Jul. 28th, 2008 12:30 pm
Characters: Atlantis, John/Rodney
Warnings: Slash, some language, mentions of crazy Atlantis.
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Beta: mgbutterfly, who never gets a break.
Summary: Sometimes John isn't sure what to make of Atlantis and her chief scientist.
Author's Note: A remix of Logical Solutions for artword challenge number twelve, where I had the good fortune to be matched up with le_mot_mo, who re-mixed some beautiful art.
Within days of arriving in the city, people start anthropomorphizing it, calling it 'she' and attributing it feelings. John does his best to avoid making that jump in his own mind, because, honestly, the thought of a sentient mind left alone out here on the far side of the universe for millennia is deeply disturbing. But sometimes it's hard to avoid the human tendency to assume that everything around them has emotions and thoughts.
John walks into the morning senior staff meeting irritated, because not only had his computer not been working the night previous, but in the mess hall his attempt to grab a blue Jell-O had been thwarted. He's not sure why the cooler jams up whenever he gets close to it, but he's half-sure the cooks are doing it just to mess with him.
He hadn't even really wanted the damn Jell-O. But McKay loved the stuff, and sometimes half way through the meetings his blood sugar started getting low and the Jell-O spared the rest of them getting their heads torn off.
John already has a headache. He's not looking forward to having to deal with McKay ranting and raving about the stupidity of everyone else in the city. And if he likes the way McKay smiles at him, sort of shy and unsure, when John slides the Jell-O across the table to him, then that's no one's business but his own.
But he's not going to get to see that today. John drops down into his chair, scowling, waiting for everyone else to find their seats. Beckett and McKay are late, and John taps his pen on the table, spinning his chair back and forth and sighing. By the time McKay hurries into the room, John has zoned out.
He jerks back to awareness when McKay sits down beside him, the man exhaling heavily and getting his computer set up, saying before John can even open his mouth, "Before anyone asks, yes, I am aware of your computer problems. Restarting seems to clear everything right up, so please stop asking me and try to do something for yourselves."
And then McKay is leaning back in his chair, looking tired and worn out, and with a bowl of blue Jell-O in his hands. John opens his mouth to demand an explanation for how he got it out of the cooler, seeing conspiracy everywhere, but then McKay makes a happy little sound and closes his eyes in bliss when he swallows a bite.
John feels himself staring, heart pounding hard against his ribs, gripping the arms of his seat. His mind can't help but making connections, imagining McKay making that happy sound in another situation, what he'd look like faced with pleasure that didn't come from powder mixed with water and chilled.
The slant of John's thoughts unnerves him, and he looks away, shoving the images that have risen up back into the shadowy corner of his mind where they belong, with the rest of the secrets he's been keeping his entire life.
When Carson finally rushes into the room, babbling something about an accident in the botany labs and collapsing wearily to his seat, John sighs with relief, and focuses all of his attention on the meeting. He can't help looking sideways when McKay finishes his Jell-O, just in time to catch the way the man licks along his bottom lip. John closes his eyes, and pushes the surge of want down, down where no one will ever see it.
Somehow, John doesn't realize that McKay is one of the people who consider the city a female until the Genii attack during the storm. Even then, he's tempted to blame the other man's relieved babble of, "That's my girl," on the stress of the last few hours.
John still isn't sure what exactly happened. One moment he'd been running to the Ancient's equivalent of a surge protector, the next he'd been hearing gunshots and the whole world had been going to shit. The nightmare hours that had followed are a blur now, John's thoughts and memories tangled together.
He remembers running through the halls. He remembers, though it makes a headache pulse in his temples, suddenly just knowing where to go. The weapons room had opened for him, he'd found the stairs up to the second level almost intuitively.
John hadn't thought about it at the time. He hadn't had time to wonder where the surge of knowledge below his thoughts was coming from. Sometimes, he knows, in high stress situations, adrenaline can do some crazy things. He's never heard of it giving you blue-prints directly into your mind, but he can hardly complain.
He'd come dangerously close to losing Weir and McKay, to just watching them be dragged away, and John is grateful for everything that gave him the edge to save them. He's not still seeing schematics, so he assumes it couldn't have been too serious. The memory is just a product of stress and confusion, of imaging psychopaths with their hands on McKay and Weir.
And now they're all fine, they're all alive, and McKay is bringing the shield up, petting the console he's hunched over, murmuring, "That's my girl," low and sweet. John stares at him, the way McKay's hair is plastered to his head, his bloody arm, and closes his eyes against the vision of the gun pressed against the side of the other man's head.
John can't manage to say anything teasing, not with the pressure in his chest. Instead John watches the rest of their people come home, watches McKay disappear off to his room, watches the blood get cleaned up and washed away.
When John tries to sleep his mind is far too nosy. Maybe all the adrenaline hasn't been burnt off. In any case he finds himself just staring at his ceiling, stomach tight and sick, seeing the heady relief on McKay's face when the shields had finally gone up, when he'd stroked Atlantis and talked to it like it was a person.
John rolls out of bed, because he can't sleep anyway, and he feels like he deserves an explanation. And he thinks that maybe seeing McKay, making sure he's still fine and safe, will let him sleep.
McKay's door is locked, which is odd. Usually the other man leaves it open, more absentmindedness than trust. It irritates John, for some reason that he can't explain, pisses him off and he waves his hand again, trying to convince the circuitry to let him in.
He wants to see McKay, wants to shake him and demand an explanation for why he had to go and call the city a girl, for why he risked stepping in front of a gun for Elizabeth, for why he didn't just tell Kolya whatever he wanted to know. He paces two steps away from the door, then back, clenching his hands into fists and imagining pushing McKay against the wall, making him understand that he can't take risks like that, that the expedition needs him.
And when he finds himself imagining his leg shoved between McKay's thighs, holding McKay's injured arm against the wall, kissing him hard and deep, well, that's not exactly a surprise.
John grits his teeth, trying to get the door to open again, rubbing his ears against the rising noise in the corridor. He wonders if it's a side effect of the storm, the squeal that's driving a headache straight up through his jaw.
In any case, it's going to be loud enough to wake McKay soon, and John suddenly doesn't want to be here when the other man wakes up. John isn't sure he's in control enough to be anywhere near the other man, his mind a seething mess of want and emotions that he has no place for.
John pushes it all away, storming back to his own quarters and staring at the ceiling until morning, carefully putting away all the riotous emotions and wants.
John and McKay are eating together in the mess, when McKay blindsides him with a discussion about the city. John is in no way prepared for McKay to suddenly stop talking about the stupid things his underlings have been doing, to suddenly blurt, words fast and tumbling together, "Does the city—do you ever feel like she's talking to you?"
McKay's expression is oddly complicated, nervous and maybe a little hopeful, as he pokes at his food. John frowns, rolling his eyes and leaning his chair back, "No, McKay, I know we're in another universe, but not everything follows the plot of a bad sci-fi movie."
And McKay looks hurt for just a moment, before nodding tiredly, "Right, yes, I know that. I don't know what I was thinking." But it's like he's not sure about it, like he's just saying it because it's what John expects to hear.
John shakes his head, and changes the subject.
The first time John wonders if maybe McKay and the others are on to something about the city, is the same day he watches five-sixths of a solar system blow up, so he figures he's allowed some slack. McKay is all apologies after they get back to the city, but John is in no mood to hear it, still shaky and dealing with his own near death, with McKay's near death, with the loss of the weapon that could have solved all their problems.
The city seems more ominous than usual, the lights dimmer, the doors snapping closed right on his heels. By the time John finally manages to get in a transporter, he's desperate to get back to his rooms, somewhere private where he can put this in its proper place in his mind and move on.
He leaves McKay standing on the other side of the door, the other man's expression broken and morose, and John's sure he'll feel bad about that later but right now he just can't.
And that's when the transporter jams.
John's never heard of one of the damn things locking up, but that's not stopping it from happening. He pounds on the walls until his hands ache, his radio dead and useless. The control panel on the wall is still on, but no matter how many commands John punches in, it does nothing.
By the time he yanks his jacket off, breathing hard, he's irritated. He's having an incredibly shitty day, and this is just one more thing he doesn't feel like dealing with. John spends a fruitless ten minutes attempting to pry the doors open, panting, breathing hard, and not getting anywhere.
And that's when there's a burst of pressure against the back of his eyelids. John starts to raise a hand to his face, confused, and the images crash over him like a flood, all encompassing, crushing. He hears himself curse, his legs jerking out from under him, the ground hard and unforgiving against his shoulders, the back of his head knocking hard enough to jerk his teeth together.
It's like a flashback, a cruel and vicious twist of his thoughts. He can see McKay up against a wall, he can see himself crowding close, all violence and unrestrained anger, kisses that are more bites than anything else, his hand wrapped around McKay's bloody arm, twisting and squeezing. It hits like a blow to his stomach, stealing his breath, leaving him unable to do anything but weakly curse.
And the hits keep coming. He watches himself shoot Sumner, the other man's eyes huge and mournful, he watches Ford run through the 'gate, on and on and on. John's been diagnosed with PTSD before, he's even had a flashback or two in his time, but nothing like this, this visceral, this real, this inescapable onslaught.
By the time it stops, a playback to his childhood, he feels breathless and sick. And then it's over, the lights in the transporter frying as it ends, dying with a sad little sound. John lies on his side for a long time, feeling sweat running down his back, shaking.
He doesn't know how long he stays there before he manages to push himself up. The doors still won't open, and he sits with his back against the wall, head on his knees, waiting for someone to find him. It's just a matter of time.
When the doors open, McKay is on the other side, sitting in the middle of a pile of wires, his expression tight and blank when John throws himself out of the transporter. John is just thinking about standing when emotion floods into his mind, thick and so crippling it makes the world go gray.
For just a moment, he's so afraid that he can't breathe, lost and alone. He feels his gorge rise and pushes it back down, doctors and scientists swarming around him, taking his blood pressure and asking if he's alright. When John waves them off and looks up, McKay is gone.
John asks after him, and Zelenka says the other man locked himself in his labs and refuses to come out.
John figures that might be just as well, he doesn't know what he'd say to McKay anyway. He doesn't know how to ask what McKay meant when he asked if the city talked to him. If that crushing pressure and the way his thoughts had been torn about had been what McKay meant.
If it was, then it's no wonder the other man had looked afraid and unnerved when he asked about it. John never wants to have to go through that again. When the people gathered around ask him what happened, John just shakes his head, keeping his mouth shut.
Sometimes, now, John catches McKay eating with Ronon in the mess hall. There's nothing really odd or worrying about that. No reason he should care. But he does anyway, irritated by how close the other men sit to each other, the way they lean towards one another and speak in soft voices, ignoring everyone else.
Jealousy is, John knows, hardly an appropriate reaction. But he can't quite help it, watching Ronon laugh at one of McKay's jokes, McKay flashing one of the smiles that have grown increasingly rare these last months.
John turns back to the food line, pushing the sharp jag of emotion down where it belongs. It's none of his business what McKay and Ronon get up to in their private time. None of his concern at all, and the bitter core of jealousy in his chest is in no way appropriate.
John buries it, and makes himself smile when he walks over to join them, ignoring the way they both go briefly quiet when he sits down.
The next time John has a brush with the city, he's not prepared for it at all. After days of watching McKay's death approach, the man's body shutting down as the Ancient device does its cruel work on him, John is going insane, helpless to stop it, to make it better, to do a goddamn thing.
The brush of a presence against his mind, familiar from that transporter, gives his anger a direction and purpose. He doesn't know if the city thinks of itself as a woman or not, he doesn't care. All that really matters is that its killing Rodney, it is letting him die, and there can be no forgiveness for that.
John jerks a little straighter in his bed, waiting for it to hurt him again, not caring. He doesn't know if it can read his thoughts in return, though he has to assume it can, because it must have gotten the images it threw at him before from somewhere.
John shows it everything he will do to it, because he will sink this goddamn place to the bottom of the ocean if it takes Rodney away from him. The other man might be impossible and stubborn and frustrating, but he's also brilliant and sweet and innocent in a way that John doesn't know how to deal with. He's John's. He's John's team.
And then, before John is finished exorcising the anger in his chest, Rodney is pushing to his feet beside the bed, swaying, hand braced up by his face.
John has to watch Rodney die, words that he needs to say caught in his throat, restrained behind his teeth, turning to ash on his tongue. It doesn't matter that Rodney comes back, John can't get the taste out of his mouth, the emotions that he's sure must be written all over his expression, plain for the world to see.
He locks himself in his quarters, trying desperately to remember how to put on the face he shows the world.
The first time the city talks to him, really talks to him, it is later that night.
At first John hadn't even realized what was happening, the cool brush of the city against his thought is gentler than it had been earlier. His anger has all burnt off, leaving him feeling empty and hollow, and he barely follows the pictorial conversation the city is having with him.
It's only when it whispers in his ear, "Mine," obviously talking about Rodney, that John starts paying attention. He sits up straighter, considering the implications of the single word, still too emotionally drained to marshal a proper freak-out about the city getting possessive over his scientist.
By the time he manages to make himself ask what it wants, he's no closer to figuring out how he should feel about this. By the time the city gets done showing him the same replayed images of John slamming Rodney into a wall, taking his mouth in a bruising, hungry kiss, John has stopped even worrying about how weird this is.
Instead of the anger that he had anticipated the city hitting him with, he's getting only curiosity. That's confusing on its own, but John is too tired to worry about it. It feels, suddenly, kind of like getting grilled by a date's parents before they leave the house. John can't help the flash of his incredulity, voice mocking when he asks if the city really wants to know his intentions.
The city replays the images in answer, John watching himself back McKay against a wall, covering the other man's body with his own, need and want and desire written plain for the world to see. John has to squeeze his eyes closed when he sends images back, feeling stupid and ridiculous even as he does it.
The kiss he sends, Rodney spread out on his bed, hands on John's shoulders, in John's hair when John leans over him to kiss him, soft and sweet, is straight out of his dreams the previous night. John feels like a child, wishing he had chosen something, anything, else, as soon as he shows it.
He's not expecting the soft breath into his ear, words barely audible, "Tell him."
And John can't find the words to say that he doesn't know how, that there are some things he's never known how to vocalize, that he's kept locked so tight for so long that there's no way for him to release the words now. No matter how much he wants to.
The first time John realizes that maybe the city isn't trying to hurt them, Rodney is storming into his room, cutting off John's greeting with, "She told me. Showed me. What you wanted." Rodney looks determined, eyes dark and hungry. John doesn't even think about pointing out that while the city might be sentient, it isn't necessarily female.
He opens his mouth, not even sure what he's going to say, and the city, apparently impatient with him, plays the kiss back through his head. John waves a hand, trying to dispel it, wishing the city would leave them alone now, because John feels odd doing this with company.
And then it doesn't matter, because Rodney is crawling into his lap, taking the book that John had completely forgotten about out of his hand. The first brush of Rodney's mouth against his makes him shiver, Rodney's lips soft and warm, his body pressed all up against John, solid and steady, alive and so perfect.
John tries to force out a thank you, but his chest is squeezed tight and the sound gets swallowed by Rodney's clever mouth. When John gets his hands up, on Rodney's skin, he finds that he doesn't care at all. Rodney is pushing him down against the mattress, and John groans, holding Rodney as close as he can, no longer caring if the city is watching or not.
He figures she probably deserves it.
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