"I'm not doing it," John protested, only slurring his words a little - he wasn't completely toasted. Yet.
The "crossing the line" party was a new Daedalus tradition. Rodney and Novak had calculated that they were still close to the halfway point between the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies, and even Caldwell had been persuaded that some relaxation was in order so as to celebrate the survival of ship and crew. Most of them, anyway. John was trying not to think about the people they'd lost. Not tonight.
"It's time you overcame this ridiculous phobia anyway, Major," pronounced McKay indistinctly, knocking back the hideous raspberry kool-aid and raw alcohol concoction some airman had thrown together and passed off as "punch".
"Colonel," corrected John who had had done his poison-taster act and declared the nasty red antifreeze safe, if not exactly fit for human consumption.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." McKay gave a poorly coordinated wave, nearly knocking over Elizabeth's almost untouched plastic glass." She moved it out of harm's way, arching an eyebrow. She'd been pretending to drink all evening, taking tiny sips and wincing at the taste. John and McKay were made of stronger stuff and were already three sheets to the wind.
They were on a ship and it was all very nautical, which John thought blearily was pretty goddam funny given that all you could see out the windows was the eerie blue-white rippling of hyperspace. Still, they were waves of a sort, seen through portholes. Caldwell couldn't be a Captain, though, 'cause he was a Colonel, and that was way better than just being a Captain. John should know, he was a Colonel, too. Almost. He smirked to himself and raised another glass to his promotion. "Cheers," he said, shuddering as he swallowed.
"Don't think for a minute the drunk act's getting you out of it, Colonel," sneered McKay, listing to the left and poking John in the ribs. You lost that bet fair 'n shquare. Shkweer. Humph."
"Stoppit. Anyway," smirked John, batting feebly at McKay's finger, "couple more drinks 'n you won' remember if I did it or not, so ha."
"And on that scintillating conversational note, I think I'll turn in," said Elizabeth, rising.
"No, wait," said McKay, grabbing at the sleeve of her jacket and almost falling off his chair as she stepped easily aside. "You have to. With the camera." He peered up at her, frowning. "Gotta have photos. Pictures. Blackmail Sheppard."
"I don't think so," she said. John beamed: Elizabeth liked him. Probably because he was nearly a Colonel. Elizabeth pulled a digital camera out of her pocket. "But here, take all the snapshots you want, Rodney. I'll look forward to seeing them on the Atlantis server."
John glared at her and narrowed his eyes: so that was the way of it, huh? Well, that camera was gonna meet a sticky end in the vat of kool-aid punch. Couldn't possibly make it taste any worse. He considered announcing this but wasn't sure he could pronounce the word "sticky". Better to spring it on McKay, anyway: the element of surprise and all that. He was military, after all. Tactical thinking was what Colonels did. He had another drink to help that along.
Elizabeth smiled down at them. "Good work with the virus, John, Rodney. Don't have too much more of that disgusting mixture or you'll regret it in the morning. I'll see you both then."
"Maybe," muttered John, crossing his arms and glowering as she left the commissary – he hadn't forgiven her for the camera betrayal. McKay was squinting down at it, tongue protruding slightly as he fiddled with the settings. Pity it wasn't ancient tech, as then John could have sabotaged it. He tried thinking off at the damn thing anyway, just in case it was an alien James Bond spy camera from the SGC. No dice.
"Yes, thank you, I am a genius," announced McKay to the room, beaming at the camera. He lifted it, and before John could shield his face had snapped off a quick shot, then he had another drink and hacked as though coughing up a fur ball.
"Hey!" John protested, blinking.
Rodney pressed a couple of controls and held up the screen for John to see. It was a creditable shot even if his mouth was gaping open unattractively. A little out of focus, but that could have been John's eyes after several glasses of antifreeze punch. "Yeah, delete that," ordered John.
McKay, as usual, ignored him, humming and flicking the camera back off replay. He slung the strap around his neck, stood, swayed, and clutched wildly at the chair back. "Oh my god, did we just drop out of hyperspace? They're supposed to warn us!"
John smirked. "Nah, you're just rat-assed. Time to call it a night, buddy." He hauled himself up as well. After a while the room stopped spinning and he was fine. Fineish.
McKay appeared to have regrouped while John had been getting the room to stop making like a merry-go-round. His chin was stuck out in that I'm not budging way that kind of made John want to pop him one. "No bed for you, Sheppard, not until you fulfil the bet. C'mon, there'll never be a better time. You're almost completely anesthetized and you're awash with plausible deniability. Literally. Let's go, chop chop," and he had the nerve to snap his fingers.
John resisted breaking off McKay's annoying digits like so many twigs. Plus, there seemed to be more fingers than the human hand possessed waving about in font of his face. "McKaaay," he whined, "you're not really gonna make me do this? Please? Pretty please?"
"Why yes, Colonel, a bet is a bet, so quit the pouting and follow me." He headed for the wall next to the door, corrected course and weaved off down the hallway.
John stood there, rubbing his face. Damn. He'd made the stupid bet back on Earth after they'd arrived, more as a bargain with fate than anything. With his track record with commanding officers he figured he'd be court martialed or busted down for shooting Sumner. Best case scenario, maybe just transferred back to Antarctica. So he'd bet on the worst case scenario with McKay, as that way at least he'd win the goddam bet if he lost everything else, and if the gods wanted to be jerks, maybe they could punish him with the bet's forfeit rather than taking away Atlantis, his team and everything that mattered.
John rubbed his eyes: it had made a sort of crazy sense at the time, especially as he really really didn't want to pay up. One part of him – the wounded, beaten down part that never expected this stuff to go well – had been sure that he'd win the bet and it'd all end badly. Being reinstated as Military Commander, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and allowed to return home (home) hadn't quite seemed real. Like a movie script, not his life – too good to be true. And then, of course, payback. The goddam bet came back to bite him in the ass.
"Hurry it along, Sheppard," said McKay, sticking his head back around the edge of the door and gesturing impatiently. "Dues to be paid, embarrassing photos to be taken."
"Aw, fuck, McKay," John pleaded, knowing it was useless. He propelled his mushy knees toward the door, just in time to catch the front of the blue science shirt and stop his flailing CSO from toppling backward after an ill-advised toe-bounce.
"Oops," said McKay. "Inertial dampening appears to be off-line."
"Yeah, tell me about it," said John, grabbing his arm – not at all for support – and dragging them both off to where his doom awaited in the Daedalus's main computer console bay.
"Can I help you?" asked Hermiod, narrowing his eyes at them. Saving the Daedalus's hard drive from the virus didn't seem to have gotten them too many brownie points; his expression was as pursed and inscrutable as usual.
John shifted nervously from foot to foot, keeping his eyes fixed firmly above the waist. What was so hard about wearing goddam boxers, for Christ's sake? They could be plain, even jumpsuit colored – no need for novelty ones with physics jokes or Smurfs on them. Hermiod probably didn't find physics jokes amusing, anyway. He…it…John swallowed. Hermiod didn't seem to find anything amusing. Or maybe he found everything amusing, who knew?
McKay elbowed John hard in the side. "Go on!" he hissed, like the middle school bully he was.
"Although your intervention prevented outright disaster," Hermiod said, his tone dry, "it has left me with several hours of system checks. I would appreciate being left in peace to complete these, if you have no pressing business."
"Yeah, I," muttered John, staring at a point just past Hermiod's…ear? Was that an ear? He scuffled his boot on the decking. Hermiod's eyelids blinked shut in a way that was wholly alien, then opened to an irritable slit.
McKay pushed John forward as though Hermiod was a girl he had a crush on, and ew, no. "Sheppard's got something to ask you."
Hermiod didn't have eyebrows to raise, but he managed it, somehow. "And what would that be, Colonel Sheppard?" At least he got the rank right, unlike some people.
"I, I," tried John again, tongue thick and tasting horribly of kool-aid. Just fucking do it. "I need to kiss you."
Hermiod blinked again. Or nictitated. "You need to kiss me," he said in a flat tone. Which, come to think of it, was his usual tone.
There was a scrambling noise and Novak pulled herself up from behind a console, eyes wide. "Hic!" she said, then, "Sorry!" She pressed a hand to her mouth. Oh great – another witness.
"It's for a bet," blurted McKay, ever helpful. John dope-slapped him, leading to a slurred tirade about physical abuse, brain injury and violent Neanderthals that John tuned out. He'd gotten good at that.
"A bet?" Hermiod swung his swollen head from McKay to John and back again. His snout seemed to get even more pursed.
"Yeah, I," said John, rubbing the back of his neck. "Um. It was about being court martialed or busted down by the brass – it seemed a better option than that." Across the room, Hermiod and Novak stared back at him blankly. John shrugged. "Kinda hard to explain. You had to be there."
"Oh for heaven's sake," huffed Rodney. "Look, it's about his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel–"
Hermiod held up a hand. Claw? No, definitely a hand. "You are asking to kiss me because you were promoted to Lieutenant Colonel?"
"Um…" said John.
"Yes, basically," said McKay. "It was a bet, a, a rite of passage. To Colonelhood."
Hermiod turned his weird eyes on Novak, who blushed. "I do not recall Colonel Caldwell needing to kiss me?" he asked her.
"No, hic, he, ah, he was already, hic!" spluttered Novak, looking trapped.
"Look, it's not Caldwell's sort of thing," offered the ever-helpful McKay.
John seriously considered spacing him. "It's not my sort of–" he muttered angrily, but McKay overrode him, waving his hands erratically.
"Yes yes, of course, which is precisely why you need to do it. To overcome this stupid hang up!"
Hermiod narrowed his eyes even further. "You have a hang up about me, Colonel Sheppard?"
Ah, fuck. John's ears flushed and he blew out an alcohol-laden breath. McKay opened his mouth and John had had it up to here with the back seat driving. He wrapped an arm around McKay's neck, pulled him in and clamped his hand over that noisy mouth, ignoring the wriggling and muffled squeaks of outrage. "I don't…not a hang up, so much…it's just I'm not used to…Look, in the Pegasus galaxy the aliens wear clothes, that's all." Shit. He let McKay go so as to create a diversion. Sure enough, McKay reeled away between the consoles, spitting and gasping and cursing John volubly between flailing and generally being a big goddam drama queen.
Undeterred, Hermiod stared at John through slitted eyes. "If I understand this correctly, Colonel, you have lost a bet connected in some unclear way with your promotion, which requires you to kiss me. And this is a challenge for you, as you are xenophobic and it bothers you that we Asgard do not require clothing."
"Whoa, not Zena-phobic, no way," protested John. He was a big fan; he liked strong women. "Hell, no," he added, for emphasis, shaking his head. Bad idea: the room rotated sickeningly. McKay had recovered sufficiently to roll his eyes and mutter are too. McKay had crap taste though, always rooting for the wrong superheroes, so John ignored him.
"Xenophobic, hic, as in, afraid of aliens, Sir. Hic!" explained Novak, and did everyone have to be so goddam helpful all the time? John rubbed the back of his neck again, embarrassed.
Hermiod tilted his head to one side and blinked, disconcertingly reptilian. "Well, Colonel, what are you waiting for?" he said.
"You what?" said John, abruptly sober.
"Your code of honor requires you to kiss me," said Hermiod. "So kindly do so and then I can resume my system checks and prevent the ship from plunging into the nearest gravity well."
"Oh no no, I think that's un–" McKay cut off at John's upraised hand.
"Look, this has gone far enough," said John. "I'm sorry. I'm kinda drunk and McKay talked me into it. Bad idea and we'll just be off now." He fisted the front of McKay's shirt so as to drag him away.
"What? But you haven't–" John glared at him warningly and McKay zipped it.
"No, Colonel, I insist," said Hermiod. "You must perform your 'rite of passage'. Let us end this tedious interlude so that I can get back to work."
John couldn't be certain but there was something almost smug about the angle of his snout. Almost as though he were enjoying this. John bit his lip. Jeez Louise, the idea of kissing Hermiod creeped him out, but like most pilots he was a little superstitious and he didn't want to give vengeful gods any kind of a toehold. Pegasus was a tough enough deployment without queering the fates with an unfulfilled bet.
He took a deep breath just in case Hermiod smelled weird and sidled over, intending to give the dude a quick air kiss on the top of his head as though he were a jello-smeared tyke at some hellish kids' birthday party.
Hermiod tilted his head back, staring up at John with his big shiny eyes. "A proper kiss, I think," he said implacably.
Jesus fuck. John held his breath and bent down, smacking an off-center kiss rather wildly across Hermiod's snout. Cool dry smells odd alien oh my god alien. He lurched back, rubbing his mouth and stumbling until McKay grabbed his arm and steadied him.
"Hmmm," said Hermiod, inscrutable. "Your technique leaves something to be desired but I lack the time to help you perfect it." And yeah, there was something flickering deep in those eyes; the bastard was totally laughing at him.
"At least you forgot to take a goddam photo, McKay," John said, thankful for small mercies.
"Oh, I. Blast," said McKay, prodding vaguely at the forgotten camera slung around his neck. Then he looked up at Novak, brows raised. She smirked, and Hermiod's eyes creased in amusement.
"The room's under video surveillance, hic," she explained. "Colonel, hic, Caldwell ordered it as a new security measure."
"A pity," said Hermiod, not sounding sorry at all. "I expect copies of the recording will leak onto the Atlantis server, and the SGC network. Human nature being what it is." Novak smirked some more and McKay was smug and beaming, and Christ, he was trapped in Triumph of the Nerds.
John backed away slowly in case the engineers turned feral. "Yeah, well, we'll see about that," he said, because he was a colonel and colonels did not take this sort of shit lying down. Never give up, never surrender he thought, and he hardly banged into any consoles at all as he made his way out the door.
McKay had an eye-wateringly hideous pair of boxers – pink, and covered in bright yellow smiley faces. He never wore them and they'd be positively frightening on Hermiod, so the bastard would probably wear them just to annoy Novak and Caldwell.
John weaved off down the hallway with the leading edge of a killer hangover throbbing behind his temples, grinning to himself and plotting his revenge.
- the end