"What the fuck?" John said, "You're joking, right? Tell me you're making a really bad joke," he growled, staring at Beckett in total disbelief, because this was bullshit, this was—okay, life-sucking bugs he could handle, mutation, being fed on by a Wraith, no problem, but this—
"Cut it out of me. Right now."
Beckett suddenly went from compassionate mode to looking shocked and a little queasy. "Colonel..."
"I mean it. You're a surgeon, aren't you? Cut it out of me or I'll radio Ronon to do it. He's got knives. Really sharp knives."
And John was almost serious, that was the sad thing. Jesus Christ.
"Colonel, we don't have any idea what we're dealing with here. This is unprecedented." There was an unholy gleam in Beckett's eyes that John really didn't like the look of.
He dropped his voice to a deadly whisper. "Oh, I think we do. It's a tumor, right? A bunch of cells where no cells have any business existing, and I want them out of me, right now. Right fucking now."
Carson's head snapped up. "There were two people in that lab, Colonel. Two people who activated the device. Dr. McKay has a right to be part of this decision."
"Bullshit! My body, my decision. I'm pretty sure there are laws about that." Well, not laws pertaining to him, to a guy, he was pretty sure, but he was having a tough enough time wrapping his brain around the horrifying thought that he was—oh, God—he couldn't even think the word.
"Nevertheless, I feel I must—"
"Patient confidentiality," John said, putting as much steel into it as he could while still keeping his voice low. "And you better not break it or I will have your ass. I'm not kidding. I will fucking have you up on charges before a review board."
Carson pulled back, looking shocked. Then he crossed his arms. "I have rights as well, Colonel. And one of them is not to perform any procedures that are against my personal ethics."
"Right. Because you think my body could do this totally bizarre thing without it risking my fucking life? Get serious." John blew out a frustrated breath. "Fine, then find me a surgeon who will do it. Or I'll tell Elizabeth I need to head back to Earth to remove the tumor because you don't have the facilities here. Whatever. It's out of your hands. No need to feel guilty."
Carson winced, and then his expression softened. He put one hand on John's shoulder. "Son, don't you think you're being a wee bit hasty—"
"Jesus Christ!" John pushed himself off the exam table and straightened his shirt. "I'm in the fucking Twilight Zone." He stalked toward the infirmary doors, throwing over his shoulder. "Get back to me when you think you can actually fucking help me."
When the doors opened he found Rodney waiting outside, of course.
"I'm fine, Rodney."
"Right. That's why you were unconscious for ten minutes. What did the medical professional say?"
"He wants to take another look at the scans." John felt like a shit about lying, but he needed to talk to Elizabeth, get things squared away first. He'd tell Rodney as soon as he had an exit plan. "Look, I'll let you know as soon as I know. I have to go brief Elizabeth."
"All right. I'll be in my lab." Rodney gave him a worried look but let him go, his hand lingering on John's forearm.
John made a pit stop in his quarters to kick the walls for a few minutes and freak the fuck out. It didn't help. His skin was crawling. He couldn't get over a mental image of that scene from Alien. And he could still feel the burning tingle between his spine and his belly button where the beam had hit him just before he passed out in the lab.
He was going to climb the walls if he didn't do something, so he headed over to Elizabeth's office. She frowned with concern when he gave her the very sketchy details—some sort of tumor, Carson wasn't sure if he could remove it safely, might have to send him Earth-side.
"My God, John. Of course, we'll send you to Earth right away if you need it."
"He might be able to do it here," John said vaguely. "We'll see."
"Any word from Dr. McKay as to the purpose of the device?"
An unpleasant tightness pulled John's chest. Christ, of course Rodney would be digging into it. "I haven't heard anything. I'll go check on him."
John didn't have to look very hard. Rodney was waiting for him in the control room, his blue eyes wide and bleeding emotion—John couldn't get a read on what kind, exactly, but it was making him nauseated. Or maybe, Christ, he was already getting morning sickness or something. Wouldn't that be fun. Oh, God, he was going to freak out in front of McKay and the control room staff if he didn't get out of here.
"My quarters," John said gruffly, leading the way to the transporter. Rodney followed behind, weirdly silent until they hit John's room, and then he burst into quadraphonics.
"Oh my God, oh my God, John," he babbled, clutching at John's arm, and then pulling him into a hug, then pushing him away to pat weirdly at his shoulders. "Are you okay? This is incredible! I mean absolutely stupefyingly amazing—only in Pegasus, right? I realize we say that every day, but this is just unbelievable! Are you all right? I know, I know, I asked you that already—but wow! I mean—"
John pushed him away—gently, because he wasn't an asshole, but this was the absolute worst possible reaction he could have hoped for, and John was already hanging by the thinnest possible thread.
"McKay—McKay—McKay—Rodney!" he finally broke through the continuing babble. "Sit down, okay? Calm down before you burst something. Here—" John pushed him into the chair by his window and took the seat adjacent to it before rubbing his hands over his face.
When he looked up, Rodney was staring at him, wide-eyed with anticipation, waiting.
"Yeah, look—I don't know what crazy ideas are going through your head right now, but it's not going to happen. I'm going to Earth as soon as I get clearance and I'm taking care of this. You understand?"
Rodney's expression crumbled. "What? What? John!"
"But-but you—John, this is—" Rodney stood suddenly, his face flushing red. "No-no-no. No, John, you can't. Not without even trying—you just can't."
"The hell I ca—"
Rodney rolled right over him. "Oh, that's just great. That's just peachy. I should've known Mr. Repression would take a freaking miracle of science, I mean an honest-to-God miracle, and turn it into an After School drama. Meanwhile, that's one half of my genes in there—" Rodney pointed at John's midsection, making him suddenly queasy, "my brilliant genes, of course, and never mind that we had to give up the mere idea of procreation before this. Oh, no! Just because of, what, a threat to your big, macho, soldier-boy self-image—"
John pressed his fists against his temples. "It's taking over my fucking body you asshole!" he yelled, full-throated.
Rodney's mouth gaped.
"I would rather be fed on by a Wraith! I would rather turn into a fucking bug again. I want it out of me! This is—God, you have no idea, I'm barely holding my shit together, okay?" He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe at all thinking about it, this thing growing inside of him, taking him over, and he knew he was babbling about it now, about aliens and how it would grow and move inside of him, changing him, and—"I swear to God, I swear to God, Rodney, if Carson refuses to do the surgery like he's threatening, I have a gun, I will fucking shoot myself in the gut—"
And, thank God, Rodney was there all of a sudden, holding his shoulders, bumping foreheads with him, murmuring shit John could barely hear—how he'd take care of it, how he'd dial the Gate himself, he'd find a surgeon, the best surgeon on the planet, he'd make it happen today, he swore it.
Gradually John's breathing slowed, and the roaring in his ears died down and he could feel Rodney's arms holding him up. Rodney had such strong arms, John loved that about him, how solid he was, dependable. He would make a good dad, was the thing, but John couldn't help him with that. He just couldn't.
"We could always, you know, do the surrogate thing," John said. His voice was hoarse for some reason.
"What?" Rodney said plaintively.
"You would. You'd be a good dad. I just can't..." John waved his arm helplessly behind Rodney's back.
He felt Rodney laugh shortly. "God, you're such a freak."
"Sorry. Sorry. I'm so sorry," John said, for now, and for later, because he knew it would feel like shit for Rodney—what was about to happen.
But John couldn't wait. He couldn't wait. He just wanted it over with.
He wanted it gone.
Carson caved under Rodney's razor-like tongue, and the next morning, early, with only one nurse in attendance, John was prepped for surgery.
The nurse, along with Elizabeth, was informed that the procedure was to remove a tumor. And Carson told John and Rodney that at that point the blastocyte was only approximately four hundred cells. The difficulty would be in locating it with the laparoscope, but thanks to the Ancient hand-held scanner, Carson didn't foresee a difficulty, and the incision would be small.
John didn't care. Carson could go in there with a machete if he wanted, although John kept that thought to himself.
The operation was simple, though; Carson didn't even have to put John under all the way, and he spent the procedure in sort of a twilight haze, conscious of Carson's murmurs and the nurse, Brady, responding.
Then Carson said, "Got it."
It was funny, but John hadn't once thought to himself, at any point, of the thing that had happened to him as being part of himself in any way. Not until Carson removed it, and John thought, It's over.
And suddenly any possibility that this could be his kid, as bizarre, twisted and completely unthinkable as it was, was ended.
And then he felt...weird.
But mostly, goddamned relieved.
When he woke up, Rodney was beside his bed talking to Teyla, who had returned from an off-world trip. She was dressed up in her trading gear instead of her uniform, and looked especially beautiful—cool as always, but with that extra twist of wow because, really, sometimes John forgot that she really hadn't grown up down the street from him.
"John, you are awake?"
"Hey, Teyla. Yeahhh." He was always slow coming off anesthesia. "How was the trip?"
"Excellent. I think I have found some new prospects for trade among the Playeera; both the Athosians and the Lanteans may benefit."
"Cool. Hey, Rodney."
"Sheppard. Bet I could beat you at chess in about fifteen moves right now."
"Prolly ten." But, Christ, Rodney looked sad. And John picked up the look Teyla gave Rodney, so she'd caught it, too.
It didn't seem fair that Rodney would have to go through something like this without his team behind him. But they hadn't talked about letting Teyla or Ronon know.
"Teyla, would you mind bringing me something from the mess?"
"Yes, of course, John. I'm glad you are recovering. Rodney, I will see you at lunch." Teyla rose gracefully and left.
"Hey." John gestured. "C'mere."
"What?" Rodney's sad frown hadn't left.
"Wanna ask you something and I don't want to yell."
Rodney shuffled his chair closer and raised his eyebrows.
John lowered his voice anyway. "I just wondered if you want to tell the team." He hurried on when Rodney opened his mouth. "It's okay if you want to."
Rodney cocked his head. "Seriously?"
"You realize Ronon will laugh his ass off. And make fun of your manhood."
"He does that all the time anyway."
It was no good, though—making jokes—because Rodney's mouth was still slanted down, and he looked tired, and beaten, somehow.
I'm sorry, Rodney. I'm sorry, I couldn't. I just couldn't— "It's over, huh?"
"Yes, well." Rodney was looking at the point of John's shoulder. "Does it hurt?"
John shrugged again. "Barely feel it."
Rodney's mouth twisted.
"Feels like it should hurt more."
Finally, finally, Rodney's eyes met his. "But you didn't want it."
Oh. Christ. "Rodney. Jesus. It's not that I didn't—I didn't want to-to—because it was in me. That's all! Not—" John waved and then grabbed, glad Rodney was close enough so he could catch hold of Rodney's arm. "Buddy. You want to take a stab at being in the hot seat, I'll go over there with you right now."
"What, me?" Rodney squeaked, but the sad look had eased a little. "With my hypertension and blood type? I'm a prime candidate for preeclampsia! Not to mention I'd have to give up caffeine!"
John was startled into laughing, which made him stop with a groan. He was a little more sore than he thought.
"Hey, take it easy," Rodney said, pushing him back and fussing with the pillows. "Surgery, remember?"
"Minor surgery." John looked up and wished really hard in that moment he could kiss Rodney. He saw Rodney's eyes soften and knew he wasn't alone in wanting it.
Rodney flicked a quick look around the empty infirmary.
"Rodney..." John growled in warning.
But it only took a second. Rodney bent, pressed his lips to John's for a brief, warm instant, and then sat back down again to blink at him innocently.
John felt himself grinning. But he still had to say, "I meant it—about telling the team. Especially Teyla. She'll—she's better at that stuff."
Rodney's smile twisted a little. "It was just for a few hours."
"Yeah. But I didn't give you any choice about it. And so maybe you're—you'll have some things," John shifted uncomfortably, "to work out."
Rodney was staring at him oddly.
"You're really not going to ask me, are you?"
Rodney shook his head. "Oh, Sheppard, Sheppard, Sheppard."
"I said I was sorry." It felt like sandpaper was caught in his throat. "But maybe you're still—"
"Some people," Rodney tapped his finger on his chin, "consider me to be a selfish asshole."
Rodney pointed at him. "But do you really think, after watching you mutate in a giant blue bug, that I would—that I could possibly be angry—" Rodney's voice broke, and he bent his head and coughed a little. "Well, I should really get back to the lab or my minions will run rampant..."
"You're aces, you know that?"
Color hit Rodney's neck and traveled up his cheeks, making John grin.
"See you later."
Rodney hurried out, the back of his neck still pink.
Teyla soon came by with his breakfast and chatted with him for a little while about her new possible trading partners before he made himself explain, awkwardly, what had happened with the Ancient device and his subsequent, hasty surgical procedure.
Her eyes went wider and wider. He wasn't sure if she was about to burst out laughing or castigate him for curtailing what should have been a blessed, miraculous event.
"I am so sorry, John," she said when he finished. "This must have been so difficult for you—to have control over your body taken from you."
Holy shit. Of course, he should have expected Teyla to get it.
"Yeah, it kinda really sucked." He cleared his throat, looking down. "Look, I just wanted you and Ronon to know what happened. Team only. Okay?" They had a few things that were team-only—Teyla's cousin that John had snuck through to Earth to get chemo; the trips to Sateda for private memorial services.
"I was hoping you could keep an eye on Rodney—in case he needs to, you know, talk about it."
Teyla arched one perfect eyebrow at him.
"Yeah, yeah. I'll try too."
She smiled softly and put a hand on the bed beside his arm. "I am here for you as well, John."
They shared an ironic smile at the likelihood of that, and then she took off, leaving behind a small puzzle toy from the Playeera that kept him occupied for too short a time. After that the infirmary was too quiet—gave him too much space to think. About the sadness in Rodney's eyes.
John wondered what Rodney had looked like when he was growing up; if his hair had been lighter, with those blue eyes gigantic in a tiny face. And suddenly John could just see it, and it hurt, right in his gut where the sutures were.
It didn't make any sense, but there it was—a hollow space aching cold inside him, even though it was all so goddamned impossible. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place. And he thought he'd never been so pissed at the Pegasus Galaxy as he was right then, because if it weren't for the Ancients and their completely whacked ideas, this never would have come up to haunt them in the first place.
And now he'd have to carry it always.
Carson finally cut him loose around eighteen hundred, and even though it was early he decided to go to Rodney's quarters and wait for him there. Except when he palmed himself in, he found Rodney face down flat on his bed, arms by his sides and face smashed sideways on the mattress, eyes closed.
"Hey, buddy." John walked over and sat by his hip, but felt weirdly hesitant about touching him. Finally, he put his palm between Rodney's shoulder blades.
Rodney sighed and then squirmed over onto his back. When he opened his eyes they were red-rimmed, and John's guilt deepened. He pulled his hand away and fisted it next to his leg.
"How're you feeling?" Rodney asked in a soft, hoarse voice.
"Me? I'm all right. Fine," John choked. "You?"
"Oh, just dandy."
"Yeah." John wanted to roll Rodney over, tangle him up and crush him close until the gaping hole between them got filled up with something that didn't ache so hard, but he didn't have a right to it. He didn't have a right to anything at all.
"Jesus Christ, Sheppard, would you just—" Soft tug on his forearm, and then he was falling into place by Rodney's side, Rodney snuffling into the shoulder of his scrub shirt.
"You smell like infirmary," Rodney sniffed.
"It's all right. It's familiar, at least." And then they both laughed a little, sandy chuckles before fading into silence again.
"Jesus, I really am sorry, Rodney."
"I can't stop thinking about it. A little, you know, you running around—"
"Don't." Sharp, ugly tone, warning him off. John knew it all too well, and clamped his jaw shut.
Rodney pushed his forehead against John's shoulder in apology. "I read the rest of the specifications about the-the process." His voice was low, determined. "Only about a hundred of the cells were embryonic. The rest of the mass Carson removed were cells that would differentiate to create a-a structure to 'support' the fetus." Rodney swallowed audibly.
John's stomach took a dive. "You mean a—"
"Yes. The cells would have used your own muscle and organ tissues to grow an artificial womb. And afterward, ha, of course it wouldn't just, poof! return your body to its natural state. Nor could it ever be removed—don't you dare have a stroke in my bed, I swear to God, Sheppard—"
But John had it under control. He was pretty sure if he didn't think about anything but blue skies for the next thirty seconds he'd be cool. Blue skies, and the clear ripple of the event horizon, because he'd already dodged the bullet. Carson had gotten it out—all of it, he'd said, with a little extra muscle around the area to be sure.
All gone. He wasn't going to be changed against his will.
"So, you see, I'm finding it a little difficult to justify being upset about—"
No way. "That doesn't matter," John said determinedly, turning to face him. "Jesus, you're allowed to be down about this, Rodney."
"Really?" Rodney looked almost grateful.
"God, of course. It was," John took a deep breath, "it would have been our kid."
"Oh." Rodney's eyes were a little shiny, but he smiled a small smile. "Exactly."
"Okay. So." John bent his head and kissed him once, then started to pull back, but Rodney curved a hand behind John's neck and held on, and suddenly they were kissing and kissing, desperate, hard kisses, moving nothing more than their lips. Just necking. It was weird, but it helped. After a few minutes Rodney collapsed against John's shoulder, wrapping an arm around his waist, and John pushed it upward so it wasn't as close to his incision, and they just lay there.
"You think someday...?"
"Mmm? What?" Rodney's voice buzzed in John's ear.
"I mean, are you thinking you'd want to? Do the surrogate thing?"
"God, no. I'd be a terrible father. Can you imagine it? And you, with the suicidal tendencies? I think not."
John felt himself relax. He thought Rodney would be a good dad if he were forced into it, but John selfishly kind of wanted to keep Rodney to himself. And he'd never wanted to be a father himself. He'd have to give up flying anything but the tame stuff.
"Besides, I recently read a Harvard study that found, quite plainly, that couples who don't have children are happier by far than those who do."
"Not that Harvard isn't an inferior institution, nor do I place much faith in so-called psychological 'studies,' as a rule."
"Of course not."
"Of course not. How's your—" Rodney swept a gentle hand over John's midsection, then left his palm resting there lightly. It felt nice.
"'Sokay. Better with your hand there."
"Yeah. It's warm. Helps."
"All right then." Rodney sounded happy. Or happier, anyway. John rested his hand over Rodney's.
John thought about it then, amending the broken, faulty visions, the edges of which had been cutting into him all day. Instead, he replaced them with just Rodney and him, lying together, Rodney's hand warming his stomach, John's hand on top, thumb rubbing circles over Rodney's knuckles. Maybe they'd be bigger, a little swollen from the years, or scarred from battling with cantankerous Ancient consoles and rewiring conduits.
It wasn't a bad dream.
John thought it was more than enough for him.