Warnings: Please see this entry for series warnings.
Rodney takes John's radio before he's even touched the bed, calling Bates to inform him their fearless leader is sleeping and the first person to disturb him for short of an alien invasion or call from Earth will be the first testing the new implant.
It seems to get the point across. John gives him a reproachful look but rolls over, falling asleep so fast that Rodney hasn't even peeled his sweat and come-stained pants off.
"Yeah," Rodney mutters, "leave me to do all the work here." Tossing them in the corner--and Atlantis has something like a laundry room, doesn't it?--Rodney checks in with Grodin and almost sighs at the sound of Carson's unhappy Scottish burr in the background.
"How difficult is he being?"
"Not difficult, just perfectionist. He's trying to access nanotech data off the mainframes--"
"We don't have time to learn a whole new technology," Rodney bites off, finding a stash of powerbars he'd liberated from the kitchen. Just thinking of trying to find his own way across Atlantis is too tiring for words, and John, curled up around a pillow in bed, is too much temptation to resist. "Look, get him started, get some sleep, leave Gaul to watch him. Tell him to check in with me every two hours." Rodney kicks off his shoes and sits down on the edge of the bed. Regular sleep seems like such a luxury right now. "Anything goes wrong--and impress on him what I consider going wrong--call me immediately."
"Put the shield up, I can set my codes from here to keep it up. Simpson can handle the rest. Same orders." Turning the radio off, Rodney debates putting it up, but settles for putting it on the bedside table, eating a powerbar as he finds his spare laptop and hooks it up, flicking on security while he rummages the bathroom for a first aid kit. John barely moves as Rodney cleans the cut, taping it carefully after. "I should have made you shower first," Rodney says ruefully, touching the dark bruising crisscrossing one shoulder and down his arm. John makes a soft sound, swollen mouth curving up in a sleepy smile before he drifts again.
Getting his laptop, Rodney nudges John until he moves over, kicking off his shoes and settling down with John a warm presence against his side, starting his second powerbar as he checks Grodin's work and resets the security codes to his own. Just in case Elizabeth gets any bright ideas of freeing her people early or trying to use the gate.
Rubbing his forehead, Rodney looks down at John's peaceful face and wonders if it's really worth the effort of keeping Elizabeth alive if they're going to have to watch their backs every second.
"I can hear you thinking."
Rodney frowns down, but John's eyes are still mostly closed. "You know, sleep? Good thing if you're wandering off to attack another planet. Or so I've heard."
John reaches down lazily, pulling at the blankets until Rodney slides off the bed, stripping off his pants and leaving them in a pile by the bed before getting back in. Laundry, soon. Not that they don't have enough clean clothes to see them through the next month. But still. "Sleep," Rodney says, running his fingers through John's hair, watching it fall over slitted hazel eyes.
"I'm fine," John says, breaking into a yawn. "You should. I can--" he yawns again, stretching, and Rodney tries not to watch the ripple of muscle under smooth skin. "Watch."
Rodney snorts. "I have every security protocol I could find on the door. And anyway, Elizabeth's sleeping, or so Bates said. He left Lorne to watch."
"Good call." John's eyes slit open. "Can I have my radio--"
Pulling a pillow more comfortably under his head, John watches Rodney thoughtfully. "You know we're not safe until there's no SGC presence in Pegasus," he says reasonably. Rodney bites off a piece of powerbar in answer, frowning at his laptop. "And it'll be easy. The SGC is Air Force."
Rodney rolls his eyes. "You were Air Force."
John smiles. "When did you read my file?"
"Didn't yet," Rodney admits, trying not to smile back. "Public
"Black ops." Rodney blinks. "Yeah, that's kind of on the far side of information no one ever wants anyone to know, but it's there somewhere." John rubs his nose into Rodney's upper arm, making a low sound in the back of his throat. "I was very, very good."
Rodney swallows. "I should have known."
"Should have," John says, and Rodney feels the touch of moist lips. "Don't worry. You'll be safe. Bates knows his life depends on you while I'm gone."
Rodney turns his head, looking down at John incredulously. "Of course I'll be fine. It's just--" Rodney thinks of Teyla and Halling, the SGC and their arsenals, and John's inability to see the difference between risky and flat out suicidal.
John pulls himself up on one elbow, eyes searching Rodney's for a second. "Bates--"
"You're an idiot. You're going off to a planet of hostile aliens and SGC personnel with less than twenty people and some guns. In a shocking turn of events, I'm worried you won't come back. Sue me."
John stares at him a minute. "Huh."
Giving up, Rodney leans back against the pillows, setting his laptop on the floor. It'll alert him to suspicious activity. "Believe it or not, I've gotten used to you."
Rodney can feel John's smile against his shoulder. "Don't be worried."
"Oh, that helps."
John's mouth is warm and soft against his throat, a nuzzle that ends with Rodney giving up, stretching out with John beneath the thin blankets. "This conversation isn't over," he warns, but John's warm and close, strong arms pulling Rodney down. Closing his eyes, the steady beat of John's heart lulls him into sleep.
"What did you do?"
Moments of severe cognitive dissonance are rare--the universe isn't that unpredictable. But right now, standing in the gateroom after ten solid hours of sleep (and he's talking to John about that one), John Sheppard in a black and grey SGC uniform, straight back, standing at attention in front of Weir, with--
"McKay?" John says, deadpan, but the hazel eyes give it away.
Rodney comes down the stairs two at a time, ignoring Weir's smirk as he reaches up, fingering the razor cut edges. "Your hair…."
John's eyebrows arch in amusement. "SGC has regulations. If I'm going to pull this off, I have to look like I know what they are." And weirdly, Rodney's beginning to think he can. Clean shaven, shorter hair, the high cheekbones look even sharper, and maybe it's the sex and sleep, but the perpetual edge of barely-checked violence seems farther beneath the surface of his skin. It's almost a completely different person looking back at him. He could pass for normal. Hell, he could pass for an Air Force officer in good standing.
He's still John, though, in that for a gateroom without the potential for sudden outbreaks of violence, he's armed to the teeth. Elizabeth is nodding her approval. "The rest of your men?"
"Getting ready." John snaps off a salute, making Elizabeth laugh before she takes a report from someone that Rodney doesn't recognize. The glimpse of an anklet, however, gives it away.
"He one of her people?" Rodney asks, tilting his head.
John shrugs. "We pulled a couple of hers." John glances at Grodin, who looks well-rested and slightly pale. Rodney wonders idly what John's been doing up here. "Grodin's got them all in the computer." John flashes a smile at Grodin, and Rodney watches in satisfaction as his least favorite tech flinches away from them both. "We got the call."
"What?" Rodney pushes by John, kicking Grodin's chair from the
communications relay. "I wasn't called? Why wasn't I called?" A few taps pulls up the databurst--short and to the point, routine except for the fact that Rodney's worked with the military half his life and in every even, non-inflammatory word is the language of fear. Something's gone wrong. "Okay, they're having problems?" He turns a narrow look on Grodin.
"Breathe," John says behind him, and Rodney turns the look on John, who puts both hands up. "Hey. It was less than ten minutes ago and you were in the shower. They didn't seem to want an answer, so we waited for you to get up here."
"Right," he says, reading through the information. Supply requisitions, deployment, two more Athosians captured, unidentified intruders-- "Wait. Intruders…."
John leans a hand onto the console. "They ran across something," John says, leaning over Rodney's shoulder, filling the air with the scent of clean skin and John. It's a little dizzying. "Some people disappeared. Unfamiliar ships were seen in the sky." Long fingers brush the air just in front of the screen. "Very kidnapped by aliens."
Rodney scrolls down, skimming the information. "It looks like they sent this data to the SGC a few weeks back."
When he looks, John is frowning. "What?"
"We have the transmission logs up yet?" he asks, and Rodney gestures sharply at Grodin, still flattened against the rail. "Okay. Get me--six weeks back, when they started cutting rations. And see what was in that databurst."
"John?" Elizabeth sounds worried.
"Shut up," Rodney says, as Grodin sends over the information. "Okay. Looks like the SGC found something here they didn't like." Or didn't like them. Either one works for Rodney. "Christ, they're coding this like they think they're at war…"
"Or they think there's intelligent life in the Pegasus galaxy after all," John says, reading over his shoulder. "Look, here and here--they're not asking for supplies, they're waiting for orders." John whistles softly. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think they were preparing to move out."
Rodney reads between the lines. "Abandon Pegasus?" he says, feeling a sudden chill run down his spine. Thinking of the cut rations, the lower environmentals, the well-stocked kitchen, Teyla and the other Athosians held too long. Doubling up on cells. "Conserving power," Rodney says slowly, and Elizabeth's suddenly right beside them, reading along. "John--"
"Yeah." Touching his radio, John steps back. "Lorne, get everyone awake and in the gateroom, full gear. One hour. Sheppard out."
"All Sumner's notes, everything, we need it now," John says, and Rodney's picking up his urgency. John's military trained and paranoid by nature. If this is spooking him, there's something there to be spooked about. "I--"
"We don't have time to interrogate Sumner," Rodney says, meeting John's eyes. For a second, there's nothing there, just blank, thinking silence, and John nods shortly. "Right. Get him, take him to the infirmary. We'll meet you there." Turning to Grodin, Rodney waits until he looks up. "Any transmissions, call." John's already going out the door, Elizabeth a step behind him. Shoving his radio in his ear, Rodney keys it. "Miko, Gaul, Simpson, get to the gate room."
"Sir?" Grodin looks warily from the computer to Rodney and back again.
"Get someone at every station and bring weapons on-line. They're expecting a reply and soon. If they call back, do whatever you can to keep them on the line until Sheppard can listen in. I'll be in the infirmary."
Carson's frowning absently when he hands over the bottles, which doesn't bode well. Going through them, Rodney identifies the ones he'll need. "He's conditioned," Rodney says, getting out a syringe. "Mix me something stronger if this doesn't work."
From the corner, Cadman nods even as Carson makes unhappy noises, still working over his microscope. "If you want this implant completed--"
"Yeah yeah, Laura. You did interrogations, right?"
"Among other things." One long fingered hand runs over Carson's shoulders soothingly. "Don't worry, I checked. These should work." Reaching over, she taps two bottles. "Watch these. He's still coming off a heroin addiction, so his heart could stop."
"As long as he talks first, I don't care."
Picking up the packet, Rodney spares a glare at Carson, but he can't fault the man for his devotion to his work. Turning, he comes in sight of the first isolation room, blinking a little at the white on white of a sterile environment, the bodies twitching beneath thin blankets. Shaking himself, he turns away. Really, really don't want to know.
Coming in to the observation room overlooking the main surgical suite, Rodney sees Elizabeth already waiting, arms crossed over her chest, tense and fragile, her entire body radiating worry. Coming up beside her, Rodney looks down to see the room's been cleared, Ford in a chair on one side of the room, Bates on the other side, watching him steadily. "He's in withdrawal," Elizabeth says disapprovingly. "How do they even get drugs out here?"
"You can always get drugs," Rodney answers, searching for a chair. One materializes almost under him, and Rodney blinks before looking up at John. "Right. Where were you hiding?"
John smirks, but the shadow in his eyes doesn't fade. "Whatcha got?"
"Sodium pentothal, some Carson variations thereof, useless crap for the most part" Rodney says, picking up each bottle. "Crystal meth. Oh, heroin." He tilt his head. "Answers the question on where he got his drugs, if this is in the regular supplies."
"Nice." John smiles, eyes fixed on Ford through the glass. "He'll be easy."
Rodney follows John's gaze. Grey-skinned and panting harshly, sweating even though the room is chilled. "Does he even know--"
"Won't know until I ask." John reaches for the box, pausing briefly as he meets Rodney's eyes. "You staying to watch?"
He hadn't planned on it, but-- "Yeah. It's not like there's an entire city out there that needs my attention," he says, leaning back as Sheppard tucks the box under one arm.
John smiles, soft-mouthed and slow. "Thirty minutes," he says, giving Elizabeth a nod before going out the far door.
Rodney feels Elizabeth leaning in beside him as John goes down.
It's annoyingly fast, after all: ten minutes in, Ford's blissed out and happier than anyone has a right to be, lolling in his restraints while Bates and two security start clean up. John shakes his head, watching Ford with narrowed, thoughtful eyes.
Elizabeth is standing when John comes back in, frowning down as Bates drags him away. "You think he told the truth?"
"He'd bend over and let me fuck him dry for this," John says, tilting the tiny bottle with a lazy grin. "Here's what he knows. There's something picking off people. Triangular shaped ships beam them up, definitely not Asgard, or so the SGC says. Athosians have been making a lot of noise about it, but the usual not listening to the non-technologically advanced natives is going on." One eyebrow arches. "So maybe Teyla should start talking less about vengeance against her oppressors and open wide about what the fuck is going on?"
Elizabeth frowns, leaning back into the glass. "Wraith. She said the cullings were rare, however. I wonder--"
Rodney feels something turn over in his stomach She would have let John walk right into that without warning. "And when were you going to share that bit of trivia?"
Watching John go from casual to predatory never stops being fascinating. Rodney's pretty sure the temperature of the room drops at least five degrees in the time it takes for John to lower the bottle.
Elizabeth seems to notice, straightening off the glass, eyes darting to check her exits. Rodney could have told her she didn't have any. John always covered all exits, even when he didn't need to. Licking her lips, her eyes flicker to Rodney. Right. Relaxing in his chair, he waits to see what she'll do.
"Teyla had--stories," she says, slowly straightening. John doesn't move, but somehow, he seems to be close enough to strangle her. "There's no way I could have known that they're--. It's been years, stories of aliens from the sky--"
"That come in tiny ships and take off humans with magical beams of light?" John says, deceptively casual. "Yes, that's not something you should have mentioned when we were planning this, before I took twenty people through the gate and into hostile territory."
Elizabeth's chin lifts. "I needed more information. Teyla couldn't tell me much beyond their existence."
"Anything else?" he says, voice low and edged, feral like something that had never seen a cage, and Rodney remembers when the guards would bring John back from Sumner. Nothing human looking out at him, crouched in the corner of the room, and Rodney remembers coaxing him into bed with leading touches and soft words, bringing back John from wherever Sumner sent him.
Wherever Elizabeth's sent him can't be much better, and Rodney stands up. They can't lose Elizabeth yet. "John."
For a second, John doesn't move, but nearly six months of patient work, the attention to detail that made Rodney the most brilliant physicist in two galaxies, aren't wasted. John snaps out with an audible click, flicking to Rodney. "Next time."
"Next time, I'll load your gun myself."
John nods shortly, flicking the bottle into the box, eyes on Elizabeth with cool evaluation. Then he cuts her out like she's not there. "Bates is taking care of Ford. I'm going down to brief my men." With a nod at Rodney to make his point, John turns sharply, light controlled step, and Rodney almost feels sorry for the next person to meet John, because they are so fucked.
When the door closes, Elizabeth breathes out, watching the door before turning to Rodney. "You can't possibly think you can--" She stops, eyes narrowing. "You can't think you can hold Atlantis with just Sheppard."
"I think I could probably take over the entire Pegasus Galaxy with John," Rodney says. "The thing is, I don't really want to. Not yet anyway. Though you're making it hard to stop myself if you're going to be this stupid."
Leaning into the glass, her eyes flicker ot the door again. "He's unstable."
"He's probably the most stable person you're ever going to meet, unless you keep pulling shit like this. You want Atlantis? Fine. I want the technology. Let's make this easy on us both. You can't do it without us.
But I'm pretty sure we can do it without you." The dark eyes narrow. "I
can tell John that you're an unacceptable threat and you don't walk out of this room."
Elizabeth doesn't move. "If that were true, I wouldn't still be alive."
Rodney doesn't like it that she knows that. "Or I have a solution. We never find out."
Elizabeth crosses her arms. "You're asking me to trust you."
"I'm telling you none of us have a *choice* if this is going to work. You want followers, you want your own kingdom, you want to be high priestess of the fucking *fish*, I don't *care*. But we can't work like this."
He watches her face, not giving a thing away, fingers tapping
arrhythmically against her arm. "Separation of interest."
Rodney nods slowly. "Yes," he says, and he doesn't have to like it, but it's not like anything better is occurring to him. "Lead Atlantis to a glorious future, whatever. But we stay in the loop. All information comes to me and John. And in return, you won't have to worry every time you close your eyes."
"And John?" Her voice is deceptively light, and Rodney picks up his box.
"He has exactly what he wants," Rodney says, thinking of John and the jumper, touching Atlantean controls, asleep in bed, fighting with Teyla. "Gateroom? Before John gets bored and starts a war for the hell of it?"
Elizabeth mouth tightens, but she follows Rodney to the door and Rodney keys his radio. "John? We're on our way down. How close are you to ready?"
John's voice comes back, calm and comfortingly amused. "We'll leave when you get down here. Have fun?"
Rodney flicks a look at Elizabeth. "More than words can adequately express. McKay out." Going out the door, flicks his radio off, catching Elizabeth's sideways glances. "What?"
The dark eyes meet his. "Do you really think you can keep Sheppard under control?" she says, sounding honestly curious. Rodney gives himself a second to imagine that he hadn't stopped John, then shakes it away.
"I know I can."
John's got everyone suited, doing something to vests and checking the weapons that Lorne must have gotten from the armory, sending half to the jumper bay as he finishes final checks on the remainder. Grodin, showing more sense than Rodney had ever given him credit for, had unearthed the IDCs and he and Simpson were programming them. Rodney checks their work from habit, blinking as John breaks open a crate and starts issuing what seem to be small, easily portable rocket launchers.
"I was actually joking about him starting a war," Rodney says when Elizabeth comes up beside him. There are more weapons than he can identify scattered among the men, including Teyla and Halling. Rodney wonders if that's a good idea.
Leaning over Grodin's shoulder, Rodney reads the data on Athos, skimming over the blueprints for the SGC base, the known Athosian camps, and most recent inventory manifest.
Glancing at John, he watches him straighten Lorne's vest, smoothing long fingers down the front, checking each Velcro strap, hands quick and busy. Lorne watches Sheppard a lot like Rodney's pretty sure he does, which isn't reassuring at all. From the corner of his eye, he catches
Elizabeth's smirk and fights the urge to say something.
Besides, he has the perfect excuse to call John away. "John."
Hazel eyes flicker up, and with a final pat, John takes the stairs two at a time, giving Elizabeth a bright smile before circling around, leaning in on Grodin's other side, taking the IDC Grodin offers.
"This is your code. Before coming through the gate, send that through and contact us so we can lower the shield. Otherwise. Think bug and a windshield. Got it? Check-in every four hours."
John smirks, nodding as he tucks it into one of many, many pockets. "Those are for Lorne and Cadman," Rodney says as Grodin hands over the second and third. "But tell them if I see theirs and you're not with them, I'll put them right back through the gate and collapse it while they're still inside."
"I'll do that." John looks up, jerking his head at someone behind Rodney's back. "All right, anything else I should know?" John's gaze flickers to Elizabeth, holding her in clear green hostility. Her face remains blank, but Rodney can almost see her wishing she could take a step back.
"If I knew more, I'd tell you." She pauses, head tilting back to meet his eyes, serious and sincere, like only Elizabeth Weir can ever be. She might even mean it. "Be careful."
John smirks. "Won't be a problem." Stepping back, John unhooks his P-90, and Rodney has a flash of skin on skin, brief and hot, before John's leading everyone to the jumper bay, where the other half the expedition is already waiting, ready to go to a planet that Elizabeth's already lied about once.
As the gate comes to life, Rodney looks at Elizabeth. "All deals are off if he doesn't come back." From behind him, Rodney can feel Bates' quiet affirmation.
Elizabeth looks at them both soberly. "They'll come back."