"No, it's a tactile-kinesthetic interactive projection chamber," Rodney corrected with an irritated expression that meant he'd underestimated John's wits (and his geekiness) once again. John loved to put that look on Rodney's face although he succeeded less often now after five years.
"Sounds a lot like a holodeck to me."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Well, if you want to simplify it to Star Trek terms, knock yourself out! But let's first check it out before we settle on a name, huh?"
John was momentarily surprised. "Wait. You haven't checked it out already?"
Another annoyed eye-roll. "Of course not, you moron. I thought we could do it together."
And that was yet another thing that John loved about Rodney. If you were friends with him, he was always ready for mischief.
"Who else knows about it?" John asked with a calculating look.
To John's surprise, Rodney then started to shuffle from one foot to the other. "No one. I thought we should have a look at it first. It might turn out to be a bust and then Mr. Woolsey would've gotten his hopes up for nothing. Anyways, a holodeck is maybe not something that helps us an awful lot in defeating the Wraith or in going back to Pegasus," Rodney defended his lax attitude.
A satisfied smile made John's face split in half. Awesome. He'd hoped that Rodney hadn't told anyone else. Maybe McKay had just found them a new playroom to make the time before returning home more bearable.
"Okay, buddy," John said cheerfully and clapped Rodney on the shoulder. "Let's go explore then."
"What, now?" Rodney asked with big eyes.
John shrugged. "Yeah, sure. You have something better to do? Like revising some more applications for your department? Or signing some more forms on ...?"
"Let's go!" Rodney grabbed John's arm and dragged him forward.
Still grinning, John left Rodney free to manhandle him a little. He found he also loved that they shared a healthy dislike for paperwork.
The Ancient woman that greeted them as soon as they set foot into the 'tactile-kinesthetic interactive projection chamber' reminded John a lot of the simpler holograph that Carson had encountered on their very first day on Atlantis all those years ago. While that one back then had only been a recording, the woman that stood in front of them right that moment was obviously designed to interact with them and even gave snappy answers to Rodney's brusque curiosity, which amused John to no end. Of course, the fact that he'd actually been right and they'd really and without a doubt found the Ancient equivalent of a holodeck only added to his cheerful mood.
It turned out the woman was some kind of a guide or manual. First was the inevitable history lesson. She told them that the Ancients had originally built the room to help them 'ascend to a higher form of being' - "Oh crap, not again!" - by confronting people with their fears to master them or by experiencing whatever spiritual stuff they had deemed necessary but as far as John could gather, it hadn't been a hit. When the war with the Wraith had started they had changed the chamber's purpose into a training room where people had to fight Wraith to be better prepared when facing them in real life. Soon there hadn't been enough time for all of them to be trained in their ongoing battles and those who had the privilege kinda got used to fighting fake Wraith and didn't experience the adrenaline rush of being in a life or death situation after a while so that most of them practically panicked from all the adrenaline when they were eye to eye with a real Wraith. When the Elders had realized this, the room had gotten abandoned more or less, serving no use aside from entertainment, which they hadn't had much use for at the time.
Leaning against a blank silver wall - not black with a yellow grid like in Star Trek -, John snorted because really, even they as non-Ancients knew that holodecks served recreational purposes only. While trying to reach ascension with it sounded totally ridiculous in his ears, he thought that the training idea hadn't been all that bad. However, he rejected it for the new marines upon hearing that it had backfired.
The real fun part of her lecture began when she started on the room's functions and explained that they could even touch her because she was interactive in any sense of the word. Before she could finish her sentence, an overzealous Rodney was already stepping forward to get his hands on the beautiful (blonde) woman. John would have laughed had it not been for the dull sting in the pit of his stomach, which he'd at least gotten used to to some extent over the last years.
To Rodney's overcurious question about power contribution, she'd given a lengthy illustration that boiled down to some kind of rechargeable batteries that provided energy only for this room. When Rodney wondered aloud why the Ancients hadn't constructed ZPMs as a rechargeable energy source she told them that the batteries powering her were completely different in design and a prototype at that and that the Ancients hadn't been successful in building them in a bigger fashion. The energy was too unstable when used in large quantities.
Naturally, Rodney wanted to give it a shot himself and try to succeed where the Ancients had failed. About ten days later, he had to accept defeat which made him grumpier than ever.
John knew the best cure for Rodney's foul mood - and to be honest he'd been all tingly to experiment a little, scratch that, a lot with the holodeck, preferably with Rodney - and that was the start of hours and hours of their free time spent together creating whole worlds: buildings (both futuristic and historical, invented or actual buildings they remembered), vessels (John alone created dozens of planes and choppers and fast cars and what not), landscapes (many of them inspired by sci-fi movies with crates, dark forests with disturbingly huge plants or in all possible and impossible color variations), animals (Rodney once had the machine make Sam, the whale on Lantea that Rodney had grown so fond of after saving his life) and sometimes even people (never someone they knew personally, instead their favorite superheroes which they had then battle against one another).
Their personal favorite, though, was feeding the computer Star Trek episodes - the old ones with Kirk and Spock and Bones and the short women's uniforms and the dilapidated special effects - and replaying them or having the device create similar plots for them. It was awfully clichéd - for Christ's sake, it was a frigging holodeck! - but John had more fun than he'd had in years.
Usually, Rodney would play Spock and John would play Kirk, their tempers mixing well together. John and Kirk were both laid-back leaders who'd do anything including sacrificing themselves for the people under their command while being the galaxy's number one philanderer which Rodney never grew tired of pointing out. Rodney and Spock were the geniuses with a lack of social skills and even though Rodney was more like an erupting volcano whereas Spock was the freaking ice queen in terms of emotions, in mind they were very much alike, John thought.
In the beginning, they tried to switch roles - Rodney insisted because visually, he said, John already looked half-Vulcan with his pointed ear tips and his dark hair that, true, needed a lot of taming before it would pass as proper Vulcan, and he himself sure resembled Kirk more than John did - but Rodney soon had to accept that it just didn't pan out that way when he insulted the captain of the attacking vessel one time too many and thus caused the destruction of the Enterprise and the ending of that day's episode.
So in between endless meetings, filling out piles of forms high as an Atlantean tower and getting the city back in shape to return home to the Pegasus galaxy, they spent as much time in the 'tactile-kinesthetic interactive projection chamber' (as Rodney had never called it again after the first day) kicking some Romulan or Klingon ass, or whatever other species was on the menu. John loved the fact that they could do their thing for as long as they wanted, that there was no one stomping their feet and waiting for Rodney since he and Keller had broken it off shortly after returning to Earth. It made him a shitty best friend to be happy about finally not having to share Rodney with a girlfriend again but he just couldn't help it. To his relief, Rodney hadn't seemed too crushed about the break-up, telling him it was mutual and would've never really worked out because of them just being too different, so that was that.
Not long after starting their new favorite spare time activity, John even went so far as to buy costumes, a blue one for Rodney and a golden one for himself. Searching for that geeky memorabilia shop in downtown San Francisco and having Rodney tease him when he presented them was totally worth it when the outcome was that Rodney never forgot to wear it during their time as Spock and Kirk and even petted it with a fond expression when he thought that John wasn't looking. Of course, they both hid it underneath their regular uniforms because walking around in Starfleet costumes in Atlantis was just about one of the most awkward things that John could imagine. Besides, hiding their alter egos' apparel was necessary to keep their holodeck a secret for as long as possible.
It was after one of the more perilous missions - one the device came up with, taking the original episodes into account, of course - that threw them for a loop. So far, the simulation had been pretty realistic and close to the series, not changing any important stuff or anything. But right then, just after rescuing Rodney slash Spock from another hostile species and scaring them away by firing a salvo of torpedoes at them, everything he thought he knew about both his friendship with Rodney and the crew of the Enterprise was shaken to the very foundations.
They were just about to call it a day, today's mission successfully completed, when Sulu swiveled around in his chair at his control panel and said with a smirk, "You know, Captain, I don't think any of us would care if you were a little more affectionate on the bridge."
"Yes, Keptin, we are practically family," Chekov added, nodding enthusiastically.
John raised an eyebrow. "What the heck are you talking about?"
"With all due respect, Sir," Uhura's voice sounded from behind him, making him turn around. "We all know how much you... care for Mister Spock and how worried you must've been during his abduction. It's okay if you let your relief upon having him back, safe and sound, show now." Pause. "Sir."
John's eyebrow rose even higher. Of course, he was relieved that they managed to free his friend. Even though it was just a simulation, that kind of thing always got his hackles up. Looking at Rodney beside him told him that he didn't have a clue what they were talking about either.
"For Christ's sake, Jim," Bones chimed in from behind Rodney, "just kiss the green-blooded hobgoblin already! We all know you want to!"
Before either of them could process the man's words, the doc gave Rodney a hard shove that sent him flying directly into John's lap, their faces only inches apart. John's heart beat frantically upon the sudden proximity, his body tensing up and refusing to do anything but remain perfectly still. He would have laughed at the comical expression on Rodney's face, eyes so wide it wouldn't take much for them to fall out of their sockets, but no sound left his constricted throat.
"No need to be embarrassed, Sirs. We all know what you are to each other," Scotty threw in from where he was standing at a console with an approving smile, making both their gazes snap toward him.
"God, you two can't honestly think you're being discreet about this thing between you," Bones said, clearly exasperated. "You're like two lovestruck teenagers with all the innuendo and the hidden glances when you think nobody's looking. Jeez!"
John would never know what made him do what he did next. Maybe the absurdness of the situation. Maybe the unbelieving but clearly not disgusted look on Rodney's face. Maybe all the years of carefully concealing his feelings for his best friend and the sudden closeness.
Whatever it was, most likely a combination of all those factors, it led him to lean forward slightly and brush his lips across Rodney's, just a short contact, nothing more. If Rodney panicked, he could always blame it on the attempt to stay in character.
But Rodney didn't panic at all. Instead, he chased John's mouth when he put some space between them and pressed their lips together again, hands fisting in his uniform shirt. And holy crap, how mind-boggling was that, Rodney kissing him? And how the hell did he manage to make it both chaste and the hottest thing that's ever happened to John?
It must have been minutes later, the kiss turning from chaste to an almost making-out session right in the middle of the bridge on the captain's chair, when the noise of someone fake-gagging brought them back to reality, or rather simulation, and made them move apart, if only minimally, staring at each other in both astonishment and bewilderment.
"Jesus, I didn't mean for you to devour each other in front of the whole crew, Jim!" Bones nagged. "Seriously, get a room, you two! I don't want my infirmary overrun by people with eye cancer!"
"God, remind me again why I used to think the guy was funny when he's really just damn annoying?" Rodney scowled, making no move to get off of John's lap.
John snorted a laugh and couldn't help but stare at Rodney's kiss-swollen plush lips. He had done that. He had kissed Rodney and Rodney had kissed him right back. His head swam a little from the implication of the last couple minutes and maybe also a bit from Rodney's continued weight and warmth against him.
"Oh, don't worry, Keptin," Chekov piped up. "We don't mind. We Russians are wery open-minded people."
"That's it," Rodney grumbled and gave his trademark eye-roll. "We're out of here."
He stood up and pulled John along, grabbing his Atlantean jacket to throw on and ending the simulation with a single word. Why they hadn't done that earlier, when this whole thing had started, was beyond John. Staring at the man in front of him, surrounded by nothing but the blank silver wall, he slipped into his shirt while trying to wrap his mind around the latest turn of events.
"Smooth, Rodney," he scoffed, buttoning up and not meeting Rodney's eye. Insecurity had never before been something to worry about.
"What? Oh, come on now! I thought we've come to the same conclusion that this... whatever-it-is between Kirk and Spock needs to be... further discussed. In private." The look on Rodney's face left no doubt what he hoped their discussion would entail but underneath the man's resolve John could definitely see a spark of the insecurity that he himself felt. Together with hope.
That if nothing else was what made him straighten up and make the decision that no matter if this would work out or if he risked the best friendship he's ever had, they deserved to have a chance, DADT be damned. He wasn't going to turn his back on this, now that he knew he wasn't alone in it. He wasn't going to deny them this.
"Meet you at my quarters in ten," he simply said and watched the relief and happiness cross over Rodney's features before he nodded and left, leaving John behind to follow in a few minutes.
John stared at the silver wall, thinking that for once one of those weirdo Ancient devices had done him a favor. Although he still had a hard time understanding how in the name of God it arrived at the conclusion that Spock and Kirk were in a relationship, maybe in hindsight, it had always been there and John as well as Rodney - and, he figured, probably a lot more people - had never given it any thought before. In the end, he really couldn't care less if his whole Star Trek world view had been irrevocably changed if it meant that he got the one thing out of it that he'd thought he'd never get to have.
He could really live with the whole idea of 'a Spock to a Kirk, a McKay to a Sheppard.'