. Okay, I don't think Sheppard got the message that he wasn't part of the main event at all until she did that.
"Thank you," she said, bowing slightly. "I look forward to learning your decision."
John waited until they were out of the village and on the path back to the jumper before he said, "I swear to God, McKay, if you fucked up this deal . . ."
"What? What? I was expressing appreciation for the quality of the food," he said, but Teyla swung around and stared at them. "What?" Rodney said again, but in a much smaller voice. Okay. The respect they all have for Teyla in this? Bordering on intimidated? It's perfect.
"I believe you well know what," she said. "Colonel Sheppard, when we return for negotiations, I wish Major Lorne to fly." It's like traveling with a sideshow. Small dogs playing musical instruments, or something.
"I'll fly," John said, embarrassed. "But I'll stay with the jumper."
They returned to Atlantis without further discussion. Their briefing with Weir took only a little time, and they scheduled the return in three of the Phogen's days. Then John went for a long run, thinking over what had happened.
* * *
Nine hundred rounds per minute made a hideous noise, one that John never really got used to, but it peeled through the Enota armored vests like a hot knife through butter, so he loved his P 90 despite the racket. High-powered projectiles trumped energy weapons any day, he believed, watching the Enota fall before him. Rodney lay on the ground next to him, firing as well; his time on the target range had been well spent. "Why does this keep happening?" Rodney shouted at him.
John didn't bother answer because he saw Ronon to their left; the Enota quickly realized they were in their crossfire and fell back. "Thank God," he said, and grabbed Rodney by his pack, pulling him backwards. "Go, go, go!" he shouted, and the four of them were quickly back at the jumper. They were back at the gate within twenty minutes, and five minutes later they were in Atlantis.
"Off the list," John told Elizabeth.
"Bummer," Ronon said. Everyone looked at him. But the idiom goes otherwise unremarked.
"Uh, yeah," John concurred. "They didn't care to trade with us. No explanation."
"Fear, I believe," Teyla said, still looking at Ronon. Because she suspects he was a cause of that fear, or because she still can't figure out why he's saying words like 'bummer'?
"Of?" Elizabeth asked.
"The unknown. I have heard that they only reluctantly accept strangers. They are afraid others will draw the Wraith."
"It's a wise fear," Rodney said. "You have to admit, we've all been fooled. I'm thinking the Genii are a good example. Or rather, a bad example."
"You're being understanding about them shooting at you?" John asked.
"Not in the least. I need a good stiff drink to recover, and Carson should check my blood pressure and probably do an EKG. But not appreciating being shot at doesn't mean I don't understand why they were shooting." He studied John. "I'd shoot you myself."
John opened his mouth to respond, but Elizabeth raised a hand, asking for quiet. I think Rodney knows exactly what he's doing. I'm not exactly sure what he's doing, though.
"Rodney's right," she said. "A visit to the infirmary is next, then we'll have a more formal debriefing, and begin work on our next attempt to find trading partners and allies." Elizabeth sighed, and John thought she looked tired. "I'm glad you survived. Let's keep up the good work."
"All right, people," John said, and started herding them toward the infirmary.
* * *
The almost disconnected scenes in this work really well for me. They're slices of life, quick, like memories. "No, no, no, no, no!" Rodney shouted. John stopped and turned. The noise was coming from a room not far from him; he could see light spilling out into the corridor. He debated whether he should intervene, but quickly realized that he was just curious why Rodney was shouting this time. Rodney tended to raise his voice more than any department head should, and certainly more than John believed Rodney's staff deserved, but he also took their precarious situation here in the Pegasus Galaxy very seriously. John sighed, and tapped his fingers against his thigh. When nothing more happened, he decided to let it go.
He hadn't taken more than a few steps when Rodney's voice burst into his headset: "Colonel Sheppard! We're in the, oh, shit, where are we?"
Radek said, "We're in the big room found last week, on the lower levels --"
"I know where you are," John interrupted as he sprinted back and around the corner. He slammed to a stop, bumping into Rodney and Radek. "Jesus." It isn't explained, what John's doing there. Lurking? Out for a walk? Out for a run? Taking the scenic route? I like the way he pauses, though, waiting to see that everything is alright, even though he figures it's probably just McKay making noise for the sake of noise. Because it might not just be bluster, and John does know that Rodney takes it seriously, has a solid perspective on what's dangerous and what isn't, at least where the thing endangered might be the city.
Water was rising quickly; the three of them backed up. "Shut the door, shut the door," Radek said nervously, tugging at John's arm.
"Where's it coming from? What were you doing?"
"Think it off," Rodney snapped; he spread his arms and pushed the two men back toward the corridor. "Off, off, off; it's draining power, Colonel."
"I'm thinking," John said. "Stop pushing me." They stood still for a moment and he thought off as loudly and clearly as he could. The water continued to rise. "Shit," he said and started backing up again, pulling Rodney and Radek with him. The idea of thinking 'on' and 'off' at stuff, how do you ever tell if you're doing it right? I mean, if it reacts, sure. But how do you tell the difference between not doing it right and the thing being broken?
"We were not doing anything," Radek said. "We were discussing whether this room should be converted into a storage room for botany. Some of their plants are taking over in the space we've allocated them."
"You didn't touch anything?" John asked Radek.
"I remind you that I do not have the gene, but no, I did not." Radek is remarkably patient with stupid questions.
"No, well, I don't think so. Radek?"
"Maybe that wall? We were talking about building a, what do you call it, the glass room?"
"For the brachysema, yes, it requires a greenhouse."
"Greenhouse, yes, that is the word. John --"
"Rodney, you were thinking greenhouse when you touched the wall?"
"Ah, yes, greenhouse. Radek --"
"Not greenhouse, no, remember? You said 'bell jar,' and I said what is that and you said a book by a dead poet and I said --"
"You said Atlantis would never forgive my pun, and I thought about drowning. Oh, shit." The idea that Rodney's fear of drowning (his damned well-founded fear of drowning) could actual drown him? Well. That would suck.
"Okay, Rodney, think about not drowning. Think off."
"I've been thinking off! Off! Off!" Rodney shouted at the wall. The sound of rushing water stopped. "Oh. I thought I'd been thinking off." See what I mean?
"And why would Atlantis listen to you but not the colonel?"
They turned to look at John. "What? I'm thinking off!"
"Not hard enough, obviously." They turned back to study the water. "Is it draining?"
John approached it, walking into it up to his ankles. "You know what? I think this is some kind of greenroom. Look at the things here."
Rodney and Radek peered over his shoulder. "Like planters, only built into the floor," Rodney said.
John waded in deeper. "Look at this," he said, and turned a valve. The water instantly began draining. "So the drainage is just mechanical? One of you must have touched something, to get the water started." Maybe to initialize the mechanism so it could be started, but I can't see how you could turn it off with your brain if it weren't initially turned on with your brain. Or was it an auto-shutoff? And the water stopping at the same time that Rodney was shouting was coincidence?
"Maybe," Rodney said, and Radek shrugged.
"We need to tell Dr. Summers. She will like this room," Radek said.
Rodney nodded. "That stuff she's trying to grow in the little lab, in pots of water."
"Yes, the pretty blue spiky flowers. She says they contains aporphine." They grinned at each other.
John said, "Should I be concerned about what aporphine is?"
"Not in the least," Rodney said firmly, so John made a mental note to look it up as soon as he could. "Thank you, Colonel, for your assistance, but I believe we have this under control."
"Aporphine, aporphine, aporphine," John chanted under his breath as he headed out to the pier to meet Ronon for a run, not something he wanted to forget. Was he really headed to the pier via the lower levels? Oh, John, you're so weird. Also, I love that he's trying to memorize the word, just because Rodney wouldn't pony up an explanation.
* * *
John threw himself backwards onto his bed. It was good to be home, with his surfboard, his pictures, his poster, his big window looking out onto the ocean surrounding Atlantis. The SGC scared him; Earth scared him. He'd been ordered back to the SGC and had spent his entire time there terrified that they were going to relieve him of his duties in Atlantis. One of the other many reasons I love this story so much is because I love this, too. John thinking about how hugely important Atlantis is to him, how he'd do anything for the city, and how torn up he gets imagining that someone would be able to take him away from it and he'd be powerless, unable to stay.
He knew that no one on Earth had ever intended he assume responsibility for the security of Atlantis. No one who looked at his record would put him in charge of cleaning toilets, let alone an entire flying city. With the Daedalus making a return to Earth possible, he'd begun to live in fear of being recalled. He would give up his position and happily peel potatoes, if only they let him remain on Atlantis.
He sighed. This time he'd escaped. General O'Neill was pretty cool, even though his sense of humor freaked John out. I don't really get O'Neill. I think I haven't been exposed to him enough. And yeah, he does seem to have a really unpredictable, surreal sense of humor. But I think it's exactly that sense of humor that's keeping John in place and in charge. That and what seems to be O'Neill's pretty highly developed sense of fair play. And the way he continually forbid Dr. Jackson to spend time in Atlantis increased John's fears; he didn't seem to understand how important it was for some people to be here. Or to be away from Earth; John didn't know Dr. Jackson at all, but in his own case, he knew it was both. He loved Atlantis. I think John's missing something here, as an outsider. I think most of the forbidding O'Neill does is an extended joke between friends. I think Jackson, if he really wanted to push it, could join the expedition. But instead the idea is something to feud over, in a comfortable way.
"And you love me, don't you, girl," he murmured, reaching over his head to stroke the wall. A soft chime let him know someone had tracked him down. "Yeah?"
The door slid open to reveal Rodney. "Welcome back."
"Hey. Good to see you. Atlantis still in one piece?"
"One very big piece, yes. How was the trip home?"
"They let me come back; that's all I care about."
"Well, I suppose it would be maudlin of me to admit that I'm glad they let you come back, too."
"Not sure about maudlin, but sappy, yeah." Well, maybe. But what neither of them points out is that it would also be pretty inconvenient for Rodney if Sheppard were replaced. Not that anything necessarily bad would happen (other than losing a friend-by-proximity, and someone you trust), but the need to figure out how to work with someone new, reevaluate procedures, all of that crap. But I kind of like that neither of them say that.
"Then I never said it." They grinned at each other, and Rodney shifted his feet. "Ah, I have something for you. I know you like Johnny Cash," and he gestured at the poster, "and that there's a movie coming out about him."
"Yeah, that's the only reason I didn't want to come back. It's opened by now."
"Well, check your email." Oh Rodney. You sly dog. You and your power over time and space and bittorrent.
"Just. You know." Rodney looked a little flustered, so John got up and opened his laptop, booting it up. "I should go." Yeah. So he doesn't have to get flustered by John saying thank you.
"No, Rodney, stay. Sit down. Hey, I brought beer back."
"Is that legal?" John raised an eyebrow. "Of course not. It isn't Molson's, is it?" Yeah yeah, legal smegal. John is the law. Just not the man.
"Check it out. Open, uh, that box, the, yeah, that one." He watched Rodney pry up the tape and open the box. "See, I packed it in dry ice." To keep it cold the whole time? I bet there are issues with shipping beer to another galaxy. I mean, they used to have a hell of a time just getting it as far as India from Britain without having it go off. And sure, the Daedalus probably has cargo holds where the cargo can't tell it isn't in the back of a truck, but hyperspace. I bet that does stuff to stuff. (Stuff to stuff = I am not an astrophysicist.)
Smoke from the dry ice coiled into the air, and Rodney grinned at him. "Coors, MGD, Molson, Labatt Blue, and Pivovarsky Dvur. What else did you bring back?" Criminy. Is John buttering up everyone? Does no one ever get a hankering for a local microbrew in the Pegasus galaxy, by the way? Or something dark? When I'm posted to Atlantis, please mail me some damn porter. Or maybe a nice oatmeal-coffee stout.
"Can't spoil my fun, Rodney. One surprise at a time. Okay, so I'm looking at my email and shit, but there's a lot of it."
"Something from me, with a huge attachment." That Rodney can do that is actually a pretty good argument that he's the sysadmin. Or maybe just that the sysadmin knows better than to put limits on Rodney's stuff. No reason to borrow trouble.
John sorted the email by sender. "Rodney, you really did miss me. What did you do, send me an email a day?"
"I'd like to point out that most of them are summaries of the progress we've made in exploring Atlantis while you're away, successful trading agreements we've come to, and an invitation to the opening of Dr. Summers' new greenhouse."
"And one with a really big attachment. Hey, how --" He turned to look at Rodney, who gulped at his Molson's. "It wasn't even released in theatres when I left Earth." CAN MANIPULATE THE SPACETIME CONTINUUM.
"Yes, well, these things are always available somewhere. I knew you'd miss it and you certainly don't have the ability to torrent it yourself, so." He shrugged. "It's a welcome home gift."
"Rodney, I don't know what to say."
"No, no, not Windows Media Player, for God's sake. I made sure that everybody's profile includes VLC; launch it and then watch the movie." Heh.
John really didn't know what to say, so he just launched VLC and navigated to Walk the Line. "Thanks," he said, staring into the monitor. "You, ah, you want to stay and watch?"
"No, I'll let you and Johnny alone for this. Maybe after you've seen it, if you think it's any good."
"Really, thanks. This means a lot."
"Well, Molson's means a lot to me, so let's call it even."
John watched as Rodney left. Then he carried the laptop to the bed and flopped down again. It was good to be home.
* * *
John was cold. Really, really cold. "Cold," he murmured to Rodney, whose face for some reason was right next to his.
"I know, Colonel; that's why we're leaving. Too damned cold here."
"Yup." The sky above them appeared to be bouncing.
"How's he doing?" Carson asked.
"He's cold," Rodney panted, and John realized that he was being carried; Rodney had his head and shoulders and that was Ronon at his feet. "Hurry, dammit." This reminds me a lot of ltlj's Typical Day, with John injured and confused, but with the reader still dependent on him for the story.
"Give him to me," Ronon said. They slowed so Rodney could awkwardly shift John to Ronon. John heard himself creak, the air pushed from his lungs.
"Go, go," Rodney said, his hand sliding down John's neck and back. "Carson, I -- be waiting in the gateroom," John heard Rodney say, and realized that Carson wasn't here at all, but back in Atlantis on the radio. He watched Ronon's hair move, and beyond it, the heavy clouds.
"Gonna rain," he tried to say, but Ronon ignored him. He closed his eyes, feeling a little motion sick. When Ronon slowed, he opened them again; Teyla's face appeared hovering above him, an angel stroking his hair. Outside, rain began to fall; he could hear it on the skin of the puddlejumper, and Rodney jumped inside, drenched. So Ronon and John beat the rain, but Rodney was far enough behind to get caught.
"I'll get us home, Colonel," he heard Rodney say as Ronon settled him in the back, on the padded bench, and Teyla wrapped a thermal blanket around him. "Strap him in; you know I'm not that good a pilot," Rodney called back to them. "Thank God for inertial dampeners."
"Gate's open, McKay; just go," Ronon said, his arms still around John. He was warm and dry and with his team.
"Just go, yes, of course, why didn't I think of that." John tried to tilt his head back so he could see Rodney in the cockpit, but Ronon held him firmly. Rodney continued to mutter to himself, and the inertial dampeners really did dampen, but John was pretty sure they were underway. I would imagine John might have a tenuous connection to the jumper even away from the interface.
"What happened?" he asked Ronon.
"You didn't duck."
Well, that didn't sound good. "Am I shot? Where?" he tried to ask, but he was so tired. Why couldn't he remember? What kind of weapons had they been using? He opened his eyes again when Ronon lifted him up; John hated feeling so helpless, but his arms and legs felt so heavy. He saw they were back in Atlantis, and Carson's worried face was suspended above him. "Hey, doc," he murmured. John loses a lot of time in this piece of the story, but all the stuff that he's mentally present for lags and slows because he's not quite connected to it.
"Shh, John," Carson said kindly. "Let's get you to the infirmary. Rodney, tell me what happened."
"What happened? Have you been struck blind? He's been shot with that thing they carried. Teyla, what was that thing?" I love this line. It carries zero information, and I love it so much.
The ceiling began to move, lights flashing, and beneath him, John could hear the ocean surge. Subterraneous rivers pulsed, and he smiled at the thought that he was in a floating, flying city. City of dreams.
"Stay with us, Colonel," Carson said. "Rodney --"
"Yes, yes, I've got him. Ronon, can you, yes, okay, Carson."
"Then on three: one, two, three."
John felt as though he were flying, the corridor lights zooming above him, and then he was settled in warm blankets, with Carson's face right next to his. "Hi," he tried to say. He realized they'd moved him to the infirmary.
"Shh, lad. Let's take a look at you." Carson's hands were gentle on John's head. "Scanner," he said to someone. "Now close your eyes, John. Let us do our job."
John obediently closed his eyes. "Water," he whispered, meaning Listen to the water running under and through Atlantis. Like a high-mountain brook, clean and shining in the sun. Except it was under the city, but John still envisioned white rapids glinting in the sun. He could hear it racing, splashing through the city. Sometimes it was warm, sometimes hot enough to steam, other times it was as cold as the mountain brook. Whatever was needed, Atlantis provided. He's so out of it, but just full of love for everyone. But especially full of love for the city.
He must have slept, because when he next opened his eyes, it was dark and there was a needle stuck into the back of his left hand leading to a drip. Monitors glowed green and beeped softly around him. He remembered that Rodney had told Carson he'd been shot. He felt bruised and battered everywhere, but especially his head, which felt swollen and tender, as if someone had kicked it; he wondered if this was what a migraine felt like. It's almost shocking, the contrast between John muddled and then this hard, aching coherence.
"Hey," Rodney said.
"Hey. Where'd you come from?"
"Uh, actually I've been here all night; just stepped into the men's room. Let me get Carson."
"No, Rodney, don't --"
"Yes, Rodney, do," Carson said. He leaned over John, smiling affectionately at him. "Your color is better, your temperature normal, this is all good. How's your head?"
"Well, yes, I expect it will. Let me put something in the drip to help with that. Just a minute." Carson left, revealing Rodney standing awkwardly, with his hands behind his back. When Carson returned, he said, "Rodney, either sit down or go to bed."
"I'll just, I'll sit." He sat; John rolled his head carefully to one side to watch him. In the dark, he could barely see Rodney's face, just his eyes and a cheekbone.
"The usual. Not only were they not interested in becoming allies, they took exception to our presence on the planet. That happens with alarming frequency. I don't think SG1 had such bad luck. They had more freaky luck. This is the Bad Luck Galaxy, I think we should name it. And you're the Bad Luck Colonel."
"That makes you the Bad Luck Astrophysicist," John tried to say, but gave up. They're like the dead-end kids.
Rodney stood up and walked to him, hands nervously clasping and unclasping the railings to his bed. "You're going to be okay, right?"
"Course," John said, putting his hand over his face.
"John," Rodney whispered, and rested his own hand on top of John's. Together their hands blocked the light, and the weight and heat felt good. "Carson, please. He's miserable. I know you're a geneticist, not a family practitioner, but surely you can do something for him." Rodney is so freaked out by Sheppard's pain. Which I can totally see. Actually I can totally see him being freaked out by anyone's pain, because there isn't really anything he can do to fix it.
"This will help," Carson said. "Lie still, John. Let this take effect."
"What was it?" he asked again.
"A weapon your military would love to get its hands on," Rodney said. "It fired pulsed energy projectiles. Knocked you on your ass, paralyzed you long enough to give your team heart failure, and put you in here for a day."
"Wow. We do need that." It's a sort of appalled envy.
"Go to sleep," Carson said. "Rodney, don't keep him up. Sit or go to your quarters and sleep. I'll be kipping in my office."
"Thanks, Carson," Rodney said. He sat back down and sighed. Carson patted John's hand, the one without a needle, and disappeared. Rodney hooked his foot in another chair and dragged it toward him, then rested both feet on it and crossed his arms. "Sleep," he told John. "I am."
"Go to your room, Rodney," John tried to say, but between the pulse weapon and Carson's drugs, he was again defeated. He watched Rodney for a while, as his eyes closed and he finally fell asleep.
* * *
John finished his run, panting and sweating more than usual. The pulse weapon that had been used on him had left him sore and a bit fragile, not that he'd ever admit that to anyone, especially not to Carson. He leaned against the railing, letting the sea breeze cool him while he caught his breath. He wiped himself down with his tee shirt and re-entered the corridors of Atlantis, walking slowly on wobbly legs. Maybe he'd overdone it. She doesn't quite say how long it's been here, just that the recovery isn't as easy as John would like.
Ahead of him, he saw light and heard voices. In fact, he heard Rodney's unmistakable voice, and Radek's, and Simpson's, and Summers', and finally Parrish's in the room they'd decided to call a greenhouse, though how an interior room could be a greenhouse, John wasn't sure.
"Nymphaea blue capensis," Rodney was saying over Summers' voice; she insisted, "No, it's nymphaea caerulea." Oh, Rodney. Knowing just about everything about just about everything.
"Are you sure? How can you be sure? I mean, look at them." There was a silence as they presumably looked at them. John peeked around the corner into the room.
"They're neither," Radek said firmly. "We're in Pegasus Galaxy, yes? So neither."
"Nymphaea caerulea pegasus, then," Dr. Summers said.
"And you think this stuff contains aporphine?" Kavanagh said. "Is that even legal?" All the other scientists stared at him. "Point taken," he said. "We're in the Pegasus Galaxy." Where John is the law. Also, come on, Kavanagh. If the FDA has no sway, I'm thinking the narcotics squads aren't about to show up, either.
"I've tested it, and it's fine," Summers said. "It's best hot with honey, like this." She handed out little cups and then poured something from one of the oversized thermoses usually kept in the mess hall. "Not too much. Rodney, there's not a hint of citrus in this, but only take one sip for now, okay?" I just fell in love with Summers a little bit, there. Protective of Rodney and his crazy allergies. Though in my head, she sadly looks a bit like Jamie Sommers. And not at all like Dawn Summers.
"Shouldn't one of us stay, ah, sober?" Parrish asked.
"My one sip will guarantee that," Rodney said, and gulped his portion down. John leaned against the door and watched as the others sipped. I like that John doesn't exactly know what's going on, but knows enough to be curious, and chooses to hang back and watch over them. It doesn't seem quite like spying, maybe because there's no malice in it.
"Bitter," Radek said, making a face. "More honey, please."
"Me, too," Kavanagh said, holding out his cup.
"I thought you were supposed to smoke it," Simpson said. "It's supposed to make you feel joyful."
"More," Rodney said, holding out his cup. "I don't feel anything, no swelling or odd taste."
Summers poured him a bit more. "Add honey," she reminded him. To Simpson, she said, "I tried smoking it, too, but this has a mellower effect, I think. It takes longer to come onto it, but it's a gentler high." Also, drinking it is a hell of a lot less detectable on your clothes.
"I smoked blue lotus on Earth once," Parrish said. "Back in college. A very mellow high." He sipped at his cup. "Seems metaphorical, that it's so bitter and sweet at the same time."
John really wanted to ask for a cup of whatever they were trying, but he was sure they'd be upset at his presence. He stepped back so they couldn't see him, and then slid down to rest his legs while he eavesdropped. If anything went wrong, he'd be there to help. Poor invalid John and his achy legs. And his unwillingness to let his presence bother them.
"Oh, my," Radek said. "I think -- Rodney, I never noticed before how very pointed your nose is." He started to laugh. It is very pointed. Very charmingly pointed.
"Shut up," Rodney said, predictably, but he started to laugh, too, and then the others, even Kavanagh. John heard a thump; he peered around the corner to see Summers roll backwards, and then the other scientists sat suddenly; they yawned and laughed and smiled at each other. "I hate your pony-tail," Rodney said to Kavanagh. "Why do you wear it?"
"I like it," he said, fondling it.
"You totally should cut it off," Summers said, looking earnestly at it. "Just, whack, it's gone. Really, you'd be much better looking." Yeah, he'd look really good without it. Though it would also help if he could tone down being a prick. Thinking about Kavanagh makes me sad, though, because there's no effort to make him anything but a cardboard villain. It makes me disappointed.
"No, I like it," Miko said, and everyone turned to look at where she was lying on the ground. "Very unusual in Atlantis. Don't lose it."
"No, I wouldn't," Kavanagh said, clutching it and scooting away from Summers and Rodney. Then again, I honestly don't think Rodney is a big enough asshole to cut someone's hair off without their permission. Or to let anyone else do it.
"Name, name, I've forgotten your name," Rodney said to Summers.
"Not your surname; your given name."
"Oh, God, Rodney, please don't make me tell you. It's a form of child abuse."
"I know what it is," Radek said, setting down his cup and rubbing his eyes. "She's right. Child abuse. Bad name for a girl."
"What? Kevin? Johannes?" Kevin is an adorable name for a girl! Also it makes me think of Skinny Puppy.
Summers shook her head, then put a hand to her forehead. "Dizzy." She lay down.
"Your name is not Dizzy. I'll just look in your file," Rodney said, lying down with his head in Radek's lap. Rodney co-opts the laps of his minions by divine right.
"Aphrodite," Radek said, stroking Rodney's hair. "Her parents named her Aphrodite." Except that he totally doesn't, I'm being facetious. They're just all quietly cuddly.
"Shit, I'm sorry," Rodney said. "I promise never to call you anything but Summers."
"Thank you, Dr. McKay," she said, sighing. "I'll never call you an asshole again." Heh.
John smiled to himself; he bet she did, too, despite her promise. Because she will undoubtedly have good reason. He sat for a while longer, until they started to wake up again. "Very nice," Radek said. "I think we remember this for next time."
"Good work, Summers," Rodney said, yawning. "Radek, gain some weight. Your knees are bony."
"Get up, Rodney. We have work, remember?"
"God, yes. Real work, not super-secret testing of an empathogen."
"Empathogen," Kavanagh said. "Em-paaaaath-ogen."
"I think you drank too much tea," Summers said. "Okay, everybody up. Let's clean up before someone finds us and assumes we had an orgy."
"Ick," Miko said very clearly, and then giggled. And I love this! Well, I love Miko with very little encouragement, but I love that this totally could have turned orgy in some stories but then it's made really clear that it isn't in any way like that. And I love that it points out the fact that you can loll around on the floor with a bunch of people, petting each other, and still have absolutely no desire to have sex with them.
When John saw they were all on their feet again, tidying the greenhouse, discussing the alkaloids in the caerulea, whether they should try smoking it next time, or adding it to brownies, which Rodney voted for, he silently left, smiling to himself. Mmmmmmm, brownies. He wondered if Rodney would give him a brownie if he threatened to tell Elizabeth about the caerulea.
* * *
"Oh, dear," Rodney said, gritting his teeth. Teyla bit her lip, and nodded, leaning forward over the table. They were alone for the moment, seated in a little cubicle at one end of the tavern where they'd just had dinner, the leftovers still on the table.
Ronon farted, long and loud. "Ah," he said, and farted again.
"Jesus, Ronon," John said, but he was both miserable and envious. "Is that permissible where you're from?"
Ronon farted again. Hahahaha. Oh, man. Ronon's a practical guy.
"Okay, I give up," Rodney said, shifting to one side so he too could bleat out a fart. Oh god.
"Rodney!" John said, but he started to laugh, and then lost control and, "Oops," he said. Rodney laughed at him, farting, which made John fart harder, and Ronon trumpeted again.
"Oh!" Teyla said. "Excuse me, please," she called over her shoulder as she scrambled out of the room, making squeaking noises with each step. Teyla's poor dignity.
"Okay, we need to find out what food gave us wind and bring as much back as possible," Rodney said. "We can power the stargate with it." He farted, a juicy bubbling sound. "Seriously," Rodney continued. "Imagine everyone in Atlantis breaking wind. If we could funnel it into wind turbines, think of the kilowatts we could generate. It's the ultimate renewal resource, a mega-watt utility-scale system."
"How serious are you?" John asked.
"Not in the least," he said. "What did we eat?" See, John is almost really asking, because there is almost a possibility that Rodney really is serious. It's a pretty tiny almost possibility, but still.
"The freta," Ronan said, pointing at bowl containing the soggy remnants of what John had thought was over-cooked cabbage. "Well-known for this." So if he thought it was overcooked cabbage, he must not have eaten much. Unless he likes overcooked cabbage. I sort of do, so.
"But it was good," Rodney protested, poking at it with a spoon.
"Please don't eat any more of it," John said. "Seriously. Leave it alone."
"Is there anything in our packs for this?" Rodney asked. "A remedy for flatulence?"
"Celery seeds," Ronon said. "Cider vinegar. Ginger root."
"Oh, all of which I'm sure you carry with you."
Ronon opened his pack and pulled out a small bag, then poured a small pile of brownish seeds into Rodney's hand. "Chew," he said, and popped a handful into his mouth. I have so much love for the fact that Ronon is prepared. And then even more love for the fact that he knew what they were eating, and could have warned them. Or at the very least given them the seeds earlier, rather than waiting to be asked. Oh Ronon. You prankster.
John put his own hand out for some of the seeds. His stomach was cramping a little, and he felt bloated. "No good will come out of this," he told them, folding himself in half before he could start chewing on the seeds.
"I think it'll come out all right in the end," Rodney said, chewing the seeds maniacally. "Oh." He stood up and almost ran out the door. You just don't tempt fate like that. And by fate, I mean your intestines.
"I think," John said, and tried to rise. "Oh." Ronon helped John up and out the door. "Bush, bush, I need a very private bush," John said.
"You should have asked for the seeds sooner," Ronon said, but obediently half-carried him away from the building into the dark countryside. Ronon, you evil, evil man.
"Yeah, here, I'll be fine, go, go someplace you can't hear me, okay?" Ronon looked at him. John paused with his hands at his belt. "Go!" he ordered.
"Not over here!" Rodney shouted in the dark. "Go somewhere else!"
Ronon looked confused, scratched his head, and walked away, trailing farts around the building. In the distance, John heard Teyla shout, but he was too relieved to pay any attention to his team.
"No more freta!" Rodney shouted. "Never! I don't care what they offer!" But it was delicious!
"Shut up, Rodney," John shouted, glad it was dark. He hoped the inhabitants of this village and the owners of the tavern were a forgiving people. Yeah, they're going to need to be. They've got some stinky shrubbery now, I suspect.
* * *
John kept his P 90 trained on the assholes. Next to him, Ronon loomed, holding his energy weapon on them, and beyond her, Teyla stood, feet apart, arms extended, her pistol aimed at their leader's head, just behind his left ear. "This is a stalemate," he said. This is the second time a section starts with a P 90. It's an immediate signal of a fraught situation.
"No, it's not," John said, not looking at him. "It's a fucking massacre. Now, how many more of your people do you want to see die before you end this and give back Dr. McKay?"
"It's not that simple --" he started, but Ronon fired, and the man next to him dropped. Blood pooled behind his head; the leader scooted back his foot so it wouldn't touch his shoe. So I didn't quite believe the stakes were that high, either. So it isn't a fraught situation - it's a desperate situation.
"I believe it is just that simple," John said.
"Colonel," Lorne said.
"Welcome, Major. We're about to kill a lot of people; did you bring plenty of ammunition?"
"Sir, yes, sir!" Lorne said enthusiastically; John wondered how much was an act and how much Lorne really wanted to kill these fuckers. 50/50?
"All right, then. One last time," John said. The others' faces turned toward him, their eyes enormous. Some were weeping, others looked furious. One or two looked resigned. The mixture of reactions is good, and it makes the mystery of the lead-in to the whole situation even more dense.
But one was pointing at something. Trying to be discreet, but clearly pointing, even tipping his head to John's left. They were in an enormous warehouse, filled with shelving loaded with unlabeled boxes. They guy pointed again; was Rodney in a box? Had they stuffed him in a box? What, were they going to ship him someplace?
"Stand up," he said to the leader, whose name he'd never caught. "Stand up, Goddammit!" Ronon jerked the guy to his feet, and John saw from the corner of his eye that he stepped into the blood. "Ronon, shoot his leg."
"No!" the guy screamed, but Ronon calmly shot him through the right calf. He fell into the blood, his own mixing with it. "I had to, I had to, just as much as you, don't you see?"
John shot rounds over the others' heads, so bits of the ceiling came flaking down, a macabre snow mixing with the blood on the stained cement floor. "Everybody out," he shouted. Some turned and ran, others backed away, but the one who'd been pointing moved very slowly until he was standing in front of a rack of shelving. He pointed again, then turned and ran. Terrified, but doing the right thing anyway.
When the warehouse was empty except for his team, the wounded leader, and the dead, John worked his way around the blood and bodies to the shelving. He tapped on the boxes, but they sounded full, and they were all too small. Slinging his P 90 behind him, he pulled out a box from the lower shelf; behind it was an opening. "Lorne, you're with me. Ronon, don't let that guy go anywhere."
Lorne helped John shift the boxes to the floor so they could slide the shelving unit away. "McKay!" John shouted into the opening. "Rodney! It's me!" He listened intently, looking at Lorne, who shook his head. "We're going in."
"Colonel, Major, wait," someone said, and Parrish rushed up with two enormous flashlights. Okay, what's Parrish doing there? I mean, I love Parrish, I'm glad he's there. Is he the regular scientist on Lorne's team? Because if he's team, that makes sense. But if not, well, what use is a botanist? Though he certainly came through with the flashlights.
"Bring him back," he told them. "He's such a pain in the ass, but Atlantis wouldn't be Atlantis without him."
John thought those were the truest words he'd heard in months. He nodded, grasped his weapon more firmly, and turned on the flashlight.
The tunnel was damp, with mold growing up the sides and spider webs clinging from the ceiling. Yick. Rodney would hate this, John thought, moving slowly. Despite the size of the lights Parrish had given them, he couldn't see very far ahead; it was as though the darkness and moisture sucked up all the light. They came to a T-junction; around the corner and to the right was a cheap wooden door. He and Lorne stared at it for a minute, then John kicked it in. So it's a warren of hidden passages.
On the floor, bound, gagged, and blindfolded, lay a sodden Rodney McKay. His legs and arms were tied together behind him, so that his legs were bent at the knee. "Jesus, Rodney," John said. He handed Lorne his weapon and knelt on the sticky floor. "Hey, buddy," he said quietly, resting his hand on Rodney's carotid artery. A solid thumping reassured him, but Rodney's skin was cold and papery. Dehydrated, John knew. He gently pushed the blindfold off Rodney; those blue eyes, damp and red, caught the light Lorne held and stared accusingly up at John. "It's me," John said, as he removed the gag. It was wet and gluey in his hands. Rodney's face was blue with stubble, his hair matted, his uniform stained, and the smell of him assaulted John's nose as he cut through the knots holding Rodney. Oh, man. That's the trouble with secret passages - you can't properly take care of the things you hide there without giving them away. What a horror.
At last, he was able to say, "Can you stand? Can you get up? Lean on me, okay?" as he got Rodney to his feet. Rodney swayed and his eyes rolled up, but John had him firmly and wasn't going to let him hit that disgusting floor again. "I've got you," he whispered into Rodney's ear, and then, to his surprise, kissed the top of his head. I think I might do that, too. Even if I didn't love Rodney. It's protective, comforting. Rodney opened his eyes and looked steadily at John. "Say something," John said. "Yell at me. Kick my ass for taking so long."
Rodney looked as cranky as John remembered. "Water," he said, so John pulled out his canteen and helped him sip at it; Rodney leaned heavily against him. "Go," he said.
Lorne stepped back into the hallway for a moment. "All clear," he shouted. For a moment more, John stood with Rodney pressed against him, his body as chill as a corpse. He hugged Rodney tightly, their faces touching, Rodney's sour breath and body odor bitter reminders of how he'd been treated these last three days. "Colonel? Should I send a team?"
"No," Rodney called, his voice hoarse and breaking as he pulled away from John. "We're coming." John stared into his eyes and lightly touched Rodney's face. He kept one arm around Rodney's waist as he helped him walk out of his prison. They need a minute, and probably a team to help Rodney out of there isn't a bad idea, but also, walking out is important. Walking out with as little help as possible, and that only from one of the people closest to him.
When they reached the warehouse, John pulled his sidearm out and shot the leader in the head. Then they left, taking Rodney home. That's satisfying, and probably does need to happen. And I believe John would do it. But I'm not sure Weir would sanction it. That said, I kind of don't think anyone is going to mention it in their reports. At least not in that matter-of-fact execution way.
* * *
"You know what I miss?" John asked Rodney as he barged into John's quarters. "The sound of a car door slamming. You know that thump of a well-built door being shut?" How great is it that Rodney's the one barging in, but John is already mid-conversation with him?
"What? Here, I brought you some brownies." Mmmmmmm brownies.
"Yeah, the sound of a car door. Because it's the sound of escape. Of getting away from everything. Going really fast to someplace really cool."
"Faster than a stargate? Cooler than another galaxy?"
"Okay, you have a point." John would miss the sound the 'gate makes, too.
John studied them. He'd bet good money that they had aporphine in them. 'Cause, you know, he looked it up. On the internet. That time he went back to Earth. He looked up at Rodney's face. "Have a seat. Tell me why you're bringing me brownies. Seems unlike you."
"Unlike me? Colonel, I'm wounded." Rodney set the paper plate down on John's night table and sat in the only chair; John was lying on the bed watching Walk the Line again on his computer. I was actually really impressed by Reese Witherspoon in that.
"You never bring me sweets. You never bring anybody sweets. I bet you've never brought Colonel Carter sweets."
"Colonel Carter doesn't need sweets." Wait, what? She doesn't? Who doesn't need sweets?
"And I do?"
"Um. Can I have one of your brownies?" Translation: I need a brownie because I am freaking out over you questioning me.
"I'd prefer you wait." John put his hand over the brownies, protecting them from Rodney. "Have you had any yet?"
"Oddly, no. They're just out of the oven. Summers and Parrish made them." Okay, now I love Summers a little bit more. I can picture Parrish cooking brownies, too. I bet he knows his mom's recipe off by heart.
John studied Rodney's face. He was slightly red, maybe from rushing over, maybe from embarrassment. "Rodney, are you trying to seduce me?"
"What?" Rodney jumped up. "No, Colonel, I -- I'm just -- do you want me to try to seduce you?" Because the important thing is not to tell the truth, but to get the answer right.
"Would you tell me if you were?"
"Ah. Well. Actually, no. Not if you asked." Oh, Rodney.
"Which I just did."
"Yes, you did. But no, of course not. Don't be ridiculous. Why would I try to seduce you?"
John stood up and stepped closer to Rodney. "You're sweating."
"I should go."
"No, don't. We haven't had any brownies yet."
"Are you going to?"
"If you want, yeah. Just not right now."
Rodney sat abruptly, looking up at John. He definitely was redder in the face, John thought. "Summers and Simpson say they're very good brownies," he said after a minute. John pulled the chair Rodney sat in toward the bed, then sat on the bed so their knees bumped. "Summers is a good cook," Rodney continued a little breathlessly. "Though I'm not sure if Parrish is." John leaned forward, looking into Rodney's eyes. "She also makes this tea . . ." Rodney is completely ready to spill. And it isn't just because he's flustered. He's also equivocating over doing this under false pretenses, slipping Sheppard roofies. Even though they aren't roofies at all, they just might encourage John to go with the flow a little. Rodney said, his voice trailing off. John leaned closer. He was teasing Rodney, but at the same time, it felt good to sit so close to him, to feel the warmth of Rodney's body, to study his face. "John," Rodney said softly, and leaned a centimeter closer.
I could kiss you, John thought, and it wasn't shocking or weird at all. It seemed easy. They'd done everything else by now -- bathed together in ritual ceremonies, performed the most intimate functions in front of each other out of necessity on uninhabited worlds, slept bundled together with inadequate shelter, fed each other by hand, comforted each other when injured, stood guard over each other when unconscious, saved each other's lives time and time again. What was a kiss between two people so bound? Yes. Exactly.
John kissed him. Rodney kissed him back, reaching for John, pulling at him, moaning into his mouth, eating him up. John had been prepared: this was Rodney, who never did anything by half measures. He tugged, and Rodney almost fell out of the chair and onto John, pushing him back onto his bed. "Okay, yes, I was going to try to seduce you, what gave it away?" Rodney whispered into his ear, making the hair on the back of John's neck rise and his skin prickle with excitement.
"The drugged brownies," he whispered back, licking Rodney's lips and into his mouth. "Which we are so going to eat after this." Let this be a lesson! You cannot keep secrets from John Sheppard, as he is the law.
"God, I love chocolate," Rodney said, grinding into John's hips, rubbing against him, groaning with pleasure. John thought his dick was on fire with friction; it felt so good. "Food of the gods."
"Yeah, theobromine," John moaned, "and aporphine."
"How the -- oh, oh, Christ," Rodney said. "Get your goddamn clothes off. If we're going to do this, let's do it right." Chemistry as dirty talk. Very nice.
That sounded good to John. They stripped, and John thought again how inevitable this seemed after all they'd been through. "Remember farting on that planet?"
"Remember the jam?"
"Remember swimming, but it was so salty it left us coated with brine?"
"Remember kneeling outside that temple for half a day while the priests decided whether or not we could come in to see if that was a ZPM?"
"Remember when those assholes kidnapped you?" He stared into Rodney's eyes, frozen in memory for a moment. Rodney stopped undressing and stared back. John remembered how blue his eyes had been in the flashlight, how pale and cold and quiet he'd been.
"I remember," Rodney said, quiet again for a moment. He dropped his eyes, but almost instantly raised his chin and looked defiantly at John, undressing again. His bravery made John smile, and his heart clutch in his chest. Because Rodney doesn't do things by half-measures, it's true. He commits, he throws himself into things, then screens it all with bluster. But he can't bluster here, it's too intimate a moment. And it isn't intimate because they're taking their clothes off (not that undressing makes it less intimate, either) but because they're sharing memories, little and big. Their lives, twisted up together already.
By now they were naked, and John pulled Rodney back onto the bed. He ran his hands down Rodney's body. "I can't believe we haven't done this yet, after everything that's happened."
"I'm sorry I tried to drug you first," Rodney said. "I really, really wanted to do this, but I didn't think you would sober."
"I can't believe someone so smart can be so dumb." Word.
"How did you know about the aporphine?"
"Atlantis loves me," John whispered, mouthing Rodney's throat, biting at his chin. "Everybody loves me." hee. Making Rodney think he's gone all Big Brother.
"You're such an arrogant shit," Rodney said, then kissed John again, harder, as if making a point. He slid his hand between them and grabbed John's dick. "Finally," he said. "Finally."
"Yeah," John said. Rodney pulled harder at John's dick, and John heard himself groan and gasp. "I want -- I want you to --" he panted.
"Yeah, me, too," Rodney said, and they maneuvered awkwardly until Rodney could suck John into his mouth, and John was staring at Rodney's dick, darkly red and swollen. "Suck!" Rodney demanded, then put his mouth back on John. John sucked; Rodney's wasn't the first dick he'd had in his mouth, but it was the first in years and years. Around him, Atlantis shuddered, or maybe that was him, but he felt settled into someplace new. Very fast and very cool, he thought, remembering the slam of car doors, the whoosh of the event horizon, the soundless thrill of a puddlejumper's rise to his silent command. So I'm like emotionally twelve, and can't really comment on sex scenes. Sorry. But that last line? It's perfect. Fantastic. Mira: thank you for writing this. Thank you for writing all of these. Thank you.
Mira: thank you for writing this. Thank you for writing all of these. Thank you.
(if you actually got through this, and wish to comment on my commentary, please feel free to do so here.)