Cases of Mistaken Identity

Nov. 13th, 2007 07:30 am

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: John/Rodney

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Slash, language

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Beta: ferret_kitty, saving me from myself and my made up words.

Summary: He'd really expected them to believe him when he explained that he wasn't Rodney McKay, and that in fact, being accused of being Rodney McKay was one of the most ridiculous things he'd ever heard. They hadn't. But he'd expected them to.

Author's Notes: So, someday I'm going to have someone besides John as a narrator. This is not that day. Also, now with crazy!Beta!action. Set somewhere near the beginning of season three, I suppose, so spoiler free.

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In all truth, being kidnapped has kind of become rote for them, after two years in the Pegasus galaxy. That doesn't really make it any less of a drag, or stop the inevitable beatings from hurting any less, or ease the worry about what might happen to his team. It does, however, give him the firm and unbending knowledge that sooner or later they will rescue themselves, or, alternatively, be rescued.

They'd even, got a rating system set up scoring their captors on skill, atmosphere, and general flair. It was Rodney's idea, of course, but John claims a large part of the creative design for his own, and Teyla keeps the files updated.

So far, their present captors aren't doing so hot. They'd gotten low marks for skill when Ronon had staged a nearly successful break out before they'd actually been completely contained, and dropped even further when at first they'd placed his team in one cell. That hadn't lasted long, which had brought a brief climb in their numbers, but still. John was thinking a low five, at best.

He didn't even want to get into atmosphere and flair. These people were disturbingly lacking both.

In fact, his cell was really nothing but a big gray box. A big, empty, gray box. He finished pacing the perimeter for the four hundredth and eighteenth time, put his hands on his hips and sighed. Usually there was hitting by this point. And people demanding to know his secrets, or alternatively ordering him to turn things on. Somehow, the complete boredom was worse.

He's on lap four hundred and thirty-two when the door finally does swing open, and he's surprised by the relatively small number of guards that step into the cell. Usually he warrants at least a half dozen, and mostly they tend to be armed to the teeth. These just look bored. And kind of uncomfortable.

John's contemplating his odds for taking them out when the woman in the center speaks, "I trust your stay has been comfortable, doctor." He blinks at her. And then blinks at her again, before deciding that it must be some kind of weird translation glitch. They'd run into that before. On one world every time Rodney had said 'life signs' the natives had thought he meant sex, and things had gotten awkward really damn fast.

And so he shrugs, and rocks back on his heels, "Oh, yeah, it's real ritzy here. Where are my people?"

She smiles, and it's not the hot-alien-babe smile that he's used to. It's considerably colder and more severe, and now that he thinks about it, her outfit really isn't up to par either. The shapeless neck to ankles lab coat is really not his thing at all.

She steps towards him, but there's nothing flirty there, which is again kind of weird, "Your companions are alive, though perhaps not as comfortable as you. We have, after all, little use for them." And he rolls his eyes on the inside, and sighs, because this is an ATA gene thing, then. He hates those the most.

"Well, then. You're going to let them go, right?" and he already knows the answer to that one, but what's the harm in trying, really? He does hope they haven't done anything too severe with the others. Usually threats turn out to be bluffs, but he hates having to take the chance.

She's smiling again, edging closer, and he ignores the itch in the back of his neck that's making him want to step back. He doesn't give ground, certainly not to little five foot four girls. "Their release is contingent upon you, of course. If you can repair our systems, then we will let you and your companions go...relatively unharmed."

And she's right there. So close he has to crick his neck painfully to be able to look down at her, and there's still nothing at all sexual in the gesture. He thinks it's supposed to be intimidating. Mostly, though, "Repair? I think you've got the wrong-"

When her hand shoots up he assumes she's going to hit him, and raising an arm to block accordingly. But she doesn't. Instead she just holds her hand in front of him, and he goes cross-eyed trying to focus on the small, pink fruit she's holding between her fingers. She's smiling, tight, "Do you know what this is, Doctor McKay?"

He doesn't mean to laugh, really. It's just that he's being threatened. With fruit. And he can't help it.

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He'd really expected them to believe him when he explained that he wasn't Rodney McKay, and that in fact, being accused of being Rodney McKay was one of the most ridiculous things he'd ever heard. They hadn't. But he'd expected them to.

What they had done was drag him through the corridors to a room that was filled with wires and tubes and faintly buzzing metal parts. And then they'd said, "Fix it," and turned around and left.

He's still standing about two feet inside the door, waiting for someone to tell him this is a joke. He's still, in fact, standing there when they wander back into the room, hours later. The woman from before has a tray of food, and she sets it on one of the things that could potentially be a computer. She's pursing her lips, and scowling, and the look reminds him for one of his old English teachers. Says, "We had expected you to finish more than this."

"Yeah. Look, about that-" he's got a big explanation planned. It's good, and it completely explains why he is not and will never be Rodney McKay, or anything like Rodney McKay. He, unfortunately, doesn't get to use it.

"Your Colonel Sheppard asks about you." Which, okay, random but good to know. He wonders which one of the others they think is him. He hopes it's Ronon. "He at first tried to insist that he was you. We were very impressed by his loyal attempts to protect you from your fate, but he need not have worried. No harm will come to you while you are of use to us."

And at first he thinks she's threatening him, and that it's an awfully roundabout way to do it. But then she smiles, frosty, and continues, "The same can not be said for your Colonel. It would be most unfortunate if he were to lose that tongue of his, would it not?"

He just stares, torn between fury and horror and in the very furthest corner of his brain, disjointed amusement. Because they think Rodney's him. Of course they do. And they're threatening to cut out his tongue, and John still trying to wrap his brain around this when his captors turn and march back out of the room.

The woman calls over her shoulder, "If there is no progress when we return we will be forced to take action that your Colonel will, no doubt, regret."

He takes a minute to soak in the utter weirdness of being threatened with, what is essentially, himself. It doesn't make any more sense, and after a moment he gives up, and starts trying to make sense of the mess around him. He thinks it would help if he knew what it was supposed to be, exactly.

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By the time they come back he's got things plugged into other things, and wires twisted together, and they seem to decide that it is progress. Things seem to be going pretty well, comparatively, when the woman spots his untouched food and starts tsking at him.

And then there are guards on him, holding each of his arms and forcing him to his knees, and this is more familiar territory. He waits for the first blow, and is surprised when instead she just gets the tray and carries it over. She's still making vaguely disapproving sounds when she tears the hunk of bread to pieces and then shoves one into his mouth.

He tries to spit it out, reflex because really, what the fuck? And she just holds his mouth shut with one hand, and pinches his nose with the other, and he thrashes but in the end she doesn't let go until he's swallowed. He's still gasping in breath when she shoves the next piece in, and at least this time he's with the program enough to swallow before spots start swimming behind his eyes.

She doesn't stop until she's force fed him the entire meal, even the congealed soup.

And then she pats him on the head, and waves the guards off, and he glares up at her from the ground, trying to judge how much food just got shoved down his windpipe. She's smiling when she says, "We know all about your illness, doctor. Please, do not try to do any harm to yourself."

He spares a thought to wonder how they know so much about them, but then they're dragging him out of the room, back to his cell. He wonders if they're feeding the others, and worries that they're probably not. Mostly, though, he tries to figure out how the hell he's going to get out of here.

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Turns out being Rodney is kind of a huge power trip.

The next time his keepers come to take him off to 'fix' things he braces his feet, locks his knees, crosses his arms, tilts his chin up and says, "I want to see my people." And if he were John Sheppard right now, that would have probably got him a backhand across the face. But he's not, not to these people. He scowls deeper, continues, "I won't fix your-I won't fix anything until I know they're okay."

There's a long moment where the woman just stares up at him, and he glares down his nose at her. He tilts his chin up higher, for more dramatic effect.

And she gives, flashes him a sharp smile and then motions to the guards, says, "Bring him." And apparently that means, grab him by the arms and drag him along. John would complain, but he's still surprised over the whole not being hit in the face thing, and so he keeps his silence. Right up to the point that they yank open another cell and shove him inside. He throws an angry, "Hey," over his shoulder, and the guards push him farther into the room, and then crowd in behind him.

He's surprised by the sharp, familiar voice from the shadows, "Oh my God, you idiots don't stop, do you? I'll have you know I'm trying to sleep here. Not that that's a particularly healthy pursuit. You are aware that stone slabs are not actually meant to be used as-"

He hears one of the guards move, it's hard to see anything in the almost-dark, and then there's the synchronized sound of something slamming into flesh and the woman's voice, "Shut up. You have a guest, come say hello so he can get back to work."

For a moment, silence, heavy and expectant, and John can't take it. He tries to move forward but one of the guards grab him, and so he scowls at him, says, "Ro-uh, John? Is that you?" There's a rustle of movement, and then a quick sharp intake of breath, and then, yes, there's Rodney, stepping towards him. John hears himself hiss, feels a sharp jag of anger down his spine. "God."

Because Rodney's got a black eye, and a bloody lip, and the front of his shirt is covered with it. John makes a move towards him, and the guards tighten their hold and he struggles against them, spitting, "Let me go, or I won't fix anything. Let me go!"

And they do.

Rodney winces when John grabs him, poking and prodding and trying to gauge the damage, whines, "Oh, yes, thanks, that makes it feel so much better. What are you doing?" But John doesn't hear him, not above the hot buzz of anger between his ears.

He spins back to face the guards, finds the woman and points accusingly at her, "What the hell did you hit him for?" And then, because it doesn't really matter, "Don't do it anymore. Or I won't-"

He doesn't get the chance to finish the threat, she's rolling her eyes, drawling, "Or you won't fix our mainframe. We got that, thanks." She flashes him a viciously sharp smile, and he thinks she's on to him, that she's got to be on to him, but she only says, "We are not stupid."

John opens his mouth to insist that, yes, they really, really are, but Rodney's already talking. "Opal's only doing her job, um, Rodney. Isn't that right?" And it's just weird, the way the woman shifts her entire focus to Rodney, the way a blush darkens her cheeks and the way she ducks her head. He doesn't like it. At all.

He shoves between her and Rodney, scowling, arms crossing again of their own volition, "I want to patch him up. I'm not going to-"

"Yes, yes. As I said, we understand." The roll of her eyes is almost audible this time, and then she's waving the guards out of the room, and following them with one long last look back at Rodney, eclipsed by John. There's a long moment of silence after the door slams shut.

And then, "It's too much to hope that this is where the daring rescue attempt comes into play, isn't it?"

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Rodney's got bruises in all kinds of pretty shapes and colors across his chest and back, revealed only after they had a fifteen minute argument over the merits of him actually taking his shirt off. After it's off, while Rodney shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, John kind of wishes he'd left it on. He mutters, "Christ. What did you say to them?"

And Rodney scoffs, and that drags John's attention back up to the swollen red of his mouth. "I didn't say anything to them. They didn't even say anything to me. Apparently they're under the impression that you're some kind of giant stress ball."

John scowls, because he'd almost forgotten that these marks on Rodney's skin where kind of somehow his fault, and the reminder burned. He hands Rodney his shirt back, satisfied at least that no ribs are broken, that there's no internal bleeding. Rodney tugs it back on immediately, like he's pulling on armor, muffling his own voice, "Why do they think I'm you, anyway?"

He watches the stretch of the shirt over Rodney's shoulders, watches Rodney tug awkwardly at the hem. He only tears his eyes away when Rodney snaps his fingers in front of his face, snaps, "For the record, I do not act like you are when I'm in your place." Rodney pauses, John can almost hear him thinking back over the words. "My place." Pause, and then, "What, with the stripping and poking and all."

And John doesn't mean to snap, "Maybe you should." But he does, and Rodney goes still, staring at him, head cocked to one side. John opens his mouth, closes it again, then gets his breath, "I mean-" He's spared having to explain what he means by the cell door swinging back open, by Opal and her ever present guards stomping back in.

"Are you satisfied now, you have much work ahead of you."

John hesitates, and Rodney pushes him gently on the shoulder, and John can see blood smeared over the pale lines of his fingers. His voice is low, keyed for John's ears, "It's okay." And so he lets the guards pull him out of the room, sparing one last look for Rodney, with his bright blue eyes and his bloodied red lips.

When Rodney winks, John thinks that maybe he's getting a little bit too much into John's character.

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He dreams about Rodney, when they finally let him sleep, his brain numb with trying to figure out how to do the impossible. At first he even thinks it's going to be a good dream, since they've been starring Rodney more and more frequently these days, anyway.

It's promising right up to the point that he winds his fingers around Rodney's shoulder to pull him around and his palm goes all warm and wet and he knows it's blood, that infallible dream knowledge just there. And Rodney's turning towards him, exhaustion lining his face, blood covering his chin, and John wakes up in a cold sweat.

He doesn't sleep again. He doesn't dare.

When in the morning Opal asks if he needs to see his Colonel again he says no, ignoring the way her eyes narrow, the way her entire expression turns cool and calculating. He just tilts his chin up and glares and they lead him back to the ruined systems and leave him there with their impossible expectations.

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It takes John a little over two days to decide that being Rodney is completely exhausting. He's beginning to think that he prefers just being beat a little bit and then left alone to this constant expectation to pull miracles out of his ass and the force feedings.

The worst part is they're not giving him any of the opportunities they usually do to escape. No one gets cocky after beating the shit out of him, no hot alien girls get close enough for him to charm. They just transport him between his cell and the mainframe and ignore him, except for Opal's offer to let him see Rodney at the beginning and end of every shift. He doesn't dare say yes, not with the anger so hot in his chest.

He's starting to think they might be driving him crazy.

He's sucking on his knuckles, trying to ease the sting of the electric spark that had danced across them, thinking, taking stock. He doesn't have any weapons. But he does have bunches of metal and electrical supplies and circuit boards. He chews at his thumb, and lets a plan swim up behind his eyes.

They want him to be Rodney. Fine. He knows what Rodney could do with this.

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A day later he's got a bomb. His only worry is that it's a really, really big bomb. He thinks he got sort of carried away at some point, and that there's a good possibility the explosion might take out half the complex they're housed in. But he's got to get out somehow.

And so he sets the timer when he hears the guards coming to take him back to his cell, and figures he'll have to come up with some way to get away from them and the hell out of Dodge in five minutes. He has faith in his abilities. Mostly.

He tries not to startle in surprise when only one guard steps into the room, unaccompanied even by Opal. The man is obviously agitated, and John can't help but wonder if they've been hitting Rodney again, if they haven't listened to him. And he knows he should have just dealt with this tightness in his chest, should have been checking on McKay as often as possible-

But it's not important right now. He's got a plan, and he fully intends to stick to it. He smiles at the guard, tries some of the charm that so rarely lets him down, "Dinner time already?" And starts edging towards the door, wondering how fast he can run, imagining this place blowing to kingdom come behind him, standing victoriously outside the Jumper with the rest of his team.

What he hadn't anticipated was for the guard to take one look at the metal monstrosity in the middle of the floor and go, "What the hell is that? Why is it counting down?" He'd known that the timer was a bit much. But he'd also been gut-sure that bombs should have countdowns in red numbers. The guard tries to push into the room and John shoves back at him.

He's saying, still grasping for charming, "Um. Nothing. It's just the...CPU, it's, um, rewriting its primary circuits so I can-"

The guard isn't listening to him, is reaching up for his radio and knocking hard into John. And it's not like the bomb is going to be spectacularly hard to disarm, a few wires pulled and nothing goes boom, and John curses and figures what the hell, he's taken on bigger guys than this before. He's sure he has. He just can't remember when.

And then the guard's eyes go comically wide, and he goes down like a small tree being felled. John blinks, staring at the wet, red mess that is the back of the man's head before flicking his eyes up.

Rodney's smiling at him crookedly, bleeding from a cut above his eyebrow, holding the rod that he had apparently bashed the guard over the head with awkwardly in one hand. There's blood dripping from it onto the floor, slow drops with no rhythm. Rodney says, "I figure it's kind of like an improvised stunner, right?"

John does not point out that he's pretty sure that the guard isn't going to be waking up in a few hours with a headache and tingles in his fingers and toes. Instead he motions back into the room, "We need to go. I was going to-"

But Rodney's talking over him, eyes wide as he shoves his bloody makeshift weapon into John's hands, "Oh my God! You're going to blow us up, how much time do we have? Never mind, it's not important, we need to get Ronon and Teyla and get out of here." And then Rodney's got a hand in the front of his shirt, dragging him out of the room.

He starts, "Where-"

Rodney makes an impatient noise, still dragging him along, batting at the air with his free hand, "I got a look at one of their computers when they weren't paying attention. Apparently their opinion of your actual skills is very low, did you know that?"

They pause at a crossing of hallways, and Rodney looks down at his arm and for the first time John can see that there's literally a map drawn on Rodney's skin. He scowls at the red, flaking ink that it's drawn in. And then Rodney's continuing, this time allowing John to follow on his own, saying, "So I saw the computer, and that's how I found you, and everyone else should be right around-"

They're interrupted by Teyla's voice, "John? Rodney? We are over here!"

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They make it as far as the exit without incident, but of course nothing can go off completely without a hitch, and the woman is waiting for them there with a dozen guards. The guards are all armed with guns, and all the team has for weapons is the metal rod that's got blood and brains on it. Well, and Teyla and Ronon, who most days he would take over guns, anyway.

Rodney sighs beside him, shifts a half step forward and says, "C'mon, Opal, I thought we were past all this." And the woman actually blushes and John can feel his jaw dropping open, can feel his incredulous gaze jerking between Rodney and the woman. He wonders if she started checking on Rodney when John stopped.

She takes a hesitant half step towards him, and the John imagines the guard's expression mirrors his own. She's saying, "I wish it did not have to be this way, Sheppard. You are...you are very much not what I had been led to believe." John stifles a laugh. Badly. No one else seems to notice, and Opal is still moving towards Rodney, and it's just bizarre.

Especially when she steps into Rodney's space, her hands coming up to his shoulders, her fingers curling around his neck as she pulls him down into a kiss. And Rodney's got a hand at her waist, and his other sliding up her back and John is about to protest, because, she's the enemy and there's a bomb, and they need to move.

Turns out he doesn't have to.

Because the next second Rodney's got her twisted around, one of his arms wrapped around her neck, yelling at the guards, "Get back! Get back or I'll-" and that's apparently the extent to which Rodney's plan has been thought through.

John scrambles up beside him, brandishing the rod in what he hopes is a sufficiently threatening matter, and improvising, "Or I'll activate the, uh, the nanite virus that I injected her with when-when she was feeding me. Let us go and I'll flush them from her system, but if you don't they'll eventually-" he grabs for the most horrible thing he can presently think of, "-turn all of her bones to goo."

And to his complete and utter amazement the guards actually part, and let them make their way out, and John knows it was only because they thought he was Rodney, because they thought Rodney could do that, but it's still fucking awesome.

They're three steps outside when the bomb goes off.

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He wakes up just in time to realize that he lost consciousness, which makes some kind of weird sense in his brain. He blinks up, squinting, trying to make the world swim back into focus. And, wow, then it does. There's big, worried blue eyes staring down at him, and a familiar face smeared with dirt, and he grins and says, "Hey, Rodney." And then winces when the sound rips at his eardrums.

Thankfully, Rodney does not berate him in answer, merely twists his lips down and hauls John roughly to his feet. His brain feels like it's shifting against the sides of his skull, and he stumbles into Rodney, trying to steady himself. Rodney grunts, but lets John lean on him, which is good, because the world is tilting kind of alarmingly, and Rodney appears to be the only steady, unmoving thing. John clings.

Around them he's vaguely aware of Ronon and Teyla moving among the rumble, making sure the guards and Opal are completely incapacitated. John watches them, thinking he should help, but Rodney is solid and warm and everything else is decidedly not. John tries to lean against him artfully and then gives up.

By the time Ronon and Teyla finish John is almost dozing again, thinking vaguely about concussions and how it's looking increasingly likely that he has one. Still, it's not so bad, even though Ronon does take over the duty of supporting him when they make their way to the 'gate.

John would regret this, except that it means he gets to watch Rodney's ass all the way back.

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In their debriefing the whole incident gets glossed over with a quick laugh, with Rodney snapping, "Oh, yes, yes, it's hilarious being beaten to within an inch of your life because you're mistaken for the Butcher of Atlantis-don't look at me like that, their words, not mine."

And Elizabeth is smiling, but John thinks there's something behind her eyes that's considerably less light hearted than she'd like them all to believe. She's saying, "Carson assures me that you're just fine, Rodney, and-"

"Fine? Fine? Do you know how many brain cells are killed every time someone bashes your head into the floor? I could have lost the ability to grasp quantum wormhole physics, just because I make a more convincing G. I. Joe than Sheppard."

And there's laughter and raised eyebrows all around the table, and Rodney continuing bitterly, "I think it's the hair. That's not military issue hair." John makes himself smile, and keeps his hands clenched hard underneath the table, because he's not seeing anything amusing about any of this. He even considers cutting his hair.

Briefly.

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The next time they get kidnapped, as their captors drag Rodney out of the cell, John lunges after them, demanding, "Wait, stop, let him go-" and for his trouble gets a boot to the face. Teyla is pulling him away from the door, and Ronon is growling, but all John can see is Rodney, drawn up into himself as the guards drag him along.

One of the guards lingers a moment, reaches out and drags his gun over the rails of their cell, says, "You keep your mouth shut, Sheppard. No one wants to hear it." And as nice as it is to find the status quo back the way it should be, John almost liked it better before.

Especially when the fuckers don't bring Rodney back.

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Teyla is watching him pace, but Ronon's given that up, has curled onto his side and fallen into a quiet, still sleep. He's exhausted himself, it's been hours since they were thrown into the cell, hours since the last time they saw any of their captors, and he knows he should sleep. Knows that later he'll need his energy, but he can't seem to make himself be still. "Colonel Sheppard?"

He's snapping, "I'm not worried," before he can even think about it. He thinks that the corners of Teyla's lips might curl up, but he isn't one hundred percent sure. He squares his shoulders, finds his chin tilting up without his permission, a gesture that he stole from Rodney and appears to be unable to give back.

"Should you not be worried? Should we all not be worried?" And he's sure now that there's a certain smugness in the corners of her eyes and the line of her mouth.

"Rodney will be fine." He's sure. He knows, now, better than he did how kidnappers treat Rodney, and it's undoubtedly better than their own treatment. But he can remember the bitter fear of not knowing what was going on, of the impossible loneliness of being separated from the team. The anger and horror of being completely controlled by outsiders.

Teyla cocks her head to the side, says, "Rodney?" And then something in her face brightens with realization, and the grin that she's been trying to hide briefly makes a glowing appearance. Her voice is slow and almost teasing, "Of course. Rodney. Yes. I am sure he will be fine."

"We'll be fine, too. I mean. Everyone will be fine." He feels like he showed her something she wasn't supposed to see, and can't for the life of him figuring out what it was. He shifts, starts pacing faster, hoping that maybe she'll get tired of watching the restless movement.

All she says is, "Yes. Of course."

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He figures it's been at least a day when he gets tired of waiting and looks over at Ronon and says, "Let's get out of here."

To his credit, Ronon does not laugh out loud over this. He does raise an eyebrow and sort of smile with half his mouth. Teyla appears at the larger man's elbow, and nudges him, says while staring innocently at the ceiling, "Colonel Sheppard is not worried about Rodney."

Ronon's smile creeps up just a little bit higher, he drawls, "Really?" John glares at both of them, sure that he's missing something, but no closer to figuring it out than he was hours ago. Luckily, Ronon takes the hint, because he lets the subject drop and swaggers his way over to the bars and starts yelling for the guards.

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So, five minutes later they're sprinting through lots of impressive alien architecture. John's got bloody knuckles, his entire hand still stinging from the blows he had landed on the guard's face. He's past exhausted by his body's stubborn refusal to sleep the night before, and he's so angry he doesn't quite know what to do with it.

They find Rodney by his voice, and John thinks that there's possibly something seriously wrong with his psyche that the hearing Rodney snapping out, "-even want to know what you idiots were doing before I came along. Do you know you could have easily irradiated your entire planet? Do you even know what that means? Should I be sticking to one syllable words-" makes relief flood immediate and overwhelming into his chest.

Ronon shoots the keypad on the outside of the door and John's through before it's all the way open. He scans the room, a handful of guards, Rodney buried shoulder deep in a hulking piece of machinery. One of the guards is already moving, grabbing the back of Rodney's shirt and whipping a knife out and John crosses the distance between them in three quick steps.

An uppercut to the other man's jaw lays him out, probably more due to the momentum from his running start than any real skill on his part. And he wants to say something smart, something witty, but the only words in his head are: Rodney, Rodney, Rodney, Rodney. He keeps his mouth shut.

He grabs for McKay, overbalancing from being pulled and released by the guard, steadies him and watches Ronon and Teyla take the other guards apart. Rodney's twisting out of his grip, and John starts to grab for him again but Rodney's already there, sliding into his space like he belongs.

There are hands on either side of John's jaw, tilting his head up, down, side to side. Rodney's making little disapproving sounds, and all John can do is watch. Watch when Rodney lets his hands slide down, grabs John's wrists and then slides his fingers, feather light, over John's busted knuckles. Watch when Rodney reaches for the collar of his shirt, and tugs it down, scowling his displeasure at the bruising beyond.

When Teyla clears her throat pointedly beside them, says, "I believe we should leave before reinforcements arrive," all John can do is nod.

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In the end, no one gets to kiss a hot alien chick, in fact, they meet no resistance the entire way back to the 'gate, which seems highly suspicious all on its own. Ronon seems to agree, because right before Rodney bends to push in the address for home, he rumbles, "Why aren't we being ambushed?"

And Rodney blinks, and then beams, full wattage, up at the rest of them, "Oh, yes, I'd almost forgotten. You were taking so long to rescue me that I figured you'd left without me, and worked out my own plan for escape. It was disappointingly easy once I convinced them that I needed access to their city schematics and a calculator."

Ronon's saying, "What did you do?"

At the same time that John's blurting out, "We wouldn't have left without you." And for a beat there's silence, as the rest of his team stares at him like he's grown a second head, and then Rodney very nearly almost smiles, and ducks his head. John flushes, and is relieved when Rodney completely ignores him and answers Ronon instead.

"Locked all the rooms. Anyone not in a hallway when I closed it down will be stuck for, oh, about two days. I'm sure that their free comrades are very busy trying to get them out." Beat. "Can we go home now, or should I explain the mechanics of how I did it? Perhaps you'd like a dramatic recreation, just to be clear?"

John sighs, rolls his eyes, says, "Take us home, McKay."

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Elizabeth is pissed to holy hell when they get back. Apparently she'd been all of minutes away from a diplomatic solution to the problem when they'd staged their little escape, which had definitely made them more enemies than friends. And what had John been thinking, accosting the Crown Prince Effiendorf himself? And how, exactly, had Rodney managed to put everyone in the city under house arrest?

Angry Elizabeth always made John feel like he was being scolded by his mother, and this time is no different. He came away from it feeling rather like he should go sit in a corner for time out, or something, and covered the urge by going to the Infirmary, instead. He's not really surprised when Rodney tags along. Rodney's saying, "So now we can add attacking royalty to your list of war crimes, hm?"

John sighs, lets himself sink into the familiar banter, it's taking his mind off the dull throb of pain in his skull, anyway, "He was going for you with a knife, what was I supposed to do?"

He's surprised by Rodney's smile, big and teasing, by his voice, a passable imitation of Elizabeth's, "You could have tried diplomacy." John smiles in spite of himself, right when Rodney sobers, and the change of gears is so fast it feels like whiplash, "But I'm glad you didn't. He was a bastard. He kept-" and Rodney cuts himself off.

John only becomes aware that he's stopped walking when he watches Rodney's shoulders stiffen, watches the other man turn around and walk back. Behind his eyes, John watches a hundred scenarios play out, things that he's sure Effiendorf didn't do. Says, "He kept what, Rodney?" Suddenly, he wishes he'd done a lot more than just hit the other man.

There's a long moment where they just stare at each other, and John can read the whole story on Rodney's face anyway, no words required. Fear and worry and anger, and John remembers what it was like to be Rodney, to be threatened at every turn with the welfare of your friends if you didn't do exactly what was wanted.

When Rodney reaches out, grabs his elbow and starts dragging him towards the Infirmary, John lets the subject drop. He doesn't even try to stop Rodney when he disappears as soon as Carson arrives, leaving without so much as a backwards glance or a goodbye.

It's fine. He has things he needs to think about, and Rodney would, at this point, only be a distraction.

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He finds Rodney later, in his lab, bent over a laptop with his chin braced in one hand. The blue sheen of the computer's light makes Rodney look almost alien, makes his skin glow and his eyes shine. John leans against the doorframe, drawls, "So you're okay with the poking part, just not the stripping?"

Rodney startles, so badly he overturns in his chair, and John curses and crosses to him. He's hauling Rodney back up to his feet when he realizes that the only thing on the computer is a screen saver, and wonders where the hell Rodney's mind was. He doesn't get long to contemplate it, the other man's already squirming away, saying, "Excuse me?" and then before John can elaborate, "Oh, you mean? Well. I wasn't about to tear your clothes off in front of a room full of people, now was I?"

And they've been here before, this middle place where the air between them gets thick and slow and John can almost feel heat dancing across every inch of his skin. Almost every day since he met Rodney McKay, they've been here, and they've always danced away from it.

He knows what he should say, what he's supposed to say, what will get them back to friendly banter. But it just seems stupid, now. Pointless. And so he doesn't.

He shifts, not closer, because they're already painfully close, just lets his stance fall more open, more aggressive. Cocks his head and says, "We're alone now."

There's a moment where Rodney just stares, his eyes mapping John's expression, trailing down his neck and John can see them trace the line of his shoulders, down his arm. Knows that Rodney sees the way his hand is extending, ghosting over Rodney's hip, waiting. And Rodney, Rodney who needs words for everything, is saying, "Are you? I mean. Is this? What? Are you propositioning me?"

And John's smile must tell him everything he needs to know, because he says, "Oh." And then Rodney's shifting, pushing against John's hand at his hip, getting a hand in John's hair and pulling them together.

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