"Get *back* here, Colonel!"
John forces himself not to turn around, because there's no way in hell he'll be able to stop laughing.
"I'm on a mission. For food. The kind that doesn't come wrapped in foil."
Behind him, John can hear rapid footsteps, a stumble, a curse, and John, who knows his Rodney, sends a mental command back to the door, just in time for it to slam shut in Rodney's extremely pissed face.
Oh, he'll pay for that, but damned if it isn't fun.
Also, he should be moving faster. Really, really much faster.
Down this hall, skip the mess because Rodney will go there first, his quarters, no way in hell, God knows what Rodney will do when he catches up. Hide out with Teyla, which will lead to the kind of embarrassment he could live without, gym, too many people and Rodney *likes* an audience. They both know the city too well. This could be interesting.
He passes two Marines and that Asian lab tech, and tries to look casual and not like he's running for his life, but the grin must give him away, because they look at him like he's crazy. When they see Rodney, which should be when he gets the lock disengaged--thirty-five seconds, tops--they'll know for sure.
The radio cackles to life. "You are a walking dead man. Colonel."
John turns down a less deserted hallway. "I bet you say that to all your favorite officers. How's that lock, by the way."
"Dead and *buried*. Did I mention the buried part?" There's a sparkle of that sounds electric and burning. Rodney grunts something. It never ceases to amaze John that the same man who complains about a *bruise* will never notice near-electrocution.
But he should check. "You okay, McKay?" To be safe, John turns down another hall before pausing to listen.
"No thanks to *you*." A sizzling sound, then the unmistakable grunt of triumph. John checks his watch. Perfect timing. "They'll never find your body."
"Sure they will." John checks his location. Explored, but unused. Good enough. Sixty feet, and he gets another corner. "You know, McKay--"
"What are you doing, playing hide and seek?" He's made it to John's quarters, from the sound. Deeply, deeply pissed. So far so good.
John closes his eyes. "What do you think?"
He's played this before, with higher stakes, different motivation. John closes his eyes and lets the city open up around him like a flower, whispers just below the edges of his consciousness.
If Rodney uses the computers, this will be a very, very short game, but John thinks he's learned enough to make it just a little harder.
McKay spent their first few weeks in some realm bouncing between excited and pissed as hell.
"They make us look like--" And those hands, quicksilver fast, John never got enough of watching them; movement was, for McKay, half the message. Sometimes, John thought he could tell everything McKay wanted to say just watching him move. "Like *Neanderthals*."
John, who'd made the mistake of checking in on the civilians before bed, was trapped in a corner, too far from the door to casually make his way out without being spotted. The sane people had gone to bed. Of course, no one would ever mistake McKay for someone sane.
"You know, I'd better--" John slid out a foot toward the door.
"Exploration alone will take years! Decades!" McKay turned in a circle, arms spread to indicate the entire city, almost *gloating*. John wished a little wistfully, that undiluted McKay exposure hadn't made that almost cute. "What we'll discover--the sheer *scope*--"
"I've heard this speech." Another foot.
"And you really don't appreciate it." Grounded, McKay gave him an annoyed look. "You know, by now, I thought the sheer magnitude of what we're doing would have sunk in. I'm sorry. Did you want some nice space bimbos to make it more interesting?"
John coughed on a laugh. "Yes, that's why I came. Not because you held me prisoner in your lab. Because I wanted to get an intergalactic lay." Though come to think, that would definitely be interesting. "Am I trapped here for a reason?"
McKay waved him toward the door. "Of course not, Major. I wouldn't expect you to understand." And like that, John felt the attention turn off, as easily and sharply as John could turn off the lights with a thought.
McKay did that sort of thing a lot. John stopped for a second, watching McKay go to his laptop, probably completely forgetting John was there.
Going to the door, John thought it open, just to annoy McKay, but he was already deeply involved in whatever was on his screen. "And. Eleven years, six months, thirteen days, and five hours." John stopped, watching the long back straighten. "Roughly."
For a second, John wasn't sure McKay would fall for it. But he did, because of all the things he'd learned about Rodney McKay, his biggest button was that there could be something out there he didn't know.
"That's how long it will take us to explore it." John paused, adding maliciously. "If your calculations on area were accurate. Night."
He closed the door with a thought--that would never, ever stop being cool--but he let himself look back once, just to see.
McKay was staring at him with narrowed, thoughtful eyes, and John saw him stand up just before the door shut between them.
The biggest problem with using computer location is that it isn't three dimensional--and John's heard Rodney's exasperation on this subject before. He suspects the problem is they don't know how to read the data, but Rodney wouldn't admit that without a gun to his head, so….
Crouching, John watches Rodney walk under the catwalk, and he's learned a lot about how to search. Moving almost as quietly as John could--nothing really replaces life or death for training on how to be quiet, but Rodney does his damndest--carefully watching. John ducks back and holds his breath as Rodney looks up, knowing the angle gives him about an inch on either side of clearance, but not more than that.
Rodney's quiet, and he's careful, methodical with a handheld lifesigns monitor, turning a slow circle as John drops to a crawl, making his slow way down the catwalk, listening to Rodney circle beneath him, trying to make sense of two dimensions of area in a three dimensional room.
John's already in the next room when Rodney figures out his mistake.
Maybe this will take longer than he thought.
"Okay, this is *cool*." John looked over the collection in front of them. McKay's artificial gene made his presence redundant, but when it was something especially weird, he was still expected to report, and the habit had been established far too early for John to bother breaking it now.
And really. Cool.
"We don't even know what they do." McKay's voice behind him was low with repressed excitement. Any second, he'll explode--McKay wasn't one to hide his feelings, and he'd been mainlining coffee since five am.
"It looks like a game, doesn't it?" Tiny things like small, brightly colored rocks, but they glittered oddly, catching light in unexpected, geometrically inappropriate ways. John tried not to look at them directly.
"Or possibly a collection of small, easily concealed bombs."
Way too much coffee. McKay usually didn't hit worse case scenario this fast. John reached for one, then hesitated. "Besides sudden, painful death, any theories on what they are?"
"Actually, yes." And Rodney's arm snaked around John, picking up one. The glitter exploded in brilliance, and John couldn't make himself look away. The room was alive with color--blue-green-purple, like a technicolored disco ball--and John almost thought he could hear music, something piped and old, light and sharp. All the edges of the room were pointed and focused, and John thought he could hear voices from across the city.
Cool. Very, very cool.
John tried not to blink, failed, and became abruptly aware of the fact that Rodney was just behind him, close enough to not quite touch, warm enough to not quite feel, the sleeve of his jacket brushing John's bare arm, every thread scraping like sandpaper.
Warm breath against his ear. "You try."
John turned his head, breath catching at Rodney's eyes so close, bluer than anything found in nature. He felt something drop into his palm, and all that color, and more not-quite-music, and John said, absolutely no idea why, voice breathless and too high,
"So, the Ancient equivalent of an acid trip?"
Rodney grinned. Warm, rough fingers brushed his palm, a quick stroke of two fingers before pulling the stone away, and John felt it like a hand sliding up his bare back. "You really have to wonder, don't you?"
John blinked himself back into the mundane lab, plain overheads, long white tables, more computers than any one person could possibly need, and Rodney, no longer too close and too personal, but still watching. The stones were just too-pretty, too-glittery stones, but John could still feel that touch.
"I better get back," he heard himself say, and he even *sounded* drugged. McKay's head tilted, then he turned away, waving a hand at the door in dismissal.
"You do that."
O'Neill had said, 'more', but he couldn't have really meant, you will be a very bad diplomat, and a weirdly unenthusiastic leader, and sometimes, you'll deal with crazy people, and sometimes, they won't even be *your* people.
Sometimes, you'll wake up after making terrible decisions and go back to sleep and sometimes, you won't. Sometimes, you'll be a pilot and sometimes, you'll be a soldier, and sometimes, you'll be an explorer, but sometimes, you'll just be the guy who can make the lights come on.
And sometimes, you won't be any of those things, and John wishes O'Neill had told him that part, just said it straight out. He's been alone too long, John realizes with a start, instincts listening for Rodney, the rest of him barely in this room at all. He's been here for a year, but he'd been alone too long before that. He'd forgotten how to be anything else.
The lights stay off--John thinks *off* at every room that looks like it might want to say hi, *off, off, off*, because Rodney's doing just fine on his own and doesn't need the city to help him any more than it already does. John thinks, *I'm hiding*, at it, but he can't be sure that kind of command will be understood. The Ancients, so far, haven't given the impression they had a sense of humor.
If he closes his eyes, he thinks he can almost feel him, Rodney, who doesn't stalk well but makes up for it in sheer, dogged determination. If genius was, in fact, ninety-nine percent perspiration, Rodney had earned that title fairly.
His radio crackles to life. "What did you just do?"
"Oh, good, you're alive. Because the life signs indicator just gave the impression you were *dead*."
John leans against a wall, grinning. The Ancients were much cooler than he'd thought. "Wow."
Rodney's voice is reluctant, like he's fighting his instincts. "I'm almost impressed." Translated, wow, you totally put my ass on the floor with *that* one. This could lead to scary amounts of research, and time spent on a stool in Rodney's lab when he could be doing pretty much *anything* else, and yes, John is already filing this away as *tactical advantage*, but still. "How much longer are you going to keep this up?"
Tongue in cheek, John stands back up and glances down a dark hallway before sliding through the first of several adjoining rooms. "Until you go away. Really, Rodney, I was getting *claustrophobic* in there. You have your own Ancient gene. Play with it. Leave mine alone."
Rodney snorts. "You know, sometimes you fool me into thinking that you occasionally engage in *rational thought*. This isn't one of those times. I have better things to do than waste my time running after you."
He's closer. He sounds too smug.
"But you still do it. Right now, even."
The radio falls silent. John almost cheats and checks his own lifesigns indicator, but they've both chosen their ground and their weapons, and adding a new one in wouldn't be sporting. John plays fair; he always has.
Rodney, doesn't, though.
"It'd be easier," Rodney says, and John stops short at the reluctant admission in his voice, like this is something he'd pretty much rather be disemboweled than say, "if you didn't make me want to."
They didn't fight like normal people fought. John didn't carry grudges and Rodney always forgot he was supposed to hold one until it was too late and well, no point in going cold and mean in the middle of team night. Especially when John was the one holding the popcorn hostage.
John found that funnier more often than not.
John almost sighed but didn't. Rodney acted like every planet was after his ass for ritual sacrifice, and the thing was, at this point, it was habit, really, like a stylized Japanese play. John did the intrepid/explorer/leader bit, and rather well if he said so himself, Teyla was silent strength, Ford boundless youthful optimism, and Rodney the voice of doom.
Comforting, even, that life could get to a point where you could turn around and predict the next five words out of your teammate's mouth, reliably sure that they will involve death, x-rays from space, evil aliens, allergens run amok, or a sad lack of convenient bathrooms.
Though John would agree with the bathroom thing. They were an awful long way from the puddlejumper.
But Rodney just skidded to an awkward stop, leaning over briefly in a showy catching of breath, probably to make John feel guilty for wandering off without him. It would have worked, but Rodney used that same expression when someone took the last piece of carrot cake in the mess, so-- "Yes?"
"Caves." And straightening, Rodney grinned, perfectly content. "I mean, if you want to take a nice walk around the valley, study the flora, you do that, but. Caves. Carvings. And?" He waved the indictator meaningfully. "Energy signals."
Beautiful wildlife. Nice view. Blue skies. Not nearly as interesting. "Okay, show me."
The cave wasn't far, and John wondered if Rodney had found it by falling into it. An easy jump down of less than two yards, with Rodney's resentful glare following him as he landed on his feet. Magnaminously, John took a step back and watched Rodney awkwardly lower himself down, moving quickly as Rodney lost his footing, catching him on the fall down.
Rodney was just as big as he looked, and heavy to boot. John braced himself and still stumbled a little, but luckily, they remained upright, though Rodney ended up leaning into the edge of the hole, dusty and irritated, fingers closed tight over his shoulders. There were going to be bruises, later. "I could have *fallen*."
John snickered into the annoyed blue eyes. "But you didn't." Theatrically, he made a show of dusting off Rodney's vest, grinning wider at the way he rolled his eyes.
"Your rescues leave a lot to be desired." Rodney examined one dust-covered arm for abrasions, and John snickered and tried to step back. Rodney's fingers unaccoutably tightened. Yes, bruises, definitely.
Rodney tore his attention away from the red scrape from upper arm to elbow. No blood, just ugly, and probably stung. John almost mentioned that Rodney'd live through the horror, but he had that irritated look of curiosity again, like an experiment that was living up to all expectations except the part where it actually worked.
The long fingers didn't loosen, and John stood still, trying to work out the conflicting signals of move, stay, ask, don't *ever* ask, this was Rodney, and he'd give an answer whether John was ready or not.
And for a second, John thought Rodney might say something anyway. At the most ridiculous time, in a freaking *hole in the ground*, dusty and in search of a ZPM, so really, what the hell?
Rodney was, of course, someone who never let something like circumstances, bizarre or not, get in the way of observations. "Major--"
John jerked away, and it was overkill, but he could still feel Rodney's fingers in his shoulder even after he was leaning into the cave entrance. Rodney's eyes narrowed dangerously. John pointed at the energy detector. "You said power. Where?" He sounded breathless, like he'd run ten miles in full gear.
Rodney watched him for a second, then nodded sharply.
"All right." Like he was giving up something, and not happy to do so. Rodney liked losing less than most people. There were reasons that Rodney never, ever challenged him at prime not prime anymore.
But he didn't move. "You coming?"
Still that peculiar look, but Rodney nodded shortly, stomping over with all the grace of an elephant. "As usual, right behind you. Lead the way, Major."
He doubles-back, leaving Rodney staring resentfully at a wall that should have been a door and isn't, less than thirty feet away. If he'd only known.
Checking his watch, he's impressed to see that Rodney's lasted this long. Sending a silent thank-you to the city, he heads back to parts familiar. McKay will give up eventually and stomp back to his lab and sulk, and God help John next time they see each other, because he'll be *so screwed*.
But that's Atlantis, that's life, and John comes back to see too many people and too many sounds, misses the hum of the city and the quiet of the deserted portions intensely for a few long minutes before he shakes it off, nodding a polite greeting to a woman who smiles as he passes, continuing to his quarters at an easy pace after a quick check-in with security, who assure him solemnly that all the time John was playing hide and seek, not a single disaster.
All in all, a decent day. He thinks his door open jauntily and walks inside, lights flickering on
"Off," says another voice, low and sharp, and John has just enough time to draw his gun before he recognizes that voice, even in perfect dark. It's silly to stand here with a drawn gun pointed in the vague direction of an exhausted scientist, but at least it's familiar.
"Okay, first, how the hell--"
"Oh please." It's just weird, how Rodney can make his *voice* scowl. "Your door is easier than your reputation implies you are."
John rolls his eyes and holsters the gun, thinking hard at the lights. For a second, they fight him, and John finds himself *pushing*, like some unseen force is working against him. Which would be Rodney. John forces a compromise of lowered lights, almost grinning. Rodney, seated on the edge of the bed, looks at him sourly, but that doesn't hide the pleasure. "You've been practicing."
Rodney frowns to cover. "Yeah, well. Have fun? And are we done with the seven year old portion of the day, or did you want to revert to something in diapers?"
John grins. "Annoying, huh?"
"Beyond words to adequately express." Rodney doesn't move, though, frown fading like he forgot what he was mad about. John checks his email briefly--nothing interesting--then turns back in time to catch a peculiar look that he can't interpret.
There's a sudden welling of sympathy for Ancient mystery objects, magical chairs, and alien technology that comes under Rodney's radar, things that he can't quite understand and won't quit until he does. "What?"
"I've always wondered."
John tries not to twitch. Rodney's never looked at him like that. As far back as John can remember, he's never looked at anyone like that. "Wondered what?"
"What would happen if I waited until you stopped running." Rodney stands up. "If you'd come back."
John doesn't think he retreats--where he comes from, it's regroup and assess--but frankly, a rout by any other name is still a rout, and for the first time, he can't organize his mind enough to think to the door, *open, open, open, please*. Or maybe this time, it doesn't believe him, because he's backed up flat against it, and Rodney looks like he just discovered perpetual motion in a bottle.
"Rodney." His voice sounds normal, but he can't think of a sentence to go with it, forgets what he was going to say when Rodney's fingers slide through his, pinning his hand to the cool metal of the door. A rough thumb brushes into his palm, drawing a thick line from knuckle to base, and John shivers at the feeling.
"Tell me," and God, quiet and dark and certain. The habit was set too early, John thinks. This is something that Rodney wants, something John can give, even if it's not easy.
"Like waiting." Like everything's ready. Like I'm ready. John shivers at breath across his lips, a big hand on the back of his neck, tilting his head, the touch of a warm tongue, as close to asking as Rodney can ever come.
Opening his mouth is the only answer John can give.